In October 2013, the United States Air Force Academy announced that the words “so help me, God” would be optional when cadets recite the Honor Oath. In response, several GOP Congressmen proposed legislation that would force all Academy cadets to add those words back. The Wild Hunt spoke with a Pagan military veteran as well as Air Force Academy (AFA) Public Affairs officials about the proposed legislation and why they believe keeping “so help me, God” optional is important.

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God. – USAF Academy Cadet Honor Oath

Background on the Honor Oath
The first portion of what would later become the Honor oath, “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does …” was created by the Air Force Academy’s first class to graduate in 1959.

In 1984, the Academy was rocked by allegations of a cheating scandal. As a result of the investigation, an Honor Committee was created. The committee’s recommendation was to turn the code into an oath, which all cadets would take. They also added “and furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably” and tagged “so help me, God” to give the oath more gravity. That same year, the cadets voted to approve the Honor Oath and have all freshman cadets swear the oath when they are accepted into the cadet wing.

In 2013, the Academy decided to make, “so help me, God,” optional.

Photo By Dennis Rogers (US Air Force Public Affairs)

Photo By Dennis Rogers (US Air Force Public Affairs)

Legislation Proposed
Reps. Sam Johnson (R-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX), and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) have sponsored a bill that aims to force all branches of the military to seek congressional approval before they make any changes to any oath. Effectively, it seeks to force an Air Force Academy cadet to say, “so help me, God” when they recite the Honor Oath.

Johnson said that the bill, which is called the Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act, is necessary to protect the freedom of religion of U.S. troops. First introduced in 2013, the bill has been reintroduced this year with the addition of Rep. Lamborn as a co-sponsor.

When The Wild Hunt reached out to the AFA Public Affairs office they said they still stand behind the statement AFA Superintendent  Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson made in 2013 when the AFA made “so help me, God” optional. They also provided background information on how the Honor Oath was created and why they made a portion of it optional.

In the statement, Lt. Gen. Johnson said, “Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference – or not. So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”

Air Force Academy’s Changing Religious Culture
In 2007 the AFA made news in a string of articles showcasing the institution as the focal point for an evangelical Christian takeover of the military.  When PNC-Minnesota looked into the changing culture of the AFA in 2011, this climate of Evangelicalism appears to have come about due to an over-correction to the sexual assault cases that shocked the campus a few years earlier.

Lt Col Dan Brantingham, AFA Cadet Wing Chaplain, explained, “In the aftermath of the sexual assault cases in 2004-5, some leaders looked to religion to assist cadets in living honorable lives. In doing so, the leaders unintentionally promoted a particular flavor of religion as the solution.”

Starting in 2007, the Academy took steps to renew its focus on freedom of religion. Brantingham says he supports the current Academy policy of religious neutrality, “As an Air Force Chaplain my responsibility is to ensure the free exercise of religion for all cadets to include the minority faith group cadets. When I protect and advocate the freedom of religious conscience for all cadets, I fulfill my oath and because of the brilliance of the First Amendment, I safe-guard my own freedom of religion as well.”

In 2008 and again in 2010, the Academy hosted the Conference on Religious Respect. Out of the 2008 conference the Cadet Interfaith Council was formed, the Religious Respect Training program was launched, and support was increased for the Spiritual Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE). The third initiative to come out of the 2008 conference is what the Academy calls its “cornerstone religious diversity program,” the Religious Respect Training program for cadets, faculty and staff. The program is unique to the Air Force Academy. It includes in-depth training on the First Amendment, and the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Free Speech clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The 2010 Conference on Religious Respect continued to examine and refine those initiatives. Sixteen national religious leaders were invited as panelists including Rev. David Oringderff, PhD, head of Sacred Well Congregation and sponsoring organization for the Earth-Centered Spirituality group at the Academy.

In a message to the San Antonio Military Open Circle’s Yahoo group, Rev. Oringderff said he was impressed by the emphasis on ways to promote respect, not merely religious tolerance. He quoted Chaplain Brantingham’s remarks during the opening of the conference, “I don’t want to be tolerated; I want to be respected—and everyone else is entitled to that same right.”


Falcon Circle dedication ceremony, 2011 [Photo credit: USAFA]

The most visible result of the renewed commitment to free exercise of religion is the creation of Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle. Falcon Circle, which sits on a hill, came into existence through the efforts of a former cadet wing chaplain, Chap. William Ziegler and former Earth-Centered Spirituality Distinctive Faith Group Leader (DFGL), Tech Sgt. Brandon Longcrier. While Falcon Circle is open to any cadet, Pagan cadets in the Earth-Based Spirituality Distinctive Faith Group have priority in its use. They meditate and celebrate Sabbats at the stone circle.

Air Force Veteran Reacts
Don Branum is an Air Force veteran and Pagan of 19 years who lives in Lamborn’s district. He also works as a staff writer for the Academy Spirit, the weekly newspaper for the United States Air Force Academy.*

When asked how he felt about the proposed bill, H.R. 1425, he said, “I take great exception to Congressman Johnson’s ‘So help me God’ bill, both as a Pagan and a veteran. I’m even more disappointed to learn that Rep. Doug Lamborn, who represents a religiously diverse district, has chosen to co-sponsor it. Requiring any man or woman to swear ‘so help me God’ as part of an oath of office or oath of enlistment clearly violates both the religious test clause of the Constitution (Article VI, Paragraph 3) and the First Amendment, which states, in part, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …’

“I’m happy to share the public square with people from all walks of life and all beliefs, because I believe our nation draws its strength from the diversity of its people. But I will not stand quietly while someone attempts to impose his religion on the rest of the nation.” Branum went on to say that if the bill’s co-sponsors value the oaths they took to support and defend the Constitution, they should either immediately withdraw their support for H.R. 1425 or resign from office.


*Don Branum’s views reflect his personal opinion only and do not in any way represent the official position of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force or the Department of Defense.

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A Turkish media outlet, The Anadolu Agency, reported yesterday that ancient artifacts, stolen from the Mosul Museum, were turning up in European markets and being sold in order to help fund the terrorist activity. Which terrorist organization? Depends who you ask. Daesh. Or to some, ISIL  or the IS. Still to others ISIS. And once, as is reported, the group is an off-shoot of al-Qaida.

Tigris River, Mosul

Tigris River, Mosul

Since the organization’s formation, the world’s media and political agencies have struggled to agree on a single name. While many now officially rejected the term ISIS and ISIL, both terms linger. Some use the Islamic State, as requested by the group. However, over the past six months, more governments and media are using Daesh, an acronym taken from the group’s Arabic name al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham.

When France officially swapped ISIL for Daesh, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius explained, “This is a terrorist group and not a state.” He also said, “I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists.” Agreeing with him, Egyptian officials asked the international media to stop using these terms because they “attach the name of Islam to bloody and violent acts committed by such groups” and promote stereotypes in the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide.

Last month, Australian officials joined France is using Daesh, because it is reportedly hated by the organization itself. A middle-eastern paper wrote, “In much of the Arabic speaking world, where people are most impacted by ISIS thuggery and violence, it was settled: piss off ISIS and use the pejorative Daesh.”

However, the term, as an acronym, still presents the same problem as ISIL or the IS. It links the group to Islam through its name and, therefore, fails in a secondary war over cultural perception.

In a religion’s struggle over public image, peaceful groups often find themselves on the defensive, having to distance their members and beliefs from the atrocities committed by those claiming the same religion. While this struggle is particularly brutal for Muslims, they are not alone. Islam is not the only religion that sees violence done in its name.

Unfortunately, such actions can be found across cultures In 2014, a trio in Philadelphia attacked a gay couple; an act which was quickly linked to their Catholic religious beliefs. In Myanmar, the 969 Movement, led by Buddhist Monk Ashin Wirathu, has been the cause of years of religious-based violence. In India, the government struggles against the atrocities committed by right-wing Hindu extremists, who in the past have attacked journalists and threatened rape.

These are only a few examples. In all cases, related religious organizations came out to condemn the violent acts and distance themselves from those that claim their beliefs.

Ryan Smith, co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism, knows this problem all too well. When asked about the war over cultural perception, he said, “The best and most consistent strategy for dealing with such acts of violence is to clearly denounce them, explain in terms of one’s spiritual practice why such acts are disgraceful and worthy of condemnation, and make it clear this is a moral position. Merely saying, ‘they weren’t one of ours’ is not enough.”

Why isn’t it enough? Because in many cases, the perpetrators of these acts do, in fact, claim the religion; whether it serves another ideology or not. For those outside of that specific religious sphere, there is no way to know the difference. It is your word against theirs. In recent months, Muslim scholars did exactly that. They published a point-by-point document illustrating how their religious beliefs are antithetical to the actions of Daesh, Boko Haram and other similar organizations.

Just last week, the Heathen community was faced with a similar situation. As we reported Monday, Mesa police arrested and charged Ryan Giroux, allegedly a White Supremacist, with the killing and injuring several people. While Giroux never claimed Odinism, the media attempted to make the connection due to an old chin tattoo. A number of articles mentioned “Thor’s Hammer” as symbol for Odinism and a pre-Christian religion. However, very few noted that the tattoo had been removed and was no longer there.

Regardless, within 24 hours, HUAR published a statement. When asked why, Smith explained:

If the first voices speaking out on the matter are those of the violent organizations and those who benefit from portraying all Heathens, or even all Pagans, as dangerously violent then this narrative will take hold in the mainstream media. This should be no surprise to anyone as the 24 hour news cycle lives on high drama, instant updates, and anything that attracts viewers. If, instead, there are Heathen voices saying loud and clear such actions are unconscionable in Heathen practice and denounce their acts then it is possible to nip these arguments in the bud. Seizing the initiative in moments of crisis is critical in defining media perception.

The Arizona case demonstrates a secondary public relations problem facing minority religions. Unlike Daesh and other Islamic extremists, Giroux never claimed the religion. The connection was made solely by mainstream media due to the presence of a symbol and nothing more. This problem is not unlike cases in which a pentacle is found at a crime scene and the mainstream media immediately jumps to assume Witchcraft.

Alyxander Folmer, a blogger who also responded publicly to the recent Giroux story, doesn’t believe it matters whether the act is publicly linked via a symbol or the person’s actual religious affiliation. “Bad news will ALWAYS outsell good news,” he said. Folmer added, “Just as one betrayal can wipe out years of good faith and trust between individuals, ONE story like this can taint an entire culture in the eyes of the public. In the end it doesn’t even really matter if the perpetrator was a practicing Heathen at the time of their crime, because once that association has been made it can’t be undone.”

Folmer agreed with Smith that, in defense, time cannot be wasted. He added, “We Heathens don’t have that luxury. If we want the world to see beyond the extremists who wear our faith like a mask, it’s not enough to simply distance ourselves from them. We have to stand against them in earnest, and prove to the world through our actions that these people do not represent us.”

These words are not entirely different from those being spoken by Muslims around the world, and certainly not different from those be spoken by Buddhists in response to 980 or by any religious group, specifically minorities, who have faced similar problems of perception. The same phrases are always heard: “That is not us.” “They do not represent us.” “That is a misuse of our sacred symbol.”

While Christians, a majority faith in the U.S., do have their own version of this problem, the scarring on their public image is far less pronounced due to their privileged position within American society. The collective PR engine moves much slower, if it moves at all. Folmer explained, “Groups like ‘Hammerskin Nation’ pervert our faith and our Lore, so that they can use it to justify their actions. It’s no different from how the KKK often uses Christianity to rationalize their hate. The difference is that (as a majority religion) Christianity has enough sway in the public square to ensure that rogue elements like the KKK aren’t seen as representing the whole of the faith.”

Folmer laments that the current Arizona case is only one of many. However, the problem of cultural perception, in its essence, is not unique to Heathens, Pagans, Wiccans and many minority faiths. This battle for a religion’s reputation is ongoing around the world and turns up in many forms. Smith said:

Unfortunately, as apt as specific comparisons like Islam vs ISIL or Christianity vs the Westboro Baptist Church are, there are too many Heathens I’ve met who use the poor reputation Muslims have been unfairly smeared with as an excuse for doing nothing. They claim the efforts of Muslims worldwide to combat such damage to their reputation have done nothing to fix their problems …

After citing a number of positive responses across communities and the growing acceptance of Pagan, Heathen and Polytheists practices over the years, he said, “The worst possible thing to do in the face of a small, dangerous group twisting the beliefs, trappings, and practices of many to justify grossly immoral acts is remain silent.”

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The journey to report on the Sacred Space/Between the Worlds conference was difficult. What would have taken four hours on the road on a clear day was seven through a late-winter snowstorm on the Eastern seaboard, driving forty miles an hour past at least a dozen vehicles which hadn’t fared very well in those conditions. Journey’s end, however, included welcomes from familiar faces, introductions to local luminaries, and an invitation to lunch with a group of Southern witches who simply wanted to show some hospitality. Those warm gestures led to this question: what role does hospitality play in your tradition? Those who were able to respond created a rich tapestry of perspectives.

[Photo Credit: Fernando Gonzaga, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Fernando Gonzaga, Flickr]

Byron Ballard, Mother Grove Goddess Temple:

I always cringe in interfaith circles when we try so hard to find That One Thing that we all do. There’s a poster that made the rounds a few years ago that had variations on the Golden Rule. I don’t hold with the “Law of Return” but that fits for rather a lot of Pagan folk. Yeah, I had nothing.

In the wild world of interfaith, I actually think it’s more helpful to dive fully into all the stuff we don’t have in common because it affords us an opportunity on one hand to explain our position and on the other to work at understanding someone else’s. But I have given it a lot of thought and I’ve come up with what I think is the most ancient and sacred act that we do have in common — hospitality. The offering of bread or water, or even clean feet, to someone who is not like us. It shows a largeness of spirit as well as a generous nature. It is an act of courage. It should be offered without grudging, as a duty and obligation that we owe the Earth, our Divines and our ancestors. To accept hospitality is also an act of courage — are you then indebted to the host in some meaningful way? Will your return of hospitality when it’s your turn compromise you in some way?

And there is obviously something biologically driven in the act of hospitality. By welcoming the “stranger” or the “enemy” into your camp, your village, your home, you are potentially improving the gene pool for your family and tribe, resulting in some hybrid vigor (if we’re lucky) and a political alliance, too.

So, yes, I practice it as both a Pagan and a Southerner. And there have been times when I’ve not broken bread with those who wish me ill because I believe the duty of hospitality — the giving and the receiving — is holy.

Lilith Dorsey, Voodoo Universe blogger:

All the African traditional religions (Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, Lucumi/Santeria, and others) place hospitality at the top of the list of necessary ways of conduct for devotees. This is an outcropping of respect… respect for all living beings, the ancestors, and the Lwa or Orisha (thought of as divinities by some). Everyone and everything contains a divine repository of Ashe, the sacred energy forces of the universe. When individuals honor this energy by offering food, drink, prayers or kindness to those on this plane and the next they serve both themselves and the religion.

Rev. Edward Livingston, Fire Dance Church:

As we are a legal 501(c)3 church and a not-for-profit in the state of Florida, our rituals are open to the general public, so we are always have hospitality for those who come and attend our services. Outside of that we owe nothing more. I do hear people out about their personal ideas, but hospitality ends when you harm my space, or are rude, or don’t follow directions.

Archdruid Kirk Thomas of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF):

Hospitality is key in ADF Druidry. It is one of our Nine Virtues (the others being Wisdom, Piety, Vision, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Moderation, and Fertility). And it embodies one of the basic traits of our religion, reciprocity.

Hospitality is governed by the obligations of the guest-host relationship.These obligations are a two-way street, where each party owes something to the other. In its simplest form, the host offers a place to stay for a certain amount of time, perhaps food and drink, and entertainment of some kind, even if only good conversation. In return, the guest agrees not to overstay his or her welcome, to respect the inhabitants of the house or office, and to be congenial.

In the ancient world, the giving of hospitality was required by the Gods. In the literature of many ancient cultures there are tales of what might happen if hospitality were to be refused — examples include Odysseus and the Cyclops in the Odyssey, the Roman tale of Baucis and Philemon in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and even the Irish tale of Bres and the Tuatha Dé in the Cath Maige Tuired. In all cases those folks who refused to give good hospitality came to a sticky end.

Hospitality is a form of reciprocity, which underlies most human interactions. The Roman ritual phrase, do ut des (I give so that you may give) sums it up nicely. It’s all about give and take, which is also part of what hospitality is all about. In ritual, we are, in essence, hosting the Gods and Spirits at our rites, giving offerings to them that they might give us blessings in return, just as the ancients did. Reciprocity through hospitality — a great way to commune with the Gods.

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Druids of Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Solitary practitioner Star Bustamonte:

I’m not really a part of any Pagan or other religious tradition, at least not formally. I do, however, believe that being hospitable is behavior that is important both inside and outside of spiritual practices. While personally I tend to lean heavily towards sarcasm and humour in my interactions with the many people I encounter daily, I also would not hesitate to offer whatever comforts I have available.

I have 3 different types of magical work I engage in:

1) The Mother Grove Goddess Temple: I serve the Temple as Head of The Green Circle (fundraising) and as member of The Circle of Council (administrative). Part of my duties involve greeting participants who arrive and making them feel welcome and at ease. While this is mostly a mundane activity, it sets the stage for how freely and easily participants respond once in ritual space.

2) I do a lot of personal work with the Fae, and working with the Fae requires a great deal of hospitality. I have always offered to them a comfortable space to operate as they see fit in general harmony with my own efforts. Negotiation plays a big role and hospitality is very important to that aspect.

3) Much of the magical work I do is more of a thaumaturgical variety. In this regard, I would say hospitality is more akin to respect for the energies you are working with, but isn’t that the very root of hospitality, anyway? Respect?

In short, any energy I work with is treated with respect. In all magical work, be it working with deity or the pure mechanics of thaumaturgy, I try to be conscious of what I am asking of the energies I am working with and providing whatever might be helpful and or kind in furthering the work.

Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project:

Hospitality is grossly misunderstood in heathenry, I think. Hospitality is the expected behavior we show those who have explicitly been invited and it also includes the behavior of those who have themselves accepted an invitation. Hospitality requires a level of respect and service to the people you are opening your home or space to. That respect, like all gifts, must be reciprocated. As it stands, hospitality is often seen in heathen circles as an onus only on the individuals hosting, those who are guests are not always held to a standard of behavior. If we view hospitality as the basic structure of gift giving it is, then it makes the process a bit more stable. I open my home to others, they respect my home and family, perhaps they bring gifts which then create deeper bonds with other gifts returned. It’s one of the core aspects of the reciprocal agreement culture that is central to the heathen worldview.

Yeshe Rabbit, presiding high priestess of Come As You Are Coven:

For a dharma pagan, hospitality is a dearly-held and widely-practiced virtue. It is considered one of the key perfections of wisdom, or paramitas, and is known as “dana-paramita.” When we practice dana, especially toward those who have given their lives to the dharma, we give of ourselves in a special, spiritual way, not simply because it’s polite, or expected as part of our social code. Rather, it is an enlightened generosity that comes from the purest part of ourselves. When we do this, whatever we provide for a guest is not merely food, shelter, or another resource; it is a sacred offering to the divine nature of the other being with whom we share it. Interestingly, dana cuts through a lot of our own preferential ego trips because we learn to give in a holy manner, regardless of what we might receive in return or what’s expected of us or how we feel about the person to whom we are giving. It doesn’t mean we have to like the person, but we still honor that some part of them is divine and deserving of our hospitality (unless that person is seeking to harm us in some way, in which case it’s appropriate to move away from that person and decline to offer hospitality.)

The best way for me to explain the everyday concept of generosity according to the dharma view is to describe something I saw in Tibet when I was there: the thermos of tea. Everywhere we went, Tibetan people were carrying a big thermos of tea with them. In their pockets or bags, they might also carry a cup or two, so that they are always ready to sit down with someone and share a cup of butter tea. It did not matter if they knew you or not, it did not matter if you gave them anything in return (we always did), there was always tea anyway. That generosity, particularly expressed toward pilgrims they did not know, was really so much more than just a hot beverage when we were road-weary.

By Alpha [CC lic.  via Wikimedia]

“Butter Tea” By Alpha [CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Author T Thorn Coyle submitted this portion of her previous blog post on the subject:

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Who is a stranger? What is the unknown? Whom do we choose to welcome? Whom do we choose to spurn?

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

We gather with our families. We hold each other close. We sit out in the cold, feeling desperate and alone. We feel sorrow in the midst of others. We are the gay kid who fears to come out. We are the chronic user afraid of judgement. We are the Pagan in the midst of Christians. We are mobility impaired and looking up a flight of stairs. We’ve just lost our job. We’re secret dancers. We are ashamed to tell our friends we can’t go out because we need all our money to pay rent. We have dark skin in a culture that privileges the pale. We go without food so our kid can have shoes. We are in love. Our father just died. Our child was killed. Our partner left us. We have big dreams.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

While scrubbing pots at the soup kitchen, I realized this truth: we are all strangers to one another. Then I realized: we can all welcome one another home.

I welcome you, stranger, Athena, Goddess in disguise. May you find warmth and light, good food, a place to sleep, and someone who will listen. What is the tale you have to share?

Ritual facilitator and author, Shauna Aura Knight:

I can’t really speak to any one tradition, but I can speak to the work I do facilitating workshops and rituals for the broader Pagan community. Hospitality is one of my core values as a facilitator. Sometimes it’s just in the form of what you might call “customer service.” This is often an element that is lacking in public rituals and events. Have you ever arrived to a public ritual and found that there’s no one around to greet you or let you know what’s going on, the ritual leaders are bustling around getting ready, snapping at people, and then the ritual starts and you’re not sure what to do? After, people break out into cliques to socialize and you’re left out. Or worse, have you ever tried to attend a ritual but the directions provided were so poor that they had you spiraling around a forest preserve trying to find the right park shelter? When you finally arrive, people say, “Oh, we do ritual here all the time, everyone knows where it was.”

For me, hospitality is clear communication as an organizer about what’s going to happen at the event and ensuring there are good directions if that’s needed. It’s greeting people when they arrive. It’s working to ensure that everyone has enough information to proceed in the ritual. It’s also ensuring that new folks aren’t shut out of cliques of friends after a ritual. When I’m facilitating a workshop, I work hard to make everyone feel welcome and respected. Hospitality for me is also reflected in how I work to make my workshops and rituals participatory and inclusive. I work hard to make my rituals and workshops accessible, open to all genders, and welcoming. Hospitality isn’t always easy; I’ve made mistakes and I’ll make more in the future, but it’s work that I feel is important.

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Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson [Photo Credit: Haukurth (Own work), CC lic. Wikimedia]

As the sun’s light was blocked by the moon’s travel, members of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið broke ground for their new temple in Reykjavík. The ceremony was the next major step in a quest that began in 2006. Columnist Eric Scott detailed the history and plans for this temple in a January article “Temple on the HIll,” interviewing both the architect and organization’s leader, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson.

The Icelandic Review described the Friday event, saying: “The ceremony began at 08.38, at the start of the eclipse, whereby the boundaries were ceremonially marked out, candles lit in each corner, and local landmarks honored. When the darkness was at its height, at 09.37, a fire was lit in what will be the center of the chapel.”  The Norse Mythology Blog posted a photo from the actual ceremony on its Facebook page and on its Twitter account.

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A Pagan mother living in Paris has set herself a lofty goal of creating a new Pagan cafe in the city. Krynn Aïlhenya, a French Pagan and Parisan local, said that she’s very active in trying to develop and grow France’s Pagan community. On her new crowd sourcing campaign, she said, “Un espace convivial pour les païen(ne)s de toutes traditions, où discuter autour d’une pinte.” [“A welcoming space for all pagans of all traditions, where they come and talk over a pint.”]

Aïlhenya said that she and the other organizers hope that the space expands beyond that one simple description. Once in full operation, the Pagan cafe would also serve as a “a library, an esoteric shop and could host events like Pagan celebrations, exhibitions, and conferences.” Provided in both English and French, the IndieGoGo description notes that they hope to open by the end of 2015 in the very center of Paris.

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On March 18, a gunman opened fired in Mesa, Arizona killing one person and wounding five others. The suspect, Ryan Giroux, was quickly taken into custody. It was not long before the media discovered that Giroux’s was connected to the Hammerskins White Supremacist group. Unfortunately, this detail was made more pronounced by the very large tattoo on the man’s chin – the Hammer of Thor.

After learning of shooting, HUAR quickly offered a statement in reaction. It reads in part, “This individual and his associates are notorious for corrupting many aspects of Heathen practice for advancing their white nationalist agenda by grossly dishonorable means including, most shamefully, the hallowed Hammer of Thor … We, the members of Heathens United Against Racism, denounce Giroux, his associates, and any others who assisted him in perpetrating his terrible actions.” Several other Heathens and groups have issued similar statements, such as Alyxander Folmer. We will be continue to follow this story.

In Other News … Interviews and more Interviews

  • On March 8, The Goddess Diaries Radio interviewed Z. Budapest. In the 40 minute interview, “Z shared her story of being prosecuted/persecuted for practicing her craft in the“last witch trial” in America. Her courage to stand in her truth paved the way for woman to freely practice Goddess Spirituality in our country today.”
  • In conjunction with Paganicon, Lupa Greenwolf is interviewed by PNC-Minnesota writer Nels Linde. Greenwolf talks about her background, her practice and her work on the new Tarot deck. She said, “I have a very deep love of learning about nature, to include learning through books and documentaries.
  • Linde also published another interview done in conjunction with Paganicon. In this article, he speaks with Rev. Selena Fox about everything from her life passages workshop, to political activism, and to the future of Circle Sanctuary. When talking about transferring responsibility to younger people, Fox said, “We need to do more of this. We not only need to do education, but need to inspire and guide action. We need to find ways to take responsibility as individuals, as households, and as communities to work together for a healthier, sustainable world with equality, liberty, and justice for all.
  • ACTION’s 2015 Ostara edition is available. In its 54 pages, Christopher Blackwell includes interviews with Black Witch, Allison Leigh Lilly, Lee Davies, David Parry, Linda Sever, Lorna Smithers, and Stephen Cole.
  • Finally, the Atlantis Bookshop in London celebrated its 93rd Birthday. As they posted, the “beastly” celebration included tea, cakes and “cheeky cocktails.” Now owned by Geraldine Beskin, Atlantis was founded in 1922 by Michael Houghton. It has been one of the cornerstones in London’s Occult and Witchcraft community for nearly a century. Happy Birthday to Atlantis!

That is it for now. Have a great day.

Update 3/23/15 2:45pm: We originally stated that the Paris cafe was to be the first in the city. However, we recently were informed otherwise and have corrected the text. 

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While the modern Pagan movement is still considered young in comparison to other religions, it has continued to grow and evolve beyond its original container. Today we see multiple generations of Pagan practitioners in various facets of community, from seekers to leaders. The vast diversity within this community has expanded beyond the old images of the middle-aged leader to those on all sides of the age, race and gender spectrum.

Ten to fifteen years ago we did not have as many “younger” leaders rising within the ranks of our Pagan community, yet today the halls of any Pagan convention show younger and more diverse populations than we historically are use to encountering.

[Photo Credit:]

[Photo Credit:]

The natural evolution of leadership is something that every community goes through. It is an organic process of foundational stability; the need to have people stepping into and out of leadership within any given community structure.

The Pagan community continues to struggle with the concept of leadership, and there continues to be a lot of challenges on every side of this spectrum. Over the last few months, discussions about ageism have risen to the surface again, with some intense dialog pushing the conversation to the forefront.

In a recent piece on leadership, Annika Mongan explored some of her experiences at this year’s PantheaCon conference. In it she discusses some of the challenges of new leaders within the modern Pagan community and the idea that those who are new to leadership have a lot to offer. She wrote, “I respect our elders and seek to learn from them. I am grateful for all the battles they fought, the roads they paved for us, and the foundations they laid. And I now understand that it is time for me and for us, the younger generations, to step up, to walk upon these paved roads, and to build upon these foundations.”

This is not the first time that we have heard of the specific challenges encountered by young leaders when becoming more active in the greater Pagan community. It is also not the first time that there was a strong reaction to the idea that young leaders may not be embraced by community elders. The growing divide between the generations has become more apparent in recent years.

PantheaCon’s Turning the Wheel panel attempted to address some of these very challenges. Jason Thomas Pitzl, Board Member for Solar Cross and one of the organizers for the project, has been very vocal about the need to sustain effective leadership in the modern Pagan movement. He said, “Turning the Wheel is a new initiative from the Solar Cross Temple that has a very simple aim: encourage young and emerging leadership within the interconnected Pagan and Polytheist communities.The panel conducted at PantheaCon 2015 was just a first step, the next step will be to help create spaces for emerging leaders to network, build alliances, and establish new initiatives. This is so important because without these voices, without building real relationships with these leaders, we literally lose contact with our future. I have already seen our “generation gap” become a “generation chasm” in the last decade, and if we are to maintain the good works earlier generations have started in the coming decades, this must be addressed.”

As we continue to identify the challenges of growth, the generation gaps and the shifting power balance that comes with an aging community, we have the chance to explore what can be done to support the journey. How can we face the challenges of these transitions in ways that are healthy and validating to the multiple levels of leadership, all of which need to co-exist in our community? We know that these questions are layered, complex and intersectional, yet it appears that now is the right time to start asking some of these hard questions.

What are the biggest challenges facing emerging leaders? How can the greater community support these transitions to leadership within our community?

Jessica Sullivan

Jessica Sullivan

I would say a major problem is the lack of support for young leaders. There are many in our community, but few are considered “big named Pagans.” Those that are, can be targeted, isolated, and considered an exception to the norm. There is little to no space made for us, the young leaders. When an opportunity does arise, when we climb our way to the table, we are frequently dismissed or unheard altogether. While it’s hard to address these problems, it is not impossible. Making more opportunities for young leaders would be a major and crucial first step. Another equally important thing is to make space in conversations and ask questions. Rather than making assumptions and further making statements, or worse unsolicited advice, at a young leader, ask more questions. Perhaps the said young leader didn’t think of something, but assuming they didn’t and automatically dismissing their ideas or offering advice immediately comes off as both condescending and dismissive. Asking more questions also has the fringe benefits of being more constructive to conversations and supporting young leaders to address possible flaws in their ideas, in a way that is both empowering and builds on their skills as new leaders. Obviously younger leaders have less experience, but by shutting them out and shutting them down, how are they supposed to get the experience to be “respectable” leaders?

The pressure to be perfect, does not allow for mistakes.Young leaders that are selected to join elders in deliberations are in a high-pressure position to represent all young leaders. If they make a mistake, then it is reflected on young leaders everywhere.Youth make mistakes… but that does not mean that they are failures as leaders and should therefore be ignored. Mistakes are opportunities for growth, especially in leadership skills. Even the best of leaders make mistakes, but established leaders have the background and social support, that young leaders lack, to allow them to maintain their prestige and presence in the community. Young leaders do not have those resources. Young leaders need extra support and understanding from their fellow, and older, leaders. – Jessica Sullivan

Annika Mongan

Annika Mongan

I think one of the greatest challenges for emerging leaders is this fascinating and difficult time we find ourselves in. Elders and founders of traditions are aging and dying and the cohesiveness of Pagan ‘umbrella’ has come into question. We still have elders among us who pioneered the way and whose work laid the foundations upon which we stand. At the same time we have important conversations about our identity led by younger generations, including around our relationship to racism, cultural appropriation, and social justice. The face of our Paganisms is changing and it is challenging to know when to look to tradition and the work of our elders, and when to recognize the need to build on their foundations differently then they may have imagined. – Annika Mongan

Jason Thomas Pitzl

Jason Thomas Pitzl

It is truly hard for me to narrow this down to a single challenge, but I would have to say that one huge obstacle we collectively face is the fact that the old networks used to establish the infrastructure, events, and relationships within what we call the “Pagan Community” are largely disconnected with what folks under 30, and maybe even under 40, are doing. I’m not trying to say this in an accusatory way, I’m simply relating what I’ve seen in my experience. Now, this isn’t true everywhere, there are regional pockets that have managed to maintain healthy multi-generational models that are working, but I’ve also seen many instances of disfunction, break-down, and clinging to decades-old turf battles that have seemingly salted the earth in terms of building healthy communities. This widening “generation chasm” means that our value systems, and our ways of operating, even our vocabularies, are drifting apart. You have only to look at the responses to #blacklivesmatter, or the emergence of the Polytheist movement, or the renewed interest in radical thought and action from within a Pagan, Polytheist, or Witchcraft context, to experience these experiential gulfs.

As an illustrative aside – I have seen the mere mention of empowering younger leaders met with instantly defensive comments about “respecting elders” as though respect were a finite resource to be hoarded instead of an ethos to be spread far and wide, but I digress.

How can our interconnected communities support smoother transitions? By being brave, by listening and learning, by not sequestering one’s self entirely in pockets of comfort. – Jason Thomas Pitzl

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

We need more “how-to’s” and “This worked for me when’s….” I could find plenty of information written for a Christian pastor on how to support a person with severe depressed or suicidal person in their community, but it’s hard to find that information in my spiritual context. We need more leaders sharing their specific experiences in conflict, crisis, or otherwise. We particularly it from leaders or other members of the community with professional counseling, conflict mediation, or other backgrounds that deal with the tough and painful. We simply need more information to do the work, but we need it through a lens identified in Pagan spirituality. If you’ve been through it, talk about it. Have a place where people can reach you (website or social media). Answer emails. Make yourself available to people who have questions. – Courtney Weber

Jasper James

Jasper James

The biggest challenge facing emerging leaders right now is the disunity and animosity that is growing between certain sects due to racial tension within the modern Pagan community. I witnessed both blatant confrontations and a complete dismissal of race based issues hidden behind the “we are all one” rhetoric at Pcon this past winter. The truth is, I feel there is a lack of empathy for the very real struggles facing PoC brothers and sisters today within the Pagan community that leads to a lack of action. In my opinion, the greater community can support smoother transitions to leadership and action by officially adopting LOVE as its ultimate mission. The vibration, 528Hz is known simply as the “Love Hertz.” It has been used by molecular biologists to repair genetic defects, and early historical records indicate that it was used as an inseparable part of ritual ceremony. By approaching spiritual practice with the vibration of Love, you fundamentally attune yourself to the interconnectedness of all of creation. Therefore, If your spiritual practice has the true element of Love at the core then it is impossible for you not to take responsibility for that which occurs around you. – Jasper James

Sophia Sheree Martinez

Sophia Sheree Martinez

My journey as a leader started with my initial need to be part of a community. I have been part of a few communities that have since dissolved, taken different shapes, or just plain didn’t fit. My first coven experience (Circle of the Gathering Winds, Chico, CA) required me to be capable of writing and conducting my own rituals. That experience becomes my first taste in any Pagan leadership. From then I knew I was meant to do more for my Heathen community. I eventually moved to the Bay Area, where I helped create Golden Gate Kindred and its charter completely from scratch (a kindred comprised of free and equal peers). Strong differences of opinions unanimously dissuaded all voting members of our kindred from affiliating with any existing Heathen organizations, causing many people within our wider community to question our judgments.

Most of our members being under 40 years old … it takes a lot of knowledge and wisdom to feel confident when debating with well established Heathen elders about the changes you’d like to see. Reputation and honor are very important in Heathen practice, and people tend to be unconditionally loyal (often to a fault). It was hard to get our kindred recognized for a while because of tightly knit communities, but we have been gaining a voice and growing presence quickly over the past year.

To those who have been open to change, who have welcomed and mentored us, that is exactly what we need to feel accepted and of equal importance. I often organize events such as Blots, Sumbels, moots, and study groups for our kindred. While we do not have elected leaders, our members have all made niches for themselves, and I just happen to be the one facilitating events currently with help and inspiration from other members. It takes time, commitment, patience, and consistency to keep a community together. I believe a good leader is someone that lends their skill to empower the community, keeping faith that the community will keep giving back in countless ways. – Sophia Sheree Martinez

Lisa Bland

Lisa Bland

“One of the biggest challenges that emerging leaders within the modern Pagan community is that there is a real lack of education and mentorship. Mentorship is one aspect that current leaders can offer to younger members of the community who are stepping forward in their own leadership abilities. Our communities need to find ways to develop our own leadership programs or workshops, and mentorship programs – these two things together have been shown throughout evidence to be cornerstones to helping develop leaders and improve leadership structures. Until our community is able to support these workshops ourselves, I would see benefit in seeking out some of these educational needs through other avenues such as workplaces, other community organizations, and young leaders seeking out those who they identify as leaders that could provide one on one mentorship. I feel that the greater community has a real struggle with changing leadership and also with a recognition that leaders and teachers may not be the same person. Paganism is so diverse and continues to grow! We will see more leaders in various areas blossom and this shift in how our communities grow together will determine how each community area will not only survive, but thrive. We may all be a part of the same garden, but not all plants grow well next to each other. For a thriving garden, understanding what each plant needs, and how they can support one another will help communities feed each of our spirits.” – Lisa Bland

Lasara Firefox Allen

Lasara Firefox Allen

I will say that I think the solution to smoother transitions in leadership is mutual respect. – in all directions. As someone in the middle of generations (daughter of a pagan mother and mother of a pagan daughter) I can say there are more than two sides to this issue.

To me, the central question is; how can we create intergenerational integrity? – Lasara Firefox Allen

The comments above provide a clear snapshot of the many different angles that people come from and the variety of ways that this topic can be approached. It is a big one, and one of the many hard conversations that the modern Pagan and Polytheist communities are engaging in right now. As we embark on the myriad transitions that are continuing to shape our culture, we have to explore this age old problem that many communities have faced time and time again. How do we honor and learn from our elders while making space for those who are currently leading or emerging as leaders? How do we make space without dishonoring the process and our past?

It is essential to look at the concept of leadership from a multifaceted perspective, one that has many faces, many different purposes, and an interconnected need. When we approach community and leadership from a perspective that is layered, intersectional, multi-dimensional, and necessary, we are able to see the variety of positions that are valuable within the growing and expanding modern Pagan movement. Polarized concepts of leadership discourage creativity, supportive transitions and honest reflection of the needs we are tasked to support.

In our discussion, Jason mentioned something very key to this process of evolving leadership, closing the age gap and creating space for emerging leaders. “That doesn’t mean ignoring elders, or removing leaders, it means make space. Ask them what they want to do, what they want to achieve, they may surprise you with the innovative methods they have towards building a vital and healthy group. Make transition happen, handoff projects, build trust. The only way we are going to see any of the worthy projects started in the last 20 years endure for the next 50, or 100, is if we do this. If we don’t, they just might build a new community without us”

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March 14, 2015 – a day of action across Canada [Photo by Paul S.Graham]

March 14, 2015 – a day of action across Canada [Photo by Paul S.Graham]

It is hard to ignore the current political climate in Canada. Never before have we been faced with a government that has tried to overhaul and carve up our country quite the way our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his Conservative government are doing right now. For a country renowned for it’s affable nature and politeness, things are changing. In numbers not seen for decades, people are becoming radicalized and discovering reasons to become activists – for the environment, for our social programs, and now for the basic safety, privacy and security we had come to take for granted.

On January 30, 2015, Bill C-51, an “Anti-Terrorism Act” was unveiled in the House of Parliament. This massive piece of proposed legislation includes sweeping, radical changes to Canadian law and security systems by reducing the privacy and freedom of speech of Canadian people.

Bill C-51 would allow the government to:

  • Expand the definition of “Security” to not only include public safety, but to also prevent interference with the “economic or financial stability of Canada”. This could mean if you were a protestor at a rally or blockade against a pipeline you would be seen as a national threat to security.
  • The bill leaves the government to its own discretion to designate what activities may be security threats, without clear definition.
  • Even experts, such as Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, are unclear about what will constitute free speech under this bill. How are average Canadians supposed to know what can get them into trouble? The Criminal Code of Canada already has laws against committing or inciting others to commit terrorist acts. C-51 adds another layer including “advocating or promoting terrorism.’ which makes understanding the offense even more difficult.
  • The current criminal code already allows for something called “preventative arrest,” or the ability for police to arrest and detain without charge if they think you may commit a terrorist activity if they don’t. C-51 expands this, lowering the threshold and doubling the time you can be detained for.

The list goes on from there. Bill C-51 is a sprawling document over 60 pages long. With a federal election looming on the horizon, the Harper government needs to gain approval and push it through fast. It has already been voted in by the majority Conservative government, led by Stephen Harper. Now it must be brought before the House committee on National Security and Defence. If they approve it will be re-introduced to the House of Commons for a final vote before it is enacted into Law.

In a speech delivered at an anti-Bill C-51 rally on March 14, Pat Martin, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre explained how Harper rushed the process of closing the bill:

…he has moved closure on this bill after only one and one-half days of debate, he has truncated the committee process to only a few witnesses will be heard, he has run roughshod and undermined everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy in his zeal to ram this bill through Parliament…the last time Parliament dealt with any kind of amendments to the public safety act was after 911, we had 54 days of debate in the House of Commons, we had 90 witnesses, expert testimony, because we know you do not interfere with these basic fundamental rights and freedoms lightly. This is not something you do with a day and a half of debate in the House of Commons….Harper has undermined the ability of your elected representatives to act on your behalf….you have to take it to the streets – sometimes civil disobedience is civil defense. 

On March 14, 2015, more than 60 Canadian communities held rallies and marches to protest Bill C-51. All across the country people from all walks of life participated in an action that, if this Bill passed, would no doubt land them on a government watch list.

Within Pagan groups, what does this mean? Many of us are environmentalists, some of us subscribe to alternative news sources, or campaign for religious freedom. Within the description of Bill C-51 is a wide grey area that we fall into and many of the causes we hold dear and participate in could land us on the government’s watch list. Many Pagans across the country got involved in the day of protest.

Outside the Canadian Houses of Parliament, a 1-year old, third generation Pagan attends his first protest. [Photo by Marc LeBlanc]

Outside the Canadian Houses of Parliament, a 1-year old, third generation Pagan attends his first protest. [Photo by Marc LeBlanc]

In Canada’s capitol city, Ottawa, Ontario, hundreds of people gathered outside the office of the Prime Minister on Parliament Hill. Sheena MacIsaac, a member of the Board of Directors for Gaia Gathering – The Canadian National Pagan Conference and mother of two, attended with her family:

We are participating because this bill is a terrible overreaction. It feels like it has been sitting in wait for anything to happen in Canada. There is no accountability, nor oversight. The terms are vague. I don’t want my children or family targeted because we love the earth and are vocal about it.

In London, Ontario, Sophia, an American Pagan living in Canada as a permanent resident, is shocked to find out that Canada’s politics are just as compromised as other places. Her reason for participating in the March 14th protest is pure and simple, She said, “I can say is that political action is part of my commitment to the living Earth that supports us with such grace.” 

On the west coast of the country, in British Columbia, the Pagan presence in Vernon took the form of writer and Priestess, Sable Aradia, one of over 400 people who shut down the highway in her hometown of Vernon, a small city of 40,000 people located in the lush Okanagan Valley.

Of her participation in the protest, Sable says:

Sable Aradia protesting Bill C-51 outside the office of her local Member of Parliament. [Photo by Chris Madsen]

Sable Aradia protesting Bill C-51 outside the office of her local Member of Parliament. [Photo by Chris Madsen]

I’m not really an activist. I sign occasional petitions and write the infrequent letter. The last thing I publicly protested was the Gulf War. But C-51 was a deal-breaker for me. It’s a less-well-regulated variant of the Patriot Act. What’s particularly troubling is the inclusion of groups that threaten the “economic well-being” of Canada. Since environmental activists and First Nations often chain themselves to trees to stop loggers and would-be frackers, it’s pretty clear how they intend to use this clause. I see no way in which the bill would, in actuality, increase our security but I see many ways in which it would endanger our civil liberties. It is an overreaction to an isolated incident and it’s clear that it is at least in part motivated by racism. It has no place in the Canada that I want to live in. My tradition of witchcraft is BTW descended but distinctly influenced by the more political climate of West Coast Paganisms such as Reclaiming. My politics tend to be moderately left-wing. I support equality, freedom, feminism and environmentalism. For me those ethics flow naturally from the Charge of the Goddess.

Also in British Columbia, activist and Pagan podcaster Sparrow, of the Wigglian Way Podcast hit the streets of Vancouver, along with over 1000 other protestors, and gathered on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Sparrow, who has put her talk into action recently protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline through her Burnaby Mountain home, felt that there really was no choice but to protest C-51:

Bill C51 is counter to what being Canadian is all about. We have the freedom and the responsibility to keep government in check. It is our government and our country is supposed to be a democratic one. Bill C51 is in direct opposition of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill would in effect make it illegal to protest in this country. It is a direct attack on First Nations people and Activists. This bill has nothing to do with “terrorism” as those in authority would have us believe, but everything to do with raping this land of it’s resources.

Sparrow is very active in environmental issues as well as Aboriginal rights and equality issues. A project she is passionate about is Settlers, a website offering information and resources to facilitate a paradigm shift in Canada among the non-aboriginal Canadian population in relation to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people and create unity and understanding among the entire population.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba edition of the protest was also attended by over 1000 people and many “WinniPagans” joined the crowd. The rally was held in the courtyard of Winnipeg’s City Hall and featured speakers from government, Aboriginal, student, and community groups. Underscoring the wide range of people who could be considered a threat to national security was a performance by “The Winnipeg Raging Grannies” who provided some hilarious songs of protest and decent and reminded us of how easily our own actions can be deemed dangerous.

This is what a threat to Canadian national security looks like – The Raging Grannies [Photo by Paul S. Graham]

This is what a threat to Canadian national security looks like – The Raging Grannies [Photo by Paul S. Graham]

One outspoken WinniPagan is Katherine Bitney, a poet, essayist and Witch who participated in the protest accompanied by her daughter and granddaughter – three generations of strong Pagan women determined to fight for the land:

My Paganism in a sense drives and/or determines my politics. Learning natural law, as it manifests in the world around us, and living from an ethics based on this. We are very aware that this bill is aimed at anyone who opposes Harper’s agenda to give the land over to corporations that will, already do, destroy it. It makes environmentalists, anyone who stands up for the land, Indigenous people, into enemies of the Harper state. It silences and criminalizes dissent. As a Pagan it’s my responsibility to listen to and watch out for the land, and to speak out against, fight, its enemies. All land is holy.

Reinforcing the Pagan connection to the land, is Lawrence, another WinniPagan, who attended the rally with the rest of his covenmates:

The bill would be used to crack down on the civil, humanitarian, and ecological endeavours of groups who choose to protect those rights against corporate and economic profiteers. C-51 places economic interests on par with – or above – human and ecological rights. As a witch, that makes no sense at all. My gods aren’t capitalists. They are gods of the wood, of the land, of waters, of air, of sacred groves and hearths. There is nothing in that which calls me to spoil the land, starve living beings, or disproportionately churn what natural balance is left. I choose to be political so I can protect that which is sacred to me, respect that which the gods find honourable, and affect what change may be possible.

Winnipeg Witches protest C-51 at City Hall [Photo by AT]

Winnipeg Witches protest C-51 at City Hall [Photo by AT]

What should Canadian Pagans and Witches do about C-51? Sparrow had this to say, “Now, I do expect more from Canadian Pagans. I expect the mundane and the magical. I’ve been to a lot of ritual where the idea was planted, but nothing is growing. I’ve also been to ceremony where you make a pledge to Spirit or the Gods, and YOU DO WHAT YOU PLEDGE. It’s not that hard. Really. Get out to a “call to action”. Activism is fun.”

As a response to the increasing dissent toward the government of Canada and the growing frustration of Pagans with the way things are going, more and more Pagan folk of all stripes are fed up and becoming activists. Sable Aradia invited some of us to join her in her new blog, Winding Widdershins, dedicated to Canadian politics through a Pagan lens. She said:

In general, I prefer not to discuss politics in Pagan circles; we’re already such a factitious lot. But our spirituality guides our ethics, and our ethics do influence our politics. I don’t like politics myself, but I keep finding out about things that concern me through Facebook feeds and chance conversations and that’s no way to do it. I figured we needed a forum to encourage this kind of discussion, if nothing else so that I don’t feel so impotent against overwhelming forces. 

Looking ahead, it really seems like this will be an exciting year of political activity in Canada. With a federal election tentatively scheduled for October 2015, issues like Bill C-51 will be boiling over and Canadian Pagans will be stirring the pot.

By earth, by air, by fire, by water
We are the good earth’s sons and daughters
By voice, by heart, by my own hand
I swear to keep this holy land
By the power of three times three
This is my oath So mote it be
And as you share
So do you swear

– Crystal Coven of Winnipeg’s  “Oath to the Land”

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Today is the vernal (spring) equinox. It is the astronomical beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Wiccans, Heathens, Polytheists and various modern Pagans celebrate this day as Ostara, Lady Day, Shubun-sai, or simply the spring equinox (autumnal equinox for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere.) Other Spring festivals and holidays, include Holi or the Hindu festival of color, Higan in Japan, Nowruz or New Year on the Persian calendar, the Christian Easter and Jewish Passover. And there are many others.

Azaelas in bloom

Azaelas in bloom [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

This year’s vernal equinox, which will occur today at 6:45 pm (EDT), will coincide with two other astronomical events: a solar eclipse and a supermoon.

According to Accuweather, the early morning eclipse was most visible in northern regions around the Atlantic seaboards.For example, “those living in northern Scotland can expect approximately 95 percent of the sun to be blocked during the eclipse, while those as far south as Rome, Italy, can expect more than 50 percent.” The Guardian did live updates, including video and photos, saying it was the best eclipse viewing in the U.K. since 1999.

Additionally, there will be a supermoon tonight. This happens when “a full moon or a new moon … occurs during the moon’s closest approach to Earth on its elliptical orbit.” Spring is certainly arriving in style this year.

Here are some quotes celebrating the seasonal holiday….

This Spring Equinox is a resurrection of all things Maiden for me. The Spring Equinox, is a time of rebirth and my work as a Priestess is to allow the energy of the wheel of the year and the medicine that it holds to mould me and to guide me, and so, this year as I prepare for ceremony I prepare to rebirth my Maiden self. Though I am walking in my Mother years I still have access to that Maiden self, each waxing moon honours the Maiden within me and each Spring that is sprung is a season to pull her up from the recesses of my unconscious… – Candise, From “Spring Equinox Resurrection”

In the great Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year drama of the Goddess and God, Ostara is a time to celebrate the Lady in her guise as the Maiden and the Horned God in his role as the young horned god (we call him “Goatboy” at our house). Since it’s a celebration of younger deities the energies in the circle are often younger too. There’s something about Ostara that has always made me feel young inside, like a kid, and I think that’s something to celebrate. – Jason Mankey, From “8 Ways to Celebrate Ostara”

The Autumnal equinox is just around the corner for us in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the mid harvest festival on the Pagan seasonal wheel and this year for me, it is about Foundations. For I am starting a new business, one that I hope will grow into a strong creative path and living, but for that to happen I need to create strong foundations, both magically and physically and find the balanced between both. - Mistress Polly, From “The Autumnal Equinox,”

This is a very powerful time to do magic, not only because of the balancing of the earth’s energies, but because of the way our own beings echo the earth’s changes. We are literally reborn as we emerge from our winter sleep, ready to partake of all the pleasures of the earth, and to meet the challenges we will face as the world changes around us daily. - Peg Aloi, From “You call it Easter. I call it Ostara.”

Spring flower. Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Spring flower. [Photo Credit: J. Pitzl.]

And from The Huffington Post:

“Spring equinox is a time of new life, new growth, and renewal,” [Rev Selena] Fox told The Huffington Post. “It is a wonderful time to get outdoors and commune with nature, watching migrating birds, the greening of the landscape and budding of trees.”

…Those who are city-bound and surrounded by concrete sidewalks and skyscrapers may be crying a bit on the inside after reading that. We feel your pain. But Fox says there are actually many ways for urban-dwellers to connect with nature on Ostara. The priestess shared seven tips for celebrating the new season — even without access to streams and meadows.

May you all enjoy a fruitful and blessed spring!

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – I turned my phone to silent and found a seat in a workshop at Paganicon, a Pagan convention held in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the Spring Equinox. I was particularly interested in this presentation and had it marked as one I couldn’t miss. It wasn’t the topic that caught my eye as I looked through the programming guide, it was the presenter – 9-year-old AuroraWolf.

While some Pagan festivals and conventions have children’s programming, I haven’t heard of any that had programming presented by a child as young as AuroraWolf. Coming on the heels of conversations in the Pagan blogosphere about the need to make room for younger leaders to emerge, I thought I’d take a look at what our future could possibly look like.

The presentation was titled Calming Your Inner Dragon and was open to children and adults who wished to learn calming techniques when they are angry. There were 5 adults and 3 children sitting in a circle in smaller convention room usually set aside for meditation.

The description for the workshop was written by AuroraWolf

The description for the workshop was written by AuroraWolf

AuroraWolf introduced himself by name and said his preferred pronouns are he and him. He then explained what the workshop was about and what we’d be doing. He described his anger as a feeling he got in his chest, “I kinda felt fire with wings and I heard a heartbeat. Not mine, but a small tiny heartbeat, kinda like a baby dragon.”

Looking at the other children and the adults I could see everyone nodding their head. They appeared to immediately understand what AuroraWolf was talking about and the vivid imagery eliminated the need for lengthy explanations. AuroraWolf then asked others how their dragon feels and what happens when it gets growly.

One young boy said that when his dragon gets out of control he wants to break things. An adult said he feels very small and very quiet and cold.

A stark difference in this workshop as opposed to workshops lead by adults was the lack of unintentional shaming. In adult conversations about anger, the focus is on control and the inference is that losing control of your anger is a failing on your part. AuroraWolf never inferred that feelings such as anger were bad or that you were a bad person for experiencing them. He led a very open and matter of fact examination of anger, the effect it can have on you and others, and then shared ideas for how to calm your dragon. His language was direct and non-judgmental. Your dragon isn’t bad, here’s how you can care for it.

How were his presentation skills? His next workshop should be on How to Present a Workshop.

After each round of discussion, AuroraWolf asked, “Has everyone spoken who wants to speak?” and then he looked around at each person. He didn’t rush to the next point and was fully in the present moment with each person. When one young attendee tried to contribute to the discussion but became a bit upset, AuroraWolf jumped in with, “It’s OK for you to have a pass.” He looked truly anxious for her to know it was ok for her not to speak and that no one would think any less of her. But AuroraWolf also didn’t dwell on the exchange and draw even more attention to her, either.

The suggestions that AuroraWolf offered for calming your dragon could be implemented by children or adults. He said that when he’s at school and he needs to calm his dragon, he pictures it curled up in his chest and he scratches it behind the ears. The dragon then falls asleep. As AuroraWolf was describing the method, the other kids immediately closed their eyes and moved their hands as if they were scratching a dragon curled in their arms. I’ve taken many guided meditation classes, but this 1 minute gem could have saved me much time and effort over the years. It not only treated anger as a partner to work with instead of an enemy to oppose, it was ridiculously easy and I’ve put it to use since the class.

AuroraWolf demonstrates a calming hand gesture he uses for meditation

AuroraWolf demonstrates a calming hand gesture he uses for meditation

Other ideas were focused on distracting the dragon. AuoraWolf said that candles can be used to distract dragons because they like to chase the scent rising up from the candle. He also went through basic candle safety. Pixie, a 9-year-old attendee said that she distracts her dragon by thinking about something that happened a week ago or by smelling cookies.

The workshop lasted just over 20 minutes. This was another nice change from adult presenters, and I’m one of them, who feel if they have a 50 minute time slot they will, by all the Gods, fill those 50 minutes.

The decision to allow a 9-year-old to present at a conference isn’t one every convention would consider, but Becky Munson, Programming Director for Twin Cities Pagan Pride, the organization that produces Paganicon, said they didn’t treat this submission any different from any other. She said their process is to try to take at least one thing from each person who submits a proposal and that’s what they did in AuroraWolf’s case, as well.

They did, however, spend some time discussing how to support AuroraWolf so he would be successful, “There’s special considerations when you have a child presenting because they aren’t equipped in the same way as adult to deal with all of the nuances that come with standing in front of a group and teaching and handling that. They don’t have the life experience so part of it is making the consideration for how we do it, not if we do it. And then give them the support because they’re the leaders that we need in 5 or 10 years to do programming for 50 or 60 people as Paganicon gets bigger.”

AuroraWolf’s mother said the idea to create the workshop was solely AuroraWolf’s. He wrote his own proposal and sent it in. AuroraWolf said the idea didn’t come to him all of a sudden, “It was just hovering around in my head. Apparently I could feel the dragon banging around because apparently he was chasing the idea.”

Munson said that she wasn’t surprised to see a workshop proposal from AuroraWolf because he was very involved with the conference last year as a volunteer.

Pixie thought it was “really cool” that AuroraWolf’s workshop was accepted. She was excited, saying “I really like dragons and sometimes I’m extremely hyper so I thought I’d be good for me.”

Her mother, Lapis, was also pleased to see a workshop led by a young child. “We bring Pixie with us to ritual all the time and try to answer her questions but I think she could learn so much more and understand so much more from her peers. Having a 9-year-old do a workshop and explain those different meditation techniques, I think it will help a lot for her to be able to internalize it and understand it on her level versus what we try to teach her.”

AuroraWolf said he was excited to do the presentation, but also nervous, “I’ve never done a presentation before so maybe this could be my first time and all of a sudden I clenched up because I’ve never done a presentation before. I might blow it.”

The presentation went smoothly and any nervousness that AuroraWolf may have been feeling wasn’t apparent. He was calm, attentive to his audience, and as interested in what they had to say as he was in presenting his material. If this is an example of what our future leaders look like, we’re in good hands. I’ve also come to the conclusion that most presentations should be done by children.

AuroraWolf’s mother was understandably proud of her son. “I was proud of him from the beginning. When I asked his dad if he was doing a proposal and he said he was going to volunteer instead, for completeness I asked [AuroraWolf] if he was going to do a proposal to my surprise he said yes. I thought Ok. That’s good, but he has to do it on his own. But I am tremendously proud of him. I knew he could do it, I knew he was brave and strong enough. He wasn’t always sure he was brave and strong enough but I have all the confidence in the world in my little boy.”

So how does AuroraWolf feel after teaching his first workshop? “I feel as happy as a puppy who could never die.”

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ATLANTA, Ga – It has been a year since we looked at the current debates over RFRAs or Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. In 2013, we reported on a Kentucky bill that had been prompted by concerns over the safety of Amish Buggies. In March 2014, Arizona’s infamous “anti-gay” bill was making news, and eventually vetoed. This past summer SCOTUS ruled in the Hobby Lobby case, raising awareness of the application of RFRA laws within society.

These are only three examples of a far reaching legislative battle over the boundaries and practical exercise of religious freedom. Basically, the debate comes down to whether we need more precise legislation to protect religious freedom or whether the state and federal constitutions are enough.

In the past month, the debate has flared up in the deep south. Up until February, there were two proposed “religious freedom” bills before Georgia’s state legislature. Representative Sam Teasley’s (R-Marietta) HB218 called “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act,” and State Senator Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) SB129 called “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

When SB129 was approved by the Georgia State Senate on March 5, Teasley abandoned HB218 and joined in supporting McKoon’s bill as it moved into the House. Opponents are calling this bill the harshest state RFRA yet, because the bill is very open-ended in defining burden and religious exercise. For example, the bill reads:

‘Exercise of religion’ means any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief, including but not limited to the practice or observance of religion under Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, Article I of the 74 Constitution of this state or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, or the use, building, or conversion of real property for the purpose of religious exercise. [71-76]

The recent Senate approval raised the volume on the conversation, bringing out some new players, including Atlanta-resident Elton John. He said, “[SB129] claims to protect religious freedom and encourage tolerance. In reality, it encourages the same discrimination that’s haunted the South for too long.” John goes on to explain how the bill will target Atlanta’s LGBT community, calling it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” that will only “institutionalize the hate some people hold in their hearts.”

On March 11, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, published its own response to the Georgia bill. High Priest Dusty Dionne wrote:

We thank the state of Georgia for its forward thinking and dedication to religious freedom. It has been a reality long-held by Wiccans that the laws did not extend far enough toward our own exercise of religion [50-15A-2. line 71] to be truly encompassing of our freedom to worship. The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as passed by our illustrious president Bill Clinton, was a landmark move that opened the door for minority religions, and small local churches to have more safety to worship within their communities than ever before. This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and LIVE their religion to its fullest.

Dionne goes on to list a number of ways in which the Georgia RFRA will support Wiccan religious practice and lifestyles, including the growing of sacred plants and “multi-partner relationships.” Dionne told The Wild Hunt that in no way is that list of potential protections exhaustive.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dionne’s sent his article to all Georgia state senators as well as the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC). On March 13, AJC writer Jim Galloway responded in a post titled “An Unusual Voice enters the religious liberty debate.” Another local news site picked up on the story in a post titled, “Georgia’s Religious Freedom Act is Opposed by Elton John, But Supported by the Wiccans.”

It wasn’t long before ATC’s article began to pick up momentum in cyberspace. One writer said that the statement “will go down in the Annals of the History of Bluff-Calling,” and that he hopes “the Aquarian Tabernacle Church pushes this as far as they can.” A Heathen blogger simply said, “Honor to the Wiccans who came up with this one” and then contemplated whether Heathens should “try some humorous responses to discrimination as well.”

As Dionne’s article cycled around, Georgia Wiccans began to speak out, and many questioned Dionne’s approached. Atlanta-resident and blogger Sara Amis responded saying, “We can fight for our own,” pointing out the number of Wiccans present in the state. In “Pray Naked Re-Dux,” Amis wrote, “Dusty Dionne … greets this news with less hostility than I, also with a list of new freedoms the law could grant to Wiccans. (But he left out naked rituals in public! an oversight I’m sure.)” Having followed this debate since its beginnings, Amis goes on to say:

The Georgia state constitution already offers very robust protections to religious expression, even more than the First Amendment. Unnecessary laws are generally a pack of trouble on principle, and many people feel…I am one of them…that the only “protection” this will actually offer is for bigots in mainstream faiths.

Other Wiccans voiced direct frustration with ATC’s efforts. Like Amis, blogger and Wiccan Priestess Lydia M. Crabtree is opposed to RFRA legislation, but she expressed real concerns over the strategies used by the Washington-based ATC. She said that they “are confusing the issue.”

Agreeing with Crabtree is local Wiccan Priest Matthaios Theadoros. He said that he believes the article is “well-intended” but that he “uncomfortable” with the methodologies. Theodorus said, “Instead of working to undermine RFRA, I think it is only going to cast suspicion on Wicca.” He explained:

They are seeming to set up Wicca as one that participates in polyamory and insinuates some sort of questionable herb use. Though some Wiccans may be polyamorous, it is disingenuous to suggest that it is an inherent part of the religion. To suggest Wiccans should be exempt from urine or blood tests on the basis that Wiccans do not want others having our essence is going to come off as foolish at best and suspicious at worst considering that part comes after a section on allowing the use of certain herbs that cannot be locally grown

As Amis pointed out, the AJC reporter seemed to be “confused about whether [the ATC article was] a hoax.” And that was the overriding sentiment present in local reactions. Was ATC serious? Was it a hoax? Was it bluff? When asked, Dionne confirmed that he was indeed serious and explained:

If the bill goes through, this will be part of what we will be coaching Wiccans to accept as part of their rights, and then we will start dealing with winning the court cases, and that will cement our rights. Change can be made, and if they give us a framework of law that they think is going to give them exclusive religious rights, then what we are going to do is set our beliefs into that framework, and we legally should have the same expansion of our rights.

Dionne pointed out that this type of work is part of the ATC legacy. Peter Pathfinder was instrumental in past religious freedom battles. Dionne, now as the High Priest of the Keepers of the Gate ATC Mother Church, High Summoner of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church Intl. and Consort to the Arch Priestess Belladonna LaVeau, is compelled to pick up that baton. When asked why the Georgia bill and not the many others being proposed in other states, he said, “I am new in my position. Give me some time.”

And, there are many other RFRAs being debated currently. Americans United (AU) recently published an report on the various bills that have either “picked up steam” or “stalled out,” including the Federal RFRA.

As for Georgia’s bill, the debate rages on. Proponents continue to defend SB129’s non-discriminatory basis, and that it’s only purpose is to protect “people of faith” and their right to practice.

Opponents argue that the RFRA has nothing to do with religious freedom. Just yesterday, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination held a rally on the steps of the capitol to protest this point. Like many others, the group stresses that the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution are more than enough to ensure religious freedom in Georgia.

[Photo Credit: Ken Lund /Flickr]

State Capitol [Photo Credit: Ken Lund /Flickr]

However, there is one detail being overlooked in this entire conversation – one that may be of particular interest to Georgia’s Pagans and others practicing minority religions. The proposed bill references “Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, 19 Article I” of the Georgia constitution as the marker of the state’s religious freedom laws.This portion of the constitution reads, “Each person has the natural and inalienable right to worship God…”

Because of its open-ended language, SB129 actually nullifies that particular criteria. It defines the “Exercise of Religion” as “including but not limited to the practice or observance of religion under Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, Article I of the Constitution…” In other words, while the new bill may open doors to discriminatory behavior, abuse and similar stated issues, it also appears to be serving to undermine a section of Georgia’s state constitution that is, in the end, problematic itself.

The Georgia House is scheduled to vote on SB129 on April 2.

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SAN QUENTIN, CALIFORNIA — It has been said that casting a ritual circle describes a sacred place, outside of time and space. Whoever came up with that phrasing likely has never worked within the U.S. correctional system, where space is rigidly controlled by an unyielding culture and where time moves according to the whims of an incredibly complex bureaucracy.

San Quentin Prison yard

San Quentin Prison yard [Photo Credit: Zboralski / via Wickimedia]

However, it’s easier to see how time and space can be folded and spindled by looking through the eyes of Aline “Macha” O’Brien, who is now nearing the end of a quest to get a group of Pagan inmates some incense and candles. It is a process that has taken nine long months.

“There’s nothing that’s simple in prison bureaucracies,” she said during a recent phone interview. “It’s very bizarre, quite opaque, and in flux.”

The many regulations exist to keep staff and inmates safe and secure. But in a penitentiary system as large as California’s, and in a prison as old as San Quentin, those who aren’t part of the system would easily be confused by the dizzying number of requirements. In addition, the exact constitutional rights entitled to inmates — and in what form — are also moving targets, as court cases cause wardens to change tactics.

While others choose to fight those legal battles, O’Brien has been focusing on giving one group of Pagan men the opportunity to worship their gods. Many people find religion when they are incarcerated. A recent Chicago Tribune article provides an look at religious belief in prison and how that works from a inmate’s perspective.

Because so many are finding religion, education on the basics of ritual and practice are an implicit as part of O’Brien’s work. That is a challenging enough proposition for professional chaplain working in large churches, where presumably there’s a single set of beliefs and rituals to transmit. But trying to be an expert on all which falls under the Pagan umbrella is near impossible.

The group O’Brien works with identifies as Wicca, while she herself does not. The rituals, as she described them, are what many might think of as having a “generic” structure, including a cast circle, elemental correspondences with directions, and a focus on one or more deities that change from ritual to ritual. She stays with what she knows, which is decades of worshiping as an eclectic nature-based Witch, and has worked to improve the conditions under which these men follow her lead.

O’Brien described the so-called chapel for minority religions as a storeroom where the initial preparations of the space involve moving what’s inside to the edges so they have room to gather in a circle. They lean some of the furniture against the wall to muffle the sounds of the gospel choir practicing next door, which can be distracting. While prisoners are not permitted lighters or matches, the use of incense and candles is okay per the regulations of this particular facility, so securing more of these supplies quickly became a priority.


Aline “Macha” O’Brien

One of the barriers drawn by most correctional facilities is a demarcation between visitors and volunteers. Those who work in the system — the volunteers — are not permitted to have any kind of personal relationship with a prisoner, which includes visiting them during designated times, sending them correspondence, or otherwise engaging outside of the time and place of the volunteer work. Likewise, if one visits a prisoner, one cannot at the same time be cleared as a volunteer.

While it was not difficult to secure someone willing to donate the ritual materials, that donor could not be known to the men in any way. The person who finally agreed to make the donation was Matt Whealton, a member of the San Francisco-based Temple of Ra. “Having had a close family member in the penal system some years ago, I understand how much it can mean for inmates to get some kind of humanizing support from the wider world,” he explained. Given a list of needed supplies, it was Whealton’s job to order them from the approved supplier — in this case, AzureGreen in Massachusetts — and ensure that the necessary paperwork accompanied the order so it wouldn’t be cast into some kind of correctional-facility limbo upon arrival.

As O’Brien explained, getting to that point has been challenging. At first, it wasn’t even clear if the vendor was approved at all, because she couldn’t get the same answer from any two people. With the assistance of Rev. Patrick McCollum, she was able to confirm that piece, and worked up a supply list which, she said, “needed to get about six approval signatures” before they could proceed.

Whealton himself had to confirm in writing his intention to donate the supplies, then the fully-approved form had to be mailed back to him so that he could include it when he mailed payment. If the approval form isn’t in the package upon its arrival at San Quentin, the box won’t be waiting for O’Brien when she goes back to open it up.

The list of supplies is carefully scrutinized to weed out anything deemed contraband. Prisoners are not allowed items which can be used as weapons, such as brass candlesticks or anything made of glass. Nor can they be given images containing any amount of nudity, which rules out quite a bit of sacred imagery. O’ Brien must bring a lighter herself for the candles and incense. While she was able to secure permission to use some glass votive holders, they are locked up securely in the chaplain’s office when not in use.

Even once the supplies arrive, much of the work to provide further religious props come from O’Brien’s home printer, which churns out everything from appropriate deity images to seasonal decorations like eggs and holly.

To this longtime Witch, the constraints of the prison system can be imposing, but the bigger problem is on the horizon. As noted earlier, many inmates find religion in prison. O’Brien said, “When these people are released, they are going to seek out people in their new faith community, and those people won’t know anything of their backgrounds.”

Because of the rules prohibiting personal relationships, she herself knows nothing about the crimes that landed these men behind bars, nor anything about how that experience has shaped them. Because Paganism is not a monolithic body, and does not have much in the way of infrastructure, she fears that the community will be unprepared to work with this new population.

How these people, who have lived in a place where time crawls and space is cramped, will ultimately integrate into a community that seeks the mysteries beyond those limits remains to be seen.


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