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

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As noted in The Guardian, the short list for the coveted Bookseller/Diagram Prize was just announced, and a Pagan author was on it. Diana Rajchel’s Divorcing a Real Witch has been selected as finalist in the annual competition that celebrates books with “odd titles.” It is a light-hearted literary award that has been on-going since 1978. In recent years, the winner has been selected by popular vote through Bookseller’s website. Last year’s winner was How to Poo on a Date written by Mats & Enzo.

When asked how she felt about being nominated for what is called “Britain’s most prestigious literary award,” Rajchel’s said, “In its own strange way, a Diagram award nomination makes me feel a bit vindicated. When I shopped this book, I went back and forth on this title. My friends that are longtime veterans in publishing loved it. Some readers in the UK apparently quibble about what kind of witch is a real witch anyway so this hit a nerve for a few; people in the US found the title either funny or offensive depending on their own worldview. If the attention brought to my book by this nomination gets people to read it, and to think about divorce and taking care of themselves in a different way, I’m glad of it.”  Other nominees include: Nature’s Nether Regions, Where do Camels Belong and Advanced Pavement Research. To vote, go to Bookseller’s sister site “We Love This Book.”  The winner will be announced on March 27.

  • Although it doesn’t appear to be October, The Guardian has published a long article titled “Season of Witch: why young woman are flocking to the ancient craft.” Written by Sady Doyle, the article explores the unending, youthful fascination with Witchcraft. She writes, “Images of witchcraft call to so many women – straight and not, white and of color, religious and devoutly atheist – because the task of reclaiming the witch is a fundamentally poetic one.” Doyle begins and ends with quotes from rapper Azealia Banks who equates her interest in Witchcraft, in part, to being a minority and associated experiences. However, Doyle fails to explore the full implications of Banks’ statement, jumping right into the discussion of feminism and its ties to the cultural mythos of the Witch. She quotes a number of different practitioners, including Starhawk, for an in-depth discussion of Witchcraft as female empowerment.
  • On Feb. 26, The Debrief published an article in reaction to the Guardian’s piece. It is titled “Are More Twenty Something Women Turning to Witchcraft? We asked an Expert.” Who was that expert? None other than our own columnist Christina Oakley Harrington. Writer Stevie Martin, once a teenage dabbler herself, talked to Harrington about the reality of young people “flocking” to Wicca. Martin quoted Harrington as saying, “[Witchcraft] is empowering for young woman, it addresses the sacredness of their individuality, it says that a woman is entitled to power, and the more powerful she is, the more healthy she’ll be. Psychologically. She is not a sex object and she is not a consumer object … She has the right to a place in society, but if she’s forced to the margins of society then she should stand proud of who she is.”
  • Speaking of Witches, the Courtauld Gallery in London is now exhibiting “Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.” According to the site, “This major exhibition reunites all the surviving drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album for the first time, offering a fascinating and enlightening view of a very private and personal Goya.” As the curator’s note, these works were never meant to be seen beyond a few of Goya’s friends. The exhibition will be open until May 25.
  • The Pew Research Center just released its report on the Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and HostilitiesTaken from data collected in 2013, the report analyzes “the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.” According to the Center, “social hostilities involving religion” decreased from 2012-2013, while incidents of antisemitism steadily increase. New in this report is an “analysis of government restrictions and social hostilities aimed primarily at religious minorities.” This data is not broken down by specific practice.
  • A recent U.S.A Today report highlights the recent increase in the tragic and horrible Albino killings in the African country of Tanzania. In Jan, NPR published a similar report, in which they asked, “Can a ban on witchcraft protect the Albinos of Tanzania?” Last month, the country banned the practice of witchcraft in a desperate attempt to curtail the killings of those citizens born with Albinism. Tanzania is considered to have the largest population of Albino citizens. Unfortunately, their condition brings with it real dangers. Many superstitions ascribe magical powers to Albinism, and believers will kill and mutilate those affected to acquire body parts. The witchcraft ban is an attempt to end this practice and to protect the Albino population. News sources and humanitarian aid organizations are littered with these horror stories. But is banning witchcraft really the solution?
  • A student at a Portland, Maine high school sparked a local controversy after changing the way she welcomed others to recite the morning pledge of allegiance over the school’s intercom. Student Council President Lily SanGiovanni said, “At this time would you please rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance if you’d like to.” According to reports, SanGiovanni and two friends had recently learned that reciting the Pledge was optional, and wanted to make that point clear to the student body. In a recent interview with local reporters, SanGiovanni explained, “The reference to ‘under God’ makes us uncomfortable because it’s a public school. It has nothing to do with our patriotism.” Backlash erupted almost immediately and spread throughout the community.
  • The Hallmark Channel turned its successful film franchise, The Good Witch, into an original series. The 2-hour premiere debuted yesterday, Feb. 28.

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Leonard Nimoy, 1931- 2015 [Photo Credit Gage Skidmore]

 

 

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“To Know, To Will, To Dare, To No Longer Be Silent – by Tanisia Greer

Today is the last day of February concluding Black History Month for 2015. Each year the U.S. celebrates the legacy, and influence of Black people whose stories have historically been omitted from history books. It was in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson first founded Negro History Week. In 1976, it was expanded into Black History month. One week or an  entire month, this celebration has held a lot of meaning for many of over the years.

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

While the elevation of African American voices during this one month does not erase the disproportionate lack of celebrating these voices throughout the year, it it does bookmark a consistent time where we are mindful of the contribution of Black people in this country.

African American followers of Pagan paths also practice within a community where their voices are the minority and where they are not as visible within the overculture of modern Paganism. The intersections between societal culture and ethnic culture often influence the magical practices and beliefs of Black people.

Joining in the celebration of Black History month for 2015, we honor the voices of African American Pagan practitioners in the modern Pagan community. They speak about their feelings and the importance of Black History month; they share their influences and inspirations as a magical practitioner.

Reluctant Spider

Reluctant Spider

My main altar always has a section dedicated to my ancestors, named or unknown alike. More often than not, I offer incense for the beloved dead and burn candles for the transitioning or living family. Through red or white threads that tie us, they can speak back through time to me in word and energy and I back to them as the end result of their legacy. It’s hard to doubt that what I do in my life matters when I put it into perspective like this.

Black history month is building a history for a group of people who lost touch with a lot of theirs. Though research is getting better trying to trace family lineage beyond the slave trade and prior can be a painful reminder that we could feel like a people without a real homeland nor history, neither this nor that. Black history month is a way of embracing our shared roots from the seeds sprinkled here by our ancestors lives. I do cringe from the occasionally obligatory, even show-pony, nature of Black History Month and yet also allow myself to drink in the wisdom, courage and daring of black people in this country with pride.  After all, I’m black. This is my country and I hope to contribute things with the discovery that is my life too. In order to draw possibilities out of myself I often need examples and Black History Month is an opportunity to remember that there are plenty of amazing women and men of distant and recent past who look like me. It’s nice to occasionally see yourself in the mirrors of time. – Reluctant Spider

Ciera Jennings

Ciera Jennings

As a Person of Color that is a Magickal Practitioner, Black History Month gives me a space to join with the energy of others in our culture and honor Our elders and Ancestors that we may not normally honor every day. In my practice, ancestor reverence is vital. For without them we wouldn’t exist; it is They who birthed us and walked before us to show us how to live and fight. It is our Ancestors that stand beyond the veil and are helping our prayers be answered and our spells manifest. No matter what diety you may worship or if you don’t worship Deity at all, the thing that unites us across all barriers is that we have Ancestors. What Black History gives POC practitioners is public space to honor and educate others, as well as ourselves, about the people who died, and those who are still fighting, to make us great.  – Ciera “Phoenix” Jennings

Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno, Chris Bradford

Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno, Chris Bradford

During February, when I share history and understanding of the horrors of Black History in America, folks expect it. I don’t have to feel like some radical for sharing things we all should already know, but do not because we are taught other people’s history, and taught history with Black folks and Black greatness literally whitewashed away. During February, I can talk about history with the ease I should be able to every month of the year. During the rest of the months I’m a radical, a rabble-rouser, a trouble-maker, “negative,” for talking about the realities of American History and the deep and powerful impact we have had on the world. During the rest of the months, I’m a conspiracy theorist or delusional for speaking about the very real contributions Bantu and other Sub-saharan cultures have made, and for calling out the systems that are continuously working to repress and control us.

Yes us; African-American culture is steeped in it’s Bantu roots, and we are part of that diaspora. I tire of having my history removed from me for the convenience of others. I no longer care if it makes other people uncomfortable. February is a leaping-off point each year for the re-education of myself and my peers about who we are, defined by US and not by the children and culture of our oppressors.

Nat Turner. We had revolutionaries with his same fire, his same wisdom, his same willingness to get things done that serve as honored ancestors who fought slavery in Cuba.  As an African-American, Nat Turner is the warrior and ancestor who took up the gun, took up the machete and showed us how oppression like slavery and vicious harm done to our people should be met. With raised arm, with blade, with gunpowder and fire! I look to his example when I deal with enemies, and when I make plans for my future and the future of my folk in this nation of ours. Palo Mayombe is a fiery religion, rooted in medicine and war, and I’m called as a Tata Nkisi to fight for what my folk and community need. He also is an important reminder that *action* creates change, creates respect, and that talking about the problems we’re dealing with will only get us so far, if all we are willing to do is talk. I’m willing to talk, but I keep my machete close. His spirit stands behind me. –  Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno, Chris Bradford.

Luna Pantera

Black History month has always been important to me since I was a young girl. Even then I thought it was “weird” that it was the shortest month of the year! It is a time for me as a Black woman to turn inward and acknowledge the history, sacrifice of my Ancestors especially female Ancestors.There are three that come to mind:  Nina Simone, Mary Ellen Pleasant and Octavia Butler. 

As a Black female witch who also identifies as an activist and writer the reasons are obvious. Nina Simone never let her fear of her “popularly as a performer get in her way of speaking her truth with such tunes as Mississippi Goddamn or even Jenny the Pirate which takes on a totally different tone with a strong Black female voice. Mary Ellen Pleasant was once a slave who through her own “wiles” got her freedom and studied with Maria Laveau. She then went on in the energy of Harriet Tubman to work the Underground Railroad to free hundreds of slaves and set them up in some of the “finest” homes in San Francisco. She was the richest person in California at one time worth over $10 million dollars! She was also a civil rights activist. And last but never least Octavia Butler who was one of the finest Science Fiction writers who always included race and gender in her stories.

During this month, and truthfully the entire year I celebrate them through my own work of writing, helping others connect with their own Ancestors and inspiring others to learn and respect “those that came before them!” Ashe!!! – Luna Pantera

Tanisia Greer

Many events over the past 5 years, including the many publicized killings of Black men, women & children, and the coarsening of discourse about race in America, has awakened me in ways that I never imagined. In Paganism, and specifically in Wicca, there’s the adage “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Be Silent.” For me, as I’ve learned to re-evaluate how I approach Black history and my own history, the last part of that saying has changed in my mind to “To no longer be silent.”

In magick, keeping your workings “silent” and secret protects the energy of the work and allows the ritual and energy released to go out into the world. I’ve learned in the past 6 months that, sometimes, the true working of one’s will comes when one dares to speak up about things that have been kept silent for far too long.

Our Black historical luminaries created great social workings not by staying silent, but daring to speak out against injustice and advocating for humanity and equality. Their words continue to live and vibrate and create changes in people, long past their passing through the veil. What that has taught me, as a Pagan and a Black woman, is that there is just as much power in speaking out as there is in preserving my words and energies. It has induced me to search out parts of my personal family history and long-suppressed aspects of Black history to help complete the picture of Black history in general, and my place in this world in particular. And that “working” has expanded and brought a new richness to this year’s Black History Month, and challenges me to become a stronger person and witch, ready to stand and speak my own truth. – Tanisia Greer

Erica Shadowsong

Erica Shadowsong

I have a feeling my answers may be reflective of a particular generational perspective, as well as perhaps the modern Pagan of Color who is not connecting to Paganism directly through a tradition passed on through ethnic heritage. The truth is, I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about Black History month. I don’t feel that I have a sense of the context that made it so important to others; people in my generation think that the history of all peoples should be integrated, all the time.

I feel uncomfortable with a month set aside to give what often seems an obligatory nod to African Americans. What I really want, and what would have helped me growing up, would be to see and learn about people like me – women, Pagans, People of Color, varied gender/sexual identities and abilities – as part of the whole tapestry of human history. I do not want to be a special category that only I care about. I want to be included in the greater story. The other way is lonelier.

I draw inspiration from present day Pagan authors of color, such as Stephanie Rose Bird. Throughout my life, I have drawn personal inspiration from Sojourner Truth (especially in her experiences as a woman treated differently than white women, and being strong and independent), Harriet Tubman of course, Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Octavia Butler, and other authors or extraordinary women. – Erica Shadowsong

Toya

Toya

It is important to me that the complete picture is always shown. How many people know that Martin Luther King Jr. was an enemy of the state when he was gunned down? How many people know that the Black Panthers actually were feeding the poor and homeless? Many folks think Rosa Parks was just a tired seamstress, her work before the bus seems to all but disappear.

Every African American Figure who came before me and even after me inspires me. From when they stepped on the boat to come here. To the ones who died along the way.To the ones who reached the mainland.

My (Our) blood is filled with inspirational men and women who were descendants of kings and queens, warriors and healers, farmers and bankers. Each figure who refused to conform to status quo, rules established to keep us in subservient positions inspire me.

Throughout our 500 years of history here in the United States, it is littered with the blood, sweat and tears of men and women who fought for our freedom.Through slavery, Jim crow, the civil right movement of the sixties, to now the new civil right movement still fighting for our equality and our lives.

Some names are known, while others are not. But their blood runs through us all. Our ancestors inspire me to surge ahead and not back down. That is the MAGIC that flows through my veins. Everyday I wake up and breath in is because of them.  It is the fire that burns in my soul.

To simply just name one I can’t. I name them all. They have all inspired me to continue the fight because the battle is far from over. – Toya  ScorpionGoddess

Cecily Willowe

Cecily Willowe

There is only one person that I truly idolized and her name is Alice Walker. I love this woman so much, I swear I swoon at the mention of her name or her written works. It all started when I first read about the term Womanist coined by Walker. A womanist, as Walker defines, “ Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.“ In every way this was me or what I hoped to be. It was the way I wanted to approach my spiritual practice as a Wiccan. For me, magic is about approaching life from a place of love, wonder, pleasure. It is about coming into my full being. Eventually, I learned Walker is a self proclaimed “Renegade, an Outlaw, a Pagan.” I learned that Walker’s paganism includes a love of nature, women and Blackness.

Over the years, her words have inspired me to enhance my Wiccan practice to meet my cultural needs as a Black woman. Womanism gave me the tools to apply social justice to my practice and philosophy. Nowadays, driven by the power of womanism, my practice has become fuller and blacker.Cecily Willowe

Black Witch

Black Witch

I know it’s to highlight the importance of Black achievements and that it originally started as a week and then moved into a month and was supposed to be integrated into a year as part of normal cultural history. However, it instead gets used as a crutch for people to not talk about Black history and achievements for the other 11 months of the year and go back to making humanized Blackness invisible and look as mythical as possible.  As a Black practitioner (I still am not a really big fan of the term “person of color”, sadly), it doesn’t really affect me since I already seamlessly integrate Black history and experience into my practices. That makes Feb just another month for me, sort of. It is a relevant month for other people – a relevant month not used like it should be, which is to dismantle culturally embedded racism in permanent or long standing ways – but it doesn’t truly affect me since I have it already integrated into my experiences.

As an individual: Ida B. Wells, I always looked up to her since I was a kid. She’s great and what I want to be. As a magick worker, I really can’t bring anyone to mind off the top of my head. – Black Witch

Oseaana

Oseaana

When we look at common Black History month celebrations they seem to focus on the period between post-slavery and the present as if we had no history before being forced into slavery.

We actually have a long and rich history outside of this country where we were the foundation of civilization itself! We were Queens and Kings. We were the first scientists and mathematician. Our spirituality and philosophy has spread and became the basis for cultures and traditions worldwide. None of this is taught in schools. When I was in school I was taught that slavery was a horrible thing and thank god for Abraham Lincoln for freeing the slaves and then nothing much happened until Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched and gave us all out rights. That was pretty much the history of Black folks in this country. So for me the importance of Black History month is to make a commitment to honoring our rich and ancient history each and every day. To know thyself is the first step in any spiritual practice and if you don’t know the history of your own DNA then how can you really understand who you are?

I am most inspired by my ancestors and their life of struggle and triumph. A few years ago I made a video tribute for my Grandfather Joseph Parker who was one of the first great Black Horsemen. He overcame extreme racism and adversity to become a top horse trainer in a field that was off limits to anyone of color…save for being a groom or cleaning stalls. I know what my Grandparents went through to achieve the success they had. They moved from Baltimore, MD to New York and purchased an 86 acre farm for their family. No small feat for a Black family in 1950’s America. As a spiritual worker it is important to me to have a deep connection with my ancestors. They are my link to the spirit world and guide and protect every spiritual working I do. – Oseaana

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

When I was in fourth grade, I remember when my babysitter gave me a comic book about the story of Matthew Henson. Until that point, I had no idea that black people were involved with finding the North Pole, or that we could be explorers of more than what was familiar. The more common credit at the time was given to Robert Peary. Even when Peary’s  discovery of the North Pole was disputed, the name of Matthew Henson, explorer remained untarnished in my mind. Black History Month is a time of sharing wisdom and exploration. As a person of color, my sole regret is that my culture and race are categorized into one brief time period by the term “Black History Month”.

As a practitioner, I glide through the flowing masses of Pagans as an invisible minority within a racially visible majority. During the past ten years, I would love to say that I had seen an embrace of Black History Month in the Pagan community, or that I was encouraged to take a stronger stance during this time both as a Pagan and as a black woman. Instead, my history, my learning, my curiosity sparked by Black History Month was cultural; as a practitioner, my goal during this time was survival.

During this time, I am a split individual: a practitioner who embraces culture to pass on to the next generation; a representative of culture who seeks to embrace magic to preserve our history, our dignity, and our strength as  the non-majority persons of color. I would love to agree with those who criticize the existence of Black History Month; however, my fear is that without it, we would have no public time and mental space to acknowledge the accomplishments of those who might explore and journey, yet, like Matthew Henson, remain invisible at first.Clio Ajana

Dava Greely

Dava Greely

When I read this question, the spirit of none other than Eartha Kitt pushed her way to the front of my mind. She overcame so much and created a life and legacy for herself that is something to behold. I believe she was something like a Pomba Gira spirit. She was intelligent, beautiful, classy, sensual, witty, and bold. She was outspoken and held no punches when it came to exposing the bull. Her greatest honor was that of Motherhood.

When you remember how she stood up in the White House and told the truth about the agony of the war – when you remember that Lady Bird Johnson cried at the audacity – when you remember that she was blackballed and took a ten year hit in her career after the fact – and that she STILL made a comeback and had a successful career…yeah…only a witch could manage that.- Dava Greely

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

The voices of Black people are just as diverse as the varying pigmentation of our skin. Looking at the vast range of association and inspiration that come from the voices of our Black voices within the Pagan community, there is an opportunity to see a variety the of levels of connection to a lineage of history that is often silenced for a more common, taught version of history.

Why is it important to feature the voices of African American practitioners on The Wild Hunt? The voices and faces of people of color within modern Paganism show a array of diversity and culture that is not often visible within our broader community, much like within greater society.

Black history month has a range of influence in the larger culture, but that does not always seem to reach the culture of the modern Pagan community. It is rarely spoke about within Paganism, and yet it holds space for something very important within the building demand for equity. The ability to be seen should not be regulated to one month or one snapshot in time. Yet, this month allows for the acknowledgement of the marginalized that are often not considered.

Many people do acknowledged Black heroes this month, pass on Black history memes on social media, and remain supportive in matters of equity and justice. At the same time, a great majority of people do not acknowledge the significance of Black history in February, or in any other month of the year. We should ask ourselves, how can we support the celebration of Black culture within our Pagan framework? Why would it be important to include the heroes, history and ancestors of Black people into the honoring we do? What does it communicate to ethnically-marginalized people within the modern Pagan community when we do not acknowledge their history, heroes and ancestors? How do those choices continue to shape culture within our community?

As Black History month closes for 2015, let us celebrate all the ways that African Americans have contributed to the history of this country, our society, and our Pagan community.

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“In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support – not mutual struggle – has had the leading part.” – Peter Kropotkin

I.

It was a maddeningly hot afternoon in August, and I had just spilled some cat food on the living room floor. I instinctively reached for the vacuum, momentarily forgetting that the air conditioning was already on, momentarily forgetting that I lived in a hundred-year old brownstone with a fragile electrical system. I hit the button on the vacuum to turn it on and, at that exact moment, I realized my mistake. The power went out.

Losing power was a regular occurrence in that house, and I didn’t think much about it at first. The breaker panel was in the basement, which could only be reached by exiting the house at the ground floor and re-entering the house again through the basement door. As I stepped out the front door, my next-door neighbor stepped out of her house at the same time, a confused look on her face.

“Our power just went out. Did your power go out?” she asked.

“I just blew the power out,” I told them. “Your power went out too? Shoot, my bad, sorry about that. I’m on my way down to turn it back on right now.”

I ran down to the basement, confused as to how and why the circuitry in my house could possibly affect the house next door. I swung open the door on the breaker panel and shined a flashlight on the panel. To my surprise, the circuit switch that was usually at issue had not flipped to the other side. I reset the entire panel, to be sure, but the power still did not come on. I ran back upstairs, dreading the call I was going to have to make to the landlord.

When I surfaced on the ground floor again, there was a small crowd on the sidewalk, and other neighbors were starting to exit their houses. “We have no power,” yelled a man from across the street. “Do any of you have power?”

I looked around at all the brownstones and realized that the entire block was out.

For a split second I tensed up, briefly paralyzed with the possibility that my little error had inconvenienced the entire neighborhood. How could one overloaded circuit knock out the whole street? I then glanced down the block and saw a few folks from the next street over walking towards us and, at that moment, it finally hit me that the outage had nothing to do with my running the vacuum cleaner and the air conditioner at the same time.

But with that realization, my guilt was immediately replaced by fear, and as I looked into the eyes of my neighbors, I saw nothing but fear in their faces as well. We stared at each other for a moment in silence, eyes wide, suddenly feeling as though we were in a Twilight Zone episode or a Ray Bradbury story. It was one of those strange moments where despite the fact that we were relative strangers to each other, every single person knew exactly what every other single person was thinking: terrorism.

It was less than two years after 9/11, and the trauma associated with living through that experience was still a fresh wound for most people in the neighborhood. Since the tragedy, the city’s inhabitants had been collectively walking on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The emotional climate was such that an event as ordinary as a power outage, which would not necessarily engender fear prior to 9/11, suddenly took on a new and terrifying potentiality.

At that moment, another neighbor emerged from his house, cranking up an old weather radio as he walked towards us. “It’s a grid failure,” he yelled at the crowd. “Newscaster says that the whole Northeast is out. Everything is down.”

I witnessed a sigh of collective relief and a release of tension that immediately transitioned into a breath intake of differing anxieties. The fear of the unknown and the fear of potential terrorism had quickly morphed into a fear of violence, of looting and of rioting. Everyone suddenly started to intently study each other, deeply searching with their eyes, seeking out potential levels of trust or distrust. We stood there uncomfortably, the residents of a Brooklyn block who before this moment had the privilege of never needing to know or trust each other, who suddenly realized that we were in a situation where our safety and well-being might depend on each other. Eyes darted around from person to person, with the silence ever deafening as the seconds ticked by.

“Do you think we’ll be safe?” one woman asked, breaking the silence. “The last time this happened…”

In the late 1970’s, riots, looting and arson broke out throughout the city, especially in Brooklyn and the Bronx, after a power outage caused by a lightning strike kept the city off the grid for just over twenty-four hours. Nearly 5,000 people were arrested; hospitals filled up city-wide as a result of the violence. The incident is well-remembered among the city’s residents. Many of the folks on that very block had lived through those riots, and the tension in their faces signaled that they were bracing for such chaos to potentially occur again. I looked around, somewhat tense but determined not to be overly affected by the worry of others.

Eventually the immediate crowd scattered, and I nervously headed indoors. As soon as I entered the house, I hunted down every candle, flashlight, and spare battery that I knew of, put them in a pile in the middle of the floor, and looked out the window at the sun. We had three to four hours of sunlight left, at which time the entire city would be facing a night of blistering hot temperatures and no power. No power meant no traffic lights, no subway trains, no running elevators.

Crowds walking home in NYC during the 2003 blackout. Photo by Glitch010101.

Crowds walking home in NYC during the 2003 blackout. [Photo by Glitch010101.]

My partner texted me from uptown Manhattan, letting me know that he was walking back with a huge crowd of people and would not be home for several hours. Not knowing what to do with myself, and increasingly becoming affected by the heat, I decided to lay down for a nap.

II.

I woke up as the sun started to set, and my heart immediately began beating as I remembered that we were in the middle of a blackout. The house was sweltering, and I quickly pulled my shoes on, armed myself with a knife and a flashlight, and headed towards the front door. I walked past the refrigerator, and it occurred to me that the food in there would be spoiled by the morning. I opened up the fridge, gathered all the edible food into a bag, and continued out the house, figuring that I might run into someone else who needed food.

I stepped out the front door and could not believe the sight before my eyes. The same neighbors who were so fearful only a few hours before were engaged in what could only be described as an impromptu block party. There were several tables filled with food, a man was cooking on a propane stove, a few folks were playing music, kids were kicking a ball around, and several women were standing around in groups with drinks, obviously engaged in meaningful conversation. I thought back to my instinct of sharing food only a few seconds earlier, and realized that everyone else had the same instinct. Everyone was sharing, cooperating, working together to make the night a little easier.

It was a miserable and muggy night. A night that, in Park Slope, would be inevitably spent in front of an air conditioner, in front of a television or a computer, isolated from others and walled-off by design without much thought to the intent or consequence behind that arrangement. But in the absence of electricity and the inability to amuse oneself with all the various devices that run on electricity, everyone was out of the house and engaging in person with each other in a way that I had never witnessed before. And as I stood there and watched, I realized that what I was witnessing was probably not confined to this block.

I made my way down towards the commercial strip on Seventh Avenue and, as I turned a corner, I noticed that the bar, which sat catty-corner to where I was standing, had its doors open and the sides rolled up. There was a large crowd out on the sidewalk. I walked over and found that the place was packed. The restaurant was giving away everything they had, and everyone looked like they were having the time of their lives. Not only was everyone merry and conversational, there were several people among the affluent crowd who were visibly poor and homeless, and they were being welcomed and loaded up with food and drink just as everyone else.

I stood there at the entrance to what I always considered to be one of the snobbiest bars in the neighborhood, and watched as class lines evaporated before my eyes in the face of an unexpected situation. Firefighters were chatting with bankers, wealthy housewives were sharing food with dishwashers.

Continuing down the street, nearly every house had people sitting out on the porch, talking, sharing food or drink. The entire neighborhood was alive and bubbling with activity. Tables were set up all around with people playing card games and board games on the sidewalk in front of their houses. Down the road, the grocery store was handing out ice cream and bags of ice to everyone who walked past. A man was cooking hot-dogs on a charcoal grill. Grandmothers were sitting together knitting under the light of a gas lamp, and children of varied backgrounds who had never met before were playing together in the street.

From the open containers to the open street fires, laws were being broken left and right, and yet civility still held firm and there was not a single police officer to be seen. I walked up and down, the entire length of the neighborhood, taking in the miraculous beauty that had unfolded over dozens of city blocks. I met and spoke with a countless number of people. I was offered food and drink dozens of times and was invited by complete strangers to play music and card games. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was actually experiencing what it means to be a ‘community’.

III.

After what seemed like endless hours accepting all the hospitality that I could possibly stand, I decided to wander out past the immediacy of my neighborhood. I headed towards Prospect Park, which among many other functions served as a barrier of sorts between the wealthier white neighborhoods in the western half of Brooklyn and the poorer, immigrant and minority neighborhoods to the east. It was in those neighborhoods that the majority of the damage occurred during the riots of the late 70’s. Yet I had a strong feeling that the atmosphere unfolding in Park Slope was somewhat consistent throughout the city.

As I entered the park, I was taken aback by the sudden darkness. My own block and several others were still lit with gas lamps and that, combined with the candles and flashlights being used, kept me out of touch with how dark complete darkness actually was. I made my way across the park toward the east side, relying much more on my previous knowledge of the terrain than what I could actually see in front of me. I stuck to the paths that wound along the southwest corner of the park and, as I walked, I heard the sound of music coming over from Ocean Avenue. When I got to the corner where the park meets the street grid, I saw a nearly identical scene to the one I had just left behind. Music, food, community, laughter.

Nearly identical, but with one glaring exception. While I didn’t see a single police officer in the dozens of blocks that I walked in Park Slope, on this side of town, the police were everywhere. There was practically an officer stationed at every corner, and it was apparent from their stance and their demeanor that they knew full well that their presence was unnecessary to the point of absurdity. They were painfully out of place, standing awkwardly among the people communing on the sidewalk, knowing full well that they were only creating tension in an otherwise safe and joyous atmosphere. They looked as though they wanted to disappear.

I re-entered the park several blocks north of where I had exited and, as I crossed the street toward the path, I saw what looked like a group nap occurring in a patch of grass just to the right of the path. I headed towards the grass, and saw at least two-dozen children of various ages, spread out like snow angels, staring intently at the sky.

I looked up at the sky and gasped aloud. The sky. The stars.  They were larger and clearer and more mesmerizing than could ever have been thought possible in New York City. I was immediately taken back to my childhood, to summer camps in the Catskills where the stars seemed so close that you could almost touch them. I hadn’t seen such a sky since then and, as I stared at the sky and then at the children on the ground, it occurred to me that most, if not all, of these kids had spent their entire lives in New York City and had never been to a summer camp and had never seen the night sky before.

Night sky. Photo by Michael J. Bennett

Night sky. Photo by Michael J. Bennett

As my eyes darted back and forth between the sky and the children on the grass, one young boy saw me and sat up in excitement. “You need to lie down and see it from on your back,” he said to me urgently. “There must be a million stars up there. It’s amazing.”

And so I lowered myself down to the ground next to him and flattened myself on the grass under the large, waning moon, taking in the pure wonder that was the night sky at that moment. I forgot about everything but the stars, and I lay there for what seemed like hours, in complete awe, allowing myself to melt into both the sky above and the earth below. The experience was a rare gift, a gift that I was sharing with a grateful and hypnotized group of young stargazers. I pointed out as many constellations to the kids as I could find and remember, and then, after a while, I simply zoned out into the sky.

Eventually the kids got up and headed back toward the crowds on Ocean Avenue and, after the last one left, I stood up and wiped myself off and headed for home. I took a long, meandering route home through the park and, by the time I was back in my neighborhood, the sun was just starting to come up. There was still a group of guitarists perched on the stone wall that enclosed the park and a few random stragglers were slowly making their way home.

IV.

The power went back on the next morning and, on the surface, everything went back to normal rather quickly. Yet there was this resonance, a certain shared magic between neighbors that never quite faded. For many months afterward, every time I ran into or made eye contact with one of the others who I remembered from that night, there was always a pause, a smile, a sparkle in both of our eyes as we briefly remembered the joy and wonder in that experience.

There was something incredibly healing about that night, both collectively as a neighborhood and as a city, on a deeply personal level. Witnessing such kindness and cooperation, such an instinctive and widespread expression of both mutual aid and merriment in such stressful circumstances, greatly restored my faith in humanity and strengthened my belief in the feasibility of a decentralized, cooperative society. It was a night where love triumphed over fear, where beauty was unexpectedly revealed both within us as well as above us.

In a world of increasing uncertainty and dwindling resources, where the future may be technically unwritten but hints strongly at bleakness and tragedy, I still retain a bit of hope whenever I think of that night when we temporarily swapped out the streetlights for the stars.

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

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WASHINGTON – On Feb. 24, U.S. President Obama vetoed a bill that would have approved construction of the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline. After installation, this pipeline system would carry 830,000 gallons of crude oil from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The current legislative battle is over the final phase of 1,179 miles of pipe that are part of the entire 3,200 mile project.

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

In January, Keystone proponents won three significant victories. Both the U.S. House and Senate approved the project. At the same time, Nebraska’s state Supreme Court removed the remaining blocks preventing the pipeline from being constructed in its state.

Then, in mid February, the approved federal bill was sent to President Obama, who promptly vetoed it, saying in a message to Congress:

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.

Experts do report that this veto may have dealt a fatal blow to the Keystone proposal, at least in its current form. Congress doesn’t appear to have the votes necessary to block the veto. In addition, legal battles have re-surfaced in Nebraska, which have halted Trans Canada’s acquisition of needed land. Does it mean an end to the project entirely or just delays?

For those unfamiliar with Keystone XL, CNN has published a short digest on the issues being debated. Briefly, proponents argue that the new lines will bring temporary and permanent jobs, boost the economy and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. Opponents cite numerous environmental concerns, as well as the destruction of lands owned by Indigenous populations and the potential threats to those communities.

As has become quite commonplace, this battle pits economic stability and growth against environmental safety and community protection. It is an old struggle dressed in new clothes. However, as pointed out by Chris Mooney of The Washington Post, the conversation may be changing, which makes the veto particularly significant. As Mooney points out, past cultural debates have centered on finding ways to make production safer or cleaner. This may be the first time at this level of government that the conversation focuses on stopping production entirely. The message isn’t “do it cleaner;” but rather “don’t do it all.”

We talked to a number of Pagans who are, in some form, significantly engaged in environmental activism. As expected, they all were very pleased with the veto. Courtney Weber, co-founder of the Pagan Environmental Coaltion of NYC, said:

It’s certainly very exciting and encouraging for the environmental movement. This pipeline is never going to supply a large number of permanent jobs and its oil was never meant to support the American people–it’s been an export-only plan from day one! A few will get rich and many will run the serious risk of contaminated farmland and drinking water…

As a member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC, this news is very encouraging. Our work focuses on encouraging sustainable green infrastructure and opposing fossil fuel infrastructure. I hope that this will encourage Governors Cuomo and Christie to veto to the Port Ambrose LNG port, which would have the same dangerous impacts on the Tri-State coastline as Keystone would to middle America.

Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), Witch at Large and co-author of the CoG environmental policy, said:

I’m heartened by the President’s veto. After all, he has two daughters who will have to live in the world. I think he knows how serious our environmental problems have become and feels, as I do, that all the jobs in the world cannot justify the risk of such disastrous environmental degradation that Keystone could generate.

I fail to see how imperiling our lands with a pipeline does anyone any good. This proposed pipeline would be 36″ in diameter; the recent broken lines in the Northern Plains and elsewhere were only 4″ diameter. I shudder to think of the devastation a broken pipe could wreak. Not to mention the fact that plans call for it to traverse sovereign Native American lands. Furthermore, exploiting our Earth for petroleum-derived energy sources ignores the bigger problems.  Instead, we should be cultivating alternative energy sources.

I hope it’s the end, because I know the Congress doesn’t have the votes to overrule Obama’s veto. This allows more time to educate more people who’ve had their heads in the sand or who’ve been convinced otherwise about our environmental crisis.

O’Brien and Weber point to the typical concerns raised by pipeline construction, which include leaks, spills, the acquisition of “sovereign Native American lands,” exploitation of oil sands, the impact on coast lines and climate change. Blogger and Druid John Beckett said:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is troublesome on many counts. Much of the recent debate has focused on the risks to our water supply – the pipeline would run over the largest underground aquifer in North America and leaks are virtually inevitable. But there’s been little talk of the fact that the pipeline was designed to transfer oil from the Canadian tar sands. Tar sands extraction and refining are some of the dirtiest operations in the entire petroleum industry – some have called it “Canada’s Mordor.”

Beyond that, this project extracts additional fossil fuels to drive additional consumption, which will dump additional climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere. The entire tar sands project needs to be killed, not just the pipeline.

Beckett went on to say:

I have been critical of many of President Obama’s decisions and I want to acknowledge when he does the right thing. I’m very happy he vetoed the bill approving the construction of the pipeline. But I’m disappointed he didn’t use the occasion to emphasize the need to reduce carbon emissions and to encourage the Canadians to leave the tar sands in the ground.

Instead, his veto statement focused on procedural issues: “this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest.” This leaves open the possibility that his administration or that of the next President could decide the pipeline is an acceptable risk. It is not.

His skepticism is justified, considering that Keystone proponents in Congress have pledged to overturn the veto or attach the proposal to other legislation. Beckett’s sentiments were echoed by others interviewed. Weber said:

This veto is not a coffin nail on tar sands oil. This veto doesn’t get rid of it, it only keeps it in limbo. It is likely to come back attached to another bill. In addition, that oil can still flow through numerous other pipelines being built or already built. But it’s an important symbolic action in which public health and environmental concerns are given consideration before profits of large companies. 

James Stovall, who was recently elected to the board of directors for the Jackson County Conservation District (JCCD), offered his personal opinion, saying:

I do think the veto was the right call, but sadly it is not the last of the issue. The President vetoed the Legislative attempt to pass the pipeline but could still approve it after State Department studies are completed. Be it by pipeline or rail we need to make environmental safety is paramount. Make sure to keep speaking to the White House on these matters.

Similarly, Wild Hunt columnist and activist Alley Valkyrie, who has extensively written about and researched oil sands and the transport of energy resources, said in reaction:

While I’m glad that Obama decided to veto Keystone XL, it’s definitely not a victory. This veto is far from the end of the Keystone XL fight, and I have no doubt that the current Congress will try again and again to revive Keystone, most likely in the form of attachments to other bills. And meanwhile, while everyone is focused on and distracted by this one pipeline and this one federal approval process, other pipelines are being built all over the country, literally in our own backyards. While stopping Keystone XL obviously has importance to both the environment as a whole and especially those who are individually affected by it, stopping this one pipeline will not halt nor reverse the consistent damage that industrial capitalism is wreaking upon the earth. It’s the entire destructive system that needs to be stopped.

I wish I could be more hopeful, but unless and until the industrialized nations of this planet collectively decide to radically alter how they produce and consume fossil fuels, and until the people decide that the ability to live on this planet is more important than engaging in a never-ending cycle of producing and consuming, all the effort put into stopping individual projects like Keystone XL will be in vain.

John Halstead, Managing Editor of HumanisticPaganism.com and organizing member of the working group for the Draft Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, wrote:

I applaud the President’s veto and the work done by groups like 350.org that have opposed the pipeline, recognizing that there is still work to be done to oppose the pipeline. But as important as this victory is, it is the tip of an iceberg, one which expands to include an unsustainable system of resource extraction and consumption, which is rapidly making the earth uninhabitable for human beings, as it has already been made uninhabitable for countless species. [This] expands further to include an economic model — global capitalism — which has failed in its promise to reflect the true value of that which is consumed, and expands still further (largely beneath the surface of our consciousness) to include a spiritual hegemony which alienates human beings from the material source of our being and from all life.  We must attack this iceberg at all of these levels; at the points of consumption, production and destruction (economics), the point of decision (politics), and the point of assumption (ideology/religion). 

Whether the veto stops construction completely or simply delays it, there are currently other pipelines in operation, as noted by Valkyrie and Beckett. This includes the other TransCanada lines that make the trip from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. In order to end oil sands operations entirely, there must be a collective shift in our relationship with energy use. In addition, there must be a simultaneous and significant economic shift to prevent a catastrophic structural social collapse. Our world economies are deeply tied to the current energy industry, its operations and its products. This is a complicated venture that will require far more than a single piece of legislation, as suggested by Halstead and others interviewed.

However, this presidential veto may be a sign that the global conversation is evolving from “do it, but do it cleaner” to “don’t do it at all.” As is often discussed, those people who follow environmentally-centered religious practices may now have unique place in helping to shift this conversation. Beckett said:

One of the core principles of modern Druidry is that the Earth is sacred. The value of the Earth does not come from the benefits it provides to humans. Rather, the Earth is a living thing and it has the same inherent value and worth as all other living things. Druids seek to live in a respectful and reverent relationship with the Earth.

Halstead echoed that sentiment:

It is in this last area that I believe Pagans have the most unique contribution to make to this fight. We can lead the way in effecting paradigm shift away from from a mode of consciousness which is linear, atomistic and disenchanted — which lies at the root of all of these failed systems — to one that is cyclical, interconnected and re-enchanted. We need to personally and collectively cultivate the spiritual and psychological resources to sustain us for a prolonged struggle on all of these fronts.

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BANGKOK, THAILAND – In the heart of the Southeast Asian peninsula lies the Kingdom of Thailand. Once known as Siam, Thailand is now considered a constitutional monarchy the size of Spain, with a population 65 million. The country lies only a short distance north of the equator, which allows for its lush, green and tropical climate. Within Thailand’s rich and vibrant Southeast Asian culture, there lies a very small, but growing, Pagan community.

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Thailand Pagan Pride Ritual [Courtesy Photo}

“I found Siam Wicca in 1999, and the people there were so open-mind and loved to share their experiences. The community grew wider and wider. We had many beliefs, not only Wicca [but also] Native Thai, Druid, Shaman, Asatru, etc. After the founder of Siam Wicca left the site…the remaining people, including me, ran a new webboard and started meeting once a month. The community has grown since then,” said Atiwan Kongsorn, a Pagan living in Bangkok and co-owner of the only witchcraft store in Thailand.

Kongsorn explained that Siam Wicca was originally founded by Thitiwat Netwong, known in the community as Fianne. The site was part of the “first wave” of Paganism to arrive in Thailand via the Internet in the late 1990s. At that time, Siam Wicca was simply a website that, as Kongsorn said, “provided knowledge about Wicca’s beliefs translated into Thai.” The site also hosted “web boards” for community discussion.

After a few years, Fianne left the group, and as Kongsorn noted, it was later discovered that he had died. However, Siam Wicca continued to operate for a period of time, eventually moving to Facebook. Followers began meeting more frequently, and a new group was formed called Thailand Pagan Pride. Eclectic Wiccan Thanchai Jaikong, also known as MasThander, said, “We only use the [Facebook] page to promote events or news that can be posted in public.”

Like many places in the world, life as a Pagan in Thailand has its obstacles. MasThander said, “Being a witch or a pagan in Thailand will make you [a] deviant. Most people don’t understand who you are and what you do. So you have to stick to your own people who share the same spiritual understanding. That is what makes our community strong. We have to stick together.”

However, the assumption of deviancy is not exactly the same as experienced by Pagans in other parts of the world. Why? As reported by the tourism department, 96.4 percent of the population is Buddhist, which fosters a very different religious cultural environment than in countries dominated by Christianity. Kongsorn said, “Most of scholars say the main religion in Thailand is Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism to be precise). In my opinion, people believe in native Thai animism mixed with Buddhism. It is like animism disguised as Buddhism.”

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

As such, both Kongsorn and MasThander agreed that the general population’s attitude toward modern Paganism is fairly positive or, at the very least, open. There are no religious-based hostilities embedded within Thai culture. They even note that the term “witch” is not really considered a negative. Kongsorn said, “The sweetest thing for Pagans in Thailand is that you can freely tell everybody that you are a Pagan. Thai people are open-minded. ‘Every religion leads people to good deeds.’ Thai people always say this. So as long as you have something to believe or something to worship, everything is fine.”

Despite this religious tolerance, there are still, as noted by MasThander, many cases of misunderstandings that have lead to accusations of deviancy. However, these negative experiences not based on religious expectations but on cultural differences. As MasThander explained, “Thai people at almost every level lack the knowledge about Paganism and Witchcraft, especially when we talk about the western Paganism or witchcraft that is now growing in Thailand. People think about Harry Potter or that kind of fictional thing. That’s our main hurdle; to explain the right identity to the community.”

Kongsorn agreed, explaining that while the term “witch” is not negative, it does conjure, so to speak, images of “silliness.” He said, “Thai people here know the term “witch” (the western witch) from movies, cartoons or books. Not quite evil but something far from their everyday life.” MasThander added, “These points of view are not troublesome or harmful, but it is irritating sometimes.”

Along with Buddhism, Thailand’s culture is also influenced by “Vedic Hinduism, Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism from India. Taoism, Confucianism, Mahayana Buddhism from China.” As Kongsorn said that because of “the existing belief in animism, [the belief in] magic still exists nowadays. [Thai people] like the Shamans, or witch doctors, who help people using herbs, rituals or talismans.”

While both Kongsorn and MasThander acknowledge and celebrate these rich aspects of their country’s culture, they do not regularly include the religious details do not directly influence their own modern Pagan practices. This particular growing Thai Pagan community is predominantly focused on western Pagan practice. The dominant religion is currently Wicca. However, Kongsorn said, “Some are Druid and Asatru. I met a guy who practices Santeria once … and there other are solitary pagans, like myself.”  There are several Wiccan covens, but the number of practitioners is unclear. Kongsorn said “maybe hundreds” and most are under the age of 35.

The majority of their educational material, including mythology and writings, originate from Europe and the U.S. Access to the Internet has not only launched the Thai Pagan movement, but has also continued to play a vital role as the community grows. MasThander found Wicca through witchvox.com and, as noted earlier, Kongsorn discovered his path through the Siam Wicca’s website. Today there is far more material available to them online, and more people have Internet access.

In addition, there are several English-language book stores in Bangkok, such as Kinokuniya and Asiabook, which offer small number of “new age” books. In 2013, Kongsorn and his business partners opened the Ace of Cups Witch Cafe in Bangkok, which is described as the “perfect place for any pagan and individual who interested in Pagan, Witchcraft and Spiritual development.”

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Because Thai Pagans are not living in U.S. or the U.K., from where most of these materials originate, Thai Pagans have had to adapt the works and suggested practices to reflect their own ecology, culture and natural experiences. Kongsorn said, “As you know we live in a tropical climate with actually two seasons, wet and dry. There is not much difference between the seasons. It always green here … It’s a bit struggle [to follow the Western practices] if you stick with the concept of the physical world. In my opinion, the Wheel of the Year not only represents the cycle of Mother Nature, but also represents the cycle of one’s own spiritual improvement. If you stick with this concept [instead], there is no struggle at all.”

MasThander agreed, saying, “We try our best to follow the original rituals. But it’s somewhat difficult or impossible due to the geographical differences. But we try to focus on the spiritual meaning of the rituals and symbols; what everything in the ritual really means and does to our both physical and spiritually life.”

Both MasThander and Kongsorn expressed excitement about the growth of the modern Pagan movement in Thailand. Both are both doing their part to support and welcome anyone who is interested in the community and their practices. MasThander said, “For non-Pagan people, we try to offer a better understanding of who we really are. And for other Witches or those who are interested in the Craft, we try to bring them into our community, so we can help and support them.”

Kongsorn uses his shop as a place to welcome the community and to “provide information to the public about Pagan beliefs, mysticism and occultism.” He added, “We are trying to set up a Pagan Association here in Thailand … There will be a meeting here about setting it up this Ostara. Pagan beliefs in Thailand are just a little sprout. We now need the support and guidance from other countries.”

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ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA –At the beginning of this month, when the darkness and cold of winter seemed to be at their darkest and coldest, a group visited a shrine to the goddess Brigid, clearing away blockages to a spring and making offerings of flowers and milk. While that isn’t particularly remarkably in the Pagan community — many northern hemisphere practices include devotional acts at midwinter — it’s a bit more unusual when the practitioners are Christian.

Header_ImgMembers of the Jubilee! Community Church take “interfaith” to a level that is not commonly seen within an Abrahamic faith. Rather than seeking to understand basic tenets of other religions, they incorporate practices that are seen to tie into their interpretation of Christian faith, including celebrations of quarter and cross-quarter days. The church is based on a concept called Creation Spirituality, and led by Howard Hanger, a former Methodist minister who has turned a few heads, and attracted a fair number of congregants with his theology.

“When we first got started, we were definitely suspect,” Hanger said, and considered a cult by some. “There was a street preacher outside saying that we were sending people to hell.”

Now that the church is more established, “people mostly just leave [them] alone.” And, since they are no longer being actively condemned, they have joined Asheville’s vibrant interfaith community. “We find out commonalities with Baptists, Catholics, Jews . . . we all believe in making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, all that sort of stuff. We’ve tried to connect with local Muslims.” he added, but without much success as yet.

Area Pagans, however, have been more than welcoming. “Pagans have been very wonderful,” Hanger said. “We’re pretty closely aligned with Pagan celebrations of nature, celebrating creation is our big banner, a big connection with the earth-worshipping community.”

Asheville Author and Village Witch Byron Ballard agreed with that assessment. “Jubilee began here as a funky Sunday evening service at one of the largest Methodist churches in town. They borrow from all sorts of places,” she said, and the children’s educational program “goes to a lot of sources for inspiration.”

Even with all of this “borrowing,” there have been no accusations of cultural appropriation. Ballard noted, “Pagans don’t own the agricultural year, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the stake over the Wheel of the Year.” Rather, she said, “it feels interfaith rather than appropriative, as [the church’s Nurture Coordinator, Vicki Garlock] gives plenty of credit and doesn’t try to pretend it’s an old Christian concept. [She] often attends Mother Grove events, and I have spoken in her classes several times.”

Garlock wrote this about the program:

Some may wonder why a Christian congregation would focus so much attention on Pagan resources, so let me share our educational perspective. We’ve developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum that we use with kids from preschool through 8th grade. They learn the basic Bible stories and then use these themes and narratives to connect with other faith traditions. For example, when they learn about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about prayer mats, prayer flags, prayer wheels, and prayer beads. We want the kids in our program to be grounded in our Judeo-Christian culture, but we also want to provide them with the tools they need to follow their own faith path.

In addition, we actively foster relationship with the Earth. We want youngsters to find the sacred in nature, to understand their connection to the environment, and to celebrate all of creation. These values are found throughout the world’s faith traditions, and many religious holidays coincide with seasonal changes. Kids understand seasons. They feel the changes in temperature, see the changes in plants, and associate certain events with certain seasons. Pagan wheel-of-the-year festivals offer us another opportunity to highlight the shared principles that all faith practices glean from the Earth’s wisdom.

In short, Jubilee’s philosophy, while grounded in Christianity, honors the similarities among traditions. Its credo encourages children to “follow their own faith path,” recognizing the divine in everything. A spiritual journey that begins at the Jubilee! Community Church could well take many directions. As Hanger pointed out, “We don’t worship Jesus. He never wanted that. We follow him. He was into that.”

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PatheosLogoDarkBG_bioOn Feb. 20, it was announced the Christine Hoff Kraemer was stepping down from her position as Managing Editor of Patheos’ Pagan Channel. She wrote, “With a mix of excitement and sadness, I am writing to announce my resignation as Managing Editor of the Patheos.com Pagan channel. I will very much miss the way this job brought me into daily contact with such thoughtful, dedicated people—both Pagans and people of other religious traditions.”  She added that she plans to dedicate her new found free time to her family.

Raise the Horns Blogger Jason Mankey will be taking up the reins as the channel’s new managing editor. In his own announcement, he wrote, “I hope I can continue the good work Christine’s done as the channel manager here. One of the reasons I love Patheos Pagan so much is that it’s mostly a positive place. I think we tackle big issues and involve ourselves in the big conversations, but I think we do so in a respectful manner.” Mankey doesn’t expect to make any changes to the channel’s direction. He also added that he will still be posting to his own blog, but with less frequency. Kraemer will also continue blogging on occasion at Sermons in the Mound.

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10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500The beloved missing statue of Manannán mac Lir  was finally found exactly one month after it disappeared. According to the Derry Journal, on Feb. 21, the 6 ft. sculpture was located “by ramblers” who then “advised members of A company 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment soldiers.” Together with police, they were able to recover the statue. As told to the BBC, the statue had been lying among rocks of the same color, making it very difficult to spot from a distance.

The statue did sustain some damage to the back of its head. Regardless, the local community and others across the world are happy to know that the quest is over and the statue is in one piece. Local photographer Mari Ward, founder of the popular Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God and a representative from the local police (PSNI) were interviewed by BBC radio about its return. Ward said, “I am completely over the moon about it.” Local officials now plan to consult the statue’s creator and discuss a re-installation.

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PantheaConOver the past week, there has been continued discussion on the controversy that erupted at PantheaCon 2015. As we reported last week, blogger Jonathan Korman published an open letter to the creators of a satirical flyer called PantyCon. In that article’s comments, the anonymous writers issued an apology. In addition, Glenn Turner, the founder and organizer of PantheaCon, offered her own public response to all related recent events as well as an apology for any pain caused during PantheaCon. She said, “With the dawning of a New Civil Rights movement this is the question for our times. I’m glad this issue is front and center.”

Since our report last week, there have been a number of additional blog posts discussing these events and others. One of these posts was the recording of the “Bringing Race to the Table” panel, during which the controversial flyer was brought to public attention. This panel discussion can be heard through T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts.

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On Feb. 13, the Akron, Ohio Pagan community lost one of its members. As reported by the local news, 22 year old Brian Golec was fatally stabbed outside of his Akron home. His father is now accused of the crime. After his death was made public, there was quick and viral media response in which Brian was identified as a trans woman. However, that fact was later proven to be inaccurate. Golec’s gender identification was eventually clarified by close friends and family, and was proven to have nothing to do with his murder. Unfortunately, the media frenzy only added additional pain to an already tragic circumstance.

The family, the community and Golec’s fiancee have requested privacy in order to mourn his loss. In our initial investigations, we were able to speak with several area Pagans who knew Brian. They called him “likable, easy going, highly spiritual and helpful.” He was a regular at Cleveland Pagan Pride and attended local Pagan community events. Carrie Acree, the owner of Dragon’s Mantle metaphysical shop, said that many people have been buying supplies for memorials, rituals and other workings in Brian’s honor. There is also, reportedly, a benefit planned for May. In addition a close friend has setup a GoFundMe campaign to help off-set the family expenses and a Facebook memorial page to honor his life. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Author John Matthews has begun a new project to tell the story of the “the iconic Scottish bard, Robin Williamson.” The proposed film Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave will follow Williamson around “in his 50th year as a storyteller, singer and musician, performing his beloved epic poem about the legendary history of Celtic Britain.” This will be reportedly the first time that the epic poem “Five Denials” will be filmed “despite its thunderous import within our poetic tradition.” To fund the project, there will be an Indiegogo campaign. It’s progress and all updates can be found on a Facebook fan page and on twitter @fivedenials.
  • It was announced yesterday that documentary filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky had died at the age of 58. Sinofsky is best known for his work on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), a film that tells the story of the West Memphis Three. Over at Patheos’ The Witching Hour, Peg Aloi shares her thoughts on the Sinofsky’s work, his influence on the West Memphis case and offers a tribute to his life.
  • Along with a new managing editor, Patheos Pagan Channel also announced the edition of a new blog titled “Energy Magic.” Writer Katrina Rasbold said, “This column will explore the dynamics of magic using the movement of energy, both from a spiritual and a scientific perspective.” She will be updating the blog twice a week beginning today.
  • This past weekend, ConVocation was held in the Doubletree Hotel in Detroit Michigan. ConVocation is an indoor Pagan conference that has been bringing people together from many mystical and religious backgrounds since 1995. As the week goes by, organizers and others will be pulling together photos, posts and retrospectives on this year’s event and festivities.
  • Witches and Pagans Blogger Natalie Zaman announced that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing her book Mapping The Magic about [the] sacred sites in America. She wrote “[It] will explore the magic of Washington, D.C. and the states of the Northeast: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine–as you can see it will hopefully be the first of four books, each covering a different area of the country.” To celebrate, Zaman is hosting a giveaway of either her book or a 2-year subscription to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

That’s it for now! Have a nice day.

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download (2)Review: Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction, By Galina Krasskova (Independent, 2014, 210 pages)

Often when picking up a book that calls itself an introduction, I expect to find pages that skim the surface and give a smattering of very basic information. In her book, Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction, Galina Krasskova does something different. She provides a deep focus and reflection on the foundations of devotional practice or, at least, of her practice. As she writes, “…part of developing a devotional practice is figuring out what works best for you and then putting it into productive practice.”

Krasskova is a Heathen (Norse polytheist) and priest of Odin and Loki. Over the past 20 years, she has received multiple ordinations and degrees in religious studies. She is well-known in Heathen circles not only for her years of experience, but also for her contributions as a blogger, author, editor, and teacher. Krasskova brings her years of teaching and devotion to her newest book in order to introduce seekers to the art and practice of devotional polytheism.

Rather than spending multiple chapters defining various forms of polytheism or dwelling on lengthy theological dissertations, Krasskova states very early on that everyone’s experience with the Gods is different and, as with any other aspect of life, experiences can alter our approach. As such, she repeatedly encourages the reader to find a way that works for them and says, “The only things that I have found to be universal are the need for respect and the benefit of consistency.”

Being someone who believes that there are many paths up the same mountain, I agreed with her position wholeheartedly. However, I also found myself confused, at times, when she referred to some practices and beliefs as being watered down “feel good pablum.”  While a part of me understands what she is saying, I found some of these comments off-putting.

Despite that nuance, Krasskova’s book holds a wealth of wisdom and inspiration for anyone interested in developing a devotional practice. In this society where goldfish have better attention spans than mere humans, Krasskova provides concrete ideas and methods for creating a devotional practice to “maintain right relationship with the Holy powers” through “cultivation, time, and energy.” In what could be a hard sell for many people is her statement that the Gods are her greatest priority and that “nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of our devotion.” If a seeker does stick with her past that personal roadblock, Krasskova then tells us that devotional work is hard and can be terrifying.

Terrifying. Sounds awesome. Where do I sign up?

After this skilled management of reader expectations, Krasskova shares more about the primary (as I see it) benefit of devotional work: a personal connection with Deity. As a newcomer to Pagan or Heathen practice, it can be easy to become wrapped up in gathering information about Sabbats, ritual-writing, tool-consecrating, and so on, that actually developing a relationship with the Gods is overlooked. As a mentor to seekers and neophytes in the past, I have noticed this happen in the rush to prepare for exams. Students work hard to memorize the names of Goddesses and Gods, their myths and associated elements; but if you ask them about their experiences with those same deity, there is little to report.

The information presented in this book offers opportunity to fill in these gaps, in order to prepare the new student for a different level of spiritual connection. The ideas of devotions for the week and for the year are concepts that can be used to strengthen any practice of any tradition. If you can follow her suggestions to “make the choice every single day to put the human ephemera aside,” this could guide you in a transformative spiritual practice.

The book is composed of two distinct sections. The first is a discussion on the basics, including grounding and centering, altar and shrine work and rituals. The second part consists of rites, prayers and offerings that can be used in devotional work.

What is consistent throughout the book, and something that I found myself to be quite ambivalent about, is the author’s voice. Krasskova has a writing style that is informal, casual, and very colorful. For the most part, I enjoyed this aspect of the book. I felt connected to her, comfortable, willing to consider my vulnerabilities in response to her sharing her own. There were times that I startled my cat with sudden laughter. In fact, there were a couple of phrases that I enjoyed so much that I am certain they will flit through my mind (and perhaps out of my mouth) in the future.

However, there were moments when I felt disappointed in the informality of the writing. After some thought and consideration, I came to realize the reason. The book is about developing a relationship with the Gods, as such I expected a more formal writing style. Respect is something that is fundamental in the development of a meaningful relationship with the Gods. And I associate formal writing and speaking with that type of respect. Therefore, when picking up this book, I had some expectations, valid or not, about the level of formality and seriousness in the book’s written presentation.

Regardless, the language did not ultimately detract from experiencing Krasskova’s message. There are many gems in this book that are invaluable regardless of a person’s path or tradition. The book contains important discussions about shielding, cleansing, overcoming obstacles, and meaningful relationships with the Gods, all of which can be used by anyone. Her warning about potential spiritual trauma is another example of an excellent discussion, specifically for seekers approaching initiation. Even if the exact rituals and prayers do not fit with your specific path, the book offers they keys to developing a spiritual practice that leads to deeper connections.

There are elements of the book that I did not find particularly useful, simply because my path and focus differ from the author. For those readers not familiar with Heathenry, you may have to look up some words if you intend to follow the conversation. It’s another world of vocabulary. However, that shouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. These places of disagreement and learning are great beginnings for further discussion and personal spiritual exploration.

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Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction, as well as numerous other publications by the author, can be found through Createspace.com and Amazon.com. More thoughts and writings from Galina Krasskova can be found on her blog Gangleri’s Grove, and on her radio podcast, Wyrd Ways Live on Blog Talk Radio.

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One of the biggest discussions among Australian Pagans is how to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. In the Southern Hemisphere, we are largely working with material crafted in the U.K. and America. Comparatively, there’s been little research, and even less writing, on the subject of the Sabbats in the Southern Hemisphere.

Billinghurst_Frances

Frances Billinghurst [Courtesy Photo]

Long-time Witch and priestess, Frances Billinghurst is the author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats. We sat down to have a chat about the challenges that Aussie Pagans face, and how we can create a unique Wheel that is better suited to Australia.

The Wild Hunt: For Pagans that observe the Wheel of the Year, many of the ritual myths associated with the Sabbats don’t apply easily to areas beyond where these traditions were born. Even within Australia, just as it is within the U.S., the climate varies tremendously from one end of the country to the other.  That may be the most obvious challenge to celebrating the Wheel of the Year in Australia. What are other challenges do Aussie Pagans face?

Frances Billinghurst: There seems to be an increasing number of people that have a vague understanding of various myths that have found their way into modern Paganism. They don’t know the myths in their original forms, where they originated, much less develop a deeper understanding of them. I believe that developing this personal knowledge base assists when looking at the deeper meaning of the myth and attempting to adapt that to one’s own environment.

As a lot of modern Paganism seems to have European roots, it is important to realise that the myths vary across the European continent with many areas also incorporating their own localised versions or interpretations. It’s not a case of one size fits all. Also, as these myths often told a story, it is important for us to gain an understanding of that story and an interpretation from the peoples who it related to.

When we have developed this knowledge base then we realise that the myths form part of a bigger story and, whilst on the surface this story may not fit exactly into our own environment, when we begin to strip back the layers to expose the underlying symbolism, then this does.

Naturally, of course, this also depends greatly upon one’s own spiritual path and how that is developed. Mine, for example, is one built on symbolic meaning and myth where the journey through each cycle of the Wheel reveals a different level to the previous one.

One of the biggest challenges around the Wheel of the Year is this lack of poetic or symbolic understanding – where things are merely look at from the surface or superficial level, where people tend to take things at face value (often based on assumptions), and are not encourage to explore things for themselves. For us living in the Southern Hemisphere, we have long been told by Northern Hemispheric writers that we only need to move the Sabbat dates around by six months. That assumption is grossly incorrect. There is more to working with the Wheel of the Year than that.

You raise one issue as being climate. While the variation of this may appear to form stumbling blocks, again if you familiarise yourself with the seasonal myths and in particularly, the underlining psychological meaning,  then more often than not the myth can be adapted in order to create something that reflects what is occurring within our own environment at that particular time. Changes in our climate are always going to play havoc to our interpretation of the original myth. However, we need to keep in mind that four of the Sabbats relate to the cosmic relationship between the earth and the sun, whereas the remaining four are agricultural. Depending on what tradition you follow, there may not be four agricultural markers in your area.

Coming from a more traditionally-based tradition, my personal preference is to adapt as opposed to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, should one prefer to follow a more eclectic form of Paganism, there are no reasons why they need to stick to the traditional Wheel of the Year.

Billinghurst_bookTo answer your question about other challenges that face the Australian Pagan, I guess the apparent lack of published information or at least the accessibility of such information about the Wheel is a big one. Despite modern Paganism having been practiced in Australia for well over 40 years, there are still very few books that have been printed solely on this topic, resulting in the majority of information that seekers first come across being from the Northern Hemisphere.

Further, due to the smaller population of Pagans that are scattered (many extremely isolated) across a country the same size as the USA, there is not the availability or accessibility to teachers and/or those who have been confident enough to explore this area properly. I have met with a degree of resistance from my Northern Hemisphere-based elders in my desire to adapt my tradition more to what is happening within my local environment. Yet it needs to be done. If I am to work with the energies of this land, then I need to understand its underpinning cycles, which is what the Wheel of the Year is. When I am able to do this, then I am able to adapt the traditional or ritual mythos more appropriately to each Sabbat.

TWH: Here in Melbourne, people like to say we have four seasons in a day. With what seems like a volatile climate, how can we celebrate meaningful Sabbats? What are some of the different approaches that Pagan communities in the Southern Hemisphere have adopted for celebrating the Wheel of the Year?

FB: In order to celebrate meaningful Sabbats, you first need to establish a basic understanding of what the Sabbat is about. Once this basic understanding is achieved, then we can attempt to adapt it into what is happening around us.

It’s important to remember that regardless what is happening in our environment that the Lesser Sabbats (Equinoxes and Solstices) were traditionally aligned on the earth’s relationship to the sun whereas the Greater Sabbats were more agriculturally orientated. This means that technically the deeper meaning of the Equinoxes (times of balance) and the Solstices (zenith power of light or dark) do not change regardless of what is happening with the climate. If you are caught up sticking with the seasonal myths from another land/culture and are getting disheartened that such myths are not reflecting what you see outside your window, then you basically have two choices: strip the myth down to what it represents to you or create something new.

In order to achieve the latter, you would need to get out into your own natural environment and see what is happening around you. If possible, get into the countryside or your closest nature reserve or park if you don’t have a garden. Get outside and observe what is happening around you. Observe significant local seasons and learn as much as possible with respect to localised folklore and or Indigenous folklore.

As to different ways of adopting the Wheel of the Year within Australia, again this comes back to environment.  In the Top End, it is pointless to follow a European-based Wheel of eight Sabbats when there appears to be only two seasons – the Wet and the Dry. Alternatively, the eight Sabbats may be highly influence by the local Aboriginal seasonal wheel which acknowledges six seasons.

Some traditions only acknowledge either the Lesser Sabbats due to their relationship between the sun and the earth, whereas others I know of only acknowledge the Greater Sabbats as the gateways to each of the seasons.

TWH: In the Northern Hemisphere, Pagans who observe the Wheel of the Year just finished celebrating Imbolc. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we celebrated Lughnassadh. What are the markers of the Summer Solstice and of Lughnassadh in Australia?

FB: Here in the South Australia around the time of the Summer Solstice, it is our grain harvest which is usually associated with Lughnasadh/Lammas. In southern central Australia, Lughnasadh is usually marked by the arrival of bushfire season. The temperatures easily climb into the high 30s and 40°Cs (high 80s to well over 100°F) and can stay there for weeks. This year, the fires arrived early and, as I write this, to date our summer has been on the mild side with only a couple of really hot days. The season is not over yet and we could be heading for a hot and dry autumn instead. In adapting the Sabbats to reflect what is happening within our local environment, we need to know what the traditional story is about and then have the confidence of being able to shape it to ensure that its underlying meaning reflects that of what is happening around us.

How my coven has been approaching this Sabbat has changed over the years. For example, within my tradition the Summer Solstice is about the bountiful Mother Goddess and the God as his guise of the Sun God. Here in South Australia this mythos can still be used yet expanded upon so that the Goddess is not only a bountiful Mother, but she also holds the scythe as she cuts down John Barleycorn, the Lord of the Grain which the God has also become along with his solar aspect.

Where I live, it is at the Summer Solstice, not at Lughnassadh, when the God offers to his abundant beloved his head, his life, and soul as the ultimate sacrifice. As the Wheel turns to Lughnasadh, as the wielder of the scythe, the Goddess starts to stalk the land in her grief and longing for the God, and in a similar manner to how when Demeter despaired for her beloved Persephone after her abduction by Hades, the land becomes dry and barren. The God, almost as a split personality, has sacrificed his life as the Lord of the Grain, but also now becomes a Lord of the Corn as Lughnasadh is usually the time when corn is ready to harvest. The Lughnasadh harvest is not always bountiful and productive depending on how hot January has become, and usually what is offered up at this time of the year is a representation of what has not been successful.

Bushfire [Photo Credit: Black Saturday Bushfires.com.au]

Bushfire [Photo Credit: Black Saturday Bushfires.com.au]

Instead of celebrating the harvest and its bounty, due to the heat, lack of rain and the land often being dry and scorched with bushfires abounding, Lughnasadh becomes a fire festival of purification and also regeneration. The fires that tend to arrive at Lughnasadh reflect the regeneration that this land needs as the life of specific plant species tend to lie dominant until they are scorched. On a deeper personal, psychological level, my coven explores the purification from and removal of deep-rooted obstacles that only the force of something like a destructive fire can eradicate.

Speaking back to Imbolc, one aspect Brighid that tends to often be overlooked is her fire aspect, which is appropriate at this time of the year here in southern central Australia.

In Aboriginal lore where the solar deity is a goddess, there are a number of stories about the land being scorched by sun. The Wotjobaluk people of south-eastern Australia, for example, had a solar Goddess by the name of Gnowee whose torch was the sun, and after her young son went missing while she dug for food, she climbed into the sky with her torch in order to get a better view of where to look for him. To this day, she still wanders the world with her torch looking for her son.

From the Northern Territory, comes the story of Wala (or Walo) who was also a solar goddess who would travel across the sky every day with her sister (or daughter) Bara until she realised that the two of them were drying out the land and making it parched. Wala sent Bara back to the east so that the earth could become fertile and bloom.

TWH: A question that many Aussie Pagans ask: Why do we keep on trying to fit the European Wheel of the Year into the Australian seasonal cycle?

FB: This is a question that I have been asking myself for years and one which led me to write, Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats.  It could be simply that the majority of information that Pagans have access to is from the Northern Hemisphere coupled with the overall generalisation that Pagans within Australia are often very solitary by nature and spread out by location. There is not the access to networking that is found in other countries. While Australian Pagans don’t mind travelling, the cost of travel here is expensive as are books, so we are limited largely to the Internet and, once again, the influx of information is Northern Hemispheric and, more often than not, American.

Due to the lack of localised resources, it is little wonder that newcomers can take a while before they gain the knowledge and even confidence in trying something different. Even for those within a tradition, it can be intimidating to attempt to step outside the boundaries.

While modern Paganism has reportedly been active in Australia since the 1970s, there are still relatively few resources available with respect to working with native flora and fauna. Whether or not people have actually have explored such areas and it is merely a case of them not publishing their work, or maybe their work has been published but it is not easily accessible, who can tell. All I know is that when I was researching my book, I often had to go to non-Pagan resources and then apply a Pagan interpretation. Maybe this is how the correspondences of say the Ogham came about; the Celts looked at the oak and saw strength. Yet for a lot of us, there appears to be a hesitancy to step across that line and explore our local flora and fauna in such a manner.

TWH: Australia has fascinating Indigenous cultures and traditions. Why don’t Aussie Pagans work more with an Aboriginal understanding of the seasons?

FB: There are a lot of cultural sensitivities surrounding Aboriginal teachings. There is discomfort in using such information without the proper consent, and there is the issue of who to approach to gain the proper consent. There is not always a lot of information made available especially when it comes to localised observances as a lot this knowledge has been forgotten or even lost.

What is important to realise that in a landmass that is the size of Australia there are over 500 different clan groups or nations and each have their own stories and seasonal myths, and a lot of these clan groups were very nomadic. Some of these are better known and others have been blended into an overall generalisation.

The Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia, for example, make up some 77 family groups in an area that includes the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu peninsula and the Coorong of southern central Australia. Some of their folklore and seasonal myths can be found in A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and the Lakes, South Australia by Ronald and Catherine Berndt (John E. Stanton, 1993) as well as Ngarrindjeri wurruwarrin: A World that is, was, and will be by Diane Bell (Spinifex Press, 1998). Yet the works of the Berndts has been criticized and also doesn’t represent the environment away from the Fleurieu and southern lakes.

I live in the land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains who had their culture and language almost wiped out within a short time after the arrival of the European settlement in the 1830s. While great attempts have been made in recent decades to re-establish their language and culture, a lot of this knowledge is not available to the public.

Bushland National Park [Photo Credit: Proimos / Flicr CC. Lic]

Bushland Royal National Park [Photo Credit: Proimos / Flicr CC. Lic]

TWH: How can Aussie Pagans learn to better adapt their Sabbats to the local climate and landscape?

FB: Simply by moving away from the computer and getting outside into their gardens, local park, bushland, whatever is convenient. Feel the sun and rain on your skin and the wind in your hair. Even in the middle of suburbia, this is possible. Take note of when plants flower, when fruit comes into season, strike up conversations with green grocers about seasonal fruits, and nursery owners about plants.  Visit the botanic gardens. Many have free walks and botany guides, especially when it comes to the local flora. This was one of the first exercises that I gave students when I ran a correspondence course in the late 1990s and early 2000s prior to online schools, and something that I still teach within my outer course classes for my coven.

Don’t only rely on Pagan material. While knowing the background and myths of the Sabbats is important, look into local Aboriginal myth and even, if possible, local folklore that can be traced back to the European settlers. This latter point may require some digging, but you will be amazed at what you discover.

When you start to collate your notes, patterns emerge and these can assist in constructing a unique Wheel of the Year.

TWH: You have written one of the few books about the Wheel of the Year in Australia. What has that process been like for you?

FB: Coming up with a Wheel of the Year that is uniquely Australian can very well be a long process and indeed one that will differ from region to region. In the eight or so years that it took me to research and write Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, one of my biggest surprises was simply the lack of information written by Pagans in offering an alternative to the traditional, eight-spoked Wheel of the Year. On Yahoo groups and now Facebook groups, despite a lot of discussion, few people have taken the bull by the horns and actually put something in writing.

My book is far from complete and, when I was finishing the second edition, I was still not 100% happy with it. The Summer Solstice and Lughnasadh are the two Sabbats that really need addressing here in southern Australia. Yet, if I wrote about dramatically changing these two Sabbats, I could be alienating some readers. Instead, I left hints to encourage readers to look deeper at the Wheel and what it means to them.

I want to publish a follow-up to Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, probably an anthology of what people actually do in order to acknowledge and celebrate the Sabbats in the Southern Hemisphere, including New Zealand, South Africa, and even South America if possible. The more writings we get out there that address the revamping of the Wheel of the Year, the more confidence people will have in adapting to find something that they personally resonate with on a deeper level.

TWH: What else are you working on?

FB: I have a number of projects that I am currently working on at the moment. The first is the editing of my first anthology, Call of the God: An Exploration of the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism, which I hope to publish later this year.  This anthology will balance out my second book, In Her Sacred Name: Writings about the Divine Feminine, which contains a selection of articles that I have written over the years on various aspects of the Goddess.

I also have contributed to a number of other people’s anthologies which are in the process of being published this year, in particular The Bosom of Isis by Sorita d’Este and Avalonia, as well as a number of anthologies by Neos Alexandria/Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Behind the scenes, I have a further two more books that I work on when I get a bit of time that I hope to have published by the end of this year or early 2016. One is on the darker aspects of the Goddess, which is based on the workshops I have been running since 2006, as well as an instruction manual on working with respect to a modern traditional form of the Craft. Based on my own teachings and kind of a 101 book, it will offer some “meat on the bones” for the more solitary practitioner.

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More information about Frances Billinghurst, including her books and upcoming projects, can be found on her website at http://francesbillinghurst.blogspot.com.au/.

 

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The use of the internet in modern Paganism has changed the way that people access information and express themselves in modern culture. One of the most widely used mediums for information sharing has become the blogosphere. Pagan blogs range from having an academic theme to the purely personal, and everything in between. The popular transition from reading books to reading blogs has created a culture of fast information gathering and the ability for everyone to have a format. This has also contributed to the idea that everyone is a potential “expert,” making the distinctions of reliability challenging.

This type of fingertip access to information has many benefits in modern day culture, but how do those benefits affect the overall culture within modern Paganism, or does it at all? Different groups of people may have different opinions on the benefits and problems created with Pagan blogging and the instant access to this version of the Pagan world.

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

The social sciences often point out how pieces of any social system affect and rely on one another. As the overarching community approach creates a social structure that encompasses many different moving pieces, the increase in blogging as a common form of communication and information exchange has the potential for long standing cultural changes. The ecological theory explores the interdependent relationship between different elements of any community, grouping, or construct, making the idea that the rise of a blogging culture in modern Paganism has changed the landscape of our cultural connection.

What does this mean and what does that look like in community culture? Who are our leaders, experts, and resources in the community, and how does this change the landscape of how we access popularity? How are leaders and experts chosen, and how does the blogging culture influence who gets attention?

The following are some thoughts from a variety of Pagans on this concept of whether blogging culture has an impact on Pagan culture, and our community.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

I think the short answer is that sometimes it does. Recent discussions about race, gender, transphobia, and creating safe spaces at festivals and conventions have transcended their origins online. I think these are all issues we are currently confronting within our circles, covens, and groves. I think we are still far away from the lasting and permanent change many of us wish to see, but the dialogue is encouraging and moving in the right direction.

The issues of theology that often dominate the internet discourse rarely to never come up in the terrestrial groups I’m a part of.  However, I think some of those conversations represent the inevitable schisms that will one day divide the Pagan umbrella.  As a result it’s possible that we will feel their influence in the future, though I think that future is still far on the horizon.

One of the problems with the Pagan blogosphere is that it represents only a small slice of Pagandom. Those who follow most of the “trending topics” that arise within it are a fraction of a fraction. It’s an engaged fraction to be sure, but it takes awhile for ideas to work their way through a community as large and diverse as modern Paganism. In that way the influence of blogs is a bit more subtle and hard to see, but those of us who engage in it on a day to day basis can see its influence. – Jason Mankey, blogger at “Raise the Horns,” Patheos Pagan Channel

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

I think that some blogs are influential and that others identify what is influential on the community. Pagan blogs tend to follow trends of topics, even across various sites, and I find that interesting. Identifying trends (and what isn’t trending) feels like a helpful gauge for what our community thinks is important and what isn’t. Sometimes those realizations are exciting and sometimes they’re very disappointing. – David Salisbury, author Teen Spirit Wicca

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

Blogging connects people from all over the world and provides a platform to humanity’s deep need to be heard. For Pagans, I see that blogging provides the opportunity for people to come together holding widely varied belief and create community and build identity, while using technology as the ‘magic.’ There is an equal playing field in blogging, at least in the beginning, that like the core of our diverse spirit has the power to build bridges and spread Pagan values and ideals.

Personally, blogging changed my life, by allowing in me the freedom to seek wisdom and explore it interactively with people from all walks of life. My ‘covenstead’ has in many ways become the blogosphere where the dialogue is rich, meaningful, sometimes contrary, but always an invitation to more. More magic. More Wisdom. More love.Erick DuPree, blogger at “Alone in Her Presence”

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

Blogging is an act of justice that gives voice to those who are not often heard. In Peggy McIntosh’s “White People Facing Race: Uncovering the Myths That Keep Racism in Place”, a few of the myths that blogging destroys are the myth of white racelessness and the myth of monoculture. Blogging by Pagans of Color eradicates the stereotype that those who worship the Gods are, of necessity, uniform by nature and white by class, race or upbringing. Blogging makes it possible to see the corners,what is hidden from the rest of the world. Each myth destroyed, each level of resistance challenged and each open discussion about privilege in Paganism brings the overall community closer together. We are able to reveal what we know about ourselves to those who might not see beyond the once or twice a year encounters with those who embrace some level of paganism as a person of color. Blogs are a necessary counterbalance to the blandness that stereotypes the definition of “Pagan” in 2015.Clio Ajana, blogger “Daughters of Eve,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Cara Schulz

Cara Schulz

I think it does for a very small minority. If there are a million Pagans just in the USA, give or take, and even a really well read blog only has a few hundred or even thousands of readers, that is a very small percentage.

But if we’re talking about the Pagan community, that’s a bit different. The Pagan community is both a small world and a very segmented “community.” Large segments exist almost as islands, rarely if ever interacting with the wider community. Plus, most Pagans are still solitaries and while some are connected to the wider community, most aren’t.- Cara Shulz, staff writer, The Wild Hunt

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogging tends to have an influence beyond its readers. While even the most read blogs attract only a small percentage of the total pagan community, those it does attract tend to be engaged in the community. As a result, their reactions set a course for discussion. That discussion has the ability to steer the movement. The influence is indirect, but it is real.Tim Titus, blogger at “Intersections”

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

I consider blogging a method of discussion. Blogging can often respond to, create, or steer the discussions that various groups are having, or provoke ones that we need to have. Is it the only means of influence? Of course not, but as social media becomes more and more a part of the way our communities interact, I think blogs can distill topics, teach wisdom, amplify certain voices or issues, that are present in the community at large.  – Niki Whiting, blogger at “The Witch’s Ashram,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Blogging has made it possible for solo practitioners and others who feel isolated to find community with people all over the world. For those of us from marginalized backgrounds, it has helped us to find and connect with other marginalized people and to increase our understanding of our practices and incorporate new ones. One of the really exciting things that I think blogging has done to influence Modern Pagan culture is to provide opportunity for marginalized communities to speak about what it means to be marginalized both in the broader Pagan community and the world at large.

Blogging is where useful discussion of racism, homophobia, transantagonism, and cultural appropriation is able to happen in ways that allow us to see the human face of these issues. Cultural appropriation is one thing that blogging, and the internet in general, have brought to a wider discussion. To a degree, the internet has made it easier to culturally appropriate, as practitioners can google and find so many things that they wish to cobble together into a practice without thinking about the origins or privileges they may have that make it easier/safer for them to use them. On the other hand, blogging is where we are able to talk about those origins, what it feels like to watch someone make money off of something that may still be illegal or at least discouraged for us to retain of our own culture, what it means on a personal level, and what it means on a larger cultural level. Blogging creates accessible avenues for education, and for personal engagement and relationship building.Aaminah Zulu Shakur, artist and healer

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

The internet is a fascinating thing. On the one hand, it is a tool that has created space for platforms — such as blogging — which allow for international connections and communications, bringing diverse groups together in ways that they would not be able to otherwise. The internet is also a place, in the true sense of the word, wherein spaces are hosted and guested and the rules of hospitality must by necessity apply, else the worst kinds of harm are allowed to happen. Blogging, however, can be a lot like any other colonizing land-expansion: it allows equally for people with valid dreams and visions to find a respectful place for these to be seen into fruition as it does for those with nothing but greed and hunger and disillusionment with what they are ultimately turning away from in turning to a blog.

There are some who were using the internet in the “glory-days” of exclusivity, before it was fully mainstreamed, who harken back to those nostalgic times where it took a certain level of know-how to stumble into such places, trailblazing or at least “knowing the right people.” These days anyone can hop on their phone and become a digital “land-owner” and that can be both good and bad. A person can hungrily devour a corner of the blogsphere to espouse hatred at others over things like disabilities or race or religious experience and identity, just as easily as they can stake out a territory and declare it a safe-zone for progressive human-rights and religious-rights oriented work, dialog, and endeavors.

A person with a blog can be a force of change or a force of flaming trollfire, rubbing up on everything and leaving it stained, soiled, and ruined for whoever else might come along next. In terms of how this influences the Pagan community? Well, thanks to all of the above — good and bad — we now have a landscape to not only settle some of our differences, but even identify what they are in the first place, and iron out the nuances of language and identifiers — Polytheists from Archetypalists, for example — and from there we can forge the spaces and the rules to navigate those identifiers, those boundaries, and thereby defend the perimeters of the unimpeachable rights and freedoms that we all must, at the end of the day, agree as paramount to our collective doings.Anomolous Thracian, founder and editor of Polytheist.com

Aine Llewellyn

Aine Llewellyn

Yes and no. Part of me says ‘yes’ because I’m biased. I’m a blogger, I read other blogs, I live a lot of my life online. Online Paganism, the blogosphere, influenced my own religion and how I approach in-person communities.

What I see in the blogosphere are conversations about theology and boundaries and where Paganism might go. Of course those conversations are going to affect the wider community. The people writing these blogs are going to go out into their own communities and take these ideas with them!

I think the idea that blogging doesn’t matter comes from some complex ideas. There’s the idea that online interaction isn’t ‘real’. Then there’s the idea that people who blog or read blogs regularly are not ‘actually’ involved in their communities. This is true in some cases! However, some people don’t have offline community, or the one they do is toxic or unsafe in some way, or it simply doesn’t fill their needs. And these are just two ideas, both of which need a lot of unpacking to understand…

I think to understand why blogging can change our culture, we have to remind ourselves that people, real people, are writing these blogs. They are going to bring these ideas with them wherever they go. We don’t know how blogging is going to fit into our history yet. But I think the resentment and snark directed at blogging itself – the mere act of writing and engaging with other Pagan bloggers or readers – is misplaced.

But I have to also say no, because the petty drama and attention-mongering that we see? That’s not important, that’s never important. Online or offline. But that’s exactly it – the sort of ‘me me me’ that we see online can happen offline too, and it seems we’re very bad at acknowledging that.Aine Llewellyn, artist and blogger at “of the Other People.”

[photo credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

[Photo Credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

The internet is a tool. It is easy to forget how tools can be used to help shape culture and community, how the interlocking pieces influence the outcome and change the trajectory of what is to come. How does blogging culture influence the way that we communicate with one another? How do we connect to leadership or the celebrity status of people inside of the community? How do we identify reliability in our sources when the blogosphere is not monitored, fact checked or screened?

The energetic exchange between blogger and reader is just as important as the words on the screen. We cannot deny the impact of information; whether it is academic, social or personal. The reciprocal nature of communication, and the medium in which it is given in, means that the receiver is just as affected as the giver.

Does the impact of blogging on culture rely on numbers or is it more dependent on the way that people internalize information and take it out into the world? Erick DuPree mentioned to me that, “Blogging might only touch a few people’s lives in the grand percentage of the world’s populace, but one person reading about compassion, about self care, about magic, or about social justice, is one more person than had there not been a blog.” I tend to agree.

How discussions are shaped, how problems are identified and how popular trends are accessed in community largely rely on the blogging community and the conditioned behaviors that the internet fosters. The way that the blogosphere affects the other elements of our community in the long run has yet to be seen, but we do know that the culture of communication and connection has changed greatly since blogging has become a more common means of expression among modern Pagans.

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