“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville

I. Perception and Ideology

Standing on one corner of an intersection on a main drag in Eugene, Oregon, a young man with earbuds dances around while waving and twirling a “Little Caesars” sign in the shape of an arrow that’s pointing toward the restaurant. He stands out there most days from 9 to 5, and most likely makes $9.10 an hour, minimum wage in this state. One only has to stand and observe the dancing sign guy on the corner for a few minutes to notice the reaction to his presence is mostly positive. People wave from cars driving by; others honk,and some give a thumbs-up. The dancing sign man returns the energy as well as the friendly hand signals. He not only receives praise but obvious showings of empathy, especially on a hot day like this one. “You must be sweating!” one woman yells. “Be careful out there!”

On the other corner, a man also stands with a sign. He has earflaps instead of earbuds, however, and its pretty apparent that his physical condition doesn’t allow him to dance. His sign says, “Unemployed, Homeless, Anything Helps.”  And, one only has to observe him for a few minutes to notice the reaction to his presence is opposite to what the dancing sign man across the street receives. I watched drivers who refused to make eye contact; others who muttered ‘get a job’ under their breath; others who yelled ‘get a job’ quite loudly; one woman who honked at him, and a car full of frat boys who rolled down their window as though they were going to give him money only to then to roll up the window laughing and drive away quickly as the man walked towards their car. I watched for fifteen minutes or so and saw him take in one dollar and some change, which puts his hourly take-in at well under the $9.10 an hour that the dancing sign man across the street receives.

We live in a society where a person who stands on a street corner doing absolutely nothing other than waving a sign advertising for a business is not only perceived as legitimately ‘earning a living,’ but also receives empathy, praise, and positive reaction from passers-by.  And a person who stands on a nearly identical corner with a sign advertising their own personal state of misfortune is not treated kindly but treated as worthless, is yelled at to get a job, and is subjected to repeated public humiliation.

Not only is the panhandler mistreated and derided, but the very act of panhandling is considered to be so offensive that many municipalities have attempted to ban the practice outright; an attempt which often fails due to free speech protections. And in many cases, it’s the same kinds of businesses that hire folks to hold signs on the corner that are instrumental in pressuring local governments and police departments to remove those other folks with those other signs through legislative attempts or simply police harassment.

Call it tragic. Call it inhumane. Call it the sign of a crumbling civilization. Call it what you will. It’s the inevitable result of a society indoctrinated into an economic ideology which judges the literal worth of a human being by their ability to ‘produce,’ by their ability to ‘earn,’ by what they are ‘worth’ under the system of capitalism. The sign-waver for Little Caesars and the panhandler are engaged in the same physical activity, but it is the designation of one as a ‘worker’ who is earning a ‘wage’ in contrast to the other which results in empathy and praise toward one and judgment and mistreatment toward the other.

Actual worth is judged by perceived ‘worth’ under the arbitrary standards of a structure so pervasive and encompassing that few can see through its ideological fog, few question the legitimacy or humanity of such a system. And with this comes the acceptance and promotion of a flawed and arbitrary set of standards, determining how and why we assume some have ‘worth’ (or are the ‘worthy poor’), as opposed to those who are expendable, the throwaways–the ‘unworthy poor.’ Our acceptance of these standards is why we tolerate – even actively ignore – the millions of people, including women, children, and the disabled, sleeping on the streets of our towns and cities every night in America. Worse, we often blame them for their situation and believe that they are not deserving of even the most basic of dignities.

Bread line in New York City, circa 1910. [Public Domain]

Bread line in New York City, circa 1910. [Public Domain]

II. Five Hundred Years Of War

To the casual observer, it would seem that what was once a ‘war on poverty’ in America has turned into an outright war on the poor. From the criminalization of public feeding in at least 21 cities to the recent pushes from politicians to restrict food stamp use and drug-test welfare recipients, the oppression of an ever-expanding class of poor has increased, along with an increase in the poor themselves. The most recent census figures state that 45.3 million Americans currently live in poverty, up from 33.3 million in the year 2000. The American middle-class is quickly disappearing, and the current gap between rich and poor in this country is the highest on record.

While independent studies and government data both make it clear that most of the poor who are able to work are either already working or actively job-seeking, the overwhelming perception in America is that the poor are lazy; that they are ‘takers’ and that they don’t want to work, preferring to live off welfare. Such attitudes are most often stressed by conservative politicians who claim Christianity as the moral basis for their beliefs, which is often countered by liberal and/or progressive Christians who point to the words and teachings of Christ as contradictory to such a position. And while the liberal-minded Christians have a point regarding the words of Jesus, the conservatives are correct about the Christian origins of their ideological stance regarding the poor. For while this attitude generally manifests as an outgrowth of the ‘American Dream,’ (i.e. that hard work equals success), which implies that if one is not successful than they did not work hard, the attitudes concerning the poor – parroted by conservative politicians and citizens alike – are rooted in the days and ideas of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Protestant Reformation. That is, the era in which the landless underclass was first created and identified.

History is too-often recited as specific events in isolation without their proper context. This reduction of historical upheavals makes it easy to ignore that neither the transition from feudalism to capitalism nor the Protestant Reformation happened in a vacuum. In fact, they were coterminous and codependent. Feudalism claimed its legitimacy based on the divine right of kings, with lord and peasant as a divinely decreed, unquestioned hierarchy. It wasn’t until the emergence and rise of the first ‘middle class’ of laborers and merchants in the years after the Black Death that such claims to legitimacy showed wear. The status and experiences of this emerging class during this economic upheaval, along with the creation of a class that ‘labored’ as the poor had yet enjoyed many of the luxuries of the upper-classes gave rise to a new ethic. The “Protestant work ethic” or the “Calvinist work ethic”, i.e. the belief that ‘hard work’ is not only divinely prescribed but will be divinely rewarded, perfectly matched this new class.

The peasant classes also looked to the ideas of the Reformation for their claim to freedom. The Peasants’ War in Germany, less than a decade after Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, was a direct result of the collision between the Enclosures and the Reformation. The peasant class in Germany was stripped of the right to the commons in the early 16th century, and were forbidden from freely hunting or gathering wood by the feudal lords who had taken control of the land. The loss of their economic freedom combined with the rhetoric of the Reformation ignited a series of revolts in 1524-1525, which spread throughout Germany like wildfire and were backed by many Reformation priests, although Luther himself opposed the revolts despite sympathizing with the peasants’ plight. The aristocracy met the peasants with a level of force that nowadays could only be wielded through the legitimacy of state power, and in the onslaught approximately 100,000 peasants were slaughtered to maintain the social order.

Peasants surround a knight during the Peasants' War. Illustration circa 1539. [Public Domain]

Peasants surround a knight during the Peasants’ War. Illustration circa 1539. [Public Domain]

The Protestant work ethic was essential in shaping a rapidly changing society in the midst of the Enclosures. Peasants were forced off the land into the cities and factories, which created an inevitable underclass of ‘paupers’ and ‘beggars.’ From the crisis of poverty that hit the cities came the Poor Laws, which first carved out the distinctions between the ‘impotent poor,’ the ‘able-bodied poor,’ and the ‘idle poor,’ distinctions which set the stage for the role of the State in the criminalization of poverty, a role still enacted to this day. The philosophy and implementation of the Poor Laws is the direct predecessor to both the modern welfare states in both the United States and Europe as well as to the ideological position regarding the poor that conservative politicians express.

Whether one solely focuses on medieval Europe, or expands their view in order to look at the horrors and ravages of colonialism from a global perspective, the scale of the continuous violence and oppression of those who lack economic power and/or a ‘work ethic’ is everywhere. In Western society, the welfare state and the criminalization and dehumanization of poverty are anything but mutually exclusive.

In reality, the war on the poor is nothing new, if anything it is a war that’s been continuously waged for over five hundred years.

III. Privilege, Disability, and the Exception

It took me well over a decade as an adult to recognize the extent of a significant superpower that I possess, a completely unearned and unacknowledged advantage that allows me to experience day-to-day life in a way and manner that I don’t “deserve” and I haven’t “earned.”

It’s a superpower best described as middle-class privilege.

For I am one of “those people,” one of the “dependent” poor, having lived in poverty for nearly a decade now without any real expectation that my situation might change anytime soon. But I am a poor person who was raised middle-class, poor due to what one would categorize as ‘circumstance’ as opposed to birth, and despite my poverty I retain all the advantages that a middle-class upbringing entails. This middle-class façade grants me an indescribable amount of entrances, exceptions, clearances, and privileges that those who appear as poor do not have. My everyday life experiences and ability to survive are hinged upon and rooted in the fact that the gatekeepers to the worlds I inhabit instinctively assume that I am one of them. I “pass” as middle-class and, therefore, I am largely exempt from most of the harsh words, cruel judgments, and discriminatory treatment that the average poor person faces; treatment that’s even worse if one is deemed ‘unworthy’ poor.

My appearance, my mannerisms, my speech, my cultural references and sense of humor act as signifiers, broadcasting a subconscious suggestion to those in my presence that I am other than poor. I appear to be a person of means, one who earns a wage, one who creates value through production, one who has worth within the context of the capitalist system. Yet, none of those things are true. I pass without effort based solely on factors that I had no part in and did not ‘choose’ or ‘earn’.

Class privilege is a matter of culture as much as a matter of economics, and it’s a misleading oversimplification to define class differences by wealth and wealth alone. Our society is deeply coded along class lines, lines that have existed for hundreds of years between rich and poor, lines which have become blurry due to the advent of the modern ‘middle-class’ and yet reveal themselves much more fixed in the face of a change of fortune. Similarly to white privilege, class privilege is hard to see while one is protected within its embrace; just as fish can’t see water, one often cannot see the boundaries of the bubble in which they live until they are unexpectedly yanked outside of it.

I grew up in a low-crime, affluent suburb, was raised by educated parents, went to top-rated public schools, always had access to quality medical and dental care, and was shielded from nearly all of the brute realities of poverty. It was always assumed that I would go to college and end up living a similar middle-class suburban life as that in which I was raised.

I rebelled against that expectation – I ran off to live in the city in my late teens, forgoing the idea of college with the idea that I could ‘make it’ on my own. I learned quickly what it meant to work for a living, that ‘making it’ meant forever selling one’s time in exchange for money, and that time/money equation varied greatly depending on the task. Selling my time to a retail store earned me $7 an hour. Dogwalking earned me $10. Cleaning houses; $12. Waiting tables; $15. Art modeling; $25. Bartending. I could pull in around $30 an hour on a decent night.

I knew from the very beginning that the game was rigged, and I learned pretty quickly the myth that ‘hard work equals success’ was greatly dependent on what kind of ‘work’ one could find. But it took me a bit longer to see my own advantages in the game; to figure out that I was able to score many jobs that others could not simply by virtue of my being white, able-bodied, and middle-class. Over time, it became more apparent to me that what I was “worth” was not being measured by what I actually knew or could accomplish, but by arbitrary standards that had more to do with perception and class signifiers than anything else. I also knew that I worked much harder cleaning houses for $12 an hour than I did sitting still in a room full of art students for $25, and that most of the women whom I cleaned houses with would never be considered for the art modeling gig.

I worked a varied assortment of those jobs throughout my late teens and early twenties, while painting on the side and making plans to attend college. Then, fate intervened without warning – an accidental event that left me with permanent physical and neurocognitive injuries. Practically overnight, I went from identifying as a self-sufficient ‘worker’ whose time had always been worth money on the open market to having to learn to navigate life as a person with various ‘invisible disabilities’ which largely precluded me from holding down even the most basic of jobs. As a person who had neither health insurance nor a safety net of any kind, I had to quickly accept that I was being relegated to a life of poverty from that point forward.

With that realization came a sudden torrent of denial, shame, and feelings of worthlessness. It also gave me a newly critical eye toward an economic system that arbitrarily determines the worth and value of a human being by their ability to earn money and/or create surplus value. Not until I found myself removed from the worker pool did I understand that disability in our society is defined by how much one can produce, by one’s worth as a worker under the capitalist system.

(This, by the way, is why any disability claim hinges on being able to ‘prove’ one’s worthlessness in terms of one’s ability to earn an income. It is also why those who cannot meet that burden of proof yet cannot earn an income to support themselves are simply left to suffer, discarded from our society, ‘othered’ as the ‘unworthy poor,’ and left on street corners holding signs.)

The loss of self-sufficiency, the loss of economic freedom that I suddenly faced, combined with the physical and cognitive challenges I had not yet accepted or learned to handle, sent me into a downward spiral that took several years to emerge from. It took a cross-country move, a fresh start from scratch, and an eventual confrontation with my own unseen privilege before I was able to come to terms with my feelings of worthlessness and recognize that I was actually in a limited position of power.

*   *   *

The aforementioned confrontation took place on a beautiful spring morning in downtown Eugene, Oregon, a day in which I was riding my bike from my house to the library as I had done nearly every day. I was riding on the sidewalk, as I always did. As I approached an intersection, I noticed that the officer who usually waved at me on my bike every morning was writing a ticket to a homeless-looking man also on a bicycle. I stopped and observed the interaction from a few feet away, and when it was obvious that the officer was finished I asked him what had happened.

He was riding his bike on the sidewalk,” the officer told me. “This is at least the third time I caught him doing that.”

“But I ride on that sidewalk every day,” I replied. “And you’ve seen me many more than three times.”

He looked me up and down, and paused before carefully replying. “I suppose that’s true, but you aren’t causing any problems. You’re just on your way to work. He’s just a bum who hangs out downtown all day.”

I repeated his words in my head, a knot forming in my stomach as I took in what he had said. You’re just on your way to work. He’s just a bum who hangs out downtown all day. Looking at myself up and down as the officer had just done, I realized I looked exactly like the type of person who was off to work, unlike the man on his bike. Thoughts raced through my head. He thinks I have a job. He thinks I’m one of them. He doesn’t realize that I hang out downtown all day as well. He thinks I have money, he thinks I ‘pay my way’. He thinks that I have ‘worth’ and the man he just ticketed does not. I get a ‘pass’ and he does not. He looks poor and I do not.

I stared at the officer, eventually nodding, trying as hard as I could not to show my anger and disgust at what I had just witnessed. It had been years since I’d ever considered myself to be middle-class, but I realized then and there that I still had middle-class privilege and that such privilege was a potential source of power. I learned at that moment what it truly meant to not look poor, and realized the only way I could reconcile the feelings of nausea and rage was to shine light on what I had just experienced. I would have to expose those biases, both for their inhumanity as well as their arbitrary nature. I suddenly realized my privilege was a shield, and my perceived lack of ‘worth’ under capitalism quickly faded once I discovered an entirely different kind of ‘worth’ and ‘value’: I would use my time to point out and fight the biases that both myself and the man on the bike just experienced.

I spent the next three years viewing the downtown as my ‘workplace,’ positioning myself as the proverbial thorn-in-the-side of local government – specifically the police department’s pattern of biased policing against the visibly poor and homeless. I didn’t do so out of guilt or charity, but rather out of obligation and empathy. I did so as someone who struggled as a member of the ‘other’ while regularly passing as one of the worthy ones. I was determined to use that assumption against those in power who arbitrated and enforced those standards.

Throughout that time I was regarded as an equal by middle and upper-class folks alike; few suspected or could even conceive that I was anything other than how I appeared. Nobody ever asked me if I went to college, they asked me where I went to college. Very few asked or even wondered why I was able to devote myself full-time to obviously unpaid volunteer work. It was simply assumed that I had money, and it was evident that it did not matter where that money came from, nor whether I had ‘earned’ it or not. I fit the image so well, in fact, that I often was party to discussions and debates in which “those people” were brought up, where the ‘unworthy poor’ were demonized and dehumanized to my face. Supposedly well-meaning businessmen would take me aside in confidence, first to thank me for my work but then to talk to me privately about ‘those people.’

I can remember several times where, in a moment of bravery, I interrupted the conversation to inform them that I was one of the very people they were talking about. Each time, the conversation went like this:

“Oh, please don’t take that personally. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about real poor people, the ones that you look at and you just know they can get a job, but they choose not to work and they just want to live off the system.”

“The ones you look at and just know can get a job?” I countered. “You mean the ones who look like me?”

“Again, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about those other people.”

They were so eager and insistent on distinguishing me as the exception to further elaborate their stereotype that they completely missed the point that I had attempted to make each time: “those other people” inscribed in their minds were manipulated abstractions, and despite being well-spoken and well-dressed I was not the exception at all.

*   *   *

It’s liberating and also an obligation to throw of my facade to illustrate this point. I am a poor, disabled, uneducated member of the American underclass, who was able to build a reputation for initiating a public discourse around the myths and realities of being poor and homeless in America. It was and is a reputation that relied on my audience believing they were listening to a middle-class, able-bodied, college-educated person. Very few ever figured out who they were actually interacting with: a member of that same ‘undeserving,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘entitled’ underclass that they demonized on a daily basis, a member of that underclass speaking from personal experience. Though I’m not trying to downplay my ability to speak truth to power, nor my skills in the public arena, I can say with confidence that I’d never have been able to do so based only on my own merits.

Alley Valkyrie speaking at the Eugene City Club, October 2013

I am no more “deserving” than the man on the street corner begging with a sign. I have done no more to “earn” the respect I am given nor the power that I wield than any of the folks who spend their days at the library and their nights sleeping on the riverbank. Yet, not only is it immediately assumed I’m a person deserving of respect and an audience, even when I fully disclose my situation I am distinguished as the exception. I am arbitrarily deemed ‘worthy’ rather than a throwaway, based only on aesthetic and cultural factors. Meanwhile those who cannot pass are thrown under the bus by the same people who have invited me to the table.

IV. The Tower and The Mirror

“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” – Aristotle

Whether the American Dream is clinically dead or still technically gasping for air may be up for debate, but the belief that ‘anyone can make it’ and that ‘hard work equals success’ has a very tenuous grip as of late. The inability of much of the middle-class to recover from the last recession may be the final nail in the coffin of the belief that anyone can make it in America if they simply work hard enough.

If anything, it can be argued that the rise of the middle-class in medieval Europe shattered the façade of the ‘divine right of kings,’ similar to how the crumbling of the middle-class in America has shattered the façade of the American Dream. The ‘work ethic’ that serves as a bridge between these two moments in time still stands firm, the ideological ghosts of John Calvin and Martin Luther still hovering close, just as they have haunted Western society for half a millenia. Even as the masses become more aware that the game is rigged, those deeply ingrained attitudes around work, worth, and poverty are clung to more strongly than ever by politician and citizen alike.

The poor in America are invisible for many reasons. They are hidden away, shamed into submission, their existence is minimized, simply not talked about, and outright denied by so many. But they are also invisible to you because they are hiding amongst you, especially those who have experienced downward social mobility within their lifetimes, having found the ability through class-based signifiers to shapeshift between the world in which they were raised and the world in which they are forced to inhabit.

The poor as “other”, as stereotype, as abstraction, these are the methods and tools that the ruling class uses to manipulate us into erecting physical and psychological barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ So much time and effort goes into demonizing an abstract stereotype, that most fail to recognize that many who are poor and struggle with little hope are not reflecting that stereotype but a striking similarity to themselves, their poverty hidden within the familiarity of that reflection.

And as the poor are invisible, their anger is invisible to most as well. But their anger and desperation is growing and nearing a breaking point. The welfare system, which has always acted in tandem with the criminalization and dehumanization of the poor, was never intended to truly ‘help’ the poor or pull them out of poverty. It is and has always been a stopgap measure, designed to prevent revolts like the Peasant Wars that spread throughout Germany in 1524. And now, with ever-rising socioeconomic inequality–combined with assaults on welfare benefits for the poor – it is only a matter of time before the oppressed classes once again are pushed to revolt.

The ultra-wealthy know this full well, and have already started planning their escape routes, and yet the upper-middle, middle, and working-classes are still blinded by the fog, the same ideological fog that has convinced them that they poor are lazy and worthless and that hard work leads to success.

It is only in seeing through that fog that one can catch a glimpse of the Tower that looms.

My own experiences thankfully lifted that fog for me long ago, and I survive on the periphery, ever vulnerable and yet blessed with clarity, haunted by the constant reminder that behind my façade I have very little to stand on. Regardless of what I may signify to the world, regardless of what people may assume based on my clothes or my mannerisms, that edge always looms, and no matter how much I may distract or deceive myself, I am at risk of slipping over at any moment. Which is why every single time I walk past someone on the street who has obviously been pegged as a throwaway by society, I remember that they are a mirror, reflecting my own possibilities and potentials. But for privilege, but for luck, but for perception, but for the grace of the Gods goes I.

Not a moment goes by where I am not sharply aware that I am only one life event away from having to stand on that street corner myself, and despite the assumptions that others may harbor regarding my abilities and worth, the harsh reality is that I would not be dancing with a sign for money on behalf of a corporation, I would be begging with one for my very survival.

And if you ever saw me out there, Gods forbid? You would not be staring at a familiar stereotype, you would be staring at a reflection of yourself, for none of us are exempt from the potential fate of the throwaway. No matter your level of privilege, no matter the strength of your denial or the firmness of your bubble, it only takes a single life event, a single moment in time, to suddenly find yourself on the other side.

A beggar's display in Santa Barbara, CA. Photo by Dori.

A beggar’s display in Santa Barbara, CA. [Photo by Dori]

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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JESOLO, ITALY — On April 15, a Pagan outdoor temple in Italy once again became the target of vandals. However, this time the act was caught on camera. As a result, five men were arrested when temple owners turned over the footage to police. It showed these men using temple chairs to smash a statue of Nike of Samothrace.

Screen capture from the video of the tape provided to police. [photo credit, Venice Today]

Screen capture from the video of the tape provided to police. [Photo Credit: Venice Today]

The Federazione Pagana, a Pagan polytheist group affiliated with the temple, noted that this was not the first time the outdoor temple had been vandalized. The group believes that the attacks may be motivated by ingrained religious bigotry. In a Venice Today article, one member was quoted as saying, “Is there any difference in the motivation of the person who did this from the motivation of [ISIL] to destroy Assyrian antiquities? If you ask [initiated] Pagans, there is terrorism evident from the hatred shown by the vandals. But I am convinced that if these are just random hoodlums, the actions are the result of Catholic education. What sense does it make to break Nike’s wing? Or what sense is there in taking out your rage on a public statue.” (April 17, 2015)

The land the temple sits on is privately owned by a member of the Federazione Pagana, which is headed by Claudio Simeoni. The Federazione Pagana is part of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER).

In a press release dated April 19, ECER member organization the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (YSEE) made “an appeal to the entire civilized world asking for the condemnation of the desecration of the open air sanctuary of the Italian Pagan Federation (Federazione Pagana) in the town of Jesolo near Venice, by five Christian fundamentalists on Wednesday April 15.”  The release continues on, saying:

The fact that the perpetrators were arrested, because the owners of the sanctuary managed to capture the attack on a video camera, should not placate us or lead us to believe that such an attack could not happen again anywhere in Europe, when people are still being indoctrinated by faiths that instill in them hatred for everything different.

According to the Unione Comunità Neopagane (UCN), the Federazione Pagana and its leader Claudio Simeoni are considered somewhat controversial. In a statement to The Wild Hunt, UCN Public Information Officer said, “I want to underline that, as Unione Comunità Neopagane, we strongly are against every form of violence (wherever it arrives or in every kind of form). But we have to underline that we have nothing to do with him and his group … We sadly note Claudio Simeoni and Federazione Pagana are, in their online pages, promoters of religious intolerance. Even if we understand the animosity against some religious groups, we are not Pagan because we are against someone or somewhat, but because we share common principles of freedom and inclusion.“ The UNC said that it is not yet clear if the vandalism was due to religious bigotry or retaliation for the comments Simeoni made against other religions and against homosexuality.

The UCN spokesman went on to say that generally Pagans don’t face legal problems in Italy. However, the group also said that the Catholic church still has a very strong influence in the country, and that the UCN was originally created to give protection to groups and associations. “We are nothing alone, but we are strong all together. And we live in a country where you must be strong, united and organized if you want to obtain something like civil rights.” UCN also has a Pagan temple, based in Milan, that is very accessible, and the UCN spokeman said that that they too have experienced vandalism or violence directed toward that space.

At this time, there is no mention of the motive for the recent vandalism. The five suspected vandals have been questioned and released, pending charges for trial.

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In 2014, an estimated 300,000 people marched through the streets of New York City and another 40,000 in London in the biggest protest to draw attention to global climate change. The protesters came from all walks of life to stand together to raise awareness and demand action. The landmark event demonstrated, if nothing else, the universality of the concern and the growing acceptance that climate change must be addressed now.

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit:  Groundswell Movement)

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit: Groundswell Movement)

However, for the average person, affecting real change can become overwhelming and discouraging. Where do I begin? What can I do?  Will recycling a newspaper or using cloth grocery bags actually help? In a past Wild Hunt article on fracking, activist Courtney Weber, co-founder of Pagan Environmental Coalition – New York City, said, “I can’t fight for bees, deforestation and the black rhino. Philosophically I can. But practically I can’t.” She recommended that people, ‘Pick what’s local. Pick what makes you mad.”

Unfortunately, even at a local level, there seems to be an overwhelming number of causes that can make “you mad” from polluted waters and the KXL pipeline to deforestation of rainforests, such as in Tasmania, and the near extinction of species, such as the Black Rhino. Where does a single person begin to affect real change? Not everyone can be a full-time activist.

In recent article for AEON magazine, writer Stewart Brand makes an interesting observation, which may help to answer this question. Brand claims that “the idea that we are edging up to a mass extinction is not just wrong – it’s a recipe for panic and paralysis.” He argues that many people focus on a single extinction or threat, and fail to see the bigger picture. He wrote:

No end of specific wildlife problems remain to be solved, but describing them too often as extinction crises has led to a general panic that nature is extremely fragile or already hopelessly broken. That is not remotely the case. Nature as a whole is exactly as robust as it ever was – maybe more so, with humans around to head off ice ages and killer asteroids. Working with that robustness is how conservation’s goals get reached.

Brand’s concept can be applied well-beyond species protection, in that he compares environmental conservation to human medical care. While one scratch or bruise must be treated properly, these smaller ills are either isolated issues, or indicative of a far larger health problem. Like human wellness, conservation work should focus its resources on identifying and solving the larger problem, and on the general, sustainable health of the entire system – in this case, the ecosystem.

In other words, Brand argues that conversation science and environmental activism should look to repairing and balancing our world’s ecosystems, rather than only focusing on small fixes. And, according to the article, this thinking seems to be trending. He wrote, “As the new science of conservation biology came into its own in the 1980s and ’90s, focus shifted away from concern about the fate of individual species and toward the general health of whole ecosystems.”

With this shift to holistic Earth health, humanity’s role as protector changes. Within that perspective, we become a functioning part of the system, from the micro to the macro. As such, it becomes easier to locate a working role in conservation efforts, both from a practical and religious perspective. John Halstead, editor of Humanistic Paganism.com, said:

Part of my morning devotional is to take a moment on my way to my car to squat down and touch the earth.  I reach my fingers through the grass or leaves or snow until I feel the dirt under my fingers, and then I recite a paraphrase of a poem by Mary Oliver: ‘The god of dirt came up to me and said ‘now’ and ‘now’ and ‘now’, and never once mentioned forever.’  This helps make my Paganism feel real. The feeling of wet or cold or just the “dirt-ness” reminds me not to romanticize nature.  It reminds me that my deity is not the Goddess of the Earth, but the Goddess that is the Earth, the Earth that this very real dirt is a part of.  And it reminds me that that my Paganism needs to mean something for the health of the very dirt under my fingers and everything it is connected to. 

Similarly, Pagan artist Lupa said, “My path is Earth Stewardship. Not in the sense of chaining myself to giant redwoods or yelling at people online because their environmental choices are not my environmental choices. Mine is a quieter revolution based on trying to model better behaviors, ones that I’ve come to through many hours of considering the choices before me. I try to live as though everything is sacred, because to me everything is nature and nature is what I consider sacred.”

Blue Ridge Mountains

[Photo Credit: JSmith / Flickr]

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, George Marshall wrote, “Our understanding of climate change is built on scientific evidence, not faith. The faith displayed in the churches, mosques, and temples on every street is built on a deep understanding of human drives and emotions. Only when we put these different parts of our psyche together can we achieve change; to say to anyone who will listen: “I’ve heard the science, I’ve weighed up the evidence. Now I’m convinced. Join me.”

When referencing “faith,” Marshall is speaking of monotheistic religious practices. He does not address Paganism, Polytheism or Heathenry, many of which already exist at his coveted intersection. As demonstrated by Lupa and Halstead, many of these traditions function with a crossover between the understanding of human spirituality (drive and emotions) and the literal and scientific understanding of place (nature). Editor of Polytheist.com Anomalous Thracian wrote:

“Place” is a concept that gets talked about a lot in Polytheist religion, especially in discussions about regional cultus. In my practice, discussions of “place” are not abstract, but direct and literal, referring to both the specific spirits and deities of that specific place, as well as the physical expressions of that place. Groves of trees, formations of stone and earth, flowing currents of water, are not mere aesthetic assemblage to assist in the desperate grabbing and reaching after mental balance or sense of inner meaninglessness, but instead are — in their vibrantly material presence — the cornerstones of it all, where belief and practice converge.

The personhood-of-place, and its hierarchical placement in literal consideration, realized relational configurations and intentional interaction within the dynamics of hospitality and recognized role, are how it all starts. The places within the natural elemental world are the places where the gods reach through first to touch our lives in raw and visceral fashion, and it is these selfsame places that must be guarded not as holiest of relics but as holiest of relations. The actively and directly engaged protecting of this world, as a collective whole and in its individual places, is paramount to the authentic and embodied expression of any Polytheist endeavor and identity, for without the humility to know one’s place in the natural world one can never hope to hold true piety at the feet of the blessed gods.

Similarly Rev. Selena Fox, who worked closely with Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, on the very first celebrations, sees no distinction between her religious and environmental work. She said, “Environmental conservation and green living are essential parts of my life and work as a Nature religion priestess. In addition to tending shrines and ceremonial areas at Pagan sacred land, Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, I am part of ecological restoration, research and conservation endeavors there. Our national Pagan cemetery, Circle Cemetery, is one of the first Green cemeteries in the USA —  …  Ecological activism is sacred work.”

Although Thracian and Fox practice very different religions, their personal sense of place within the greater natural system, and the health of that system are paramount to both of their beliefs and their daily work. One cannot exist without the other.

Lou Florez, rootworker and witch, also agreed, saying, “I collect trash from rivers and ocean beaches, specifically from the areas where I give offerings and do rituals. I’m also cultivating a small medicine garden to engage a more sustainable relationship. When we talk about Earth-based traditions we are talking about being in connection, investing ourselves in the health and well-being of the land that sustains us.”

The sense of place within the ecosystem, in some form, appears to exist within the religious and spiritual practices of many Pagan, Heathen and Polythiest communities, whether or not the practice itself is considered Earth-based from an environmental perspective. This correlates to Brand’s notion of affecting change through holistic Earth health. As such, Pagans, Polytheists, Heathens may be helping to bridge that perceived gap between religion and environmentalism, as noted by Marshall.

Within the interfaith movement, that already seems to be the case. As mentioned in an earlier Wild Hunt article, Covenant of the Goddess’ Interfaith Representative Don Frew “relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, interest waned after 9/11.” Frew added that this is once again shifting.

Co-writer of CoG’s Environmental Statement and Interfaith Representative Aline (Macha) O’Brien said, “My way of expressing devotion, to Earth, to Mother Nature, to different deities, is to chant or sing.” O’Brien relayed a story in which she led a spiral dance at an interfaith wedding using “The Pleiades Chant.”* She said, “Shortly after the wedding, at MIC’s annual interfaith prayer breakfast, my friend Sister Marion of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael came up to me and asked, ‘Now, how did that chant go?’ She said it had been running through her head and she’d really loved it and wanted a refresher on the wording. ”

Much of the work described, such as chanting, rituals and devotionals, are indicators of a spiritual connectivity between religion and place, from within the global ecosystem, rather than independent from it. While those actions alone will not heal the environment or balance the system, they do demonstrate a profound shift in thought. Courtney Weber said:

Turning this tide is tough work. Whether it’s denial, greed, or being overwhelmed by the problem’s size, somehow, the mere truth that we need to change our ways in order to preserve our species is not enough incentive to get enough people on board. Religion can hurt the environmental movement—particularly religions, which believe that a better life in a different world awaits humanity, or a desperately optimistic belief that “everything will work out as God/ess intended.” But religion can benefit the movement by instilling a moral imperative into its practitioners that preserving and improving our environment is a mark of grace and therefore, something that cannot wait.

Brand is optimistic saying, “The trends are favourable. Conservation efforts often appear in the media like a series of defeats and retreats, but as soon as you look up from the crisis-of-the-month, you realise that, in aggregate, conservation is winning.” The diversity and size of the attendance at the climate march is also sign of that favorable trend, as is the support for the “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” Awareness is a beginning.

Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

Lupa agreed, saying “I want to invite others to retake their place amid the rest of nature, not as conquerors or guilt-ridden relatives or throwbacks to some dark age, but as members of a community. We’ve had plenty of doom and gloom about what will happen if we continue what we’re doing; I want to show people the benefits and joys of living closer to the land, whether that’s on a remote farm or (like me) in an urban apartment.”

Going back to the original question, “How can I help?” The big picture of environmental health can begin in very small ways, with the tiny ecosystems in our backyards, farms, empty city lots, terrace gardens or even public parks. If all these areas were regularly maintained as balanced, healthy ecosystems, they would, over time, eventually meet up, covering the world-over and, thereby, creating one big healthy, sustainable Earth.

 

* Author’s Note: “The Pleiades Chant” (via Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien) “There’s a part of the Sun in an apple; There’s the part of the Moon in a rose; A part of the flaming Pleiades; In every leaf that grows.”

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SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND –The year was 1971 and, despite the death of Gerald Gardner some years before, Wicca was continuing to gain adherents. The high priest and priestess of the Sheffield coven of witches, Arnold and Patricia Crowther, who had been initiated by Gardner in 1960, were emerging as strong voices of the movement. Their voices were markedly amplified when they produced A Spell of Witchcraft, a show on BBC Radio Sheffield, explaining to listeners through a half-dozen twenty-minute segments what modern witchcraft was really like.

patricia crowther

Patricia Crowther [Courtesy Photo]

Those programs have recently been made available online by the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS). Patricia Crowther provided the original cassette recordings, which were digitized and, with approval of the BBC, upload for public consumption.

Arnold passed on in 1974, and Patricia was on holiday and unavailable to be interviewed directly. However The Wild Hunt spoke to CPS director Ashley Mortimer about the significance of these early radio programs. Mortimer was also able to reach Ms Crowther and relay some of her own recollections. Mortimer said:

These programmes are certainly informative, unquestionably, but the deeper historical interest to me seems to be that they show the attitude that Craft members like Patricia and Arnold thought they should adopt in explaining the Craft to a wider world. This has cultural context to the time. I gather they caused a reasonable stir in 1970s Sheffield, a northern industrial town in Britain, and perhaps deliberately so . . . but also carefully thought out to not court controversy while equally not ignoring the fact that it may be viewed as such.

The idea that these segments were produced to carefully “toe a line” does not fit with Crowther’s own recollections, as reported by Mortimer. “She didn’t think much of the question about pagans justifying themselves(!),” he explained, rather, “she said things like her talks and the radio programme were just meant to be interesting and informative. There was no real agenda to promote anything; the Goddess was already rising into people’s consciousness anyway.”

Nevertheless, Mortimer’s observation that these recordings “give a glimpse into the way early pioneers of publicly ‘defend’ paganism and the Craft” isn’t necessarily off-base. The fact that the programs do appear to be a justification today suggests they could have been interpreted as a defense just as easily at the time they were first broadcast.

To better understand what being a public member of the Craft was like in that time and place, we asked Mortimer this question: “Do you think Pagans today feel less of a need to justify themselves, as was done in these shows?”

I think these shows were less of an attempt to justify pagans and paganism than a genuine attempt to simply show that pagans deserved to be treated with equal respect to other faith groups — times WERE different in 1960s and 1970s Britian, that’s for sure. I think today it depends on the cultural context, in some places it’s quite ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ to be pagan though some people have a tendency to rather flaunt it, whereas in others there is still genuine fear from the prejudice that sadly still rears its ugly head — like the case in Iowa when the local Christian faction decided to show their magnanimity and generosity of spirit and understanding for people of other faiths to their own.

The Crowthers themselves were no strangers to such controversy but, according to what Patricia relayed in a phone conversation with Mortimer, it wasn’t her work on the air that stirred the proverbial cauldron. Mortimer explained, “She said that there was little controversy over the programmes, it was the talks and lectures that attracted some adversity, including the time that a church group prayed for her talk to be cancelled … they didn’t object to a talk on witchcraft but they did object to a witch giving it!!! She also said that she did a lot of talks around that time, she enjoyed the universities because she found the students particularly open to new and different ideas and she also liked the private clubs and the Masonic events she was invited to speak at.”

In the years since A Spell of Witchcraft first aired, many religious practices identifying as Pagan have emerged, and even the word “Wicca” has become broader in how it’s used. But the shifting of labels has in no way diluted the clarity with which Patricia Crowther herself sees her own religious practice. According to Mortimer, Crowther “wanted to stress that paganism and the Craft are not precisely the same thing, and that there are lots of people working in pagan circles who are identifying with the Goddess and paganism, they are certainly pagan but not Craft.”

While these radio programs were intended to convey information about the Craft specifically, the content is expansive and may be informative to other, more eclectic Wiccans and any Pagan whose tradition has been influenced by such early work.

witches for hanging

CPS’ will continue to focus on building a history around the roots of the Craft movement. While there were only a half dozen segments in A Spell of Witchcraft, Crowther told Mortimer that, “she was quite a regular on BBC Radio Sheffield, she was interviewed hundreds of times about Witchcraft, astrology, folklore and all sorts of things.” Mortimer intends on trying to source more of those broadcasts and obtain permission to digitize and publish them online as well.

Longer-term projects include plans to open a museum of magic, witchcraft and folklore, once public funding for the project is obtained, and to continue research into Valiente’s and Gardner’s writings. This may result in published research, but possibly also a conference focused on the various incarnations of the books of shadows used in both their work.

In addition to all of those pursuits, the Centre for Pagan Studies will be republishing Crowther’s novel Witches Were for Hanging on May 1. Also in the works is a brand new biography of Doreen Valiente written by Philip Heselton. Mortimer, who is also a trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, said ” I can promise your readers [that the book] will make some rather startling revelations about Doreen and her life that Philip has uncovered; amazing, actually (but I won’t spoil the surprise for everyone until the book is published!).”

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[Photo Credit: S. Del Kjer]

[Photo Credit: S. Del Kjer]

On Sunday, April 12, nearly 100 people gathered together to honor the life of Yuvette Henderson, a 38-year old woman who was killed in Oakland in February. The vigil and march, organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project, is one of the many recent Bay Area social justice actions that have been supported by local area Pagans.

In this case, there were at least nine Pagans in attendance. T. Thorn Coyle was one of them and said, “[We] gathered on the corner where Yuvette was killed by Emeryville PD, in Oakland. We then caravaned to deliver letters to Home Depot and the Oakland Police department (who are overseeing the investigation) asking for security tapes.”

While the vigil and march were peaceful, several businesses did close down along the route, including the Home Deport where Yuvette was killed. Overall, the event was called a success. Various marchers noted the friendly car caravan, and bicycle escort, and the moving speeches by the Yuvette’s family members. Coyle, herself, thanked those Pagans who came out with her, saying that she enjoyed “interacting” with all of her fellow marchers.

*   *   *

James L. Bianchi

James L. Bianchi

On Saturday, April 18, Murias O’Ceallagh, presider of the House of Danu, held a healing energy prayer and rite for organization founder James Bianchi. Last week, Bianchi was reportedly infected with mrsa and put on life support at John-Muir Medical. Doctors are fearful that the infection is attacking his heart.

Bianchi is one of the leaders of the House of Danu. He is also a lawyer, faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary, a filmmaker and skilled drummer. On the Facebook event page, O’Ceallagh wrote, “James has done incredible work and been of incredible service to all in the community throughout the years. Let all of us whom have benefited now be of service to him. Peace & Health to James Heart.”

There was an outpouring of support over the weekend from Pagans around the world. People posted photos of altars with burning candles, and reported drumming activities and other prayer offerings. It was also reported that Bianchi’s condition is improving, if only slowly, and that the continued offering of energy healing is very welcome by his family.

*   *   *

kindred irminsulIn January, we reported that the Heathen community was growing in Costa Rica. Within that story, we also noted that both Pagans and Heathens had been interviewed on a Costa Rican television program about their religious practices. “On Dec. 4, Costa Rican channel Canal Nueve interviewed the group on its national show Universos Desconocidos.”

Esteban Sevilla Quiros, goði for Kindred Irminsul, recently informed us that the groups were invited back. He said, “We will talk about the beliefs of the vikings, their gods, rituals, sacrifices, and the life after death.” Doing this work is part of his organization’s mission to inform and educate the general Costa Rican population about Heathenry. The show, Universos Desconocidos, can be watched live on Canal 9 via the internet. It will air April 23 at 9pm Mountain Time.

In Other News:

  • Tzipora Katz, former wife of Kenny Klein, launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise legal defense funds. Katz explained that she is now being sued for breaking a 1998 court gag order by speaking publicly about her relationship with Kenny Klein. She added, “I was at a crossroad and had to make a choice.” The fundraising campaign will pay for her defense in this lawsuit and, if there is money left over, she will donate it to A Woman’s Place.
  • The “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” is in its last days of editing and public comment. It will be posted in its final form on ecopagan.com for signatures on Wed. April 22, Earth Day. In a press release, organizers said, “Beyond technical and political solutions, the Statement calls for a “change in spirit” that fosters ‘a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole.‘ “
  • The HAXAN Film Festival is accepting submissions for its second annual event in August. The festival’s mission is support “local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections to our surroundings, ancestors, and selves.” Organizers explain,” We are interested in the Bay Area’s rich history of psychics, savants, mysticism, and occult practices dating back to the psychedelic 1960s and well beyond. We present the weird of New Age pop culture alongside the sacred and mythological, as both serve as an interesting avenue into this city’s colorful history and distinct culture.” Submissions are due by May 15.

haxan

  • The conversations on leadership and accountability continue at Polytheist.com. On April 8, River Devora posted a contemplative article titled, “The Art of Being Led.” She wrote, “As communities grow, leaders step up to help shape, guide, inspire, organize, and support these growing communities and the individuals within them. As leaders arise to guide new and expanding communities, it is important that we who are being led maintain active engagement with the shaping and maintenance of leadership structures.”
  • Festival season is arriving for many Pagans and Heathens across the United States. In Pennsylvania, Grove of Gaia Fest organizers are counting the days to their May 2 day-long celebration. Tennessee’s Pagan Unity Fest (PUF) is held two weeks later May 14-17 and features local band Tuatha Dea. The following week, EarthSpirit Community will be holding its Rites of Spring festival May 20-25 in Western Massachusetts. Those are just three of the many festivals that will be kicking-off the spring and summer season.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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Witches and millennials are two of the media’s favorite scapegoats.

When you read an article or blog post written by anyone, there is always an agenda. Everyone has an agenda. I have an agenda. I am both a millennial and a Pagan. As such I probably skimmed over the more favorable pieces to find those with inflammatory headlines and those that were sure to prove my point today. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to go past the first page of Google news results to do so.

[public domain]

[public domain]

My undergraduate thesis was about how the media skews the public perception of Wicca through subtle means. The Wild Hunt reported on last fall’s coverage of witches in Time magazine. That is simply one example of many that witches are othered, shoved into a box and kept separate. This is symptomatic of how the media generally covers many marginalized groups.

Millennials face a similar bias in general life and in the media. Often cast as “lazy” or “self-absorbed” by older generations. Educator Dr. Margo Wolfe wrote, “There is a fear that teens and young people are generally up to no good and that they are all disconnected, just waiting for the next narcissistic opportunity to wreak havoc on unsuspecting adults.”  The media does nothing to challenge this perspective and often continues this narrative either through subtle framing or through blatant clickbait.

Coverage of millennials is often nothing short of horrific. In February, Bloomberg published an article titled “ Most Millennials Can’t Do a Single Nice Thing for Someone Else.” The headline is what’s become known as “clickbait”  or something that is designed to make you click through even if it’s out of anger or annoyance. Then, after clicking through, you quickly discover that the headline and the data presented don’t match up.

In this article, it becomes readily apparent that the study is measuring volunteerism and not acts of kindness. “Volunteers are defined as persons who did unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization,” explains the article. That’s not a high standard, but certainly a very different standard than set forth by the headline.

As noted, there is a severe dip in volunteerism for the 20-24 age range. That’s the age that a lot of people are in college and often times also working to support themselves. Between classes, a part time job, and homework, I didn’t have time to volunteer. Most of my working time was for an unpaid internship. But that short article doesn’t stop to question that. It simply makes a radical statement and then presents some iffy data to back that up. It goes on to call 16-19 year olds “sulky adolescents” and proclaims later that young people are “too selfish – or preoccupied – to volunteer.”

But what about the intersection of Witches and millennials in the media? How is that treated?

In January, pop culture icon 23-year-old Azealia Banks tweeted that she’s a witch, which prompted The Guardian to offer its two cents in a piece entitled “Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft.”

After quoting the tweet, the news outlet opines, “Still, even by Banks’s standards, the witch thing was weird. It came out in the middle of a run about black Americans and their relationship to Christianity … Banks then suddenly took a hard left into what seemed like either a joke, or an unexpected embrace of Harry Potter fan fiction.”

Standard terms for practitioners are placed into quotation marks – “‘magical'” and “‘witch'” for example – almost as if the author doesn’t want to give the words more power by saying them without the safety net of quotations. According to The Guardian writer, a Tumblr blog isn’t run by three witches, it is only “purported” to be run by witches.

As mentioned in the earlier Bloomberg article, the Guardian doesn’t back up the headline. Why are young women “flocking” to the ancient craft? The article spends quite a bit of time discussing why women, in general, might be drawn to witchcraft, but the article’s thesis about young women is never specifically brought up. There’s not even a shred of evidence to back up the claim that millennials are “flocking” to the Craft.

The clickbait headline draws you in and then gives you no evidence to support the facts. Additionally, the article does not give voice to young people or even to Azealia Banks. It only rehashes her 140 character messages and mocks the idea of someone being a witch by calling it “an embrace of Harry Potter fan fiction.”

The Debrief instead asks the question “Are More 20 Something Women Turning To Witchcraft? We Asked An Expert” in response to The Guardian‘s article and tries to answer it. The piece starts off by framing the conversion to Wicca as a “phase.’ This is something often told to young people in a variety of forms: “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” “It’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it.”  The 26-year old writer, herself, went through a Wicca phase.

While writer Stevie Martin is herself young, she doesn’t interview any other young women, who are both in their 20s and still practicing Witchcraft. Hers is the only young voice in the piece. Fortunately Martin does speak with Treadwell’s Christina Oakley Harrington, who provides a solid response to the writer’s questions. However, Martin’s headline offers a query into a specific intersection of two groups, and no one currently at that intersection is talked to in the piece.

[Photo Credit: James Denham / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: James Denham / Wikimedia]

Now let’s look at a different take on that intersection? Paganism, along with with Polytheism, Heathenry and other minority religious groups, have created their own online media networks. You can find hard-hitting news stories, advice blogs, educational blogs and more.

However there is a veritable desert when looking for things written for millennials by millennials, or even just for millennials. There are pieces about “coming out of the broom closet to parents” or information about college clubs. A few millennial bloggers do exist, such as Conor O’Bryan Warren at Under the Owl’s Wing or Aine Llewellyn at of the Other People. If there are more, they are not openly coming out and saying that they’re are millennial.

To be fair, talking with a minor about these things can be problematic if their parents take issue. However the internet, overall, seems to be lacking in articles about issues that are unique to or primarily affect millennial Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens, whether they are minors or over 18.

Representation is important. It’s critical to be able to see people our own age achieving things that were once relegated to older generations not only as a form of motivation – look at what my generation can do now – but also being able to connect on a different level when the author has had a similar background as the people they’re writing about. Millennials need more positive representation in all media, more opportunities to share their voices, and the will to step forward when given that chance.

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[Once again we feature guest journalist Zora Burden and resume the conversation with filmmaker Sonia Bible, who is currently making a film about Rosaleen Norton or the Witch of Kings Cross. Burden is the author of five books of poetry and a contributing writer for the San Francisco Herald and California Herald for over 15 years. This article is the second part of a two-part series. The first part was published last week and can be found here.]

Sonia Bible [Courtesy S. Bible]

Sonia Bible [Courtesy S. Bible]

Zora Burden: Do you see her as being a feminist icon?
Sonia Bible: Rosaleen Norton was at the vanguard of feminism and the counter-culture revolution. She was doing it, living it, decades before the second wave of feminism. From the late thirties, when she left art school she was living an unconventional life. She was so ahead of the times, and it is important to look at her in that context.

Women were allowed to work during the war, and after World War II, women were told to go back into the homes, get married have babies and to desire washing machines. Divorce was frowned upon, eighty percent of the population was Christian, abortion was illegal and there was no social security for women at all. In the fifties, Rosaleen was divorced, living in sin with a man 13 years her junior, had no children, was living as an artist and was a self proclaimed witch. I certainly consider her a feminist icon.

ZB: Did she have many women who admired her? Or were there mainly males in her social circles?
SB:
I spoke to Dr. Barbara Creed, author of The Monstrous Feminine about Rosaleen Norton. She told me how in the late sixties … she had heard about Rosaleen Norton. She and her friends hitchhiked to Sydney, went to Kings Cross and walked around looking for her. They had hoped to catch a glimpse of Rosaleen Norton, a woman they idolized as a feminist icon. By the late sixties and into the seventies, Australia was catching up. Younger educated women would have seen her as a feminist at that time.

Rosaleen did have a lot of male admirers in her life. In the early research stage, I appeared on the James Valentine radio show, with the aim of getting people to call in if they knew her or met her. We had a lot of callers and then people emailed later too. One woman, whose father was infatuated with Rosaleen, contacted me. She said she thought it was interesting that everyone who called in were men. Or the story was ‘My father… my uncle… or my grandfather…’ I did notice this trend as well.

But what I learned from working on Recipe for Murder, when you are dealing with history, it’s important to keep digging. Often the women were there, they just don’t become part of the history. Women of that era are less likely to come forward. They think that their story is not important, so as researchers and tellers of history we think that they didn’t exist. By digging deeper and also because the film has been a long time in gestation, I have found that there was a strong community of creative women around Rosaleen, particularly in the earlier years.

I interviewed dancer Eileen Kramer, who has just turned 100. She lived with Rosaleen in an all woman artistic commune in Circular Quay in the late thirties. There are more stories or creative collaborations in the forties. As with most people, Rosaleen had many different stages in her life. There certainly was a stage when there were a lot of men in her life. There was also a stage when there were a lot of transgender people in her life …

[Courtesy S. Bible]

[Courtesy S. Bible]

ZB: How do you feel she affected the women’s liberation movement then and now?
SB:
I admire her courage and determination. She never compromised, even though it would have made her life considerably easier. I think, in the late sixties and seventies, she would have been an inspiration to young women at university etc. I do think that she has the potential to affect the women’s liberation movement now in a more profound way.

ZB: Will you give examples of how Rosaleen was punished by the male establishment for her rebelliousness, like with her extensive arrest record and constant scapegoating in the media?
SB: Following the razor gang war of the 20’s and 30’s, when Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine ruled the underworld, the Vagrancy Act of 1929 was introduced to stem the violence. A consorting clause was designed to clean up the street gangs. It specified heavy penalties, including jail for anyone who consorts with reputed thieves, or prostitutes, or vagrant persons who have no visible or legal means of support.

Kings Cross police abused the vagrancy act to persecute artists, transvestites, musicians…anyone who didn’t have a job really. Rosaleen Norton and Gavin Greenlees were constantly arrested on vagrancy charges and thrown into jail. A couple of Catholic detectives really had it in for her, including the notorious Detective Bumper Farrell. Once the tabloid media realized that Rosaleen Norton sold newspapers, they pursued her for stories, and it didn’t matter if they were true or not. Dr Marguerite Johnson talks extensively about the changing relationship between Rosaleen and the media in the film.

ZB: Can you describe the many ways she lived an unconventional lifestyle?
SB: For a woman to be an artist in the late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s was a rarity. To be a woman artist painting occult themes was extremely unconventional. Rosaleen lived in group housing with other young women artists in Circular Quay and then in Darlinghurst. In those days, women got married young, had babies and that was it. Looking after a husband and a family was the only expectation.

ZB: What inspired Rosaleen’s infamous artwork? How did she cope with her arrest?  Please talk about the obscenity laws that they used to prosecuted her.
SB: Rosaleen Norton holds a unique place in Australian art as an esoteric artist. The late Dr Nevill Drury explains how she went on to the astral plane through trance and met the various gods and goddesses there. Her paintings and drawings are depictions of these experiences. Art curator and dealer Robert Buratti explains how her art is like the most ancient art, where the artist depicts their place in the universe as a way of figuring it out. Dr Marguerite Johnson talks in detail about the meanings and origins of the gods and goddesses in Rosaleen’s art and the notion of duality – between male and female, human and beast. The work is extraordinary and when you start to look into the symbolism in the work, it comes to life on a whole other level.

Rosaleen Norton coped with her obscenity charges with dignity. She never apologized for the work. She tried to explain it and charges were often dropped. The judges on the most part seemed quite reasonable, but it didn’t stop the police from continuing to arrest her for the same pictures over and over again. The police were the censors.

ZB: How did Rosaleen survive as a woman artist during a time when women had no real options for work, living as a single woman and was so open with her sexuality?
SB
: Rosaleen worked as a journalist, writing articles for ‘pertinent’ magazine. She and Gavin were employed by Walter Glover to create the book The Art of Rosaleen Norton. She did little paintings and drawings that she would sell at the cafés. People would bring food and coffee to the house, and she would give them a little drawing or something. I’ve uncovered quite a few of those artworks, all with similar stories. She was always very poor, but she didn’t desire a material life. She thought that people should worship nature not the dollar.

ZB: Will you describe how she influenced those around, and how her coven came about, operated and evolved? Did she prefer to work alone and the coven was more of an entourage?
SB:
The coven was made up of a small group of close friends who liked to practice magick together. The members I’ve spoken to are protective of their privacy and I respect that, so I don’t have much to offer in that area. She worked alone at times and other times with a small close-knit group.

ZB: Do you feel she was ahead of her time with her explorations of the astral plane and the occult, working with the entities she met, along with her other esoteric interests?
SB:
Rosaleen was a very studious woman. She was well versed in the works of Jung, Freud, Crowley, the Jewish Kabbalah, and much more. She developed her own unique practice while continuing to learn from others. She was a prolific writer, and much of her writing is still coming to the surface through my research…

Rosaleen Norton (1950s) [Courtesy Sonia Bible]

Rosaleen Norton (1950s) [Courtesy Sonia Bible]

ZB: Do you feel that any of her work was simply done for shock value to get media attention? Or was it a response to her villainization by society? Did she begin to consider her life a form of performance art in a way?
SB:
I think her art was a serious ritual practice and that she should be recognized as Australia’s leading esoteric artist. She did little caricatures of judges and police that were a response to what was going on. But there is a difference between the little works for bread and butter and the major works. There are comments about society in some of her major works, about censorship … She was certainly provocative and communicating through her art. She held a mirror up to society and they didn’t like it. I don’t think that she considered her life a performance, as performance art is a modern concept. She did what she did to survive and to live the life she wanted and that included managing the media. You’ve got to remember that there was no precedent. People weren’t as media savvy as they are today.

ZB: How do you see her as inspiring women today to empower themselves?
SB:
I’m not so sure that she would want to inspire women today to empower themselves. I think she did what she did, and lived the way she wanted for her own reasons. And that’s why she is an inspirational woman without necessarily trying to be. Women’s history is so important as it’s easier to see where we are now, by looking back at where we’ve come from. There’s still a way to go so let’s celebrate the things that courageous women like Rosaleen Norton did to pave the way.

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In my role as a Witch and a Pagan, I pay attention to the land where injustices and social action occur. I pay attention to the energies at work.“ – Jacki Richardson

2015-01-19 12.56.52

[Courtesy of C. Blanton]

It is an intense time in our society. Images and stories fill our news feeds and television screens, reminding us of communities in crisis all over the world. Many people have been called to spiritual activism during these times, and many Pagans have been more vocal and active about their commitment to justice.

Among activists, there is a common understanding on how emotionally taxing this work can be. I have personally experienced the drive to work harder to sustain the balance of spiritual wellness, the physical forms of activism work and socio-emotional self care. I, like many others, have found myself struggling, within this ever changing battle, to sustain balance and to process the traumatizing experiences that come with the intense reality of the times we are living within. The more things that appear to happen within greater society, the more challenging it can be to manage the amount of trauma that comes through primary and secondary traumatic exposure. It has also become clearer that the more I understand about my place in the world, the more I am aware of just how damaging these situations are on an individual level.

The latest rash of unarmed Black people who have died at the hands of law enforcement; the increase in trans murders and suicide; and staggering statistics about the increase of suicides of Native people within this country have reinforced many people’s personal commitments to working for equity and justice. Many are now supporting change in this country for marginalized populations, and stepping up to support these movements nationwide.

Courtesy of Stephanie Del Kjer

[Courtesy of S. Del Kjer]

After attending the April 12 vigil for Yuvette Henderson, a mother killed by the Emeryville police department, I got a chance to think about the toll these situations put on me as a person, a spiritual warrior and a Pagan. There were eight or nine other Pagans at this particular event, pushing me to question the intersections of community and justice work for some practitioners within the modern Pagan community. Although many people have been fighting for social justices causes for years, there appears to be more movement, recognition and understanding of just how these floating pieces are taking center stage in many communities, including our own.

How do Pagans see the intersection of social action and their own spiritual beliefs? How are Pagans impacted by their experiences of justice work? What things do Pagans do to continue this work and care for themselves in the process? While these are a big questions that will have a myriad of answers, looking at the impact of justice work in our communities is important to explore. For many practitioners that are involved with social action, there are some common threads of inter-sectionality that are explored through devotional work, divine mission, passion, core beliefs, and a sense of personal integrity.

Brennos Agrocunos

Brennos Agrocunos

My involvement in social justice movement is definitely connected to my spirituality. Both my Goddess and my morality call me to stand with the Black community during this struggle against a society that’s systemically racist and brutal towards them. The task of restoring Sovereignty to the land is accomplished through service, service the Gods and the Otherworld, service to the land itself and service to our community and fellow humans. My path of priesthood is defined by these acts of service. I am unable to sit by, comfortably wrapped in the privilege of the color of my skin, gender, and heterosexuality, while others face discrimination, violence, and death for theirs.

I’ve been involved in social justice and environmental movements for most of my life to varying degrees. Sometimes heavily involved and other times burnt out and frustrated. Over the past couple of decades I have watched as the political and social spectrum has turned frighteningly ugly and brutal. Becoming involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, being on the streets providing medical aid and support during the demonstrations in this latest iteration of the civil rights movement, has been transformative and inspirational for me personally and spiritually. Meeting the families of the victims of police violence, following the tweets of the leaders of the movement, and witnessing first hand the aggression of the militarized police force, has inspired me to become more involved and more active in the movement and seeing the power and solidarity of the demonstrators has given me a tremendous amount of hope for my community.

Since I tend to find myself in fairly dangerous situations at the demonstrations, I’m primarily concerned with protection. I have a number of ways of keeping myself safe when I’m out there. Before I leave my house I make offerings to my ancestors, spirit allies, and my Goddess. I also carry a small stuffed fox that my daughter made me that is charmed for my protection and that watches my back.

The Gods, our ancestors and descendants, and the spirits of the land are aware of these struggles and take an interest in our community’s well being. Our community goes beyond the realm of the living and the spirits stand with us in this fight. - Brennos Agrocunos

Beverley Smith

Beverley Smith

Your question gave me pause for thought. I hadn’t thought much about my spirituality in regards to my passion for social justice, not until recently. I had a conversation with someone about the rising anti-black sentiment and how do shaman and other magical/spiritual people address the atrocities. He informed me that he had no comment, as he doesn’t “mix his spirituality with politics”.

What?? For me, the two are inseparable. How can I, as a divine being of the cosmos, venerate my Ancestors, heal the Land, honor my Deities, and hold myself up as an example, a priestess, a teacher, or a leader if my spirituality doesn’t extend to the practical needs of my fellow humans on this earthly plane? How is the fight for civil rights incompatible with one’s spiritual life?

I’ve seen too many people define themselves as elders, as spiritual leaders, yet they seem reluctant to stand in solidarity with their marginalized sisters and brothers. I would feel like a phony, a spiritual fraud if my spiritual life and practices didn’t include justice work. How does one call oneself a priestess or teacher, and not give a damn about your oppressed fellow citizens? Who are you fooling when you participate in rituals but your heart remains hard and apathetic toward others?

So for me, social justice work is the root of my spirituality. It’s at the core, the very root. My love and empathy for humankind calls me to this work. And my ancestors demand that I fight the good fight.

Sometimes, I fail to be as gentle with myself, especially during times of heightened emotions, which happens frequently in justice work, at least for me. I need reminders to take care of myself. I’m still trying to find that balance between involvement and self-care.

I find that my yoga practice is crucial to my emotional and mental health. And as an energy healer, using Reiki and chakra-balancing lodestones, I still have to be reminded to turn some of that healing energy inward. - Beverley Smith

Autumn Crow

Autumn Crow

Most definitely, my spirituality and activism are connected and each flows from the other. As a Reclaiming Witch, I see the divine as immanent within all beings, meaning each human life is sacred. Structural racism and other systems of oppression have always undermined this by creating stories that people of certain colors, nationalities, genders, or levels of nominal wealth have lives worth more than that of others. The existence and the defense of these ideas is a desecration I can feel in my heart every time these systems of oppression abuse, imprison, maim, or kill someone. Part of my service to the Goddess is to participate in the dismantling of these harmful stories and their associated systems so we can build a more just world.

I personally feel intentional magic and ritual gives me experience of the mysteries of the divine in ways reading a book can seldom approach. And likewise, participating in social actions led primarily by those directly impacted by systems of oppression teaches me what needs to be done in a way more grounded and authentic than if I were limited to reading websites or clicking on petitions. This is especially important to me as I have both white and (transgender) passing privilege. With those privileges, our culture will happily insulate me unless I make an effort to hear the oppressed and try my best to support them in the quest for justice.

Taking action on social justice issues, especially where directly facing those representing the status quo in a protest or similar situation, is a magical act that can take a lot of my energy. Even if nothing happens in terms of physical violence, the police’s tendency to escalate rather than de-escalate conflict means that people tend to be on edge even in the most peaceful of protests. Keeping myself healthy and in shape to respond to changing situations is a priority. I make sure I have water and first-aid gear in a backpack and continuously reground myself during the action. Afterwards, I am fortunate in that I have a place of refuge in the intentional community I live in to be heard and held, so that my frustrations, my tears, and my hopes can be shared. Without my community and my beloved ones, I could not put myself out there as I do. - Autumn Crow

Jacki Richardson

Jacki Richardson

YES! My primary social action is around the deaths of unarmed Black people. Every single life on this planet is a precious gift, a star, a God/dess that has come to bless the Earth with their presence. Each and every fallen star is worthy of respect, remembering and honor.

I remember vividly the day Michael Brown was shot. I wanted so much to be able to reach through and touch him and let his last recollection of this world be in the presence of those who would honor and respect and cherish him. It wasn’t until later that I learned his mother was at the scene, which of course makes sense. So she was there wanting to be with her son with the desperate heart’s cry of a mother whose son has died and was treated with terrible indifference. Being energetically present to Mike Brown and his parents, holding them in Sacred Space, has left a deep mark on me.

As I moved in closer to what was going on in Ferguson, I noticed how much disconnect there was between what “the general public” was being told and what I saw with my own eyes.  It became deeply important to me to be able to bear witness and say, “I saw this myself.”  In response to my turmoil around how to make my spiritual practice relevant to my experiences, a mentor encouraged me to set aside a dedicated altar space for social action. Around that time, too, a lot of clergy were showing up at protests so I began wearing my pentacle outside my clothes with other “Witchy” items as a way to say, “I am here as a Pagan, too.”I don’t know if I would have developed a sense of alliance or interconnected community without social action as I know it now.  

I keep insisting and my wife can concur: my preference would have been to remain a below-the-radar hermit content staying home and building my own little temple. Being “out there” so much pushed me to building relationships with people of like minds – both in social action and Pagan communities. That, in itself, is a gift on a daily basis for refuge, support, and camaraderie – things I greatly undervalued before.I have come to deeply appreciate the capacity some Pagans have for being able to travel this harsh terrain. It is a terrible Gift to be able to witness the unending chain of brutality and remain soft hearted but unbroken. My primary goal is to increase and maintain my ability to “hold” this space of witnessing and compassionate Presence.  A big lesson for me was the realization that acting as a Witch/Pagan will kick the stuffing out of me differently than acting as a social worker operating from a primarily “middle world” perspective.” - Jacki Richardson

Michaela Spangenburg

Michaela Spangenburg

I think spirituality is foundational to the way that we experience ourselves in the world we live in, and the place we are occupy within that world.

I often hear others make the connection between social justice activism in human spirituality in the more unidirectional way that I’ve experienced it. Often I have seen other Heathens were engaged in social justice work cite the eddas to demonstrate that our faith is one deeply rooted in social justice. This seems to speak to the experience of social justice work as growing out of our spirituality.

For me the relationship between the two is more complex, largely bidirectional. Social justice has taught me just as much about being Heathen as Heathenism has informed my social justice work. And this process is dynamic and perpetual. My daily lived experiences as a multiracial, working class, 2 spirit, female-embodied person is what first taught me the necessity of social justice, out of a place initially of basic survival. I see this ongoing experience as pivotal to my identity as a Heathen, to being called by the Gods to traditions that originate in a time before the mass, systemic oppression of the modern world.

Parallel to our own development as human beings who are initially born free and whole before being quickly tempered by a world rife with injustice and oppression, the Heathen faith is one that has had to struggle against the global shift toward empire and the ensuing onslaught of oppression to survive. Heathenism is a faith that speaks to the experience of continuous, just struggle and simultaneously of restoring and maintaining balance. It’s no surprise that the Gods would call someone like myself, or any of the other countless Heathens of color, working class Heathens, Heathens struggling against ableism, or against gender oppression, or homophobia, or transphobia, or the myriad of other oppressions we struggle against now in this world. We are called not just to the Gods and their larger struggle for balance and justice, but our own struggles against oppression as well. And they help strengthen us in those struggles and guide us. The reality of our souls and the life we are born to is one. As much as I was born to the struggle of black liberation, I was born to the struggle and service of the Allfather, the gods of Yggdrasil and Irminsul, and our Heathen community. - Michaela Spangenburg

The Pagan community has always worked to understand the roles of the allyship, social activism, spirituality and manifestation. The last year we have seen another shift in the needs of our intersecting communities and, as the call for social action intensifies, we are seeing the face of Pagan activism transforming once again.

The emotionally, physically, and spiritually demanding effects of social activism often mean an increased toll on the body and the spirit. I have personally experienced this work as emotionally draining, and know this to be true of most who are present in the consistency of the struggle. The interconnectedness of our experiences puts stress on the delicate balance of holding space for social change, fulfilling our commitments to our deities, spiritual practice, personal growth and allowing one to take care of the self simultaneously.

The ritual of social activism work is a deep and practiced discipline for those who are performing magic through the tools of social resistance, information sharing, coalition building, and community tactics. Holding space for change and equity is a magical act that is not just done within a traditional circle or religious format, but is also being done at protests and vigils.

This is hard work. It is meaningful work. It is visionary work. It is a work of love.

 

Note from the Author: A special thank you to all of those who are fighting for justice in the myriad of ways that promote health and change for all people.

 

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Crowdfunding to finance a project is nothing new in Pagan circles, sometimes successful, sometimes less successful. And new tarot decks aren’t exactly thin on the ground either. So a crowdfunding effort by a Pagan to finance a new tarot deck would have to be something very unique and appealing to have even a slim chance of succeeding.

Lupa Greenwolf’s Tarot of Bones crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign hit its goal in less than 100 hours.

The deck isn’t yet created, but the campaign page shows a few photos, and one mock up of what it will look like. From these visuals, it easy to see why it appealed to so many people. It is unlike any tarot deck you’ve seen before. For each of the 78 cards, Lupa arranges animal bones and other other natural materials onto a display board. She then takes a photo of the display and, from that, will create the cards. A companion book for the deck will explore the symbolism of each card in detail, including her inspiration.

Sage Runepaw is one of the people who helped fund the Tarot of Bones campaign. He said that he wanted the deck because it is so unique. “I decided to contribute to her campaign because the tarot decks out there have nothing like what she is offering,” said Runepaw, adding “It will be a unique addition to the greater collective of decks and I believe it will stand out.”

Magician

© Lupa Greenwolf

Lupa is an artist and author from the Portland, Oregon area. She said that she started reading tarot cards in 1996, shortly after becoming a Pagan. By 1998 she was incorporating animal hides, bones and other natural items in her artwork and spirituality. Several of the books that she has written are focused on nature spirituality, and now she’s bringing together all those portions of her life to create the Tarot of Bones.

The Wild Hunt caught up with Lupa and asked her about this project, what the Tarot of Bones means to her, and why she thinks it’s such a success.

Cara Schulz: Why do you think this deck, one created out of photos of animals bones and other parts, had such an appeal that it was funded in under 100 hours?

Lupa Greenwolf:  One factor is the trend in taxidermy and other curiosities as aesthetically pleasing motifs. I’ve been making my hide and bone art since 1998, and I’ve watched as in the past few years natural history specimens have become chic decor. Taxidermy’s always been a beautiful art, even when it was primarily relegated to those of us who grew up in rural areas, but it’s reached a broader audience since then. Some of that appeal is purely looks-based–Portland is full of hipster establishments that have a couple of “ironic” taxidermy animal heads on the wall, for example.

However, there are also people who are genuinely interested in natural history, and who appreciate taxidermy and related arts both for their beauty and their preservation of specimens. Of course, there have always been Pagans running around picking up bones and moss and stuff in the woods. But I’ve observed the sort of nature-inspired art in which I engage gaining in broader popularity in recent years. I know I’ve gone from being that weird girl with a collection of dead things to becoming the founder and organizer of Curious Gallery, a two-day yearly arts festival here in Portland that celebrates modern-day cabinets of curiosity, due in part to this growth of interest.

More specifically regarding tarot, the majority of decks out there are fairly anthropocentric–that is, they concentrate mostly on human-centered symbolism. There have always been decks that focus on non-human animals, or on plants, or other natural phenomena, though many of them are more generalized oracle decks that depart heavily from the traditional tarot’s 78 cards. Many of the animal-based tarot decks still have a lot of human animals running around in them with their critter companions. So I think there’s definitely a demand for divination sets that still stick to the tarot framework but which depart from the usual “humans doing things” imagery.

I have worked hard for many years to get my creations out to where others can enjoy them, and I do have to give a lot of credit to fans of my work when it comes to the success of this campaign. I am absolutely and eternally grateful to the growing number of people who have been enjoying my artwork and my books and other writing. Some of them are dear friends, many are people I’ve never met in person (though some of them seem quite sweet over email), but all of them have just given me such a morale boost over the years, never mind the financial support of my work. So while I don’t think people would buy something just because I created it, there are some backers who thought me being the artist and author was a good incentive to chip in.

CS: Can you explain one of the cards and why you choose to create it the way you did?
LG: Oh, I get to talk about one of my favorite cards I’ve made! So when I was first plotting out which animals best fit my interpretation of each card, there were some that were really persnickety and wouldn’t come to a conclusion easily. But then there were a few where the combination just worked, immediately and perfectly. The Hermit was one of those. I chose a female black-casqued hornbill skull that I got from the Bone Room for very good reason.

hermittagged

© Lupa Greenwolf

So. Hornbills are a group of birds endemic to Africa and Asia. Some species nest on the ground, but others nest up in trees. These tree-nesting hornbills seek out a crevice high in a tree trunk, big enough for the female to climb in. She and the male then wall up the opening with a delightful mix of mud, fruit pulp and bird poop, until there’s only a small bit left open. Did I mention the female is inside the tree when this happens? She stays in there for the duration of laying, incubating and hatching her eggs. She’s so dedicated that she moults all of her flight feathers; even if she broke out she couldn’t go much of anywhere. So she’s pretty committed at this point.

This was the very first thing I thought of when I started meditating on the Hermit. Here we have this figure who, like the hornbill, goes into a productive solitude. He’s not just antisocial; he’s gaining wisdom that eventually he’ll bring back to the community. In the same way, the female hornbill comes out of her isolation both with a shiny new set of flight feathers and the newest generation of baby hornbills to join the forest community. I think that’s quite appropriate for the Hermit card, and I also enjoyed being able to break that card out of its usual gender stereotype.

CS: When you set $5000 as your goal, did you think you would hit it?
LG:  I was pretty dubious. $5,000 is a lot of money to ask people to give for something that isn’t even going to take material form for another year and a quarter. Actually, $5,000 is just a lot of money period. And it’s my very first limited-time crowdfunding campaign. My first foray into crowdfunding was my Patreon account, which I started last summer.

While I have awesome people who like my work, I’m not one of those really well-known artists or authors whose work routinely goes super-viral. I’ve been posting my art, blog posts and the like in various places online, and I’ll usually get some likes and comments on Facebook and a few dozen notes on Tumblr and a handful of likes and retweets on Twitter. Occasionally there’s an outlier; people REALLY liked the Magician assemblage for the Tarot of Bones, for example. But I’m not getting hundreds of shares for every piece of art or writing I post. So I was really startled (and grateful) when I got this tidal wave of response to the IndieGoGo campaign!

I admit I was coming up with contingency plans in case the campaign didn’t get funded–right up until the first day ended and it was already a third of the way there. Okay, to be honest, I was still making backup plans through Day 2, just in case Day 1 was a weird fluke. Apparently I set the bar too low, because everyone so far has showed me how much I didn’t need to worry. And now I’ve had to scramble to figure out stretch goals because the campaign is still going for another month and change and who knows at what level of funding it’ll end?

I do want to note that even though the campaign is now over $6,000, we’re far from the point where I’m just shoveling money into my pockets. The initial $5,000 was mainly meant to help me buy the rest of the materials I needed for the assemblage pieces, which I estimated at about $3500, less IndieGoGo’s and Paypal’s fees, of course. The leftovers from that would be put toward various administrative costs–printing and shipping, fulfilling perks, and so forth. The final costs are still a lot more than $6,000; this is part of why the IndieGoGo campaign isn’t my only form of funding for this project. That being said, the better it does, the easier it’ll be for me to stick to my production schedule for the Tarot of Bones and the less time I’ll have to spend in other fundraising pursuits instead of just making the set already!

CS:  How did you get the idea for this deck – it’s very unusual!
LG: I show my work at local galleries, and last October I was in a group show with a tarot theme held at Splendorporium in SE Portland. I created a piece, “Blight,” inspired by the Five of Pentacles, which is a card commonly associated with financial and material strife, something that a lot of people in the current economy still have to deal with. It had a simple black background with a single coyote skull in the center, flanked by five ears of wheat that I had spattered with black paint to represent fungal blight, and a piece of red slider turtle shell to represent coinage.

blight

© Lupa Greenwolf

The piece was displayed amid other artists’ works that interpreted the tarot theme in a variety of media and motifs, and between the fun of creating “Blight” and being immersed in this gorgeously curated collection, I started thinking that I really wanted to work with the tarot imagery even more. So there was that fateful moment after the opening, when I was hanging out with my partner and a friend of ours, where I said the thing so many other esoterically-minded artists have said: “I’m going to create a tarot deck!” And of course being the overachiever that I am, I couldn’t just do a deck–it had to have a full-length companion book, too.

I didn’t just go home and start throwing bones at things though. There are very specific reasons for the bones and other materials in the assemblages. The Major Arcana each have a complete animal skull whose species has been chosen for the appropriateness of the card; each court card has a partial skull with a missing or detached jawbone, and a single bone that represents its suit. The suits of the Minor Arcana are represented by specific types of bone: vertebrae for pentacles, teeth or jaws for swords, long bones for wands and ribs for cups. I also had to make sure that the bones I selected were both legal to possess and could be obtained sustainably. In a few cases I chose to use resin replicas of skulls. I strongly dislike resin because as a plastic it’s petroleum-based, which means it produces a lot of pollution in its manufacture and, unlike natural bone, it won’t safely biodegrade over time. But sometimes it’s the only option.

CS: Anything else that people should know about this project?
LG: I want to reiterate that the Tarot of Bones is a nature-based deck. One of my goals with it is to entice my fellow Homo sapiens back into our place in nature — not necessarily as hominin apes in the wilderness, but humans with an acute and conscious awareness of our interconnectedness with everything else. It’s part of why most of the materials are recycled or reclaimed; almost all of the backboards for the assemblages are thrift store finds like old cutting boards and TV trays, and many of the other materials, from acrylic paints to dried moss, are secondhand as well. And as with all of my work for the past almost-twenty years, I will be donating a portion of the money I make from the Tarot of Bones to nonprofit organizations that benefit wildlife and their habitats.

Folks who are reading this, even if you can’t back the campaign at this time, please pass the link on to other people who may like the project! Word of mouth goes a long way in this sort of promotion, and I would be quite grateful.

I have to admit there’s part of me that really, really hopes someone goes for one of the bigger Art Collector Packages, where one of the perks is an original assemblage used in the creation of the Tarot of Bones. Partly because I like seeing my art go to people who enjoy it, and partly because I live in a tiny apartment and the twenty-three pieces I’ve already completed are eating up the wall space and I still have fifty-five to go!

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In the northern regions of Europe, there is a growing Pagan and Heathen community in the Republic of Finland. With a population of 5.4 million, the Nordic country rests between Sweden, Russia, Norway and the Gulfs of Bosthia and Finland. Its capital, Helsinki, is the second-most northern national capital in the world, with Reykjavik being first.

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

Throughout that territory people, a growing number of Finns are discovering and connecting with new religions and spiritual paths. According to Lehto (The Grove), a Finnish nature-religions organization, there are “a few thousand Neo-Pagans” in the country. To help better understand this movement and religious traditions in Finland, we spoke with four people, who share their impressions and observations on this unique and growing culture.

The majority of Finnish Pagans and Heathens live in the southern portions of the country, concentrated in the major urban areas such as Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. However, there are some practitioners in the middle regions. Essi Mäkelä, president of Pakanaverkko (The Pagan Network), said “Pagans are quite spread out but southern Finland has the most active of them probably … although there has been growing activity in eastern and middle Finland too (Lappeenranta, Jyväsklyä and Kuopio)”

Mäkelä lives in Helsinki and is a “scholar in the study of religions.” She identifies as Discordian; however, she also said that she did study Wicca and “will sometimes use those rituals.” While Wicca appears to be the dominant practice, it is closely followed by various forms of eclectic Paganism. Jarno Oivakumpu, chairman of Lehto, explained, “I believe many Pagans don’t necessarily link themselves to any specific practice. In Finnish culture, religion/spirituality is a personal thing, and considered pretty individual.” That is certainly the case for Oiakumpu, who identifies as a pantheist/animist with interests in various spiritual practices. He said, “Spirituality is part of my everyday life” and doesn’t align himself with one religion.

Along with Wicca and the more eclectic forms of Paganism, there are small numbers of Druids, Asatruar, and more. Mäkelä added that Finland also has a strong and vocal movement of Discordianism as well as Satanism. She quickly explained the latter, saying that this is not “Satan Worship” and is accepted as a religious philosophy based on individualism.

In addition, Mäkelä and several others noted that there is a growing movement seeking to revive traditional Finnish Paganism, and this religion may actually be the most popular now. Tuula Muukka, editor of quarterly magazine Vox Paganorum, practices a form of Finnish Paganism or Suomenusko. She said, “I originally read about Wicca, but then ran into other Finns who had found the old tradition, and the rest was history. I’ve been on this path for about eight years.” She belongs to a Karhun kansa community, or “The Bear Folk.” There are other similar groups dedicated to such practice, such as Taivaannaula (The Nail in the Sky), although they do not identify as “neo-Pagan.”

In 2013, Karhun Kansa was granted official recognition as a religion by the Finnish government. Oivakumpu explained that this act made Karhun Kansa the first “neopagan religious community in Finland.” He said that, while the country has had “religious freedom since 1923,” religions must be officially recognized in order to earn special government protections.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the national church of Finland. According to 2012 statistics, 76.4 percent of the population belongs to the Lutheran Church. Another 1.1 percent belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, or similar Orthodox sects; 1.4 percent claimed “other” and 21.0 percent did not respond.

Mäkelä explained, “Finnish law is closely connected with the Church law … We are going toward better equality, but religion is still taught at schools.” She added that the practice of non-registered religions is permissible; however, those religions or groups are not protected by the “Violations Against Religious Peace and the Education Law.” For example, the police will treat the desecration of a Pagan religious site differently than that of Lutheran church.

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

But as she noted, things may be changing. Karhun kansa has received its official recognition, and as noted by Lehto’s Information Officer Katariina Krabbe, “The Parliament recently approved a new law which forbids religious education and practices in public day care.” She added, “The overall atmosphere has become much more tolerant toward Pagan religions than about 10-15 years ago.”

Despite these small strides, the ever-presence of the Lutheran Church can disrupt some aspects of Pagan practice. Krabbe said, “Regarding [mental] health services, people … who admit to having contacts with the spirits of nature, can still have a false diagnosis because their religion can be interpreted as psychotic delusions.”

More practically, sometimes finding a suitable outdoor ritual or festival site poses a problem. Muukka explained, “When we try to book an old school or other location for our camps, they are hard to find. Finland is [the] land of 1,000 lakes and we all like to take sauna baths and swim, if possible, but usually the best places are owned by the Lutheran Church, so we are not welcome. Or even if the place is owned by a city or some association, there may be a building or part of building in the area which has been consecrated for Lutheran use.”

Even with the difficulties, recent statistics support Krabbe’s belief that times are changing. In 1900, 98.1 percent of the population was Lutheran. That number has dropped significantly. Oivakumpu adds, “Finns are not very religious.” He said that “the mainstream mentality is atheistic” and “disregards spirituality as hocus-pocus.”

This points to the biggest problem facing Pagans and Heathens in the country. There is a total disregard for the practice of any these alternative religions. While Mäkelä considers this anonymity a plus in many ways, she did say that “the lack of knowledge and recognition from the state and Finnish society” are two of the biggest hurdles. Muukka agreed saying that they need to continue to “spread the right kind of information,” adding “I’d also like to [see] the separation of church and state, but that would require efforts from others as well.”

Krabbe said that another obstacle is the “lack of strong local Pagan communities, where you can live your every day life as Pagan among other Pagans.” She said that groups only gather for seasonal festivals, and that otherwise religious life is very private and cut-off from community.

To help bridge that gap, Finnish Pagans and Heathens are turning to online resources. Pakanaverkko, Lehto, Taivaannaula, Karhun kansa, the Pagan Federation-Finland, and other groups or practices, all maintain a digital presence. Some manage forums; some produce digital magazines; and others engage with social media. While the country does boast metaphysical shops, they are either dying, as in other countries, or turning to online sales. Krabbe said, “Facebook groups are the best way to gain information about local Pagan news and events.”

When asked to describe a unique aspect of practicing their religion in Finland, they all described two things: a natural connection with the land and the survival of folklore and tradition. Oivakumpu said, “Finland has a lot of clean nature with wide forests and large lakes. Also a seashore and arctic landscapes in the north. Experiencing nature is easy.” Muukka, who grew up in a small village, said, “I thank every birch tree if I take twigs from it to put in a vase at home, little things like that.” Krabbe said, “You cannot live in Finland without being influenced by the seasonal cycles of the year, so it would be very hard not to live attuned to it.”

In addition, those interviewed also mention the importance of the surviving Finnish folklore and traditions, even those people that do not practice Finnish Paganism as a religion. Krabbe noted, “We have the largest collection of folk poetry in the world in the Finnish Literature Society’s archive.” She also mentioned Finnish epic, the Kalevala.

Mäkelä was quick to note that many of these traditional works are not necessarily indicators of ancient practice, nor are they consistently used for religious purposes in modern day. However, she did not deny the influence of folk traditions on Finnish culture and modern religions. She said, “In Finland, it is easy to celebrate Yule and not have anything to do with Jesus.” She explained that many of these non-Christian practices are still present in the “how” of modern Finnish celebrations.

Due to be released in fall 2015, a new film, titled Ukonvaaja (The Hammer of Ukko), will explore traditional Finnish culture and religious practice. Recently, the filmmakers recently interviewed Muukka about the celebration of the fall harvest. The trailer is shown above.

In talking with the Finnish Pagans, Krabbe expressed something that is echoed in the film trailer. She said, “I think that most Finnish people have a pagan soul, even if they don’t realize it. It is a natural way of life here and we haven’t lost entirely our connection to nature or the way of life of our ancestors.”

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