[Unleash the Hounds is a monthly feature that appears near the end of each month to round up stories of interest to our readers. We can’t cover it all so, as we say, “we unleash the hounds to round them up.” If you like this feature and would like to continue to see it every month, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it happen. Donate today and share our link!]

The Satanic Temple logoSALEM, Mass. — The Satanic Temple has opened up its international headquarters in Salem, or what is often referred to as “Witch City.” TST, known for its religious freedom actions across the country, recently opened a branch in the U.K., which adds to its many other branches located around the U.S. TST spokesperson Lucien Greaves said, “Salem emerged as an obvious choice to be established as the base for our operations. In addition to Salem’s history and proximity to the intellectual hub of Boston, the people we have spoken to have been incredible friendly and supportive.”

Salem is already home to many modern Witches, as well as being the home of historical sites and other venues that share the area’s long relationship Witchcraft. Greaves said,”The irony that a town which once executed people because of alleged ties to Satan will now be hosting the headquarters of the world’s largest satanic organization is not lost on us. The fact that we have a home in Salem is a testament to the progressive mentality of the people there, and the local government’s support for plurality.”

TST’s new headquarters is housed in a Victorian home built in 1882 and was once used as a funeral home. Along with offices, the building will also house the Salem Art Gallery, which will feature various artists and a standing exhibit on the Satanic Panic and other witch hunts. TST hopes to host lectures and other events, and it will also be temporarily showcasing its famous (or infamous) one-and-a-half ton statue of Baphomet, created by Marc Porter. The new Satanic Temple headquarters is located on Bishop Street and opened to the public Friday.

On Campus

  • As we move into October, an increasing number of news agencies will be looking to interview Witches or explore the practice. That includes student-run outlets. In a recent article for The Journal, the student newspaper for Queen University in Kingston, Ontario, two journalists wanted to learn more about Wicca. After meeting with local Pagans, the two realized that the practice wasn’t what they expected: “Wicca, as we came to realize, was not a mysterious fad, but a complicated and serious religion with an equally complicated and serious history.By about halfway through the night, we began to feel somewhat guilty about our misinformed ideas about what Wicca would be like.”
  • But it’s not only Wiccans and Witches that are garnering media attention from student journalists. In an article for Otter Realm, writer Alex Jensen spoke with Johnny Bays, a 5th year Communications student and practicing Heathen. Otter Realm is the student-run newspaper for The University of California, Monterey Bay. Jensen writes, “Bays believes in the gods as divine, but not infallible, entities who are concerned with the nature of humanity and the broader world rather than the individual struggles of everyday life.”
  • At the University of Arkansas, it was recently reported that Lux: Pagans United hosted their first meeting Aug. 29 at the Ferguson Chapel. The group not only became the first Pagan organization to convene at the chapel, but also the first non-Christian group to meet in that space. As quoted in the student paper, Lux vice president Alex Cannon said, “It represents the breaking of a barrier. There are a lot of barriers that are up towards Pagans in the Bible Belt, that’s just part of the culture. So it really represents the breaking of some social barriers that allow for discrimination against Pagans based on their religion.” The group is only two years old, which is relatively new compared to other student religious organizations, but they are hoping that in being more public, they can help dispel fears and misconceptions on campus.
  • On another university campus, a Wiccan student is not finding that same level of religious plurality and support for her beliefs. In an opinion column for the Univerisity of Oklahoma’s newspaper The Oklahoma Daily, Destiny Guerrero shares her encounters with harassment and religious bigotry. She wrote, “[Those experiences] have turned me away from talking about belief systems in general. They instilled the uncomfortable feeling that I, whose beliefs do not align with Christianity, do not even belong on this campus. Perhaps what we need is an open discussion about religion on campus. I don’t really know the answer, and there could be multiple. I do know that spiritual harassment is just as serious as any other form of harassment, and should be treated as such.”

In Other News:

  • In an article titled, “Meeting the UK’s Top Pagan Police Officer,” online media outlet Vice published an interview with U.K. Police Sergeant Andy Pardy. As noted in the report “When he’s not patrolling the streets of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, Andy runs the Police Pagan Association, a body set up amid much predictable media piss-taking in 2009 to support the needs of Britain’s pagan coppers.” The report goes on to share Pardy’s own beliefs and the work of the PPA. Parody also spoke about Paganism and Heathenry in general.
  • In Florida, local news sources are reporting that dead animals and fruit were recently found near a highway in Tampa. Local officials are speculating whether this was part of a Santeria ritual or a prank. Local station KRON 4 spoke with a practitioner of Santeria for his view on the story. “Every ceremony that we actually do, we actually clean right after and we make that everything is, ya know, as neat as possible,” Gilbert Gonzalez said. He believes that if it was a Santeria ritual, it was performed by “people who don’t know what they are doing.” There has been no official word released yet on the case.
  • The Nashville Scene recently published an article about a group of people who are claiming religious discrimination in Tennessee. Referred to by the outlet as the “end of times cat cult,” the group is comprised of Rev. Sheryl Ruthven and her followers. Originally from Washington state, the group reportedly moved to Tennessee to “wait out the apocalypse” in peace and to save cats. However, their practices have come under fire recently with some ex-members calling the group “a cult of personality.” Others, including the leader’s daughter, have fought back, saying they “do nothing but good.” Currently, they run a cat shelter in the area called Eva’s Eden, and will continue to do so as long as they are permitted.
  • In another part of the world, a small community is thriving despite the socio-cultural discrepancies between itself and its homeland of Ethiopia. According to a report at Atlas Obsura, Awra Amba was founded 44 years ago as an egalitarian commune. In this setting, women and men are equally valued, and children and elders are protected and respected. As noted in the article, one of the commune’s sayings is: “Doing a ‘women’s job’ does not change my maleness—it changes my ignorance.” While Awra Amba’s history is not without conflict, strife or persecution, the group has been allowed to peacefully exists since its return to Ethiopia in 1993.
Atlantis Bookshop Photo Credit: The Good Author / Spitalfields Life

Atlantis Bookshop [Photo Credit: The Good Author / Spitalfields Life]

  • The Londonist published an article titled, “London’s Most Fabulous Literary Bookshops.” The first store listed is Atlantis Bookshop that was founded in 1922 by occultist Michael Houghton. This historical location saw visits from Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner and many other famous Pagans, Witches, and occultists over its nearly 100 years of existence. Other bookstores on the list include: John Sandoe Books, Persephone Books, Jarndyce, Housemans, Heywood Hill, Hatchards, Foyles, and The Big Green Bookshop.

Art & Culture

  • For Bowie fans, according to reports, his final recorded songs will be released Oct 21. The songs will be included on a 2 Disc CD along with the cast recording of the Bowie musical Lazarus. The album is reportedly already up for awards.
  • Speaking of Bowie, Labyrinth (1986) is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Jim Henson called the epic fantasy film “his most personal project.” And in an interview at DragonCon, Brian Henson reiterated the power and influence that this one film had on him. Brian was the voice of Hoggle and assisted with puppeteering. When asked about the mythological and spiritual elements in the film, Brian Henson said that stories with deep mythology naturally have a spiritual resonance, like Labyrinth. He said it makes these film feel worthwhile and important. A special 30th anniversary version has been released, and the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta is featuring a special anniversary Labyrinth exhibit.
  • Last but not least, a little music for your Sunday from Scotland’s own Clanadonia:

[Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. If you like this feature and would like to continue to see it every month, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it happen. Donate today and share our link!]

As the equinox has recently passed, making many Pagans, polytheists and Heathens mindful of how light is divided from darkness, we begin with a cartoon by Jude Magaro about a more whimsical divide in our communities.

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“To me the Noumenia is a time of new beginnings, of renewal. Each month we are given a chance to start over, to get it right. Living in this fast-paced, hectic world with endless distractions, frustrations, and demands on our time and attention, it is easy to lose our way, to forget the things that are important to us and sometimes we may even become estranged from our gods. We may have set out to maintain a regular religious routine or to make important life changes like eating better, exercising more, watching less television and the like, only to have life get in the way. It is easy to feel discouraged, to see all the missed opportunities and our life slipping away from us . . . . It is a time to clear away the old and outmoded, all the things that are cluttering our lives and holding us back, so that we can make room for new and wonderful blessings to enter them. –Sannion, writing about the monthly household festival in Hellenic tradition.


“When the gods come knocking, we don’t have to answer. We are allowed to simply say ‘hello’ followed immediately by ‘goodbye.’ We are allowed to agree to testing the waters, but to also not make any commitments. With each of these particular goddesses, I went a minimum of one year before agreeing to anything even temporary. . . . I am also dedicated to a goddess that I barely talked to in the year leading up to my dedication, but who I knew was a perfect fit. — the Peacock Witch on deities who arrive unannounced.


“The gods-without call and the gods-within respond. These are not anthropomorizations. I do not project the Lightbringer onto the sun. The sun is still the sun, an unimaginably large flaming ball of hydrogen a hundred million miles away whose light is filtered through 10 miles of atmosphere. But when I face the sun in the morning and raise my arms and recite an invocation inspired by the Rig Veda, I am speaking to that sun in the sky and to the Sun/Son within me.

“Let others say their polytheism is more authentic. Let others say my gods aren’t real enough or distinct enough. Let others say that I’m afraid to answer the call of their gods. Let others say my gods are limited or safe. I know better.” — John Halstead, “My Polytheism: Gods Within/Gods Without.”


“If all of those people back in college needed to get stoned in order to have certain discussions with me, that should have been a sign to me that whatever mind-expanding potentials of this substance might be are probably already redundant in my case. Based on such an observational prediction, I’d have to concur, as I didn’t have anything particularly mind-expanding as a result. I did notice some odd paranoid moments, but I have those myself without any drugs, so was quite easily reminded that this might not be anything real.” — P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, writing about eir first experience with medical marijuana.


“Getting drunk tends to amplify things. If we think we’re powerful sorcerers and mighty Druids and we get rat-arsed, the odds are that we will feel that even more keenly. The drink may be talking, but the voice of spirits we’re hearing may not be the spirits we were thinking of connecting with. To be pissed as a newt is not to be in deep connection with your newty spirit guide. It is easy to feel that we need intoxicants to take us out of our normal, banal headspaces, but going this route creates a crutch, and may not be in our interests.” Nimue Brown on the limits of intoxication in ritual.


“While there are plenty of Pagan tales of sacrifice, the general sense among Pagans is that outright martyrdom is unnecessary. Martyrs, whether physical or metaphorical, experience an erasure of self. This is at odds with the idea that the self is sacred. In our daily lives, we do not typically need to make the sort of sacrifice play that, for example, our armed forced do. There are other options available to us.” — Melissa ra Karit, “One Pagan’s Ethics and Self-Care.”


“I’m no defender of Gavin Frost (as I think this article suggests) but he’s also never to my knowledge been charged or convicted of a crime. I’m hesitant to yell, “Pedophile!” at the top of my lungs when encountering a book passage I vehemently disagree with. Wrong? Perverse? Disgusting? Not Wicca! All of those things and more, and I’m not forgiving the passage, but I also don’t know enough about Gavin to call him something as reprehensible as a pedophile. — Jason Mankey on the life of Gavin Frost.


“My first take on bhakti was viewing the goddess as a sort of invisible girlfriend. ‘Divine lover,’ I probably would have said then, but essentially, ‘invisible girlfriend.’ Some lofty ideal of femininity that I could use to fluff up my ego. To be honest, I didn’t have much success. But also, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m thankful that I took time away from the path of devotion in order to grow as a person. I regularly gave offerings to Ganesh but I didn’t quite view it in the same way. . . . I have a great life, a job I like, a place to live in that I love, an amazing girlfriend whom I love very much, and, most importantly, I love who I am.” — R.M. McGrath, “From Lover to Mother

That’s it for now. Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

[Karl E. H. Seigfried is one of our talented monthly columnists. On the fourth Saturday, he brings you insight and analysis about issues coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy his work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. You make it possible for The Wild Hunt to continue featuring great writers, unique voices, and news reports every day. Every dollar counts. Please donate today and share the campaignThank you.]

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Heathens in Politics
Heathenry and politics have not always been happy bedfellows, yet there have been Heathens around the world who have campaigned for public office. Some have even won elections. The thumbnail portraits below feature four Heathens from four countries who have four very different stories of engagement with and disengagement from public life.

In Iceland, Liberal Party co-founder Sigurjón Þórðarson was elected in 2003 to represent the Northwest Constituency in the Alþgingi, the national assembly. The parliament was founded in 930, seventy years before the nation converted to Christianity. At the time of his election, Sigurjón was a goði (Heathen priest) in the Ásatrúarfélagið (Ásatrú Fellowship), the organization that began the modern revival of Old Norse religion in 1972. His election made him the first goði with a seat in the Alþgingi since the fourteenth century.

The Icelandic Alþingi [Photo Credit: Zinneke]

When asked by Reykjavík Grapevine how other members of parliament reacted to his religion, he said, “I don’t think my faith matters to them. If anything, I think I get respect for that.” As the land that did the most to preserve Norse mythology, Iceland is a special case, as Sigurjón acknowledged: “I think this faith has shaped Icelanders’ views on things. A lot of what we believe comes from the old beliefs, and has influenced how we are today.” After serving only one term, Sigurjón is no longer a goði, and the party he co-founded no longer exists. The fortunes of the modern goði are as unpredicatble as those of his ancient model.

Ásatrú practitioner Anika Tanck (now Petersdorf) was a 2009 candidate for the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, a German state so far north that the first element of its name contains a Germanized form of –vík (Old Norse for “inlet”) and the second refers to one of the pagan Saxon tribes (Holcetae, from *Holtsāton, “inhabitant of the forest”). She ran as local leader of the Piratenpartei Deutschland (Pirate Party Germany), the German division of the international confederation known as Pirate Parties International. The party program is long and detailed, with an emphasis on protecting freedoms in the wake of the digital revolution.

In the light of current U.S. media criticism of the Green presidential candidate as someone who serves as a spoiler for the Democratic one by peeling away millennial voters, it’s interesting that German newspaper Der Spiegel used similar rhetoric against Tanck and her Pirate colleagues, “The entry into the state parliament is unlikely. But the Pirate Party competing will at least cost the Greens important votes. Typical Pirate supporters include young people – an age group whose election turnout is chronically below average. Quite possibly, more otherwise apolitical people will go to vote.” Tanck won 2.2% of the vote, almost exactly the percentage Jill Stein receives in current polls. Seven years later, she told me, “I’m not anymore in politics. I now own a store for organic food.”

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[Courtesy Photo]

Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk serves as vice-president for the Saskatoon-West Riding Association of the Liberal Party. When he ran for Member of Parliament in 2014 and was edged out for the party nomination by Lisa Abbott, he worked for the greater good by joining her and volunteering as her Deputy Campaign Manager. After the election, he was invited to a small gathering with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and thanked for his work in the Liberal Party. Earlier this year, he was also a candidate for the provincial legislature. When I asked Rudachyk what role his religious beliefs play in his dedication to political action, he said:

I strongly believe that, if we as a faith wish to be taken seriously by society, we need to participate in society. If we want our worldview to be accepted, we need to incorporate it into society by taking a leadership role so that we can be understood and accepted.

He also emphasized the importance of representing Heathenry well as a public figure:

Because we are still on the fringes of society, those of us who choose to take on a leadership role must represent the best of what we have to offer society. We must show honesty, integrity and honor that is above reproach. If we do this solely to enrich ourselves or to preach an agenda of racial hatred, then we will destroy the credibility of all heathens in society for generations to come.

Unfortunately, the highest-profile Heathen in U.S. politics failed to live up to any part of this standard.

In 2009, Daniel Halloran was elected to the 19th City Council District in Queens, New York as a Tea Party Republican. A practitioner and leader of Theodism, Halloran became “the first openly elected heathen in the nation.” Despite his religion being widely known, he stressed his Roman Catholic upbringing during the campaign in an article for the Queens Chronicle called “I believe in God,” never once mentioning Theodism, Heathenry, or polytheism. The campaign of Kevin Kim, his Korean-American rival for the council seat, stated that political supporters of Halloran made racist statements to Kim’s followers. A Halloran volunteer publicly portrayed the election as “white faces” versus Koreans, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund stated that the contest was “marred by racial harassment and anti-Asian slurs.”

Two years later, Halloran appeared in a video documenting “The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks,” an event sponsored by a group calling itself Stop Islamization for America. He was lauded by the group’s supporters as “the only member of the City Council willing to speak out against the Ground Zero mosque.” In 2013, Halloran was arrested and charged with brokering a $200,000 attempt to bribe Republican county leaders and fix the race for mayor of New York City. Unluckily for Halloran, the multiple payoff meetings were held with an undercover FBI agent. Halloran remains incarcerated after his insanity defense and appeal for reversal of his ten-year prison sentence were rejected. The court stated, “We have considered all of Halloran’s remaining arguments, and find them without merit.”

Politicians and Heathens
Despite the relatively small size of the Pagan and Heathen communities, there have been two U.S. presidential candidates who have been willing to engage with practitioners.

In 2011, Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson held a Google+ Hangout with journalists from the Hellenic, Hindu, Wiccan and Witch communities. The hosts of a Heathen podcast were invited to join, but declined to participate. The lack of any voice from the Heathen community is regrettable, as there seems to be a great interest from Heathens in Johnson’s current presidential run as a Libertarian.

Gary Johnson in 2012 [Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore]

However, Chuck Hudson – New Mexico Heathen, host of the popular Heathen broadcast Raven Radio, and creator of the Pagans for Gary Johnson Facebook page – recently told me that, in his personal conversations with the candidate, Johnson “had nothing to say about Heathens or other Pagans.” Regardless, the most recent public post by the administrator of the Pagan page is in reaction to an article reporting on Johnson calling radical Islam’s threat “overblown” and shows a sharp turn away from supporting the candidate. Hudson writes, “After being a Libertarian since the late 80s, I’m done. This is the last straw. I am officially voting for my dog.”

In the Google+ Hangout, the questions relating to religion dealt with general Pagan and Wiccan issues, and Johnson seems to not have made any public statements directly relating to Heathenry. At the time of the 2012 election, there were issues that some segments of the Heathen community were definitely working on. The push to have the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs approve Thor’s hammer a religious emblem allowed on government headstones was still underway; it was not approved until after the election, in 2013. The lack of Pagan chaplains in the U.S. military – a subject also of interest to Heathens – was brought up in the Hangout, but Johnson’s answer appears a bit confused in the transcript:

I guess I’m gonna be in the camp … why are there any chaplains in the military and if there are chaplains in the military why are there then not Rabbis in the military and I didn’t realize there was a Pagan chaplain but you can see that that’s obviously part of the equality equation here.

There have, in fact, been rabbis serving as military chaplains in the United States since Rabbi Jacob Frinkel was commissioned in 1862, and there is still no official chaplain of any type of Paganism in any branch of the U.S. military – although progress has recently been made.

The military situation is a bit different for Heathens than it is for other Pagans. Although Wicca has been recognized as “a nontraditional faith” by the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps since 1978, the status of Ásatrú and Heathen soldiers in the army remains in limbo. After seven years of soldiers, veterans, and allies working to have Ásatrú and Heathenry added to the U.S. Army’s religious preference list as a faith option for soldiers, the administration continues to delay making the change, despite a letter-writing campaign, a Heathen Resource Guide for Chaplains being submitted to the Department of Defense, and the announcement and retraction of the addition being approved.

The obstinate and years-long resistance of the U.S. Army was thrown into relief by the success of Master Sergeant (MSgt) Matt Walters, who simply made a formal request to the Air Force Chaplains Office and was quickly successful in having Ásatrú and Heathenry added to the Air Force’s religious preference list. Why the U.S. Army Chaplains Corp has been so determined to block the addition for its own branch of the military remains a mystery.

On September 9, the day after taking members of Thor’s Oak Kindred to see Dr. Jill Stein speak at her Chicago rally, I sat down for a one-on-one interview with the Green Party presidential candidate. This was the first time a presidential candidate spoke on the record with a Heathen journalist and made a public statement in support of equal religious rights for Heathens in the military. I had been attempting to get Stein to address this issue for a while, but had not had much luck getting directly to her via her social media accounts. When she came to town for her rally, I figured out the proper contact person and was immediately scheduled for a private interview.

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Jill Stein in Chicago [Courtesy of The Norse Mythology Blog]

After speaking with Stein about her family history, religious background, support for protecting sacred land, and engagement with minority religions, I asked her what message she would send to U.S. Army chaplains on their denial of equal rights to Heathen soldiers who serve their country at home and abroad. After comparing their situation to that of others “who do not subscribe to the certified list of religions,” Stein said of the Heathen soldiers,

It’s really unfair, unjust, and undemocratic in this democracy that they are defending for their human rights not to be respected. I would strongly urge that all religions – whether they are Judeo-Christian or not – all religions should be given the seal of approval there, in order to sustain those people who have put their lives on the line for our country.

They deserve the benefits of real democracy, and real democracy means we do not discriminate according to religion, creed, race, ethnic background, or gender. Period.

Whatever the political allegiances of a given Heathen, this should be recognized as a positive moment. Given the many attempts and limited success of Heathens seeking to enter the political world as officeholders, it is a small step in the right direction to have a presidential candidate on the national stage acknowledge the issues facing Heathens and publicly draw attention to the need for discrimination to end.

I am under no illusion that Stein will power through to the White House, wave a seiðr staff, and make every Heathen’s personal wish list materialize in a powdery puff of sandalwood smoke. However, I do believe that each good action taken makes another connection in the web of wyrd, and – when there enough actions taken and connections made – change will come. Mounting public pressure may finally lead to official recognition of Heathenry by the U.S. Army. That recognition may lead to the appointment of Heathen chaplains. That appointment may lead to more acceptance of Heathens in other professions. That acceptance may lead to positive changes in your own life. Wyrd bið full āræd– wyrd is fully inexorable.

Note: The full text of the Jill Stein interview can be read at The Norse Mythology Blog.

*   *   *
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

[Alley Valkyire is one of our talented monthly columnists. On the fourth Friday, she brings you insight and analysis about issues coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy her work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. It is your dollars and your support that make it possible for Alley and our columnists to continue their dedicated work, and for us to bring on more talented monthly voices. Please donate today and share the campaign! Thank you.]

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I. The Discovery

A few weeks ago, it was announced that the wreck of the HMS Terror, one of two ships that comprised the long-lost Franklin expedition, was found on the ocean floor southwest of King William Island in what is now known as Terror Bay.

This discovery comes almost exactly two years after Franklin’s other ship, the HMS Erebus, was found farther southward in the same general area. Both were found by exploration teams that were financed by the Canadian government.

Many major news outlets in both North America and Europe have covered the story of both “discoveries” and to some degree have mentioned the history that has led to this point, but overall these media sources have failed to highlight the fact that the location of the shipwrecks have been known to local Inuit communities since the time of the exploration’s disappearance in 1848. Instead, the focus of the stories have mostly been on modern technology and due diligence, with only a few articles even briefly mentioning the Inuit.

Native and alternative media sources, on the other hand, have been stressing this crucial aspect of the story that Eurocentric media sources have summarily ignored: that the discoveries validate over 150 years’ worth of Inuit accounts, of orally-passed folklore concerning the fate of the Franklin expedition, accounts that were dismissed and ignored countless times by generations’ worth of European explorers and researchers. While European-descended Canadian explorers celebrate their “discovery” of the ships, indigenous voices are pointing out that “the Inuit were right”, a fact that mass media as a whole has failed to note.

II. The Officer

When Sir John Franklin of the British Royal Navy set off in search of a navigable route through the Arctic Circle, he was following in the footsteps of over 350 years’ worth of exploration attempts to secure a “Northwest Passage” for the purposes of trade between Europe and China.

Franklin sailed from England with two ships and 135 men in the spring of 1845, first traveling to Scotland and then to Greenland, where the exploration then sailed west through Baffin Bay. The last European sighting of the expedition was in July of 1845, when a whaling ship spotted the Erebus and Terror moored off an iceberg in Baffin Bay, south of what is now called Devon Island.

The expedition spent the winter of 1845-6 in an encampment on the western coast of Devon Island and attempted to sail on further in the summer of 1846, but the ships became trapped in ice off the coast of King William Island in Sept., 1846.

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The note from Franklin’s crew, written in 1848 and found in 1859 . [Public domain]

The only written clue as to what had transpired from that point on came in the form of a note dated April 25, 1848, which was found in a pile of cairns on the north coast of King William Island 11 years later by an explorer searching for the lost expedition. The note stated that the crews of the Erebus and Terror had abandoned the ships in the ice just north of the island after being stuck for two years, and that 24 men had perished at that point, including Franklin in the summer of 1847. The note went on to say that the rest of the crew were going to follow the “Back’s Fish River” south, where a trading post was located.

None of the crew members ever made it to the trading post, and the most widespread and accepted theory from the time the note was found has been that both ships had sunk off the north coast of King William Island and Franklin’s crew died on foot en route to the trading post. For this reason, countless searches and rescue missions have been focused on the Victoria Strait and the northern part of King William Island.

But from the very beginning and for decades thereafter, that version of the story conflicted with numerous stories from the Inuit people, who relayed a different version of the fate of Franklin’s crew that was dismissed time and time again by those searching for the exploration.

Over 50 searches for Franklin and his crew were conducted in the decades after the disappearance of the ships and crew. Over time, more explorers and ships were lost in search of the Franklin expedition than the original casualty count of the Franklin expedition itself.

A route through the Arctic wouldn’t be discovered for nearly 60 years after Franklin’s attempt, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen successfully navigated the passage between 1903 and 1906.

III. The Lady

By all accounts, Lady Jane Franklin, the explorer’s wife, was a woman well ahead of her time. An famed explorer in her own right, she first gained attention for her travels through Australia while her husband was the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s, and became a popular figure amongst the citizens of the colonies, noted for charitable actions and kindness. She was instrumental in founding early schools throughout the Australian settlements. She was also an early advocate concerning the conditions female convicts in Tasmania, and had corresponded with famed prison reformer Elizabeth Fry about their plight. Lady Franklin also was deeply involved in her husband’s career, with accounts detailing how she significantly managed his affairs and advised his career behind the scenes.

After her husband’s expedition was confirmed as missing in 1849, Lady Franklin devoted the rest of her life and much of her personal fortune towards finding what became of the it. She sponsored seven search parties to the Arctic between the time of the disappearance and her death in 1875, and used her social status and wealth to consistently bring attention to the unknown fate of her husband. She offered sizable cash rewards for information, and worked diligently to keep the story in the public eye and a matter of national interest.

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[Amelie Romilly, public domain]

However, she was fiercely protective of her husband’s image and legacy to a fault, and when explorers returned with information that she disapproved of or disbelieved, she also worked tirelessly to discredit such stories and in one case went to great lengths to discredit the explorer himself.

IV. The Search Parties

Scottish explorer John Rae was one of the first tasked with searching for the Franklin expedition under the authority of Lady Franklin, and he made three journeys through the Arctic from 1849 to 1854. In 1851, during an attempt to cross Victoria Strait towards King William Island, Rae described finding pieces of wood in the strait that had come from a European ship.

Three years later, while exploring the Boothia Peninsula, Rae came across local Inuit tribes who saw two ships trapped in the ice when they passed through in the fall on their way south. When they had come back through the area the following spring, they found multiple corpses and evidence of cannibalism.

When Rae relayed this information upon his return to England, he was initially credited with solving the mystery of the Franklin expedition and was granted the promised reward. Lady Franklin, however, reacted in horror, and many in the British press and upper classes, including writer Charles Dickens, shunned and publicly condemned Rae for suggesting that the crew would resort to cannibalism.

A few years later, in 1859, when Sir Leopold McClintock of the British Navy was searching for the Franklin expedition, a group of Inuit shared similar accounts of the fate of the missing ships with the explorer and his crew. They claimed that one ship sunk and another became trapped in the ice in an area they described as “Ootloo-lik.” During that same search expedition, McClintock’s team found the note left by Franklin’s men, describing ships trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait and the death of Franklin. When McClintock returned with this information, Lady Franklin apparently initially dismissed it, still convinced that Franklin was alive.

Five years after McClintock’s expedition, in 1864, American explorer Charles Hall was also searching for the Franklin expedition when he also encountered Inuit from the same region, who told him that they had stripped wood and metal from an abandoned ship that had been stranded in and crushed by the ice off the southern coast of King William Island. The ship had been found while seal hunting, there had been evidence that it had been recently inhabited, and a decomposing body had been found on board. They had also seen footprints leading to shore that were not made by Inuit.

These accounts contradicted the theory that was based on the note that McClintock found, that both ships had sunk off the northern coast of the island. The Inuit stories suggested that instead of following the river to their death, some of the crew members re-boarded the second ship and attempted to sail south, only to once again become stuck near the southern coast where they eventually perished.

And again in 1878-9, when explorer Frederick Schwatka and journalist William Henry Gilder searched for the expedition, they were told stories by local Inuits of skeletons found on the southern part of the island, and of compasses and watches and human remains found on the trapped ship. Once again signs of cannibalism were mentioned, of bones that looked as though they had been sawed off.

Lady Franklin had died a few years earlier, and could not personally refute these new claims as she had in the past, but nonetheless the claims were overall discredited and dismissed, in part because they contradicted the heroic narrative that had developed in the decades after Franklin’s disappearance.

Artistic rendering of the Franklin Expedition sailing through the Northwest Passage. Public Domain.

Artistic rendering of the Franklin Expedition sailing through the Northwest Passage. [Public domain.]

V. The Legend

The disappearance of the Franklin expedition created a sensation throughout Victorian England. Franklin and his crew were quickly cast as romantic heroes and cultural icons in the eyes of the public, and Franklin was memorialized in countless ways, from statues erected to stories and plays and musical compositions written in his honor.

One of the earliest tributes to Franklin is arguably also one of the most lasting and well known testaments to his heroic status. The folk ballad “Lady Franklin’s Lament,” which first appeared around 1850, tells of the disappearance of Franklin and the subsequent heartache of his wife from the fictional point of view of a sailor who had a dream about Franklin. Countless versions and recordings of the song have been published over the years, more recently and famously by artists such as Pentangle and Sinead O’Connor.

The lyrics of the ballad beautifully capture the sentiments of the time:

We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew

With a hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May
To seek a passage around the pole
Where we poor sailors do sometimes go

Through cruel hardships they vainly strove
Their ships on mountains of ice were drove
Only the Eskimo with his skin canoe
Was the only one that ever came through

In Baffin’s Bay where the whale fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin alone with his sailors do dwell

And now my burden it gives me pain
For my long-lost Franklin I would cross the main
Ten thousand pounds I would freely give
To know on earth, that my Franklin do live

Such sentiments, however, and the public image of Franklin that inspired such material, came up against many conflicts over the years as explorers brought back more and more information about the fate of the expedition, most notably the numerous Inuit accounts regarding cannibalism. From Lady Franklin’s public evisceration of John Rae to the subsequent dismissals of Inuit lore regarding the fate of the expedition, much of the denial of these stories was driven by the need to protect the public image of Franklin and his crew. The idea that the crew resorted to cannibalism to survive was highly offensive to Victorian-era sensibilities, as such heroic Englishmen would obviously never resort to such “barbaric” acts.

VI. The Bones

Searches for the Franklin expedition continued throughout the early part of the 20th century, but tapered off after the 1930s. The last notable expedition of that era was in 1931, when a manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company named William Gibson retraced the assumed route of the expedition on land and found several skeletons as well as pieces of naval cloth and wood from the ships.

Fifty years went by after Gibson’s finds without any other significant developments. Then in 1981, a forensic anthropology project backed by the University of Alberta started to search for remains of the expedition on the west coast of King William Island. Researchers found extensive skeletal remains, and they had the bone matter tested. The results showed that the crew members of the Franklin expedition likely died of vitamin C deficiency and/or lead poisoning.

Later excavations throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s yielded bones with distinctive cut marks. Scientists then determined the cuts were likely the result of cannibalism, thus validating the various Inuit accounts as well as the reports from John Rae, whose name and career had been essentially destroyed as a result of accurately relaying what he had been told.

VII. The Discovery

In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper initiated a new round of searches for the Franklin expedition, although it has been steadily argued that his intent was not to solve the mystery of the expedition as much as it was to assert dominance over the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Circle as a whole for the purposes of trade and profit.

Due to the increased melting of the polar ice caps, the Northwest Passage has become more easily navigable and for a longer portion of the year than it has ever been in the history of maritime exploration. This “development,” courtesy of climate change, has significant consequences for international trade as the “ownership” of those waters has long been in dispute. Canada claims sovereignty over the waters of the Arctic based on the British Empire ceding their claims to Canada in the 1880s, but the United States and many other countries consider the Northwest Passage to be international waters.

Additionally, the melting ice is also creating countless new opportunities for offshore drilling and mineral exploration, and the Canadian government has a significant interest in securing and asserting the rights to such explorations. Canada’s claim on the Northwest Passage has been framed as a matter of national interest, a message which has been specifically aimed towards Inuit communities in the Arctic Circle despite the fact that climate change and offshore drilling threatens the livelihood of those very communities.

Uncovering the wrecks of Franklin’s ships also factored prominently into the nationalist ideals that Harper’s government had promoted since taking power. The Franklin expedition was a key moment in the early history of Canada, and discovering the remains of the expedition would not only potentially legitimize Canada’s claims to the Arctic, but it would also inevitably strengthen the narrative that romanticizes the Arctic Circle as the birthplace of Canada as a nation.

For seven summers, Canadian anthropologists searched the northern, western, and southern shores of King William Island, uncovering numerous artifacts related to the expedition. They also conducted underwater searches both in the northern location where the note stated that the ships had become trapped as well as the more southward locations where Inuit lore claimed one of the ships had sailed before becoming permanently trapped.

In September of 2014, Harper announced that one of the ships had been found south of King William Island. At the time of the initial announcement, archaeologists had yet to determine which ship it was, but a month later it was reported that the find was the remains of the HMS Erebus, the ship that Franklin himself was thought to have died on.

alexguibord

[Alex Guibord]

But despite the fact that it was found in an area that matched the Inuit accounts of where it had sank, Harper’s public statement failed to mention those accounts and their importance in the discovery, instead lavishing credit onto various military and governmental entities before giving unspecified thanks to the government of Nunavut for their “tireless efforts.” Additionally, Harper’s government excluded representatives from Inuit communities from discussions and negotiations concerning the ownership of the finds, despite a legal agreement which grants 50% of archaeological finds in Nunavut to the Inuit people.

Then in September 2016, it was announced that the “perfectly preserved” remains of the HMS Terror was found on the southwest coast of King William Island, north of where the Erebus was found but still 60 miles south of where the ships were assumed by Europeans to have been abandoned in the ice. Not only was it also found in an area that the Inuit had been mentioning for over 150 years, but the sunken positions of both ships in relation to where they were assumed to have abandoned also matches up with Inuit accounts.

Additionally, it is of note that the only reason that the search team was searching that specific area in the first place was due to hearing a story from a young Inuit crewman on their ship. He stated that he had seen a wooden mast sticking out of the ice in Terror Bay off the southwest coast of King William Island while on a fishing trip six years earlier. The search team was initially set to search in area described by the note found in the cairns, but after hearing the story from their fellow crewman, the ship decided to break with historical tendencies and for once a search party did not dismiss the story they had been told by a local. The ship then headed towards the location where the wreck was finally found.

But once again, the Inuit are fighting for a voice in the upcoming discussions concerning what is to become of the artifacts.

*   *   *

If there is any one consistent theme that defines the Franklin story from the very beginning to the present events, it is the belief in European superiority. From the earliest dismissals and outrage over Inuit accounts of the crew’s fate to the current denial of Inuit rights to the artifacts from the wreckage, its clear that overall the attitudes and actions on the part of those in positions of power have not changed much in over 150 years.

It is also that superiority which has fueled the relentless pursuits of strategic dominance that set the stage for both the beginning and the eventual ending of the Franklin story. The fact that the remains of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were only ever recovered in concert with Canada’s attempt to exert control over the very same route that Franklin died attempting to navigate is a notable synchronicity to say the very least. And its a connection that occurred as a continuation of the same imperialist and economic intentions that prompted the initial wave of European exploration through the Arctic in the first place.

As Inuit representative Cathy Towtongie told the Guardian:

If Inuit had been consulted 200 years ago and asked for their traditional knowledge – this is our backyard – those two wrecks would have been found, lives would have been saved. I’m confident of that.

But they believed their civilization was superior and that was their undoing.

 

*   *   *

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

 

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

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The Wild Hunt is now in its twelfth year. What began as an experiment in 2004 by an enthusiastic novice, has slowly developed into one of the most widely-read news journals serving the modern Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities worldwide.Thousands of people visit our site to read the work of a talented and diverse group of writers, all of whom are dedicated to The Wild Hunt’s vision. As editor and as a member of this collective community experience, I am compelled to do this work. For me, it is both an education and an adventure. And even after all this time, I am humbled to read the daily positive feedback, and to learn of the place that this news service has in people’s lives.

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TWHEnglish Magic Tarot is a deck devised by magician and comic book artist Rex Van Ryn, painter Steve Dooley and Pagan writer and musician Andy Letcher. With a foreword by Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids Philip Carr Gomm, the new deck deftly entwines all aspects of English Magic.

As Philip Carr-Gomm states: “With this deck and book, you have the chance to explore the world of English magic directly, engaging with its peculiar charms and eccentricities. And with what excellent guides!”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Drawing on High Magical Traditions represented by organizations such as Order of the Golden Dawn and embodied by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and Austin Osman Spare, the deck is replete with Hermetic symbolism. It also acknowledges the low magic path of the cunning folk and how the tarot has been used in that tradition. As Andy Letcher notes: “We regard the tarot as a kind of distillation of Western wisdom.”

The deck is set in the Tudor and Stuart periods, beginning with the reign of Henry VIII (although the Tudor period began earlier), through the upheaval of the Stuarts.This was a time of radical change in England.

The Elizabethan part of the Tudor period and the subsequent Stuart age almost fall into two distinct halves in terms of differences in culture and attitude, and the outlooks towards religion and magic going a long way to define each period.

The Tudor period featured the Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, which resulted in conflict with Europe that culminated in the Spanish Armada. It was also in this period that the Enclosure Act restricted the use of common land, having a huge impact on poorer people. But under Elizabeth, this was also a time of relative freedom in religion and the arts flourished as a result.

As Matt Sutherland for Foreword Reviews notes: “The mysticism, mysteries, rituals, and lore of Elizabethan-era England (were) perhaps history’s most fervent period and place for the magic arts.”

Elizabeth was much more tolerant of religious differences than any of her other family members and her successors – James I, instigator of the witch trials, being the most notable example. She also employed Dr John Dee, astrologer and occultist, as one of her courtiers and spies during her reign. His interest in the esoteric as well as alchemical and magical practices paved the way for later luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.

[Public Domain due to age of image]

[Public Domain due to age of image]

The English Magic Tarot acknowledges this overlooked period of magical tradition and celebrates the spirit of possibility and exploration synonymous with the Elizabethan age. In Europe, this period, as well as overseeing the Renaissance, saw the birth of the tarot and its establishment as an essential tool in high and low magical traditions. One cannot help but wonder what kind of world we would be living in if the alchemical traditions celebrated in the deck had been developed and explored to their fullest capacity.

Another aspect of this deck worth mentioning is the emphasis on storytelling and how important this was in the Elizabethan age, evidenced by the growth of the arts during this time, the theatre in particular. The cards themselves are awash with riddles and symbols inspired by the Elizabethan era.

As Letcher confirms: “There are indeed riddles, references and lore scattered through every card. All these are significant and have been placed there deliberately. On one level, they are there simply to encourage readers to look more closely at the cards and to entice them into a deeper understanding of English magic. But we also wanted there to be an overarching theme to the cards, something that ran through them all and bound them together. The riddles do all point to something. It’s a kind of treasure hunt, if you will, and there is an actual answer at the end.”

Each card feels like a story in itself and the entire deck appears to be telling its own tale of some kind. The companion booklet discusses at length the growth of the arts during this period – theatre in particular  – and the magical, transformational aspects of that process.

Letcher says: “Our storytelling approach to the tarot means we encourage people to use the cards as a device to help them discover, and take control of the stories they tell about themselves and their lives.”

The set also gives the reader some unique techniques for using the cards, which are inspired by the Art of Memory tradition. This technique utilises concepts such as the alchemy of theatre and art in general, which only add to the depth and mystery of this deck.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

The visual impact of the deck cannot to be ignored. It’s rootedness in the comic book genre via Rex Van Ryn’s work gives it a contemporary edge and vitality but it clearly acknowledges the classic Waite-Smith deck and salutes the contribution of Pamela Colman Smith’s work as an artist, and how art can be magical and transformative.

As Van Ryn explained, the imagery of the deck was conceived in a very magical way. “I meditated on the cards’ meaning using a drum beat to induce a trance state, sometimes dancing, sometimes prone. When I had imagined the ‘image’, I broke my trance and drew what was in my mind.”

Dooley’s colouring work added to this process. He says: “At no point did Van Ryn say how I should colour the cards. He had faith. I devised an entire palette purely on instinct. It had to work for me on many levels. Each card had to work as an individual image, yet they also had to work together. I wanted them to be earthy yet bright, old but relative to today.”

Obviously, the artistic and magical backgrounds of both Van Ryn and Dooley would ensure that the visual impact of the deck and the significance of art as a transformational tool would come to the fore. As a result, the deck is a rich, with every card layered with symbolism and meaning.

It is interesting that the English Magic Tarot has emerged from the collective unconscious at this time. As stated earlier, the Tudor and Stuart periods were a turbulent time in English history, with a great deal of social and religious change. Given the upheaval across the world at present, it is no surprise that this period should emerge and remind us of how the use of magical practices and the occult helped to temper seismic upheavals in previous eras.

As author John Matthews, co-creator of The Wildwood Tarot and other decks, states: “Its clear (they’re) tapping into the national psyche, and with all that’s going on since Brexit that can be quite lot.”

The English Magic Tarot comes with a companion booklet that has a wealth of information about period and its magical practices. The deck stays true to the classical format of the period from which tarot emerged and consists of a 22 major arcana deck and a minor arcana of four suits of cups, wands, coins and swords. The booklet gives some very interesting techniques of how to use the cards, not only giving spreads but also going into great detail about the art of memory technique employed by alchemists during this period. This is a fascinating technique, invoking the literal magic of theatre into the process.

There is also a description of the use of archetypes and how they were used by the flourishing theatre movement during the Elizabethan age, which used many neo-Platonic techniques (this is why the famous theatre was called the Globe).

This is a great tarot deck, lovingly crafted and which gives respect and acknowledgement on many levels to the tarot and those who have shaped its development, yet with an edgy and fresh style.

Happy Autumnal Equinox

The Wild Hunt —  September 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

TWH – This year, the autumnal equinox falls on Sept. 22 at 14:21 UTC in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the moment that officially signals the start of fall. At this time, there will be an equal amount of light and dark, after which the nights slowly grow longer as we head toward winter. Outside of religious life, this season is very well celebrated. It is punctuated by harvests, craft, and art festivals, outdoors sports, pumpkin picking, scarecrow contests, and the aromas of spice and apple cider.

Here at The Wild Hunt, it’s when we begin our annual fall funding drive, which lasts until Nov.1. And, it is also when the UN celebrates its International Day of Peace (Sept. 21).

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

[Wikimedia Commons]

[Wikimedia Commons]

In many modern Pagan traditions, this is the second of three harvest festivals, with the first being Lughnasadh and the third being Samhain. Autumn equinox holidays have many names. For Wiccans and Witches, it is sometimes called “Harvest Home” or “Mabon.” In Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, it can be called “Mid-Harvest,” “Foghar,” or “Alban Elfed.” In modern Asatru, it is sometimes called “Winter Finding.” The Greek term for it is “Phthinopohriní Isimæría.” In Old English it was called “efnniht.” In addition, there are those who just simply prefer to use “autumn equinox” or “fall.”

At the same time, our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere begin the journey to summer. Sept. 22 will mark their vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. The days will begin to lengthen and become warmer as light triumphs over dark and the Earth reawakens from its winter slumber.

Here are some thoughts on this seasonal holiday:

“In the Wheel of the Year mythos that I enjoy, at Mabon the god and goddess become the Sage and Crone, and with experience, comes the inner vision to see deeply into both the past and future. They know the sacred order of the “perfect” complete cycle that is symbolized by the wheel; they teach us that life is sustained through death, just as death contains the promise of rebirth (at Ostara). As symbolized in the yin/yang, the key to one side of any polarity is found in the heart of its opposite. The fruits that are cut down will rise again both as the seeds planted next year, [and] by sustaining the living. As we are fed another year, the gods live on through us.” –Heron Michelle, “Mabon Feasts Serve Up a Challenge

“At its heart, the garlanded table, groaning with food, decked with flowers, pumpkins, squash. Around it, the standing torches, the looping strings of marigolds in their harvest colors. In the old days, the period of the harvest was the most intensive work of the entire year: the hard, back-breaking labor of reaping a year’s worth of food in a few grueling days. When finally it was over, it was time, and high time, for a party.” –Steven Posch, “Crowning the Harvest

“At this time, our ancestors saw the sun, for the first time in half a year, be unable to outshine the dark. Although he still shines with strength, his strength grows weaker as the days grow shorter. Today he holds the darkness in equal measure to the light, but he is struck in his season with the wound of time and from day to day the darkness will grow as the lord of light sinks into his age, for the wound is grievous and will not heal. This is a time of farewell and gratitude for the summer that has been. –from the Road to Kamarg blog

“In this time, we pray, honor and make blot to the Vanir and fertility gods to bless and hold the land in the coming dark and cold. We blot to the Vaettir, the Alfur and Landvaettir, to keep and hold not only ourselves and the land, but themselves as well. Winter can be cruel to many forms of life. Blot to whomever you feel should be honored at this time. Traditionally the Vanir are honored above all at this time, for it is their gifts and sacrifices that make the land fertile, and survive the coming dark. Frey, and his twin Freya are especially honored.” –“Winter Finding, theasatrucommunity.org

Happy harvest to all of those celebrating, and a very merry spring to our friends in the south.

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[The Wild Hunt brings you regular seasonal posts throughout the year, highlighting the many celebrations and holidays honored throughout our collective communities. If you enjoyed this post, consider making a donation today. Check out our new perks and our story. Share our campaign. Help make it possible for The Wild Hunt to continue serving you holiday inspiration through the year.]

[Cara Schulz is one of our talented weekly news writers. Each week she brings you news and stories coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy her work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. It is your dollars and your support that make it possible for Cara and the news team to continue their dedicated work. Please donate today and share the campaign! Thank you.]

It’s a situation that’s becoming increasingly common on social media. You’re scrolling through your feed and come across a post from a friend who appears to making a threat of suicide. For most of us, there are only moral questions we face in deciding what to do next. Should you try to contact your friend, or your friend’s family or local friends? Report it to the police and ask for a health and welfare check? For Pagans who claim the title of clergy, there are ethical and legal layers to this decision, as well. Are they considered Mandatory Reporters, and do they have a legal requirement to report possible suicide attempts? If they are ordained, does their governing body require them to report or ask that they maintain confidentiality, even outside of a counselling setting?

[public domain]

[public domain]

Rev. Kenya Davis, who received her ordination in 2011 by the Universal Life Church, experienced just such a decision on Sept. 15. A friend posted on Facebook what appeared to Rev. Davis as a serious contemplation of suicide. Believing she had a moral, ethical, and legal duty as Pagan clergy, she called police and asked them to do a health and welfare check.

The person is safe, but deeply unhappy with Rev. Davis’ actions. Others, including some who self-identified as Pagan clergy, were also critical of reporting a possible suicide attempt to police. They felt Pagan ministers don’t have the same obligations as Christian ministers. Others felt that friends don’t “snitch” on friends, and Davis should have stayed in the role of friend, rather than minister.

picsart_09-20-12-15-08
“The person I reported had a history of trauma and has a suicide plan in place that they shared at other times in their life. On the occasion of a personal trauma, they intimated that they no longer wished to live on in face of a loss. Due to previous episodes, and the depth of the loss, I felt the words that this person shared with me held the gravity that merited a call to ensure this person’s safety,” said Rev. Davis. She added that she remains convinced the person was seriously contemplating carrying out a suicide attempt.  

2016_09_20_11-24-00-01


What are the moral, ethical, and legal issues Pagan clergy may face in situations such as this? What training do they receive and what value does that training have for the greater Pagan community? What do we mean when we talk about Pagan clergy and how is that different, if it is, from mainstream religions’ clergy?

Pagan Clergy
At its most basic, clergy are the formal leaders of any religious group. In the United States, our views of clergy, and how clergy interact with the State, have been modeled on the Christian concept. Clergy marry, bury, and carry (counsel persons or carry the burden of counseling).

Are Pagan clergy members the same as mainstream clergy? The answer appears to be both yes and no.

Some Pagan clergy don’t minister to persons, but instead maintain a temple dedicated to a particular God or Goddess. Others lead religious services, but do not counsel members and are not part of a specific group. Then there is the controversy playing out in city council chambers and courtrooms whether tarot reading is entertainment or a religiously-protected counseling practice. Although there are no official studies to definitively claim one way or another, Pagans appear to have a higher number of lay clergy (or those not ordained by a State but recognized by a religious organization) than other more mainstream religions.

Yet Pagan clergy are performing legal marriages, presiding over burial ceremonies, and counseling members. They are also pushing for greater acceptance within societal constructs, such as the military, hospitals, and prisons. They want the respect that is granted by default to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy.

Rev. Davis says a fellow Pagan clergyperson told her if a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim person tells the public they are clergy, and their community accepts them as such, and their traditions accept them as such, there is no question. However, if a Pagan tells the state they are a priest or a reverend, the state demands proof of by a church body in order to accept them. She believes it’s unfair that a church organization can ordain a pastor, but a coven cannot ordain a priestess or reverend without being double checked.

While much of this attitude is part of a systemic problem of privilege by dominant religions toward those in the minority, she believes part of this is also because some Pagan clergy aren’t serious about their responsibility and are too casual about seeking out formal training.

“All clergy should know the laws of their state, and their articles of belief. Training in safeTALK, Mental Health First Aid, and other programs should be an ongoing learning,” said Davis. She believes that all Pagans who wish to take on the role of clergy need to be ready to assume all the duties and responsibilities of that role and that means being properly trained.

Responsibility and Training
Pagan clergy training runs the gamut from no training at all, self-training, and formal training by an organization. They may be ordained by a religious group or may not feel this is necessary for the duties they perform.

What training options are open to Pagans seeking to become clergy?

One of the only Pagan seminary currently operating is Cherry Hill Seminary. They offer a Masters in Pastoral Counseling, a Chaplaincy Master of Pagan Ministry, and A Community Ministry Certificate. The Community Ministry Certificate can then be used to apply for credentials through Sacred Well Congregation, an organization who recently became an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Yet Pagans are taking other routes to becoming clergy.

Davis studied at Family Life Education at Spring Arbor College before she received her ordination through Universal Life Church. Neither the college nor the religious group through which she received her ordination are Pagan. She said there weren’t as many options back when she sought ordination.

Oberon Osiris went the self taught route, “My training was in the School of Experience, I learned by doing.” He said he began his counseling over 40 years ago as a tarot reader. After performing a few marriages, he began seeking out books specifically on counseling skills in the marriage and relationship field.

“Most couples I’ve married get that counseling and some work-ups and exercises on relationships as part of the package. I refuse to marry anyone I don’t know well enough to see how their relationship works.” Osiris said that he doesn’t often marry people anymore, but still keeps his credentials up to date and continues his self study.

Pagans wishing to become clergy can also take classes from programs such as Circle Sanctuary’s Ministry Training Program. This program takes a minimum of three years and includes distance training by telephone conference calls, online group discussions, one-on-one mentoring face-to-face, and more traditional classes at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve and Pagan Spirit Gathering.  After students complete training they can then apply for ordination through Circle Sanctuary.

Rev. Selena Fox, Founder of Circle Sanctuary, highlights that Circle Sanctuary’s clergy training includes teaching about Mandatory Reporting. Fox said that Rev. Dr. Paul Larson, psychologist and professor with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, is among their Ministers who train students in this area.

[Photo Credit: Kelvin_Kevin/ GanFlickr]

[Photo Credit: Kelvin_Kevin/ GanFlickr]

Legal Considerations
Although state law can vary widely, in most states clergy of all types are considered mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters are selected classes of people legally required to report suspected cases of abuse to government authorities.

Clergy are a special class of mandatory reporters. While most states do require them to report cases of suspected child abuse or suicidal behavior, the laws vary on if they are required to report suspected abuse of adults or self harm and possible suicide attempts by adults. Clergy are shielded in most states from lawsuits stemming from breaking confidentiality if they choose to report abuse or self harm, so guidelines will sometimes tell clergy “when in doubt, error on the side of reporting.” Knowing your state’s laws is vital.

Clergy are also always considered to be clergy. They are never considered regular citizens or just a friend or not on the clock. Persons don’t need to be in a recognized counselling session for their conversation to be protected by confidentiality laws and for the clergy member to under mandatory reporting laws.

Ethics of Profession
In Confidentiality and Mandatory Reporting: a Clergy Dilemma?, Rev. Marie M. Fortune explains that the profession is torn between the ethics of protecting people and the expectation of confidentiality in a spiritual setting.

But there is another set of ethical principles which enter into this discussion from a faith perspective. They have to do with one’s professional responsibility to victims of abuse. Within both Jewish and Christian traditions, there is the responsibility of the community to protect those in its midst who are vulnerable to harm.

Although this is usually talked about in the context of abuse, self harm can also be considered abuse within clergy circles and those experiencing suicidal thoughts may be categorized as vulnerable.

In the situation Rev. Davis encountered, Osiris said that he would have felt obligated to act, “I certainly would want to find out if they are being helped and by whom.” He stopped short of saying that he would have reported the situation to police.

Davis added that she feels saddened by having to execute what she felt was her duty. She said that while she is trained clergy she’s not a licensed counselor and felt proper authorities needed to assess the situation, “I think, no I know, that that is what I am supposed to be about. That, and being in the service of the Ones I committed to serve.”

Moral responsibility
Aside from the legal or ethical requirements of clergy, how are people to react when they see what appears to be a suicidal post on social media?

Experts suggest that you think the person is in imminent danger, dial 911. Have as much information about the person’s location as possible.

If the threat seems more vague, respond immediately with a brief, clear statement that offers help, such as the number to a suicide hotline. Then report the post to the social media platform. On Facebook, such a report alerts the Facebook’s safety team, which immediately sends an email to the user and starts a confidential online chat with a crisis worker. Your name won’t be shared with the user.

Experts also say to take every post that sounds suicidal seriously. Davis agrees, “I would rather have the hatred and derision of a living former friend than the good esteem of a dead one.”

Cherry Hill SeminaryCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) has announced the launch of a new Community Ministry Certificate. In partnership with the Sacred Well Congregation, the new 15-month program is designed to lead to ministerial credentials. The program covers such topics as ethics, leading ritual, diversity understanding, family dynamics, addiction and more.

As we previously reported, CHS has recently found itself at a crossroads. Director Holli Emore has said, “Unpredictable cash flow has compromised our ability to be sustainable. The nature of the extended Pagan community, the economy, and even the very face of higher education have all changed dramatically in the past decade.”

Despite that struggle, the organization is continuing operation, keeping its commitment to students. The new ministerial program is part of that work. In a press release, CHS notes that they never offered this type of training before because, as they explain, times were different: “Most people belonged to covens, and some of those leaders advised CHS founders of a concern that students would leave their home group if they got training elsewhere. Now a large percentage of Pagans surveyed say that they are either solitary by choice or unaffiliated with a group for other reasons. Finally, most tradition training does not cover the topics taught at a seminary.”

Registration for the new program begins in November. In meantime, CHS has just launched a new survey to help gather input “in planning [their] programs so that they can best meet [the community’s] needs.”

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heathercooperPARKERSBURG, W.Va — It was announced that the city council of Parkersburg had a change of heart and has lifted the ban on fortune telling. The reversal to the July decision came Tuesday, surprising many locals. Heather Cooper, who had initially challenged the law, was there to witness the vote, and told a local journalist, “I figured it would be passed, but when they finally said it was passed we weren’t really sure that it was passed. We figured there would be a lot more to it. So we were like what?”

As we previously reported in June, Cooper had discovered that fortune telling was banned in the city. As a result, she was unable to fully operate Hawthorn, her new metaphysical store that focused primarily on tarot reading. When she challenged the old code, the city council upheld the ban. At the time, Cooper pledged to fight, launching a GoFundMe campaign that ended up raising $500 to cover legal retaining fees.

Then, this past Tuesday, the ban was dropped. We caught up with Cooper, and she briefly explained what happened to change the city’s mind. “The ACLU wrote them a letter, telling them it was unconstitutional. Parkersburg lost a lawsuit the last time the ACLU was involved over panhandlers. [The city] lost $80,000. The city attorney told them they had to pass it.”

Cooper added that it helped that she had already hired a lawyer, saying, “[My lawyer] was also talking to other city council members. City councilman Brown decided to change his vote from no to yes, which got the ordinance back on the agenda. From there the ACLU did the rest of the convincing. Sounds like they can be quite persuasive.”

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TWHThe Wild Hunt has begun its  annual Fall Fund Drive. Since 2004, The Wild Hunt has been serving its global readership with modern Pagan news and commentary. What began as an informative, community-minded blog has slowly and steadily grown into one of the most widely-read nonprofit online news magazines for modern Pagans, Witches, Polytheists, and Heathens in the world. Today, our reliable, independent news agency is made up of a 16-member team of reporters, columnists, and editorial staff, all of whom make sure that you receive relevant, well-crafted, original content every day of the week.

During our annual Fall Fund Drive, we ask that you help us continue to do that; to continue to be here for you every single day. We are grateful for the support you have already shown that has allowed us to come as far as we have. With your continued support, we’ll do our best to repay your generosity by expanding and growing our delivery.

For more on our fall campaign, the exciting perks, our future goals, and other fun TWH facts, go to our newly launched IndieGoGo campaign. And, while you are there, consider donating today and sharing the link. Support independent, nonprofit, Pagan journalism!

In Other News:

  • Norse Mythology blogger Karl E. H. Seigfried recently sat down with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. In that interview, Seigfried and Stein discuss a number of very current issues, one of which is her awareness of non-Abrahamic religions. In response to one question, she said, in part, that one of our contemporary challenges is”to find our common humanity and overcome the sense of fear, otherness, and divisions by embracing each other as members of the same human family. We may tell different stories, but that’s okay. Different stories are enriching the traditions of us all.” The entire interview is published on The Norse Mythology Blog.
  • The California-based Academy of Arcana, launched last year by Oberon Zell and several colleagues, is continuing its quest for more funding. In recent letter, board member Emrys Dragonseye said, “I pen this letter to you with a heavy mind, for there comes a time in all our lives when we reflect back upon the path that has led us to where we are today […] Sadly, we have seen too many of our revered elders pass through the veil in recent years as age and its accompanying trials continue to erode their mortality.” Dragonseye goes on to say that the Academy of Arcana’s new board is working “toward the goal of seeking out a means by which to preserve the Zell’s museum and library collections of Pagan archives and artifacts.” The board is calling to the Pagan community for assistance. In a second letter directly to The Wild Hunt, Dragonseye confirmed that this call to action has nothing to do with Zell’s own health. He said that Zell “is doing fine,” and only “a bit disheartened at watching so many of loved ones, friends, and close associates pass away.”
  • The New Mexico-based Ardantane Learning Center will be hosting a “Hate Crimes” two-part lecture series featuring Kerr Cuhulain. The event page explains, “People use misinformation to paint ugly and slanderous pictures of others to further their pursuit of power, influence, and prosperity. Kerr shares the lessons he learned dealing with hate crimes during the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s and his experiences with educating law enforcement and other public agencies about Pagan religions. This course is based on Kerr’s 25 years as a hate crimes investigator.” The two classes will be available online Oct. 16 and 23.

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  • Rev. Patrick McCollum and his work were recently featured in The Interfaith Observer. Written by Ruth Boyde Sharone, the article is titled, “An Instrument of Thy Peace” and focuses on his violin in advance of the upcoming UN International Day of Peace, Sept. 21. McCollum told The Wild Hunt, “I am so honored to have my work selected to represent this momentous occasion, and I hope to continue to shift the consciousness of the world to a new meta-narrative that promotes the truth that we are all family and that there isn’t an us versus them, there is only us.”
  • The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, located in Boscastle, England, will reportedly appear in a future episode of “Antiques Roadshow.” Museum managers Judith and Peter Hewitt took one of the artifacts to the show’s nearby filming event in hopes of it being used for the “Enigma Game.” The item was chosen and filmed for reportedly five minutes with the Hewitts in the background. The museum has posted several photos and more about that experience on its site.
  • In response to the continued actions and support for the Great Sioux Nation and the Standing Rock protests, blogger Melissa Hill felt compelled to publish her thoughts about the place of magic and meditation in this work. In Singing the Cricket Song for Standing Rock Tribe, Hill wrote, “[Magic] in no way replaces the physical work of the protesters. It doesn’t replace sending money and supplies, or contacting your governmental representatives, or signing petitions. But it does have a place.”

If you have news tips, events, or story suggestions, contact us.

Review: Blair Witch (2016)

Heather Greene —  September 18, 2016 — 3 Comments

TWH – In 1994, three student filmmakers walked off into the dense woods near Burkettsville, Maryland in hopes of a discovering the truth behind a local legend. They were never heard from again. One year later, their equipment was found, and the footage became the film The Blair Witch Project (1999). This weekend, the story continues in a new film, with the brother of one of the lost filmmakers traveling to the mysterious Black Hills of Maryland in hopes of learning exactly what happened 22 years ago.

Or so the story goes.

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While the Blair Witch project did begin in earnest 1994, the entire film venture is manufactured, including the plot, the legend, the town, the footage, and even the made-for-television, promotional mockumentary, titled Curse of the Blair Witch (1999). Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project was an indie success, a technical novelty, and a marker of its time. According to a Fortune magazine article, the film cost $60,000 to make, and earned $1.5 million at the box office on the first weekend, while only in 27 theaters. [i]

Outside of the early buzz created by the SyFy Channel’s pre-release of the mockumentry, The Blair Witch Project captured the imagination of a viewership already engrossed with supernatural or paranormal entertainment vehicles (e.g., X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, So Weird, Ancient Mysteries). In addition, new technology was quickly eliminating barriers to indie filmmaking, making the film’s concept very possible.

This new digital medium, far more than its analog counterpart, also increasingly allowed for the construction and the reconstruction of recorded reality, leaving much room for the manipulation of our nonfictional storytelling. What is real and what has been falsified? Can we trust what we see in photos and film? In that way, The Blair Witch Project at its very essence captured not only its own time, but also what was to come. It seemed to be a doorway into the new millennium of how we tell our stories.

The breakout success of the original Blair Witch Project led to a 2000 sequel, titled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which was directed by Joe Berlinger. However, the sequel, costing $10 million, was unsuccessful, failing to capture the original’s grit or poignancy. Hard-core fans and reviewers often remark that they would simply like to forget that the second film even happened. In 2000, New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden had some kinder words for the film, but added, “For all its clever notions, ‘Book of Shadows’ often seems more like a montage of pasted-together images than a coherent horror story.” [ii]

With the end of the witch film cycle at hand and the poor showing of the second film, this seemed to be the end for The Blair Witch Project. However, in 2016, as witch films have made a return to the screen, so has the Blair Witch.

Before going forward, this review will discuss some, not all, details of the new film. If you haven’t seen it, you can stop here. However, with that said, neither The Blair Witch Project nor Blair Witch are heavily dependent on plot elements for enjoyment. In other words, even if you know what is going to happen, your viewing experience won’t necessarily be spoiled. Both films operate as journeys, and the tension is created in the process and not the story itself. It is analogous to riding a roller coaster. No matter how many times, or in what detail, a friend tells you about roller coaster, the experience of riding can never be spoiled. That is how both The Blair Witch Project and Blair Witch work.

In this new film, Jason, the brother of lost filmmaker Heather, seeks to find the truth of what happened in 1994. He is accompanied by a friend and indie filmmaker Lisa, his best friend Peter and Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley. When arriving in Burkettsville, Maryland, the group meets up with locals Lane and Talia, who accompany them into the woods. From there the search begins.

Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, Blair Witch (2016) is structured identically to the original. It is more of the same, from character introductions, through equipment gathering and travel, to the trek into the woods. Once in the Black Hills, like its predecessor, the film progresses through a slow buildup of a tension, making use of the film’s medium and documentary approach (e.g., extreme close-ups, quick cuts, movement, and point of view).

In many ways, it’s a repeat with new characters and contemporary technology. And like the original, we are trapped in the cameras, which for this film have been increased in number. This visual claustrophobia mirrors the characters’ mounting fears. You might find yourself frustrated and tense, asking, “What is going on?” While it serves the purpose well for most of the film, there are points where it becomes a detriment.

But as much as Blair Witch mirrors its parent, the two are not the same. The new film spends less time focused on the investigation, or legend-tripping, and more time enjoying the horror. The original film worked through a slow buildup to its end. The new film jumps quickly into its terror points, moving ever faster from one to other and slowing down only to enjoy itself once there. For example, the narrative stops fully to indulge in the removal of a wound’s bandage, emphasizing the experience of disgust with the heightened sound of what seems to be wound and ooze.

Additionally, Blair Witch makes a few interesting attempts at layered characterizations, moreso than the original. For example, when the four friends enter Lane and Talia’s living room, they find a confederate flag hangs on the wall. From presumably Jason’s camera view, we watch Peter, who is black, look at the flag and then turn back to the camera. His disgusted expression is poignant and unmistakable. Minutes later the four are outside and Jason asks whether they should take Lane and Talia on the trek. Without a pause, Peter says emphatically, “No,” and his facial expression once again says it all. Unfortunately, the film abandons these clever indulgences in characterization as soon as it takes up its horror role.

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Lionsgate “Blair Witch” (2016)

But what about the Blair Witch herself? This is another point where the film deviates from its parent. As noted earlier, the original narrative was presented as a legend-tripping experience, with the object of fear being only an archetype that lives within our collective culture consciousness. She is the Baba Yaga figure, the monster in the woods. But is she real? The first film leaves that answer to the imagination.

Blair Witch moves in a different direction, offering viewers an answer to that very question. There is in fact an object. There is a monster. Although it is not visually made clear, this thing in the woods is called the Blair Witch and gendered as female. “Don’t look at her directly and she won’t hurt you,” says Lisa. With that definition, the monster becomes, in earnest, the old woman in the woods, a symbol of primal fear and that which is unattainable and wild. The new film leaves no question as to the existence of the monster.

This age-old archetype of Baba Yaga or the wild woman in the woods pervades American witch films across the decades. Woman’s power is equated to that which is naturally wild and uncontrollably dangerous. In Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948), the influence of the weird sisters and that Lady Macbeth are visually juxtaposed to leafless trees, storms, rocks and night sky. In the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick (1987), the devil, portrayed by Jack Nicholson, angrily asks a congregation if God made a mistake when creating woman. Then he says, “When we make a mistake, it’s called evil. When God makes a mistake it’s called nature.” But even more recently, Roger Eggers’ The Witch uses the very Baba Yaga archetype found in Blair Witch as a counter to the severity of social control present in early Puritan America. In these examples, woman is nature, and nature is magic, and it is all uncontrollable.

While the story is pervasive in western society, it doesn’t always sit well with modern Witchcraft practitioners due chiefly to the religious implications placed on it by Christian theology. In fact, Berlinger’s Book of Shadows included Erica, a Wiccan character who was unhappy with the first film’s portrayal of the witch.

In reality, modern Witches have had a mixed response to the Blair Witch films, as often is the case. In 1999, blogger Peg Aloi spoke with directors Myrick and Sánchez about the archetype. Myrick said, “We never meant to say anything bad about Witches in general.” The use of the witch was just a reason to “get the kids out there.” It was a plot device or what Myrick called “a triggering mechanism.” The original film was essentially mimicking the popular teenage legend-tripping experience, which can be horrifying in and of itself. As Sanchez remarks, “It has nothing to do with witches.”[iii]

The original directors were, in fact, very conscious of modern Paganism. They included a bit on Wicca in their promotional mockumentary. Among the other “footage,” they inter-spliced segments from a fake 1971 film called “Mystic Experiences.” Aside from its use of the term Wiccanism as a name for the religion, this segment, which allegedly featured a real Witch, is as authentic feeling as any other piece of the mockumentary.

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Still From: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

However, as noted earlier, the new Blair Witch takes the archetype into a different place, well beyond the surreal experience of legends, ghost stories, and the imagination. Here, although mostly visually obscured, “the witch” is a real object of some kind. This monster is not derived simply in the mind, from centuries of legends and a collective fear of the woods. It is there. It is real, and it is described to us, through the characters and their collective cultural understanding, as being female.

While the film’s many embedded traditional horror elements, like this manifested monster, may bother some fans, the new film could not have functioned in the same way as the original. Part of its success was in the confusion as to what aspects of the story were real, and what were constructed. The suggestion of reality added to the original’s terror.

Now we know the story.

For a successful 2016 reboot, Blair Witch needed to find a new terror device to take the place of that tension. It chose classic visual and audible horror tropes, like jump-moments, gore, bodies, intense sounds, thunderstorms, tight shots, obscured imagery, and a very classic manifested horror monster.

The new story is about the witch, and it will continue to be so if there is another journey. The franchise has no choice…for better or worse.

While the many classic horror details are not, in and of themselves, disappointing or distracting, they do give Blair Witch a different feel and speed than the original film. Hard core fans, as noted earlier, might be disappointed with that shift. For others, it may be a plus.

No, Blair Witch does not (and could not) have the technological ingenuity of the original, and it will not hold the same cultural significance. However, despite any flaws and differences, it is a well-structured horror film that moves through its thin story and delivers on entertainment. Many viewers will enjoy going back to the Black Hills again in search for the truth, which in the end is apparently out there.

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[i] Carvell, Tim. “How The Blair Witch Project Built Up So Much Buzz Movie Moguldom on a Shoestring.” Fortune Magazine. (Aug. 16, 1999)
[ii] Holden, Stephen. “Burkittsville Revisited, With More Mind Games.” Rev. of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Dir. Joe Berlinger. New York Times (Oct 27, 2000)
[iii] Aloi, Peg. “Blair Witch Project: an interview with directors.” Witchvox, (July 11, 1999)