Column: True North

Eric O. Scott —  September 30, 2016 — 2 Comments

[Eric O. Scott is one of our talented monthly columnists. Each month 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.]

befunky-design2I have been thinking about pilgrimage lately, and what that word might mean to Pagan ears. Like so much else in our religions, it’s a concept that we have had to define for ourselves. Paganism, after all, does not have a long tradition of religious travel on the order of Catholicism or Islam; we have no Mecca or Santiago de Compostela. But we have created our own holy places: campgrounds and groves and bookshops, festivals and moots, and we have imbued the ancient places, the relics of the old pagan religions, with a new sense of significance.

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Overlooking Thingvallavatn, the lake on the shores of Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. [Photo by Eric Scott.]

It’s the latter, especially, that interests me; the way we interact with ancient sites, laying claim to their histories. In their 2009 article in The Pomegranate, Beyond Sacred: Recent Pagan Engagements with Archaeological Monuments,” scholars Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis see the Pagan romance with these sites as ways to relieve our anxieties about the present, and to a degree that seems accurate: much of Paganism, to my mind, addresses the alienation many of us feels in the modern world. (This is what all that “reenchantment” business is about, after all.)

Less comforting is Blain and Wallis’s reading that Pagans, at least the British Pagans whom they studied at a variety of sites throughout the United Kingdom, have found ways to make themselves “neo-indigenous,” using language similar to those of Australian Aborigines or American First Nations peoples to lay claim to the landscape: “In Britain,” they write, “Pagans have adopted ‘sacred sites’ and ‘ancestors’ rather than ‘archaeological site’ or ‘monument’ or ‘remains,’ suggesting both a spiritual element to visiting and (particularly through ‘ancestors’) an implication of direct engagement with landscape rather than a more voyeuristic relationship with a closed past.” While this has led to some positive results –- Blain and Wallis mention that several ancient sites have been saved from the bulldozer thanks in part to Pagan efforts –- there is something obviously troubling about the mostly white Pagan population laying claim to indigeneity.

While Blain and Wallis are describing British subjects interacting with British sites, the situation makes me think of my own fascination with places abroad –- mostly Iceland, for me –- and my own sense of connection to a place with which I have no material connection. I have had a desire for “the north” for most of my life, a desire deeply intertwined with my practice of Asatru. Iceland, after all, is Saga-Land, home to the literature that informs so much of modern Heathenry. When I visited a few years ago, I took incredible pleasure in visiting the sites from my favorite old Norse stories: the farm at Borg where Egill Skallagrimsson spent his days, the hill where Gunnar slipped from his horse. But I was also aware that my love for Iceland was almost entirely concentrated on its past; until I actually met my Icelandic friends in person, they seemed less substantial than the ghosts of saga-time.

I suppose I come by it honestly: outsiders visiting Iceland have inherited a long tradition of writing, the fountainhead of which is William Morris’s account from the 1870s. Although he predates what we could call modern Paganism by decades, Morris was drawn to Iceland out of love for the sagas, and came to the island with a preoccupation for reading the modern landscape in terms of the Saga Age. The nation was his “true north,” the land by which he guided the compass of his soul, and much of his literary work references Iceland and its history. But he found the reality of the island and its inhabitants lacking in the passion and intensity of the past. His journals constantly reference the discrepancy between his romantic vision of the place and the benighted reality of it:

Just think, though, what a mournful place this is – Iceland I mean – setting aside the pleasure of one’s animal life there: the fresh air, the riding and rough life, and feeling of adventure – how every place and name marks the death of its short-lived eagerness and glory… Lord! what littleness and helplessness has taken the place of the old passion and violence that had place here once.

Morris’s account had a deep influence on two travelers who visited Iceland in the 1930s, W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, who published Letters from Iceland in 1937. It’s an odd book, full of unexpected styles and forms: a poem to Lord Byron (!) in five parts, a practical list of gear, a fictional letter between young girls, and a motley survey of other authors’ opinions on Iceland, “Sheaves from Sagaland.” But a sense of Morris’ romance pervades the text, as does Auden’s discomfort with the Nazi idealization of Iceland as the land of a “pure Germanic spirit.” “If they want a community like that of the sagas they are welcome to it,” he writes. “I love the sagas, but what a rotten society they describe, a society with only the gangster virtues.” Auden says this, but it’s clear that he bemoans the loss of that society himself, and has the same dissatisfaction with the living Icelanders that Morris had.

And I find myself wondering if this is all part of what pilgrimage is: the setting of expectations on a place, setting limits. When we travel to places in search of meaning, by definition we end up circumscribing those places. For Morris and Auden — and me too, though I’d like to think that in my visit to Iceland I managed to broaden my perspectives — their pilgrimage was enclosed by the limits of the past. Similarly, for Blain and Wallis’s “neo-indigenous” Pagans, these religious sites draw their meaning, their value, from a past that can claimed. Inventing pilgrimage also means inventing — and therefore limiting — the meaning of the places we visit.

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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.

[Dodie Graham McKay is one of our talented news writers and our Canadian correspondent. If you like her work and our daily news service, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, both news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it all happen, and every dollar counts. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

UNITED KINGDOM – The Pagan Federation has expanded its resources, initiating a new service for Pagans living in England and Wales. The Pagan Federation Disabilities Team is the vision of Anna Lawson, who recognized that disabled people in the Pagan community needed to be given a voice and a vehicle to ensure greater access to events and practice. In November 2015, she reached out to Mike Stygal, who was president of the Pagan Federation at the time, for assistance. From this meeting, the Pagan Federation Disabilities Team was born.

As the team’s inaugural manager. Lawson’s first move was to create a Facebook group to recruit new membership for the team and also to see what types of services the public would want from them. After one month, Deputy Manager Debi Gregory was aboard to help.

But the line up changed quickly as Lawson was forced to leave her new position due to ill health. By February of this year, Gregory had moved into the manager position, and the team quickly enlarged to include Team Secretary Jean James and two new Deputy Managers, Beth Murray and Petra Lucas. In less than a year, the Pagan Federation, which divides England and Wales into 12 districts, had local representation for eight of those districts on the team, proving that this is was resource for which the Pagan community was ready.

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Team manager Gregory is a mother and writer, living in Yorkshire, UK. She is very open about her own disabilities and the challenges she has faced in her own life, and encourages other team members to do the same. It is her belief that by being as candid and transparent as possible, the team will be approachable to community members who need its help.

“I tell my team all the time – without trust, we have nothing” said Gregory in a phone interview with The Wild Hunt. “All of the team are disabled in some way…we have all faced discrimination, we have all faced some issue within the pagan community when it comes to our disabilities and practicing our faith, and we shouldn’t have to. We are trying to fix it.”

Gregory and the team have established some clear priorities to focus on. These include: 1. Raising awareness and letting people know that disabled Pagans are trying to access the Pagan community and are finding barriers to joining in on events and groups, 2. Speaking to people who are actively discriminating against disabled Pagans and educating them in a professional manner about how to coexist with people with mental or physical disabilities 3. Working with event organizers to find spaces where physically disabled Pagans can participate and have access to ramps, public toilets and amenities.

This is no small task, as Gregory points out, because venues are scarce, many of the pubs where the popular moots are held are village or town pubs, built before current codes for accessibility were enacted. While atmospheric, these old buildings have narrow doors, cramped washroom facilities, and often have stairs throughout the space, making it difficult, if not impossible, for physically disabled people to enter.

Organizers may not want to abandon a favourite pub, or even have the option of an alternate venue, but Gregory suggests that relocating to an accessible establishment, even a couple times per year, would be a gesture of inclusiveness that would be appreciated by Pagans often left out of such important community building events. The team is also working on educational workshops to help people understand the needs of pagans with invisible disabilities.

Pagan Federation Disabilities Manager, Debi Gregory (courtesy photo)

Pagan Federation Disabilities Manager, Debi Gregory [Courtesy Photo]

The Disability Team has also taken their organizing of events online, offering online seasonal festivals, where participants only need to be able to get to an internet connection to take in the festivities. The first one was held over eight days in May as part of the Beltane celebrations. Gregory had the brainstorm to hold the event, and with the help of Pagan Dawn magazine’s editor, Kate Large, presenters were lined up to provide the streaming content.

The event was successful with 1,000 active participants and the videos reaching 20,000 people to date. The subsequent online festivals for Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox have been shorter in duration, but have received similar attention. The video content is stored on the event Facebook pages as well as the Pagan Federation Disabilities Team YouTube channel.

The next online festival will be in honour of Inter Faith Week in November. Following that will be the Online Yule Festival; the theme for this one will be Self Care. Presenters are being encouraged to speak from a comfortable place and to wear their pajamas, or whatever they tend to sleep in. This is meant to show solidarity with those who, because of a disability, are unable to leave their beds. The team provides updates on these events on its Disabilities Group Facebook page.

In addition to the new team’s creation, its onine events, and its work to raise awareness, the Pagan Federation has also launched the Disabled Pagan Voices Project as another platform for for participation. It was conceived by Kate Large, and quickly supported by the Disability Team. Submissions of art, blogs, short stories, poetry, music or anything that expresses the creativity of disabled Pagans or their caregivers is accepted and shared through the online festivals and the Disability Team blog. There are also plans in the works to include this material in the new, soon to be launched Pagan Federation UK website.

Pagan Federation dedicates ritual to those Pagans with disabilities who could not attend its 45th Anniversary event [Video Still]

Pagan Federation dedicates ritual to those Pagans with disabilities who could not attend its 45th Anniversary event (2016) [Video Still]

As far as Gregory knows, her team is unique in the world. There has been interest for similar teams to be established in other Pagan Federation territories, but for now, only England and Wales are covered. Disabled people from other countries have even been in touch with requests. Most recently a woman from Canada reached out for aid after encountering a problem when she took her service dog to a local moot. While the team may not be able to advocate on behalf of anyone outside of their territory, they are able to provide advice and share their resources.

In less than one year, the Pagan Federation Disability Team has broken new ground and instigated a new online gathering place for Pagans of all abilities to participate on their own terms.

As Gregory says: “We are trying to bring people together to let them know that they do have a voice, they are appreciated, and that the community does want to include them and they don’t have to feel alone anymore”

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[Terence P. Ward is one of our editors and talented weekly news writers. If you like his work and our daily news service, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, both news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it all happen, and every dollar counts. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

SILVER SPRINGS, Md. — Some experienced professional tarot readers will sniff at the idea of using a tarot app for divination, an idea that was explored by Wild Hunt columnist last month. Caroline Kenner, one of the people behind the Fool’s Dog suite of tarot apps, understands where they are coming from. Together with her husband Jason Linhart, an experienced programmer, she has worked to provide what she describes as simply an electronic tool to complement physical cards and professional readers.

Buckland's Romani Tarot iPad app title screen.

Buckland’s Romani Tarot iPad app title screen. [Courtesy Photo]

Kenner is no newcomer to the Pagan communities, nor to the arts of divination. She began her studies with Andras Corban-Arthen in 1984, and has been an organizer in the Washington, D.C. area for nearly 30 years. Among her other teachers stand Janet and Stewart Farrar, Sandra Ingerman, and Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Kenner estimates that she owns 400 tarot decks, which she has been reading for decades. As a public relations professional, she has also worked to ensure Pagans are represented accurately in mainstream media coverage.

Many tarot apps available on the market have “programming shortcuts to shorten the time to market,” Kenner explained. However, the Kenners’ goal of supporting the art and the reading community represents a different approach. She brought her three decades’ experience as an intuitive reader to bear on the problem, and combined it with her husband’s programming prowess, as well as a magical spell designed to meld the two.

Linhart has, according to Kenner, been programming since the age of 11 and writing code for Apple products since before the Macintosh was first rolled out in 1984. “He could tell you the number and description of any card, but he couldn’t interpret them,” she explained. “He liked them because of the patterns,” an interest which has also led him to develop a successful line of sudoku apps.

When the couple decided to build better tarot apps, each of their skills were needed, but they also went out into the community for guidance. “We went to our reader friends,” she recalled, saying that after so many years in the community, “we had a million of those, and a thousand who read professionally.”

The couple hosted open houses for readers of all skill levels, inviting them to test, poke, and prod. Artist Helena Domenic was the first to sign on and agree to allow her work to go digital. The first Fool’s Dog decks came out in 2011. Two years later, Raymond Buckland’s Romani Tarot joined the suite. To date, 60 decks have been added.

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[Screenshot from Fool’s Dog website showing some of the available decks]

The curious may download the sampler for iOS or Android, and each full deck costs anywhere from 99 cents to $4.99 to purchase. That price range is intended to serve the community, Kenner said. Creators such as Domenic and Buckland receive royalties from each purchase, but the price is not so high as to discourage someone from trying out a new deck.

“Physical decks can run upwards of $30,” she said. “That’s a commitment. When I was reading, I would sometimes buy a deck I saw, but it really didn’t click with me. This is a lower financial commitment, and people can pick the decks that really sing to them to buy physically.” A links within the app is available to do just that. These links lead directly to creators’ own websites or to Amazon, making that next step an easy one to accomplish.

Fool’s Dog has also created some decks that had very small print runs, generally when funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and were never picked up by a major publisher.

Along with flexibility of price, there are other benefits in digital deck production. Deck creators aren’t stunted by truncated descriptions, nor are readers. The full text of a deck’s instructions are available unless the creator specifically doesn’t want that to be the case. In addition, there’s space for app owners to add their own meanings instead having to rely solely on the boilerplate.

Layouts are similar: a variety of common ones are built right in, as well as any that are unique to a particular deck. For example, the Zombie Tarot brings with it the “gravestone” layout that’s detailed in the physical instructions. As with card meanings, there is a free form option for layouts, which gives more flexibility than one might anticipate from a computer.

One thing computers do very well is remember information; every reading done through these apps are automatically added to a journal, and may be emailed. Readers can manually input a physical spread to send it to a client, as well.

The Kenners have taken pains to meld tarot and technology in ways never attempted before. Linhart started with a randomizer he developed more than a decade ago, and then added further randomization based on the timing of user actions such as tapping and swiping.

“When the user actions are timed to the nanosecond, the low order bits are truly random,” Kenner said. “This seamless interface between user and tarot program is very successful at opening the door to synchronicity.” Indeed, the apps allows for two different kinds of electronic shuffling, as well as deck cuts, to increase the random factors introduced.

Wildwood Tarot app [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Wildwood Tarot app [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

In 2013 The Wild Hunt reported the fact that there’s a spell built into the code to help pixels and intuition work better together. Ivo Dominguez, Jr. wrote that spell as a wedding present for Kenner and Linhart. His field of expertise can be as difficult as programming code for the uninitiated to understand, but he explained it in brief:

I performed a ritual to charge and empower a sigil created from the word “divination” plotted onto the magick square of the moon that is linked to the tarot app. There is a physical world version of the sigil on paper that is being kept in a safe place on an altar so long as the app is in use.

The resulting numbers are written directly into the app code, such that users never see it.

“Top-rated programming, top-rated spell work, and a way to help Pagan elders,” summarized Kenner. That last part is close to her heart, because she’s seen that those elders tend to be “magical people who often struggle with business and money.” The paying of royalties is one way to allow for more community support of their lifelong contributions.

“I’m worried about how many of us have led unusual lives that don’t necessarily add up to retirement funds,” Kenner explained.

Who is using Fool’s Dog apps? According to Kenner, quite a few people, including those young enough that they have grown up in the light of a screen, but also more experienced and professional readers. “People often use it while in transit,” she explained, such as while commuting to work while desiring to perform a daily or self-reading. It’s ideal for that kind of compact situation, she said, while the physical deck remains at home or in one’s purse.

It’s not, however, intended to replace a reader’s intuition with boilerplate, any more than someone with no experience can be expected to read a physical deck simply by referring to the booklet. “It’s a tool of empowerment,” Kenner said, “but it can never replace that rapport. It’s just a different interface.”

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[Nathan Hall is the newest addition to the Wild Hunt weekly news team. If you like his work and our daily news service, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, both news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it all happen. Every dollar counts. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

NEW YORK – As in past years, youth delegates accompanied peace activist Rev. Patrick McCollum to the United Nations International World Peace Day Sept. 21. During the ramp up to the event the preceding weekend, McCollum introduced the Pagan Youth Delegates, both of whom had been invited on behalf of McCollum’s Foundation for World Peace. This year’s delegates included Olivia Phillips, age 15 from Pennsylvania, and Sasha Reed, age 23 from Washington.

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United Nations, NYC [Public Domain / Pixabay]

Although not a Pagan herself, Phillips is involved with the Chester County Women and Girls Fund, also known as the Girls Advisory Board. The organizaiton has raised and is dispersing $25,000 of grant money within her community. Her mother has been an active member of the McCollum Foundation for many years.

“Patrick heard that I was doing that so he thought that I could be the youth delegate for this year at the U.N.” Phillips said.

Phillips joined the delegation to introduce violinist Sasha Reed before she played McCollum’s peace violin. The violin is, “constructed of diverse woods and materials collected from the sites of world conflicts and resolutions, and impregnated with materials and fragments collected from sacred sites and events connected to the peace process from around the world, the World Peace Violin was fully born on the Winter Solstice of 2012,” according to his website.

Reed has had a number of previous interactions with McCollum. He  visited her school at Mills College while she was forming a Pagan-oriented club on campus. On one of those occasions, he brought the violin.

“I started playing violin when I was eight and switched to viola when I was 11, so he let me play it and it was a really overwhelming experience. I’ve cried every time I’ve played the Peace Violin, so let’s hope I can hold it together on stage. It’s a really powerful instrument. I’m not professional musician by any means but I have a lot of passion for music. I like to call myself an advanced hobbyist,” Reed said.

Reed has graduated from the university and now works as a medical scribe in an emergency room.

“Patrick reached out to me,” about the UN opportunity, she said, “I’ve visited his house before and I’ve played viola at his birthday party. I’m not sure what he was thinking when he asked me to do this but I know I’ve had very strong emotional reactions with the Peace Violin and I love all of his goals, working towards peace and everything that he does with the foundation. I said I can’t miss an opportunity like this.”

One of the main themes of the conference is passing the torch along to a new generation of peace activists, empowering youth to stand up and have a voice in their communities and in the world.

“People give presentations on what they’re doing, what their goals are, and these people who are hopefully going to be the next generation of peace activists and leaders in peace are coming together and sharing their ideas and making these connections at a young age so that as they grow older they can really start making moves and start putting their change into the world,” Reed said.

Reed sees the future of peace thriving through education. She said that she sees education as a way to undermine hatred and prejudices. As a person employed in a medical field, she also sees the role that health and wellness play in the ability of a person to change.

“It’s hard to learn and it’s hard to be willing to focus and change your ideas when you feel crappy. I think that’s where peace is happening now. It happens in the classroom, it happens in hospital rooms, and it happens with patient, loving people who are willing to take time out of their day to truly help others,” she said.

Reed knows from experience the effects of compromised health, both physical and emotional, can have on a body.

“I used to be anorexic, I used to have really bad anxiety and depression and I think part of that came from not helping people but also seeing all of this tragedy and sadness around me in the world and not knowing how to deal with it,” she said.

Now she practices yoga regularly, jogs, hikes and finds solace in practicing meditation and Wicca. “Taking care of my spiritual self and finding ways to make my physical self feel good are absolutely necessary for me,” she said.

She added that she embraces, “revolutionary health care, radical self care and self love,” which includes being open-minded enough to realize when she needs medication, although right now she doesn’t.

Reed sees a need for people to increase their education about mental health, saying, “there’s this stigma that when you’re on mental health medication that you’re broken and you’re barely hanging on and you’re addicted, (but) it really brings you to a place where you can actually start working on your problems.”

Olivia Philips and Sasha Reed [Courtesy Photos]

Olivia Philips and Sasha Reed [Courtesy Photos]

When it comes to being open about her religion, Reed says she’s not nervous about being a Pagan delegate at the United Nations event. At work, she prefers not to talk about it, however.

“Meeting new people I don’t care if they know that I’m Pagan, it’s just these kind of friendships that I’ve made at work that I don’t know, I think just because of their own prejudices and the things that they’ve learned about Pagans. It all comes back full circle to these old ideas that aren’t necessarily correct but that have been really firmly taught.”

When asked what her suggestions to the next generation of Pagans would be and how she would help them find their footing, she said, “The absolute best things for me were getting books and talking to other people so that you don’t feel like you’re weird.”

She said that although it can be fun to be weird, feeling like an outcast and like you’re the all alone can be very isolating. She suggests doing research online and trying to find groups, especially local organizations where you can meet in person.

She finds that, “being able to actually talk to other people and learn more can deepen your own practice through doing this.”

Reed says that she feels spirituality is an intrinsic part of being human that can even impact our health.

“One of the other things that drew me back to religion were these studies that found that people who are going back to church and people who are Christian lived longer. I don’t think it’s because god is blessing them with long life for being Christian, for me it was more about, these people are still going out of their homes and they’re still going out into their communities. They’re feeling really fulfilled about their lives and they’re speaking with other people and they’re growing themselves emotionally.”

Reed is applying to medical school and hopes to begin by the fall semester 2017. Beyond that she says, “A pipedream I’ve had my whole life is to work with Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health or one of these big organizations that helps in a physical way. Helping people’s physical bodies, so that people can go out and achieve.”

And as to her fears about becoming emotional and tearing up on stage while playing the Peace Violin, did that happen?

“It did not!!! I was able to hold it together, but I also did a lot of ritual and mental preparation so I think was ready for how intense the instrument was this time,” she said.

[Pagan Community Notes is a feature that appears weekly, highlighting important stories from within our collective Pagan and Heathen communities. If you like this feature, 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 all happen. Every dollar helps. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

pagan federation TWH – The Pagan Federation has continued using the internet to help support those members and others who are unable to attend live Pagan festivals, workshops, and rituals.This past weekend, the organization’s disabilities team hosted a day long equinox event that included online rituals, talks, and more. Prior to the event, the packed scheduled was posting online. Attendees only needed access to a computer and wi-fi in order to participate.

The festival began with a live opening ritual with Jay Anderson. The group also published the transcript online so her words could be followed. The festival continued on from that point with video introductions to the group’s lead team members, discussions on various Pagan topics, music and ritual, and even a word from the new Pagan Federation president Robin Taylor. Nimue Brown and her family joined the festival to share a chant as part of the Disability Voices Project. The entire event wrapped up with Anderson performing the closing ritual. All of the day’s festivities are currently posted on the Facebook event page.

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mankeybeskin_atlantisLONDON — Llewellyn author and Patheos Pagan Channel editor Jason Mankey recently made a special appearance at Atlantis Bookshop in London to promote his new book, The Witches Athame. Shop owner Geraldine Beskin introduced the workshop by saying that Mankey’s book is “an important and practical book.”

During his two-hour presentation on the history and lore of the athame, Mankey appeared delighted to be presenting his well-researched material in the basement space known as the “Gerald Gardner Room,” the meeting place for Gardner’s own coven. An open discussion followed the talk, and visitors from Canada, England, and the United States were able to compare notes on Wicca-related topics.

Both Beskin and Mankey generously shared anecdotes about their lives within the Craft. Journalist Dodie Graham McKay was in attendance and said, “In a time where much discussion happens on social media, this event provided a rare opportunity to have such conversations in real time.” Atlantis Bookshop was founded in 1922 by occultist Michael Houghton and, as such, has been serving the Pagan, magical, and occult communities for nearly 100 years.

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Circle Sanctuary logo

RENO, Nev. — Monday Sept. 26 marks the 10th anniversary of the American Freedom Rally, which is largely considered to be the turning point in the Pentacle Quest. Held at Reno’s 9/11 memorial, the 2006 rally eventually led to the inclusion of the pentacle on the Veterans Affairs list of authorized emblems.

Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox was at that 2006 rally, along with Roberta Stewart, the widow of the first Wiccan soldier killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Sgt. Patrick Stewart and Chaplain William Chrystal who, Fox said, “supported the quest for equal rights for Wiccans and other Pagans.”

Rev. Fox will be honoring the work done on the Pentacle Quest as well as marking the 10th anniversary date “with a series of events in coming months.” On Tuesday, she will be speaking more about the quest and the upcoming celebratory events on her podcast.

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tuatha deaGATLINBURG, Tenn. — Reverbnation currently places Pagan band Tuatha Dea at the top of its Celtic music charts worldwide.The band was excited to learn the news but remained modest, saying, “It probably means nothing but it is interesting.” However, their fans and friends demonstrated their excitement over the ranking. Author Alex Bledsoe said, “It means that the word’s getting out about how awesome the band is!”

Some of Tuatha Dea’s music was inspired by Bledsoe’s Tufa series, and the band just finished co-hosting a Tufa Tour weekend in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The weekend promised to help attendees “experience firsthand the magic of the Appalachian fae.” Over the three day weekend, the band performed, participated in a Q&A with Bledsoe, and hosted a drum circle and workshop.

Following Tuatha Dea on the Reverb Celtic charts is the Ogham Stones, the American Rogues, Lexington Field, and Ida Elena.

In Other News

  • Reclaiming will be hosting a special social justice ritual Oct 2. in Los Angeles, Calif. The groups writes, “With the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis as our guide – the great lady of magic – we will summon the element of water to wear down injustice drip by drip by drip.” Reclaiming, originating in San Francisco in 1975, is the same group that initiated the letter of support to the Great Sioux Nation in their work to protect the land from pipeline construction. It is the Los Angeles-based Reclaiming group that is hosting this Oct. ritual.
  • Author and Witch David Salisbury has a new book being released Sept. 30. The title is A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing and, as he explains, it “takes a new approach at the practice of cleansing and clearing.” Salisbury is most known for his book Teen Spirit Wicca and his work in the D.C. area working with a younger generation of Pagans.
  • After more than five years of study and work, Shai Feraro received his doctorate from Tel Aviv University’ School of Historical Studies. Feraro is a friend of the Pagan Federation International and a regular speaker at PAEAN‘s online biannual conference. At past events, he has lectured on topics such as Pagan community-building in Israel. However, Feraro’s focus and academic work were not based on his experiences in Israel. Feraro’s dissertation is titled: The Priestess, the Witch, and the Women’s Movement: Women and Gender Issues in British Magical and Pagan Groups, c. 1888 – c. 1988. He said, “It was an amazing — albeit at times arduous — stage in my journey within academia.” He noted that the dissertation will be available in book form in the near future.
  • On that same note, the Pagan Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be hosting the next conference Nov 7. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 7. This event’s theme is spiritual pilgrimage in its many forms. The keynote speaker is Dr. Thomas Clough Daffern, philosopher, educator, and peace studies specialist.
  • From the blogosphere, Greybeard contemplates the presence of magic in contemporary society as found in mainstream advertising. “Magic has always been part of religion and while some argue that our culture has become more secular over the past few centuries, it could be suggested that the infusion of magic into business and politics balances this, although not usually in a good way.”
  • And, finally, it is Banned Book Week and organizations around the world are celebrating the freedom to read. Take a look at some of the books listed by the Smithsonian in their special exhibit, “Banned Books that Shaped America.” Is one of your favorites on it?

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[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.

517px-jane_franklin

[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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