Pagan and mainstream are not two terms you often hear together, but they were a winning combination for a local art show in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists presented Doorways to the Underworld in a mainstream art gallery called Stevens Square Center for the Arts, Oct. 25 through Nov. 15.

The show was aimed at two audiences: Pagans who would understand the Samhain theme, and non-Pagans who were made more familiar with this spiritual path. Approximately 150 guests attended the show on opening and closing night, with an average of 50 guests attending on the other evenings that the show was open. The exhibition received positive and considerate coverage from mainstream and Pagan press.

Paintings displayed at Doorways to the Underworld art show [c schulz]

Paintings displayed at Doorways to the Underworld art show [c schulz]

Doorways to the Underworld
As Samhain is one of the best known Wiccan holidays and has the most built in visibility and interest for the general public, the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) decided this would be a good time to launch into the public eye. The group also felt the theme, Doorways to the Underworld, was auspicious.

Roger Williamson, one of the founders of the MCPA and also one of the artists, said, “Doorways are forms of machines that allow us to move from one reality into another. My paintings are machines that move a viewer from one realm of reality into another. In the context of the show, the Doorways of the title can be understood as machines that move us from outer to inner space, inner space generally being accepted as the region of the Underworld.”

The MCPA was formed in 2014 and consists of Roger Williamson, Ali Beyer, Helga Hedgewalker, and Paul B. Rucker. The MCPA had exhibited at last year’s Paganicon, a Pagan conference held in Minneapolis, but hadn’t yet exhibited in a more mainstream setting.

Paul Rucker says Roger Williamson, who was a long time member of the Stevens Square Center for the Arts, was instrumental in helping secure the exhibition space for the MCPA. Rucker adds that the group crafted a proposal for their debut show and were pleased it was accepted by Stevens Square Center for the Arts.

A non-Pagan attendee takes in a video art installation piece [c schulz]

A non-Pagan attendee takes in a video art installation piece [c schulz]

Helping non-Pagans understand Samhain
The show used longer than standard descriptive labels on many of the works to help non-Pagans understand the symbolism and metaphorical language with which Pagans work. A person who has no grounding in Pagan ritual, belief systems, or traditions could understand what they were seeing. Rucker, who also exhibited at the show, said, “They can go beneath the surface of the art and grasp more of how these Pagan experiences and values shape the work. Viewing art is a form of cultural transmission that allows the viewer to learn about the artist’s intent and have a completely personal, intimate experience at the same time.”

The show has changed peoples’ perceptions about Paganism. Rucker related how a young man, who attended the closing event by chance, came away with a different view of Paganism, “He had associations with Pagan and Paganism as being about Satanism or evil, but that experiencing our show totally turned his head around.” Rucker said the young man was so enthusiastic about this experience he signed their guest book with his email, so that he could be notified about future shows.

[credit - Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists]

Paul Rucker’s Witchfire on display [Credit: MCPA]

A Pagan view of the show
For Pagans, the show experience was different. Many of the Pagans attending said that the pieces spoke to them on a personal level. Penny M said, “I fell in love with Paul’s Witchfire piece at Paganicon last year and was immediately drawn to it at the show this weekend. The red, black, and gold entwined with jewel tones spoke to me. Life and death, the finality of skeletal remains with the vibrant colors. The first time I saw it I literally stopped breathing.”

Penny added that the theme of the show was appealing to her, not just because Samhain was so close, but because of what was happening in her personal life, “A close family member died recently. Art exploring the Doors to the Underworld called to me.”

Curating the show
In addition to being one of the MCPA founders and having pieces in the show, Ali Beyer was also the curator. Since the 1990s, she has worked at art galleries and museums along side curators at places such as The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Her work experience, combined with a master’s degree in fine arts, led other members of the MCPA to ask her to curate the show.

As a foundation for the show, she started with works from four members of the MCPA, and then looked for guest artists to round it out. “As curator, it was important to me to include a variety of different types of art,” said Beyer, “… I was looking for artists who self-identify as Pagan whose work was quality but who worked in different mediums than we do, and I was especially interested in finding more 3-dimensional work.”

Other guest artists included in the show included Katie Clapham’s photography, Rmay Rivard’s narrative collage-sculptures, and Alana Mari’s dance performance piece for opening night. Beyer says for future shows, she’ll look to include poetry and storytelling as well as more dance and other types of performance art.

Not only were the artists working in different mediums, but Beyer also wanted the artists to be at different points in their career. “When I saw the pottery of Ellie Bryan I was very excited to include her. She recently graduated with a BFA in ceramics from the University of Minnesota and she is also in the band Crow Call which performs regionally at Pagan events,” said Beyer. Not only was Bryan’s ceramics in the show, her band performed at the closing night event.

IMG_20141115_200110_681_1

Ellie Bryan’s ceramics on display [c schulz]

Attendee Traci Amberbride was particularly taken with Bryan’s pottery. She said, “Ellie’s pottery is magnetic. The colors and etchings are inspired and reflective of divinity on the micro and macro level. That Ellie’s such a young artist who already has a profound voice promises many years of her offerings and the chance to watch her work grow and morph into new and inspired pieces.” Amberbride, who lives in Wisconsin, traveled to attend the closing of the show as part of her birthday celebration.

A dream come true
MCPA founder Helga Hedgewalker said her largest piece on display, “Bear Mother,” was already started when the group began discussing themes for the show. She said,”It was a happy coincidence that the painting I was currently working on fit the Underworld theme so perfectly: a priestess wearing a mask, sitting in a cave among the bones of the ancestors.” She went on to say that having a looming deadline of a show motivated her to complete the piece and she feels it’s her best painting to date. She asked Minneapolis Pagan wood-worker craftsman, Christopher Odegard, to build a special frame for her to display the piece at the show.

Bear Mother by artist Helga Hedgewalker [courtesy photo]

Bear Mother by artist Helga Hedgewalker [courtesy photo]

Hedgewalker says this was her first time showing her works in a mainstream gallery space and she didn’t know how attendees, especially non-Pagans, would react. “I just took a leap of faith that we had to try. Now that it is all said and done, I can look back at the tremendous effort, and know that it was worth it. I feel tremendous pride at having pulled off a huge success, far beyond my original hopes and expectations.”

She says the experience was a dream come true and she enjoyed watching the expressions on peoples’ faces as they viewed the art. She says it has renewed her soul and she, “…want[ed] to deeply thank the Pagan community and everyone who took the trouble to come out and be a part of something that means so very much to me, building Pagan culture through the arts.”

Two attendees gaze on a piece by Roger Williamson [c schulz]

Two attendees gaze on a piece by Roger Williamson [c schulz]

Penny related a story about one of the other attendees, a young woman, who was excited to meet the artists, most of whom were in attendance. “I think we, in the local Pagan community, who are so blessed with so many talented artists of all sorts, sometimes forget just how fortunate we are. Not only with the depth of talent and experience in our community, but with our freedom to express our religious ideologies in art, worship, or identity. We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Future shows
The MCPA is currently looking at other mainstream venues to host other shows. They are looking mostly at universities, galleries, and art centers. Rucker says, “It’s very important for us to present our work to the general public as well as to the Pagan “in-crowd”. In fact, it’s critical to the process of legitimation for ourselves as artists who, while grounded within this specific community, are also conveying ideas about what this Pagan experience means to the larger world.”

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Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals issued its final decision in the case of the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc. v. McCoy, (The Town of Catskill, N.Y.). In a unanimous decision, the court ruled in favor of the Maetreum, thereby ending a lengthy legal struggle over property tax exemption. In reaction, Rev. Cathryn Platine told The Wild Hunt, “I’m still in shock as this has consumed my life for eight years now.”

In Tuesday’s short 3-page decision, the Court of Appeals referenced the previous 2012 judgment made by Judge Richard Platkin of the state’s Supreme Court. As noted, that earlier decision rejected the Maetreum’s petition, concluding “that the religious and charitable uses of the subject property were incidental to [the Maetreum]‘s primary, non-exempt use of providing affordable cooperative housing.”  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Town of Catskill.

However, in 2013, the Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court “reversed [the decision] and granted the [Maetreum's] petitions, holding that the testimony at trial by [the Maetreum]‘s witnesses demonstrated that [the Maetreum] ‘uses the property primarily for its religious and charitable purposes’ and was therefore entitled to a property tax exemption…” On Tuesday, the New York Court of Appeals agreed, saying, “The Appellate Division properly granted the petitions.”

NY Court of AppealsAlong with Maetreum attorney Deborah Schneer, Rev. Sister Viktoria Whittaker and her husband Gary Whittaker were in attendance at the Oct. 21 hearing at the Court of Appeals in Albany. Those arguments were summarized in an article published in the Albany Times Union. After that hearing, Rev. Whittaker told the Times-Union, “If we weren’t 100 percent sincere in this, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

In that same article published in October, Catskill lawyer Daniel G. Vincelette explained the town’s position, saying, “It’s no more than if you or I had a crucifix or Star of David in our homes. That doesn’t entitle us to the exemption.” He also noted that the legal battle has cost the town approximately “$30,000 to $35,000″ but added that “The importance to the town isn’t dollars and cents. It’s precedent.”

After the release of Tuesday’s Court of Appeals decision, Rev. Platine told The Wild Hunt, “The town wanted to drive us out that is now impossible as there is no further legal action possible on their part.” With this new decision, the Maetreum has been automatically granted its property tax-exemption. However, like all other similar organizations, it will have to re-apply every year. Rev. Platine isn’t worried and explained that the process will now involve just “a simple form rather than the major 3 section multiple page one [they've] been forced to file every year up to now.”

While the long battle has left the organization tired and broke, Rev. Platine appeared more relieved than anything. “We won the battle,” she said enthusiastically, adding, “This will be the case cited in all future religious legal actions in the state of N.Y. That’s how important it was and it has been cited at least twice since the Appellate win already.”

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Rev. Whittaker echoed Platine’s statement, saying  “It was a very, very important case, not just establishing equal protection under the law for Pagans, but it also emphasized the importance of establishing and maintaining Pagan congregations in the real world.” Whittaker also emphasized the importance that her spiritual beliefs played in this journey. She said:

The Great Mother Cybele brought us to the place, made sure that we were not only able to purchase it and maintain it over the last 12 years, and also to win a lengthy and expensive court case like this.  With her support and guidance, we did what few would have thought possible.  Through Her, indeed, nothing is impossible. I truly feel that this is one of the most important things I have done with my life.

When asked what is next for The Maetreum of Cybele, Rev. Platine said, “Personally, I plan to return to my research writing and theology studies. The Maetreum will commit to get our community radio station on the air by April of next year and resume our charitable work once we get our financial feet under us again.”

The Town of Catskill informed us that it has not yet issued any public response or reaction to Tuesday’s ruling.

For more history on this case, go to our April 2014 report.

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Fundraising Pagan Style

Terence P Ward —  November 18, 2014 — 9 Comments

Despite the strong countercultural thread that runs through many Pagan religions, there has long been a concurrent drive to develop the infrastructure and tools of the overculture, and turn them to our own ends. Arguments over owning land, creating seminaries, forming churches and other not-for-profits have been hashed out for decades, and this will likely be the cause of lively discourse for many years to come.

At the same time, those in the community who do forge ahead with these projects continue to speculate why one idea might flourish and another fail. For example, some posit that Pagans are too poor to support these works or perhaps too cheap. Others claim that Pagans want all the nice things but don’t wish to pay for them. Still others assert that Pagans are scarred by the experiences of their birth religions and, therefore, will not donate to any cause which promises to lift up religious hierarchies.

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

None of these arguments hold much water, because no meaningful research has be done that focuses on financial attitudes and security within Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or any similar communities that fall under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella. However, even without that research, it is evident that anything from feeding the homeless to building a library requires money to succeed.

Online communication makes it easier to connect with donors. As a result, the internet has made older donation platforms more accessible, and allowed new ones to emerge. In recent years, crowdfunding platforms have become the method of choice to raise funds from the dispersed Pagan communities. Sites such as IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter have not only helped individuals secure funding for everything from burial expenses to pilgrimages, but they have also become invaluable to organizations such as The Wild Hunt, which is bankrolled by its annual online fund drive. Indeed, the egalitarian nature of crowdfunding makes it a popular way to promote a cause or rally community members to support one of their own.

Crowdfunding sites provide tools for social engagement and promotion, making them the media darlings that garner a lot of visibility. One aspect of these platform’s popularity is that, for the most part, they do not discriminate about the worthiness or the motivation for a campaign. If someone can successfully promote making potato salad, it does not matter if that someone is an individual or a corporation; or whether that someone is seeking profit or not. This is particularly beneficial to the individual, because many other sources of money are closed to all but non-profits, which have the blessings of the national government. Here in the United States that means the approval under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dusty Dionne marketing director for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church said that when it comes to raising money “we as Pagans can’t hold your immortal soul up against your wallet — we have to give you something in return.” To that end, ATC’s founder Pete Pathfinder was always seeking things that could be given in return for donations, such as cookbooks and The Other People, which took the text of an Oberon Zell article and transformed it into a parody of a Chick tract. Dionne said, “My job is to find something to give you, the Pagan,” in return for a donation.

During the last two years of his life, Pathfinder “grew increasingly concerned with the financial stability of the church,” Dionne recalled, and he spent considerable time “finding ways to raise money without badgering the community and trying to make them feel that it was their responsibility only.” Aware that many organizations don’t successfully transition beyond the founder’s death, Dionne is now focused on finding as many revenue streams as possible for the ATC.

Those include passive revenue streams, such as Kroger Community Rewards and Amazon Smile. The latter is a portal set up by Amazon.com that allows shoppers to direct 5% of their sales to a not-for-profit. and the former is a similar program for customers of Kroger’s and Fred Myers, which are regional grocery stores. Corporations benefit from such programs by creating goodwill in the community, providing tax write-offs, and increasing brand loyalty. Often the store’s presumed support of a particular cause alters shopping habits to match.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Another church which avails itself of the Amazon Smile program is the Maetreum of Cybele, which has long been raising money for an interminable court battle over the tax-exempt status of its property in the town of Catskill, New York. Neither the Maetreum nor the ATC has seen a lot of money streaming in from this source. Dionne said that ATC’s first check was for thirteen dollars and, according to Reverend Catherine Platine, “It yields a small amount of donations but also allows us to purchase for the Maetreum items from Amazon with a cash back. We haven’t really promoted them outside occasional reminders on our FB page.”

PayPal’s Giving Fund (formerly eBay’s Mission Fish) is an independent 501c3 organization that helps for-profit businesses set-up and maintain similar giving programs. Non-profits can register with the program in order to be listed as a potential recipient of donations. Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) has been a registered recipient with this program for several years and has received small donations through eBay purchases.

Corporations do other kinds of giving as well, such as those listed in the Whole Foods community giving program, which isn’t restricted to non-profits. In-kind donations of products and services can often be obtained through a conversation with a local store manager, or by completing a simple application, but typically some amount of advance notice is required. CoG took advantage of this program for its 2014 Merry Meet event in Atlanta. Whole Foods donated $50.00 worth of groceries, which were used to help feed attendees at its day-long leadership workshop.

A pattern for much of this corporate largesse is that it doesn’t fully hit the company’s bottom line. In-kind donations cost less than the retail value that’s declared, and anything that can be written-off softens the fiscal blow, and is frequently encouraged by bean-counters in the back office. Passive programs, such as Amazon Smile, only generate donations based on customer sales, which may not have ever happened without those fundraising programs. Many of the largest companies may match donations made to certain charities, or have employee giving programs, which provide a convenient mechanism for those donations (in the form of payroll deduction) to translate into regular checks sent to a chosen charity.

SEFA logo

SEFA logo.

Perhaps the most alluring employee giving campaigns are those set up by the government itself, because there are a lot of people employed in public service. Mistakenly called “United Way campaigns,” because that charity was once the only administrator of such programs, these campaigns are generally created under the auspices of a governing body, but operate independently of it.

For example, in New York, a program called the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) is run by a council of state employees and retirees, who divide the state into a number of regions, which are then managed by local volunteer committees. Each of those regions hires a fiscal manager – a non-profit organization – to work with the local committee in order to promote the campaign and ensure that the donations end up where they’re intended.

These programs have certain advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it’s easy to receive a donation from employees of that government. But on the down side, if that government makes decisions which are unpopular with its employees,such as pay freezes and layoffs, it could impact what given. Donations can also dry up if employees feel that the charity is reflecting well upon an undeserving boss. In other words, these programs can be terribly political.

There are many local governments with campaigns, and about twenty states have them. However, the biggest one is the combined Federal campaign due to the large number of people who can potentially be reached. However, these campaigns all have different application standards and reporting requirements, which may not be worth the effort if there aren’t employees standing by ready to donate to a cause. The first step that any organization should take, with regards to government programs, is to find out how many members or supporters actually work for the body in question.

Even if all the necessary hoops are jumped through, donations are rarely received from anyone who isn’t actually asked to give one. No matter the size or structure of the organization, regardless of what tools are available for raising money, and whether or not that money is going to a non-profit or just someone trying to deepen a personal spiritual practice, there’s never going to be anything that replaces the need to ask.

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cuups

On Nov. 8, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc. (CUUPS) has announced its new structure and officers. Long time member, David Pollard, was hired as executive director, and the organization welcomed Jessica Gray, Maggie Beaumont and Martha Kirby Capo to the new board. Nominations are being sought for the position left open by Pollard. The organization says, “If you are a currently paid member of CUUPS for a year and would like to serve on the board please contact President, Amy Beltaine.” CUUPS is also in the middle of their revisioning process, which was put into place in order “to identify our common principles and values, create a shared sense of identity and purpose among Pagan-friendly UUs and UU-friendly Pagans, and develop a mission and vision for CUUPS for the next ten years.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

On Nov. 11, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage and was in intensive care. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, poet, author and peace activist. When the news was announced, Asa West, writer of the new Patheos Pagan Channel blog Shekinah Calling: Reclaiming Witchcraft with a Jewish Twist, offered a healing blessing in her second blog post. She discusses the energy of mindfulness and healing work in the Buddhist tradition, as requested in the announcement concerning the Zen Master’s condition. West adds, “I hope Thich Nhat Hanh makes a full recovery. May all beings be happy, well, and safe from harm.” The worldwide call for meditative energy healing may have worked. Reports are now indicating that Thich Nhat Hanh condition is stable and he is on his way to recovery.

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fairy-investigation-societyThe Fairy Investigation Society has published a new survey asking people to record any encounters they’ve had with fairies, as well as opinions and experiences on the subject. F.I.S. explains, “The Fairy Census is an attempt to gather, scientifically, the details of as many fairy sightings from the last century as possible and to measure, in an associated survey, contemporary attitudes to fairies. The census was inspired by an earlier fairy census carried out by Marjorie Johnson and Alasdair Alpin MacGregor in 1955/1956, a census that was published in 2014.”  The survey and more about the organization can be found on their website.

In other news: 

  • The Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) has published a statement “denouncing Irminfolk as racist” based on the Irminfolk bylaws. The HUAR statement reads, “We denounce them for their blatantly obvious support for such ideas, and we move that all members of Heathens United Against Racism disassociate with the organization, its officers, representatives, events, functions, and all affiliates.” The statement in its entirety can be read online as well as the Irminfolk bylaws.
  • A video taken at Margot Adler’s memorial service has been posted on You Tube. The video includes speakers, tributes and songs. The memorial was held on All Souls Unitarian Church in NYC, on All Hallows’ Eve 2014.
  • Circle Sanctuary’s Pagan Spirit Gathering has launched is registration for its summer festival 2015. This will mark PSG’s 35th year. Rev. Selena Fox said, “I am thankful to all who have contributed to PSG and its community over the years. This is the earliest we have opened PSG registration — we hope that this will give us more time to share ideas and plan for PSG 2015.” The event will be held at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois from June 14-21.
  • Courtney Weber, organizer of the Pagan Environmental Coalition – NYC, has announced the upcoming publication of her book Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Due out May 2015, the book is already listed on Amazon for pre-sale. Weber is also planning a book tour.
  • The Universal Society of Ancient Ministry is celebrating the acceptance of its trademark, including the phrase Pagans in Need and PIN. Gerrybrete Leonard, CEO and HPS, wrote, “One year ago Universal Society of Ancient Ministry absorbed Pagans In Need to run under the Churches 501(c)3 … This now means that we can now publish and print our name with legal support.” The organization has also recently launched its Toys for Yule holiday giving program. Information can be found on its website.

That is all for now. Have a nice day.

 

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On Oct. 28, Time magazine published an article called “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in real life.”  It was part of the avalanche of articles on Witches and Witchcraft that typically appear in October. As suggested by the title, the article’s intent was to examine the social factors surrounding the popularity of TV witches. After publication, Time and the writer, Jennie Latson, were hit with a wave of backlash from Pagans and Witches.

time logo og

The article contains two sentences that became the target of those reactions. The first is a quote from Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University. He writes, “Witches, like terrorists, ‘threaten to wipe out everything you believe in.’ The article’s second offending sentence is “The difference, of course, is that terrorists are real, while witches are not.”

On Oct. 30, Silver Ravenwolf published a brief response:

I am shaking my head.  I am wondering what rock these people are crawling out from under.  How about you actually take the time to interview a real Witch, to live their life for 30 days, and then I dare you to come back and tell me that I’m a terrorist.

Jason Mankey posted a longer response titled “Dear Time magazine, Witches are Real!” on his blog Raise the Horns. His tempered response included:

 I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.

Adam Osborne of Salisbury, North Carolina began a change.org petition asking Time magazine to apologize. He wrote,”The article, although seemingly benign, puts Pagans and those who practice witchcraft in a bad light, and could encourage others to “punish” us as they would deem fit.” The petition has received 5,078 supporters to date.

While Pagans sent angry tweets to both the magazine and writer, several online media outlets reported on rising tension. The International Business Times wrote, “Many practicing Wiccans were not amused, and some accused the magazine of comparing witches to terrorists.” The Inquisitor published an opinion piece on the subject and Religion Dispatches posted a reaction from religion professor Joseph Laycock. On Nov. 10, Latson linked to that response in a tweet:

Although the backlash was notable, Pagan reactions were not uniform, and many felt the article wasn’t a problem. Osborne’s petition has yet to receive the requested number of signatures. Why? Because the Latson article focused on fictional witches and the legends surrounding Salem. When she said, “Witches aren’t real,” she was referring to the type of witch found in most Hollywood representations (e.g., Maleficent,2014; Witches,1990; The Chronicles of Narnia, 2005).

The word witch is, and has always been, a very loaded term. Outside of fictional representations, the word has many meanings, each of which evokes a very different culturally-dependent reaction. When someone says “witch” in a small Nigerian village, the meaning is entirely different from a person using the word while relaxing at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London. It means something different within the walls of the Vatican than it does at a Pagan Pride event in California. And, it means something different today than it did 100 or 500 years ago. Contextuality is everything when using the word “witch.”

Considering the reactions, Latson’s article failed to adequately contextualize its subject matter in order to avoid criticism. The sentence “Witches are not real” was not encased in language that demonstrated an understanding or sensitivity to the term’s varied contemporary usage. This resulted in outrage.

Limiting her statement to Hollywood cinematic language, Latson’s statement about witches is mostly true. However, the article makes other claims, beyond those two statements, that prove problematic from a cinematic and historical viewpoint. The article suggests that fictional witches are more popular during times of trouble. This statement is not supported by film research. As with the word “witch” itself, the iconic meaning of the cinematic witch needs better contexualization in order to understand its popularity.

Dorothy Neumenn as Crone Meg Maud. Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.

1957, The Undead. Dorothy Neumenn as Meg Maud. [Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.]

Quoting Baker, the article compares current U.S. social climate to that of colonial Salem. It posits that the interest in witches:

…may have its roots in the post-9/11 panic over terrorism and what could be seen as a Salem-like erosion of civil rights in the name of security — or, more recently, in the revelations that the National Security Agency seems to be spying on ordinary citizens as stealthily as neighbors spied on neighbors in colonial Salem

However, fictional witches were not only popular in times of trouble. Witches were prolific in American films at the turn of century because filmmakers, who wanted to showcase a new entertainment product, used popular stories, such as fairy tales and histories, to draw in audiences (e.g, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910; In the Days of Witchcraft, 1913; Joan the Woman, 1917). Similarly, witches were popular in times of economic stability such as the 1950s and 1990s.

Film scholars believe the popularity of witches is less about social instability and more about the negotiation of gender roles. When discussing witch films, theorists focus on female agency and sexuality. As noted by Tanya Krzywinska in A Skin for Dancing in, “Witchcraft [in film] has become a language of resistance to the cultural norms of femininity…” (Krzywinska, p.117) These norms include beauty, family roles, career paths and power held within society.

While this very specific cinematic codification is consistent across time, it doesn’t explain everything. The use of the filmic witch as an icon of radical femininity is wholly dependent on time and genre. In the 1920s, when women were experiencing unprecedented social freedom, witches nearly disappeared from the American screen. In 1934, witches returned as the Depression took hold and traditional family structures were celebrated. At the very same time, the Catholic-based censorship office began its control of the Hollywood production (e.g., The Wizard of Oz, 1939; Spitfire,1934; Maid of Salem, 1937). In this case, witches were an example of what not to be.

By the 1970s and after the social revolution, the horror film began incorporating versions of the witch figure. In these films, the focus is more on aberrant female sexuality than conventional social roles (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Carrie,1976; Witches of Eastwick, 1987; The Craft, 1996). And, in today’s market, the narrative positioning of the Hollywood witch trope has changed again as society plays with the acceptance of non-traditional cultural modalities. This can be seen in thematic and narrative complexities playing out in recent shows such as Salem, American Horror Story: Coven, the Witches of East End and others.

WGN America's Salem Poster

WGN America’s Salem Poster

In addition, most discussions of cinematic witches, like the Time magazine article, fail to take race into account. Most Hollywood cinematic witches are white. The female, brown-skinned witch has a very different role and cinematic meaning within Hollywood language. Analysis of this type of witch reveals threads of racism, colonialism and the unfettered objectification of the “other” (e.g., The Devil’s Daughter, 1939, The Crucible, 1996; Salem, 2014)  This is an entirely different story.

The popularity, or the lack of popularity, of the witch in TV and cinema proves to be as complicated as the use of the term “witch” itself. In both cases, scholarship is not complete without acknowledging those complexities even on a small scale. Muddling this matter further are the many blurred lines between the various meanings – both fictional and real. There are shared details, such as black hats, cauldrons, magical work, healing and aspects of the Occult, that underlie our cultural understanding of the witch. These elements are often what lead to frustration and anger for those that identify as modern-day real Witches. Many people, non-Witches, don’t or can’t see the distinctions between the purely cinematic and fictional, the historical legends, the accusations in Africa, and the real, genuine practice of Witchcraft around the globe.

UPDATE 11/17/14: Prof. Emerson Baker, who was quoted in the original Time article, did issue his own apology on his site for the confusions that were generated by Latson’s story.

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In my previous article describing my experiences with Paganism in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, I mentioned that the local Pagans, who I have talked to, are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture and spirituality. American readers also seemed interested in hearing more about this subject as well. As I have mentioned, this subject presents some special challenges. Today, I explore some of those challenges.

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

Let’s begin by acknowledging a basic reality. It is no easier or less complicated for an Australian Pagan to get authentically involved with Aboriginal spirituality than it is for an American Pagan to get involved with Native American spirituality. You’ll see this isn’t the only parallel.

While we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to refer to the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands, we ought to remember that there has never been a single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. The broad term includes 900 regional groups with distinct languages, beliefs, and practices.

British colonisation of Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788. We don’t know with certainty how large the Aboriginal population was at that time. Some ecologists estimate it may have been 750,000 to a million (1). What followed is the familiar story of colonialism and colonisation: the spread of virulent diseases, the appropriation of land and water resources, the introduction of alcohol, opium, and tobacco, violence, exploitation, dispossession, the spread of European settlements, forced religious conversion, the establishment of racist institutions, and the general obliteration of the languages, literature and culture of native peoples.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, by 1900 the recorded Indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000 and the belief that the Indigenous Australians would soon die out was widely held. While Australians are well aware of what happened next, most Americans know little about the Stolen Generation.

Up until as recently as the 1970s, the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments removed Indigenous children from their families. Newspaper articles, reports, and other documents suggest that motivations included child protection and fear over the mixing of racial groups. Aboriginals were referred to as blacks (they still are) and the government wanted to “breed out the colour by elevating female half-castes to white standard with a view to their absorption by mating into the white population” (2).

In Australia: A Biography of a Nation, Phillip Knightley wrote:

This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.

The exact number of children removed is unknown, but the Bringing Them Home Report stated that “not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal”.

On 13 February 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to Indigenous Australians.

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Fast forward to today. Aboriginals have not recovered from the atrocities they experienced. In June 2013, the estimated Australian Indigenous population was 698,583 people. That’s about 3% of the total population in Australia. The Overview of Australian Indigenous health status confirms what many can imagine. Aboriginals live in remote communities, and have poorer health, lower education, greater problems with alcohol abuse, earn less, are at greater risk for self-harm and suicide, and die sooner than non-Indigenous persons.

It’s a bleak picture, but it’s not a hopeless one. A great number of Australians care very much about the state of Aboriginal people and there are many private and public efforts to improve Aboriginal health and well-being as well as promote reconciliation.

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

As I mentioned above, there is no single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. I use the term “Aboriginal spirituality” only for convenience. How to pin-point it? We can talk about the creation, ancestral, and totemic beings, but that misses the point. There is next to nothing I can tell you about what’s left of Aboriginal ceremonies because I am not privy to them. It is “secret business” as one reader commented in my last piece. What we’re really talking about is culture and one that is inextricably tied to the land.

Aboriginal Australian groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Their forcible removal by European settlers severed them from the cultural and spiritual practices necessary to maintain the cohesion and well-being of the group. All the Dreaming stories, the tales of timeless time, tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group’s local landscape and these establish the structure of their societies, the rules of behaviour, and the ceremonies performed to ensure continuity of life and land.

Many Aussie Pagans would love to have greater access to Aboriginal wisdom. I’ve met one Pagan man that traveled to remote areas of Australia and spent time with some Aboriginals and learned a great deal.  There are opportunities to visit cultural centres, public events, and there’s volunteering. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult and there is an invisible line in the sand. Aborigines are distrustful, and who can blame them. Australians are sensitive to the plight of Aborigines and often paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. I rarely hear Pagans here talk of cultural appropriation, but they all know what it means and they know Aboriginal spirituality is mostly off limits.

In Australia, we’re often working with inherited materials from the Northern Hemisphere that don’t always apply well. That’s why I love the science and technology publications from CSIRO and why one of my favourite Pagan bloggers down under is Inga Leonora at Australis Incognita who studies native Australian Flora and Fauna in her Craft. I’ve taken up bird-watching, which gets me out in nature and has helped me learn more about the native wildlife and the seasonal shifts through their migration and breeding patterns.

In the U.S., Pagans balance the myths and rites of a foreign Pagan religion with those of the land we inhabit. It’s no different here in Australia. The best way to learn about native spirituality is to learn about native land.

Sources

  1. Neil Thomson, pp153, “Indigenous Australia: Indigenous Health” in James Jupp (ed), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their Origins, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  2. C. E. Cook to Administrator of the Northern Territory, 7 February 1933, National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Records Series, Department of the Interior file A659/1; 1940/1/408
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Cultural appropriation is not a new issue and definitely not new within Paganism. The story of American capitalism has created a strong foundation for what has continued to be one of the most important, and yet challenging, discussions underlying the modern Pagan experience. Conversations of cultural appropriation reach outside of the boundaries of this spiritual world and intersect with various other aspects of our everyday society, leaving a complex web to untangle.

For example, the New Age sector’s use of various aspects of Native American* cultures, as well as the selling or misappropriating of that culture, has continued to drum up controversy. Indian Country Today Media Network recently published an article called Selling the Sacred, exploring the objectifying of Native religious and cultural “secrets” in New Age arenas. The article highlights several places that claim to certify people as Shamans or even award a Masters Degree in Native American Shamanism.

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

Native Americans are not the only marginalized culture to be openly appropriated in the United States by New Age practitioners and even Pagan communities. Hindu deities and traditions have become more popular among some people, along with aspects of African heritage as well. It is just as common to find djembe drums in a Pagan fire circle as it is to find candles in a ritual. The line between appropriation and cultural exchange can be a very fine one. It is not only about the intersection of capitalism, but also colonialism enters into the equation.

There are many things to consider. When does exchange become more about honoring another culture rather than just adopting it while leaving its roots behind?

The growing eclecticism of Pagan practitioners make these distinctions more challenging to unravel. How do we determine the boundaries of respectful cultural exchange within modern Paganism when individual understandings of this concept are so vast and varied?

The complexity of exploring the nuances of cultural appropriation versus exchange are not easily defined by one set of criteria. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge, answered questions about the layered intricacies of the often controversial concepts of appropriation and exchange.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo Credit Tony Mierzwicki)

… while on paper one can try to distinguish appropriation from exchange, in practice, it’s much more complicated. Cultures come into contact with one another in many different ways, and some of those involve violence. Nonetheless, cultural exchanges do emerge from those contacts — all the time. Think of cultural exchange as a crossroads. In folklore, the crossroads is a liminal place of magic, but it’s also a dangerous place, a place where death and destruction can happen. Crossroads deities are tricky (Eshu, Loki, Odin) and fierce (Hekate). Yet from that destruction and trickery, new life arises. It’s kind of the same with cultural contact and exchange.

Usually, when defining cultural exchange, the premise is that the two cultures entering into the exchange are on equal terms: neither is more powerful than the other. Cultural material — narratives, verbal lore, music, material culture, foodways, magical techniques — are shared as part of the process of intercultural contact. Thus, for example, when the Irish settled in New York City after fleeing the potato famine in 1848, they found that all the storekeepers in the neighborhoods where they could afford to live were Jewish. They didn’t have any lamb or pork, but they did carry Kosher corned beef. Thus, corned beef substituted the kinds of meats they had eaten in their homeland. That’s the reason we think of corned beef and cabbage as “Irish” food today — it’s really Irish American food, born of that cultural exchange.

Appropriation happens when one culture conquers another, destroys or damages their culture and substitutes its own as the dominant culture, then borrows elements of the subjugated culture, re-contextualizing them for their symbolic value.

So, for example, the destruction of Native American cultures by European Americans, followed by the use of decontextualized elements from those cultures (feather headdresses, sweat lodges, jewelry, fringed clothing, architecture styles, concepts such as “spirit animal”) as icons of authenticity or spirituality is an example of appropriation.

All this is easy on paper, but more challenging on the ground, because in reality, cultures are seldom on equal footing in terms of power. Moreover, cultural borrowing and exchange happens constantly. We are moved to adopt elements we find attractive or advantageous through a process called “mimesis” (imitation).

Attempting to keep your own culture “pure” and free of any appropriated or borrowed elements is just as noxious as free-wheeling appropriation: it leads to a kind of cultural fascism, like what we see now developing among certain kinds of right-wing, nationalist Paganisms in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Basically, avoiding blatant cultural appropriation is about respecting the feelings and rights of other cultures with which you co-exist. It’s about recognizing when there’s a history of power-over, exploitation, and cultural destruction, and being mindful of that … It’s about power dynamics — and those are frequently subtle.

In light of the complicated, interwoven and challenging prospect of analyzing what might be culturally appropriative and what might be considered respectful exchange, several other people have shared their thoughts to this complex topic. The personal insights of these practitioners show a myriad different angles and ideals that mirror such diversity in thought and practice.

Lupa Greenwolf is an author and artist that has worked with shamanic aspects in her personal practice. She is the editor of the 2012 anthology Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation published by Immanion/Megalithica Press. Lou Florez is a Rootdoctor and Orisha Priest in the San Francisco Bay Area. His spiritual work focuses on the liberation of the body, and he works as a southern-style Tarot and Dillogun reader at a metaphysical shop in Oakland, California. Kenn Day is the author of several books on post-tribal shamanism, including Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways published in 2014 by Moon Books. Janet Callahan is an author of several published works and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Tribe.

Lupa

Lupa

The problem in a more practical sense is that, in the U.S. at least, there is no established shamanic path in the dominant culture, and so people who come from that culture (like me) have to choose either to try to shoehorn ourselves into an indigenous culture that we may not be welcome in let alone be trained in, or research cultures of our genetic ancestors and find that we are no more *culturally* German, or Slavic, or Russian than we are Cherokee or Dine’. Or we take a third road, which is to try to piece together from scratch some tradition that carries the same basic function as a shamanic practice in another culture, but which is informed by our own experiences growing up in the culture we happened to be born into.

As to how to realistically avoid appropriation to the best of your ability, while also honoring your own need for spirituality and the spirits/community you serve? A lot of it is a matter of educating yourself on where you’re coming from versus the origins of the traditions you may be inspired by, and how your own cultural experiences inform your own practice of similar-but-not-the-same traditions. One of the problems I have with core shamanism is that it claims to be “culturally neutral”, or at least a lot of the practitioners thereof claim it is. And that’s basically impossible. Your culture ALWAYS affects how you approach everything, from spirituality to communication to food. So try to be a shaman of your own culture, not of someone else’s (unless specifically invited).

I think the biggest problem is when non-indigenous people wholesale take indigenous practices, and then claim to be indigenous themselves. That’s part of what makes it tougher for people who are genuinely trying to create a practice for themselves while remaining as culturally sensitive as possible, because we get lumped in with those who outright lie about who they are. So you need to be honest and clear about where your practices come from and what inspired them, what’s your own creation and what came from others.

I’ve had people tell me everything from “You shouldn’t use the word ‘shaman'” to “You shouldn’t use a drum with a real hide head” to “You shouldn’t work with hides and bones at all”, all because I’m a European mutt. For a while I kept backing up and backing up and acquiescing to whoever criticized me–and then I realized that if I gave in to every criticism, I’d have no practice left at all. So I very carefully reviewed what my practice entailed, did my best to claim that which I created myself while also being honest about how other cultures’ practices inspired me, and that’s where I drew my line, where I would back up no farther. I don’t consider myself a neoshaman any more, mostly because I don’t use specifically “shamanic” practices like journeying, and use the term “naturalist pagan” for what I currently practice, but I still work with hides and bones, I still have my totemic practice, all in ways that I have developed for myself over the years. – Lupa Greenwolf, Author

Lou Florez

Lou Florez [Courtesy Photo]

Experiences of appropriation have left me alienated and displaced in community. At its core appropriation is a form of violence and aggression against brown bodies and brown communities. It is a minstreling, a racist caricature that tells more about the frame of mind of the performer [appropriation is a performative act] then it does about the original practice or cultural significance. Not only does it cause harm through this mimicking of symbols and actions, but it further creates difficulties for seeing real images of brown people and our gods on community altars due to the fear of appropriation.I think that honesty is of utmost importance in these matters because there is a difference between a ritual inspired by a different culture versus one that claims a lineage in that specific tradition. My litmus test is this question, have you been given license to do ceremony and teach from these communities? Just as I would never read a book and pretend to be an authority in Gardenarian Wicca, you can’t read one book and think that you are a rootworker, conjure doctor, or a First Nation “shaman.” – Lou Florez, Rootdoctor and Orisha priest

Kenn Day

Kenn Day [Courtesy Photo]

Cultural appropriation is damaging both to the culture that is being taken from as well as the one who is taking pieces without context. The loss to the culture appropriated is obvious. The damage to the one doing the taking is more subtle.Back in the late 80’s I coined the term “post-tribal shamanism” to differentiate between the teachings I received and those of tribal cultures. However, many people make the assumption that, if you are practicing ceremony with ancestor spirits, then you have taken your practice from a native tradition. This is no more true than it is to assume that only tribal people have ancestors. The call to practice shamanism is found in every culture. Just like everything else, it appears differently in each culture, yet it is still recognizable.The most important difference I see between the shamanism practiced in tribal cultures and what I teach and practice is that the tribal practices are focused on supporting, healing and maintaining the most import unit of that culture: the tribe itself. Our situation is dramatically different, in that the most important unit of our culture is the individual. This is where our practices need to be directed. Too many traditional practices are simply not appropriate for use with individuals, just as what I do would not be appropriate for tribal people. – Kenn Day, Author and Professional Shaman

Janet Callahan

Janet Callahan

The history of cultural appropriation makes me more cautious when I encounter a new group or teacher or situation. I ask more questions about what is planned, look more at the history of who they’ve learned from, and so on. I want to make sure I’m not walking into a situation I can’t ethically support.

I think people really need to do their homework. They need to understand not just the physical aspects of a practice, but the bigger picture in terms of culture and language and what is really going on (and to do that, frequently you realize it’s not actually possible to take it out of context).

My immediate family is not “Traditional” (which is generally used to mean those who follow tribal ways rather than being Christian and otherwise following white ways), but portions of my extended family are. And what I understand now, that I think is lost outside of the culture, is that religion/spirituality and culture are woven together. They are not separate entities. And that means that taking something out of context loses much of the value of it. – Janet Callahan, Author

As the framework of culture continue to evolve and change, so does the black and white definition of what constitutes appropriation. The context of how something is regarded, shared, explored or used may vary within different cultures and different time frames. This means there is not a clear definition of what is and is not an acceptable with regards to the use of elements from another culture. Context is everything.

Instead we are left with a list of considerations that should be given to cultures, people and histories that are not our own, and a level of awareness that reminds us that everything is not open property just because we wish it to be so. Releasing the conditioning of post-colonialism in America reminds us that everything is not ours to take, everything is not ours to sell and everything is not free. What prices are paid when cultural treasures are taken from a people?

Kenn Day spoke to the complexity of learning to navigate our relationships with living cultures. He said, “These living cultures can be dealt with respectfully in much the same way as many modern seekers have approached native traditions of shamanism, by approaching them with humility and asking to learn from the lore keepers of that people. This means recognizing that their traditions are not yours to take. They can be gifted, but even then they remain within the territory of that people. It is demeaning to have elements of your culture taken out of context and displayed for the entertainment of those outside your community.”

How do we as modern Pagans respectfully exchange with other spiritual cultures? What are we giving in exchange for the knowledge that we gain and using for our own spiritual experiences? How can we respect the context, culture, history and people of the cultures we are exchanging with? All of these are questions that should be evaluated on an ongoing basis within any spiritual community that is growing and evolving.

 *   *   *

*Author’s note: I am very aware that many of the different names and labels, which are commonly used to refer to the indigenous of this land, come with traces of colonialism. Since there is no universally-respected term that can possibly fit all native indigenous/Native American/American Indians/First Peoples, I want to acknowledge this fact and communicate my sincere desire to be respectful.

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Minneapolis Witch Tasha-Rose knows the power of belly dance and how it can transform. She’s hoping to use that transformational energy to help at-risk girls break the poverty cycle through the empowerment found in learning a cooperative dance style know as American Tribal Style belly dance. To achieve this goal, Tasha-Rose has formed a group called Our Dancing Daughters and is seeking funding for a larger studio space and for scholarships for young women in need.

Tasha-Rose instructs students at the Kamala Chaand dance studio. [courtesy photo]

Tasha-Rose instructs students at the Kamala Chaand dance studio. [courtesy photo]

Although Our Dancing Daughters hasn’t officially launched yet, the group hopes to start taking scholarship applications in January. While they received their Minnesota non-profit status as of Nov. 2, they are currently taking the needed steps to achieve 501c3 status in order to be eligible for more grant opportunities. In the meantime, Tasha-Rose, who is also the troupe leader for Kamala Chaand Dance Company, turns to crowdfunding to raise the initial funds needed to launch the program.

While Our Dancing Daughters is not a religious organization, Tasha-Rose is assisted by a board made up all Pagans and Witches. Board members include LaDonna Bartol, Laurie “Remedy” Howard, Breana Larson, and Becky Munson, with Tasha-Rose as the Executive Director.

So far they have raised $1,314 of their $10,000 goal on their GoFundMe site. Stacie Braford, who made a donation to Our Dancing Daughters, says, “This is an awesome thing you are doing! Love it. I wish we’d had access to something like this when I was young.”

The Wild Hunt talked to Tasha-Rose about her plans for Our Dancing Daughters, how her Pagan ethics guides her in this project, and why she believes this could be a valuable resource for at-risk teen girls.

Our Dancing Daughter's Executive Director Tasha-Rose

Our Dancing Daughter’s Executive Director Tasha-Rose

Cara Schulz: Why did you start Our Dancing Daughters? What was the inspiration?

Tasha-Rose: Our Dancing Daughters is a concept I have had for a lot of years. I have daughters and it initially started as a way to get daughters dancing with their mothers. Slowly it evolved in concept to where we are now.

CS: How will Our Dancing Daughters have a positive impact on at-risk young women?

TR: Our Dancing Daughters is designed to teach young women to dance cooperatively using the American Tribal Style format that I and two of my troupe mates are certified in. There is so much emphasis put on at-risk youth that they are on their own. We want them to learn interdependence. Additionally we are all taking crisis intervention training eventually, in order to better mentor these girls. Other components will be financial literacy, education accountability and getting into college. We hope to team up with other groups on occasion as well, namely The Emily Project, for education on healthy body image.

CS: Paganism and non-western styles of dance seem to go together. Why do yo think that is?

TR: I think it has a lot to do with the ability to trance out in this dance form. In ATS you have to be in the moment and communicating with the others dancers. That in itself is a form of trance I feel.

CS: How do your religious ethics come into play with this effort?

TR: My religious ethics have everything to do with this. I believe firmly in helping people to achieve their greatest self whenever possible. It can sound selfish I suppose, like I’m seeking accolades, but really I’m not. Self-empowerment comes from oneself. No one can do that work for anyone else, though I believe it’s each of our duties to be instrumental in the lives following ours, to make for a better world. Altruistic? Maybe. But I do what I can anyway.

CS: Who is Our Dancing Daughters open to and how will you assess eligibility for scholarships?

TR: We will open our applications up to anyone who wants to apply. There will be some focus on family income, since this program is in part focused on breaking the poverty cycle through empowerment. We will also be asking for teacher recommendations, hold a panel interview and ask that they write an essay for us. It isn’t necessarily only about those of limited financial means, however. There are young ladies from wealthier families who may not have involved parents and are suffering. We want to reach them, too.

CS: How long is your funding effort going on? How are the grant seeking efforts going?

TR: We have been working on raising funds for about 4 months now. We are just over 10% funded. We don’t have to raise the whole of it though, which is nice. Our grant research has opened lots of doors for us.There are lots of people who love to give money to projects like ours. We have two of our Executive Board going to a grant information meeting tonight in fact.

*    *    *

Tasha-Rose says the organization is at a major crossroads right now. Next week they have the opportunity, through the East Side Arts Council, to get into Washington High School to teach American Trial Style dance for a week. Tasha says, “It’s a really big foot in the door that we are all really excited about.”

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This editorial was originally slated to be published two weeks ago, on the last day of our fund drive and a few days after Jason announced his retirement. However, life happened. As a result, we had to move with the news and not with our own agenda. I consider this a “take two” or perhaps even a “take three.” I have lost count. So before time escapes anymore and the world is lost beneath a flurry of silver solstice cheer, I now squeeze this article into the rotation. Please sit back and relax as I welcome you to join us as The Wild Hunt begins its new journey…

I remember as a child standing in the expansive LAX airport, tears rolling down my face, as we readied to board a jumbo jet and to wave goodbye to my grandparents. The pain of leaving was always oppressive. The bonds, which had been forged over a week’s vacation in sunny California, were now stretching, buckling and tearing under the weight of those goodbyes. Before stepping out into the jetway, my grandmother would always kneel down and hug me one last time. I would muddle out a little “goodbye” between sobs and, she would always say back, “This is not goodbye, Heather. This is just a ‘see you later.'”

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

Of course, the time eventually came when the ‘see you later’ didn’t happen. My grandmother died around Samhain 1999 before I could have one last hug. As painful as that was, the spirit of her yearly wisdom remained with me. Even before she died, I began to better understand the power in those words. When I embraced Paganism, their meaning deepened and eventually evolved into a profound truth. There is never truly a “goodbye.” There is always a ‘see you later.’

This concept is particular powerful at this time of year, as the veil thins and we honor our dead. As one road ends, another is always waiting. The memories and imprints of past journeys, good or bad, remain with us as we embark on new roads. The past becomes the archives of our lives – ready to guide, ready to remind, ready to influence. Although it may be hard to let go and frightening to continue, the journey does continue.

After landing back in New York City and returning to my daily routine, I carried with me the memories of our California vacation. I remember picking lemons off the tree while listening to my grandparents’ tales of working in Hollywood during its golden era. I remember my grandfather’s woodshed and my grandmother’s bright pink lipstick. Memories of those summer days made my childhood richer and stronger. They undeniably shaped my future. Furthermore, the bonds between us never broke no matter how far we traveled; even beyond the veil.

So here I am, at Samhain, facing another transition. The Wild Hunt has said goodbye to its founder and turned its attention to a new era. For me, this change is quite profound. Samhain not only marks my transition to full-time editor but also my start as a weekly Wild Hunt writer. My first article, an interview with actor Mark Ryan, was posted Oct.27 2012. Now, almost exactly two years later, I find myself taking on the role of steering this crazy ship or, better yet, leading this proverbial “wild hunt.” As it has always been for me, Samhain brings ends and beginnings.

When I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason said, “Write a post introducing yourself.” I never did. So I suppose this will serve partly as my introduction. Who will be managing The Wild Hunt going forward? Being a Gemini that is an extremely complicated question. What day is it?

Perhaps you would prefer to know what led me to Paganism? Last year, I was asked to write that story as a guest blog post and can still be read online. It has something to do with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, high school angst, social anarchy and Manhattan.

What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.

But that saga has already been written.

So let me begin at Samhain 2012. When Jason first asked me to contribute, I was very surprised. “Who Me? Why? Are you certain that you dialed the correct phone number?”

[Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

Deer in Headlights [Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

I had just ended a freelance job writing for an L.A. public relations firm. Sculpting articles for the wireless technology industry had become less than inspiring. I desperately wanted to produce something meaningful; something with more substance than could ever be extracted from stories on “converting old routers to access points” or “the right settings for optimal wireless streaming.”

Do I really need to elaborate on how Jason’s invitation presented a very welcome change?

Now exactly two years have passed and the best part of the entire experience has been in the learning. Before writing for The Wild Hunt, I was only moderately aware of the myriad colors, details and diversity present within the collective communities for whom we write. I did not personally know anyone practicing Asatru, or a Polytheism or Hellenic Reconstructionalism. Now I work with one of each. You can’t get that writing publicity materials for wireless corporations – at least not yet.

Last spring, when Jason asked me to take over as editor, I was equally surprised – honored but surprised. Stepping into the editor’s role brings with it new obstacles that will, no doubt, be difficult and, at times, grueling. However I’m willing to stand in that space and take up the reins, because I know that the work will ultimately be rewarding for me personally, for our writers and for our readers.

While the entire staff was sad to see Jason leave, we recognize and embrace the need for change – both his and ours. We are collectively thankful to him for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of this wild journey.

On Samhain, we finally closed that door and, in doing so, I was reminded of my grandmother’s words: “See you later.” Although one era is over, the cycle of influence never ends. Jason has left an enduring legacy and a strong foundation here. That influence remains no matter where he travels next or where we go. In that way, our “goodbye” is only a ‘see you later.’

This year’s fall funding drive was a huge success. With your generosity and help, we reached our goal in just two weeks and, then, far exceeded it. Thank you. All of those donations and words of support have empowered us to maintain and hopefully expand our work. Our columnists will be returning at their regular times to explore and discuss the issues of the day. Our two weekly staff writers will be covering the news as it happens. Next month, we will be welcoming our eighth and final weekend columnist, who will be focusing on the issues and subjects important to the youngest members of our communities – the college and high school students.

As editor, I will strive to uphold the ethical standards, sensitivity and substance, which has been the hallmark of The Wild Hunt. Our mission will not change. We will aim to provide a broad spectrum of news and poignant commentary as we have always done since The Wild Hunt‘s inception as one man’s blog and through its evolution into a respected independent news organization.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

As we usher in this new era, I welcome everyone to join us on the journey. Every day as we publish, we will be leaving new footprints along the path.Those marks will eventually become the memories of tomorrow – ones that will linger in a liminal presence waiting to inform, remind and advise our future writers and editors. And, as such, the cycle will continue on.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting us. And most importantly…see you later.

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — In a move that has raised eyebrows — and some ire — in the online Catholic community, Loyola University of Chicago recognized a student group that promotes Paganism. The club was approved by the university’s student government, a step which is necessary in many colleges to become eligible for funding and for the use of school buildings, not the school’s administration. When the administration became aware of its existence, the club was told to remove “Pagan” from its name. Administrators were apparently unaware of the new club until the story was picked up by the national news site The College Fix.

loyolaThat’s the story as told by club founder and president Jill Kreider:

I started the club in the hopes of letting people know that there are Pagan students on campus. My friend and VP is a Celtic pagan and he and I both wanted this club to at least acknowledge our existence, even if we didn’t make it past the initial interview stage.The upper administration had little to do with the original process and only came into the picture after the [College] Fix article alerted them of our existence.

Kreider, who also serves as an interfaith advocate on campus, didn’t share much with The Wild Hunt, citing a desire to “tread lightly” and a heavy school workload. In an email to The College Fix about the club, she shared some of her vision:

Loyola’s mission states that, ‘seeking God in all things’ is one of the main [tenets] of the university. While the mission primarily focuses on the Abrahamic God, there is no reason a Pagan student (or a Hindu, Baha’i or Sikh student) cannot seek using his or her own faith, regardless of which god they are doing it for.

Loyola University Chicago is one of 175 run by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member. The school is named for the Jesuits’ founder, Ignatius Loyola. Kreider’s remarks resulted in a firestorm of comments, articles and posts online, especially attached to that original story.

While some equated Pagan religions to Satanism or defended those faiths, a larger number of the posts speak to the internal conflicts within Christianity itself. Based on the comment threads, Roman Catholicism is deemed suspect by many other Christians, in part because of the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary, which critics equate with Pagan idolatry. Defenders of Paganism, using well-worn arguments about the Pagan symbolism underlying many Christian festivals, have been met with agreement from those who wish to denounce Catholicism as a tool of the Devil. Here’s a typical anti-Catholic diatribe from another Christian in the thread:

The Catholic cult is the largest organization of homosexuals, pedophiles and anti-christs on this earth. Their doctrine is pagan and the Word of God identifies them with over 20 points of identification that THEY ARE INDEED THE BEAST OF REVELATION AND DANIEL. –Jennifer Chronister

University officials appear to be treading lightly themselves in this case. In response to inquiries by The Wild Hunt, spokesperson Steven Christensen provided the same statement given to The College Fix. Here is that response in its entirety:

I can confirm that the Pagan Student Alliance was granted recognition by the Department of Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA), which is a unit within the Division of Student Development, on October 9, 2014. Requests to form new student organizations are accepted at the beginning of each semester, and a number of factors are considered before recognition is granted to an organization. Those factors do not require a potential organization to identify with the religious views of the University.

Following the SAGA approval, other leaders within Student Development expressed concerns related to the organization’s name, and the breadth and lack of definition of its constitution. During the week of October 13, the president and vice president of the Pagan Student Alliance met with Student Development leadership regarding these concerns and the group agreed to modify the name of the organization to the Indigenous Faith Traditions Alliance. As with all student organizations, a clear sense of purpose is required, and the group has been asked to further define their purpose on campus. The group has agreed to this request.

Related to this, and all student groups, at Loyola we welcome and foster an open exchange of ideas and encourage debate and sharing differing views and opinions to advance education. We believe that discussion around complex topics results in deeper critical thinking skills and well-rounded citizens.

According to the university website, “The search for truth is carried out in an atmosphere of Academic Freedom and open inquiry based on two fundamental assumptions of the Catholic faith. First, that the truth will set us free. Second, that faith and reason ultimately bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.”  Welcoming a Pagan, or rather an “Indigenous Faith Traditions,” club appears consistent for a university that already has Muslim and Hindu clubs on campus.

In editorial on Christian blog site Aleteia.org, Susan E. Wills prodded at the new name of the club, saying, “. . . one can’t help but picture a group meeting of Buddhists, Taoists, Santeras . . . Wiccans, and pagans all arguing over whether Wiccans should even be allowed in the club. It is not an ‘indigenous’ religion at all. It was basically created in the 1950s by the self-proclaimed Druid Gerald Gardner, an Englishman.” Wills goes on to question how Wiccan theology fits into a Catholic worldview, saying:

“Wicca is a religion only in the loosest sense of the word, having been cobbled together from various sources in the 1950s, having no defined doctrine (as each practitioner is free to believe what he or she wants) and largely practiced alone … While individual Wiccans may be ‘good people’ and ‘good citizens’, it is difficult to see any nuggets of truth or goodness in Wicca itself.”

While the original College Fix article points out that Wicca is one of the better-known Pagan religions, it’s the only reference to the Wiccan faith in connection with the club. It’s not clear why Wills chose to fixate on Wicca in her remarks. Kreider identifies herself as Hellenistic Pagan and her vice-president as a Celtic Pagan. The group’s original mission as posted on Facebook was, “to unify Pagans, the spiritual but not religious, those seeking faith or religion, minority faith students (including but not limited to: Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto practitioners, Santeras, etc…) pluralists and those students interested in New Age religions on Loyola’s campus. If you don’t have a faith group on campus, we’re here to fill that gap!”

In an article published in the Oct. 17 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie discusses the new problems facing Catholic colleges today as the religious climate of the United States changes. According to the article, in 1973 82% of full-time freshmen at Catholic colleges identified as Catholic. In 2013, that number was only 50%. Loyola’s acceptance of the new Pagan club appears to be one example of a Jesuit university being forced to wrestle with its own identity in modern society and, as such, making an effort to adjust to an evolving student population.

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