[When you support The Wild Hunt, you are supporting independent, reader-funded journalism. If you enjoy reading our work each day, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. It is you that makes it all possible! Your donations go directly back to getting the important news out there. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. And share our link with others. Thank You.]

Over the past few weeks, the international media has followed Pope Francis as he journeys to the United States and other places. At times, it seemed as if his activities were all there was to talk about. Mariane, a member of France’s Ásatrú community, voiced her frustrations when she said “My man likes watching the news on television. Today he went into our room to do so… [Then] I saw him coming out of the room. He said ‘Pfff, it’s about the Pope again. Sometimes using the remote control just isn’t enough.’ ” She added, “I wish the Pope a long life. A very long life. TV news broadcasts about a lot of people watching a chimney and waiting for it to emit smoke of the right colour is just sooooo booooring…”

Pope in Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Pope in Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Mariane’s opinion is just one of the many that have been circulating through our collective communities during this time. In reaction to his public letter on climate change, the Pope was recently called “pagan” by conservatives. On Sept 18, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that, at a news conference, Gene Koprowski, marketing director of the Heartland Institute said, “What is environmentalism but nature worship?” Koprowski specifically used the term “pagan” in another statement.

Interestingly, there are some Pagans who have also called him “pagan-like,” not for his religious views, but for his positions on climate change, capitalism and world poverty. Since the release of the Papal Encyclical, a number of articles have been punished applauding the Pope for his seemingly progressive rhetoric. Jason Mankey writes “I love Pope Francis.” John Halstead, the director behind the Pagan Statement on the Environment, explained in a Huffington Post, article “what Pagans and the Pope have in common.” John Beckett writes, “The Pope Gets it.”  And, the most recent edition of The Witches Almanac includes his horoscope.

At the same time, the Church has also been accused of simply running a high-takes publicity campaign to bring its flock to the fold, or convert others. Halstead recently published another Huffington Post article titled, “Why the Pope Is Not Pagan.” And, as is reported by a number of Catholic news sources, the Pope has used the term “pagan” himself to describe non-believers and those Christians who don’t really practice. He called these people “enemies of the cross.” And, what is all this about Kim Davis?

These debates and discussions on Papal authenticity and authority, the Church’s true goal, and its global socio-political role abound. In the wake of this media frenzy, The Wild Hunt decided to reach out to Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists living around the world to collect a viewpoints on this intriguing and headline-generating Catholic leader. How much do you pay attention to his whereabouts and his rhetoric? Should we pay attention at all? Are his actions legitimately progressive or just part of some modern Church publicity stunt?

From the Pope visit to Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Priests giving communion on the streets of Philadephia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Not everybody answered our call or wanted to weigh-in. But the responses that we did receive are as varied as the lands and cultures our interviewees came from. Here is what they said … (When appropriate responses are provided in both English and the original language of origin.)

Finland: Tuula Muukka, practitioner of Suomenusko and a representative of the Finnish Pagan Network

“The Pope is rarely mentioned in the discussions of Finnish pagans, because our country is Evangelical Lutheran, and we focus on being heard alongside the state church in issues like religious education. Because of this, we don’t usually hear what the Pope does – it is not considered important enough to be covered by our news channels. When we do hear something, people are sometimes surprised and comment ‘Is there still someone who thinks like that?’ This is true especially on issues concerning sex and sexuality, because these matters are discussed very openly in Finland. For example, last year we passed a law allowing same-sex marriages.

“Since the Pope has a lot of power elsewhere in the world, we should pay more attention to what he says and does. However, this remains the task of the active few who follow news on him via the internet, and even then it seems that few people are really interested in hearing about him.”

[Translation: Paavi mainitaan harvoin suomalaisten pakanoiden keskusteluissa, koska maamme on evankelis-luterilainen ja keskitymme siihen, että tulemme kuulluiksi valtionkirkon rinnalla sellaisissa kysymyksissä kuin uskonnonopetus. Tästä syystä emme tavallisesti kuule, mitä paavi tekee – sitä ei pidetä tarpeeksi tärkeänä, jotta uutiskanavat kertoisivat aiheesta. Kun sitten kuulemme jotakin, ihmiset ovat joskus hämmästyneitä ja kommentoivat: “Onko vielä olemassa joku, joka ajattelee noin?” Näin tapahtuu etenkin sukupuoli- ja seksuaalisuuskysymyksissä, koska näistä keskustellaan Suomessa hyvin avoimesti. Esimerkiksi viime vuonna hyväksyttiin laki, joka sallii mennä naimisiin samaa sukupuolta olevan kanssa.

Koska paavilla on muualla maailmassa paljon valtaa, meidän pitäisi kiinnittää enemmän huomiota siihen, mitä hän sanoo ja tekee. Tämä jää kuitenkin niiden harvojen aktiivien tehtäväksi, jotka seuraavat hänestä kertovia uutisia internetin kautta, ja silti näyttää siltä, että harvat ihmiset ovat todella kiinnostuneita kuulemaan hänestä.]

Russia: Gwiddon Harvester, Moscow resident and the national coordinator for PFI-Russia

“I am convinced that Pagans definitely should pay attention to what the Pope says. Regardless of what he may actually think himself, he is a mouthpiece for an organization that represents over 1 billion people in the world. Although we may not agree on religious doctrine, if the Pope touches on issues that are important to us, like the environment, we should listen to what he has to say and if we agree, support him on those particular issues. While at the same time retaining the right to criticize those statements and policies, which we, as Pagans, do not support.”

[Я убежден в том, что язычникам следует прислушиваться к словам Папы Римского. Вне зависимости от его личных убеждений, Папа Римский служит рупором организации, представляющей более миллиарда жителей нашей планеты. Несмотря на то, что мы никогда не согласимся с его религиозными доктринами, если Папа Римский затрагивает важные нам темы – например, защиту окружающей среду, нам следует поддержать его по этим конкретным позициям. В то же время у нас остается право критиковать те заявления Папы Римского, с которыми мы не можем согласиться.]

France: Babette Petiot, a Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside

“As a Pagan I don’t pay much attention to the Catholic Pope. It’s not my religion, and I really don’t share his teachings about women’s reproductive rights, about marriage for everyone and equal rights to adopt children, about LGTB+ people…And those are just a few topics. But I believe keeping an eye on what leaders of other religious movements are saying is a wise thing to do because sometimes we can agree.”

[En tant que païenne je ne m’intéresse pas vraiment au pape catholique, ce n’est pas ma religion et je ne partage vraiment pas ses enseignements sur les droits reproductifs des femmes, sur le mariage pour tous et les mêmes droits pour adopter des enfants, sur les gens LGTB+…Et là, je ne cite que quelques exemples. Mais je crois que garder un oeil sur ce que les leaders des autres mouvements religieux ont à dire peut être une chose avisée à faire car parfois on est d’accord.]

Germany: Konrad Reinhold, a Historiker, Wiccan, living in Chemnitz/Deutschland

Of course, we can support Pope Francis in his demands to fight against poverty, against capitalism or for the protection of nature. We must not forget that he is an ideal for millions of people in this world. If we can share his goals – why not support him? On the other hand whe don’t need his opinion in especially Pagan questions. I don’t need the confirmation of the Catholic Church to live my religion. It’s enough for me to live peacefully and without tension within my Christian neighbour. Therefore I don’t need the Pope.

[Natürlich können wir Papst Franziskus unterstützen, wenn er für die gleichen Ziele eintritt wie wir – den Kampf gegen Armut und Kapitalismus oder gegen die fortwährende Zerstörung unserer Umwelt. Wir dürfen nicht vergessen, dass er ein Vorbild für Millionen von Menshcen auf diesem Planeten ist. Wenn wir seine Ziele teilen können – warum sollten wir ihn nict unterstützen? Andererseits bedürfen wir seiner meinung nicht, wenn es um spezifisch heidnische Angelegenheiten geht. Ich brauche nicht irgendeine Bestätigung von Seiten der katholischen Kirche, wenn es um meinen Glauben. Mir reicht es friedlich und unverkrmpft mit meinem christlichen Nachbarn zusammenzuleben. Dafür benötige ich den Papst nicht.]

South Africa: Damon Leff, former director of South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), editor of Penton Independent Alternative Media

“I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone … This Pope would impress me more if he were actually changing Church doctrine and position, rather than just offering us his own liberal personal opinions on subjects his Church has and does disagree with in action.”

Australia: Michelle Claire White, Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) Media Officer

“Modern Pagans express the whole spectrum of social and political opinions and therefore any interest in the latest Pope or that of any of his predecessors will be a highly personal matter … With the current state of our ecological crisis and a need for humans to radically shift our perspectives and relationships with the natural world … it seems to me that it is important to pay attention to the attitudes being presented by mainstream religious traditions such as Catholicism to watch for shifts in opinion that may cause widespread changes on a range of levels.

“Earlier this year members from the [PAN] including myself responded to the Pope’s release of the encyclical on the environment by participating in an international collaboration, producing a Pagan statement on the environment. We felt as a community there is need to present a response from the point of view of Earth based religious traditions to compliment mainstream monotheism … It was an opportunity for our community to stand together, to find common ground and open the way for interfaith dialogue that is an essential component of the response to the ecological crisis.”

Thailand: Atiwan Kongsorn, Bangkok resident and co-owner of Ace of Cups Witch Cafe

“Pagan should pay attention to him. Not as an old enemy, but as a leader of another spiritual path. They have their own wisdom and so do we. Isn’t it better to share them?”

[เพแกนควรที่จะให้ความใส่ใจในองค์พระสันตะปาปา ไม่ใช่ในฐานะโจทก์เก่า แต่ในฐานะผู้นำทางจิตวิญญาณหนทางหนึ่งที่ต่างจากเรา พวกเขามีปรีชาญาณของเขา และเราก็มีปรีชาญาณในแบบของเรา ถ้าหากเราสามารถแบ่งปันให้แก่กันได้ จะไม่ดีกว่าหรือ]

Israel: Illy Ra, a Kemetic Pagan living in the small town of Kadima in central Israel and National Coordinator for PFI-Israel

“While I appreciate the Pope’s call for action on climate change, I can’t help but to wonder if beside the speeches the Vatican takes any actions within it? For example, changing the process Papal conclave that involves massive air pollution, as black smoke continues to come out from a chimney in the Sistine Chapel until the cardinals reach a decision about the new selected pope that is then signaled with white smoke. Therefore, besides being dazzled by the speeches, it’s merely a tale of hypocrisy regarding to the risk of the climate change.”

[בזמן שיש להעריך את יוזמתו של האפיפיור לפעול בנוגע לסכנות הנובעות משינויי האקלים, נותרת התהייה באם הוותיקן נוקט בפעילויות כלשהן למזער אותן מלבד נאומיו של האפיפיור? למשל, החלטה לשנות את מהלך טקס בחירת האפיפיור שמתרחש בו זיהום אוויר חמור, טקס זה כולל עשן שחור שיוצא מארובה בקפלה הסיס טינית עד שהקרדינלים מגיעים להסכמה לגבי בחירתו של האפיפיור החדש שמסומלת על ידי עשן לבן. על כן, חשוב להפעיל חשיבה ביקורתית ולא להסתנוור מהנאומים היפים, מכיוון שסיפור זה מהווה חלק מהצביעות החברתית המתרחשת סביב הנושא של נזקי שינויי האקלים.]

Locals offering prayer petitions in Philadelphia during Pope's visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Locals offering prayer petitions in Philadelphia during Pope’s visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Costa Rica: Esteban Sevilla Quiros, goði for Kindred Irminsul

“So far, he has been the nicest of all the Popes I’ve seen, many of his comments promote tolerance and maybe as Pagans we can agree with him on several points that don’t reflect the traditional and dogmatic Catholicism. I must also admit that I don’t agree with him on everything, since many of the ideas of Christianity are things that we as Pagans and Heathens oppose. But so far, I could say he is someone I could shake hands with, respectfully.”

[Por el momento, él ha sido el mejor de los Papas que he visto, muchos de sus comentarios promueven la tolerancia y como paganos podemos estar de acuerdo con él en varios puntos que no reflejan el catolicismo dogmático y tradicional. También debo admitir que no estoy de acuerdo con él en todo, ya que muchas de las ideas del cristianismo son cosas que nos oponemos como paganos y etenistas . Pero hasta el momento, creo que es alguien a quien le podría dar la mano, respetuosamente.]

Canada: Sable Aradia, a Wiccan Priestess and blogger at sablearadia.com

“There are more than a billion Catholics in the world, so there is no denying that the Pope’s opinion matters. Here in Canada 46% of our population are baptized Catholics, so perhaps it makes more of a difference here than in other places. Pope Francis is proving to be a champion of liberal values that I consider to be integral to *my* Paganism, which is likely to encourage a climate of open-mindedness; and that can never be a disadvantage to us, since we are essentially a counter-cultural movement. And since the anti-Capitalist movement is significant among some Pagans and Polytheists right now, and the Pope appears to be somewhat of an anti-Capitalist, we may find that, ironically, some of our political views align.”

United States:Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, Galina Krasskova, Erick Dupree, and Dana Eilers

Dr. Karl E. H. SeigfriedThe Norse Mythology Blog 
“Catholic clergy and organizations continue to deeply involve themselves in American politics, while members of minority faiths such as Heathenry are denied any access to the same corridors of power that have been so willingly thrown open to Pope Francis. It’s odd that the leader of one denomination of one religion spends so much time giving lectures on right behavior to the billions of us from other traditions, instead of focusing on issues within his own faith community. At the end of the confrontational and conservative papacy of Benedict, the Vatican brought in Greg Burke of Fox News for a concerted public relations campaign to portray the Church as a progressive and welcoming organization. The projected image and the lived reality are out of sync. The relentless barrage of quotable quotes by Francis have effectively distracted attention from sexual abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by leadership as well as from the Church’s stance against ordination of women, its opposition to marriage equality and its fight against reproductive rights. While I appreciate the pope’s statements on environmental concerns and societal treatment of the poor, a few inspirational speeches do not outweigh the ongoing deeds of those who control the organization he represents.”

Galina Krasskova, blogger and author
“I like Pope Francis. I think he’s a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church, at least when viewed in light of his predecessors. That doesn’t mean that I agree with him on everything. I think  he could use definite improvement on issues of women and LGBT rights within the church (in this way he’s a traditionalist or perhaps caught in the trap of traditional church structures and orthodoxy) but I admire his commitment to engaging with the poor. He’s walking his talk there and I think that is inspiring. Moreover, Paganisms and Polytheisms are still religions of converts and many of those converts come from Catholicism. Seeing a seemingly ethical person holding this position, one who shares concern about the environment, about social justice, may be one more step in healing old and sometimes grievous wounds. More importantly, our religions don’t exist in a vacuum. I think it’s very important, especially now with the state the world is in, to be religiously literate, and to keep abreast of changes and happenings in the religious world, even if it’s not our religion. That being said, I do wish he had not canonized Junipero Serra. It betrayed a serious disregard for indigenous peoples and the history of their oppression by the catholic church.”

Erick DuPree, blogger, author and Philadelphia Resident
Personally the Pope doesn’t impress me, but did I expected something? The Papal Visit was a ‘nonevent” for the residents of Philadelphia. The city sadly drove out most residents, and except for the Papal area, it was a ghost town, which personally as an introvert, I loved. Unfortunately, what we had was the feeling of a police state with check points, armed police and military, as well as a giant internment camp style fence, instead of “love, service, justice and peace.” The modified public transit, school closures, and shutdown highways, impacted working families who suffering most. It seemed that the Papal message about charity fell on deaf ears as the homeless were left without shelter access due to security systems, and the cities need to “clean up the image.” Apparently, the commerce also suffered, as the tourists did not reportedly spend any money in restaurants or shops. What could have been at least touristy, if not somewhat amazing (because after all, Pagan or not how often will you get to see a Pope in your lifetime?) I found it all rather ‘meh.’ ”

Philadelphia during Pope visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Philadelphia during Pope visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Dana Eilers, lawyer and author of Pagans and the Law
“First, should Pagans be concerned with the Pope religiously and/or spiritually? No. The Catholic Church and its doctrine are no friends of ours and never have been.  Recent niceties are just that: nice …

“Second, should Pagans be concerned with the Pope politically? This depends on one’s politics and whether one believes that the Pope can move the political needle anywhere. This might be possible in countries that are predominantly Catholic and which lean toward keeping their civil law in line with Church canon, but that is certainly not the United States…

“Third, should Pagans be concerned with this Pope from a historical viewpoint? Well, he did come and address the United States Congress. This was a first and therefore, it was pretty big news … Shortly thereafter, Speaker Boehner announced his plans to surrender the Speakership and retire from Congress completely. Coincidence? So, this Pope does seem to be having an concrete impact on modern history. Therefore, yes, we should pay attention, if only for this.

“Fourth and finally, should Pagans be concerned with this Pope from a cultural viewpoint? He commands more media attention than Hurricane Katrina and although I have no need to know whom he kisses while en route to mass, this is apparently a matter of great concern to our media. He is everywhere on television, in print, and on the internet. It would be wise to follow news of the Pope, if only marginally, because he is saying some things that sound really wonderful, even if he is not changing Church doctrine.”

Eilers comment above is only a very short summary of her words. Read it in full here. Eilers goes on to note the discrepancies between the Pope’s words, actions and Church doctrine. “He is thanking nuns, but women still are not admitted into the Priesthood and are not in line to become part of the Church power structure … This Pope does not feel that he, personally, can judge homosexuals, but homosexual marriage is still not sanctified by the Church …”

These inconsistencies are problematic for many of the people we interviewed, along with the notion that the Pope is now newly supporting concepts that have been long known or taught outside the Church for decades and even centuries. Eilers said, “According to this Pope, dogs might actually have souls and thus, enjoy the after life with us poor, miserable humans. This seems to be big news to the Pope, but we Pagans have pretty much known this since Man domesticated the wolf. And we will not even discuss cats.”

Pope Francis will undoubtedly continue to generate interest, and headlines, in many communities throughout the world. His position as the representative of a huge portion of the world’s population cannot be understated. However, as directly expressed by Leff, the key sticking point for our collective interviewees is mainly centered on action or lack thereof.

Within Pope Francis’ speeches, we may find, as non-Catholics, some of his ideas agreeable. However will these words be followed-up by action? Will the Church, as a whole, support its reportedly progressive leader and enact real world change or institutional change? Will Pope Francis use his global voice and position of power to support progress, environmental or otherwise, for the betterment of all humanity regardless of belief; rather than exclusively for those that serve and follow that one single institution and one single man?

[Editor’s Note: all opinions expressed in the article above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of associated organizations]

Support The Wild Hunt. Donate Today!

Send to Kindle

[Columnist Rhyd Wildermuth is one of our talented monthly columnist. If you enjoy reading his work, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. It is you that makes it all possible! Your donations go directly back to getting the important news out there. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

We’re screwed and all anyone seems to care about is their spiritual journey and their artesian chocolate bar made by a fedora-wearing bearded 20 year old living in #Bushwick. Only the hippest can help us. Only the rich can afford authenticity. Only those that can ignore the violence that privilege inflicts will have the most Instagram followers.

We’ve somehow forgotten that we are inherently interesting because we are human. We’ve ended up in this weird hipster hell where everything is an ironic nod to the past, to someone else’s identity or to fractions of an imitation of ours.

We need to occupy authentic.

Of course, artisanal chocolate isn’t the problem, it just points to it. It points to the lack of care of how we effect each other’s space, cultures, histories and displacements. Because when we have no sense of self it’s far too easy to colonize unconsciously. When we are able to disown what we don’t like about ourselves and buy what we do like it’s far too easy to escape doing the necessary work needed to heal our deeper wounds around our identity. Chani Nicholas

Let me tell you a story. It’s your story and mine. It’s the story of a deep trauma, a tale of sorrow and violence, and also one, potentially with a happy ending.

It’s the story of a people who lost their colours, who became blank.

It is not an easy story to tell. It’s one you may already think you know. You may already think you know what I am going to say, or fear what I might say. Maybe you’re already angry, already upset, eager to tell me what you think or to tell me off. That’s okay, really. But you won’t really know until I’ve finished my tale, and the tale is not in the end or in the beginning, but in the telling.

So I will tell you this tale.

I woke up one day and found out I was white. All my color and difference, all the connection and meaning of being human had bleached out of my existence, and I became blank.

Others already knew I was white, but like learning there’s no magic in the world or there’s no such thing as fairies or ghosts, someone had to tell me ‘the truth.’ I was not what I wanted to be, or what I could to be. I was emptiness, colourless, plain, normal.

Abnormal, fullness, authenticity, color — all those things belonged to others, not to me, nor to the people who were like me. Instead of having culture and magic and wonder, I had privilege and power and authority, malls and Empire and business suits and Christianity. I had oatmeal and turkey; mashed potatoes,untextured bread and bland pasta; blue jeans,  the Bible and Lipton tea. I had football and baseball and skyscrapers; FOX news and watered-down beer; trimmed lawns and Disneyworld

Thing is, I don’t like any of those things. But that’s what I get for being bleached of colour, bleached of meaning.

There are other things I get which are a lot better, though. Things that are supposed to make up for my loss. I’m less likely to be shot. I’m more likely to be picked for a job. I’m less likely to go to prison for a petty crime. I’m more likely to go to college. I’m less likely to get strip-searched in an airport. I’m more likely to be listened to by others.

All those things I ‘get’ for being white, though? There’s another story there. Getting more things than others and being less likely to be hurt means I was born into world where some people get hurt more often and also get less stuff.

I don’t want to live in that sort of world, but I also don’t want to off myself because it’s the only sort of world that’s around at the moment. So what I can do?

I didn’t decide to be white. It was decided for me, and not just at the moment when I learned I was white. It was decided only a few hundred years before by a really complicated series of actions, theories and wars that I had nothing to do with. My story’s gonna get a little longer, because I need to tell you about how some people lost their colour.

How The Whites Lost Their Colour

Christoph Meiners, who first used the term 'Caucasian' in 1785

Christoph Meiners, who first used the term ‘Caucasian’ in 1785 [Public Domain]

Whiteness didn’t really exist 325 years ago.

Sit with that for a moment, if you don’t mind. And if you’ve read my writing before, you maybe also remember a few other things that didn’t really exist 300 years ago. Like Capitalism. And the steam engine. And the United States of America.

What were ‘white people’ before? All kinds of things. English and French and Spanish and Scandanavian and Irish. Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox. Peasants and farmers and nobles and kings and merchants—but not really ‘white.’ There was no such thing as a ‘white race.’ In fact, ‘Causasians’ didn’t exist until a scientist who liked to measure skulls came up with the word in 1785 and divided people into races.

Science had a lot to do with the creation of white people. The Enlightenment and “Age of Reason” turned loose an orgy of men measuring and theorising and writing and advising on the inner scientific truths of nature and the human body and our origins. Capitalism and factories and lots of other awful modern things were created from their ideas. Some of these ideas we keep around because they make sense (Darwin’s ideas, for instance) and others we’ve mostly gotten rid of, like lobotomies or removing women’s ovaries to calm them down.

But whiteness didn’t get widely accepted until it got written into law and became ‘truth.’

Scientific theories are meant to explain a process, but when they become politically useful, they take on a life of their own. Race, especially whiteness, was a really useful political theory. During the colonial period of America, governors needed a way to make sure property was distributed only among certain people, and they were also having trouble keeping the lower classes in line.

Traditionally, the laws defined people by their wealth and their Christianity as opposed to ‘others.’ But because indigenous peoples and African slaves also converted to Christianity, extra definitions of what the laws meant by ‘Christian’ (that is, people who got rights and wealth) were required. As pointed out in a really good essay by Quinn Norton:

…a growing American peasantry was proving as difficult to govern as the European peasantry back home, periodically rising up in riot and rebellion, light skinned and dark skinned together. The political leaders of the Virginia colony struck upon an answer to all these problems, an answer which plagues us to this day.

The Virginians legislated a new class of people into existence: the whites. They gave the whites certain rights, and took other rights from blacks. White, as a language of race, appears in Virginia around the 1680s, and seems to first appear in Virginia law in 1691. And thus whiteness, and to a degree as well blackness, was born in the mind of America.

The ‘whites’ appeared during the colonial period, during the same period of the birth of Capitalism, and in response to the difficulty of ruling over people. It was a political tool, later strengthened by irresponsible scientists, and was a way to divide the poor against each other.

I don’t have space to tell you the rest of the story about the creation of whiteness (and as I’ve suggested, others have done it very well). What’s important here, especially for Pagans, is what came before whiteness, and what can come after whiteness.

The story we hear about America was that it was founded by people fleeing religious persecution and filled by immigrants looking for opportunity. The first part of that story’s really silly. The pilgrims were Puritans who were fleeing backlash from their horrible attempts to regulate society according to their ideas of what the Christian God wanted (no dancing, no drinking, church like, all the time).

The second part, though… Ever stop to wonder why there was no opportunity in the places those immigrants came from?

The answer is the one no one likes to talk about. Capitalism was re-arranging European society. The Enclosures, the Highland Clearances, the Irish Famines, industrialisation, the closing-off of forests in what is now Germany, and wars for resources during that time all destroyed the ability of the lower classes to survive. So, they went where they might have a better chance to find a way to eat (and even, possibly, have some land to farm on). An ethical decision most of us might make, even if we didn’t want to help make life miserable for the people who were already living on that land. Hungry people will do some awful things for food.

Irish famine monument, Dublin (photo by author)

Irish famine monument, Dublin [Photo Credit: R. Wildermuth]

Those people who left weren’t really ‘white’ yet, not until they became integrated into the American political and economic system. And there was an order in which that happened: people from the same lands as those in power became white first. Later, other people became white, too — Germans, Irish, Italians, and eventually Hispanics and Eastern Europeans.

The thing to remember, though, is that white was a new kind of person, a new label. By becoming white, all the other cultural identities of that white person were mostly erased. Also, remember that creating a legal category of person called ‘white’ was done to prevent poor people of European descent from mixing, intermarrying, and allying with slaves (freed or otherwise) from Africa or with First Nations people.

White basically meant not Black, or Indian, or Chinese, or anyone else we were supposed to not trust or share stuff with. For awhile, it didn’t mean Irish or German or Italian, and then eventually it did.

White also became a symbol. A symbol of power (because those in power were white). A symbol of authority. A symbol of normality. A blankness, empty, a void waiting to be filled with profit and privilege.

And whiteness became a way to get the a large group of the poor to identify with and fight for the rich, instead of identifying with people in similar economic statuses, or people suffering from similar ancestral trauma.

Ancestral trauma is an important bit, actually, and one only Animists and psychoanalysts can really quite allow. The secularism of Western society can only talk of material processes that would affect the children of people who became white, not the spiritual or cultural traumas.

The Victim Becomes The Abuser

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed –James Baldwin

There isn’t really a white culture. We’ll certainly laugh when we hear jokes about ‘what white people eat,’ but “white culture” is whatever people without ethnic and cultural ties to their origins have cobbled together and created in this new state of blankness. Humans without culture create culture, because culture is part of what makes us human.

So whites came up with a patchwork of cultural forms, pasted together from what was around. Some of it was surviving bits from Europe. Some of it was technically stolen. Some call it borrowing, but whites don’t actually give it back. Some call it ‘copying’ or ‘exchange,’ but the only thing whites ever exchange in return is money, or Coca Cola, or expensive plastic bits made by people who aren’t white.

The important thing here is that culture went from something humans create to something that can only be bought or sold. That’s Capitalism’s trick, taking away our meaning and selling it back to us for profit. Worse, Capitalism often sells us stolen goods, the spoils of colonization.

That’s the whole ‘cultural appropriation’ bit. But let’s be clear  — most people don’t do a good job of talking about appropriation because they don’t mention Capitalism and Empire and power. It’s not easy to explain those things in a heated conversation, and not so easy on the internet, either.

Whiteness is a theft of color, a theft of history of the people who become white, a theft of all the ancestral cultural and spiritual forms of a people. They all become whitewashed, and become a people who don’t know who they are, don’t know how to have spirituality and culture without stealing it from others.

Whiteness can be—and maybe should be—looked at as a trauma. Fleeing European lands because of famine, enclosure, capitalist displacement and war, many of the people, who would later become white, were not just immigrants, but refugees. This is less traumatic, certainly, than being hauled in the bottom of slave ships, or being forced-marched across America so other people could have your land. But, loss of land, culture, language, and identity is a trauma nevertheless.

Traumatized people can be compelled to do horrible things. People who have lost everything often steal. People who live in abject poverty can often be bribed into performing heinous acts. And most horrible of all, people who suffer trauma often re-enact that trauma in others, perpetuating abuse in even worse forms than the original trauma.

Whiteness is, itself, a trauma treated not with healing, but with bribes and rewards to shut you up. Accept the abuse of whiteness and your kids don’t get shot, your bandages will be closer to your skin-tone, and the rich will let a few more scraps fall on the floor in front of you and maybe, just maybe, let you one day sit with them too.

The answer to curing the trauma of whiteness isn’t to deny it never happened, and that trauma doesn’t excuse any of the things whites have done because of it. We don’t help victims by denying they were never victimised, nor do we forgive people who sexually abuse children if they were abused as children, too. Both are forms of denial.

The End of Whiteness and the Beginning of Everything Else

We must look directly at the trauma that caused and causes whiteness, heal the wounds it causes (inside the white and outside), overthrow the Capitalist system that needs whiteness to survive, and then abolish whiteness altogether. And that’s where Paganism is very important.

Paganism can be seen as an attempt to create a culture and a system of meaning from the ruins of Capitalism even as Capitalism isn’t over yet. In fact, by creating a culture than can withstand the assault of the market and all its voracious greed, by insisting on the right of individuals to choose their own identities and worship their own gods in their own ways, Paganism could actually help cause the end of Capitalism and whiteness.

But there are two very large dangers here.

There are those who want to make Pagan a white religion. They make the mistake of accepting capitalist racial distinctions as natural or gods-ordained, and are often led by demogogues eager to exploit the trauma of whiteness into more virulent forms of hatred. They confuse European heritage and European gods with whiteness, even though there were no whites when European gods were worshiped.

In creating or reclaiming new identities, whiteness sometimes carries over as the blueprint for these constructions. Heathenism and Celtic Reconstruction often falls victim to this danger, sometimes pasting ‘Germanic’ or ‘Celtic’ over whiteness. Instead of salvaging what can be Celtic from the ruins of whiteness, they sometimes just dress up whiteness in Celtic garb.

The other danger is that we dress up our Paganism in salvage from the ruins of other still-living cultures, cultures in the process of being destroyed by Capitalism. That’s always been what Cultural Appropriation actually means, and why it’s important to talk about.  By taking cultural forms from other exploited peoples we are not borrowing or exchanging–we are continuing the abuse done to our ancestors.

But we can avoid both of these dangers by questioning whiteness, healing its trauma, and then destroying it completely. Paganism can’t be a white religion if we get rid of whiteness, nor can it be a white religion if we stop excluding people who have color from Paganism. And to destroy whiteness, there will have to be a culture to replace it—what better culture, then, than one reforged from what existed before Capitalism?

And this is yet another way that Paganism is also important—like soul retrieval, restoring what was lost to those traumatized by the nightmare of whiteness will make them whole again, end the cycles of abuse, and return the colors to their world.

Perhaps as we finally begin to know ourselves, face and heal the trauma of whiteness, our own and especially that of others whiteness was weaponized to hurt, perhaps we can reclaim what could have been and what has been along with all the other peoples of the world.

  *    *    *

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

Support The Wild Hunt. Donate Today!

Send to Kindle

[Our Fall Fund Drive is on-going. Your support is what makes independent Pagan journalism possible. If you like reading daily news and commentary with a Pagan focus, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. We can’t do it without you. Donate today and share the link. Thank You.]

ROSEBURG, Ore — On Thursday Oct. 1, a 26-year old man entered several buildings on the Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon and opened fire killing a total of ten people and injuring 9 others. Among those ten victims was 59-year old Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, a local Pagan woman, who was attending classes with her daughter.


Kim Saltmarsh Dietz

When the shooting happened, family members immediately began to worry. There had been no word from Kim since the shots had been fired. Almost immediately, prayers and blessings were being expressed via Facebook from friends and family. “Kim, please be alive. Please be safe. Please call home!,” read one post.

However, hope turned to sorrow when friends and family learned that she was one of the ten victims. The Douglas County Sheriff’s office sent two officers to each home to inform the family and offer any assistance. After learning the news, Kim’s husband, Eric Dietz, confirmed the worst via Facebook, saying “It is with deep grief in my heart that I must announce that Kim Saltmarsh Dietz was one of the people killed yesterday at UCC.”  Later that day, the Sheriff’s office publicly released the names of all the victims.

Douglas County Sheriff’s office Lt. Rich Chatman told The Wild Hunt that they have a huge number officers currently working on this case because of the immense amount of data involved. When asked if officers were currently pursuing or considering pursuing any of the suggested connections to Paganism or Wicca, as publicized by various media outlets, Lt. Chatman said, “not at the moment.” He was very open about the reality of the investigation’s complexity and, at this point, the office has no idea what direction the case will take. Lt. Chatman added that, at this point, their focus is on the immediate crisis, gathering data, and talking to the victims’ families.

He did confirm that the shooter owned 14 guns, of which 13 have been recovered. Only 6 were found at the college, and the others were found in his home. All of the guns were purchased legally from licensed federal firearms dealers.

While the Sheriff’s department moves forward with its investigative work, the victims’ families must now face the process of mourning. Kim’s husband has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for funeral and memorial expenses. According to one of the donors, Kim was a hero. On the site, Jescah Keene wrote, “She stood in front of a door to block the shooter & unfortunately lost her life.”  And, in a Facebook post, another local resident said that nursing student and friend Sharon Kirkham “was by her side trying to save her until the end.”

Graphic turning up on Facebook after the tragedy.

Since the news became public, there has been an outpouring of support from family, friends and the extended Pagan community. Originally from Mission Viejo California, Kim was closely connected to Covenant of the Goddess, whose members have been reaching out across various platforms to offer support. She was involved with the Society of Creative Anachronism, Shire of Briaroak and she worked as a caretaker at Pyrenees Vineyard and Wine Cellars.

No memorial services are currently scheduled. We are currently in touch with the family and will bring you updates as they come in.

Until that time, we simply say … What is remembered, lives!

  *   *   *

Support The Wild Hunt! Donate Today!

Send to Kindle

[Manny Tejeda-Moreno is one of our talented monthly columnists. He brings you commentary each month that explores and validates many our most treasured traditions and spiritual practices through scientific studies. If you like his work and that of our other monthly columnists, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you articles, like the one below, is what we love to do. It is your continued support that makes it possible for us to continue. Support independent journalism! Donate today.Thank you very much.]

There is a pataki, which is a story of Orisha, about words, slander and stewardship. Obatalá is the king of the Orisha under Heaven. He is the wise Sky Father who designed and created the human body. The Orisha respect him as judge and counsel, because he rules with wisdom and not with power. Obatalá teaches patience and listening.

Changó, on the other hand, is the Orisha of leadership, but he is impatient, splenetic and impetuous. He is also the son of Obatalá, who saw Changó clearly for his limitations, but also recognized his intelligence, industry and commitment to helping others. It was for that reason that when Changó was very young, Obatalá put him in charge of governing people.

Many were concerned about this decision, but no one dared question Obatalá to his face. Instead, they just complained to him about Changó. The stories told ranged from silly to serious. And Changó would hear them whispered. The rumors swirled constantly until Changó confronted Obatalá asking, “Father why did you put me in charge? Everyone tells terrible stories about me and none of them are true! Why do they do this?”

Chango’s Axe- [Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Obatalá responded by asking Changó to prepare a dinner for him and all his children. He wanted to be served the most enchanting and delicious food that Changó could think of. When the evening came for the meal, Changó presented his father with a stewed beef tongue saying, “It is delicious and magical, full of aché!” Everyone enjoyed the dinner.

A few months passed and Obatalá requested another meal from his son. This time, he asked Changó, “Present me with the most dangerous of meals – the worst food you can bring!” Changó entered and presented him again with beef tongue. Obatalá was impressed and asked why. Changó responded, “A good tongue will save a village and bad tongue will destroy it.” Obatalá was pleased and said “This is why you lead. You now understand the power of your voice and your words for ill and blessing. And you have learned to rise above slander while speaking words of greatness. Worry only when they stop talking about you.”

  *    *    *

This past week, I was truly struck by a story that came out of Northern Nigeria that resonated with the above pataki. A 65-year old Muslim woman in Sokoto State was allegedly tried and publicly flogged with twelve strokes administered by palace guards in the royal courtyard of the area’s traditional leader. The woman’s trial and punishment were reportedly the consequence of a dispute with her daughter-in-law, who alleged that her husband was mistreating her and that he was aided by her mother-in-law’s witchcraft. Subsequent media reports note that residents of the community have requested gubernatorial intervention because, as they claim, this is not the first accusation of witchcraft and that such accusations are on the rise.

To put the story in context, it was shocking not only in terms of what happened, but also in the location of the atrocity. Witchcraft persecution is not uncommon in the Christian south of Nigeria. But for this event to have occurred in the Muslim north represents a departure from the location and group most likely to engage in witch hunts. It is a change that portends more could be on the way.

A belief in the evils of witchcraft is in fact indigenous, but this manner of remedy is not. The African Traditional Religions of Nigeria that were brought to the West, like Ocha and Ifá, approach the issue as an aspect of negative energy. Priests identify the spiritual problem and then properly work with Orisha, and their own aché to restore balance in the afflicted person. The current witch hunt and elimination of witches is chiefly the culmination of colonization and the importation of Scottish and American Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries into the local community. It has produced a truly noxious cultural brew that imperils lives. And now that Northern Nigeria is reporting the identification and hunting of witches suggests a sinister contagion into regions that have traditionally been disinterested in locating and punishing them.

These witch hunts have taken the most disturbing of turns in the south and east of Nigeria through the work of the Pentecostal community and their evangelical “prophets.” Children as young as 24 months of age are branded as witches and then tortured, abandoned and even killed by their parents in order to secure either their own safety or the salvation of the child. Preachers of such communities have even turned to the instruments of the Spanish Inquisition, using anything from whips to boiling water to even lye against toddlers and teens, to ensure their flock is free from “Satanic influence.”

The only instrument, many believe, to remedy such evil is to turn to the power self-proclaimed priests and prophets who purvey both salvation and antidotes. One such prophet is Helen Ukpabio self-declared as The Lady Apostle and founder of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries in Calabar. Ms. Ukpabio produced and starred in a film called The End of the Wicked. While available on YouTube, I strongly recommend you watch it with caution if you intend to work your way through it. The Wild Hunt has previously reported on her activities.

Her proclamations are inconsistent with reason. But the real revulsion of the film is that it implies a basis for the systematic torment of children by demonstrating how witch-children are created, identified and ultimately eliminated through the power of exorcism. That exorcism isn’t free and, of course, no psychologist or other mental health professional is ever consulted. Religion is only part of the oppression: money is the other.

Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno Abuja, Nigeria

National Assembly and Aso Rock, Abuja, Nigeria- Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno

That is not to say that witches and witch hunts are solely the product of Christian faiths or that they are alien in the Islamic world. Far from it. Belief in Jinn, or the supernatural beings from pre-Islamic Arabian beliefs, is common and their abilities to empower witches are formidable and require suppression. Since 2007, when Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim was beheaded in Riyadh for “practicing magic and sorcery as well as adultery and desecration of the Holy Quran,” dozens of people have been sentenced to penalties that range from death to 1,000 canings and a decade of imprisonment. In many cultures, traditions and faiths, there can be found a real fear of witches. In July of this year,16 men were arrested in India for stripping and beheading a 63 year old woman in Assam State.

While these atrocities must unquestionably cease, it is unlikely they will.  It is not a folk belief within a specific tradition that is driving the hysteria. One mechanism that drives the fear is the terrible power held within the word “witch.” The Spanish word for witch, brujo/a, still conveys a dark identity to the practitioners of magic as do similar words for witch in other languages (strega, 巫婆, wrach, hexe). And while those mentioned in the articles above were likely not Pagan nor Witches by the common standards of our community, many of us would also undoubtedly be the targets of fanatical witch hunters. The persecution of Pagans occurs in all parts of the world: it only varies by degree.

Still, many of us fortunately find ourselves in a space of privilege. We live in societies where religious freedoms have helped us reclaim the word witch and temper its meaning. We do still experience persecution but not to the scale of our history or the reports above. In North America, the Salem Witch Trials are distant memory. Nevertheless, The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (a.k.a the Spanish Inquisition) only ended in 1834. It was part of the living memory of some of our most recent Ancestors, and elsewhere in the world events like it and the trials are unfolding today. The combined fear of the feminine and the supernatural potential to upset the power structure, will kindle fear in witches around the world still.

Paralleling the re-introduction of Halloween in the 19th Century, the concept of “witch” has been tempered by commercialization, urbanization, and the rise of witch-positive over the last century. And, I think, it would be possible to argue that witches are perceived in a more nuanced manner in Great Britain and North America.

But the changes in imagery are not enough to promote lasting and effective change in our world to stop the atrocities against children and the elderly. Many people in West Africa, the Levant and Arabian Peninsula all have access to the same imagery through the internet and even through simple broadcast and books. The same is true for other parts of the world. Language and images are one thing; but there is another mechanism of oppression as well that truly magnifies the fear of witches: economics.

Money is itself a structure of power that attracts wickedness far more effectively than a mere word. Economics can alter power structures as effectively as any magic. And losing power is another matter altogether.

This view is not new. Llorente (1822), an Inquisition historian, suggested that the purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was little more than the extraction of wealth on behalf of the Spanish Crown. He referred to it as little more than an income maximizing enterprise to repress groups that could potentially challenge the power of political and religious institutions.

Recent research has supported some evidence of an economic rationale for the Inquisition. Vidal-Robert (2014) found that while the Spanish Inquisition did not have increases in wealth as Llorente suggested, there were other economic effects from it. The Inquisition repressed opportunity by limiting entrepreneurship incentives and activity. At the same time it quelled the use of new technologies – all stifling economic growth.  Even still. The Inquisition brought censorship and suppression to the powerless and the different: from Jews to Protestants to Moriscos and from homosexuals to Freemasons.

Indeed, wealth and economic inequality may prove to be critical factors in creating fear and hatred toward witches. Though rising economic opportunity and access to education have worked their magic to promote understanding, peace and equality, failures to create opportunity for everyone may also have serious consequences. As Munro (1976) noted the rise of anti-witch sentiment co-occurred with economic instability. There rise in social paranoia toward witches and other supernatural beings paralleled upsurges in unemployment within urbanized immigrant communities.

Most interestingly, though, Konig (2013) examined an anthropological data set termed the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS) to question whether fear of witches was related to failing economic prosperity, specifically opportunity from agricultural development. In essence, the findings point to yes: the revitalization of agriculture and overall economic success reduced the fear of witches. This is not unique to the continent of Africa, both Latin America and Southeast Asia have also seen the growth in witch fear co-occurring with political and economic oppression (Hayes 2007). And that connection is not trivial: all three areas have experienced the repressive effects of Colonialism and subsequent economic injustice.

Oster (2004) found a similar pattern by looking at a connections between witch trials and climate changes (specifically temperature). She gathered climate records between 1520 and 1770 and found that the colder periods co-occurred with an increase number of witch trials in Europe. Miguel (2005) found a similar pattern in data from Tanzania. Extremes in rainfall, whether floods or drought, resulted in more accusations of witchcraft and ultimately more murders against “witches,” particularly elderly women. When crops fail, you look for a scapegoat. Witches made good scapegoats: they can control the weather. Elderly women have little power in the patriarchy to resist. The connection with agriculture as a proxy for economic bounty is underscored again. The fear that exists in the culture manifested in the word “witch” is magnified by poverty.

But the science also speaks to an advocacy and magic that we can create and sustain as well. Our traditions have collectively explored how systems of social and economic oppression ultimately fail people and Nature. Our demands for social justice include demands for social stewardship of resources and economic opportunity. They include the demand for fair and rational politicians and political systems that promote human dignity and erase the fears that create oppression. Our traditions also demand responsible stewardship and the sacredness of Earth. Climate change will undoubtedly stretch agricultural systems. But our approach to honor and work with Nature is being heard: we are overcoming a systemic deafness that has lasted decades.

While climate science points us in one direction for sustainability, economic and administrative science points us in a parallel one. Advocating for world-wide economic stability and opportunity will undermine witch-hunters the world over.  Calling out systems of economic oppression and fostering change by promoting fair and just business practices that create prosperity will ultimately subvert the power of witch-hunters to abuse children and the elderly. Economic and political stability will destabilize the fear needed to justify their actions and will end their control over congregants and communities.

As a Pagan community, we have made tremendous strides advocating for social and economic justice as well as the health of the planet. Tiring as it may sometimes be, we barrel headlong in our demands for all forms of equality and hold ourselves accountable for our actions when we fail to meet the expectations of our Ancestors. Those who have suffered or died under the accusation of witchcraft, whether Pagan or not, have exposed the fear and greed of the powerful.

I often think we make our Ancestors wonder, “What did we do to make that happen?” They see a seriously troubled world. But I also believe that within our Pagan community, our Ancestors are proud of our living voice that echoes their whispers demanding equality, claiming opportunity and wishing to live within and not above Nature. In doing so we honor those that brought us to now. We fulfill all their hopes. And as Samhain approaches, they will whisper their pride. The tongue is indeed powerful.

*Note: Ashé refers to spiritual energy. It is the power to make things happen.

*    *    *


Hayes, K.E. (2007). “Black magic and the academy: Macumba and Afro-Brazilian ‘orthodoxies.'” History of Religions, 46. p. 283-315.
Koning, N. (2013). “Witchcraft beliefs and witch hunts.” Human Nature24. p.158-1814.
Llorente, J.A. (1822). “Historia critica de la Inquisición.” Imprenta del Censor.
Munro, J.F. (1976). African and the International economy, 1800-1960: An introduction to the modern economic history of Africa south of the Sahara. London:  Dent.
Oster, E. (2004). “Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18. p. 215-228.
Vidal-Robert, J. (2014) “Long-run effects of the Spanish inquisition. working paper. Coventry: University of Warwick. Department of Economics. CAGE Online Working Paper Series, Volume 2014 (Number 192). (Unpublished)


Support The Wild Hunt. Donate Today!

Send to Kindle

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. How much would you pay for a subscription to a magazine or a newspaper? If you like reading articles, like the one below, on a daily basis, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Donate here. Thank You.]

NEW YORK, NY –The World Peace Violin, an instrument that has both given and received blessings as it travels around the world to various sacred places and conflict zones, was blessed on the U.N.’s International Day of Peace by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and primatologist Jane Goodall. “On the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and 75th of the bombing of Hiroshima, those messengers of peace blessed and sanctified it,” said violin creator Patrick McCollum.

jane goodall

Jane Goodall with Patrick McCollum and the Peace Violin [Courtesy Photo 2015]

This may well represent a peak for an item that defied the predictions of expert luthiers, who expected an instrument made of such an amalgamation of woods to never produce a beautiful note, much less become a metaphor for the peace process itself. However, McCollum does not believe the violin’s work has reached anything near its pinnacle. He said:

Throughout the last several days, many of the world’s foremost peacemakers and interfaith leaders have been deeply moved by the violin and its story, and many have shared their personal blessings on it. It was beautifully played by Scarlet [Rivera] at the Roerich Museum, and my speech was very well received. All in all, I did a number of wonderful events for the International Day of Peace including the prayers and flag ceremony for every country at the United Nations Chapel after the main event at the UN.

The story of how McCollum, who had never played a note on a violin, much less built one, came to be the steward of one is rife with mystery, magic, and many, many blessings. It’s a tale he shares often, although not always as thoroughly as he did for The Wild Hunt.

In summary, he said, “Years ago, I’m laying in bed, and a voice speaks to me …It’s the Goddess, and she said, ‘I want you to make a violin, and it’s going to become the symbol of world peace.’ She told me I could not learn how to make one; I had to listen to her voice.”

And, listen he did. The pieces, quite literally, started coming together. Those pieces came from a wide variety of woods, some sacred, others from trees that were witness to conflict or its resolution. A highly-skilled luthier would be hard-pressed to coax music from an instrument fashioned of as many diverse woods as this violin, but those who have played it consider its sound to be world-class. Here’s a sample:

The violin sounded quite poor when it was first built, McCollum said. The first two pieces of wood to go into it came from opposite sides of the world. One was given to him by members of a tribe in the Congo, and came from the type of tree made to use drums sacred in their tradition. The other came from a tree that members of a Native American tribe introduced him to; he was told that it carried the “voice of peace.” McCollum recalled, “I interacted with the tree for many years, until a storm knocked off a big branch.”

He carved into an inlay a piece he took from a sacred tree that had seen the peace accords signed in Ireland, and created a varnish which reinforced the message all the more: dust collected from Hiroshima eight days after the bomb detonated, sand from the reputed site of Jesus’ baptism which was collected during peace talks between Israel and Palestine, and cremains from a sacred white buffalo, whose birth itself was a prophecy of peace.

“When I first played it, it sounded horrible. It sounded terrible, but it looked really nice.”

Despite that beginning, McCollum began asking people to bless the violin, starting with prominent Pagans, such as Starhawk and Selena Fox. He brought it on his travels, obtaining blessings from more Pagans and others, until he brought it to the Maha Kumbh Mela in India. During that festival, which takes place every twelve years, Hindus bathe in the Ganges to wash away the sins of lifetime. As many as one hundred million people participated in 2013 when McCollum was there, and he again heard a voice. “It told me to immerse the violin under the water as they pray,” he said. “Some people nearby told me not to do that,” but submerge it he did. McCollum added, “It took a month and a half to dry, but when it did, it sounded world-class.”

The violin continues to sound as lovely, despite having been dismantled and reassembled with new pieces of wood at least fifteen times. It now contains over a hundred fragments from all over the world. It’s an ugly process, involving breaking and chiseling it apart, “but each time I put it back together, it sounds better,” he said.

He also reports that Rivera, the primary musician, said that it sounds a little different each time it is blessed by someone new. That’s not something he can confirm personally, since he taught himself how to play, and claims he restricts that to his living room.

Built of an impossible diversity of woods that should not sound well together after being broken down and reconstructed time and time again, McCollum sees the violin as a metaphor for the peace process itself. He’s not alone in that, either, as evidenced by the events he has been asked to bring the instrument to, and the people eager to both play and bless it. He said,

To me, it’s important because it’s a Pagan violin. We’re always trying to gain recognition, and be taken seriously. This originated in Paganism, and it was our blessings that laid its foundational energies.

There are stories and hints that the blessings of this violin go both ways. McCollum has heard of people with serious health conditions whose suffering was alleviated after they conferred a blessing upon the violin or heard it play. He is more than willing to allow anyone to bless the instrument; not just faith leaders. Laypersons also have laid hands upon it, and those who see it as a miracle of science and bless it from that perspective.


Jane Goodall blessing the Peace Violin [Courtesy Photo 2015]

This diversity of blessings, which have been laid upon that foundation, are as varied as the diverse materials used to build it in the first place. No one is precluded from participating based on their particular beliefs, or lack thereof; the magic of this violin, in his view, stems from it giving voice to so many different sources.

YouTube videos offer only tantalizing bits to those who have not been fortunate enough to hear the World Peace Violin be played in person. In the works is a CD that might give the curious more of a sense of how this remarkable instrument actually sounds. Perhaps that recording will carry some of its magic and allow its message of peace to be carried further than even its world travels might take it.

Through his Foundation’s Facebook page, you can follow McCollum’s work and, if you’d like to bless or see the violin, the page also offers the most up-to-date information on its future appearances.

  *   *   *

Support The Wild Hunt. Donate Today!

Send to Kindle

[Unleash the Hounds is a monthly feature that highlights media stories of interest originating predominantly outside of our collective communities. If you like seeing this roundup every month, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. These types of articles take time, research and money to produce. It is you that makes it all possible! Your donations go directly back to getting the important news out there. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

News Update …

bloomfield nmIn March 2014, we reported on a story in which two New Mexico Pagans challenged their local city’s placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public grounds. They won that case, but the city vowed to appeal in federal court.

That case is being heard today in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado. The city of Bloomfield will argue for keeping the monument, stating that “the display is legal because it was privately funded.” Prior to the monument’s installation, members of the Bloomfield community, as well as some elected officials, had raised private funds specifically for this purpose.

The ACLU, on behalf of Felix and Coone, maintain that the monument violates the Constitution. As noted in our original article, the ACLU argued that city officials “accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation.” We will update the story as it continues to progress.

Other Links …. 

  • On Sept 25, a special memorial service was held for Mustang 22, a 5-person unit of soldiers killed in combat exactly ten years ago. A member of that unit was Sergeant Patrick Stewart, whose name later became connected to the Veteran Pentacle Quest. Sergeant Stewart’s wife, Roberta Stewart, was at the memorial service, and spoke to the media in attendance. Here is that news report:

  • In June, we noted the passing of Eron the Wizard, a prominent figure in the UK’s magical community and a practitioner of Alexandrian Wicca. He lost his battle with cancer on May 10 and was given a large memorial service that was well-publicized. Just this past week, Eron’s daughter, Rebecca Spencer, reported that her father’s beloved car has now been stolen. It’s a yellow Subaru Legacy uniquely decorated with black stars and witches. She told reporters that it disappeared on Friday from her home near Gloucester. She said, “I have lost my dad and now this has been stolen.” She added that it was one of the few things from him that she had left.
  • Now we move east to Russia. The Moscow Times has reported that city officials are planning to “release a booklet warning Muscovites against unorthodox religious ‘cults’ operating in Russia.” The booklet will reportedly include ways to handle encounters with such cults and how to countact the authorities. The Times also quoted Moscow officials as saying, “cults do not necessarily take a traditional form, many of them are posing as lectures, personal development courses, or even yoga classes.” What does this mean, if anything, for Pagans in the area? The booklet has not yet been published, and there is no indication of whether or not any Pagan groups will be listed. When more is available, we will update the story.
  • Further southwest, in the ex-Soviet province of Tajikistan, the national government is also taking measures against, what it considers to be, dangerous practices. The Tajik Parliament is expected to introduced new changes to its criminal code, which make the practice of witchcraft, “sorcery” and fortune telling punishable with up to 7 years of prison time. The legislation was first introduced in 2007 as a simple ban. Now officials are looking to add more teeth to the measure in order to allegedly protect against charlatans and “witch doctors.”
  • Over the past two weeks, it seems that everyone is talking about the Pope. The Guardian recently featured an article on his visit to Cuba. However, the piece didn’t focus on the Pope specifically. It examined the relationship between his message and the practice of Santeria, also known as Lukumi. The article reads, “The syncretic religion of Santería has unsurprisingly not been mentioned in the pope’s schedule or sermons, but its powerful influence on the island means that many of those listening to his homilies will be interpreting references to the Catholic saints in a very different way from Vatican orthodoxy.” The Guardian goes on to discuss the relationship between the Church and the deeply-rooted syncretic religion that thrives on the island.
  • Back in the United States, changes have been made to one Montana hospital, which allows for a very specific type of healing. In Helena, Montana, a new “Smudging Room” has opened in Saint Peter’s Hospital. The room is intended to be used by Native Americans for a special sacred healing practice that removes negative energy. Montanta Public Radio reports that “Little Shell Tribal member Daniel Pocha said getting hospitals to allow smudging has always been hit and miss.” The article goes on to celebrate the new addition, saying the hospital is “acknowledging the needs of patients who follow native spiritual traditions.”
  • If you haven’t looked at the calendar lately, it’s almost October. And what does that mean? Pumpkins, corn mazes and interviews with Witches. Starting off before the bell even rings opening the month, Oregon Live has posted an article featuring Anne Newkirk Niven. A local Oregon resident, Niven is the publisher of Witches and Pagans magazine and director of PaganSquare.com. In the article, Niven discusses her practices and beliefs. It ends with her saying, “I love words, I love religion, and I’m pagan … What the heck? I’m in my dream job.”
  • In that same vein, BuzzFeed has joined Octoberfest early, offering a list of “spellbooks for the witch in your life.” The thirteen books listed are a mix bag from the newly published to the classic. BuzzFeed’s criteria may be a bit of a mystery. How does this compare to your top 13?
  • Finally, the Vice Channel Broadly has published photographs from this year’s New York Pagan Pride Day event. In July,Vice.com offered a vivid picture tour of New York City’s Witchfest. Now, its Broadly channel is serving up photos from the annual fall festival. Its cover shot is of Priestess Courtney Weber proudly wearing a shirt that reads, “Where my Witches at?” The article goes on to quote PPD president Beth Mastromarino, saying that their goal is to “Create a space where Pagans can gather and the public can see that we’re just everyday people who happen to have a different sense of spirituality, but share the same values—family, community, caring for the environment and our fellow humans.” The majority of Broadly’s article is simply a dazzling photo album documenting the many people at this year’s event.

  *   *   *

Support The Wild Hunt. Donate Today!


Send to Kindle

[Cara Schulz is one of our talented weekly staff writers. She brings you the news and issues that most affect the Pagan and Heathen worlds. If you like her work and that of our other weekly reporters, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories, like the one below, is what we love to do. It is your continued support that makes it possible for us to continue. Support independent journalism! Donate today.Thank you very much.]

SASKATOON, Canada – It was just another night door knocking and campaigning for Robert Rudachyk – no different from the 49 previous nights. After he finished, he headed home and, as he was about to enter his front door, he witnessed an unfamiliar car occupied by two men slam into his neighbor’s car and then try to drive off. Rudachyk didn’t hesitate. He chased the car down on foot as it tried to get away.

Rudachyk, a Heathen living in Saskatoon-Riverdale, Canada, has been campaigning on behalf of the Liberal Party candidates for the upcoming Canadian federal elections scheduled for October. He’s also running to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly himself in April’s regional elections.

Robert Rudachyk

Robert Rudachyk

On the evening of September 23, Rudachyk saw the unfamiliar car hit his neighbor’s car while attempting a three point turn. When the two men sped off into the dark, Rudachyk ran after them. “It was obvious they were trying to get on the main road about a block and a half away. I ran after them hoping I could catch them at the intersection. Luckily, there were pedestrians crossing in front of them and heavy traffic,” said Rudachyk. The vehicle was forced to stop long enough for him to catch up.

His cell phone dead, Rudachyk decided to bluff and yelled at the two men in the car that he had snapped a photo of their plate number. The car turned into a 7-11 parking lot, and that’s when Rudachyk was able to confront them. He told them if they didn’t come back to the scene of the hit-and-run, he would call the police. He also told them that he would physically restrain them from leaving the area. “They agreed to come back and I stayed close until [my neighbor] came out,” said Rudachyk.

The young men and his neighbor exchanged insurance information and, for Rudachyk at least, the matter was over.

Rudachyk said that this isn’t the first time there’s been a hit-and-run in the neighborhood. He said, “It has happened to me and all my neighbours at one time or another, and it has cost us all a lot of money from insurance deductibles.”

That history, combined with the ethics of his religion, Heathenry, spurred him to run after the car. He believes everyone is accountable for their own actions and, “To run from your actions and hide from it is a huge dishonour. It is also dishonourable to stand by and do nothing if you can help.” He added that he’s happy to have been in the right place and time to stop someone from getting away with another hit-and-run.  

As for Rudachyk’s relationship with his neighbors, they have engaged in a bit of humor over the entire situation. “It just happened that the owner of the car is a supporter of the Conservative party and I am a Liberal. It allowed for a little political humour afterwards when his wife was expressing amazement that I was able to run them down. I smiled and said, ‘After almost 50 days of running hard to get our Liberal candidate elected in the riding, it was a piece of cake.’”

*   *   *

Support The Wild Hunt. Donate Today!

Send to Kindle

[Pagan Community Notes is a weekly feature that highlights short stories and notes originating from within or affecting our collective communities. If you like seeing this dedicated news every Monday, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. These types of articles take time, research and money to produce. It is you that makes it all possible! Your donations go directly back to getting the important news out there. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

lightning2015bannerLightning Across the Plains (LATP), an annual fall Heathen event, was cancelled after 6 successful years. The announcement read, “LATP 2014 was attended by 280 heathens, and we had every indication that LATP 2015 would have been at least as successful as last year, if not more so. But, the potential success of an event is not always the measure of whether it makes sense to go forward with it.”

Lightning Across the Plains, held in Missouri, was first staged in September 2009 by Jotan’s Bane Kindred. It was then held every year at that same time, attracting over 200 people predominantly from around the central United States. Organizers called it the “largest Heathen event in North America.”

In their recent announcement, members of Jotan’s Bane Kindred stated that they have now chosen to redirect their energy into their family life, their friends and their local Heathen communities. They go on to say that the event, while mostly attended by good-spirited people, was often visited by those who proved “dishonorable” adding, “The decision to cancel LATP this year reflects our unwillingness to throw an amazing regional gathering that is enjoyed by some that are false-friends.” 

Jotan’s Bane Kindred did express its regrets, saying that the decision was difficult and that “LATP will have a lasting legacy.” According to the site all registration money has been returned and that the organizers look forward to seeing their LATP friends at other events throughout the year.

  *   *   *

hearthand-150x150As we reported last weekend, Harbin Hot Springs, a retreat center nestled on 5,000 acres of land in California, was destroyed by the Valley Fire. Since our article was published, there have been continued efforts to help the people of Harbin, and the surrounding area, rebuild and recover. The region was declared a disaster area, which has now qualified it for federal disaster relief funds.

On Sept 12, Harbin’s 285 residents and staff had to evacuate quickly, leaving behind personal belongings and, in some cases, animals. Many went to a nearby Red Cross shelter. Now there is a concerted effort by the local community to assist these people get back to their sacred land. A Staff Relief Fund has been set up to help those people as they recover. There is also a Facebook group that is acting as a central donation and aid center for the affected area. The public group contains stories and memories, as well as suggesting ways to help. At this time, the center is still closed until further noticed.

  *   *   *

Thorn at UEAIt was announced last week that Barbara Doyle, more commonly known as Thorn, had crossed over. Doyle was an active and well-known elder in the Texas magical community.

She was born March 28, 1942 in Rye, New York. She raised four children. In the mid 1980s, as a single mother, she moved herself and her two daughters to Texas, where she began her 30 year career as technical writer. At the same time, she began her journey into Wicca. She first studied with an Isian High Priestess, receiving her third degree. Then, she began studying McFarland Dianic Wicca and eventually founded the group Diana’s Retreat.

In 1994, Doyle and her coven helped create the Covenant of the Goddess’ Texas Local Council (TXLC), which is still active today. Over the years she continued to serve that organization on a local and national level. Doyle also served on the Council of Magickal Arts and the McFarland Dianic Council. Friend and fellow TXLC member Faelind remembered, “Under [Thorn’s] mentorship and tutelage, many of us learned to plan, organize, fund, and market National events like United Earth Assembly festivals and Grand Council Merry Meets, gaining extraordinary experience and serving the community. She was a strong force in the Mighty Texas Local Council and was responsible for recruiting many of the member covens…”

Outside of Pagan world, Doyle was a strong advocate for women’s rights. She held a 28-year membership in the American Business Women’s Association and was honored many times. In fact, at the time of her death, Doyle was serving as ABWA’s co-chair VP of Finance. In addition she was also the president of the League of Women Voters of Irving and was recently honored by Irving’s first female mayor at a city council meeting.

Although her death came as a surprise, Doyle died peacefully in her sleep. She will be missed by her local community, her extended spiritual community, and all those who knew her and learned from her. What is remembered, lives!

In Other News:

  • For those readers attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions in October, it was recently announced that the Dalai Lama will not be speaking at the event. According to a CNN report, the Dalai Lama checked into a Minnesota Mayo Clinic for evaluation and cancelled all of his October engagements. The Parliament’s Board released the following, “We have heard from the Office of the Dalai Lama about his present health and remain in heartfelt prayer for his care and comfort.” Organizers are now considering how to honor the Dalai Lama in place of his scheduled appearance. They will share more as they have it.
  • Local UK papers are all a-buzz about the return of Witchfest International to Croydon’s Fairfield Hills. The yearly event is hosted by the Children of Artemis (COA) and attracts, according to the report, close to 3500 people. This year there will be six talks and workshops every hour. There will also be live music, DJs and drumming. The 2015 speakers include, “author Kate West, academic Professor Ronald Hutton, TV medium and astrologer David Wells and former president The Pagan Federation Pete Jennings.” For more information, Witchfest does have its own website filled with details about the Nov festival as well as two other upcoming 2016 COA events.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary is hosting its yearly Fall Scholarship Drive. All contributions help CHS balance its budget and “offer several scholarships for January-April courses, including both Insights short courses and full-semester graduate courses.” Information for donating is on the CHS website.
  • If you liked reading part one of Dr. Karl Seigfried’s interview with Jennifer Snook, he has published the second part. This segment of the their conversation focused on ethnicity, nationality and race and also includes a bonus graphic based on Snook’s own research.
  • Over at Polytheist.com, writer  continues “his series introducing us to the gods of Gaulish polytheist religion.” Widugeni is a “leader in Gaulish Polytheism, having been practicing for almost two decades, and in other related communities for more than 30 years.” He began this specific series back in April with a post containing a long sacred poem and then a second featuring general information. Widugeni has followed that up with regular articles on individual gods. This week he features Grannus. Check back frequently as Widugeni is only half done with the project.

And later this week at The Wild Hunt….

We look at the Pope’s visit to the U.S. We will be featuring reactions and thoughts from Pagan, Heathen and Polytheists living around the world.

That is it for now. Have a great day! And don’t forget to visit the Wild Hunt Fund Drive site! 

Send to Kindle

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. How much would you pay for a subscription to a magazine or a newspaper? If you like reading articles, like the one below, on a daily basis, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Donate here. Thank You.]

In 1999, artist Lauren Raine was commissioned to create 30 leather masks that each reflected the spirit of a different Goddess from around the world. Earlier that same year, she had a dream during which she saw “a long line of Goddesses in all colors, in beautiful costumes.” Then, as if by magic, Raine was presented with a commission to create the series of masks to be used in Reclaiming’s 20th anniversary Spiral Dance in San Francisco.

On her newly updated blog, Raine wrote, “Masks in traditional societies are viewed as liminal tools, as vessels for the sacred powers. With a mask it is believed the Gods and Goddesses can visit, tell their stories, give their blessings, heal or even give prophecy.”

masks graphic

Oshun, Brigit, Pele [Masks by Lauren Raine]

Although the commission was the beginning of her “Masks of the Goddess” project, Raine’s interest in mask making began years before. She said, “My first Goddess mask was Kali … It was a time in my life when there was just so much I had to get rid of, so much maturation I needed to do, so many old patterns and ways of being I needed to get beyond in order to evolve. In retrospect, I think I made the mask of Kali as my own kind of invocation, my call for help from the One who helps us to slay the demons of the mind, to cut away that which has to go.”

When Reclaiming commissioned the masks, Raine welcomed the challenge, saying “I wanted to create them as contemporary temple masks to be used to invoke and re-claim the feminine faces of God.” In the end, the 1999 Spiral Dance used 20 of Raine’s masks for a 3 minute long Goddess invocation.

One of the mask wearers and supporters of the mask project was Aline O’Brien, more commonly known as M. Macha Nightmare. During the Spiral Dance, she wore the Morrigan mask. In 2007 blog post, O’Brien, remembered, “[This was] the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place … I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.”

11036722_10152919002276751_2011069049571741000_n (1)

Amateratsu Omikami

After the Reclaiming event was over, O’Brien felt disappointed with the presentation. Although she was personally “inspired by the masks,” she felt that they were underused and “not appreciated.”

With that in mind, O’Brien set out the design her own theatrical ritual that would emphasize Raine’s art, focus on the masks and embody the spirit of the various Goddesses. With the help of Mary Kay Landon, she wrote a script and an innovative ritual structure that focused solely on the Goddesses and the masks.

Then, in February 2000 at PantheaCon, O’Brien had the first opportunity to present her mask ritual, which she named Goddesses Alive! She found volunteers to assist with the both the staging and the various aspects of the performance, which included song, music, readings and dance. The brochure read:

Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine

O’Brien told The Wild Hunt that she chose 13 masks for the project, specifically those that would be the most recognizable to her audience. These included Artemis, Hecate, Bridget, Isis, Spiderwoman, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu, Inanna, Oshun, Sedna, Pele and Kali. Despite the limited budget and time, the ritual was a success.

Later that year, Goddesses Alive! was staged for a second time. With support from the New College of California and the Lilith Institute, O’Brien produced the ritual in a dance studio the following December. Once again, she had no budget but the performance was a success. Live music and a chorus of 5 people accompanied the words and movements of the Goddessess. It was attended by around 100 people. Looking back, O’Brien said, “I loved it.”

Despite the success of both performances, O’Brien had no idea if she would ever have the opportunity, time, energy or money to ever do the project again. The Goddesses Alive! script was filed away. The experience was left only to memory with no photos or video recordings ever taken.

Although Raine was not actively involved in either of the Goddesses Alive! performances, she said, “[O’Brien] activated the masks. She created a beautiful, and effective, sacred container for a community to use the masks, and ritual theatre, allowing each participant to evolve them in her or his own way. I think she would be happy to know that her vision has kept going.”

After O’Brien’s rituals in 2000, the masks were used again many times over in other theatrical performances throughout the U.S. Raine even expanded her collection, including elemental masks and other Goddesses. On her blog, she wrote, “I’ve been privileged to share my work with dancers, ritualists, playwrights, storytellers, priestesses, activists, and students bringing the Goddesses into the world in many ways. No artist could ask for more.” Raine created a compilation video of some of that theatrical work:

In addition to using the masks in performance, Raine also began selling them as art pieces. When thinking back on all the many masks created over the past 17 years, Raine said, “The affinity with certain masks changes as I change, but … my favorite masks concern Grandmother Spider Woman, my guide. She always seems to be in the background, the hand at the heart of the great Web.”

Over that same period of time, O’Brien never forgot her own dream of re-staging her very unique Goddesses Alive! ritual. Then, in 2014 when the Parliament for the World Religions sent out a call for presentations, Raine and O’Brien both had the same idea: let’s bring back Goddesses Alive! And, to their delight, the presentation was accepted. O’Brien said, “I was blown away.” She never really thought that she’d get a chance to do it all again.



With experience both as a ritualist and as a interfaith representative, O’Brien had the know-how and skill to adapt her otherwise Pagan-focused script for a broader audience. When asked about the adaptation, she admitted that “not much really had changed.” The biggest difference is the actual room size. The original ritual was designed for an inclusive theater-in-the round with only 100 audience members. The new script allows for the same set up but within a large ballroom and for an audience of over 300.

In addition, O’Brien selected new Goddesses based on mask availability and also to better reflect global diversity. She chose the following 13 masks: Hecate, Sedna, Brigit, Isis, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu Omikami, Inanna, Oshun, Kali, Pele, Pachamama and White Buffalo Calf Woman.

As Raine went to work on prepping the performance masks and, in some cases, creating new ones, O’Brien dusted off the old script and began recruiting performers and a tech crew. By summer 2015, she had her team and planning began. Jeffrey Albaugh signed on as the stage manager. When asked about the upcoming performance he said:

It is difficult and to serve as stage manager for an event like this, where all the performers are coming from so far away, and with no time for rehearsal. It puts an onus on me to make sure the production goes off without a hitch, and is as close as possible to Macha’s vision. However, with this kind of production, focused on movement, sound, voice and using Lauren’s brilliant masks, I think there is a high possibility of real magic occurring during the performance. The numinous will hopefully break through.

As Albaugh notes, the performers and crew herald from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore will be wearing the Isis mask. She said, “The rich pageantry of Goddesses Alive! is sure to stir people on a level far deeper than cerebral, the emotional place where we become imprinted with life-giving ideas. I feel that years from now we will all look back on this performance as a piece of our collective Pagan history and I’m very proud that I will have a small part in that.”

Emore will be joined by Anna Korn, Jo Carson, Rowan Liles, Áine Anderson, Mana Youngbear, Faelind, Wendy Griffin, Diana Kampert, Maggie Beaumont, Eileen Dev Macholl, Jerrie Hildebrand and myself, Heather Greene.

Rev. HPs. Gypsy Ravish volunteered to be one of the singers. She said, “I am honored to add my voice to this divine Sisterhood.” Other musical performers and script readers include Vivianne Crowley, Celia Farran, Lauren Raine, Rowan Fairgrove, Gypsy Ravish, Robin Miller, Jenn Vallely, Ruth Barrett and Aline O’Brien.



Led by Albaugh, the crew is equally diverse, with everyone coming together to make this single event happen. Mary Kay Landon, who helped O’Brien revise the script, said “Working on this production–and watching it evolve over the years–has given me a unique opportunity to research goddesses from across the world and, as I did so, to enter into relationship with them as we, together, created their evocations. What a privilege!”

When asked what Goddesses Alive! will offer a global religious audience, O’Brien said that she believes Pagans have “a deep appreciation of the art and design of ritual” and that is “one thing that Pagans bring to the interfaith table.” She explained that we have a “freedom of design” that is often lacking in other religious traditions. “We bring a freshness … and willingness to change.” And she hopes that this ritual performance will bring about an appreciation for that creativity and flexibility.

Goddessess Alive! was designed to be participatory ritual theater. The music, the singing, the readings and the Goddesses will move from behind the audience and through the audience. This technique serves to surrounded viewers in the full theatrical experience, and O’Brien hopes it helps to “open their minds to perceiving the divine” in new ways and to respecting “non-traditional, non-Abrahamic religious traditions.”

For Pagans that attend and others who are more familiar with a similar ritual performance, O’Brien hopes the experience will “demonstrate that the we have something to offer [the interfaith community] that maybe was unexpected.”

Ultimately, O’Brien would like Goddesses Alive! to be “consciousness raiser” for all who attend – Pagans and non-Pagans alike, and that everyone “leaves the room with a sense of community.”

The Goddesses Alive! ritual performance, which is being dedicated to the memory of Sparky T. Rabbit and Deborah Ann Light, will be held at the Parliament of the World Religions Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:45 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Currently, the production team is still looking for volunteers to film and photograph the event.

Send to Kindle

[Alley Valkyrie is one of our talented monthly columnists. If you like her stories and want to support her work at The Wild Hunt, please consider donating to our fall fundraising campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it possible for Alley to be part of our writing team. Thank you very much.]

“The housing crisis doesn’t exist because the system isn’t working. It exists because that’s the way the system works.” – Herbert Marcuse

Borders and Fortifications

On one side of the post office sits Bud Clark Commons, a Housing First complex that also functions as a day center and a drop-in shelter for the homeless. Extending just eastward from Bud Clark Commons are both Union Station and the Greyhound station, anchoring one of the defining corridors of what little still remains of Portland’s ‘Skid Row’.

Portland's main post office. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

Portland’s main post office. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

On the other side of the post office is the eastern edge of what is now known as the Pearl District, a neighborhood currently at the tail end of a twenty-year redevelopment plan that transformed the area from an industrial district to the most expensive neighborhood in Portland. Trendy shops, bars and restaurants and million-dollar condos now dominate the ten-block radius just west of the Post Office complex; a neighborhood which thirty years earlier was dominated by auto repair shops, warehouse art spaces, and various types of industry.

The post office itself is not only the city’s main post office, but also the main processing facility for all of Oregon and southwest Washington. The complex stretches from Hoyt Street to the tail end of the Broadway Bridge, spanning 14 acres and the equivalent of eight city blocks. The post office predates both Bud Clark Commons and the Pearl District by a generation, having first opened to the public at the height of the Kennedy administration.

Rear view of the post office complex. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

Rear view of the post office complex. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

While the physical presence of the post office creates a delineating barrier of sorts in terms of its sheer size alone, there’s more to it than just that. It serves as a significant energetic buffer between two neighborhoods that are on the opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. The post office stands as neutral ground, holding a space understood as commons at an otherwise volatile crossroads where affluent folks often feel uncomfortable two blocks to the east, while poor folks are made to feel uncomfortable only two blocks to the west.

It feels and acts as a fortification as well as a territory of safe passage. But the fortification is seen as an obstacle in the present day, as the eight blocks that the complex rests on is among the most valuable land in Portland. City planners and local developers have been itching to redevelop the land for years and, after many years of negotiations, the plan is finally coming to fruition. The timeline has not been set as of yet, but the complex’s days are all but numbered. 

I actually learned this news as I was standing in front of the post office itself, staring into the newspaper box at the headline. Since I don’t believe in coincidence, I stood there digesting the moment when a older man tapped me on the shoulder – a man who I knew to frequent the area around the train station.

“You live here, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. He continued.

“You know this whole place is done for, right?” he said, gesturing with his hand in an arc towards the complex. “According to the news, its going to be condos or some crap like that. The whole thing, coming down.”

I nodded.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking. I mean, I know what they’re thinking, they’re thinking money. And it may make dollars but it makes no damn sense. Not to me, anyway. They want to take over all of it.” He pointed over towards the Greyhound Station. “All the hotels, all the SROs, straight up to Burnside, they want to take over all of it.”

“Yes, yes they do”, I said to him sadly.

“And where do we go then, huh? Where we all gonna go?”

He walked away without waiting for an answer, which was a small relief only in that I sure didn’t have one. The only thing I could focus on at the moment was that this was at least the third time that month that I had a nearly identical conversation in nearly this exact spot.

Vice, Temperance, and the Vanishing Commons

The term “skid row” originates from the greased skids that made up the roads that loggers would use to transport cut logs from the forest to the river in the Pacific Northwest. To be ‘on the skids” was to have no choice but to live in such an area, as the conditions of the roads were considered not to be fit for dignified habitation.

Portland’s skid row stretches down through Old Town Chinatown, butting up against the borders of downtown proper. It has unwaveringly held that territory since Portland’s early days when it was considered one of the world’s most dangerous port cities. The history of “vice” in Old Town is as old as the history of the city itself, and it is both that history of vice and the resistance against its proliferation that define much of the landscape and the historic nature of the area.

Portland's historic 'Benson Bubblers'. originally installed as temperance fountains in the early 20th century.
Portland’s historic ‘Benson Bubblers’. originally installed as temperance fountains in the early 20th century.

As a result of well over a century’s worth of blue-collar domination, much of the original infrastructure is still intact. Old Town and the northern edge of Downtown are home to an impressive inventory of Victorian-era commercial buildings, many of which are historic landmarks and have been kept up to their original glory. Others, no less lacking in history, have fallen in disrepair over the course of many years, but many still retain landmark status and due to the current real estate boom are newly slated for renovation and preservation.

Unlike the sidewalks outside of busy establishments, which for the most part are regularly controlled and policed, the sidewalks outside the tenant-less, abandoned buildings of Old Town function as a commons, not too differently than the the block which contains the post office. In the absence of anywhere else to carry out such functions, homeless folk of all stripes eat, sleep, commune, fight, bicker, barter, hustle, and otherwise claim territory throughout these uncontrolled sidewalks, which in turn only adds to the desires of developers to gentrify the area and displace such folk.

Long abandoned, the Grove Hotel is slated for renovation and restoration in the near future.

Long abandoned, the Grove Hotel is slated for renovation and restoration in the near future.

Those who displace and renovate also rebrand, and Portland’s rebranding on a national level of being a haven and destination for craft beer is starkly reflected in the newer establishments that have accompanied the recent waves of gentrification throughout Old Town and the surrounding areas. Hipster vice has replaced working-class vice as the area is slowly overtaken by drinking establishments that cater to the young and affluent. Meanwhile, bars that cater to the neighborhood’s historic population have all but disappeared.

Business owners and community members alike credit themselves for “cleaning up” the area, and while I’m sure they’re “cleaning up” economically, it becomes apparent after a while to those who live here that they’ve simply replaced one group of unruly drunks with another. Apparently it was not the presence of “vice” itself that was supposedly “dragging down” the area as much as it was the socioeconomic class of those who were partaking.

Ruins and Reminders

Before Portland had a source and the proper infrastructure for importing natural gas, it manufactured gas from oil in a process known as “coking.” The Portland Gas and Coke (Gasco) plant was built in 1913 on the NW riverfront just across from St. John’s, just north of where the Cathedral Bridge would be built nearly twenty years later. The plant refined gas from 1913 until the city converted to natural gas in 1957, and the plant was shut down a year later. An estimated 30,000 cubic yards of coal tar had accumulated on the site over the years. Fifteen years later, it was covered with landfill when the site was sold, and most of the operational buildings were demolished.

The original administrative building, built in 1913, still stands and has been vacant for nearly sixty years. It is perhaps the most hauntingly beautiful Gothic ruin that I have ever seen with my own eyes. A ghostly reminder of the past, it is one of Portland’s most photographed structures, and over the past several years a fence has been installed and a guard put on duty in order to discourage explorers and adventure-seekers.

In addition to the crumbling condition of the building itself, the land that it sits on is among the most contaminated areas along a stretch of the Willamette River through Portland that has been designated a Superfund site. A DEQ report from the late ‘90s states that contaminated water was detected up to 100 feet below the surface of the west bank of the Willamette. Any significant cleanup of both the Gasco site and the Superfund site has yet to begin.

NWNatural, who still owns the building, announced last year that the building was to be slated for demolition. A community group attempted to raise the funds to buy the building, but they failed in their effort, and NWNatural announced last week that the Gasco building is to be demolished next month. Its reasoning mostly centers around safety. But what is unspoken yet completely understood is that, once the site is cleaned up, the land that the building currently stands on will be quite valuable.

It stands on its own as a sentimental tragedy that such a beautiful structure is to meet the wrecking ball, but there’s something that hits deeper in the timing of the announcement, given that demolition and gentrification have dominated both media headlines and local conversations nonstop for the past several months. The announcement comes in the same wave as the proposed redevelopment of the post office site, further talks of an “urban renewal” plan for the adjacent Old Town neighborhood, and a record number of demolitions and no-cause evictions. While the destruction of the building itself is a significant historical loss, the timing, the symbolism, and the layers of meaning and crossover between the demolition of the Gasco building and the greater overhauling of the city and its denizens — these combined factors speak to a much greater collective tragedy than the loss of any one structure.

Confessions over Coffee

“I mean, there’s a part of me that feels like I did a bad thing, but at that price I just couldn’t say no.”

I looked over at the table next to me and saw two men in suits with portfolio cases at their sides, having what obviously was a heart-to-heart over some sort of business decision. Intrigued, I leaned in slightly in order to properly overhear the conversation.

“Are you crazy?” the other man replied. “You said yourself that you profited nearly a hundred times what your grandfather originally paid for that land. Every other house on the block had already had a date with a wrecking ball. How many hundreds of houses have you bought and flipped over the past five years? This is really no different.”

“It’s a little different. He built that house with his own two hands. That house was a Sears bungalow from the 20s… you know, the kind you bought and put together yourself. Three generations in that house. Mom’s still confused, still thinks we own the house or that she lives there, but we all agreed that she’s better off in a home… but still. It’s the house itself. Its this weird attachment, almost. Knowing they’re going to raze it. I feel like I signed its death warrant.”

1920s era Sears kit house. Public domain.

1920s era Sears kit house. Public domain.

“Its business, Tom,” the other man said after a moment. “You need to remember its just business.”

“I know. I need to stop. It’s just a house. But there’s something that feels nagging.”

I stared at them in disbelief as I realized that this man, obviously a wealthy real-estate developer, had sold his family homestead out from under his ailing mother, not out of economic need but purely for profit. Suddenly I felt sick, and I quickly got up and headed toward the door.

That nagging something that you feel is most likely your ancestors, I muttered under my breath as I walked past them on my way out.

The Yelling Field and the Green Cross

Anywhere I’ve ever moved to, I quickly seek out the abandoned parts, the empty lots and the derelict warehouses. I look for a place, hopefully with features that echo, where I can yell as loud as I need to and nobody’s close enough to hear or investigate or call the police. I call these places my ‘yelling fields’.

When I settled into this neighborhood, I found my closest yelling field a mile or so up the main drag from my building, just north of the Fremont Bridge. A series of abandoned waterfront lots, a few dotted with ‘for sale’ signs but no sign of activity, and nothing else for blocks other than an ancient-looking bar and a run-down strip club a few blocks away across the street.

I thought it to be a consistent landscape that wouldn’t surprise me with any significant changes, but I walked by one day and noticed two things at once. My yelling field was suddenly fenced in, with a sign from a construction company posted in the center of the lot. And across the street, the strip club had closed, and in the window covering the old sign was a new sign that stated “Coming Soon” above a picture of a green cross, which in Portland is the universal symbol for a marijuana dispensary.

I stared at the sign for a minute, thinking back. Fifteen years ago, when I watched New York City undergo a similarly massive gentrification, the “Coming Soon” sign accompanied by a Starbucks logo became known as the telltale symbol that an area was about to gentrify. I realized at that moment that this symbol in front of me was operating on the same pattern, that the green cross held the same symbolic power in this new chapter of gentrification as the ubiquitous coffee goddess did when that first wave hit New York.

And sure enough, I watched over what seemed like only a few months as not only my yelling field, but several consecutive waterfront lots, went from abandoned industrial frontage to high-end condominiums and townhouse apartments. The dispensary opened right around the same time that the first completed development did.

I lost my yelling field while developers created a cash cow. Meanwhile, recent signage indicates that more riverfront construction is to come.

Demolition and Migration

I heard them talking while standing next to the food carts waiting for my lunch.

Food carts in downtown Portland. Photo by Another Believer.

Food carts in downtown Portland. [Photo by Another Believer.]

“We’ve been living in that house for less than six months, and our landlord just sold the house right out from under us. We have less than thirty days, and I have no clue what we’re going to do. I mean, the realtor literally just knocked on the door, asked for the owner, and made an offer right there…”

Her friend nodded in acknowledgement, and she continued.

“Turns out that same developer bought three other houses on the same side of the street. Apparently if they’re approved for a zoning change, all four will be demolished to build condo units.”

“Yeah, that’s happening everywhere,” her friend said awkwardly, obviously not knowing what else to say.

“Yep, and so I’m just following the pattern of migration. I don’t know what else to do, so we’re all looking in way outer SE for a big house out there. But then the folks who already live out there are then pushed farther out once folks like me start moving in. So in following the pattern, I’m complicit in the cycle.”

They paused for a moment. “But my only other option is to go back to Arizona and there is absolutely nothing for me there. I have community here. I need to stay here. But I can’t stand the thought of being the gentrifier. I feel like I’m either I’m screwed or I’m screwing someone no matter what I do…”

I swear, this entire town is having the same conversation, I said to myself.

Remedies and Realities

I stepped out of Powell’s and saw a man with a sign.

“Rent Tripled, Newly Homeless. Need $28 for a Bed, Keeping My Job Depends On It.”

I gave him a dollar and walked down the street, looking up for a moment at a building just long enough to notice a green cross in the window. It didn’t matter where I went, what I read, where I looked, who I talked to. Everything, everywhere, from the people to the signs to the snippets floating through the air, a city in crisis that was broadcasting and reflecting its collective distress through every possible method of expression.

A few blocks later I walked past a man sheltering himself in newspapers. I stopped for a moment and noticed that the headlines that were covering his legs stated that Portland mayor Charlie Hales announced that he wants to declare a housing emergency, while the headlines covering his feet highlighted a proposed “demolition tax.” I’m not sure if the man was aware of the irony and symbolism contained in his presence at that moment, but the universal broadcast was suddenly much louder than I could really handle.

Walking home, mind racing, I realized that I couldn’t recall a day this month where the local headlines haven’t greeted me with displacement-related stories, whether its astronomical rents, multiple mass evictions of both tenants and artists, studies that stress that the national housing crisis is about to worsen, the impending eviction of a longtime homeless camp, ominous comparisons to the market situation in San Francisco, citizen calls for a renters’ state of emergency, and now the potential for a housing emergency actually being declared.

And yet the hope of a remedy provided no real or imagined comfort. It was clear from the level of the broadcasting crisis around me that most others weren’t fooled either.

*    *    *

bell hooks had it right when she described gentrification as “colonization, post-colonial style”.

Her words serve as an important reminder that the term ‘gentrification’ itself fools us into thinking that what is currently occurring in both Portland and in cities all over the world is a 21st century phenomenon and a “sign of the times.” In reality, this is only the latest round in a cycle of colonization and primitive accumulation that has been ongoing for hundreds of years.  And, it is a cycle that will continue its destruction unchecked as long as laws, policies, and sentiments continue to value and prioritize profit and property rights over human need.

In the meantime, I remain in search of and in service to the ever-vanishing waterfront ruins and yelling fields, consistently and helplessly bearing witness as the economic powers allied with the green cross and the wrecking ball seek to displace and devour every last square inch of this city.

And in those searchings and wanderings, my mind keeps going back to the displaced. I keep thinking of the conversation with the man in front of the post office. I wish someone had an answer for him. I wish I knew where he could go.

I’m not sure where I’ll go, either.

*    *    *

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

Send to Kindle