logo trothTWHAs we reported last week, the Asatru Folk Assembly made public statements on its Facebook page that ignited an immediate backlash from users, which then spilled out across Heathen communities, the blogsophere and beyond. In reaction to those Facebook statements, a number of Heathen organizations and individuals publicly responded to the AFA posting.

On its website, The Troth published “An Official Statement from The Troth.” It reads, in part: “The Troth stands against the AFA’s vision of what Asatru should be, and we do not recognize their beliefs as representative of a majority of American Asatru (Heathenry). There are no arbiters of who can and cannot worship our deities, but the Gods themselves.”  The Troth, founded in 1987, is one of the biggest international, non-profit Heathen organizations.

Similarly, Heathens United Against Racism posted its own statement, saying “We wholeheartedly condemn the recent statements made by the Asatru Folk Assembly […] There are no words to express how strongly we are revolted by their clear, unquestionable embrace of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and pure bigotry.” Other groups and bloggers, Heathen and Pagan alike, published discussions on the topic throughout the week. We highlighted two different viewpoints, Jön Upsal’s Gardener and Josh at Heathen Talk, in yesterday’s edition of Pagan Voices.

To date, AFA’s only public reaction to any of these statements was to thank the general online community for bringing attention to the group’s Facebook page, and its own community for rallying behind its statements. Marc MacLeod ended the response by saying: “We will be clear and stand by our values, but we don’t need to change anyone’s minds, we just have to provide a place for our folk, that have the same world view, to go. That is our mission and that’s what we will continue to do.”

We will continue to watch this story and report as needed.

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logoCANNON BALL, N.D. — The elders of the Seven Council Fires, members of the Great Sioux Nation, have come together to protest the building of the $3.7 billion dollar Dakota pipeline near Standing Rock. As reported by Indian Country in May, private construction had already begun despite protests at the time. Since that point, there has been an outpouring of support for the local community and that support continues to grow daily. Not only has the Great Sioux Nation itself has come together, but other tribes from around the country have brought support as well.

Members of Pagan and Heathen communities have also been joining the protests to stop the pipeline and keep the local land and waterways clean. Some individuals went directly to the North Dakota sites to aide activists at Sacred Stone Camp and elsewhere. Others have been raising awareness locally or online, and shipping funds and supplies to the area.

Solar Cross founder T. Thorn Coyle said, in part, “Solar Cross supports native sovereignty. Genocide, cultural oppression, theft, and broken promises have been hallmarks of white occupation of this continent. The Sioux and other nations who gather in defense of their land and water, in defense of the sacred earth, and of their own autonomy, have called on us all to help.” Solar Cross has been raising funds to purchase supplies for the activists at Sacred Stone Camp, including tents, tables, canopies, tarps, blankets and more. The group is also involved in an effort to send a delegation to Washington DC.

The federal judge is due to rule on the case Sept. 9. We will have the complete story with interviews and more in the coming days. 

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AUSTIN, Tex. — Over the weekend, a Phoenix Rising event was held at the Elysium nightclub in Austin, Texas. It served as a benefit function for the non-profit Council of the Magickal Arts (CMA). Organized by Candyce Eskew and John Elysium, the evening event featured musical guests, Darwin Prophet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and the Flametrick Subs. There was also a raffle, a number of vendors and readers. 

Why a benefit? Elysium and Eskew explained that, “Earlier this year, CMA suffered the misfortune of having several thousand dollars, about half our operating budget, embezzled by a former officer. This benefit is a fundraiser to recoup some of this loss; all proceeds will go directly to CMA’s operating fund.” As of Saturday’s report, Eskew said that the function was a success and they have already raised at least $1,600 toward rebuilding the organization. TWH has reached out to the organization to learn more.

CMA itself will be hosting an upcoming Samhain festival October 20-23. The featured guest speaker will be Aline O’Brien, also known as M. Macha Nightmare, and the musical guest is Goodnight Charlie. All CMA festivals are held on Spirit Haven, a 100+ acre private wooded property in Cistern, Texas.

In Other News:

  • Radio show host Michael Greywolf will be launching a new program on the Pagans Tonight Radio Network (PTRN) called Walking the Unnamed Path. He will be joined by co-host Matthew Sydney. Greywolf said, “Our show will be talking about and discussing topics and ideas pertaining to the Unnamed Path, an emerging shamanic tradition for men who love men. We will be featuring music, guests, and covering general topics pertaining to queer Pagan men.” The new show will first air Sept.10 at 3:00 pm CST, and air the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month.
  • Solar Cross Temple has just launched a new devotionals program. As the group explains, “Every month we will call upon different people to offer a meditation for us all to focus on together. […] We ask … that you follow up with one action-in-the-world to help bolster your connection to the month’s meditation. This can take many forms. Use your creativity, and share it with us on our Facebook page.” The program kicked off Aug. 21 with a prayer called, “To Our Ancestors of Spirit, Body, and Mind” written by founder T. Thorn Coyle. The next one will be Sept. 18 and every 3rd Sunday following. Additionally, the Temple will be continuing its popular “Solar Cross Presents” program with the next class being held Sept. 21.
  • Cherry Gilchrist has released a new book on the tarot. Published by Red Wheel/Weiser, Gilgrist’s new book Tarot Triumphs: Using the Tarot Trumps for Divination and Inspiration is said to “focus on the major arcana, or trumps, of the Marseilles Tarot” with the “aim of encouraging the reader to experience the tarot in a direct, fresh, and uncluttered way.” Gilchrist is a teacher, lecturer, and author or more than 30 fiction and non-fictions books.
  • Speaking of books, TWH’s own writer and assistant editor Terence P. Ward has released his own book Depth of Praise. In 2015, Ward was working to raise money in order to build and complete this devotional work to the god Poseidon. He finally finished the project, with the help of many donors, procuring work from artist Grace Palmer for the book’s cover, and contracting Richard Goulart for the interior illustrations. The completed devotional is now available through CreateSpace.
  • Andras Corban Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit Community, recently stated, “I have just learned, and am delighted to report, that I have been condemned yet again by another Christian extremist.” What is he talking about? In the book, World Empire and the return of Jesus Christ, Pastor Simon Downing included, “I find it deeply disturbing to read of Reverend Desmond Tutu’s involvement with [the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions], not to mention the Board of Trustees and its huge religious diversity.” (pp. 272) Downing lists a number of parliament board members including Corban Arthen and Rev. Angie Buchanan. Corban-Arthen has taken this in stride, saying “Back in the mid-1990s, Pat Robertson […] held up a photo of me wearing Pagan ceremonial garments and accused me of being ‘a bad role model for the youth of America.’ Though I could not sue Mr. Robertson […] I chose to do the next best thing, which was to use his indictment of me as a badge of honor.” He added that Robertson’s “very personal condemnation” ended up opening doors for him in the many years since.
  • Are you going to be attending DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia? The Wild Hunt will be there covering the event, talking to Pagans, Heathens and polytheists about their experience at the world’s largest pop culture convention. We’d like to hear from you, say hello, and see your costume.

Got a news tip or story? Reach out to us via our contact page with information, press releases, statements and other news tidbits. We want to hear from you.

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Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within Pagan and Heathen communities. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan or Heathen voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

I am deeply introverted. I crave time to myself, in a place where I feel safe, in order to recharge my social batteries. My home is my sanctuary. In a time of my training where I am feeling desperately out of control, it should not be a shock that a hearth goddess made herself known to me!

I believe deeply in the importance of sanctuary and safer spaces, and of keeping the hearth fires burning. I am grateful for the times I have been able to open my home to members of my community who needed a quiet space, a friendly ear, or an offer to put the kettle on (as we say in my family, “if tea cannot fix it, then it is a serious problem indeed”). If you need someone to sit with you in companionable silence, I’m your fox. — Kitsune, on their developing relationship with fire gods.

No, this is not all I do. I also clean my house, do my accounting, tweak my website, feed my family, take care of two demanding cats, write, read business manuals, talk to my attorney, attend meetings, exercise, market my business, do readings via email in person and over the phone, scrub toilets, shop, counsel my children, check in on the neighbor, reach out to friends, attend conferences, teach, answer every email that lands in my inbox, watch Game of Thrones, and take out the garbage. Is your “day job” all that you do? –Theresa Reed, from Ten Things to Never Say to Your Tarot Reader.

From photographer Greg Harder [2016 NAIN conference held in Guadalajara, Mexico]

From photographer Greg Harder [2016 NAIN conference held in Guadalajara, Mexico]

More and more I’ve internalized the metaphor of pet-based polytheism, as my experiences seem to follow that pattern. I know there are places where it doesn’t quite fit my experiences (and likely less so other peoples’) but it helps me to understand the position that I’m in in relationship to them. I’m an independent human with many relationships with other humans, and as I said, I don’t think we quite need them to survive (though there are those of us who feel that we would not still be alive had it not been for their intervention). — Laine Mardollsdottir, Cats in a Library: Feline Polytheism

To embark on the future, it’s a good idea to learn about the past. When you know where you’ve been, and where the ones who came before have been, you know what needs to be changed or addressed, and what can be left behind as you move forward into the future. Inevitably your future becomes someone else’s past, and what we learn with that is that we are also part of the pattern of life, with our choices and messages having influence. Whether the people who come after will continue to carry or discard those choices and messages is up to them, but what is up to us is to decide what legacy we really, intentionally want to leave. –Taylor Ellwood, How my Ancestors Liberated me

The alternative to allowing politics and heathenism to mix is to try to separate religion and politics- which means that we are left with a religion that we don’t allow to have any bearing on the deep questions of our time. By taking that route, we are guaranteeing the slow death of heathenism as a religion. It is unreasonable to cut off a religion from the life-ways of the people who practice it and then expect it to be able to survive. –Ruth Morong, Heathen Family Values

Last week, we reported on a controversial posting released by new leaders of the Asatru Folk Assembly. While many bloggers took to their keyboards in reaction, here are quotes from just two responses that represent different perspectives on the issue.

It’s entirely possible for the AFA to endorse heteronormality and not ban homosexuality. It’s possible for the AFA as an organization to want to see traditional families prosper, and not go around bashing single mothers. It’s possible to say having children is a good thing, while not bashing childless couples. Just because they endorse one thing does not require them to hate everything that is different. –Jön Upsal’s Gardener, Did the AFA just ban gays?

I shouldn’t have to explain why this is an issue. It is 2016, this shouldn’t even be an issue, we should be living in a more enlightened world. Unfortunately, ideas such as Mr. Flavel’s still permeate the underside of Asatru and thus need to be addressed. First, let me be clear: Mr. Flavel and the AFA have a right to their opinion and a right to state it openly. The first amendment guarantees their right to be wrong and even hateful. I do not, nor does Heathen Talk, embrace a no platform policy. We do, however, want to take this moment to embrace our right to publicly and vociferously disagree — and perhaps even mock — the small mindedness that brings about these opinions. — Josh, The AFA: It’s that time again. on the Heathen Talk blog.

That’s it for now. Please continue to recommend voices or artists that you’d like to see featured here!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

14054118_10154285527285664_1261186024541429019_nLEWES, Del. —  The Cape Gazette, a newspaper covering the cape region of Delaware, published an article titled “Sept. 24 AIDS Walk Delaware seeks walkers, sponsors and donors.” The article features the story of Pagans James C. Welch and Ivo Dominguez Jr, who are considered “pioneers in the history of HIV/AIDS” awareness and action in that state.

The article begins, “James C. Welch, Ivo Dominguez Jr. and their four large dogs live in a geodesic-dome house in southern Delaware. The house is an appropriate metaphor for how HIV/AIDS treatment, recognition, stigma, and outlook have come full circle – well, almost.”

The writer goes to talk about how Dominguez and Welch were involved with the creation of a number of advocacy groups, training and support programs, and educational organizations in the 1980s. This list includes Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Delaware with with a Health Issue Committee and hotline, the Delaware Lesbian and Gay Health Advocates, the Griffin Community Center, Christiana Care’s HIV Wellness Clinic, and CAMP Rehoboth. In addition, they were served as consultants to many larger agencies and government programs, many of which were just launching at the time.

The article ends with a call to action for the upcoming walk, saying, “Inasmuch as the AIDS Walk is a fundraiser, it is also a walk for awareness and a show of unity by the community – a community of support that Welch and Dominguez helped build.”

News of interest:

  • In July, Pew Forum released an article and report on human gene enhancement and the “Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Striving for Perfection.” According to the report, Americans are very wary of such work, despite its promise of longer lives, less illness, and better performance. More specifically, in one article based on the Pew data is the remark, “Religious people tend to be more skeptical of embryonic gene editing than those who are less religious.” This debate is just one of the many in which ethics, religious belief, and science must engage in meaningful negotiations. As the Pew article ends, “For the first time in human history, the biggest material changes in our society may not be occurring outside of ourselves, in the fields, factories and universities that have shaped human civilization, but inside our bodies – in our brains and muscles and arteries, and even in our DNA.”
  • An English Imam was reportedly murdered by extremists for practicing what they described as ‘black magic.’ Jalal Uddin, age 71, was beaten to death and left in a playground last February after two Daesh supporters allegedly found him to be using Ruqya healing techniques. These traditional Islamic techniques consist of incantations and prayers to bring about healing and the removal of demons or black magic. However, they are not accepted across all sects of the religion. The two accused men were just recently brought to trial in the UK and, according to the report, that proceeding will likely be extended into September.
  • In 2015, Damien Echols spoke with Sensai T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki about being on death row. Echols was one of the West Memphis Three, a trio of young men were wrongly charged and convicted for child murders in the 1990s. The three were released in 2011. Echols’ and Nakagaki’s conversation about that prison experience were recently published on Tricycle in an article titled, “What Karma Means When You Spend Nearly 20 Years on Death Row.” Echols explains how he learned to turn his cell into a monastery: “The last ten years I was in prison, I was in solitary confinement. I had no contact with other people. It made it very, very easy to stay focused on the meditation techniques.”
[Photo Credit: Liz Daily, Courtesy AllTrails.com]

Fairy Forest of Utah [Photo Credit: Liz Daily, Courtesy AllTrails.com]

  • A local Utah Fox news affiliate reports that the state’s famous “Fairy Forest” is being cleaned up. Visitors to the area traditionally leave mementos, shrines, fairy gardens, and other small tokens behind, which over time has resulted in a buildup of what the park service has labeled as “trash.” In 2015, the service reportedly removed “five truckloads” of these left-behind “treasures.” According to the Fox article, Scott Hayes, one of the Fairy Forest founders, is now involved in the cleanup project. He told the news agency that he “realizes many people, particularly those who’ve deposited items in the Fairy Forest, are likely to be angered by his [cleanup] actions.” However, he states the stuff is now causing an environmental problem on the beloved trail system.
  • Connections.Mic published an article titled, “The Secret Lives of Teen Witches on Tumblr,” which is introduced with a ubiquitous still from the 1996 film The Craft. The Mic article begins, “Across the country, teens are turning to Tumblr to create their own online covens and anonymously study witchcraft.”

Art and Leisure

  • Blair Witch (2016), originally called The Woods, is due to be released to theaters Sept. 16. The original film, released in 1999, was an innovative project that inspired quite a following, as well as forcing a new way of understanding visual media. It has been 17 years since that film’s release and producers are hoping to capture a new audience. According to a recent review of the new film, the 2016 version is just more of the same. It states, “Helmed by Adam Wingard […] and written by his regular collaborator Simon Barrett, ‘Blair Witch’ is shot, constructed and executed just like the original. And the slow-build fright fest will please genre purists — perhaps enough to reinvigorate the potential franchise — even if it feels all too familiar to the rest of us.”
  • In other entertainment reboot news, Sabrina the Teenage Witch will be joining the cast of CW’s new television show Riverdale, an adaptation of the Archie comic books. “The show’s concept as ‘Archie Noir’ has often been compared in recent press to Twin Peaks with teenagers.” It is speculated that Sabrina will likely make her first appearance around Halloween. The trailer for the pilot is online.
  • Photographer Friso Spoelstras spent ten years experiencing and photographing unique folk rituals found throughout Europe’s small towns. It began with a trip to the island of Sardinia, where Spoelstras happened upon the annual Feste Pagane, celebrating “fertility, mysterious brotherhood, and struggle between the people and the spirits who freeze the land in the winter.” Shaggy costumed men walk around the village whipping people. After that experience, Spoelstras launched a book project and found similar festivals throughout the continent. In a recent article, he wrote, “I’ve been chased by devils through the mountains. I’ve run naked through fields in Latvia. I’ve been drenched in all kinds of stuff – sometimes I never found out what it was.” The resulting book is called, “Devils and Angels: Ritual Feasts in Europe.”
  • Lastly, for your enjoyment, below is a video showing a performance by Obini Bata, the first all-female Batá band in Cuba. The bata drum, with its origins in the Yoruba religion, has been traditionally used for sacred purposes. As a result, “women have historically been banned from playing the Bata.” This fact makes the group Obini Bata, founded in 1993, a rarity. The women have said that one of their goals in performing is to “put the religious world on stage as art.”

The interaction of religion and politics in Ásatrú and Heathenry has long been a contentious one, as we have recently been reminded during the many heated reactions to a divisive public statement by the new Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Heathens are not usually shy about sharing their views. There have been some very intense online discussions of current politics by Heathens in the United States. Since worldview is so often stressed as greatly important to Heathen practice, I asked several practitioners the following question:

How does your Heathen worldview affect your view of the presidential election as it now stands?

The goal in asking was to present a diversity of opinion from as many Heathens around the nation as possible. Some were unable to answer by publication, and some – due to the divisive nature of this election in particular – declined to speak out publicly.

Here are responses from seventeen Heathens in sixteen different states. While there are some common threads between their comments, there is also a great diversity of opinion. Even such a small sampling shows the wide range of worldviews within the United States Heathen community. Thank you to all who agreed to spend their time providing a response!

Lagaria Farmer (Coopertown, Tennessee)
I try to live an honorable life and help those around me. I believe our gods and ancestors appreciate that. I strongly hold to the value of hospitality, and I believe it’s a two-way street. I look for these characteristics in the candidates for public office and vote accordingly. There are a few (counting the third-party candidates) who have some of these qualities. There is at least one who doesn’t, and that person will not have my vote.

Matt Walker (Trenton, Missouri)
My worldview is one that places significant importance on community, on loyalty, gifting, and the reciprocity of those things. On relationships and duty. Honor. Obligation. In line with that, my view of a proper president – or any leader – is that they should be a person who is honorable and does right by their people, a person who holds their responsibilities above their own personal concerns. An intellectual, knowledgeable, articulate soul bound by loyalty to the Republic and reverence for the rule of law (especially the Constitution); a person who understands what justice is, as well as diplomacy; and who is known for regular, genuine displays of generosity, compassion and integrity.

Where does that leave me in this election? It leaves me without a candidate, while the world watches my countrymen fight bitterly over whether we should elect a corrupt establishment politician beholden to corporate interests or a trust-fund troglodyte fomenting violence amongst an army of quasi-literate scum.

Thad N. Horrell (Denver, Colorado)
Heathenry motivates me to keep up the struggle for justice and truth, even when so many people close to me are taken in by the demagoguery of angry words and hateful speech. The Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] teaches us to welcome the stranger and be hospitable to guests, especially those who are in need of shelter and assistance. We should be strong against our enemies, but we should know who our enemies are first. Declaring all people who do not look like us or who do not practice our religion are our enemies is cowardly and despicable. I do not practice Donald Trump’s religion, and I stand in solidarity with all those worthy people he would deport or ban from entering our country.

Kari Tauring [Courtesy Photo]

Kari Tauring (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
My Heathen root, like my Christian root, is primarily Norwegian. I come from the school of free farmers and not church or royal landholders. We believe in democratic governance. My grandma and grandpa – who arrived in the U.S. at age thirteen – proudly voted. People walked or rode in wagons miles to their polling places. If I can’t vote for something, I write in my answer. I do this on the census and “race check” boxes. I believe that the people who most value the water and land should be in charge of keeping it clean for everyone. This is the worldview of my Nordic folkway, and I think it is folkways that will save this world.

Thomas de Mayo (Tidewater, Virginia)
I support Clinton, because she is the most likely candidate to defeat Trump and move the country in a progressive direction. Many of my friends are considering voting for a third-party candidate, because they do not consider Clinton sufficiently liberal or have concerns about her character. I sympathize, but I believe they are mistaken.

In Heathen terms, I view modern elections as being like a medieval Icelandic Thing. The Thing was a sacred assembly, a court of law, and a place for vicious politicking. A disputant who wanted to assure a good outcome for their case needed to assemble a coalition of allies; that meant making compromises, returning favors, and pragmatically accepting settlements short of total victory. So too our modern democratic process (although sacred in its own way) requires tempering heartfelt conviction with strategic thinking.

I am totally appalled by Trump’s bigotry toward Muslims and other minorities. I don’t trust him to administer the laws of our country domestically, and I don’t trust him to make military decisions abroad. In the contest of the Thing, it is best to ally with the strongest friendly chieftain able to obtain victory.

Drew Johnston (Los Angeles, California)
This election cycle has been very hard to deal with. Honor is so important to us, and none of our candidates seem to have any, nor do many of our elected representatives. Truth is also one of our core virtues, and I’ve seen very little of that myself. Perseverance demands that I stay my course and vote for the candidate I have chosen, but it gets harder every time I turn on the news. As a Heathen, I would say that I am very disappointed with this state of affairs – both the election and where our country is today.

Vicki Burns [Courtesy Photo]

Vicki Burns (Bronx, New York)
My worldview is best described as neo-tribal. While we can’t return to tribal ways of our ancestors, I still think we can look to them for guidance here in the present and for future generations. Of the two remaining candidates for the upcoming election, I feel that Hilary Clinton, despite some strong reservations I still have about corporate ties that she may have, is still the best choice for me. I have been struck by her commitment to the health of children and of families – which I think is fundamental to our future as a nation – with a focus on higher wages, childcare, insurance, and affordable education. Additionally, she echoes Obama’s original pledge to develop renewable energy and create new jobs. For our sake and for Mother Earth, I hope she follows through.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is nothing but a neo-feudal opportunist who is exploiting the working class, who are understandably upset at the lack of opportunity in the country as it stands. His lack of experience and empathy and his overblown ego and unbridled narcissism will eventually destroy him and, if he is elected, will destroy us all, as well. May the old gods prevent that, and may we all exercise our right to vote on Election Day.

Heidi Shewchuk (Oak Grove, Oregon)
[My worldview] doesn’t really [affect my view]. But what does affect my view is being a history nerd, and for me this means our current presidential election is no different than any of the electioneering that has gone on before. In particular I am reminded of the late Roman Republic. This was a period when politics were rife with bribery, slander, slippery deals, accusations of slippery deals, and all manner of electoral abuses – including vote tampering and election fraud. There were riots in the streets, with the political supporters of rival candidates forming gangs, behaving badly, and engaging in open – sometimes bloody – conflict with one another. Our current election in the U.S. has had all of this, but unlike Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus, Hillary, Trump, and Bernie have yet to form a triumvirate. However, we do have two more months, and anything is possible.

Jennifer Snook (Grinnell, Iowa)
Heathenry sacralizes my commitment to social justice and the urgency and centrality of truth-telling and honor. In that regard, the current election troubles me, as neither candidate has shown a commitment to honesty. However, if I wanted to quantify the “truthiness,” integrity, or honor-in-action of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Trump would most certainly lose. His commitment to divisive politics; childish name calling and bullying of politicians, protesters, and journalists; his consistent and perpetual refusal to honor his debts, his word, his commitments; his pandering to white supremacist ideology and sympathizers; his openly racist, misogynistic, classist and ableist rhetoric; his consistent inconsistency of position; and his inability to formulate a coherent argument are all in conflict with my values and expectations of what kind of person qualifies as “presidential.”

I was a Sanders supporter, and although I’m not a die-hard fan of Clinton and do have some concerns as to her commitment to institutional and structural changes that will alleviate the human suffering caused by the inequalities of income, health access, education, and the lack of political agency of disenfranchised groups – she’s certainly a less terrifying option.

Victor Booker

Victor Booker [Courtesy Photo]

Victor Booker (Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin)
The current major party candidates, just as many before them, tend to push ideals that appeal to Christianity. This is especially true for the Right. As Heathens, we have not only an immunity to this, but perhaps even a tendency to be more scrutinizing when a candidate starts throwing around old political Christian catchphrases. Heathens don’t care about that. Many of us look for progressive ideas, solutions to issues plaguing our communities, and global policies that will help unite America with other countries. Instead we often get roundabout answers that aren’t really answers at all, with a nice thick covering of religious rhetoric that has been successful in buying voters since Americans started voting. All in all, being a Heathen that cares about politics in America is frustrating. A Heathen worldview is just that, a worldview. And American politics is rarely such.

David Carron (New Bedford, Massachusetts)
Religion and politics make poor bedfellows, and this election is poorer than most. Our ancestors were well familiar with the difficulties and faults in leadership. With Mr. Trump, I am reminded of Sigvaldi from the Jómsvíkinga saga. He swore to conquer Norway or die trying – spoiler alert; neither happens. His men, clearly knowing the character of their leader, swore to fight until he turned tail and ran, which he did. With Ms. Clinton, I have to think more of Loki from Lokasenna for a comparison of her credibility, likability, and truthfulness. I may just move after this election.

Douglas Helvie (New Bern, North Carolina)
I am a practitioner of Urglaawe, and my viewpoint is simple. Hillary is crooked, pure and simple. As an avowed political independent, I originally was going to vote for Bernie Sanders – until the world found out that our political system is corrupt, and – more specifically – the DNC has this nasty habit of rigging primaries. So, in true Heathen spirit and in the sense of revolt and revenge, I am voting for Trump.

Stevie Miller

Stevie Miller [Courtesy Photo]

Stevie Miller (Greensburg, Pennsylvania)|
As a Heathen, I’m appalled by the behavior of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president – and their parties – this election cycle. Their lying, mudslinging, and scheming are completely contrary to virtues like truth, honor, and generosity. Polarizing our population and excluding and vilifying certain groups of people flies in the face of the Urglaawe goal to fight rootlessness, that force that undermines both our communities and the World Tree. The designations of “liberal” and “conservative” are completely useless, serving only to create an us-them mentality that hurts people while doing nothing to solve our actual problems.

In the lore, we see again and again that our gods are strongest when they work together, combining a variety of voices and talents to achieve the goals of their community. In action, this translates for me to supporting third parties, speaking up for diversity and inclusiveness, and making a particular effort to listen to and understand opinions I disagree with. I feel that this election – with two candidates who are so widely known to be corrupt and power-hungry, and two out-of-touch parties that are oblivious to the problems in our country – has reached a new low for American politics that I have not seen before as a voter.

As a Heathen, I believe the solutions mean including new voices and perspectives, building strong communities, and working hard at hands-on problem-solving at the local level (not substituting social media for action!) to create the kinds of changes we want to see at the national level.

Ren Anderson (Exeter Township, Pennsylvania)
Being Heathen in this country during any election is disheartening. With the presence of the electoral college and the fact we live in a corporate oligarchy, I fully understand and recognize that our elections do not determine how we choose to be governed but rather serve as a distraction from our crumbling economic infrastructure. In Heathenry, with the emphasis on self-reliance and sustainability, I find our community better prepared than the surrounding culture of consumerism by embracing our agricultural heritage. Although I am active on Facebook, I still encourage people to find actual physical copies of books and to focus on improving personal skills that would do well in a local barter economy as hobbies.

I personally see the U.S. elections as a distraction at best, and a corruption at worst. Instead, to focus on the local community and to personally bring visibility to personal hot button issues that affect our lives is a better use of our resources than arguing over which stuffed-suit sociopath gets to be the “face” of our country for the next four-to-eight years as the bourgeois find ever more terrible and ingenious ways to accumulate more wealth at the expense of the well-being of the common man.

In Heathenry, I feel that we should educate ourselves as well as we are able (even though our media is now void of unbiased journalism) but to focus primarily on personal survival and accumulating contacts of others with useful skills while trying to avoid becoming entwined with the questionable and possibly violent extremists that also exist in great numbers among U.S. Odinists who have drawn similar conclusions about the facade of democracy.

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Vincent Enlund [Courtesy Photo]

Vincent Enlund (Mesa, Arizona)
When it comes to the presidency, I think my worldview affects how I rate a lot of things. First off, I have to look at all the candidates, and how they sling mud at each other. We look at the two primary parties that will always debate over the Left or Right, conservative or liberal. And now this year, for the first time in many decades, there’s a legitimate third-party option – the Libertarian Party and what they have to offer for the future, as well.

Really, if you’re looking at this from a Heathen worldview, for me, I need to think about what my ancestors looked for in a leader. They didn’t look for politicians. They looked to the people who had success and glory in their life – people who made accomplishments and showed what they were capable of under stress to benefit their people and their tribe. I think today, as Heathens with a Heathen worldview, we need to be looking for leaders to do the same thing. We need to be looking for leaders who have shown us that they’re capable of leading a country, of managing the kind of decisions that are required to do what is best for the people of this nation and the Constitution that it was built on – leaders that demonstrate courage, honesty, intelligence, and the ability to lead the community both economically and socially.

For me, the hard part about this is that I haven’t seen a leader like that for this country in my life. I hope that this third-party – the Libertarian Party – may provide a leader for today that could accomplish at least some of those things. But until I reach a point where I see a leader that I think my ancestors would look up to, these are only hopes.

William Thor Conner

William Thor Conner [Courtesy Photo]

William Thor Connor (Villa Park, Illinois)
I take seriously the pillars of troth, key virtues that are sorely needed in our society. Many in our current political arena have no problem straight-up lying and breaking their word, using lies in base ways to bolster their own privilege. The whole current legal progression towards a corporate oligarchy is based on selective control of (dis)information. We have a set of candidates that couldn’t win on the strength of their ideas alone.

Hillary Clinton will be a competent administrator of the current system, and – to be honest – I will vote for her in November. There is not really another choice. Trump originally ran as a lark or a saboteur and had unexpected success. I still think he doesn’t want to win but is acting as crowd control for the less educated aspect of the same outrage at the system that enabled Bernie’s rise. I proudly call myself a progressive democratic socialist and have been following the words and ideas of Bernie Sanders for more than a decade.

Without trying, Sanders embodies the troth. His struggle to bring the U.S. into a more egalitarian, less rent-seeking model that our Scandinavian cousins successfully practice is an effort worth emulating and being part of. And he didn’t lose. We are more aware of the egalitarian dream being possible than we have been since Lyndon Johnson. I hold hope that the progressive takeover of the Democratic Party could be a viable answer for real change in America.

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard (Miami, Oklahoma)
My understanding is that the known tenets and values of Heathen spirituality require its adherents to be consciously present and world-affirming. The current presidential race is a seriously contentious one, which is highlighted by the extremist speech and behaviors it has incited. Guided by my Heathen worldview, I am driven to actively speak up and participate in bringing about political advancement and reform for the benefit of all people.

As such, I must reject the agendas and policy platforms of leading presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both further the advancement of political systems that include cronyism, environmental destruction, cross-sectional oppression, and warmongering. As a Heathen, I am therefore morally compelled not to be a passive participant in political concerns. These have a measurable impact on the well-being of my family, my community, and my country – truly, on the earth itself, which I strive to honor and protect through my daily actions and spiritual votive works. The only way I see forward is through a commitment to political activism that will disrupt and replace these systems towards ones that provide healthful stability for all human beings, so we might reach our best scientific and spiritual potential.

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

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Pagan community lost one of its members in an apartment fire early Monday morning. Leticia Gill, also known as Tisha Gill, and her mother Rhonda Gill were killed after becoming trapped in the burning building. According to the most recent reports, the fire has been ruled arson, set by a downstairs neighbor. Because of that designation, Tisha’s and her mother’s deaths are being treated as homicides.

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Tisha Gill [Public Facebook Photo]

Born Feb. 15, 1975, Tisha was a solitary Hellenic Dianic Witch who had just begun reaching out into the local Pagan community. She was a member of the Coven of the Sacred Moon located in Topeka, and she helped to create Topeka Pagan Gatherings, attending the group’s local “coffee events” when possible.

Kansas Pagan Jeannie Hazelwood said, “I met [Tisha] while working on the Pagan Pride committee a couple years ago. We spent a good amount of time together as part of that effort and got to know each other. We met for coffee a couple times. I had invited her to join us for ritual a couple times. She had never been to festival so we invited her to join us at Heartland this year, loaned her a tent, shared our camp, and watched as she bloomed and blossomed with the new experience.”

Tisha lived with her mother and two cats Castor and Pollux, both of whom also are presumed to have been victims of the blaze. In an interview with a local news station, Tisha’s aunt Jessica Jones said Tisha and Rhonda were very close, calling the two “inseparable.” Jones added, “I really feel like I am in a nightmare, a nightmare slash dream, I’m here I’m kinda numb.”

Tisha was the oldest of five children and graduated from Topeka West High School in 1993. She was employed at Math Tutor, and studying to be a forensic scientist at Washburn University.

She was also known as a poet and musician, and was involved with several online poetry forums. She published some of work directly on her Facebook page. One of her last poems, titled Moonfire, begins:

“A Silver Flame
Ignites my heart
Its mercurial heat
Searing my skin
Bringing a vitality
A quickening within…”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill (July 8, 2016)

Tisha had recently attended a workshop given by ritualist, artist, teacher and performer Shauna Aura Knight, who was “saddened to learn” of her death. Knight said, “I did not know her very well, I had only met her that night, but she had lots of plans for her life and was very excited to be reaching for them.”

Knight added, “[My] workshop was about finding your personal magic and reaching for your dreams so this is a little heartbreaking especially because of that.”

Tisha had also promised that she would bring her violin to the next ritual that Knight held in the Topeka area. Knight said, “Many blessings on your journey, Tisha. I wish we’d have gotten that chance to musically jam together.”

“Higher, higher- I am lifted
Of lost Happiness- I am gifted
Blessed by the Divine
I am given what is truly mine.
The vision of the tungsten blaze.
Enlightening my eyes with its glaring gaze.”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill

According to investigators, the fire was intentionally started by the Gills’ downstairs neighbor in her own living room. Some speculate that the neighbor’s motive was suicide, but no official reports have been issued confirming that theory.

The morning blaze quickly spread upward, trapping the Gills in their home. The mother and daughter were unable to escape through their only means of exit, the front door. They hid in a closet in a back bedroom with the hopes of surviving.

The Topeka Fire Marshall told local media, “Fire crews arrived to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the rear of the apartment building, with flames engulfing all exterior stairways and four apartments.” Neighbors did reportedly attempt to rescue the women, but were unsuccessful. The downstairs neighbor. who allegedly started the fire, was also killed in the blaze.

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Tisha Gill [via Facebook Memorial page]

Since family, friends, and community members received the tragic news, there has been an outpouring of support. Topeka Pagan Gatherings will be hosting a Pagan Passing Blessing and Candlelight Vigil in Tisha’s honor. Members will be gathering at the rose garden in Gage Park Sunday at 5:00 pm to “offer blessings and stories about Tisha among fellow Pagans and friends.”

Later that same night, family and friends will be gathering at 10:00 pm for another candlelight vigil – this one at White Concert Hall located on the Washburn University campus.

A friend, who asked to remain anonymous, explained, “Tisha and her mother would take nightly walks. Just Sunday evening Rhonda was telling me about the fox that visits them when they are sitting on the steps of White Concert Hall. So what better place to honor their memory but where they got such great enjoyment with the moonlight and nature.”

In addition, family member Chelcee Gill has set up a “Rhonda and Letitia Gill Memorial Fund” to help with the funeral costs.

In remembrance, Jeannie Hazelwood said, “[Tisha] was the kind of person who loved every new experience and had an innate curiosity. She was extremely intelligent, but at the same time had an innocence and naive quality that allowed her to fully experience the wonder of new knowledge and experiences.”

Close friend and fellow classmate Joy Spicer posted on Facebook, “Tisha was clever, exquisitely beautiful, so funny, earthy, a lover of G’d and nature, and a gentler, truer friend is hard to find.”

Another friend, Adolphus Coleman, posted, “Such a beautiful spirit. When I had nothing to write about you gave me inspiration. When I battled depression you were there with encouragement. When ever I thought about giving up you’d send me a quick inbox.”

And, in Tisha’s own words:

“Hotter, hotter
Sweat begins to fill my pores
Coolness covers me
I am drenched from head to toe
The inferno grows bigger,
whiter It now consumes me.
Dark Phoenix, I have become
My transformation is now complete
The old self is long and gone
Purged and shed away
Liveliness has granted me Rebirth
I have become anew.”
– From Moonfire by Tisha Gill


What is remembered, lives!

SALEM, Mass. — Lorelei Stathopolous sees her role as an animal-rights activist as a natural extension of being a Witch. “I defend the defenseless,” she said, and in particular she tries to protect dogs as a way to honor the two dogs hanged here in 1692, during the infamous witch trials. Acting in accordance with her beliefs is what she was doing Aug. 14, when she responded to a call about a dog in a hot car. Trying to intervene on the animal’s behalf got her arrested, leading to breathless coverage over local and national media outlets.

Lorelei Stathopoulos [courtesy photo]

Lorelei Stathopoulos [courtesy photo]

Stathopoulos owns Crow Haven Corner, billed as “Salem’s oldest Witch shop,” and she’s also the founder of Salem Saves Animals. The manager Hex, another local witch shop called to ask her advice after noticing that a dog had been left in a car with only a slightly open window on a 98-degree afternoon. She recommended breaking the window. When she was told no one at Hex was comfortable doing that she told them, “Get the bat ready, I’m on my way down.”

She calculates that the dog had been in the vehicle for at least 21 minutes by the time that she arrived.  Since she had notified police on the way to the area, she did not actually break the window.  Instead, she tried to persuade officers that the animal was not as well off as they believed.

Salem’s animal control officer, who reportedly has both the training and equipment to take a dog’s temperature through the window, only works 30 hours a week. Stathopoulos urged the officers to call the fire department to extract the dog, and then to charge the car’s owner when he appeared. However, their assessment was that the dog was not in distress.

“I don’t blame the officers. I blame the training they have received” she said.

Noting that the dog was “panting heavily,” Stathopoulos attempted to give it water through the window before the owner arrived, over objections of the police officers. The dog didn’t take any, which may have been due to it not being thirsty or being excited by the attention, or even in extreme distress. That was never determined and the dog was not taken in for examination.

The dog’s owner was eventually given a warning. However, this was not enough for Stathopoulos. who informed the officers that if he wasn’t arrested that she should be. They obliged, charging her with disturbing the peace. The video below shows some of what occurred at that moment.

 

“I have no regrets for the arrest, or what I said. These are emotional beings,” Stathopoulos said, which is why she and others have been pushing for a more comprehensive animal protection law in Salem. “Even the Pope said that all dogs go to heaven.”

A stronger law would, she hopes, provide for better officer training with regard to animal issues. She recounted a time recently when a pit bull was found tied up and abandoned, and how the police response was, “Bring it down to the station, we’ll shoot it.” The city animal control officer once declined to assist a coyote caught in a fence, presumably because the training only deals with handling dogs.

What makes this story particularly good fodder for “shock jocks” and mainstream media reporters is the fact that there is going to be a trial, and it is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Stathopoulos wouldn’t agree to plea guilty, and the district attorney has opted to take the case to trial, although the charge can only amount to a fine of $150. The guilty plea would have included agreeing to stay away from the car owner, whose name she said that she has yet to learn.

She also estimates that she will have to pay her own attorney $3,-5,000, and that she will “lose thousands that day on readings” that she won’t be able to do at her shop. It is possible that the only beneficiaries of the trial will be the commentators who are watching the developments, such as conservative radio host Jeff Kuhner, who interview Stathopoulos on The Kuhner Report for the Boston station WRKO.

Kuhner admittedly was unfamiliar with modern-day Witches and, at one point, asked Stathopoulos if she were a Wiccan, but pronounced it “weeken.”   He wasted no time comparing this “modern day witch trial in Salem” to the historic events of 1692, saying, “It didn’t turn out well for your ancestors then.”  The segment can be heard in its entirely at WRKO’s site, and it appears that he based his understanding of the events on a WHDH video news segment.

Stathopoulos, who said she has extensive experience being interviewed, was not impressed with the coverage overall. “I do have a colorful personality,” she acknowledged, but making light of the Witch trials is inappropriate in her opinion. “Professional interviewers can make it go one way or another,” she said. “For them to ask, ‘Did the Witch do the right thing?’ is sort of appalling. Do [they] think we should leave the dog in the car?'”

Kuhner said several times during the segment that he did not agree with leaving the animal in distress, but thought the matter should have ended when the owner arrived and could turn the air conditioning on in the vehicle. He never answered the questions posed by Statholopoulos on whether he’d consider it the same if it had been a baby. Later on in the segment, Christian Day — owner of Hex outside of which the incident took place — pressed him on that point, and the host admitted that he believed the life of a baby is more important.

Witches and other Pagans should brace for another round of “Salem Witch trial” stories making the media rounds this fall when Stathopoulos has her day in court, Oct. 26, just in time for the busiest tourist season in America’s Witch city.

[The Wild Hunt welcomes Nathan Hall as today’s guest journalist . He makes his home in South Florida where he works for a local media company and lives with his wife and soon-to-be first child. He grew up without any real religious background but always felt connected with the spirits of the land. Because of this connection he has always felt a strong kinship with environmental causes and the primacy of nature over humanity’s exploitation of it. Nathan has followed many paths, including ceremonial magick, Norse and Druidic traditions. Recently, he has come into alignment with the Temple of Witchcraft tradition where he is a student in the Mystery School. You can find more of his writing at The Arrival and the Reunion.]

MIAMI, Fla. — “I have a message for anyone who would listen to it, from the spirit of our lady, Florida,” Dayan Martinez begins his presentation, addressing the dire situation of the Everglades. He was a guest presenter, among a handful of speakers, at the Love the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016 held August 6 at Miami’s Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center. Other presenters, representing First Nations, faith groups, local communities, and NGOs, participated as well.

[Photo Credit: Chris Foster / Flickr]

Florida Everglades [Photo Credit: Chris Foster / Flickr]

Martinez recalled reaching out during his shamanic journey work when he first made contact with Her – Our Lady Florida.  Martinez had been struggling with his own sense of powerlessness in the face of decades of over-development and environmental upheaval in Florida.

“Goddess is just a word that I use because everyone seems to get the idea that there is a spirit. But she’s enormous in a way, the entire state, from bedrock to clouds,” he said. Since meeting who he refers to as both La Florida and Our Lady Florida, his life has become more focused, with a new sense of purpose.

This is what compelled Martinez to take part in the summer symposium, as not just an activist, but also as a public Pagan. He was joined by friend and fellow community member, Mathew Sydney.

“I believe it was Dayan who in one of these journeys asked:  ‘What can we do for you?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t want candles and offerings of incense and trinkets, I want you to go out there and speak for the environment and take care of the waters,’” Sydney said.

On June 29, Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties because of the volume of blue-green algae that had clogged the St. Lucie river and adjoining canal systems and estuaries. The order did little to address the immediate problem, however, mostly just providing additional funds to test water and providing vague instructions to store water in other parts of the Everglades.

The Everglades is a one of a kind ecosystem on the planet, with water slowly moving south toward Florida Bay at a near-glacial pace. Also called the River of Grass, it historically extends from the Kissimmee River basin, just south of Orlando, down through Lake Okeechobee, continuing through the current Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve out into the Bay, which is hugged by the Florida Keys.

During the push for agricultural land in the 19th century and a development boom that was facilitated by baron-capitalists of the early 20th century, draining the Everglades became an obsession for land owners, sugar and citrus interests, keen on making money off the Sunshine State. After two nasty hurricanes in the 1920’s lead to massive flooding from Lake Okeechobee, the opportunity was seized upon and the federal government stepped in, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dike along the southern edge of the lake.

From that point on, the historic flow of the Everglades has been cut off. Canals jut out to the east and west from the lake, and when the water level gets too high, instead of flowing south as it has for countless millennia, it is routed out to the ocean.

This has lead to an ongoing environmental disaster that has been reportedly exacerbated by mismanagement, poor infrastructure, and climate change. It has now culminated in large swaths of blue-green algae overcoming valuable estuaries, smothering wildlife, and sickening residents. According to researchers, restoring the historic flow of the Everglades is the best solution to this problem.

Matthew Sydney and Dayan Martinez [Courtesy Photo]

Matthew Sydney and Dayan Martinez en route to symposium [Courtesy Photo]

Both Sydney and Martinez came away from the symposium feeling like it was a great first step, but with the realization that there was a lot more work to do. Sydney said, “The speech was very well received, I think that bringing like-minded people together is more important now.” He especially felt that there was a need for more Pagan-identifying folks to be present, saying that he’d love to see an entire panel featuring earth-centered religions as part of future secular environmental gatherings.

“In my evolution I have come to feel that those of us who identify as Pagan or Neopagan, or who practice earth-based faiths, we of all people have to stand up and lead the way to speak on behalf of the manatee, the bear, the dolphin, and the honeybees and all the other creatures who are being impacted,” Sydney said.

In an effort to lay the groundwork for more Pagan-centered activism, the two men have started a new environmental organization called the Pagan Environmental Alliance. The nascent group has already held their first protest, with a uniquely Pagan twist.

“Ritual can be a protest, ritual can be a political statement. So when we gather (in downtown West Palm Beach), we will be making our political-activist point by being ourselves in a spiritual manner. Hopefully that will inspire further types of ritual protest,” Martinez said.

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[Courtesy Photo]

Their first event was a small showing, but they were happy with the outcome. They used Doreen Valiente’s Witches Creed for its ritual structure and theme of stepping out from the shadows and saying what Witches are. They also poured fresh rainwater into the intracoastal waterway between West Palm Beach and the island of Palm Beach and asked that there be an awakening within the Pagan community.

But public ritual and educational symposiums aren’t the only facet of their efforts.

“Another part of what we’re doing, another strategy is guerrilla magick. We’re developing strategies whereby quietly, undercover and surreptitiously we can perform magickal acts. The purpose of which is to restore mankind’s balance with nature,” Sydney said. He said that they’ve already begun covertly utilizing sigil magick in public places.

But, Sydney added that there’s still a good bit of work that needs to be accomplished well within the public’s view. While many Pagans have gotten their start as solitaries and continue their practice alone, he said, “I think that it’s time that (we) put aside all that solitary, private practice and actually become leaders in the community.”

Restoring the natural flow of water in the Everglades system is the goal that Martinez and Sydney have been compelled to do by La Florida, but it won’t come easy. After the economic crisis and subprime mortgage meltdown, which happened between 2008 through 2010, ownership of property in South Florida has moved out of normal, working people’s hands. As home values plummeted, banks, hedge funds, and shady development corporations moved in, consolidating land ownership right into the hands of the people who created the crisis.

These financial juggernauts, as well as Big Sugar, who has actively fought Everglades restoration and contributes to the campaigns of governor Rick Scott and former senator Marco Rubio, are the opponents that Martinez and Sydney will be facing.

Despite the odds against them, the two activists both see a moral imperative to the work that the are doing. “I don’t think that we can continue to call ourselves Pagan and ignore the fact that nature is calling, you know? Nature is asking us to do something for her after she has given us food, shelter, wealth, power and faith. It’s time to give back,” Martinez said.

Sydney feels that Pagans should take a note from those who practice Santeria and indigenous faiths and begin incorporating the idea of reciprocity. “If we want the gods or the spirits or the ancestors to help us with our problems, the mature thing is to have the courage to ask them how we can help them.”

Just this week, Martinez announced on social media that he and Sydney have been asked to be presenters at the fall Florida Pagan Gathering. “We are excited to present on … November 5th,” Sydney said, “Our Lady Florida is ready for us to awaken.”  Martinez also stated that he hopes to take the same workshop around the state in the near future.

Dayan Martinez presentation at the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016

 

BUTLER, Mo. – The Sacred Well Congregation (SWC),  a universalist, independent, non-evangelical Wiccan Church, announced it ise an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization (EEO) for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This designation means they are now able to endorse qualified clergy from Wicca and Earth-Centered Spiritualities who wish to apply for chaplaincy positions with the VA. This marks the first time that any Pagan group has been approved as an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the VA.

In a message on its official Facebook page, SWC said, “This is a tremendous breakthrough, and will enhance our standing with professional chaplains organizations such as COMISS [The Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings, formerly known as the Coalition on Ministry in Specialized Settings] and [Association of Professional Chaplains], as well as strengthen our position as we move forward in our endeavors to secure status as an EEO for military chaplains.”

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Rev. David L. Oringderff, Executive Director of Sacred Well Congregation, said that due to his military background, most of his work and advocacy for religious freedom has been with the DoD and VA. He explained, “I represented Earth-Centered Spiritualities at the US Air Force Academy conferences on Religious Respect in 2010 and 2012, and was a keynote at the dedication of the USAFA Falcon Circle Cadet Chapel on 3 May 2011.”

Rev. Oringderff has been working toward the goal of a Pagan Military Chaplain since 1997.  “For a non-mainstream organization to gain access to the inner circles, it takes a lot of work.” He added that his efforts are far from done, but securing EEO status within the VA is major milestone.

The Difference between Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization and a Pagan Military Chaplain

Every department and bureau in the federal government that has professional chaplains has its own EEO system and approval process. Most of those processes are modeled on the DoD system. However,  just because an organization is granted EEO by one federal agency, does not mean they are granted it by any other agency.

At the federal level, the EEO must be a religious organization that holds a Letter of Determination from the IRS recognizing it as a 501(c)3 Section 170b1Ai Church or Association of Churches. Even though all churches are tax exempt, this determination letter is something a religious organization needs in order to apply for EEO status, which would allow them to endorse chaplains to serve with federal agencies and departments.

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Rev. Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. [Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan]

A chaplain is different than an ordained minister of a particular faith, denomination or sect. Chaplains must be capable of and agree to provide spiritual care for every person under their supervision. Currently there are no military or VA chaplains who carry an endorsement from a Wiccan, Pagan or Earth-Centered spiritual organization.

The Sacred Well Congregation has been endorsing chaplains for hospitals, first-responders, and correctional institutions, and Lay-Leaders for military groups for several years.  They are now formally approved to endorse chaplains for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but they have not yet received that status for military forces.

However, Sacred Well’s new EEO status means that the way is open for a Pagan chaplain to be hired by the VA and for that chaplain to begin ministering to veterans while they are patients in VA hospitals or using other VA services.

Rev. Oringderff estimates it will be still be three to four years before we see a Pagan military chaplain — someone who ministers to active cuty and reserve military members, as well as their dependents living on military bases while deployed.

The First VA Pagan chaplain?

Now that the VA has approved SWC to be an endorsing agency, this opens the door to the VA hiring a Pagan chaplain. And, Rev. (David) Oliver Kling may be the VA’s first Pagan Chaplain hire.

Rev. Kling’s background describes his religion as a syncretistic path that combines Wiccan, Druid, and Gnostic strands of Christianity. He graduated from Wright State University with a degree in Philosophy and another in Religious Studies. His graduate work is in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies and he has completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV.

Currently, Rev. Kling is a  professional hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio.  Like Rev. Oringderff, he has a military background. “I’m a veteran of the US Navy and a Gulf War veteran so working with veterans would be an honor for me,” said Rev. Kling.

David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

Rev. King is on the SWC Board of Deacons, chair of the Ministry, Advocacy, and Leadership Department at Cherry Hill Seminary, and was rated “fully qualified” for a VA chaplaincy position vacancy.

The process for gaining employment with the VA is difficult and highly competitive.  Rev. Kling said that he has applied at over 10 different VA hospitals for employment.  Each application is  vetted to ensure the candidate is qualified and points are assigned to this process.

“All of my applications were rejected but one. The rejections were vague and unclear, ‘Missing documentation,’ etc. Oddly, all the applications were the same. One was sufficiently vetted and I was awarded a score. Now that Sacred Well Congregation is a recognized VA endorser it will make this process easier since we are now on the list.”

VA chaplain positions traditionally go to retired military chaplains as their applications are awarded more points, but Re. Kling says he will continue to apply to available openings.

Rev. Kling added that having Sacred Well Congregation on the list of endorsers is a huge milestone for him as a professional chaplain.  “Now, no matter where I choose to seek employment as a chaplain I can point to that endorser list when anyone looks at my resume and says, ‘I’ve never heard of Sacred Well Congregation.’  I can direct them to the VA endorser list.  That list has weight.”

Kling also said that when he goes for board certification as a chaplain to any of the certification organizations having SWC on that list makes the process easier because the VA has already vetted SWC as an organization.

Rev. Kling hopes the Pagan community understands how important SWC being on the EEO list is for other Pagans who wish to be chaplains. “It is not just about the VA. It opens doors in other avenues because it lets other would be employers know that Sacred Well Congregation has been vetted by the VA as an ecclesiastical organization. In my application process it wasn’t just me that was being vetted, it was also Sacred Well Congregation.”

 

1930212_1044474605610182_2135655129642865778_nDENTON, Tex.– Eight months after a fire damaged its building, Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship came together in a newly constructed space to celebrate and recommit to its mission. As we reported in December, the Denton church was repeatedly vandalized by a single teenager, who eventually set fire to the building. At the time, Rev. Pam Wat said, “The damage from the fire is significant, but not overwhelming.”

Since that point, members were invited to hold their services in the First Christian Church, located across the street. As noted by Denton CUUPS chapter coordinator John Beckett, “They displayed the best of Christianity.” Specifically, the CUUPS group was able to hold regular Sunday meetings at the facility as well as seasonal events, including its “Imbolc, Ostara, Summer Solstice, and Lughnasadh circles.”

Meanwhile, the damaged building was being rebuilt. Construction was completed just in time for the annual “Ingathering Service” that the church uses to “kick off its year.” Beckett was an integral part of Saturday’s event, helping to “compose two of the liturgical elements” for the service, as well as delivering a “colloquy as the Act of Reconsecration” together with Rev. Wat. Beckett, who wrote in a blog post, “It was a perfect example of collaborative ritual, and of how a UU service can be truly multi-faith without being bland and soulless.” The colloquy is posted in full on his blog.

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cuupsSALEM, Mass. — In other CUUPS news, this weekend marks the start of Convocation, the organization’s annual gathering. This year’s conference event, themed “Awakening Our Tribe,” will be held at the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts. CUUPS organizers have scheduled three full days of workshops, rituals, lectures, and entertainment, inviting people to join them “for this special gathering as we return to the roots for inspiration.” The current schedule and guest speaker list is posted on their website.

Additionally, with the event being held in the “Witch City,” organizers have built time into the plans for attendees to get out and stroll the streets or take self-guided historical tours. Rev. JK Hildebrand will speak on the subject. “Why are there so many of us [in Salem]? When and how did it all come to be? What have been some of the lessons of religion vs. commercialism? How does CUUPS fit in?” There will also be a discussion and viewing of the documentary With Love, from Salem, which focuses on the practice of modern Witchcraft in the historic city.

Convocation runs from Aug 26-28.

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afa-logo

The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) is stirring up controversy on social media after newly-selected Alsherjargothi Matt Flavel posted a short statement on AFA’s Facebook page. Sunday night, Flavel wrote:

“Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning.”

While the post has generated some visible support for the organization and its new leadership, there has been a growing wave of protest and, simultaneously, calls to publicly denounce the AFA. One Facebook user asked for clarification, “Am I misunderstanding the message here or does this mean that if someone wasn’t white or if they were queer they wouldn’t be welcome in the AFA?” Flavel responded in part, with “You are not misunderstanding.”

No official reactions have come out yet from other Heathen or Pagan groups, or individuals, by the time of publication; nor has the AFA made any further comment. We will continue to follow this story and report as needed.

In other news

  • As noted in late July, the court case for musician Kenny Klein was due to start on Aug. 15. However, it has once again been delayed. According to the latest report, defense attorneys have hired a professional to analyze Klein’s computers and provide a report. They are also asking for copies of the photographs. However, prosecutors will only allow them to see the originals, rather than provide them with copies. With all the various motions on the table, the trial date has been pushed back to Sept. 29.
  • Hellenion, a US-based religious organization “dedicated to the revival and practice of Hellenic polytheism,” has opened a new ritual group, or “Proto-Demos” located in Southeast Michigan. The new group, called the Apple Blossom Proto-Demos of Hellenion, was formed in late spring and held its first ritual July 16 at the Pagan Pathways Temple in Madison Heights. Apple Blossom joins eleven other such Hellenion groups located around the US.
  • A new metaphysical store is coming to Oregon. The Sacred Well, located in the Bay Area, announced that it will be opening a second location in Portland this October. The Sacred Well employs and serves Pagan, polytheist, and Witchcraft practitioners with readings, ritual supplies, temple events, and classes. The new store will open at 7927 SE 13th Ave in the Sellwood neighborhood. To follow their progress, go to the Sacred Well Portland Facebook page.
  • Don’t forget it is Pagan Pride season. Denver Pagan Pride kicks off its local festivities on Saturday as do many others around the country. Pride events associated with the Pagan Pride project are listed on its website.
  • Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), the Florida-based affiliate of Covenant of the Goddess, released its 24th seasonal podcast. The 2016 Lughnasad edition contains music by Emerald RoseGinger Doss, and Mama Gina. Members discuss everything from tarot tips and Nervine Tea to “getting inebriated at festivals.” The regular seasonal podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn, or on the EMLC website.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list to ensure you don’t miss a single Wild Hunt story.

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CORRECTION (8/24/2016 12:50 pm): The original article stated that an online exchange between a user and AFA leaders had been deleted. At the time of original publication, that short exchange was not publicly visible and assumed to have been deleted. However, it has since reappeared and is publicly accessible on the organization’s Facebook site.

TWH – Muggle. Ravenclaw. Azkaban. These are familiar words to the millions of Harry Potter fans around the world. With more than 450 million books in print in over 200 countries, the Harry Potter franchise, including films and other marketing tie-ins, make it one of the most successful in history. This success has not subsided, as shown by the recent buzz surrounding the London opening of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is set 19 years after the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The play premiered July 30 and a print version of the story was released July 31, a date that also marks both J.K. Rowling’s and Harry Potter’s birthdays.

2180px-Harry_Potter_wordmark.svgOver the past 19 years, the Harry Potter stories and their expansive pop culture mythos have drawn a significant amount of attention to the possibility of world filled with magic. Rowling asks, “What if…” and proceeds to answer the question with the Harry Potter world.

Due to the magnitude of the franchise’s influence, a natural intersection has formed between its fantasy exhibition of magic and the reality of modern Witchcraft practice. This cultural intersection, which does in fact exist with other pop culture witch products, is sometimes an amusement for real practitioners, many of whom are loyal Potter fans. But, in other cases, the intersection is ignored or shrugged off as silly.  In other cases still, this cultural intersection between real magic and fantasy play can cause a real-life problem.

That is just what happened recently to small business owners and eclectic spiritualists Richard Carter and Jackie Restall. In April, Restall opened Mystical Moments, a metaphysical shop located on Britannia Road in Slaithwaite, England. She and Carter had been previously traveling around selling their craft works, crystals, and other items at local Pagan festivals and events. The store was the next step, and they used much of their remaining life savings to make it happen.

In an interview, Carter told The Wild Hunt, “Although we are a business, one of our main aims is to sell spiritual goods at a price that people can afford.” The couple sees their work as a service to other magical and spiritual workers. Mystical Moments offers healing services, as well as selling items such as “incense, crystals, sage, Angels, Buddhas, [their] own handmade ringed love goblets, runes, and wands.”

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Richard Carter [Courtesy Photo]

While Restall focuses on crystal work and healing, Carter makes the wands, which he considers “a spiritual calling.” He said, “I received an urge to craft wood […] I still can’t explain it, having never had worked with wood in my life.” In 2012, Restall gave Carter a lathe, after he had suffered a heart attack and was unable to return to work.

Carter went on to say, “The first time I used [the lathe] it was like I was being guided on how to use the chisels and how the wands turn out.” Four year later, wand making is now his passion. He said, “I make wands from oak, yew, mahogany, cherry, walnut, sycamore, sweet chestnut, and sometimes a combination of woods.”

In July, the new store’s presence attracted the attention of local reporter Chloe Glover, who writes for The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. After meeting with Restall and Carter, she wrote an article titled “From Slytherin to Slaithwaite – magic wand shop opens in the village,”  which was was not-so-coincidentally published July 30 – the opening day of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

While Glover’s article does provide an objective overview of the store itself, she focused predominantly on Carter’s wand making and injects language from the Potter world. Glover wrote, “Richard Carter may sound like a character out of a Harry Potter book, but his curious real-life skill is gaining nationwide fans amongst those with a spiritualist leaning.”

Despite the article’s level tone, it became the catalyst for a controversy of the magical kind. Carter explained, “The day after [Glover’s] article appeared I received a call from a freelance journalist asking if he could also do a piece on the wands. During the conversation it became apparent that he was interested in Harry Potter.”

Wands in Olivander's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Pixabay]

Wands in Olivander’s at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Public Domain]

During that second interview, Carter said that the journalist asked him if he “would sell one of [his] wands to a Harry Potter fan.” It was Carter’s quoted response that captured international attention: “If I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering.”

On Aug. 6, the Sunday Express published that quote along with a short article titled, “Real-life wandmaker bans Harry Potter fans from his shop.” Within 48 hours, both British and international media had picked up on this click-bait story:

Man who runs magic wand shop in Huddersfield BANS Harry Potter fans for not taking magic seriously” – The Sun
Harry Potter fans banned from wand shop for not being real wizards” – The Independent
Witchcraft shop refuses to serve Harry Potter fans because it sells ‘spiritual tools’ not toys for young Muggles” – The Telegraph
Expelliarmus! British Wand Shop Bans ‘Harry Potter’ Fans“- The Hollywood Reporter
UK wand-maker bans Harry Potter fans from ‘real magic shop’ ” – The Indian Express
Magic Shop bans Harry Potter fans” – New Zealand Herald

Without fail, each of these articles reports that Carter stated that he would not sell a wand to a Harry Potter fan. They also report that Carter can tell fans from a real magical practitioners by their auras.

However, according to Carter, much of what is being reported is inaccurate. He said, “We have never banned anyone from our shop.” In fact, Restall herself is a Harry Potter fan. The aura comment was in reference to helping customers choose the proper wood for their wands.

So what did Carter really say and mean? Both Carter and Restall “believe [their] wands are spiritual tools and not toys for Harry Potter fans to play with.” In other words, their wands are not intended to be used for cosplay, Halloween parties, or other types of pretend play. Carter’s wands are real.

He explained, “The point that I tried to make, but was misunderstood or more like misquoted, was that the wands, which I am guided to make, are for other like-minded people to partner with.” He added that they are made “to help [practitioners] with spells, to use during an healing, or to sit with in meditation. They are not toys.”

Carter believes that if Harry Potter fans want a play wand, they should “look on eBay and buy a mass produced toy, not something that has been made as a spiritual tool.”

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Mystical Moments hand-crafted wands [Courtesy Photo]

American wand maker Gypsey Teague agrees with Carter to some extent. Her wands, like Carter’s, are handmade as spiritual tools, and are not toys. In fact, Teague won’t even sell them over the internet for that very reason. She said, “No one should buy a wand over the internet. You have to match your energy to the wand.”

She added that other craft people, and even buyers, are shocked and put off by her policy. She said, “Other sellers have said, ‘How dare you not sell over the internet?’ I respond, ‘How dare you sell over the internet, as if they are toys?'”

Like Carter, Teague places a emphasis on the importance of the wood matching the user’s energy and magical needs, and, she would know. Along with being a Georgian elder, Teague has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and has been worked with hundreds of species of wood for over 35 years. She sells her wands at events and said that, in some cases, people take hours looking for the right wand match. In other cases, a customer can walk clear across a crowded field or vendor room and pick the right wand in seconds.

Teague added, “J.K. Rowling got a few things right,” one of which is the concept that the wand picks the witch. Like Restall, she is a Harry Potter fan. In fact, in her book The Witch’s Guide to Wands, Teague included a short chapter called, “The Wands of J.K. Rowling.” It begins, “Yes, I know. J.K. Rowling probably doesn’t have wands. However, her most famous protagonist does, and so do his friends and enemies.”

In the subsequent six pages, Teague analyzes the woods described as being used by several of the Potter characters, including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Rubeus Hagrid and more. “It is not surprising that the holly was the wand of choice for Harry Potter. Harry embodies all that is good and strong in the magical world,” she wrote.

When asked if she would sell a wand to a Potter fan, Teague said, “Yes, as long as it is in person.” Unlike Carter, she doesn’t mind if they want to own a real magical wand. However, she did note that her wands don’t look like the movie wands, and most fans want replicas, which are typically mass-produced toys.

As far as she knows, she has never had anyone buy a wand specifically because they were a Potter fan. With that said, she has undoubtedly sold to Potter fans, because many real Witches and Pagans, like herself, are in fact also fans.

Wand make Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Wand maker Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Carter agrees with Teague. He was quoted as saying that “J.K. Rowling has obviously done her research” with respect to wands and woods. And he himself has enjoyed the movies.

Fortunately for Carter and the store, there has been no direct backlash. Most of the negative commentary has been contained within internet-based public comment areas. In the Telegraph articlefantasy author GP Taylor was quoted as saying, “I think this is terrible. Harry Potter fans should be served. They are going crazy over the Cursed Child and need their wands. It is discrimination against Potter fans. They should go to court for justice.” Several Twitter users called for a protest outside of the store, but nothing ever manifested.

Carter said, “We have had Bento magazine in Germany, Marie Claire magazine, Dublin radio and the BBC contact us but at least that gave me the opportunity to put the facts across on what I had actually said.” Journalist Chloe Glover, whose local article about the store started the media frenzy, also did a follow-up article that shares Carter’s reaction.

But it didn’t end there. On July 14, the entire fiasco caught the attention of J.K. Rowling. She tweeted:

Her tweet launched another round of international articles about Carter and his wand making:

Harry Potter author JK Rowling defends fans ‘banned’ from wand shop – ABC Online
Spells trouble: JK Rowling joins row over Harry Potter fans’ right to ‘real wands’ – The Guardian
J.K. Rowling responds to store owner’s ban on Harry Potter fans – New York Daily News

On Twitter itself, Rowling’s comment garnered many responses, many of which supported her words and ridiculed the controversy or Carter himself. However, other tweets came in from Pagans, looking to correct her seemingly irreverent statement.

“Really? Mocking a man over his religion, and not selling his religions tools to just anyone?” – @Acadia Jules

“They’re hand-crafted religious objects. They deserve to be treated with respect.” – @Laina

“He’s selling to Wiccans, a proper religion. It’s like someone taking a cross from a church to go hunt vampires.” – @MystBornWoW

When asked if he had responded to Rowling’s statement, Carter said, “No […] mainly because I am not on Twitter and a bit of a technophobe.” He went on to say that if he was to respond it would be to say simply: ‘Each to their own, but like us try not to be judgmental of other people.’

Carter will continue making his wands and selling them in the new store, letting his customers choose their woods as guided by their own energy. At this time, Mystical Moments does not have a website or online presence with the exception of its Facebook fan page. Carter added, “We would like to thank all the people globally who have shown their support and respected our right to keep our tools sacred.”