There are lots of articles and news of interest to modern Pagans out there – 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.

vice logoOn May 1, VICE Media published an article titled, “How a Thor Worshipping Religion Turned Racist.” Writer Rick Paulas writes, “Together, Odinism and Asatru constitute the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland, officially recognized by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s gaining steam in America, too, where Thor’s Hammer is now allowed to be carved onto military gravestones and prisoners are granted special accommodations to carry out rituals … But there’s a dark side, too.” He goes on to discuss “the way that [Odinism] became a religion entangled with racism, exclusion, and American prison culture.”

Within hours of publication, the article triggered responses from a number of Heathen individuals and organizations. For example, in the article’s comments, Steven T Abell, steersman of The Troth, called the piece “poorly-researched, poorly-written.” Josh Heath, co-director of the Open Halls Project, agreed, saying, “There is so much wrong in this article.” He also pointed out that interviewee Josh Rood was misquoted.

Rood himself confirmed Heath’s assertion. In a Facebook post, Rood said, “There are a few huge things that I want to publicly make as clear as possible….and this is the only venue I really have to do that. I do not ‘teach an Old Norse Religion MA program’ … I am a student…” Rood also added that he had tried to be as clear as possible in the interview, suggesting that some of his words were used out of context.

Heathens United Against Racism voiced its own objections through an open letter to VICE, which was published and shared over social media and sent directly to the news outlet. The letter asks the editors to retool the article because “the problem is much more complicated” than expressed. HUAR has not yet received a response.

In other news…

  • In 2011, the Queen of Norway unveiled The Steilneset Memorial located in the small town of Vardø. The monument was erected to honor the 91 witches who were killed “nearly 400 years ago” in the town’s notorious witch trials. Although built and opened four years ago, the town’s history and news of the monument have once again captured media interest and generated a few news stories.
  • The Indian Network reported last month that more than a dozen Native actors and actresses walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six. They felt that “the satirical western’s script repeatedly insulted native women and elders and grossly misrepresented Apache culture.” Over the past two weeks, the story gained momentum and hit many major news outlets. The Indian Network continued to follow story. On May 1, it published an interview with Apache Culture Consultant Bruce Klinekole, who “was one of the key dissenters.” Klinekole explains why he joined the walk-out. In another article, The Indian Network reports that Native actor Ricky Lee called the entire controversy “overblown.” Additionally, a Care2 petition was started by protestor Allie Young, asking Sandler to change the script. It’s goal is 56,000 signatures of which it has already earned has 55, 611. Sandler has not made any public comment on the issue.
  • On April 15, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled “that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.” In direct contrast to last year’s ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, Canadian law now prohibits any prayer or invocation before a state body. According to the RNS report, the Canadian Supreme Court explained that “the country’s social mores have ‘given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.'”
  • In other religious freedom news, Tennessee lawmakers have attempted to push through HB615, which would designate the Bible as the state’s official book. On April 15, the House approved the bill 55-38, advancing it to the Senate. Despite a strong show of support, the bill was then sent back to committee, putting it on-hold for at least another year. According to the local Knoxville News-Sentinel, Senator Majority Leader Mark Norris said to his fellow committee members during the debates, “For God’s sake, think about where you’re headed.”
  • Continuing on the religious freedom theme, a Missouri woman is attempting to use RFRA laws to be exempted from the state’s abortion regulations. “Mary,” as she is publicly known, is a member of the St. Louis branch of the The Satanic Temple, and reached out to the national organization for help. In a press release, the organization explained,”that [Mary’s] deeply held beliefs would be violated if she is forced to receive inaccurate information as required by the State, and if she is forced to endure a mandated 72 hour waiting period.” The Temple is also raising funds to help Mary through the process.
  • Choreographer and dancer Keith Hennessey has been travelling with a new exhibition called Bear/Skin, which confronts recent social and political problems in the United States. In this piece, Hennessey uses his own Pagan and feminist beliefs to construct the performance’s narrative. He also uses parts of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” to which he said that he had “to reconcile his relationship” through his spiritual beliefs. The next and final performance will be in Toronto as part of a trio of dance exhibitions titled, “Capitalism, Sex and Magic.”
  • During spring, many small towns engage in, what the media often label, “ancient Pagan rituals.” These are regional and traditional folk celebrations that typically mark the changing of the seasons. Two that were recently featured include Germany’s “Osterraederlauf” in Luegde and Poland’s ‘Smigus-Dyngus‘ festival. Both are annual festivals that have been, reportedly, celebrated for centuries. During Osterraederlauf, locals set fire to six large wooden wheels and roll them down a hill. The wheels and fire are said to bless the farmers with good luck. For Smigus-Dyngus, or Watery Monday, locals dress in festive clothing, while young boys throw water on young girls and spank them with willow branches in hopes of increasing their marriage chances.
  • In Florida, Rollins College Provost Carol Bresnahan  has developed a continuing education class on “the history of witchcraft and magic.” The course, taught for the Rollins College Center of Lifelong Learning at the Hamilton Holt School, has no grades or homework. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, “During class, [for example] they talk about how people believed witches slept with the devil. They read through a 15th-century witch-hunting manual [Malleus Maleficarum] …” The class has been very popular, which initially surprised Bresnahan. One student is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been interested in witches, and I don’t know why.” On its site, the Sentinel published a short video interview with the provost.
  • And, the Beltane celebrations are well-underway. The Grove of Gaia Fest was held last weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with record levels of attendance. In addition to its traditional May Pole dance, festival goers happily participated in a wild color toss to welcome the Merry Month of May.
Grove of Gaia Fest

Grove of Gaia Fest 2015 – Color Toss

 

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KIEV, Ukraine –On April 30, two thousand witches were expected to gather publicly to work for peace in a land that has been rocked by Russian-backed rebellion. Despite the size of the event, only minimal information about it made its way out of the Ukraine. Fialkora Mykytenko, national coordinator for PFI Ukraine, posted an announcement of it in her native Ukrainian. Here is a translation:

On April 30, Walpurgis Night, a (witches’) sabbath will be held in Kiev, with the official approval of the Defense Ministry, and with two thousand people in attendance.

The organizers’ web page indicates that this will be the first such massive gathering of practitioners of magick, psychics, healers, and representatives from a wide range of esoteric cultures.The ceremony will be directed toward the restoration of peace and harmony in the territory of Ukraine and the adjoining nations, and be based on the time-honored rituals of civilizations throughout the world. The venue will be Mikhalovskii Square.

Everyone who values the destiny of Ukraine, everyone who wishes peace in our land is urged to attend, and bring protective charms which they have created with love, using their own hands. After a mass energetic charging of these charms, they will be sent to areas of Anti-terrorist Operations. Over 2,000 of the strongest magickal masters will come to call on the highest powers to put an end to the war.

This action is officially supported by the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and “the union of veterans of anti-terrorist operations.” Registration and individual gatherings of witches, sorcerers and others will take place on Mount Shchekavits, on the site of an ancient abandoned cemetery of plague victims, which the organizers describe as a place of unimaginable power.

The event, organized by shaman Sergei “Sabirius” Grechishkin, was scheduled to take place in Mikhailovsky Square, which is nestled between St. Mikhail’s Golden-Domed Monastery and Saint Sophia’s Cathedral.

St. Michael's

St. Mikhail’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Mikhailovsky Square, Kiev [Public Domain]

The ritual itself was described by one source as a moleben, which is a “traditional Eastern Orthodox prayer service . . . widely practiced in Russia and Ukraine.” Sabirius told the news site Vesti more about the event’s structure and intentions:

It will be a joint appeal to the higher forces. Each of us will do it in his own way. We will ask them to help people to recover from this bloody attack of anger and hatred and save those who found themselves in this wild bloodbath. The second ritual is a “charging up” of protective amulets for the warriors and residents in the conflict zone, which will then protect people from bullets, frags, knives and batons,” he says.

While the Defense Ministry may have sanctioned the gathering, reports in advance of it indicated that the mayor of Kiev had not officially acknowledged it. Father Ivan, deacon at St. Mikhail, wasn’t aware of the plan until contacted by reporters.  When asked, he is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing bad about people planning to pray for peace in Ukraine. … [but] people pray for peace in church. . . . You mustn’t forget that apart from God, there is also the devil, who can, via [psychics, shamans, witches and warlocks], create what at first glance looks like good things which then turn out to have been made using dark powers.”

Preliminary prayer circle (courtesy photo)

Preliminary prayer circle (courtesy photo)

According to local reports, only few dozen practitioners actually showed up. But those that did come out were surprised to find that the city had scheduled a concert in the square for the same time, and they were also reportedly met with hostility from bystanders. Their prayer for peace, drowned out by music, only lasted a few minutes.

We will continue to follow this story and will update it as we get more information.

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Seekers TempleThe Seeker’s Temple, based in Beebe Arkansas, has announced that it is closing its doors. In a Facebook statement, High Priest Bertram Dahl said, “The city of Beebe has not only managed to make things too difficult to stay open here, but are also attacking us personally and threatening the life of our family.” Tonight will be its final public meeting.

As we reported in June 2014, Dahl, with his wife Felicia, had moved to Beebe, where they re-established the Seeker’s Temple. After some time, the Dahls found themselves at the center of a local controversy due to ongoing conflicts with both the town and a neighboring church. As noted by the Temple’s announcement, those problems never ended. In a recent post, Dahl reports that many of his outdoor statuary were vandalized.

Despite the closure of the Beebe temple, Dahl did suggest that his days as a High Priest are not over. After the Dahl family relocates to South Carolina, he will reopen the Seeker’s Temple. In addition, he and his wife will be “appearing” at Tennessee’s Pagan Unity Festival and, as he noted, the “online pages will remain the same (Beebe can’t stop that).”

*   *   *

NepalThe Patrick McCollum Foundation has provided further detail on its work to help victims of the Nepal Earthquake. Rev. McCollum said that the group has “forwarded all donations made so far to our team members in the area” where relief is in progress. “All monies are being used to purchase tents, blankets, medical supplies and food. The process of delivering these to the remote mountain villages is difficult, but we have people in place that are able to do so.”

More specifically, the Foundation has partnered with the Helambu region and is one of the only NGOs providing relief to this particular area. Rev McCollum explained that most organizations are focused on Kathmandu where there are “armies of aid workers and supplies.” The remote villages are less likely to be served or served quickly. Rev. McCollum goes on to say, “Helambu is a difficult to reach region of numerous remote villages and they have been hit exceptionally hard.” The most recent death toll for the entire country is now over 7,000, of which 500 are estimated to be from the Helambu region alone.

*   *   *

cuupsThe Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) has announced that it is reviving its annual “Continental Gathering.” This summer the organization is sponsoring its first convocation since 2004 and the theme will be “Awakening Our Tribe.” As noted in The Nature’s Path, a blog devoted to UU-Paganism, “It is time to awaken the spirit of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.”

Convocation will be held in Salem, Massachusetts and hosted by the First Church Unitarian, a 377-year old congregation with a wealth of history. Organizers announced, “Our guest speakers include people who have been long-time and new UU voices in Paganism and local voices in the New England region who bring new energy to the mix.” Those speakers include Rev. Shirley Ranck, John Beckett, Gypsy Ravish, Jerrie Hildebrand, as well as musical guest Silver Branch. Convocation will be held on July 24-26.

In Other News

  • Polytheist Priest and spirit worker Anomalous Thracian has announced the purchase of over 3 acres of land, situated in a private wooded area not far from the New Hampshire border, on a small river, within Essex County, Massachusetts. The goal is to rebuild “a permanent polytheist Temple and oracular serpent sanctuary.” Thracian said that, in time, the space will host community rituals and be available for educational events and retreats. He also emphasized that the land “will see full-time religious use, with future opportunities for students-in-residence, guest priests, and visitors.” For anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the temple project, contact him at nomadicwisdom at gmail (dot) com.
  • Wyldwood Radio has announced a fundraising campaign to purchase new equipment to cover more festivals and events. With new equipment, the station can grow and expand its media presence within the country. They said, “Our dream goal is to be able to raise enough to also cover the costs of buying suitable transport” to get their teams to and from the various locations. Wyldwood Radio is an “independent Pagan radio station based in the UK.”
  • Beltane’s ACTION is out. In this issue, Blackwell interviews Pippah Hall, Lilith Dorsey, Sylveey Dawn, Crystal Blanton, Jay Bearden, Lou Florez, and Lady Sky Dancer.
  • Everglades Moon Local Council, Covenant of the Goddess has published its Beltane Podcast. The Florida-based local council has been using podcasts for several years to share the experiences and talents of its members. The latest podcast includes several songs, tips for reading tarot, information on medicinal spices and more. Additionally, podcast creators included a recording of a workshop given at the brand-new Florida spring gathering, Equinox in the Oaks. The EMLC podcasts are typically published at every sabbat.
  • Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) will be hosting its first ever midsummer camp-out event. The goal, as stated on the event page, is to gather “as a community not only comprised of Heathens that are united against racism, but as a wider Pagan community coming together to discuss what goals we’d like to achieve, and how we will continue to make our visions of safe space within our communities a more common practice.” Sponsored by Solar Cross Temple, the HUAR event will be held at Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California on June 19-21.

That is it for now. Have a great day.

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MayLaborpole

“Workers May Pole” (public domain)

When we tell the story of modern Paganism, we tell a history as we understand it. But all history is only selective memory, a collection of what we choose to remember or what we know to include. The sum total of humanity’s experience cannot be recollected except by the sum total of humanity.

History’s an exclusion, as much as it is a narrative, and tells us more what we think about ourselves now than what happened in the past. To recount the tale of myself to you would take my entire life, and that life is not yet over. I do not know what will grow from seeds planted decades before, how actions in my youth will unfold into the future. It’s all guesses, all suspicions, all hopes and fears.

To tell the history of a people is more difficult. What we choose not to remember or include matters just as much as what we recount, and this is even more true when we speak of a religion.

We’ve become self-conscious, apolegetic sometimes for our subversive ideas and uncommon beliefs. Gods and the Dead speak to me, but I do not always tell this to people. I practice magic, yet explaining to those unfamiliar with such things isn’t an easy task, nor one I’ve the tools to prove to the Disenchanted world.

Some of this self-consciousness and apology is merited, at least for those of us in supposedly-secular Western nations. Witches were once burned, academics are still fired for their Paganism, and the cult of Progress is the default civic religion of many modern peoples. But this is also fear, and no human should be ruled by terror, even as terror becomes the ruling logic of our societies.

Others have written brilliantly of the revolutionary and anti-authoritarian urge of witchcraft, but few write regarding the radical nature of modern Paganism itself. And it’s time for that history to be unburied, too, because we should no longer apologize for who we are, what we believe, and what we shall become.

Paganism is a revolt, a religion of The Commons of land, people, and gods, and the world now, with its dying forests, slaughtered species, and subjugated peoples needs this story as much as we need to tell it.

Progress and the Great Forgetting

Sylvia Federici has quite succinctly told the story of how the coming of Progress and the logic of Capital required the burning of witches, the subjugation of women, the eradication of Pagan beliefs, and the creation of a people divorced from The Commons. I won’t try to match her work, only to expound upon it.

Likewise, John Michael Greer has profoundly outlined the modern religion of progress and our unquestioning faith in Industrialized existence (with its alienation of human and earth, as well as its catastrophic destruction of the land, air, and water we Pagans hold sacred) ; I won’t try to match his work, either.  And of course, Peter Grey’s work on Witchcraft as resistance is unmatched, and Starhawk‘s profound re-invigoration of the revolutionary stance of the Witch has influenced more people (Pagan and non-Pagan) than any of the great ‘leaders’ of modern Paganism. These four authors are essential to any understanding of Paganism, more essential than the great white “elders” invoked as ‘ancestors of the craft.’

But the story that isn’t told as much–yet–is the confluence between the rise of Capital and the resurgence of Paganism. That is, the coming of Progress and subjugation of peoples happened at the same time as Paganism became a resistance and revolt, an embrace of the fading Commons against the calamity of Progress and Capital.

Progress comes, and the forests die, the rivers slow then trickle. Icecaps melt, and glaciers, dumping ancient frozen worlds into indomitable seas. Great dark clouds fill the sky, choking out birds, leaving soot upon the brick and stone of human habitations, and the pipe and membrane of human respiration.

When we speak of Progress, too many think tech and tools, the artifice of creative mind meeting the urge to do less work. The shovel is not Progress, it is a tool—it made life easier, at least for those who dig. Nor is Progress the computer or the hand-phone, despite the lakes of toxic waste poisoning the earth that we might type at screens rather than scrawl upon paper. Again, these bits of silicon and coltan are tools.

Progress is a religion, not a technology, a belief that what is now is better than what was before, that as-we-are is greater than as-we-were, a faith in a future unseen and a hatred of the sins of our Pagan ancestors. Before we were stupid and poor, violent and sickly until Progress came with its saving grace. Before we toiled and slaved in darkness, revering unseen spirits, chanting praises to idols and dancing ignorant dances in the meadows of The Commons; now we’ve got video games and factories and fast-food, praise be forever to the Holy Name of Progress.

We are taught to hate what came before, to embrace what displaced our awful past, and offer fervently at the altars of Commerce and Capital for the better days to come.

“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians, 5:17)

In fact, Progress is a Christian Narrative, and the religion of Empire. Christianity, aided by Empire, subjugated, displaced, and destroyed many of our ancestral ways. But not all, for the Empire which wielded the Cross as a cudgel against the heathen and the druid crumbled, as all Empires do. Pagan ‘survivals’ abound, despite our historian’s trepidation at accepting the possibility that Empire might not be total.

"Empires Crumble" patch by Alley Valkyrie

“Empires Crumble” patch by Alley Valkyrie

The destruction of Paganism was never complete, nor could it be as long as shrines to syncretized saints held place within the chapels, candles lit and rags still tied by holy springs and sacred wells, and standing stones still stood.

The new can never replace the old, not fully, until the old is finally forgotten.

And thus the religion of Progress, the faith which keeps us tied to our jobs, our consumption, our obedience to Empire, and our slavish sale of our limited time in exchange for coin. But there was and still is a resistance to this religion, a revolt against the Landlords and Bosses, these priests who called “Progress” the theft of land, the subjugation of women, Africans, and indigenous peoples. And that resistance, that revolt? It was awfully Pagan.

Bacchantes in America, 1627

MerryMountMaypole

Illustration of Merrymount from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (public domain)

Before Capitalism, there was The Commons, land shared collectively among a people. Meadows, fields, forests and rivers unfenced, used for grazing, gathering, dancing and living. This is a hard thing for us to understand, we who live some 300 years after the birth of “Private” property. It’s difficult to conceive of such places, particularly in our crowded cities and fortified suburbs, land not just open to all but un-owned, managed collectively and belonging to itself.

It’s difficult to understand The Commons particularly because all of our lives are currently enclosed and re-purposed. A street is not a place to meet people, it is a place to drive; parks are owned by cities, forests and lakes by governments, and even the places we live are ‘owned,’ by ourselves if we have money, by others if we are poor.

Enclosure created this state of existence—the selling off of land which was once un-owned and community-managed to individuals who could bar access to others from it. What was given to the now nebulous ‘community’ is in the hands of governments which regulate what can and cannot be done upon it.

Land ownership was a new thing, not just to peoples of Europe, but to those the European Lords of Progress colonized. And its in their experiences we can best understand The Commons that we lost. Consider the words of the Shawnee resistance leader Tecumseh, railing against agreements extracted (by force) from fellow tribes to ‘sell’ their land to the colonists:

The way, the only way to stop this evil, is for the red people to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now — for it was never divided, but belongs to all.
No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.
Sell a country?! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?

In fact, Native American/First Nations resistance to colonization (which continues to this day) not only helps us understand the coming of Private (exclusive) property, but also helped those conscripted (by force or threat of poverty) as foot soldiers of enclosure understand what their own ancestors had lost, even as the persistent Paganism of those settlers came with them across oceans.

You maybe don’t know much about that ‘persistent Paganism,’ though. This is understandable—even most Pagan historians speak little of this, if at all. For much of it, we actually have to look to Marxist historians, like Peter Linebaugh. From his The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of Mayday, comes this account of Thomas Morton, a colonist turned-rogue:

On May Day, 1627, he and his Indian friends, stirred by the sound of drums, erected a Maypole eighty feet high, decorated it with garlands, wrapped it in ribbons, and nailed to its top the antlers of a buck. Later he wrote that he “sett up a Maypole upon the festival day of Philip and James, and therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beare.” A ganymede sang a Bacchanalian song.

…Merry Mount became a refuge for Indians, the discontented, gay people, runaway servants, and what the governor called “all the scume of the countrie.” When the authorities reminded him that his actions violated the King’s Proclamation, Morton replied that it was “no law.”

Or as the Puritan Governor Bradford accounted of the very first Maypole raised in North America (again, 1627):

They … set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many fairies, or furies rather) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.

Thomas Morton elsewhere, we should note, was accused of “heathenism” and of setting up Pagan idols, but admitted himself, in his own accounts, having hymns to Pagan gods (Venus, Cupid, Neptune and Triton) composed and sang in his liberated colony.

Queens and Cross-Dressing Rebels

Were this an isolated incident, we could perhaps ignore the colony of Merrymount, an aberration in history, a brief confluence of Pagan forms with Common revolt. But there are more evocations of Pagan gods in defense of the people against colonization and enclosure.

In 1761, a group of Irish folk, dressed all in white women’s clothing and made pacts to the goddess Sadhbh. Called Queen Sive’s Faeries, or the Whiteboys, they terrorized the wealthy landowners and merchants of several counties, pulling down fences, burning houses, and parading Christian leaders in horse-hair garb and thorns through villages. They issued manifestos, warnings, and eviction notices in the name of their Great Queen, demanding the ‘leveling’ of society, an end to the rich and a return to The Commons.

Said John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and a significant opponent of the rebellious and ‘Pagan’ tendencies of workers:

One body of them came into Cloheen, of about five hundred foot and two hundred horse. They moved as exactly as regular troops and appeared to be thoroughly disciplined. They now sent letters to several gentlemen, threatening to pull down their house. They compelled everyone they met to take an oath to be true to Queen Sive (whatever that meant) and the Whiteboys; not to reveal their secrets; and to join them when called upon.

And another un-named critic of that same time:

Their pretence for meeting was to redress the grievances upon the poor (as they termed it) by The Commons being inclosed. At first they executed their designs by levelling fences…

…They established councils at Stated places, where a president, Secretary and Members, considered of Everything relative to her Majesty Queen Sive’s interests, received petitions, gave answers to them, issued out menacing letters to creditors not to demand their just debts, to some landlords to remit their rents, to others to restore cattle&c….

This same reverence for a ‘mystical’ being, as well as cross-dressing occurred again, back across the Atlantic with the Molly Maguires, Irish worker groups who terrorised mine- and factory- owners in retaliation for poor working conditions, harassment, and murder of union organizers. The Molly Maguires also fought in Ireland and in Liverpool against the lords of Progress who’d destroyed the Commons.

Repression of them was fierce: mine-owners hired The Pinkerton Detective Agency, a private ‘police’ force at a time when policing was not yet fully a state-function, to crush their anti-Capitalist activities. Pinkerton still exists, by the way, it’s a subsidiary of a Swedish Security firm– Securitas– protecting Property, Progress and Capital throughout the world.

Many writers have already pointed out the confluence between Pinkerton’s violent suppression of predominately Irish workers in America with the events of May 4, 1886 in Chicago. Called The Haymarket Affair, the riots which ensued during a large labor rally calling for solidarity between oppressed factory and mine workers (and a call for an 8-hour workday) turned deadly as police moved in to disperse the workers. A bomb went off, police attacked workers, and thus was born May Day as most non-Pagans know it.

That is, there’s more than mere co-incident in the confluence of Pagan Beltane and Worker’s May Day, Thomas Morton’s May Pole at Merrymount does not seem such an isolated moment in American Pagan history.

Crones, Queers, and Ghostly Spear-Wielding Generals

Luddite

Two more resistance movements to Progress and the return to The Commons in Europe are worth mentioning here.

In Wales, some of the participants of the ‘Rebecca Riots,‘ (again cross-dressing rebels), claimed to have been led (and given clothing) by an old crone on a mountain. But better known were an earlier group who began issuing notices to wealthy landlords, factory owners, and to government officials who supported them. They demanded a return to The Commons and the end of the plague spreading across their land, the plague of industrialization. Called “Framebreakers” by the Lords and Mayors who sought their annihilation, they took upon themselves a different name, adopted from their mysterious King, “Ludd.”

These were the Luddites.

Their sovereign lived in a cave in a forest, had a shrine buried under a Christian chapel, and carried a giant pike. One of men charged with suppressing the Luddites and their mysterious leader recounted the experience of another who’d ‘met’ the strange being the framebreakers called their ‘general':

he saw ‘one called General Ludd, who had a pike in his hand, like a serjeant’s halbert; I could not distinguish his face, which was very white, but not the natural colour’.

The Luddites were not anti-technology, despite what modern usage of the term might make us think. Rather, they were against that same “Progress” which asserted that it was better that humans work in factories for low wages than share among themselves the fruits of their own labor derived from The Commons.

As the Capitalist class (factory owners, landlords, etc.) sought to make more profit from the work of others, they industrialized production of goods, building factories and mills where workers (including children) would create even more goods-for-sale at the same (or even less) wages. Technology which made work easier did not benefit the workers (since they were still paid the same for their work), it benefited only the Capitalists. While the Priests of Progress (including many ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers) extolled the virtue of these new machines, the workers then were aware of the same thing many of us now also understand: the benefits of each new invention profit the few and cost the many.

That conflict is best described by Oscar Wilde (whose mother was involved in the Irish republican movement, whose wife was a member of The Golden Dawn, and who surrounded himself with Occultists and Anarchists) in his The Soul of Man Under Socialism:

One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and, having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, every one would benefit by it.

That is, another call for The Commons and the end of exclusive property.

There were other Pagans calling for the same thing in Europe, particularly in the very place the Enclosures and Capitalism started. Some of them were Naturalists and often Atheists like Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose support of the Luddites and radical poem “Queen Mab” wove together seamlessly with his calls for a Pagan revival. Edward Carpenter, a gay, socialist who dabbled in the occult, likewise espousing a return to the Pagan world of The Commons as a cure for the ‘disease’ of industrial civilization.

And some of these went on to lead Pagan religious traditions. Rarely mentioned in many histories of “Modern Druidry” is George Watson MacGregor Reid, an Anarcho-Socialist labor organizer who went on to lead the “Ancient Druid Order,” now called the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD).

The Unburied Past Inhabiting Our Present

The most radical part of our buried history is not so much the many intersectional revolts against Capital and Authority, but how Pagans are hardly the only ones to call on gods and spirits against the exploitation of people. One need only look at the Haitian revolution, one of the three great Democratic revolutions at the turn of the 18th century. Before it began, a group met in the woods called Bois Caiman, offering sacrifices and devotion to Ezilie Dantor.

Likewise, many indigenous resistance movements against the regime of Progress, Colonizations and Capital have called upon—or been led by—ancient gods and spirits. Devotion to Pachu Mama in South America inspires resistance to Capital now in Bolivia, and in Cambodia, ancestral land spirits (the neak ta) have regularly possessed textile workers to demand better conditions and a return to ancestral worship.

Why we don’t tell these stories, though, is another matter, one a bit difficult to speak on without eliciting howls of protest and defensive anger from those who’ve become established voices and leaders within American Paganism.

Paganism may be a revolt, but it is as colonized as other religions. For in every resistance to Progress and Capital and Authority, there have always been those more concerned with reaping the benefits of the ‘new order’ than building solidarity and community with others who struggle against it.

In fact, some even try to silence radical voices and keep concealed our radical past, either out of fear of ‘the burning times’ or, worse, complicity in the very system which keeps others subjugated. Capital pays traitors and opportunists quite well, though it often doesn’t need to. The hope of ‘succeeding’ in the current regime (be it becoming a popular author, a well-paid speaker, or other paltry bits of fame offered one) is enough for some; for others, a dislike of humanity; and for even more, an unquestioned life and refusal to see our colonized state.

But there are riots in the streets now. The forces of Capital and Progress cannot always keep hold upon the lives of everyone: the process of colonization and subjugation is never complete, as long as people have memory and hope for a return of The Commons.

And history, as I said, is memory.

It’s time we remember.

 

[Author’s note: I’m deeply indebted to the extensive research of historian Peter Linebaugh, whose works have already unburied much of this forgotten past, and to the inspiring work of the writers at Gods&Radicals, who are helping to ensure Paganism doesn’t forget]

 

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

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Among my favorite places to visit is the Fakahatchee Strand in South Florida. About an hour west of Miami, the Fak (as we call it) is a narrow swamp forest about five miles wide and about 20 miles long. The shallow swamp sits beneath soaring royal palms, bald cypress trees and tropical hardwoods while its near-crystal waters slowly drain southward into the Ten Thousand Islands region of Southwest Florida. The Fak is home to the Florida panther, alligators, river otters, fox squirrels, Everglades minks, native bromeliads, as well as the fantastically rare Ghost Orchid that was highlighted in Susan Orlean’s novel, The Orchid Thief and its ensuing film, Adaptation.

It is primordial.

Photo by M. Tejeda-Moreno

Inside the Fakahatchee Strand. [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The Fak is both close to the city and, like much of Southern Florida, refreshingly and dangerously wild in the word’s deepest sense. In winter, the Fak is crisp and covered in migratory birds. In the summer, you venture with full-body netting and repellent; the mosquitoes are the least of your worries. Spending time in the swamp, whether hiking dry trails or slogging the water, is a constant marvel. Animal noises are punctuated by deafening bursts of silence. You are immersed within the wild; its tangible danger as well as it thick and overflowing life. You become as vigilant as our ancestors in these treacherous places, yet reassured back into modernity as your cell phone makes a weak and random connection. No matter how long you stay or how often you go, you leave transformed.

The experience is a far and away a contrast to the security of our homes and the usual life that we inhabit in cities. Most of us live in spaces designed by humans to maximize both our safety and our comfort. In many ways, however, the Pagan identity is built upon the reconnection with the natural world and, as we have all heard, there is much magic outside our comfort zone.

Many of our rituals address our connection to nature in one way or another; and many of our spiritual traditions place nature as the center point of reverence. Indeed, most of our festivals intentionally pull as away from the familiar, urban life into natural spaces. They help remind us that we are strengthened when we occasionally break away from the structured lives of the city into the randomness and freedom of nature. This is a familiar Pagan pattern: live in the city, renew in the wild.

To be sure, mainstream Western Society has affixed itself to severing connections with the natural world. In the 8th century, Charlemagne’s violent campaigns to Christianize Pagan Saxons culminated in, what the Royal Frankish Annals refers to as, the destruction of the central seat of the Saxon religion, the Irminsul. The Irminsul is described as a large hollow tree trunk clearly connected to Yggdrasil, the sacred tree of Odin that connects the Nine Worlds. The location of the Irminsul appears to have been near modern-day Obermarsberg, Germany towards the Teutoberg Forest; but nothing remains of the location, only the references.

While Charlemagne’s more obvious motive for destroying the Irminsul was to shatter the connections that Pagans had with their religion and ultimately convert them to Christianity, an additional interpretation is that its demolition had the supplementary effect of severing the Saxon connection with nature. Violent and forced conversions are one thing, but if you truly want to permanently decimate a community, disconnect them from the well of their strength.

The Irminsul represented that strength, but urbanizing Pagan communities was the key: that would cap the well. Sever the connection with nature, and the city would subordinate Pagans. The church at the city center would become the new pillar of society and the promised safety and ease of urban life would silence the call of the forests. Indeed, in Latin, Urbanus (city dweller) is the opposite of Paganus (country dweller). Creating city dwellers is the act of destroying country dwellers and, more critically, their values.

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

In time, nature would be seen as wild and ultimately dangerous. The place we came from would become the place we see as alien. Twelve hundred years later, mainstream society continues to embrace Charlemagne’s vision and to villanize nature in many ways. Although we hear occasional Romantic yearnings for the natural world, urbanites constantly, and often inadvertently, whisper to one another the dangers of the wild (not parks, those are “secure” nature”). The mainstream world in which we live collectively encourages urban, modern lifestyles while discouraging people from visiting the wild, reminding us of the risks, hazards and threats “out there.”

Nature is dangerous but it is not a place to dread. Despite the fact the vast majority of people are injured or die in cities, that mainstream world is very invested in us fearing nature to maintain power and profit.

So why keep us from visiting nature? Because visiting nature is unimaginably rebellious. It causes us to question how we live. It reminds us that the future is only possible through sustainability. It exposes us to how we are part of a web of life and, perhaps most importantly, how we humans can uniquely make choices that strengthen and weaken that web. Being in nature helps us recognize that our human strengths involve cooperation and acceptance, rather than control and suppression.

And science has taken notice. In 1984, myrmecologist, professor and “father” of biodiveristy, Dr. E. O. Wilson proposed the Biophilia Hypothesis (later more fully developed by Wilson’s colleague, Dr. Stephen Kellert in 1993). Broadly and simply stated, the hypothesis proposes a human urge to “affiliate with other forms of life.” It was a development from the work of Psychologist Dr. Erich Fromm who first coined the term and proposed the subconscious psychological attraction to be immersed in and have a deep affiliation with nature. To Pagan ears, that probably sounds so obviously self-evident it would merit sarcasm. To urbanites, it is heresy.

Indeed, the Biophilia Hypothesis actually leads to some interesting questions in evolutionary psychology, the subfield of psychological science that explores the evolutionary advantages of our psychological and behavioral characteristics. Because we evolved in a natural environment, that natural environment must also expose those characteristics that represent our optimal functioning. In other words, does being in nature somehow reveal our nobler sides that are possibly hidden by modern urban existence?

As it turns out, yeah it does. In one study, UK researchers examined panel data from 10,000 individuals. Panel data refers to information collected in the same way but at multiple times (pre- and post- testing is an example of simple panel data). The researchers found that after controlling for individual and regional differences, individuals living in urban areas that had more green spaces also reported lower levels of mental distress and higher levels of happiness.

Now there are other factors there that need to be explored and understood more completely, but the interesting point is that an effect was still detected (White, Alcock, Wheeler & Depledge, 2013). In other words, all things were expected to be equal, but they noted a difference. And, that points social science in an interesting direction.

Recently, Canadian researchers conducted three experimental studies to explore more carefully the causal direction of some of those nature findings like the one described above. They presented participants with a “commons dilemma.” It is a specific kind of problem that pits people’s short-term self-interests against longer-term group interests. In this case, it was a fishing simulation that basically boiled down to whether you would harvest fish competitively to make a profit for yourself now or harvest fish cooperatively with others to sustain the group for the future.

Before participants entered the simulation, they were randomly assigned to two groups. One group watched a nature video prior to entering the simulation, and the other group watched a city-building video. The Biophilia hypothesis would predict that watching nature would make you feel more part of it and make you more aware of your actions. And that’s just what happened: the group that watched the nature video exhibited significantly more cooperative behaviors and fished sustainably. The groups that watched the city-building video behaved more competitively. When the study was repeated by introducing a third group that viewed a neutral video, the same cooperative behaviors were still demonstrated (though somewhat more weakly in statistical terms) by the nature-exposed group. In other words, exposure to nature leads to more human cooperation.

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

Now in a third study, the same researchers used a similar design but replaced fishing with a questionnaire on perceived important social values and sustainability. They also changed the videos with generic videos of nature and generic videos of cities. They altered the experiment because they wanted to eliminate the association between fishing and nature, to still see if the effect on cooperation was present.

Instead of the fishing exercise, the participants completed the questionnaire after being randomly assigned to groups and viewing the videos. Again, participants who watched nature videos were more likely to endorse cooperative decision-making and sustainability than their counterparts who watched urban-focused videos (Zelenski, Dopko, & Capaldi, 2015).

The findings speak very loudly: Exposure to Nature is transformative. It reinforces those aspects of ourselves that strengthen our society like cooperation, mutual support, collective good, and sustainability. Those values create collective wealth and sustainable enterprise that expands- not exploits- our relationship with Nature. What science underscores is something that Pagans know: Nature exposes that which makes us Human. Nature reminds us of the human social powers that helps us make collective and positive decisions without needing a central authority, whether that be king or gospel. That is something, I think, Charlemagne could never have come to terms with. Simple, and so very Pagan.

Citations
Kellert, S.R. (ed.) (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press.
White, M.P, Alcock, I., Wheeler, B.W., & Depledge, M.H. (2013). Would You Be Happier Living in a Greener Urban Area? A Fixed-Effects Analysis of Panel Data. Psychological Science, 24, 920-928.
Wilson, E.O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Zelenski, J.M., Dopko, R.L. & Capaldi, C.A. (2015). Cooperation is in our nature: Nature exposure may promote cooperative and environmentally sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 24-31.

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May 1 and the surrounding days mark the traditional dates for many major spring festivals celebrated by modern Pagans in the northern hemisphere. Such holidays might include Beltane, Bealtaine, May DayFloraliaProtomayia, and Walpurgis Night to name a few. These festivals herald the coming of summer or the apex of spring – a time of merriment, awakening and bounty; a liminal time when the barriers between our world and the other world are thinned. In many traditions and cultures, it is also a time of divine union and fertility. And, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, the beginning of May marks another seasonal festival entirely, as winter is ushered in with the celebration of Samhain and the honoring of ancestors.

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

Here are some quotes for this holiday season:

To the pastoral Celtic people’s of Europe the changing pattern of the seasons was a matter of life and death, and marking these changes key moments in the life of the community. Beltane – “bright fire” – was one such marker celebrated in various forms across Ireland, Scotland and Man as the starting point of summer. A celebration of the time of light and growth to come, Beltane was associated with a variety of practices, from the display of fresh greenery to the baking of Beltane bannocks. Perhaps the most important element, however, was the lighting of Beltane fires on the first of May, which would recall the growing power of the sun and provide an opportunity to cleanse and renew the conditions of a community – both humans and their animals – that had spent the dark months indoors. – Beltane Fire Society, “A Detailed History of Beltane”

Perhaps it is best to remember this as the time when Aphrodite, who rules the sign of Taurus, is coming into her own. She presides over the realms of love and sex and beauty, but also over the flowers and fruits which bring us such pleasure: delighting our senses with their colors and scents and tastes and juices. She fills blossoms with nectar, and her body is beneath us as we walk and dance upon the newly-yielding, softened earth, alive again after the dormancy of winter, full of new life …  – Peg Aloi, The Witching Hour, “You May Call it May Day, We call it Beltane”

Sensuality – what a lovely word. It rolls off the tongue – you have to say it slowly, it really doesn’t work otherwise.  Like dripping honey.  Sweet molasses.  A cat’s stretch. It needs time, awareness, mindfulness … Sensuality is often misinterpreted as relating solely to the sexual experience. What we need to do is bring the sensual back into our everyday lives, seeing how it relates to the whole experience rather than just a sexual one. Sensual – input from the senses. – Joanna van der Hoeven, Druid Heart: Living a Druid Life, “Beltane and the Sensual”

We can think of ‘the sleeper’ as being our own consciousness, lulled into a kind of soporific dullness by everyday life. When we ‘awake’, we become aware of what is around us. If we can start to live fully in the moment, extracting from it all that it has to offer, then we are truly alive. The idea that the true potential of the psyche is latent and asleep in a kind of waking dream is common in spiritual traditions. Beltane is a good time to wake the psyche. The days grow longer, the weather draws us out of doors, and nature is frantic with activity. The energy of Beltane is all about wakefulness. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit, “Beltane the Sleeper Awakes”

This Friday I’ll keep my son home from school, and the kids and I will go walking in my favorite wood, a place where the Spirits are keenly present. We’ll take offerings and work on listening to and looking for the Other-than-Human. We’ll spend the afternoon enjoying one of the fine public parks in my town. We’ll not spend a dollar, nor do anything that requires some one else to work. We’ll pass out reminders of beautiful resistance. And we will celebrate the efforts of my husband, who works every day, and many weekends, to provide for us. – Niki Whiting, A Witch’s Ashram, “May the First”

A Very Merry May to All!

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The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard two and a half hours of oral arguments Tuesday in a case called Obergefell v. Hodges, which considers if all fifty states must allow same-sex marriages, or recognize such marriages when they legally take place in another state. The case includes more than 20 plaintiffs from four different states.

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

The questions to be decided
There are actually two questions the court is now looking at in this single case. The first is whether the U.S. Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages under the Equal Protection Clause, or if it should be left up to individual states. This is similar to the way states regulate age and the degree of blood relations for prospective couples. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The second question is whether states can prohibit same-sex marriages, yet be required to recognize same-sex marriages that legally took place somewhere else under the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Article IV, Section 1 reads

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

Generally, a marriage performed in one state has been recognized in all fifty states, unless that specific union has been outlawed in another state. Up until the mid-1960’s a number of states still banned interracial marriage, and those states did not recognize interracial marriages performed in states where it was legal. The full faith and credit clause was never used to force a state to recognize a marriage that it did not wish to recognize, such as an interracial marriage. However, this question will only be decided if SCOTUS rules that states may, in fact, ban same sex marriages.

Background on the cases
Obergefell v. Hodges isn’t just one case, it’s four cases that have been consolidated into one.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse live in Michigan where they own a home together and have three children. Because they are not allowed to marry and jointly adopt their children, DeBoer adopted one child and Rowse adopted the other two. This creates challenges in providing health insurance coverage for all three children and custody of the children if one partner should die.

James Obergefell married John Arthur in Maryland, a state that allows same-sex marriage. A few months later Arthur died. Obergefell filed a lawsuit in Ohio, where the couple lived, to be listed as Arthur’s spouse. Because same-sex marriage is banned in Ohio, the state refuses to list Obergefell as Arthur’s spouse on the death certificate.

Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe married Thomas Kostura in New York, where Kostura was living. New York permits same-sex marriage. After Sgt. DeKoe returned from deployment to Afghanistan, the couple relocated to Tennessee, where DeKoe’s new duty station was located. Tennessee refuses to recognize the couple’s marriage.

Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon were married in Ontario, Canada. The couple and their two adopted children live in Kentucky, where same-sex marriage is illegal. The couple is arguing that Kentucky should recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

marriage equality

Human Rights Campaign symbol for marriage equality

Where the Justices appear to stand
Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia threw out tough questions to the attorney representing the same-sex couples. They also seemed open to the idea that states should continue to be able to regulate marriage. Justice Thomas, as usual, was silent during the oral arguments, but he is expected to rule in favor of allowing states to continue to regulate same-sex marriage and against forcing states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where it is legal.

Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor pushed back strongly against the idea that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples, because marriage is centered around having children and encouraging parents to stay married to care for their children.

Justice Kennedy appears to be, once again, a swing vote and there isn’t consensus on which way he will rule. If he sides with the four liberal Justices and rules that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, everything is cut and dry. If he’s either undecided or leans more toward the three conservative Justices, Chief Justice Roberts may try to broker a compromise.

Chief Justice John Roberts appeared concerned that the court, by issuing a decision that changes the status quo, would prematurely shut down societal debates on this issue. He also noted that marriage has been commonly defined as a union between a man and women up until just “just a dozen years ago.” Yet Roberts is known as a compromiser and appeared to already be proposing a deal between the liberal and conservative wings of the court. Leave the question of gay marriage up to each state, but force states to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in other states where it is legal. This would, effectively, make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states without eroding each state’s right to regulate marriage laws as their citizens’ see fit.

SCOTUS is expected to issue their ruling on this case in late June.

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BALTIMORE – On Monday, funeral services were held for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old young black man, who died three weeks ago shortly after being arrested. Many local residents, officials and even strangers joined Gray’s family and friends to say goodbye. In addition, there was a call for peace and for calm during the ceremony, after a few minor skirmishes broke out during a mostly peaceful weekend of protests.

Baltimore [Photo Credit: JJS Photo via Wikimedia]

Baltimore [Photo Credit: JJS Photo via Wikimedia]

However, by Monday afternoon, the climate in Baltimore changed drastically. According to reports, a small group of teenagers became engaged in a violent conflict with police around a mall. The situation then escalated, attracting others. Bonnie Hoppa, a local volunteer firefighter and CAYA member, confirmed the news reports, saying that the tensions were ripe for violence. The groups of kids were charged and angry, and the police were already preparing for the worst. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

The violence quickly escalated and took center stage in the media, pushing aside news stories about the Nepal tragedy and completely covering up reports on the 1000s of other people who continued to protest peacefully in other parts of Baltimore. Hoppa said, “The media is really blowing that out of proportion. [Thousands] of peaceful protestors are getting less media time than a few hundred causing violence … The numbers of those driving the violence and damage do not represent the majority of who were initially there and who are marching now.”

As the crisis in Baltimore continued, many activists, protestors and outspoken or visible members of the community, such former NFL player Ray Lewis, called for peace; however, they also voiced a strong understanding of where the aggression itself came from and why. In a Huffington Post article, speaker and activist Kevin Powell directly addressed this, explaining “Why Baltimore is Burning.”

As noted in Powell’s article and by a number of others over social media, the violence was not simply a random riot by a few angry teens. It was an uprising. In a post, Pagan activist Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir echoed Powell’s own statements, saying “A riot feeds the 24-hour newscycle’s need to strike fear in the hearts of white folk who live in Middle America and who think the world is pretty durn good as it is. An uprising is the strength and power to take a stand against an unjust, corrupt system that has broken one too many backs for far too long and that needs to topple to the ground.”

It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend what has been happening in Baltimore. Media reports are often only partially reliable. Therefore, we reached out to a number of local Pagans to get a better look at the situation as it stands now.

As mentioned earlier, the local protests began over the weekend. In reaction, Black Witch, who is originally from the affected neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, published a long impassioned blog post Sunday, beginning, “I was downtown on Saturday because I’m helping out at a store in Federal Hill but got dismissed early because of the protests since I knew they would attempt to disrupt traffic.”

As she continues, Black Witch shares very serious frustrations and anger at the bigger issue of unresolved, systemic racism facing not only Baltimore, but the entire nation. She wrote, “I lived in this city my whole entire life. I was raised in the hood, I’m not at all surprised that this turned out the way it did.” Then, she ends with, “So, what is going to happen now? Not much, really. People are going to get their glass replaced, there are going to be more marches probably and nothing significant is going to happen. I’ve got nothing to be hopeful for, there’s no reason for me to believe that anything different is going to happen.”

Black Witch’s post came before the Monday uprising. However, her frustration and sense of hopelessness was echoed by others in the wake of Monday’s violence. Erica Shadowsong, a Unitarian Universalist religious education professional and solitary eclectic Pagan in Maryland, said:

To be honest, today my primary feeling is one of hopelessness and despair. It’s not the violence against Black people that has me so down; it’s witnessing the complete control of the narrative, and all American daily narratives, by powers that every day exploit the American people. The media, the militarized police force…these are symbols of oppressive power. We are losing our freedoms every day to the point that the justice system can be boldly skewed and the outrage doesn’t change it. I’m concerned and convinced more and more that we are no longer living in a country built on freedom. We are living in a compound run by a few corporations and individuals in business and government who exploit our labor, and export violence here and abroad.

Similarly, Bonnie Hoppa, who has been actively working in the affected areas, expressed her own fears in watching the events unfold. She said, “Social media was a horrendous place to be. All the dehumanizing bigots came out to have an opinion. People from outside Baltimore, even outside the state, joined the looting and bragged about it.” As the protestors clashed with police, Hoppa said that one fire truck was damaged and another had its supply hose lines cut for an active fire, which put more lives at risk. Several news reports listed specific damages to the community, including a new senior center, library, businesses and, even, local journalists.

Hoppa said that the situation there is very complicated, based on decades of problems. She also described a growing resentment within various facets of the community, and added that the “underlying narrative of violent intention toward anyone who is a ‘thug’ or black and labeled as aggressive is extremely disturbing.”

As the sun rose Tuesday and the hours progressed, the city saw far fewer incidents of violence. There were reports of volunteers cleaning up damage, and residents helping each other recover. Hoppa was called to help care for many of the children in the area, who were out of school for safety reasons. She said, “84-85% of the students in those schools are low income and are getting reduced or free lunches. For a lot of them, no school can mean no lunch, and possibly no breakfast, either. Some kids are in extended before/after care programs, because of the hours their parent(s) work.” She described the climate within the safe centers as upbeat with children playing and laughing.

Local ADF chapter, Cedar Light Grove (CLG) held a vigil from 7-9 p.m. to “hold space and a good fire for those wishing to say prayers, make offerings, or seek guidance from the kindred during this turbulent time in our city.” The group closed its temple at 9 p.m. so that attendees could get home before the citywide curfew. CLG will continue to hold open for vigils as needed. Thursday they are hosting a public Reiki session for anyone in need of healing.

[Courtesy Cedar Light Grove]

[Courtesy Cedar Light Grove]

The curfew will reportedly remain in place for seven days, and tempers have calmed to a degree. The cleanup in the city continues but the crisis itself is far from over, in Baltimore or around the nation. Community groups such as I am Love Baltimore or national groups, such as Hands up United, will continue to organize meetings and demonstrations. Today at 4:30 p.m, I am Love Baltimore is sponsoring a “March for Justice, March for Love.” On its event page, the group wrote, “Don’t forget we are not only marching to spread love in this time of high tension, but we are also marching for justice to be served for Freddie Gray.”  Hoppa will be there, along with others from the local Pagan community.

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KATHMANDU, Nepal –This past Saturday, at about noon local time, Nepal was struck by an 7.8-magnitude earthquake said to be equivalent to 20 thermonuclear bombs, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. As of this writing, the death toll is reported at over 5,000, and that number is likely to rise as information is gathered from the remote areas closest to the epicenter.

Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Photo Credit: Krish Dulal via Wikimedia]

Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Photo Credit: Krish Dulal via Wikimedia]

As is often the case with powerful disasters, there is a strong desire to help. However it’s not always clear what assistance is going to be the most effective. The Wild Hunt spoke to Peter Dybing, whose experience on the front lines of disaster relief for the 2010 Haiti earthquake gives him a unique perspective on the issue.

Disasters like this have several phases, Dybing explained, and each phase has its own needs. An earthquake of this severity,which occurs roughly every 75 years in this region, will likely require both immediate aid and longer-term, sustainable solutions. The first step in providing aid, however, is assessing both the needs, and how well the surviving infrastructure can support aid workers. “If you don’t have everything that your people need,” he said, “they become part of the disaster” with each additional body needing food, water, and shelter – items already in short supply.

What is known so far is that many Nepalese survivors are sleeping on the streets. From what Dybing understands, water is likely in short supply in the more remote areas, where it must be trucked in along mountain roads. One organization that is particularly good at not becoming part of the problem, Dybing said, is Doctors Without Borders. “They bring all their teams, shelter, food, and water, and can be up and running in 24 hours,” he said.

Most NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are not quite so nimble. In evaluating which organizations will be able to provide the needed help effectively and quickly, he says, it becomes a question of existing contacts and area infrastructure. In Haiti, he said, “We looked for a school to set up as an incident command base, because it has everything we would need.” For the Nepal response, Dybing expects that relief will be coordinated through India; navigating geopolitical tensions is but one of the challenges that relief organizations must be prepared for in order to be effective.

"Kathmandu - open spaces have become home for thousands of people afraid to return to their houses." [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

“Kathmandu – open spaces have become home for thousands of people afraid to return to their houses.” [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

Having contacts on the ground and a knowledge of the lay of the land is critical to being able to funnel money to where it is most needed, Dybing added. And, the Pagan community itself has just such a resource in the form of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, which has put out its own call for donations for earthquake relief.

“Patrick is the man,” Dybing said. “The idea that he could have a better idea where the needs actually are, and where to send the money, is an awesome thing. The issue is that there’s not an accountability put in place, so you have to trust the person, but I trust Patrick implicitly.” And, because the foundation is based in the United States, it’s required to spend all the donations made for Nepalese earthquake relief on exactly that.

McCollum, who was unavailable to comment, has traveled extensively to this part of the world, which is why his foundation is well-positioned to direct relief efforts. While the organization is primarily focused on social justice and world peace, Dybing said that, right now that specific mission is less important than McCollum’s knowledge about the needs and existing infrastructure in Nepal. “The logistic piece is huge,” Dybing said. “It can cut response time from 10-15 days down to three or four.”

Another small organization that is skilled at fast response is Heart to Heart International, which earned Dybing’s respect in Haiti for quick, effective deployment, followed by its working toward more sustainable, long-term solutions. As for groups with infrastructure already on the ground, Dybing named the Australian Red Cross.

Larger NGOs have what Dybing calls a “long logistics tail,” and take more time to get mobilized. “We were treating trauma victims in Haiti for nine days before the American Red Cross showed up,” he said. While these bigger organizations, like Care International, can’t provide immediate relief, the need in Nepal is probably going to last for years to come, so donations to these larger organizations will not go to waste.

People line up for clean water. [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

People lining up for clean water. [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

It’s also possible, he speculated, for the Pagan community to come together to provide some kind of longer-term, sustainable relief, perhaps targeting the small number of animists living in that nation. Out of a population of 26.5 million people, 3.1% report following Kirantism, which is a tribal religion with strong animistic and ancestor-veneration elements, and another .4% consider themselves animists. By comparison, 1.4% of those counted on the last Nepalese census called themselves Christian.

Just yesterday, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) announced its ADF Cares – Nepal fund, through which money will be sent to Global Giving for longer term relief. “Pagans raised $30,000 for Doctors Without Borders after the Japan earthquake, which was the first time we did that as a community,” Dybing noted. “It blew the doors off the myth that Pagans are poor.” He speculated that such a sustainable effort might involve individuals contributing $30 a month for some years, allowing aid workers in those populations to eventually train Nepalese replacements to continue the effort.  With this level of destruction, Dybing added, “Two weeks isn’t going to cut it.”

 

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Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

It was announced this week that Dragon Ritual Drummer founder and elder Flint has lost is battle with cancer.  Flint was diagnosed July 2014. The doctor’s gave him only two months to live, but he fought hard, even performing with the band. Utu Witchdoctor posted on the group’s Facebook page, “Brother Flint was one of our founding members, a force to be reckoned with, a soul that touched so many, one of the best there ever was. Our man Flint was the grounding force in our troupe, kept all us youngins’ in place, he was our father, our brother, our best friend.”

After Flint’s family is finished with its private ceremony, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will be holding a special, public Viking funeral for him. Utu Witchdoctor said, “We have already begun the construction of the funeral boat, and it will be set a flame and cast out into the waters as everyone drums and celebrates his life, full open pagan ceremony and celebration.” 

Despite this loss, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will not be taking any time off and plan to honor Flint at every one of their scheduled performances. The next one will be at Florida Pagan Gathering, where the group plans to share many of their memories and release some of their grief. Utu Witchdoctor also noted that the song Bamboula, performed at the end of most shows and captured in a recent video, will be forever dedicated to Flint. He explained that this song has an “historic New Orleans voodoo rhythm [that they] were entrusted with” and that honors one’s ancestors. Flint is now considered an ancestor of “their tribe.” What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Freedom DayIn South Africa, April 27 marks Pagan Freedom Day. The movement began twelve years ago, in 2003, when a number of local Pagans began discussing the need to openly declare their religious freedom. Damon Leff explained, “At the time, even prominent (public) Pagans were questioning whether or not Witches in South Africa were really free. It was important to show them that we were, that we could gather publicly.” The first gatherings happened in 2004 in “Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and the Wilderness” with no negative backlash.

Over the years, the annual celebration has become larger, spreading to other communities throughout South Africa. Mja Principe, convener of the Pagan Freedom Day Movement and Pagan Council, said, “Freedom Day is the annual celebration of every South African’s right to human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of association, as well as the celebration of religious freedom, irrespective of the individual’s alternative or mainstream religious background.”  Penton Independent Media has published several posters advertising local celebrations and scheduled activities. Photos of the day’s events will be uploaded to the Pagan Freedom Day Movement Facebook page.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This past weekend, Rev. Patrick McCollum, together with friends, celebrated his 50 years of service to the Pagan community. In 1965, McCollum began the work that eventually led to his position today as a global ambassador of peace, a respected spiritual counselor and interfaith chaplain. Over those 50 years, he has been involved with a number of Pagan organizations, including Our Lady of the Wells, Cherry Hill Seminary Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty League, and more.

In 2010, McCollum won the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism and, through his foundation, he continues his commitment, as a Pagan voice, to global peace work. Most recently, the foundation announced that it is reaching out to communities in Nepal to assist in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. We will have more on that developing story tomorrow.

In Other News

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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