Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Doreen Valiente Foundation

On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) made a statement regarding the local showing of a horror film called The Wicca Man.” The Liverpool Echo described the film, directed by Jacqueline Kirkham, as being “inspired by notorious Blundellsands-born satanist Gerald Gardner” and, as reported, is about a filmmaker who “[infiltrates] a witches’ coven with disastrous consequences.”

After the article was published, the Foundation became inundated with requests to respond to the film and subsequent media coverage. However, DVF opted to issue a statement to its community and supporters instead. The message read, in part, “We don’t encourage public displays of outrage on behalf of Witches or Pagans in relation to this movie specifically. We believe that a low-budget, local movie  for which even the local paper story could only attract 3 comments, mostly criticising the film for being poorly made, doesn’t deserve such attention and is best left to be ignored … That’s NOT to say that we don’t believe in standing up for the rights of Witches and Pagans not to be defamed! We just think that it is a long war to fight and picking the battlefields is the strategic key to success.” To read the full statement and reasoning, go to the Foundation’s site.

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michigan_council_of_covens_solitaires_gift_box-re9f68ce3c3b84d1fabcf66bb8b6f8a0c_aglbn_8byvr_324The Michigan Council of Covens & Solitaires (MCCS) has launched its Yuletide/Christmas “Adopt A Family” program. Organizers explain, “Every year there are children in the U.S. that go without presents for Christmas. There are children right here in Michigan that wonder where their next meal is coming from. DHS doesn’t cover everything, that’s where other organizations like MCCS step in.”

MCCS is holding a food and toy drive through Dec. 13 at The Smokey Crystal in Woodhaven, Michigan. Monetary gifts are also being accepted and will be used to purchase needed items that were not donated directly. The website also contains a link to the form used to nominate a family that may be in need of help this holiday season.

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{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}Over the past weekend, the American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in San Diego. There were many Pagans in attendance including Sabina Magliocco Ph.D., M. Macha Nightmare, Jeffrey Albaugh, Chas Clifton, Amy Hale, Wendy Griffin, Rev. Patrick McCollum and others. The organization itself, as well as attendees, live tweeted with the hashtag #sblaar14 and #aar.

This year’s AAR meeting included discussions on climate change. During the event, AAR, in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute, released a report titled: “Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.” The report was compiled from the “findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey.” We will be reporting more on the AAR Pagan experience in the near future.

2014-Climate-Change-cover

In Other News:

  • Yvonne Aburrow announced the release of her book All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca. Published by Avalonia Press, the book “is a companion guide to inclusive Wicca, which includes all participants regardless of sexual orientation, disability, age, or other differences, not by erasing or ignoring the distinctions, but by working with them creatively within initiatory Craft.” It is currently available for pre-order.
  • Photographer Daragh McDonagh left his adopted city of New York to return to his Irish homeland and “reconnect with the natural world.” After some time, he turned parts of his experience into a series of photographs that explore Irish Shamanism. The resulting collection is called: Daragh McDonagh: The Modern Pagan. McConagh told The British Journal of Photography that, in the photographs, he attempted to capture “a compelling presence that in some way reflects the inner spirituality of each sitter.” Some of his striking photos can be seen on the magazine’s website.
  • “Lithuania Romuva elected a new guide, Inija Trinkūnienė,” as announced by ECER. Trinkūnienė has the distinction of being the first woman ever elected to this position of Kriva (supreme priestess). According to ECER, her election was part of broader discussions on “looking forward” into the religion’s future.
  • Chas Clifton announced the release of a new anthology called Sexuality and New Religious Movements published by Palgrave Macmillan. According to a blurb on Amazon, “Issues relating to sexuality, eroticism and gender are often connected to religious beliefs and practices, but also to prejudices against and fear of religious groups that adopt alternative approaches to sexuality.” The book explores the subject through a number of different religions. Clifton is one of the essayists, and the co-editor is Henry Bogdan of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism.
  • On Nov. 20, Mythicworlds announced that “Einar Selvik, founder of the acclaimed Nordic band, WARDRUNA and a composer for the hit series, VIKINGS, on the History Channel will make his premiere appearance at Mythicworlds in Seattle on February 20-22.” He will be doing three workshops and talking about his involvement on Vikings.

That is all for now. Enjoy your day.

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Student protests, rallies and sit-ins are a distant memory for much of the population; a nugget from another time. To others they are merely stories out of history books or photographs in magazines. But for a group of Syracuse students, faculty and staff, protests have become a very real and very contemporary reality.

“It is clear now, in instances too numerous to describe … that the administration is turning focus away from values of diversity, and rather toward higher academic ratings and rankings; away from transparency and accountability, and toward secretive, top-heavy models of dominance; away from values of community engagement and towards the Ivory Tower on the Hill model; away from considering itself a university and toward functioning as a corporation,” wrote members of the student group Campaign for an Advocacy Center in an Oct. 29 letter-to-the-editor of The Daily Orange.

cropped-the-general-body-long-logo2
Just a few days later, Nov. 3, the Campaign for an Advocacy Center joined with a newly formed student organization called THE General Body for a rally on the steps of Hendricks Chapel. This united front of students had long list of grievances against the university’s new administration. These grievances included the closing of the Advocacy Center as well as the “defunding of the POSSE program, a lack of diverse student representation in the new FAST FORWARD program, rejection of the University Senate’s proposed tenure and promotion policy,”and unrecognized “pervasive issues concerning privilege and discrimination against individuals with marginalized identities.” The list in its entirety and in full detail is posted on the organization’s website and, after being finalized, was sent directly to new university Chancellor Kent Syverud.

Pagan student Madeleine Slade told The Wild Hunt that she’s involved with the protest because she has “experienced firsthand the insufficiencies of the mental health services at this school.” Slade went on to relay a story in which the allegedly underfunded medical program had no personnel available to handle a crisis situation. She said that she was forced to go off-campus to a city mental health facility. Slade said, “We need sufficient services here so we don’t put students’ lives at risk.”

As Slade and other students explained, the trouble all began in June when the administration shut down the advocacy center, originally called the R.A.P.E center. According to Senior VP and Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, the center’s services and staff were to be consolidated with the school’s counseling program, rather than remain a stand-alone facility. The closure was due partly to University-wide budget cuts needed to correct well-publicized debt crisis, which according to Syracuse.com, more than doubled under the former Chancellor. Kantrowitz said that the administration would host “listening meetings for the campus community in June, July, August and into the fall semester” to determine how the new counseling structure could best serve students.

However, there was an immediate outcry. Students began organizing and started an online petition to #BringBacktheAC. In September, a rally was held with students chanting “This is an advocate.”

In response, the administration formed a student work group to help examine the situation. In response, The Campaign for the Advocacy Center said, in a Daily Orange article,” we believe that, in response to the groundswell of community involvement and concern, the university has since improved the new support services.” However they added:

One important component that remains lost, however, is a dedicated center — a safe space and resource center that also serves as a powerful symbol of the university’s solidarity with all who have been impacted by sexual and relationship violence and against rape culture. We will continue to mourn the loss of this space and work to restore it.

While the news continued to circle around the Advocacy Center, other problems surfaced. The school announced changes to the POSSE scholarship program, which is considered an integral part of the university’s commitment to maintaining student diversity and to supporting students who otherwise might not have the personal resources or home support to attend college.

Campus Protest Nov. 19 [Photo Credit: Mark Rupert]

Campus Protest Nov. 19 [Photo Credit: Mark Rupert]

In addition, stories like Slade’s began to surface, which raised concern over the treatment of students across the campus. They began to question whether university services supported a safe environment for minority students, students with physical limitations or with mental health issues and students with marginalized identities, such as those in the school’s LGBTQ community, As these questions were asked, the protests began to refocus on a much broader problem, which eventually led to the formation of THE General Body.

Despite the administration’s inclusion of student work groups in its Fast Forward strategic master plan, student protestors did not feel that the administration was actually listening. THE General Body called for another rally – a Diversity and Transparency Rally (DAT Rally), which quickly evolved into something much bigger. After the scheduled Nov. 3 DAT rally, students flooded the Crouse-Hinds Hall of Languages and staged a sit-in, which would then last for 18 days.

Although the list of grievences doesn’t explicitly focus on religion, it does include issues concerning a student’s safety from harassment. Slade said that, while “Hendricks Chapel has always been pretty accepting,” this is not the case campus-wide. Recently, for example, Slade’s Pagan friend was allegedly harassed over religious beliefs. She says, “I think that this falls under issues that THE General Body has already been discussing, namely the way the school handles hate speech.”

Syracuse Pagan chaplain Rev. Mary Hudson did confirm that several of her students were involved in the protests. She told The Wild Hunt, “Its crazy… Most of us here look at this as the students exercising and practicing everything that they have been taught to cause real change. They are being effective and they are doing it peacefully and respectfully and I must say I’m impressed.”

During the 18 day sit-in, the administration and THE General Body went back and forth with communications, negotiations and press conferences. The students issued demands, which included a meeting with Chancellor Syverud, insistence that their grievances to be acknowledge, and insurances that change would happen.

Meanwhile, as they sat each day, students garnered an ever increasing amount of support from both inside and outside the university community. Protests, vigils and rallies were held on campus each day by those not in the hall. Faculty entered the building to offer teach-ins, and some, such as the department of Women and Gender studies, the English Department, and the Geography Faculty, sent open letters to the administration in support of student concerns.

Support flooded in from off campus as well.  For example, emails, tweets and letters arrived from Colgate University students, United Healthcare Workers East, 601 Tully, members of the city of Syracuse Community and the broader University of California community. Pagan activist T. Thorn Coyle has been watching since the beginning. She told The Wild Hunt:

The situation at Syracuse feels connected to youth and student activism happening all around the country and in other parts of the world … Education reform is clearly needed and young activists aren’t toeing the line any more. From walk outs in middle schools and high schools, to building occupations, lock downs, or carrying a mattress to class to highlight rape on campus, student activism is on the rise for good reasons. Students want more of a say in their educational institutions, in student safety on campus, and in how institutional money is invested and spent …We need to pay better attention to young people right now..

On Nov. 20, the sit-in came to a close. While much happened over those 18 long days of tense negotiations with Chanceller Syveud, there were some concessions made on both sides. In a blog post for THE General Body, student Tessa Brown details what the organization sees as its achievements. In a different post, student Vani Kannan explains “phase 2″ of the campaign. She wrote:

We are leaving with the knowledge that what we are asking the Chancellor to commit to works towards equity, justice, and safety for every person here today and every person not here … This new phase represents a growing body of students, faculty, staff, and community members who refuse to submit to undemocratic administrative policies that hurt this campus and this community. We will continue to fight alongside each other despite the forces that are trying to divide us.

Nov. 20 News Conference THE Student Body [Photo Credit: Mark Rupert]

Nov. 20 News Conference THE Student Body [Photo Credit: Mark Rupert]

Chancellor Syverud told The Chronicle of Higher Education, “I have learned much through this process and appreciate how committed these students are to making our university better. I want the university community to know I remain fully committed to continuing these conversations and working to make Syracuse University the kind of campus where everyone feels welcome and respected.”

After the students left the building, many of the principle organizers held a news conference, which can be heard here, discussing the accomplishments and the future of the movement. Then, as is reported on the blog, the participating students and faculty marched in solidarity to Henricks Chapel where it all began on Nov. 3. One student tweeted: “Anger mobilized is a beautiful thing. THIS MOVEMENT HAS CHANGED MY DAMN LIFE!”  They held up signs that read “#comebackstronger2015.”

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How do we know if a Pagan leader is any good, is ethical, or if they are qualified to teach or lead? Today we have their writings and their reputation. This can be a lot, but the standards are inherently subjective and some kind of objective verification would be beneficial. Some matters, like lineage and certification, can be strictly factual. Can these be verified with confidence? Would it be good to have a trusted place to look up any Pagan leader’s qualifications, history and reputation?

Lydia Crabtree, has just such a project. Called Pagan Pro, the idea is to produce an on-line database to which leaders in our community can register and have third-party verification of their Pagan and academic qualifications. The ability of the public to comment on and validate the skills and character of those leaders will be featured.

Pagan Pro logoWhat are the ethics of this? What choices do we have? Our way has generally been ad hoc. Strategies of staying under the radar, out of public light, and unaccountable except to our immediate circle have been fading away as Paganism is becoming a better known minor religion. With the exposure, we, as with other societies and communities, need better ways of validating the quality of leaders with whom we wish to work. This comes with the specter of ‘professionalism’.

In the medieval period, three professions arose: medicine, law, and theology, for doctors, lawyers and (mostly) priests. To do any of them required an education and certification process, often with a licensing dimension as well. One went to a qualified school, got a degree or certificate, and then was granted a license to practice by some authority. This was hardly different than the trades, where (simplifying enormously) the apprenticeship was the education, your master administered the tests and attested to your skills, and then you were inducted into the guild as a peer to engage in your trade. What they all have in common is an educational process, validated by the educator, and then again by the members of the profession. The peer relationship is most visible in the trades and least in theology, which was subject to the authority of the church.

In modern times, these structures are still present and echoing in medical, legal, and other trade organizations which create a professional body to certify or license members of the profession. In this case, peers police themselves. They are, usually, highly motivated to protect the reputation of the profession and recognize that the bad actions of one reflects badly upon all.

Less present today, but not absent, are those organizations that have a hierarchy in place to qualify members. In this case a central organization is created that validates and vouches for the quality and character of its professionals. This is the common mode in religious professions and the Roman Catholic Church is the archetype. The hierarchy itself has institutional power to enforce its standards and, in theory, should maintain the quality of its member professionals.

As Pagan culture advances, we will need to find ways of validating the quality of our leadership. Should we choose to create professional organizations, and certainly some of the lineages attain to this capacity in some measure, this approach would require Pagan leaders to subject themselves to each other’s scrutiny, and be willing to accept the judgment of their peers. Our fiercely independent character, born of years of oppression, make it hard to yield to external authority.

Creating a centralized organization with the authority to control, deploy, and discipline Pagan leaders is even less likely. Seriously, would we ever do that? But it is the most direct method and available to those organizations and societies that have consolidated power. A few Pagan or para-Pagan organizations have this kind of structure and wield that kind of power over their membership, but the community as a whole would never stand for it. Overall our kind of authority structure most matches an immature and developing form of what we see richly and maturely in Hindu culture, with its highly distributed power and plural, diverse, centers of authority.

Since we are not going to put up with a centralized top-down power structure (and nor should we), and we may be a ways out from creating any kind of Pagan leader professional organization (if we ever do make one), we still have the problem of being able to vet our leadership.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree [courtesy photo]

This is what Pagan Pro is seeking to find a way around. Since the primary task is informational, the seeker should have a way of looking up a leader’s qualifications in order to choose more wisely. Does a given person have the skills to lead a Pagan group or to teach a Pagan way?

The Pagan Pro scheme is to ask each leader or teacher to post their qualifications, and then have a staff member validate them though research. Did this person get trained to the level and from the person they claim? Do they have the academic education claimed? Are they members of any Pagan organizations? And so on…

The Pagan Pro organization would base and stake its reputation on the fact checking. A service like this could be a registry for leaders asserting that they follow professional standards around the treatment of students, sexual conduct, willingness to adjudicate conflicts and others. Then if they are found in violation of these principles, the breech could be published there too. More aggressively, should a Kenny Kline-type predator emerge, then they could be logged on Pagan Pro, as could any other person who failed a background check and still sought leadership status. While this is intended to be a non-judgmental resource, that may prove difficult if it does include anything other than a factual listing of a person’s claimed qualifications.

In the next months Pagan Pro will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to get the project moving. At that point you will have the opportunity to vote with your wallet communicating your opinion as to how valuable this idea is for our community. But, since we have the advantage of the blogging medium, I invite you to discuss the concept in the comments below. I’m sure Lydia Crabtree will be listening.

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Disclosure: Lydia Crabtree is the sister of Wild Hunt columnist, Crystal Blanton.

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Column: What Lies Beneath

Alley Valkyrie —  November 21, 2014 — 21 Comments

“My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.” - Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

A Fire in the Earth
I’m not sure what was on my mind that morning, other than hoping I could reach Columbus by nightfall, but as I drove west on I-80 through eastern Pennsylvania I started to zone out. It wasn’t until I hit Bloomsburg that I realized that I had missed the exit for I-81. I pulled off at the downtown exit with the intention of turning around, but after I got some coffee and walked around to stretch my legs a bit, I was seduced by the beautiful, sunny day and decided that, rather than head back the opposite direction on I-80, I would take the back roads southward through the country towards I-81.

I pulled out the map from under the passenger seat, which by the design and typeface looked as though it had been printed at least fifteen or twenty years earlier, and quickly found what looked like the most sensible route to take. It looked easy enough. Keep heading further down 487 towards Catawissa, where the numbered route would change to 42 and, then, continue on through Numidia and into Centralia. In Centralia, the route would then again change to 61, which would take me down through Ashland and, then, through Gordon, where I could meet up with I-81.

Route 42 over the Susquehanna River into Catawissa. Photo by jakec

Route 42 over the Susquehanna River into Catawissa. [Photo by jakec, via CC lic. Wikimedia]

I started driving south through the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country. My attention was equally captivated by the natural beauty of the area and the ecological destruction throughout, when out of nowhere something about my surroundings felt very wrong. I glanced down at the map and up again at the road. According to the map I was still on 42, approaching the north end of Centralia where the road changed to 61, and the size of the typeface matched up with the map’s key, indicating that Centralia was a small town with at least a few thousand people in it.

And yet, the town was empty. There were streets and intersections just as it showed on the map, but very few signs of civilization. Curious, I took a right turn onto what was supposed to be the main drag, and drove slowly in silent horror as the abandoned emptiness continued on and stretched all the way to the end of town. Driveway after driveway led to nothing but empty lots. Sidewalks were overgrown and obviously hadn’t been tended to in years. Mailboxes sat in front of bare foundations. The few houses that still stood literally looked terrified in the midst of their abandoned surroundings. There was not a single person in sight.

I parked the car on the side of the road and got out for a moment. There was a strange, acrid smell in the air. The silence was deafening, and yet amidst that silence I could literally hear the land screaming. The ominous feeling in my gut grew stronger by the second. I quickly became overwhelmed, got back in the car, and turned around to return back to my intended route. I looked at the map again. My faith in its accuracy was already shaken, but I needed to make sure I knew how to get out of this place. According to the map, Route 61 would take me straight out of town, and I needed to fork right just after the cemetery in order to stay on the highway.

The fork didn’t exist, however. Instead, the road forced me left, onto another road that was marked as a side-road on my map but according to the signs in front of me was now also Route 61. I glanced at the map once more, and then again at the highway in disbelief. My eyes were not playing tricks on me. The abandonment of a town, the re-alignment of a highway, something had definitely happened in this area over the years.

A few minutes down the road, I arrived at the next town, which I was relieved to find was no different than any other small Pennsylvania town, complete with buildings, people, and commerce. I parked and walked into a pizzeria and ordered a slice to go. As I was being rung up, I caught the cashier’s eye and decided to ask him about what I had just seen.

“Hey, why is the town just north of here deserted?” I asked, calmly and politely. “And is that related to why 61 is in a different place than what is marked on my map?”

He looked at me somewhat surprised, as though he couldn’t understand why anyone had to ask such a question. “You’re not from around here,” he said slowly as he handed me my change. It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded in affirmation. He continued as he started to cut my slice.

“There was a fire, its still burning. It’s a ghost town. The authorities forced just about everyone out over the past thirty years or so. There’s a few stragglers, but it’s not safe to live there and they know it. It’s dangerous to even walk around there. The ground, its hot to the touch from the fire. ”

I remembered the acrid smell in the air, but I hadn’t seen any fire. “The fire? Where’s the fire?”

“Underground,” he said, gruffly. “There’s a fire in the earth, in the mines, it started in the mines but they say it goes even deeper now. Its been burning since I was a kid. “

Smoke seeping out of the ground in Centralia, PA. Photo by jrmski

Smoke seeping out of the ground in Centralia, PA. [Photo by jrmski]

From the early 1800s onwards, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were at the center of the nation’s coal industry, which fueled the Industrial Age and continues to help fuel “progress” in the modern day. The first anthracite mines in Centralia opened in the 1850s, and the town became quickly populated by mine workers, who were for the most part of Irish Catholic ancestry. At its peak in 1890, nearly three thousand people lived in Centralia, and the coal deposits in the area were mined continuously until the Depression. A limited amount of mining continued through the early 1960s, right up to the time of the fire that would eventually lead to the evacuation of the entire town.

While the origin of the fire has been somewhat debated over the years, most agree that it was caused by an intentional landfill fire that was set in a former strip mine at the edge of town. The fire accidentally ignited an exposed coal shelf that extended underground to the numerous abandoned mines, some which had been dug nearly a century earlier and had long since collapsed. The fire quickly spread underground, and a few months later all of the area mines had to be permanently evacuated. It continued to spread further over the years, and by the early 1980s, residents started to experience health and other environmental effects. In 1984, Congress allocated money in order to relocate the residents of Centralia, and many residents accepted a buyout in exchange for moving to nearby towns while others stayed despite the ever-growing danger.

Nearly a decade later, thirty years after the fire started, and after four separate excavation attempts and untold millions of dollars were spent trying to put out the fire, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided to invoke eminent domain in order to displace the remaining residents. Aside from eight residents who fought relocation and were eventually allowed to stay until their deaths, the town has been completely abandoned. The buildings were razed, much of the infrastructure removed, and what remains is crumbling and overgrown.

Some of the trees have turned white from the fumes. The ground is so hot that in some places, a match will light if you drop it. Smoke seeps out of cracks in the earth and the smell of burning coal permeates throughout. Route 61 had to be re-routed due to cracks and fissures that appeared in the original road over time.

Overgrown and destroyed segment of Route 6 in Centralia. Photo by navy2004.

Overgrown and destroyed segment of Route 61 in Centralia. [Photo by navy2004.]

Centralia is a cautionary tale, but it is far from the only one. Currently, at least 100 documented coal shelf fires are burning beneath nine states, and experts believe that there are many more burning that have gone unreported. Nearly two centuries’ worth of coal mining has scarred and devastated the earth beneath our feet, and yet the mining still continues with our nation’s current need for sources of commodified energy. And from that need, the consequences remain long after the coal is gone. Massive ecological destruction and widespread unemployment and poverty remain throughout the regions of America where the mining industry once flourished.

Experts estimate that the fire beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania will be burning for the next 250 years.

Black Gold and Bleeding Veins
In addition to coal mining, nowadays we rely mostly on conventional oil drilling, hydraulic fracking, and most recently the extraction of tar sands in order to fuel our march towards “progress”, our march towards our eventual extinction as a species. Tar sands oil has been described by climate scientist James Hansen as “one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet,” and it is the extraction of tar sands from northern Alberta that is driving the push for environmentally devastating projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.

I hear lots of talk of “the pipeline” lately, as though it was a singular entity, as though there weren’t already 2.3 million miles of pipeline laid beneath American soil. It’s a positive sign overall that the average person is finally paying attention to pipelines and, while Keystone XL is undoubtedly the most widely-publicized and controversial pipeline project in American history, the focus on Keystone XL as though it is a singularity distracts from the fact that pipelines are already everywhere, wreaking environmental damage and destruction throughout the nation.

For all you know, there could be a pipeline directly underneath your own local, sacred refuge.

Millions of miles of metal veins criss-cross the country, with black gold coursing through on the journey from source to destination. Metal veins that lie under streams, across fault lines, through watersheds, beneath farmlands and cemeteries, shoddily-built metal veins that often bleed out that black gold that runs through them, seeping out through uncountable leaks and fissures, poisoning the land we live on in the name of “profits” and “freedom.” From 2008 to 2012, pipelines beneath American soil have spilled an average of more than 3.1 million gallons of toxic liquids each year, causing at least $1.5 billion in property damage. Potentially leaky pipelines are literally in our backyards.

Pipeline warning sign in a residential neighborhood in Woodbridge, NJ, circa 1974. Photo by Ike Vern.

Pipeline warning sign in a neighborhood in suburban New Jersey circa 1974. [Photo by Ike Vern.]

Although not one has ever received the level of coverage that Keystone XL does, current pipeline projects are scattered and numerous throughout the country, and many of those projects have been met with fierce, but often unsuccessful, opposition. In Oregon, several inter-related proposed pipeline projects, including the Oregon LNG project, the Pacific Connector, and the Jordan Cove LNG terminal are intended to expedite the transport of liquefied natural gas to markets in Asia. These projects are still in the early stages of development, but the Pacific Connector project has so far received the go-ahead from the federal government.

Earlier this year, an energy company known as Williams Partners announced its intention to place a natural gas pipeline in the ground through eastern Pennsylvania in order to cheaply move liquefied natural gas (acquired by fracking) from the Marcellus Shale across the state to the Eastern Seaboard. The pipeline, dubbed ‘Atlantic Sunrise’, would stretch through eight counties on a north-south trajectory, connecting two pre-existing pipelines that run across the northern and southern ends of the state. Local residents and Native groups have mounted a significant challenge, and some local government officials are also against the project, but the project is still under review and no decisions have been made either way.

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is slated to be built less than twenty miles to the west of the still-burning Centralia mine fire.

An “Act of War”
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would be the final section of a multi-phase pipeline system that has been under construction since 2008. The first phase, completed in 2010, delivers tar sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta through Saskatchewan and the Dakotas to Steele City, Nebraska, and then on across Missouri to refineries in Illinois. The second and third phases connect to the first pipeline in Steele City and carry the oil south through Oklahoma to a refinery in Port Arthur and Houston, Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline, which still awaits government approval, would duplicate the route from Hardisty to Steele City, but would go through Montana in order to transport Bakken crude, as well as tar sands, through the Midwest.

Keystone XL is slated to cross active seismic zones, fracking wells, the Ogallala Aquifer, and numerous indigenous lands and sacred sites. Opposition to the project has been steadily increasing among the American public. However, support for the project remains strong in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Keystone XL vigil in Portland, Oregon, February 2014. Photo by Brylie Oxley.

Keystone XL vigil in Portland, Oregon, February 2014. [Photo by Brylie Oxley.]

Last February, the Rosebud Sioux of South Dakota passed a tribal declaration opposing the Keystone XL project. In March, over a thousand college students representing 80 different schools marched on Washington. Approximately 400 were arrested after they marched on the White House, with many of the protesters chaining themselves to the fence with zip-ties, and others re-creating an oil spill using black plastic sheets in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. A month later, an organization known as the Cowboy Indian Alliance, composed of tribal members, farmers and ranchers, marched on Washington, some on horseback, and held a five-day gathering near the White House in order to draw attention to their opposition of the Keystone XL pipeline and to lobby Congress. At the gathering, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer stated that “Keystone XL is a death warrant for our people,” and he urged the U.S government to reject the pipeline and to respect Native treaty rights.

On Friday, November 14th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline by a 252-161 vote. In response to the vote, Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott stated the following: “We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation. We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.” Scott added that, not only does the Keystone XL pipeline violate the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, but also the Sioux Nation has not been properly consulted on the project by either the U.S. government or TransCanada, who owns the Keystone Pipeline network.

Four days after the House voted to approve Keystone XL, the proposal lost by one vote in the Senate, which is currently controlled by the Democratic Party. However, the Republican Party will gain control on January 1, and the Keystone XL proposal will undoubtedly be approved next spring. Whether or not they will have enough votes to override a presidential veto has yet to be determined. In the meantime, other pipeline proposals are in the works, and alternative plans to move crude oil are already being discussed should the Keystone XL proposal fail.

Whether its Keystone XL or the Atlantic Sunrise project, a war is indeed being waged against the land; against the gods and spirits that inhabit that land; against the health and well-being of the animals and people who inhabit that land and against all life as we know it. This war is not over a cause nor a belief, it’s a war being waged in the name of greed and profit. It is a battle for the fate of the planet itself.

Our addiction to oil and gas is literally destroying our ability to live on this planet, and yet it continues undisturbed and unfettered over the objections of many, but nowhere near enough, people. Despite the limited successes of pipeline resistance movements such as the Tar Sands Blockade and Idle No More, the extraction still increases and the poisoning of the land and its people still continues at an unprecedented rate, with no end in sight.

How much more does the Earth need to burn and bleed before we change our ways? How many more towns will we be forced to be abandoned, how many more oil trains must derail, how many more pipelines must leak before finally decide that enough is enough? How many more must die, how many more must be poisoned before we finally realize that the land that we live on is more important than profit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[credit - Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20141115_200110_681_1

Ellie Bryan’s ceramics on display [c schulz]

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

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

Bear Mother by artist Helga Hedgewalker [courtesy photo]

Bear Mother by artist Helga Hedgewalker [courtesy photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

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

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

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

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

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

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Fundraising Pagan Style

Terence P Ward —  November 18, 2014 — 9 Comments

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

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

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

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

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

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

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

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

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

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

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

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

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

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

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

SEFA logo

SEFA logo.

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

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

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

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

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

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cuups

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

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Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

In other news: 

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

That is all for now. Have a nice day.

 

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

time logo og

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WGN America's Salem Poster

WGN America’s Salem Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

  1. Neil Thomson, pp153, “Indigenous Australia: Indigenous Health” in James Jupp (ed), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their Origins, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  2. C. E. Cook to Administrator of the Northern Territory, 7 February 1933, National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Records Series, Department of the Interior file A659/1; 1940/1/408
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