Yesterday, Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary announced the launch of a new program, Pagan Life Academy, a series of low-cost lessons designed to bring Pagan values, ethics, and ritual to incarcerated Pagans. In explaining the rationale behind this new initiative, Executive Director Holli Emore said that “the prison experience can be a cauldron of transformation for many” and that they “hope that the newly-launched Pagan Life Academy will inspire others to design additional lessons and contribute to the series.”
“For years and years, incarcerated Pagans across the country have been writing CHS to ask, no plead, for instructional materials. About three years ago I was talking to Patrick McCollum about prison ministry and he suggested that one of the best things we could do as a learning institution was to create a set of lessons. He advised that they should be printed to mail and be very low cost (most inmates work, but make only cents per hour and must buy most of their own toiletries). Meanwhile, the letters continued to come.
Several of our faculty raised their hand when I inquired about interest in working on such a project. This would be a labor of love, and it would mean learning about culture and systems largely unfamiliar to most of us. Several times we thought we were close to releasing a series, then were advised by someone closer to the penal systems to make changes. We are greatly indebted to Selina Rifkin, who created the concept for eight written lessons and wrote each of them, and who formally transferred her copyright to CHS as a gift. We also owe deep gratitude to Candace Kant, who began the process initially, to Annie Finch, who contributed a number of ritual chants, and, especially, to Wendy Griffin, who spent many hours as editor and advisor. Thank you, all, for your caring, and for contributing your talent to this growing, though out of sight, need in our community.”
Each lesson and ritual costs $5, and is structured around the 8-spoked Wiccan/Pagan “wheel of the year.” Though the lessons are written so that they can be adapted to as wide a range of Pagan traditions as possible.
“Contemporary Paganism is really a family of religions, the most popular of which are Asatru or Heathenry, Druidry, feminist Goddess worship, Wicca, non-Wiccan forms of religious witchcraft and reconstructionism (the attempted recreation of ancient religions such as those of Greece and Egypt). Of these Wicca is the largest. Because there may be different kinds of Pagans in any prison, we have attempted to create a Pan-Pagan prison program that includes elements from these traditions and emphasizes some of the values they have in common.”
Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum, who has done extensive work advocating for Pagan inmates, said the initiative was “very much needed” and that Cherry Hill Seminary was, quote, “changing the world and also making history.” Chaplain Sandra Harris, who was awarded Cherry Hill Seminary’s first Masters of Divinity, added that this was a “great step forward in Pagan prison ministry.”
“I know that there are many, many Pagans all over the United States serving time that we’re not aware of, and [who] could really use some support. And without a Pagan volunteer, they probably aren’t going to get any from their prison. And I think that our Pagan values are good values to share with people in the prison setting, too.” – Holly O’Brien, Pagan chaplain and Cherry Hill Seminary Student
Many professional chaplains within the American prison industry feel that the number of Pagans behind bars is growing. As that growth occurs, the need to find ways of accommodating their spiritual needs without the impressive infrastructure of Catholic and Protestant Christian faith traditions can be an ongoing challenge. These materials are a step towards finding ways of getting materials to Pagan inmates in a cheap and effective way. Here’s a list of the existing Pagan Life Academy materials.
“These first eight lessons are the beginning of a dynamic, growing and changing response to the needs of Pagan inmates. If you are inspired to create additional lessons which may increase the breadth and depth of the Pagan Life Academy, we welcome submissions. Note that the Pagan Life Academy is our gift to the community, with no payments or royalties going to writers. Cherry Hill Seminary reserves the right to edit copy as needed, or to decline use of a submission.”
Contact information, and more details, can be found at the Pagan Life Academy page.