Pagan Voices: Prudence Priest, Shauna Aura Knight, David Salisbury, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 3, 2014 — 13 Comments

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

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

“I completely reject the “myth” that Pagan leadership is like “herding cats.” Yes, sometime it comes to pass that Pagan leadership is frustrating. Why is it like that? Because we keep saying it is. We make that reality happen. You know–words have power. Words have a lot of power. Words shape reality. I actively encourage people to not use that particular phrase because it just reinforces the story that Pagans are hard to lead. In fact, it’s more accurate to say, people are hard to lead. Pagans are a subculture with unique difficulties and our leaders don’t have appropriate training in leadership, which exacerbates the problems we face. But this phrase does not serve us in moving forward. [...]  Herding cats roughly implies that Pagans are too individualistic to ever follow someone else, and trying to organize and lead such individualistic people is impossible. However, that hasn’t been my experience at all. Most Pagans I meet are desperate to find a group that is stable and healthy where they can get basic education.” – Shauna Aura Knight, on why she hates the phrase “herding cats” when describing the organizing of Pagans.

Prudence Priest

Prudence Priest

“The Trinkunas family welcomed me every time I visited the Baltics, and I often stayed with them and went with them to many events and sventes (festivals) . I was in the center of Vilnius with them when they recorded “The Rite of Fire”, and at the National Museum of Lithuania when they premiered “Hymns to Saule” (the Sun Goddess) . In between those CDs and before Lithuania joined the EU, they used to hold a heathen summer camp in various sites near Vilnius. They owned six pieces of property about 70 miles northeast of Vilnius and less than a mile from the Belarus border. Jonas called them belts; they were very narrow strips of land.  One summer visit, the drunken Russian who owned a “belt” between theirs wanted to sell and move to his Father’s place. It was complicated, but I bought the place, and now Romuva had seven contiguous properties and became a village. It was named Dvarciskes. I believe it was the same year Jonas won the Basanavicius prize for preserving the folklore and traditions of Lithuania in the face of communism. He has won many honors and degrees over the years and he and his entire family have been a dynamic force in preserving and practicing the indigenous religion of the Baltics. [...] It is so hard to believe that this wonderful, kind, man, priest, writer, fellow philologist, and friend is no longer with us, but his legacy is intact and Romuva will continue.” – Prudence Priest, writing a remembrance of her friend Jonas Trinkūnas, the krivis (supreme priest) and founder of Romuva (Wild Hunt obituary here).

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“This is just a small sampling of the dozens of responses I got through both social media and email and encompasses a pretty visible range of the answers I received.  Can you guess my first observation? No spells! A terrible assumption by some older Pagans is that young Pagans are only interested in magickal paths for the instant glory that a spell can promise. Though out of all the responses, I honestly did not see a single one that mentioned “being able to cast spells.” This to me is proof that the young generation of Witches and Pagans is a lot deeper than many like to believe. This isn’t a new thing either. Starting as a teen myself, I can tell you that spells and magick was certainly something I thought was “cool” but was not the main attraction to me and those I practiced with. I’m tickled to know that this sentiment extends beyond my own experience. My other observation was the huge number of responses focused on finding and engaging with a community. This isn’t surprising considering that a formative trait of growing up is learning how to interact with different communities and finding what you consider to be your place within them. This is especially important for young Pagans who may feel ostracized for being of a minority religion, where social acceptance could be a little harder to come by.” – David Salisbury, on what young Pagans like.

Wes Isley

Wes Isley

“Magick, for me, is a walk in the woods and watching a flock of birds wheel over a lake, lifting my mood and thereby altering my direction for the remainder of the day. Magick is the ability to hear that still, small voice within that gently beckons, calling me toward a life that isn’t found on television or the Internet. Magick is finding connection and community in the most unlikely places and people. Magick is embracing profound experiences that cannot easily be explained. Is magick supernatural? I don’t know. I think it’s more commonplace than most of us realize, but we’re often too busy, our minds too cluttered to recognize it. I think magick is more subtle than our movie-fueled fantasies will admit, and I don’t believe magick is reserved for a chosen few. I believe magick is open to everyone. It’s also risky, because to practice magick requires us to go against the grain. It means seeing the world and people with a compassionate and hopeful perspective that stands in contrast to how we’re conditioned or expected to act and think. I don’t believe magick is about wielding power or getting what you want from some force that must obey your commands. Rather, practicing magick allows us to tap into a universal current that has always been and always will be. Life can be lived just fine without magick, but a truly magickal life, I believe, is much richer, multifaceted and original.” – Wes Isley, on what magic is, and why he wants to do it. 

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell

“I am sharing the keynote with guest Deborah Lipp, and we are offering a talk on the legacy of the whole Neo-Pagan movement. The two of us will be bouncing back and forth about the emergence of the Neo-Pagan movement and what it has contributed that will be of lasting significance in the world. I think it is quite a lot. We will also talk about where we go from here as Paganism becomes more recognized as a mainstream religion. One of the puzzles we have all experienced is why don’t people don’t seem to know about us, because they ought to! There have been more books published by and about the Pagan movement that just about any other religion you could find. Vast numbers of people are involved, interviews, television shows are aired about us. People seem to have a much greater awareness about a few truly obscure and off the wall spiritual groups than us. [...] The theme of the conference is about Embracing the Elements, and now that we have just stepped over the threshold of the age of Aquarius, there is interest in knowing what all this will mean. I want to talk about this, as Aquarius is an Air sign, signifying communication, wisdom, and travel through the air and sky. The internet and how that will continue evolving in the years to come, and space travel and colonization, these are totally Aquarian types of issues. Then there is the spiritual, and Aquarius also involves the mind and consciousness. The “New Age” is very Aquarian in its entire vision. This is truly a time of global awakening, of our planetary being, of Gaea herself. Her awakening to full consciousness and the implications of that for us. I have been thinking about these things for decades and I think it will make a great subject to talk about. We are here!” – Oberon Zell, discussing his upcoming appearance at Paganicon in Minnesota.

Fritz Muntean

Fritz Muntean

“The organizers of Pagan political causes keep writing to me, asking (nay — demanding) that I lend my support to various environmental protests, demonstrations, and campaigns — on the grounds that we Pagans are supposed to be ‘stewards’ or ‘caretakers’ of Mother Earth — and, as such, we have a religious duty to ‘walk the talk’ and engage fully in ecological activism. Sez who? More to the point — who was the first to say so? And what was the process by which these beliefs (and demands) became the water in which today’s Pagans are swimming? IMO, and FWIW, the people who rallied, with me, around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Many of us, it’s true, were interested in ecology and environmentalism. But all were there, I believe, to fuel the fires of a religiosity that claimed ‘all acts of love and pleasure’ as its sacraments. Over the following 15-plus years, considerable thought went into the development of an ethical system in support of this effort. A new system, now called the Expressive Ethical Style, evolved to replace obedience or self-interest as the motivations for human behavior with an ethic of impulse (‘follow your feelings’), self-expression (‘let it all hang out’), and situational appropriateness (‘go with the flow'; ‘different strokes for different folks’). Replacing the goal of self-preservation with self-awareness, this new ethical style encouraged relaxed non-analytical attention to the present situation (‘be here now’), in order to meet the newly reified obligations of universal love and mutual non-injury.” – Fritz Muntean, posing the question of whether the modern Pagan movement can be classified as “nature” religion. 

Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer

The ongoing debate over Edward Snowden is still raging. Is the former NSA contractor-turned-whistle-blower a Hero or a Traitor? Should we decry his actions as a violation of trust, or extol them as a selfless attempt to fight injustice? As anÁsatrúar, I believe we are honor bound to speak out against perceived injustices when we come across them. Óðinn advised us to give our foes no “frið,” which is translated here as peace. Frið (or Frith) is a complex social ideal with many layers of meaning. It represents peace, loyalty, fealty, kinship;frið is the bond of honor that holds a family together. When Óðinn says “give your enemies no peace,” the statement implies that you should not offer loyalty or kinship with those who would do harm. If your brother were planning to commit some nefarious act, it would be your duty to stand in his way. When Snowden saw the NSA doing things like tracking the sexual preferences of suspected “Radicalizers” in order to damage their reputations, he decided that the abuse of power had to stop. He broke frið and brought the problem to the attention of the public. True to Óðinn’s advice, in the year following his announcement, he has given his enemies no peace.” – Alyxander Folmer, on Edward Snowden as the “honorable traitor.” 

John Beckett

John Beckett

“But trying to read moral lessons into American Horror Story: Coven misses the point.  It’s cool.  It’s sexy.  It’s fun even though it’s frustrating.  It’s dark fantasy about a type of witchcraft that has long been feared even though it doesn’t exist, at least not exactly like this.  It’s what we wish we could do, even though we wouldn’t… probably… maybe… Several observers of pop culture and the entertainment world have said “witches are the new vampires.”  Witches and witchcraft are popping up on television to an extent we haven’t seen in 15 years, if ever.  Most of the shows appear to be targeted to teenage girls, which means there’s not a chance in the Hell that doesn’t exist that I’ll be watching them. Most of their viewers will see witchcraft as a pleasant fantasy.  Most will see magic as “oh, if only I could…”  Most will watch a season or two and then move on to some other entertainment. But for a few, a new curiosity will be kindled.  Or perhaps a vague desire will be given a name.  Or a life-long interest will become urgent enough to finally pursue.  And because some of us have done like Cordelia at the end of Coven and gone public with our magic, those people will have resources to turn to.” – John Beckett, on the finale of American Horror Story: Coven

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“The conception of Brigit that has come about in most modern CR practice, and pretty much all modern paganism that I’ve been able to discern, is one that is derived from academic (Christian and linguistics-based) sources, with no appreciation for how polytheism works. To most Christians, imagining more than one deity is hard enough, so “one deity with three parts” (which, to them, is still “One”) becomes a way to understand many deities that might be separate. That might work for Hekate Triformis, but it doesn’t automatically work for any other triplicity of deitiesjust because. And in the linguistics paradigm, there is a tendency to look at different reflexes of a given root in several different languages that are then either cognate or equivalent, and then to conclude “They’re all the same.” And that’s exactly what’s been done with Brigit. Compound this with Saint Brigit of Kildare, and many other saints called Brigit, Bríg, or Bríd (and various other cognates, by-forms, and so forth), all of whom very certainly derive from the popularity and importance of St. Brigit of Kildare (who not only has the earliest saints’-lives of any saint in Ireland, but has three of them that are early, one of which is quite different from the other two), and you get a recipe for disastrous polytheistic collapse. If all of these diverse Christian Brigits (and so forth) derive from one Brigit of Kildare, why then wouldn’t all pagan Brigits (and so forth) also derive from one Brigit, including the Christian Brigit’s derivation from that original pagan stock? The major difficulty there is that the coincidences between the pagan Brigits and the Christian Brigit are exactly that: coincidences based on an assumed unity (which itself is based on linguistics), rather than any actual events in what is known about the pagan Brigits and the Christian Brigits as far as symbolism or narrative event and mythic sharing.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on understanding the complexity of the goddess Brigid.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    David’s post is fascinating and contains so much good information and much to give us all hope. I’d be interested, however, in any support for the following statement: “A terrible assumption by some older Pagans is that young Pagans are only interested in magickal paths for the instant glory that a spell can promise. “

  • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

    I have one thing to say to Shauna: “Meow!”

    • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

      In her defense, I’ll have to say that I have heard that “herding cats” analogy from just about every kind of leader from religious groups, political groups, you name it. It’s a human thing, not just a Pagan thing. And it’s a leadership thing as well, something we say when we do not take the time to inspire, provide vision, listen, prepare, organize, etc.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    [...T]he people who rallied [...] around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Perfectly consistent with evidence. Thing is, hedonism-oriented practice tends to draw a certain age cohort, and as time passes they get older, and have kids of their own, and pure hedonism goes to the margins, and an opening of primary purpose parts for something else to fill it. IMHO/FWIW that’s where the “natural” Pagan teleologies of today step in.

    • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

      I think you could say they were “hedonists” by contemporary society’s standards. But I would rather put it this way: the early neo-Pagans were a subculture that had more accepting and tolerant views of natural sexual expression. At least when it came to heterosexuality. Tolerance of gay Neo-Pagans took another decade or two.

    • Deborah Bender

      I agree with Baruch’s observation, but I think there is also something else going on, the reassertion of a puritanical moral outlook which is the default setting of American culture. The dominant Puritan Protestant cultural heritage endows natives of the USA with values and assumptions that are distinctive from those of other civilized countries. The other Abrahamic religions support these values in their own ways, the infamous Catholic guilt and the Jewish emphasis on self-control and keeping physical pleasures limited to proper times and expressions.

      One of the underlying values of American culture is that pleasure is not good in itself and must be either earned or paid for somehow. Celebrity gossip and luxury car ads on TV adhere to this narrative. Philosophical hedonism is truly oppositional, and can only gain traction in the U.S. during periods of economic prosperity combined with other favorable factors. It never lasts, and is always overcome by some moralistic sociopolitical movement. In this instance, by Second Wave feminism and the environmental movement.

  • TadhgMor

    I’ve always been bothered by the “triune dieties” tendency in some Celtic scholarship. Though I would posit it’s not only because of Christian influence in regards to Brigid, which I think many CRs work hard to take out, but because for so long Celtic studies and Irish studies was dominated by people obsessed with pan-Indo-European theories of myth. Too much Dumezil.

    Luckily I think Irish studies has pulled away from that, and I think many CRs will follow. The desire to force Irish deities and society into an ill-fitting Indo-European frame is being replaced by a desire to view Irish society on a detailed, individual level.

  • Wolfsbane

    I’ve got a big problem labeling Snowden as a traitor, even the context as an honorable one. Just using that word plays into the hands of those who wish to prosecute him for his acts. I also think it’s disrespectful of the acts of Snowden’s courage and personal sacrifice in disseminating the information.

    Snowden is not a traitor in any shape or form. He’s a genuine American hero in the same ranks as Nathan Hale, James J. Andrews, Frederick Mayer, Claire Phillips and others.

    • Robert Mathiesen

      It is worth remembering that George Washington, Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and *all* the other founding fathers were also traitors. Had Britain won the Revolutionary War, they would all have been executed specifically as traitors, not as defeated enemies. AS traitors, they would have been executed in quite unpleasant ways that prolonged their death and maximized the pain, terror and shock they felt as they were being executed. So yes, a traitor can also be a hero. It just depends, in a famous phrase, on “whose ox is being gored.”

    • Guest

      It is worth remembering that George Washington, Sam Adams, Benjamin
      Franklin, and *all* the other founding fathers were also traitors. Had
      Britain won the Revolutionary War, they would all have been executed
      specifically as traitors, not as defeated enemies. As traitors, they
      would have been executed in quite unpleasant ways that prolonged their
      death and maximized the pain, terror and shock they felt as they were
      being executed. So yes, a traitor can also be a hero. It just depends,
      in a famous phrase, on “whose ox is being gored.”

    • Robert Mathiesen

      It is worth remembering that George Washington, Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and *all* the other founding fathers were also traitors. If Britain had won the Revolutionary War, the founding fathers would all have been executed specifically as traitors, not as defeated enemies — executed in quite unpleasant ways that prolonged their death and maximized the pain, terror and shock they felt as they were being executed.

      So yes, a traitor can also be a hero. It just depends, in a famous phrase, on “whose ox is being gored.”

      • Alyxander M Folmer

        That is EXACTLY what I was going for. I’m glad somebody caught that. :)

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      If you read the article, you’ll note that I extol Snowdens actions, but I don’t try to deny that there is an interesting ethical quandary there. He was essentially forced to do the “wrong” thing for the right reasons. He betrayed the government, out of a sense of duty to his country. (if that makes sense)
      To serve the people, he had to betray the authorities.
      I make a point of avoiding telling people “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD THINK”, so I never say “we should support Snowden”, but I make it pretty obvious that I support his actions.
      He acted with honor.