New Italian Pagan organization begins work for legal recognition

Heather Greene —  July 23, 2014 — 58 Comments

ITALY — On July 11, the Italian organization Unione Comunità Neopagane (UCN) was born after 2 long years of planning. A result of Progetto articolo 8 (Project Article 8), the UCN brings together a diversity of Pagan associations under one organizational structure in order to support Pagan practice within the greater Italian culture. Its ultimate goal is to establish official legal recognition for “Neopaganism as a heterogeneous religion” according to the laws of the country.

Dolomite Mountains, Italy [Photo Credit: philipbouchard Flickr]

Dolomite Mountains, Italy [Photo Credit: philipbouchard Flickr]

Italian Pagans are, generally, solitary practitioners. However, over the last decade, there has been an increase in community building and public events. UCN President Anna Bordin, a priestess and initiate of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, explains, “We started gathering together and forming Associations and Study Groups on many subjects related with Paganism.”

Bordin lists some of this work as including “the annual meeting of Trivia in Milan, the annual Council of Witchcraft and Druidry in Biella, the Beltane Festival,” and the birth of many new groups and covens of different paths such as Bordin’s own Cerchio Italiano di Avalon. Many associations have supported workshops with international teachers, such as Phillys Curott, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Kathy Jones, Vivianne and Chris Crawley. She adds:

Something that happened in these last years has been the constant increase of demand from the pagan community of ‘services’ such as handfastings, sacred unions, wiccanings, baby namings, requiems etc… many Italian pagan authors have written several books on Paganism that have been published by the newborn pagan publishers.

Paganism has grown in the country and the demand for resources and community has increased accordingly. Bordin says, “Following this thread two years ago we started working on a project for the recognition of Neopaganism as religion, or as a composite religion, bonded by principles, festivals and practices.” This work led to the formation of the UCN.

UCN President, Anna Bordin [Photo Credit: Martina Pace]

UCN President, Anna Bordin [Photo Credit: Martina Pace]

The organization was founded by the coming together of nine distinct associations and groups, including Argiope (Venice); Circolo dei Trivi (Milan);  L’Antico Trivio (Naples); Corvo Nuvola (Milan); Clan Duir – Antica Quercia (Biella);  Il Cerchio delle Antiche vie (Arezzo); La Ruota d’Oro (Rome); Le Intagliatrici (Milan); and Il Corvo e la Civetta (Piacenza). These groups range in religious practice but agree on three founding principles, as borrowed from the Pagan Federation International, and other organizational guidelines.

At this time, the group is home to mostly Wiccans, Druids and electic “Neopagans.” However, membership is open to anyone who agrees to the organization’s ideals. UCN recognizes that Paganism in Italy is quite diverse. Bordin notes that the country has a very unique and rich history that nurtures a connection to its long religious roots. She says:

It is not rare that some groups celebrate their rites in pre-Christian, Celtic or Roman, but also Etruscan or Greek, places of worship … Our territory was a melting pot of ancient cultures, a crossroad among Romans, Greeks, Etruscan, German populations and many others. Here we have also had the Mysteries of Mithra, Isis, etc. Ancient mystery religions and ethnic practices were melted at that time, as it happens now with Neopaganism. So also the Wiccan and Druidic practices are strongly integrated with the local folklore. Italian magical traditions have now found a new frame to express themselves in

None of these minority religious practices have recognized status in Italy. While the country does have a deeply embedded religious history and various entanglements with the Catholic Church, modern Italy supports the religious freedom of its citizens. In legal terms, the state and the Catholic Church are two entirely separate entities, as stated by the 1948 Italian Constitution and reinforced by legal revisions in 1984.

Italian Pagans of any kind are free to practice privately or publicly provided they do not break any secular Italian law. However, this practice is largely considered an activity, like a sport or party. Bordin says, “We can meet in public and celebrate our own rites and ceremonies, asking permission [from] the town Council only if the rites are performed outdoors in public places. Sometimes for bigger events we need to ask permission as a ‘cultural’ meeting.”

Bordin doesn’t like that. She does not want to have to hide the religious nature of her festival or ritual. That is where the the UCN comes in. A organization can enter into an agreement and become the representative of a “denomination” allowing for legal benefits, including the operation of schools, access to state funding and the right to perform legally-recognized marriages. In 2012, both a Buddhist organization (UBI) and Hindu organization achieved this coveted status.

Handfasting [Photo Credit: Michela Horvath]

Handfasting [Photo Credit: Michela Horvath]

However, not everyone believes that legal credentials are important. Pagan Pride Italia (PPI) has opted not to join the UCN and, additionally, is now protesting its work. PPI believes that the formation of the UCN is unnecessary and counter to the eclectic nature of Paganism. President Vanth Spiritwalker says, “There are the reasons why we don’t want to adhere to it, and then there are the reasons why we are taking action to protest against it.”

PPI doesn’t want to join because, in its opinion, the benefits to be gained through organizational formation are negligible. Italian Pagans already have religious freedom as stated in the Italian Constitution. Pagans can already freely practice, organize and hold public events. PPI also points out that all lawful marriages are ultimately civic, regardless of a religion’s legal stature, even the Catholic ones.

Spiritwalker adds, “What the project is actually doing is something different. They are creating a church” that requires certain hierarchical structures and limitations on practice that conflict with the eclectic nature of the Pagan experience. In addition, PPI is concerned that, with a country full of solitaries, the UCN is only allowing groups and associations full membership status.

530315_10151274153392645_813335934_nThose are the reasons that PPI is not supporting the UCN. However, the organization is also actively protesting for an additional reason. Spiritwalker says:

It is in anyone’s right to create a church … the problem arises when they are doing so choosing a name for themselves that says that they are speaking for every Pagan in the country. This is not only wrong, but creates a lot of potential problems by conveying a representation of the community which is different from the truth. Since we believe that what really gives you rights is social recognition, which means educating people so that they are aware of your existence, of what you do and of your rights. Giving out wrong information can only hinder social recognition, not helping the community in general.

PPI is encouraging Italian Pagans to use the hashtags #nochiesapagana #freepaganism and to post a photo of themselves saying, “I am Pagan. UCN doesn’t represent me.”

The UCN Board is aware of PPI’s complaints. In response, Bordin says, “We are using the word Neopagans to avoid misunderstandings, as there are many Pagans in Italy that don’t follow the principles of the PFI. We don’t want to unify all the paths in one, but to be strong in our differences working on a common base.” The UCN only claims to represent a “heterogenous denomination,” to use the government’s language, that is based solely on or limited only by its three founding 3 principles and its mission.

Bordin also adds that UCN does have plans to add a stronger solitary membership program. The Board is inspired by the structure of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and its full inclusion of solitary practitioners. In fact, UCN has taken many of its cues from international organizations. Along with CoG, the UCN plans to model its teaching practices and festival organization around the work of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. As mentioned earlier, it borrowed the Pagan Federation International‘s membership principles.

At this point, the UCN is a nonprofit organization. Over the next 3-4 years, it will attempt, as Bordin says, “to become a juridical personality (or charity.)”  She says, “If we gain the juridical personality, Neopaganism will “exist” as a non-recognised religion …The next step will be moving from a non-recognised religion to recognised religion, with the start of a long process.” This process could take as long as 20 years.

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • Erynn Rowan Laurie

    At first I thought “I’m living in Italy now, I wonder if this would be interesting/useful.” Then I looked at the three principles and realized it was advocating a duotheistic monism that’s really really not where I’m at, and decided, no, not my thing at all.

    • I did not see the idea of duotheism in the third statement. It only says that Deity can have aspects of those two genders. It does not specifically say “Goddess and God”.

      • Erynn Rowan Laurie

        It’s absolutely monist/duotheistic. Look at the quote:

        “Recognition of the Divine, which transcends gender, acknowledging both the female and male aspect of Deity.”

        It says “the Divine” (singular and monistic), and “the female and male aspect of Deity” – The (singular) female and The (singular) male, therefore a monad separated into two entities. Looks like monistic duotheism to me.

        • The “Divine” could simply mean whatever people consider divine, which could be singular or plural. That the Divine has male and/or female “aspects” does not make them “monads”. I contend that you are reading your own viewpoint into what is a simpler statement.

          • Erynn Rowan Laurie

            It’s possible, but it’s also possible that I’m reading what’s actually there in the words they say. “The Divine” sounds pretty singular to me. Maybe it doesn’t to you.

            Regardless, I’m not dissing anyone. I’m just saying it’s not my thing. I don’t personally believe in “the Divine,” I believe in multiple divinities, which are not “aspects” of something singular. I therefore could never sign on to this particular philosophy or join an organization based on this statement.

          • OK, I got you now. Yes, I can now see how “Divine” might sound to a hard polytheist. Thank you for explaining, that was very helpful.

          • Erynn Rowan Laurie

            Awesome. It’s good to know that you can see where I’m coming from on the issue. Thanks.

  • Vanth SpiritWalker

    “The next step will be moving from a non-recognised religion to recognised religion, with the start of a long process.”
    As I pointed out in my reply to Miss Heather Greene, whom I thank for the interest in our position, this statement is not correct. The claim to be working in order to recognise paganism as a religion is without substance for a very simple reason: there is no procedure for recognizing a religion under the Italian Law because the Constitution, according full freedom of practice to every citizen, already recognizes them all. What you can do, and what they are doing, is attempting to gain recognition as a church, which is a completely different issue, and in doing so they are not going to give any right to single citizens, but only to themselves as it is clearly stated in their bylaws:
    “art. 39: Rights and obligations deriving from the present bylaws are applicable, according to the law, only to regular members which have paid the social fees regularly”
    and after art. 15 regular members can only be associations or groups and the UCN “reserve itself the right to verify the activity of the group or association”
    So clearly nothing for singles here, black on white, and a very debatable procedure to decide who can and who cannot adhere.
    This is only one of the reasons why we remain convinced that the project is wrong for the community in general and it is aimed only at trying to be the only official pagan voice in the country, as several of the adherents of the project have privately admitted.

    Vanth SpiritWalker
    Pagan Pride Italia

    • There doesn’t seem to be any reason why there can’t be more than one religious organization (or “church” as you said) that is Pagan. Some group has to be first, and it may appear initially that group “speaks” for Pagans, but as more religious groups are recognized, there will be more than one voice.

      Solitaires do not constitute a “group”, so I don’t think that is a valid argument against what the UCN is doing.

      I think the advantages of having a recognized religious group for Pagans outweighs the disadvantages for not having one.

      • Vanth SpiritWalker

        Of course I respect your opinion, although I disagree with it.
        The key issue here is that no one has ever asked anyone not to register as a church, should they feel the advantages are good enough to outweigh the disadvantages (though I still have to see which advantages are we REALLY speaking about): what we have been asking all the time was simply to choose a name that did not hint to the fact that the UCN is speaking for every pagan in the country.
        The most important thing in the battle for acceptance is social recognition: this does not come from being a registered church (as I have proved many times quoting several organizations which are registered churches according the law, yet they are completely unheard of to anyone), but through education and communication.
        In communication the words that you choose to express something are as important as what you are saying so, with a name like Union of the Neopagan Communities, what UCN is saying is “We are the representative of every pagan” which is not true. They are not even the representative of every wiccan, for that matter, but just a handful of associations, most of them extremely tiny, and actually represent a handful of people.
        For this reason hundreds of people, singles and associations, have been asking them to choose a different name that would make it clear that they represent just a part, not a totality. The request has been answered only with insults and personal attacks, and this tells something I believe.
        Also the claim about having used “Neopagan” as specific is without substance for two reasons: first of all, because they do not represent all the neopagans, again, but only a tiny fraction; secondly because to Joe Average “pagan” and “neopagan” are absolutely the same, there is no difference and so we return to the starting line, the message is “We are speaking for all the pagans” and everything they will do will be transferred to every pagan, whether one agrees or not. This is what has given birth to the campaign of protest which is not a campaign belonging to Pagan Pride Italia, but something that has been born spontaneously and to which Pagan Pride Italia has simply adhered.
        Should have UCN decided to listen to the hundred of people asking them to call themselves under a different name, all of this woul have never happened.

        • I am a total outsider from across the pond trying to understand what you are saying. So, please bear that in mind.

          Perhaps the Italian language infers what you are saying, but I do not see the definite article (ie, “the”) in the UCN name. It is the Union of Pagan Community, not the Union of THE Pagan Community. You are saying that you feel it is implied that UCN means not only “THE” but also “the one and only”. But I have to wonder if everyone who speaks/reads Italian thinks that.

          We have many Christian organizations here in the USA, many of them with similarly presumptive names, such as The Church of God, The Church of Christ, The United Church of Christ, The Community of Christ, The Christian Church, etc, ad nauseum, all names that a person might possibly infer that each is the only one– maybe if they were a strict literalist and never traveled outside of their little town. However your average person would not reasonably expect that to be true.

          So, while UCN’s name may sound to you like it is intending to represent all Pagans, I think you’ll eventually be relieved to find that most people are not going to think that.

          Yes, I can agree with you that UCN could have possibly crafted a name that sounded less pretentious to other Pagans, but probably not so much to non-Pagans. But why put all
          that energy in being against them? I’d rather celebrate them for their accomplishment. Why not do that and move on with creating your own organization: “The True Pagans of Italia”, or something akin to that?

          • Vanth SpiritWalker

            Well, it’s not Union of Pagan Community but Union of Pagan Communities, and this in italian means that they are the union of all communities. This intention has been clarified not only in their adamant refusal, in spite of a general demand, to change the name, but also from their attitude towards everyone not agreeing enthusiasticall with them, responding with insults to any kind of criticism, and from actions taken since their registration, like acquiring every internet domain containing the word “neopaganesimo” and clearly stating that their intention is to establish lines as to who can be allowed to teach paganism and who is a “garden pagan” and should not be allowed.
            We are simply exerting our right not to be confused with them, saying clearly that, in spite of their declarations, they do not speak for every pagan and are surely not the only pagans in the country.
            As for celebrating their accomplishment, we’d better wait for an accomplishment to actually happen, shouldn’t we? Right now the only accomplishment has been to create a deep rift in the general community, pissing off the vast majority of the italian pagans of any denomination.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    The problem with “recognising” Neo-Paganism as a religion is that it is not a single religion, but an umbrella of numerous different ones.

    Combining a lot of distinct religions into one singular thing will only harm them all.

    • Medeina Ragana

      “Neo-Paganism as a religion is that it is not a single religion, but an umbrella of numerous different ones.”

      This is also true of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. From the outside, they may appear to be a unified religion, but adherents will insist that their interpretation of the beliefs are the correct ones and the other are “mistaken”, and/or deviated from the the founder’s original intent. This is especially true of Christianity and Islam.

      • Diomedes

        However, it’s uniquely true with Paganism. An Episcopalian and a Catholic have a great deal more in common than a Kemetic Reconstructionist and a solitary Wiccan. When it comes to an institutional level, individual faiths need to fight for their individual recognition (with the greater Pagan community providing support). We should not be lobbying for institutional organizations that are essentially meaningless because the groups they are trying to work for do not share the same values or beliefs; it’s a pointless waste of time and energy. I’d rather put in the work to create a Hellenic group that is there to serve the needs of fellow Hellenics than working on a pan-Pagan organization that will either end up working for no one or working for whatever specific group happens to have the most sway in the organization.

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren


          I am not Hellenic, but I will happily support any of their goals that align with mine – such as recognition, etc – and would hope that they would return the favour, when needed.

          Just because we have different religions, doesn’t mean we can be friends.

        • It isn’t unique with Paganism. Hinduism is a “religion” that serves as an umbrella for many religions on the Asian subcontinent.

      • Ikaros Kein

        And indeed, Catholics, in Italy, are represented by the organization called “Catholic Church” while the anglican church has its own recognised organization… and it’s the same for other christian confessions. They’re all christian but everyone is represented by a different organization.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        If I take the obvious example – Christianity.

        It is a religion. It is by no means unified, but it is a single religion. What you are talking about are denominations within religions.

        Denominations exist within the various “Pagan” religions, too. Just look at Wicca. That started with one guy, less than hundred years ago. Yet we now see various denominations of it, from the original Gardnerian, through Alexandrian and Dianic to things like Seax-Wicca as well as solitary eclectic (denomination of one) forms of Wicca.

        In fact, the only thing many of the religions pigeon-holed within the term “contemporary Paganism” share with one another is that they are new (or reconstructed) religions.

        Even the old definition “non-Abrahamic” no longer rings true, what with the rise of Christo-Paganism and the like.

        • Ikaros Kein

          And that’s the point! In Italy every Christian denomination has its own organization, while UCN wants to represent all pagan denominations. However, according to italian laws, single pagan denominations have not enough members to form different recognised organizations and, maybe, neither all italian pagans together… the law that regulates recognised religious organizations is an old law dating 1929 and is designed on the model of the catholic church that was extremely powerful in Italy at that time (and still is, though less).

  • Kalithan

    I’m a bit concerned about their use of the term “pagan” since this organisation deals mainly with Wicca. They don’t seem to consider other forms of Italian paganism. That’s completely their choice of who they represent and what they want to believe but since they are focusing on Wicca, they shouldn’t claim to be representing all pagans.

    • Actually aren’t they calling themselves “NeoPagan”? That signifies a modern Pagan movement, like Wicca (circa 1945 ce), rather than other Paganism that are continuations or revivals of older religions, such as Asatru (before 1200 ce).

  • Rossella Di Vaio

    everybody, I’m a member of the newborn UCN. I’d like to thank Mrs Greene for this article about us and give just a few quick replies to some issues proposed here.

    The term chosen for our Organization is
    Neo-pagan, and the principles on which it is based are the 3 fundamental principles of the Pagan Federation International. Nothing prevents traditionalists, reconstructionists, or pagans of other denominations from forming an organization of their own and follow the same path of ours, if they want to.

    The associations forming the UCN are wiccan, druidic, avalonian, and generically neopagan, so we think that we can rightly call ourselves Union of Neopagan Communities, because it’s what it actually is.

    The creation of an organization legally recognized by the State, that can interact with authorities, is necessary to exert those rights granted by our Constitution about freedom of religion. We
    are well aware that religious freedom is granted in our country, luckily, but as any other freedom in any democratic and civil country, it has to be exerted within and according to the laws of that country.

    Although being an Association of associations, the singles have obviously a fundamental role. They can enter directly the UCN as supporters. The supporters have right to assembly and elect a delegate of their own with functions of control and advice.

    They can decide to form an informal group and enter the UCN as a group. The groups are not only covens or groves, but also informal groups like family clans and so on.

    They can join one of the associations that work mostly with singles who are not initiated in any specific tradition.

    We have chosen to follow this long path
    for the recognition of our organization as a religious organization, like other before us have done, such as the Buddhist Union and the Induist Union, with all the benefits that in time it will give to all the neopagan movement.

    Those who desagree or don’t want to be part of it have any rights to do that and continue their life as always, since nothing can be taken away from them, but we chose to improve our situation within society, with the means that society gives us, and have any right to do
    that as well.

    • Vanth SpiritWalker

      To complete the information given, supporters can elect a single representative (while associations have a different number of representatives according to their size), and this single representative cannot vote in the council.
      I rest my case that singles have no power in UCN, which remains a pyramidal structure which thus ignores the vast majority of italian pagans while saying they speak for everyone

      • Deborah Bender

        Quoting from the article, “The Board is inspired by the structure of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and its full inclusion of solitary practitioners.” I am very familiar with the structure of the Covenant of the Goddess, having held offices in CoG and having been a member at various times sometimes as a solitary (as I currently am) and as a member of various covens that belong to CoG.

        It isn’t widely appreciated by nonmembers that CoG operates according to consensus process. It’s a very structured consensus process. The only decisions that the national organization and its chapters make by majority vote are election of officers and approval of budgets. These two decisions have to be made annually in order to comply with American corporations law and therefore cannot be postponed until consensus is reached.

        During the annual corporate meeting, the only votes taken come at the very end, for election of the board of national officers and budget approval. Other general membership decisions such as policies, amendments to the bylaws, and undertaking new projects are to be made, and generally are made, by discussing them until everyone who wishes to speak out has been heard and there is a course of action that all participants actively support or are willing to live with. With rare exceptions, even a single person objecting holds up the action until that objection has been dealt with to the objector’s satisfaction. This means that the voices of individuals count whether they are solitaries or members of a group (coven).

        Operating a large, heterogenous organization by consensus requires practice as it really is a different way of operating than majority rule. A new proposal typically takes about three years from initial discussion to consensus approval. The organization moves slowly because its members cherish their autonomy.

        I don’t know whether UCN plans to operate as a consensus organization like CoG or to use majority rule self government. Assumptions about the influence of solitaries vs. groups may or may not apply, depending on what the organization’s process for decision making may be.

        • What CoG does sounds to me like the tyranny of the minority. If you get one person that doesn’t agree, that minority view wins out and thwarts the best plans for the organization.

          I think consensus works in smaller groups where people know and work with each other magickally, but I think when you get beyond 50 people a true “spirit” of consensus just takes too long to reach. That means where everyone truly senses one another’s intent rather than an assumed consensus where people simply give in to the majority. And as I said above, it can allow for the tyranny of minority.

          In my opinion, I wish CoG would change their bylaws and adopt a method that would be more practical for a large organization. And I think you would see CoG achieving more and growing.

          • Deborah Bender

            Indeed, the larger the group, the more difficult operation by consensus become. CoG’s been operating this way since 1975 and CoG’s version of the process actually works pretty well IMHO. What I wrote before was a summary as I didn’t want to get too deep in the weeds.

            1. Stuff that has to be dealt with right now, like speaking to the press or the police when a Witch gets arrested, is handled by people designated by the organization to do that. Most of CoG’s business is non-emergency and not particularly time sensitive.

            2. A lot of CoG’s activities take place in the Local Councils
            (chapters), consisting of people who know each other. Since a typical CoG member coven contains two or three
            people who are interested in CoG and the rest don’t give a fig, even the larger LCs don’t have more than fifty active members, and consensus works fine for them.

            3. At the annual corporate meeting, if people are butting heads and getting nowhere, the proposal is usually sent to a committee which reports back in a couple of hours with a proposed solution. Sometimes the committee finds a solution that everyone likes. If it doesn’t, usually the proposal is withdrawn and reintroduced in an amended form the following year. Something really new typically takes about three years to garner enough support. Three years isn’t a long time to get people to understand a proposal and get on board with it.

            FWIW, I’ve heard thirdhand comments that observers from non-pagan religious organizations that run by consensus marvel at how quickly CoG’s Grand Council reaches decisions.

            4. The bylaws provide that a member who abuses the veto power may be expelled. Veto is the strongest possible objection; it means, “If this unholy mess passes, we quit.”
            Abuse means vetoing frequently and insincerely, just to gum up the works or call attention to yourself. To the best of my knowledge, that provision has never had to be invoked.

            5. CoG grows, in the words of the late Isaac Bonewits, “fast as a speeding oak.”

            There’s a trade off between speed of decision making and representation of all concerned. Getting things done quickly over the objections of a minority faction means that over time, that faction no longer feels that the organization represents them, and they leave. That’s fine for an organization formed around a single issue it wishes to take action on. Let the like-minded people get on with their mission.

            CoG is a general purpose organization, and action on any particular issue takes a back seat to simply being an organization inclusive of the full range of ethical, Goddess-worshipping witchcraft practice. There needs to be at least one witchcraft organization like this.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            “…an organization inclusive of the full range of ethical, Goddess-worshipping witchcraft belief and practice.”

            That is the bit I have never understood about the big organisations.

            What happens when you have two people with polarised views on an ethical issue?

          • ELNIGMA

            schisms, fighting, or one or both sides giving up

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Sometimes, schisms are for the best.

            Very few large organisations can adequately represent all of their members. (Unless the organisation single issue driven.)

          • Deborah Bender

            I would call CoG a medium sized organization. The membership of CoG is a tiny fraction of all the witches in the USA.

            CoG has never had a formal schism. It doesn’t make any global claims and doesn’t have any assets or power to speak of, only a degree of influence, so there’s not much to fight over. There have been a few times when a Local Council was disbanded by the national board because of incurable internal strife. I didn’t have a close view of those fights, but from what I could see, they were personality conflicts, not ideological.

          • Deborah Bender

            With regard to CoG, I can answer.

            You can find CoG’s Code of Ethics in various places on the website, one of them being the application for Associate status in the forms section at the back of the Newsletter.

            Joining CoG isn’t just a matter of sending in a form and a check. The multiple hoops to jump through are there to ensure that members are in enough agreement to be able to work together. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s the intent.

            There is a multi-stage screening process that includes getting letters of recommendation from other witches, filing a statement that your code of ethics is compatible (not necessarily identical) with CoG’s, and letting the entire membership know about your application in case any of them know something about your past conduct that would make you an asset or a problem. If you live in an area that has a Local Council, you must apply for membership to them, and they will want to get to know you first.

            Once you are a member, you have a choice to join other members in activities of mutual interest, or mind your own business and be minimally participatory. Having different views on ethics from other members presents no problem unless you act on those views in a way that is disruptive your Local Council you belong to or causes serious problems for the organization as a whole. In the past, CoG had a system for adjudicating ethics controversies, but it proved to be more divisive than useful, so it was trimmed back. If a member does something that is in flagrant violation of CoG’s Code of Ethics, I believe the National Board has the authority to kick them out.

            Since it’s a consensus organization, its activities and public pronouncements are supposed to be, and generally are, about things that the membership is in consensus on.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Didn’t realise CoG was so exclusive. It tends not to come across as such, when I’ve read about it in other articles. Good to hear, though.

          • Deborah Bender

            CoG is multipurpose; what members have in common is our religion. CoG’s membership includes Dianics, Gardnerians, Reclaiming witches,
            hereditaries, and many other sorts of witch with and without tradition
            labels. You don’t have to be initiated. You don’t have to belong to a
            coven. You don’t have to have been practicing for a long time.

            CoG is an organization of witches (in the modern sense of adherents to witchcraft as a religious practice). Membership in CoG is open to all adult witches. The application procedure has two purposes, to verify that the applicant is a witch or a coven (and not some other sort of pagan or some other sort of group) and that the applicant plays well with others.

            Whether or not that seems exclusive, the purpose is simply to restrict membership to people who have something fundamental in common. The founders of CoG thought about creating a pan-pagan organization. At that time, previous attempts at pagan organizations in America had foundered on too much diversity–no agreement on ethics, practices, beliefs, or any other criteria for membership. Therefore no agreement on what the organization should do.

            Since the 1970s, some successful pan-pagan organizations have been founded. Most of them are devoted to a particular purpose, e.g. Lady Liberty League and Cherry Hill Seminary. That makes sense, because opening the organization to all people who support its purpose draws in more resources. The point in common is support for the goal.

            A pan-pagan organization that is not devoted to a defined purpose has a greater challenge in figuring out where to draw its boundaries. The movement grows more diverse as it spreads, and you have seen the passionate arguments on this website between Recons and neopagans, various sorts of polytheists, solitaries versus group members, etc.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker


        • Vanth SpiritWalker

          According to UCN bylaws (art. 25) associations with up to 30 members have one representative, 2 for associations of more than 30 members, 3 for associations of more than 100 members, 4 for associations of more than 200 members and 5 for associations of more than 500 members. Singles can have a single representative with no voting rights…
          And consider that currently six associations are members and only three of these are over 30 members but these three are significantly larger (in the hundreds) due to the fact that everyone attending a workshop is forced to register as a member. So basically you have a situation where three associations will be able to do whatever they please.

          • Deborah Bender

            In that case, UCN’s structure isn’t much like CoG’s (not that they said it was). Do you happen to know how the Pagan Federation in Great Britain in structured? That might be more the model UCN is going for.

          • Vanth SpiritWalker

            Can’t answer for sure, but I seem to remember that the Pagan Federation is based on individuals and not on organizations

      • Rossella Di Vaio

        The important word here is “union”. We are not simply a group of individuals. That would be an administrative nightmare. If individuals want more representation they simply need to form a group by which they can pass their ideas up to a higher administrative level. They don’t need to share the same belief or practices. They don’t even need to meet in person. This is only for administration. Sometimes you need to bend and not fight the majority on matters just because they are not in your direction because in all matters most will be accommodated and all will be accommodated in majority of matters.
        Vance, if you want to be on your own doing your thing by yourself. That’s all good. In that case, maybe UCN isn’t the right thing for you. Other people really do want it though and we want to help those people, the united members. We are not saying that we represent individuals. We are a union, in other words we note that we represent those who are uniting. We are also interested in the good of the individuals but not because they are ours to represent but because we want to help those who we have some things in common with.

        • Vanth SpiritWalker

          Thank you for confirming what I have been saying about UCN being a pyramidal structure.
          As you rightly said, this is not my thing and it is not the right thing for a vast number of pagans, the same vast number that has asked to use a name that made clear you are speaking only for the people you actually represent, while you have chosen to hint that actually you represent everyone. A fact that is not true, as more and more people are exposing quite clearly.
          No one has ever challenged your right to give yourself the organization you feel right for you, an this has always been clear. But, as you say, UCN isn’t anybody’s thing, so should not led others to believe that they are speaking for everyone. As I said more than once, the way you say something is as important as what you are saying

          • Rossella Di Vaio

            Sorry Vanth but the above is a fake that used my name, I never posted that message. From now on only the posts with this avatar and name from fb are mine.

          • ELNIGMA

            “use a name that made clear you are speaking only for the people you actually represent, while you have chosen to hint that actually you represent everyone. ”

            Basically you could request that of any pagan org, it doesn’t mean they have to do it

          • Vanth SpiritWalker

            Not every role is equal: if you are working in education you have one kind of influence, but if you are legally representing someone in front of the State, matters are quite different

  • Ariella

    Unfortunately this UCN is bringing a big split in the Italian pagan community. They bought all the web domanins concerning the word “neopaganism” and they’re really not respectful towards people who doesn’t want to be part of the UCN. They started to call people who celebrates in small groups or by themselves “garden pagans” with disgust and they’re telling everybody that public celebrations and festivals are the right way to be a pagan. This is absolutely too much.

  • As far as I know – in Italy – the legal recognition of a religion means that I can decide that part of my taxes goes to that religion. There is no other difference unless you talk about catholic church. One of the group that belongs to UNC is so out of the broom that you can find their leaflet in lots of cafeteria in their home town. I read some discussions I was left wondering as the tones were so holier-than-thou and righteous

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    When I first read this article I wondered about the dispute and thought, “You have to be there and know the people to figure this out.” And sort of gave up.Now Rosella and Ariella have joined the conversation with evidently quite different perspectives. I sincerely hope they will reply each to the other.As a veteran of divisions within the Pagan community, one thing I would always welcome is a Pagan third party willing to listen to both sides. I hope Ariella and Rosella feel the same.

  • Ikaros Kein

    As a matter of fact, it’s needed to point out that, in Italy, when you have to ask permission (in reality it’s not asking permission but merely inform the authorities) to perform a pagan ritual, you have no need to mask it as a solely cultural meeting. I say this because of personal experience. On the form we compile there is a field to explain what we are going to do, and we fill it with “Celebration of summer solstice” or other things like this. Even catholics must compile this kind of forms when celebrating rituals outdoors in public places.
    Sometimes i talked with policemen, even in the very place of the ritual, and explained exactly what religious rite we were performing, and sometimes even saying something about the symbology of the cosmic cycles and the festivals, and it was all right. One time happened that some policemen waited for us to end the ritual before walking towards us to ask what we were doing.

  • Rossella Di Vaio

    Ok it appeared a comment here with my name which I never posted, a few minutes ago, now it’s disappeared. Anyway, now I’m logged through fb and only these are my true posts. I’ve just done this post and another 11 hrs ago. From now on only these are my posts. I’m off to contact the moderators, maybe there’s a technical problem.

    • Rossella Di Vaio

      I correct the fake post is still there, the one starting with “the important word…”, but I’ve e-mailed the administration. Nice try whoever you are.

  • Antonella Ercolani

    I think it is imperative that Neo-Pagan religions be recognized in Italy. I know of a few people who have had problems in a divorce for instance because the fact that they were Pagan of Witches was brought up as a means to take away the custody rights. The reason these injustices and legal issues are not so widespread yet in Italy is only because there aren’t as many Pagans in Italy as there are in the U.S. for instance.

    And in the U.S., where Wicca, Paganism, etc are recognized as a religion, there are a lot of cases of discrimination like the Cybeline case or the case of the writer who got her window smashed to name a couple on the spot and there is a great need for lawyers, like Phyllis Curott for instance who specializes in these cases

    If we were to grow in numbers like in the U.S. as we will, don’t you think there will be even more need here in Italy, a country that is separate from the church only on paper, for legal protection and support and being recognized as a religion by the State can give at least some protection from discrimination?

    My deepest thanks to the UCN and the people who have participated. I support it wholeheartedly, (though I haven’t actively participated for when legalese is spoken I go blank or nod off sorry LOL)

    • Vanth SpiritWalker

      “I think it is imperative that Neo-Pagan religions be recognized in Italy.”
      I am sorry to blow your bubble Antonella, but that is not what is happening. As I explained earlier, there is no such a thing as a procedure to recognize a religion in italian law, what they are doing is creating a church and trying to be recognized as such, and this is not going to change in one bit the issues you mentioned, which are caused by the lack of SOCIAL recognition, ie the perception of your existence. I can cite you a vast number of cases of legally recognized churches in Italy which no one has ever heard of and which have the problems still intact.
      Comparing the way things are done in the US and in Italy is misleading because the legislation is vastly different and the procedures cannot be translated from one country to the other.
      With the current italian laws, following the path that UCN has chosen will create more problems to the pagan community than the ones it is going to alleviate, not considering the problems caused by the rift this has created.
      We believe that the current path lies in changing the laws, which have been recognized as unfit by the vast majority of the political and social forces, and which is something that the pagan community does not have to do on its own and against other churches which will be competing for the same resources, but rather in cohoperation with every spiritual community in the country, thus also raising the social recognition of our own presence.

      • Antonella Ercolani

        Vanth have you contacted other spiritual communities an tried to change these laws? If no why? If yes, how did it go and especially what did the lawyers say? Do you believe that is possible to change these laws in Italy, a country where the Vatican influences so much politics?

        • Vanth SpiritWalker

          The fact that the laws need to be changed is well known to everyone and there is a general consensus about it. I believe it is possible, since even the Vatican has shown that they are not against this in principle. The biggest reasons that have hindered this process have been the xenophobic extreme right, which is moved by their fear that immigrants might gain some rights, and the fact that the left has not seen this as a critical issue on which there was a need to fight too much.
          But things are changing and, as I said, this is not something that we need to do alone.
          And yes, we are working about it.

          • Antonella Ercolani

            good that you are working on it, but what practical steps have you and other people and other religions/spiritualities been taking legally and otherwise? I really would like to know what a lawyer had to say about this if you consulted one
            I recall that the option of changing the law was the first thing that was discussed before forming progetto art 8 but it was discarded as too difficult and utopian.
            Otherwise, whatever you or others may think of the project or of the people involved, for personal or ideological reasons, what person in their right mind would embark on a 30/40 years endeavour (because that is how much it will take since that is what it took for the Buddhists and the Hindus) to have Neo Paganism legally recognized and legal rights of the people protected?

          • Vanth SpiritWalker

            While a difficult process, changing a legislation is neither impossible nor utopian: there is a specific organism that changes laws on a daily basis, it’s called the Parliament. There are a number of avenues which are possible and we will decide exactly which one when matters will be at the right stage. And yes, we are working with lawyers.
            I do not see how something that a part does on her own, working against the resistence of other parties with which it is going to compete for the same resources, should be easier than something done not by a single part but by a number of parts cohoperating together for the same purpose.
            At any rate, once again, UCN is not going to have Neo Paganism legally recognized, for the simple reason that it is not possible to legally recognize a religion under the italian law. All religions are already recognized, what UCN is doing is trying to be recognized as a church, a completely different kettle of fish, as this means recognizing an institution, not a religion. An institution which represents a very small portion of Paganism and Neo Paganism in Italy. So if your target is to have Neo Paganism legally recognized, I am sorry to inform you that you are on the wrong train.
            As far as the legal rights of people, they are already protected: but, of course, one has to remind others of said rights. In all my years of work for the pagan community in Italy I have invariably seen that, when someone’s rights were not recognized, it was mainly due to ignorance of the sheer existence of pagans. And a lot of pagans do nothing to have their rights respected, but rather prefer to remain in hiding and mope that they are being oppressed. If you are the first not to ask for your rights, you are not going to get them granted graciously by someone else, this is a basic tenet of life in general.
            I have been openly pagan for well over twenty years and have been organizing events, workshops and working with the media this whole time. Our main event takes place about 1km away from the Vatican as the crow flies, and we have never had any trouble in seeing our rights respected.
            As a matter of fact we even intervened in a case which saw on trial a wiccan which was actually guilty of having done a number of very stupid things, and managed to get this person a more lenient penalty because of her religion. Without the need for a church. The only thing you really need is to speak up, instead of hiding. Most of the pagans seem more busy hiding or excusing themselves for following their own path: if you don’t ask for whats rightfully yours, no one is going to give it to you

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            I think a lot of what you say rings true for any modern Pagan (or other minority religion) in “the broom closet”.

            Until people stand up to be counted, can they really complain about not being counted?

          • Vanth SpiritWalker

            My point exactly, and you can only do it by having people to act, not organizations. There is no question about religious affiliation in Italy, so there is no way to let numbers be available in a reliable manner. Most pagans in Italy are shy even of cancelling themselves from the registers of the Catholic church and many of them even agree to have catholic weddings, and I am speaking even of many people currently adhering to UCN.
            So, if you do not make any effort to be counted amongst the Catholics, how can you expect that anyone outside the pagan community could even think that there is a pagan community whose rights need to be taken in account?
            Social recognition is paramount, and social recognition is achieved only through information and education to the highest degree: legal recognition of an association does nothing for this. As I said, there are hundreds of legally registered churches no one has ever heard of. They only have economical advantages for themselves, but single practitioners are left to fend off for themselves exactly as before

  • Antonella Ercolani

    The sad thing in Italy is that there is a rift between Rome and Milan in Paganism, I just really hope it’s growing pains, it’s been the same in the UK, in the U.S., and that any childish behavior will be reconsidered on every side of the issue and that everyone will be able to think rationally at the unprecedented (in Italy) opportunity and the benefits of the UCN and its future.
    I write because I can’t hold back what I think but even though it may seem paradoxical, I both praise the UCN people for going their way and not responding to the provocations, and Vanth for speaking his mind as well, because personally it’s always important to never hold back