Covenant of the Goddess: A Very Southern Merry Meet 2014

Heather Greene —  August 27, 2014 — 12 Comments

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.

green-faiths-3atrans

Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.

 

*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

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Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and Pagan spirit living in the Deep South. She has served as Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess and worked extensively with Lady Liberty League. Heather's work has been published in Circle Magazine and elsewhere. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History with a background in the performing and visual arts.
  • Deborah Bender

    I think CoG will remember this as a landmark Grand Council. Its atmosphere, its accomplishments, and the many ways in which this gathering marks the maturation of the Covenant as an organization are exceptional. The Covenant of the Goddess has come a long way since 1975. My thanks to the very impressive Dogwood Local Council, to everyone who planned Merrymeet 2014 and everyone who participated.

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

    Congrats to CoG for establishing an Abuse Advisory Committee. This is the direction Wiccans, and the Pagan movement in general, need to go, in my opinion. I anticipate that the committee will build upon its initial statement and find ways to help establish sexual abuse ministries and similar outreach programs for magickal peoples.

    Also, I want to give an enthusiastic nod to Circle Sanctuary for joining with CoG in honoring our Pagan soldiers and veterans. That is a landmark occasion indeed! Welcome home, Pagan defenders of freedom.

  • Jessica Meike

    This article brought me such joy. How can we become more involved in furthering our environmental policy in our local communities? How can I become more involved as a Wiccan? Any thoughts, websites or knowledge for local group activities to further the rejuvenation of Mother Earth are greatly appreciated. Blessed be, jessica

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Your questions cry for answers. My first advice would be to find someone to advise you with more environmental experience than I. The closest I come having anything to say is political experience.Surely someone in your local community — government, private activists, whoever — is already doing this. Join them. After you’ve put in some real work, talk during a break (or while working, if it’s that kind of work) about a spiritual dimension of what you’re doing, without bursting out of the broom closet. Lots of Christians are into something they call “creation care” which bakes in their theology while doing the same things as other environmental activists.When you get to the point where they’ll accept someone you vouch for, recruit one or two more Pagans to join you. By now you will have identified the most prominent Christian activist and you can take her or him aside and propose overt interfaith environmental action. If they value your work and your opinion, it might work.Let TWH know how it works out.

    • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

      Talk to your local planning board and code enforcement officer. Also talk to your city council/town selectmen/mayor about environmental concerns and ideas. Last but not least, run for office on said planning board or town council – its the surest way to get your voice heard.

  • Dantes

    I am glad that this organisation (that, being European I know very little about) had a succeful and productive meeting. Talking about environment and how to protect it is a great topic if any however, upon reading the article I had a completely different idea in my mind,a question rather.

    Why is everyone obese?

    No offense in this, I know this may not be the best place to talk about it and I most certainly do not want to indulge in fat-shaming but I found some of the pictures attached in the article rather disturbing…

    I know you guys in America have a real problem with obesity and such and it’s a question that cannot be adressed solely by the microcosm of Pagan subculture but for the numerous years I have read the Wild Hunt I have never seen anyone even mention this problem.

    I mean, again, I do not wish to be offensive to the people concerned, which I totaly believe to be nice and knowlegable people but is is a healthy attitude to pretend this problem doesn’t exist?

    I personally do not condone fat-hating, I think one should treat most cases of obesity as illnesses that ought to be cured, not something to hate on, but not something to support either. Everytime I see an article about a meeting, a convention or such, I see that a large part, if not the majority of the respected public Pagan figures are quite extremely overweight. On one hand, it’s not my buisness, true true, but on the other hand I feel bad thiking that a great number of the most respected Pagan elders in the U.S. are simply plagued by this disease.

    In my eyes, Paganism should be a celebration of life. I’m all for the respect of nature, culture, traditions and so on, but when I see people who are supposed to be at the very least authoritative figures or at best role models not taking care of themselves I feel it sends the wrong message. When you go to any Pagan/Wiccan Tumblr or Facebook, what you’ll get are pictures of slender witches, skinny models wandering in the woods and other pretty images wich would let me think that most would rather delve in such a universe rather than facing the reality of contemporary paganism, plagued by a unhealthy lifestyle.

    This is basically my feeling about this issue. I fully acknowledge that I may not know enough to talk about it and that the situation may be very different regarding the current generations but it’s something that preocupies me.

    Again, this post can look like a rant but it is not. I just want to let people know about what I felt following this article. I repeat, my words are not intended to be derogatory or offensive but rather concern an issue that I believe to be of importance.

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      It’s actually quite a valid point, in one sense.

      The article discusses environmental concerns, and one of those concerns is the propensity for consumerism.

      The 19th of August was Earth Overshoot Day, the day that has been calculated as when humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those
      resources that year.

      Something to consider is just how much each person consumes, on an individual level, and the food-miles associated with what they eat.

      Eating fruit may be healthy, but eating a banana in England is not exactly ecologically sensitive, for example.

    • Crystal Hope Kendrick

      It needs to be noted that in the U.S. fresh foods tend to be expensive. Cheap foods are fattening and loaded with sugar and fillers. Very few Pagans in the U.S. have money. Many of us aren’t even what you’d call comfortably situated. Add to that the busy lifestyle many of us lead.

    • Oberon

      Although you say you are not bashing, you do ~rather~ go on with it for a number of paragraphs. While I am not very overweight by most people’s standards, most of my family is or has been; my younger brother had the gastric surgery and is much less weight. I am the only member of my family that has never been diabetic (adult onset) ; I’m one of six. But I totally have to work at it. If I did not do so, a bit of exercise and trying to eat better foods (refer to Crystal’s statement below) I might be diabetic or more overweight. (my doctor thinks I will anyway, but that’s the medical profession for you) I also have another reason. My own father had major heart problems and limb amputations. I will do almost anything to avoid his fate.
      But having said that, overall health, ESPECIALLY in the U.S. is not as easy as outside of it. You may have no idea of how the media constantly reinforces the consumption cycle.
      Finally most of my colleagues in the Covenant (proud member in the Midwest Regional LC) are doing the incredible work of the Gods – and someone has to do it. It is an extreme sacrifice on their part, the many hours of volunteer work – we do not get paid for this. So have a care. I think we’re better off with our members, warts and all, than just some photo-op Witches, who look like models and have no true substance and have contributed very little.

    • Deborah Bender

      I’m obese myself (working on correcting that), and I had a similar reaction when I saw that picture.

      First, CoG is the kind of organization that attracts people who are willing to attend meetings and put up with a formal structure (bylaws and regional chapters). Most people who stick around CoG long enough to become national officers are middle aged, and almost everyone puts on some weight as they get older.

      Second, most jobs in this country, including working class jobs, no longer require much physical exertion. The majority of Americans live in suburbs where everything is spread out and designed for the convenience of traveling by car, not on foot or bicycle. Children are no longer allowed to walk to school by themselves. Most tall buildings have elevators. There is very little exercise built into the daily routine of most people. Exercise is a leisure time activity only, which means only people with leisure engage in it.

      Eating habits have changed also; rather than having meals at set times, people snack all day long on whatever’s easily available, which tends to be high in fat, sugar and salt.

      Overweight is becoming a class marker again. In the nineteenth century, it meant you were wealthy enough to have plenty to eat and not much to do. Now it means that you can’t afford to live in the city center and don’t have the money for a gym membership or nutritious food.

    • Dantes

      I am happy to see that my post did generate reactions.

      Again, I do not blame (entirely) overweight people, and I do know how it is in the US, my fiancée is from there and I came visiting just last month. I saw how almost every food contains High fructose corn syrup and other horrors which are most certainly to blame for the crisis the US is undergoing.

      Living in Scandinavia, where foodstuff are generally the double or the triple of what it is in the US, I know how hard it is to get good quality food. I also understand that city living, urban planing and other things make it hard for people to do exercise.

      To answer Oberon, I totally support the work the elder do, but wouldn’t they do a better job, feel better, protect the planet more and give better example to the young generations if they took the time to take care of themselves?

      I mean, I cannot really criticize, I run 10K a day to get to my study place, I live in Europe where lots of horrible food is banned, and on the top of that I have the kind o metabolism that naturally prevents me from being overweight, but as Oberon again say, it’s possible to work on such issues.

      I also think that people who have been involved so much in positive Religious movement and are in many ways fighting for an alternative spirituality and lifestyle would be more aware about the issues posed by Obesity.

      Again, I don’t want to fat overweight people, but It just really makes me sad. When I met my fiancée’s Grandad, he was so fat he could barely walk for a couple seconds on his own :( . Ultimately, I just wish for people to be in good health and happy, especially people with whom I feel I share a similar worldview, despite the fact that they live an ocean away.

      If I saw someone with a broken leg moving with a limp, I would feel terrible and I would try my best to help him, but if he doesn’t acknowledge his broken leg or simply think it’s good enough for him to walk with a broken bone I could not do a thing, and it’s quite a disheartening feeling.

      So yes, that’s basically what I wanted to clarify. And I wish all those who struggle with obesity good luck as well as moral and spiritual support!

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

      You are still blaming people themselves for being obese just because of what you saw in a picture. That part of your post is offensive, as you are judging people only on their appearance. Generally, one might expect spiritual people to be less inclined to make such superficial judgments.

      First of all, you don’t know if the people in the picture have actually been losing weight and are on their way to being healthier. Secondly, there are people with medical conditions, such as thyroid disease, which causes weight gain. My sister has gained weight since being diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis, which limits her mobility.

      But to answer your question of “why?” it is more complex than food sources and lifestyle. One reason why is that it is difficult to lose weight once it is put on. And that is because of 40,000 years of evolution where the human body fights hard to not lose fat because they needed extra fat to survive long periods without eating. Then add the abundant resources of high fat food in the States, you have a more than difficult struggle.

      So, I hope that helps you to be more understanding of your American Pagan sisters and brothers.