Archives For Heather Greene

Over the past month, the new mobile virtual game Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. The app is now reportedly the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. According to the SurveyMonkey Intelligence blog, Pokémon Go has exceeded by several million the daily peak users record held by Candy Crush. Within “three days of release” the game attracted more users than Twitter and now, according to the blog, the breakout game is aiming “for Snapchat and Google Maps.”

pokemon-header2
What is Pokémon Go? It is a mobile game application created by the same team that originated the Pokémon franchise in 1996. Just as in the original concept, the user is a Pokémon trainer who must gather Pokémon, or fictional “pocket monsters,” to train for battle. Using GPS locators, the game “places” Pokémon virtually within the users real space. They are on sidewalks, in homes and in buildings. Trainers can “see” when these virtual creatures are near and must get within a certain distance to catch them. But there is far more to it than that, including PokeGyms, PokeSpots, battles, leveling up, teams and more.

Rattata found roadside in South Georgia [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Rattata found roadside in South Georgia [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

But what does Pokémon Go, or Pokémon in general, have to do with the occult? The easy answer: absolutely nothing.

However, when are we ever satisfied with the easy answer?

So let’s get out our flux capicitors and head back in time 20 years to when Pokémon first arrived on the pop culture scene.

In the not-so-distant past, Satoshi Tajiri imagined a video game that involved users catching bugs and training them to fight. After six years of consideration and negotiations, the idea became Pocket Monsters, which was shortened to Pokémon. In February 1996, Nintendo released two Pokémon games for its popular handheld Game Boy system. The games weren’t an instant hit, but there was enough buzz for the launch of the first generation card game in October of that year, and an anime cartoon series the following spring.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It didn’t take long for the new franchise to generate backlash. Excitement surrounding the card game built to near fever-pitch among children. Many school officials opted to ban the game from their campuses due to a variety reasons, including: distraction, competition, excessive commercialism, fights, and the violence of in-game battles themselves.

Along with those practical and secular concerns, another issue arose; this one of a moral variety. Religious groups began to speak out against the franchise’s promotion of immorality, which some labeled satanic. They equated the game’s symbology and monstrous qualities to demonology, mysticism, Witchcraft, Wicca and modern Paganism. In one video sermon, a pastor explains:

Pokémon is a game that teaches children how to enter into the world of witchcraft. How to cast spells. How to use psychic phenomena. How to put to work supernatural powers against their enemies. How to fantasy role play… Pokémon World is a world of the demonic, of the satanic.

Several of the Pokémon histories suggest that reactions, similar to that above, led to the creation of the Christian card game Redemption. However, this Bible-based trading card game was created and released an entire year before the Pokémon came on the scene. Redemption was more a reaction to the lingering memories of Dungeons & Dragons and the contemporary success of Magic: The Gathering and other similar gaming offshoots.

Redemption‘s creator Rob Anderson said, “Many of the games available had dark and horrific themes […] Much of what is offered in the collectible trading card game market is difficult to reconcile with the Christian faith.” Although Anderson’s card game preceded Pokémon, the idea was the same and the arrival of Pokémon only fueled the flames of that fear and ideology.

The Christian backlash became so prevalent that the Catholic Pope reportedly spoke out. In 2000, the Vatican TV satellite station announced, on his behalf, that “Pokémon trading cards and the computer game is [sic] ‘full of inventive imagination,’ has [sic] no ‘harmful moral side effects’ and is [sic] based on the notion of ‘intense friendship.’ ”

While the Pope’s alleged message signaled his followers to relax, others, outside of the Christian and Catholic world, remained unconvinced. As reported in 2001 by the BBC and other outlets, as the cards reached the Muslim world, national leaders began actively banning the franchise because they believed it promoted gambling and other immoral activities. Saudi leaders specifically called it a “Jewish conspiracy” that promoted Zionism. Interestingly, these same leaders also identified as a problem the franchise’s use of “crosses, sacred for Christians and triangles, significant for Freemasons.”

In 2001, the Anti-Defamation League responded to the cries of “Jewish conspiracy,” calling them “outrageous.” But, several years prior, ADL had its own concerns with two specific Pokémon cards (Golbat and Ditto) that contained what looked like a swastika. As explained in an ADL press release, the symbol on the cards were “intended to represent a ‘manji’ sign ascribed to Buddhism and Hinduism.” These versions of the two cards were only suppose to be released in Japan where the image would be understood as such. However, due to the game’s popularity, the cards made it to the U.S. where the symbols were read as a swastika.

In 1999, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director said, “In today’s shrinking world due to globalization, what is deemed appropriate or acceptable by one culture may have a significantly different meaning in another.” Nintendo did reportedly take the ADL complaint seriously and responded to the group’s satisfaction.

[Photo Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia]

In the same year, Time magazine published an interview with creator Satoshi Tajiri. While the conversation focused on his work, the interviewer did briefly ask about criticisms specifically concerning the immorality or “satanic” nature of the game. He responded, “I never heard of that! [Laughs] I heard there was a guy who criticized [kid’s book character] Harry Potter because of the magic. But I saw the author, and she seemed really nice. The critic seemed like a grouchy mean guy.”

Putting things in context, this era, 1996-2000, occurred just after the notorious satanic panics in the U.S. and U.K., and it also followed on the tail end of a pop culture Witch craze. This was a period that saw the release of The Craft and the reign of The X-Files, Sabrina, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. J.K. Rowling had just released a new book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which would soon become an international best-selling series and movie franchise.

While the pop culture engine generally and slowly shifted from a high concentration of satanic Witches to other occult or fantastic themes, the interest in magic and mysticism never died. Cultural fears and desires, relating to social issues, politics and more, continued to play out in various fantasy narratives. Pokémon played into this collective dreaming.

Additionally, the game was a feature of the shrinking global culture, which was precipitated by the internet and an increasingly tech-driven world. Not only was the card game a symbol of this new world-based digital cultural phenomenon, but it was also a distraction for a generation of children, who were showing a decreasing interest in attending religious services, as noted by Pew Forum.

Now let’s go back to the future….

It is now 2012, with the internet and social media in full swing. A blog site called Playing4Real published a mock Time magazine interview with Satoshi Tajiri. The post, titled, “Pokémon Creator Admits Games are Anti-Christian, Aimed Towards Satanists,” was not marked clearly as satire. The mock interview has Satoshi Tajiri saying, in part:

Tajiri: Yes. Pokémon is essentially the correct answer towards life, not Christianity. Everything presented in the game is the opposite of what Christians may believe. Some have said that the game promotes voodoo or magic, and I agree in the sense that there are many things that occur in nature that are unexplainable …

Any regular user of social media might expect what happened next. The Playing4Real post was shared with wild abandon. The fake interview inspired a new round of Pokémon backlash, feeding any still lingering demonic origin theories.

For example, as published in 2010, opponent Brett Peterson compared the Pokémon universe’s use of the elements as equivalent to that use in modern Pagan practice. Peterson wrote, “Most Pagan and earth based religions and philosophies find power in the Four Elements? Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind. These are the energy cards in the Pokémon game! […] What are we allowing to come into our homes!”

Yet, at the very same time, another cultural reality was being birthed, one that makes that same connection between the occult and modern Paganism, but from an entirely different angle. This new reality can be found embedded in the growing practice of Pop Culture Paganism. As an example, the owner of the Pokemon Paganism Tumblr blog writes:

I have been working for a while now on a Pokémon elemental correspondence system based on a combination of the two most prominent systems from antiquity (Western and Eastern). So far I think I’ve come up with a pretty fleshed out system and I hope to be able to make a few posts on it in the coming weeks. My goal is to have a workable magic system to be used alongside my devotional work with the various Legendary/Mythical Pokémon. All and all I’m hoping to form a more vibrant practice that is more immersive and can also work alongside some of my more traditional polytheist practices.

The majority of people integrating Pokémon into magical practice were born in the Millennial generation or are younger. That should not be surprising, because these are the same people who grew up with the original Pokémon franchise of the 1990s.

20140730-083458-30898930

Pokemon Tarot Deck [Publicity Image]

Tumblr user Kitty, who runs the Pop Culture Paganism blog, also posts and reblogs notes concerning the use of Pokémon in religious, spiritual or magical practice. And, in 2014, Cokujyo Eikyu created a Pokémon Tarot deck, now in its second edition.

Let’s move forward in time again to the present.

This year, 2016, marks the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and the release of its arguably most popular game, Pokémon Go. And, although it’s based on the same gaming premise, the backlash has been decidedly different because of the way it has played out within our collective world cultures.

The new game is getting people outside and moving around, even if that movement is zombie-like or resembles herds of wild animals on a David Attenborough special. One Tumblr user wrote, “Pokémon Go deserves a nobel peace prize for getting me off my ass.”

Pokemon show up in the most untimely of locations [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Pokemon show up in the most unseemingly of locations [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Additionally, the company has created what it calls PokeStops and PokeGyms, which are actual places where Pokémon congregate and where battles happen. Users must be physically within range of these locations to catch these wanted Pokémon and engage with the game further. As a result, Pokératti, those masses of players, are showing up at random locations, with phones in hand, and sometimes are even putting themselves at risk of being arrested for trespassing.

Interestingly, many churches are reportedly labeled as PokeGyms and, as a result, groups of young people are showing up at their doorsteps to play the game. Many church leaders, such as in the Church of England, are beginning to see this phenomenon as a positive development. While the Pokératti may not stick around for sermons, leaders see this move as “a good way to start a conversation that may lead on to other things,” as noted by the BBC.

The same Pokémon game, which once was thought to have driven people from religion, is now being considered a tool to potentially lead them back.

And churches aren’t the only institutions looking to take advantage of the PokeStop or PokeGym feature. Companies, organizations and event planners are using the built-in “lure” or the “incense” game actions to bring Pokémon to their locations in hopes of attracting visitors, customers or the like. The more Pokémon at the site, or the stronger and rarer the Pokémon, the more Pokératti show up.

The Wild Hunt’s own Cara Schulz, who is running for political office in her hometown of Burnsville, has teamed up with a local restaurant and is using the game’s lure feature to attract people to her campaign event. It is a clever marketing tool that creates a pickup community space, which could potentially “lead on to other things.”  As we move into Pagan Pride and fall festival season, this tool may be a marketing concept that organizers can employ to attract visitors to their own public events.

However, before a planner jumps on the band wagon, there is a downside. Do you want groups of gamers lingering on your doorstop? These players are typically more interested in catching Pokémon than the services being offered. This fact has caused problems worldwide where players create hazards for real shoppers or similar. The U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial, for example, was made a PokeStop and has been reportedly attracting groups of loud and disrespectful Pokératti.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told the Washington Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

As noted earlier, the PokeStops and PokeGyms are chosen by the company, and only recently has it opened up the option to suggest new locations. The system is not at all monetized, but the company has suggested that it may be in the future.

Another organization contending with Pokératti is the Westboro Baptist Church. The location was made a PokeGym, attracting battling trainers who are now allegedly vying for the right to control this particular gym in order to “troll the Church.” The church’s leaders responded with their own Pokémon-inspired message saying, “Pokémon Go and Sin No More.” One spokesperson told USA Today that they are using the “language that is understood.”

IMG_1275

Another one caught. [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Today the Pokémon franchise, which began as a simple video game, has now become a viable tool within a magical system, an exercise method, a community-building activity, a marketing strategy, and a political weapon. At the same time, the game is still inspiring the same backlash that it did in 1990s, including new conspiracy theories, angry sermons and fatwas.

Going back to the original question: what does Pokémon have to do with the occult? The easy response, as said earlier, is absolutely nothing.

But human culture never allows for that level of simplicity. Therefore, the actual answer is “a whole lot.”

Happy hunting.

Get ready for the seventh generation in November as a new wave of danger hits the market.

NEW YORK — WitchsFestUSA, an annual Pagan festival held in the heart of New York City, was attended this year by Christian protesters. The noisy group, who stood all day on the corner of Astor Place, held up large signs calling for repentance and angrily yelling at the passing crowd. Despite the protesters’ presence, the Pagan festival kept to its program and ended on a high note.

[Photo Credit: Emma Story / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Emma Story / Flickr]

Now in its fifth year, WitchsFestUSA describes itself as an outdoor, Pagan street faire. Its mission is to “bring the community of witches or pagans together in general and enjoy who we are as such, while at the same time raising funds for The NYC Wiccan Family Temple acquire our own space of worship.”

The festival was founded and is annually hosted by elder High Priestesses Starr RavenHawk and Luna Rojas. RavenHawk founded and now runs Wiccan Family Temple and the Academy of Pagan Studies, both located in New York City. In 2013, RavenHawk was featured in a Time Magazine about Witchcraft and its modern day practice. Rojas is also a high priestess and member of the Wiccan Family Temple. Additionally, Rojas is the founder of the New York City Pagan Council, a pagan civil rights organization.

RavenHawk and Rojas have been running WitchsFestUSA since 2011. The festival takes place in New York City’s Greenwich Village on Astor Place between Broadway & Lafayette Streets. The one-day Pagan event hosts a variety of workshops, rituals, performances, and vendors, all set up on Manhattan streets like a typical city street faire. This year’s guest presenters were many, including: Rev. Don Lewis, Lilith Dorsey, Christopher Penczak, Courtney Weber Hoover, Lady Rhea, Rhonda Choudry, Qumran Taj, and Lexa Rosean.

Starr Ravenhawk WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

Starr RavenHawk WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

The group of protesters, who numbered between 10 and 20 at any given time, arrived early and stayed all day. They set up on one corner of Astor Place, near the festival’s teaching tents. The group held up signs and yelled at the growing festival crowd. According to RavenHawk, this was the same group of people who protested Pagan Pride in 2015.

Witch and author Christopher Penczak told The Wild Hunt that the protesters appeared to be “some evangelical variety” of Christian, but he could not identify any specific denomination or church affiliation.

“I have never encountered such a belligerent group,” said Hannah, a member of the Temple of Witchcraft and a regular attendee at Pagan and other similar conventions. “One [protester] screamed in my face that I need to repent.” She said that, in her experience, most convention protesters are typically more passive. “These guys were seriously full of aggression and hate.”

While the group kept to its physical location on the street corner, its members were reportedly extremely loud and often shouted over the teachers trying to teach, which appeared to be their goal. In a blog post, author and priestess Courtney Weber Hoover wrote, “We delayed the beginning of our workshops as their ‘Repent, you guys! You’re all going to hell!’ rallies were too loud!”

Lexa Rosen, who was scheduled to teach in the tent directly beside the protesters, attempted to start a chant and a spiral dance to hush them,” as relayed by Wiccan High Priestess Dawn Marie. She said, “In the end we moved her tent over so she could do some of her workshop.”

As Penczak began to teach his workshop, he quickly realized that he couldn’t “speak without yelling to be heard.” He said, “Though naive, I thought: ‘has anyone asked them to be quieter in a polite way?’ Have we tried to just talk to them?’ So I tried.”

While other attendees had engaged with the protesters in theological debate, Penczak “had a more practical request in mind.” He simply wanted to ask them to lower their volume. As his story goes, he approached the woman leading the chants, who said, “Can’t you see I’m busy. I got a job to do. I’ve got no time to talk to you.” Penczak then “tried to explain that [he] also had a job to do and she was making it impossible.” She ignored him.

Penczak said, “I tried to talk to what I thought was her associate right next to her but the gentleman turned around, and his sign said ‘Will work for cigarettes,’ and he explained he wasn’t with her.” He said that he then returned to his “teach-yell” workshop.

Weber Hoover said the same: “I led my Tarot class with a chorus of shouts about Jesus and redemption off to my left.”

Weber Hoover teachers WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Weber Hoover teachers WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Priestess and author Lilith Dorsey experienced the same. She shared this story with us:

I was all set to give my Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism workshop when I realized I was about 10 feet away from a loud group of Christian protesters. My godson who had come with me asked if I was going to try to reason with them. My initial response was that I used to sing on Broadway and it would be possible to talk louder than them even at this close distance. So my understanding class gathered close and I proceeded to project a well-received and well-attended lecture despite the circumstances.

Dorsey added, “After my class was over I think there was a moment where I flashed some devil horns and stuck out my tongue.”

In talking about this unfortunate situation, Dorsey made it a point to express her “respect for Christians who practice what they preach.” This sentiment was echoed in Weber Hoover’s blog post. She wrote, “I won’t call [the protesters] Christians. I know too many wonderful Christians to lump them in with this crowd.”

However, Dorsey said that, in this particular situation, she felt “disturbed and disrespected.” She added, “I have sat on interfaith councils with Christians and people of all faiths. Fortunately I have never had to directly deal with such vitriol until now. It was extra disheartening to see many people of color protesting, which in light of recent events and the #blacklivesmatter movement makes me want to ask them don’t you have better things to shout at.”

Winifred Costello, a Traditional Witch and the proprietor of AwenTree, was visiting from her home in Western Massachusetts. She said, “I felt upset for the presenters, organizers and attendees that worked hard to put on the event. The protesters were yelling so intensely and with such anger, that I did could not hear the workshop presenter speaking and I did not feel comfortable sticking around.”

Dawn Marie echoed that sentiment, saying, “[The protesters] were really angry and aggressive, and I started to worry that it would get out of hand because of the recent shootings.” She had to shield herself, adding that she felt “rattled” and “inconvenienced.”

The New York City Police Department was on hand and watching the protest. RavenHawk noted that four officers remained near the protesters at all times to protect the attendees. Dana Marie said that “[The officers] were respectful and kept us protected while keeping an eye on the protesters and telling them to stop getting so loud.”

WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Attendees at WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

However, not everyone felt safe. As mentioned earlier, Costello left the festival because of the intensity of the protest. She said, “Due to recent events in the nation, I felt far more sensitive to, and disturbed by, the strong vibe of intolerance radiating from this group in particular. It is not that I haven’t encountered religious protesters before but given the reality of how intolerance is literally leading to folks being killed, I just had no stomach for the energy these protesters had. If they want to spread their beliefs I think there are more productive, kinder and tolerant methods than the actions they choose.”

She continued on to say, “The biggest take-away from this experience was that we need to keep advocating for positive, safe change, for acceptance of diversity in our country. The time of angry intolerance and fear-driven actions needs to shift towards a time of inclusion, acceptance and peaceful interactions.”

While many attendees simply ignored the protesters, others, like Penczak, did engage with them in some way. RavenHawk told The Wild Hunt, “I tried at first to reason with them that, this is our civil rights to be here and practice our religion, just like they do. To which they answered that it was their right as well to do their job and save us despite ourselves.”

On her blog, Weber Hoover describes her own action, in which she hugs two of the protesters and repeatedly says, “I love you.” Her chanting first elicited the same statement back. However, as she continued and got louder, the two protesters became fearful that she was casting a spell.

WitchsFestUSA 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber]

WitchsFestUSA 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber]

Weber Hoover said, “[A leader] held his hand up and started shouting an incantation, as though to strike the Devil out of me.”  She added, “I don’t know that my choice this time was the answer, but it was the right answer for me at that moment.”

Other actions included the drawing of pentacles, spirals and other magical images in chalk and salt on the ground at the protesters feet. Dawn Marie said “One gentleman had started smudging and charging the circle he had drawn as well as the other symbols around him. The whole thing was a barrier of peace.”

Dawn Marie was impressed with the attendees’ reactions to the situation. She added, “They didn’t blow the smoke at the protesters or disrespect the protesters as much as pray to the Gods for protection on the festival.”

In retrospect, RavenHawk said that the situation was “very offensive” and “traumatizing.” She said, now, “I literally cannot seem to want to hear anyone speak to me or near me about Jesus. I am so turned off by it right now, and never noticed or paid attention to it before.”

Despite that experience, attendees universally reported that RavenHawk handled the situation with grace and was “cool and calm” despite the unwanted guests and the continual disruptions.They said that she did her best, communicating with officers and being available to attendees, vendors and presenters.

By the end of the day, nothing that was done by the organizers or festival participants provoked the group to leave their corner. However, at the same time, nothing the protesters did ended the festival. Although presenter voices needed to be louder and some teaching events had to be relocated, WitchsFestUSA 2016 was considered successful, ending with a rousing closing ritual.

Final-ritual (1)

“Making lemonade” at WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

Dorsey said, “Overall it was only a minor distraction at an amazing event, run by some of the most competent and powerful people I know. ”

RavenHawk expressed her personal gratitude to everyone involved. In a public post, she wrote, “We sang songs of love and the Goddess, clapping our hands to our own beat… later on many drew sigils of pentagrams on the street before them.. witches took lemons and made lemonade. Refreshing.”

WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

The sixth annual WitchsFestUSA is already in the planning stages and will be held July 15, 2017 at the same location.

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — In his home studio in Belfast, artist Glyn Smyth spends his days designing album covers, gig posters and other similar commissions, while working on his own pieces in the off-time. He is a full-time, professional printmaker, illustrator and graphic design artist with a wide range of styles from textile patterns and art nouveau to print illustrations depicting a haunting realism. Despite this artistic range, there is one particular element that does bind all of his work together, and that something is found through his deep devotion to esoteric themes.

"Savage Mistress"

“Savage Mistress”

“Although I don’t align myself to any one school of thought or tradition, my interest in Witchcraft seems deeply rooted on an emotional level. I do feel that many artists — and not necessarily just those who identify with the esoteric or occult — regularly invoke similar forces to those experienced by magical practitioners. My gut feeling is that to a great extent, magical thinking and practice is something universal, even if it manifests in a myriad of forms,” Smyth explained in an email interview with The Wild Hunt.

He further said, “Ultimately, I have an aversion to the concept of ‘religion’ which I tend to view as a control mechanism, but feel that the ‘New Atheism’ of the last few years is essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water. We’re dismissing millennia of shared cultural experiences and interactions with what appears to be another form of intelligence. On its most basic level, Witchcraft — regardless of what form it takes — seems to be a proactive way of interacting with these intelligences and that interests me greatly.”

Both Smyth’s artistic endeavors and his interest in the occult began at a very early age. He said that he can’t recall a time when he was not fascinated by either. As a child, Smyth was an avid drawer, picking up techniques very naturally. But, then in his teens, he drifted away from art due to a “dissatisfaction with [his] own efforts.”

But Smyth eventually returned to his roots in 2006, when friends began asking for his help with promotional material for their metal bands. “Graphic design would definitely be the bridge by which I returned to making art,” he said. “In older punk and metal culture, collage art was definitely a predominant aesthetic. Before Photoshop, we had scissors and glue and these were my weapons of choice for many years. The highly charged, political work by anarchist bands like Crass and pioneers such as John Heartfield are very important influences to me in this regard.”

"Thanatos" Commission for NYC metal band Tombs

Commission for American metal band “Tombs”

He moved into printmaking, designing t-shirts and posters for his own band and others, eventually incorporating “illustrative” work. Smyth is now a full-time artist supporting his own studio. He said, “I’ve been freelance for over 10 years now, and whilst I still accept suitable commissions I am endeavouring to spend more of my time working on personal projects and printmaking from this point onwards. There is a distinct vision and aesthetic I have in mind for Stag & Serpent (my studio identity) and I’m keen to develop this more fully.”

Much of that identity is wrapped up in his personal interest in folklore and occult themes. He explained, “On one hand, it’s easy to say that subjects such as Witchcraft, mythology and other esoteric pursuits provide ample resources to draw from for visual art. This is undoubtedly true. But I am repeatedly drawn to similar types of imagery. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, other times I realise there’s certain motifs and symbols that keep appearing without much pre-planning. Essentially, I feel that by drawing from these myths and engaging in an act of creation with them, I am helping myself to understand them more thoroughly.”

Within Smyth’s body of work, occult imagery and esoteric symbols can reveal themselves as tiny fragments embedded within a larger collage illustration, or as overarching themes breathing through the entire composition. Some of his work is purely symbolic in nature, such as in No Help for the Mighty Ones, and at other times the expression comes through in full illustration, such as in the Gathering.

Smyth imagery is dark and at times haunting, but it is equally evocative and empowering.

GATHERING

“The Gathering”

As noted earlier, many of Smyth’s prints are commissions for use as promotional material, including posters and album covers. He said, “I’m a long time fan of underground bands and I feel that this respect for these genres crosses over into the work. I take it seriously. The world of ‘metal’ is very diverse with a myriad of subgenres and aesthetic conventions in play, but I always strive to bring a fresh approach whilst acknowledging what’s come before.”

Although the term “metal” does cover a wide variety of sub-genres, he said, generally speaking, metal “does indeed seem to have a natural home with these [occult] themes.” This is idea is similar to that expressed in Peter Berbergal’s book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. Bebergal discusses “the remarkable influence occult beliefs have had on culture.” (Introduction, p. 28).

Smyth said, “The solemn and often experimental nature of many of the bands I work for echo the sentiments of past art movements. I feel that much Black Metal is essentially a modern incarnation of Romanticism in its basic themes and overall aesthetic, for example.” These sentiments often live at the crossroads of myth, magic, religion, and artistic expression.

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM

Commission for metal band “Wolves in the Throne Room”

When designing an album cover, Smyth doesn’t always have the new music available for inspiration. In those cases, he said, “I listen to the band’s earlier work at the outset to get a general feel for it. But more so than the sound of the band, it’s the ideas they want represented I rely on as a guide. I usually try to find some visual symbolism inherent in the concept, do some reading and let it stew for a while.”

He added, “I try not to force it, or let myself get coerced into too strict an approach. Keeping things malleable until the late stages seems the key to success in my experience. I like getting a good conceptual starting point and then being allowed to see where that takes me as opposed to having the specific visuals mapped out.”

Smyth approaches his own art in the same conceptual and spiritual way, saying that simply “appropriating symbols” is not the aim. He explained, “I prefer to succumb to the idea itself, rather than try and force it as such. On a conscious level I focus primarily on composition and technique, but also like to leave room for the idea to breathe and ‘do its own thing’ as such […] With my own personal work I’m inclined to leave the process much more open to suggestion from external sources, synchronicities and the like.”

"Celestial"

“Celestial”

While commercial illustration can often confine his exploration and limit the depth of expression, Smyth has been spending more time with his own work in recent years. Before 2013, Smyth operated under the name Scrawled Design, a moniker that he felt he had outgrown as he increasingly began to explore his own work beyond the band commissions. On Samhain 2014, he launched Stag & Serpent.

“It was a conscious move to reframe my illustration work more in line with my own personal interests whilst placing renewed emphasis on the pure “design” aspects of my work,” he said. “I also saw this as an opportunity to set myself some personal rules regarding aesthetics and the type of projects I wished to be involved in.”

When asked if he had any one piece that was particularly powerful for him, he first said, “I try not to dwell too much on work once it’s done and keep moving forward.” But he then added, “On a personal level, I’m very happy with my ‘Gathering’ print [shown earlier] which I just released. I feel I achieved the atmosphere I was going for here…which is not always the case. Over the last while I’ve tried to express more nuance and even ambiguity in my work. It’s the mystery that endures, not so much the answer I guess.”

"Maiden, Mother, Crone" prints

“Maiden, Mother, Crone” prints

As for the meaning behind the studio’s name, Smyth said, “Stag & Serpent is essentially a title that acknowledges duality in nature. Solar and cthonic. The serpent on the cross. Male and female polarities. These positions are not necessarily fixed. There’s a certain gnostic quality to the thinking here. The name and symbol design came very much out of the blue and I’m content to let the meaning evolve with time.”

Although Smyth’s aesthetic, working style, and personal interests are strongly centered in occult expression, he hasn’t illustrated much specifically for occult projects. He said, “I have been approached by a few esoteric publishers on the possibility of illustrating specific magical texts. Obviously I find this interesting and is something I would certainly consider if the timing and material was right.” Some of his work will be in the Pillars Vol. I : Perichoresis, to be published by Anathema Publishing in late 2016.

"Our Flame Returned" Smith's newest illustration not yet printed.

“Our Flame Returned” Smyth’s newest illustration not yet printed.

Smyth added, “a Tarot deck is definitely something I would like to work on some day. I could see this being quite a few years further down the line however.” That idea is not at all far reaching when looking through his gallery at many of pieces.

Right now, he said that he has a backlog of personal projects to work on, including one called the Shadows of the Fort, an “open-ended project which may also find outlets in the form of small publications or books.” He also continues to take commissions to help sustain his studio and freelance business. And, he sells his limited edition prints over the Internet through his studio site.

Smyth described his work and this new direction “a calling.” He said, “The material is both poetic and challenging, and invites different approaches and interpretations. It also allows me to embark on work that is directly related to the land around me which feels important after years of working with overseas clients.”

More of Glyn Smyth’s work is on display at his gallery, Stag & Serpent. The site also includes journal entries, which offer a further looks into his influences, as well as a video displaying his printmaking techniques.

“In retrospect,” said Smyth “I now at last feel I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.”

NOTE: All images appearing in this article are the property of Glyn Smyth. They are copyright protected, and are not to be reproduced in any way without written permission from the artist. © 2016 Glyn Smyth. All Rights Reserved.

BALTIMORE — In a year’s time, our collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities are offered countless opportunities to come together in person in order to celebrate, educate, worship or just to connect. These eclectic and wide-spread events consist of everything from indoor weekend conferences, day-long symposiums, and seven-day camping festivals to picnics, concerts, and small community gatherings. Some of these events provide a space for a vast diversity of programming, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, Paganicon, or PantheaCon. Others are more focused in their theme, mission and service, such as Trothmoot, Merry Meet or HexFest. One of the newest such events, which was just announced in May, is the day-long gathering called Dawtas of the Moon.

13102776_1590795894545776_7938724097986206565_n

[Courtesy Image: Dawtas of the Moon]

“Dawtas of the Moon is a collective of seven women who have joined together to send out the call to all women of color who are witches, shamans, priestesses, oracles, diviners or healers to convene and uphold the indigenous ways of our foremothers,” explained the organizers in an email interview. (Click here for the full unedited interview.)

The Event Brite page reads, “The time has come to make sure our voices are heard. The time has come to step out of the back room. The time has come for us to connect, grow, learn, heal, and share our knowledge and sisterhood energy.”

The seven organizers are An L. Kenion, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann, Omitola Yejide Ogunsina, and the three women that make up Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. Kenion, also known as MoonLight Star, describes herself as a shaman and healer among other things. She said that she was born from “a long line of spiritual workers: seers, sages, medicine women, oracles, diviners, hoodoo practitioners.” Barmore describes herself as a “free spirit,” saying that she “greets the world with an open heart.” She is an ancestral-led healer and doula specializing in ritual practices. McKann is a holistic sensual healer whose mission is to bring women back in balance with their feminine energy.

Omi Yejide Ogunsina, known as Mama Omi, is listed on the event site as the primary organizer. She is a an “aborisha on the path to priesthood in the Ifa Spiritual tradition of the Yoruba people (Isese Agbaye).” Among her multitude of experiences and roles, Mama Omi describes herself as a “womb shaman, reiki master, meditation teacher, womb yoga instructor, psychic and medium.”

The final three organizers make up a group called “Magic Moja,” which is an “initiative created […] through the guidance of [their] ancestors.” Moja (pronounced Moy-ya) is Swahili for “one.” As the three women explain, “We are here to assist in the reawakening of the Divine Feminine in melanated women. By doing so this also helps to heal and uplift our melanated men to the Divine Masculine.” Magic Moja “wants [their] people to be balanced on an emotional, mental, social, physical and spiritual level through the restoration and practice of ancient African principles. We don’t want to just merely survive. In this world it is our birthright to thrive.”

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

The seven women came together to create the Dawtas of the Moon event after Mama Omi had a vision of a “Black Witches Convention” in a meditation. MoonLight Star said that, in this meditation, Mama Omi was “surrounded by generations of women, some she knew and others she didn’t. The only words  she heard was ‘It’s time!’ From there, she approached other sisters who are now working with her to plan the convention. They fell in love with the idea.”

That phrase, “it is time,” was repeated in the interview multiple times, as it is on the website. When asked what that means exactly and why “it is time,” Mama Omi said, “Each of us involved in this project have women coming to us who are ready to learn. We have more women of color who are moving away from traditional religion and want to heal mind, body, and spirit. More women are also coming out and boldly using the word Witch, Wise Woman, Shaman, Healer. Many women want to learn from other women of color.”

MoonLight Star said, “We are being guided by Gaia, Mama Earth however you want to call her. She is demanding the harmony to be returned to this planet. The energy shifting demands the respect of those who inhabit this earth to adhere to the Universal Laws which this planet is governed under. Everyone needs to hear the call, however women of color are the first mothers and hold the keys to ensure the harmony is being brought forth.”

Barmore agreed, but added, “The time was actually generations ago. I feel that the inter generational wounds are being healed and it is time to come together. It has been time. We’re late.”

In the interview, the women emphasized that the goal is to demonstrate that there is a sisterhood of like-minds and that “woman of color are not alone in their [spiritual] journey.”

MoonLight Star said, “When An and Omi do their weekly blog shows with Divine Wisdom Radio, [they] often hear our sisters speak on the fact that they don’t have other sisters in their area to connect with and they feel alone. By coming together, we hope to create a time for sisters to create lasting connections with sisters so they no longer have to feel alone.”

Like many practitioners of minority religions that have communities spread out around the country and even the globe, the organizers agree that social media has been very beneficial. However, they also said that “there is nothing like actually coming together and holding each other and being able to see someone’s eyes.” Dawtas of the Moon is an attempt to create that opportunity for a “coming together” in real time and real space.

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

The women are calling this coming together a ‘coven,’ which is a term typically reserved for small groups of Witches. We asked about the reason behind the use of the term. They said, “While the word coven may be generally applied to a small group, to Mama Omi it also implies a group that comes together as a community and even in some cases with a sense of family. […] Since we are focusing on sisterhood and those who embrace the term “Witch” it only seemed appropriate to use that word.”

Despite the focus on the word ‘Witch’, the event is not limited to practitioners of a specific type of Witchcraft or those who identify as such. The organizers said, “Some [attendees] will come from the African Traditional Religions such as Ifa, Akan, Kemetic, Vodun. Others will may not be part of those particular traditions and work with Hoodoo and other earth based religions.” They said that the purpose is simply to come together. Both the seasoned practitioner and the newbie are welcome.

When asked whether the event was conceived as a private event limited only to women of color, Mama Omi said, “Yes, the event does focus on women of color. This was intentional.”  She added, “We are not banning white women; it is a public facility. However, we do ask anyone who is not a person of color to understand that these are women who are Africans living in diaspora, indigenous Native Americans, and we identify as such.”

Mama Omi went on to explain, “There is not much out there for women of color to be able to come together in a safe space and discuss their spiritual journey especially when it is not connected to Christianity or Islam. Because women of color are not able to connect openly, it causes great distress, depression, loneliness, and a lack of sisterhood.

“All of the women involved are spiritual healers and some are womb healers. The one thing we constantly see are women who are not connected to their own feminine energy due to a variety of trauma. […] By bringing black women together, you are creating a community of shared experiences, healing, awareness, and sisterhood. While a lot of us have attended events with white women, there is still nothing like gathering with your sisters and feeling free to be yourself and hearing each other’s experiences and fully relating to them.”

Barmore added, “My upbringing was in the AME Church. When my spirit was calling for something more, it was my childhood friends of non-color that understood my need for more. As I have grown into accepting myself for who I am and what I do, I feel that I was able to heal because of the people in my community that looked like me, acted like me, understood what it is to be tossed aside by your family because of your Truths. Women of Color have very few safe and sacred spaces… there are now many sacred spaces for women, Native American women, etc… but very few for women of color.”

As for men, the organizers said that they are also welcome to attend, but they must also show respect for the event’s mission. The women added, “We hope that the men [who attend] gain an even deeper awareness of the value of the embodiment of the goddesses they have living in their home.”

13450779_1609795932645772_5620348670745085116_n

Dawtas of the Moon aims to give women of color a chance to gather with those of like mind and like experience, and to afford these women the freedom of voice. This idea was another underlying current in the interview. As they explained, not only do women of color, specifically Witches, have few chances to meet together, but they also have fewer opportunities to be heard beyond their own small circles. When asked what they might say if given a global microphone, here is what three of the women said:

Mama Omi: We are not sinners, we are not Satan worshipers. We are women who have chosen to return to our traditional indigenous way of life. We have chosen to honor the Divine Feminine and honor our connection to nature.

Barmore: It is time for you to listen to us, and to take heed. To my sisters, within you is everything that you have prayed for. You are your own manifestation. It is time to do the work.

MoonLight Star: The world needs to hear, feel and truly understand that we are present regardless of our battered history. We have been denied the right to be powerful due to lack of understanding and misplaced fear. We as women or color or indigenous women only want peace to be free.

Dawtas of the Moon is scheduled to take place Saturday, October 29 as many Witches and others are preparing for religious and cultural ancestral festivals, such as Samhain. When asked if this timing was happenstance or purposeful, MoonLight Star said, “The time seemed right. It was in alignment with so many things […] the new moon, Samhain, hallows eve, all souls day; it felt more than right to have a gathering of this magnitude.  We will being doing a lot of ancestral work to bring in harmony.”

They aren’t concerned that the holiday weekend will lower attendance. MoonLight Star said, “Within the community a lot are solitary. We have no coven or are informally practicing. This is a chance for all of us to come together and share in the energy and create new practices and rituals.”

Dawtas of the Moon is conceived as an annual event that will grow in size and give strength, support and connection to community year after year. The inaugural gathering will take place October 29 in Gwynn Oak, Maryland at the Wisdom Book Center. Current speakers include Iyalosa Osunyemi Akalatunde, Queen Mother Imakhu, and Iyanifa Alase Olori Oyadele. A luncheon will be catered by the Grind House Juice Bar and Market, a vegan restaurant in Baltimore. More presenters and workshop facilitators will be added over the coming months.

After all is said and done, Mama Omi would like attending women to take away this message: “Be you authentic self and be bold with it. ” Barmore added, “I would hope that my sisters understand that they are no longer alone. That I am here for the conversations, the rants, the healing, the loving and growth. To know that after the convention that we are family, and that I am here for you if and when you may need me. We are all that we need.” And MoonLight Star agreed, saying “They are being welcomed back to the beginning. We have always held space for them.”

  *    *   *

[Correction 6-29 11:34 am: The original article was adjusted from its original form to replace a three sentence summary of the statements of inclusion with the exact quotes as found in the original interview. We have also included the full unedited interview.]

TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

640px-Transgender_Pride_flag.svg
And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

46a057_409a6d70f6e444d6ba6574c128f36445
The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

facebook logo

Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

ResignationletterRB
In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

tumblr_o8mcm5Sjkz1s5uz29o1_400

“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

  *    *    *

* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

TWH – Today marks Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day to honor the many men and women who have died in military service. According to a news report on ABC, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans together state that at least “1.2 million people have died fighting for America during its wars dating back 241 years.” The VA has a breakdown of the losses per conflict since the American Revolution.

In a recent post, blogger John Beckett wrote, “Let us remember our warrior dead. Let us remember those who answered the call to do what had to be done and who sacrificed all they had. It is right and good to celebrate their courage and valor.”

[Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr]

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists have served and are serving in the U.S. miltiary, and still others are members of military families. Memorial Day has a special significance to them. Veteran and Wiccan Priest, Blake Kirk said,

Memorial Day isn’t about veterans like me, who got to come home and go on with their lives. No, Memorial Day is supposed to be all about the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who came home in caskets or in body bags. Or who never came home at all, like my father-in-law. They paid the highest possible price to defend this nation, and it trivializes their sacrifice not to make their one day a year just about them.

As with those in other religious groups, members of our collective communities have also given their lives in service, and because of the efforts of others, their sacrifices can be recognized and honored within military circles using the religious emblem of their choice, including the pentacle and Thor’s hammer.

[Photo Credit: John C. Hamer / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: John C. Hamer / Flickr]

The year marks the 9th anniversary of the victory of the Pentacle Quest. In 2007, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox wrote, “Working together, we, at last, have success in this quest – and in the greater quest for equal rights for Wiccans, Witches, and other Pagans in the United States of America and around the world.”

In 2013, when Thor’s hammer was approved by the department of Veterans Affairs, a number of Heathen groups released celebratory statements. The following words came from Hrafnar:

Today, Hrafnar stands with Heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

The group also said, “Today, Hrafnar […] stands with Heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have. Hail the fallen! Hail the Heathens!”

The modern military experience can be part of the modern Pagan, Heathen and polytheist experience. Those who are wounded and die in service to our country are not an anonymous “other” removed from our society and daily lives. They are us.

We honor our Pagan, Heathen and polytheist brothers and sisters who have fallen in the line of duty. As said by Hrafnar, “The death of one of us is a loss for us all.”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

In 2011, Solar Cross Temple’s T. Thorn Coyle wrote, “I have inadequate words for those who have died in this endless war humanity is waging upon itself and upon the earth and the other beings of the earth. All I can do is send out compassion in my meditation and my prayers today for those involved on any side…”

The New York Times published an article describing military photographer Andrew Lichtenstein’s journey to capture, or recapture, the meaning behind the Memorial Day holiday, which he felt “has been largely reduced to a day of sales, sleeping in, or go out.”  That article, titled When Every Day is Memorial Day, shares some of his experiences attending military funerals and memorial services.  At the end, Lichtenstein says, “I learned something from the families: The true cost of grief is beyond politics. It was important to realize an individual life had been lost and people were greatly affected. That loss is so much greater than agreeing or disagreeing with [the] war.”

Pagans and Heathens around the country will be observing this day in both private and public spaces. At Arlington National Cemetery, Circle Sanctuary Ministers Jeanet & David Ewing led the 7th Annual Visitation of Pentacle Markers at noon today. And Circle Sanctuary has also created a Facebook page titled Memorial Day Remembrances, inviting people to post remembrances of those loved ones who were killed in US military service.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen,” originally published in The Times, 1914

What is remembered, lives!

A new independent fiction film exploring Witchcraft has hit the festival circuit. Anna Biller‘s latest film The Love Witch is a colorful feast of pathological obsession, violence, narcissism, love and Witchcraft. Filmed in 35mm, the film contains a remarkable retro flair combined with a contemporary sensibility. Through the film, Biller explores both modern themes, such as the expression of female fantasy and non-traditional religious practice, along with age-old struggles involving gender politics and romantic love.

bluerobe20_2
In an interview, Biller told The Wild Hunt, “I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to make this film, but it initially came from getting interested in pulp novel covers and being struck by the images of witches on some of them.” Her research began while shooting publicity stills for the film VIVA. Biller said, “The first real eureka moment I remember was being in a pulp novel bookstore in San Francisco several years ago, and picking up a 1970s pulp novel called ‘For the Witch, a Stone.’ That novel sparked the beginnings of my script.”

The Love Witch tells the story of Elaine, a single woman and Witch, who lives in northern California. We meet her as she first moves into a new apartment within a classic Victorian home. The space is owned by a friend and Wiccan High Priestess named Barbara and was decorated to reflect a Witchcraft aesthetic.The film then follows Elaine through her negotiations of love, dating, friendship and ritual practice.

It sounds as if the film might be better described as a drama or maybe even a romantic comedy. However, it’s neither. This is horror film. Elaine is a sociopath, who moves through the extremes of desire devouring men, in hopes of finding true love. The film, in many ways, can be described as George Romero’s Hungry Wives (1972) meets Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. While neither work is a perfect comparison, The Love Witch fits somewhere between the two. Hungry Wives tells the story of a lost middle-age woman searching to regain her power, and ultimately finding it in Witchcraft. American Psycho tells the story of a violent sociopath who empowers himself through the extremes of a narcissistic and violent male fantasy.

Elaine, like Joan in Hungry Wives, is a victim of a male-dominated society. As demonstrated in a flashback voice over, Elaine’s father calls her stupid, crazy and “a fatty,” and her ex-husband complains about her cooking and the housekeeping. Like Joan, Elaine turns to Witchcraft to find her own power. She tells a police offer, “Witchcraft saved my life.”

Yet, at the same time, Elaine takes this self-empowerment tool to an obsessive extreme. Like American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, Elaine is a sociopath who functions through the realization of personal fantasy regardless of the outcome. The expression of that extreme becomes the basis of film’s theme and where it finds its horror.

lwitch

When discussing her use of horror, Biller said that she wanted to “use the genre to subvert the genre.” She explained, “When you market your film as horror it sets up certain expectations, and then through the course of the film you can subvert these expectations.”

Traditional horror films present women as the victims of male violence and aggression, the over-sexualized subject of the male gaze and the monstrous unknownable, which is often a witch. Biller says, “Elaine is not a monster, except insofar as she is selfish and narcissistic. She does not destroy out of some evil power, but because she is unstable and is the type of person who creates chaos around her. But she is fully human, and she is sympathetic because you can see why she’s turned out the way she has. So you don’t get the stereotype of an evil witch or an evil temptress.”

In addition, traditional American horror films, specifically those from the 1970s, conflate violence, Witchcraft, Satanism, occultism and voyeuristic displays of the female body. After 1968, there was a huge upswing in the number of these American exploitation films centering on Satanic witchcraft (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Necromancy, 1972). They were all created by men, many of whom gained notoriety making “nudies” or “sexploitation” films during the previous decade. To build their witchcraft scenes, these filmmakers relied heavily on newly published or newly available occult material by Anton le Vey, Paul Huson, Gerald Gardner, Raymond Buckland, Sybil Leek and others. They took what they needed in order to form a highly sensationalized product that fed a growing “counterculture” audience. While this particular sub-genre lost momentum by 1980, the expression of ritual Witchcraft practice has never fully emerged beyond that trope in mainstream American film.

While The Love Witch recalls those period films, in its retro styling and striking visuals. it actually subverts the genre, as Biller suggested, in a number of ways that are reflected in her presentation of Witchcraft. First, the male gaze, as defined by feminist film critic and theorist Laura Mulvy, doesn’t exist.The film’s display of nudity is not focused only on women’s bodies, but on both men and women equally. While the scenes are visually graphic, they are not exploitative. In the older horror witch films, it was typical for ritual or coven scenes to contain only naked, or partially naked, women (e.g., Blood Sabbath, 1972). There are rarely any men. In Biller’s film, both genders participate sky clad around the sabbat circle and both genders, fully clothed, serve as on-lookers in robes. There is a gender equality in the visual display of Witchcraft ritual.

All displays of female bodies in a true voyeuristic setting, such as in the dance club, are purposeful and part of Biller’s commentary as suggested by her framing choices. The camera doesn’t caress.

THE-LOVE-WITCH-premieres-images-pas-banales-pour-le-thriller-sexy-50800
In addition, the typical horror tropes used to define Witchcraft were completely absent. The ceremonial practice is not defined as demonic-based, evil, fantastical, or derived from an historical Salem mythos. In fact, part of Biller’s project was to present Paganism in a contemporary light. To make this possible, she began her research with books and films from prominent authors, including Janet Farrar, Amber K, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. She said, “Several people in the cast who played witches were practicing witches, and I talked with them about their practices. I also lurked on internet forums and read a lot of blogs and articles, and interviewed some of my friends who are witches.”

But her work took her even further into exploring Paganism, and she reached out to the community. Biller said that, while writing the script, she attended “a few rituals, classes and study groups […] and did some solitary practice.” She added, “I have always been an uncanny sort of person and slightly psychic.” She received her first Tarot deck, the Marseilles Tarot, as a child. And, she owns a copy of a rare edition of Crowley’s Magick Without Tears, which was originally given to her father as a gift. Biller said that, while she doesn’t identify as a Witch, she does “practice magic and the Tarot at home” and “believes in spiritual entities.”

Although the presentation of Witchcraft is contemporary and remarkably accurate in many of its details, there is also a stylized exaggeration to the entire presentation that makes the Pagan reality feel completely contrived. The ritual scenes look almost like cartoon versions of Wiccan ceremonies with bold washes of color and stylized set decor. Elaine’s potion making recalls a mad scientist rather than a witch, and the coven’s unexpected appearance as Renaissance Medieval players is almost laughable.

With that said, this is just how the film represents its entire universe – not just the practice of Witchcraft. Elaine herself is caricature – a life sculpted to conform to the unreality of a heterosexual male fantasy. “Give men what they want,” Elaine advises her friend Trish. The contrived nature of the film plays out consistently from the visual elements and dialog to the narrative and themes. The large blocks of vivid color, such as the red of her purse, the purple on the walls, the blue on her eyelids, give the film a dramatic and surreal look that reflects the bizarre extremes found in the main character’s inner world.

lwitch4
Biller said, “The design comes mostly from character symbolism. I tried to create Elaine’s character according to her self-fantasies, in which she is a sexy, 1960s-styled done-up burlesque pulp-novel cover witch who drives a cool car; the tea room is pink and Victorian as a way of pointing up Elaine’s personal fairy princess fantasies; the renaissance faire is styled liked Elaine’s wedding fantasies”  And that technique goes beyond Elaine’s development. Biller said, “The police station looks like the police stations in television shows in which absolute authority was suggested, enhancing the character of the lead cop, Griff.”

This technique is partly what gives The Love Witch its theatrical, or seemingly contrived, look and feel. Although it takes some getting use to as viewer, it does work for Biller’s thesis – most of the time.

As noted earlier, Biller’s recent interest in “pulp novel covers from the ‘60s” and the way they “depicted witches as fierce powerful, sexual women,” is what led to the making of The Love Witch. She said, “I wanted to use that imagery and combine that with the feelings of persecution I’ve felt as a woman, and all of the issues women have to face with self-presentation and sexual identity in a man’s world.”

Ths film does this with no apologies.

While The Love Witch is not a completely polished film, it is packed with meaning, embedded in its stunning visuals, the use of music, and the narrative presentation. The incredible attention to symbolic detail make The Love Witch a juicy film to watch. Film buffs will enjoy the visual texture that comes across in 35 mm, if seen it in that form, as well as the careful nods to old film constructions, including the resident “expert” on Witchcraft and the close-up framing on Elaine’s eyes. Biller even employs classic high pitch repetitive noise and music, similar to what is found in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), to signal danger and cue tension, such as in the scene in which she first meets Wayne.

Modern Witches and Pagans will also find this film fascinating, if only because it is unusual to see Pagan practice presented in a quasi-realistic, non-judgmental, contemporary fiction setting. Many details will be recognizable, including the five-fold kiss, spoken spells and prayers, sabbats, aesthetics, and the infamous Witch’s Bottle. Interestingly, Biller even captured a modern Pagan debate. High Priest Gahan recalls the “olden days” when his community wasn’t so “uptight.”  He says, “we hung Baphomet posters” and “made love freely.” According to Gahan, nobody cared whether you were a Witch, a Thelemite, a Druid a Satanist or a Wiccan.

Lwitch7
Biller’s film is a creative, aggressive and open commentary on life as a woman in modern society, both in body and heart, as well as a treatise on love as it exists between the genders. It is a horror film, not because of its use of Witchcraft, but rather because the narrative presents a uncomfortable expression of the extremes reached to fulfill a fantasy.  And the ending is unsettling.

Biller wrote in a press release, “My hope is that other women will identify with Elaine as I do: as a woman seeking love, who is driven mad by never really being loved for who she is, but only for the male fantasies she has been brainwashed to fulfill.”

Currently The Love Witch is being shown only in select festivals around the world. As it gets picked up, Biller updates the screening list on her site. Eventually, the film will go to video and will be available for streaming. That date is not yet available.

Due to be released next weekend, The Green Album is a collaborative work containing songs from 14 different Pagan musicians. The project was born in late 2014 and has been spearheaded by Tuatha Dea, a “Celtic, Tribal, Gypsy Rock Band” from Tennessee. Not only is The Green Album a collection of songs expressing an eclectic musical variety, but it also focuses on the preservation and stewardship of our ecosystem. Each song is devoted to the theme and 25 percent of the album’s profits will go to the nonprofit organization Rainforest Trust.

12499183_10205407447815569_2130602241_o-768x768

“Music is the Universal language. It crosses all barriers. As musicians we are often allowed a larger (or at least louder…lol) voice and we personally believe we do have a responsibility to address topics that affect us all. Not just the environmental ones, but any and all,” said Tuatha Dea’s Danny Mullikin in an interview with The Wild Hunt. “Music is known for touching peoples’ spirits.”

We caught up with Tuatha Dea while they were on the road headed for the Pagan Unity Festival. Mullikin explained that the idea for The Green Album came when Tuatha Dea was producing its third CD called The Tribe. The recording included a collaboration with a number of other Pagan musicians. Mullikin said, “We were more than a little blown away by their graciousness and willingness to step in and help selflessly create music with ‘the new kids.’ ” Tuatha Dea had only first formed in 2010, unlike many of the collaborators who have been around for decades.

After that powerful experience, Tuatha Dea felt that something bigger could be done, something that was “important” and. as Mullikin explained, “could give back to [the] community and the universe as a whole, not just in word and art but in action.” The group imagined this as a global effort.  And, the mounting concerns for the world’s ecosystem seemed the most logical choice for a focus. Mullikin said,”The idea of producing something so potentially important was admittedly a bit daunting but fortunately we knew the right universally conscious amazing folks to contact.” That is just what they did.

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea first reached out to Wendy Rule, S. J. Tucker and Murphey’s Midnight Rounders and, then, a few months later contacted Sharon Knight and Winter. The response was “immediate” and “overwhelmingly positive.” From there the project only grew.  Mullikin said, “We all began inviting other wonderful artists, including Ginger Doss, Bekah Kelso, Damh The Bard, Kellianna, Celia Farran, Mama Gina, Brian Henke, Spiral Dance and Spiral Rhythm; all of which graciously stepped in, stepped up and stepped beyond to create a musical message that would hopefully both draw attention to the circumstances of world that sustains us and Celebrates her nurturing majesty.”

Adrienne Piggott, lead singer and lyricist for the Australian band Spiral Dance, recalled, “[We were] on tour in the USA last Samhain, and we got a call from Danny Mullikin from Tuatha Dea asking us to come on board with the project. Danny was so excited about the project and his enthusiasm was infectious! Straight away we thought what a wonderful thing to do on so many levels.” The band discussed it and, as Piggott said, “It was just a no-brainer.” The group immediately began working on their musical contribution.

UK-based musician Damh the Bard also heard about the album through Tuatha Dea. He said, “There is a wonderful phenomena with Pagan musicians. In many other walks of life we would be seen as being in some kind of competition with each other, but the reality is that we all support each other. The words and music we write and sing about speaks to all of us. It’s what we believe in, so the idea of bringing all of that together on one album was too exciting a prospect to pass up.”

Kellianna, a singer and songwriter from Massachusetts, was first contacted by Wendy Rule. She said, “I loved the idea of a being involved in a collaborative project with our global pagan music tribe.  I was pleased with the idea of a portion of the proceeds going to a green charity, and I love nothing more than singing about our wondrous Earth!”

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album will not only fiscally benefit a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability efforts, but the songs themselves all reflect on our relationship with the earth and are performed in ways that are unique to each of the artists. Singer and songwriter Ginger Doss begins the album with a song titled “Gaea Lives,”  and Atlanta-based Spiral Rhythm ends the album with “Help it Grow.” And the twelve songs in between are no less environmentally-centered.

Florida-based singer Mama Gina said, “I had just written a very angry song about the Florida Bear ‘Harvest’ (Slaughter) last October, and had my guitar still in my hands wondering what I was going to do with this very angry song, since I don’t do angry often. My cellphone rang, and it was Brad from Murphey’s Midnight Rounders inviting me to participate in The Green Album. I said, ‘Brad, I think I just wrote that song!'” Mama Gina’s song, titled “Due North,” is number 9 on the album. Although the song’s recording has not yet been released, she has played it at a few recent live performances, during which she noticed that the audience “gets angry” and cries.

While Mama Gina‘s song was written just as the project began, most of the album’s songs were written specifically for the project. Cleveland-based musician Brian Henke said, “The song that I’ve written and recorded for The Green Album, “Queen of the Summer Stars,” is taken from the perspective of Mother Earth as a playful little girl from morning to night dancing barefoot under the Sun and then playing with fireflies and stars, keeping the World green for yet another day.” Henke’s song is number 10 on the album.

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

A few of the songs, like Henke’s, had a spiritual, mythological or religious component.  Spiral Dance, for example, weaves the story of the Green Man in its song “Spirit of the Green.” Piggott explained, “We like to think of the Green Man as the bridge between us and the land and if we listen closely enough we will hear his song of the earth reminding us of our relationship with our environment.”  Of her song “Gaea Lives,” Doss said, “It speaks of my love for this living planet and reminds us to be mindful of every step we take upon her.”

Some songs were created as celebrations of earth’s tangible and natural abundance, such as Sharon Knight and Winter’s “Blood for Gold” and Kelliana’s “Sing for the Day.” Kelliana said, “I did not write about the cause and effect of our actions on this Earth. I sang about the glory of the natural world that we are trying to protect.” She then added, “I believe that we as musicians are in a unique position in that we are able to reach a broad range of people with our messages. If we can positively influence just one person toward living an eco conscious lifestyle, then it is like ripples in a pond as they in turn influence someone else, and so on.”

Damn the Bard agreed, saying “Music is a universal language. It goes in through the ears and grabs us in our gut, then we sing along and declare the lyrics out into the universe. Music can reach people with songs, short 3-5 minute messages that are listened to over and over again. It really is a powerful way to get a message across. Just ask Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and John Denver.” His song, “How Can We Believe We Own it All,” directly addresses the environmental crisis facing humanity including issues of politics and war.

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

He was not alone in this focus. Many of the musicians chose to emphasize the politics, the problems or, what might be called, the human factor. For example, Celia offers the spirited “I Will Not.” Tuatha Dea presents the haunting song “Green,” and Mama Gina sings a soulful “Due North.” Other similar themes were included in the songs by Murphy’s Midnight Rounders’, S.J. Tucker, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, and Wendy Rule. But lines are blurred and each song layered with meaning, weaving in moments of celebration and moments of lamentation. Some even offers suggestions for change.

Doss said, “I have written many other songs about my love of the planet and its sacred nature. But this is the first project in which funds from the sale of a song are benefiting an environmental organization.”

Henke echoed her thoughts, saying “All of my instrumental music has been influenced by nature, many of the songs actually written while hiking. This is the first time I’ve been able to give financially to Mother Earth with my music though.”

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

The involved artists chose the nonprofit Rainforest Trust, to receive 25 percent of the album’s profits. Based in Virginia, the Rainforest Trust states its mission is to “protect threatened tropical forests and endangered wildlife by partnering with local and community organizations in and around the areas that are being threatened.” They do this by purchasing acres of endangered land and then “empowering the local people to help protect it by offering them education, training and employment.” Formed in 1988, Rainforest Trust reportedly has already purchased more than 11.5 million acres in over 20 countries.

Doss said, “Musicians (song writers) have always had a cultural voice like no other. They are capable of putting into words and music the deepest parts of our being and bring to light issues of grave importance in a way that crosses all boundaries and can touch the heart of all who hear.”

Mama Gina agreed, saying, “We do what we do best – make folks feel something, and take the opportunity, while folks hearts are cracked wide open, to educate (for me, that comes without prosletyzing).”

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album won’t be released until the opening of the Caldera Music Festival, which is being held over Memorial Day weekend in Lafayette, Georgia. Many of the performers will be sharing their songs live for the first time. On the Saturday evening of the festival, 12 of the 14 artists will be debuting their songs together on one stage. Mullikin said, “This will be a truly unbelievable moment as it is very likely this many of the albums artist may never be all together in one spot ever again.”

Outside of The Green Album, each of the artists that we spoke with have other projects in process. Tuatha Dea, Brian Henke, Mama Gina and Spiral Dance all said to look out for new albums in late 2016 or early 2017. Damh the Bard is working on a project that has been in the planning stages for 20 years. He described it as a “very deeply writing a spoken word/musical retelling of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a series of ancient myths that tell the stories of many of the Deities we revere. Rhiannon, Arawn, Aranrhod, Blodeuwedd, Pryderi and Lleu Llaw Gyffes to name just a few.”  Similarly, Kellianna started writing “what will be [her] seventh CD, all based on Norse Mythology.”

As for Doss, she said, “I will continue to travel and perform my spiritually centered music and do all I can to bring light to the world and her people.”

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album is a unique and powerful addition to the Pagan music world. Not only does it tie words to action giving directly back to its stated cause, but it also provides a sampling of the eclectic variety of sounds produced by a number of popular Pagan musicians from around the world. If you don’t like one song, go to the next. There is something for everyone on the album and, as such, it provides a way for those unfamiliar with Pagan music or with any one of these musicians to get a taste of their sound, their voices and their art.

The Green Album will be available beginning May 26 at the Caldera Music Festival, and through the album’s website and the individuals artists. The songs will not be available for purchase individually. Starting on the release day, the album’s website will contain some previews and the option to purchase the album. The collaborative group also maintains a Facebook page with project updates, along with links and music from the various artists.

Mullikin said, “Producing The Green Album has been an amazing experience! Rewarding beyond compare.” He added that the enthusiasm has been so high that there is the “potential for future projects and compilations incited by this first production effort.” He already has ideas, but added, ” I think we’ll give it a minute to bask in this one before jumping into the next but It’s safe to say this is hopefully only the beginning […] We are STOKED!!!”

11181851_1462453380.8327

Michael Wiggins, a pillar of the Michigan Pagan community, passed away on the morning of May 4, after suffering a sudden heart attack. Michael was not only the “face of ConVocation” and president of the Magickal Education Council,  but also a well-respected artist, dancer, entrepreneur, and visionary.

On June 13, 1965, Michael John Wiggins was born “Guilain Michael Palmateer” to Donald and Alyce Wiggins. He was baptized in a local Catholic church and later given a Wiccaning within his mother’s own coven. Family friend Sue Wert remembered him as being “a little and lovable kid, always sharing smiles and hugs.”

Michael grew up in Highland Park and Hazel Park, both suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Hazel Park High School, where he was introduced to theater, dance and marching band. This ignited a creative spark that never burned out.

After graduating in 1983, Michael went on to study music, performance, and theology at Finlandia University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1986, he earned his associate’s degree and went on to a long successful career in the arts. Sue Wert wrote, “My biggest memory was when you said this was your life and you would live it as you wished. You did just that.”

While still in school, Michael began working for Arthur Murray Dance Studios. He fell in love with dance and, as a result, it became the focus of his career. Since 2000, he was a principal dancer with the company Dance Thru History (The Madam Cadillac Dance Theater and The Detroit Renaissance Dancers). The troupe performs 16th-19th century French and English court dances at museums, schools and historical reenactments around the country. Over that time, Michael was also a choreographer and instructor.

In addition to dancing, Michael became increasingly active in Detroit’s Pagan community. He had grown up with Wicca due to his mother’s own practice and the community as a whole was not foreign to him. In 2013, wife Cindy Wiggins said that he had always kept up with his “involvement in the Pagan community […] in different facets: co-leading a private teaching group for friends and children of friends; attending ‘Meet Your Local Witch’ nights at the long-gone Lavender Moon Cafe.”

But Michael is most known for his involvement in ConVocation. He first joined the event’s security team in 1997. The following year, he volunteered to be the Magickal Education Council’s public relations officer. In 2000, he was named its president, a position that he held until 2014. In a tribute, M.E.C’s Board said, “As a board member and longest sitting president of the Magical Education Council [Michael] was afforded the opportunity to shape the development of a community he loved deeply.  It was an opportunity he made the most of. The institutions he helped to build will continue to inspire generations of seekers yet to come.”

In 2013, Michael was honored as Detroit’s Pagan of the Year, an award given to the “person or group that has done the most to influence events and who best serves as an advocate for the Pagans of Michigan.”

12806243_10207887461518400_5530992973585094417_n

[Courtesy Photo]

In addition to community service and a dedication to dance, Michael was also the creator of other artistic and theatrical ventures. He was the owner of the Phoenix Cafe art and music venue in Hazel Park.  And, he is the founder of the Steamtopia and Up in the Aether conventions. Just as Michael was instrumental in helping to strengthen the local Pagan community, he was also instrumental in bringing together Detroit’s steampunk community. In a Facebook post, Guy Cox explained, “After the first World Steam Expo, [Michael and DJ Tom Downey] started holding monthly dance parties at the Phoenix in Hazel Park. It was these events that brought all of the unique individuals in the Detroit area together. These events lasted several years and the people from there (myself included) helped support and encourage the creation of Capitol Steam and other Michigan steampunk groups. Without Michael, there is a good chance none of us would know each other.”

Of himself, Michael said that he was always interested in and involved in community and human interaction. He wrote, “With Detroit’s economy being where it is, there is a special value to the many community centers and creative collectives […] that have sprung up […] As money has run out, society has been more able to refocus its attention on something that it can’t always buy in the first place: connection. Connection to ourselves and to others is the substance of life, the deepest measure of success that especially reveals itself when the material measures, such as money and possessions, either run dry or lose their luster.”  Through his work, Michael attempted to create these bonds, and to “help refocus our potential for connection in all its forms.”

It was announced May 4 that Michael had unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving many people throughout the Detroit area shocked at the sudden loss of a respected leader, teacher, dancer, friend and family member. The M.E.C. Board wrote:

It is an impossible task to encapsulate the entirety of a life in a few sentences, especially if lived well. To attempt to do so with the life of Michael Wiggins would be an exercise in futility. The man we know was a loving father and husband, stalwart friend, artist, dancer, singer, motivational speaker and a dedicated leader of our community. His works speak volumes about the degree of change he inspired in everyone who knew him. […] Losing him is something none of us will recover from quickly and so we mourn his passing while we honor his motto “The Show Must Go On.” He is and will continue to be missed.

In a blog post, Detroit native Kenya Coviak said, “Michael was a truly beautiful soul. A witty conversationalist, one evening, I had the privilege of hearing a little about his story as a young boy growing up in ’60s Detroit. You never knew what insight you would get, but it was always something thoughtful and surprising. His wisdom helped shape a vision of what greatness and beauty that can be ours if we grasp it. It sustains those of us who knew him.”

Oberon Osiris, another longtime member of Michigan’s Pagan community, said, “Michael came to the community during a time of great change and brought cohesion, stability, humor and common sense to it. He was the face of Convocation for years and always ready and there for anyone.”

Michael’s cousin and a fellow MEC Board member Claudine Durham started a GoFundMe campaign at the request of both the Pagan and steampunk communities. All raised funds will be used to offset the expenses associated with Michael’s memorial and funeral services. Durham wrote, “Michael was a pillar in the community and was loved by many and respected by all. Even though this is a great shock and loss I know from the amount of requests already in the early hours that we need to help in any way we can. […] We ask that you keep the family in your thoughts and hearts and remember that with each person Michael touched, a part of him lives on in our stories and memories.”

To date, the fund has raised $7,191 with a goal of $10,000, a figure that’s been changed twice already after donors met and exceeded the first two goals. This outpouring of support speaks to Michael’s reputation within the various communities that he has served. In a note attached to its donation, Michigan Pagan Fest said, “Remember him with smiles and laughter for that’s the way he’ll remember you.”

Michael Wiggins lived a life out loud, dancing and creating in ways that he loved. He shared that vibrant spirit with all those around him, through his own art, his teachings, and his unique ability to make creative connections and bring people together. As he told Sue Wert many years ago, this was his life, and he would live it as he wished. And the Detroit community and all of those people he has touched are better for it.

What is remembered, lives.

When David Bowie died in January, there was a mass outpouring of emotion. Fans around the world shared memories, re-watched his movies, and listened to their favorite Bowie songs. The international media machine dug up stories about his life and influence. Bowie was, and still is, an icon representing a form of transgressive pop culture. Through that work, he pushed boundaries into the fantastic and was fully embraced for his oddity. In January, The Hollywood Reporter called him a “genre- and gender-bending British music icon whose persistent innovations and personal reinventions transformed him into a larger-than-life rock star.”

Three months later when Prince died, there was a similar collective outpouring of emotion. Once again, fans shared memories, cried, held vigils and shared their favorite songs. Cities and monuments were bathed in purple light; The New Yorker released an issue with a cover image of rain drops dripping down an all-purple background. Like Bowie, Prince challenged social boundaries, becoming an icon of transgressive pop culture, and he was also embraced for this oddity. In April, The New York Times wrote, “[…] his catalog of songs addressed social issues and delved into mysticism and science fiction. [Prince] made himself a unifier of dualities – racial, sexual, musical, cultural – teasing them in songs like ‘Controversy’ and transcending them in his career.”

For most people the two celebrities were only known through their work and fame. When each of them died, fans were essentially mourning someone they had never met. This single human being, who was neither in their immediate family nor in their larger circle of friends, was held in deep regard. After watching this tremendous public reaction, I began to wonder why and how people can mourn a perfect stranger with such a depth of feeling from a point of real truth. How is that possible?

I believe the answer is in the music.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Shortly after Prince died, a friend relayed a story to me about how the film Purple Rain was playing repeatedly on the television system in the hospital where her ailing mother had been admitted. Over a period of days, she sat by her mother’s bedside repeatedly watching this movie. Many years later, after hearing the news of Prince’s untimely death, deep emotions stirred within her. The song Purple Rain evoked powerful memories of her mother – both of the many joyful times and the difficulties in an untimely death that happened not long after that very hospital stay.

For my friend and others, the song Purple Rain had become an unbreakable thread that tied the past to the present. And that scenario is not uncommon. Music does just that. It can touch us in places of deep privacy where nobody else can go, and remain there as an indestructible bond, a seductive path, and a powerful trigger. Music can move us into experience, not unlike meditation, trance work and magic.

And, through that emotional constant, we can develop deeply felt connections to the creator of the source. We feel personally connected to Prince or Bowie or whomever.  Music creates a sacred internal bond and, in doing so, it turns its creator into a friend and confidant, a lover, a teacher, or a even a god. Someone who really knows us.

” Flames – they licked the walls. Tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore” – Bastille

Growing up, I was surrounded by music. Some of my oldest memories are of my neighbor playing piano as his daughter and I danced to silly songs. “Put your right foot in and right foot out,” we would sing. I eventually was enveloped by music, through piano lessons, chorus, dance and musical theater. Music was everywhere I was and it still is. Every day begins with an overture, and every person has a theme song. I look for rhythm in my writing and in my magic.

Whether or not you live to the beat of music so obsessively as I do, music has been scientifically proven to have many positive effects on the brain. It can create pathways into places we might not readily be able to easily access ourselves, such as past memories, inner drives, and difficult community connections. These are three examples of  the way music works its magic.

“Once upon a time, once when you were mine; I remember skies, reflected in your eyes” – Moody Blues

First, music acts as a time machine. It creates powerful, lasting memory connections that can “transport us” to another time and place. According to scientists, music impacts what is called implicit memory, or the type that is tied to emotion and absorbed outside of direct consciousness. It is described as being “robust,” unlike conscious, or “explicit,” memory, which can be more fleeting and easily damaged. Diseases like Alzheimer’s or accidents affecting the brain can limit access to explicit memory, but not affect the more robust implicit memory, which includes music memory. Therefore therapy using sound can be very effective in reawakening lost memories in many patients.

Because of its ability to trigger memory through emotion, music has been used as a therapeutic tool, mnemonic device, calming activity, mood changer, and also a magical time machine returning us to times long gone.

When my grandmother died, I asked my grandfather to write down the story of his childhood. I didn’t know much about his early life growing up as an immigrant in Chicago, and I didn’t want to lose that part of our family history. He agreed, and after two weeks, he sent me a five-page handwritten essay, not about his childhood but about his life with my grandmother. He had probably never wrote anything in his life. But he wrote this – a cathartic tribute to the woman with whom he had spent his entire life.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

My grandfather opened is story with, “The organ played ‘Because You’re Mine,” just one of the many songs which became a part of their lives. “Only You,” “You Belong to My Heart,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Didn’t We.” In the myriad of songs and lyrics encountered over the years, there was always constant reminder of the commitment.” Alongside each handwritten paragraph, he had scratched in the margins the name of a song. Listening to the songs as I read his story helped to transport me deeper into his memories, which began in Depression-era Chicago and went through his family life in Santa Monica to retirement in Carson City.

This is part of its magic. It transports you, if you let it.

Music attaches itself to our experience and remains dormant there until we hear the song again. Then, it acts like a trigger, taking us back in time.  And, frankly, sometimes you have no choice. As noted earlier, it affects our implicit memory; it seeps into our brains often without us consciously knowing. Ever start singing a song that you don’t like? I spent many years going to sleep listening to Air Supply. The walls of my parents’ apartment were thin and my neighbor was a big fan.  To this day, I know the lyrics to “I’m all out of love.”

Even when the song is not attached to a memory, music can reach deep into our souls, opening up doorways of perception that allow us to relax into ourselves. In magical circles, chanting and other sound-based rituals often help open the senses for deeper workings. But this type of connection is not relegated to spiritual work. For example, primary school teachers will use calming music in the class to settle young students and create a more effective learning environment.

This illustrates the second way in which music works its magic. Through our emotional connection to music, we can derive personal empowerment and the expression of our own deepest longings, thoughts, pains, struggles and ideas.  Artists with a musical gift help us to tap our inner world. The songs in my grandfather’s story helped illustrate his emotions better than his own written words.

“Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words” – Roberta Flack

Music reminds; it informs; it empowers. It makes us want to act and sometimes it even explains why. Music is magical in the way it dances through our lives, enticing us to join along. In doing so, it asks us to not be afraid of what it is, who we are, and what it evokes within our spirit. Just as music triggers memories, it triggers creativity. Just as it can transport us back in time; it can transport us to places of personal secrecy. Music can make us cry when we can’t, and dance when we are too tired.

“And now we got a revolution, Cause i see the face of things to come” – Nina Simone

Music can also help with magic. The very first magical working that I did was long before I ever picked up a Witchcraft book. This was long before I knew another Pagan. I was a secular atheist with no interest in religion, but I knew about magic, and I knew it worked. How? Because as long as I could remember, I felt the magic in the music. From a very young age, it transported me through its sound, and I was lost in its beauty. Therefore, it was a natural progression go from music being magic, to magic being music.

For that very first working, which I did as a preteen, I used the music of Madonna, which brings me to my next point. Whether music is rock, pop, classical, folk, alternative, punk, mystical or Pagan, it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s comprised of drum beats, flutes or an entire orchestra, it doesn’t matter. Rhythm, sound, instruments, vibrations, voices and words…. If in any combination, the resulting product opens a doorway into your personal being-ness, then it can serve the purpose and be your magic carpet into the past or an altered magical state.

“I sing the Body Electric. I glory in the glow rebirth, creating my own tomorrow, when I shall embody the Earth.” – Fame

Now to return to the original question of why we mourn pop music icons, such as David Bowie or Prince, we must look to the ways in which music affects our lives. These two artists, like many others, are the ones who, in essence, wove that “magic carpet.” They are the ones who were able to create the experience of music, which in turn allowed us to connect to ourselves, to our past, to our history, to our ancestors, to our gods, and to our magic.

A Psychology Today article accounts for the mourning saying that “When artists with decades-long careers like Bowie, [Whitney] Houston, or Michael Jackson die, they take a little piece of our pasts with them.” This applies to non-musical artists as well, such as Robin Williams or Alan Rickman. If a deep part of them can touch a deep part of us, we mourn their deaths just as we would our intimate friends, family and lovers.

In that same article, the writer also points to the third way in which music works magic. It bonds us together through a language that transcends the spoken word, even when there are lyrics. Music can unite us in a sort of social harmony, unlike anything else, because it does so through our sense of universal humanity. Psychology Today writes, “Discovering a shared fondness for a particular film or song brings us closer to others, because our cultural tastes often reflect our values and worldviews.” And when the artist dies we find ourselves in a “collective mourning [that] reminds us that we’re part of a [something] and helps us to celebrate the cultural touchstones that define us.”

Both David Bowie and Prince will live on through their music and their art. Their sound will continue to transport us, empower us, and connect us to others worldwide. Their music will continue to work its magic.  As we say, what is remembered, lives.

That is the magic of music.