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A Blessed Lughnasadh

Heather Greene —  July 31, 2015 — 1 Comment

This weekend, many modern Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, Lughnassa, and Harvest Home. Typically celebrated on August 1, Lughnasadh is one of the yearly fire festivals and marks the first of three harvest celebrations. It traditionally honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu.

In addition, the weekend brings the Asatru festival of first fruits called Freyfaxi. Both celebrations are celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits and grains of the season.

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]”

Tonight, Lammas Eve 2015, will bring the rare Blue Moon, or the second full moon in the month of July. According to sources, the last Blue Moon was in August 2012.

Here are a few quotes about the harvest celebration:

This is the traditional wheat harvest of England! Referenced several times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, its name comes from the word Hlaefmaest, which means literally the “loaf-feast” … Celebrating this holiday would traditionally involve wheat and the products of wheat: flour and bread! Baking and offering bread or cakes to your Gods, spirits, and community is a fantastic way to get in the spirit of the holiday. – Molly Khan, “Heathen Ways to Celebrate Fall”

Harvest festivals have a long history in a huge variety of cultures. Having enough food is a good thing to celebrate, and it’s downright fun. Having enough to get through the next season and be able to make both beer and bread is even better, and definitely deserves a party. But in this day and age few of us harvest any kind of food with our own hands, and although gardens are growing in popularity, only a tiny proportion of us harvest the kind of bounty that provides security through the cold months. I think one result is that we tend to focus on the mystical meanings of bread and life while ignoring the seemingly mundane but fundamentally necessary part of the harvest: work. – Literata, “Lunasa – Sacred Work”

Lughnasadh is the first of the three harvest festivals. It’s the grain harvest, which led to the name Lammas – “loaf mass.” But before we can bake the loaf, the grain must be cut down … We live only because we consume other life – everything we eat was alive only a short time before we eat it. This is what every animal on the Earth does.  Some eat plants, some eat other animals, some eat both. All of Nature is sacred. But sacred or not, life feeds on life. Sacrifice is necessary. No matter what we offer to the Gods, our ceremonial sacrifices stand as a reminder that real, tangible sacrifices are necessary. Something has to die so we can eat.  – John Beckett, “Lammas Night”

The exchange of energy is an underlying principle of magick; another is as above so below. We honor the invisible realm of the Gods and in the material realm we sacrifice something by giving to others or to the planet. Thus is the sacrifice of Lammas made. – Vivianne Crowley, “Lammas, Season of Sacrifice”

The ancient Irish Festival of the First Harvest [is] a remembrance of a time when people lived their lives in preparation for that first harvest. This holy day must seem like a relic, in a time when every crop is available, year round, in the local grocery, and the land has become this thing we live on but never speak to.

We need a better harvest. We need a generation of people who will listen to the voices in the earth. We need to discover our purpose in the land. I need to discover its purpose in me. – Shaun Paul, “First Harvest”

Happy Lughnasadh to all those celebrating this season.  And, to all of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, a very very Happy Imbolc.

Yes it is true. Instagram, the photo sharing social media site, has banned the searchable hashtag #goddess. As could have been predicted, there is now a growing, worldwide backlash against the move. The new rallying tag is #BringBacktheGoddess.

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In mid July, Instagram, a Facebook Inc. company, decided to ban the term #goddess to help curb policy violations. Although Instagram did not respond to The Wild Hunt, a spokesperson did tell ABC News:

In this case, #goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. We’ve taken similar action on dozens of hashtags because they were being used to share inappropriate content.

The spokesperson is referencing its recent ban on #curvy, #eggplant, #boobs, #scandalous and more. According to Instagram, these hashtags are disproportionately used to post pornography or photos that violate its nudity policy; a policy that in and of itself has elicited controversy.

The #curvy ban was the most recent and, after generating significant protests, the term was reinstated. In the meantime, hashtag activists took to their computers, switching to the term #curvee and posting body-positive images of themselves. The social media site was accused of censoring images of women’s bodies that did not fit an unrealistic media ideal. As with the explanation to the goddess ban, an Instragram spokesperson explained, “The tag was being used to share pornography, which is strictly forbidden on the site.”  #Curvy is now searchable again.

Instagram’s hashtag bans are nothing more than the site’s attempt to negotiate the fine line between freedom of expression and maintaining “common decency” within a public media forum. This dance is nothing new. Prior to 1930, the Film Industry was struggling with the exact same issue, with no industry standards in place. Facets of society were breathing down its neck for censorship of what was seen as sensationalism, gratuitous nudity and violence. Censorship arrived in the way of the Production Code and, then in 1968, gave way to the rating system, which we know today. TV, Magazines, Books and Video Games have also gone through a similar negotiation at one point or another. It is the difficult struggle to define the social standards of decency within a dynamic, diverse, and changing culture.

What is appropriate and when, within the public entertainment and media forum?

In the internet world, the problem becomes more complicated. There are nearly no limits or barriers to production of media, with millions of people online, from all around the world living within different cultural expectations and standards of social decency. At the same time, decisions and actions are instanteous, wide-sweeping and happening in real time.

Banning hashtags, like “goddess” or “curvy,” may help in one area, but only create instant collateral damage for others.

While there are those that do acknowledge that Instagram’s attempts are noble, there is still incongruity in its efforts. Linda Steiner, PhD, a University of Maryland, College Park media studies professor, told ThinkProgress, “I’m impressed with the attempts of Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter to try to come to grips with the problem rather than ignoring it altogether.” However, she goes on to say that the enforcement and methodologies used are inconsistent and problematic. Steiner said:

Instagram’s policy is not only weirdly enforced, I think they’re trying to have a simple policy that makes it easy for them …. Women are really bothered by the predatory invasion of their bodies … That includes posts of their body parts without their permission and the banning their own images because they don’t conform to an ideal physique.

As Steiner suggests, many of these bans, and related deleted photos, directly involve the display of female bodies and women’s sexuality. And, that has been the crux of the problem. While Instagram is trying to protect women and curb violations against women’s bodies, it is also censoring women and their positive expressions of female sexuality, spirituality, agency and body-positive imagery.

In a letter to Instagram published at Huffington Post, writer Christina Gutierrez writes, “I spend my life working with women who have experienced trauma and abuse of all kinds. I fuse modern therapy with ancient wisdom. This is how they heal. This is how we come to peace with the chaos of everyday life … The ancient wisdom texts that I work from are the stories of the GODDESS.”

Pagans and Heathens have joined the protests. Author and teacher Erick DuPree wrote:

This is not about Goddess, She doesn’t need a hashtag. This is about the sovereignty of women and their right to autonomy to hashtag something‪ #‎goddess‬ which for centuries has represented the divine feminine in many forms. That right to self expression and identity which might seem trivial has now been taken away. That is ‪#‎oppressive‬ and what it means to perpetuate‪ #‎rapeculture‬ ‪#‎patriarchy‬ and ‪#‎power‬. This isn’t about a ‪#‎hashtag‬ it’s about self determination and that is a sacred rite!

Priestess and teacher Crystal Starshine simply asked “why” and publicly shared a photo of herself and “other wild sisters at the Alternative Wombyn Retreats in Utah.”

crystal starshine

[Courtesy Crystal Starshine]

Some Pagans believe the ban is basic religious discrimination. In her Huffington Post article, Gutierrez asks, “How would the Christians and Catholics feel if their hashtag #GOD was taken away? Would the Instagram team even think to do that?” Others are pointing out that the Goddess plays a sacred role in many world religious traditions. The term is used throughout the world in many positive ways, beyond what is listed even here.

Since the ban was discovered, images of world Goddesses have been appearing all over social media in protest. And, with the new hashtag #bringbackthegoddess, women are posting images of themselves. Even on Instagram’s own site, the hashtag is being used in association with such images, as well as many others that depict female empowerment. It is now a rally cry.

#BringBacktheGoddess

Instagram’s spokeperson told The Daily Dot. “We’re also working on ways to better communicate our policies around hashtags.” The company suggested to ABC that it is always reevaluating banned hashtags. Just as it restored #curvy, it may restore #goddess. However, these decision on how to regulate decency within media, and ultimately how it is defined, are often left solely to a corporation, and are based on internal policies, the convictions of its owners, and ultimately, what it thinks will support and drive business.

[Posted on Instagram by Starsignstyle]

[Posted on Instagram with #bringbackthegoddess by Starsignstyle]

In recent months, it has been suggested that Instagram has, at times, shown a concern for the greater good. This summer, they banned #SandraBland for 24 hours and #CaitlynJenner during the Espy Awards. Instagram explained that it was receiving a disproportionate amount of hate posts using the tags during that period of time. Both tags were reinstated after the period was over. There is still debate on whether the bans themselves ultimately achieved any goal or had a positive affect.

What will happen to #goddess is still unknown at this point? However, the protests are on. Regardless of the outcome, the entire situation does bring to the forefront an important conversation about the depiction and presentation of the female body in public entertainment and media space. It presents the opportunity to question and discuss where these lines are drawn and why; what is acceptable and what is not. What photos are oppressive, which are a violations and which are a empowering celebrations.

RobertRudachukHeathen Robert Rudachyk has announced his candidacy for Canada’s Liberal Party of Saskatchewon. Rudachyk ran in 2014 and, in an interview with The Wild Hunt, talked about his goals and his work as an openly Heathen candidate.

He said,If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.”

This year, Rudachyk is running “to be elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly ( MLA) for this seat or district as you might call it. It is for the provincial government of Saskatchewan It is essentially the provincial parliament.” The campaign was just announced, and we will have more from Rudachyk in the weeks to come. The election itself will be held in April 2016.

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Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

(Photo: T. Mierzwicki)

On July 17, Professor Sabina Magliocco created a new survey for an independent study on fairy legends in the Pagan community. Magliocco is a professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge. Her online survey was titled “Fairies in Contemporary Paganism.” She wrote, “I’m interested in your legends, experiences and beliefs surrounding the fairies, fae, sidhe, Fair Folk, pixies, trolls, and similar creatures from any cultural tradition. What are they? Do you work with them in your spiritual practice? What is their role in the world today?”

Within one week, Prof. Magliocco received over 500 responses, far exceeding the allowances of the technology used. She announced the survey’s closing and began compiling the data. Although the work has only begun, she offered this quick assessment: “a majority of respondents believe fairies are real and associate them with the natural world. Nonetheless, fairies are not central to the majority of respondents’ religious practice — but a substantial number of respondents do interact with them, mostly by making offerings.” The full results will be presented at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, held in Claremont, California in January 23-24, 2016

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Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Coming up this weekend is the brand new conference, Many Gods West. As noted on the event website, it is “meant to be a celebration of [many] traditions, those newly-reconstructed and those continuously-practiced. There are many gods in the world, and many peoples worshiping them.”

Held at The Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington, Many Gods West will feature three days of workshops, lectures, rituals and more. The keynote address will be delivered by Priest and Author Morpheus Ravenna on Friday at 7:00pm. Rituals include the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον)’s “Filled with Frenzy,” Coru Cathubodua’s “Devotional to Cathobodua,” and Viducus Brigantici, Filius’ “Kalends Ritual” and more. Many Gods West opens for the very first time on Friday, July 31 and runs to Sunday, Aug 2.

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HUAR Logo

Over the past few months, there have been some changes to the group Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR). According to various sources, the group experienced internal conflict in June, which led to a split between the various moderators, organizers and facilitators. The disagreements were centered around internal operations and structure.

HUAR is currently still in operation and slowly re-building. In a recent post, The HUAR Team wrote, “We have undergone some recent internal reorganization to be more effective in accomplishing our goals of opposing racism and co-optation of Heathenry by racialist groups and organizations. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons from the mistakes of the past few years and are working to be more effective now and going forward.” *

In addition, a new group has formed called Heathens For Social Justice (HFSJ), which was created after the June events. HFSJ is run by nine democratically-elected board members. They describe the group as a “safe space” and as being “committed to fighting all oppressions, wherever [they] find them, in service to both [the] heathen community and [their] local, regional and national communities.” Organizers added, “We are about action, not platitudes.”

While the two groups do have some crossover in purpose and goals, their focuses do appear to be slightly different. We will continue to report on both groups as they continue or begin their advocacy and work.

In Other News

  • The Sacred Harvest Festival is about to kick-off its eighteenth year at its brand new location in Northern Minnesota. The festival will be held at Atchingtan in Finlayson,MN, which is 90 minutes north of St. Paul. As always, the scheduled is packed with rituals, drumming, workshops and other events. The guest speaker will be Shaman Joy Wedmedyk. PNC-Minnesota has recently published an interview with Wedmedyk, in which she says, “I want the people who attend to know the reason I teach is because I want people to have as much information as possible to be able to move forward spiritually and to know prosperity and abundance in all levels of their life. I love to encourage people to develop their own skill set, and perhaps offer them a different perspective about a practice they may already be doing.” Sacred Harvest Festival begins on Monday, August 3 and runs through Aug. 9.
  • Mills College Student and co-founder of the Pagan Alliance Kristen Oliver has been selected as a Chapel Programs Assistant. Oliver said, “I will be working for the interim Multifaith Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL). I will be doing things like managing SRL’s Facebook page, helping to organize and lead activities and events like the school’s multifaith Festival of Light and Dark which happens in December, and being available to students who have spiritual/religious queries.” Oliver added that she “continues to be impressed” by the school’s support of the Pagan Alliance and Pagan students.
  • As we reported last week, Starhawk has ventured into self-publishing for The City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. To accomplish this task, she will be opening a Kick Starter Campaign to pay for various aspects of the process. The campaign will begin on July 31, as suggested by Starhawk’s favorite astrologer. As she writes, “It’s also the eve of Lammas or Lughnasad, August 1, one of the eight great festivals of the Celtic and Pagan year.” 
  • EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen was invited to sit on a panel called the “Indigenous Leadership Talk Issues and Innovation” at the Nexus Global Youth Summit, held at The United Nations. The other panel participants included “Abhayam Kalu Ugwuomo, Chief Kalu Ugwuomo, Tonatiuh Cervantes, Aina Olomo, Ricardo Cervantes, Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk.”
[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

  • Ivo Dominguez, Jr will be hosting a new workshop in Delaware to be taught by Byron Ballard. Held on Aug. 29, the workshop, called “Old Wild Magic of the Motherlands,” will be based Ballard’s new research on Appalachian traditions. Ballard’s work is focused on the magical traditions and cultures of her home in the mountains of the Appalachian region. For her next book, she has been studying the various customs that came over from the British Isles. Ballard notes, “The charms, spells and talismans that crossed with those ragged immigrants from Scotland, Northumberland, Cornwall and Cumbria are little known and very interesting. Weather workings, healing charms, curses and blessings–all handed down to us from a by-gone age.” The new workshop will present her findings and will be held in Georgetown, Delaware on Aug. 29.

That is it for now! Have a great day.

On Thursday, legislation was introduced simultaneously into both the U.S. House and Senate, which seeks to ensure equitable treatment across a wide-range of social structures, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identification. The Equality Act, as it has been called, will “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.” Along with any new statutes, the act also aims to strengthen protections against discrimination for other minorities through the expansion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is considered landmark legislation and has been called “visionary.”

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

In his opening speech before the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said:

There are few concepts as fundamentally American as equality … For more than two centuries, we have been working to fulfill that vision of equality. We have taken direct action as a nation so that our laws align more closely with these founding ideals. We have challenged unjust rules and destructive prejudices and chosen to advance basic civil rights.

Merkley introduced the Equality Act (S. 1858) in the Senate on behalf of himself and 39 other Senators. At the same time, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the same bill in the House on behalf of himself and 157 other representatives. Cicilline, who is one of seven openly gay House members, said, “Fairness and equality are core American values. No American citizen should ever have to live their lives in fear of discrimination.”

The Equality Act predominantly focuses on amending established federal legislation. In many cases, the terms “sex, sexual orientation and gender identity” would be added to the list of protected classes “joining race, color, religion and national origin.” The acts to be expanded or amended include, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Service Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Government Employees Rights Act of 1991 and the Civil Service Reform Act. Through these changes, lawmakers hope to establish and enforce a more equitable environment in various areas such as public accommodations and education; employment, housing, federal funding, juries and more.

The legislation is considered landmark, because it is wide-sweeping, rather than focused on any one particular area of society. In 1974, two representatives introduced a similar bill. House Bill 14752, also called “The Equality Act,” proposed expanding the Civil Rights Act to include “sexual orientation.” However, that bill never passed. Then in 1994, the idea was revisited, but only for the employment sector. That became ENDA, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been lingering in Congress ever since.

After The Equality Act of 2015 was introduced, three corporations immediately announced their support, including The Dow Chemical Company, Levi Strauss & Co. and Apple Computers. Apple’s Tim Cook, who is the only openly gay chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, told the Human Rights Campaign:

At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity.

In March, The The Washington Post published an op-ed written by Cook, on a slightly different but related topic. He said, “There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country. A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors.” He is speaking of the federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Cook goes on to say, “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear … This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook [Photo Credit: Mike Deerkoski]

Apple CEO Tim Cook [Photo Credit: Mike Deerkoski]

The tide is certainly shifting, as suggested by the recent SCOTUS ruling, the push for anti-discrimination legislation across the states, growing awareness of transgender struggles, and even the recent proposed policy changes for the Boy Scouts. The RFRAs are seen as reactionary legislation to this cultural shift, and are, thereby, dragging religion into the socio-political spotlight as a shield against change.

For example, in June, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) co-sponsored a bill called The First Amendment Defense Act, which was introduced in response to the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling. This bill seeks to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction…” with regards to same-sex marriage. He told U.S. World and News Report, “Religious freedom is something that is essentially the cornerstone of all other freedoms. If we lose it, the Founding Fathers’ dreams are lost.”

The new Equality Act addresses two important points regarding the protection of religious freedom. First, in regards to employment, the act makes no changes to the current religious exemption. It “would continue to allow religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, and societies to hire only individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with their religious activities.” In other words, a Pagan-specific charitable organization or church would not be required to hire non-Pagans to “perform work connected with religious activities.” The Equality Act protects your right to religiously discriminate in those very limited and specific circumstances.

However, with that said, the new act also dives directly into the RFRA debate. In summary, the act reads:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used [as] a defense for individuals or entities to discriminate on any basis under any provision of existing law amended by this Act.

With this piece, the Equality Act goes beyond protecting only LGBTQ rights and also strengthens those of all minority classes. It essentially takes the wind out of RFRA sails, disallowing the use of religion as a shield from the law. The bill makes it very clear that RFRAs would not be able to be used to defend any act of discrimination “on any basis under any provision of existing law amended by this Act.” In this way, the Equality Act and the newly introduced First Amendment Defense Act are in direct conflict.

In a blog post, The Human Rights Campaign noted the same point, saying “While the act provides much-needed protections for the LGBTQ community in all 50 states, it would additionally strengthen protections for all men, women and racial, ethnic and religious minorities.” The deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union agrees, calling the act visionary, historic and long-overdue.

While there does appear to be much support for the Equality Act, suprisingly some LGBTQ members and organizations are not rallying in support behind the congressional effort. An article in The Washington Blade illustrates why. In summary, there are those people who believe that “opening up” the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is dangerous, because it is a sacred piece of legislation specifically protecting racial discrimination. Others believe the Equality Act doesn’t go far enough in its protections. Still others are concerned with the lack of Republican backing. LGBTQ Republican Party members have expressed a feeling alienation, saying that the Equality seems to have been drafted as “a partisan cudgel [rather] than a pragmatic LGBTQ non-discrimination bill. by the lack of inclusion.”

While some opponents, outside of the LGBTQ community, do state a concern over privacy rights and federal government interference in industry, most fall back on the religious freedom argument as exemplified by the Rep. Franks statement above.

Regardless, many supporters speculate that the act is ultimately doomed due to the current political climate in Washington. Slate writer Marc Joseph Stern said, “The Equality Act, of course, will go absolutely nowhere … Still, it’s notable for two reasons.” Stern goes on to explain that the new act serves to keep the issues of equality central to current public discourse, while also “sounding the death toll” for ENDA, which is still limping along in legislative limbo.

Whether or not it does pass, the Equality Act, as noted by Stern, continues the discussion of LGBTQ rights and the realities of discrimination across social platforms and peoples; the potential need to revise older legislation to meet contemporary needs; and to highlight the potential dangers present in the RFRAs.

2002 [Photo Credit:  Christopher Werby]

2002 [Photo Credit: Christopher Werby]

Priestess, ritualist and elder Deborah Ann Light passed away the morning of July 21, 2015. On Wednesday, her family announced:

Philanthropist Deborah Ann Light, a key figure in establishing Eastern Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust and pioneering Wiccan priestess, died Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida, at age 80 after a long illness.

Deborah was born in London to American parents Dr. Rudolph Alvin Light and Ann Bonner Jones, while they were both attending Oxford University. She was raised on a farm in Nashville, Tennessee, while her father taught surgery at Vanderbilt University. As she grew up, she lived in a variety of places, including Virginia, Italy, and New York. In 1961, she graduated with a B.F.A. in textile design from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. With her first husband, she gave birth to her son, Michael, in 1963.

Four years later, Deborah settled in the small hamlet of Amagansett, Long Island, where she quickly became involved in local politics and community service. As noted by her family, Deborah engaged in every activity with “dedicated professionalism” and, at the same time, indulged in many eccentricities. At one point, for example, she cared for over 36 cats.

In addition, Deborah became increasingly dedicated to women’s issues and earth stewardship. With a love of the land, she continued to acquire more property around her home, and became involved with a local land trust.

Then, in 1980, Deborah attended a Reclaiming-sponsored trip to Ireland, and had, what her family calls, “a spiritual epiphany” that led Deborah on a brand new journey. In 1982, she started attending EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring. Through that connection, she also became an active member of the newly formed North East Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess. And, during the same period, she began attending Circle Sanctuary’s new festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering. As a result, Deborah became an active member of all three organizations.

While building relationships within the growing Pagan world, Deborah began working on a masters degree in religious studies at Norwich University in Vermont. Her thesis, titled “Contemporary Goddess Worship: The Old Religion as Currently Practiced in the United States” reflected her new spiritual direction. In 1985, she received her degree, and also met her life-partner, Jeri Baldwin.

But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Deborah’s philanthropic and active dedication to her new path became very public. In 1989, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. As a result, she endowed nearly 200 acres of land, part of her Suffolk County estate, to Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust. Her goal was to keep the land from being over-developed. The Trust established Quail Hill Farm. Honoring Deborah a hero, Alec Hirschfield created a film about the farm called Out Here in the Fields: Quail Hill Farm (2008).

Then, in 1992, Deborah created the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which “encouraged individual mature women to achieve goals that would enrich the lives of other adult women.” Named after Deborah’s Grandmother Rachel Winifred Upjohn Light, the foundation supported 321 projects over its nine year history. In 1996, photographer Robert Giard was commissioned to capture the faces of the many women recipients. These photos are archived at Radcliffe College, Harvard University.

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Fortunately, Deborah beat the odds of her diagnosis and began taking on a far more active role in interfaith work. In 1993, she became one of the first Pagans to sit on the assembly at the Parliament for the World’s Religions as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit and Circle Sanctuary. At the start of the event, it was announced that there was only one open assembly slot for Wiccans. The three attending organizations chose Deborah, who happen to be a member of all three and who had proven her dedication by quickly securing the required insurance for their open full moon ritual. As their representative, Deborah signed the Global Ethics Charter as a “neo-pagan” along with Lady Olivia Robertson and Rev. Baroness Cara-Margurite Drusilla.

Deborah’s interfaith work continued over the next seven years. She traveled the country representing Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) as one of its first Interfaith Representatives. She became a member of Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) and wrote for the newsletter Pagan NUUS. In 1998, she attended the United Religions Initiative (URI) Global Summit. In 1999, she once again represented Wiccans at the Parliament.

By the turn of the millennium, Deborah cut back on her public interfaith work. CoG interfaith representative and longtime member Don Frew remembers that, after she stopped attending URI summits, attendees always asked how Deborah was doing and added, “give her my love.” Frew said:

Everyone always wanted to give Deborah their love. She called forth the love in everyone she met. We could never have asked for a better ambassador to the religions of the world. I could never have asked for a more loving and caring friend.

In 2001, Ellen Evert Hopman published a book called Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today containing a 1994 interview with Deborah. Starting on page 291, the interview discusses Deborah’s practice as a witch, performance artist and ritualist. It notes that her work “honors the earth as she presents alternative creation myths.”

After retiring from public interfaith service, Deborah continued the loyal support of friends and community. She attended memorials, weddings, and Pagan events around the country; she continued to donate money to EarthSpirit, Circle Sanctuary and other Pagan organizations. In 2010, she and Jeri formed the Crone’s Cradle Conserve Foundation with 756 acres of land in Florida’s Marion County. The land, which had been obtained over 25 years, was established as an ecological preserve and education center located in Marion County.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s health slowly started to decline. In 2007, she began having blood pressure problems and moved permanently to Florida, where she regularly practiced yoga and continued to spend time with family and friends. Her condition worsened in 2012, and she was placed in hospice. A Facebook group was created in order to share daily blessings and news with her. In 2014, the Covenant of the Goddess honored her with its brand new Award of Honor “for outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities.” Frew accepted on her behalf as she was not able to attend.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

In recent months, Deborah’s health only continued to decline, and on July 21, she passed away in the presence of her partner and family.

Andras Corban-Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit and a close friend, said:

Deirdre and I are saddened to let our community know that, early this morning … our beloved Deborah had died … Deborah’s diverse contributions have been instrumental in shaping who we are as a community today: as she now becomes one of our venerable ancestors, we will continue to keep her legacy alive.

Circle Sanctuary posted its own tribute. Rev. Selena Fox said:

Along with others in the Circle Sanctuary Community, I am thankful for [Deborah’s] friendship, wisdom, intelligence, grace, strength, and dedication to helping others. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in the lives and endeavors of many individuals and groups that she inspired and supported. 

Pagan author Byron Ballard said:

It’s a joyful moment to think of her free and dancing and creating and…she has been dear to me since she befriended me at a URI North America Summit in Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anyone and she took me under her wing, gave me projects to do and introduced me around. A good good heart.

It is clear from the trails left behind that Deborah’s life was one of service, compassion and outreach. Pushing well beyond the boundaries of the Pagan community, Deborah used her influence, her spirit, her passion and her love to empower and protect. She did this through philanthropic means as well as through setting a living example. According to Frew, not only did she bravely “come out” as Pagan at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993 in order to protect religious rights, but she also came out as a lesbian before URI’s international attendees in order to stand up for LGBTQ rights.

Deborah was brave; she was bold; and she was gracious. As Frew said, her “charm won people over.” But Deborah was more than a philanthropist, a ritualist, Pagan witch, an organization member, mother, partner and friend. Deborah was a inspiration. Not only will her spirit live on in the memories of all those who knew her; but it will also continue to live in those many paths that she forged and the projects that she built, which have allowed so many others to thrive.

What is remembered, lives.

 

american heathens A new book American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement will is now available from Temple University Press. Written by Professor Jennifer Snook, the book “is the first in-depth ethnographic study about the largely misunderstood practice of American Heathenry (Germanic Paganism).” Snook traces the trajectory of the movement itself and highlights stories from modern practitioners.

Snook is a professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, and has been a practicing Heathen since the age of eighteen. Because of her perspective, the book “treats Heathens as members of a religious movement, rather than simply a subculture reenacting myths and stories of enchantment.”

American Heathens was published on June 12 and is available in print and ebook. For those interested, the publisher’s website is currently offering a content list and a PDF excerpt from chapter one.

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download

Cambridge University will be hosting a day-long workshop titled “Generation Hex: Politics of Contemporary Paganism.” To be held on September 10, the workshop “aims to explore the political discourses of contemporary Pagan religions, whether Witchcraft, Druidry or Goddess spirituality.”

Organizers say, “Pagan ideologies are interwoven with the political, from the feminist eco-anarchism of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, to the conservative racial essentialism of Stephen McNallen. How these representations translate into ethical/political commitments is open to question.” They are currently calling for papers on the topic within the disciplines of “Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Gender and Religion, Study of Religions, Social Anthropology, Intellectual and Political History, Gender Studies, Queer Studies.”

The conveners include Jonathan Woolley, University of Cambridge; Kavita Maya, SOAS, University of London; Elizabeth Cruze, Druid Elder and Activist. For more information they ask that people contact them via email at l genhex15@gmail.com.

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starhawk 5 19 04

Starhawk

Speaking of Starhawk, she has just announced the publication of the long-awaited sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. Written over twenty years ago, The Fifth Sacred Thing has become one of the Starhawk’s most notable and popular works. As she writes, it is a “futuristic novel in which an ecotopian Northern California struggles to resist an invasion by the brutal, militarist Southlands using nonviolence and magic.”

Since that publication, Starhawk moved through many other projects, which even included a potential film version of the novel. But, then in recent years, she returned to the story, saying, “the characters from the world of Fifth were coming alive for me again, clamoring to tell more …” Completed October 2014, the book was shipped to Bantam Publishing, Fifth‘s publisher.

Unforutnately, after several months of waiting, Starhawk received a rejection letter. As a result, she has decided to venture into the world self-publishing. She wrote, “I was mad. Yes, there is an audience for the book … Maybe not Stephen King’s audience, but I believe there are a significant number of people who would like to read the book. And I intend to get it to you all!” The new book, entitled City of Refuge, now has a Facebook page, where readers can follow the Starhawk’s progress on this new adventure.

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Emblem_of_the_United_States_Department_of_the_Army.svgMaking the mainstream media rounds is a report featuring a story that we’ve been following for quite some time. Active-duty Heathens in the U.S. Army continue to push for recognition or, as The Washington Post asks, “Will Thor Join the Army?”

In January, Josh Heath and other Heathen soldiers had been informed that recognition was finally achieved. However, neither Asatru or Heathen was ever added to the approved list. As we reported in June, the decision was put on hold “pending the findings of a Defense Department working group investigating how to create a single set of faith group codes across the service.”

With this recent article, which was produced by Religion News Service, the story has now attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. RNS journalists interviewed Jeremiah McIntyre, an active-duty sergeant who has joined the cause. McIntyre is quoted as saying,”It’s all well and good to be allowed to display my religion on my tombstone, but I’d like to be able to display it while I’m still alive.”  He is, of course, referring to the Department of Veterans affairs acceptance of Thor’s Hammer for gravestones in 2013. While the symbol is accepted for tombstone markers, McIntyre and other Heathens still cannot claim the religion while on active-duty.

The RNS article recounts their struggle, saying that, six month after being informed of acceptance, Heathens are “back to square one.” It also notes that Heath, McIntyre and others are now doubling their efforts with a brand-new letter writing campaign and outreach. Time will only tell if the increase in visibility, both through the new campaign and recent media attention, will help turn the tides in their favor.

In Other News

  • There has been a small update in the Kenny Klein case. In 2014, Klein, a well-known Pagan musician, was charged with the possession of child pornography. Ever since the arrest, his case has been lingering in the Louisiana courts. Now, it is being reported that there are eight charges open, and Klein’s attorney has made a motion for a speedy trial to be heard on August 21. We will continue to bring you updates on this story as they occur.
  • Treadwell’s bookshop in London will be featured in a music video for the up-and-coming singer/songwriter Ben Craig. Owner Christina Oakley Harrington spent Saturday and into Sunday morning at her store while filmmakers did their work. Interestingly, this was not the first time that Treadwell’s was used in a music video. She said, “The last time we hired out the shop the unknown band was a little folksy group called Mumford & Sons.” The video, “White Blank Page (The Bookshop Sessions)” is still available on the internet.
  • Pagan Pride season is getting closer and groups are beginning to announce their programming. Pagan Pride Raleigh, which reportedly attracts over 3,000 people, is held over two days in September. Organizers have added a new feature called “Friends and Family Day” that will focus on educating the non-Pagan public about “Pagan lifestyles.” Further north, Philadelphia Pagan Pride has announced its return on September 5. They are currently looking for vendors, presenters, donations and volunteers. Look for more Pride event announcements in the future.
  • Wild Hunt journalist Terence P. Ward has put together a new book of prayers to Poseidon. Titled Depth of Praise, the book, as Ward explained, “started out as an assignment [directly] from Poseidon. ‘Learn more about me,’ he said, ‘by writing hymns to my epithets’. ” First Ward wrote, “29 separate hymns and prayers that explored [Poseidon’s] aspects.” Seven of those writings will be included in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina volume From the Roaring Deep” and he has since written more. While much of this new devotional is finished, Ward has started a small kickstarter campaign to fund interior illustrations, which he admits that he cannot do himself. He hopes that the final book will contain a good number of line drawings “depicting Poseidon in his many aspects.”
  • Gods and Radicals is now accepting submissions for its first print journal. The subtitle reads, “Forest-edged dreams against Capital Inked Dreams of an Other World.” Editors are looking for everything from prose to poetry; photographs and reviews. All submissions are due Sept 15. Interested parties can contact them at gods.and.radicals@gmail.com

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

CORRECTION: We originally reported the publication date of American Heathens as being in August, which was the date given in the press release. However, that date did change and the book is currently available.

In the myriad Pagan books that have been published over the years, there are ample descriptions of how to perform magick within various religious or non-religious systems, what tools to use, what precautions to take and what imagery to invoke. However, very few of these books offer any direction on using Pink Floyd in meditation or Howard Shore’s “Ride of the Rohirrim” in ritual. And, there might be even fewer practitioners who would suggest calling on Batman for spiritual protection or Princess Luna for inspiration. In fact, the very idea typically causes laughter and, in some cases, disdain.

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[Photo Credit: Ruth Hartnup / Flickr]

However, the reality is that there are many people who practice, or employ in some form, what is termed pop culture magick. In some situations, pop culture products provide a doorway into the occult world by giving a young seeker something familiar on which to launch a spiritual, religious or magical journey. In the 1996, for example, The Craft served that very function. In other cases, pop culture remains at the center of spiritual inspiration and magical workings for years beyond youthful introductions.

“I spotted my Master of Puppets CD sitting on my desk and immediately began to think of the four members of Metallica as each of the elements. I saw the bassist representing earth, the guitarist representing air, the singer fire and the drummer water. To me both their instruments and their personalities seemed to fit, so I decided to run with it and see how it went. I cast my circle and then called the elements, visualizing the band members as their respective elements. It worked flawlessly,” wrote blogger Emily Carlin.

Carlin is an vocal proponent of pop culture magick. Not only does she regularly blog on the subject, but she was recently interviewed by Vice Channel, Motherboard. In that article entitled “The Pop Culture Pagans Who Draw Power from Tumblr,” the writer explores varied uses and perspectives on pop culture magick, saying, “A common entry way for pop culture spirituality is feeling disconnected from nature and finding better connection in art and media.”

Before going any further, it is important to distinguish pop culture magick from other religious or spiritual practices based on pop culture fandom. This article will not explore, for example, Jediism or secular-based ethical systems that have developed wholly around entertainment franchises such as My Little Pony. In this discussion, I am interested in the use of pop culture within more traditional Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist systems of practice.

In looking at this practice, it is also important to note the difference between pop culture magick and pop culture Paganism. In a blog post, Carlin explained it this way:

Pop Culture Magick (PCM) is the use of pop culture stories, characters, images, music, toys, etc. as magickal mechanisms – the tools and techniques you use to bring your magick into being … Pop Culture Paganism (PCP) is the use of pop culture characters and stories as either an approachable face for traditional Pagan deities and powers, or as a substitute for more traditional powers and mythologies

In pop culture Paganism, deities, for example, might be represented by specific Marvel super heroes or movie characters. As noted above, Carlin visualizes the elements as Metallica’s band members. In pop culture magick, a musical score might be incorporated into a more traditional rite or magical working in order to enhance its effect. For example, writer Jason Mankey has used Doors music to empower rituals that explore personal excess.

In 2004, Taylor Ellwood, a vocal proponent of pop culture magick, published his first book on the subject. In it he answers the question “Why pop culture magick?” He writes:

It gives creative magicians a different approach to doing magick, without any prescribed approach or system governing how you do it. Not only that, but it’s also a vigorous, energizing current within our society. Pop culture is contemporary, occurring right now, and that kind of energy is vibrant for us because we live at the time it occurs and can understand the context of the pop culture icon or genre or whatever else.

In 2008, Ellwood published The Pop Culture Grimoire, an anthology of essays demonstrating various ways to work with pop culture in every day practice. And, he is currently finishing up a second book, Pop Culture Magick 2. He gave me a sneak preview. In that book, Ellwood notes that much has changed since his first book was published. One of those things is his own definition of pop culture.

In the first book, Ellwood wrote, “Pop culture is defined by what it does. Pop culture resists the mainstream culture. It possesses and represents different value systems, which clash with the values of mainstream culture.” (pg. 10)  In his newest interpretation, Ellwood amends that analysis saying, “I no longer consider pop culture to be something which resists mainstream culture. Rather I see it as an extension and expression of mainstream culture, but also of subcultures that don’t overtly fit into mainstream culture.”

[Credit: Nicc37 / Deviantart]

[Credit: Nicc37 / Deviantart]

The project of defining pop culture is important in understanding its role in our lives and its potential impact within religious or magical practices. That definition can be framed most simply through a socio-economic framework. Pop culture is, in short, “popular culture.” It is of the “populous,” the masses, the people. It is differentiated from high culture, which is traditionally considered the culture of the educated, the elite, the distinguished. Additionally, there can be smaller subcultures that produce products and influence society. But like high culture, their reach is often limited. Pop culture, on the other hand, lives in the most pervasive, mainstream current.

The comparison of high and pop culture comes with very specific, socially-ingrained valuations. High culture (e.g., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charles Gounod, William Shakespeare, George Balachine) has historically been considered more valuable than pop culture (e.g., Jonathan Larson, Freddie Mercury, Wendy Wasserstein, Michael Jackson.) This concept can be taken even further into an analysis along racial, ethnic and gender lines. Although the boundaries have certainly been cracked, American high culture has been typically white, male and of European origin.

While pop culture certainly dominates modern society, this antiquated valuation still permeates our collective thinking, which is one of the reasons that pop culture is often not taken seriously and why pop culture magick inspires ridicule. It might not be surprising to find a midsummer rite using the Shakespearean quote, “If we shadows have offended, Think but this and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here While these visions did appear” from the play Midsummer’s Night Dream. However, one might be taken aback to hear a priest or priestess break out into “Summer Lovin’ Had a me a blast…” from Grease.

Interestingly, there was a time when Shakespeare’s work existed within a type of “pop” culture. Author Diane Purkiss, in her book A Witch in History, remarks on this very point when talking about the play Macbeth. She suggests that the weird sisters were simply “comic relief” based on the popular notion of witchcraft during the Jacobean era. Purkiss writes, “[the sisters] were a low-budget, frankly exploitative collage of randomly chosen bits of witch-lore, selected not for thematic significance but for … sensational value.” (pg. 207)

Over time culture certainly evolves and, to be fair, the lines between high and pop culture are not hard and fast. For example, artists, like Andy Warhol, challenged the very notion of high and low art. Similarly the Alvin Ailey Dance Company pushes well-beyond traditional dance techniques, while still remaining one of the elite. And, over the past few decades, film and animation studies have been increasingly accepted in the halls of academia.

Is pop culture magick taking a similar route and breaking through cultural or religious stigmas and boundaries? Judging by the recent surge in interest, that may be the case. Ellwood wrote, “What people are creating, beyond content, is an intersection of pop culture with their identities, and in the process they are changing their identities.”

In the 1990s, as noted earlier, many young people turned to movies, such as The Craft (1996), to birth a magical practice. While for many this was only a method of seizing one’s agency in defiance of authority, there were those who actually believed. And within that subset, there were those who, eventually, were reborn as real Witches or practitioners of magick. The use of The Craft and its fabricated system helped many young witches re-frame their world, change their identity and set them on a new spiritual path. It opened the doorway, where there wasn’t one before.

We see this happening especially with pop culture products that incorporate, are inspired by, or even fully appropriate for better or worse, mythological stories. Rick Riordan’s books are perfect examples. The novels are introducing children to mythology in ways that relate to their own lived experiences. While their religious value is still debated, the books can function in similar ways to The Craft. A child who enjoyed reading Riordan may one day pick up Homer’s The Illiad and beyond.

In an increasingly secular society, pop culture can offer ways to develop these ethical systems and connect with spiritual ideas; especially those within religious systems that are hidden or remain less accessible – like Paganism, Heathenry and Polytheism. Carlin wrote, “I was an atheist and had a really hard time with the idea of working with deities of any kind.” The use of pop culture imagery within her practice was the key she needed to reach her inner world, make magick work and have her religion mean something.

This accessibility rests on pop culture’s very nature; its existence as something of, for and about the masses. As Carlin wrote, “I don’t live in the world that Mannanan Mac Lir walked through, but I see Captain America t-shirts every day.” As noted by Ellwood, pop culture reflects the energy and spirit of today’s society, rather one of limited access, of yesteryear or of something disconnected from one’s own reality.”

[Photo Credit: BagoGames / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: BagoGames / Flickr]

Pop culture is society’s virtual playground and also a community connection point, which Ellwood himself observes in both of his books. It is a medium that reflects current trends, tries on new ideas and pushes boundaries. It connects with our lived experience. Where our relationship with high culture is often limited by either language, exposure, cultural understanding or even educational level, our relationship with pop culture can be all encompassing.

Both Carlin and Ellwood have each independently observed a recent upswing in the practice of pop culture magick and pop culture Paganism, as mainstream fan-based subcultures continue to crop up around favorite televisions series, books and movies. Ellwood also believes that social media has contributed to the growth of the practice. Whether that is true is unknown. However, social media has certainly contributed to its visibility.

The specific ways that pop culture is used in magickal practice or how it fits into a religious system is very personal (e.g., as deity, thought form, inspiration), which appears to be just another part of the attraction. While there are those who still question the spiritual authenticity of this work and its true religious value, the magical workers who do employ pop culture simply respond with the question, “Why not?” It works for them. Carlin invites people to “Try it.”

In early April, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council received an anonymous letter warning it of satanic activity in the city. “Please remove the Satanic Cult Church from Eagle Rock California,” it reads. Several months later, a similar anonymous letter turned up on the other side of the country. That letter, written to Mayor Carl Hokanson, implores, “Please remove the Satanic Cult Church from Roselle Park, New Jersey.”

[Photo Credit: Petar Milošević  via Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Petar Milošević via Wikimedia]

In both cases, the handwritten letters were sent from someone living in Wisconsin. The first was mailed from Milwaukee, and the second from Green Bay. Both call for the removal of a cult, warning of animal sacrifice and people “rebelling against authority.” The letters then go on to call the practice of, what it terms, “satanism” disgusting and illegal. The Roselle Park letter ends at that point, but the Eagle Rock letter includes a post script with some suggestions for solving the water shortage problem.

While the letters don’t specifically call out the so-called cult by name, it appears that writer has been reading the old Criminal Intelligence Report. Published in 1988, the report lists a large number of U.S. and Canadian groups that were considered potentially dangerous. It was accompanied by an article titled “Satanism and Crime.” The article begins:

There is increasing evidence that the United States and Canada are facing a rapidly expanding area of criminal activity that some experts claim could be the most difficult to detect of any that law enforcement agencies have ever had to deal with. The computer files of Criminal Intelligence Report (CIR) magazine contain the names and addresses of three thousand Occult groups located in the United States and Canada. Within this listing are those who have a general involvement with and / or interest in witchcraft or pagan religious lore, history or practices

The list and article were part of the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. This was also the period of time in which Pagan organizations fought the Helms Amendment, which proposed to remove tax-exempt status from Wiccan churches. Lady Liberty League was born out of that struggle.

In 1992, one of the leading FBI agents, Kenneth V. Lanning, published a report on Ritual Satanic Abuse. Lanning calls for education, research and calm in the wake of these on-going investigations. In the article, he remarks on the dangerous level of panic that had already occurred and attempts to dissect of the cultural meaning of the term “satanic.” In talking about an educational conference for law enforcement, Lanning wrote:

All of this is complicated by the fact that almost any discussion of satanism and the occult is interpreted in the light of the religious beliefs of those in the audience. Faith, not logic and reason, governs the religious beliefs of most people. As a result, some normally skeptical law enforcement officers accept the information disseminated at these conferences without critically evaluating it or questioning the sources.

As Lanning points out, there were few distinctions made between actual belief, religious practice, pop culture, and more. Anything that was not mainstream or was feared, to a degree, could have been and was labeled “satanic.”

Eagle-Rock-Satanic-LetterThe two recent letters were both addressed to cities that were on that 1988 Criminal Intelligence Report cult listBoth cities were once home to legitimate Pagan religious organizations. Eagle Rock was the original location of Feraferia, founded by Fred Adams and his partner Lady Svetlana in 1967. The organization was incorporated in California as a non-profit on Aug. 2 of that year. As noted by biographer and filmmaker Jo Carson, “Feraferia was designed to be a religion based on the bliss between lovers, with both the Goddess and the God.” The practice inspired Carson’s film, Dancing with Gaia (2009), and now has adherents around the world. However, it is no longer based in Eagle Rock.

The second letter, addressed to Roselle Park, was reportedly the home of a Wiccan-based organization called The Order of Osiris. A Circle Sanctuary guide from 1987 lists the group with this description:

Ancient religion and ethics revealed through World Teacher first manifested in Egypt, guiding humanity to peace through the Primal Creator. Members prepare for religious service and ordination. Women and men welcome.

The Order of Osiris also reportedly published a newsletter called, New Horizons, and may have had a sister group in Cranford, New Jersey. Ten years later, the organization was no longer listed in the Circle guides; nor does it appear to be active today.

As for the letters, investigators believe that they were written by the same person. The LAist, a California-based media outlet, first reported that the writer was a child. And, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council didn’t take the warning very seriously. On its Facebook page, the council posted an image of the letter, saying, “We enjoy reading your letters and emails, like this one that came all the way from Milwaukee.” With few exceptions, most of the local responses laughed off the post as a joke.

Roselle-Park-News-Satanic-Cult-Church-LetterRoselle Park took its letter a bit more seriously, turning it over to local police. A New Jersey handwriting expert confirmed that it was not a child. He told the local news, “Who ever is doing this is writing in such a way as to disguise their own writing. This is a very deliberate way of writing … This looks like a fabricated writing. I don’t think it’s a kid.”

While the identity of the writer is still not yet known, it does appear that the acts are linked to those old lists and hearken back to those old fears. Unfortunately, the 1988 Criminal Intelligence list is publicly available online and, therefore, accessible to any person wanting to “warn people of occult activity.” And, there are still a number of fundamentalist groups that openly report “watching” occult organizations. This includes organizations such as C.A.R.I.S., which happens to be based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and The Watchman Fellowship, which is based in Arlington, Texas. The latter organization maintains its own public internet-based occult index, which includes Feraferia but not the Order of Osiris.

At this point, only two letters have been made public. We are in contact with the Roselle Park police and we will update the story as needed.

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Correction: The article originally read that the Watchman Fellowship was based in Columbus, Georgia. It is actually now based in Arlington, Texas. 

Summerland

Another damaging summer storm has a hit major Pagan festival. This time it is Summerland Spirit Festival held in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The intense winds and rain arrived Sunday night around 10 p.m. on the festival’s first full day. According to reports, tents were damaged or completely lost, and parts of merchant row have been destroyed. During a race to get into the permanent shelters, several people sustained minor injuries such as scrapes and twisted ankles.

Fortunately, the intense storm was over in thirty minutes, and did not cause the local creek to rise. Those who did lose tents were able to find sleeping space within the lodge or in neighbors’ tents. While there has been property loss, the festival will continue on. As today’s sun dries out the campground, attendees and the organizing committee will spend the day cleaning up, looking for lost items and assessing damages. Beyond that, the organizers plan to continue on with Summerland programming as scheduled. While the weather reports do call for another possible summer thunderstorm today, the rest of the week looks promising.

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pomegranate

Equinox Publishing will be launching a new peer reviewed journal in 2016. It is titled Body and Religion and will “provide a forum for the study of all manner of ancient and contemporary practices, concerns, ideals, and connections or disconnections between body and religion.” The editors are Shawn Arthur of Wake Forest University and Nikki Bado of Iowa State University. The book reviewer will be Kevin Schilbrack of Appalachian State University.

Body and Religion will be published twice annually and is currently seeking submissions. The editors write, “We welcome English-language submissions from scholars who use diverse methodologies and approaches, ranging from traditional to innovative, to explore issues of’“body’ as a fundamental analytical category in the study of religion.” They will “consider submissions from both established scholars and research students.” Equinox is also the publisher of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

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Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

In the past, we have reported on the New Year divinatory tradition held by Cuba’s Santeria Priests. For more than 30 years, these Priests have offered recommendations and predictions for the coming year. Traditionally, these readings have been performed independently from each other. Last week, however, The Havana Times reported that this will change in 2016. The article reads, “The two main currents of Cuban Santeria that announce different “Letter of the Year” prophecies at the beginning of each January have finally decided to come together and make public a single version of the predictions by the popular oracle Ifa.”

The partnership between the two leading “currents,” led by Lazaro Cuesta and Jose Manuel Perez, is reportedly being seen as a “means of consolidating the community of Afro-Cuban religion practitioners” Rather than offering competing recommendations, the groups will offer a joint “Letter of the Year” for the first time in history.

The Havana Times article goes on to discuss the relationship between the Cuban practice and that of Miami’s Santeria Priests, who also offer their own Letter of the Year. As is written, “Perhaps the new winds of change blowing between Washington and Havana will end up bringing Ifa priests on both shores together in their dictates and recommendations for the year.”

In Other News:

  • Author Marla Hardee Milling, a native of Asheville, has published a new book called Only in Asheville: An Eclectic History. The book examines why Asheville, North Carolina is often labeled “America’s quirkiest town.” In it she explores aspects of the bohemian character of her home town, interviewing a number of local residents. One of the interviews is with local Priestess Byron Ballard, who has the distinguished title of local Village Witch.
  • Llewellyn has published a guest blog post written by Aaron Leitch, which examines whether the Bible outlaws magick. He writes, “The question of magick among these traditions arises every so often. Usually, it is asked by newcomers who feel a calling to practice the arts of magick, but have been raised with the belief that it is directly proscribed by their religion.Their fear is very real—they worry if delving into the arts will result in the loss of their immortal soul.” Leitch then goes on to examine various references to magick, Witchcraft and sorcery.
  • Circle Magazine is currently seeking submissions for its upcoming fall issue, which will be titled “Life’s End & Beyond.”  Editor Florence Edwards-Miller said that she is “hoping to cover a wide range of topics … including end-of-life planning and care, Pagan funerals, coping with loss of a human or animal companion, honoring ancestors, deities associated with the dead or dying, myths or beliefs about what comes after death, reincarnation, or other related subjects.” The issue will also cover the rituals, crafts and food associated with Samhain. Due to the PSG flooding, the submission deadline is now Aug. 7.
  • Over the past week, Patheos Pagan Channel writers have been debating the somewhat controversial subject of deity popularity. Channel manager Jason Mankey kicked off the conversation at Raise the Horns, which was then followed by several other reaction pieces.The latest post was written by John Beckett at Under the Ancient Oaks.
  • Another Pagan programming announcement has been made for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Andras Corban-Arthen put together a proposal for a panel entitled “We Are the Earth: Pagans Respond to Pope Francis on the Environment.” It was accepted by the Council. The new panel, moderated by Sylvia Linton, will include Corban-Arthen, John Halstead and myself. Other Wild Hunt writers will also be in attendance at the Parliament, and we will be reporting directly from the October event.

That is it for now. Have a nice day!

I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the fact that this senseless act of violence happened on sacred ground. It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel … what matters is the sacredness of where they were when this occurred.” – Kelly Scott, Chairwoman of the Charleston Area Lowcountry Council of Alternative Spiritual Traditions.

In recent months, it seems that news report after news report speaks of violence either against or within a sacred space. These acts range from the horrifying terrorist attack at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel to the destruction of ancient religious sites. While the magnitude of each tragedy is, and never should be, comparable, these two specific examples, as well as others, involve unwelcome aggression and destructive violence against far more than body and property. They include the desecration of the sacred.

Romanian Church Burning [Public Domain]

Romanian Church Burning [Public Domain]

Why does violence against the sacred or within the sacred “feel” worse to us than violence in non-sacred space? What is this transgression exactly? And what imprint does it leave in its wake?[i]

In a recent discussion, I asked priest, spirit worker and devotional Polytheist Anomalous Thracian his thoughts. Thracian not only maintains several personal altar spaces, but he also is currently working to build a community worship space. He said:

Certain lines must be held as absolute, and religious spaces — the freedoms and promises therein — are among those. This must be held to be universally warranted. As with the sanctity of a child’s innocence, the trust that we must hold that sacred spaces are safe and protected is an intrinsic expression of what it is to be a human in a society; these are fundamentals. There will always be assaults, always be murders, always be robberies, but certain transgressions are felt (and held) at a deeper and higher level of severity in response and reaction, specifically because those intrinsic lines and boundaries are not abstractions.

The invisible boundaries that define a sacred space, whether that be within the walls of a church or outside in a field, are created by deeply felt meaning. Those meanings, based on belief, spirit and emotion, can be or often seem like abstractions. However, because the sanctity of the space itself is recognized and understood beyond the meaning-makers or the church-goers, the boundaries, as Thracian said, are not at all abstractions.

In other words, Pagans can respect the sacred nature of a Christian church, even if they don’t follow the religion; and vice versa, a Christian can recognize the sanctity of Wiccan circle or Heathen temple. “The intrinsic lines” separating the sacred from the common world “are not abstractions.” This accounts for Charleston’s community turnout in support of the AME church. As Scott said, “It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel….”

Unfortunately, it is also this universal understanding that precipitates the violence itself. The attacker knows the value placed on the space, which makes it a target. In his book War on Sacred Grounds, Ron Eduard Hassner wrote “The more sacred a site, the more likely it will provide crucial functions, the more likely the friction with other groups, and the greater the odds of large-scale violence…”[ii]

The attack is, therefore, not typically directed against an individual person, nor against the practice of religion in general. It is an attack on a people; on a community at its heart and center. In the case of Charleston and the recent church burnings, the attack is on America’s black community.

In the essay “Sacred Spaces and Accursed Conflict: A Global Trend,” Chaiwat Satha-Anand wrote, “When a site becomes sacred for its believers, it is founded on the four political pillars: sovereignty, legitimacy, meaning and a sense of community. As a result, attacking sacred spaces is seen as an attempt to undermine the foundations on which their opponents identity and faith rests.” (p. 27)

Traditionally speaking, churches, temples and other sacred sites have been the “foundations” and hearts of community. While in today’s secular-based society the so-called “master planned cities” are developed around commerce and recreation, there is still room for the sacred as a binding factor and identity maker. Even if the sacred space isn’t physically central, or if there is no building at all, the space can still remain the heart beat of a community. For example, in local Wiccan circles or even in large yearly festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering, it is the sabbats and the seasons that bring people together, year after year, into a sacred, ritual space. Whether the circle is in a home or a forest, it is a communal world built with the noted pillars of meaning, sovereignty, legitimacy and community.

Is that space sacred without human intervention? That discussion is beyond this article. However, at this point, it is enough to know that the sacred has traditionally been recognized as central to community and even to personal identity building.

Notre-Dame still sits at the center of Paris. [Photo Credit: Atoma via Wikimedia]

Notre-Dame still sits at the center of Paris. [Photo Credit: Atoma via Wikimedia]

In our conversation, Thracian agreed, noting that violence against the sacred “is a violation of the entire fabric of what binds people together.” He added:

Society is humankind’s gods-and-spirits-directed answer to the first question posed by the natural world itself, of survivability through the dark night. The purpose of society is to answer the question of survivability in the positive by way of a vouched-for promise to the people in the dead of night: gather round this fire, and you will be safe. Within that answer, certain places carry a stronger emphasis in the promise than others.

Mother Emanuel’s victims had faith in the sanctity of the church’s building, and that faith built meaning into its walls, thereby creating a sacred environment. It is in that place they studied theology, spoke with their deity, celebrated and mourned. With guards down, they felt secure, held within the promise of that sanctity. Based on this understanding, they permitted a stranger not only into the physical building but into that safe space; into that trust.

In that respect, sacred spaces can act as expressions of divine hospitality. In other words, just as a temple serves to nurture its own people, the space also easily welcomes the stranger. Whether it be a Christian church, a Wiccan circle or an Asatru temple, all are constructed houses of or for deity and, as such, spaces of welcome. At Pagan Spirit Gathering, for example, guests, both old and new, are greeted with the words, “Welcome Home.” All are invited to experience the community as well as the divine. Since sacred boundaries are considered universal and not-abstract, it is easy to offer, accept and value this hospitality. Therefore, any violence against or within that sacred space becomes a jarring violation of this divine hospitality, as well as a direct devaluation of a community’s worth.

Unfortunately, the June attack on Mother Emanuel is not the only recent instance of violence within sacred space, and it is not even the most recent. Many will remember the 2012 terrorist attack on The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. During Sunday morning services, Wade Michael Page entered the building, open fired and killed seven people. This past March, Al Badr mosque and Al Hashoosh mosque in Yemen were the targets of a suicide bombing that killed 137 people. More recently, during the holy month of Ramadan, terrorists attacked worshippers at al-Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait, killing 13. These are only a few such incidents.

Violence against or within sacred space is not limited to cases where there is loss of life. Along with the recent church burnings in the U.S., terrorists are engaged in the systematic destruction of ancient sacred sites. In an article partially entitled “Tracking a Trail of Historical Obliteration,” CNN recounts the recent destruction of religious sites such as Jonah’s Tomb, Nimrud, Hatra and Bosra. According to news reports, Daesh (also known as the Islamic State) is now calling for the “obliteration” of the Egyptian pyramids and Sphinx.

The ruination of sacred sites is not limited to terrorist acts. Commercialism, colonialism, expansion and “progress” have all been blamed for such transgressive acts. And, such accounts are not only in our history books. In a March 2015 article, entitled “Selling off Apache Land,” The New York Times reports that the San Carlos Apache Tribe has been fighting to save Oak Flat, an area used for prayer and ceremonies, from mining interests. In The Guardian, Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, writes “Canada’s Tar Sands aren’t just oil fields, they are sacred lands for my people.” These are just two examples of many from around the world.

Moonrise over San Carlos Apache Land in New Mexico [Photo Credit: John Fowler via Wikamedia]

Moonrise over San Carlos Apache land in New Mexico [Photo Credit: John Fowler via Wikimedia]

Whether land or edifice, sacred spaces promise connection and safety, created by a communal meaning. They exist at the heart of community and are often bonding points. However, these sacred spaces also have another role. They connect us, through memory, to our past and to spirit. Thracian said:

The promise is not merely made to humans: it is made to the gods, and to the ancestors who came before us. Ancestors of religious lineage (saints, prophets, teachers, martyrs, heroes) and ancestors of society (founders, forefathers and foremothers, familial relations, immigrants who survived atrocity to bring their families to safety), going back thousands upon thousands of years.

As noted in The New York Times Apache Land article, “the archaeological record at Oak Flat contains abundant evidence that the Apache have been there since well before recorded history.” The Apache Tribe is protecting more than just a plot of dirt on which they perform ceremony. Through the sacred we can locate a connection across time, which allows us to deepen our present and develop our future.

Memory itself, absent of religion, can even bring about this condition of sanctity. The spaces to which we nostalgically cling become sacred themselves – our childhood bedroom, a grandmother’s kitchen, a pet’s burial ground, the park bench where you had your first kiss or even a quiet spot in the forest where you once hid. While not traditionally or religiously sacred, these places are personal examples that demonstrate how memory brings about sanctity.

In that vein, there is a type of sacred space that is born of violence and its memory. The 9/11 Memorial, otherwise known as Ground Zero, was once a thriving business center in which two iconic towers stood. They were symbolic of both New York City and the thriving heart of American business. In that way, the Twin Towers were similar to a church, containing more meaning than existed within its physicality alone. However, the space was not sacred.

All of that changed on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, the memorial’s meaning far exceeds its construction and its past purpose. Here, violence begot the sacred. Within that memorial space, visitors connect to memory, to ancestors and even to deity. The memorial’s guards request low voices and respectful behavior. All around, people pray, cry, remember and walk slowly in thought. Other examples of such a space are Auschwitz, the Anne Frank House, battlefields such as Gettysburg or Normandy. And, there are many countless smaller memorials around the world that mark past atrocities, loss of life and acts of violence, all of which have given way to sacred space.

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9/11 Memorial, New York City [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

When violence births the sacred, it is difficult to reconcile the two in one thought. Even when one is put back together. While the 9/11 memorial is a beautiful place, it only exists because of that violence. This develops a sanctity that is uncomfortable, but powerful nonetheless. You can’t appreciate the memorial’s beauty without acknowledging the tragedy. That is not easy.

In all cases, transgressive violence against the sacred suggests a toxic aggression – one that breaks down community. The sacred is about wholeness and congruity; violence is about division and chaos. One nurtures and supports; while the other undermines and destroys. They can’t coexist; therefore, together they create a discord in our thinking – a cognitive dissonance. There is, at that terrible intersection, a stuttered void, in which we find ourselves only able to ask: “How? Why?”

 

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[i] This essay discusses unwelcome and toxic violence aimed at community destruction or obliteration. This must be distinguished from any small ritual acts, which in some cultures are considered acceptable including, for example, animal sacrifice or effigy burnings.

[ii] This quote was pulled from Chaiwat Satha-Anand’s essay “Sacred Spaces and Accursed Conflict: A Global Trend?” which was published in the book Protecting the Sacred, Creating Peace in Asia PacificTransaction (2013). Hassner’s own book, War on Sacred Grounds, was published by Cornell University Press in 2009.