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TWH – This month, the Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship membership voted on a new board of directors. Included in that process was the election of a new Archdruid. This position serves as the president of the ADF board and is considered to be both the organization’s administrative and spiritual leader. This year, members chose Rev. Jean Pagano, also known as Drum, to take the organizational reins from outgoing Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas.

[Courtesy Sean Harbaugh]

Rev. Jean Pagano, also known as Drum [Photo Credit: S. Harbaugh]

In a press release, Drum said, “I am touched and honored that people have chosen me to be their Archdruid – it is not a challenge that I take lightly and I promise to be Archdruid to all members.” He thanked the membership, the other candidates, the officers of the Mother Grove as well as the “Earth Mother, the Kindreds, and all of the people who have made ADF what it is today.”

Who is Drum? What is his background, and what does he envision for the future of ADF? In August 2015, fellow druid, ADF board member and priest, Sean Harbaugh interviewed Drum specifically about the organization’s work and his role as the Vice Archdruid. In the wake of the recent election, we caught up Drum to learn more about the man who will now be leading ADF for the next three years.

Raised in Chicago by French parents, Drum is both an American and French citizen. He went to a Catholic high school and then to the University of Illinois, where he received an undergraduate degree in philosophy. In time, he also earned both a master’s and Ph.D. in the same field. Drum said, “I was a young child of the ’60s, and I think a lot of the things that were happening at the time had an effect on me. I remember seeing lots of people in Grant Park in Chicago doing tai chi together, moving as one. I have never forgotten the image of a diverse group of people moving as one.”

Drum was raised Roman Catholic, and attended mass until he left for college. He said that this religion did not “resonate with [him] in the least” and that he wanted to find something “closer to his western European roots.” Drum explained, “I […] was attracted to stories of the ancient Gods and Druids. I believed that Paganism was still alive and well.”

Drum went on to say, “I was told in grade 8 that the Gods and Goddesses were no longer alive. I did not believe it.” Then, as a freshman in high school, he performed his first magical, Pagan working in the Hellenic tradition  He said, “I never turned back.”

Drum continued to practice his newly-adopted beliefs. However, at that time, he had no name for what he was doing or what he was. He had no general term to use for any of it. Then, he read John Mitchell’s book The View over Atlantis. Drum said, “[Mitchell] called what I was ‘paganism.’ Finally, I had a name for what I was. I read Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler and further understood who I was and what I believed.”

Around 1982, Drum reached out to Isaac Bonewits about the New Reformed Druids of North America. Drum recalled, “[Isaac] told me about a new group he was starting called ADF or Ár nDraíocht Féin. I joined ADF on March 10, 1984 and have been a member ever since.”

[Courtesy photo]

Drum [Courtesy photo]

Drum is also a third order Druid of the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), a Druid Order member of OBOD, a second circle member of AODA, and an elder in various other organizations. When asked what drew him specifically to Druidry, Drum said, “I was drawn to [it] because of the connection to the Earth, to the Earth Mother, and to the Gods and Goddesses of the Indo-Europeans. I believed (and still do) in Isaac’s vision.”

Drum remained solitary for nearly 20 years of his time with ADF. However, he eventually decided to join a group. Over the past 12 years, he has been a member of Michigan-based Shining Lakes Grove and Cedarsong Grove. He said, “I have visited many groves in ADF. I like grove practice, but I also understand what has to be done as a solitary.”

Although his practice has been largely solitary, Drum has been an active and very busy member of ADF and the many other organizations in which he has been involved. For the past eight years, Drum has been ADF’s “List Master.” Additionally, he has served as the Upper Midwest Regional Druid, the Chief of the Council of Regional Druids, and the Vice Archdruid. Drum said that he has also been “the Chief of the Liturgist Guild, the Preceptor of the Naturalist Guild, the Registrar of the Seers Guild, the clergy adviser for the Order of Bardic Alchemy, the Preceptor for the Order of Manannan, the Treasurer for the Bardic Guild, the Coordinator for the Morrigan SIG.”

Drum is also an ADF master bard, an initiate, and a senior priest. He said, “I wear many hats because there are many hats to wear and not always enough people to fill those spots.”

During his service as Vice Archdruid, Drum carefully watched Rev. Kirk Thomas in order to learn. Drum said, “I wanted to be Archdruid after he left and when the opportunity presented itself, I stepped up to work for the position. […] I am one of the original members and I have seen ADF through the many years, in good times and bad, and I want to use that experience to help move us forward, keeping to Isaac’s Vision, which is vitally important.”

When asked about his interpretation of that vision going forward, Drum said, “I will try to lead the ADF Clergy Council and the Folk to continue to do the work and to help refine not only our message and our purpose, but to further Isaac’s Vision and let the world see what ADF is all about by letting them see what we do.” He explained further:

ADF is orthopraxic and not orthordoxic. We will talk about what you do – as far as ritual is concerned – and not tell you what to believe in. This is one of our great strengths. If you do these 18 steps known as the Core Order of Ritual then you have done an ADF ritual. We have certain parameters, such as no blood sacrifices, no Lord and Lady, no calling quarters or watchtowers, and Indo-European pantheons for High Day rites. Our rituals are broad and inclusive enough to fit the bill for many neo-pagans. Our High Day rites are open to the public because we want people to see what we do and be welcome. Our concept of hospitality requires that we be good hosts and good guests. I would like to believe that all of our members like to be good hosts and good guests.

Drum added that he would like to see ADF specifically focus on “hospitality.” He said, “I think we need to be open to people and able to welcome differing viewpoint[s] without devolving into bad behavior, whether it is on social media or around the campfire. Hospitality is the greatest of virtues because it requires others. Others might describe this as Right Action.”

Those positive works and “right actions” can come in many different forms. As this is Earth Day weekend, we asked if he felt that Druids have a unique role to play in the modern environmental movement, addressing topics such as climate change. Drum said, “I think that Druids -– of all stripes -– have a part to play […] and it is a positive one: first, we must work our magics to support the Earth Mother, helping to heal her and helping to fix the damage that has been inflicted upon her. Secondly, we must do what we can to exhibit and express nature awareness. We can help green by being green.” Drum then returned back to the notion of “hospitality,” saying “Being a good guest and host extends past our own doorways into the natural world beyond.”

AdflogoWhen asked if he has observed significant changes in Paganism or the Druidry since he joined the newly formed ADF many years ago, he said “yes,” adding, “I am pleased at what I have seen. Druidry and Paganism have grown away from the acquisition and manipulation of personal power to the use of ritual and magical activities to work for positive changes in the world and for the protection of the Earth, which we call our Earth Mother. I realise that there is great diversity in the many different pagan and neo-pagan groups, but there is also a great commonality as well. ”

Drum will become ADF’s sixth Archruid since its founding in 1983. Outgoing Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas expressed his support for Drum, saying “I pray that the Gods and Spirits bless our new Archdruid and all his endeavors so that ADF will continue to grow and thrive in the future. And I give my blessing to him and to all the members of our church.”

On April 16, Rev. Thomas performed his final “official festival ritual as Archdruid at Trillium.” He has served as Archdruid for six years, or two terms. Although ADF bylaws allow for someone to serve for three terms, Rev. Thomas opted to not to run again, saying that “it is time to move on.”

KirkIsPresented

Rev. Kirk Thomas [Courtesy Photo]

While he still has a few more rituals to oversee in May and other duties to perform, Rev. Thomas’ time will soon be freed up to devote more energy to other commitments and pursue new projects. When asked what we might find him doing in the near future, he said, “I plan to continue my prison ministry and I have a couple more books in me waiting to get out. I also plan to spend more time working on my White Mountain Druid Sanctuary here in Trout Lake. I will also be attending festivals and giving workshops as I deepen my personal spiritual work.”

Rev. Thomas added, “I’m not going away!”

As for Drum, he is looking forward to the upcoming challenge. He noted how smooth the entire transitional process has been to date. going back to the beginning of the organization. He said, “We are able to transition power respectfully and properly – through the ballot box and not necessarily by fiat. We were able to transition from a charismatic leader like Isaac to Ian to Fox to Skip to Kirk and now to myself. After myself, I expect the transition will be a smooth one.”

Drum also added, “I envision a female Archdruid will follow me.”

Leading the large, international Druid organization will undoubtedly take up much of Drum’s free time over the next three years, or longer. When asked what we might find him doing when he’s not working at his day job as a systems administrator or tending to his ADF duties, Drum said, “My hobbies are reading about history and working on liturgy. I love creating small altars in many places in my world and working with them. Heraclitus said the gods love to hide and I like building altars where they might be. I enjoy travelling and attending festivals to not only talk about my Druidry, but to learn about other people’s practices. I try to find magic in the world and to appreciate the amazing beauty and power of the Earth (Mother) around us.”

Thinking about the future of ADF, Drum said, “I would love to see Neopaganism become a choice for people when choosing a religion. I believe that we must lead and attract people by example. People are drawn to Nature and the Earth Mother – perhaps by different names – and I want them to know that there is a choice when you come to choose a religious organisation.”

Drum takes office May 1, 2016 and will hold the position for a term of three years.

TWH — Tomorrow marks the 46th anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day. This holiday is considered to be the largest secular celebration recognized throughout the world, with “more than a billion people” honoring the day every year. It is considered to be “a day of action [to] change human behavior and provoke policy changes.” While Earth Day has always had its detractors and critics, it is regularly acknowledged in many diverse ways, both small and big, around the globe. And, in that way alone, it could be considered an Earth Day.

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

The actual celebration of a national Earth Day wasn’t marked until 1970 at the height of the American cultural revolution. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day was born from a buildup of tension and cultural events occurring over time. This began with the 1962 publication and popularity of Rachel Carson’s landmark book, Silent Spring. 

More directly, according to reports, Sen. Nelson was personally propelled to launch his mission to create an Earth Day “after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.” A 2014 article at ClimateProgress explains how that one spill “changed everything.” The article explains, “The scope of attention focused on the spill grew along with the mess of oil […]” As reported, then-President Richard Nixon said, “It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people …. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people.” The article goes on to say:

In the years that followed, the lasting impression of the spill on the public, government officials, and the private sector led to coordinated action unheard of in today’s starkly partisan Congress. Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, which led the way to the July 1970 establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

As a result, the American Earth Day was born. Interestingly, Canada launched its own Earth Day ten years later, September 11, 1980, but neither caught on in global terms at that time. The Earth Day idea reportedly “limped along” with limited acknowledgement until the 20th anniversary of the American version in 1990. Nelson spoke to a crowd of “800,000 gathered on the National Mall in Washington D.C.” and said, “I don’t want to have to come limping back here 20 years from now on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day…and have the embarrassing responsibility of telling your sons and daughters that you didn’t do your duty—that you didn’t become the conservation generation that we hoped for.”

Earth Day was then celebrated again in 1995, 2000 and, by that point, had garnered increasing international attention as climate change moved to the forefront of global concerns. By 2010, April 22nd had become internationally recognized as Earth Day. And, just as it was back in 1970, the celebration still has its critics. Is it all “just words?” Has the “holiday” become too commercialized, losing its purpose and activist roots?

[Image Credit: Beautygala.com]

[Image Credit: Beautygala.com]

Since its beginning, Earth Day was not propelled by global organizations and large advertising campaigns. It was grassroots operation, encouraging small local actions, cleanup events, and educational efforts, all created by a diversity of people and communities. That idea continues to this day.

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists have been participating in the Earth Day experience since its inception. Not only did the environmental movement and the modern Pagan movement in the Unites States come into being around the same time, but many Pagan religious beliefs are deeply Earth-centered, or at the very least, land-driven. This marriage seems logical.

Consequently it is not surprising that, over the years, Pagans, Heathens and polytheists of many backgrounds and traditions have closely worked within the environmental movement, speaking out, hosting actions and even attempting to contribute to the environmental stewardship movement within the global religious sphere. This has become particularly pronounced in recent years.

EcoPagan.com

In 2014, blogger and former editor of Humanistic Paganism John Halstead was inspired to bring people together to create A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment. Critics said that it could not be done. But, less than one year later on Earth Day 2015, the diverse group of internationally-based Pagans, Heathens and polytheists launched that statement. It now has 8,173 signatories from over 80 different countries.

But, looking back, is it all just a bunch of words?

We asked Halstead about the statement and whether he’s seen any tangible results stemming from its creation. While being involved with the process was “transformative” for him personally, Halstead said, “I hope that it has awakened or helped focus an ecological consciousness for those who have signed it, and even for some who haven’t.” But more tangibly speaking, Halstead added, “I have also seen signs that the statement is already helping to increase the credibility of Pagans in the interfaith environmental community, as evidenced by the interest shown in the statement by the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and other interfaith groups.”

However, Halstead also said that he was disappointed by some in the interfaith community. “I had hoped that the Pagan Statement would be added to the collections of similar statements gathered by Interfaith Power & Light, GreenFaith.org, the Alliance of Religions & Conservation, and others, but so far we have not been successful. Unfortunately, some interfaith environmental groups are still only interested in working with certain religions. I think we Pagans still have work to do to improve our credibility with the interfaith environmental community.”

When asked what most surprised him about the statement project, Halstead noted the number of people who have signed the document over the past year, from well-known figures and organizations to “ordinary individuals” from every continent. The organizing group was hoping to reach 10,000 signatures by April 22, but Halstead said, “Even if we don’t meet that goal by Earth Day, we will soon.”

In conclusion, Halstead added, “Having said all that, [the statement] is just a statement of intention, and without corresponding action on our part, our words will be meaningless. It remains to be seen whether we Pagans will live up to the challenge the Statement sets before us.”

Greening of Religions Symposium

In early April, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) took this Earth stewardship conversation one a step further and sponsored a symposium focused on the intersection of religion and the environmental movement. The keynote speaker was Bron Taylor, professor of Religion, Nature and Environmental Ethics at the University of Florida. Taylor is the author of several books, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. The event was held from April 1-3 at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, CHS Academic Dean, explained why they picked this particular topic:

In 2015, the American Academy of Religion discussed the need for religions to become involved in the challenges we are facing because of climate change. There is much discussion involving rising seas and their impact on populations in terms of coming displacement, famine and war, but very little on the spiritual crises and needs we will be facing as these devastating events occur. We see climate change as the greatest moral issue to ever face humanity, as it brings into question our relationship with the entire web of life and its future. The greening of religion is a phrase that suggests the growing awareness of religions of our responsibility to and dependence upon nature.

As a seminary, we chose this theme for the symposium because scientists tell us there is a window of opportunity in which we can make some significant changes and prevent the worst of what may come. For this reason, we made the symposium an interfaith event, because it will take all of us together to take the necessary action.

Both Griffin and CHS Executive Director Holli Emore put together this unique Pagan symposium that attracted people from a number of different religions, backgrounds and countries. Griffin said, “For me one of the highlights was getting to meet, spend time with, and learn from people who are passionate and doing something about this issue. From the Salvation Army researcher in Australia to the Pagan scholar from Canada, there were many different approaches to action. All of them are needed. ”

Emore added, “For the first time, CHS hosted a truly interfaith and religiously-diverse event. At the same time, that event had firm footing in a Pagan seminary (with a public university), underscoring the importance of the ideas and values we Pagans can bring to the coming environmental crisis.”

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

As we reported in the past, Pagan attendees spoke highly of the symposium, its content and of its importance, but they also noted the low Pagan turnout. When asked why she thought that was the case, Griffin said, “To be fair, at least half of those attending we knew to be some form of Pagan, but the low response was a real disappointment for me.” Then she added:

Symposiums are intellectual forums, and even though we included a strong activist element, perhaps this appealed more to scholars, whose institutions  are reluctant to pay travel for small conferences. Perhaps the topic of climate change seems too distant (polar bears and Micronesia) or too huge and overwhelming to inspire people to attend. The fact that it was designed to be interfaith may have made it less attractive to some. People tend to argue that Pagans have no money, but we know that Pagans make choices in how to invest their resources and that their demographics are not that different from other people. […] A symposium on climate change doesn’t sound particularly fun or magical. And if people feel overwhelmed or helpless by the issue, it simply won’t attract, however vitally important it may be.

Emore said, “As Pagans, we accept that change is a given, but as humans we are seldom prepared for it, and still less often are we prepared to take action that will serve others experiencing change-related distress.”

Emore and Griffin will be evaluating how and if to move forward with the symposium in the future. More specifically, they are hoping to offer their unique standalone 3-hour environmental leadership workshop at other venues, Pagan or interfaith. In addition, CHS will be publishing the entire symposium’s content “as Cherry Hill Seminary Press, with Dr. Jonathan Leader of the University of South Caroline leading the editorial team.” That book will be available in paper and digital formats through CHS and other online retailers. The specific publication date is not yet known.

But, with only two weeks gone since the symposium ended, CHS has already made strides in the continuation of this dialog. The seminary has just announced the launch of a new Environmental Leadership Certificate program. Griffin explained, “It covers a range of information: human and non-human living systems, the science of denial, advocacy and organizing, earth congregations and nature spirituality, fundraising and nonprofit skills, leadership, and more.” CHS is currently taking applicants and, although it requires college-level work, students “do not have to have any kind of degree to take the classes, just courage and determination to change the world.”

But is it all just words? Did any tangible work come out of the CHS weekend event? Like Halstead, Griffin noted the important connections being made on an interfaith level. For example, she cited that she was able to “link up with the Green Seminary Movement.” She believes that “Pagans can make a unique ‘green contribution’ in Interfaith and in the events these communities sponsor.”

But, like Halstead, she also doesn’t believe that “we are doing enough.” Griffin said:

Many of us recycle, but that is just a very tiny part of what is needed. We need to make the issue of climate change, the causes of it, and the possible remediation actions more visible. Pagans are immensely creative, and we need to use that creativity in bringing the issues to the forefront. We can’t all make movies like “Avatar,” but we can tell stories and make music, create and share rituals, develop video games and children’s play, and a million other things. We need to make the discussion of climate change commonplace. And we need to march and lobby and petition.

That very concern was directly raised at the symposium. Halstead, who was at the CHS event, explained, “At the Greening of Religions conference in South Carolina last month, Bron Taylor asked the Pagans present whether there was a Pagan environmental network in existence.” The answer was no. As a result, a new group was formed. Halstead said that Taylor’s question “prompted Wild Hunt columnist, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, to create a Facebook group by that name (Pagan Environmental Network), which has taken the Pagan Community Statement as a starting point.”

Tejeda-Moreno explained further: “The keynote speaker said that there didn’t seem to be a group for intergroup dialogue […] so, I set up the Facebook group, added the conference attendees and then we started to add others based on suggestions.” This new group is small with the objective to serve as a “clearinghouse, link source and dialogue center for environmental issues and Pagan-centered responses to them.” Tejeda-Moreno added that they already have talked about migrating from Facebook when and if they grow.

As Earth Day approaches, global attention is being diverted to our planetary ecosystem and our role as stewards. Some of that attention is genuine; some of it is talk; some of it is purely commercial. Griffin said, ” Of course it is becoming commercialized. At the same time, it raises awareness. Personally, I’d like to see large public rituals on Earth Day that we design and lead.”

[Public Domain]

Roadside trash found during a cleanup action [Public Domain]

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are doing just that. They are preparing to celebrate or honor Earth Day, as well as the unique role their own spirituality plays within the larger interfaith environmental movement. From local communities to national organizations, actions, events, prayers and rituals are scheduled.

For example, in Michigan, the Ancient Faiths Alliance is sponsoring a “Plant Your Dreams Earth Day Event.” In Virginia, Spiral Grove is hosting a Saturday lake cleanup event, saying: “In addition to keeping the lake areas clean, the experience allows us to focus on the simple and natural education that the lake environment provides to both adults and youth.” And similarly, as we posted Monday, the Jean Williams London Earth Day cleanup action and picnic tradition will go on as it has in past years.

The New York Environmental Pagan Coalition has posted an article listing general New York-based Earth Day events for its membership to attend. In Wisconsin, where Earth Day was founded, Circle Sanctuary will be hosting a full moon circle Friday, and Rev. Selena Fox will offer a “Earth Day Every Day” Sunday Service April 24 at the Open Circle Unitarian Universalists in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

For those who are unable to join a live community event but would like to participate in the conversation, Pagan activist and author Starhawk will be speaking at a free online conference called Earth Day Summit 2016. The event, held Apr. 22, is described as “an unprecedented gathering of esteemed green experts, innovators, activists, scientists, visionaries and spiritual leaders coming together to unite their wisdom for you.” Registration is required.

You can also hear Starhawk speak about her environmental work with Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox on the Circle Talk podcast called “EcoPagan EcoMagic,” which originally aired Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CT. Additionally, Rev. Fox has also offered for free download her “Nature Pathways guide with Environmental themed rites, meditations, actions.”

We welcome all of our readers to list their local, public Earth Day activities and events in the comments below.

Happy Earth Day from The Wild Hunt!

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

A Spectrum of Beauty

Heather Greene —  April 17, 2016 — 21 Comments

TWHOne average hot summer day, a 30-something woman and her 5-year-old boy entered a suburban public pool space. Brimming with youthful excitement, the child, who was unusually large for his age, awkwardly bounced around his mother’s legs in anticipation of a good swim. As the woman unloaded her bags, filled with toys, snacks, towels and other pool needs, onto an unoccupied reclining chair, the child approached a sunbathing adult and introduced himself.

[Photo Credit: Drink Hoist / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Drink Hoist / Flickr]

“Hi. My name is Matt. I’m going to go swimming,” he said with a cheerful smile. Then, he proceeded to look through the stranger’s bag for pool toys. The mother quickly came over, redirected her son and apologized. Fear, desperation and helplessness were written into her face and underscored her apology.

“I’m sorry. He has autism,” she said and led him away. She had done this many times before. It was a common happening, and she was clearly exhausted. While that seemingly benign moment may have been a daily occurrence, it was not this particular type of interaction that had etched the many stress lines into her face and justified her daily caution. But her underlying fear and nervousness were justified only a few short hours later. 

On that hot Saturday afternoon, the small community pool had become increasingly crowded. Adults and children were everywhere, eating, talking, playing and listening to music stations. The stereo, from where the music came, sat high on a shelf in an open pool house and could be heard throughout the space. In the past, it was not uncommon for the stereo to be a source of tension as adults argued over station and volume. But on this particular day, the stereo became the catalyst for a much bigger and more difficult community battle.

The music had been upsetting Matt, the autistic child. Throughout the day, he repeatedly climbed onto a dangerously high counter top to shut the stereo off. In response, the mother had to retrieve him, expressing apologies, offering explanations and making repeated requests that the stereo be left silent. Many of the pool-goers had personal iPods or were reading books, so to her this seemed like a reasonable request. And, at first no one cared, but eventually, as more people arrived, that changed.

“You need to control your child,” said one newly arrived older man.

The rising tensions between the crowd and the family only worsened when a woman left the pool’s front gate open, while she went to smoke. The autistic child saw the opening and excitedly ran out into the parking lot. Once again, the exhausted mother quickly retrieved him, and then shut the gate. This angered the woman outside, who promptly returned, yelling at both the mother and her newly-arrived husband.

“You don’t belong here,” she screamed. “We are not going to change our rules for one child. You need to control him.”

By this point the father had had enough. He was yelling uncontrollably at this woman and her husband as well as the group wanting to control the radio; his pain and frustration seethed through his pores as he shouted profanities into the crowd. The mother was left cowering in a corner crying, and the entire pool deck was held hostage by a volatile situation, which only ended when the police arrived and escorted the family from the public space.

That is a true story. It is an extreme story, and one that didn’t need to end that way.* 

April is autism awareness month. It’s an opportunity to focus on the realities of living with an autism spectrum disorder, either as a parent or as an affected person. During this month, advocacy groups and individuals hope that communities will not only take a moment to become more educated about the limitations and needs of those with autism, but also recognize the unique beauty that emanates from these lives.

Autism-Awareness-2014

[Courtesy of BrightSong Pediatrics]

Vicky Bailey, a Pagan, Reiki master and poet, was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. She said:

This diagnosis came as a blessing. It helped me to begin to make sense of my life experiences, and to appreciate who I am. As I teenager I was seldom interested in meeting up with friends and going shopping. I much preferred my own company, and that of my books. This withdrawal from social interactions allowed me to pursue my childhood fascination with ancient mythology and ancient cultural practices. […]I later learned that autistic children will often have an extremely obsessive fixation with a particular interest, and display a deep fascination and in-depth knowledge of the interest that appears beyond their years.

What exactly is autism or the autism spectrum disorders? The Center for Disease Control defines it as “a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines it as “a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning.”

These are simplistic clinical definitions, which define the conditions as “disorders.” But autism is far more than that. When you are part of a world affected by autism, you are forced to make difficult life adjustments, anticipate problems, find creative solutions, and equally appreciate the unique and brilliant qualities that can emerge.

We spoke to two Pagan parents who are raising children “on the spectrum,” as it is termed. Allyson Szabo is a White Winds Wiccan living in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. She is a licensed minister and is self-employed. Szabo is the “step-mum” of four children on the spectrum, as well as living with a husband on the spectrum. Pauline Kennedy, better known as Potia, is a Polytheist Druid, and member of the Druid Network living in Glasgow, Scotland. She is part-time university administrator and the mother of two children on the spectrum.

Szabo talked specifically about her two sons Dale (22) and Mike (10), who both have formal diagnoses. Because the family had already been through the process with Dale prior to Mike being diagnosed, they were somewhat prepared. Szabo said, “It was stressful, as any ‘deviation from the norm’ is stressful. You want your children to be ‘like everyone else’ because it just makes things easier. But it didn’t phase [sic] us, and we all worked to make sure that Mike got everything he needed to be successful at whatever he tried.”

Kennedy’s two children, Rose (8) and Rowan (14), were both diagnosed at age six. She said, “My initial reaction on having the diagnosis confirmed in both cases was complex.” She first gathered all the data and information that she could. But emotionally she said that she “felt a combination of relief and a form of grief.” The relief was in the confirmation of her suspicions and her ability to move forward in helping her children. The grief was in the letting go of the many “dreams and aspirations” that she had for them. She added, “Being a Polytheist was helpful in reminding me that there are many ways and many paths.”

"The Autistic way to play" [Photo Credit: By Kevinfruet via Wikimedia]

“Autistic way to play” [Photo Credit: By Kevinfruet via Wikimedia]

Parents of children on the spectrum must learn an entirely new language, so to speak, to help their children interpret a world that was not made for them. And vice versa, they also have to help the world understand their child. Bailey explained:

For me, as is for most autistic people, human beings are an enigma. At times speaking to another person is like having a conversation in two separate languages. I cannot recognize certain types of humor, and often have trouble detecting sarcasm. I also take terms and phrases literally. For example if someone said to me ‘If we don’t finish this in time we’re done for.’ I would panic. Feeling as if the whole world would end.

Most autistic people must learn how to communicate and cope with the world through non-autistic parents and educators. Szabo’s son Mike had an advantage. She explained, “[Mike] learned how to deal with the world by watching [an autistic] parent.” She said that he doesn’t feel “set apart” from his family, and added, “The worst thing he’s had to deal with is sometimes we have to say, ‘Hey, let’s go talk to Daddy, ’cause I’m not getting what you’re saying and Daddy translates from autism to norm pretty well.” Now, her son will often go directly to his father for communication help.

The personal and family challenges abound as adjustments are made to living with an autism spectrum disorder. Kennedy said, “This is my life; this is our life as a family. You grow, you change, you adapt. I can’t really compare it to anything else as this is what it is for us.”

One of these adjustments, common to any family, is the decision when and how to introduce spiritual traditions and religious teachings to the child. That is no different for autistic children. Both Szabo and Kennedy have exposed and included their children in many aspects of their personal practice. As an interfaith minister, Szabo celebrates many religious holy days in her own home and also runs a small coven. She said that Mike has “grown up knowing a great tolerance for all religions and rituals.” However, she said the only thing that “has stuck that is even remotely Pagan” is meditation. And Szabo believes these technique, which Mike now uses on his own, have helped him better cope with the world.

Like Szabo, Kennedy is also open about her practice and emphasizes religious tolerance. She said, “My son has never shown much interest in spiritual matters. My daughter has chosen to join me in some of my home based devotions, in particular she enjoys taking part in devotions to Brigantia and Maponos […] She helps me arrange libations and offerings and usually dances around me while I sing songs of love and praise.”

But neither Szabo or Kennedy feels comfortable taking their autistic children to public Pagan events. Although they both feel their Pagan communities are compassionate and tolerant, they don’t feel these crowded forums are healthy for the children. Kennedy said, “My son has problems meeting new people […] My daughter loves meeting new people but it would currently still be very difficult to manage the level of disruption that would result in her running around, aggressively hugging everyone and her need for a high level of attention.”

It is common for autistic children to have difficulty understanding personal boundaries, making public situations all the more trying. Bailey has experienced this as a adult. She said:

While many pagans attend social gatherings or are part of a coven. I have never been able to do these things because of my lack of social understanding. I would not know where to begin For this reason,  I walked my path without human company for many years, and for a while that was OK. I have never craved social interaction, yet I could not shake feeling of loneliness.

While Szabo hasn’t taken her son Mike to big events, he has been around her small coven. She said, “I think that there is a lot more acceptance of spectrum people in the Pagan community, at least around me. I’ve never had complaints from anyone, and I’m always told Mike’s a joy to be around.” She added that her coven mates are also “understanding of her husband.”

But Szabo did have one recommendation for event organizers. She said that it would be beneficial to have a “low sensory input” area. These places ideally would not be filled with the typical drumming, talking, incense, color, music and fire. She said, “Knowing there’s a place quiet and less overwhelming can be a real help to people on the spectrum, and we parents as well.”

Edinburgh's Beltane Fire Festival. Photo by Paul R Seftel.

Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival. [Photo by P. Seftel]

Despite the limitations and the hurdles, the three women with whom we spoke, continually remarked on the beauty, intelligence and love that emanates from the people affected by what the medical community has called a “disorder.” Bailey spoke of how her own condition has led to a unique ability to spiritually engage with the faery realm. She said:

I have an inherited gift for communicating with other realms. I am a natural medium, and am fortunate enough to have been made aware of the Faeries that exist in a realm parallel to our own. When I speak with them I have no difficulty understanding their meanings at all. Unlike humans, they seem to get right to the point, and if they cannot make themselves understood with words they are able to use mental images, and the transference of ’feelings’ and sensations to make themselves understood.

Bailey attributes this gift of communication directly to her autism, and also thanks her partner, who also is affected by Asperger’s syndrome, for helping her “discover and appreciate” her gifts.

Szabo and Kennedy speak of their children’s compassion, intelligence and fascination with various difficult and complex subject matters. Kennedy said, “Autism is an integral part of them both but it does not define them.” Szabo said, “Our children have grown up knowing that autism is a super power, and that one has to use it for good or evil, just like any other super power.”

All three women also stressed that the biggest hurdle for them, going forward, is simply awareness. That includes awareness within Pagan communities as well as within society in general. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.5 percent of the American population (1 percent of the entire world) is affected with the condition, and they do not know at this time whether that rate is still increasing or if it has leveled off.

Szabo said, “I think tolerance is the greatest thing we offer our children.” She believes that her own religious journey has helped her become more tolerant, and has made it easier to adapt to and appreciate the unique worldviews of her autistic family members. “In Paganism, we should find it technically easier, because we’re wanting tolerance for ourselves and therefore should be practicing it at home.”

She added, “Please understand that when my kid walks away while you’re talking to him, it’s not because he wants to be rude.” He is just overwhelmed. She added that autistic children need more time, respect and understanding. She also stressed that, when they do want to talk, “it’s just as important to let [them] get their ideas out. Often times, you’ll learn more from them by listening, than normal children will learn by your teaching.”

Similarly Kennedy emphasized the need to educate ourselves. She said, “How do we improve things? By asking what we can do to help and more importantly listening to those in our communities who are autistic themselves, willing and able to explain their challenges and to those who care for an autistic friend or family member.” And she added that we need to “accept and value our differences.”

There are many organizations out there working to foster awareness and breed tolerance. In the U.K., Kennedy recommends the National Autistic Society and Autism Triage Scotland. And, she added, “as a self-diagnosed adult autistic woman, I’m also a member of the Scottish Women’s Autism Network (SWAN).” In the U.S., there are organizations such as the National Autism Association and many more. But Szabo’s family steers clear from big organizations. She feels that they are more interested in a “fix” than growing acceptance. Instead, Szabo recommends becoming involved in local play groups and small, community-based organizations that are run by people affected by autism and that provide concrete family support and safe spaces for education.

Bailey, who has since become a published poet and embraced her condition, concluded by saying, “I feel that [autism] has had a distinctive impact on my journey as a Witch, be it for better and or worse, although overwhelmingly I believe that it the impact has been positive. It is a part of me, my strength and my weakness. Everyone has both inside them – strength and weakness, light and darkness. We are after all only human, and the trials we face both as Witches and as people help to make us who, and what, we are today.”

* This incident took place July 2015. Names have been changed or omitted for privacy sake. 

LONDON — The Serpentine Gallery is currently exhibiting the work of Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862 -1944). Over her career, af Klint painted nearly 1200 works, at least 200 of which were created during trance rituals and inspired by her esoteric beliefs. Af Klint’s paintings, which have only been exhibited a few times and in limited numbers since the 1980s, are regularly compared to other famous abstract painters of the era, including Wassily Kandinsky, František Kupka, Robert Delaunay, and Piet Mondrian.

Over the past decade, as af Klint’s work has become better known, art historians have been questioning whether it is af Klint, rather than Kandinsky, who is actually the true pioneer of abstract painting.

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen Installation view Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016) Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen Installation view Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016) Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

As noted in BlouinArtInfo, “[af Klint] painted in near isolation from the European avant-garde, forging her own singular path motivated by her interest in nature, the spiritual realm, and the occult.”

But who was she? Hilma af Klint was born in 1862 to a Protestant family in Sweden and spent her childhood on the family’s farm Hanmora on the island of Adelsö in Lake Mälaren. As the daughter of an admiral in a country that permitted women to study art, af Klint was able to enroll in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. She began formally studying art at the age of 20.

However, according to various sources, af Klint’s contact with the spiritual world began several years earlier when her sister died in 1880. In addition to dealing with that loss, af Klint encountered the new and increasingly popular spiritual movement: theosophy. At this point in time, the leader of the theosophy movement, Helena Petrova Blavatsky, had traveled the world sharing her philosophy and beliefs. In 1875, Blavatsky established the Theosophical Society, which af Klint joined before or by the time she was enrolled in the Royal Academy. According to several accounts, af Klint’s first seance experience was at the young age of 17.

Over the next few decades, af Klint’s interest in the occult only strengthened and, eventually, it began to influence her painting.  As noted by the Serpentine:

From the 1880s, she formed a group with four other female artists called “The Five” (De Fem). Collectively, and in private, they conducted seances leading to experiments with automatic writing and drawing, which anticipated the surrealists by several decades.

In 1905, as af Klint noted in her own writings, she heard “a voice that had given her the following message. ‘You are to proclaim a new philosophy of life and you yourself are to be a part of the new kingdom. Your labours will bear fruit.’ ” This message gave birth to af Klint’s first series of abstract paintings called Primordial Chaos. Prior to that point, af Klint’s work was most representational, featuring landscapes and still-life.

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016); Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016); Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

This early abstract series was then followed by hundreds of more abstract works created in trance. The imagery and visuals changed, or evolved as some critics say, as af Klint continued her own spiritual work and artistic journey. For example, the fluid lines, circular patterns and floral compositions of The Ten Biggest were abandoned for harder geometric patterns, large blocks of color and sharp angles. However, what is consistent throughout her abstract work is a genuine seeking to understand and reveal the spiritual through her painting. As noted by the Serpentine:

She felt that the principle of equilibrium and “oneness” was lost at the world’s creation, giving way to a universe of polarities: good and evil, woman and man, matter and spirit, science and religion, macrocosm and microcosm, which she sought to understand and resolve in her paintings.

While af Klint continued to paint throughout her life, none of these abstract works, nor her prolific writings, were ever exhibited or shared publicly in any form. Only her early landscapes and other similar were were ever displayed. Af Klint reportedly felt that the public was not “ready to understand her abstract compositions,” for which she said that she was “only a medium.” She kept the abstract paintings mostly hidden during her lifetime and, in fact, she also stipulated that they should not be publicly displayed until at least 20 years after her death.

But it wasn’t until the 1980s that this actually happened in any “big format” show. In 1986, af Klint’s abstract work was included in an exhibition in Los Angeles called The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985. And, although these paintings have been included in shows since, af Klint is still often passed over, remaining relatively unnoticed. As noted in a 2013 New York Times article, she hasn’t “been out there to be seen or traded,” and therefore has not been purchased by large collectors. That makes a difference in notoriety. In addition, as the Times article also notes, af Klint’s work struggles against two other obstacles. Female artists have more trouble gaining recognition in a global art world largely controlled by men and, additionally, there is much “circumspection toward art connected to the mystical and occult.”

However, as mentioned by Julia Voss in her article for The Tate, there is a growing interest in af Klint’s work and, as a result, art history is now being challenged. Wassily Kandinsky, who is largely considered the pioneer or “father” of abstract art, is well-known for his attempts to capture music and sound into color, form and shape. Like af Klint, he also sought a connection between his spiritual life and his expression on canvas. Kandinsky’s first abstract painting, which is reportedly lost, was created in 1911. Af Klint’s first painting, which is on display at the Serpentine, was completed in 1906. Who is the pioneer of this art form?

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen Installation view Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016) Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen Installation view Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016) Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

The Serpentine’s exhibition, which runs through May, features af Klint’s work from the Paintings for the Temple series (1906 – 1915) and also includes several works completed in the 1920s. Treadwell’s Bookstore owner Christina Oakley Harrington visited the London exhibition and said: “It is awesome. Intellectually engaging throughout, six different rooms, each in a different style as she had various phases.” Oakley Harrington added, “The last few paintings were in a small side niche. I turned the corner, saw them, and was just hit. Instantly my eyes pricked, and I started to weep silently – all in a sudden.”

When asked more specifically about the paintings that “hit her,” Oakley Harrington said it was af Klint’s Dove and Swan series that impacted her the most. She explained, “The captions say that those two sets of paintings explore these birds in Christian and esoteric symbolism. There’s one with four swans who are like the forces of the guardians of the four quarters, and another which encapsulated for me — and hit me with — the feeling of what it is to be in a witches’ circle at points of stillness. This painting (The Dove) is largely abstract but the colour, feel and shapes were full of the power of that experience. I do know she wasn’t a witch but she was in spaces of the night, of candle, of spirit and focus – she was in the presence of invisible forces.”

Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/UW, nr 25. Duvan, nr 1, 1915 Olja på duk 151 × 114,5 cm HAK173 © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/UW, nr 25. Duvan, nr 1, 1915 Olja på duk 151 × 114,5 cm HAK173 © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

Hilma af Klint’s art has been published in a number of book formats. One of these publications, Hilma af Klint: The Art of Seeing the Invisible, is a collection of essays based on”many of the lectures given in conjunction with the exhibition” held in Sweden in 2013-2014. The book focuses specifically on the esoteric nature of her art and the influence of the occult on the modernist movement. It also includes entries from af Klint’s own diaries, in which she contemplates her beliefs, her influences, her methods and the imagery in her own paintings.

The 2016 London exhibition Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen is co-curated by the Serpentine Galleries in collaboration with Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, Serpentine Galleries, said: “Hilma af Klint is a pioneer of abstract art […] Since her work was last exhibited in the UK, a large body of her paintings has been restored, thanks to the efforts of the Moderna Museet and the Hilma af Klint Foundation. This has allowed never-seen-before works and series to be displayed.” The Serpentine exhibition will be opened through May 15.

Lydia-Miller-Ruyle-1459170221

Artist and scholar Lydia Miller Ruyle died March 26, a month after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Lydia was best known for her banners dedicated to the celebration of the divine feminine. She was an activist, teacher, sculptor, illustrator, author, a respected voice in the goddess spirituality movement, and a champion for women’s rights.

Lydia was born in Denver, Colorado on Aug. 4 to Lydia Alles Miller and David J. Miller. In 1939, the family moved to Greeley, Colorado, which would become her lifetime home. During her pre-teen years, Lydia’s family temporarily moved to Germany so that her father could serve as a lawyer in the Nuremberg trials. But they returned to Greely by 1948 as Lydia began eighth grade. In 1953, she graduated valedictorian of Greeley Central High School.

Lydia went on to study political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder and, in 1957, graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Not long after, she married her high school sweetheart, Robert Arthur Ruyle (Bob), who she had met a long time before in kindergarten at Cameron Elementary school. When Bob finished law school, the couple and their young family moved from Boulder back to Greeley, where they made their home on land once owned by Lydia’s grandparents.

DSC_8468 -2With a political science and economics background, Lydia began her professional career as a research associate and paralegal. She only picked up art as a hobby or, as noted by her husband, in order “to have something a little bit different to do.” But Lydia was immediately hooked, and began taking classes locally. She eventually applied to the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO), located in her home town of Greely.

But, as she reported, the school would not admit her because she did not have a undergraduate degree in art. Over the next few years, she would take classes to “make up an undergraduate major,” and eventually enrolled in the masters program. She wrote, “After four years in the program, I was told I needed to graduate. I loved doing art at [UNCO] while our three children were in school all day.” She graduated in 1972.

In addition to mastering her craft, she also studied art history, which according to her husband led to her active promotion of the arts in education as well as her involvement in the goddess movement. Bob told local reporters, “I think she ultimately said that the art history books were all about men, and she was on a mission to identify women artists. And then it just started to gravitate into a quest to promote women artists, and women in general.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, Lydia became involved with the local school board, advocating for art education in public schools. She was a member of the Colorado Council Arts and Humanities; she served as chairperson for Art in Public Places and for the Community Arts Councils of Colorado. She was on the board directors for the Northern Colorado Foundation and the Colorado Foundation Arts. She also was part of the organizing committee for the Colorado Group National Museum Women.

DSC_8483 -2In addition, Lydia began teaching print making, art history, and women’s studies at UNCO, and through that teaching brought aspects of the goddess movement to the university. UNCO has since created a Lydia Ruyle Scholar fund for working students, as well as a Lydia Ruyle Room of Women’s Art, which displays both student work and her own.

By the 1990s, her career evolved further as she began to write and illustrate books, and travel extensively, sharing her passion for the arts and women’s spirituality. According to a local paper, “Traveling became a part of her goddess work decades ago, when she started visiting holy sites in England.” She and Bob were regular attendees at the annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference.

In 1994, she began running the Goddess Tours and YaYaJourneys, taking women with on discovery trips around the world to educate them about the divine feminine. According to her husband, “To date, more than 200 women have attended the spiritual journeys with her. They’ve played music, studied and congregated in Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Czech Republic, Russia, Mexico, Peru, the Himalayas, Hawaii and the southwestern United States.” A personal account of one of her more recent journeys is published at Goddess Alive!

As if that wasn’t enough, Lydia began participating in various political actions relating to national issues affecting women. In a post for Matrifocus.com, she describes her experience participating in a 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington. She begins, “YAYA always wanted to march. I participated in 60s protests a bit but wasn’t able to join a large march. When this year’s event finally got my attention, I knew I had to be there, and I invited my family to join me. Ten of us showed up!”

Over the years, Lydia evolved as an artist, beginning with “oil painting, sculpture, lithography, and papermaking.” However, she is best known for the Goddess Banners, which she called “her girls.” The collection includes “over 300 sacred female images from different cultures.” Attendees at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City had the privilege of viewing 100 of these banners lining the ballroom hall. “The girls” have been “exhibited in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the United Nations World Conference on Women, and throughout the world, including England, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Nepal, Peru, Russia and Turkey.”

In 2014, forty of her Goddess banners disappeared and reappeared during their journey to Seattle for the 22nd Annual Women of Wisdom Conference. Blogger Judith Laura published Lydia’s account of the harrowing experience. She begins, “The Goddess Banners have traveled millions of miles around the globe since their debut at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey in 1995. I’ve schlepped them in my luggage, sent them with friends, trusted chaperones, UPS, Royal Mail, US Postal Service, DHL, FEDEX, etc. But sometimes, the girls take detours much to my concern and dismay.”

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In February 2016, Lydia was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She requested that her family and friends hold a memorial for her while she was still alive. She wanted to be there for it. Per that request, on Feb. 20, her loved ones gathered at Zoe’s Cafe in Greeley. As reported by the local paper, “[She] sat on an armchair draped in deep red and shimmering silver fabrics….For more than an hour, she had watched women perform religious rituals, praise her impact on their lives and sing her songs they wrote….Her daughter took her hand, walked her off the chair and slowly guided her between circles of people.” As she walked by, people shared what “she meant to them…through tears and smiles.”

On Mar. 26, around 7:30 am, Lydia passed away peacefully in her sleep. Her husband, who had been providing round-the-clock care, “woke up [early Saturday morning], went to check on his wife and held her hand. When he returned a short while later, she had stopped breathing.”

Blogger Judith Laura wrote, “When I contacted Lydia several years ago to ask if I could use her banner art on the cover of the third edition of my book, She Lives! The Return of Our Great Mother, she did not hesitate to say yes, and gave me innumerable banners from which to make my selection. I will always be grateful for her generosity.”

Candace Kant, dean of students at Cherry Hill Seminary and professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said, “Lydia was such a lovely woman, and her work has enlightened people all over the world about the beauty of Goddess. Her banners embody all the love and wisdom of Goddess.”

Close friend Anne Key said, “Lydia Ruyle strived to bring images of the female divine to broader audiences. This was her life work–her heart’s work. Her beauty, love, and passion are greatly missed. But when I close my eyes, I can hear her laugh, see her smile, and feel her hand on my shoulder. ”

Lydia has touched a world of people, quite literally, through her personality and her work, and through her drive to uplift the place of women in society. Her acclaimed banners have inspired many, providing a doorway to both learn about and celebrate the divine feminine in its many forms. Lydia has left a powerful artistic legacy – one that transcends the practicality of art and emanates a spirit that can only speak through image. She will live on through both the personal memories of her loved ones and friends, as well as through the continued travels of “her girls.”

Services were held at 11:00 am, Thursday, March 31, at the First Congregational Church, 2101 10th Street, Greeley, CO. Memories and other tributes can be offered through Allnutt.com.

What is remembered, lives.

 *   *   *

All banner photos above were taken at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City and are © Greg Harder 2015.

PRAQUE – On March 16, a Norwegian-based online news site, Local NO, published an article titled, “Norwegian ‘witch’ books stolen by Nazis found.” This story was quickly picked up by international media and expounded upon. The Local NO was covering a March 16 conference hosted by a project called “Books Discovered Once Again.” The conference topic was, in fact, the recovery of these confiscated books. However, according to one of the program organizers “no occult books” have been found.

[Courtesy of Books Discovered Once Again]

[Courtesy of Books Discovered Once Again]

Historian and project manager Marcela Strouhalová of the National Library of the Czech Republic called the news reports “Not only exaggeration, but nonsense.” She told The Wild Hunt, “We have small pieces of many masonic libraries […] but we haven´t found any occult literature in them.”

Strouhalová went on to explain that the majority of the books found are from Germany with “3 exceptions of which one of them is Norwegian lodge and includes 7 volumes.” She added that the current 12,000 found volumes had 2,000 different owners, most of whom resided in the Czech Republic. This substantial historical collection was not owned by Himmler or by any single member of the Nazi party.

When asked how the rumor got started, Strouhalová said that she was not entirely sure, but she believes it came out of a misunderstanding of the presentations given by academics during the final seminar held at Stiftelsen Arkivet in Kristiansand, Norway. The title of the seminar was, “The ideological background for confiscation of books in an European and Norwegian perspective.” The corresponding website includes summaries and data from the seminar itself, and some background behind the discovery of the books.

Strouhalová said, “For me the story starts in the moment when the books were found in four Czech castles in 1945.” According to historians and not surprising to most, the Nazis confiscated thousands of documents, art and books from around Europe as part of their attempts to control cultural ideology as well as to study their enemies. These confiscated items were considered dangerous to the Third Reich or, in the case of art, termed “degenerate.”

While the confiscated items were stored in a variety of places, more than a half-million were found in these “four North Bohemian castles – Houska, Mimoň, Nový Berštejn and Nový Falkenburg” in 1945, as noted earlier by Strouhalová. The Czech National Library, after being partially closed during Nazi occupation, was given the task of sorting through and processing these found documents. At the time, many items were returned to their owners, with the exception of those owned by “enemies of the [Czech] state.” This included all German or Hungarian-owned items, and those owned by “national unreliable persons.” National unreliable persons included “everyone who at any time after 1929 as a Czechoslovak citizen had claimed German or Hungarian nationality in the census or had become a member of a group, unit or political party associating persons of German or Hungarian origin.” The large number of held items were then placed in storage, and have remained there until recently.

American GI looks at Nazi storage of confiscated material [Public Domain]

American GI looks at Nazi storage of confiscated material [Public Domain]

The “Books Rediscovered Once Again” project, sponsored by the National Library of the Czech Republic, the Norwegian institution Stiftelsen Arkivet, the European Economic Area (EEA) funds and the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, launched a discovery project of those remaining confiscated and stored books. While many were German-owned, some were not. And part of the new project, along with cleaning and preserving documents, is the identification of ownership in consideration of all legalities.

As noted in the project’s legal report:

Given the course of confiscations on the spot (and given the rather disorganised activities of the National Committees and the Administration Councils in particular in 1945) and the condition of records and archive documents, it is not possible to positively identify the provenance (original owner) of all confiscated books and thus completely rule out individual, specific situations.

Due to this fact, many are being returned to museums, libraries and organizations, rather than specific people. As noted, “600 volumes of confiscated books were returned to the Jewish Museum in Prague.”

According to Strouhalová, they are processing over 12,000 books, many of which were taken from Masonic lodges across Europe. The Freemasons were considered an enemy of the Third Reich and, as such, needed to be studied. Helge Bjørn Horrisland, a researcher and member of the Norwegian Freemason society, has been working on various projects to help recover confiscated Masonic documents. He is closely involved with the “Books Discovered Once Again” project. Horissland said:

The Nazis confiscated whole collections from the different lodges, and sent these books, documents and other material, to Germany first to get them examined. The intention was to use these books for scientific research as the Nazis looked upon the Freemasons as a Jewish conspiracy, and had a plan to reveal what the freemasonry was about. To some extent this was done, but when the war intensified, these scholars had to participate in the warfare and could no longer be spared to do research on the Freemason societies. The confiscated Freemason books were therefore transported to various storages, also in what was then Czechoslovakia.

In our interview, Strouhalová agreed, saying that that the findings include “common philosophic literature, yearbooks of lodges, some Masonic poems collection and so on.” Again, she emphasized that there was nothing found in the collection, to date, that is considered occult or Witchcraft related.

But, once again, the question arises, how did the rumor begin?

It is very common to conflate all things Masonic with all things occult. The two are western cultural bedfellows as the term occult is used very broadly, and the two often overlap. Included in that broad definition of occult is ‘Witchcraft.’  And, the history of these practices, ideologies and beliefs have circled around each other for centuries, in fiction and in reality. The connection is not a stretch.

However, it is also commonly believed that the Nazi party and its leaders were interested in “the occult,” and that Heidrich Himmler was particularly fascinated with Witchcraft. Some speculate that Aleister Crowley and other well-known occultists had regular audiences with Hitler, and that Hitler’s suicide on Walpurgisnacht (April 30) was magically prophetic. There are speculations that Himmler was staging Witchcraft rituals in his famous Wewelsburg Castle, and that he believed that the “Burning Times” was really a strategic attempt to destroy German culture.

While modern historians have largely debunked most of these theories, the stories do remain, to one extent or another, in our western collective cultural imagination. They are not just limited to conspiracy theorists, Indiana Jones’ films and Dan Brown novels. Additionally, as the Third Reich and its leaders have become, ideologically-speaking, the western world’s symbol for ultimate evil, they have also been aligned with other cultural archetypes of evil – including Witchcraft.

Strouhalová added, “These libraries (masonic collections) were in the holdings of RSHA (Amt VII),” which she believes may have also initially caused the confusion, she said, “Because this organisation was created by Himmler in 1939.” The RSHA (Amt VII), or Reichssicherheitshauptamt, was the Nazi main security office, and Amt VII was the department in charge of “Ideological Research and Evaluation.” This included the confiscation of all “degenerate” works, and the monitoring and dissemination of propaganda. The entire security office, including Amt VII, was controlled by Himmler.

In summary, as explained by the historians, the 12,000 recently discovered documents and books, of which many were of Masonic origin, were originally confiscated by an ideological department found by Himmler.

[Photo Credit: Lin Kristensen / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Lin Kristensen / Wikimedia]

Whether any aspect of the Third Reich was derived from true occult practice and theory, of any kind, and whether or not Hitler and Himmler were interested in Witchcraft is irrelevant to this particular story. Will the researchers one day find Witchcraft books or other actual occult material? Perhaps. But it hasn’t happened yet. If there is a connection between the Nazi leaders and occult practice, it still remains shrouded in mystery. It is left to speculation, the imagination and a modern collective mythology that still rests heavily on medieval Catholic religiosity.

As for the “Books Discovered Once Again” project, the missions statement and explanation of the recent discoveries are described online. Researchers are currently working on providing digital access to many of the found historical documents, as that is one of the aims of the program. When asked how and if the public can view any of the materials, we did not get a response. However, we will update our readers when that information becomes available.

TAOS, NM — After four hours of deliberation a Taos jury found 51-year-old West Virginia native Ivan Dennings Cales Jr. guilty of the murder of Roxanne Houston and of tampering with evidence. During the investigation as was brought forward during the trial, the state found data and gathered testimonies, suggesting that the accused may have been on a modern day Witch hunt.

[Photo Credit: Billy Hathorn /Wikipedia]

[Photo Credit: Billy Hathorn /Wikipedia]

Houston, a Wiccan practitioner from Colorado, disappeared in July 2014 after moving to New Mexico. Her body was found by a hiker near the “Two Peaks area” in December of that same year. According to a local news agency, “Elizabeth Hagerty said she was walking with her husband, Robert, and their two dogs when one canine began rolling on what appeared to be a burnt part of a brassiere.” Police later identified the body as Houston’s and launched an investigation.

Prior to her 2014 disappearance in New Mexico, Houston’s life was reportedly complicated and unstable. According to her estranged ex-husband George Houston, Roxy, as she was called, was bi-polar and had been off medication for quite some time. She has four children, who all live with adoptive parents, and was frequently moving between relationships.

In June 2015, Mr. Houston, a non-Pagan, laments his own involvement and failures to help his wife. In a public Facebook post, he demonstrates his continued affection for her, despite their past problems. He pledged to fight for justice in the courts.

As the story goes, Roxy reportedly left Colorado in 2013 with a boyfriend, and arrived in Carson, NM. The couple camped for some time and, eventually, moved into a home with several other male housemates. She lived at that location until her death.

Houston was last seen hiking in June 2014, but her body wasn’t discovered for six months. Then, after a long investigation, Cales was found living at a local shelter and arrested Feb 23, 2015. The Taos Sheriff’s office noted that this case was particularly difficult because many of the involved parties were “transients,” including Cales, who had only arrived in New Mexico in April 2014.

In a post on the Rainbow Gathering Family site, Cales described himself as a survivalist, and includes “loves the outdoors. open minded. non drug user. native American beliefs.” In 1999, he renounced his American citizenship in an AIM forum titled, “The American Indian Movement” on the basis that the government was illegal. He reportedly met Houston when he moved into the residence where she was living.

During the March trial, Cales’ cellmate Raymond Martinez reportedly testified that Cales actually claimed “Native American” heritage and connected that fact to his motivation to kill Witches. He reportedly said that he was on a “witch-hunt” and that Houston was a Witch. As the local paper reports:

He testified Cales drew pictures of a witch hunt […] He said Cales told him he was Native American, and that Native Americans believed if a witch cast a spell on them, they needed to kill the witch to break the spell. Artwork that looked like pencil sketches of a witch hunt — done in jail and presumably signed by Cales as “Kwenishguery Manito Lenepe Witch Hunter 2000”— were exhibited in the courtroom as evidence.

Another witness Thomas Thebo reportedly testified that Cales said, “If a Wiccan ever cast a spell on him, he would have to kill the witch to get rid of the spell.” We reached out to the Lenape Nation for a reaction to the testimony, but did not get a response back by publication time.

In a number of media interviews, Cales’ defense attorney Thomas Clark calls the Witchcraft testimony “nonsense.” Before the trial began, he filed a motion to have these documents and the Martinez testimony removed from the case. The motion was denied. All evidence pointing to the Witch hunt was included.

District attorney Donald Gallegos also suggested that Cales was in love with Houston, making the alleged Witchcraft accusations simply a mask. In his public post asking for prayers, Houston’s ex-husband also suggested that there may have been a love triangle. But Gallegos also reminded reporters, “the unrequited love and the witch theories are just that — theories. However, he and his staff are sure that Cales is Houston’s killer.”

Houston was given what was called a “New Age, mystic, pagan service” funeral. Her boyfriend and other roommates did not attend. We reached out to several local Pagans in the region, but did not get a response by publication time.

While Roxy’s mental illness was well-known and led to instability, she was remembered fondly by the few that knew her. As reported in the news, “several local residents […] remembered her for the compassion she is said to have demonstrated towards neighbors. Houston reportedly worked as a caretaker for one neighbor and is also said to have lent a hand distributing food to Carson area residents.”

Upon learning the guilty verdict, Houston’s friend Cheryl Bailey Payne wrote a note to the Taos Sheriff’s office, saying “Thank you from the bottom of not only my, but my daughter’s, and Roxanne’s sister’s hearts – RIP Roxanne – we love you!!”

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Although Houston’s case was not labeled a hate crime, the concerns over such aggression and violence directed at Witches and other minorities do loom in the background for many. Ardanane Learning Center, located in New Mexico, will be running an online two-part seminar dealing specifically with the subject of “Hate Crimes.”

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Over those two days, instructor and former investigator Kerr Cuhulain will “share the lessons he learned dealing with hate crimes during the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s and his experiences with educating law enforcement and other public agencies about Pagan religions.” The classes will take place on March 26 and April 2.

In 2012, Wild Hunt founder Jason Pitzl-Waters published an article called, “Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths.”* To this day, it remains one of our most popular posts. Every year as March approaches, and even as March leaves, the article is read and re-read and read again. So today, we revisit that popular article with updated links, information and quotes.

[Courtesy Pixabay]

[Courtesy Pixabay]

“Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a yearly holiday celebrating Ireland’s favorite patron saint. While it’s a big event in Ireland (and used to be a very solemn occasion), in America it’s a green-dyed bacchanal where everyone is ‘Irish for a day’ (let’s not even start on the horridly stupid ‘unofficial’ St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on college campuses). For some modern Pagans (whether Irish or not), St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a day of celebrations, as they see Patrick, famously attributed with converting Ireland to Christianity, as committing something akin to cultural genocide,” Pitzl-Waters began.

This idea is based on a theory that the “snakes,” which St. Patrick (387-461 CE) allegedly drove out of Ireland in the 5th Century C.E., are actually a symbol for the Druids and their religion. This is not a far-fetched idea considering that the serpent is a common symbol for the Christian devil. Additionally, according to scientists, there weren’t any real snakes in Ireland at that time. In fact, there haven’t been snakes in Ireland for over than 8,500 years. The Ice Age performed the reptilian eviction, or the slaughter as it were, not St. Patrick.

Therefore, the offending serpents had to be something other than actual snakes. And, many modern Pagans have taken this snake as Druid metaphor to heart. For example, as Pitzl-Waters noted, “author Isaac Bonewits called the day All Snakes Day and penned songs calling for the return of the “snakes.”

[Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan / Public domain]

[Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan / Public domain]

But that theory has also been up for debate and, at this point, completely debunked. In 2012, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and scholar with extensive knowledge of Irish myth and folklore, said:

Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century). St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.

That idea was corroborated, in part, by a 2014 television special featured on the Smithsonian Channel. In Sacred Sites: Ireland, documentary filmmakers interview several scientists and Celtic scholars who all agree with Lupus. St. Patrick neither drove out snakes or “snakes;” nor did he singlehandedly convert Ireland’s pagans to Christianity.

According to these experts, it was actually Halley’s Comet that evicted the metaphoric “snakes.”

In his book Blood & Mistletoe: The History of The Druids in Britain, historian Ronald Hutton notes that many of the details surrounding St. Patrick’s life and his work were changed and even fabricated hundreds of years after his death. As quoted by Pitzl-Waters, Hutton wrote, “The importance of Druids in countering [Patrick’s] missionary work was inflated in later centuries under the influence of biblical parallels, and that Patrick’s visit to Tara was given a pivotal importance that it never possessed – if it ever occurred at all – to suit later political preoccupations. […] The only appearances of Druids in documents attributed to Patrick himself occur in some that are generally thought to have been composed after his death.”

Pitzl-Waters also quoted Celtic Reconstructionist Morgan Daimler, who agreed, saying:

…The rest of Patrick’s hagiography has him dueling Druids right and left, killing those who oppose him with callous righteousness, so why would the story suddenly get cryptic about him driving the Druids out? Every other page was proclaiming it proudly! No, this particular tidbit – which is suspiciously exactly the same as a story from the life of a French saint – was always meant to be literal. The earliest reference I have found to anyone thinking the snakes meant Druids (and thanks to the friend who helped me find it) is in the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries from 1911 where someone states that he believes based on a story that because a certain place was where the Druids last stronghold was and also the place Saint Patrick drove the snakes that the snakes must represent the Druids, but it’s just faulty logic (Evans Wentz, 1911). The snakes in the story were just meant to be snakes, just as the toads were toads and Saint George’s dragon was a dragon.

In an article titled “The True Story of St. Patrick,” Ireland’s Druid School speculates that the snake story, as well as the connection to the shamrock, were fabricated simply to help convert the masses. The article reads, “It was as if the Pagan traditions were still so strong with the Lughnasa pilgrimage to the Reek in August that something had to be done to displace the old ways and such a fantastic story as dragon/snake banishing fitted the bill. It had to be long after St Patrick’s death or else everyone would know it was just made up fantasy.”

Historians appear to agree that paganism, in some form, did “thrive” for generations after St. Patrick died. Pitzl-Waters concluded, “There was no Irish pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland, it simply doesn’t exist outside hagiography.” He speculated that the snake story and other such details were added to Patrick’s story simply in order to “establish a heroic Irish saint” rather than to “eradicate traces of Paganism.”

However, despite the overwhelming scientific and historical evidence, the popular snake as Druid metaphor lives on. This is most readily seen in social media, where users perpetuate the idea that St. Patrick’s “snakes” were the country’s Druids. In 2012, Pitzl-Waters wrote “some [people] cling to [the theory] simply because it feels right, or because they like the idea of a holiday dedicated to pagan/Pagan resistance to conversion.”

But the evidence against that idea continues to build. St. Patrick’s serpents were not real snakes, nor could they have been metaphoric “snakes.” It does appear that the story was completely fabricated for one reason or another. And the “driving out” of both types of serpents, was triggered by completely natural, catastrophic events: climate change and a comet.

2011 County Down, Northern Ireland [Photo Credit: Ardfern / Wikimedia]

2011 County Down, Northern Ireland [Photo Credit: Ardfern / Wikimedia]

Regardless, the holiday itself has grown far beyond this particular story and the boundaries of its original religiosity. St. Patrick’s Day has become both a cultural pride day for the Irish people as well as a secular extravaganza, if only in the United States. For some the day is serious business and a day to connect with one’s ancestors and heritage, while for others, it’s simply a day to wear green, eat corned beef and get kissed (or pinched).

While it is may be easy enough to push aside the unnaturally green brew and leprechaun t-shirts, it is hard to deny the role that this holiday has played in Ireland’s history. As Pitzl-Waters noted, “To erase St. Patrick’s Day also erases a vital connection to Irish history and culture.”

But for many modern Pagans, the holiday’s connection to religion, regardless of how the “snakes” were actually evicted, still looms in the background. But Lupus offered one suggestion for those people wishing to celebrate Irish culture on this day without embracing St. Patrick’s story. E wrote, “replace St. Patrick’s day with a day to honor Cú Chulainn.”

… given that Patricius may have usurped a local festival of Macha in the area around Armagh, perhaps what could instead be celebrated is the date that Cú Chulainn first took up arms, upon which he did so in order to fulfill a partial prophecy he heard that whomever took up arms for the first time on that day would be famed forever after; he only learned later that the rest of the prophecy revealed that the famous hero would only live a very short life, to which he responded that it would be better to live but one day and one night in the world if everlasting fame were to be attached to him. This active taking up of the heroic life and all of its responsibilities, including death (most likely on behalf of one’s people, as a warrior), was the date on which he became the protector of the people of Ulster and thus of Emain Macha and his uncle Conchobor mac Nessa’s kingship. What more appropriate occasion, therefore, to celebrate the hero-cultus of Cú Chulainn than on the day that he decided to take up the heroic life?

There are alternatives as Lupus suggests. However, it is difficult to shift associations that are so deeply embedded in the modern cultural and commercial experience. However change can happen over time. And, it has. As seen above, the story of St. Patrick itself has shifted since it was first written. The day has gone from a solemn, Catholic-based story of heroic sainthood to a secular festival celebrating Irish heritage in all its glory, and many things in between.

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[Editor’s Note: The original article was published in 2010, with edited versions published in 2011 and 2012. The above article pulls quotes from the 2012 version.]

The month of October is notoriously famous for eliciting kitschy slogans and glossy advertising inspired by Halloween. So it might not be that peculiar for a New Jersey pizzeria owner to use a Halloween-inspired theme for a political event supporting Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders. While that “debate watch” party, titled “Bern the Witch,” was considered successful and well-received, the slogan itself has generated an entirely different, and perhaps unexpected, reaction.

[Photo Credit: Phil Roeder / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Phil Roeder / Flickr]

“As a witch, I find this form of supporting Bernie particularly outrageous. Do they not know the history of the witch killings? How is this remotely acceptable? […] This slogan promotes hatred and ignorance towards women and their history. As if women did not struggle enough with this already, ” wrote MysticRaven publicly on Facebook.

In a message to The Wild Hunt, pizzeria owner Joe Smith did confirm reports that it was his event that used the slogan first. As he explained to a Vocativ reporter,”I’m not criticizing [Hillary Clinton] because she’s a woman, her policies and her career are disastrous for working people. […] If people wanna look at it one way or another they can. I’m looking to win.[…] I think we need to be on the offensive.”

The debate watch party, held at Smith’s PieZano Pizza Kitchen, was to kick-off a “3 1/2 month victory effort to win the Iowa Caucus.” That party was advertised on the Bernie Sanders official website as an event, along with other independently-sponsored listings.

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The slogan itself was first used on social media in relation to Sanders campaign on Oct 13.

The Thrill Society capitalized on Smith’s slogan by launching a corresponding line of products at Zazzle. The logo contains a witch flying across a yellow circle, or the moon, with Clinton’s face.

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Protests and complaints were not published until nearly five months after the initial event. In early February, The Huffington Post published an article titled “Bern the Witch Hunters.” It reads: “Even the beloved chorus of ‘Feel the Bern’ has been warped and twisted from its original context, abrogated to the more violent and misogynistic chant of “Bern the witch!”  

The first Twitter complaint did not appear until March 1.

A second complaint followed March 11, after which the proverbial flood gates opened. Most of those protests use words like misogynistic, misguided and viciously sexist. Some Clinton supporters are demanding an apology.

Kenya Coviak, a journalist and Witch living in Michigan, told The Wild Hunt:

The tone and historical bigotry, casually used as humor, show a callous and ignorant misogyny and pathology systemically present in the very fabric of the cloth of our electorate that his platform rallies against. I do not have any indication that [Sanders] endorsed this misguided fringe concept. I base this on the fact that many Pagans here in Michigan are very active in supporting him, and if it were part of the color of his campaign culture in truth, this would not be so. It also is drastically out of line with his track record of social justice for everyone, and acceptance of everyone as equal humanity.

Since the protests began, the Sanders campaign has officially disavowed the slogan and the event page was removed. Campaign managers have made it clear that the original event was created independently, and was not officially endorsed like many of those listed on that portion of his site. Nor does the Sanders campaign endorse the Zazzle products and the logo. According to Vortiv, campaign manager Mike Casca said, “We have a team of people who scan and delete any events that are deemed inappropriate.This event was removed immediately from our system after its discovery and the user has been banned.” 

Smith did confirm that he was banned. However, maintaining his political position, he added, “The ban is a formality because Clinton folks are marshmallows. “Bern the Witch” as a theme in the Halloween spirit is nothing compared to here policy attacks on women. If voters are claiming they are standing for women’s rights, then they must align with the sanders campaign to defeat Clinton.”

Regardless of intention and endorsement, the very creation and existence of the logo and slogan have left many feeling uncomfortable. Questions linger, such as why it took so long for a Sanders representative to notice and respond. Coviak said, “… Sanders’ campaign should have caught this […] It is clear that the front line people who are in charge of oversight had a distinct moment of totally not getting it.”

The Sanders campaign has not yet responded to our request for a statement.

While there are various theories attributing the slogan’s creation to any one of the many political groups currently campaigning both Democrat and Republican, the issue does appear to rest squarely on the shoulders of exuberant Sanders supporters. And this is not the first time.

In preparation for the Mississippi primary on March 8, Sanders supporters began using the hashtag #MississippiBerning, and that slogan has generated its own protests and social media backlash. Like “Bern the Witch,” the Mississippi slogan has been lingering quietly for quite some time. It was first used in July 2015 by Josh Telson, and has appeared sporadically over the past 8 months. The first complaint didn’t show up until Mar 8, when one user said, “#MississippiBerning is perhaps not the best hashtag to use me thinks.”

tumblr_o3p5m4B1QK1ugmkf5o1_500Huffington Post writer David Trumble concluded, “The equation seems to be that the nicer Bernie Sanders is, the more his supporters feel entitled to be mean in his name.”

Telson has since had to defend his original usage. In a Tweet, he said that he was just “making a film reference.” He added that it is the Sanders people using the hashtag to support Sanders that are the problem. As for Joe Smith, he has not received any personal attacks over the “Bern the Witch” slogan. He said that he has only gotten a few press calls and “a few phone calls from confused voters.”

Despite any frustrations with the slogan or hashtag, some voters are keeping things in a broader perspective with respect to their own political beliefs. Dana D. Eilers, author of Pagans and the Law, told the The Wild Hunt, “The Sanders Campaign disavowed this attempt to hijack one of the Sanders campaign slogans. We are Democrats, not Republicans.”

Both slogans, “Bern the Witch” and “#MississippiBerning,” have received more attention over the past two weeks through the protests than they ever did in their original usage. Without social media, the slogans might have died out in the halls of obscurity. However, this fact does not erase or trivialize the larger concerns expressed by many voters, who, like Coviak, see this as an example of the “misogyny and pathology” underlying the “fabric of the system.”

Still others are left wondering how far Sanders’ supporters will push and play with the official “Feel the Bern” concept, before it’s all over. As for Joe Smith, he did not confirm or deny if he’d use the “Bern the Witch” slogan again for a local October event. However, he did say that he likes to be “creative,” but at that point he’ll be preparing to take on the Republican candidate.

MEXICO CITY — Nestled between Central America and the United States and extending from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans lies the country of Mexico, known for its rich culture, traditional foods and ancient history. Mexico is also known for supporting a deeply religious culture with the majority practicing Catholicism. In the most recent reports, 82.7% of its 128,109,966 residents identify as Catholic. But thriving within that dominant religious culture are a growing number of minority religions, which are now shifting a religious landscape that has held strong for centuries. One of these emerging religions is Asatru.

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[Courtesy Photo Allthing Asatru Mexico]

In a paper for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Dr. Alberto Patiño Reyes, a professor at Iberoamericana University, wrote :

Religiosity among Mexicans is not a fad or a recent invention; it is a constitutive dimension of the personal and historical identity of the Mexican people. Religiosity not only means the set of expressions and external activities that we conventionally associate with “religion”; it is a reference to the anthropological dimension that undertakes the search for the ultimate meaning of existence. One of the expressions of this religiosity – though not the only one- entails a steady decline in the percentage of the Catholic population in the country.

In his report, Dr. Patiño notes that, according to the “General Population Census of 2000,” 96.48 percent of Mexicans identify as being religious. But only 87.99 percent said that they were Catholic, which is down from 99.5 percent in the 1900 census. And today, that number is still lower, at only 82.7 percent. Despite the decrease in the Catholic population, there is very little decrease in religiosity, which supports Dr. Patiño’s observation on the importance of religion within Mexican society. It also points to the growth of minority religions.

“Heathenry in México is largely unknown and misunderstood for fashion or even a form of cosplay. The average Mexican barely knows Marvel’s Thor, let alone the old Norse religion,” explained Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano, the Góði of Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Sed.

Founded in 2007, Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk is the largest known kindred in Mexico. Salazar, who has been practicing Asatru for 14 years, was unanimously voted its Góði in 2008 and has been ever since. Outside of religious work, Arellano is a computer engineer and brewmaster at Brewery Brauerwolves and lives in the country’s capital, Mexico City. As Dr. Patiño noted in his report, “Religious diversity is not homogeneous across the country. It reaches different percentages at a regional, state and local level.” Most Heathens do live around Mexico City but not exclusively, and Salazar said that he makes an effort to travel around the country to meet other Asatru practitioners and kindreds.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Like most emerging religions, the exact date of origination is difficult to pin down. However, the new collective Mexican Heathen organization, called Allthing Ásatrú México, puts that year roughly at 1997 with the birth of the Kindred Asatru based in Camecuaro in Michoacan. On its website, Allthing recounts the history and politics of various kindreds from that year to its own founding in the fall of 2014.

Salazar, who is also the Góði of Allthing Ásatrú México, said that its difficult to know exactly how many people are “serious Ásatrúar,” because there is a popular “viking metal crowd who wear the Mjölnir on their necks and think of the [Norse] tradition only like a fashion.” Despite the lack of clear data, he does see that their numbers are growing. Currently, Allthing has five member clans, including Clan SvarturDrekar, Clan del Oso, Clan Hijas de Gullveig, Clan Úlfar and Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Sed.

Speaking more specifically about the individuals, Salazar said, “Most of our members are Mexicans. Although there are few cases where they come from Europe or the U.S. As for religious background, most of our members come either from a Catholic background […] or from New Age religions.” He added that some members have “European ancestry, either German or Scandinavian.” In those cases, relatives, typically grandparents, “taught [them] the myths and legends and the lore.” Speaking generally about Allthing members, Arellano said, “We have some history and anthropology enthusiasts, medieval recreationists and practitioners of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) and HMB (Historical Medieval Battle),and others [found us] through music (mostly folk metal).”

When asked about their relationship to Mexico’s own heritage and ancient traditions, Salazar explained that the groups generally try to keep true to Norse mythology and lore, rather than creating an eclectic religious practice. He said, “We don’t mix rituals and elements of other traditions.” However, he did later say that the Aztec and Mayan cultures “were great and leave much cultural and traditional folklore,” adding: “We do give some offering to the local Gods in our Blotar, as they do allow us to work our ways in this Land.”

AllthingNeither Allthing Ásatrú México nor the individual clans are currently members of any international Heathen organization. They generally keep to themselves. However, Salazar said that they “do have relations with some local groups such as those with “Mexican roots (aztec dancers or concheros, Mayan’s sorcerers and sorceresses)” and those practicing “Afro-Cuban witchcraft like Palo Mayombe.” He described such relationships as being based on friendly hospitality and not religious practice. Allthing Ásatrú México also maintains similar friendly relations with a few Heathen kindreds around the world.

Despite the heavy influence of Catholicism on Mexican culture, Salazar said that Asatruar rarely run into any problems. Their numbers are too small to be on the “radar” of the Catholic Church, or anyone else for that matter. Salazar said that the biggest problem facing Mexico’s kindreds is one of public image and not of religious freedom. He explained, “Here in Mexico many Nazi groups use Heathen symbolism with ignorance. You can see them with Mjölnir or Runes on their necks.” He said that Allthing is trying to “clean the Ásatrú and Odinist Image” and that, while all the member clans are autonomous and independent, they all must agree to stand against racism and white supremacy to be a member.

12321669_1532502773717318_5585939726037500073_nAllthing’s latest outreach project is the launch of a monthly digital magazine called El Skalðr. This new magazine’s mission will be to “help spread and promote Ásatrú among all those Spanish speakers interested in it, in a clear and concise way.” Salazar described the scope as going as including, “culture and tradition from both Germanic and Scandinavian Heathenry, practice both in the past and in the present all over the world, archeology, anthropology and history, and news and events from the Heathen world.”

The first issue of El Skalðr will be out in two weeks around the equinox and will feature articles “about the Ásatrú and Odinist History on Mexico, the difference between Odinism, Ásatrú and Wotanism.” It will also contain music recommendations, articles on Ostara and more.

When asked why the clans wanted to take on this project, Salazar said, “There are a number of websites and Facebook groups belonging to the Allthing Ásatrú México, some clans and some moderated by individual members dedicated to spreading the culture and tradition, and informing all those who want to learn about Ásatrú. We wanted to integrate these sources in one publication to make this more efficient.” He also said that there are issues and stories that are very specific to Spanish-speaking Heathenry that would be inappropriate for general forums and needed a dedicated place to “be addressed.”

And the larger Spanish-speaking Heathen community is the target audience. The magazine will be published only in Spanish with contributors, at this point, predominantly from Mexico. While, at first, the magazine will focus mainly on Mexican Heathenry, Salazar did say that they do hope to later “include issues concerning other Spanish speaking countries.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Although Mexico’s Heathen community is small, it is one of the minority religious movements that is shifting the bigger religious picture in the country. Salazar is enthusiastic about this development and future of his religious community. He noted that, in recent years, more and more talented Heathen artisans and artists are available locally to support their religious practice and their study. He said that they now have a store project called “Heathen Drinks and Arts.” And the new magazine will continue in that vein.

As the members of Allthing are now preparing to launch their publishing venture, Salazar welcomes the growth and expansion. Reflecting on his own personal spiritual journey, he said that being a Góði is “hard work,” but he considers it a duty and a way to “honour [his] ancestors, [his] Gods and [his] family.” He added, “Í want to thank my grandfather Luciano Arellano to teach me this wonderful Tradition, to my brother and Clan co-founder Jorge Ballesteros, to all the Clan Úlfey members and the Allthing Ásatrú México Clans by their Support and at last þó my brother and Master Isaac Vázquez at the H.O.S.F.”

The magazine will be available on the Equinox in a downloadable, free PDF format. Look for it on Allthing’s website and Facebook page.

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[Editor’s Note:This article is currently being translated into Spanish and will be made available in PDF form in the coming days. We will provide a link here and announce its availability in social media.]