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Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

It was announced this week that Dragon Ritual Drummer founder and elder Flint has lost is battle with cancer.  Flint was diagnosed July 2014. The doctor’s gave him only two months to live, but he fought hard, even performing with the band. Utu Witchdoctor posted on the group’s Facebook page, “Brother Flint was one of our founding members, a force to be reckoned with, a soul that touched so many, one of the best there ever was. Our man Flint was the grounding force in our troupe, kept all us youngins’ in place, he was our father, our brother, our best friend.”

After Flint’s family is finished with its private ceremony, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will be holding a special, public Viking funeral for him. Utu Witchdoctor said, “We have already begun the construction of the funeral boat, and it will be set a flame and cast out into the waters as everyone drums and celebrates his life, full open pagan ceremony and celebration.” 

Despite this loss, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will not be taking any time off and plan to honor Flint at every one of their scheduled performances. The next one will be at Florida Pagan Gathering, where the group plans to share many of their memories and release some of their grief. Utu Witchdoctor also noted that the song Bamboula, performed at the end of most shows and captured in a recent video, will be forever dedicated to Flint. He explained that this song has an “historic New Orleans voodoo rhythm [that they] were entrusted with” and that honors one’s ancestors. Flint is now considered an ancestor of “their tribe.” What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Freedom DayIn South Africa, April 27 marks Pagan Freedom Day. The movement began twelve years ago, in 2003, when a number of local Pagans began discussing the need to openly declare their religious freedom. Damon Leff explained, “At the time, even prominent (public) Pagans were questioning whether or not Witches in South Africa were really free. It was important to show them that we were, that we could gather publicly.” The first gatherings happened in 2004 in “Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and the Wilderness” with no negative backlash.

Over the years, the annual celebration has become larger, spreading to other communities throughout South Africa. Mja Principe, convener of the Pagan Freedom Day Movement and Pagan Council, said, “Freedom Day is the annual celebration of every South African’s right to human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of association, as well as the celebration of religious freedom, irrespective of the individual’s alternative or mainstream religious background.”  Penton Independent Media has published several posters advertising local celebrations and scheduled activities. Photos of the day’s events will be uploaded to the Pagan Freedom Day Movement Facebook page.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This past weekend, Rev. Patrick McCollum, together with friends, celebrated his 50 years of service to the Pagan community. In 1965, McCollum began the work that eventually led to his position today as a global ambassador of peace, a respected spiritual counselor and interfaith chaplain. Over those 50 years, he has been involved with a number of Pagan organizations, including Our Lady of the Wells, Cherry Hill Seminary Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty League, and more.

In 2010, McCollum won the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism and, through his foundation, he continues his commitment, as a Pagan voice, to global peace work. Most recently, the foundation announced that it is reaching out to communities in Nepal to assist in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. We will have more on that developing story tomorrow.

In Other News

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

[Editor’s Note: Before continuing with our regularly scheduled story, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the many victims of the Saturday’s Earthquake in Nepal. The Wild Hunt has reached out to Pagans in South East Asia and to first responders. In the coming days, we will be sharing what we learn and the various ways to assist those victims.]

OAKLAND, California – On April 23, Mills Pagan Alliance of Mills College was presented with the Student Organization of the Year Award. The annual recognition honors an “organization that has demonstrated through their events and activities, outstanding collaboration and dedication to educating the Mills and broader community.” This marks the first time that the Pagan organization has won the award, and been publicly recognized by the college.

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

On hand to accept the award were co-founders Kristin Oliver, Rose Quartz and Sasha Reed and member Nikka Tahan. Oliver said:

This award says that the Mills community is a place where Pagans can practice and thrive openly, a place where Pagans at Mills are respected and admired, and where Pagans are known as community leaders. For us, it means that what we do matters. What we say matters.

She added, “We won because of the leadership we demonstrated in the aftermath of losing the campus chaplain. In her absence (and we still don’t have a school chaplain) we played a huge role in keeping spirituality alive and present for all faiths for this entire year.”

Before this school year, the Alliance founders had already been demonstrating strong community leadership. Oliver said that in past years Mills College only had dormant or “defunct” Pagan club. Like at many schools, the viability of the student club is wholly dependent on the eagerness of its members. Often, when the founders and other invested members graduate, the club falters or completely dissolves.

In 2013, one of the college chaplains approached Oliver, asking if she would like to help lead the club with Quartz and Reed. She agreed, as did the others. So, in an attempt to breathe life back into the old organization, they changed the club’s name to the Mills Pagan Alliance and immediately began working to connect with the community.

At the first meeting, they asked attendees “What do you want out of this club?” The answer was unanimously, “We want to learn.” Since 2013, the Alliance has built a small Pagan library with donations from many in the Bay Area. It regularly brings in local speakers, such as Rev. Patrick McCollum, Sharon Knight, Timotha Doane, Violet Fortuna, Moonwater SilverClaw, Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton and Granny Greenleaf. And, the club hosts a number of campus events throughout the year. One of the first was a Samhain ritual that was held right in college’s chapel.

In 2014, Rev. Patrick McCollum turned to the Mills Pagan Alliance to find a student interested in accompanying him to the United Nations International Peace Day events in New York City. Then junior Rowan Weir was selected and became a U.N. Pagan youth delegate. As a regular guest of the club, Rev. McCollum also has brought his World Peace violin to meetings and even allowed Reed to play it.

In addition to events and guests, the Pagan Alliance has also begun reaching out beyond the college campus. For example, the group was actively in attendance at PantheaCon 2015 in San Jose. Members assisted Rev. Selena Fox with her Brigid Healing Ritual and were vocal during the Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change panel. During that session, they asked questions on how younger generations can be effective and integral parts of the movement, the important conversations and the evolving structures at both a local and larger community level.

The 2014-2015 Student Organization of the Year Award demonstrates that the college itself noticed all of the Alliance’s work and the rising spirit of leadership within its ranks. However, it was the club’s perseverance after losing its chaplain, which ultimately earned it the recognition.

Oliver explained that the circumstances of the chaplain’s dismissal were “mysterious.” She had played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Pagan Alliance and bringing together the three student leaders. Oliver described the chaplain, who preferred to be anonymous, as “a wonderful person and … extremely supportive of the club.” Her dismissal came as a surprise.

Even after the hearbreaking news, the Alliance continued on with its work in support of its mission, and that perseverance won it the award. Member Blue Anderson said:

I think that this award represents an acknowledgement of this club as not only unique, but important. We all knew that the student body knows that we’re here. We have a presence on campus. People see us around. But receiving this award seems to say not only, “We see you,” but, “We value you, too.” 

Co-founder Sasha Reed added:

In today’s predominantly Christian society, pagan groups are so frequently either blatantly discriminated against or simply brushed under the rug. By awarding Mills Pagan Alliance the Club of the Year award, to me this sends a clear message that our school both respects us and recognizes the work we’ve done. When Kristen, Rose, and I first sat together and discussed the prospect of starting a pagan club, I never thought that it would expand to be the community of strong, supportive students it has become today. Winning this award means so much to me; a recognition of my faith as a legitimate, respected practice in my school community, and a recognition of all this club has achieved. Going forward, I hope this award will allow Mills Pagan Alliance to serve a wider community within our school and the surrounding city and also help our club to receive additional funding to host more events, and also solidify this club as a permanent, prominent force on Mills campus. 

Oliver noted that the award also has a very personal meaning for two of its members. Reed and Quartz are graduating. For them, this is the proverbial “icing on the cake” of their time at Mills College and a mark of job well-done.

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

The club’s next event will be a Beltane ritual held May 1 at the college’s Botanical Gardens. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff. Then, May 9, the Alliance will be taking part in the 12th annual Berkeley Pagan Festival, during which members will be assisting with the main ritual. Next year the group hopes to host a hospitality suite at PantheaCon that caters to college-age Pagans and addresses issues specifically facing young Pagans. Oliver said:

Going forward, we are still committed to being at the forefront of keeping spiritual and religious life a permanent feature on campus for all until a permanent multi-faith chaplain is hired. But we are also interested in how we can be of service to the greater Pagan community, particularly for those of college age. We will certainly be engaging in the conversation regarding race, gender, and privilege within the Pagan community. 

In 2014, an estimated 300,000 people marched through the streets of New York City and another 40,000 in London in the biggest protest to draw attention to global climate change. The protesters came from all walks of life to stand together to raise awareness and demand action. The landmark event demonstrated, if nothing else, the universality of the concern and the growing acceptance that climate change must be addressed now.

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit:  Groundswell Movement)

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit: Groundswell Movement)

However, for the average person, affecting real change can become overwhelming and discouraging. Where do I begin? What can I do?  Will recycling a newspaper or using cloth grocery bags actually help? In a past Wild Hunt article on fracking, activist Courtney Weber, co-founder of Pagan Environmental Coalition – New York City, said, “I can’t fight for bees, deforestation and the black rhino. Philosophically I can. But practically I can’t.” She recommended that people, ‘Pick what’s local. Pick what makes you mad.”

Unfortunately, even at a local level, there seems to be an overwhelming number of causes that can make “you mad” from polluted waters and the KXL pipeline to deforestation of rainforests, such as in Tasmania, and the near extinction of species, such as the Black Rhino. Where does a single person begin to affect real change? Not everyone can be a full-time activist.

In recent article for AEON magazine, writer Stewart Brand makes an interesting observation, which may help to answer this question. Brand claims that “the idea that we are edging up to a mass extinction is not just wrong – it’s a recipe for panic and paralysis.” He argues that many people focus on a single extinction or threat, and fail to see the bigger picture. He wrote:

No end of specific wildlife problems remain to be solved, but describing them too often as extinction crises has led to a general panic that nature is extremely fragile or already hopelessly broken. That is not remotely the case. Nature as a whole is exactly as robust as it ever was – maybe more so, with humans around to head off ice ages and killer asteroids. Working with that robustness is how conservation’s goals get reached.

Brand’s concept can be applied well-beyond species protection, in that he compares environmental conservation to human medical care. While one scratch or bruise must be treated properly, these smaller ills are either isolated issues, or indicative of a far larger health problem. Like human wellness, conservation work should focus its resources on identifying and solving the larger problem, and on the general, sustainable health of the entire system – in this case, the ecosystem.

In other words, Brand argues that conversation science and environmental activism should look to repairing and balancing our world’s ecosystems, rather than only focusing on small fixes. And, according to the article, this thinking seems to be trending. He wrote, “As the new science of conservation biology came into its own in the 1980s and ’90s, focus shifted away from concern about the fate of individual species and toward the general health of whole ecosystems.”

With this shift to holistic Earth health, humanity’s role as protector changes. Within that perspective, we become a functioning part of the system, from the micro to the macro. As such, it becomes easier to locate a working role in conservation efforts, both from a practical and religious perspective. John Halstead, editor of Humanistic Paganism.com, said:

Part of my morning devotional is to take a moment on my way to my car to squat down and touch the earth.  I reach my fingers through the grass or leaves or snow until I feel the dirt under my fingers, and then I recite a paraphrase of a poem by Mary Oliver: ‘The god of dirt came up to me and said ‘now’ and ‘now’ and ‘now’, and never once mentioned forever.’  This helps make my Paganism feel real. The feeling of wet or cold or just the “dirt-ness” reminds me not to romanticize nature.  It reminds me that my deity is not the Goddess of the Earth, but the Goddess that is the Earth, the Earth that this very real dirt is a part of.  And it reminds me that that my Paganism needs to mean something for the health of the very dirt under my fingers and everything it is connected to. 

Similarly, Pagan artist Lupa said, “My path is Earth Stewardship. Not in the sense of chaining myself to giant redwoods or yelling at people online because their environmental choices are not my environmental choices. Mine is a quieter revolution based on trying to model better behaviors, ones that I’ve come to through many hours of considering the choices before me. I try to live as though everything is sacred, because to me everything is nature and nature is what I consider sacred.”

Blue Ridge Mountains

[Photo Credit: JSmith / Flickr]

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, George Marshall wrote, “Our understanding of climate change is built on scientific evidence, not faith. The faith displayed in the churches, mosques, and temples on every street is built on a deep understanding of human drives and emotions. Only when we put these different parts of our psyche together can we achieve change; to say to anyone who will listen: “I’ve heard the science, I’ve weighed up the evidence. Now I’m convinced. Join me.”

When referencing “faith,” Marshall is speaking of monotheistic religious practices. He does not address Paganism, Polytheism or Heathenry, many of which already exist at his coveted intersection. As demonstrated by Lupa and Halstead, many of these traditions function with a crossover between the understanding of human spirituality (drive and emotions) and the literal and scientific understanding of place (nature). Editor of Polytheist.com Anomalous Thracian wrote:

“Place” is a concept that gets talked about a lot in Polytheist religion, especially in discussions about regional cultus. In my practice, discussions of “place” are not abstract, but direct and literal, referring to both the specific spirits and deities of that specific place, as well as the physical expressions of that place. Groves of trees, formations of stone and earth, flowing currents of water, are not mere aesthetic assemblage to assist in the desperate grabbing and reaching after mental balance or sense of inner meaninglessness, but instead are — in their vibrantly material presence — the cornerstones of it all, where belief and practice converge.

The personhood-of-place, and its hierarchical placement in literal consideration, realized relational configurations and intentional interaction within the dynamics of hospitality and recognized role, are how it all starts. The places within the natural elemental world are the places where the gods reach through first to touch our lives in raw and visceral fashion, and it is these selfsame places that must be guarded not as holiest of relics but as holiest of relations. The actively and directly engaged protecting of this world, as a collective whole and in its individual places, is paramount to the authentic and embodied expression of any Polytheist endeavor and identity, for without the humility to know one’s place in the natural world one can never hope to hold true piety at the feet of the blessed gods.

Similarly Rev. Selena Fox, who worked closely with Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, on the very first celebrations, sees no distinction between her religious and environmental work. She said, “Environmental conservation and green living are essential parts of my life and work as a Nature religion priestess. In addition to tending shrines and ceremonial areas at Pagan sacred land, Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, I am part of ecological restoration, research and conservation endeavors there. Our national Pagan cemetery, Circle Cemetery, is one of the first Green cemeteries in the USA —  …  Ecological activism is sacred work.”

Although Thracian and Fox practice very different religions, their personal sense of place within the greater natural system, and the health of that system are paramount to both of their beliefs and their daily work. One cannot exist without the other.

Lou Florez, rootworker and witch, also agreed, saying, “I collect trash from rivers and ocean beaches, specifically from the areas where I give offerings and do rituals. I’m also cultivating a small medicine garden to engage a more sustainable relationship. When we talk about Earth-based traditions we are talking about being in connection, investing ourselves in the health and well-being of the land that sustains us.”

The sense of place within the ecosystem, in some form, appears to exist within the religious and spiritual practices of many Pagan, Heathen and Polythiest communities, whether or not the practice itself is considered Earth-based from an environmental perspective. This correlates to Brand’s notion of affecting change through holistic Earth health. As such, Pagans, Polytheists, Heathens may be helping to bridge that perceived gap between religion and environmentalism, as noted by Marshall.

Within the interfaith movement, that already seems to be the case. As mentioned in an earlier Wild Hunt article, Covenant of the Goddess’ Interfaith Representative Don Frew “relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, interest waned after 9/11.” Frew added that this is once again shifting.

Co-writer of CoG’s Environmental Statement and Interfaith Representative Aline (Macha) O’Brien said, “My way of expressing devotion, to Earth, to Mother Nature, to different deities, is to chant or sing.” O’Brien relayed a story in which she led a spiral dance at an interfaith wedding using “The Pleiades Chant.”* She said, “Shortly after the wedding, at MIC’s annual interfaith prayer breakfast, my friend Sister Marion of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael came up to me and asked, ‘Now, how did that chant go?’ She said it had been running through her head and she’d really loved it and wanted a refresher on the wording. ”

Much of the work described, such as chanting, rituals and devotionals, are indicators of a spiritual connectivity between religion and place, from within the global ecosystem, rather than independent from it. While those actions alone will not heal the environment or balance the system, they do demonstrate a profound shift in thought. Courtney Weber said:

Turning this tide is tough work. Whether it’s denial, greed, or being overwhelmed by the problem’s size, somehow, the mere truth that we need to change our ways in order to preserve our species is not enough incentive to get enough people on board. Religion can hurt the environmental movement—particularly religions, which believe that a better life in a different world awaits humanity, or a desperately optimistic belief that “everything will work out as God/ess intended.” But religion can benefit the movement by instilling a moral imperative into its practitioners that preserving and improving our environment is a mark of grace and therefore, something that cannot wait.

Brand is optimistic saying, “The trends are favourable. Conservation efforts often appear in the media like a series of defeats and retreats, but as soon as you look up from the crisis-of-the-month, you realise that, in aggregate, conservation is winning.” The diversity and size of the attendance at the climate march is also sign of that favorable trend, as is the support for the “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” Awareness is a beginning.

Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

Lupa agreed, saying “I want to invite others to retake their place amid the rest of nature, not as conquerors or guilt-ridden relatives or throwbacks to some dark age, but as members of a community. We’ve had plenty of doom and gloom about what will happen if we continue what we’re doing; I want to show people the benefits and joys of living closer to the land, whether that’s on a remote farm or (like me) in an urban apartment.”

Going back to the original question, “How can I help?” The big picture of environmental health can begin in very small ways, with the tiny ecosystems in our backyards, farms, empty city lots, terrace gardens or even public parks. If all these areas were regularly maintained as balanced, healthy ecosystems, they would, over time, eventually meet up, covering the world-over and, thereby, creating one big healthy, sustainable Earth.

 

* Author’s Note: “The Pleiades Chant” (via Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien) “There’s a part of the Sun in an apple; There’s the part of the Moon in a rose; A part of the flaming Pleiades; In every leaf that grows.”

[Photo Credit: S. Del Kjer]

[Photo Credit: S. Del Kjer]

On Sunday, April 12, nearly 100 people gathered together to honor the life of Yuvette Henderson, a 38-year old woman who was killed in Oakland in February. The vigil and march, organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project, is one of the many recent Bay Area social justice actions that have been supported by local area Pagans.

In this case, there were at least nine Pagans in attendance. T. Thorn Coyle was one of them and said, “[We] gathered on the corner where Yuvette was killed by Emeryville PD, in Oakland. We then caravaned to deliver letters to Home Depot and the Oakland Police department (who are overseeing the investigation) asking for security tapes.”

While the vigil and march were peaceful, several businesses did close down along the route, including the Home Deport where Yuvette was killed. Overall, the event was called a success. Various marchers noted the friendly car caravan, and bicycle escort, and the moving speeches by the Yuvette’s family members. Coyle, herself, thanked those Pagans who came out with her, saying that she enjoyed “interacting” with all of her fellow marchers.

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James L. Bianchi

James L. Bianchi

On Saturday, April 18, Murias O’Ceallagh, presider of the House of Danu, held a healing energy prayer and rite for organization founder James Bianchi. Last week, Bianchi was reportedly infected with mrsa and put on life support at John-Muir Medical. Doctors are fearful that the infection is attacking his heart.

Bianchi is one of the leaders of the House of Danu. He is also a lawyer, faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary, a filmmaker and skilled drummer. On the Facebook event page, O’Ceallagh wrote, “James has done incredible work and been of incredible service to all in the community throughout the years. Let all of us whom have benefited now be of service to him. Peace & Health to James Heart.”

There was an outpouring of support over the weekend from Pagans around the world. People posted photos of altars with burning candles, and reported drumming activities and other prayer offerings. It was also reported that Bianchi’s condition is improving, if only slowly, and that the continued offering of energy healing is very welcome by his family.

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kindred irminsulIn January, we reported that the Heathen community was growing in Costa Rica. Within that story, we also noted that both Pagans and Heathens had been interviewed on a Costa Rican television program about their religious practices. “On Dec. 4, Costa Rican channel Canal Nueve interviewed the group on its national show Universos Desconocidos.”

Esteban Sevilla Quiros, goði for Kindred Irminsul, recently informed us that the groups were invited back. He said, “We will talk about the beliefs of the vikings, their gods, rituals, sacrifices, and the life after death.” Doing this work is part of his organization’s mission to inform and educate the general Costa Rican population about Heathenry. The show, Universos Desconocidos, can be watched live on Canal 9 via the internet. It will air April 23 at 9pm Mountain Time.

In Other News:

  • Tzipora Katz, former wife of Kenny Klein, launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise legal defense funds. Katz explained that she is now being sued for breaking a 1998 court gag order by speaking publicly about her relationship with Kenny Klein. She added, “I was at a crossroad and had to make a choice.” The fundraising campaign will pay for her defense in this lawsuit and, if there is money left over, she will donate it to A Woman’s Place.
  • The “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” is in its last days of editing and public comment. It will be posted in its final form on ecopagan.com for signatures on Wed. April 22, Earth Day. In a press release, organizers said, “Beyond technical and political solutions, the Statement calls for a “change in spirit” that fosters ‘a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole.‘ “
  • The HAXAN Film Festival is accepting submissions for its second annual event in August. The festival’s mission is support “local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections to our surroundings, ancestors, and selves.” Organizers explain,” We are interested in the Bay Area’s rich history of psychics, savants, mysticism, and occult practices dating back to the psychedelic 1960s and well beyond. We present the weird of New Age pop culture alongside the sacred and mythological, as both serve as an interesting avenue into this city’s colorful history and distinct culture.” Submissions are due by May 15.

haxan

  • The conversations on leadership and accountability continue at Polytheist.com. On April 8, River Devora posted a contemplative article titled, “The Art of Being Led.” She wrote, “As communities grow, leaders step up to help shape, guide, inspire, organize, and support these growing communities and the individuals within them. As leaders arise to guide new and expanding communities, it is important that we who are being led maintain active engagement with the shaping and maintenance of leadership structures.”
  • Festival season is arriving for many Pagans and Heathens across the United States. In Pennsylvania, Grove of Gaia Fest organizers are counting the days to their May 2 day-long celebration. Tennessee’s Pagan Unity Fest (PUF) is held two weeks later May 14-17 and features local band Tuatha Dea. The following week, EarthSpirit Community will be holding its Rites of Spring festival May 20-25 in Western Massachusetts. Those are just three of the many festivals that will be kicking-off the spring and summer season.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

In the northern regions of Europe, there is a growing Pagan and Heathen community in the Republic of Finland. With a population of 5.4 million, the Nordic country rests between Sweden, Russia, Norway and the Gulfs of Bosthia and Finland. Its capital, Helsinki, is the second-most northern national capital in the world, with Reykjavik being first.

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

Throughout that territory people, a growing number of Finns are discovering and connecting with new religions and spiritual paths. According to Lehto (The Grove), a Finnish nature-religions organization, there are “a few thousand Neo-Pagans” in the country. To help better understand this movement and religious traditions in Finland, we spoke with four people, who share their impressions and observations on this unique and growing culture.

The majority of Finnish Pagans and Heathens live in the southern portions of the country, concentrated in the major urban areas such as Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. However, there are some practitioners in the middle regions. Essi Mäkelä, president of Pakanaverkko (The Pagan Network), said “Pagans are quite spread out but southern Finland has the most active of them probably … although there has been growing activity in eastern and middle Finland too (Lappeenranta, Jyväsklyä and Kuopio)”

Mäkelä lives in Helsinki and is a “scholar in the study of religions.” She identifies as Discordian; however, she also said that she did study Wicca and “will sometimes use those rituals.” While Wicca appears to be the dominant practice, it is closely followed by various forms of eclectic Paganism. Jarno Oivakumpu, chairman of Lehto, explained, “I believe many Pagans don’t necessarily link themselves to any specific practice. In Finnish culture, religion/spirituality is a personal thing, and considered pretty individual.” That is certainly the case for Oiakumpu, who identifies as a pantheist/animist with interests in various spiritual practices. He said, “Spirituality is part of my everyday life” and doesn’t align himself with one religion.

Along with Wicca and the more eclectic forms of Paganism, there are small numbers of Druids, Asatruar, and more. Mäkelä added that Finland also has a strong and vocal movement of Discordianism as well as Satanism. She quickly explained the latter, saying that this is not “Satan Worship” and is accepted as a religious philosophy based on individualism.

In addition, Mäkelä and several others noted that there is a growing movement seeking to revive traditional Finnish Paganism, and this religion may actually be the most popular now. Tuula Muukka, editor of quarterly magazine Vox Paganorum, practices a form of Finnish Paganism or Suomenusko. She said, “I originally read about Wicca, but then ran into other Finns who had found the old tradition, and the rest was history. I’ve been on this path for about eight years.” She belongs to a Karhun kansa community, or “The Bear Folk.” There are other similar groups dedicated to such practice, such as Taivaannaula (The Nail in the Sky), although they do not identify as “neo-Pagan.”

In 2013, Karhun Kansa was granted official recognition as a religion by the Finnish government. Oivakumpu explained that this act made Karhun Kansa the first “neopagan religious community in Finland.” He said that, while the country has had “religious freedom since 1923,” religions must be officially recognized in order to earn special government protections.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the national church of Finland. According to 2012 statistics, 76.4 percent of the population belongs to the Lutheran Church. Another 1.1 percent belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, or similar Orthodox sects; 1.4 percent claimed “other” and 21.0 percent did not respond.

Mäkelä explained, “Finnish law is closely connected with the Church law … We are going toward better equality, but religion is still taught at schools.” She added that the practice of non-registered religions is permissible; however, those religions or groups are not protected by the “Violations Against Religious Peace and the Education Law.” For example, the police will treat the desecration of a Pagan religious site differently than that of Lutheran church.

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

Tampere region, from Western Finland [Photo Credit: Jarno Oivakumpu]

But as she noted, things may be changing. Karhun kansa has received its official recognition, and as noted by Lehto’s Information Officer Katariina Krabbe, “The Parliament recently approved a new law which forbids religious education and practices in public day care.” She added, “The overall atmosphere has become much more tolerant toward Pagan religions than about 10-15 years ago.”

Despite these small strides, the ever-presence of the Lutheran Church can disrupt some aspects of Pagan practice. Krabbe said, “Regarding [mental] health services, people … who admit to having contacts with the spirits of nature, can still have a false diagnosis because their religion can be interpreted as psychotic delusions.”

More practically, sometimes finding a suitable outdoor ritual or festival site poses a problem. Muukka explained, “When we try to book an old school or other location for our camps, they are hard to find. Finland is [the] land of 1,000 lakes and we all like to take sauna baths and swim, if possible, but usually the best places are owned by the Lutheran Church, so we are not welcome. Or even if the place is owned by a city or some association, there may be a building or part of building in the area which has been consecrated for Lutheran use.”

Even with the difficulties, recent statistics support Krabbe’s belief that times are changing. In 1900, 98.1 percent of the population was Lutheran. That number has dropped significantly. Oivakumpu adds, “Finns are not very religious.” He said that “the mainstream mentality is atheistic” and “disregards spirituality as hocus-pocus.”

This points to the biggest problem facing Pagans and Heathens in the country. There is a total disregard for the practice of any these alternative religions. While Mäkelä considers this anonymity a plus in many ways, she did say that “the lack of knowledge and recognition from the state and Finnish society” are two of the biggest hurdles. Muukka agreed saying that they need to continue to “spread the right kind of information,” adding “I’d also like to [see] the separation of church and state, but that would require efforts from others as well.”

Krabbe said that another obstacle is the “lack of strong local Pagan communities, where you can live your every day life as Pagan among other Pagans.” She said that groups only gather for seasonal festivals, and that otherwise religious life is very private and cut-off from community.

To help bridge that gap, Finnish Pagans and Heathens are turning to online resources. Pakanaverkko, Lehto, Taivaannaula, Karhun kansa, the Pagan Federation-Finland, and other groups or practices, all maintain a digital presence. Some manage forums; some produce digital magazines; and others engage with social media. While the country does boast metaphysical shops, they are either dying, as in other countries, or turning to online sales. Krabbe said, “Facebook groups are the best way to gain information about local Pagan news and events.”

When asked to describe a unique aspect of practicing their religion in Finland, they all described two things: a natural connection with the land and the survival of folklore and tradition. Oivakumpu said, “Finland has a lot of clean nature with wide forests and large lakes. Also a seashore and arctic landscapes in the north. Experiencing nature is easy.” Muukka, who grew up in a small village, said, “I thank every birch tree if I take twigs from it to put in a vase at home, little things like that.” Krabbe said, “You cannot live in Finland without being influenced by the seasonal cycles of the year, so it would be very hard not to live attuned to it.”

In addition, those interviewed also mention the importance of the surviving Finnish folklore and traditions, even those people that do not practice Finnish Paganism as a religion. Krabbe noted, “We have the largest collection of folk poetry in the world in the Finnish Literature Society’s archive.” She also mentioned Finnish epic, the Kalevala.

Mäkelä was quick to note that many of these traditional works are not necessarily indicators of ancient practice, nor are they consistently used for religious purposes in modern day. However, she did not deny the influence of folk traditions on Finnish culture and modern religions. She said, “In Finland, it is easy to celebrate Yule and not have anything to do with Jesus.” She explained that many of these non-Christian practices are still present in the “how” of modern Finnish celebrations.

Due to be released in fall 2015, a new film, titled Ukonvaaja (The Hammer of Ukko), will explore traditional Finnish culture and religious practice. Recently, the filmmakers recently interviewed Muukka about the celebration of the fall harvest. The trailer is shown above.

In talking with the Finnish Pagans, Krabbe expressed something that is echoed in the film trailer. She said, “I think that most Finnish people have a pagan soul, even if they don’t realize it. It is a natural way of life here and we haven’t lost entirely our connection to nature or the way of life of our ancestors.”

Priestess Deborah Maynard [photo from facebook profile]

Priestess Deborah Maynard [Courtesy Photo]

Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard successfully delivered an invocation before the Iowa State Legislature on Thursday, April 9. With reportedly two-thirds of the representatives present, Maynard stood before the government body and asked for the blessings of “God, Goddess, Universe, that which is greater than ourselves.” To benefit the day’s legislative work, her invocation called to each element, asking for support with things such as balance, compassion, reason, and strength. Then, she called to spirit and ended with “Blessed Be, A-Ho and Amen.”

Her invocation was met with backlash from some visitors and lawmakers. Several conservative Christian organizations called for silent protests and prayers during her invocation. Visitor Rieke Plecus, for example, told a local news reporter that he was attending to “pray for her salvation.” Others reportedly prayed to protect the legislative body from the Wiccan prayer. A number of lawmakers, such as Rep. Rob Taylor, turned their backs in silent protest, while others simply did not show up.

Despite the backlash, Maynard remained upbeat. She told The Wild Hunt, “There were some individuals in the audience that closed themselves off to hearing the words on my invocation. For the majority of those present that were open to at least listen, I think my words showed the positive message I had for the legislative branch. I hope more states learn to honor the diverse faiths of their constituencies as Iowa has begun to do.”

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Circle Sanctuary logo

In similar news, the video of Rev. Selena Fox’s 2009 invocation before the Wisconsin legislature has been recovered. Circle Sanctuary has purchased rights to show the video and has made it publicly available. Fox’s approach was different than Maynard’s. She called for a day of effective collaborative work through recognizing a connection to Wisconsin’s land, history and diversity. She used inclusive language, allowing all people present to connect with their own “religious, spiritual or philosophical” beliefs in the name of that work. The video can be seen here. (Note: a Silverlight add-in must be installed to see this video. It will instruct you on how to do this.)

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margot-adlerThe Firefly House has proposed a worldwide celebration of a new Margot Adler Day on April 16. As described, it is a day to “celebrate the birthday of legendary priestess, journalist, and activist Margot Adler.” She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 16, 1946. After a long battle with cancer, Adler died in July 2014.

On the first birthday after her death, Firefly members are calling for this annual day of remembrance. They have set up a Facebook event page, on which people are already sharing their memories of Adler or how her work touched their lives. Organizers offer suggestions on various ways to celebrate and honor Adler’s life. They say, “contribute writing to your favorite publication; preserve your community’s history by interviewing or archiving stories from your tradition; donate to your favorite Pagan or secular media outlets; learn about the growth of the Pagan movement and what you can do to get involved.”

In Other News

  • The Church of All Worlds (CAW) and the Morning Glory Zell Memorial Foundation have launched a new campaign to raise money for the purchase of a large property in northern California. As organizers explain, “Morning Glory’s & Oberon’s lifelong Dream was for a permanent sustainable Eco-Village where people would honor our Mother Earth through community gardens, green technology, seasonal celebrations, and passing on their skills and traditions to future generations. A place where residents could live, Elders could retire, students could study, and visitors could enjoy.” CAW has identified an ideal property, once used as a children’s camp, and is now turning to the greater community for financial support to make this dream a reality.
  • In a related story, Four Quarters Farm, located in Artemas, Pennyslvania, announced that it has just recently purchased another 110 acres of land adjacent to its current property. The Farm now owns 250 acres that are all dedicated to its mission: “to provide safe harbor for the practice of both indigenous and modern Earth Religions, and to help preserve their spiritual roots into the future.” The new property was purchased with the help of member loans and donations. Organizers added that “43 acres of this new land will be used in the coming years as altar sites and additional space for members camps.”
  • For those who watch the Fox Network show “Backstrom,” you may have caught Circle Magazine at the beginning of the April 9 episode called “Love is a Rose and You Better Not Pick it.” The magazine appears in full close-up during the credits within the first 10 minutes of the show. Its appearance had nothing to do with the episode itself, and was a complete surprise to Circle Magazine staff.
  • Erin Lale has written a short two-part history entitled “Early Net Experiences.” In these blog posts, she discusses her introduction to the early MSN Asatru group, and how she became its moderator. She then goes on the discuss how that work lead to the writing of her book Asatru for Beginners. She added, “Since I first wrote it, Asatru has experienced some generational change, and some change sparked by the changing technology of the internet. I’m working on a new edition to reflect these generational changes, which I hope to publish in 2017.”
  • Singer-Songwriter Celia Farran is currently traveling in Ireland, where she stopped to visit the broken Manannan statue at sculptor John Stutton’s studio. While there, she performed her “Song for Manannan.” In addition, Farran was invited to speak on BBC Radio Foyle. She played a portion of the same song and spoke with Mark Patterson about her work. The interview begins at about 1:38:40.

That’s all for now! Have a nice day.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Early morning on March 31, Heather Arlene Carr, known as Kiteria in her magical community, set out to perform a healing ritual for her ailing Uncle. Within a rock art installment at Riverside Park, Carr began her rite in night’s darkness at 2:30 a.m. Carr was a “night owl” and comfortable with being alone. The park was a place she frequented. Nothing about the evening was unusual for the longtime witch. However, on this particular night, something went tragically wrong.

Heather Arlene Carr [Courtesy Photo S. Carr)

Heather Arlene Carr [Courtesy Photo S. Carr)

Heather Carr was born on September 6, 1974 in Kamloops, British Columbia to a Mormon family. She and her family moved to Tumbler Ridge, where she graduated from high school in 1992. Over the next few years, she gave birth to her two sons, and continued to attend the local Mormon church. However, in 1998, her life changed. She and her sons returned to Kamloops, where she attended college, built her home, and, eventually, discovered a new spiritual path.

While Carr was working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work, she met her former partner Leesa Warner, and together they were introduced to Wicca. Warner said, “During her first year of university we were playing some online games. Someone we chatted with regularly from Ontario mentioned Wicca. We bought books, looked online, and researched our asses off.” Both Carr and Warner have practiced together for years. Warner added, “Later in life, Heather identified herself as family tradition Wicca. She practiced a combination of Wicca, shamanism, and Druidic works. Near the end she identified as ‘Dragon Fae’ though none of us really knew what that meant.”

After graduating, Carr’s life was full and not without difficulties. One of her sons was diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome and the other one with Autism and a brain tumor. She was devoted to attending to each of their special needs.

Despite the pressure this put on her own life, Carr dedicated her life to helping others,either privately or within her practice as a social worker. When three of the children in one of her case files were murdered by their father Allan Schoenborn, she had to take long-term disability. Close friend and Druid, Charlene Ross, said, “She was devoted to her children, family, and was very much an advocate for them and others she worked with over the years as a social worker.”

Ross is one of seven members of the local Pagan circle that Carr began about five years ago. The group is open to people of many paths and serves as a place of support and discussion. Warner, also a member, added, “Everyone in the group …. is on different paths. I for example practice Thelemic Magic, [Ross] is a Druid etc. It [is] a good place to go to talk magic and practice magic. To be able to discuss the “signs” all around or get help with an issue or just to learn about anything and everything.” She went on to say that Carr originally was the only teacher, but eventually the group evolved to allow everyone the opportunity to teach.

[Photo Courtesy S. Carr]

[Photo Courtesy S. Carr]

Over the years, Carr expanded her outreach within the larger Pagan community. She became a regular at PanFest, Alberta’s biggest Pagan festival held in August, where she often taught workshops on magic. Warner said that she and Carr began attending over eight year ago, and that Carr had even convinced many locals to make the long trip to Edmonton each year.

Additionally, Carr created and administered the “Being Pagan Out of the Broom Closet” Facebook group. She, herself, embraced being open about her practice and was frequently seen walking in Riverside Park wearing her cloak. Ross said, that Carr “definitely was becoming more vocal about social justice, earth changes, and other issues close to her heart. She lived her beliefs, rather than “practised” them … She was at home out in the natural, meditating, listening, perceiving, and was fierce in defending those she loved.” Carr made no apologies for who she was.

More recently, Carr had signed up to participate in The Way of the Seabhean -Ancient Irish Shamanism Training for Women on April 10-12. Unfortunately, that day would not come.

Late Monday night, according to several reports, Carr told friends that she was headed to Riverside Park to gather materials to make wind chimes, something she had done before. Alone, she climbed into the center of the park’s rock sculpture – a place that held spiritual significance to Carr. She was handfasted at this site and, only a few days earlier, she and Ross were there “clearing and annoiting the stones with healing water, herbs, and cleaning up the site physically.”

Around 2:30 a.m., Carr’s husband Stephen, who works a night shift, decided to stop by the park on his way home. He knew that she had gone there. As reported by Warner, when he arrived, all he saw was emergency vehicles, and he knew immediately it was his wife.

Although the specific details of what happened are not clear, authorities assume that some part of Carr’s clothing caught fire during the ritual, and because of her position within the rock formation, she panicked and became trapped.

[Courtesy TennisTourist.ca]

[Courtesy TennisTourist.ca]

After getting a call from Carr’s mother, Warner joined Stephen at the hospital around 7:30 a.m. She said, “The hospital thought about transferring her to Vancouver general burn ward. They did a video conference with the doctor there and the decision was made that there was no point. [Carr] had type 1 diabetes and her system was in too much shock.” At 11:02am, she died. Warner said, “Steve and I did a passing ritual of sorts, a quick ‘goddess accept our wife.’ ”

In life, Carr was an strong and eccentric woman, who was devoted to family, to her Pagan practice and to her community. Blogger Sable Aradia, a longtime friend of Carr’s, published a tribute days after her death. She wrote, “It’s a testimony to Heather’s character, I think, that even those with whom she has come into conflict in the past are pouring out their compassion to her family and close friends.”

Leesa Warner said of Carr:

Whether you loved her or hated her, if you knew her; she affected your life

Charlene Ross added:

Being pagan, and learning about leadership, and having taught at festivals over the last twenty plus years, this is the time where our teachings can help us come to accept death as a part of life. The loss or parting does hurt.  I take comfort knowing her spirit is free, she is no longer in pain physically or emotionally anymore, that the struggles for now, are done, till she returns again. 

Heather Arlene Carr’s death was certainly a tragedy, one that has shaken the many people and communities that she touched. Ross said that her death, while painful and shocking, can also bring lessons, saying, “So, if we learn something from this,….it can happen to anyone.” Sable Aradia added:

I think that while the circumstances are horrible, and of course no one wants something like this to happen to them, Heather was a dedicated Priestess, and I think that she died heroically in the way she wanted to live; serving her gods and her family, practicing her Craft.  And who among us can say that?

Because most of Carr’s family is not Pagan, they have requested a “celebration of life” funeral, which will be held April 11 at 3 pm at Kamloops Funeral Home. Carr’s Circle group and a few others will be performing a “Passing On Ritual” April 19 at noon. Due to the high level of media interest in the story, the location has not been made public. Anyone interested in attending must contact Warner or Stephen Carr privately. In addition, the Edmonton Pagan community will be honoring Carr in a ritual in to be held May 10.

What is remembered, lives.

2000px-Seal_of_Oregon.svg As news of Deborah Maynard’s upcoming invocation at the Iowa State Legislature spread, so did the fact that Maynard will be the third Pagan Priestess to offer such a prayer before a state body. As we noted on Wednesday, Cleda Dawson was the first in 1999 and Selena Fox was second.in 2009,

At the time of our report, neither the video recording of Dawson’s or Fox’ invocation was available online. While Circle Sanctuary is still working on acquiring a copy of the 2009 Wisconsin invocation, a clip of Dawson’s invocation has since been uploaded to YouTube. On April 2, a local Pagan, who works in the “legislative media,” was able to track down a VHS copy and transfer it into a digital format. .

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HUAR LogoOn April 1, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) issued a declaration stating that the “Confesión Odinista Española (C.O.E.) has been covertly engaged in” racism. HUAR said that this declaration is “based on an extensive investigation submitted to us by an independent source.” The statement and background data are provided on HUARs public Facebook page.

Several hours after the declaration was released, C.O.E. fired back, denouncing HUAR as a “farce.” They challenged HUAR and its independent sources to prove the accusations, saying that C.O.E. is against all forms of “fundamentalism” including the “politicized HUAR.” HUAR has not yet responded.

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Heather-1-225x300

Heather Carr [Courtesy S. Carr]

On Tuesday, several British Columbia news sources reported that a woman had been killed in a “ritual gone horrifically wrong.” Several added words like “Pagan ritual.” After further investigation, it turns out that the woman was Shamanic Witch Heather Carr, and she was, in fact, doing a ritual when she or her clothing caught on fire.

Carr was well-known and loved by the locally Pagan community. Openly practicing Witchcraft, she ran the “Being Out of the Broom Closet” Facebook group and taught at local events. Blogger Sable Aradia was one of Carr’s friends and has written more about the Carr’s life and death on her blog. We will have more on this story in the coming days.

In Other News:

  • Conjure-Craft, a partnership between Orion Foxwood and Susan Diamond, will be hosting its first annual weekend event. Billed as a “meeting of magical minds,” the new seaside forum will be filled with “workshops and immersion experiences in the many modes of magic through education, sacred ceremony and skills development in shamanism, spiritual healing, seership, root-work and witchery.” Special guests include Lou Florez and Sharon Knight. Conjure-Craft will be held April 11-13 in Santa Cruz, California.
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has released its new art work to celebrate the festival’s 35th anniversary. Since 1980, PSG has been welcoming Pagans and people of many paths for a week-long event to celebrate Summer Solstice. The new artwork, created by Colleen Koziara of Mystical Willow Productions, pulls from the festival’s history. PSG organizers said, “Every Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has had a unique theme that helps focus the energy of participants …All thirty five of those themes are represented in the image, as chambers of the nautilus shell.” This year, PSG will be held from June 12-21, at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois.

PSG 2015 - Small

  • In the wake of the RFRA legislation and subsequent protests in Indiana, writer David Freedlander of the The Daily Beast interviewed Wiccan Priest Dusty Dionne of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Washington. Freedlander reached out to Dionne after learning about his very vocal position on Georgia’s proposed religious freedom legislation.The article, titled “Mike Pence’s New Fan Club: Wiccans.” was published March 31. The story was picked up by Raw Story and Jezebel.
  • Sacred Space organizers have put out a call for proposals and workshops for the 2016 event.The newly published form explains that they “use a peer review process for selection based on methods used in academic scholarly communication.” Sacred Space 2016 will be held from March 10-13 in Maryland. All proposals are due by June 21, 2015.

Today is Easter Sunday.

As is typical, the days prior are filled with conversations exploring the hidden meanings of the holiday’s commercialized symbols, such as fully bunnies and pastel eggs. In the past, The Wild Hunt has done its own contemplations on the subject. Are there really ancient Pagan origins nestled within the sacred Christian holiday?

As infinitely interesting as that discussion may be, I would like to focus on something entirely different; something often not discussed. This weekend also saw the celebration of another major religious holiday – Passover.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Growing up surrounded by a Jewish family and having mostly Jewish friends, I never marked the entrance of spring with rabbits and divine rebirth. I was never coerced into wearing pastel dresses adorned with satin and tulle. For myself and many others, spring was ushered in by matzo, moror and mishpocheh.

At some point in April, when the dark New Jersey winters began to yield their annual grip, Passover would arrive. My Jewish family would come together for the sacred Seder tradition. Gathered around an extended dining room table with adults at one end and us, children, at the other, we’d eat, drink and recount the story of Passover using the Haggadah. Admittedly, there was always a whole lot of nonsensical giggling during the plagues. Nothing is funnier than frogs, boils and locust when you’re are five.

For Jews, the world over, Passover does in a way mark the beginning of spring. While many children cheer when the Cadbury eggs arrive in supermarkets, I was always overjoyed upon seeing store shelves packed with macaroons, Gefilte fish and Manishewitz wine. Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover was my favorite. Matzoh, Matzoh brei, Matzoh balls, Matzoh farfel cupcakes.

To this day, the springtime holiday holds a space – a sacred space – within my life. Although I was never religiously Jewish and I am now Pagan, I have retained a deep connection to my Jewish heritage and the traditions that come with it.

And, as I have learned, I am not alone in that feeling. While the majority of first generation Pagans and Heathens do come from Christian backgrounds, there are those that do not. Of that small sector of the population, many are of Jewish heritage.

Ilan Weiler, an eclectic Israeli Pagan studying Hermetic Magic, said, “I still consider myself Jewish. I view my Judaism as being more of an ethnic/tribal and cultural nature, and I recognize the Jewish deity on two levels: as the tribal deity of my ancestors on a polytheistic level (recognizing an ancient practice of henotheism), and on the occult level of Kabbalistic-Mystical concept, which I incorporate into my magical practices.” Weiler added that he sometimes attends temple service and “[studies] Jewish history, lore and scripture as to learn my ancestors beliefs and traditions.”

American Hermeticist Jonathan Korman also acknowledged honoring the Jewish deity as a “personal tribal deity.” He said that, on his Pagan altar, he maintains “an empty space for that god.”

Deborah Bender, an American Pagan of Jewish heritage, explained, “Jewish identity isn’t strictly religious. Secular Jews identify themselves as Jews on the basis of culture or ethnicity, often without having had much exposure to the Jewish religion or much education about it.”

While some Pagans with Jewish roots embrace their heritage, as Bender suggested, others do not. Illy Ra, a Kemetic Pagan living in the small town of Kadima in central Israel, said, “I don’t consider myself Jewish, I define myself as a Hebrew Pagan,” adding that she incorporates nothing from Judaism into her own Pagan practice. Similarly, Moon Daughter, an eclectic Israeli Pagan from Moshav, said, “I personally do not consider myself a Jew from the religious point of view, but I am a Jew in my cultural heritage and ethnicity.”

It is true that not every Pagan of Jewish heritage clings deeply to their roots. Interestingly, in some cases, these differences are marked by nationality. Very generally speaking, it would appear that Israeli and American Pagans have a different relationship with Judaism and Jewish culture. Moon Daughter speculated, “I live in Israel and I think a lot of Pagans here, not all naturally, are quite angry at monotheistic religions and certainly Judaism … The attitudes toward [the religion] are more complicated [than in the United States] since Judaism is not just a religion, it is also a national identity.”

[Photo Credit: Yehuda Cohen / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Yehuda Cohen / Flickr]

When becoming Pagan, Israeli Jews may have a more difficult time negotiating through their own internal “identity politics” than American Jews. As Moon Daughter noted Judaism in Israel is a religious practice and a national identity, both of which are married to culture, ancestors and family. Illy Ra added, “Even if one chose to leave the Jewish religion, the community will still see them as part of the Jewish community and culture.”

That is also partly true in the United States. There is a sense of Jewish-ness that exists beyond the practice of the religion itself and beyond spiritual belief. I can still feel that “belonging.” After telling my Aunt, a Jewish Atheist herself, that I was Pagan, she reminded me, “It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God. If Hitler came today, you would still be sent to a camp with all the other Jews.” And that, in her eyes, was enough.

This sense of tribal belonging – that Jewish-ness – is something that can be and is carried into Pagan practice. Bender explained, “The Jewish religion has a very strong tradition of discussion and argument, and the Talmud records minority opinions. I take from this that it’s okay to arrive at a different conclusion than other people if it’s based on reason and evidence and you don’t make yourself an enemy of the Jews.” She added that the Jewish people are “used to being a religious and ethnic minority, and not basing our self-image on what the dominant culture think.”

In our conversation, Bender also noted the similarities that she personally finds within Judaism and her Pagan practice. She said, “Judaism shares with Wicca the outlook that what you do is more important than what you believe. Wiccan sacred time is cyclical. Jewish sacred time is both cyclical and historically linear. The calendars of both have a lunar month and a solar year. Judaism and Wicca both concentrate on living this life but recognizing something beyond. Both teach that the world is fundamentally good that physical pleasures are divine gifts that we are responsible for our own actions.” She went on to list more.

Because of the strong cultural aspects that thrive within Judaism, many Pagans, at least in America, do not reject their Jewish heritage with the same level of hostility and frustration as often expressed by Christian peers. However, as noted earlier, Moon Daughter clarified that this generalization does not necessarily apply to those in Israel where Jewish culture informs the dominant social structure. Moon Daughter said “I guess [American Pagans] still feel like a minority that needs to stick together and do not want their criticism of Judaism to revert to anti-Semitism.” And that may be partially true.

American Pagans of Jewish heritage are minorities within a minority, which complicates the building of a religious and personal identity, especially when you still embrace your Jewish-ness. I have attended Pagan gatherings where I have felt moderately alienated, simply because I had no context for something happening or being discussed. The very first time that my coven sang Pagan “Yule” carols, I was a bit lost. The Frosty and Rudolf parodies were no issue, but when they got to “Goddess Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” I just sat quietly dreaming up Pagan words to the Dreidel Song. “I have a little cauldron. I may it out of clay….

But getting back to spring and Passover, many Pagans of Jewish heritage still make their way to family or friends’ homes by sundown as tradition dictates. Once there, they relive an ancient story and participate in a sacred ritual and, more importantly, a family tradition. Moon Daughter said that she has attempted to find a Pagan interpretation for Passover Seder but “that is not always easy, since holidays are about family, and most of my larger family are of course non-Pagans.” Illy Ra said, “I do celebrate the holidays with my parents to respect their belief and culture, but I guess I would do the same if they belonged to any religion.”

Weiler also emphasized that the Seder is a time for family, describing his own tradition as being “secular” and “nothing more than a glorified family dinner.” However Weiler added that when he has his children, he would like to do a “real Seder, incorporating traditional, modern and Pagan notions.”

Bender, on the other hand, doesn’t like to mix her rituals. She said, “I try to stay within Jewish tradition when I’m doing Jewish rituals. If I want a fully Pagan ritual, it’s separate.” However, she did add that it is possible to “adapt” the Seder structure into a spring Pagan ritual, but she said, “You would have to do it carefully to avoid incoherence and cultural appropriation.”

As for me, this Jewish heritage has remained close by my side. I can still sing the four questions in Hebrew and make tasty kneidels, even though I no longer participate in a formal Seder. Should an emergency occur, I do own multiple Haggadahs, a matzo cover and a Seder plate. Each spring, as I prepare for Ostara, I also purchase a box of matzo and a few cans of macaroons. Like many others, this Jewish-ness colors who I am and, in many ways, the practice of my adopted Pagan religion.

Springtime cheers to all our readers who are enjoying this weekend’s religious festivities, whether it be for family, tradition, faith or simply matzo. L’Chiam and may you always find the afikomen!

Last month, Taylor Ellwood, managing non-fiction editor of Megalithica Books, was contacted by Getty Images due to a photograph published on one of his blogs. In a post, Ellwood explained that he didn’t know that the photograph was a Getty Image and wrote, “I read the email, responded, and took the picture down from my site. I spent the rest of Friday taking all the pictures down on my website that I hadn’t taken, because I realized that if it could happen with one picture, it could happen with another.” He also admits that, in the end, he had to pay a fee for use of the image.

[public domain]

[public domain]

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are problems that haunt writers, musicians and artists, and are violations that appear to be increasing due to developments in and access to digital technology. Now it is easier than ever to both purposefully or accidentally commit plagiarism or some form of copyright infringement.

This reality hit the nation hard back in 2001 when Napster, a peer-to-peer music sharing platform, was sued by A&M Records. As noted in a Washington University Law School case study, the courts ruled against Napster, holding them “liable for contributory and vicarious infringement of copyright.” It was at that point that many people awoke from a candy-coated Internet haze and realized that, with the ease of creating, also comes the ease of copying.

As bandwidth increases, hard drives grow, and tech prices decrease, users become more saavy. It takes very little time to wholesale copy someone else’s work. Photos and graphics can be cut and pasted with minimal key strokes. Art work can be downloaded, printed and copied. Videos and music can be emailed. And, text is as good as a ctrl-c, ctrl-v away.

Some websites, companies and people have found technological barriers or policies to make the process more difficult. The New York Times, for example, doesn’t allow a cut-paste of its text or photos. Many commercial cloud servers will shut down the accounts of people who share music or videos. When you paste direct text from a site like Patheos, you will also get an html link back to the site. These methods may act as deterrents but they certainly do not stem the tide of violations.

In his blog post on the topic, Ellwood said, “Copyright is an important issue. As a writer, I respect the effort that goes into a creative work and the desire to be compensated. In some ways, I wish there was a Getty images enforcing my rights as an author, especially when I find that one of my books has been uploaded on the Web to be shared everywhere with no compensation coming my way.”

Ellewood is not alone in sharing those concerns. Started in 2011, a Facebook group called, “Pagans against Plagiarism” has become a gathering site for “authors and artists” to discuss direct violations, prevention methods and related concerns. The group also acts as a unofficial watchdog organization of sorts. One member said that the group provides excellent support and information on the subject. Unfortunately, the founders were unavailable for comment.

As recent events have shown, the need for such an organization is very real. On March 29, a Tumblr user announced the free download of 100 esoteric books via dropbox. These books were allegedly part of her collection. As noted in the post, she had become an atheist and is offering her digital collection as a last “gift” to the Pagan community. Within two days, the woman’s Tumblr account was deactivated and the Dropbox link removed. Despite this deletion, there are still two more similar offerings on both Google and Dropbox. Whether or not the two live sites are related to the first is unclear.

Another example pertains to the use or misuse of artwork. In March, Pagan artist Brigid Ashwood publicly accused fantasy artist Nichole Peacock of copyright infringement. In talking to Ashwood, she said, “Nichole’s work was brought to my attention by an email tipster who saw my work in her booth, recognized it, and had the good sense to take that photographic evidence …” Ashwood details her findings, including those photographs, on her blog. In a recent update, Ashwood said:

In my own case Ms. Peacock signed the cease and desist from my attorney, paid restitution/royalties on prints of my work that she admitted she sold, and she offered up an apology. I did, at that time, consider my situation with her resolved. After recent statements made publicly by Ms. Peacock I no longer consider our issue resolved, and I am exploring taking further legal action.

Ashwood has not only accused Peacock of copying her own work, but that of other artists as well. One of those artists, Selina Fenech, responded in the blog’s comments saying that she “will be dealing with it through legal channels.”

Peacock has publicly denied any wrong doing, saying, “How does another person have the right to say what affiliations I have with other artists? The background for my Steampunk Owl with gears is legally licensed from the talented James Hill with full permission. My Shaman is a tribute to the life of Suzanne Sedon Boulet who died in 1997.” Peacock adds that she is a “prolific artist,” suggesting that there has been some confusion. She was unavailable for further comment.

While artists, musicians, photographers and novelists are dealing with copyright infringement, writers and editors must be concerned with cases of plagiarism, which can take many forms. Not only must they be conscious of their own words being stolen, but also of inadvertently committing the act themselves.

Circle Magazine Issues 2014 [Photo: H. Greene]

Florence Edwards-Miller, editor of Circle Magazine, said “Circle Magazine has a policy that attribution must be given for all work not original to the author. In my time as an editor, the only issue has been with chants, where they’re often passed on by word-of-mouth at festivals, but without the author’s attribution. A few times I’ve chosen not to run with a chant or a quote when the original source couldn’t be confirmed.”

Edwards-Miller added that the magazine has had the reverse problem. She said, “Selena Fox and Circle Sanctuary have occasionally had to deal with situations where people were distributing our published material unattributed, or more irregularly, claiming it as their own. This has included chants and rituals, in addition to articles from the magazine, or our website. In those situations we’ve generally been able to offer what Selena Fox calls ‘corrective feedback’ to the people involved and resolve the situation.”

With the evolution of blog culture and visual nature of social media, photographers, both professional and amateur, have been hit particularly hard by this problem. As Ellwood found out, if there is no copyright indicator, it doesn’t mean that the photo can be used. He also warned, “If you sell a product or service on your site, [the site] is considered commercial, even if it’s just one product … That can result in different rates of penalization [for using copyrighted material].”

There are work-arounds, including creative commons, pay-per image sites, and public domain options. The rules and regulations on the use of each type of image are typically marked. However, Ellwood has another suggestion: “Take your own pictures … You own the copyright, because you took the picture. And this isn’t hard to do in the age of camera phones.”

In 2013, Soli a contributing writer at the Pagan Activist blog, offered her own suggestion, writing, “stop stealing from your fellow Pagans …” She noted how important and easy it is to quote, cite, credit and attribute. She writes, “In short, stop stealing. Give credit where it is due. Ask permission … We’re still a minority. We still have to fight for rights because of our religious and spiritual practices. Breaking the law does not do a thing to help us.”