Archives For Heather Greene

There are lots of articles and news of interest to modern Pagans out there – more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

8f81f792-16e8-4741-88fa-7aacf8087f45-497x720

As noted in The Guardian, the short list for the coveted Bookseller/Diagram Prize was just announced, and a Pagan author was on it. Diana Rajchel’s Divorcing a Real Witch has been selected as finalist in the annual competition that celebrates books with “odd titles.” It is a light-hearted literary award that has been on-going since 1978. In recent years, the winner has been selected by popular vote through Bookseller’s website. Last year’s winner was How to Poo on a Date written by Mats & Enzo.

When asked how she felt about being nominated for what is called “Britain’s most prestigious literary award,” Rajchel’s said, “In its own strange way, a Diagram award nomination makes me feel a bit vindicated. When I shopped this book, I went back and forth on this title. My friends that are longtime veterans in publishing loved it. Some readers in the UK apparently quibble about what kind of witch is a real witch anyway so this hit a nerve for a few; people in the US found the title either funny or offensive depending on their own worldview. If the attention brought to my book by this nomination gets people to read it, and to think about divorce and taking care of themselves in a different way, I’m glad of it.”  Other nominees include: Nature’s Nether Regions, Where do Camels Belong and Advanced Pavement Research. To vote, go to Bookseller’s sister site “We Love This Book.”  The winner will be announced on March 27.

  • Although it doesn’t appear to be October, The Guardian has published a long article titled “Season of Witch: why young woman are flocking to the ancient craft.” Written by Sady Doyle, the article explores the unending, youthful fascination with Witchcraft. She writes, “Images of witchcraft call to so many women – straight and not, white and of color, religious and devoutly atheist – because the task of reclaiming the witch is a fundamentally poetic one.” Doyle begins and ends with quotes from rapper Azealia Banks who equates her interest in Witchcraft, in part, to being a minority and associated experiences. However, Doyle fails to explore the full implications of Banks’ statement, jumping right into the discussion of feminism and its ties to the cultural mythos of the Witch. She quotes a number of different practitioners, including Starhawk, for an in-depth discussion of Witchcraft as female empowerment.
  • On Feb. 26, The Debrief published an article in reaction to the Guardian’s piece. It is titled “Are More Twenty Something Women Turning to Witchcraft? We asked an Expert.” Who was that expert? None other than our own columnist Christina Oakley Harrington. Writer Stevie Martin, once a teenage dabbler herself, talked to Harrington about the reality of young people “flocking” to Wicca. Martin quoted Harrington as saying, “[Witchcraft] is empowering for young woman, it addresses the sacredness of their individuality, it says that a woman is entitled to power, and the more powerful she is, the more healthy she’ll be. Psychologically. She is not a sex object and she is not a consumer object … She has the right to a place in society, but if she’s forced to the margins of society then she should stand proud of who she is.”
  • Speaking of Witches, the Courtauld Gallery in London is now exhibiting “Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.” According to the site, “This major exhibition reunites all the surviving drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album for the first time, offering a fascinating and enlightening view of a very private and personal Goya.” As the curator’s note, these works were never meant to be seen beyond a few of Goya’s friends. The exhibition will be open until May 25.
  • The Pew Research Center just released its report on the Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and HostilitiesTaken from data collected in 2013, the report analyzes “the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.” According to the Center, “social hostilities involving religion” decreased from 2012-2013, while incidents of antisemitism steadily increase. New in this report is an “analysis of government restrictions and social hostilities aimed primarily at religious minorities.” This data is not broken down by specific practice.
  • A recent U.S.A Today report highlights the recent increase in the tragic and horrible Albino killings in the African country of Tanzania. In Jan, NPR published a similar report, in which they asked, “Can a ban on witchcraft protect the Albinos of Tanzania?” Last month, the country banned the practice of witchcraft in a desperate attempt to curtail the killings of those citizens born with Albinism. Tanzania is considered to have the largest population of Albino citizens. Unfortunately, their condition brings with it real dangers. Many superstitions ascribe magical powers to Albinism, and believers will kill and mutilate those affected to acquire body parts. The witchcraft ban is an attempt to end this practice and to protect the Albino population. News sources and humanitarian aid organizations are littered with these horror stories. But is banning witchcraft really the solution?
  • A student at a Portland, Maine high school sparked a local controversy after changing the way she welcomed others to recite the morning pledge of allegiance over the school’s intercom. Student Council President Lily SanGiovanni said, “At this time would you please rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance if you’d like to.” According to reports, SanGiovanni and two friends had recently learned that reciting the Pledge was optional, and wanted to make that point clear to the student body. In a recent interview with local reporters, SanGiovanni explained, “The reference to ‘under God’ makes us uncomfortable because it’s a public school. It has nothing to do with our patriotism.” Backlash erupted almost immediately and spread throughout the community.
  • ISIL militants have reportedly been destroying priceless, ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum. The leader of an ISIL resistance group was quoted as saying, “Our civilisation and the culture of our people is being destroyed.”
  • The Hallmark Channel turned its successful film franchise, The Good Witch, into an original series. The 2-hour premiere debuted yesterday, Feb. 28.

 Leonard_Nimoy_(5774458356)

Leonard Nimoy, 1931- 2015 [Photo Credit Gage Skidmore]

 

 

WASHINGTON – On Feb. 24, U.S. President Obama vetoed a bill that would have approved construction of the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline. After installation, this pipeline system would carry 830,000 gallons of crude oil from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The current legislative battle is over the final phase of 1,179 miles of pipe that are part of the entire 3,200 mile project.

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

In January, Keystone proponents won three significant victories. Both the U.S. House and Senate approved the project. At the same time, Nebraska’s state Supreme Court removed the remaining blocks preventing the pipeline from being constructed in its state.

Then, in mid February, the approved federal bill was sent to President Obama, who promptly vetoed it, saying in a message to Congress:

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.

Experts do report that this veto may have dealt a fatal blow to the Keystone proposal, at least in its current form. Congress doesn’t appear to have the votes necessary to block the veto. In addition, legal battles have re-surfaced in Nebraska, which have halted Trans Canada’s acquisition of needed land. Does it mean an end to the project entirely or just delays?

For those unfamiliar with Keystone XL, CNN has published a short digest on the issues being debated. Briefly, proponents argue that the new lines will bring temporary and permanent jobs, boost the economy and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. Opponents cite numerous environmental concerns, as well as the destruction of lands owned by Indigenous populations and the potential threats to those communities.

As has become quite commonplace, this battle pits economic stability and growth against environmental safety and community protection. It is an old struggle dressed in new clothes. However, as pointed out by Chris Mooney of The Washington Post, the conversation may be changing, which makes the veto particularly significant. As Mooney points out, past cultural debates have centered on finding ways to make production safer or cleaner. This may be the first time at this level of government that the conversation focuses on stopping production entirely. The message isn’t “do it cleaner;” but rather “don’t do it all.”

We talked to a number of Pagans who are, in some form, significantly engaged in environmental activism. As expected, they all were very pleased with the veto. Courtney Weber, co-founder of the Pagan Environmental Coaltion of NYC, said:

It’s certainly very exciting and encouraging for the environmental movement. This pipeline is never going to supply a large number of permanent jobs and its oil was never meant to support the American people–it’s been an export-only plan from day one! A few will get rich and many will run the serious risk of contaminated farmland and drinking water…

As a member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC, this news is very encouraging. Our work focuses on encouraging sustainable green infrastructure and opposing fossil fuel infrastructure. I hope that this will encourage Governors Cuomo and Christie to veto to the Port Ambrose LNG port, which would have the same dangerous impacts on the Tri-State coastline as Keystone would to middle America.

Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), Witch at Large and co-author of the CoG environmental policy, said:

I’m heartened by the President’s veto. After all, he has two daughters who will have to live in the world. I think he knows how serious our environmental problems have become and feels, as I do, that all the jobs in the world cannot justify the risk of such disastrous environmental degradation that Keystone could generate.

I fail to see how imperiling our lands with a pipeline does anyone any good. This proposed pipeline would be 36″ in diameter; the recent broken lines in the Northern Plains and elsewhere were only 4″ diameter. I shudder to think of the devastation a broken pipe could wreak. Not to mention the fact that plans call for it to traverse sovereign Native American lands. Furthermore, exploiting our Earth for petroleum-derived energy sources ignores the bigger problems.  Instead, we should be cultivating alternative energy sources.

I hope it’s the end, because I know the Congress doesn’t have the votes to overrule Obama’s veto. This allows more time to educate more people who’ve had their heads in the sand or who’ve been convinced otherwise about our environmental crisis.

O’Brien and Weber point to the typical concerns raised by pipeline construction, which include leaks, spills, the acquisition of “sovereign Native American lands,” exploitation of oil sands, the impact on coast lines and climate change. Blogger and Druid John Beckett said:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is troublesome on many counts. Much of the recent debate has focused on the risks to our water supply – the pipeline would run over the largest underground aquifer in North America and leaks are virtually inevitable. But there’s been little talk of the fact that the pipeline was designed to transfer oil from the Canadian tar sands. Tar sands extraction and refining are some of the dirtiest operations in the entire petroleum industry – some have called it “Canada’s Mordor.”

Beyond that, this project extracts additional fossil fuels to drive additional consumption, which will dump additional climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere. The entire tar sands project needs to be killed, not just the pipeline.

Beckett went on to say:

I have been critical of many of President Obama’s decisions and I want to acknowledge when he does the right thing. I’m very happy he vetoed the bill approving the construction of the pipeline. But I’m disappointed he didn’t use the occasion to emphasize the need to reduce carbon emissions and to encourage the Canadians to leave the tar sands in the ground.

Instead, his veto statement focused on procedural issues: “this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest.” This leaves open the possibility that his administration or that of the next President could decide the pipeline is an acceptable risk. It is not.

His skepticism is justified, considering that Keystone proponents in Congress have pledged to overturn the veto or attach the proposal to other legislation. Beckett’s sentiments were echoed by others interviewed. Weber said:

This veto is not a coffin nail on tar sands oil. This veto doesn’t get rid of it, it only keeps it in limbo. It is likely to come back attached to another bill. In addition, that oil can still flow through numerous other pipelines being built or already built. But it’s an important symbolic action in which public health and environmental concerns are given consideration before profits of large companies. 

James Stovall, who was recently elected to the board of directors for the Jackson County Conservation District (JCCD), offered his personal opinion, saying:

I do think the veto was the right call, but sadly it is not the last of the issue. The President vetoed the Legislative attempt to pass the pipeline but could still approve it after State Department studies are completed. Be it by pipeline or rail we need to make environmental safety is paramount. Make sure to keep speaking to the White House on these matters.

Similarly, Wild Hunt columnist and activist Alley Valkyrie, who has extensively written about and researched oil sands and the transport of energy resources, said in reaction:

While I’m glad that Obama decided to veto Keystone XL, it’s definitely not a victory. This veto is far from the end of the Keystone XL fight, and I have no doubt that the current Congress will try again and again to revive Keystone, most likely in the form of attachments to other bills. And meanwhile, while everyone is focused on and distracted by this one pipeline and this one federal approval process, other pipelines are being built all over the country, literally in our own backyards. While stopping Keystone XL obviously has importance to both the environment as a whole and especially those who are individually affected by it, stopping this one pipeline will not halt nor reverse the consistent damage that industrial capitalism is wreaking upon the earth. It’s the entire destructive system that needs to be stopped.

I wish I could be more hopeful, but unless and until the industrialized nations of this planet collectively decide to radically alter how they produce and consume fossil fuels, and until the people decide that the ability to live on this planet is more important than engaging in a never-ending cycle of producing and consuming, all the effort put into stopping individual projects like Keystone XL will be in vain.

John Halstead, Managing Editor of HumanisticPaganism.com and organizing member of the working group for the Draft Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, wrote:

I applaud the President’s veto and the work done by groups like 350.org that have opposed the pipeline, recognizing that there is still work to be done to oppose the pipeline. But as important as this victory is, it is the tip of an iceberg, one which expands to include an unsustainable system of resource extraction and consumption, which is rapidly making the earth uninhabitable for human beings, as it has already been made uninhabitable for countless species. [This] expands further to include an economic model — global capitalism — which has failed in its promise to reflect the true value of that which is consumed, and expands still further (largely beneath the surface of our consciousness) to include a spiritual hegemony which alienates human beings from the material source of our being and from all life.  We must attack this iceberg at all of these levels; at the points of consumption, production and destruction (economics), the point of decision (politics), and the point of assumption (ideology/religion). 

Whether the veto stops construction completely or simply delays it, there are currently other pipelines in operation, as noted by Valkyrie and Beckett. This includes the other TransCanada lines that make the trip from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. In order to end oil sands operations entirely, there must be a collective shift in our relationship with energy use. In addition, there must be a simultaneous and significant economic shift to prevent a catastrophic structural social collapse. Our world economies are deeply tied to the current energy industry, its operations and its products. This is a complicated venture that will require far more than a single piece of legislation, as suggested by Halstead and others interviewed.

However, this presidential veto may be a sign that the global conversation is evolving from “do it, but do it cleaner” to “don’t do it at all.” As is often discussed, those people who follow environmentally-centered religious practices may now have unique place in helping to shift this conversation. Beckett said:

One of the core principles of modern Druidry is that the Earth is sacred. The value of the Earth does not come from the benefits it provides to humans. Rather, the Earth is a living thing and it has the same inherent value and worth as all other living things. Druids seek to live in a respectful and reverent relationship with the Earth.

Halstead echoed that sentiment:

It is in this last area that I believe Pagans have the most unique contribution to make to this fight. We can lead the way in effecting paradigm shift away from from a mode of consciousness which is linear, atomistic and disenchanted — which lies at the root of all of these failed systems — to one that is cyclical, interconnected and re-enchanted. We need to personally and collectively cultivate the spiritual and psychological resources to sustain us for a prolonged struggle on all of these fronts.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – In the heart of the Southeast Asian peninsula lies the Kingdom of Thailand. Once known as Siam, Thailand is now considered a constitutional monarchy the size of Spain, with a population 65 million. The country lies only a short distance north of the equator, which allows for its lush, green and tropical climate. Within Thailand’s rich and vibrant Southeast Asian culture, there lies a very small, but growing, Pagan community.

10484523_937228766303163_2608870336679160406_n

Thailand Pagan Pride Ritual [Courtesy Photo}

“I found Siam Wicca in 1999, and the people there were so open-mind and loved to share their experiences. The community grew wider and wider. We had many beliefs, not only Wicca [but also] Native Thai, Druid, Shaman, Asatru, etc. After the founder of Siam Wicca left the site…the remaining people, including me, ran a new webboard and started meeting once a month. The community has grown since then,” said Atiwan Kongsorn, a Pagan living in Bangkok and co-owner of the only witchcraft store in Thailand.

Kongsorn explained that Siam Wicca was originally founded by Thitiwat Netwong, known in the community as Fianne. The site was part of the “first wave” of Paganism to arrive in Thailand via the Internet in the late 1990s. At that time, Siam Wicca was simply a website that, as Kongsorn said, “provided knowledge about Wicca’s beliefs translated into Thai.” The site also hosted “web boards” for community discussion.

After a few years, Fianne left the group, and as Kongsorn noted, it was later discovered that he had died. However, Siam Wicca continued to operate for a period of time, eventually moving to Facebook. Followers began meeting more frequently, and a new group was formed called Thailand Pagan Pride. Eclectic Wiccan Thanchai Jaikong, also known as MasThander, said, “We only use the [Facebook] page to promote events or news that can be posted in public.”

Like many places in the world, life as a Pagan in Thailand has its obstacles. MasThander said, “Being a witch or a pagan in Thailand will make you [a] deviant. Most people don’t understand who you are and what you do. So you have to stick to your own people who share the same spiritual understanding. That is what makes our community strong. We have to stick together.”

However, the assumption of deviancy is not exactly the same as experienced by Pagans in other parts of the world. Why? As reported by the tourism department, 96.4 percent of the population is Buddhist, which fosters a very different religious cultural environment than in countries dominated by Christianity. Kongsorn said, “Most of scholars say the main religion in Thailand is Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism to be precise). In my opinion, people believe in native Thai animism mixed with Buddhism. It is like animism disguised as Buddhism.”

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

As such, both Kongsorn and MasThander agreed that the general population’s attitude toward modern Paganism is fairly positive or, at the very least, open. There are no religious-based hostilities embedded within Thai culture. They even note that the term “witch” is not really considered a negative. Kongsorn said, “The sweetest thing for Pagans in Thailand is that you can freely tell everybody that you are a Pagan. Thai people are open-minded. ‘Every religion leads people to good deeds.’ Thai people always say this. So as long as you have something to believe or something to worship, everything is fine.”

Despite this religious tolerance, there are still, as noted by MasThander, many cases of misunderstandings that have lead to accusations of deviancy. However, these negative experiences not based on religious expectations but on cultural differences. As MasThander explained, “Thai people at almost every level lack the knowledge about Paganism and Witchcraft, especially when we talk about the western Paganism or witchcraft that is now growing in Thailand. People think about Harry Potter or that kind of fictional thing. That’s our main hurdle; to explain the right identity to the community.”

Kongsorn agreed, explaining that while the term “witch” is not negative, it does conjure, so to speak, images of “silliness.” He said, “Thai people here know the term “witch” (the western witch) from movies, cartoons or books. Not quite evil but something far from their everyday life.” MasThander added, “These points of view are not troublesome or harmful, but it is irritating sometimes.”

Along with Buddhism, Thailand’s culture is also influenced by “Vedic Hinduism, Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism from India. Taoism, Confucianism, Mahayana Buddhism from China.” As Kongsorn said that because of “the existing belief in animism, [the belief in] magic still exists nowadays. [Thai people] like the Shamans, or witch doctors, who help people using herbs, rituals or talismans.”

While both Kongsorn and MasThander acknowledge and celebrate these rich aspects of their country’s culture, they do not regularly include the religious details do not directly influence their own modern Pagan practices. This particular growing Thai Pagan community is predominantly focused on western Pagan practice. The dominant religion is currently Wicca. However, Kongsorn said, “Some are Druid and Asatru. I met a guy who practices Santeria once … and there other are solitary pagans, like myself.”  There are several Wiccan covens, but the number of practitioners is unclear. Kongsorn said “maybe hundreds” and most are under the age of 35.

The majority of their educational material, including mythology and writings, originate from Europe and the U.S. Access to the Internet has not only launched the Thai Pagan movement, but has also continued to play a vital role as the community grows. MasThander found Wicca through witchvox.com and, as noted earlier, Kongsorn discovered his path through the Siam Wicca’s website. Today there is far more material available to them online, and more people have Internet access.

In addition, there are several English-language book stores in Bangkok, such as Kinokuniya and Asiabook, which offer small number of “new age” books. In 2013, Kongsorn and his business partners opened the Ace of Cups Witch Cafe in Bangkok, which is described as the “perfect place for any pagan and individual who interested in Pagan, Witchcraft and Spiritual development.”

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Because Thai Pagans are not living in U.S. or the U.K., from where most of these materials originate, Thai Pagans have had to adapt the works and suggested practices to reflect their own ecology, culture and natural experiences. Kongsorn said, “As you know we live in a tropical climate with actually two seasons, wet and dry. There is not much difference between the seasons. It always green here … It’s a bit struggle [to follow the Western practices] if you stick with the concept of the physical world. In my opinion, the Wheel of the Year not only represents the cycle of Mother Nature, but also represents the cycle of one’s own spiritual improvement. If you stick with this concept [instead], there is no struggle at all.”

MasThander agreed, saying, “We try our best to follow the original rituals. But it’s somewhat difficult or impossible due to the geographical differences. But we try to focus on the spiritual meaning of the rituals and symbols; what everything in the ritual really means and does to our both physical and spiritually life.”

Both MasThander and Kongsorn expressed excitement about the growth of the modern Pagan movement in Thailand. Both are both doing their part to support and welcome anyone who is interested in the community and their practices. MasThander said, “For non-Pagan people, we try to offer a better understanding of who we really are. And for other Witches or those who are interested in the Craft, we try to bring them into our community, so we can help and support them.”

Kongsorn uses his shop as a place to welcome the community and to “provide information to the public about Pagan beliefs, mysticism and occultism.” He added, “We are trying to set up a Pagan Association here in Thailand … There will be a meeting here about setting it up this Ostara. Pagan beliefs in Thailand are just a little sprout. We now need the support and guidance from other countries.”

PatheosLogoDarkBG_bioOn Feb. 20, it was announced the Christine Hoff Kraemer was stepping down from her position as Managing Editor of Patheos’ Pagan Channel. She wrote, “With a mix of excitement and sadness, I am writing to announce my resignation as Managing Editor of the Patheos.com Pagan channel. I will very much miss the way this job brought me into daily contact with such thoughtful, dedicated people—both Pagans and people of other religious traditions.”  She added that she plans to dedicate her new found free time to her family.

Raise the Horns Blogger Jason Mankey will be taking up the reins as the channel’s new managing editor. In his own announcement, he wrote, “I hope I can continue the good work Christine’s done as the channel manager here. One of the reasons I love Patheos Pagan so much is that it’s mostly a positive place. I think we tackle big issues and involve ourselves in the big conversations, but I think we do so in a respectful manner.” Mankey doesn’t expect to make any changes to the channel’s direction. He also added that he will still be posting to his own blog, but with less frequency. Kraemer will also continue blogging on occasion at Sermons in the Mound.

*   *   *

10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500The beloved missing statue of Manannán mac Lir  was finally found exactly one month after it disappeared. According to the Derry Journal, on Feb. 21, the 6 ft. sculpture was located “by ramblers” who then “advised members of A company 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment soldiers.” Together with police, they were able to recover the statue. As told to the BBC, the statue had been lying among rocks of the same color, making it very difficult to spot from a distance.

The statue did sustain some damage to the back of its head. Regardless, the local community and others across the world are happy to know that the quest is over and the statue is in one piece. Local photographer Mari Ward, founder of the popular Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God and a representative from the local police (PSNI) were interviewed by BBC radio about its return. Ward said, “I am completely over the moon about it.” Local officials now plan to consult the statue’s creator and discuss a re-installation.

*   *   *

PantheaConOver the past week, there has been continued discussion on the controversy that erupted at PantheaCon 2015. As we reported last week, blogger Jonathan Korman published an open letter to the creators of a satirical flyer called PantyCon. In that article’s comments, the anonymous writers issued an apology. In addition, Glenn Turner, the founder and organizer of PantheaCon, offered her own public response to all related recent events as well as an apology for any pain caused during PantheaCon. She said, “With the dawning of a New Civil Rights movement this is the question for our times. I’m glad this issue is front and center.”

Since our report last week, there have been a number of additional blog posts discussing these events and others. One of these posts was the recording of the “Bringing Race to the Table” panel, during which the controversial flyer was brought to public attention. This panel discussion can be heard through T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts.

*   *   *-

10359502_434664933348610_6819355553348538346_n

On Feb. 13, the Akron, Ohio Pagan community lost one of its members. As reported by the local news, 22 year old Brian Golec was fatally stabbed outside of his Akron home. His father is now accused of the crime. After his death was made public, there was quick and viral media response in which Brian was identified as a trans woman. However, that fact was later proven to be inaccurate. Golec’s gender identification was eventually clarified by close friends and family, and was proven to have nothing to do with his murder. Unfortunately, the media frenzy only added additional pain to an already tragic circumstance.

The family, the community and Golec’s fiancee have requested privacy in order to mourn his loss. In our initial investigations, we were able to speak with several area Pagans who knew Brian. They called him “likable, easy going, highly spiritual and helpful.” He was a regular at Cleveland Pagan Pride and attended local Pagan community events. Carrie Acree, the owner of Dragon’s Mantle metaphysical shop, said that many people have been buying supplies for memorials, rituals and other workings in Brian’s honor. There is also, reportedly, a benefit planned for May. In addition a close friend has setup a GoFundMe campaign to help off-set the family expenses and a Facebook memorial page to honor his life. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Author John Matthews has begun a new project to tell the story of the “the iconic Scottish bard, Robin Williamson.” The proposed film Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave will follow Williamson around “in his 50th year as a storyteller, singer and musician, performing his beloved epic poem about the legendary history of Celtic Britain.” This will be reportedly the first time that the epic poem “Five Denials” will be filmed “despite its thunderous import within our poetic tradition.” To fund the project, there will be an Indiegogo campaign. It’s progress and all updates can be found on a Facebook fan page and on twitter @fivedenials.
  • It was announced yesterday that documentary filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky had died at the age of 58. Sinofsky is best known for his work on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), a film that tells the story of the West Memphis Three. Over at Patheos’ The Witching Hour, Peg Aloi shares her thoughts on the Sinofsky’s work, his influence on the West Memphis case and offers a tribute to his life.
  • Along with a new managing editor, Patheos Pagan Channel also announced the edition of a new blog titled “Energy Magic.” Writer Katrina Rasbold said, “This column will explore the dynamics of magic using the movement of energy, both from a spiritual and a scientific perspective.” She will be updating the blog twice a week beginning today.
  • This past weekend, ConVocation was held in the Doubletree Hotel in Detroit Michigan. ConVocation is an indoor Pagan conference that has been bringing people together from many mystical and religious backgrounds since 1995. As the week goes by, organizers and others will be pulling together photos, posts and retrospectives on this year’s event and festivities.
  • Witches and Pagans Blogger Natalie Zaman announced that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing her book Mapping The Magic about [the] sacred sites in America. She wrote “[It] will explore the magic of Washington, D.C. and the states of the Northeast: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine–as you can see it will hopefully be the first of four books, each covering a different area of the country.” To celebrate, Zaman is hosting a giveaway of either her book or a 2-year subscription to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

That’s it for now! Have a nice day.

What is PantheaCon?

Heather Greene —  February 18, 2015 — 22 Comments

SAN JOSE – This past weekend, close to 3000 Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists and others of diverse religious beliefs descended on Double Tree Hotel in San Jose, California to attend the annual PantheaCon event. This is the largest indoor conference of its kind in the United States. Held over President’s weekend in mid-February, PantheaCon boasts “more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.”

pantheaconWhile PantheaCon is very popular and attracts an international following, there are far more people who do not know what it is, don’t care to attend, or do not have the time and means to attend. As observed by Jason Mankey in his post “Pagan Festivals and the .25%,” the number of people who actually attend PantheaCon and other community-based large events is relatively small compared to the number of Pagans and Heathens in world. While it is impossible at this point to assess whether his figure of .25% is statistically correct, Mankey’s assessment provides a perspective on the place of large festivals and conferences within the global Pagan movement and within our collective communities.

So for those who wonder “What is this PantheaCon?” Here is look at this year’s event.

PantheaCon is held in a Doubletree Hotel near the airport in San Jose, a city located in California’s Bay Area. For decades, this region has been the birthplace of and provided the nurturing soil for many influential American Pagan works and organizations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest such conference has grown up in this area.

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference. And, these people could easily feel overwhelmed by the conference’s crowds, bewildered by the community, or just simply confused when Krampus strolls by their breakfast table.

This year’s theme was Pagan Visions of the Future: Building Pagan Safety & Social Nets. PantheaCon didn’t always have a theme, and the event is so large and diverse in its offerings that it really doesn’t necessarily need one. As organizers will say, this diversity is very calculated and scheduled. They aim to provide a healthy range of representation – a little bit of something for everyone who attends. For example, this year the events ranged from practical application workshops, such as A Witch’s Guide to Wands by Gypsey Teague, to intense panel discussions, such as Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference? hosted by T. Thorn Coyle. There were many rituals, such as CAYA Coven’s Wake up to Spirit, Ekklesia Antinoou’s Teenage Gods and Heroes, and Victoria Slind-Flor “Grandmother Ritual.”

There are also a significant number of hospitality suites offering their own workshops, presentations, rituals and parties. Organizations and religious groups, such as Coru Cathubodua, Church of All Worlds, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Covenant of the Goddess, The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, The Temple of Witchcraft, provide a comfortable place for their members to relax, connect and greet visitors. In addition, there are non-group affiliated hospitality suites that serve as a safe spaces or learning centers. Such rooms included the Pagans of Color suite, Reiki Explorers, Pagans in Recovery, Pagan Scholars Den and more.

PantheaCon officially opens at noon on Friday with a ritual led by Glenn Turner and friends. After that, attendees make their way from scheduled event to event, through meals, socializing, and shopping in a packed vendor room. The bustle of activity begins at 9 am and doesn’t end until well after midnight. The entire conference comes to a close on Monday at 3:30, when Turner leads the final ritual.

Over the course of the next week, many bloggers will detail their personal experiences from PantheaCon 2015 and share their takeaways from the weekend. Social media is currently flooded with talk of PantheaCon; what happened and what didn’t. Each attendee’s experience is different because there is no way for one single person to absorb the conference as a whole.

Despite the weekend only just having ended, there are a few posts already published. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has posted several articles written throughout the weekend, all of which detail the ups and downs of eir experience as both a presenter and attendee. On Saturday, John Halstead published an inspirational post from his hotel room at 5 a.m.

Patheos Pagan Channel’s Niki Whiting and Jason Mankey have both shared their accounts of this year’s conference, including highlights from presenting and socializing. Whiting wrote, “But Pantheacon, guys. I’m still high as a kite, giddy, and ready to fall asleep on my feet after five days of friends and travel and provocation and heart-expanding discussion.” Whiting plans to expand her PantheaCon discussion over the next few weeks, as many others will.

In addition, three other writers have published PantheaCon inspired articles, but in all of these cases, the writing is on a single, very focused topic and event. These blog posts include Jonathan Korman’s “open letter” to the “mysterious writers of the PantyCon schedule” and Taylor Ellwood’s “Pantheacon, Bringing Race to the Table, and Racism.” Finally, Shauna Aura Knight also published an article on this topic. For The Pagan Activist blog, she wrote:

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing Racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

What happened? This discussion panel was called Bringing Race to the Table and inspired by Immanion/Megalithica’s newly published book of the same name. However before the panel began, a PantheaCon volunteer informed the panelists and attendees about a problematic write-up in a satirical newsletter called PantyCon. This flyer, written and published each year by an anonymous group, is a mock-up of the convention schedule and pokes fun at the entire event and the community itself. Although originally created by PantheaCon, PantyCon was abandoned by the organizers years ago. It was, then, picked up by an anonymous group and has no affiliation, sponsorship or association with the organization.

The offending write-up in the satirical PantyCon schedule was titled: Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans. As noted by both Korman, Ellwood and Knight, many attendees and the PantheaCon organizers felt the joke was simply not funny and that it had violated the conference’s strict anti-harassment policies. Organizers very quickly attempted to collect and remove all copies, and they also welcomed everyone to an impromptu discussion session on Monday at 11am. Detailed in Knight’s post, the Monday talk allowed for a far deeper discussion of the issues at hand.

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

After the announcement and apology was made, the schedule panel, “Bringing Race to the Table,” was able to continue successfully. However, it ended with Luna Pantera standing up and delivering an emotionally powerful speech on safe spaces, race and the pain she experienced, specifically caused by PantyCon. When she was finished, the room of attendees rose up in speechless applause and support.

Through his post, Korman is now asking for the anonymous writers to apologize. He has also welcomed others to sign their names to the letter in the comments.

As is seen from the multitude of accounts both in social media and in these blogs, PantheaCon is not always easy and not always fun. Although it can be both of those things as well as many others. While only a small percentage of the population attend the conference, the experiences are carried back into the smaller regional communities, through the travelers, blogs and social media. In this way PantheaCon becomes bigger and more influential than ever would be possible with the limitations of its actual time and space.

For those few who can attend each year, the journey to San Jose is a type of pilgrimage, as noted by Whiting. Through this pilgrimage, one can meet old and new friends; network and share experiences; learn and expand horizons; be put in uncomfortable situations and comfortable ones; find a connection through religious culture; and possibly even build an extended community.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started! 

coru

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood issued a statement last week on “Hospitality and Safety.” It begins, “Everyone should feel and be safe. Creating a welcoming, safe, supportive, inclusive, consent-based space for all peoples is just one of the necessary ways hospitality must manifest in today’s society so that all people everywhere may thrive in safety. It’s our responsibility to leave this world better than we inherited it through mindful, thoughtful, and heart-filled care and stewardship.”

The purpose of the statement is to provide attendees of any Coru Cathubodua sponsored event with a clear understanding of the organization’s stance on expected behavior within that space. This includes “events, conference hospitality suites and temple spaces.” The statement reads, “We have an individual and shared responsibility to guard against behaviors that demean or otherwise harm individuals.” They also added that anyone who violates this policy within one of their spaces will be asked to leave. The statement was hanging in the organization’s PantheaCon hospitality suite this past weekend.

*   *   *

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Last week, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried challenged the accuracy and ethics behind an article written by Joseph Laylock for Religion Dispatches. After reading Laylock’s article on the Icelandic temple, Seigfried contacted the publisher with concerns of plagiarism. In a tweet, editor Evan Derkacz responded curtly, which Seigfried took as a challenge to prove his point. He did so in a blog post published Feb. 4, which included accusations of plagiarism and the misrepresentation of minority religions.

On Feb. 11, Religion Dispatches (RD) responded by editing Laylock’s article and including a note that says, “RD regrets the errors.” Some of the other changes included the adding of credits to photographs, hyperlinks and text citations. Seigfried also notes that RD removed the quotations around “faith of their own.” He considered this a win for his own work, and for Heathenry, in terms of media representation.

*   *   *

alabama

On Feb. 9, marriage equality arrived in the conservative southern state of Alabama. Despite legalization, the issue has remained contentious with state judges and entire counties openly ignoring the new law. According to the Huffington Post, a federal judge had to remind any defiant counties that same-sex marriage was in fact law. Over the week more counties did begin to comply. To date 43 of 67 counties are issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Despite these hostilities, the Alabama Pagan community has not only been celebrating the legalization but openly supporting and enforcing it. Priestess Lilith Presson, a Birmingham resident who is performing marriage ceremonies in a public park, was featured in an article in Al.com. She told the reporter, “It’s about time we had marriage equality …There are a few people stomping their feet because they don’t want people to be treated equally as humans.Tough.” Similarly, in the Auburn area, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren is doing her part. She said, “In response to some of the fear and anxiety that several couples expressed at public ceremonies, I offered the privacy of my land for officiations.” The struggle is ongoing, and we will be following this story closely as Alabama Pagans continue to work publicly to ensure their government upholds the new law.

In Other News:

  • A new survey, titled “Sons and Daughters of the Northern Tradition: A Survey for Contemporary Heathens,” is being conducted by Amsterdam University graduate student Josh Cragle. He is currently researching Germanic Paganism and asking for community help. Cragle wrote, “The survey is completely anonymous and will not be used for any malicious purposes, and is in no way meant to offend anyone. I would greatly appreciate your input. Thank you.”
  • The latest issue of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies was just released. It includes articles written by Michelle Mueller, Kimberly D. Kirner, Morandir Armson, James R. Lewis and Dr. Gwendolyn Reece. The publication also contains a number of book reviews. As noted on the site, “The Pomegranate is the first International, peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies. It provides a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”
  • The Order of Bards Ovates (OBOD) will be adding a new magazine to their publication list. The upcoming Druid Magazine “will feature articles, opinion pieces, and facilitate discussion on topics of interest to” members specifically living in the Americas. The editors are still in pre-production and are looking for contributing writers, layout and graphic designer and more. They ask anyone interested in contributing to contact them via their email at druidmagazine@druidry.org. OBOD other regionally-focused publications include Serpenstar (“Australasian & Oceanian”), Dryade (Dutch language), Il Calderone (Italian language), and the general Journal of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids.
  • Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie have written and published a “Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer.” Originally created to accompany their 2015 PantheaCon presentation focused on the same subject, the 32 page primer “presents a brief overview on Capitalism, why any Pagan should make beautiful war against it, and some suggestions on how to start fighting it.” Due to its popularity, the two writers have made it publicly available for download.
  • On Feb. 10, the Limavady Borough Council agreed that they would like to see the Manannan statue replaced. However, the Council has yet to decide how to fund it. According to resident Mari Ward, operator of the Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannan mac Lir, the council will spend the next month researching funding options and presenting their findings at the next meeting. Ward wrote, “In the meantime it is heartening to hear that it may be re-installed at some point.”
  • Over the past week, Huffington Post Live has featured panel talks focusing on attitudes toward sex and sexuality within various religious cultures. On Feb. 14, the site posted “Pagans Discuss The Truth About The Role Of Sex In Their Faith.” Included on the panel was Carol Queen, Blogger Black Witch, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Rev. Amy Blackthorn, and Author Lasara Firefox Allen. Black Witch has since written a blog post about the experience.
  • Steven Dillon, “a South Dakota based author who primarily works on researching and developing theoretical foundations for Pagan ideas,” released his first book called, A Case for Polytheism. Published by Moon Books, Dillon’s work has been described as “a thoughtful and incisive exploration of polytheist belief as a live option for modern people.”

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – On the morning Feb. 10, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court heard arguments in the case of Dennis Walker v. Matthew Cates. Walker is an inmate at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. His claim, which was originally filed in 2011, is that prison administrators violated his religious rights by forcing him to have a “non-Aryan” cellmate.

As noted in the case text from a 2011 court document, Walker “is an Aryan Christian/Odinist, ethnically white without gang affiliation.” In 2008, he was assigned a “non-Aryan Muslim” cellmate. When he resisted, Walker was disciplined. After further complaints in 2009, the administration reclassified him to be celled with only his own race. But that action was later “rescinded” per the 2008 California Integrated House Program, which prohibits segregation.

As a result, Walker, together with prisoner Robert Glover, filed a complaint against the state. The court asked the men to file their complaints separately. They did, and in July 2011, Glover’s case was dismissed. However, according to one source, it is still hung up in the system somewhere. However, Walker continued on with new arguments being heard yesterday in a motion from the defendants to dismiss the case.

According to Walker’s assigned attorney Elliot Wong, he claims that he was “denied the setting under which he performs a quintessential religious exercise, namely a solitary religious ritual, in which he prays to his gods, and subsequently being punished for refusing to yield to his religious beliefs. The religious ritual in this case is referred to as a spiritual circle of Odinist Warding, which is a ritual in which he prays to his gods and communicates with his gods. According to his sincerely held religious beliefs, he draws and activates this circle within his cell and he believes that this circle may be open or breached, by what he believes is spiritual pollution that emanates from individuals of another race.”

Almost immediately, the judges move to the heart of the issue. Is Walker’s request to be celled with only white inmates based on a “sincerely held religious belief” or simply based on racism? As the judge notes, the original filings did not include any mention of this ritual or other specific religious requirements. Wong did admit that these details were left out, but could be included in a new amendment.

The original filing states in part:

the application of the IHP violates plaintiff’s right to the free exercise of his religion protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (FAC at 5-6).Plaintiff seeks damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

As the attending judges note, there was no mention of the ritual. In these original documents, Walker did not address, in concrete terms, the “substantial burden” placed on his free exercise of religion by the presence of “alien spiritual pollution,” as noted in yesterday’s hearing.

After some discussion, Judge Sidney Thomas said, “I gather from the answers to the questions that [Walker] is not willing to amend his complaint to say that he can perform the ritual outside his cell and perform be housed with a non-white inmate.” Wong answered, “I believe that would be correct.”

Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has worked closely with the California prison system for years, said, “In this case, the inmate can still practice his religion in a number of venues besides his cell even if he had an inmate of color in his cell, so his religious rights are not being violated, at least not under the spirit of the law. Also, there is a long history of non-white participation in Nordic religions which has a been around for over a thousand years, and there are Odinist groups in a number of prisons that already welcome people of color, so the racial argument is shaky to begin with. That is not to say that the inmate’s beliefs are not sincere, it’s just that they don’t meet the standard required by law.”

Judge Thomas said, “We are not going to segregate our prisons.” However, this was only a hearing; no final decision was made and no further dates given.

While the specifics of the Walker v. Cates case are focused on race, the situation goes to the heart of a very recent dialog on the boundaries of religious freedom within a defined social structure. It is struggle that is currently plaguing courts and lawmakers. At what point does society substantially burden religious freedom? And, at what point does religious freedom substantially burden society?

In Georgia, Rep. Sam Teasley just proposed to a new RFRA to protect the “rights of people of faith.” In opposition to this bill, a county commissioner  was quoted as saying, “If, for example, a Wiccan believes their religion does not allow them to render any payment to any entity but God, do they have to pay their taxes?” While the tax comment is outlandish, there are many related issues, such as the recent debate over the allowing inmates to have facial hair, when required by their religion.

In terms of Walker v. Cates case, Ryan Smith, co-Founder of Heathens United Against Racism, noted, “The real key point made in this case by the defendant is that the plaintiff has to show these desires are motivated by genuine religious belief and not some other motive.” The plaintiff does have the burden of proof. As noted by the judges in the hearing, Walker has not provided any such proof. In addition, as detailed in the 2011 case text, “[Walker] failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing the instant action recommdations [sic] noted.” In other words, if his concerns were purely based on the practice of religious rites, he had other options.”

McCollum explained, “In current practice in correctional facilities, only a small amount of time is allocated to religious practices for all faiths. This is based on past court rulings that religion must be accommodated by the least restrictive means, while at the same time balancing the manageable operation of the institution. If the Odinist is given a short period of worship time of equal duration to that of other faiths that would be meeting the standard set by law and not violating his rights.”

But Smith doesn’t believe that Walker’s claims are religious at all. He said,”[It is] definitely something but it isn’t religion from where I sit and its history is not religious in nature. I don’t think this case being dismissed would be a problem for the vast majority of Pagan inmates as what the plaintiff is asking for here is not justified by religion but by bigotry and based on what I understand of the issue is seeking an exemption that has never been applied in a religious context.”

McCollum added that he doesn’t believe that the Odinist can win this case. He said, “If the court were to rule in the inmate’s favor to segregate him from other races or faiths for religious reasons, they would also have to segregate the Jews, some Christian traditions, and a number of other faith groups under the same arguments, as many teach in their doctrines or practices, separation by faith or ethnicity also.”

As Judge Thomas said, “We can’t do that.”

Conversations are on-going; for this particular situation and others. Politicians and individuals are continually challenging the boundaries of our rights to practice religion or not. At the same time, the courts wrestle with the test used to determine a “sincerely held” religious belief and how it should be upheld, ignored or negotiated within the established laws and regulations of society.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500According to the Londonderry Sentinel, “the Limavady Borough Council is considering” replacing the missing Manannan statue with one that “would be made of mild steel and would stand two-to-three times as tall as the original.” The paper reports that Development Services Officer Valerie Richmond reported, “In all probability, despite extensive searches it is unlikely that the sculpture will be returned. Council’s views are sought on how they would wish to progress.”

Speaking to the Derry Journal, councilman Gerry Mullin said that he would ” ‘absolutely’ be supporting a proposal to replace the iconic statue of Manannán Mac Lir.” But he added that he doesn’t believe it needs to be 2-3x the size. The issue will be discussed tomorrow at a Feb.10 Council Meeting.

*   *   *

Solar Cross Temple

The Solar Cross Temple, based in California, has announced that it no longer is seeking to create an urban temple space. As the Board explained, the economic downturn “dried up” the fundraising efforts for several years. As a result, the Board put the entire project on hold. After several of years of waiting and watching, they have concluded that the community “doesn’t really want to support a physical structure.”

However, as written in the announcement, “[Their] work continues, and temple members study and honor the Gods in their own homes, and gather together monthly in backyards and rented spaces.” Any money raised in previous years will either be returned to the original donors, if requested, or will be given to the New Alexandrian Library and used for special Solar Cross projects.

*   *   *

Druid College UKOn Feb. 6, the Druid College, originally founded in New York, announced the opening of its UK branch. The new location will be led by Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne. Together with its sister site in Maine (U.S.) the Druid College will host a “three-year, intensive study” for those interested in taking their spiritual studies further.

In a press release, organizers said, “We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.” The college accepts people of “all walks and intent” into their first year studies program. The Druid College is not accredited and offers no degree program.

In Other News

  • Green Egg has announced that it is now under new management and will no longer be publishing in a print format. In a recent press release, new editor Hollis Taylor and
    Ariel Monserrat said, “Hollis plans to modernize Green Egg bringing the magazine into the new millenium. Green Egg will not be publishing printed issues, as in the past, but will have a large team of volunteer writers who will be contributing to carrying on the legacy of Green Egg.” Once up and running, they hope to publish an article every day.
  • Documentary filmmaker Sam Carroll has produced a 66 minute film that tells Wiccan Priestess Darla Wynne‘s story. The film, titled Bedevil: Never Back Down, details the horrific challenges that Wynne faced after moving from Alaska to a small town in South Carolina, and how she eventually overcame her fear and stood up to the city council. Bedevil is entered in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and will be screened on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m.

  • Shekhinah Mountainwater’s popular book, Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic, is now available in digital format for the Kindle. This release is part of a larger project to capture and share “Shekhinah’s wonderful legacy … music, writings, creations of any kind.” The organizers of this project are asking anyone who might have such things to contact them at shekhinahmemories@gmail.com.
  • The Pagan Educational Network has published the Feb 2015 edition of its newsletter “Water.” In its pages, PEN makes a call for books to assist in its Prison chaplaincy work. While the organization welcomes any book donations, it is specifically looking for copies of Raymond Buckland’s The Complete Book of Witchcraft and Christopher Penzack’s The Sons of the Goddess.
  • Patheos has started a new blog series focusing on art and religion. Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan Channel editor, explained further, “In this interfaith series, writers explore how visual art may persuade, proselytize, or reveals truth. Pagan contributors include visionary painter Paul B. Rucker, Zen Pagan Tom Swiss, and mixed media artist Aaminah Shakur.”
  • PantheaCon, the largest such conference in the U.S., begins this Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16 in San Jose, California.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

In 2014, artist and pop surrealist Dina Goldstein finished her third large-scale project called “Gods of Suburbia.” The series is comprised of 11 photographs that depict gods, goddesses, prophets and other figures of religious import within a thoroughly unexpected composition. Each photograph challenges the dominant visual and narrative concept of deity by tearing down religious stagecraft and putting up something completely mundane. In other words, Goldstein takes these sacred or celebrated figures and drops them into the framework of contemporary Western society.

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

“‘Gods of Suburbia’ is a visual analysis of religious faith within the context of modern forces of technology, science and secularism. The series plays with narrative and religious iconography in order to communicate how organized belief has become twisted within a global framework driven by consumerism and greed. The project challenges the viewer – religious or secular – to embark on a journey of self-reflection as they contemplate the relevance of dogmata in modernity.” – Dina Goldstein, Gods of Suburbia

Goldstein’s concept, as illustrated in a “making of” video, is not to mock religion, but rather to illustrate its precarious place within modern society. For example, in “Ganesha,” Goldstein presents the Hindu God sitting alone on a bench in an elementary school play yard. He is being bullied by two young boys, while other children play in the background. Using Ganesh as a bullied minor is particularly poignant due to his marked physical difference and his role as a representative of a minority culture and religion. In this piece, the Hindu God symbolically embodies the outcast child.

While religious figures have been subjects for the arts since before antiquity, not everyone is comfortable with visual representations of the divine. For many, there are limits and rules. Some are personal and some are created by religious law.

Within his own personal practice, Hermeticist Jonathan Korman demonstrates this difference. He said, “In the context of modern Pagan culture: I am an enthusiast for visual representations of the gods as a matter both of magickal technique and of cultural taste, and on my altar I keep a cast marble statue of Hermes to honor him as my personal patron deity. On the other hand, being an ethnically Jewish modern Pagan, I honor the god of the Torah יהוה as my personal tribal deity, so my altar also has an empty space for that god, whom I honor by not speaking the name or making any visual representation.”

The issue becomes more complex when the depiction of a deity is presented outside of what might be considered a “proper” proscenium of culture, reverence and religiosity. This brings us back to Goldstein’s work. The Israeli-born, Jewish artist has created images of gods that are not of her own belief, and that lack expected, reverent iconography and religious narratives. The photographs are purely cultural commentary and not meant for worship purposes.

Ryan Smith, co-founder of HUAR, uses visual representation of the gods within his own Heathen practice and also enjoys such expressions outside of a religious framework. But he said, [Non-religious] uses should also show respect to the cultures they came from … I only take issue if it’s being used to reinforce negative stereotypes held regarding marginalized groups. Punching up is always good, punching down not so much.”

Not surprisingly, Goldstein has been criticized for “punching down.” In a press release, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism expressed concern that Goldstein’s work “trivializ[ed] the highly revered deities of Hinduism, Ganesh and Lakshmi … Artists should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects.”

After looking at Goldstein’s “Voodoo Queen” composition, Patheos writer Lilith Dorsey is only left with questions. She said, “The accompanying website says the images are supposed to inspire ‘self-reflection,’ it’s a little naive to think this isn’t part of most devoted people’s daily practice. The image itself leaves me reflecting instead on Goldstein herself, why did she choose to represent my religion with what looks like phantom ghost children and are those chicken feet on the ceiling? It’s a stunning image visually, but I’m not sure exactly why she felt moved to take it in that direction.”

Additionally, due to current global politics, Goldstein herself is unsure how or whether to include “Muhammad the Prophet” in the upcoming March show. In a January interview, she said, “I figured out a way to [depict Muhammed] in a way that adhered to their laws.” As she notes, his face is not shown, and he has a supernatural glow.

But Goldstein knows her art is provocative. She told the Vancouver paper, “Of course, people are going to get insulted, but that’s what happens when you start discussing religion because no matter what you say about it, it’s an extension of magical thinking.”

Pagan artist Valerie Herron enjoys Goldstein’s work, adding “Religion is supposed to evolve with social change, and I think this is one of [her] assertions with this series. It’s nothing very avant garde, putting ancient deities in the context of modern life is a concept well familiar to contemporary Polytheists. In addition, good art is supposed to create dialogue through pathos, catharsis or humor. While I can see the potential for some folks of the faiths represented in Goldstein’s series to decry a flippant representation of their deity/deities, I think [her] work has always been about starting uncomfortable conversations through visual juxtaposition.”

Like Goldstein, Herron also depicts the divine in her art. However, in her case, the imagery is within or close to her own belief structure, and often used as devotional images. She said, “At this point, I find it impossible to keep my creative practice and my spiritual practice separate.” In describing the process of visually capturing a deity, Herron said, “As soon as I begin to envision the specific visage of a god, I begin a conversation with them. I don’t really know how else to explain it, especially since I don’t consider myself a hard theist, but the God’s input becomes crucial to the piece.”

Valerie Herron's Isis [Reprinted with permission]

Valerie Herron’s Isis [Reprinted with permission]

From inception to presentation, “Gods in Suburbia” does not have the same inspiration, purpose or goal as Herron’s work. Despite that difference, Goldstein’s photographs do evoke strong reactions. Rather than spiritual reverence, these responses are, as Goldstein suggests, meant to “inspire insight into the human condition.”

In this exploration of the human condition, she did not omit Paganism. The photograph titled “Horned God and Moon Goddess” depicts a nude, pregnant woman atop a white horse and a horned male figure resting within a stereotypical suburban backyard. The accompanying text reads, in part, “Wicca is a modern witchcraft religion that draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan motifs and ritual practice … [Wicca] is something we associate with people who are on the fringe of society, which is why my Wiccan god and goddess are living outside the mainstream, along the periphery of Suburbia.”

All interpretive meaning is subjective, and the narrative understanding of this particular image can evoke other ideas. For example, the photo recalls the reality of religious ritual practice in home environments or notes society’s need to control natural space. It also suggests that Witchcraft, “associated with people who are on the fringe,” does exist in what is largely considered normative cultural space.

These readings correspond to Goldstein’s assertion that the series explores religion’s existence in contemporary society – one that has become increasingly secular, increasingly separate from the natural world, increasingly consumer-focused and increasingly distance from a depth of meaning. In a number of her photographs the religious figures appear lost, forlorn, overwhelmed, disillusioned and simply out of place. The prophet Muhammad, for example, is ignored by a classroom of children absorbed in social media and texting.

In the photographs titled “Buddha” and “Elohim,” Goldstein tackles the uncomfortable intersection of commercialism and religion. “Buddha” is ignored as blindfolded shoppers purchase overpriced groceries in a Whole Foods market. In “Elohim,” a forlorn “God” sits with a Santa suit in the background. As she notes, he’s forced to “take odd jobs to survive.” Both photographs depict the sacrifice of meaning to the glory of consumerism.

As an extension of that concept, these two photographs, along with others, indirectly suggest concerns raised by the commercialized depictions of the divine, such as in movies, television shows or comic books. Writer Karl Siegfried of the Norse Mythology Blog said, “I’m old enough to be able to tell the difference between entertainment and religion. Marvel’s Thor has built up its own internal mythology over more than half of a century … I think that’s great, just as I think Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythos is fantastic. It doesn’t mean that I blót to Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”

Korman agreed saying that he’s “not above” enjoying representations of divinity outside of religious practice. He added, “Nathan Fillion’s Hermes in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters may not be much like my Hermes, but it still tickles me, and if it helps get a few kids saying his name, that suits me just fine.”

Dorsey, expressed some reservations, saying “My fellow Vodou practitioners and myself were quite upset at a commercial clothing chain using a veve as a window display to gain sales and most certainly attention. The American Horror Story television depiction of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau left a bad taste in my everything, but I still have high hopes for the Marie Laveau comic book character. This is because girls today so strongly need a positive female superhero with kickass pagan powers, not that she has been written that positively yet, but I can dream.”

Although humanity has a long history of visually depicting gods and other sacred figures for many purposes, there clearly are limits of tolerance, some personal and others created by culture and religious law.

As for Goldstein, her “Gods in Suburbia” series is certainly provocative and pushes hard on many of those boundaries. The use of photography alone mirrors her message. As a relatively newer technological art form, the camera symbolizes modernity’s own pressure on religious practice, and demonstrates the hyper reality of our over-dependence on images. It turns this modern visual technology, and by association the observer, into a voyeur, who violates the privacy of the spiritual world – a world that isn’t necessarily comfortable existing in that way, in being viewed.

Whether you like her work or whether you’re offended by it, Goldstein ultimately leaves you with many questions about religion’s fit within contemporary society.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – For decades and maybe centuries, the metaphysical bookshop has provided far more than reading material, statuettes and candles. The independently-owned store becomes a veritable community center for a local population of people, many of whom must hide their interests in occult practice and other minority religious beliefs. Whether the store is labeled New Age, Occult or Metaphysical, such shops become treasured institutions within their environment. The attachment can be so strong that when one must close down, the community mourns its loss.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This is exactly what has happened in the town of Charlottestville, Virginia. The Quest Bookshop, owned and operated by Kay Allison since 1978, is slowly preparing to shut its doors. In August, Allison, who will be 84 next month, has decided that it is time to retire. With no interested buyers on the horizon, the store must be closed. An era is coming to an end.

Lonnie Murray, a local Pagan (animist) and naturalist, said, “Since 1978 Kay Allison has provided the community so much more than just a Metaphysical Bookstore. She has been a model small business owner that gives back to the community in many ways, including her program that provides books to inmates, and by providing a place where people … could come to seek answers to life’s big questions and find acceptance and welcome.”

In 1984, Allison opened The Quest Institute, a non-profit organization aimed at facilitating interreligious dialog, education, spiritual exploration and much more. The Institute is responsible for a popular program called “Books Behind Bars,” which collects and sends books to inmates across the state of Virginia. Not all the material is religious or spiritual in nature, as the goal is primarily to facilitate education. On its website, the Institute has shared a number of response letters from inmates, prison chaplains, and administrators. One such letter reads:

Thank you for not forgetting about us. Thank you for volunteering your time. Thank you for your love. Because of you all I am able to share what I learn with others.You don’t even know me yet I’ve learned so much from all of you. You all selflessly give of yourselves and your example has allowed me to “pass it forward.” . . .  We are what we think! Because of people like you I am changing I want to share that for the first time in my life I know SELFLESSNESS. Thank you!  – JWP

books behind barsOver the years, Allison has also provided her local community with spiritually-focused educational opportunities. She has invited a diversity of speakers, which have included renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Buddhist monk Nawang Khechog and spiritual teacher Ram Dass. Along with such workshops, lectures and book signings, the shop has offered regular readings by various local practitioners.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Allison said that visitors have come to her shop from all over the world looking for unique items and sometimes just to meet a friendly face. Murray agreed, saying “For people outside the religious mainstream, her store is a place where people have traditionally gone to find others like themselves.”

That is the unique nature of the local metaphysical store. Often Pagans and Heathens can recall the very first time they ever stepped foot into one of these places, or the first time they bought a book on magic, a tarot deck, runes or other similar products. In many ways, these moments in the metaphysical store become a type of initiation rite, a ritual and even a religiously spiritual experience, in their own right. Losing that store can be a profound loss.

Interestingly, Charlottesville itself has been home to several notable figures in Pagan history. Gelb Botkin, founder of the Church of Aphrodite, left his Long Island home to live the later part of his life in Charlottesville. Once there, he re-established his Church, which is considered “the first Pagan religious group officially recognized as a religion by a modern state,” as noted by Dmitry Galtsin in Pomegranate Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Vol 14, No 1 (2012). The Church of Aphrodite was incorporated in 1939 but did not survive after Botkin’s death in 1969.

Additionally, Raymond Buckland spent a few years in the 1980s living in Charlottesville, before moving to San Diego. While in Virgnia, Buckland set up and ran his popular Seax Wicca correspondence course, which eventually had upwards of 1000 students. Allison said that Buckland and his wife “were lovely people and good friends of hers.” Buckland hosted several popular lectures and workshops at the Quest Bookshop.

But as Murray aptly pointed out, “While Charlottesville has had such memorable residents as Gleb Botkin and Raymond Buckland, it has always been the people like Kay who hold together the fabric of community.”

Although Allison herself is not Pagan, she is considered to be part of the local Pagan community experience. As noted in The Daily Progress, she named the bookshop “Quest” because that is what she has always been on: a spiritual quest. Allison explained that as a child she had an awareness of spirit, saying “I was trying to find people who had more wisdom than I did. There was an absolutely fabulous couple living in Afton who were so wise and had an extensive library … He had the scientific books, and she had the metaphysical books. I would go out and visit with them and come home with a stack of books to read. I’d read them, take them back and get another stack. That was very good for me.”

Kay Allison announcing a guest presenter. [From a Video Still]

Kay Allison announcing a guest presenter. [From a Video Still]

Now at the age of 84, Allison has provided the same educational and spiritual resources to many local residents, visitors, inmates, and prison ministries. A sign above her shop’s door reads, “magic happens here,” and she said “That is true.” One regular customer noted on the shop’s Facebook page

[Quest] was a sanctuary for me, like a few place in C’ville. Sweet smells of incense and oils, and pages, sparkle of crystals in the sun, candles and cloths, and lots of good books, plenty of places to sit undisturbed and read for as long as you like. Kind people behind the counter to chat with if you felt like it — and who would leave you alone if you didn’t.

In August 2014, Allison announced her retirement and the sale of the store. She said that she has “a lot of things that [she’d] like to do.” Outside of taking some vacation time, she wants to continue helping people. That work will include managing the Quest Institute’s Books Behind Bars program.

Daughter Janet Holmes, a spiritual healer in her own work, has been helping her mother with the transition. As of now, the two women are “cleaning house” and selling off some of the shop’s inventory with significant mark downs.

Unfortunately, no buyer has been found yet. Friends of the shop have attempted to raise money through an IndieGoGo campaign called “Save the Quest Bookshop.” However, with only 4 days left in that campaign, they are still very far away from reaching the goal needed to keep the store open.

The Quest Bookshop will remain open until the end of February. Both Allison and Holmes remain hopeful that a buyer will turn up in the next few weeks. Allison said that “there absolutely is still a place for [the metaphysical store] and even for its expansion.” However, if a purchase doesn’t happen within the next month, an era will come to an end in Charlottesville.