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GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The bustling mountain resort town of Gatlinburg was devastated Monday as wild fires ripped through town, reducing some areas to only ashes and rubble. Believed to have been started by hikers, the fire is being called “the perfect storm” as high winds and dry air created ideal conditions for this tragic event. Officials are now saying the so-called Chimney Tops fire has taken as many as seven lives, burned 17,000 acres, and destroyed more than 700 buildings.

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Downtown Gatlinburg, Tuesday morning Nov. 30, 2016 [Courtesy A. Harvel]

“It’s a horror movie,” posted Angie ‘Pinkie’ Harvel. “Our hearts are twisted and in pain at the site of what’s going on around us.” Harvel is a priestess with Dragon Palm Circle, and lives in an area fondly called “Valley of the Dragons” by the resident local Pagan community. This area is 13 miles east of Gatlinburg up Highway 321. While Harvel does not live in one of the areas that fell under mandatory evacuation, the fires reached within 1/4 mile of her home, forcing her and her neighbors to pack up and leave.

At this point, investigators believe that the fire was started days earlier by hikers on the Chimney Tops Trail. Tuatha Dea‘s Danny Mullikin and Rebecca Holman, who live near the city limits of Gatlinburg, noticed the mountain top fire Sunday night during an evening walk. Mullikin told The Wild Hunt that it looked almost like a volcano with the fire ablaze at the very top and lines of orange fire running down.

However, he added, “Nobody was overly concerned at that point. They said everything was contained.” But, by Monday, conditions changed, and changed quickly.

The entire Appalachian region was already in a severe drought with humidity levels rarely experienced in the area. The dry conditions were fueling wildfires throughout eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northern Georgia. Winds carried the smoke as far south as Atlanta, making breathing conditions difficult for days, and even forcing school systems to keep children indoors for recess.

As it was, these dry conditions made firefighting difficult, but it was largely manageable. However, when a late November storm front closed in on the area, winds began to pick up. By Monday afternoon, there were reports of regular gusts and straight-line winds reaching as high as 89 mph. These high winds began to carry embers and ash from Chimney Tops down the mountain.

Local resident Jewels Wyldwomyn, priestess of Dragonshire, said, “The winds were so bad that I had to dodge tree limbs as I drove home.” Her car was eventually hit and damaged by one of the flying limbs. She did make it home before conditions worsened.

Wyldwomyn owns and lives on Dragonshire, a 32-acres ‘Valley of the Dragons’ campground that hosts annual Pagan festivals and retreats. She said that when she got home, she assumed that a bad thunderstorm was coming. Due to her remote location, Wyldwomyn does not have television, satellite, or cell service. Therefore, she had no idea what was in store for her later that evening.

Local artist and owner of Sword and Ivy Kathryn Rutherford lives on the other side of Gatlinburg in Wears Valley. She was doing errands in town Monday as the fires began to spread, and heard details through her husband Greg, who works for the National Park Service. According to Rutherford, the fire first spread to the Chimney Tops picnic grounds, and then further down the mountain. The winds, then, spread ashes out in all directions, creating more fires. She also reported that the high winds knocked over trees and power lines, causing downed electrical wires to spark their own fires.

“Nobody knew it was coming,” Rutherford said. She recalls hearing the mandatory evacuation, and the call to simply “get out.”

Mullikin said the same thing. “It happened so fast. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Tuatha Dea was rehearsing in a basement when the fire started. Unlike Rutherford, who was receiving reports as early as 2 p.m, the band didn’t know what was going on until the power went out around 8 p.m. As Mullikin explained, they rushed outside immediately and what they saw was “apocalyptic.”

Gatlinburg Nov 28, 2016 [Taken by Tesea Dawson of Tuatha Dea, as she evacuated]

Gatlinburg Nov 28, 2016 [Taken by Tesea Dawson of Tuatha Dea, as she evacuated]

“We came outside.The skies were red,” Mullikin said. “There was heavy smoke everywhere. Ash was coming down from the sky. Sirens were going off everywhere. It was like a movie.” Mullikin and the band ran back inside, packed up their equipment, and evacuated.

Back at Valley of the Dragons, Harvel and her family had made the decision to evacuate as well, and to assist others in the community. Wyldwomyn is one of their neighbors. Wyldwomyn said, “At 8 pm. DJ [co-owner of neighboring property Cerred Ered] knocked on my door and said ‘get out.'” The fires had reached Cobbly Knob, an area located only 2 miles from the valley. Wyldwomyn grabbed her three puppies, everything that she could pack in her car, and left. By 9 p.m., a caravan of cars and trucks, including Harvel’s family and Wyldwomyn, drove slowly down the single lane road that leads people from the Pagan sanctuary to the main highway.

“I don’t know how we escaped. The fire got within 1/4 mile of our property. Our mountain was on fire,” Wyldwoman said.

When they reached the road, as she reports, there was steady stream of cars leaving Gatlinburg, and only “firetruck after firetruck” heading toward the city. “There was so much smoke,” she added. The caravan of Pagans, then, met at a parking lot to decide how to proceed. From there, they separated to find safety for the night.

The members of Tuatha Dea also separated for the evacuation, each taking different side roads out of the city. But as Mullikin said, “It wasn’t easy.” Embers and ash were being blown in every direction. “There is was no rhyme or reason to it,” he added. You could take one road, as he described, and find yourself facing a pocket fire. “And it isn’t like you can go back,” he added. One Twitter user filmed his own escape out of the burning resort town.

It took Mullikin two hours, he said, to reach Dandridge, where he could find a hotel room. Once there, he met up with Holman and others. They have been there ever since.

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Gatlinburg is a small town with a resident population of only about 4,000. However, as a resort city, there were many more people in the area at the time. Officials estimate that as many as 14,000 people had to be evacuated Monday evening. Complicating the matter is the city’s location. Being a mountain town located in a valley, there aren’t many roads leading in and out. Some of them, as noted by Mullikin, were completely blocked by fire.

Rutherford watched from afar as the fires blazed. The mountain situated between her home and the city looked as if it were glowing. She was packed and ready to evacuate at any point. Late Monday night, she remembers hearing officials repeating the words: “Gatlinburg is gone! Gatlinburg is gone!” She imagined the worst.

She added that one of her friends, who does not own a car, had two minutes to evacuate as the flames came down on his home. She reported him telling her, “I stood. I ran.” She also said that she heard reports of “windshield wipers melting” and windows cracking just from the intense heat put off by the flames.

Mullikin described a similar scene, saying “The fires were so hot that the ground itself was on fire.”

As the evacuations continued, the rains came. First a mist and then eventually a downpour. Mullikin said, “I don’t think we would have made it without the rains.” Harvel reported that she and friends stood outside in a parking lot and danced. When Wyldwomyn reached her destination at a friend’s home, she immediately began doing water magic to help. She said, “What saved us was the rains. I thank the gods. I thank the gods.”

Despite the Monday night storm, the fires still burned. Winds picked back up on Tuesday, spreading more ash and more fire. But again, by evening, the rains came.

The properties that make up Valley of the Dragons were spared the flames, but did receive significant wind damage. The area of Wears Valley, where Rutherford lives, was also spared. Mullikin’s home, which lies only one mile outside the city, was undamaged by fire, but is currently without power. All of our interviewees called themselves “lucky.”

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Mullikin was first able to get back to see his house Thursday morning. In describing what he witnessed, Mullikin said “It is like tornado; the fire jumped around. There are homes burned to the ground, and then next to them, there will be one that is fine.”

While four Valley of the Dragons residents never evacuated, many of the others, who did leave, are now back home. They have spent the last day cleaning up the damage done by the high winds, and assessing needs. A tree went through Harvel’s roof. She and her family are now temporarily living in one of the cabins at Dragonshire.

The center of Gatlinburg is closed as city officials attempt to assess the scope of the destruction. There is no electricity in area and the mayor is advising all area residents to boil their water before drinking. As Mullikin explained, there are contaminates in the air, which may have gotten into the water system. He said, “remember not everything burning was natural.”

Unfortunately, the danger is still not over; fires continue to burn. In fact, WBIR reports that a second Chimney Tops fire is currently “0% contained.” According to one source, officials are patrolling the area, looking for more fires. Residents are being told that further evacuations may be necessary.

As for the people, the local news is saying that 1,200 of Gatlinburg’s 4,000 residents are currently in shelters. The death toll is now at seven, at least 53 are people are injured, and more are missing. Officials say that they expect the death toll to rise.

Wyldwomyn noted that the long-term devastation may run far deeper. She said that most of the residents, like those living at Valley of the Dragon, have jobs in the area’s lucrative tourist industry. Now, they have no jobs to go to. She is concerned with how long it will take for the local economy to recover.

When talking about the area, Harvel explained, “Gatlinburg itself is a very small town as far as residents go. Right now, because of how many folks drive into work in [Gatlinburg], many of us have spent years working and living together. Pigeon forge and Sevierville are one greater community.”

Despite all that has happened, Wyldwomyn offered a “silver lining,” saying that her own community came together in its time of need. In addition, her extended community, those who attend festivals and enjoy her campgrounds, have also reached out to offer assistance to her and other Valley of the Dragons residents. She said, “We are grateful.”

Mullikin echoed that sentiment, saying, “I’ve seen the community [of Gatlinburg] come together like I’ve never seen before.” He said that this is not about being Pagan or Christian or anything else. “People are coming in from all over to help.”

In addition, he said that friends and fans have been sending Tuatha Dea messages and emails, asking how they can help. He said, “We love everybody. Thank you. Tuatha Dea will be fine. We are one of the lucky ones.” But he did add that his daughter, Tesea Dawson, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy toys for Gatlinburg’s children.

On the campaign page, Dawson writes, “Many of the people who lost everything I know personally, my children go to school with or are family of my close personal friends. Many are children […] Many are left without jobs and here we are at Christmas.”

Dawson has, in one day, raised over $1,200.The money will be used “to buy Christmas presents for those children who’ve lost it all or whose parents will be delayed a much needed paycheck during this time. The victims of this living nightmare.” Any remaining money will be given to local charities supporting the recovery, and there are many of those.

Dolly Parton, who owns the nearby Pigeon Forge resort Dollywood, has pledged to give $1,000 per month through her Dollywood Foundation to families devastated by the fires.

In addition, Heathen Amy Kincheloe, the Troth’s Steward for Kentucky, is currently taking up a collection of supplies to bring to the area next week. While she doesn’t have personal connections in Gatlinburg, she said that she “is naturally a caring person” and just wanted to help. Kincheloe said that she knows what it’s like to “lose everything.”  She is collecting clothes, toys, and basic necessities this Saturday in and around her area. She said, “I live in Dixon, however I can travel to Owensboro, Madisonville, and Evansville IN.” For anyone interested in donating, she said to email her at poorventrue1@gmail.com with the title line:donation goods. 

There are many other opportunities to assist the people of Gatlinburg and its surrounding towns. A new hashtag campaign was launched to uplift spirits and foster community: #smokeymountainstrong.  As a fundraiser for victims, two local news outlets are selling t-shirts with the tag on it.

All the interviewees with whom we spoke said that, at this point, the full extent of the damage and any long-term needs are not yet known. The reality of what happened, and is still happening, has not fully set in. They need time.

Mullikin said, “More than anything. This is our home. We have been deeply affected by the fires.” He was breaking up as he spoke about the mountains and city that he loves. “It is part of who we are inside. We are connected to this place. It just hurts.” Now, he said, there is not much to do but manage basic needs. He did say that, as things settle, he and Tuatha Dea will be doing something more for the city, for the community, and for the beloved and magical Smokey Mountains.

 

Note: The Knoxville News Sentinel is providing an updated list of the conditions of various buildings and areas as officials are able to make assessment.

TWH – Today marks the 17th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Around the world, organizations and individuals will be hosting events, memorials, and vigils to remember those who have been lost due to transgender-related violence. It is a powerful day – one that is part of a larger month-long transgender awareness campaign.

Held every Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) marks the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. The case still remains unsolved to this day. However, a year after her death writer, Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and to bring awareness to the issues faced by transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the very first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Shortly after, other awareness campaigns and movements were launched, including the website, “Remembering Our Dead.”

Seventeen years later, the movement has grown. Throughout November, activities are held, culminating in the Day of Remembrance. The TDoR campaign’s main site hosts a list of not only the worldwide activities, but also the names of people who have died as a result of transgender-related violence over the past year.

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For TDoR 2016, Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary decided to expand its own regular annual memorial observances. Rev. Selena Fox said, “It is important to stand in solidarity with our transgender community members. With transphobia and hate crimes on the rise, it is important that we draw attention to this issue that impacts many in our community and to create a safe and supportive place to share concerns, experiences, perspectives, and support.”

Fox said that Circle has had trans* members since its inception in 1974, and the organization has always worked toward supporting the trans* community’s quest for equality. Four years ago, Rev. Fox began hosting a formal memorial ritual to honor TDoR. This year, that event, which is being facilitated by members Brianne Burne, Jake Bradley, and Nate Metrick, has been expanded to include a candle lighting memorial in the temple room, followed by a sharing circle.

Rev. Fox added, “We recognize that the Divine takes many forms, and that there are many forms of gender expression, all of which are sacred. It is our hope that events like ours will help build a better world where the divinity within each person is honored, and where no one feels afraid due to their gender identity.”

For the 2016 TDoR Wild Hunt forum, we reached out to the coordinators of Circle’s new event, asking them tell us more about living transgender, what this specific day means to them, and how these observance event can help the greater cause. We spoke with Brianne Burke, known as Brianne Raven Wolf or simply Bree. She is a 73-year old gender-fluid trans*woman, who is a member of Circle Sanctuary and a practicing eclectic Witch.

Bree is joined by Jake Bradley, a certified naturalist, death midwife, and doula. Bradley has provided ministry for over 25 years, and designs and manages harm-reduction outreach and shelter programming for people experiencing homelessness. Bradley founded and helped manage the first trans-safe youth shelter in Chicago, and provide training and consultation on LGBTQ competence, trauma-informed care, harm reduction, crisis management, and other topics through their business, Elements Consulting.

In addition to the two Circle event coordinators, we also spoke with activist and minister Katharine A. Luck, who participated in last year’s TDoR forum. Rev. Luck is a transgender woman of mixed racial heritage living in Florida. She is a Neo-Hellenic priestess, minster of Fire Dance Church of Wicca and transgender activist. In 2013, Luck organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Pensacola. The following year, she setup the transgender advocacy group STRIVE of which she is currently the President.

We welcome our contributors, and thank them for taking the time to speak with us.

The first question asked was whether our interviewees have seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender issues. If there was a change, has that change been positive?

Jake Bradley: The last few years have been an interesting and exciting moment in public consciousness around trans* issues. Between the emergence of some transgender pop culture figures and wider-spread efforts of education and advocacy, it seems that the “average American” is more aware of the existence of trans* people than before, and dialogue about the needs and perspectives of trans* people is much more commonplace. I am especially grateful for Laverne Cox and celebrities like her who highlight the particular struggles and triumphs of trans* people of color and who speak out in issues that others in the LGBTQ community have often ignored, such as incarceration and homelessness.

While we still see misguided transphobic rhetoric about the dangers of inclusion and respect for trans* people, and plenty of deference to the comfort levels of cisgender people over the dire safety needs of trans* people, it’s heartening to see more and more public figures and organizations affirming inclusion. For example, as ugly and hurtful as the “bathroom bill” policies have been, we now are in a moment in history where many businesses and public figures are willing to … rebuke and boycott the jurisdictions where hate and ignorance are currently winning the day. In more subtle ways, we see less common exploitation and ridicule of trans* people in mainstream media, and several media outlets are making a real effort to use people’s correct names and pronouns, and to educate the public on acceptable terminology, etc.

Schools and other organizations are more frequently realizing they need to educate and skill-build with their faculty and staff. Trans* kids in many places are being given more access to competent and sensitive medical care. Support groups and alliances are more numerous and accessible. There have been some important changes in government policy under the Obama tenure that have led to greater education and non-discrimination practices, and I’m hopeful we will manage to protect these as we move forward into the next administration. We have a very long way to go, but we seem to be headed in the right direction!

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Brianne Burne: I think there has been a noticeable change from what it was a few years ago. I’m involved in quite a few groups, locally and nationally. Around Madison [Wisconsin], I belong to the Madison Area Transgender Association and also LGBT OutReach-Madison. We have quite a few trans* activists here, and the growth has really been coming from social media in my opinion.

Katharine A. Luck: Prior to the recent “bathroom bill,” such as the now infamous HB2 in North Carolina, we were largely ignored by legislation, and we have not suddenly started using public restrooms in the last two years. Instead, as trans* people have become more visible, a side effect of visibility is transphobic legislation from people who think our existence began with their awareness of it.

For the next question, we asked what the biggest threat to the community’s safety was. This is a difficult question, but we asked our interviewees, if they could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

JB: This is a difficult question. Trans* and GNC (gender non-conforming) people are at astronomically disproportionate risk for homelessness, unemployment or underemployment, depression and suicide, being physically and sexually assaulted, negative interactions with police, incarceration, and many other challenges and harms, which are all consequences of cisnormativity and transphobia.

It would be easy to say that ignorance and transphobia are the biggest threat. The fact that police often fail to protect and respect trans* folks, and even frequently brutalize us with impunity, makes the everyday safety of trans* people a thing never to take for granted. Still, there are gradations from relative safety to extreme risk inside the community of trans* and GNC people based on other identity and socioeconomic factors.

Race (and racism) is probably the biggest cause of disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable trans* people from competent medical and mental health care, adequate employment, safe housing, and fair treatment by law enforcement. Institutional racism and white supremacy cause so much more harm to trans* people of color, and especially to black and brown trans women, and also cause division within the LGBTQ community, so that young trans* people of color often don’t benefit from allyship on the part of more affluent or empowered LGBTQ people, nor have their safety and quality of life as positively impacted by gains from LGBTQ activism. My magick wand would eradicate white supremacy and dismantle racism. Then, the most at-risk trans* people would benefit, along with people of color of all genders in this nation.

BB: The biggest threat to the community’s safety may well be the new incoming Republican administration given the far right evangelical Christian attitudes of the VP-elect and others in some state and federal governmental positions. Especially in the southern states, such as North Carolina and Mississippi. The one thing that could make an impact: if people everywhere would realize we are all human beings and, even though the trans* community is different, […] we aren’t a threat to anybody.

KL: This country just elected one of the most outspoken enemies of the LGBTQ community to the office of vice president. Our new president-elect is, frankly, a thinly veiled neo-Nazi, having surrounded himself with champions of white supremacy, like Steve Bannon, and has run on a platform of racial fear, hatred, and proposed separatism. Our vice president-elect Mike Pence has specifically targeted the LGBTQ community. He was responsible for Indiana’s anti-LGBTQ legislation and believes LGBTQ people can be “cured” through conversion therapy. He even tried to divert funds from HIV programs to conversion therapy. While its modern incarnation might not include shock treatment, conversion therapy increases suicides, nonetheless.

At present, I can say without reservation that the greatest threat to the transgender community, LGBTQ people, and likely all marginalized people, is the new administration which will begin in January.

Circle Sanctuary TDoR "Green Face" altar [Courtesy Photo]

Circle Sanctuary TDoR “Green Face” altar [Courtesy Photo]

With that in mind, the third question asked was how can non-trans* people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends, and eliminate any of the barriers discussed above? 

JB: Here is a handout we made a while ago called “Top 10 Ways to be a Trans* Ally.”

BB: To elevate the barriers. People need to get educated about trans* people through community programs. I am starting to see this in a lot of public schools with programs like GSAFE and adult programs such as PFLAG. We need to eliminate the “fear” that cisgender people have about us.

KL: I consider intersectionality and solidarity to be the key to equality. Every person of conscience in this country and the world must resist the oppression of all people. Trans* people exist in every demographic, and I will do all in my power to advocate for all of them. I ask that everyone else do the same.

For our fourth question, we asked what the Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities could do better in support of their transgender members.

JB: Neopaganism was perhaps founded in part in reaction against patriarchal religious systems that emphasized masculine personifications of the Divine, and Paganism has been revolutionary in its promotion of the Divine as feminine and also as a “balance” or “marriage” of both feminine and masculine. Paganism has made revolutionary contributions to the world in terms of celebrating embodiment, in promoting some feminist ideals, and in sex-positivity. However, for those of us who don’t see our gender as the most essential aspect of our identity, or for whom our gender is not rooted in anatomy or gendered biological life cycles, or for whom binary gendered paradigms don’t fit, there’s still plenty of opportunity for alienation.

Gender constructions are so rampant in most Pagan practice, and are present in so many standard rites of passage. I think lots of Pagan communities (like many in dominant U.S. culture), could become safer for their trans* members by recognizing and celebrating that there isn’t just one way to be a woman or to be a man, that gender doesn’t have to be based on biology, that “maleness” and “femaleness” aren’t mutually exclusive, and that lots of us don’t fit in that binary system in any case. I think that Pagan communities would also find that cisgender members would benefit from the increased freedom and room that recognizing and celebrating gender diversity can offer anyone.

I appreciate the step many groups have made of affirming people’s self-identity rather than projecting gender onto people or having some other qualifying “test” or eligibility criteria for one of the binary identities. The next step might be to question whether rites of passage need to be attached to biological events and gender-based social roles, and to begin to ask people what things are meaningful to them in their passage through life and what symbols there are of these passages, etc., and to begin to develop some non-gender-based rites that affirm the things that are most meaningful to people as they pass through stages of life.

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JB (continued): What are the things all of us have in common as we age, regardless of gender or biology? Teenagers are teenagers. Parents are parents. Many of us, if we are lucky to live long enough, have a part of our lives where maybe we work for a living less, and our bodies start to be less sturdy and reliable in ways we might have previously taken for granted. I’m not advocating that cisgender men and women shouldn’t have opportunities to celebrate their embodiment, but just that there be more spaces where gender (and binary-gendered bodies and biological cycles) isn’t the primary aspect of our humanity, and that there be more spaces where diversity of gender identity, expression, experience, role, etc., are embraced more. Finally, I just want to say that I am so deeply grateful for Selena Fox’s leadership and legacy for LGBTQ inclusion throughout her life, and for the efforts made by Circle Sanctuary to embrace and support gender minorities.

BB:  I think the Pagan community is, from what I’ve been involved in, doing a very good job supporting trans* people. I’ve never had a problem with anybody in the Pagan community not making me feel welcome, accepted, and loved.

KL: As Pagans we must diminish the focus on binary gender and become more inclusive. We must have roles in both our society and our practice which can be occupied by anyone, of any gender. If necessary we must be willing to create new roles to suit the needs of the members of our community. We must remember tradition, but we must be willing to adapt. The trans* community has always had a role to play in both pagan religion and witchcraft, and always will.

Next, we asked for words of hope. Often when talking about silenced populations, we focus on the struggle. So, we asked our interviewees to take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

JB: Oh, wow! Thank you for this question! Spaces where gender variance is the norm and where lots of folks under the trans* umbrella are present can be the most beautiful and amazing spaces! There is so much more room for everyone  to be whoever they are, in whatever collection of attributes and expressions they come up with! Trans* people tend to be phenomenally resilient, adaptive, and creative about making family and community across all kinds of difference!

BB: Something beautiful happened earlier this year in Mt. Horeb, Wis. Here’s a little piece: “Last November, at the Primary Center elementary school in Mount Horeb, a transgender first-grader was about to transition.The school administration and staff were fully supportive, and […] had decided that reading the book I Am Jazz. […] Soon the school district and its teachers were threatened with a lawsuit if the book was read and [it] was cancelled. In a show of solidarity, two readings of I Am Jazz were held–one organized by students […] and the other organized by a local mom named Amy Lyle.” [Read the full story]

KL: It is in the struggle and the pain that I find some of the most beautiful moments. It is in the struggle that we find our family and ourselves. I have seen the strongest of bonds formed in the face of oppression. I see hope in a person’s eyes when they walk into one of our gatherings without anyone to call their friend, and they are immediately greeted as family. In the reading of names on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we speak the names many may not have even heard before that night. I am uplifted when I see people mourn the loss of family and friends they never met because they have faced injustice. I gain strength when I see those allies begin to work because the names of those we lost too soon touched their hearts.

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Mt. Horeb community reading of “I am Jazz”[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

To end the conversation, we asked our interviewees what this day, Transgender Day of Remembrance means to them.

JB: In a world where some of us can’t get people to call us by our names and correct pronouns, and where people are invisible (or have to try to be to survive), the reading of people’s names feels entirely necessary; it is simultaneously a frail gesture and one that is revolutionary. Names are commonplace, and they are sacred. We have to call out the names of those who have been casualties of our oppressive and alienating systems. We have to set aside a week for Transgender Awareness, and a day to remember those who have died, so that cisnormativity and cisgender privilege aren’t all that there is, so that trans* folks see that we’re not alone, and so we remind ourselves to keep on working for a world where the numbers of the dead go down from one year to the next.

BB: For me its a very solemn day and has been. It reminds me of all the violence worldwide against our trans* community, more so in other countries. When I hear about the violent murders, beatings, and especially the suicides when a lot of us get so depressed especially when family and friends choose to not love us, or accept us a human beings. That’s where more education will help.

KL: The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a memorial to those we have lost, and it is a reminder of why we must always move forward. It is not only for ourselves that we seek safety and equality. It is in memory of those who came before, and it is for those who will come after. What is remembered, lives.

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Rev. Katharine Luck will be holding a vigil and memorial in Pensacola, Florida through the organization STRIVE. Brianne Burne and Jake Bradley, along with co-coordinator Nick Metrick and Rev. Selena Fox, will be hosting observances in Wisconsin, through Circle Sanctuary.

Bradley noted, “I feel really honored to contribute to [Circle’s event] by helping to shine a light on those impacted by transphobic hate and violence this year, and by helping to celebrate the resilience of the TGNC community. I think events like this are sorely needed, especially at a moment in our national history that feels terrifying and bleak for so many of us, because they help us demonstrate and galvanize allyship.They remind us that some particulars of our stories may differ, but that all those of us who face oppression or marginalization have much in common.”

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For those people who are attending organized vigils today or would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, TWH has provided the TDoR list of 2016 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many others resources on the issues discussed for both trans people and allies. GLAAD provides a short list of legal resources and other support. Now celebrating its second anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available nationally

PORTLAND, Ore. — Sacramento Elementary School is poised to become the first public school in the country to permit the operation of the newly-formed After School Satan club. On Nov. 15, the Portland Chapter of The Satanic Temple hosted an evening event at Parkrose Middle School with guest speakers Lucian Greaves and Jex Blackmore. They answered questions about the temple’s work and about the new after-school program. Then, on Nov. 16, the chapter scheduled a morning open house session at the host elementary school, in order to answer more questions and share its intended program. The club will open for children Nov. 23, and reportedly host meetings once per week on Wednesdays.The After School Satan clubs are the creation of The Satanic Temple (TST), which recently established  a new headquarters in “America’s Witch City,” Salem, Massachusetts. The clubs were launched in reaction to the proliferation of Christian-based, evangelical after-school programming, more specifically CEF’s Good News Clubs.

In a press release, TST co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves said: “It’s important that children be given an opportunity to realize that the evangelical materials now creeping into their schools are representative of but one religious opinion amongst many.”

Greaves goes on to say that the “After School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us. We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”

As quoted in OregonLive, Finn Rezz, who is TST’s Portland chapter spokesperson, said another focus of the clubs is to teach “benevolence and empathy for everybody.” This ideal is something that TST sees as being in direct contrast to the Good News Clubs’ evangelical programming. In a press release, TST explained, “Unlike the Good News Club, After School Satan Club does not try to convert children to one religious ideology. Instead, it teaches children to think for themselves.”

The Good News Club, as we have reported in the past, is one of the missions of the Child Evangelical Fellowship, the purpose of which is to “evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.” The CEF after-school program is specifically “designed to bring the Gospel of Christ to children on their level in their environment.” The intent of CEF is not hidden.

While the Good News Clubs are not the only evangelical after-school program in the country (e.g. Rise Up for Christ), they are the most well known and the most common found within public school systems. CEF reported that in 2015 there were 78,000 total clubs in operation worldwide. Together with its teen program, the foundation claims to be serving 19.8 million children with “good news.”

When talking about religion-based clubs in public schools, a question of legality always arises. In 2001, CEF and the Good News Clubs were, in fact, at the center of legal battle that challenged the constitutionality of their presence within the public school environment. The city of Milford, New York had denied Stephen and Darleen Fournier’s request to establish and hold a Good News Club at their local high school. The city stated that the “the proposed use–to sing songs, hear Bible lessons, memorize scripture, and pray–was the equivalent of religious worship [and, therefore,] prohibited by the community use policy.”

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the justices of which ruled in favor of the clubs with a decision stating that “Milford’s restriction violates the Club’s free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation.” (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School).

As explained in the ruling, public school buildings are considered “limited public forums” and, as such, the city of Milford “discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause.” That ruling paved the way for not only an expansion of the Good News Clubs but also the birth of similar religious programs nationwide, including now TST’s After School Satan clubs.

14910418_1803244776624243_6609693793544342953_nDespite the SCOTUS ruling, Good News Clubs have continued to spark protests. In 2014, the city of Portland had one of the largest and most vocal coalitions pushing against CEF and the clubs. Its formation was propelled, in part, by the publication of journalist Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children. Local Portland parents and other concerned citizens engaged in protest and signed petitions in an attempt to stop the clubs from expanding any further.

At the same time, the group Protect Our Children was formed. Its mission statement reads, in part, “We support freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and everyone’s right to worship as they please at home or at church. We also support the separation of church and state, and hold that public schools, which serve people of all beliefs, should be religiously neutral and free from evangelizing.”

In an August 2016 article in Willamette Week, local Pagan grandparent Lana Buchanan described how, in the fall 2015, Good News Club volunteers were aggressively passing out fliers in front of Harrison Park K-8. Buchanan was quoted as saying, “I quickly informed them we are a Pagan household and have enough gods, thank you very much.”

Despite any of those efforts, the Good News Clubs have continued to pop up in the area. Today Portland’s school system plays host to several after-school CEF programs.

In spring 2016, The Satanic Temple, which is known for its religious freedom actions, decided to join what is in essence a religious freedom debate. TST created its own school club. If schools allow the formation of Good News Clubs or the like, they must also allow the After School Satan clubs.

To begin its work, TST sent letters to a select group of school districts nationwide, noting its intention to start a school club. Greaves explained, “All of the districts we’ve approached are nearby to local chapters of The Satanic Temple, and each school district has hosted, or is now hosting, Good News Clubs in their schools. This being the case, we are sure that the school districts we’ve approached are well aware that they are not at liberty to deny us use of their facilities, nor are they at liberty to deny us any level of representation in the schools that they afford to other school clubs — such as fliers, tables, brochures, and school-wide announcements.”

Since sending out the requests in August, TST has been dealing with the questions, backlash, and obstacles. However, despite the challenges, the temple is now celebrating the opening of at least two after-school programs by the end of the 2016. Portland’s Sacramento Elementary School club is set to open for business this month. In December, a second club will reportedly open in Tacoma, Washington.

Other cities on the TST radar include Powder Springs, Georgia; Panorama City, California; Taylorsville, UT; Pensacola, FL; Springfield, Missouri; Tucson, Arizona; Capitol Heights, Maryland. In addition, there are reports stating that the small town of Nehalem, Oregon, has also given a green light to After School Satan.downloadOver the past month, the announcement of the Tacoma Washington-based club has drawn notable media tension and backlash. Originally slated for Mount Vernon, the new After School Satan club was moved to Point Defiance Elementary due to the strong presence of Good News. In reaction, as reported by the local news, 75 religious leaders came together to create a plan to stop TST. Many Facebook news-related posts on the subject have since garnered 100 of comments, both in support and against.

In addition, it has also been reported that the club’s proposed opening has been a catalyst for parent protests and petitions. However, the reports do not agree on the size, scope, and number of any of those recent actions.

Despite any outrage or debate, TST was ultimately successful in its mission; Point Defiance Elementary will be getting an After School Satan club in December. The first open house will be held Dec.14. Like all of its clubs, the instructors are or will be volunteers, who “have been vetted by the Executive Ministry for professionalism, social responsibility, superior communication skills, and lack of criminal history.”

In all of its work to promote religious freedom, The Satanic Temple attempts to make one point very clear. It “does not advocate for religion in schools” nor does it want to convert children to Satanism. The organization explains that “once religion invades schools, as The Good News Clubs have, The Satanic Temple will fight to ensure that plurality and true religious liberty are respected.”

UNITED STATES — The Interfaith Council for Greater Portland called to its community to gather Nov. 10 in the Pioneer Courthouse Square to rally for peace and inclusion. As Rabbi Ariel Stone said, “Today we will seize the high ground to demand from ourselves and all others the ongoing awareness and action to demonstrate that kindness is our only hope, truth our rallying flag, and that we will never stop affirming that love trumps hate.” The interfaith rally drew members of the area’s Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, First Nations and Pagan communities, and was only one of many in the immediate area. 

[Photo Credit: Matt Morris / Twitter]

T. Thorn Coyle, who offered a prayer to Brigid during the event, said, “The reason I wanted to be out last night is to make a clear statement that I stand with Muslims, with immigrants, with our trans siblings, with the poor, and with my black and brown and indigenous comrades. Leading up to and immediately following the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, hate crimes are on the rise in this country. We must work together in as many ways possible, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who are most at risk.” 

Coyle was joined by other Pagans, including Sister Krissy, Ravyn Stanfield, Blaedfyr, Crow Walker and Patrick Garretson. She noted that her aim is, as always, was “to work for love, equity, and justice, and to counter hatred and oppression.” What Coyle expressed and what is exemplified by this interfaith event is a genuine and visceral rising fear, one that was already keenly felt by many minority communities.

While the 2016 Republican platform officially reads, “We oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination,” the party’s official statement did nothing to ease the growing stress found in marginalized communities; nor did it buffer or censor Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric. (Republican Campaign Platform, p. 9)

The concerns expressed at the Portland rally are not limited to those attending individuals or any of the others protesting across country, blocking highways, and attending vigils. On Nov. 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times, which states: “If you do not reverse course and endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to content with the full firepower of the ACLU at your every step.”

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In the wake of the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has created an online petition calling for Trump to renounce his campaign’s hateful rhetoric. According to the organization, there has been an unprecedented number of hate crimes reported since Nov. 9.

Similarly, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has said that “it will work vigorously to oppose any attempts by the administration of Donald J. Trump to undermine religious freedom in the United States.” In a Nov. 9 press release, AU executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn said, “Donald Trump’s rhetoric shows a shocking disregard for core principles of religious liberty […] Religious freedom is far too valuable for us to lose and far too fragile for us to leave unguarded.”

In both their public statements, the ACLU and AU noted specific campaign promises that have led to their organization’s outrage. With regard to religious freedom, what were those promises?

In the section titled “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty,” the 2016 Republican Party platform begins by stating, “The Bill of Rights lists religious liberty, with its rights of conscience, as the first freedom to be protected. Religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives.” (p. 11)

From there, the document continues on to discuss the “ongoing attempts to compel individuals, businesses, and institutions of faith to transgress their beliefs” and the “misguided effort to undermine religion and drive it from the public square.” More specifically, the platform urges the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which would remove the 1954 IRS code restricting tax-exempt entities, including religious bodies, from engaging in partisan politics. (p. 18)

This is one of the issues raised by Americans United. As its press release states, the Johnson Amendment “prohibits all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates for office,” thereby creating a definitive boundary, at least in law, between church and state.

Where does the Trump campaign and now administration stand specifically on this issue? According to Time, Republican platform committee member Tony Perkins said, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.”

The Republican Party platform goes on to endorse the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (HR 2802) (FADA) that addresses “discriminatory actions against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction.” The promise to support FADA includes a repeal of the IRS tax code, as noted above, as well as other protections for faith-based institutions. The platform reads, “[the act would] bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” As such, the platform “condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor.” (p. 11)

This is another issue specifically noted in the AU statement. As the watchdog organization suggests, FADA “would allow people who hold the religious belief that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman, or that extramarital relations are sinful, to ignore laws that conflict with that belief. Individuals, businesses, health­care providers, taxpayer-funded so­c­i­al service providers and even government employees would be allowed to use FADA to get around non-discrimination protections.”

The FADA is similar in purpose to the decades-long RFRA movements around the country. Future Vice President Mike Pence has been a vocal supporter of that movement, having signed into law one of the most publicized and notorious of RFRA acts. It was the 2015 Indiana RFRA that sparked Wiccan and ATC High Priest Dusty Dionne to speak out publicly in order to defend religious freedom. In response to overwhelming criticism, Pence said, at the time, that the Indiana RFRA law was never intended to be used as a tool for discrimination. Under pressure, Indiana’s state legislature was forced to clarify its RFRA’s original language, but those changes did not make any significant changes to the law’s premise or application.

In his 2015 book Crippled America, Trump writes, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132). In October of the same year, he reportedly told Iowa supporters, “I’m a good Christian […] If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store … You can leave happy holidays at the corner.”

Returning to the 2016 party platform, religious language can be found in many parts of the document, even outside of those devoted specifically to First Amendment concerns. However, the platform once again directly addresses religious freedom in a discussion on foreign policy. It expresses support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The document reads:

The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. (p. 59)

During the campaign, Trump himself was not silent on topics related to Daesh. He repeatedly proposed strong action against terrorism, even using the subject as a distraction during the debate. However, some of his statements veered drastically from the above stated ideal of ensuring protection for religious minorities. Americans United wrote, “Trump has also proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States or subjecting them to heightened forms of scrutiny simply because of their faith. Such a policy would violate our nation’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom.”

Since Trump’s initial 2015 statement calling for a ban, Pence has said that the administration “no longer wanted to impose a temporary ban on Muslim immigration.” In July 2016, Trump clarified his plan, explaining that the original statement was about “territory” and not religion. More recently, Pence denounced the entire proposition, saying that this was no longer Trump’s position.

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikipedia]

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikipedia]

Outside of policy promises, Trump’s campaign rhetoric has been very clear in its religious focus. At a September rally in Iowa, for example, he asked his supporters to raise their hands if they were Christian conservatives. “Everybody,” he said. After cheers, he followed with, “Raise your hands if you’re not a Christian conservative. I want to see this? Right. Oh, there is a couple of people. That’s all right. I think we’ll keep them. Should we keep them in the room? I think so.”

Just before the November election, the campaign released one final commercial that fueled a heated- response from the Anti-Defamation League. This would not be the first time that Trump had been accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric based on the false assumptions of a global Jewish conspiracy. After the Nov 8. election, ADL said in a press release that it “cannot and will not simply ignore the fact that this campaign brought out many of the worst elements of our society.  We saw a mainstreaming of anti-Semitism and a normalization of bigotry that deeply concerned us. […] We will not shrink from the fight ahead regardless of where it takes us.”

At the same time, the ADL also shared words of hope, saying that it is prepared to work with the president-elect and his administration “to seek the common ground and reconciliation that has been the hallmark of all presidential transitions that follow American elections.”

While not a religious-based group, the NAACP has also stated that it is watching the incoming administration. As one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the U.S., the NAACP offered congratulations to the newly elected president, but added: “[We] must bluntly note that the 2016 campaign has regularized racism, standardized anti-Semitism, de-exceptionalized xenophobia and mainstreamed misogyny.”

While implementation of the more extreme policies and promises may not be possible and any attempts will quickly be countered by the many U.S. civil rights organizations, the rhetoric fueling Trump’s success continues to linger in the minds of many Americans, who now are asking, “Where do we go from here?”

For Pagans, Lady Liberty League (LLL) stands behind its policies of inclusiveness and will stand ready to discuss any legal issues or religious freedom concerns that do arise in the coming months or beyond. Rev. Selena Fox added that LLL has seen an increase in reports over the past year and, as a result, LLL has been restructured in order to handle them. Anyone needing assistance can reach the organization through its website.

As unstable as the U.S. appears to be at this point, the NAACP ended its press release on a positive note, echoing an idea that is similar to the message coming out of the local Portland interfaith rally and the new hashtag action #lovetrumpshate. The NAACP wrote: “Our beauty as a country shines brighter than the ugliness of this election. It is up to all of us to reveal the beauty of who we are as a people as we yet see the possibilities of the nation we can become.”

TWH – Today is election day in the United States, voters are headed to the polls to decide who will be their president for next four years. This 2016 race has been contentious, to say the least, and unique in many ways. Republican nominee Donald Trump is reportedly the first presidential candidate without any formal political experience to reach this point in the process since Dwight Eisenhower. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential candidate to make it to this point. In addition to trivia such as those, the 2016 presidential campaign has been surrounded by divisive rhetoric, accusations of misconduct and criminal activity, and a host of other often shocking public displays.

But today is voting day and the decision will be made.

Here is a round-up of TWH articles focused on the 2016 presidential race. From media frenzy to political magic, we present this “one stop shop,” looking back at politics, voting, and the specifics of the campaign process.

[Photo Credit: Vox Efx / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Vox Efx / Flickr]

Starting us off in January, columnist Karl E. H. Seigfried looked at the intersections between Religion and Politics in Heathenry, discussing how practitioners often attempt to see them as separate aspects of their lives. He concludes: “For Heathens, religion and politics are always already linked. By acknowledging that, maybe we can move beyond the childish name-calling and purity inquisitions to discuss the issues and challenges of living in the world today – and how we can each take action that is consistent with our own diverse Heathen worldviews.”

Then in March, we examined the trending stories that placed occult practice at the center of political life. In Astrology and Metaphysics in the White House, journalist Cara Schulz reports on the historical use of divination at the national level. Schulz writes, “There hasn’t been any mention of Hillary Clinton continuing to consult with psychics or mediums since the mid-1990s. Has public opinion changed on metaphysics in general and White House consultations in particular? Would a revelation, similar to the one about Nancy Reagan, spark a media storm or a yawn? What about other forms of divination like tarot?”

While there may not be recent reports of Clinton engaging directly with readers, connections have been made between Clinton and the practice of Witchcraft. These connections are entirely different than those made in the 1980s. For example, in March, we reported on the popular use of the slogan “Bern the Witch.” Created by New Jersey pizzeria owner Joe Smith, the slogan went viral and, as noted, ended up with a number of different meanings, including “Bernie Sanders, the Witch” and “Burn the witch.”

At the time, Mr. Smith said, “I’m not criticizing [Hillary Clinton] because she’s a woman, her policies and her career are disastrous for working people. […] If people wanna look at it one way or another they can. I’m looking to win.[…] I think we need to be on the offensive.”

The connections being made between Clinton and the occult have only continued through November, both in support her candidacy, as well as serving as derogatory slurs exemplified best by Smith’s campaign.

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In early summer, after the attack on the Orlando LGBTQ+ nightclub, columnist Heathen Chinese re-framed the summer’s political rhetoric, asking, “How are sides of war delineated?” His question was timely as the race to earn a party presidential nomination began to heat up. In Against the Leviathan, Heathen Chinese concludes, “It wasn’t just an attack by one leviathan against another. It was an attack on human beings, on human community, on dancers, on ‘kinship and community,’ on those who ‘still have an ‘inner light,’ namely an ability to reconstitute lost rhythms, to recover music, to regenerate human cultures.’ ”

As the summer continued, the major parties held their national conventions in order to announce their nominees. Over a nice mojito, columnist Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed these massive political gatherings, calling them “spectacles of power” that offer “insight into the American political machinery.” In Panem et Circenses, he concludes:

The recent political conventions also showed me why they are attempts at magic but fail to be magical. Conventions are triangles: they look like ritual but lack the circle. Conventions are designed as giant megaphones to change perception. But despite the rhetoric of community and the people, the pageantry and power are all top-down. They are voices on a stage cast into a receptive audience. There is no balance, only lip service to it.

Then, in mid-August, we looked at religion, in general, within the 2016 political race,  including demographics and party positions. As Pew Forum reported, “the candidates’ religious beliefs are of decreasing interest [to the American population].” However, “their position or their party’s position on religious freedom [remains] a vital part of the campaign process. Religious freedom was and is still one of the backbones of the American system.”

In Religion and the Presidential Race 2016, we offer a detailed breakdown of the official party positions on religion and religious freedom.

As the summer turned to fall, columnist Karl E. H. Seigfried returned with two articles discussing Heathenry and politics. In late August, he asked seventeen different Heathens the following question, “How does your Heathen worldview affect your view of the presidential election as it now stands?” He then provides the answers in Heathen Worldview and Presidential Politics.

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Next in September, Seigfried took a more concrete look at how and where Heathens have been influencing or working in politics. He writes,”Heathenry and politics have not always been happy bedfellows, yet there have been Heathens around the world who have campaigned for public office. Some have even won elections. The thumbnail portraits below feature four Heathens from four countries [Canada, Iceland, Germany, and the U.S.] who have four very different stories of engagement with and disengagement from public life.”

Those portraits are only a small demonstration of the many Pagans and Heathens involved directly in politics. For example, we reported that Matthew Orlando is currently running for U.S. Congress in Michigan. And TWH‘s own Cara Schulz is running for city council in Burnsville, Minnesota. We’ll know those results today as well.

With the election (and Halloween) looming, the mainstream media soon returned to discussions of divination. Who would win? What do “the stars” say? We decided to ask our own community the same questions. In Looking Beyond the Presidential Election: Diviners agree on outcome, three experts performed readings for us. They offered their predictions on the election and the winner’s future as commander-in-chief. That article concludes, “In short, the diviners are predicting a Clinton win, but a rocky road during her term in office.”

Additionally, as the election drew closer, the extreme right-wing political machine churned out more “evidence” of witchcraft being used to influence the election. While there were reportedly several hex actions being staged to influence the race, this was not necessarily what the pundits had in mind.

For example, in an early October article, we noted that Robert Maginnis told Jim Bakker: “I know that there’s demonic forces in that city. I have personally met people that refer to themselves as witches; people that say they advise the senior leadership of the country. You know, we invite within the federal government people to advise us and often some of those advisers, I think, have evil motivations, things that you and I would not approve of.”

This idea of a secret “cabal” of witches controlling the government is different than conversations about, or accusations of, divination practices. While the latter was, and often still is, used to ridicule and demonstrate signs of ineptitude, the more recent occult accusations contain strong religious overtones, paralleling age-old fears of witchcraft.

After noting Maginnis’ comments, the October article goes on to look at just what a politics of Witchcraft might actually be, and concludes:

Should it worry Americans if, someday, Witches became advisers to our political leaders? [Dr. Gwendolyn] Reece, [a D.C.-based Witch and Priestess], doesn’t think so; “I do not believe Maginnis is telling the truth when he says that there are Witches who are high level policy advisers, secretly influencing our politicians. Maybe we should be.

On Oct 29, Dr. Reece joined us as a guest columnist for a more comprehensive article on political magick  – what it is and why it is important within her own religious work. She wrote, “I believe we are at a dangerous crossroads in our country, much of which has been laid bare in this election and the competing visions of what kind of country we want to create. I see this current situation in our nation within the context of a greater initiatory crisis for humanity.”

Reece went on to say that there is hope, and that magical people can use their skills to change the world. “This is what many of us have been training for. We understand group souls. We understand thought power. We need to use our skills, as members of the group soul of humanity, and drag our collective consciousness over the threshold of initiation and make sure we don’t fall.”

As part of her essay and as an example of political magick in practice, Dr. Reece provided a ritual for use by both groups or individuals. She says, “I encourage anyone who has the desire to work for the good of our polis to perform this ritual prior to the election and to carry its spirit with you through the election and beyond. Ideals need continuous reinforcement. And of course, please vote.”

politicalAs the country moved into the final weekend before the election, columnist Tim Titus discussed the concept of “voting values.”  He begins, “The term “values voters” has long described a specific portion of the American electorate. These voters are understood to express values that stem from their religious views, which are overwhelmingly Christian and socially conservative.”

Titus then posits that all people vote based on their values, not only conservative Christians. Through interviews, he goes on to prove his point.  Titus concludes:

Diversity is good. Monoculture destroys the land. That emphasis on freedom may be what it all really comes down to. Paganism is a religious minority, the members of which have freely chosen to break away from mainstream religions and practice the spiritual tradition that calls to their hearts. The same is true in their voting choices, which is a positive, extremely American practice. In both politics and spirituality, Pagans around the country are standing tall for that one very American common value: freedom.

On that note, the 2016 TWH political article train comes full circle. In January, Siegfried posited that politics and religion cannot and should not be separated. In November, Titus does the same, demonstrating that Pagans and Heathens vote on values strongly rooted in their unique religious beliefs.

That brings us to today – voting day. The story has not yet been written. Join us tomorrow for a look at the election results, as we bring you reactions from around the country.

TWH — As the sun rose on Oct. 31 and the Halloween frenzy crested, a viral social media campaign appeared, generating hundreds of responses on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr ,and Twitter. Using hashtag #whatwitcheslooklike, people from around the world posted photographs of themselves wearing no religious ritual wear, costumes, or other atypical clothing for their personal lifestyle. The goal was to combat popular fictional witch stereotypes by demonstrating what real, modern Witches actually look like.

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As is typical of the Samhain season, the popular use of words, such as witch and witchcraft, find their way into and onto everything. This trend reaches its climactic denouement as Halloween arrives. Images of witches appear everywhere, from product packaging and clothing to news outlets and entertainment media. As last week’s TWH editorial on media concluded, “the onslaught of Witch articles in October is as much a part of the season as the falling of the leaves and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.”

This particular year has been atypical due to the use of these terms within the contentious U.S. presidential election. From the early “Bern the Witch” slogan to the more recent accusations of ritual magic and “Spirit Cooking,” the terms witch and witchcraft, and all that they imply, have danced uneasily within the rhetoric of contemporary American politics. In many of these cases, the political noise has gone so far as to include a resurrection of an age-old political strategy that blames society’s failings, or one’s own failings, on witchcraft and Satanic worship.

Within all of this October chaos, a typical question arises: “What is a real Witch?” While some mainstream media reports do attempt to accurately answer the question, the predominantly European-based fictional representations of witches — those that have endured for centuries — far outweigh any reality that exists. They are well embedded in modern society and not easily forgotten.

In Act I scene iii of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), Banquo says of the weird sisters:

“What are these;
So withered and so wild in their attire,
that look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the’ earth
And yet are on’t?”

Banquo goes on to describe their “choppy fingers,” “skinny lips,” and adds, “You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.”

Wicked Witch of the West, "Wizard of Oz" (1939); "Linda maestra!" Francisco de Goya (1799)

Wicked Witch of the West, “Wizard of Oz” (1939); “Linda maestra!” Francisco de Goya (1799)

While today’s popular witch imagery endures predominantly as fun and games and has even, in some places, adopted a strong feminist subtext, many modern Witches still find discomfort in its display. Despite all odds, they continuously work to combat the implied derogatory meanings and false assumptions present in these popular witch representations.

It is that very frustration that led to the recent #whatwitcheslooklike hashtag campaign. It is important to note that this was not the first time the hashtag had been used, but it was the first time it hit digital media with such force, and on Halloween.

It all began with a single post by the Village Witch of Asheville, North Carolina: H. Byron Ballard.

Ballard is a North Carolina native, a folklorist, gardener, and writer. She is a witch and priestess, who focuses her magical work on the energies local to her Appalachian home. She has published two books on the subject, Staubs and Ditchwater and Asfidity and Mad-Stones, and lectures at Pagan and other similar events.

Additionally, Ballard is very passionate about how witches and witchcraft are represented, and what is actually means to be a modern Witch. Ballard told The Wild Hunt that she gets frustrated with the “green-faced crone image,” one that she must deal with all year long. “I don’t love it being promoted as how Witches look.”

When she posted the hashtag on Halloween morning, she did not expect it to go viral, in fact it wasn’t meant to be a social media protest or campaign at all. Her post was simply a personal reaction to several conversations, more than anything else. Ballard explained how it all got started.

“The Walpurgisnacht Hexen Tanz video from Germany—that flitted through my Facebook feed on several occasions—inspired a local group of very nice women, several of whom I know, to do their own version around town during Hallowe’en season. I had some very mixed feelings about this and frankly wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I was nerdy in thinking it should be done at Beltane, like the original,” Ballard began.

As she said, these traditional pop culture images do bother her, but like most American Witches, she typically just “lets that go” and continues on in her own practice.

This time, however, she decided to take action. On Oct. 27, Ballard asked Facebook friends for their opinions of the Walpurgisnacht video and its portrayal of Witches. She received close to 100 responses, mostly in her feed.

“Almost all of them encouraging me to lighten up, put on my Big Girl panties,” she said. “Being a priestess at Samhain with not a lot of free time, I let it go. Again.”

Photo that started the #whatwitcheslooklike viral campaign 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Photo that started the #whatwitcheslooklike viral campaign 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

However, the entire issue nagged at her. Ballard went on to say, “We did our community public Samhain ritual on Sunday night, and I had two conversations about [this topic], with different people. One looked around the circle of about 50 people, and said, ‘You know this is what Witches look like. I wish people could see that we’re just people.’ The [second] conversation went along the same lines.”

The very next morning was Halloween. Ballard said, “I woke up thinking about battling this popular and, let’s face it, beloved image. And I thought, I’ll invite my Facebook Witch friends to just post a picture of themselves, on the day of Hallowe’en, going about their/our business.”

She began by taking her own selfie. “I had just washed my face and was making a cuppa tea and made a selfie standing beside the stove.” Then, she posted her photo on Facebook with this statement: “I invite all of you who self-identify as Witches to post a picture of yourself today. Not in costume or ritual clothing. Just yourself, in the season of the witch.”

Ballard said that she had no idea what would happen next.

On her own post, Ballard received 200 responses, but the popularity of the hashtag  #whatwitcheslooklike spilled over into other Facebook threads, and onto Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Instagram Photos

Instagram #whatwitcheslooklike photos (left to right): Author Sara Amis; Natalie Case (Instagram: natalisejcase); Nana Makemba lyalorisa of Orisanla and Osun (Instagram: of_Earth_and_Sky).

Since then, hundreds of more photos have been shared by people who identify as Witches. Ballard said, in retrospect, “The pictures are all so beautiful and proud.” She said that she hasn’t even been able to keep up or see them all. “But, gosh, wasn’t that fun? And they’re still coming in!” And, Ballard encourages people to continue using the hashtag #whatwitcheslooklike.

Below is a small gallery of images featuring people who identify as Witches. Some photos are from the actual hashtag campaign and others are from the TWH photo archives. This gallery is simply a sampling of the diversity of “witch looks” and is by no means comprehensive.

California, U.S. California, U.S. U.S. Israel U.S. New York City, U.S. California, U.S. New York City. U.S. Australia Washington, U.S. Georgia, U.S. New Jersey, U.S. Canada Maryland, U.S. Missouri, U.S. California. U.S. North Carolina, U.S. South Africa England Florida, U.S. Michigan, U.S. Indiana, U.S. PaganVegan (Tumblr) Thailand U.S. California, U.S. Massachusetts, U.S. U.S.
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North Carolina, U.S.

While the hashtag campaign most likely won’t curtail the use of the classic Halloween witch, it does prove exactly what Ballard intended: there is no Witch look. Most of the popular representations are grossly inaccurate, or limited at best. In reality, the appearances of modern Witches are as diverse as humanity is diverse.

[Note: all gallery images were used with permission either for this specific article or for past ones. They are not to be reproduced.]

GASTONIA, N.C. — Druid Daniel Scott Holbrook, also known as Cú Meala, was arrested Wednesday and charged, according to records, with one count of the “dissemination of obscenities.” As noted by the Gaston Gazatte, 29-year-old Holbrook “allegedly sent [an undercover] detective a photo of a nude child around 8-10 years old.”

TWH has been in touch with the local Gaston County authorities, but have not yet been unable to confirm the reported specifics of the sheriff’s investigation or details of the arrest. What we do know is that Holbrook was in fact arrested Wednesday on the stated felony charge and placed in the Gaston county jail. His bond was set at $25,000.

[Sheriff Gaston County, N.C.]

[Sheriff Gaston County, N.C.]

Holbrook is a resident of Gastonia, but is originally from Maryland. He recently took a job at a local Walmart and, along with his wife, is co-owner of Cait Sidhe Designs, a company specializing in “specialize in original artwork, devotional jewelry, and spiritual and ritual supplies.”

Over the past five years, Holbrook has become an up-and-coming leader within Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)‘s eastern-based communities. He began his own spiritual journey with Maryland-based Cedar Light Grove and then, after moving south, he started Raven’s Hollow Protogrove in 2015. As noted on its site, Raven’s Hollow was conceived when “its founder was told in ritual by the Irish goddess the Morrígan to ‘establish a Druid Grove in honor of Herself,’ in order to bring together the widely decentralized Druid population of the Carolinas, and provide a public space for Pagans of all denominations to feel safe to come and worship.”

After the grove’s establishment, Holbrook reached out to Coru Cathubodua, another Pagan organization uniquely dedicated to the Morrigan. In response, the California-based group sent a gift and a blessing to Raven’s Hollow for their growth and continued success.

Additionally, Holbrook is one of the organizers for the area’s Piedmont Pagan Pride Day event. His grove led the 2016 opening ceremonies. He, himself, hosted a talk on “The Many Faces of the Morrígan: Worship of the Great Queens, Past and Present” and participated on an interfaith panel representing Druidry.

Holbrook’s community efforts did not go unrecognized. In May 2016, he was appointed to the position of Deputy Regional Druid by the Regional Druid Rev. Nancy McAndrew.

Public reaction to the news of Holbrook’s arrest has been heated and varied, from surprise and disappointment to frustration and anger.

Rev. Caryn MacLuan of Maryland’s Cedar Light Grove told The Wild Hunt, “Scott was a member in good standing with our grove for a number of years. We have never known him to be less than honest and ethical at all times. I have spoken to two witnesses of this event and it sounds like a download trojan of some sort. We will wait for the outcome of the legal system before considering further moves.”

Coru Cathubodua issued a reaction, saying, “The Coru Cathubodua stand firmly and unwaveringly against all forms of abuse and predatory behavior. We have not met Mr. Holbrook personally.The ADF’s Raven’s Hollow Protogrove reached out to us based on their devotional focus on the Morrigan. Given that they were an ADF Protogrove, we felt that their values would be in alignment with ours and wished to encourage and support a new group in their devotion. We would never knowingly tolerate or support a child predator and we stand with the community in protecting itself from dangerous and predatory behaviors.”

When ADF’s Mother Grove learned of the arrest, the organization was quick to announce that it would be assessing the situation very carefully. On Nov. 4, the board released this public statement:

It has come to the attention of the Mother Grove that one of our Grove Organizers was arrested a couple of days ago on a single charge of distributing inappropriate material. We pray for the family involved, and we hope that, innocent or guilty, justice will prevail. In the United States, we work under the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; however, the Mother Grove has a responsibility to act accordingly for the protection of its members, and we also will allow the party involved to work through the justice system. This individual has been removed from all leadership positions while they are navigating through the legal system. If the person is found innocent of the charge, they will be allowed to ask for reinstatement if they so desire.

As noted in the ADF statement, Holbrook has been removed from all leadership positions, including his new Deputy Regional role. Additionally, ADF chose to make Raven’s Hollow Protogrove inactive; Holbrook has since closed it down completely.

We were unable to reach Holbrook, his family, or grove members for comment in time for publication.

TWH did learn that, after being taken into custody, Holbrook appeared in court on Nov. 3. He was assigned a public defender and a trial date of Nov. 22. Holbrook posted bond and is no longer being held.

We will continue to follow this story and update you as it unfolds.  

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TWH – We have reached the end of October. Halloween is fast approaching. The veil is thin and the ancestors walk among us. The crops, whether from ground or pot, have been harvested. The oaks rain acorns on rooftops and earth begins its illustrious display of magnified color: one last dance before the slumber.

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

Another marker of the season is the mounting media interest in Witchcraft. Decades ago, this interest was purely in fictional representations and Halloween traditions. But today, we have mainstream journalists around the world eager to interview modern Witches, or in other cases, discuss Witchcraft in whatever form is appropriate for the outlet.

As the leading daily news agency covering modern Witchcraft in its entirety, The Wild Hunt should follow suit. Why shouldn’t TWH report heavily on Witchcraft during October? The answer is we do, as we do all year long.

Instead of “interviewing a Witch,” I decided to turn the tables around and look at recent mainstream media reporting. What are the standard questions asked? How does the October media circus reflect the reality of our collective communities? Beyond any articles specifically on pop culture witches, what else is being shared?

Salem and the Trials

Some outlets go right to the heart of American Witch lore by focusing on Salem, stationed proudly on the Massachusetts coastline. The Washington Post shares “Five myths about the Salem witch trials.” In an Oct. 26 article, The Guardian asked, “Is Salem losing its spookiness?” Author J.W. Ocker reports that Witch tourism is on the decline due to the city’s trendy gentrification and the declining interest in witch trial attractions, some of which are reportedly in need of upgrades. Ocker recently published a book titled, Season with the Witch: The Myth and Mayhem of Salem Massachusetts.

But for the many modern Witches practicing in America’s Witch City, the tourism industry is only a tiny fraction of their experience. While there are Witches who rely on tourism dollars for their livelihood, the city’s lucrative industry doesn’t change one’s personal practice. Regardless of history and outside of the witchy kitsch, there is in fact genuine Witchcraft being practiced in Salem. Additionally, for the past two years, the Pagan organization CUUPS has held its annual convention there. In 2013, Covenant of the Goddess did the same. Whether or not tourism is on the decline, Salem has not lost the love of its thriving Pagan community.

Witchcraft “is the new black”

Another trend in mainstream reporting focuses on the visual appearance of the Witch. This is not surprising because the mythology of Witchcraft, from Goya’s paintings to modern horror films, is heavily invested in the physicality of the Witch, most notably the female body (e.g., warts, elongated nose, exposed breasts, long fingernails).

This carries over into modern reports, which rely on visual signifiers to define who is a Witch. On Oct. 26, the A.V. Club reports, “Unlike the crunchy new age types who made Wicca into a (loosely) organized religion in the 1970s, these witches are more likely to be urban than rural, to be heavily tattooed than clad in a Ren Faire-style peasant skirt.” As suggested by the article, being a Witch has a definite look, and the most contemporary Witch look is “heavily tattooed.” This juxtaposition pits the The Craft against Stevie Nicks who, according to the article’s photo caption, is wearing a “Witchy fashion.”

This entire discussion recalls a sketch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): “How do you know she’s a witch?” asks the scientist. “Because she looks like one,” responds a man in the crowd.

But Vogue, as one might expect, takes the concept of a “witch look” even further by offering facial treatments, makeup, and accessories based on the appearances of a number of pop-culture witches. Vogue concludes: “So whether you go the traditional route—a green face, complete with warts and rotting teeth—or prefer a more au natural look to cast spells on unsuspecting passersby, there’s inspiration for everyone.”

It is not uncommon for fashion designers to herald “witch looks.” In fact, this summer Vogue invited its readers to “be a witch.” The article essentially gives permission to dress in ways that might, under other circumstances, be considered risqué, taboo, or counter-culture. Fortunately, Vogue‘s definition of “witch wear” is a bit less limited in scope than that presented by A.V. Club.

But reality proves that there is no real “Witch look.” As anyone who has ever socialized within a group of modern Pagans would note, there are so-called fashion trends, but there are just as many exceptions. From clothing to makeup or facial hair to tattoos,choices in physical appearance offer fantastic opportunities for the outward expression of individuality – something key to the Witch’s worldview. These choices are rarely superficial attempts to become a fictional character, as one might do on Halloween.

A modern Witch’s visual appearance is often a part of spiritual seeking and magical practice.The choices can also be a function of religious work and devotion, whether in or out of ritual. Real Witch fashion choices, as it were, may be temporary or long-lasting. And, while there are certainly many pop culture expectations on the appearance of a Witch, there is, in reality, no Witch look.

[public domain]

[public domain]

Eat, Pray, Love

Moving beyond appearance and the popular signifiers of Halloween witchcraft (e.g, cats, broomsticks, and Winnifred Sanderson), many news outlets choose to dive into the modern Witchcraft community by interviewing a real Witch, one who is local to the outlet’s area. The New York Post, for example, featured the story of news librarian Liz Pressman.

These “interview a witch” articles typically ask the same questions about modern Witchcraft practice, often relying heavily on pop culture iconography as reference points. Pressman herself, for example, suggests that “millennials who grew up on Harry Potter can’t get enough of the feminist pagan religion that worships Mother Earth.” Later she notes that, as child, she could talk to dead people just like in The Sixth Sense (1999). These pop culture references can either assist in educational attempts, as with Pressman’s article, or serve to trivialize the practice of modern Witchcraft, as is the case in the mentioned Vogue articles.

Regardless, these seasonal interviews primarily serve as myth busters, with the aim of proving what a Witch is not. In a recent NPR piece titled “What The Real Witches of America Eat,” journalist Nina Martyris writes, “If you’re thinking of blood and feathers and cauldrons bubbling with eye of newt and toe of frog, you couldn’t be more off-menu. The correct, and disappointingly dull, answer is pizza, bread, fruit, nuts, granola bars, Cornish hens, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks coffee, leg of lamb, beer, cheese, Merlot, frozen cheesecake and other supermarket comestibles.” And, Witches don’t eat babies, either.

Addressing another myth, tarot reader and occultist Chris Roberts told the Toronto Star: “(Witches) have nothing to do with demons, darkness or the devil. If we were worshipping the devil that wouldn’t make us pagans, it would make us really bad Christians.”

That quote hits upon the most commonly asked question: “To whom do Witches pray?” or better yet “Do Witches believe in God?”

In an in-depth interview with occult researcher and author Mitch Horowitz, paranormal radio show host George Noory responded to a caller, “at least [Witches] believe in God.” While Noory’s intent was to support modern Witchcraft practice, his comment falls short of describing the scope of prayer, ritual, and deity devotion within modern Witchcraft. However, Noory’s comment does illustrate one of the purposes of the media myth-busting angle: To neutralize or disarm the fearsome aspects of the Witch stereotype. In a society dripping with Abrahamic religious concepts of Witchcraft, it is understandable that the most common question, and concern, would be about God and deity worship, or the lack thereof.

As regular TWH readers know, this question, in reality, is not easily answered. Period.

Do Witches Eat Babies? Do Witches Pray to God? Do Witches Love? As for the question of love, I refer specifically to the practice of compassion, rather than interpersonal relationships. It is important to remember that mainstream myth-busting articles focus on what Witches do and do not, rather than who Witches are privately. The myth-busting mentality, therefore, aims to demonstrate a naturally-embedded compassion within modern Witchcraft practice. For example, these articles often define Witches as nature and animals lovers, healers and community helpers.

Focusing on a Witch’s compassion helps dispel the idea that Witches are dangerous. For example, in a recent Toronto Star article, a number of local Witches responded to the question “What is a Witch?” The answers are all focused on magical practice from tarot reading to healing, but they also highlight the compassionate nature of the interviewees. For example, Helga Jackobson is quoted, as saying, “A witch is likely to have an interest or knowledge in natural remedies, in working with the cycles of earthly experience, in helping those around them.” Laura Gonzalez writes, “We are healers, helpers and wise women…”

Monkeys Unleashed

Second only to the question “Do Witches believe in God?” is the question: “Do Witches curse people?” And similarly, it is asked in an attempt to neutralize an age-old fear. After mention of hexing and cursing, for example, radio show host George Noory asks author Mitch Horowitz, “Should we be afraid of Witches?” Horowitz, who has been working to end Witchcraft-related violence around the world, responds, “No,” adding “Witches are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

It is a good answer and one that modern Witches love to hear.

However, it doesn’t respond to the question, “Do Witches curse and hex?” And, the real answer depends entirely on who you ask. Why? As Catland store owner Melissa Madaras told Teen Vogue, “[I] can’t speak for all witches, because every witch is a witch for their own reason, and every witch practices in their own way.” That applies to hexing and cursing. Some Witches do; others don’t. This is a contentious issue even within the modern Witch community itself.

Interestingly, the question of curses has become more relevant over the last year as hex actions against a number of public figures have been the focus of mainstream articles. Along with the now famous hex action launched in conjunction with the California Turner case, there have been other similar actions reportedly taken against political candidates, most recently Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. And, that is the angle Quartz took for its Halloween-inspired witch article, titled “Feminist Witches are casting hexes on Donald Trump” and filed under the sub-heading “Game of Crones.”

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1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

W.I.T.C.H.

The subject of hexing leads us to the final trend in witch-based mainstream articles – one that is highly relevant to current U.S. politics.

As has been the case historically, powerful women are often labeled “witch,” regardless of their actual religious beliefs, reported actions, or lifestyles. The witch is, in mythological or meta terms, a woman who knows too much. As such, the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has repeatedly earned that title in social media memes, articles, and other sources. The label has been used both as a derogatory slur against her character, and as an empowerment tool to demonstrate her strength and vigor.

Aside from any articles focusing specifically on the election, many recent witch-based reports have examined both the historical and contemporary connections made between feminism and Witchcraft. Broadly published an article about the 1960s feminist group W.I.T.C.H., calling its members the “protestors who hexed the patriarchy.” Similarly, a local Vermont news outlet focused on a recent hex action against Trump reporting that the local group “Feminists Against Trump will answer the call for activist witchcraft in its own way.”

In a New York Times opinion article, writer Anna North begins: “The witching hour is upon us. I’m talking not about Halloween but about Election Day — which, if you believe a vocal subset of conspiracy theorists, is when we’ll all get hexed.” North continues on to explore the intersection of politics and Witchcraft, within a feminist framework. She ends using pop culture signifiers, such as The Witch and the Blair Witch Project, to better illustrate her point, concluding: “For a fuller understanding of what the politics of Witchcraft would look like, though, I recommend The Craft.”

And we come full cycle, back to seeing pop culture used in order to understand what modern Witchcraft is, and what it is not.

While mainstream articles and discussions are limited in their space and scope, they can provide an outreach and educational opportunity to offer nuggets of truth. However, they rarely provide the space to delve into the reality of modern Witchcraft life, beyond the obvious, the visual signifiers, the mythology, and the needs of the myth-busting framework. Most articles fail to move beyond pop culture assumptions and comparisons.They fail to examine lifestyle choices, belief structures, and world views in order to demonstrate how these ideologies are integral not only to a Witch’s magical practice but also to a Witch’s commitment to community and the role played within society as a whole. In fact, it would seem that diving into such beliefs, rather than watching a movie, would be the best route for a “fuller understanding of what the politics of Witchcraft would look like.”

For better or worse, most mainstream seasonal articles are working primarily to disprove myth rather than showcase life. Some are positive and well-done in their intent and results, and some are far from it. Either way, the onslaught of Witch articles in October is as much a part of the season as the falling of the leaves and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

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Note: Editor Heather Greene will be hosting a Twitterthon on Witches in American Film and Television tonight at 8pm ET. Join the conversation by following the TWH Twitter feed @thewildhunt. Ask you questions via Twitter messenger.

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[Here are this week’s Pagan Community Notes!  Each Monday we feature events, book releases, and important news stories coming out of our collective Pagan and Heathen communities. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 42% with 12 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. Donate today.]

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SUMTERVILLE, Fla. – Oberon Zell announced Oct. 19 that his son Bryan David Zell had died after a long battle with multiple health problems, including pancreatitis, diabetes, and liver failure. Bryan was born Sept. 19, 1953,, and grew up in and around his father and eventually his stepmother’s work , just as the Pagan community was beginning to grow. Zell described his son as a “Pagan and a Pirate.”  He said,”Bryan was a magickal child, and he always maintained an altar. He would find interesting-looking rocks and identify them as having magickal functions, such as making rain, snow, or other things he determined from their markings.”

At 18, Bryan joined the Army, after which he traveled and worked with his family. In 2001, he graduated from Mendocino Community College located in Ukiah, California with a degree in geriatric nursing. Shortly after, he moved to Florida and got a job working with the TSA in Orlando, a job that Zell called “miserable.” He believes it contributed to his son’s worsening condition.

By 2015, Bryan’s various illnesses had overtaken him and, in December of that year, he was hospitalized.  As time passed, the situation only worsened.  Bryan was eventually placed in hospice care.  The morning of Oct. 19, Zell posted on Facebook, “We discovered that the consecrated blue ‘Dreamwalker’ candle we had burning for Bryan on the ancestor altar had gone out. I tried to relight it, but the wick wouldn’t ignite. I said to Anne, ‘I can’t seem to relight it.’ She replied, ‘Perhaps you don’t need to.’ And we knew.”

Bryan died peacefully the night of Oct. 18. Zell said that he felt the passing and that Bryan’s “beloved stepmother had come to carry him home.” Zell also recounted that an owl had visited Bryan’s room at the time of his death. Zell believes this to be a family familiar that had lived with them when his son was young. Zell added, “Let these memories lessen grief.”

Pagan priestess Doreen Lavista was able to give him his last rites. Zell said that Bryan will be cremated and his ashes will be present at the Nov. 4-6 Samhain retreat at Annwfn. The retreat will include a memorial service and a telling of stories. Bryan is known among his friends as a kind and loving soul. What is remembered, lives.

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WASHINGTON – The Firefly House has been invited to appear as a guest on the ABC affiliate talk and news program Good Morning Washington Oct. 31. Author David Salisbury, co-coordinator of the Firefly House, will be joined by member Caroline Gould. Salisbury said, “The main focus is on modern Witchcraft as practiced in Washington D.C. and also a little bit on how Witches celebrate Halloween religiously, and also perform some type of ritual.” The goal, Salisbury said, is to “educate the masses.”

But that is not the only public relations effort that members of the Firefly House will be making this Halloween season. The group’s annual dumb supper will be attended by local news website the DCist. The organization’s sixth annual dumb supper will be held later that same evening of Oct. 31.

If you want to watch Salisbury and Gould on morning show, the ABC broadcast will be live-streamed through the affiliate’s website, and for those who can’t watch live, clips should be available later in the day.  We will update this story in our next edition of Pagan Community Notes.

*     *     *

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

WISCONSIN –  There are now more Pagans on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Religious Advisory Committee. This is big step forward for Pagan chaplains working in prison ministry in the state.  According to Rev. Selena Fox, who has been involved in this type work for decades, “[This committee] advises the Wisconsin Department of Corrections on religious accommodation issues involving state prison operations.”  The more Pagans, Heathens, and people of minority religions serving on such committees, the better understood the practice of such religions is, and the more likely accommodations will be considered and appropriately granted.

According to the report, the committee now has three members who follow a Pagan tradition. The members include Fox, Dianne Duggan (Minerva) and Wade Mueller.  Rev. Fox has been serving on the committee since 2001, while the other two were just appointed. While Duggan is a Circle Sanctuary member, Mueller is not; he is a member of the group Deeply Rooted.

Duggan and Mueller have already attended their first meeting, and Rev. Fox said that she is glad to have them on board.

In Other News

  • After the first round of formal decisions went out for PantheaCon’s 2017 presentation selections, there was brief outcry as many regular presenters were not given a space. Speculation as to why was rampant. TWH spoke directly with both PantheaCon founder and director Glenn Turner. When asked about any changes in the decision process, she confirmed that nothing had indeed changed, and that the organization is simply ensuring fresh programming and providing space to new presenters. Turner said, “We have always welcomed new presenters; many published authors have started as PantheaCon speakers. In order to make room for new faces, as we have grown, we’ve needed to rotate out some excellent presenters and welcome them back in future years.” This year PantheaCon will be held Feb. 17-20.
  • The Druid College UK will be opening its application process Oct. 31 for the next set of year one classes, to begin in October 2017. Co-founder, tutor and author Joanna van der Hoeven explained, “We are opening for applications a full year in advance to allow for more flexible payment arrangements.” Now in its second year, the college “provides a three year non-accredited course in studying the tenets of the earth-based spirituality known as Druidry.” It is the sister school of the U.S.-based Druid College in Maine. The college has also announced that it has a new location: classes will be held at Messing Village Hall in the Essex countryside.
  • Blogger, lawyer and tarot reader Benebell Wen has released a new book titled The Tao of  the Craft. According to her website, the book “reveals the rich history and theoretical principles underlying the ancient practice of crafting Fu talismans, or magical sigils, in the Chinese Taoist tradition.” This is Wen’s second book.
  • In other book news, Red Wheel/Weiser has begun its third annual Wicked Wonders Giveaway. The winner receives a “tote bag filled with books by Weiser authors Judika Illes, John L. Steadman, Courtney Weber, Crystal Judy Hall and others. The winner will also receive a galley copy of Love Magic written by author and blogger Lilith Dorsey.” Entries are being accepted through Oct. 31.
  • TWH journalist and filmmaker Dodie Graham McKay was involved in project that resulted in a film titled Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. As explained on the website, the film is a “documentary featuring scientist and acclaimed author Diana Beresford-Kroeger. [It] follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential eco-system.” Currently the film is only being screened in Winnipeg and Sarnia. It will be released on a wider scale in the months to come.  Here is the trailer:

Call of the Forest – Theatrical Trailer from Treespeak Films

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UPDATE 10/24 4:06pm: This article was updated with additional information about Bryan Zell as provided directly by his father Oberon Zell. 

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The 13th annual Nashville Pagan Pride Day (NPPD) event was visited by three Christian street preachers who call themselves Nashville Saints. The men arrived at the Two Rivers Park with bibles, signs, and a bullhorn. They proceed to shout at the attendees for several hours before they finally left.

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

According to organizers, this was the first time that Nashville Pagan Pride Day had attracted this type of attention. “There were three of them,” said Rev. Mary Hawk, is the local co-coordinator for the event as well as the president and secretary for NPPD Inc. “I had a part in main ritual, and they showed up while I was busy with that.”

Rev. Hawk is a longtime volunteer and attendee at NPPD. She has been part of the event since its early days in 2003 when it was still at one of two local Unitarian churches. In 2015, the organization moved the event to Two Rivers Park, because they had outgrown the indoor church space.

Rev. Hawk said that this year they saw their biggest crowd yet, topping at 739 guests.

This fairly recent change in location and the event’s growth may explain why it had yet to see any type of protesters. Rev. Hawk said, “My daughter who was present tells me that she has seen this group on Second Ave. (a major Nashville tourist destination) yelling out the same sort of stuff to everyone passing by.”

That is true. The three men make up a local street preaching group that labels itself the Nashville Saints. They are regulars in the area and travel around the Southeast with their bullhorn and signs.

Quentin Deckard is one of the two main speakers. He calls himself Saint Quentin and says that he is “Disciple of Jesus Christ.” As he explains on his Facebook page: “Who I was before this point in my life is irrelevant.” He was joined by two other men identified as Marvin Heiman and Tim Baptist.

As reported by Rev. Hawk and others, the park police escorted the three men through the event one time. “After that tour up and down the length of vendor row, they remained at the front of the event, between our welcome table and the line for the food vendor,” notes Rev. Hawk. Yelling the entire time, the men walked slowly through the space, carrying their backpacks, a sign, bibles, several cameras, and a unused bullhorn.

Their entire walk can be seen in the above 40-minute video taken by the men themselves, as well as in a Facebook live video shot by Deckard. Many Pagan onlookers also recorded videos. Ariel Marie Barnes and Carria Woodburn posted their videos on the Nashville PPD event page.

Attendees reacted to the street preachers in different ways. Some tried to reason with them, and even tried to shake their hands. Rev. Hawk said, “I approached them to ask if they would care to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank (one of our designated charities) but they totally ignored me and continued ranting.”

One woman circled them with a smudge stick and, as can be seen in the longer video, another appears to have circled them with salt. As the men walked by, Rev. Hawk and others joined their voices in a chant of “We all come from the Goddess.”

Rev. Hawk said said that a few people were very upset by the presence of the street preachers. However, most thought “it was hilarious.” She said that there were people surrounding them at all times. “At one point, the protesters yelled, ‘You are all going to die.’ Several people yelled back, “Well, so are you!'”

Lucia Jameson, one of the other event coordinators and the vice president of NPPD Inc. agreed, saying, “Most of [our attendees] treated the religious bullies as free entertainment and took the opportunity to mock them a bit.

“One attendee wearing a jester’s cap, black and red pants, and black-and-red arm bracers decided to mimic every move of the main yeller. […]  A young lady and her girlfriend shared a kiss in front of them and them skipped past them, holding hands and shouting ‘We’re Pagan and we’re gay!'”

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016. The man in the jester’s cap can also be seen in Carria Woodburn’s video. [Courtesy NPPD]

Jameson added that there was no way to fully shield attendees or keep people away from the street preachers. The crowd was too large. She added, “Primarily I tried to make sure that our attendees knew not to physically touch them no matter what they said. [The protesters] weren’t leaving until they got enough video to post and our folks were not going to ignore them while they were screaming.”

However the coordinators did get help from the park police. Rev. Hawk said, “Metro Parks requires that anyone holding an event in a park pay for Metro Park Police to provide security.”

“[Officers] did closely monitor the situation,” continued Rev. Hawk. “[They] explained what we had to allow legally and saw to that that protesters stayed with in those bounds. I cannot speak highly enough of their work at NPPD, especially Lt. Houston Taylor.”

TWH reached out to the Metro Park Police, but they did not respond in time for publication.

Nashville PPD [Courtesy NPPD]

Metro Police talking to street preachers at Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

Jameson said, “The police were there the for the entire event. I spoke when them several times throughout the day. They were very helpful, keeping an eye on the incident as it unfolded. They were ready to intervene as necessary.”

In the end, the street preachers only stayed for a reported two hours, after which, Jameson said, the street preachers began to get hoarse. She explained that they could not use their bullhorn. “That may have contributed to their departure.”

Rev. Hawk speculated that a dwindling audience also contributed to their short stay. She said, “Our main entertainment, a concert by Rowena of the Glen, started. Most of those watching [the protesters] left to hear the concert.”

Despite the disruption and the shouting, NPPD saw its most successful year yet. As Rev. Hawk and Jameson both reported, the organization raised collected 369 pounds of food and $148 in cash for Second Harvest Food Bank, and 267 pounds of dog and cat food, plus treats, miscellaneous items and $230 in cash for the Middle Tennessee Pet Food Bank. The organization also raised $230 in cash for the school at the NoDAPL camp in North Dakota.

Jameson said, “Both our vendors and attendees were pleased overall with the event and let us know that they are looking forward to next year.” With that said, she added that the NPPD committee will be discussing what happened. “Based on the events this year we are looking at what we can do to have better control if a similar incident occurs next year.”

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