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TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

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And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

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The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

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Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

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In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

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“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

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* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

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

va-largeseal RICHMOND, Va. — In an update to a previous story, Virginia resident Robert C. Doyle was sentenced to 17.5 years for “for robbery, conspiracy, and possessing firearms as a felon.” Doyle was originally charged in November 2015 along with Ronald Beasley Chaney and Charles Halderman, both of whom will be sentenced this month.

During the investigation and initial hearings, the FBI reported that the three men were involved with a white supremacist organization and also practicing Ásatrú. At that time, local and national Heathens immediately responded to those media reports in order to combat negative publicity.

According to the more recent news, the FBI actually used this particular case detail to help the investigation. As was reported, “[Doyle] was contacted in October by a member of the Ásatrú religion who said he was coming to the Richmond area for a job and needed a place to stay. Doyle helped him out, not knowing he was an informant.” Those conversations were recorded and helped lead to the arrest.

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  • Need a reading? There’s an app for that. In an article titled “Covens versus Coders” Broadly discusses the frustrations that some modern Witches have with the new generation of digital fortune tellers. Journalist Kari Paul writes, “With thousands of reviews on some of the top occult apps, it’s clear many of these programs have amassed a large user base. However, some seasoned witches are skeptical that their spiritual traditions can be successfully converted into code.”
  • The Satanic Temple Los Angeles is planning to  “announce its presence in the city of Lancaster California with an introductory Satanic Ritual” on 6-6-16. The organization goes on to explain that they will be using GPS to place a pentagram around the entire city of Lancaster for both its protection and as a “solemn promise” that the temple stands with the city.
  • According to the Abilene-Reporter News, local Brainbridge Island craftswoman Sally Noedel has become overwhelmed with orders for Trump “VooDoo” dolls. Noedel has been making a variety of political figures but, in recent months, the orders for Trump dolls have become so high that she had to stop all other crafts work and has contracted with a screen printing company. The “Trumpy” dolls are packaged with book of “VooDoo” spells. In the article, she talks about the unexpected sales growth and added “They don’t have to stick it with pins. They could just cuddle it. Maybe cast happy spells on it.” Noedel predicts that the high sales will continue well into the fall.

International

  • In the BBC Travel edition, writer Inka Piegsa-Quischotte shared her trip to a small “cursed village” in Spain. In the article, Piegsa-Quischotte details her experience in Trasmoz, a city with a long Witchcraft history. To share that history as well as the modern manifestations of magic in Trasmoz, Piegsa-Quischotte spoke with a local modern Witch, Lola Ruiz Diaz, who said, “To be a Witch today is a badge of honour.”
  • Early this year at Ankara University in Turkey, a group of women formed a group known as “The Campus Witches.” They are reportedly “a network of female university students who urge women to stand up against male violence and sexual harassment.” As shown in a YouTube video, the women often “take matters into their own hands” and confront accused attackers. According to the news report, the group’s slogan is “Never rely on a prince! When you need a miracle, pin your hopes on a Witch.” Like many other women before them, the Campus Witches are using the icon of the witch to empower their progressive movement.
  • The Huffington Post shared an article about Haitian Vodou Priestess Manbo Katy, who is the subject of recent documentary by Broadly. Katy works locally as a respected healer, both for spiritual and physical ailments. She says, “I’m always there for everyone. Even when their problems seem overwhelming, I always let them know that one day things will change.”

  • Are the Estonians a nation of Neo-Pagans? Writer Anna-Maria Zarembok describes how the pre-Christian traditions and beliefs have survived in the country through the coming of Christian influence, war and Soviet occupation. She writes, “Estonians maintained a traditional culture of neo-Paganism that has continued to affect Estonian culture, beliefs and traditions to this day.”
  • Traditional and folk healers are now being asked to join Christian pastors and the medical community to help heal or assist those with mental illness in rural parts of Kenya. Many of these illnesses have long been attributed to the practice of Witchcraft, curses or demons. As a result, the afflicted are ignored and do not get assistance of any kind. The program is brand new and sponsored by the Africa Mental Health Foundation, a Nairobi-based nongovernmental organization, the Makueni County government, U.S.-based Columbia University, and a grant from the Canadian government.

Art, Music, Culture

  • In April, The New York Times reported on a European Music Archaeology Project that is recreating ancient instruments. Among those instruments are the Scandinavian war horn, the carnyx, vulture bone flutes, ancient bag pipes, and replica of a instrument found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. “If you reconstruct a sword, no one apart from a homicidal maniac could use it for the purposes intended. But reconstruct an instrument, and anyone can experience it,” said trombonist John Kenny.
  • Ghanaian Artist Azizaa is using her talent and creativity to challenge the religious status quo in her country.  Ghana is considered one of the most religious nations in the world. Back in September, she was interviewed by Fader journalist Benjamin Lebrave about her work and her mission. She said, “How can anyone of African descent be worshiping the same tool used to uselessly murder their ancestors?”  The article shares her video “Black Magic Woman,” which directly addresses this topic.
  • As reported by a number of news sources, The Wheel of Time is finally going to make it to television. A pilot aired with little fanfare in 2015, after which a legal battle began over the television rights. In April, Robert Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal announced that these legal issues are now resolved and the project is back on.
  • Lastly, for your enjoyment, we share the following video starring violinist Lindsey Stirling, who surprised a crowd of people on the street with a dazzling performance.

TWH – Today marks Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day to honor the many men and women who have died in military service. According to a news report on ABC, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans together state that at least “1.2 million people have died fighting for America during its wars dating back 241 years.” The VA has a breakdown of the losses per conflict since the American Revolution.

In a recent post, blogger John Beckett wrote, “Let us remember our warrior dead. Let us remember those who answered the call to do what had to be done and who sacrificed all they had. It is right and good to celebrate their courage and valor.”

[Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr]

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists have served and are serving in the U.S. miltiary, and still others are members of military families. Memorial Day has a special significance to them. Veteran and Wiccan Priest, Blake Kirk said,

Memorial Day isn’t about veterans like me, who got to come home and go on with their lives. No, Memorial Day is supposed to be all about the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who came home in caskets or in body bags. Or who never came home at all, like my father-in-law. They paid the highest possible price to defend this nation, and it trivializes their sacrifice not to make their one day a year just about them.

As with those in other religious groups, members of our collective communities have also given their lives in service, and because of the efforts of others, their sacrifices can be recognized and honored within military circles using the religious emblem of their choice, including the pentacle and Thor’s hammer.

[Photo Credit: John C. Hamer / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: John C. Hamer / Flickr]

The year marks the 9th anniversary of the victory of the Pentacle Quest. In 2007, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox wrote, “Working together, we, at last, have success in this quest – and in the greater quest for equal rights for Wiccans, Witches, and other Pagans in the United States of America and around the world.”

In 2013, when Thor’s hammer was approved by the department of Veterans Affairs, a number of Heathen groups released celebratory statements. The following words came from Hrafnar:

Today, Hrafnar stands with Heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

The group also said, “Today, Hrafnar […] stands with Heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have. Hail the fallen! Hail the Heathens!”

The modern military experience can be part of the modern Pagan, Heathen and polytheist experience. Those who are wounded and die in service to our country are not an anonymous “other” removed from our society and daily lives. They are us.

We honor our Pagan, Heathen and polytheist brothers and sisters who have fallen in the line of duty. As said by Hrafnar, “The death of one of us is a loss for us all.”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

In 2011, Solar Cross Temple’s T. Thorn Coyle wrote, “I have inadequate words for those who have died in this endless war humanity is waging upon itself and upon the earth and the other beings of the earth. All I can do is send out compassion in my meditation and my prayers today for those involved on any side…”

The New York Times published an article describing military photographer Andrew Lichtenstein’s journey to capture, or recapture, the meaning behind the Memorial Day holiday, which he felt “has been largely reduced to a day of sales, sleeping in, or go out.”  That article, titled When Every Day is Memorial Day, shares some of his experiences attending military funerals and memorial services.  At the end, Lichtenstein says, “I learned something from the families: The true cost of grief is beyond politics. It was important to realize an individual life had been lost and people were greatly affected. That loss is so much greater than agreeing or disagreeing with [the] war.”

Pagans and Heathens around the country will be observing this day in both private and public spaces. At Arlington National Cemetery, Circle Sanctuary Ministers Jeanet & David Ewing led the 7th Annual Visitation of Pentacle Markers at noon today. And Circle Sanctuary has also created a Facebook page titled Memorial Day Remembrances, inviting people to post remembrances of those loved ones who were killed in US military service.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen,” originally published in The Times, 1914

What is remembered, lives!

A new independent fiction film exploring Witchcraft has hit the festival circuit. Anna Biller‘s latest film The Love Witch is a colorful feast of pathological obsession, violence, narcissism, love and Witchcraft. Filmed in 35mm, the film contains a remarkable retro flair combined with a contemporary sensibility. Through the film, Biller explores both modern themes, such as the expression of female fantasy and non-traditional religious practice, along with age-old struggles involving gender politics and romantic love.

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In an interview, Biller told The Wild Hunt, “I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to make this film, but it initially came from getting interested in pulp novel covers and being struck by the images of witches on some of them.” Her research began while shooting publicity stills for the film VIVA. Biller said, “The first real eureka moment I remember was being in a pulp novel bookstore in San Francisco several years ago, and picking up a 1970s pulp novel called ‘For the Witch, a Stone.’ That novel sparked the beginnings of my script.”

The Love Witch tells the story of Elaine, a single woman and Witch, who lives in northern California. We meet her as she first moves into a new apartment within a classic Victorian home. The space is owned by a friend and Wiccan High Priestess named Barbara and was decorated to reflect a Witchcraft aesthetic.The film then follows Elaine through her negotiations of love, dating, friendship and ritual practice.

It sounds as if the film might be better described as a drama or maybe even a romantic comedy. However, it’s neither. This is horror film. Elaine is a sociopath, who moves through the extremes of desire devouring men, in hopes of finding true love. The film, in many ways, can be described as George Romero’s Hungry Wives (1972) meets Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. While neither work is a perfect comparison, The Love Witch fits somewhere between the two. Hungry Wives tells the story of a lost middle-age woman searching to regain her power, and ultimately finding it in Witchcraft. American Psycho tells the story of a violent sociopath who empowers himself through the extremes of a narcissistic and violent male fantasy.

Elaine, like Joan in Hungry Wives, is a victim of a male-dominated society. As demonstrated in a flashback voice over, Elaine’s father calls her stupid, crazy and “a fatty,” and her ex-husband complains about her cooking and the housekeeping. Like Joan, Elaine turns to Witchcraft to find her own power. She tells a police offer, “Witchcraft saved my life.”

Yet, at the same time, Elaine takes this self-empowerment tool to an obsessive extreme. Like American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, Elaine is a sociopath who functions through the realization of personal fantasy regardless of the outcome. The expression of that extreme becomes the basis of film’s theme and where it finds its horror.

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When discussing her use of horror, Biller said that she wanted to “use the genre to subvert the genre.” She explained, “When you market your film as horror it sets up certain expectations, and then through the course of the film you can subvert these expectations.”

Traditional horror films present women as the victims of male violence and aggression, the over-sexualized subject of the male gaze and the monstrous unknownable, which is often a witch. Biller says, “Elaine is not a monster, except insofar as she is selfish and narcissistic. She does not destroy out of some evil power, but because she is unstable and is the type of person who creates chaos around her. But she is fully human, and she is sympathetic because you can see why she’s turned out the way she has. So you don’t get the stereotype of an evil witch or an evil temptress.”

In addition, traditional American horror films, specifically those from the 1970s, conflate violence, Witchcraft, Satanism, occultism and voyeuristic displays of the female body. After 1968, there was a huge upswing in the number of these American exploitation films centering on Satanic witchcraft (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Necromancy, 1972). They were all created by men, many of whom gained notoriety making “nudies” or “sexploitation” films during the previous decade. To build their witchcraft scenes, these filmmakers relied heavily on newly published or newly available occult material by Anton le Vey, Paul Huson, Gerald Gardner, Raymond Buckland, Sybil Leek and others. They took what they needed in order to form a highly sensationalized product that fed a growing “counterculture” audience. While this particular sub-genre lost momentum by 1980, the expression of ritual Witchcraft practice has never fully emerged beyond that trope in mainstream American film.

While The Love Witch recalls those period films, in its retro styling and striking visuals. it actually subverts the genre, as Biller suggested, in a number of ways that are reflected in her presentation of Witchcraft. First, the male gaze, as defined by feminist film critic and theorist Laura Mulvy, doesn’t exist.The film’s display of nudity is not focused only on women’s bodies, but on both men and women equally. While the scenes are visually graphic, they are not exploitative. In the older horror witch films, it was typical for ritual or coven scenes to contain only naked, or partially naked, women (e.g., Blood Sabbath, 1972). There are rarely any men. In Biller’s film, both genders participate sky clad around the sabbat circle and both genders, fully clothed, serve as on-lookers in robes. There is a gender equality in the visual display of Witchcraft ritual.

All displays of female bodies in a true voyeuristic setting, such as in the dance club, are purposeful and part of Biller’s commentary as suggested by her framing choices. The camera doesn’t caress.

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In addition, the typical horror tropes used to define Witchcraft were completely absent. The ceremonial practice is not defined as demonic-based, evil, fantastical, or derived from an historical Salem mythos. In fact, part of Biller’s project was to present Paganism in a contemporary light. To make this possible, she began her research with books and films from prominent authors, including Janet Farrar, Amber K, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. She said, “Several people in the cast who played witches were practicing witches, and I talked with them about their practices. I also lurked on internet forums and read a lot of blogs and articles, and interviewed some of my friends who are witches.”

But her work took her even further into exploring Paganism, and she reached out to the community. Biller said that, while writing the script, she attended “a few rituals, classes and study groups […] and did some solitary practice.” She added, “I have always been an uncanny sort of person and slightly psychic.” She received her first Tarot deck, the Marseilles Tarot, as a child. And, she owns a copy of a rare edition of Crowley’s Magick Without Tears, which was originally given to her father as a gift. Biller said that, while she doesn’t identify as a Witch, she does “practice magic and the Tarot at home” and “believes in spiritual entities.”

Although the presentation of Witchcraft is contemporary and remarkably accurate in many of its details, there is also a stylized exaggeration to the entire presentation that makes the Pagan reality feel completely contrived. The ritual scenes look almost like cartoon versions of Wiccan ceremonies with bold washes of color and stylized set decor. Elaine’s potion making recalls a mad scientist rather than a witch, and the coven’s unexpected appearance as Renaissance Medieval players is almost laughable.

With that said, this is just how the film represents its entire universe – not just the practice of Witchcraft. Elaine herself is caricature – a life sculpted to conform to the unreality of a heterosexual male fantasy. “Give men what they want,” Elaine advises her friend Trish. The contrived nature of the film plays out consistently from the visual elements and dialog to the narrative and themes. The large blocks of vivid color, such as the red of her purse, the purple on the walls, the blue on her eyelids, give the film a dramatic and surreal look that reflects the bizarre extremes found in the main character’s inner world.

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Biller said, “The design comes mostly from character symbolism. I tried to create Elaine’s character according to her self-fantasies, in which she is a sexy, 1960s-styled done-up burlesque pulp-novel cover witch who drives a cool car; the tea room is pink and Victorian as a way of pointing up Elaine’s personal fairy princess fantasies; the renaissance faire is styled liked Elaine’s wedding fantasies”  And that technique goes beyond Elaine’s development. Biller said, “The police station looks like the police stations in television shows in which absolute authority was suggested, enhancing the character of the lead cop, Griff.”

This technique is partly what gives The Love Witch its theatrical, or seemingly contrived, look and feel. Although it takes some getting use to as viewer, it does work for Biller’s thesis – most of the time.

As noted earlier, Biller’s recent interest in “pulp novel covers from the ‘60s” and the way they “depicted witches as fierce powerful, sexual women,” is what led to the making of The Love Witch. She said, “I wanted to use that imagery and combine that with the feelings of persecution I’ve felt as a woman, and all of the issues women have to face with self-presentation and sexual identity in a man’s world.”

Ths film does this with no apologies.

While The Love Witch is not a completely polished film, it is packed with meaning, embedded in its stunning visuals, the use of music, and the narrative presentation. The incredible attention to symbolic detail make The Love Witch a juicy film to watch. Film buffs will enjoy the visual texture that comes across in 35 mm, if seen it in that form, as well as the careful nods to old film constructions, including the resident “expert” on Witchcraft and the close-up framing on Elaine’s eyes. Biller even employs classic high pitch repetitive noise and music, similar to what is found in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), to signal danger and cue tension, such as in the scene in which she first meets Wayne.

Modern Witches and Pagans will also find this film fascinating, if only because it is unusual to see Pagan practice presented in a quasi-realistic, non-judgmental, contemporary fiction setting. Many details will be recognizable, including the five-fold kiss, spoken spells and prayers, sabbats, aesthetics, and the infamous Witch’s Bottle. Interestingly, Biller even captured a modern Pagan debate. High Priest Gahan recalls the “olden days” when his community wasn’t so “uptight.”  He says, “we hung Baphomet posters” and “made love freely.” According to Gahan, nobody cared whether you were a Witch, a Thelemite, a Druid a Satanist or a Wiccan.

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Biller’s film is a creative, aggressive and open commentary on life as a woman in modern society, both in body and heart, as well as a treatise on love as it exists between the genders. It is a horror film, not because of its use of Witchcraft, but rather because the narrative presents a uncomfortable expression of the extremes reached to fulfill a fantasy.  And the ending is unsettling.

Biller wrote in a press release, “My hope is that other women will identify with Elaine as I do: as a woman seeking love, who is driven mad by never really being loved for who she is, but only for the male fantasies she has been brainwashed to fulfill.”

Currently The Love Witch is being shown only in select festivals around the world. As it gets picked up, Biller updates the screening list on her site. Eventually, the film will go to video and will be available for streaming. That date is not yet available.

Due to be released next weekend, The Green Album is a collaborative work containing songs from 14 different Pagan musicians. The project was born in late 2014 and has been spearheaded by Tuatha Dea, a “Celtic, Tribal, Gypsy Rock Band” from Tennessee. Not only is The Green Album a collection of songs expressing an eclectic musical variety, but it also focuses on the preservation and stewardship of our ecosystem. Each song is devoted to the theme and 25 percent of the album’s profits will go to the nonprofit organization Rainforest Trust.

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“Music is the Universal language. It crosses all barriers. As musicians we are often allowed a larger (or at least louder…lol) voice and we personally believe we do have a responsibility to address topics that affect us all. Not just the environmental ones, but any and all,” said Tuatha Dea’s Danny Mullikin in an interview with The Wild Hunt. “Music is known for touching peoples’ spirits.”

We caught up with Tuatha Dea while they were on the road headed for the Pagan Unity Festival. Mullikin explained that the idea for The Green Album came when Tuatha Dea was producing its third CD called The Tribe. The recording included a collaboration with a number of other Pagan musicians. Mullikin said, “We were more than a little blown away by their graciousness and willingness to step in and help selflessly create music with ‘the new kids.’ ” Tuatha Dea had only first formed in 2010, unlike many of the collaborators who have been around for decades.

After that powerful experience, Tuatha Dea felt that something bigger could be done, something that was “important” and. as Mullikin explained, “could give back to [the] community and the universe as a whole, not just in word and art but in action.” The group imagined this as a global effort.  And, the mounting concerns for the world’s ecosystem seemed the most logical choice for a focus. Mullikin said,”The idea of producing something so potentially important was admittedly a bit daunting but fortunately we knew the right universally conscious amazing folks to contact.” That is just what they did.

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea first reached out to Wendy Rule, S. J. Tucker and Murphey’s Midnight Rounders and, then, a few months later contacted Sharon Knight and Winter. The response was “immediate” and “overwhelmingly positive.” From there the project only grew.  Mullikin said, “We all began inviting other wonderful artists, including Ginger Doss, Bekah Kelso, Damh The Bard, Kellianna, Celia Farran, Mama Gina, Brian Henke, Spiral Dance and Spiral Rhythm; all of which graciously stepped in, stepped up and stepped beyond to create a musical message that would hopefully both draw attention to the circumstances of world that sustains us and Celebrates her nurturing majesty.”

Adrienne Piggott, lead singer and lyricist for the Australian band Spiral Dance, recalled, “[We were] on tour in the USA last Samhain, and we got a call from Danny Mullikin from Tuatha Dea asking us to come on board with the project. Danny was so excited about the project and his enthusiasm was infectious! Straight away we thought what a wonderful thing to do on so many levels.” The band discussed it and, as Piggott said, “It was just a no-brainer.” The group immediately began working on their musical contribution.

UK-based musician Damh the Bard also heard about the album through Tuatha Dea. He said, “There is a wonderful phenomena with Pagan musicians. In many other walks of life we would be seen as being in some kind of competition with each other, but the reality is that we all support each other. The words and music we write and sing about speaks to all of us. It’s what we believe in, so the idea of bringing all of that together on one album was too exciting a prospect to pass up.”

Kellianna, a singer and songwriter from Massachusetts, was first contacted by Wendy Rule. She said, “I loved the idea of a being involved in a collaborative project with our global pagan music tribe.  I was pleased with the idea of a portion of the proceeds going to a green charity, and I love nothing more than singing about our wondrous Earth!”

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album will not only fiscally benefit a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability efforts, but the songs themselves all reflect on our relationship with the earth and are performed in ways that are unique to each of the artists. Singer and songwriter Ginger Doss begins the album with a song titled “Gaea Lives,”  and Atlanta-based Spiral Rhythm ends the album with “Help it Grow.” And the twelve songs in between are no less environmentally-centered.

Florida-based singer Mama Gina said, “I had just written a very angry song about the Florida Bear ‘Harvest’ (Slaughter) last October, and had my guitar still in my hands wondering what I was going to do with this very angry song, since I don’t do angry often. My cellphone rang, and it was Brad from Murphey’s Midnight Rounders inviting me to participate in The Green Album. I said, ‘Brad, I think I just wrote that song!'” Mama Gina’s song, titled “Due North,” is number 9 on the album. Although the song’s recording has not yet been released, she has played it at a few recent live performances, during which she noticed that the audience “gets angry” and cries.

While Mama Gina‘s song was written just as the project began, most of the album’s songs were written specifically for the project. Cleveland-based musician Brian Henke said, “The song that I’ve written and recorded for The Green Album, “Queen of the Summer Stars,” is taken from the perspective of Mother Earth as a playful little girl from morning to night dancing barefoot under the Sun and then playing with fireflies and stars, keeping the World green for yet another day.” Henke’s song is number 10 on the album.

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

A few of the songs, like Henke’s, had a spiritual, mythological or religious component.  Spiral Dance, for example, weaves the story of the Green Man in its song “Spirit of the Green.” Piggott explained, “We like to think of the Green Man as the bridge between us and the land and if we listen closely enough we will hear his song of the earth reminding us of our relationship with our environment.”  Of her song “Gaea Lives,” Doss said, “It speaks of my love for this living planet and reminds us to be mindful of every step we take upon her.”

Some songs were created as celebrations of earth’s tangible and natural abundance, such as Sharon Knight and Winter’s “Blood for Gold” and Kelliana’s “Sing for the Day.” Kelliana said, “I did not write about the cause and effect of our actions on this Earth. I sang about the glory of the natural world that we are trying to protect.” She then added, “I believe that we as musicians are in a unique position in that we are able to reach a broad range of people with our messages. If we can positively influence just one person toward living an eco conscious lifestyle, then it is like ripples in a pond as they in turn influence someone else, and so on.”

Damn the Bard agreed, saying “Music is a universal language. It goes in through the ears and grabs us in our gut, then we sing along and declare the lyrics out into the universe. Music can reach people with songs, short 3-5 minute messages that are listened to over and over again. It really is a powerful way to get a message across. Just ask Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and John Denver.” His song, “How Can We Believe We Own it All,” directly addresses the environmental crisis facing humanity including issues of politics and war.

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

He was not alone in this focus. Many of the musicians chose to emphasize the politics, the problems or, what might be called, the human factor. For example, Celia offers the spirited “I Will Not.” Tuatha Dea presents the haunting song “Green,” and Mama Gina sings a soulful “Due North.” Other similar themes were included in the songs by Murphy’s Midnight Rounders’, S.J. Tucker, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, and Wendy Rule. But lines are blurred and each song layered with meaning, weaving in moments of celebration and moments of lamentation. Some even offers suggestions for change.

Doss said, “I have written many other songs about my love of the planet and its sacred nature. But this is the first project in which funds from the sale of a song are benefiting an environmental organization.”

Henke echoed her thoughts, saying “All of my instrumental music has been influenced by nature, many of the songs actually written while hiking. This is the first time I’ve been able to give financially to Mother Earth with my music though.”

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

The involved artists chose the nonprofit Rainforest Trust, to receive 25 percent of the album’s profits. Based in Virginia, the Rainforest Trust states its mission is to “protect threatened tropical forests and endangered wildlife by partnering with local and community organizations in and around the areas that are being threatened.” They do this by purchasing acres of endangered land and then “empowering the local people to help protect it by offering them education, training and employment.” Formed in 1988, Rainforest Trust reportedly has already purchased more than 11.5 million acres in over 20 countries.

Doss said, “Musicians (song writers) have always had a cultural voice like no other. They are capable of putting into words and music the deepest parts of our being and bring to light issues of grave importance in a way that crosses all boundaries and can touch the heart of all who hear.”

Mama Gina agreed, saying, “We do what we do best – make folks feel something, and take the opportunity, while folks hearts are cracked wide open, to educate (for me, that comes without prosletyzing).”

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album won’t be released until the opening of the Caldera Music Festival, which is being held over Memorial Day weekend in Lafayette, Georgia. Many of the performers will be sharing their songs live for the first time. On the Saturday evening of the festival, 12 of the 14 artists will be debuting their songs together on one stage. Mullikin said, “This will be a truly unbelievable moment as it is very likely this many of the albums artist may never be all together in one spot ever again.”

Outside of The Green Album, each of the artists that we spoke with have other projects in process. Tuatha Dea, Brian Henke, Mama Gina and Spiral Dance all said to look out for new albums in late 2016 or early 2017. Damh the Bard is working on a project that has been in the planning stages for 20 years. He described it as a “very deeply writing a spoken word/musical retelling of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a series of ancient myths that tell the stories of many of the Deities we revere. Rhiannon, Arawn, Aranrhod, Blodeuwedd, Pryderi and Lleu Llaw Gyffes to name just a few.”  Similarly, Kellianna started writing “what will be [her] seventh CD, all based on Norse Mythology.”

As for Doss, she said, “I will continue to travel and perform my spiritually centered music and do all I can to bring light to the world and her people.”

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album is a unique and powerful addition to the Pagan music world. Not only does it tie words to action giving directly back to its stated cause, but it also provides a sampling of the eclectic variety of sounds produced by a number of popular Pagan musicians from around the world. If you don’t like one song, go to the next. There is something for everyone on the album and, as such, it provides a way for those unfamiliar with Pagan music or with any one of these musicians to get a taste of their sound, their voices and their art.

The Green Album will be available beginning May 26 at the Caldera Music Festival, and through the album’s website and the individuals artists. The songs will not be available for purchase individually. Starting on the release day, the album’s website will contain some previews and the option to purchase the album. The collaborative group also maintains a Facebook page with project updates, along with links and music from the various artists.

Mullikin said, “Producing The Green Album has been an amazing experience! Rewarding beyond compare.” He added that the enthusiasm has been so high that there is the “potential for future projects and compilations incited by this first production effort.” He already has ideas, but added, ” I think we’ll give it a minute to bask in this one before jumping into the next but It’s safe to say this is hopefully only the beginning […] We are STOKED!!!”

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Michael Wiggins, a pillar of the Michigan Pagan community, passed away on the morning of May 4, after suffering a sudden heart attack. Michael was not only the “face of ConVocation” and president of the Magickal Education Council,  but also a well-respected artist, dancer, entrepreneur, and visionary.

On June 13, 1965, Michael John Wiggins was born “Guilain Michael Palmateer” to Donald and Alyce Wiggins. He was baptized in a local Catholic church and later given a Wiccaning within his mother’s own coven. Family friend Sue Wert remembered him as being “a little and lovable kid, always sharing smiles and hugs.”

Michael grew up in Highland Park and Hazel Park, both suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Hazel Park High School, where he was introduced to theater, dance and marching band. This ignited a creative spark that never burned out.

After graduating in 1983, Michael went on to study music, performance, and theology at Finlandia University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1986, he earned his associate’s degree and went on to a long successful career in the arts. Sue Wert wrote, “My biggest memory was when you said this was your life and you would live it as you wished. You did just that.”

While still in school, Michael began working for Arthur Murray Dance Studios. He fell in love with dance and, as a result, it became the focus of his career. Since 2000, he was a principal dancer with the company Dance Thru History (The Madam Cadillac Dance Theater and The Detroit Renaissance Dancers). The troupe performs 16th-19th century French and English court dances at museums, schools and historical reenactments around the country. Over that time, Michael was also a choreographer and instructor.

In addition to dancing, Michael became increasingly active in Detroit’s Pagan community. He had grown up with Wicca due to his mother’s own practice and the community as a whole was not foreign to him. In 2013, wife Cindy Wiggins said that he had always kept up with his “involvement in the Pagan community […] in different facets: co-leading a private teaching group for friends and children of friends; attending ‘Meet Your Local Witch’ nights at the long-gone Lavender Moon Cafe.”

But Michael is most known for his involvement in ConVocation. He first joined the event’s security team in 1997. The following year, he volunteered to be the Magickal Education Council’s public relations officer. In 2000, he was named its president, a position that he held until 2014. In a tribute, M.E.C’s Board said, “As a board member and longest sitting president of the Magical Education Council [Michael] was afforded the opportunity to shape the development of a community he loved deeply.  It was an opportunity he made the most of. The institutions he helped to build will continue to inspire generations of seekers yet to come.”

In 2013, Michael was honored as Detroit’s Pagan of the Year, an award given to the “person or group that has done the most to influence events and who best serves as an advocate for the Pagans of Michigan.”

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[Courtesy Photo]

In addition to community service and a dedication to dance, Michael was also the creator of other artistic and theatrical ventures. He was the owner of the Phoenix Cafe art and music venue in Hazel Park.  And, he is the founder of the Steamtopia and Up in the Aether conventions. Just as Michael was instrumental in helping to strengthen the local Pagan community, he was also instrumental in bringing together Detroit’s steampunk community. In a Facebook post, Guy Cox explained, “After the first World Steam Expo, [Michael and DJ Tom Downey] started holding monthly dance parties at the Phoenix in Hazel Park. It was these events that brought all of the unique individuals in the Detroit area together. These events lasted several years and the people from there (myself included) helped support and encourage the creation of Capitol Steam and other Michigan steampunk groups. Without Michael, there is a good chance none of us would know each other.”

Of himself, Michael said that he was always interested in and involved in community and human interaction. He wrote, “With Detroit’s economy being where it is, there is a special value to the many community centers and creative collectives […] that have sprung up […] As money has run out, society has been more able to refocus its attention on something that it can’t always buy in the first place: connection. Connection to ourselves and to others is the substance of life, the deepest measure of success that especially reveals itself when the material measures, such as money and possessions, either run dry or lose their luster.”  Through his work, Michael attempted to create these bonds, and to “help refocus our potential for connection in all its forms.”

It was announced May 4 that Michael had unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving many people throughout the Detroit area shocked at the sudden loss of a respected leader, teacher, dancer, friend and family member. The M.E.C. Board wrote:

It is an impossible task to encapsulate the entirety of a life in a few sentences, especially if lived well. To attempt to do so with the life of Michael Wiggins would be an exercise in futility. The man we know was a loving father and husband, stalwart friend, artist, dancer, singer, motivational speaker and a dedicated leader of our community. His works speak volumes about the degree of change he inspired in everyone who knew him. […] Losing him is something none of us will recover from quickly and so we mourn his passing while we honor his motto “The Show Must Go On.” He is and will continue to be missed.

In a blog post, Detroit native Kenya Coviak said, “Michael was a truly beautiful soul. A witty conversationalist, one evening, I had the privilege of hearing a little about his story as a young boy growing up in ’60s Detroit. You never knew what insight you would get, but it was always something thoughtful and surprising. His wisdom helped shape a vision of what greatness and beauty that can be ours if we grasp it. It sustains those of us who knew him.”

Oberon Osiris, another longtime member of Michigan’s Pagan community, said, “Michael came to the community during a time of great change and brought cohesion, stability, humor and common sense to it. He was the face of Convocation for years and always ready and there for anyone.”

Michael’s cousin and a fellow MEC Board member Claudine Durham started a GoFundMe campaign at the request of both the Pagan and steampunk communities. All raised funds will be used to offset the expenses associated with Michael’s memorial and funeral services. Durham wrote, “Michael was a pillar in the community and was loved by many and respected by all. Even though this is a great shock and loss I know from the amount of requests already in the early hours that we need to help in any way we can. […] We ask that you keep the family in your thoughts and hearts and remember that with each person Michael touched, a part of him lives on in our stories and memories.”

To date, the fund has raised $7,191 with a goal of $10,000, a figure that’s been changed twice already after donors met and exceeded the first two goals. This outpouring of support speaks to Michael’s reputation within the various communities that he has served. In a note attached to its donation, Michigan Pagan Fest said, “Remember him with smiles and laughter for that’s the way he’ll remember you.”

Michael Wiggins lived a life out loud, dancing and creating in ways that he loved. He shared that vibrant spirit with all those around him, through his own art, his teachings, and his unique ability to make creative connections and bring people together. As he told Sue Wert many years ago, this was his life, and he would live it as he wished. And the Detroit community and all of those people he has touched are better for it.

What is remembered, lives.

When David Bowie died in January, there was a mass outpouring of emotion. Fans around the world shared memories, re-watched his movies, and listened to their favorite Bowie songs. The international media machine dug up stories about his life and influence. Bowie was, and still is, an icon representing a form of transgressive pop culture. Through that work, he pushed boundaries into the fantastic and was fully embraced for his oddity. In January, The Hollywood Reporter called him a “genre- and gender-bending British music icon whose persistent innovations and personal reinventions transformed him into a larger-than-life rock star.”

Three months later when Prince died, there was a similar collective outpouring of emotion. Once again, fans shared memories, cried, held vigils and shared their favorite songs. Cities and monuments were bathed in purple light; The New Yorker released an issue with a cover image of rain drops dripping down an all-purple background. Like Bowie, Prince challenged social boundaries, becoming an icon of transgressive pop culture, and he was also embraced for this oddity. In April, The New York Times wrote, “[…] his catalog of songs addressed social issues and delved into mysticism and science fiction. [Prince] made himself a unifier of dualities – racial, sexual, musical, cultural – teasing them in songs like ‘Controversy’ and transcending them in his career.”

For most people the two celebrities were only known through their work and fame. When each of them died, fans were essentially mourning someone they had never met. This single human being, who was neither in their immediate family nor in their larger circle of friends, was held in deep regard. After watching this tremendous public reaction, I began to wonder why and how people can mourn a perfect stranger with such a depth of feeling from a point of real truth. How is that possible?

I believe the answer is in the music.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Shortly after Prince died, a friend relayed a story to me about how the film Purple Rain was playing repeatedly on the television system in the hospital where her ailing mother had been admitted. Over a period of days, she sat by her mother’s bedside repeatedly watching this movie. Many years later, after hearing the news of Prince’s untimely death, deep emotions stirred within her. The song Purple Rain evoked powerful memories of her mother – both of the many joyful times and the difficulties in an untimely death that happened not long after that very hospital stay.

For my friend and others, the song Purple Rain had become an unbreakable thread that tied the past to the present. And that scenario is not uncommon. Music does just that. It can touch us in places of deep privacy where nobody else can go, and remain there as an indestructible bond, a seductive path, and a powerful trigger. Music can move us into experience, not unlike meditation, trance work and magic.

And, through that emotional constant, we can develop deeply felt connections to the creator of the source. We feel personally connected to Prince or Bowie or whomever.  Music creates a sacred internal bond and, in doing so, it turns its creator into a friend and confidant, a lover, a teacher, or a even a god. Someone who really knows us.

” Flames – they licked the walls. Tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore” – Bastille

Growing up, I was surrounded by music. Some of my oldest memories are of my neighbor playing piano as his daughter and I danced to silly songs. “Put your right foot in and right foot out,” we would sing. I eventually was enveloped by music, through piano lessons, chorus, dance and musical theater. Music was everywhere I was and it still is. Every day begins with an overture, and every person has a theme song. I look for rhythm in my writing and in my magic.

Whether or not you live to the beat of music so obsessively as I do, music has been scientifically proven to have many positive effects on the brain. It can create pathways into places we might not readily be able to easily access ourselves, such as past memories, inner drives, and difficult community connections. These are three examples of  the way music works its magic.

“Once upon a time, once when you were mine; I remember skies, reflected in your eyes” – Moody Blues

First, music acts as a time machine. It creates powerful, lasting memory connections that can “transport us” to another time and place. According to scientists, music impacts what is called implicit memory, or the type that is tied to emotion and absorbed outside of direct consciousness. It is described as being “robust,” unlike conscious, or “explicit,” memory, which can be more fleeting and easily damaged. Diseases like Alzheimer’s or accidents affecting the brain can limit access to explicit memory, but not affect the more robust implicit memory, which includes music memory. Therefore therapy using sound can be very effective in reawakening lost memories in many patients.

Because of its ability to trigger memory through emotion, music has been used as a therapeutic tool, mnemonic device, calming activity, mood changer, and also a magical time machine returning us to times long gone.

When my grandmother died, I asked my grandfather to write down the story of his childhood. I didn’t know much about his early life growing up as an immigrant in Chicago, and I didn’t want to lose that part of our family history. He agreed, and after two weeks, he sent me a five-page handwritten essay, not about his childhood but about his life with my grandmother. He had probably never wrote anything in his life. But he wrote this – a cathartic tribute to the woman with whom he had spent his entire life.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

My grandfather opened is story with, “The organ played ‘Because You’re Mine,” just one of the many songs which became a part of their lives. “Only You,” “You Belong to My Heart,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Didn’t We.” In the myriad of songs and lyrics encountered over the years, there was always constant reminder of the commitment.” Alongside each handwritten paragraph, he had scratched in the margins the name of a song. Listening to the songs as I read his story helped to transport me deeper into his memories, which began in Depression-era Chicago and went through his family life in Santa Monica to retirement in Carson City.

This is part of its magic. It transports you, if you let it.

Music attaches itself to our experience and remains dormant there until we hear the song again. Then, it acts like a trigger, taking us back in time.  And, frankly, sometimes you have no choice. As noted earlier, it affects our implicit memory; it seeps into our brains often without us consciously knowing. Ever start singing a song that you don’t like? I spent many years going to sleep listening to Air Supply. The walls of my parents’ apartment were thin and my neighbor was a big fan.  To this day, I know the lyrics to “I’m all out of love.”

Even when the song is not attached to a memory, music can reach deep into our souls, opening up doorways of perception that allow us to relax into ourselves. In magical circles, chanting and other sound-based rituals often help open the senses for deeper workings. But this type of connection is not relegated to spiritual work. For example, primary school teachers will use calming music in the class to settle young students and create a more effective learning environment.

This illustrates the second way in which music works its magic. Through our emotional connection to music, we can derive personal empowerment and the expression of our own deepest longings, thoughts, pains, struggles and ideas.  Artists with a musical gift help us to tap our inner world. The songs in my grandfather’s story helped illustrate his emotions better than his own written words.

“Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words” – Roberta Flack

Music reminds; it informs; it empowers. It makes us want to act and sometimes it even explains why. Music is magical in the way it dances through our lives, enticing us to join along. In doing so, it asks us to not be afraid of what it is, who we are, and what it evokes within our spirit. Just as music triggers memories, it triggers creativity. Just as it can transport us back in time; it can transport us to places of personal secrecy. Music can make us cry when we can’t, and dance when we are too tired.

“And now we got a revolution, Cause i see the face of things to come” – Nina Simone

Music can also help with magic. The very first magical working that I did was long before I ever picked up a Witchcraft book. This was long before I knew another Pagan. I was a secular atheist with no interest in religion, but I knew about magic, and I knew it worked. How? Because as long as I could remember, I felt the magic in the music. From a very young age, it transported me through its sound, and I was lost in its beauty. Therefore, it was a natural progression go from music being magic, to magic being music.

For that very first working, which I did as a preteen, I used the music of Madonna, which brings me to my next point. Whether music is rock, pop, classical, folk, alternative, punk, mystical or Pagan, it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s comprised of drum beats, flutes or an entire orchestra, it doesn’t matter. Rhythm, sound, instruments, vibrations, voices and words…. If in any combination, the resulting product opens a doorway into your personal being-ness, then it can serve the purpose and be your magic carpet into the past or an altered magical state.

“I sing the Body Electric. I glory in the glow rebirth, creating my own tomorrow, when I shall embody the Earth.” – Fame

Now to return to the original question of why we mourn pop music icons, such as David Bowie or Prince, we must look to the ways in which music affects our lives. These two artists, like many others, are the ones who, in essence, wove that “magic carpet.” They are the ones who were able to create the experience of music, which in turn allowed us to connect to ourselves, to our past, to our history, to our ancestors, to our gods, and to our magic.

A Psychology Today article accounts for the mourning saying that “When artists with decades-long careers like Bowie, [Whitney] Houston, or Michael Jackson die, they take a little piece of our pasts with them.” This applies to non-musical artists as well, such as Robin Williams or Alan Rickman. If a deep part of them can touch a deep part of us, we mourn their deaths just as we would our intimate friends, family and lovers.

In that same article, the writer also points to the third way in which music works magic. It bonds us together through a language that transcends the spoken word, even when there are lyrics. Music can unite us in a sort of social harmony, unlike anything else, because it does so through our sense of universal humanity. Psychology Today writes, “Discovering a shared fondness for a particular film or song brings us closer to others, because our cultural tastes often reflect our values and worldviews.” And when the artist dies we find ourselves in a “collective mourning [that] reminds us that we’re part of a [something] and helps us to celebrate the cultural touchstones that define us.”

Both David Bowie and Prince will live on through their music and their art. Their sound will continue to transport us, empower us, and connect us to others worldwide. Their music will continue to work its magic.  As we say, what is remembered, lives.

That is the magic of music.

Merry May Day

Heather Greene —  April 30, 2016 — Leave a comment

For many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists around the world, this weekend is one to celebrate. The days surrounding the first of May mark many traditional spring festivals and religious holidays recognized around the world. Of these the most well known is Beltane or Bealtaine, which, in some traditions, honors the union of goddess and god or marks the beginning of a Celtic summer. In many secular and non-Pagan religious communities, the day is still celebrated as May Day, complete with the iconic Maypole.

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

However, that is just one of the many holidays appearing at this time. Walpurgisnacht, celebrated the night of April 30, is closely associated with Witches and also called Hexennacht. The eve of May Day was consider the night when witches gather and meet.

In ancient Greece, the holiday of Anthesteria was celebrated. Today it is more commonly called ProtomagiaIt is a day that recognizes the rebirth of nature and is associated with the well-known story of Persephone’s ascent from the Underworld. While some modern Hellenic polytheists celebrate this day in February, many celebrate it on the first of May. And, not long after, as spring continues its dance, some modern Pagans celebrate Thargelia, which is a birthday celebration for Apollon and Artemis.

These festivals and others herald the coming of summer or the apex of spring – a time of merriment, awakening and bounty; a liminal time when the barriers between our world and the other world are thinned. In many traditions and cultures, it is also a time of divine union and fertility.

But that does not apply to Pagans everywhere. Our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are readying for winter. The first of May marks the height of autumn and the end of the harvest season. The celebration of Samhain and other similar holidays that honor the dead or the Ancestors are now upon them.

And, finally, there is one more celebration happening this weekend, and it has nothing to do with seasonal events. The Pagan Federation, based in the U.K., is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Members and supporters have planned a gathering to honor the organization’s commitment to supporting Pagan rights in the region since 1971.

Here are some quotes for this season:

“On Beltaine we dance with the fairies, we give thanks to the nature spirits for their abundance and growth, for blessing us with nourishment and beauty. We honour the living God and Goddess energy. We call upon the most enjoyable aspects of the Taurus energies, the ability to fully experience the pleasures of this realm, the love of the body, the sensual thrills of lovemaking.” – Candise, “The Sweetness of Beltaine

“Beltane has always been a holiday for me since childhood because it is my birthday. I sometimes saw maypoles growing up in Germany, but I never knew what they were. As a child, I always begged my parents to host large parties outdoors, preferably under trees, with lots of games, singing, and dancing. That hasn’t changed. Nowadays I like celebrating Beltane and my birthday together and dancing the maypole at public rituals. Dancing with friends and strangers is a perfect mix of hilarity (up? under? under again? really?? oops! wait, what?!?) and deep magic.” – Annika Mongan, “On Beltane

Two young girls lead the procession to the altar. [photo provided by YSEE]

Two young girls lead the procession to the altar. [photo provided by YSEE]

“It is springtime on our farm! Small white flowers start appearing in the axils, the angle between the trunk and the leaves of the olive tree, emitting a very pleasant scent. Our trees will soon start blooming and bearing fruit […] The first day of May in Greece is associated with the custom of Protomagia (May 1st), a celebration of the awakening of nature after a long period of winter. With its origin somewhere between pagan rituals pre-dating the Olympian Pantheon and later folklore traditions, this celebration highlights the beginning of the spring, the victory of life over death.” – From “Oliveology

“Mirth seems to explode around us as we approach the season of Beltane. Nature seems to be slipping on her best dress and looking for a good time. […] Mirth is an expression of gratitude to whatever gods you believe it. It is enjoyment of the gift the universe has given you. To ignore it is to waste that precious gift and thumb your nose the gods, God, the Universe, or whoever you believe gave it to you. In this way, mirth may be the highest and most spiritual virtue I can think of. So dance, sing, feast, make music, and love. For the sake of the gods, open up a bottle of mirth any time you can!” – Tim Titus, “Virtues of the Goddess: Mirth”

“As I grow older, I find it is the simple things that keep us on the good path – waking with gratitude for the day, honor our food, lighting a candle daily for our ancestors, rooting into the Earth finding presence in our breath, calling to the spirits in all the directions asking to make good relationship. It is these small things that make the difference over time, guiding us to live immersed in the sacred, dwelling in a world that is enchanted and holy. […] The river tonight was as beautiful a thing as I ever seen. The night sky reflected on its still surface, as mist moved over it dividing the river from the land, the three worlds sliding into one another, earth, sea, and sky. It was simplicity that brought me to this place, the little things guiding my steps. And that made all the difference in the world” – Snowhawke, “You Do What You Can

A Very Merry May from The Wild Hunt!

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

[Courtesy Sean Harbaugh]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Courtesy photo]

Drum [Courtesy photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KirkIsPresented

Rev. Kirk Thomas [Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

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

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

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

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

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

[Image Credit: Beautygala.com]

[Image Credit: Beautygala.com]

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

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

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

EcoPagan.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greening of Religions Symposium

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Public Domain]

Roadside trash found during a cleanup action [Public Domain]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Earth Day from The Wild Hunt!

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]