Archives For Heather Greene

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On Saturday, Sept. 27, a gala was held in Atlanta to kick off the year leading up to the 2015 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Next year’s event is scheduled to be the largest meeting of Nobel Laureates in history and will be held at Phillips Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta Nov. 15-19, 2015. Saturday’s pre-event gala, sponsored by the local Summit planning committee, attracted politicians, world dignitaries and Nobel Laureates such as Jimmy Carter and Muhammad Yunus. Among the crowd of 500 sitting under the courtyard tent of the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead was Rev. Patrick McCollum and his World Peace Violin.

World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

Over this past year, the violin has reached a new level of prominence in Rev. McCollum’s international peace efforts. Just in the last month, the violin was played at the World Peace Concert in Tahoe, and then in New York City’s Central Park on International Peace Day. It has traveled the world from the Himalayas to the streets of Manhattan.

A few hours before Saturday’s Atlanta gala, we caught up with Rev. McCollum as well as Nell Rose Phillips, executive director of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, and world-renowned violinist Scarlet Rivera. While relaxing together at the hotel, they shared their story and their plans for the violin’s future.

The violin itself was created by Rev. McCollum without the aid of instrument artisans or instructions. As the story goes, McCollum wanted a physical symbol of world peace to carry around with him while doing his work. He had no idea what that symbol could possibly be, so he performed a ritual asking for spiritual guidance. McCollum knew that he wanted it to represent the “diversity of culture and ideas” in the world, while still maintaining a connection “to the sacred universal voice.” The very next day, he received the magazine Scientific American and, on its cover, was the answer – a Stradivarius violin.

Rev. McCollum immediately went to work on making what would become the world peace violin. As he says, it’s spirit was born from “Goddess magic.” But the actual instrument was physically constructed from a variety of ethically-attained, sacred woods from around the world. For example, the front piece was carved from wood native to Africa. The back was created out of sacred woods given to him by a California-based Coalition of Native American tribes. On its base, there is an inlaid carving made from an Irish Willow Tree that grew out of a sacred well. And, the list goes on.

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

The violin’s varnish was also developed in the same manner, through the combining of elements from around the world. Rev. McCollum says that varnish mix includes dust from Hiroshima taken just after the bombs went off in 1945 and shell fragments from the battle of Iwo Jima. The varnish also contains sands from Israel “collected from the baptism site of Jesus during Arab-Israeli peace talks in Jordan;” the ashes of a white buffalo “gifted to him by an Anaswabi Chief;” and sacred oil from Rev. McCollum’s own magical tradition. He says, “This is all symbolism.” He wants the instrument to be the world’s violin, created by the world of the world.

As the story continues, when the violin was was finished, McCollum gave it to someone to play. It sounded awful. Therefore he went back to the drawing board; took it completely apart and put it back together. He did this nine times. When the sound still wasn’t right, McCollum turned back to meditation. In doing so, he says that the Goddess instructed him to dunk the violin in the Ganges River. His friends thought he was crazy, but he did it anyway. The violin soaked in the river for 3-4 minutes. When it finally dried out, the instrument had found its voice.

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlett Rivera, a world-renowned violinist, first played McCollum’s violin in Tahoe at the World Peace Concert in September. A few months earlier, a mutual friend had connected Rivera with McCollum. When she heard about what he had done, she says that she was not at all concerned about the homegrown instrument’s sound quality. She called the connection “destiny.” Rivera believes that she was “directed to” the violin as it has become a symbol and agent of global efforts for peace.

Rivera described the world peace violin as “a conduit – a special voice – that reaches the higher realms” as it spreads its sound through a room. Having always “followed a path of human rights, spirituality and peace,” she said that playing the world peace violin is one of the “greatest gifts in her life.” In doing so, she blends her beliefs and activism with her music, a possibility that she called “deeply meaningful.”

Rivera added, “This was not coincidence. I move with the hand of fate and I am open to it.” With the passion of both a musician and peace advocate, Rivera describes how the violin’s sound has changed over time. She called it nothing short of spectacular, saying, “As each person blesses the violin, the sound dramatically changes. It sings now in a way it didn’t just three weeks ago.”

Both Nell Rose Phillips and Rev. McCollum agree. They take the violin to every event, whether it is to be played or not. Wherever they go, even at meals between events, they will ask people to bless the violin. To date, many hands have touched the instrument from, as McCollum adds, “the poor and homeless to dignitaries and kings. This is the instrument of the world.”

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

On the Thursday evening prior to the Atlanta gala, Rivera, McCollum and Phillips spoke with a small local crowd at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore, a metaphysical shop in the northern suburb of Sandy Springs. McCollum gave a talk on peace efforts and the purpose of the violin. Rivera played the instrument, and all attendees were asked to bless it. Owner Candace Apple said:

We were honored at Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore to have Rev. Patrick McCullom, Scarlet Rivera and the World Peace Violin share the “Journey to Peace” and its beautiful healing energy. May all the hearts of the world be touched by its song.

During the gala itself, Rivera performed a piece that she composed specifically for that night called “Journey to Peace.”  As has become a tradition, McCollum also welcomed the attending dignitaries to bless the instrument; thereby adding their own individual energy into its voice.

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

With this increase in visibility, Phillips is building a new website dedicated specifically to the world peace violin. It will contain an appearance schedule, its story as well as photos of people blessing the instrument from around the world. They already have had a number of new requests for violin performances at various, upcoming international peace events. This includes next year’s November World Nobel Peace Laureate Summit in Atlanta.

In the meantime, this coming November the instrument will be heading to Los Angeles for its first-ever, professional recording session. Rivera will be playing a composition written by Yuval Ron specifically for this purpose. The composition is called “Voices of Peace,” composed for a solo violin. While they do not know exactly how the recording will be used in their work, McCollum, Phillips and Rivera do promise that it will be made available to the public in some way to inspire others in the nurturing of world peace.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Fund Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started! 

Blake Kirk

Blake Kirk

The Interfaith Mission Council (IMS) of Huntsville, Alabama has announced that Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk is scheduled to offer an invocation before the Nov. 6 city council meeting. In June, Kirk was removed from the schedule due to complaints from local residents. After much discussion, the Huntsville city council opted to maintain its inclusive prayer policy prayer rather than removing invocations entirely. The executive director of IMS, the local organization charged with coordinating invocation speakers, Jeannie Robison told AL.comWe [IMS and the city council] want to honor Huntsville’s commitment to being an Inclusive City and to meet Constitutional standards regarding freedom of religion.”

This past Thursday, the council demonstrated its commitment to diversity by inviting an Atheist to speak. Following that meeting, IMS announced that Kirk had been invited back. In response to the city’s actions, Kirk said, “I think it’s an extremely positive development for Huntsville, and it suggests that people have learned something from the unfortunate situation in June, and are really trying to do better.” You can watch Kirk’s invocation live on Nov. 6 through Huntsville’s live streaming site

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

On Sept. 28, Oberon Zell-Ravenhart posted a call on Witchvox for information about “Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials.” He wrote, “Since Morning Glory’s death, I have been inspired (nay, “assigned!”) to co-author a handbook for Pagan Final Passages—including green burials.” In the spring, the Church of All Worlds’ sacred land of Annwfn was legally-secured as an “officially-recognized cemetery for full body burials.” Morning-Glory was the first to be buried on that land, and Oberon is thankful to those who helped make that possible. Now he wants to turn his experience into, what he describes as, a “how-to manual.”

To accomplish this work, Oberon is looking for input from anyone who maintains Pagan land, a green cemetery, or anyone who is planning to build a cemetery space. He adds, “Previously, virtually all members of the modern Pagan community who have died (at least in the United States) have been cremated, as this seemed to be the only option other than the impossibly expensive and distasteful mortuary practice of embalming and burial in a fancy coffin in a concrete vault. But for many of us, cremation is a repellent choice, as we remember the Burning Times, and have no wish to consign our flesh to the flames yet again!”

10171120_828816003799940_5240040217082249423_nPagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 2nd online conference on October 9, 2014. The event is held in coordination with the Pagan Federation International (PFI) and is focused on “a variety of topics around the subjects of Paganism and Witchcraft.” This October’s theme is “The changing of Magic: Modern and Ancient Witchcraft.” There will be two panels on the following subjects: “Ancient Witchcraft and its adaptation” and “Western Esotericism practices and the academy.”  

The online PAEAN conference is held twice a year, in the spring and fall. Coordinators hope that the unique online platform, which allows a diversity of people to engage in dialogue and interaction, will “increase learning, understanding and developing from the combined discussions.”

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

On Sept. 20, the CUUPS chapter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida presented local Pagan Spelcastor an award for “his long time service of 19 years as the gatekeeper and facilitator” of Pagan Pride Day held at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Spelcastor is now officially retired but, as CUUPS organizers said, “he will long be remembered for keeping the flame alive.” In response, Spelcastor remarked, “I am deeply honored by this outpouring of gratitude and reminded how persistent service to the Craft year after year pays off.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

That is all for now.  Have a great day!

 

Hello to everyone! I wanted to let you know how our annual Fall Funding Drive is going just six days after we begun. We’ve raised a little over $6000 dollars, which is 49% of our $12,500 goal! 

This is incredible progress in such a short time. Of course, it is all due to the continued support, and the generosity of individuals, like yourself, and organizations within our community.Through a donation to our 2014 Fall Fund Drive, you are saying that the The Wild Hunt is a valued service and you’d like to see it not only continue for the next year, but also grow and expand in its coverage. With your help, we can do just that.

100% of our budget comes from this drive, and 100% of that money goes back into running this news site. It pays for hosting and other technical fees as well as paying the incredibly talented writers who make up our Wild Hunt team.

This year, thanks to the fiscal underwriting of the Pantheon Foundation, all donations will be tax deductible.

WH2014_BIG

We have so many people to thank for their donations up to this point. Here are just a very small handful of our most recent supporters:

Danaan.net, Mary Ann Somervill, Kasha and Ray, Witches & Pagans, Thalassa Therese, Sabina Magliocco, Denver Handmade Alliance, Kim Bannerman, Concrescent Press, Chas Clifton and Karen Foster

I hope you’ll join them in supporting our mission, which is to continue providing you with thought-provoking columns and relevant Pagan news from your communities. Your support makes it all possible. Please consider donating now. Check out our new $5.00 donation perk courtesy of columnist Eric Scott.

And help us spread the word! Here’s the link to the IndieGoGo campaign site:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wild-hunt-2014-fall-funding-campaign/x/497880

Thank you to all those people who have donated so far, who have shared our campaign link and, of course, who have made The Wild Hunt a part of their lives by visiting and enjoying our work.

[Articles like the one below take time, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories like this one and more, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our link. It is your support that makes it all possible.Thank you.]

Part of Southern culture is a deep loyalty to one’s Alma mater. That loyalty is often synonymous with kinship, sister or brotherhood and community. Although this deep attachment is most obvious during big sporting events, it lasts long after the lights are dimmed on any playing field.

"William J. Samford Hall" at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

“William J. Samford Hall” at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

For that very reason, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren was all the more devastated when she found out that her position as an english instructor at Auburn University (AU) had been terminated without a given reason. Not only was she an employee but also a three time Auburn graduate. When she was in her 30s, with a GED, three children and divorce papers in hand, she earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. She says:

As an alumni, myself, I cannot reconcile such an action against my deep loyalty to my university …  I have been, in effect, disowned by the very institution that created me as a teacher and a scholar without any more ado than that given to a stranger.

In the local Alabama Pagan community and in the blogosphere, Dr. Privett-Duren is better known as Seba O’Kiley, the Southern Fried Witch. She has been a spiritual leader, Pagan teacher and blogger for years. However, until May, her two identities were, more or less, kept separate. Religion is generally not discussed. A former English Department colleague Dr. Robin E. Bates said:

In the Auburn English department, faculty and staff don’t discuss religious feeling openly. I think that, for  most, this is because it is a publicly funded school and many feel that faith has no role in the workplace there … No one discusses religion with students, because it’s outside the purview of the job as teachers of English, and discussion of anything personal like religion would be considered unprofessional.

While some colleagues, like Dr. Bates, knew Dr. Privett-Duren’s religion and even followed her Pagan blog, the College of Liberal Arts administration did not. Due to the alleged “hush hush” circumstances surrounding her termination, Dr. Privett-Duren believes that her religion was, in fact, the cause. She explained:

They [administrators] found out when a colleague complained about me to the Dean’s office. I have never been allowed to know the details of that complaint and it (apparently) was unfounded and dropped. Soon thereafter, the Dean asked that I not accompany my committee of which I was a member for our meeting with the Dean. He did not want me there. From that moment, it escalated.

Seba O'Kiley

Seba O’Kiley or Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren

The initial problems arose in the fall of 2013 but, as she noted, appeared to have been dropped within a month. In fact, in April 2014, Dr. Privett-Duren was honored with the English Department’s teaching award for the 2013-14 school year. In addition, she was being considered for a promotion to a permanent lecturer and for a grant to establish online class material.

However, things turned sour that very same month. On April 4, the administration sent Dr. Privett-Duren an email informing her that she was “was not selected” for the grant. Her department chair admitted that he was “surprised by the decision which was made outside the department.” She was unable to obtain any further information about the decision-making process.

A month later, Dr. Privett-Duren was sent the termination letter with no further explanation. Within days, she contacted her chair, the administration and the Affirmative Action/EEO offices. During that time, she was neither able to gain an audience with the Dean, nor learn the conditions of her termination.

Frustrated and confused, Dr. Privett-Duren turned to the American Civil Liberties Union. Within days, the organization returned her letter stating, “We have reviewed your request for assistance and concluded that your situation raises serious questions about the possibility of discrimination with your company.” However the ACLU also added that her complaint did not constitute a civil rights issue and recommended that she contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

On June 16, she filed a charge of religious discrimination and ageism with the EEOC in Birmingham. The organization is currently investigating her case and, she is waiting for a response. She says:

How do I feel about the whole thing. I feel betrayed–not by my department, as I understand that their hands were tied, nor by my students, who didn’t know nor care about the status of my religion. I feel betrayed by the red tape of administration that did not protect me from the machination of Dean’s Aistrup’s decision and by the refusal of the Provost’s office to investigate it. The unprecedented act of terminating an employee without regard to work record, the opinion of the supervising faculty or the simple (ethical) step of allowing that employee the right to meet with the dean of the college is nothing short of a witch hunt. 

While Dr. Privett-Duren was communicating with officials at the school and with these outside agencies, her students launched their own protest in the form of an online petition. By June,142 students of many faiths digitally signed a request to “Bring Dr. PD Back to Auburn University.” While the petition doesn’t directly address the reason behind her dismissal, it does highlight her reputation as a popular, well-loved teacher. Former student Sam Christensen said, “I don’t know anyone who disagrees with the petition. I can say that I would be surprised if there was serious student opposition to it, I haven’t known many professors as universally liked by students as her.”

Many of these students didn’t find out that “Dr. PD” was Pagan until the petition was made public. Former student Casey Jo Berland, a practicing Christian, said, “Kat kept her religion completely hidden from her students. I had absolutely no idea until after the semester was over and I called her for advice. And even then she was hesitant to open up about it.”

Dr. Privett-Duren’s hesitation to discuss her religion was more about professionalism than about fear of discovery. All of the interviewed students and faculty agree that Auburn’s climate is generally more progressive as compared to many other locations in Alabama or the Southeast. The University was even home to an active Pagan student organization, Pantheon, for years.

More recently, the town itself has become host to the only Pagan Pride Day event in the state. In fact, Auburn Pagan Pride Day is held at the Arboretum on the University campus. APPD organizer and longtime resident Linda Kerr says, “I’ve lived here since 1983, and have been Pagan here since 1988, and have never had any issues due to being Pagan. I worked at Auburn University for 25 years, and never had any trouble there either.” She holds the Pagan pride event on campus because, “the site is beautiful and lends itself well.” However, APPD is not endorsed or sponsored by the University in any way.

Kerr’s comments, however, were corroborated by other Pagan residents and students. Former Pagan AU student, Jillian Smith, actually applied to the university upon encouragement from Dr. Privett-Duren. She said:

Kat told me how open-minded and accepting AU was, allowing for a great deal of personal expression, pursuance of personal interest and acceptance of differing viewpoints when well presented. She spoke of AU as forward-thinking, encouraging of new ideas, and a supposed melting pot of creed, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth. This was not only a driving point for my application to AU, it was also the kind of community environment in which I wanted my son to be raised — an environment of AU “family” and “All in.”

Despite this progressive climate and academic environment, Dr. Privett-Duren still maintains that her termination was related to her religion. She says that the University is located in the very conservative South and that administrators are sometimes not as open-minded as the professors working in the departments. As she points out, her termination came from the college administration, who didn’t know about her religion prior to last fall, and not from her department head, who did.

Unfortunately, the University declined to comment due to this situation being “a personal employment matter.” Both the AA/EEO department and Dean’s office responded similarly saying that they are unable to speak publicly in such cases.

Dr. Privett-Duren

Dr. Privett-Duren in her garden

Therefore, the investigation into Dr. Privett-Duren’s termination and her allegations of religious discrimination now rest entirely with the EEOC. In the meantime, Dr. Privett-Duren has begun other projects. She will be teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary and at another online university. She is writing a memoir about life as a witch in the south and has already sent a fiction project to a publisher. In addition, she is the newest, regular writer at Crone Magazine. Her column, which begins this October, is aptly called “Southern-Fried Crone.”  Dr. Privett-Duren says:

As a direct result of my termination, I have been forcibly outed by the process. For over a decade, I existed in fracture:  Seba O’Kiley, the country witch versus Dr. Privett-Duren, the academic. That fracture has healed from the chaos.  What I am now is quite a force of nature, and for that alone, I am grateful. I am now whole, a witch/teacher/mother/academic with no apologies.

Regardless of the outcome of the EEOC investigation, Dr. Privett-Duren says that she will keep fighting. She loves Auburn University and the students that call it home. With the spirit of “War Eagle” in her tone, she says, “I just want my job back. I just want to teach.”

People’s Climate March

Heather Greene —  September 21, 2014 — 4 Comments

Today is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. It was declared in 1981 and then first observed in 1982. The day is meant to be a reminder for all nations and peoples “to strengthen the ideals of peace.” Celebrations are being held all over the world on every continent. As we noted last week, this year’s New York event will include a Pagan Youth Delegate as well as a Central Park vigil using Rev. Patrick McCollum’s Peace Violin.

pcm-id-1b-400-x-400While much of world is observing Peace Day in some form, another event is happening just a few city blocks from the doors of the United Nations. People are gathering in midtown Manhattan to march through the streets in order to send a message to world leaders about climate change. It has been called the People’s Climate March with twitter hashtag #peoplesclimate.

The People’s Climate March is scheduled to attract over 100,000 attendees including celebrities, politicians, faith leaders, and scientists. It is being billed as the largest climate march in history and reportedly includes corresponding events in over 166 countries. The organizers say, “To Change Everything, We need Everyone.”

pcm-route-lineup-v6

March leaders have constructed an organized lineup that extends from 59th Street at Columbus Circle to 86th Street, several blocks north of American Museum of Natural History. The lineup is designed to separate the types of people and organizations based on their reasons for walking. Beginning with those people most impacted, the gathering extends backwards through indigenous groups, students, activists, scientists and ends with the rest of the world’s community. In this way, the lineup becomes its very clear message of who is speaking out against the mechanisms that have lead to climate change.

Included in those gathering masses are a number of New York City Pagans. The Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC) is currently gathering at 58th street between 8th and 9th Avenues with other interfaith organizations and leaders. To find them, organizers say, “Look for the pentacle signs.”

The PEC is a faith-based action group that “aims to organize, educate, and coordinate action in the Pagan community in New York State and beyond to address environmental issues.” Its members represent many traditions and practices. 

PEC live at People's Climate March in NYC [Via Twitter @PEC_NYC]

PEC and members of EarthSpirit live at People’s Climate March in NYC [Via Twitter @PEC_NYC]

Through an Indiegogo campaign, the PEC was able to raise enough money to sponsor travel for 5 additional marchers from outside of the New York City area. Courtney Weber, PEC organizer and High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways, said, “We don’t know if it’s too late to stop climate change or even if we can minimize the effects of it. But we can’t skip the opportunity to try. Human beings are fighters. We’ve survived as a species because we take risks, we fail, we fail again, only to get up and try once more … Let’s do this thing.”

Another Pagan group in attendance will be the Pagan Cluster. The organization is comprised of “a loose gathering of individuals and affinity groups who bring an earth-based spirituality to global justice and peace actions.” Many of its members have roots in the Reclaiming tradition of feminist Witchcraft.  

The Pagan Cluster will be gathering at 71st and 72nd Street in the “Solutions” section of the march. To find them, organizers say “Look for the rising sun.”

The Pagan Cluster live at the People's Climate March in NYC [Via Twitter @Pagan_Cluster]

The Pagan Cluster live at the People’s Climate March in NYC [Via Twitter @PaganCluster]

The March is being held ahead of Tuesday’s 2014 U.N. Climate Summit. While the U.N. may be focusing on Peace Day today, it will turn its attention to the subject of climate change in just two days. Although the march goes nowhere near the U.N. building and the council itself is not in session, the impact of today’s events will not go unnoticed. The People’s Climate March has drawn worldwide attention.

Along the route, stages have been setup on which organizers are holding press conferences, interfaith services, and rallies led by a number of grass-roots activists. The march itself begins at 11:30 am EST.

Marchers will head through midtown to the endpoint at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. At 1 p.m. organizers will ask for a pause in the action and moment of silence. After that, the festivities will continue, and music, drumming and song will be encouraged.

Both Pagan organizations are tweeting live from the event. PEC is @PEC_NYC and the Pagan Cluster is @PaganCluster. For a broader live look, follow the Twitter hashtags #peoplesclimate, #peoplesclimatemarch and #climatemarch for photos and reactions.

If you were in attendance, please share your experiences in the comments below. Who else was there?

[Update (4:10pm EST 9/21/14): Earthspirit has contacted The Wild Hunt. The Massachusetts-based organization had 20 members in the march, some of whom are in the photo with PEC. They estimate that there were well over 300,000 people total. Additionally, Andras Corban-Arthen gave a Pagan blessing during the interfaith service]

 

 

Amid a flurry of controversy and confusion, the Oklahoma Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City will be become the setting for a public Black Mass this Sunday, Sept. 21. The event, which is being billed as “enlightening and educational,” is reportedly now sold out. The purpose of the public staging, as written in the Civic Center’s blurb, is to bring a feared ritual “into the light.”

Just as problems arose when a Harvard University Extension club attempted to sponsor a Black Mass, the Oklahoma event has inspired local protests that began immediately after the Civic Center listed the Black Mass on its schedule. However, in this story, the ensuing controversy took a few unexpected twists and turns that go well-beyond typical outrage from the city’s Catholic community.

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma’s Archbishop Paul Coakley was the first to react publicly. On July 1, he issued a news release that read, “We are astonished and grieved by this proposed sacrilegious event.” He called on the Civic Center to cancel the event and on Oklahoma Catholics to pray.

A month later, after getting no response from the Civic Center, the Archbishop published an open letter asking all Christians to pray for protection, saying, “I am certainly concerned about the misuse of a publicly supported facility for an event which has no other purpose than mocking the Catholic faith.”

Despite public pressure, the Civic Center maintained a position of neutrality. Recently, general manager Jim Brown explained to a Christian news network, Aleteia:

Since we’re a City of Oklahoma facility we’re required to abide by all First Amendment rights to the Constitution, which don’t allow us to turn away any productions … As a public facility, we’re required to rent to organizations and individuals as long as they abide by our policies and procedures.

None of this public pressure is new to the Civic Center.  In 2010, a Satanic church called Four King Princes, originally The Church of IV Majesties, held a exorcism in the same space. At that time, the Center made clear that it upholds the city’s policy of non-discrimination. And that policy still stands today.

Governor Mary Fallin

Governor Mary Fallin [Courtesy of the State of Oklahoma]

While the Civic Center itself has remained neutral, Oklahoma’s state officials have not. On Aug. 13 Governor Mary Fallin released a statement in which she said, “It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York City ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here. I pray they realize how hurtful their actions are and cancel this event.”

Unfortunately, in making that public statement, Fallin not only demonstrated religious bias but also managed to muddle an already volatile situation. She assumed that The Satanic Temple was responsible for the upcoming Black Mass.

This may seem like an easy mistake. The Satanic Temple is a very active, vocal and public organization that works aggressively in defense of religious freedom. The organization is behind the quest to place a Baphomet statue in the Oklahoma courthouse and assisted the Harvard Club with its Black Mass in May. Just this week, The Satanic Temple announced that it would begin distributing religious materials to students in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools. The news release reads:

In response to a recent School Board decision in Orange County, Florida that allows for the dissemination of religious materials in public schools, The Satanic Temple has announced they will follow suit by providing Satanic materials to students during the new school year. Among the materials to be distributed are pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.

However, The Satanic Temple is not behind the upcoming Oklahoma Black Mass. Representative, Lucien Greaves told The Wild Hunt that it has “nothing to do with the event” and said:

There was some confusion about this when Gov. Fallin specifically, erroneously, denounced The Satanic Temple in relation to this Black Mass prompting us to disseminate a press release making clear that we are not involved, and asking an apology from the governor’s office. The governor never replied.

Sunday’s Black Mass was organized by a local Oklahoma Satanic church called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. When asked about the church’s intentions, co-Founder Adam Daniels told ABC News that “One of the dictates of the church is not only to educate the members but to educate the public … and to debunk the Hollywood-projected image of our beliefs.”

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Despite this and other attempts at explanation, Daniels was unable to mollify the community. Confusion and frustrations only mounted. Then, Aug 20, the saga took a twist when Archbishop Coakley filed a lawsuit against Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. He did this after learning that Daniels planned to use a consecrated host in ritual. Archbishop Coakley said:

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The local organizers of this satanic inversion intend to use a stolen consecrated Host obtained illicitly from a Catholic Church to desecrate it as a sacrifice to Satan. Through this lawsuit, I hope to avoid the desecration of the Host.

According to reports, Daniels claims that he didn’t steal the wafers and that they were mailed to him by a Turkish priest. He then accused the Church of attempting to defame his character and planned a countersuit. However, after days of negotiations, Daniels agreed to return the host to the Church and, in return, the Archbishop dropped the lawsuit.

While that portion of the conflict ended, other protests continued. The conservative Christian TFP Student Action organization launched an online petition asking both the Civic Center and Governor “to stop the sacrilege.” The petition now has over 85,000 signatures.

To complicate matters, this summer’s national publicity has also dredged up problems from Daniels’ past, providing more sensational fodder for protesters for local media. Daniels is on Oklahoma’s sex offender registry. Although he has publicly addressed the offense in 2010, he has reportedly developed a reputation that has led to several group conflicts and mistrust within his own religious community.

It was this reputation and associated conflicts that triggered, in part, the The Satanic Temple’s quick response to Governor Fallin’s error. Greaves explains that there are certainly many different interpretations of Satanism. He is unfamiliar with Daniels’ particular beliefs so he could not “condone nor condemn” his work.  However, he said:

We do know … that Mr Daniels has developed a very poor reputation in his community, one that further encouraged us to make clear his lack of affiliation with us. We have built a great deal of goodwill among Oklahomans who understand the importance of our attempts to preserve an environment of religious liberty/pluralism in their home state. We certainly don’t want activities beyond our control to compromise that in any way.

Despite the flurry of concerns, both personal and religious, the Black Mass will be staged as planned. After the lawsuit was finally dropped, the only remaining issue was to ensure that the ritual itself would uphold all state laws. As noted on the site, Daniels assures the public:

The Black Mass being performed at the [Oklahoma] Civic Center has been toned downed as to allow it  to be performed in a public government building. The authenticity and purpose of the Black Mass will remain in tact [sic] while allowing for slight changes so that a public viewing can occur without breaking Oklahoma’s laws based on nudity, public urination and other sex acts.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Daniels for further comment. However, if “preserving religious equality” or educating the public are indeed Daniels’ goal, the extraneous complications, stories of theft, and a dubious past may have muddied his mission. It can be very difficult to spot religious freedom activism through lawsuits and accusations of impropriety. Regardless of any these issues, the event will go on and the city-run Civic Center will uphold Daniels’ constitutional right to free expression of his religion. In that way, Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has ultimately managed to test the boundaries and soundness of religious tolerance and freedom in Oklahoma City.

On Sunday Sept. 21, the United Nations and others around the world will be honoring the International Day of Peace, a 32-year-old yearly tribute, recognition and call for peace worldwide. Just as last year, Rev. Patrick McCollum will be attending multiple events in New York City. He was asked to bring his World Peace Violin for an evening vigil in Manhattan’s Central Park, and he was also asked to bring a youth delegate to represent Paganism.

6th pass_FINAL to USEThe U.N. has long sponsored youth outreach programs. This year will mark the first time a Pagan youth delegate is present at the organization’s World Peace proceedings. To find a candidate, McCollum turned to Mills College in Oakland, California, which boasts an active Pagan student association. After giving a workshop for the group, McCollum spoke with its president about the Peace Day opportunity.

Rowan Weir, a junior studying biopsychology and the current treasurer of the organization, was quick to apply for the job. After the application process was complete, Weir was selected to be the U.N. Pagan youth delegate. She is now making her final plans to attend the U.N.’s World Peace conference, which has included a crowd funding campaign to pay for the trip. We caught up with her morning last week before class.

A native of San Diego, Weir is not at all new to Paganism. While her mother never used the term Pagan, she grew up with a definite “earth-centered” spiritual understanding. For example, Weir’s family has always held a yearly Winter Solstice ritual; her grandmother would, on occasion, refer to herself as a witch; and her mother regularly talked about their inter-connectivity with nature.

Although the family didn’t identify its religion using the word Pagan, Weir now sees a connecting Pagan theme in her family’s ethics and beliefs. Weir says, “The solstice ritual was a recognition of the transition of the year and as a kid it was an interesting thing to observe.” She still returns to San Diego yearly to attend that family ritual.

Now a college student in Oakland, Weir labels herself as simply a Pagan. She feels that she is still learning and growing spiritually. That education is being nurtured through her involvement with the Mills Pagan Alliance (MPA)The group sponsors workshops with leaders and elders from the area, field trips, seasonal rituals and school events. Through attending and helping to organize MPA functions, Weir is able to, as she says, “learn all the different forms that Paganism can take.”

Photo on 9-12-14 at 7.54 PM

Rowan Weir

Weir’s role as a U.N. youth delegate is an extension of that religious learning. She says that she “loves to make connections” and hopes that the majority of time spent in New York will be doing just that. She looks forward to engaging in conversations with people very different from herself. She says, “It’s all about the learning.”

At the present time, Weir has not received the specifics of her schedule or duties as a delegate. There was a call put out for presenters but Weir didn’t apply. She felt that she didn’t have anything specific to present and that she would better serve her community as an observer. She explains, “I feel very strongly that the majority of my opportunities will come from connecting with people on a personal level.” That, she adds, will be the most fulfilling.

Weir also hopes to learn more about the many “new aspects of the peace process and global social justice.” She wants to take that information back with her and figure out where her role is within that dynamic. She asks, “Where can I fit myself in? What can I give? What does the world need of me?”

While these questions won’t be answered in full at the peace conference, Weir hopes to get glimpses of the possibilities. As a U.N. youth delegate, she will have the opportunity to discuss social justice within a global context and to see the Earth as one social unit. This is what she is most interested in doing. She says, “This experience will expand my viewpoint and show me the bigger picture and then I can bring it back into my personal work.”

One way in which Weir will “bring back” the international conversation will be through a blog. She says, “I will be writing about my experiences through the blog to make sure the [Mills College] club can see [the event] through my eyes and stay involved through me.”

Weir Haleakala National Park [Courtesy of R.Weir]

When asked if she was nervous or fearful about possible negative reactions to her presence or conflict, she said that hadn’t really considered that. She explains:

I grew up in a sheltered community. Everybody I’ve met is liberal. My only exposure to opposition has been in the form of protestors at events. I haven’t been forced to engage in that kind of very direct opposition personally.

However, she adds that she is ready for anything because of her “strong sense of self” and her connection to her family and her community at Mills College. She says:

I always felt as though I carry them with me. I carry with me their positive intentions and their protection. My community will help me to a engage without reservation or being held back by fear. 

While Weir isn’t clear on what the youth delegates will be doing, she does believe that the U.N. is very conscious of the need to connect with younger generations. She, herself, sees a very marked benefit to combining the energy and proactive nature of youth with the experience and learned wisdom of age. She believes that having the generations work together is the key to accomplishing more and better things. She says:

Paganism has always relied heavily on the connection of young and old. Traditions are passed down. The passing down of these traditions is a type of transformation.

However she did acknowledge that there are serious barriers to overcome in that work. Both generations often feel alienated from each other. Weir believes that it is the responsibility and burden of the older generation, the current leaders, to break that barrier. She says, “Extend [to youth] an invitation to the table; to the conversation … Youth want to connect and want to see as many news things as possible. But it is difficult to know how to approach older generations.”

She also has a message for other young Pagans.  She says, “Keep asking why?” She explains:

I know youth are already predisposed to asking questions, but it is perhaps not yet often enough, or it may be they do not see the resolution of their query through to it’s ultimate resolution. I try to incorporate this idea into both my daily life and deeper philosophies, as an aspect of personal development as well as social investigation. Pagans are natural protectors and activists, what they consider to be absolute truths are often the very things we must pursue if we want to better our relationship to the earth, and to each other. But the first step in translating ideals into actions is the asking of why. Why do these issues exist? And asking it again: why do they not improve? You continually delve deeper into the very essence of human suffering, of international conflict, of ecological devastation, and you discover your personal relationship with. It is imperative also that you apply a similar system of analysis to deconstructing the self. Young pagans want to know where they fit and what part they can play in change, but they need to know themselves implicitly, to pursue introspection as a path to inner strength, so when they approach that change, it is from a foundation of solidity and security. In addition, I implore young pagans to connect, in whatever ways are available to them. Our greatest resource is each other, and it is together that we will attain our greatest triumphs. We are a circle, we are open, we are unbroken.

Weir  sees the U.N.’s youth delegate program for World Peace Day as this type of invitation or barrier breaking. She sees the time that she will spend with Rev. Patrick McCollum as a valuable connection between two generations. With all of that sitting before her, she is both overwhelmed and excited to be included to the world table and to an international conversation about achieving global peace.

Today has been declared World Goddess Day. As described by the organizers, it is a day for all Goddess-worshiping people worldwide to come together and openly celebrate or pay tribute to the Goddess in all her forms. The website says, “The purpose of the Project is [to] grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity.”

world goddess day logo

The World Goddess Day project was founded by Brazilian author Claudiney Prieto, who has written a number of popular books on Wicca and Witchcraft. Prieto is a priest of the Dianic Nemorensis tradition in Brazil and was recently acknowledged by Z. Budapest for his spiritual work within that tradition. As he writes on the project’s website:

Nowdays, in a staggered society impaired by centuries of patriarchy, heteronormativity and sexism, the Goddess is considered by many people the only way to reunite ourselves with the true Self, with our most inner Self. She is the only way to get rid of so many years of oppression that only brought differences, prejudices and wars So a World Goddess Day has never been such necessary as now!

The World Goddess Day project organizers chose September because it is the ninth month of the year. As Prieto explains, “The number nine is one of the most sacred to the Goddess.” In the future, World Goddess Day will always be celebrated on the first Sunday of the month. This year, the date is Sept. 7.

Through their Facebook page and website, organizers put out a call to people around the world to organize and come together on this day or for individuals to find private ways to honor the Divine Feminine. Currently, the project website lists 30 different registered World Goddess Day events happening around the world.

While most of these registered events are in Prieto’s home country of Brazil including his own event in Sao Paulo, enthusiasm did spread across borders. Wiccan Priestess Lady Majo is hosting a celebration in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Z.Budapest is sponsoring a Goddess Festival in California. There are three registered events taking place in Spain; three in the U.K.; three in the United States and one in Western Canada.

programaspIn addition, there are a number of unregistered events including one in Miami, one in Illinois, and one in Spitchwick Common in Dartmoor, England. The Reformed Druids of Gaia are gathering for a picnic in Singleton Park, in Swansea, Wales. In Toronto, Canada, people will be gathering at High Park for a “happy celebration” coordinated by Wiccan practitioner Cattarina Guanais.

The Triangle Area Pagan Alliance (TAPA), based in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the registered hosts of a World Goddess Day event in the United States. The local organization is sponsoring a public ritual in Thaumatury 777, a magic supply shop.  TAPA member Rev. Amanda Morris, a neo-Wiccan and Gnostic Witch, says:

When I found out that Claudiney Prieto was organizing an international event in honor of the Goddess, I was excited and brought the idea to my group, the Triangle Area Pagan Alliance.  We all shared personal stories of the power of the Goddess (in Her many names and faces!) in our lives, and we knew that honoring the Divine Feminine was important to us.  We really hope that others in our community would agree and join us for an open and public ritual … I’m thrilled and excited to be joining individuals and groups from literally around the world as we support World Goddess Day, and I hope we honor Her with our collective love and magick!

On the other side of the state in Hamlet, North Carolina, Deb Holmes-Roberts, a High Priestess of Hermetic Magic and a Reiki Master, is organizing a day long event that includes workshops, drumming and meditation. She says:

There are many reasons to celebrate this “World Goddess Day” but the most important to me is to be able to share the information with my daughters and other young women to embrace their femininity and flourish in the strength of it and all that it is.

From the Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor Event

From the Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor Event

To the south in Miami, Florida, Kimberly Moore, founder and Priestess of MotherHouse of the Goddess Temple, says that she is “hosting a Full Moon Goddess Feast Sunday and loving the synchronicity with World Goddess Day.” Moore has been actively working to encourage Goddess-based spirituality for years. Among her work, she helped to establish a Miami-based Dianic Women’s Temple and the Full Moon’s Women’s Circle. She says:

I am absolutely delighted to see an organized effort in establishing a World Goddess Day. Bringing the Divine Feminine in all forms to the forefront of alternative spirituality and traditional religions is absolutely vital for bringing balance to the planet and humanity. Bravo to Claudiney Prieto for lighting the torch! 

In West Yorkshire England, a group of Pagans will be celebrating in a different way. Attendees plan to meet at the Leeds City Museum in Millennium Square to view two stones that were dedicated to Brigantia, their local Goddess. Once there, organizer Gary Smith will read poetry inspired by the Divine Feminine. Smith says:

I’ve organised a small gathering of people from our Pagan Meet-up group to honour our local goddess Brigantia, as I recently came to the Goddess through my research of 30 years looking into the meaning of the Cretan Spiral Labyrinth. The Goddess is needed now to address the balance, and heal the world.

In Cornwall, the Priestesses of Kernow are hosting a celebration at Pengersick Castle, Praa Sands. Priestess Sue Edwards, founder of the Cornwall School of Mysteries, says:

The Goddess is associated with many things including earth, motherhood, fertility, love and vegetation, but also war, death, destruction as well as healing, compassion and life. As a Priestess of Kernow who follows the Goddess traditions, I feel it’s important to have one day granted to the Goddess in which we can remember her in all her forms. Women especially are looking for something which celebrates the feminine within and are turning to the way of the Goddess. She is re-entering into our modern life bringing back her vitality, power, wisdom and healing, through Pagan traditionsit is important to support the Project World Goddess day and to bring the divine feminine back into our lives , to adapt her stories for modern day and to bring balance back to our world.

In announcement after announcement, organizers are calling out to their communities to join them in dance, song, meditation, and ritual celebration of the Divine Feminine in whatever form or forms that she takes within one’s own religious tradition. On the event page for the Illinois event, organizer Ze Marie says, “The energy of this event is growing!!! Spread the word, it is going to be awesome! Everyone is welcome!!! It is time for the Goddess to be heard!!!”

While the day was launched by Prieto, a priest of the Dianic Nemorensis tradition, it was not imagined as a tradition-based or exclusive idea. Nor has its spirit be restrained in anyway.

Yemaya Temple in Cuba [Photo Credit: DominiqueMichel, WikiCommons CC lic]

Yemaya Temple in Cuba [Photo Credit: DominiqueMichel, WikiCommons CC lic]

Interestingly, however, this very first incarnation of World Goddess Day also happens to coincide with a very specific Goddess’ day. Today is Yemaya’s Feast day, a celebration with its own sacred traditions within the Lucumi (Santeria) religion. While World Goddess Day won’t always fall on Sept 7, this will happen again in the future. If the project continues to gain momentum, will the new universal honoring of the Divine Feminine detract or enhance this much older Lucumi tradition? Lilith Dorsey, a Voodoo Priestess, author and filmmaker, says:

The slippery issue here when we begin to discuss Sunday Sept. 7,2014 as World Goddess Day is that not all mother goddesses are the same. The same way not all mothers are the same. In La Regla Lucumi, also known as Santeria, Sept. 7 is the traditional feast day for Yemaya. People have already made the connection online, and since I am also a practitioner of Santeria as well, I would just like to caution that while anyone is welcome to leave an offering of pears or watermelon for Yemaya, the uninitiated must not make petitions or demands from this Orisha. The Santeria religion is a complex system that takes decades if not a lifetime of training to begin to understand.

As Dorsey suggests, not all Goddess’ are the same and their worship manifests in many ways that are often very specific to a tradition, culture and religious practice. As long as the details of the World Goddess Day celebration and its over-arching message remain respectfully fluid and open, the new day can co-exist with the Lucumi holiday. Dorsey adds, “The celebration of the Goddess is important each and every day, not only because it helps us better understand our collective cultural yesterdays and tomorrows, but also ourselves. I firmly believe this both as a Voodoo priestess and an anthropologist…. I hope everyone continues to respectfully salute the Goddess this Sunday, and every day.”

For some, the phrase “tea party” conjures up images of little girls in pink taffeta dresses, or perhaps angry colonists on tall ships or, better yet, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. What it doesn’t conjure up is 380 witches convening on the historic grounds of Exeter Castle in the UK. But that is exactly what happened this past weekend at the “Grand Witches’ Tea Party.”

[Photo by J.Moore]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

On Aug. 31, over 300 witches and others supporters, wearing pointy hats, capes and carrying brooms, arrived at Exeter castle to honor the lives of three British women hanged for Witchcraft. The Bideford witches are largely considered to be the last three women actually executed for the crime of Witchcraft under the 1605 statute.

As history tells, the judges believed that these women were innocent of their accused crimes. However, the men yielded to angry local mobs who called for a hanging. On Aug. 25 1682, Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles were all sent to the gallows at Heavitree. Today there is a plaque on Exeter Castle commemorating their lives and marking the tragedy in their deaths.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

Now 332 years later, modern U.K. Witches and their supporters rally at the same sight to call attention to the women’s story with the goal of having them officially pardoned of the accused crimes. In August 2013, author Christine Nash and local official Ben Bradshaw launched an e-petition to make this happen. However, the campaign failed with only 426 signatures. Ben Bradshaw is quoted as calling the hangings “a stain in our history.”

This year’s campaign was organized by local witch Jackie Juno and a group of her friends. However, the Grand Witches Tea Party became more than just a simple petition event. It grew larger, incorporating more expansive contemporary ideas within a respectful, yet festive, environment.

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Not only was the Grand Tea a rally asking the government to pardon the Bideford Witches; the event also aimed at becoming the largest gathering of witches in the U.K. or the world. Juno’s official count stands at a total of 380 people in all the regalia. She adds, “We set a new southwesterly record but fell short of world or U.K. records. But the main important bit of the day was the ceremony.”

The event began with a commemorative ritual dedicated to the three accused “willow” women. The ceremony was recorded and posted on YouTube in three parts. In retrospect, Juno says:

[The event] went beautifully, thanks to all the helpers and supporters of the event. I feel we did the women proud with the commemorative ceremony which was deeply moving.

The outdoor ritual included poetry, shrine offerings, moments of silence and sacred song. One of the organizers stepped forward to read Erica Mann Jong’s poem, “For Those Who Died,” which is a somber tribute to the many women who were tortured and killed as witches.

In addition to the ceremony and the gathering of signatures, the organizers also collected donations for the international organization Womankind.org, a “women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Womankind.org partners with other organizations around the world to “tackle the day to day issues that affect women’s lives.” Womankind’s projects include education and outreach, ending violence, gaining independence and protecting women’s health.

The organizers of The Grand Witches’ Tea Party sought to create a connection between the persecution of the Bideford Witches and the difficult conditions under which many women live today. A local Wiccan practitioner told an Independent reporter, who was present at the event,“Misogyny is still a massive part of our culture. It’s symbolic to get together to remember how women were being persecuted.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

During the ceremony, Juno read the following poem:

I am your grandmother killed for celebrating All Hallows. I’m your mother dragged from my bed to the gallows. I am your sister, a conquest of war at gunpoint. I am your daughter, a victim online at some point. I need all women who hear me to speak up for those without voices. I need you, every man who loves me, to protect me to make the right choices. I am your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your daughter. I call from beyond the mystery to say no to the horror and betrayal and the slaughter. We must right the wrongs of history.

At various moments, attendees raised their brooms and besoms to show support and solidarity for the cause. Juno says, “After the solemnity of the ceremony people enjoyed a fun and very friendly picnic, meeting new friends and old.”

As the event’s title suggests, many witches were seen drinking tea and enjoying the sunshine. Several bands entertained the group including The Mysterious Freakshow. On its Facebook fan page, the band wrote, “Witches, witches everywhere! Fabulous day at The Grand Witches Tea Party! The magic in the air was tangible. A true inspiration.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Juno was pleased with the turnout at the 2014 Grand Witches’ Tea Party. She added, “Folks traveled from far and wide to attend and we hope to hold a similar gathering next year.” She and several of the organizers are working to set up an organization that will continue this work. Although now just in the planning stages, the new organization will be called, “The Merrivale Group.”  In the meantime, they are currently counting the donated funds and enjoying the incoming photographs, videos and stories being shared on the event’s Facebook page.

[Note: With the exception of the plaque, all photos included here were taken by professional Pagan photographer James Moore of Balmy & Zen photography. They were used with permission but remain under strict copyright. For more shots of the Grand Witches' Tea, go directly to Moore's FB page.]

On August 27, a U.S. District Court Judge finalized a ruling stating that Utah’s ban on cohabitation was unconstitutional. This decision is the latest chapter in an on-going legal battle between Utah state officials and the Brown Family, stars of TLC’s reality show “Sister Wives.” 

The Brown family practices the Apostolic United Brethen faith, a type of Fundamentalist Momonism that supports plural marriage. Although polygamy was largely abandoned by the mainstream LDS Church in the 1890s, some Mormon churches have continued to allow the practice. These sects or people are typically referred to as Fundamentalist Mormons. Some are affiliated with churches and some are independents.

sister-wives-season-4Since the TLC show first aired, the Brown family has experienced a great deal of legal trouble due to their unconventional family structure. Police investigations began the day after the first show debuted in 2010.

Most states, including Utah, have laws governing aspects of marriage, sexual relations and habitation. These laws include the well-known definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Additionally there are limits and restrictions on cohabitation, especially when intimacy and children are involved.

In 2011, the Brown Family decided to challenge Utah’s family laws. Utah Code Title 76, Chapter 7, Section 101 states:

Bigamy: (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person. (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree. (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

After several years in the courts, Brown vs. Buhman landed in the U.S. District Court of Utah before Judge Clark Waddoups. In December 2013, Judge Waddoups ruled that the state’s ban on cohabitation was unconstitutional. He said:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101 (2013) is facially unconstitutional in that the phrase “or cohabits with another person” is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; to preserve the integrity of the Statute, as enacted by the Utah State Legislature, the Court hereby severs the phrase “or cohabits with another person” from Utah Code § 76-7-101(1)

The ruling wasn’t finalized until this past Wednesday when Judge Waddoup added that, in the early investigations, county officials had violated the family’s first amendment rights. As a result the Judge has ordered the state to pay all attorney’s fees and other associated legal costs incurred by the family. In a blog post, the Brown family attorney, Jonathan Turley, wrote:

This [last] count sought to establish that state officials, and particularly Mr. Buhman, acted to deny protected constitutional rights ranging from free speech to free exercise to equal protection….[Judge Waddoup's] decision in this case required a singular act of courage and principle as the first court to strike down the criminalization of polygamy. In doing so, Judge Waddoups reaffirmed the independence of our courts and stood against open prejudice and hostility toward plural families.

While some reports say that Utah has officially legalized polygamy, it actually has not. The December ruling only removed the ban on cohabitation. Bigamy, or more one legal marriage, is still prohibited by Utah code 76-7-101. In his ruling, Judge Waddoup made that distinction very clear.

Regardless, the court’s decision is still considered historic. After Wed, only three states now criminalize cohabitation of any kind. These states include: Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia and Florida. In addition, the final portion of the court’s decision affirms the constitutional right of plural families to exist guided by their own religious principles.

In recent years, there has been an increase in attention and support for non-conventional family structures. This is partly due to the marriage equality movement as well as shows like “Sister Wives.” In an essay published in 2010, Morning Glory Zell predicted, “This whole polyamorous lifestyle is the avante-garde of the 21st century. Expanded families will become a pattern with wider acceptance as the monogamous nuclear family system breaks apart under the impact of serial divorces.”

Rev. Allyson  [Courtesy of White Winds]

Rev. Allyson [Courtesy of White Winds.com]

Rev. Allyson is a Wiccan Priestess and interfaith minister who also practices polyamory. She says, “I see the ruling as good, because it reinforces that which goes on between consenting adults behind closed doors is really no one’s business.” If a spiritual community or faith practice embraces polyamory or polygamy and there are no legal restrictions on cohabitation, than a plural marriage can be recognized spiritually without fear of legal ramifications.

There is a secondary social benefit to Utah’s ruling. As Rev. Allyson points out, “[The decision] also opens up the door to more women who are in abusive poly relationships, allowing them to come forward without the concern that they will end up in jail themselves.”

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller, a doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union who is studying polygamy and polyamory, agrees. She says:

The decriminalization of polygamy also helps women who may be in abusive relationships. Women who are consensually polygamous but in an abusive relationship are unlikely to report abuse to police because they would risk prosecution as polygamists. Basically, the de-criminalizing of consensual polygamy between adults enables law enforcement to tend to actual problems like violence.

The removal of the cohabitation laws and the court’s ruling in favor of the Brown family’s religious rights are two small showings of legal support for non-nuclear families who live peacefully according their own private, religious principles. While plural families within Fundamental Mormonism might look or act different from those within a Pagan context, the secular laws create the same barriers and reinforce the same cultural stigmas in all cases. Therefore the Utah ruling helps everyone regardless of religious affiliation.

Rev. Allyson says, “All that said, as a minister, as a pagan, and as a polyamorous person, I feel that the world is slowly become more accepting. I don’t know that we’ll ever get to a place where poly marriage is acceptable, and I’m not overly concerned about it. What I’m most interested in seeing is acceptance of whatever intentional families people create.”

On Thursday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert told local press that he personally believes plural families are “not good policy or practice.” However, he added that the courts ruled as such because cohabitation laws are unenforceable. He advises anyone who dislikes the judge’s decision to make use of the democratic system and try to change it. To date, the Utah Attorney General has not announced whether he will appeal the case. 

[Correction: The original article stated that there are 3 states that still ban cohabitation: Michigan, Missouri and Florida. This list should have read: Michigan, Mississippi and Florida. Further research also reveals that Virginia belongs on this list.The state's officials are currently discussing removing the ban.]