Archives For Heather Greene

NEW ORLEANS, La. — In the early morning hours of Feb. 1, an electrical fire broke out at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple of New Orleans. Located on N. Rampart Street in the French Quarter, the Temple sustained severe damage to the structure and contents. While no one was injured, the incident has left the Voodoo Spiritual Temple, which has been serving the community for 26 years, with an uncertain future.

Voodoo Spiritual Center [Photo Credit: Francesco]

Voodoo Spiritual Center [Photo Credit: Francesco]

“This horrible situation is new and unprecedented, its more catastrophic than what was dealt by Katrina and is so much so that the temple’s very legacy is in jeopardy,” said Witchdoctor Utu, a student of the temple, the founder of the Niagara Voodoo Shrine, and a member Dragon Ritual Drummers. He has been a member of the temple for nearly 14 years, studying under both co-founder Priestess Miriam and member Priest Louis Martine.

Utu added that this learning “is something that is continual, there is no plateau, and its lessons learned though the trials of life and community, much like what is before us now, and what was before us after Katrina, no amount of spiritual or magical training is complete without truly having to enact them when real life challenges face us.”

The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple was founded in 1990 by Priestess Miriam and her husband Priest Oswan Chamani. It was originally located in a building a few blocks west of its current location, but after only one year moved into 828 N. Rampart Street. The temple has been there ever since. As advertised on the website, it is the “only established Spiritual Temple with a focus on traditional West African spiritual and herbal healing practices currently existing in New Orleans.”

While the temple is only twenty-six years old, the building, a traditional Creole cottage, is far older and is listed on the city’s historic registry. It was built in 1829 by property owner Pierre de Vergès and has largely remained well-preserved as it was handed down and sold over the years. Utu said, “Much of [the cottage] from floors, walls, stairs and balconies are still original. The courtyard out back is unique and beautiful. There are several living quarters in the outbuildings that surround the courtyard, and two apartments above the temple too.”

He also added that the courtyard, one of the largest in the area, was once used for ritual. Priestess Miriam has continued that tradition over the last twenty-five years, hosting an array of services and events in that historic space from weekly religious rituals to full weddings.

Priestess Miriam in the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple [Photo Credit: Sandy Wholuvsya]

Priestess Miriam in the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple [Photo Credit: Sandy Wholuvsya]

Priestess Miriam’s own story and spiritual journey also run far longer than that of the temple itself. Born in Jackson, Mississippi to a family of Baptists, faith healers, and gospel singers, Miriam spent most of her youth engaged in that community’s spiritual life. However, as the story goes, she was aware of other spiritual forces and “their ability to heal and help a person transform.”

Miriam eventually left the South, spending time both in New York City and Chicago, where she further explored her spirituality. In 1975, she left her Baptist church and joined the Angel Angel All Nations Spiritual Church, eventually becoming a Priestess. While in Chicago she also met her husband, Priest Oswan Chamani, a Belize-born herbalist and diviner.

After they were married, Miriam and Oswan moved to New Orleans and began doing bone readings on Jackson Square. Charles Gandolfo, also known as “Voodoo Charlie,” was impressed by their work and invited them to do readings and facilitate ceremonies at his famous New Orleans Voodoo Museum. Priestess Miriam said that this was the “turning point” for her.

She remembers Gandolfo fondly, recalling that he once visited the temple with a kitten found at the tomb of Marie Laveau. Utu said that “this kitten is now a full grown cat and a strong one too, still out there causing trouble. She survived three weeks on the roof of Miriam’s house when they had to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina.”

In May 1990, Miriam and Oswan decided to leave the museum to venture out on their own. In doing so, they birthed the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and opened up shop on N. Rampart Street. In 1991, the couple move their operation a few blocks down into to its current location at 828 N. Rampart Street.

But it wasn’t long before Oswan became ill. In 1995, he died from pneumonia, leaving Miriam to tend the temple by herself. For one night, Oswan’s body was returned to the property for his funeral rites, which were performed by Priest Louis Martine. During that night, Temple members drummed beside the body until the morning hours. Utu said, “Priest Oswan is one of the spirits that protects the temple, and in all reality, considering the fact that the most sacred and pertinent items of the temple were spared fire, we know he was doing his work yet again.

Despite the loss of her partner and husband, Miriam continued the temple’s work, building a community and what Utu describes as “cultural center celebrating not only west African and African American spiritual practices but the New Orleans tradition of drum and dance, song and trance much like what was practised across the street from the temple in the historic Congo Square.”

Over the past 26 years, the temple’s influence has only increased. Priestess Miriam’s students now live around the world, practicing the tradition and sometimes even opening their own religious centers. Blogger Lilith Dorsey has been a longtime student of the temple. In a recent post, Dorsey wrote, “Priestess Miriam has been a teacher, a godmother, and a friend to me for over two decades. She presided over the funeral of my daughter, and then, as always, she helped to save my life.”

Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

On the morning of Feb. 1, at 3:30 am, the tenants living above the Voodoo Spiritual Temple smelled smoke and called the fire department. An electrical fire had broken out. It wasn’t until Priestess Miriam arrived for a day of work, hours later, that she learned what had happened. The botanica and cultural center were completely destroyed in the fire. But the actual temple space, which was badly damaged by water and smoke, had not been harmed by the flames. Fortunately, for that reason alone, the temple’s beloved resident python Aiyda made it out unharmed.

When it was finally safe to enter, volunteers helped Miriam in recovering what was left of the temple’s rare artifacts and religious items. That work is ongoing with many people arriving to assist. In fact, in her blog post, Dorsey wrote that she would be helping out this weekend.

However, Utu added that, “Mold is an issue at the best of times in NOLA, after a few hours of being continually soaked by water, well it’s a recipe for disaster […] Its already face-mask time.” A good portion of the temple’s property has been lost.

[Courtesy Photo]

Damaged Temple [Courtesy Photo]

According to Utu, there is no insurance to cover any of the damage, and the building itself is now being condemned. However the owner, reportedly, is determined to rebuild. And, Miriam herself is equally as determined to keep the Voodoo Spiritual Temple in that space. While at first she thought she would have to shut down completely during this rebuilding, it may now be possible for her to continue offering some services while construction goes on.

However, officials and building experts still need to assess the full extent of the damage to determine what can be saved and what exactly needs to be done next. Nothing is final at this point. And, with the coming of Mardi Gras on Tuesday, all talks and decisions have been put on hold.

In the meantime, Priestess Miriam and Utu have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help offset the cost of reestablishing the Temple. In just four days, the campaign has raised nearly $11,000. Utu said, “One way or another we will overcome this and again be celebrating the spirits of New Orleans with drum, song and dance at the temple on 828 N. Rampart St. Come hell or high water it will be done.  High water already came via Katrina, hell has come via fire, but the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple gods willing will still triumph and be anew again.”

CHICAGO, Ill. — On Feb. 6, a performance collective named WITCH will be hosting a ritual protest in Logan Square in support of local housing rights.The organizers describe the event as a “hexing and protective spell action,” which will include recognizable elements of Witchcraft practice. Due to this design, the protest has been attracting both mainstream media attention and social media backlash. We spoke with the group’s founders to find out more.

W.I.T.C.H. action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

WITCH protest action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

“Gentrification has been affecting Logan Square for the last 15+ years. Our action is concentrating on the increasing lack of affordable housing, which is certainly affected by gentrification, but far from the only issue surrounding it. We have all been impacted by housing speculation and insecurity, though our personal experiences vary,” explained Jessica Caponigro, Amaranta Isyemille Lara, and Chiara Galimberti, the three women who make up WITCH.

Jessica Caponigro is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and activist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she is currently working as an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago. Amaranta Isyemille Lara is a student, poet, and single mother. She is working toward a master’s in linguistics and has lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood since 2004. And, Chiara Galimberti is an artist, activist, parent, and educator. She is currently working toward becoming a herbalist and acupuncturist.

Galimberti said, “My relationship to Chicago has been very difficult as housing insecurity has deeply affected me and my daughters. I have been working multiple jobs since moving to Chicago and I have never been able to afford rent without public assistance. I know that my situation is by no means unique and that the vast majority of people in the city is negatively impacted by housing speculation, especially as that reality combines with endemic racism and sexism.”

This is the type of personal experience that inspired the three women to come together and form the performance collective. Their first organizational meeting was in October 2015 and, at that time, they chose to name the group WITCH. The acronym stands for Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and was used by a number of affiliated but separate women’s groups within the broader feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The original WITCH organization was formed in New York City on Halloween 1968. Its members created a manifesto that began:

WITCH is an all-woman Everything. It’s theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It’s an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression – particularly the oppression of women – down through the ages. Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary … [From the WITCH Manifesto, 1969]

This group of feminists chose to adopt the image and concept of the Witch to represent female empowerment in a way that was antithetical to socially-constructed, traditional gender roles and that flew, pun intended, in face of the patriarchal expectations. Several Pagan writers and historians, such as Chas Clifton, Margo Adler and Ethan Doyle White, have mentioned the 1960s WITCH organization in their writings, highlighting the similarities between that movement and the early modern Pagan movement in the U.S. In his book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America,Clifton wrote, “WITCH was not religious, yet as Eller, and before her, Margot Adler note, it was a small step from the intense, intimate feminist consciousness-raising discussion group of the early 1970s to the Witches’ coven.”(Clifton, p 120)

witch manifesto

Forty-seven years later, Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara decided to resurrect the name, capturing that energy, history and legacy for their own work. While their Chicago protests are not embedded in any specific organized feminist movement, the three modern women have found empowerment and purpose within the original group’s message. They explained, “We think of Witches as historically being women (and some men) who were at the forefront of resistance against oppressive systems, and we strongly believe that there is not one way to be a Witch. We are interested in looking at the connection between social justice, feminism, and the figure of the Witch.”

In November, the women staged their first protest action. It was held in front of Chicago’s Thompson Center on Randolph Street. Similar to the upcoming event, the November action was staged to “protest disparities caused by inequality, chanting to hex those who cause it and protect those who suffer as a result.”

Then, on Jan 3, WITCH announced its second action and created a corresponding Facebook event page. Unlike the November action, the new Feb 6 protest would be held in conjunction with a local art festival called 2nd Floor Rear 2016, a “DIY” event that features art in “experimental contexts.” The protest is listed on the festival site as one of the featured happenings.

Since that Jan. 3 announcement, the group has received media attention from various mainstream outlets, as well as backlash from the online Pagan community. Jezebel and the Chicagoist each published an article titled, “Chicago Witches Will Exorcise ‘Gentrification’ Demons.” The online site Dazed titled its article,”Chicago Witches Hoping to Cast Out Gentrification.” As is often the case for mainstream Witch articles, all three included flashy stills from the The Craft (1996)

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara expressed disappointment in the treatment of their story within these news articles, calling them “unfortunate and misleading.” And, it may have been this misrepresentation that is at least partially responsible for the subsequent social media backlash predominantly found on Facebook. One user wrote, “So you fight colonialism by using cultural appropriation … For many this is a way of life, and you mock it as merely a public art spectacle.” Comments like this one continued on with accusations that the women were disingenuously appropriating Witchcraft or Pagan traditions to serve their own artistic or political objectives. Another user posted, “YOU are not WITCH! You have no concept. I and many like me are witches. The real deal. How about you mock some other group inappropriately.”

But are they? The issue of their own religious or spiritual identity, or practice, was not publicly addressed. So we asked them, “Do you identify as Witches in a religious or spiritual sense? Are you Pagan?”

Caponigro said, “I most certainly identify as a Witch. I come from a long line of independent Sicilian women who strongly believed in holistic medicine and the powers of the earth and intuition, and passed down their spirit and knowledge to me and my sibling. Though I’m not currently practicing, there are parts of my life when I have identified as Wiccan.”

To this question, Isyemille Lara said, “I identify as a Witch. To me, being a Witch has to do most with using an honest and balanced voice to impart support, empathy, protection and power whenever necessary. Witchcraft is personal and adaptive. My family is from the northern deserts of Mexico. I carry this stoic intuition in my veins.”

And, Galimberti said, “I grew up in Italy, where the tradition of Witchcraft is different than in the United States. The memory of Witch hunts and persecution is still present, mixed with a classism that sees Witchcraft and Paganism as part of working class practices, and thus not taken seriously. I was raised largely by my grandmother who practices Malocchio, which mostly included a healthy skepticism for authority (whether of the state or the church), and a rich knowledge of herbs for healing and daily practices that allowed a connection with the spiritual world. I am studying Herbology and Acupuncture and I think of myself as a healer-in-training, with spirituality being a component of that identity.”

The three members of WITCH added that they are not in anyway mocking anyone’s system of belief. “We are empathetic to those who are angry because they mistakenly think we are appropriating their beliefs,” they said. “Those accusing us of being disingenuous or culturally appropriating Witchcraft are working under the assumption that because we do not practice in their particular way, our sincere connection to Witchcraft is somehow less valid.”

They added that Witchcraft has long and varied history, saying, “Witches were and are healers, spiritual workers, subversive independent thinkers, in addition to the definition of “witch” in the Pagan religious sense. The figure of the Witch is present in most cultures around the world, and can come to signify many different practices and beliefs.”

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

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

As for the group’s mission, the women explained that the Feb. 6 action will hopefully attract the attention of “politicians and companies that are profiting from housing development at the expense of most Chicagoans and especially working class people.” They were quick to add that they are no experts and can’t speak for everyone who has been “impacted by predatory housing” practices. However, they do hope to give voice to those who have such stories.

“During the action people will be invited to speak out about their experience with housing insecurity, the impact of high rents, and speculative development on their lives,” they explained. “We will then perform a protective charm that acknowledges the people and organizations that have been working on these issues for decades, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Grassroots Illinois Action.”

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara described the upcoming protest action as a “combination of both magical ritual and performative gesture” that will be based on their collective “experiences and knowledge.” They welcome anyone to come and join them, Pagan or not. It is not a private or restricted event. They said, “We take our relationship with spirituality, Witchcraft, and social justice very seriously,” adding “Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a non-conformist, sexually liberated, independent thinker. Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a WITCH.”

Washington, D.C – On Monday, it was announced that the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, a new Hellenic organization, had officially become “a legally recognized and incorporated entity within Washington, D.C.” Priestess and founder Gwendolyn Reece has been working toward this moment for over two years after receiving instructions directly from her gods. Although the structural process is not completely finished, Reece is enthusiastic and ready to begin this new adventure.

[Courtesy G. Reece]

[Courtesy G. Reece]

“I am responding to a call from these two Great Ones, this isn’t about me … I am working on setting this up so that it survives me,” wrote Reece in the public announcement. The Wild Hunt spoke with her further about the project, its origins, its purpose and its future.

While Theophania is new in its public inception, Reece has been working on “laying its foundation” for several years. She is a Witch and a Priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon. She has been facilitating rituals and workshops for many years. As one of the organizers for the popular Sacred Space conference, Reece helps maintain the presence of Athena, who is one of two deities asked to bring protection to the weekend event.

But, as she explained, it wasn’t until her trips to Greece that she was divinely inspired to birth the new temple. Reece said that her first trip was impactful, explaining, “Greece felt familiar to me. That didn’t surprise me. But it did surprise me how comfortable it felt.” However, it wasn’t until the second trip that she was given the specific direction to create a sacred space in Washington. She received this message from Apollon while simply touring the country. Those specific moments are highly personal; however, Reece did share that her mission became most clear while in Athens and Delphi. She added, “We had omens. Eagle Omens.”

When Reece returned home, she knew what Apollo and Athena were asking. “They are very concerned about our world,” she said. “They are real beings and want to have a relationship with us. They have an agenda just like we have an agenda.” And it’s this divine agenda that she is now helping to serve with the creation of Theophania.

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Reece has spent the last two years carefully constructing a viable and lasting internal temple structure that will serve the mission placed before her. Why the name Theophania? As she wrote on the website:

Theophania was an annual festival at Delphi in which Apollon returned from His time in the hidden lands and made Himself directly known and visible to the people. A “theophany” is when a deity makes himself or herself immediately known and visible to a mortal. Apollon selected this name because He and Athena are coming back to make Themselves known directly to humanity once more. Theophania strives to serve these Great Ones by providing structures through which mortals may have direct experiences with Them as They return to us. They want to be in close relationships with us once more.

Along with completing all the necessary legal paperwork required of incorporation, Reece has also been working on the ecclesiastical structure. She said, “I am using the old Hellenic form, rather than a congregational one.”

This structure may feel unique to modern Pagan temples in that Theophania is not a membership organization. She said that the Temple is a place “to keep relationships with the gods flowing” and will be maintained by a core Priesthood. But that is it. Rituals will be open to anyone and not at all exclusive. It doesn’t matter whether attendees are Hellenic polytheists, Wiccans, Heathens or the like. The Temple will be there for anyone to experience a relationship with both Athena and Apollon.

As for the temple’s mission, Reece explained that Theophania will have three main “lines of activity.” The first is public ritual. She explained, “The temple’s ritual work will be devoted to the ‘good of the polis,’ which is why the gods wanted the Temple in the nation’s capital. A federal city.They are interested in democracy.”

The second line of activity will be oracular work. Reece said this is more complicated because Apollon will have to select which priestess or priest can actually perform this activity. It is up to the God, himself. And, as of now, Reece is the only priestess. But she said that this will change soon enough.

Finally, the third line of activity is for Theophania to “rebirth the Neoplatonic philosophical tradition within the context of contemporary Paganism.” As Reece explained briefly, Neoplatonism, a modern term to describe a mode of philosophy that was prevalent during the late Hellenistic period, was made up of various lines of thoughts all present during that era, including from Aristotelian, Pythagorean, Stoic, Egyptian, Chaldean, Buddhism and more. Neoplatonism was able “to harmonize” these very different philosophical traditions, pulling the best ideas from each one.

However, as Reece further explained, this Neoplatonic philosophy was virtually eradicated around 529 A.D. when the Athenian Academy was destroyed by Justinian I. The surviving concepts were eventually incorporated into a monotheistic framework and have lived on within that context.

One of the goals of Theophania is to return Neoplatonic philosophical concepts into a polytheistic context. As Reece wrote on the website, the results will offer “a truly Pagan approach to the quest for wisdom and Truth that blends logic, mysticism, abstract thought, and practical life applications for the individual and the polis.”

[Courtesy G. Reece]

[Courtesy G. Reece]

Reece is very optimistic about the project. When asked if the Theophania had its own physical space at this point, Reece said, “no.” She will be using rented space or her own home for rituals and workshops. However, she added that in her “hopes and dreams” Theophania will eventually have its own dedicated physical temple. Then, she laughed, adding, “I’d like one of the old Hellenic-style churches on 16th street in Washington. The street dead ends into the White House and is on the old meridian. It is a power line.”

Until that time, she and the future temple priesthood will be maintaining the sacred space elsewhere, and she will continue building the temple’s legal and fiscal backbones. On Jan 26, she submitted the IRS paperwork to earn temple’s 501(c)3 status.

When asked how people can learn more about her work, the temple’s mission or working with the gods, Reece said that Theophania’s website was a good place to follow the temple’s progress. As of now, she plans to lead the temple’s first oracular ritual in March or April. She can also be reached through the website.

More specifically, for Sacred Space attendees, Reece will be offering a workshop on Hellenic oracles, which is tied in to the creation of the new temple. The workshop blurb reads:

Hellenic Oracles: The Oracle of Delphi is, rightfully, the most famous oracle of the Ancient Greek world, but there were quite a number of other oracular cults in ancient Hellas as well. As part of her work as a priestess of Apollon, Gwendolyn is working with Him to found an oracle in the nation’s capital. As part of her preparatory work, she has conducted extensive research on Hellenic oracles. This workshop provides a summary of the historical research

Reece also offered some spiritual advice to those people interested in understanding more about how and why she is taking this journey and how they can go about doing the same. She said, “Be open to pursuing relationships with the gods. Learn how to give and to receive. Develop the ability to be a good friend. And to embrace this as a virtue.” She stressed the need to develop loving and spiritual relationships both between humans, and between humans and non-humans. She said, “Approach Them,” adding “[Apollon is] incredibly compassionate. He will talk about global issues, such as climate change, as well personal problems … They want to be heard. They want to be in relationship.”

Over the weekend, the east coast was hit with record snow falls, blizzard conditions, white-outs, thunder snow and more as a Winter Storm “Jonas” came in for a visit. According to The Weather Channel, who began naming these winter storms in 2011, Jonas is the “largest snowstorm on record for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Baltimore; and JFK Airport in New York City, with all of those locations receiving over 2 feet of snow.” As far south as Georgia through New York, the snow fell in varying degrees, and Pagans and Heathens took to social media to report the conditions at their locations. We reached out to a number of them to get a better idea of the conditions.

Tweeted from Space Station [Courtesy NASA]

Winter Storm 2016 as seen from the Space Station [Courtesy NASA] www.nasa.gov

Hardest hit was the New Jersey, Washington D.C. and New York City metro regions. Author David Salisbury reported going out to stores in preparation for the storm event and seeing goods lying on the floor and empty shelves. He said, “It looked liked a Walking Dead supply run.” Salisbury lives in the D.C. area and reported that he hadn’t seen a blizzard warning like this for six years. After making his own preparations to be stuck inside for several days, he posted the following public announcement on Facebook:

I’ll be stuck inside until at least Sunday so we might as well make the best of it! I’m offering deeply discounted rune and tarot readings until ‪#‎Blizzard2016 is over.

On Saturday, he did venture outside and took the following photo of adults and children enjoying the snow:

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

Not far away in Delaware, author Ivo Dominguez Jr. was watching the snow come down near his home. Dominguez is one of the founders of the New Alexandrian Library, located in Georgetown, Delaware.  He said that the library was safe, adding, “This was nothing. Hurricane Sandy went over it with zero damage.”  He shared this photo of his home at Seelie Court:

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

Farther north in central New Jersey, Elder Priestess Lady Pythia was watching the snow fall from the comfort of her home. She said poetically, “Noreaster sweeps. Cats eyes widen at ephemeral windy prey just out of reach, and we Witches toss herbs into the small cauldronfire, sip cinnamon creamed coffee, joke about animating shovels to tackle hip-high arctic drifts rendered in A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Pythia shared these photos as the snow piled up on her back deck:

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

Lady Pythia added, “A Witch sends out safe vibes for all in the storm’s path, with awe at the Mother’s wild Full Moon brushstrokes.”  As she and many other Pagans have pointed out, January 23 at 8:46 pm ET marked the full moon. NASA satellites captured the beauty of the moon’s light on the storm in this photo:

[Courtesy NASA]

[Courtesy NASA]

Over in Pennsylvania, Robert Schreiwer of the Urglaawe Kindred was also watching as the storm dumped more than 30″ of snow in his yard with sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts of up to 50 mph. Taking a spiritual look at winter’s process, Schreiwer said, “Many of us hail those associated strongly with snow: Skadhi and Holle. Being an Urglaawer with Holle as my patroness, I look at the snow blowing in the whirlwinds as a reflection of Her power. She has shaken her featherbed for over a day here, and the land is covered in the down. Although small, the first hail of the new year has fallen.” He shared this photo taken from his window:

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

Not missing an opportunity for some traditional religious work, Schreiwer added, “Per Deitsch tradition, I have collected some of it. One little stone I added to my drink; another I have retained for luck. The hail represents luck and opportunity for transformation and change. In the Deitsch healing and magical practice of Braucherei, the focus during this early time of the new year is on fixing that which needs repair, conserving the resources we have for last year, and planning and organizing the changes we need in order to make our lives better throughout the year. While we hail the snow, we also honor those who put their lives at risk to ensure the safety of others in this weather. Hail!”

Also in Pennsylvania, Priestess BrightFlame said that she was “snowed in” with  about 30″ of snow on the ground. But the resultant downtime caused by the weather has allowed BrightFlame to rest her sprained wrist and “reread The Fifth Sacred Thing ahead of allowing [herself] to indulge in Starhawk’s sequel, City of Refuge : the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing.”  This quiet time has also offered her the opportunity to prepare for an upcoming workshop that she is hosting in New York City with Starhawk,on February 20. BrightFlame shared this woodland photo from her home:

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

In New York City, Priestess and author Courtney Weber reported having a “perfect snowday.” She said that she also spent Saturday, “catching up on reading, writing the next book, and doing it all in pajamas because real Witches know how to multi-task. And do things better in pajamas.”  She shared this photo taken from her apartment window as the snow fell:

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

The storm’s reach stretched down the east coast forcing a number of governors to declare states of emergency and warning against travel. New York City shut all bridges and tunnels down through Sunday morning. Even as far south as Georgia, offices and schools closed early on Friday in preparation for the worst. And this wasn’t an unnecessary act. As the news has reported, at least 18 people have died in the wake of the storm with most of the deaths caused by slick roadways.

Star Bustomonte, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, has been stuck inside due to the weather. Although her area was not hit as hard as the coastal mid-Atlantic region, Bustamonte did report that she had over a foot of snow. She also said, “I’ll be several hours digging out once it starts to warm up. But I’m not even starting until it gets about 30 degrees.” She’s spent the weekend, like many, watching television and hanging out with her cats.

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

Due to this reportedly historic storm, there have been many store closures and event cancellations. For example, Asheville’s Raven and Crone was closed yesterday and has canceled today’s workshops. Brooklyn’s Catland Books was also closed yesterday with plans to open today. However, Sunday morning owners posted on Facebook, “BROOKLYN! Take another day to build snow altars and leave offerings for blizzard spirits – we’ll see you on Monday, and back again next month for Black Mirror Salon!”

We contacted EarthSpirit, the organizers of Feast of Lights to see if they were at all concerned that this mega storm would damper attendance at next week’s conference. EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen said, “No.”  The event takes place in Amherst, Massachusetts which was not in the storm’s path. However, he did say that they are watching weather, adding “Living in New England, we have to do that every year. So far, things look pretty good for next weekend, and in the 18 years we’ve been putting on Feast of Lights, we’ve never had to cancel once.”

Back in Washington D.C., Salisbury looked out of his window on Sunday morning. The storm had passed and the skies were clear. He shared this photo of his courtyard:

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

Over the next few days, as the weather warms above freezing and the snow begins to melt, the east coast will get back to its normal activity with schools back in session, businesses open and travel schedules on track. Until then, much of the east coast will be gathering by fires, digging out and finding ways to enjoy the quiet of a winter’s storm.

[Important Note:  For today’s Saturday column, we have decided to share editor Heather Greene’s analytical essay of the new Star Wars movie. Greene has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Film Studies, and has been writing about film for over twenty years. The following article contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. You have been warned. ]

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.

– Albert Camus

[Photo Credit: Rob Ketcherside / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Rob Ketcherside / Flickr]

Nostalgia is a very powerful force. It drives us, surrounds us, binds us. Wait. No. That’s another force.

Let’s start again.

Nostalgia is a power that exists as romanticized remnants of our past, pieces of memories clinging passionately to our emotional reserves, controlling our dreams, wishes and the way we inhabit our present. Nostalgia can connect us to our ancestors in religious ritual or bring us to tears as we walk down the streets of our youth. It also can seduce us into a dangerous point of complacency and prevent us from moving forward. Nostalgia exists in the parts of our mind that remain slave to the heart, craving a dream-like innocence.

It is this very human connection that can drive and influence the popularity and production of pop culture, even bringing music and fashion back into vogue after years of retirement. And, it is this power of nostalgia that has made Star Wars: The Force Awakens the mega hit that it is has become.

On Dec. 18, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened to record box office sales after Disney, in typical fashion, created a fully-saturated, oppressive merchandise marketplace. From Star Wars Lego to Cover Girl’s Dark Side Mascara, nothing was seemingly left untouched. The film’s shadow became so big that even Santa Claus felt upstaged during his big day, as parents reported that their children were watching for flying Wookiees rather than reindeer.

Tennessee DOT gets in on the act. [Courtesy H. Greene]

Tennessee DOT gets in on the act. [Courtesy H. Greene]

The force certainly did awaken. And, to fully understand and appreciate why and how that happened, we need to go backward in time.

The Star Wars franchise began in 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope. Filmmaker George Lucas grew up loving television, cars and comic books, and sought to recreate this joy in his films. This is particularly evident in his first big hit American Graffiti (1973), which celebrates 1950s youth culture. In fact, Star Wars, itself, was first produced as a comic book. The original series was published by Marvel Entertainment beginning in early 1977 as a marketing tie-in to the new film. (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 524).

In their book Film History, historians Kirsten Thompson and David Bordwell wrote, “Star Wars offered chivalric myth for 1970s teens, a quest romance in which young heroes could find adventure, pure love and sacred cause.” Later they add, “Lucas believed he was spinning a simple tale grounded in basic human values.” Those values and that sacred cause were often labeled as “New Age.” (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 523)

Star Wars: A New Hope was an attempt to revive something innocent and universal that had been lost when the Hollywood Production Code was finally dropped in 1968, and film subjects began to venture into more challenging realms in terms of violence, sexuality and horror. Lucas, a film-savvy, young storyteller, was driven by a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era, the innocence of childhood and the purity of human experience.

The whole narrative, in fact, begins as an exercise in mythic nostalgia. “A long, long time ago…”

61176269_884847cf77_oAs Thompson and Bordwell remark, Lucas was trying “to recover [his] boyhood pleasure in movies” and “to recreate the uncomplicated fun of space opera.” Even the visuals contained nostalgic elements. Thompson and Bordwell write:

In making Star Wars, Lucas pulled together the most exciting portions of several air battles from Hollywood combat pictures, storyboarded the compiled sequence, and then shot his space dogfights to match older footage. (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 523)

And the concept worked; the film’s sensibility held great appeal. Since their release, the three original Star Wars episodes combined have grossed over 1 billion at the domestic box office. Nostalgia, in a way, put Star Wars on the pop culture map.

Nearly two decades later, the second set of films was released. The prequels generated excitement, and brought in 1.2 billion dollars to date. However, they were ultimately not nearly as popular. The three films were plagued with multiple, complicated plot twists, poor acting and large amounts of exposition. And then, of course, there was the very unpopular Jar Jar Binks.

But more importantly for this discussion, the sense of belonging or the sense of nostalgia – to a time long, long ago – was not the focus. Unlike the originals , which felt like an adventure that could end anywhere. The prequels had a goal. They had to answer one important question: How did Annakin become Darth Vader?

In the process of getting to that answer, the nostalgic romance woven into the original three films was buried. The prequels rush through their stories in short segments, cutting from sequence to sequence. The films are packed and detailed, containing interesting new characters and ships, epic battles scenes, and complicated politics. However, the stories rarely slow down long enough to let a character, or a viewer, breathe. Nobody stands poignantly in the sands of Tatooine, under in the light of three moons, contemplating the future.

revenge_of_the_sith_by_1darthvader-d6ftwy7-600x375Granted, these prequels were partially a product of their time. They were released in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and were competing for box office realty in a market that was drunk on CGI technology. Shots were shorter; scenes were cut faster. And, computers were used at every turn. Lucas enjoyed this new technology and even remade his original films with updated CGI imagery – some of which worked, and some which didn’t.

That being said, the three prequels served their purpose. Fans got the needed back story and were not left ungratified when, in the final scenes of Revenge of the Sith (2005), Darth Vader rises up in his full costume as smoke swirls around his head. “Lord Vader, Can you hear me?” asks the Emperor. And, in the voice of the recognizable James Earl Jones, Vader responds, “Yes, my master.” Here, and in following end sequences, the prequels hit a moment of emotional nostalgia that sends a shuddered excitement down the spine. It took a lot of talking and fancy film transitions to get there; but we got there.

Jump forward to 2015, The Walt Disney Company now owns Lucas Films, Inc. and has promised a third trilogy, along with a few standalone stories. To date, The Star Wars: The Force Awakens has grossed $863,148,249 at the domestic box office, making it one of the top grossing films of all time. Interestingly, if you adjust for inflation, Star Wars: A New Hope is at No. 1 according to some charts.[i]

So what was it that made the new film so palpable? The answer was expressed by one viewer’s response, “When I saw the Millennium Falcon for the first time, my eyes leaked water.”

Unlike the prequels, The Force Awakens capitalizes on the viewer’s deep nostalgic connection to the franchise and the its mythic universe. The production does this in both overt and subtle ways, creating a brilliant dance with its audience. Lucas himself used a similar concept with the original three, in that he was attempting to “recover his boyhood pleasures.”  However, The Force Awakens isn’t working to connect viewers to the specific bygone cultural era of Lucas’ childhood. The new film’s “long, long time ago” is defined by the viewer’s own experience with the first six films and the virginal joys of experiencing them.

The more overt nostalgic elements are found in scenic details and props, including the Millennium Falcon, the blasters, the Skywalker light saber, and the derelict ships laying in the sands of Jakku. It also is found in the presence of characters like C-3PO and R2-D2, Han Solo, Princess Leia and, of course, Luke Skywalker. The story methodically introduces these beloved figures throughout the narrative so as not to lump all the nostalgic candy into one place. In the opening we meet storm troopers and then Han Solo and Chewbacca. As the story plays out, we are reintroduced to C-3PO and Princess Leia and then finally, at the very end, R2-D2 and Luke. It’s a nice steady nostalgic drip.

And the movie enjoys these movements, slowing down the pace of action to savor each introduction, which allows fans to drink deep from the cup of their own Star Wars memories.

[LucasFilms]

Even the original series’ distinctive color palette (red vs. blue) is honored. [LucasFilms]

But the film did not stop its “walk down memory lane” with props, sets and characters. The narrative itself frequently rehashes portions of the past six films. Just as Lucas was said to have compiled fight sequences from old combat pictures, The Force Awakens seems to be compiled from pieces of the older Star Wars films.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”[ii]

Many of the major moments were adaptations from the older films. For example, when Rey is standing with Maz Kanata after discovering the light saber, Maz explains the power of the force. “It flows through us and binds us… ” Time slows down and the shots go back and forth between close-ups of the small nonhuman creature and the young adult. It parallels the scene from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) in which Yoda explains the same mystical premise to Luke. Interestingly, in this case, the two figures are female with a crone passing on wisdom to a maiden. But that’s another discussion…

The sequence is familiar, despite the gender difference.

Many other similar parallels exist. For example, the destruction of the Starkiller Base is reminiscent of the Death Star’s destruction in A New Hope. In both cases, the precision flying of X-Wings and B-Wings is needed to hit the target. Another example? At the beginning of the The Force Awakens, a determined little BB-8 droid, carrying an important resistance message, rolls across a desert planet in search of its owner. This is similar to R2-D2’s quest at the beginning of A New Hope. Another one? In the final battle, Kylo Ren is left for dead after a light saber battle, as the land surges from inside and breaks apart. At the last moment, his master arrives just in time to save his student and transport him to safety. We’ve seen this in Return of the Sith.

And it goes on from major sequences, like those above, to minor moments, such as the Imperial ships passing in front of a planet  or Han asking if the Starkiller base has a trash compactor. Even the unstable characterization of Kylo Ren is based on a misguided nostalgic-like yearning for his grandfather’s dark glory. The movie winks, nods and treats the viewer like an in-the-know guest at an exclusive party.

A striking thematic example of this nostalgic-based adaptation happens during Hans death scene. During his mission on the StarKiller Base, Han confronts Kylo Ren. Chewie, Finn and Rey notice this confrontation from across a room that is defined by a constructed metal space. Rey, unable to get to them, must watch Kylo Ren kill Han. The scene parallels the one in which Luke watches Darth Vader kill Obi Wan in the Death Star or the scene in which Obi Wan watches Darth Maul kill Qui-Gon Jinn on Naboo. In all three cases, the child witnesses the surrogate father’s murder. This is a thematic element often present in the typical male coming-of-age story, and is paralleled visually and narratively in the stories of these pre-Jedi heroes (Luke, Obi Wan, Rey).[iii]

The narrative and thematic parallels, along with the presentation of familiar elements, create a film that is comfortable and feels like a big high-five. Of course, it probably isn’t surprising that one of the members of the film’s writing team was Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on both the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

While the film banked on this nostalgia (and was handsomely paid out for it), there were certainly some new elements. The Nazi references were far more pronounced than in the past, with the First Order’s speech scene eerily similar to images from Leni Reinfenstahl’s 1935 propaganda film Triumph of the Will and other images from the Nuremberg Rallies.  And, the introduction of the silver female Storm Trooper, Captain Phasma, recalls the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Still from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

Still from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”

Race and gender are newly treated. The film’s two main characters are Finn, a black man who manages to escape his Storm Trooper enslavement, and Rey, a white woman who was languishing on a sandy planet waiting for her family.[iv] While the two seem to be developing a romantic interest, it never plays out. However, near the end, Finn lies unconscious on a platform. Rey leans over to kiss him. We are momentarily caught in what looks like a Snow White story, in which Finn could wake up from “love’s true kiss.” Hey, this is a Disney movie, isn’t it?

Well, that never manifested. But R2-D2 does wake up, and “water leaked from our eyes.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been criticized for being a “mediocre” movie with little redeeming cultural value. However, the value of any cultural product is always subjective. Are its elements a rehash of what’s been done? Yes. It rides on the waves nostalgia, manipulating our love of Star Wars for its own applause. The film is charlatan, in that way. And its methods are cheap.

But like the 8 mm home movie, The Force Awakens is only worthless if you don’t allow it to take you on that journey back in time – to your first attempt to use mind control on a teacher or “force” choke the annoying kid popping bubbles on the bus. The film takes us back to a time when we first saw the Star Wars crawl and heard the theme song with eager anticipation of going on its mythical journey. Is there no cultural meaning or value in that?

Nostalgia is a force. It drive us. It surrounds us. It binds us. It is a romantic force that connects mind to heart, allowing us to find peace in our present through our memories. It is the creator of stories that become legend and myth. And, at the same time, it fuels the continued recycling of pop culture through remakes, adaptations and reboots. X-Files, anyone? Nostalgia was the driving force behind the birth of the very first Star Wars trilogy beginning in 1977, and that very force awoke in 2015 to create the new one.

As they say: May “the Force” Be With You.

Notes:
[i] Inflation adjustments are typically based on tickets sold. In some adjusted charts, Gone With the Wind (1939) still ranks at the top.
[ii] This is phrase said in every Star Wars movie, which can be used as a nice seek-and-find game for the uninitiated Star Wars fan.
[iii] The film operates with a male coming of age structure despite the presence of Rey. The narrative resists converting into a traditional female coming of age story. While this is an interesting point, it is beyond the discussion of this particular essay.
[iv] Race and gender politics within the Star Wars franchise offer another important point of discussion, however they are also beyond this article’s subject matter. The choices made in The Force Awakens are certainly worth noting and observing as they play out in the next two films of the new trilogy.

Book Sources:
Thompson, Kirsten and Bordwell, David. Film History. McGraw Hill: New York. 2003.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, California’s Bay Area played backdrop to a number of different events as part of the second annual #96Hours action organized by the Anti Police-Terror Organization. Many of these events were attended by local Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. The weekend action, consisting of everything from protests to vigils, culminated in a march through the city of Oakland.

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

T. Thorn Coyle, who had been involved with the Anti Police-Terror Organization all year, helped to coordinate the first #96Hours action in 2015. This year was no different. In an email, Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “It is important to us that we honor the radical legacy of Dr. King – as called for by Black leadership – rather than upholding the whitewashed and sanitized Dr. King that so much of white America insists on remembering. King grew more and more radical before his death, when he had close to 30% approval among white Americans. This is around the same amount of approval white Americans currently give to Black Lives Matter and anti police brutality movements. We need to rethink what we value in this country. As a Pagan, I value justice, beauty, equity, and love. I try to act towards those qualities and join in community with others who uphold them.”

As she noted, the #96Hours action is part of a larger movement to reclaim Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical legacy. The common hashtag being used is #ReclaimMLK.

The Oakland #96Hour weekend events began on Friday, Jan. 15 with 7 am meditation and, then, continued on from there. At 4 pm, Coyle participated in the “Can You See Me?” Interfaith Procession in Remembrance of Black Lives in Oakland. As she described, the service was led by a Rabbi, Imam, and two Christian ministers, with Buddhists leading meditation. Then, there was a processional of nine coffins, representing those killed locally by police in 2015. That ended at Lake Merritt, where a tenth coffin was floating to represent those people whose names were not known.

While at the lake, Coyle led the group in song and prayer, asking them “to call upon the ancestors and [their] beloved dead, naming those killed by police.” She explained that “Pagan and polytheist traditions it is important to many of us to remember and call upon our beloved dead, asking them to walk with us.” 

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

Brennos Agrocunos, Vice Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, was in attendance at the Friday evening service. He said, “We choose to stand alongside local Black Lives Matter activists as an act of service to our Gods, our ancestors, and our communities. As Coru priests committed to core values of sovereignty, kinship, warriorship, and service, one of the ways we enact these values is in the streets standing shoulder to shoulder with members of all faiths in our communities, calling for justice and an end to oppression, and providing medical and logistical support to other activists.”

Agrocunos and other members of Coru Cathubodua were also in attendance at Saturday’s action at the Oakland airport. Starting 6 p.m., terminal passengers were “greeted by activists chanting the names of People of Color killed by the police in the Bay Area, holding signs reading ‘Welcome to Oakland.’ ” This same action was then repeated on Sunday at the San Francisco airport, a much larger and busier facility.

Morpheus Ravenna, Lore Chieftain, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood said, “In the San Francisco Bay Area, nonviolent Black Lives Matter demonstrators have often been met with excessive force and violence. We find that the presence of clergy people acting in solidarity can help protect the community while underscoring the moral and spiritual imperatives of the movement.”

Oakland Airport Action [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

The events noted above were only a few of the many that were organized over the 96 hour period that culminated in a Monday march through the streets of Oakland. This final action attracted the largest Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen contingent, many of whom walked behind a large banner reading, “Pagans United for Justice.”

Kristen Oliver and Rose Quartz of the Mills College Pagan Alliance were two of those walking. Oliver said, “Rose and I went to the march to honor MLK and stand with the people who he died to raise up who are still dying in our streets. I have always been an out and proud Pagan and so was happy to join the group of Pagans marching today under the ‘Pagans United for Justice’ banner. As someone who works to raise the visibility of Pagans in the public eye I have always said I would love to see more of our community out there working for social justice. And yet I have to admit that today I felt a bit disingenuous about identifying myself as anything other than just a person who wants humanity to learn to understand each other and stop hurting each other. Dr. King’s legacy and the Black Lives Matter movement is far too important to dilute or hijack with personal agendas and yet it is so important to show that support comes from many different places. I am still grappling with this question of intention tonight.”

Marching along side the Oliver and Quartz were members of Coru Cathubodua, Solar Cross Temple, Golden Gate Kindred, Reclaiming and more. Ryan Smith of the Golden Gate Kindred posted on Facebook: “Our kindred puts our words into action!”

Pagans March [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos]

Oakland MLK March 2016 [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

Beginning around 11am, marchers walked from “Oscar Grant Plaza,14th & Broadway, to the Bay St Mall in Emeryville” and were reportedly close to 1000 people strong.

Then, as the march neared its end, an unscheduled action took place on one side of the Bay Bridge. Around 4 pm, 25 Black Lives Matter protesters stopped a line of cars, chained themselves and the cars together, blocking the entire side of the road. Their original intent was to remain in that position for 96 minutes in honor of the #96hours of action. However, the protesters were only there for 30 minutes before being arrested. The entire event was reportedly peaceful.

The #96Hours and, more specifically, the #ReclaimMLK actions were not limited to the Bay Area, attracting attention and inspiring action throughout the country. While the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend is now officially over, the #ReclaimMLK movement will undoubtedly continue into the future as more groups and people, from all walks of life, join and support this growing social justice movement.

SALEM, Mass — On Jan. 11, it was announced that researchers with the Gallows Hill Project had definitively identified where the 19 victims of the Salem Witch trials had been killed. Up until this point, the hanging site was ignored, forgotten or left to speculation. Many believed that the hangings actually occurred at the top of Gallows Hill. However, with renewed effort and current technology, the actual location is no longer a mystery.

salem

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

“We are happy to be able to bring years of debate to an end. Our analysis draws upon multiple lines of research to confirm the location of the executions,” said Dr. Emerson Baker, professor of History at Salem State University, and one of the Gallows Hill Project team members. Dr. Baker has been studying 17th century New England for almost 40 years and Salem’s story for over 20. In an email interview, he told The Wild Hunt, “I find it is an incredibly important story that is often told wrong.”

Dr. Baker further explained that, in 1936, the city of Salem purchased a strip of land near the base of Gallows Hill. It was labeled “Witch Memorial Land,” but was never marked or utilized in any way. As it turns out, this small area is where the hangings actually occurred.

The space is called Proctor’s Ledge and is located behind a Walgreens, bound by Boston Street and Proctor Street. Today that city-owned property still remains unmarked and appears only as a typical unused lot nestled in an urban jungle. The greenery is overgrown, and the ground is littered with scrap iron and trash. Dr. Baker believes that “it needs to be cleaned up and treated with respect and dignity.”

That is exactly what the city now plans to do. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll responded to Monday’s announcement by saying:

Now that the location of this historic injustice has been clearly proven, the city will work to respectfully and tastefully memorialize the site in a manner that is sensitive to its location today in a largely residential neighborhood. Salem is constantly looking to the lessons of its past. Whether it was through the formation of our No Place for Hate Committee and our landmark non-discrimination ordinance, or through the good work of the Salem Award Foundation, the lessons we learn from our history directly inform the values and actions we take as a community today. Salem, long known for a dark time in our past when people turned on each other, is now a community where people turn toward each other. Having this site identified marks an important opportunity for Salem, as a city, to come together and recognize the injustice and tragedy perpetrated against 19 innocent people.

How did this group identify the exact area? Dr. Baker details the methods in his own essay on the topic. To summarize, in 2010, Elizabeth Peterson, Director of Salem’s Corwin House, or the Witch House, brought together a team of researchers to look into the matter. That team included Dr. Baker as well as Shelby Hypes, Chair, Salem Award Foundation; Tom Phillips, producer of Salem Witch Trials: Examine the EvidenceBenjamin Ray, professor of Religion, University of Virginia; Marilynne Roach, Salem witch trials historian and author; and Peter Sablock, professor of Geology, Salem State University.

Over the next six years, the group gathered a combination of data, including the 1936 research done by historian Sydney Perley, eyewitness accounts and testimonies and output from current geological studies, to pinpoint the exact location. Based on their analysis, it became very clear that the location could not be the top of Gallows Hill. The location had to be Proctor’s Ledge.

Gallows Hill Park [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

Gallows Hill Park [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

Aside from documentation and geological findings, the team also explained, “Executions were meant to be public events, so everyone could witness the terrible consequences that awaited those who committed witchcraft and other serious crimes. The top of Gallows Hill would be much more difficult to access than Proctor’s Ledge, which is high ground located just outside the walls of Salem, close by the only road out of town.”

Modern day Witch Sandra Wright is a Salem native and was not surprised when she heard the news. She told The Wild Hunt, “This is knowledge I’ve had for years, based on writings discussing clues like the location of the North River, as well as maps from the 1800s.” Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. She and her husband currently live on land owned by her family for over 100 years – land that is located on Gallows Hill.

“When my husband was researching our home on Gallows Hill, trying to go back before my family acquired the property almost 100 years ago, insurance maps showed [Proctor Ledge] to be the location,” she explained. “For years, Witches and psychics have asked me how I could stand living there with all the tormented spirits, and I said it never disturbed me. I grew up in it, and never felt any ill will or harmful energy in my beloved park or my woods.”

So why has it taken so long for the city to confirm the spot or for this project to even be undertaken? Dr. Baker said, “Witchcraft has cast a long shadow over Salem.” He explained further that Salem, as a city, was embarrassed by what had occurred. The first book describing the incident was published in 1699 in London, and it mocked the city for the hysteria.

In his own A Storm of Witchcraft, Baker argues that Salem was America’s first tragedy and first “large scale government failure and cover-up.” He further explained how the legacy of what happened was carried across the country as people moved west. “It was a terrible fall from grace that people have never been able to forget,” Dr. Baker said. “Salem has long been a metaphor of persecution, scapegoats and rushing to judgment – well before the Crucible.”

In 1936, when Peley theorized that Proctor Ledge was the hanging location, the city purchased the property, noting its value. But shortly after, the data were quickly lost and the study buried. Dr. Baker explained, “I think it was that collective amnesia at work again. Some people wanted to do the right thing, but others would rather have it forgotten.”

Although Salem was dubbed the “Witch City” as early as 1892, it took decades for the concept to be fully and positively embraced. Baker said, “The Crucible, along with Bewitched and then the 300th anniversary in 1992 all helped popularize it, along with the arrival of Cabot and other Wiccans […] And I think the city first really grappled with it in preparations for 1992, which was when the memorial was built.”

Salem Witch Trial Memorial [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

Salem Witch Trial Memorial [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

This 1992 Salem Witch Trial Memorial is located in a entirely different part of the city and rests next to a cemetery with graves dating back to 1692. Dr. Baker speculates that the space was chosen for its convenience to downtown. In 2013, Covenant of the Goddess members held a ritual in that space to honor the dead. This memorial ritual was a spontaneous event that occurred during the organization’s national meeting, Merry Meet, which was being held at the historic Hawthorne Hotel only blocks away.

Unfortunately Proctor’s Ledge, even when converted into a memorial space, will not be big enough to hold similar rituals or larger memorial events. Describing the space, Dr. Baker said, “The site on Gallows Hill is a postage stamp lot, right in people’s back yards, with no available parking.”

Wright agreed, saying “It is no more than a rock ledge and some trees now behind the Walgreens.” She added, “We will continue to hold our public rituals where it makes sense to hold them. We have no desire to disrupt the neighborhood.” She has held rituals in the public park, the Salem Greens or the 1992 memorial site, all of which are downtown.

“Magick is not limited to line of sight or property lines,” she added. “The current runs beyond the square footage designated by the historians or the city government, and we can tap into it without needing to physically stand on the exact location, which has changed over the centuries. What once stood as an ominous cautionary tale to all whose eyes dared look upon it has since become the unassuming, neglected backdrop to a parking lot. That’s the Magick of Time!”

Going forward, the city is taking the Gallows Hill Project findings and “requesting a Community Preservation Act grant to help fund a project on the location that will clean the heavily wooded parcel up, install a tasteful plaque or marker, and include elements to ensure neighbors’ property and traffic are not negatively impacted by any visitors.”

Dr. Baker described the the overall community response as positive. He said, ” I have personally received overwhelmingly supportive and favorable responses from the community, and from descendants. It is really heartwarming.”

Wright, herself a longtime neighbor of Proctor’s Ledge, said, “I’m happy to see the city recognizing this location for the sake of preserving an accurate account of our history.”

For more information on the project or Salem’s history, the Gallows Hill Team has provided an extensive list of sources on the press release website.

Washington D.C. — After his boyfriend of three years was killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Ryan Reyes found himself in the position of speaking out against religious intolerance. During the painful days following the violence, Reyes was comforted by members of the local Muslim community and found inspiration in their compassion. Just over one month later, on Jan. 12, Reyes will be taking his message to the nation as a presidential guest at the annual State of the Union address.

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L. Daniel Kaufman [Photo Credit E. Towne]

On Dec. 2, 2015, two people entered a conference room at the Inland Regional Center (IRC) and open fired, killing 14 and wounding 12. Reyes’ boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman, was one of the 14 victims. He was employed as trainer for the disabled and a barista at the Coffee N More cafe located in the IRC. He was in the cafe when the shooting took place and, as the story goes, he was responsible for saving at least four lives during that attack.

“[Daniel] was one of those rare individuals that when your spirit was low, a hug from him was like a double shot of espresso. He was life itself and we’ll both miss him,” remembered close friend Jack Prewett.

Since that day, Reyes has been interviewed many times by the media, even making a guest appearance on The Dr. Phil Show, which he described as a “a good and productive experience for my goals.” In fact, it was due to that appearance that Reyes was unable to grant The Wild Hunt an interview in early December. However, we caught up with him yesterday, just after he arrived in Washington D.C.

“My emotional process has been a complete roller coaster since day one,” Reyes said. “[But] I have experienced this kind of pain before (different means, but the pain is the same), so I have been able to predict when it is going to be rough for me and I will take the appropriate measures. This is why it has been rare that anyone has caught me in a breakdown. I am able to keep a cool, level head when I need to.”

Reyes is openly Pagan and identifies as “non-denominational” rather than specifically Wiccan like Daniel. His said that his spiritual beliefs have greatly helped him through the initial mourning process as well as keeping him focused on new goals. He explained, “A lesson I learned in life is that no one promised life would be easy, just eventful. So that helps keep me grounded when I am dealing with difficult things. Like most Pagans, I am a humanitarian, so that guides my current work.”

Reyes is originally from Rialto, California, and met Daniel online over three years ago. When the shooting happened, he was at home. Reyes said, “I was […] getting ready for a doctor’s appointment when my sister texted me to tell me about the shooting. The first thought that crossed my mind was ‘I need to call Daniel.’ ” He had last seen his boyfriend that morning when dropping him off at the IRC.

Due to the initial conflicting reports, it was unclear whether Daniel had died or was only wounded. However, by the end of the day, Reyes learned the truth. Daniel had been killed. But, at the same, he learned that Daniel was also credited as being a hero. Reyes said, “Daniel was a very compassionate and loving person that would go to great lengths to help anyone he could.”

Over the next week, Reyes friends and family came out to support him, including members of the local Pagan community and Renaissance Pleasure Faire. During a memorial vigil held Dec. 5, four leaders of the local Muslim community were in attendance; they approached Reyes with condolences.

In an interview with the Los Angles Times, Reyes said, “They risked their own personal safety to come and pay their respects. It really meant a lot to me.”

At the December vigil, Ryan Reyes [center] speaks with several local Muslim men, who were in attendance to pay their respects to his boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman.

Reyes was touched by the men’s compassion, and he was immediately driven to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment and religious intolerance. Over the next month, he granted a large number of media interviews and appearances. This reportedly attracted the attention of the President, who has recently been very vocal about gun violence. On Jan. 4, the White House released an executive order specifically aimed at “reducing gun violence.”

A White House official contacted Reyes by phone and asked if he “would come as a VIP guest and sit in the First Lady’s box during the speech.” Reyes said, “Daniel’s story touched the first family as well as my speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiments.”

He will be sitting in the balcony with First Lady Michelle Obama, along with 22 other guests. The full guest list was announced Sunday. Additionally, the seat directly next to Reyes will be left empty as a symbolic gesture, representing Daniel and all others lost to gun violence this year. The White House announcement reads:

We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.

Reyes won’t be speaking, as some news outlets have suggested. He said, “I am not going into it with any expectations. I try not to have expectations in anything so that way I can’t get easily disappointed.”

When asked what Daniel might think about his work and all this attention, Reyes said ” I know [Daniel] would approve of what I am doing. He would not want people suffering or being treated differently just because they share the same religion as extremists/radical groups do.”

Reyes will return to California later in the week. Going forward, he plans to continue sharing Daniel’s story and words of tolerance. However, he doesn’t know exactly how that will manifest next. Reyes said, “The only plans I really have are to keep pressing forward with my message. Depending on what happens and how things go, I may write a book as I have been asked to by several people. I also intend on starting a Foundation/Non-profit in Daniel’s name at some point. I am not fully sure about what kind yet.”

The State of Union address will air tonight at 9 p.m. ET.

Update 3:07 pm: It was just announced that Reyes and his story will be featured on ABC News Nightline, which airs from 12:35 a.m. – 1:05 a.m ET.

ITALY – There are many popular mythological figures associated with the winter holiday season. We’ve all heard of Santa Claus, Rudolf, Father Christmas and Jack Frost. This past December Krampus, a figure in Germanic folklore, became a household name through the release of a new horror movie. But there is another figure, who stands out within the canon of European winter holiday lore, and is beloved by those who honor her. She is called La Befana.

“La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!”

traditional song

La Befana, sometimes called “an old woman” and sometimes “the Witch of Christmas,” is part of a long-held Italian holiday tradition. In modern times, she has become an integral figure of the Christian celebration of the Epiphany. In fact, it is believed by some that this religious connection is how the old woman got her name. According to those sources, La Befana is a derivative of the Ancient Greek work for Epiphany, or epiphaneia.

The Epiphany, also called Three Kings Day, is generally celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day that the three wise men, the Magi, visit the baby Jesus in the manager. As the most common story goes, the three men stopped at an old woman’s house on their journey to the manager. She offered them food and rest. Upon leaving the three asked if she wanted to accompany them to meet the baby Jesus, but she refused, saying that she was too busy with household chores. After the men were gone, the old woman changed her mind and set out to find them or to find the baby Jesus. She found neither. But in her searching, she visited every household, leaving sweets for all well-behaved children and coal or onions for the naughty ones.

La Befana’s night is celebrated on Jan. 5, the evening before the Epiphany. It is also called Twelfth Night or Magic Night. Children leave socks out in anticipation of the old woman’s visit, and adults will sometimes leave her wine and broccoli. Before Santa Claus became well-known in Italy, it was La Befana who made the sugarplums dance in children’s dreams.

I love Festa della Befana from Ashley Bartner on Vimeo

Journalist and Wiccan High Priest Davide Marrè said that Santa was not common in his youth, and that it was “young little Jesus” who actually brought the Christmas gifts. Marrè is a native of Arona, Italy and currently lives in Milan. He said that he believed in La Befana for much longer than he ever believed in Santa. “I don’t know why,” he said. ” I was more confident with Befana than Santa.”

Marrè added, laughing, “I still remember that, below the sweets at the end of a sock one year, I found a big onion because – maybe –  I had not been so good! I am still traumatized.”

La Befana’s story comes in many forms, including some suggesting that her own children were murdered or died of disease. In these tales, La Befana actually finds the baby Jesus during her evening ride and gives to him all of her dead children’s belongings. Then, on her journey home, she leaves the sweets or onions and coal for the children.

While La Befana is often called a Witch, this feature of her story is considered quite tenuous. In many cases, she is simply called an “old woman” and depicted as a village crone. Less commonly, she is called a sprite or fairy. La Befana doesn’t always ride a broomstick; sometimes it is a goat or donkey. And she rarely wears a pointed hat; a head-scarf is more common.

However, historically speaking, the cultural lines between this type of solitary crone figure and the typical Witch character have always been crossed and blurred. In the most common modern tellings of the Italian tale, La Befana’s famous midnight ride is done on a broom, which is an iconic element of both the Witch and of the homestead. Over centuries of storytelling, the broom has become one of the common cultural signifiers for both the old woman and the Witch.

The very first mention of La Befana within a modern text is reportedly in a poem written in 1549 by Italian poet Agnolo Firenzuola, who was particularly known for his “burlesque and licentious” work [i]. According several accounts, Firenzuola only calls her “an old, ugly woman.”[ii]  But, at that time, the concept of a Witch as a crone who flies on a broom was already well-established in popular European folklore, as demonstrated by art and literature. The infamous Malleus Maleficarum, originally published in 1486, confirms this fact, stating:

Now the following is their method of being transported. They take the unguent […] and anoint with it a chair or a broomstick; whereupon they are immediately carried up into the air, either by day or by night, and either visibly or, if they wish, invisibly; (Part 2; Section I, Chapter III)

Therefore, it is not a difficult leap to understand how a story of an old woman flying around on a broom looking for a manager could be translated as a “Christmas Witch.”

But folktales are fluid, moving in and out of society and time, through adaptation and cultural nuance. There is no clear picture on the timeline of La Befana’s construction within Italian culture. The evolution of her story is buried within multiple layers of meaning and influenced by diverse regional differences.

In 1823, for example, La Befana is mentioned in a book called Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs: Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicilywritten by Anglican Priest John James Blunt. He calls her “supernatural” and “a sprite.” Blunt also comments on the “burlesque” nature of the “Beffana” traditions. He ascribes these to the “heathen celebrations” associated with the Goddess Strenia, who also brought New Year’s gifts. (p. 119-120)

As suggested by Blunt’s comments, it is widely accepted that La Befana does have pre-Christian influences, even Neolithic. Aside from the already noted Goddess Strenia, La Befana has also been linked specifically to the traditions related to the Italian agricultural cycle. In some regions, her appearance is associated to ancestor worship and divination. In others, Befana is considered to be linked to the magic of Twelfth Night – a holiday highlighted in Shakespeare play of the same name.[iii] In many of these stories, Befana’s arrival marks a seasonal finale of sorts, and she uses her iconic broom to sweep away the old to make space for the new. Anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco explore La Befana’s mythology and traditions in their books A House Without Doors (1996) and The Magic and Mythogy: Toward an Anthropology of La Befana (2006).[iv]

Marrè shared another theory on La Befana’s ancient origins. He said, “Romans thought that, on the Twelfth Night after Natali Sol Invictus, a woman flew over the cultivated fields to give fertility for the future harvest. For some this flying woman was identified with Diaba because of  the link to vegetation; for others she was Satia or Abundia. The Catholic Church forbid rural rituals and this kind of story.”

A statement made in Blunt’s 18th century account corroborates Marrè’s last comment. Speaking about the Goddess Strenia from whom he believes Befana originated. Blunt writes, “Her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotus, and licentious character.”

[Photo Credit: Simone Zucchelli / Flickr ]

[Photo Credit: Simone Zucchelli / Flickr ]

Many modern Pagans are finding a renewed interest in La Befana. Some enjoy her simply for her Witch aspect and others for her relationship to seasonal cycles. Through this latter concept, Marrè and his fellow Wiccans have been incorporating their beloved Befana childhood tradition into their modern Wiccan practice.

Marrè is board president of Circolo dei Trivi, a Wiccan group based in Milan. Every Imbolc, the group incorporates La Befana into their celebrations. Marrè said that this annual tradition is more feast than ritual, and focuses on the turning of the wheel of the year from the old to the new. The group blends two uniquely Italian folktales together to create a new seasonal story that brings meaning to the February sabbat. In this case, La Befana represents the final joys of the old year giving her final “gifts” at Imbolc. And, another Witch, named Giobiana represents the old year’s baggage and dust that must be removed to make way for renewal.

Marrè explained, “Giobiana is another old tradition that is celebrated in the northern part of Italy, near Lombardia (Varese and Como). The legend says that Giobiana was a bad big Witch with very long legs. She lived in the wood and, obviously this is folklore, scared all the children. On the last Thursday of January, she would eat one child. Then, one year, a mother was so worried for her son that she decided to trick Giobana. The mother prepared yellow rice with saffron and sausage (rissotto giallo con la luganega, a very typical food in this area), and she put it in the window. Giobiana smelled the rice and arrived to eat it. It was so good that she forgot that it was dawn, and she was burned by the sun.”

The Giobiana legend is very similar to many other folk stories containing a frightening old crone in the woods, such as the Baba Yaga of Russian lore or the famous Witch of Hansel & Gretel. In fact, in some traditions, La Befana and Giobiana are considered one and the same. Regardless, the Circolo dei Trivi has reincorporated these two different regional stories into their own Wiccan theology, pairing them with their seasonal celebration of Imbolc.

Marrè said, “For us the two legends, Befana and Giobiana, are linked. Befana is the good face of the crone while Giobiana is the bad one. One is the nature that gives us the last gifts, and the second is the nature that, without renewal, will start to ‘eat children.’ He speculates that this had to be important in ancient times because the cold winter months were “when the mortality rate for childhood was at its maximum.” He adds, “So it is really important that the crone is transformed into the young goddess that we represent as Belisama, the Brigid of Cisalpine Gaul.”

La Befana Night in Northern Italian 2013 [Photo Credit: Bas_Ernst / Flickr]

La Befana Night in Northern Italian 2013 [Photo Credit: Bas_Ernst / Flickr]

Similar to modern community traditions in the northern Italian towns, Circolo dei Trivi burns an effigy, a representation of Giobiana, within their ritual space. They collect the ashes and tell the story of nature’s death and rebirth, through the death of Giobiana and the birth of Belisama. In that process, they also thank nature, represented as La Befana, for bringing the final gifts from the previous year. Grazie, La Befana.

As with many regional traditions, La Befana’s modern construction and appearance were developed over an expansive amount of time and stem from a diverse number of cultural elements. Her story has been adapted over and over to fit into a variety of different social or religious structures.

As the international community becomes more integrated, La Befana has become increasingly recognized outside of the small Italian towns from where she came.[v] And, some wonder and even worry … will La Befana follow Santa Claus’ lead and become a largely commercial and secular figure in our global holiday season? Will she lose her regional meaning and connections to Italian culture? Will the Christmas Witch one day grace the label on a Coca-Cola bottle or appear in her own animated holiday special on CBS?

Notes:
[i] This description was used by Henry W. Longfellow in his book Poets and Poetry of Europe published by Carey and Hart in 1845. Firenzuola also did reportedly write more serious works. Interestingly, he also recorded conversations on feminine beauty, which wasn’t published until 1892.
[ii] We were unable to obtain a copy of this poem in time for publication.
[iii] Written around 1599, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is believed to have been based on several Italian plays, and was created specifically to celebrate the final festive evening of the Christmas season. (Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Pelican Books. 1986)
[iv] Neither book appears to be available in English translation at this time.
[v] La Befana’s story, for example, is featured in a children’s book by American author and illustrator Tomie dePaolo. The Legend of Old Befana was published in 1980 by Sandpiper. Tomie dePaolo is also the author of the popular Stega Nona series.

Jean Williams 1928 – 2015

Heather Greene —  December 31, 2015 — 1 Comment

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On Saturday, it was announced the Wiccan High Priestess Jean Williams had died on Friday, Dec 25. The announcement read, “Gracious, sociable and non-dogmatic, [Jean] relished the variety of paths and personalities in paganism. Also in some ways a very private person, in her personal spiritual life she was a Wiccan high priestess of the Gardnerian tradition, with a quiet and close-knit coven who are very much her intimate family.”

Jean Elen Williams was born in the village of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and was the third child of a Church of England vicar. From a very early age, she attended private boarding school, and then later enrolled at theUniversity of College London, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, then want on to have a very successful career as a social researcher.

In the late 1950s, Jean became interested in consciousness expansion, as both a spiritual seeker and a psychologist. Through that interest she met members of Gerald Gardner’s original coven, now known as The Bricket Wood Coven, in 1961. She studied with them, eventually being initiated.

Over the next decade, Jean found her professional and spiritual interests merging. In a 2004 interview, she said, “As a psychologist who was also on a spiritual path, I became very interested in the ideas about human potential and personal fulfillment beginning to be put forward by the avant garde psychotherapists.” This new thought developed into the “Human Potential movement” or Humanistic Psychology.

As Jean explained, many involved in this movement “went in their droves to India or joined the Rajneesh organisation in Britain.” She said, “I was already a witch and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t find what they were looking for in our own Pagan traditions.” Observing this trend, she saw a need to connect “the human psychology people” with the “indigenous British spiritual paths,” so they wouldn’t have to visit the Far East. At the same time, she saw the need to connect local Wiccans, who often struggled in maintaining community relationships, with the concepts in the Human Potential movement.

As a result, in 1974, Pagan Pathfinders was born. Meetings were held in London in Jean’s newly purchased Victorian home. For years, she and her husband, Zachary Cox, facilitated Pagan Pathfinders, but, as she said, the group was not “a one woman show.” Jean handed the group over to younger Pagan leaders in the early 2000s. It continued to remain active until 2011.

Around the same time that she founded Pagan Pathfinders, Jean also became High Priestess of the Bricket Wood Coven with her husband as priest. Her friend and initiate Christina Oakley-Harrington said that in the 1980s, “the coven befriended and admitted the young anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann in the 1980s, who wrote about the group in her famous study, Persuasions of the Witches’ Craft.

But Jean’s work did not end there. In 1977, she co-founded The Companions of the Rainbow Bridge, a ritual drama group in the Western mysteries, “to encourage inspirational and uplifting creation of ceremonies.” The organization was active for 17 years.

Additionally, she and her husband began inviting a small group of people to their home four time each year and performed Crowley‘s Gnostic Mass. She continued this practice well into the 2000s.

Jean Williams speaking at Pagan Federation event [Courtesy WiccanRede.org]

Jean Williams speaking at Pagan Federation event [Courtesy WiccanRede.org]

In 1988, after retirement, Jean focused her energy on helping the UK Pagan community. She became a core member of the Pagan Federation, working through the next two decades as an elder, adviser, teacher and administrator.

More recently, she and her husband authored several books, including The Gods within: The Pagan Pathfinders Book of God and Goddess Evocations (2008), and The Play Goes On (2015).

Despite all of her public work and teaching, Jean was private about her own religious practice and her personal achievements. According to Oakley-Harrington, “Many pagan friends have only recently learnt she was in the Craft; even fewer know she was the high priestess of Gerald Gardner’s first, original Bricket Wood coven, throughout her adult life. For Jean, being of service to paganism was not attached to titles within a particular tradition. She wanted to be known for herself and what she did, not for a title she held in a secret mystery tradition.”

In the 2004 interview, Jean herself said the same thing, “I don’t think that for humanity as a whole you should present yourself as a priest or priestess – you’re just a human being. Any authority you express is purely what comes through you, not what you status say you have.”

Last week, at Whittington Hospital in London with Zach by her side, Jean died of heart failure.

After her death, a public Facebook memorial page was created, where future memorial ceremonies and rites will also be posted. For now, the page is being filled with memories. People are sharing their personal stories of how Jean has touched their lives.

James Scotchford wrote:

Jean was a genuinely lovely and welcoming person, a warm elder in the Pagan community of which she was dedicated. She was a person without ego and never demanded respect, however she got mine. Jean always came and said hello to me at events, like she did others. Sometimes I got jaded at the lack of friendliness and community spirit amongst many Pagans, but Jean was a different matter.

Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal wrote:

Jean had a knack of helping people to be where they needed to be and do what they needed to do. I remember a couple of times when I found myself pointed in the direction of roles serving the Pagan community, it was Jean who had spoken to me about taking on something I really wasn’t certain I could or should do. She referred to it as catching me at a moment of weakness…. something she did with quite a lot of people who have gone on to serve our Pagan community.

Death has caught Jean at a moment of weakness. In life she was an incredible visionary for what could become of individual Pagans and the Pagan community as a whole. Jean was someone who made things happen. It would not surprise me to discover that the gods had plans for Jean and her amazing range of talents.

JandZ_72

Jean Williams and Zachary Cox 

Stygal also added, “My last memory of Jean was seeing Zach and Jean walking, hand in hand, towards a car waiting to take them home after the book launch. Both of them still very much in love with each other in their old age.”

Similarly, Agni Keeling said:

I loved how Jean balanced Zach’s approach to discussing the rituals. On a couple of occasions when I had an opportunity to talk to them after the rituals we did, Zach was always very intellectual about the ritual and wanted to know the ‘ideas’ behind it etc. Jean was always pure feeling and vision. Last summer we did ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’ ritual which both Jean and Zach came to. They wanted to talk to me afterwards, Zach wanted to know whys and whats etc, Jean just said that she closed her eyes at the beginning and was transported back to ancient Greece.. and didn’t want to come back.

Oakley-Harrington said:

Everyone will tell you: she was strong, unfailingly gracious, intelligent and fun-loving. She was committed to the idea that those on a spiritual path have a first task to work on their own development as people. Famously, she refused to participate in gossip, and would not tolerate it in her presence. One of her young friends just wrote yesterday, ‘Bitchcraft could not exist in the air she breathed.’ In her presence, and under her influence, younger pagans had a role model of nobility of conduct: this has had an impact upon the entirety of the British pagan community. It was possible because,whilst taking this line, she was fun, funny and canny. To quote the same young friend, ‘Jean was a cat loving, people-shrewd rockstar of the pagan world.’

Jean was a force within the Pagan world for over 50 years. But she was not one that was loud and flashy; nor did she push her ways on others. As was her philosophy, “Have your own religious experience” and don’t tell others how to do it. She remained flexible and accepting with only boundaries based on simple, unassuming ethics and respect.

Jean’s coven maiden, Ruth, now takes the mantle of the high priestesshood of the Bricket Wood coven. Ruth has been both a member of the group and lodger since 1988. She said, “I learnt how to lead a coven from Jean; she had an understated drive and tremendous ritual abilities; from her we learnt how to experience the Goddess and God in a profound way. And she was a fun friend — we were all involved in many magical projects together. I am honoured to have worked with her all these years.”

Jean also leaves a daughter coven, several grand-daughter covens, and a myriad students and others touched by her honest, vivacious and generous spirit.

What is remembered, lives.