Archives For Heather Greene

Blessed Samhain

Heather Greene —  October 31, 2014 — 3 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and the new year according to the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of the final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of all the modern Pagan holidays.

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor Altar

During this season, other celebrations and festivals are also being held such as Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Álfablót or the Scandanavian Sacrifice to the ElvesWinter Nights by Asatru, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (October 23 this year) and the astrological Samhain on November 6th for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

We pray to those whose names are gratefully remembered. This includes people we were directly related to by blood, and also anyone we cared for who has passed on. These prayers remind us of the sacredness and impermanence of life. It reminds us of the strengths these people had, the challenges they faced, and the courage they roused up. They urge us to have these things too as we face the new day. – Lilith Dorsey, Voodoo Universe

The Crone is the guardian of the crossroads, and this is Her time. As we journey through our lives we come to many crossroads; we have so many choices, so many roads not taken. How do we choose? How do we know we’ve made the right choice? – Nicole Kapise-Perkins, Walking the Ancient Paths of Witches & Pagans

There’s something spooky and marvelous about Samhain-time, something that was expressed by the Celts and by more modern peoples afterwards … There’s an irrepressible spirit in the air this time of year. It lived with our pagan forbearers and lives within us. – Jason Mankey, Raise the Horns

Samhain is also a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently. - M. Macha Nightmare

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, Jeff Rosenbaum, Lady Loreon Vigne, Sparky T. Rabbit, Apolinario Chile Pixtun, Peter Paddon, Brian Dragon, Donald Michael Kraig, Judy Harrow, Stanley Modrzyk, Colin Wilson, Jonas Trinkūnas, Eduardo Manuel Gutierrez (Hyperion), Randy David Jeffers (Randy Sapp), Chris Keith, Olivia Robertson and many others who have not been not named here, but who have equally touched our personal lives and our communities.

And, finally, in the spirit of Alley Valkyrie’s latest article, we also take a moment to remember the forgotten dead.

On the whole … the ancient feast of Winter’s Eve has regained its ancient character, as a dual time of fun and festivity, and of confrontation of the fears and discomforts inherent in life, and embodied especially in northern latitudes by the season of cold and dark. - Ronald Hutton, The Guardian

So as we approach Samhain we honor the cycle of death, rebirth, and new life; and we honor the memory of those who have passed through the veil. We honor too the gift of life, that most precious of gifts, and we seek to drink of the cup of the wine of life to the full so that no precious drop is ever wasted. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit 

May you all have a blessed Samhain. May peace fall upon you and your beloved dead during this season. Let this be a new cycle of quiet joy and renewed blessings for all of you.

In March 2014, the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC-NYC) formed after being inspired to action by Gasland (2010), a documentary on the U.S. fracking industry. It became their mission to pro-actively promote the development of renewable, clean energy alternatives.

In 2013, a group of U.K. Pagans held a ritual at Glastonbury Tor to raise awareness about fracking. The event turned global with Pagans around the world joining the ritual from their own space.The organizers wrote, “We felt it a shame to let the energy go to waste and so consolidated ourselves into a pagan anti-fracking pressure group; thus was the Warrior’s Call born.”

Both the PEC-NYC and The Warrior’s Call are dedicated to passionately campaigning against fracking. They have joined a fervent and outspoken global movement to end this relatively new process of energy extraction. Collectively these people are often refer to as fracktavists. But what exactly is fracking? Why is there so much controversy around its use?

"Rig wind river“  Wyoming. [Public domain via Wikimedia]

“Rig wind river“ Wyoming. [Public domain via Wikimedia]

What is Fracking?
Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking,” is the extraction of fossil fuels from subterranean shale rock. The complicated process involves the injection of a high-powered fluid, containing water, sand and chemicals, into the earth. The combination of chemicals and pressure cause the shale to fracture and release trapped fossil fuels, which are then collected at the well site.

The basic technology behind fracking has been around for decades. According to Wall Street Journal senior energy editor Russell Gold, the concept on making wells more productive through fracturing rock began in the 1800s. However, the “modern age of hyrdraulic fracturing” did not begin until in 1998. And it has only been in the last 10 years that the United States has seen a surge in the use of fracking wells.

Fracking processes are found in areas where geologists have identified trapped fossil fuels within the subterranean shale beds. In the U.S., hydraulic fracturing is mostly used in Texas, Oklahoma, Pensylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Other countries with identified shale beds, such as Canada, Bulgaria, China and Australia to name a few, have also been using this new fracking technology.

Why Frack?
At its base level, the push to employ hydraulic fracturing is driven by society’s dependence, or overdependence as it were, on fossil fuels. As the world’s population increases the demand increases, and alternative energy processes have yet to become viable replacements for these traditional modalities, due to economic, technological and practical reasons. The industry is desperate to find new sources of fossil fuels to feed our insatiable need. Fracking answers that call.

"US Natural Gas Production 1990-2040" by US Energy [Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

“US Natural Gas Production 1990-2040″ by US Energy [Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

While fracking does pull oil from the shale rock, it is more commonly known for its use in extracting natural gas. According to the EIA, as noted by writer Brad Plummer, the U.S.natural gas stores “have reached historic highs.” The data show the fracked gas has increased 5x since 2007 alone, while coal and other traditional wells have decreased production.

Proponents argue that this boom is helping decrease our dependency on international energy. It has also reduced the price of natural gas, even at the consumer level. Due to the lower cost, many industries are converting their coal burning plants to natural gas, which burns cleaner. Experts believe that this change has contributed to the moderate decrease in overall U.S. carbon emissions since 2007. And finally, proponents also argue that the fracturing bonaza, as it has been called, has bolstered local economies and created new jobs.

Why the controversy?
While there are a Pagans who are conflicted with regards to the use of fracking, we could not find one who was decidedly pro-fracking. If they exist, they appear to be a non-vocal minority. The majority of Pagans who are publicly talking about the fracking boom, are vehemently opposed. The Warrior’s Call and PEC-NYC are just two examples.

Courtney Weber, a member of PEC-NYC, spoke with The Wild Hunt about her organization’s position and recent actions. She said, “I can’t imagine Pagans allowing their temples to be smashed. The Earth is being damaged…We have to fight to protect it.” Weber is one of key organizers in the PEC-NYC’ mobilization against fracking and for renewable energy – specifically wind. PEC-NYC is working on a petition to ask New York Governor Cuomo for his support of wind energy. The group is also sending members to a Nov. 1-7 Beyond Extreme Energy rally in Washington D.C.

"Witches Want Wind"  Courtney Weber at a Cuomo Rally, 2014 [Courtesy Photo]

“Witches Want Wind” Courtney Weber at a Cuomo Rally, 2014 [Courtesy Photo]

For Weber and others like her, the reported benefits of fracking do not justify the known environmental and economic damage, both immediate and long term. With the help of Food and Water Watch, PEC members visited fracking sites in Susquehana, Pennsylvania. Weber said, “They had headaches in 15 minutes. There was no wildlife. No insects. No birds … It smelled as if you put your face in a gallon of glue.” What she describes is not a thriving metropolis living off industry profits, but a broken region gutted and stripped of life.

Opponents believe that the economic claims are wrong. Jobs are not being created, roads are being destroyed by industry vehicles, and the townspeople are reaping no benefits. They add that, even with the increase in gas stores, the U.S. will not ever be energy independent as is often claimed.

Additionally, opponents point to some serious and very immediate environmental concerns. There have been cases in which the local water has been tainted with the toxic waste fluid from the shale gas extraction, and the air has been polluted with both methane and benzene gases. Weber pointed out the number of trucks needed to transport the millions of gallon of water. She noted that these trucks increase the carbon footprint of entire process and the water usage itself can potentially strain resources in many drought-ridden areas.

From PEC-NYC Pennsylvania trip. [Courtesy PEC-NYC]

From PEC-NYC Pennsylvania trip. [Courtesy PEC-NYC and George Courtney]

Finally, opponents will also quickly point out that, while natural gas does burn cleaner, it still does produce “greenhouse gases.” Weber says, “It’s kind of like quitting smoking and then starting heroine instead.” She questions the wisdom in supporting an industry that appears to be just another dangerous substitute. Like others opposed to fracking, she fears that any support given to hydraulic fracturing will only detract from the development of economically viable, clean and renewable energy solutions.

Weber added that, as an activist, she can’t fight every battle. She says, “I can’t fight for bees, deforestation and the black rhino. Philosophically I can. But practically I can’t.” Energy is what she picked and says to others, ‘Pick what’s local. Pick what makes you mad.” Fracking made her mad.

So where do we find an answer?
Fracking is happening and at an increasing rate. The U.S. is on its way to having record natural gas resources. While that will not make us energy independent, it will increase U.S. exports, decrease prices and help the national trade deficit. Coal-based plants are closing down and the U.S. has lowered its overall carbon emissions. And, there is talk using natural gas reserves to help countries still struggling to control their own carbon emissions.

However, those benefits are measured purely in numbers and do not take into account the negative externalities of fracking.They do not measure methane cleanup; water pollution; property damage; local economic fallout; road maintenance; water resource limitations and the many environmental unknowns. What are the long-term affects? Will the progressive fracturing of subterranean shale rock create ground instability, leading to earthquakes?

While the Environmental Protection Agency and other private organizations are studying these issues, debates rage on in the world’s political arena. Many states and countries have banned or severely regulated the process or, like New York, have placed a moratorium on fracking until further data are collected. At the same time, organizations like PEC-NYC and The Warrior’s Call join The Sierra Club, Green Faith, Sane Energy Project, Food and Water Watch and others continue to oppose the process altogether.

This article only grazes the surface of a very complex global problem. Due to our society’s addiction to its fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure, we are stuck, so to speak, between a rock and hard place of our own making. We have yet to find a perfect solution that will allow us to maintain both a healthy ecosystem and our current energy-hungry systems. There is no easy button; no magic wand; no panacea … no injection drill that will extract that solution.

 

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

2433370_1414184043.751On Oct 24, Brian Dragon (Tony Spurlock) passed away. He was a beloved member of the Feri Tradition, an active participant in many Bay Area Pagan groups, an occult scholar and talented Bard, who loved to sing and tell stories. The loss has been felt by many in the local community.

To help fund funeral expenses, his friends launched a GoFundMe campaign to pay “for the cost of an urn and cremation so that Rhiannon can find comfort amongst family and friends and closure as she mourns the passing of her partner in life and magic.” Less than 3 days later, the goal of $2000 was reached and exceeded. This show of support demonstrates the true coming together of community for the care of a family and in tribute to a treasured friend and spirit. Organizer Maya Grey expressed her heartfelt thanks on the funding site.

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The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

On Oct 21, the New York State Court of Appeals began hearing oral arguments in the Maetreum of Cybele case. As we have reported in the past, the Maetreum of Cybele has been caught in an eight year legal battle with the town of Catskill over its property tax-exempt status. In 2013, the Appellate Division of the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of the Maetreum, but the city would not relent, and appealed once again.

The day after the oral arguments were heard, the organization said,The Maetreum exists because of one miracle from the Goddess after another. We never should have been able to buy the property but did … never should have been able to stay in the legal battle to the end but did. We view the property as belonging to the Goddess.” Currently, the Maetreum reports that it still owes $1360 in legal fees and its fundraising efforts are ongoing. However, once those bills are paid and legal processes are over, the organization hopes to return to the project of getting its “community low powered FM radio station on the air.”

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Pantheon FoundationThe Pantheon Foundation will be hosting the first annual Pagan Activism Conference Online (PACO) Nov 22-23 2014. The conference will take place entirely online, allowing for global participation and attendance. According to the website, “The goal of the Conference is to equip Pagan activists from all over the country with the tools necessary to advance the goals and aims of their own activist efforts, and to build bridges between Pagan activists for mutual support.” The keynote speaker will be T. Thorn Coyle. Registration, information and a schedule of events are currently listed on the site.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

With frustration mounting, Silver Ravenwolf has responded to the Facebook name controversy with a new blog post. A few days earlier, she told The Wild Hunt, in part, “As the days progressed I’ve received many e-mails and posts about individuals who have been targeted — radio show hosts, tattoo artists, writers, singers, Native Americans, etc. — but, more worrisome? Many of the individuals indicated they fought and lost, that the experience was painful and upsetting, and that they were treated unkindly by FB employees.” Ravenwolf added that she will fight this because, “FB is purposefully putting the safety and security of individuals at risk — and that is unconscionable.”

In Other News:

Peter Paddon

It was announced Thursday that Peter Paddon, author, teacher, Witch, and Cunningman, had passed away quietly during the night. His family posted the following on his public Facebook account:

As you can imagine, there just aren’t words for things like this, at a time like this. Our beloved Peter has passed away peacefully in his sleep. We know that he has touched so many of you, as he has touched us, and we know that you share our grief this morning. We’ll share information on the plan as we’re able to put a plan together. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

Peter Paddon was a beloved figure in the Pagan world. Raised partially in the shadows of Stonehenge, he spent many hours playing and learning among its stones. At the age of twelve, he began experimenting with the Occult, but it wasn’t until after finishing school in 1983 that Peter engaged in any formal training. That journey began as a student of Alexandrian Wicca.

Over the next two decades, Peter studied a number of different traditions, including Egyptian Mysteries, Rosicrucianism and Enochian magick, and worked with many different people along the way. In 1997 Peter moved to Los Angeles to begin a new adventure with his wife Linda. In 2004, they started a group called Briar Rose, a Companie of Cunningfolk, which is still in operation today.

4ea7fde243bb0a82390adf.L._V322154580_SY470_Peter has been the spirit and energy behind many projects and creative ventures.Through his work, he has shared his love of the Craft and his vast Occult knowledge. In 2011, Peter began the popular Crooked Path podcast. Shortly before that, he launched an independent publishing imprint called Pendraig Publishing, whose focus is to produce “quality books … covering subjects like Traditional Witchcraft, Wortcunning, The Art of the Cunning Folk, and Ancient Mystery Traditions.” Since its founding, Pendraig has published Peter’s own books, The Crooked Path Journal and the works of other authors. Its newest release is Peter’s Traditional Witchcraft: Visualization.

In 2012, Peter suffered a major heart attack and underwent surgery, from which he fully recovered. That setback didn’t slow him down and, once able, he continued on with his work.

Throughout his life, Peter was a creator, an artist, a storyteller and a visionary. Along with his podcast and writing, Peter performed tarot readings and produced the Craftwise series of spellcasting DVDs. With his wife Linda, Peter enjoyed creating Pagan-inspired art and crafts. Most recently, the couple’s work, including Peter’s custom glass etchings, were being offered at the Northridge Mall open air market.

After Thursday’s announcement was made public, it became very clear how many lives Peter and his work have touched over the years. The Brothers of the Unnamed Path wrote:

Peter was a gifted witch who brought humor and great personal passion to his work. He was a friend of ours and of our dear Hyperion and provided great comfort to us after his passing. We offer our Love and deepest condolences to his wife Linda, son Ben, and Peter’s entire family and community of friends.

Close friend Orion Foxwood said:

Peter’s legacy is a multi-threaded beautiful tapestry of loving husband, loyal father, wise witch, treasured friend, and esteemed author and teacher. His brushstrokes on our lives have made the world more beautiful and magical….forever.

Peter will be missed as he begins his next journey. But his spirit and wisdom have been preserved in the many and varied works that he has left behind for future generations, from books to podcasts to etchings. In that way, Peter will continue to touch lives as he has always done; just as he will continue to live on deep within the hearts and memories of his students, friends and family.

What is remembered, lives.

As we reported Friday, October is a popular time for interview Witches. The season also brings a flurry of Halloween-inspired television programming. From the holiday specials to the classic horror films, the entertainment industry capitalizes on our cultural love for all things related to the secular holiday.

[Credit: MANSOUR DE TOTH via CC lic. Wikimedia]

[Credit: MANSOUR DE TOTH via CC lic. Wikimedia]

This phenomenon is nothing new. In the 1930s, Betty Boop appeared in a short called Hall’ween Party (1933). In 1948, Mighty Mouse saved the world in The Witch’s Cat. Many readers will remember looking forward to the yearly October airing of The Wizard of Oz (1939) or, more recently, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). One of the newest Halloween-inspired offerings,Book of Life (2014), capitalizes on the growing popularity of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos aesthetic and tradition.

As we get closer to the actual Oct. 31 date, producers begin offering Halloween-themed episodes of TV series. In its lineup this year, CBS aired a Witch-themed episode of its popular, long-running show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. While the secular Halloween holiday was never mentioned, the show’s title “Book of Shadows” and its subject matter were not arbitrarily chosen to appear in a late October episode.

Sunday’s CSI episode has set off some intense discussion within the Wiccan community. While many believe the show demonstrates a step forward in the depiction of Witches and Wiccans within mainstream entertainment, others were not easily convinced. Massachusetts Priestess Laura Wildman-Hanlon remarked:

I’m annoyed my religion was again dragged out and used as a means to scare people on Halloween. I’m angry at the disrespect paid to my beliefs and my God & Goddess. I’m furious at the writers who could have used the opportunity to debunk these untruths instead of playing to them. 

Was the show a simply a means to “scare people” as Wildman-Hanlon suggests? Was it yet another serving of insulting television fare perpetuating the historically-ingrained, sensationalistic construction of Witchcraft? Or was it positive? Did the writers demonstrate any cultural sensitivity?

Before looking at the specifics of the episode, it is important to be aware the CSI program is very formulaic like most TV dramas. “The Book of Shadows” episode was no exception.The aesthetics and narrative structure fell well-within the CSI storytelling boundaries, including the sensationalism, campy humor and graphic displays of internal anatomy.They didn’t stretch the show’s artistic reach to tell this story.

csi_crime_scene_investigation_logo__140218204850

“Book of Shadows” opens with a teenager filming a video while walking through school hallways. This scene is important because it establishes the main characters of the “who done it?” plot. After we are introduced to the players, a burning body comes running down the hall and then falls dead. Interestingly, this dead teacher is labeled “the Burning Man” and, although not known at the time, is a practicing Witch. While just a minor point, this detail, death by burning, becomes the second reference to Witchcraft. The first, of course, is the title.

Although the show is filled with subtle phrases and imagery maintaining its connection to the theme, it isn’t until the second segment that the narrative really delves into subject of Witchcraft. The coroner discovers a “Life Rune” symbol, which he links to Nazism, gangs and crime and which eventually leads investigators to the coven’s temple space.

The temple scene, itself, was filmed in the classic CSI aesthetic while also recalling elements of the horror film. As CSI Nick Stokes enters the dark room, everything is visually obscured by shadow and a tight camera angle. The limited lighting is blood red and, as the slow-moving camera pans across the space, the only recognizable images are a skull and a pentacle.

In typical CSI fashion, the horror-style scene is followed by scientific explanation and visual clarity. In this case, there is a brief dramatic reenactment that parallels the horror-scene.  Then the director abruptly cuts to a non-engaging, medium shot of the temple room in nearly full light. Everything is visible. CSI D.B. Russell has joined Stokes in exploring the space.

As they investigate, Russell educates Stokes and the audience on what they are seeing in the room. When referring to the pentacle, Stokes says, “I always thought it was the sign of the devil.” Russell replied, “Well you were wrong.”

Along with other similar type comments, Russell says, “[Wicca] is a Pagan religion.” Putting these two temple scenes together, the show plays first with what the viewer expects and then says, “well you were wrong.” This juxtaposition demonstrates a clear step forward in the representation of Witchcraft and Wicca within a modern context of its own making.

Moreover, the writers also note the important distinction that Wicca is a “Pagan religion.” This statement is critical because it moves popular discourse away from the simple point that “Witchcraft is real” or “Wicca is Witchcraft” to “Wicca is one of many religions.” Although encapsulated in a bucket of typical CSI sensationalism, the show’s narrative does demonstrate that the writers did some real homework.

CSI:  The Book of Shadows  [Courtesy: CBS Television]

CSI: The Book of Shadows [Courtesy: CBS Television]

The next important detail to examine is the lab scenes, in which tech David Hodges is dressed in a “relic Druid robe.” To Wildman-Hanlon, these scenes were extremely off-putting. She said, “I was furious to see one of the main characters wearing a silly robe, waving a wand over a cauldron bubbling with fake smoke and obviously making fun of my beliefs.”

David Hodges is largely present for comic relief within the more serious CSI drama schematic. He always takes a campy and comical attitude toward any subject. However, in this case, he was mocking a religious practice, which proves problematic. Along with his robe, Hodges called his lab a “Wiccan Altar” and mentioned a past Wiccan girlfriend who was “a little too earthy” and didn’t have a “bathing spell.” In addition, Pagan viewers may have been offended by the God and Goddess statuettes on his table. Although meant as harmless comedy, the writers went too far for many Pagan viewers as demonstrated by Wildman-Hanlon’s comment.

While the show’s middle portion largely diverts its attention from Witchcraft and Wicca, the narrative returns to the theme by the end. It is at this point the writers’ attempts at sensitivity fall completely apart. We find out that the killer is a Wiccan mother and teacher; the dead coven member was a teacher and drug dealer; the Wiccan principal was sleeping with a student and the High Priest and school janitor had once been a criminal. While the show doesn’t posit any of these characters as purely evil, they are all framed as damaged goods.

However, more problematic than any of that is the “who done it?”conclusion and various subtle details used to intensify and color the story. First, both murders were done by a Wiccan woman, who had been attempting a healing spell. She apparently needed the blood of a “sacrificed youth.” In once scene, the coroner notes that the dead boy’s blood was removed after his murder, which “suggests a Wiccan ritual.” Considering this line alone, it appears as if the writers fell face first into a vat of cultural stereotyping.

All the earlier positive elements and demonstrations of sensitivity become buried by the failings of the conclusion and other narrative details, such as the janitor brandishing his athame in a threatening manor. Through lines such as “Druid spell” to gain “more power” or “May the blackest of darkness smite you down,” a viewer’s preconceived notion of Witchcraft and Wicca are confirmed.

Why pay attention to shows like this one? CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a fictional drama that posits its universe as real. For viewers, the CSI environment could be their world. There is no fantasy or mythology here. That is the nature of the genre. As such, it presents Witchcraft and Wicca as something real; something the viewers might witness in their daily lives.

This attempt to bring Witchcraft and Wicca out of a fantasy world and into reality is exemplified by the following exchange. Stokes says, “What happened next? No, let me guess, lightening bolts.” Russell replies, “No. a coven meeting.” This is notable change for the construction of Witches and Wiccans within American entertainment. Where most shows, even live-action, posit Witches and magic as elements of fantasy, this shows says “No they are real. They are parents, principals, janitors and science teachers.”

At the same time, CSI‘s realistic nature makes the mistakes all the more difficult to digest. Wildman-Hanlon remarks:

A couple of sentences muttered by a character that ‘Wiccans are peaceful people who work with the energies of nature,’ is lovely but not when the plot heads immediately back into the fiction line saying beneath our practices of harmony actually lies a darker stance where murder/human sacrifice is, according to our beliefs…our Book of Shadows…an acceptable practice if we deem it warranted. 

“The Book of Shadows” was a notable effort with some very positive forward steps in the representation of Witches and Wicca. Unfortunately the writers didn’t go far enough and wound up relying too heavily on good old fashion Halloween entertainment lore for the sake of a scream.

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

ByeHWwyIEAALsmvIn recent weeks, we reported on the Facebook name controversy that hit the drag queen community in September.  The issue highlighted a problem with the social media giant’s name policy – one that that could affect anyone who uses a non-legal name. Despite the company’s Oct 2 apology, accounts continue to be frozen. Over the last two weeks, Pagans have joined the ranks of people who have been adversely affected.

Author Silver Ravenwolf ‘s personal account has been flagged and she is now forced to use her legal name. On her public author page, she wrote, “FaceBook is going through and telling magickal people that their pages with friends are not legit because they are not using their legal names. This is causing great harm to our community.”  Ravenwolf is asking that anyone who uses a non-legal name to unlike her fan page or unfriend her. She is worried that her connections will be used to flag others. She also encourages people to sign a Change.Org petition.

Another person affected was Storm Faerywolf. He told The Wild Hunt:

I choose to use the name Storm Faerywolf publicly as both a magical and political act; magical, because it reminds me that I have chosen to be an open resource for the Craft, and political because it is my work to help others to live a magical life. Being forced to use only the name on my official ID interferes with my ability to freely express myself and my work.

Storm contacted Facebook immediately but has received no response. He also contacted Sister Roma, who is currently acting as a liaison for anyone dealing with this problem. Since making that contact, he has been informed that his account will be fixed within the next 48 hours but he’s not holding his breath.

According to various reports, the Facebook controversy has not only affected drag queens and Pagans, but has also hit the Native American community.  Sister Roma told the Guardian that “every time one or two get fixed, a handful get suspended … So we really feel like we’re swimming upstream, and while I’m hopeful that Facebook is doing the right thing, it’s discouraging.”

For anyone who has been affected by this ongoing problem, LilHotMess, one of the activists working with Sister Roma, has extended her offer to help restore accounts.  The instructions on how to reach her are listed here.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

In other news:

That is all we have for now.  Have a great day.

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October means many things to many people. It brings apple picking, pumpkins, falling leaves and a bevy of journalists looking to interview a Witch. October is the month that mainstream newspapers around the country feature stories about Witches and the Craft. Although this media attention may seem off-putting to some, others view the seasonal interest as a golden opportunity to dispel myths and demonstrate the beauty and breadth of their spiritual beliefs.

Public Domain Photo

Public Domain Photo

In New Mexico, the Daily-Times published a story titled “Wiccan group in Bloomfield celebrates nature and a shared path.” The story features Janie Felix, the High Priestess of The Order of the Cauldron of the Sage and, as noted in the sub-heading, “the woman behind the Ten Commandments lawsuit.” After Felix, the local witch, made headlines in the spring, it perhaps seemed only appropriate for the local paper to feature her in an article in October.

A Daily-Times reporter visited Felix and other coven members at her home and covenstead, where they shared information about Wicca and their tradition, as well as stories from their own personal spiritual journeys. Felix told The Daily-Times, “I was exploring my spirituality after the Christian church just did not appeal to me. I sat there and turned the pages [of Starhawk's Spiral Dance] and said ‘Yes.’ Everything she said worked for me. It spoke to my feminism and my soul.”  The news article even includes a video of part of a ritual.

In addition to an exploration of Wicca, the Daily-Times reminds readers about Felix’ involvement in the town’s recent religious freedom battle. The article reads, “The [Ten Commandments] case sparked a fair amount of vitriolic reaction, mostly online, which some coven members feel is as unfortunate as it is unnecessary.” The City of Bloomfield is currently appealing the court’s ruling, requiring the removal of the monument. Unfortunately, this legal battle and the accompanying “virtriolic reaction” appear to be on-going, which means that Felix, the local witch, may find herself in the news once again.

Similarly the Gainesville Times interviewed author Lydia Crabtree, a Wiccan living in Buford, Georgia. In this small town paper in the Bible Belt South, the reporter focused on the religious nuances of Wicca more so than the New Mexico reporter. Crabtree answered a number of questions touching on subjects such as “What is Wicca?” “Are there pastors?” and “Why do people confuse Wicca and Satanism?” When asked if she wanted to share anything else about “the Wiccan faith,” Crabtree said:

That it is just as deep and meaningful and daily and present as any other sacred belief someone might hold. And just because I may do it a little differently doesn’t take away how serious it is to me. It’s my life breath.

In Utah, Weber State University‘s student-run newspaper, The Signpost, published an article entitled, “Wiccans, Pagans Worship the Earth.” It opens, “Come Halloween, witches, wands, cauldrons and pentagrams seem to pop up everywhere … For students who practice Wicca or Paganism, wands, pentagrams and magic aren’t just meant for Halloween, they’re a lifestyle.”

The Signpost spoke with Wiccan student Austin Toney, event planner Kirsten “Fluffy” Blake, and Cecilia Delgado, the owner of As Above, So Below metaphysical shop. All three Pagans answered questions about Wicca, in general, and touched briefly on the broader concept Paganism. In this article, Delgado encourages Weber State students “who have questions” to visit her store and to “not just assume that because TV and popular culture has painted one image or another about Wicca that that image is reality.”

Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo.

The secular holiday of Halloween, in all of its commercial glory, sparks a definite type of mainstream news story, which often leads to directed interviews with individuals who identify clearly as Witches or Wiccans. However, the season also throws a spotlight on a population of people who practice a broader spectrum of minority religions. Pagan Pride Day often becomes the launching pad for many of those seasonal media stories.

In Nevada, the Reno Review offered an expansive look at its local Pagan community. Titled “Pagan it Forward,” the article introduces the reader to the diversity of practice in the Reno area, rather than focusing on one person’s or group’s tradition or opinion. The Reno Review first attempts to answer the very difficult question, “What exactly is Paganism?” and then adds, “It really depends on who you ask.” From that point, the article discusses common misconceptions, highlights community activity and features a discussion with Misty Grayknight the co-owner of the Reno Magick Store.

After attending the Northern Nevada Pagan Pride Day, the Reno Review reporter describes the event as “easily overwhelming, sparking sensory explosions from the wafting smells of incense, multiple symbols prevalent around the booths …” But she then adds that, as an outsider, she felt welcomed by the unexpected diversity of people and feeling of acceptance. The article concludes, saying:

Northern Nevada is home to a wide range of Pagan practitioners, from shamans to druids, wiccans to polytheists. Shattering clichéd renderings of wickedly deviant devil worship, mastery of cheap parlor magic, and conventions for naked treks through forests, the diverse Pagan population of Reno has broken down cockamamie notions of evil and established itself as a positive force.

Similar to the Reno Review, a California-based newspaper, the Redlands Daily Facts, focused its fall article on the spirit, community and diversity of Pagan Pride Day. The article opens with details from a past legal entanglement, which forced the Inland Empire Pagan Pride Day event to move from Redlands to Riverside. According to the paper, city spokesman Carl Baker created problems when he noted “a [Redlands] city ordinance prohibiting fortunetellers, card readers and other prognosticators from operating without a license if they receive some kind of compensation.” Organizers moved the festival to a state park where they have had no further problems.

After noting that past hurdle, the Redlands article turns its attention to Pagan Pride Day, highlighting the many reasons people attend the event. The reporter featured comments from attendees of various spiritual backgrounds, including a few non-Pagans who were there just to enjoy the fall festivities. One of the interviewees, Sheri Wells explained to the Redlands reporter that she was Pagan because “being close to the Earth makes me a better person. It keeps me grounded. It keeps my life in perspective, and it makes me appreciate more the blessings that I have on a daily basis. When you respect the land, you respect life. When you respect life, you respect humanity.”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

The mainstream news also turned up at the Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride Day held in Tacoma, Washington. Like California’s Redlands Daily Facts, the Bellingham Herald gave a general overview of the day’s event. However, the Herald provided a more expansive look at the population’s religious diversity. The reporter interviewed PPD organizer and Wiccan Angela Wehnert, African-Caribbean Witch Uwanna Thomas, Heathen Dan McDonald, Druid Karen LaFe and others.

In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal turned out for the city’s 17th annual Pagan Pride Day event. Reporters sat down to speak with Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox and PPD coordinator Jessica Maus. The article begins with, “There were no apparent Patronus Charms or any such sorcery going on at Winnequah Park Saturday as believers of various alternative stripes gathered for the 17th annual Pagan Pride Day.” Fox and Maus discuss their own practices, Paganism and the role of Pagan Pride Day within the community. Fox later told The Wild Hunt that she believes that this fall season “is a good time to do public education about the Craft and Paganism.”

The listed articles are certainly not the only ones currently circulating; nor will they be the last. Halloween turns the general public’s attention to witches, for better or worse, presenting an opportunity to share the reality of Witchcraft. As Fox suggested, “it’s a good time for education.”

Moreover, Pagan Pride Day events fall during the same season, which helps to capture the attention of a news industry already interested in related topics. Once again, an opportunity presents itself to openly discuss misconceptions, the distinctions of practice and, more importantly, separate the public’s passion for fictional Hollywood fare from, both the reality of Witchcraft and the reality and diversity of Pagan and Heathen traditions. While the published results of these interviews are not always perfect and often contain arguable points, the intent is generally positive, which can ultimately benefit Pagans and Heathens throughout the rest of the year and into the future.

There are many surviving ancient and sacred spaces around the world. Some are protected and used for spiritual practice; some have become popular tourist destinations; and some are left to the whims of a changing culture. These sacred spaces range from human constructions to natural lands built only by the elements. From the ancient Greek temples in Agrigento, Italy to the ruins in Arizona’s Wuptaki National Monument, these spaces resonate with many contemporary people in their work to honor, reconstruct, practice and celebrate time-honored religious traditions, the associated cultures and surrounding ecology.

Unfortunately, many of these unprotected spaces, whether purely natural or human-engineered, are open to threats posed by modern construction in the name of so-called “progress” and industrialization. One such place that has recently drawn international attention is the mountain of Mauna Kea on the “Big Island” in Hawai’i.

"Mauna Kea from the ocean"[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

“Mauna Kea from the ocean”[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

Mauna Kea rises over 13,000 feet above sea level and is a dormant volcano with surrounding lands that feature native species of plant and animal. The area has long been held sacred to the native Hawaiian people and is a definitive part of ancient religious beliefs and practices. At the same time, the mountaintop was discovered to be one of the best places on Earth to study astronomy. These two realities have to come into conflict.

Today, Mauna Kea has 13 observatories on its summit funded by over 11 countries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists discovered Mauna Kea’s optimal conditions for telescope viewing. When it was finally possible to reach the mountain, the University of Hawai’i (UH) was granted a 65-year lease to develop the land for research. By the late 1970s, other organizations began to request authorization to sub-lease that property. Those agreements are what has led to the large number of telescopes on the mountain today.

Protests began almost immediately after the first UH telescope was completed. Locals were concerned not only about the destruction of a sacred religious space but also about disturbances to the indigenous wildlife, some of which is native only to that area. In the 1980s, the state published a development plan and environmental impact report. In 2000, the plan was updated “to include community involvement” and the Office of Mauna Kea Management was established.

However, it was only a few short years later that a new $1.4 billion Thirty-Meter Telescope was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. This colossal telescope, called TMT, would be the largest and most advanced in the world with an optical ability 10x greater than any working telescope. According to an AP report, “The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.” Headed by Caltech and the University of California, the project is being funded jointly by interests from the United States, Japan, Canada, India and China.

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation  via Wikimedia]

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia]

In 2011, the Hawai’i Board of Land and Resources gave preliminary approval for the sub-lease and construction of the telescope. Despite legal actions and protests from locals, the Board gave its final approval in April 2013. The date for completion would be 2022.

Opponents filed an appeal in May 2013 in yet another attempt to stop the project. The appeal reads:

Mauna Kea advocates are seeking justice in Hawai‘i courts … It is unfortunate when public citizens are forced to go through court proceedings when developments such as the TMT Project are systematically granted permits by the BLNR despite these projects not meeting the criteria as outlined in Hawai`i State law … We must proceed ahead and be idle no more. Mauna a Wakea is still sacred.

One of the laws that is being broken is a building height code. The proposed TMT would become the tallest building on the island. Along with environmental concerns and a destruction of sacred space, opponents also point to a direct violation of state codes.

The first appeal was eventually denied when the courts upheld the Board’s decision to allow the sublease. According to reports, four individual opponents, Kealoha Pisciotta, Clarence Ching, Paul Neves and E. Kalani Flores, were not giving up and have since decided to take the issue back to court in four separate cases representing only themselves. Despite the threat of future court action, the TMT Observatory Corporation felt comfortable moving forward and set the groundbreaking ceremony for Oct. 7.

What the TMT Observatory Corporation didn’t expect is what happened on that day. Protestors blocked the road leading up to ground-breaking ceremony site. They spoke out, chanted and held signs that read things like “Your Mother is Not a Commodity” or “Too Many Telescopes.” The vans carrying attendees were forced to slow down or stop entirely. Much of this was captured on video:

Later the same group of protestors interrupted the ceremony itself. Led by Pua Case and Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, they stood before the crowd of attendees and addressed investors. In a desperate emotional appeal, one woman says to a group of Japanese men, “You let Mount Fuji stand; Mount Fuji is sacred. Our Mauna Kea is just as sacred as Mount Fuji. Please hear us. Hear us … She protects us.”  This was also caught on video:

The protests were echoed in Palo Alto, California where a group of people stood outside of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation offices. The Foundation is one of the American investors backing the TMT project. The California protest was led by Kauʻi Peralto, a Hawaiian cultural educator at Stanford University, and was also supported by the Santa Cruz Indigenous Solidarity, the Wintun tribe of Northern California and many other concerned individuals.

In a blog post, Kealoha Pisciotta a native Hawai’in, local activist and president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, described best the meaning of the mountain and why all of these people have come together to stop a project that would otherwise seem beneficial to human understanding and scientific discovery. Pisciotta describes Mauna Kea as the “temple of the creators,” which is home to the deities that gave birth to the Hawaiian people. It is the meeting of Earth Mother and Earth Father. She writes, ” Mauna Kea in every respect represents the zenith of the Native Hawaiian people’s ancestral ties to Creation itself.”

The mountain is featured in many Polynesian myths and religious stories. It is considered a place of calm and a place of peace. She writes:

When we look to Mauna Kea, we look from Mauna Kea and we look within ourselves to find our responsibility to Mauna Kea and hence our place in the world. We move through time and space back to our beginning, to the time when the Pō (darkness of creation) gave birth to the Ao (light of creation) … We feel honored that we are allowed to be there, humbled by the majesty and greatness of Mauna Kea.

Another activist, one of the protest leaders, and a Hawaiian cultural educator, Pua Case regularly incorporates the mountain into her own personal spiritual practice. She told a San Francisco reporter:

Almost no matter where I look, there’s something foreign there. I can never just pray as you would in a forest where there are just trees — where no matter where you faced,  it would be just you and your forest, you and your gods, you and your spirit. I’m afraid if there’s one more thing, I can never really look at my mountain and pray without having to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ 

Case was unfortunately unavailable for interview but did briefly say that the spiritual practices of her native people are very complex and connect deeply to this mountain.

Last week’s protests did successfully halt the TMT groundbreaking. However, the project is still moving forward, if only delayed. Case, Pisciotta and many others pledge to continue the battle to save their mountain, their sacred space, their protector and, in doing so, preserve a specialized local ecology and a piece of native Hawaiian culture.

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

Pagan Federation

In recent weeks, the BBC and other media outlets have published articles on the increase in Witchcraft related violence in the UK. As a BBC article reports, police have had “27 allegations” this year alone which is up from 24 in 2013. After reading the reports, a senior Religious Education official contacted the Pagan Federation with concerns that the stories might cause misunderstandings with respect to Pagan religious practice in the UK. 

In response, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal said, “I was particularly grateful to him for drawing my attention to the article.” In a public statement, Stygal explained, in detail, his deep concerns with the way mainstream media and officials have handled these child abuse cases. He said, “I’d quite like another opportunity to meet with … the appropriate government representative to see if we can find a way to highlight the issues whilst limiting the potential for misunderstandings about modern Pagans.” Both the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Centre for Pagan Studies have both come forward to endorse Stygal’s statement. To read it in full, click here

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CPWR Logo.Planning is underway for next year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions to be held in Salt Lake City. In the last week, the Council put out a call for programs, saying, “Everyone who attends the Parliament has wisdom to share – from those who are having their first interfaith experience to those who are steeped in interfaith. The purpose of this gathering is to support relationships, connections, and inspired calls to action which can then ripple out from the Parliament into hundreds of grassroots organizations, networks, and communities.”  Of the thousands of submissions, only about 10% will be selected for inclusion in the program. The application and submission guidelines can be found on their website.

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Starhawk at Harvard Divinity School.

While many people are focused on Pagan Pride, fall festivals, Samhain and Halloween, another day sits just over the horizon. On Nov. 4, the U.S. will hold its general elections. On her blog Dirt Worship, Starhawk offers a post entitled, “Why Vote?” in which she lists “the practical, political and spiritual reasons” to get off the couch and head to the polls. She says that after you vote,”the world will not have transformed overnight. The Great Turning won’t have turned. The Good Guys will not have completely triumphed over the Bad Guys. But the world might just be a slight bit better than it would have been otherwise. And that small difference might be the divergence in the path that heads us away from destruction and onto the road to hope.”

In Other News

  • The struggle to keep religion out of schools is not only a U.S. problem. As reported on Oct 6 by SAPRA’s Damon Leff, the South African government has conflicting and problematic policies with regards to the teaching of religion within its public school system.
  • Around Samhain, Wild Hunt columnist Rhyd Wildermuth will be releasing his new book Your Face is a Forest, “a collection of prosaic wanderings and essays.” All profits from the book’s sale will be used toward funding his trip to the UK and Ireland in December. Rhyd was selected to attend the Winter Solstice festivities at Newgrange. When he returns, he will be reporting on that unique experience here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The Patrick McCollum Foundation has announced an opening for two interns. The positions are for volunteers, preferably graduate students, who want to work with the organization in its mission “to further world peace, planetary sustainability, environmental protection, and human rights, including the advancement of women’s rights.” For more information, contact executive director Nell Rose Phillips.
  • In the coming weeks, the organizers of PaganPro.org will be launching a new website with a series of public surveys that will eventually become the basis of a new online service. Chairperson Lydia M N Crabtree says,”PaganPro.org will be the first site to offer real and verified information about Pagan and occult leaders.” The surveys are the first step in building that database.
  • This month, Red Wheel Weiser Books is releasing a book called The Hedgewitch Book of Days by Mandy Mitchell. The book is “aimed at the practicing or would-be witch whose life is more jeans, chaos and the never-ending question of what’s for dinner, instead of black-robes, cauldrons, and incantations.”
  • Here’s a brief update on our own Fall Funding Drive. You have helped us to reach 96% of our campaign goal. Amazing! To all of those people and organizations who have already donated, thank you so very much. We can’t do this work everyday without your support. If you haven’t donated yet, please consider contributing today. If you have already donated, won’t you share our link and give us the extra boost needed to raise the remaining funds.

The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. Donate Now!

That’s all for now! Have a great day.

[Remember our Fall Fund Drive is still going on. Your support and your donation is what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles and commentary daily, please consider donating today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected the appeal of Ohio science teacher John Freshwater, who was fired for teaching Creationism in the public school system. The case, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, first made its way through the Ohio courts, where it was ultimately ruled that “the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education had ‘good and just cause’ to terminate John Freshwater’s teaching contract.” When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, the justices rejected it, thereby, allowing the Ohio court’s opinion to stand.

vernon_logoThis case is a recent example of a public school system becoming the playing field for a tug of war match between secularism and religion. According to Americans United (AU), the teacher not only taught Creationism in the classroom, but he displayed and handed-out religious material, and also performed surveys of students’ religious beliefs. AU also notes that the teacher was “accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm.”

Although the Ohio courts ruled that it was legal for Freshwater to place his personal Bible on the desk, his actions were otherwise out of line. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said, “Freshwater was using his position to foist his religious beliefs onto impressionable students. The courts rightfully put a stop to that.”

For Pagan and Heathen parents or others practicing minority religions, there may come a time when religion is “foisted” upon their children within the public school environment. In most cases, the situation is likely an unthinking act, and indicative of a changing culture or shift in demographics. Minor missteps do happen and can often be remedied through conversations, education and awareness. Unfortunately, in some instances, such as the Ohio case above, the acts are blatant attempts at promoting a single religion.

The Satanic Temple's Children's Activity Book

Created by The Satanic Temple

Last year, Florida’s Orange County School Board allowed The World Changers of Florida to distribute Bibles to their students. After being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Central Florida Freethought Community, the school board approved the distribution of other religious material, which now includes pamphlets on Atheism and the Satanic Temple’s coloring book called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

Similarly, the Madison County School Board in Georgia allowed a privately funded religious monument to be erected outside a high school football team’s field house. According to local news, the statue reads, “Romans 8:31: ‘If God be for us who can be against us?’ and Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ ” Last month, the school board was contacted by both the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and is now facing a potential lawsuit.

In all three of these cases, the intention and, therefore the violation, is very clear. However, not all cases are quite as “cut and dry.” Over the past fifteen years, a national organization called “The Good News Club,” has been establishing after-school enrichment programs within public school buildings. With the growing number of working parents, these in-school extracurricular programs have become increasingly popular, serving a very needed purpose for modern families.

However, The Good News Club is a division of The Child Evangelism Fellowship and has a clear and direct religious initiative. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the club, and others like it, can legally hold after-school meetings within public school buildings. (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School)  Despite that ruling, the club’s presence continues to spark controversy.

In Portland, Oregon, a large coalition has recently formed with the aim of stopping the Good News Club’s in-school activities. According to The Oregonian, its formation was sparked when Katherine Stewart published her book called The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children.

Due to the SCOTUS ruling, that situation is not easy to legally negotiate. In an interview with The Oregonian, ACLU David Fidanque said, “I don’t know that there is a bright line anymore.” While acknowledging the club’s legal right to be in the school, he expressed real concern saying:

Keeping the government out of religious affairs is the single most important thing we can do to protect religious freedom in this country. If we allow our government institutions to endorse particular religious viewpoints, or even to promote religion in general over non-religion that is a threat to every form of religion.

1969339_231559560385952_2907068694561940975_nEven if The Good News Club is staying within its constitutional rights, Fidanque’s concerns are justified when looking at other similar situations. Growing in popularity in Georgia is another after-school religious club called Rise UP. The organizers make no effort to mask their affiliation with area schools. The website advertises, “Several other local elementary schools expressed interest in starting a similar program. We were excited about the possibility of partnering with these other parents and schools… there are new schools joining the RISE UP! Team as each school year starts – RISE UP! has a total of 9 elementary schools participating!” Did the schools ask to join or did the club ask to use the space?  Does that distinction matter?

Another way school systems intentionally or unintentionally allow religious speak into their public space is through visiting authors. Schools often hold assemblies during which a writer might speak, entertain, and read from his or her latest book. It is a very common occurrence and, in most cases, quite innocuous.

However, when that author writes with a strong religious directive, like popular Christian author Bryan Davis, the assembly could become problematic. Davis’ books reflect a deep connection to his own personal theology. While his work is certainly fitting for church assemblies, is it appropriate for public school children? Is it constitutionally legal for Davis to be speaking about and selling books that openly promote the celebration of one’s “God-given talents” and overtly discuss “faith, prayer and redemption” within the public school system? Interestingly, two of the participating middle schools are in Orange County, Florida, where the Bibles are being distributed.

These are only a few recent examples of cases in which an uncomfortable situation could arise for Pagan, Heathen or other families practicing a minority religion. There are many others situations from the minor missteps by a well-meaning teacher to the blatant promotion of a single religion. On Polytheist.com, parent Niki Whiting described her own encounter:

For a few brief weeks when we sent my son to the neighborhood kindergarten we had to deal with his confusion around the Pledge of Allegiance. I was surprised that this was still said in schools. He came home and asked why the school was trying to make him Christian. Already, in his (then) 5 short years of life, he knew that when people say ‘God’ they are mostly referring to Yahweh. “Don’t they know that the world is full of gods?” he asked. No, no, my son, they do not.

pagans_and_the_law_mainWhile every situation doesn’t need a lawyer, there may be times when a friendly email is just not enough. What should a parent do in such situations?  In her book Pagans and the Law, lawyer Dana Eilers suggests, “A basic understanding of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and their history is essential to grasping the enormity of religious freedom.” Her book lays out the basics as they pertain specifically to Pagans. She writes, “It is highly recommended that everyone read this document, boring as it appears. It is what stands between you and 10 thousand years of discrimination, persecution, and darkness.”

Another resource is Lady Liberty League. Co-founder Rev. Selena Fox has this recommendation:

Documentation is essential. Keep a log with dates and details of what has happened and what has been done to express concerns and get positive resolution. Check into the school’s policies and processes for filing complaints and voicing concerns. Keep a copy of every written communication you make and receive regarding the situation. Share this information with individuals and organizations you contact for help.

While fighting these battles may be difficult, costly and time consuming, not every situation leads to a lengthy court battle. Byron Ballard, who has worked extensively and very successfully with North Carolina’s Buncombe County School Board, found herself in the middle of such a situation in 2011. As reported by The Wild Hunt, the school board allowed Bibles to be distributed to students and a Pagan mother protested. Ballard was an integral part of resolving the tensions and finding workable solutions. Ballard advises looking for allies, adding that some may “come from surprising places.” Some of her allies  have been leaders from mainstream religious institutions. She says:

My best advice is to stay grounded, be persistent and try to really listen to all sides of the issue at hand. This work is about rights and responsibility, about shifting cultures. But it’s actually about making public schools safe places for all children to learn and to grow into caring, compassionate adults.

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]