Archives For Heather Greene

Help fund another year of independent journalism at The Wild Hunt.
Your support makes it happen.

From Managing Editor Heather Greene:

The Wild Hunt is now in its twelfth year. What began as an experiment in 2004 by an enthusiastic novice, has slowly developed into one of the most widely-read news journals serving the modern Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities worldwide.Thousands of people visit our site to read the work of a talented and diverse group of writers, all of whom are dedicated to The Wild Hunt’s vision. As editor and as a member of this collective community experience, I am compelled to do this work. For me, it is both an education and an adventure. And even after all this time, I am humbled to read the daily positive feedback, and to learn of the place that this news service has in people’s lives.

squarefdriveYour support and enthusiasm has made our incredible growth possible. In 2012, you helped us to shepherd a small blog into a bigger project with an editorial structure, a group of regular writers, and a selection of monthly columnists, who continually challenge and enlighten us. In 2014, we made another big transition as we said goodbye to founding editor Jason Pitzl, and set off to create the next chapter of our story.

This past two years of been an exciting time of change and growth. We are now a fully independent, incorporated news agency with nonprofit status through Independent Arts and Media, based in San Francisco. We have added more talented columnists and news writers. This expansion has helped us to cover and discuss a greater diversity of topics, and also to better reflect the communities that we serve. Part of that expansion was the addition of Canadian and U.K. news correspondents to help with weekly stories in those countries.

On Monday we began the new 2016 Fall Funding Drive. We are asking for a base budget of $18,000 to run the site for another year. We hope that you will help us, once again, not only meet this goal, but surpass it. The more we raise, the more we can do. Want to see more monthly columnists? More posts per day? Want to see more weekly writers? Then we must push well past that base goal in the coming month.

There are thousands of readers out there. It would only take a small donation from each one of us to go well beyond the funding goal and to allow us to better serve you with a robust and expanding news service.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO OUR INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN! 

I have always believed very strongly in the power and magical presence of the written word. When I joined the Wild Hunt writing team, I believed not only in its mission at the time, but I also saw its future. That future was linked to a growing vibrant, colorful, and inspiring religious movement – one that I treasure personally.

My belief in our mission has not wavered. As editor, my goal is to continue nurturing our growth, serving our collective communities, supporting the writers, and building a solid infrastructure that will allow The Wild Hunt to exist far into the future – well past my own time here. When I took over, I invited you to join us on our journey and I extend that invitation once again.

Our $18,000 funding goal will allow us to pay our writers, including our guests, and to cover technology and business expenses. Our partnership with Independent Arts and Media makes it possible for all donations to be tax-deductible. Every single dollar spent goes back into making The Wild Hunt a strong, relevant resource that is always available to you.

For this year’s funding drive, we have included new exciting perks, including the brand new Wild Hunt T-shirt containing our slogan: “We don’t stir the cauldron; we cover it.”

And, yes,The Viking Panda is back!

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Thank you to all of those who have already contributed to the 2016 Wild Hunt Fall Funding Drive and to those many people who have donated over the past years. This is your news agency, and we are happy to keep serving you each and every day.

If you can’t contribute now, you can still help! Just share this campaign on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr, on your favorite email list, and let them know why The Wild Hunt is important to you. The more people speak out, the better we can do!


ONCE AGAIN, HERE IS A LINK TO OUR CAMPAIGN.

 

See what people have said over social media:

“Incredible article. Well written and makes me so proud of my fellow Pagans and Witches.” – E. Shaw

“TWH doing its usual good digging.” – J. Hurd

“I’m happy to have found you (I had never seen a pagan news journal before). I’m a fellow pagan from Brazil. – Marina L.F.

“Crikey, but I wish more people would read The Wild Hunt!” – J. Sobchack

 

THE WILD HUNT 2016 FALL FUNDING DRIVE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! 

Review: Blair Witch (2016)

Heather Greene —  September 18, 2016 — 3 Comments

TWH – In 1994, three student filmmakers walked off into the dense woods near Burkettsville, Maryland in hopes of a discovering the truth behind a local legend. They were never heard from again. One year later, their equipment was found, and the footage became the film The Blair Witch Project (1999). This weekend, the story continues in a new film, with the brother of one of the lost filmmakers traveling to the mysterious Black Hills of Maryland in hopes of learning exactly what happened 22 years ago.

Or so the story goes.

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While the Blair Witch project did begin in earnest 1994, the entire film venture is manufactured, including the plot, the legend, the town, the footage, and even the made-for-television, promotional mockumentary, titled Curse of the Blair Witch (1999). Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project was an indie success, a technical novelty, and a marker of its time. According to a Fortune magazine article, the film cost $60,000 to make, and earned $1.5 million at the box office on the first weekend, while only in 27 theaters. [i]

Outside of the early buzz created by the SyFy Channel’s pre-release of the mockumentry, The Blair Witch Project captured the imagination of a viewership already engrossed with supernatural or paranormal entertainment vehicles (e.g., X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, So Weird, Ancient Mysteries). In addition, new technology was quickly eliminating barriers to indie filmmaking, making the film’s concept very possible.

This new digital medium, far more than its analog counterpart, also increasingly allowed for the construction and the reconstruction of recorded reality, leaving much room for the manipulation of our nonfictional storytelling. What is real and what has been falsified? Can we trust what we see in photos and film? In that way, The Blair Witch Project at its very essence captured not only its own time, but also what was to come. It seemed to be a doorway into the new millennium of how we tell our stories.

The breakout success of the original Blair Witch Project led to a 2000 sequel, titled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which was directed by Joe Berlinger. However, the sequel, costing $10 million, was unsuccessful, failing to capture the original’s grit or poignancy. Hard-core fans and reviewers often remark that they would simply like to forget that the second film even happened. In 2000, New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden had some kinder words for the film, but added, “For all its clever notions, ‘Book of Shadows’ often seems more like a montage of pasted-together images than a coherent horror story.” [ii]

With the end of the witch film cycle at hand and the poor showing of the second film, this seemed to be the end for The Blair Witch Project. However, in 2016, as witch films have made a return to the screen, so has the Blair Witch.

Before going forward, this review will discuss some, not all, details of the new film. If you haven’t seen it, you can stop here. However, with that said, neither The Blair Witch Project nor Blair Witch are heavily dependent on plot elements for enjoyment. In other words, even if you know what is going to happen, your viewing experience won’t necessarily be spoiled. Both films operate as journeys, and the tension is created in the process and not the story itself. It is analogous to riding a roller coaster. No matter how many times, or in what detail, a friend tells you about roller coaster, the experience of riding can never be spoiled. That is how both The Blair Witch Project and Blair Witch work.

In this new film, Jason, the brother of lost filmmaker Heather, seeks to find the truth of what happened in 1994. He is accompanied by a friend and indie filmmaker Lisa, his best friend Peter and Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley. When arriving in Burkettsville, Maryland, the group meets up with locals Lane and Talia, who accompany them into the woods. From there the search begins.

Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, Blair Witch (2016) is structured identically to the original. It is more of the same, from character introductions, through equipment gathering and travel, to the trek into the woods. Once in the Black Hills, like its predecessor, the film progresses through a slow buildup of a tension, making use of the film’s medium and documentary approach (e.g., extreme close-ups, quick cuts, movement, and point of view).

In many ways, it’s a repeat with new characters and contemporary technology. And like the original, we are trapped in the cameras, which for this film have been increased in number. This visual claustrophobia mirrors the characters’ mounting fears. You might find yourself frustrated and tense, asking, “What is going on?” While it serves the purpose well for most of the film, there are points where it becomes a detriment.

But as much as Blair Witch mirrors its parent, the two are not the same. The new film spends less time focused on the investigation, or legend-tripping, and more time enjoying the horror. The original film worked through a slow buildup to its end. The new film jumps quickly into its terror points, moving ever faster from one to other and slowing down only to enjoy itself once there. For example, the narrative stops fully to indulge in the removal of a wound’s bandage, emphasizing the experience of disgust with the heightened sound of what seems to be wound and ooze.

Additionally, Blair Witch makes a few interesting attempts at layered characterizations, moreso than the original. For example, when the four friends enter Lane and Talia’s living room, they find a confederate flag hangs on the wall. From presumably Jason’s camera view, we watch Peter, who is black, look at the flag and then turn back to the camera. His disgusted expression is poignant and unmistakable. Minutes later the four are outside and Jason asks whether they should take Lane and Talia on the trek. Without a pause, Peter says emphatically, “No,” and his facial expression once again says it all. Unfortunately, the film abandons these clever indulgences in characterization as soon as it takes up its horror role.

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Lionsgate “Blair Witch” (2016)

But what about the Blair Witch herself? This is another point where the film deviates from its parent. As noted earlier, the original narrative was presented as a legend-tripping experience, with the object of fear being only an archetype that lives within our collective culture consciousness. She is the Baba Yaga figure, the monster in the woods. But is she real? The first film leaves that answer to the imagination.

Blair Witch moves in a different direction, offering viewers an answer to that very question. There is in fact an object. There is a monster. Although it is not visually made clear, this thing in the woods is called the Blair Witch and gendered as female. “Don’t look at her directly and she won’t hurt you,” says Lisa. With that definition, the monster becomes, in earnest, the old woman in the woods, a symbol of primal fear and that which is unattainable and wild. The new film leaves no question as to the existence of the monster.

This age-old archetype of Baba Yaga or the wild woman in the woods pervades American witch films across the decades. Woman’s power is equated to that which is naturally wild and uncontrollably dangerous. In Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948), the influence of the weird sisters and that Lady Macbeth are visually juxtaposed to leafless trees, storms, rocks and night sky. In the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick (1987), the devil, portrayed by Jack Nicholson, angrily asks a congregation if God made a mistake when creating woman. Then he says, “When we make a mistake, it’s called evil. When God makes a mistake it’s called nature.” But even more recently, Roger Eggers’ The Witch uses the very Baba Yaga archetype found in Blair Witch as a counter to the severity of social control present in early Puritan America. In these examples, woman is nature, and nature is magic, and it is all uncontrollable.

While the story is pervasive in western society, it doesn’t always sit well with modern Witchcraft practitioners due chiefly to the religious implications placed on it by Christian theology. In fact, Berlinger’s Book of Shadows included Erica, a Wiccan character who was unhappy with the first film’s portrayal of the witch.

In reality, modern Witches have had a mixed response to the Blair Witch films, as often is the case. In 1999, blogger Peg Aloi spoke with directors Myrick and Sánchez about the archetype. Myrick said, “We never meant to say anything bad about Witches in general.” The use of the witch was just a reason to “get the kids out there.” It was a plot device or what Myrick called “a triggering mechanism.” The original film was essentially mimicking the popular teenage legend-tripping experience, which can be horrifying in and of itself. As Sanchez remarks, “It has nothing to do with witches.”[iii]

The original directors were, in fact, very conscious of modern Paganism. They included a bit on Wicca in their promotional mockumentary. Among the other “footage,” they inter-spliced segments from a fake 1971 film called “Mystic Experiences.” Aside from its use of the term Wiccanism as a name for the religion, this segment, which allegedly featured a real Witch, is as authentic feeling as any other piece of the mockumentary.

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Still From: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

However, as noted earlier, the new Blair Witch takes the archetype into a different place, well beyond the surreal experience of legends, ghost stories, and the imagination. Here, although mostly visually obscured, “the witch” is a real object of some kind. This monster is not derived simply in the mind, from centuries of legends and a collective fear of the woods. It is there. It is real, and it is described to us, through the characters and their collective cultural understanding, as being female.

While the film’s many embedded traditional horror elements, like this manifested monster, may bother some fans, the new film could not have functioned in the same way as the original. Part of its success was in the confusion as to what aspects of the story were real, and what were constructed. The suggestion of reality added to the original’s terror.

Now we know the story.

For a successful 2016 reboot, Blair Witch needed to find a new terror device to take the place of that tension. It chose classic visual and audible horror tropes, like jump-moments, gore, bodies, intense sounds, thunderstorms, tight shots, obscured imagery, and a very classic manifested horror monster.

The new story is about the witch, and it will continue to be so if there is another journey. The franchise has no choice…for better or worse.

While the many classic horror details are not, in and of themselves, disappointing or distracting, they do give Blair Witch a different feel and speed than the original film. Hard core fans, as noted earlier, might be disappointed with that shift. For others, it may be a plus.

No, Blair Witch does not (and could not) have the technological ingenuity of the original, and it will not hold the same cultural significance. However, despite any flaws and differences, it is a well-structured horror film that moves through its thin story and delivers on entertainment. Many viewers will enjoy going back to the Black Hills again in search for the truth, which in the end is apparently out there.

*    *    *

[i] Carvell, Tim. “How The Blair Witch Project Built Up So Much Buzz Movie Moguldom on a Shoestring.” Fortune Magazine. (Aug. 16, 1999)
[ii] Holden, Stephen. “Burkittsville Revisited, With More Mind Games.” Rev. of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Dir. Joe Berlinger. New York Times (Oct 27, 2000)
[iii] Aloi, Peg. “Blair Witch Project: an interview with directors.” Witchvox, (July 11, 1999)

Gavin Frost, 1930 – 2016

Heather Greene —  September 13, 2016 — 187 Comments

In the early morning hours Sunday, Wiccan priest, teacher, and author Gavin Frost died after enduring significant pain from numerous internal physical problems. Gavin had surgery scheduled for late September, but his physical condition worsened making the operation impossible. As early as July, he told his daughter Jo that “he was ready — if he got really sick again to let him go.”

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“Blessed Be those who seek” – Gavin Frost

Gavin Frost was born in Aldridge, Staffordshire, England, Nov. 20, 1930. According to Raymond Buckland, Gavin was “raised in a tight-knit family group ruled by his hard-working, hard-drinking Welshman grandfather.”  But in 1936 after his grandfather died, Gavin’s family moved way from the area to the southwestern coast of England. His daughter Jo said that, as a little boy, he was fond of watching the busy planes and trains moving about the region.

Earlier than most, Gavin was enrolled in boarding school and, after completion, he began his studies at the University of London, King’s College. There, Gavin developed an interest in math and physics, graduating in 1952 with a Bachelor’s of Science in math. He eventually went on to earn a doctorate in physics and mathematics, finishing his dissertation work with the Department of Atomic Energy in Cumbria, England.

In the meantime, Gavin also was developing an interest in the occult. Along with the sciences, Gavin studied the history and mythology of the U.K. and the people that had lived there. In 1948, he was initiated into the coven of Boskednan, based in Cornwall. In a blog post, he wrote, “At that time the young people in college and returning from World War II were all into new lifestyles and religions.” Just as he was finishing college himself, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed and Gardner and other occult figures were becoming more public in the country.

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During the following decade, Gavin pursued a successful career with the aerospace industry, married his first wife Dorothy and moved and traveled around the world. He lived in Canada, England, the U.S. and Germany, eventually settling in Southern California. In 1966, he met Yvonne Wilson, who was also working in the aerospace industry. She would eventually become his second wife and partner in religious work.

In 1968, Gavin and Yvonne moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and formed their first coven using the correspondence course method. This became the Church and School of Wicca, which still exists today. The couple married in 1970, and obtained tax-exempt status for their church in 1972, making it the second U.S. Pagan church, behind the Church of All Worlds, to receive that coveted status. Additionally, Gavin and Yvonne were members of the first American Council of Witches, which met in 1974 at Witchmoot in Minneapolis.

At the same time, Gavin and Yvonne began writing books and attending events. Their very first book proved to be their most controversial: The Witch’s Bible: How to Practice the Oldest Religion was published in 1972. It was followed by The Magic Power of Witchcraft in 1976 and many more over the next forty years.

In addition, their work, specifically their writing, was instrumental in helping the Craft increase public legal recognition in the 1980s. Their teachings were cited in the Dettmer v. Landon case in Virginia, in which the judge eventually ruled that Wicca was indeed a true religion. This was one of the many such cases being heard over that decade.

In May 2016, Gavin told The Wild Hunt*, “To be clear on that topic: The prisoners in Virginia who started the case which got the ruling should be credited with having a great intestinal fortitude and causing the judge to rule in our favor. Yes, we wrote the letters; yes, we published a book.  But we did not actually bring the case before the court.”

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Gavin, along with Yvonne, continued to teach on the festival circuit, to write, and to act as clergy through their church. They took a vow of poverty, and eventually moved from Missouri to New Bern, North Carolina and then to Charleston, West Virginia. They also appeared on radio and television and, despite their disinterest in using email, they eventually began hosting a blog called “The Dancing Wiccans.”

Jo recalls, “[Gavin] was a loving, if not always present parent, putting the Church of Wicca as his first priority — a journey he and Yvonne shared […] Part of the joy of the Church of Wicca for him was challenging people to see if they lived up to their aspirations for themselves, something he also struggled to do. He searched his whole life for wisdom, sharing what he knew along the way.”

But Gavin’s life was not without controversy. Speaking on a personal level, Jo said, “Most of what people do not like about Gavin had to do with how he challenged them […] They would leave a conversation angry and then try to make that fit their paradigm, but he challenged himself as much as, or more than, he challenged others around him. I think that is an inherent part of who he was — are you facing your demons? What do you see there? […] He was not an easy person to know.”

Beyond the personal, Gavin, along with Yvonne, were continually at the center of public controversy surrounding their 1972 book The Witch’s Bible: How to Practice the Oldest religion. It was considered highly controversial from the day it was released, as noted by Gavin himself, and has been openly rejected by many ever since. According to several accounts, the book allegedly almost led to a court case in 1974, only two years after its publication. By Gavin’s account, the problem was over its title, not its content. However, others remember differently.

Regardless, as time went by, it was not the title that continued to ignite outrage; it was, in fact, the book’s contents, specifically those pages describing the sexual initiation of children. Protests over that content have erupted as recently as this past spring. When the book was re-released in 1993, it reportedly was altered, including a note that addresses the offending sections. It was also renamed the Good Witch’s Bible. Gavin said that the book was edited again for a 2014 reissue. He said that this later edit was done in the wake of that year’s protests and at the “urging of other Wiccans.”

[Courtesy Chas Clifton]

[Courtesy Chas Clifton]

Over the past several years, Gavin began making fewer and fewer appearances at festivals. Part of that was directly due to the enduring controversy with fewer venues wanting the couple to present. When asked about his decreased attendance, Gavin told The Wild Hunt that, in addition to the community backlash, “We’re not sure that we have anything new to say to festival attendees.”

He also added, “We are getting older; travel is becoming more and more stressful.” Jo agreed, saying that her father had been slowing down over the past four years. During the 2016 FPG event, Gavin had to be taken to the hospital.

Doctors eventually discovered a tear in Gavin’s intestine, which was causing significant discomfort. Surgery was scheduled for late September. However the tear worsened, causing more damage, internal infection, and severe pain. He was rushed to the hospital Sept. 5, and admitted to the ICU. Jo said, “There are no words for his experience. His nurses would cry because they felt so sorry for him and there was so little they could do besides manage his pain and try to rebuild his strength. His body released him early [Sunday] morning allowing him to cross over and to be free of the pain.”

Gavin Frost was one and will remain one of the most controversial figures in the modern American Witchcraft movement. With that said, there are still many people who continue to be devoted to the Frosts, the Church and School of Wicca, and its teachings. There are also just as many who will continue to speak out against that work and writings.

A memorial is being held Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. at the New River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Beckley, West Virginia. During the service, there will be an opportunity for those that wish to speak in remembrance. Jo said, “We wish for this to be a celebration. We are all so very grateful for everyone’s kind words and thoughts.”

What is remembered, lives.

 *     *     *

[Editor’s Note: After the most recent controversy, The Wild Hunt reached out to the Frosts for an interview on the book and the issues. Due to Gavin’s illness and their use of snail mail, the response was not immediate. However, they did eventually respond, answering all the questions. The quoted conversations made to the Wild Hunt in this article are taken from that letter.]

 

UPDATE 9-15-16: This article was updated to correct the year of the Frosts marriage from 1968 to 1970.

“TV can be art. TV can be revolutionary. TV can be popular entertainment AND incite critical dialogue. Audiences are hungry and intelligent enough for challenging work. This describes the philosophy behind BRUJOS…” – from BRUJOS

CHICAGO — There is no doubt that the power held by visual narrative media, from film to television to fine art, is unmatched and only increasing in our contemporary digitally-infected world. Going back in time, American filmmakers alone have been entertaining, guiding, and challenging the opinions of viewers for nearly 120 years. From mainstream blockbusters to art house projects, visual narrative media has a natural way of digging into our psyche and holding on. It can give us what we want and soothe us to complacency, or it can give us what we perceptibly need and provoke us into action.

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While most of us are familiar with the mainstream servings of visual narrative media, there are many artists who consciously reject the conventional modes of film or television operations, including technical methodologies, themes, visual language, and canned plots. These artists seek new ways of using their medium to capture and express ideas without the seemingly inherent presence of showmanship or the expectations of normative society. They want to use the medium’s incredible power to break traditional story telling barriers, challenge audiences, and perhaps make people a bit uncomfortable through a confrontation with a new reality.

Ricardo Gamboa, a Chicago-based artist, performer and filmmaker, is attempting to do just that. He is currently the driving force behind an upcoming web series called BRUJOS. As stated on the website, “BRUJOS is a queer-of-color web series that follows four gay Latino grad students that are also witches as they try and survive the school semester and a witch hunt led by the wealthy, white, male and heteronormative descendants of the first New World colonizers.”

Gamboa has a masters degree in Arts Politics from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently finishing up his doctorate in American Studies at NYU, where he is also a Critical Collaborations Fellow. Gamboa was also a fellow of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, and has a long list of art credits and awards to his name. He was a finalist for Sundance Film Festival Latino Film Fellowship, and his short film The Southside Has Many Beauty Queens was winner of the Best Short at Chicago Latino Film Festival, to name only two.

The Wild Hunt had the opportunity to speak with Gamboa about his background, his motivation, the practice of Witchcraft, and the upcoming series itself.

The Wild Hunt: When did you become interest in art, and more specifically filmmaking?

Ricardo Gamboa: I’ve always made art as a kid: made construction paper sculptures, wrote puppet shows with my sister, memorized and acted out cartoons and comic books, etc. I also have always been invested in the world around me and sociopolitical issues. These two interests have always been braided together. I’ve been doing “art activism” since before the term existed.

TWH: Will you share your personal experience and background that led to you to becoming an activist artist and how or when the two merged?

RG: It was a way to talk back to power without getting killed. The reality is we live in a world of discipline and punish and control. My personal biography is dotted with an assassinated activist, gang members, and people who have resigned to quiet existences. I don’t want to go quietly. I don’t want to die. Art and art-making can provide a wormhole in time-space and from oppressive systems to experience or imagine new things and ways of being.

I started acting and was unable to find work that was in line with my politics or what I thought performance could and should be doing. So, I started writing my own work.

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Ricardo Gamboa as Panfilo in BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: On the website, you wrote, “Grassroots filmmaking that focuses on community building further underline that Brujos is not just about artistic conceit, but also social mission.” Can you define “grassroots” filmmaking and how it functions within a social mission?

RG: There’s this fantasy of filmmaking as some democratic medium, but it’s not. It’s actually a very inaccessible medium because of how much it costs to make films and how the culture/film industry marginalizes people of color, women, etc. So, with my work, I try to create work that bypasses all that and articulates an alternative to big budget filmmaking. It relies on thinking about filmmaking more like community organizing and rather than making a product for the arts or culture economy, thinking about how process can condition a cultural ecology.

So, my filmmaking process sows community into the process at various points: the writing and development, as actors, etc. So, amending the filmmaking process can model alternative forms of being, relating, etc. as well.

TWH: Are any of the BRUJOS characters or depicted events directly reflective of things that happened to you personally or to people you knew?

RG: A lot of BRUJOS draws from my personal experience and people I know. But, what I think is more important is how many viewers will say, “Me too.” That’s what matters to me. And the overarching premise of the show, of racialized gendered subjects living in a world of Western domination or white supremacist, heteropatriarchy is a fact of existence for all of us. So, maybe BRUJOS isn’t fantasy or autobiographically-inspired, just a documentary.

TWHYou also discuss how many groups of marginalized people are “absent in media representation.” Would you say this representation has been getting worse, better or the same? 

RG: I don’t know if it’s getting “worse.” There is more “diverse representation” in media than ever before. But I don’t know what it is doing. There’s a difference between representational achievements and revolutionary achievements. “Looking” is a representational achievement, not a revolutionary one.

I’m not interested in creating work that just “portrays” marginalized subjects (queer people, people of color, etc.). I’m interested in making work that gives marginalized subjects the tools to diagnose our media representation and social realities and that invites them to begin thinking of another world. BRUJOS isn’t about people of color or queer people succeeding or finding love in the normative world. It’s about them taking that world down and living their lives effectively in the anti-matter of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, etc.

TWH: As a child or teen watching movies and television were you acutely aware of the lack of brown and black bodies in film, and then eventually the limited representation of LGBTQ? If so, will you talk about how any of that felt?

RG: I was very aware of it, and it is violence. That’s all we need to know. It is an attempt to deprive people of affirmative images so that they cannot visualize themselves as actors in their own biography and society. Media representation is about giving people a referent. A dream to pursue, a way to be, things to want. But depriving people of affirmative images or an array of desires, lifestyles, etc. is a way to make them negate themselves and limit their horizons of conceptualization.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Now let’s talk about the series itself. Let’s talk witches. These “non-normative characters” practice magic. As far as we can tell from the trailer, the movie’s coven of witches is all men and all queer. Is that correct? And, do you conceive of these four witches as being humans with supernatural powers (e.g. The Craft, 1996) or non-human (e.g. Bewitched, 1964-)?

RG: Yes, they are queer men. I guess. But, I don’t know. “Human” itself is a contract, and the notion of the “human” as we understand it has a very specific genealogy that is tied to colonization, western ideation, etc. Human and non-human isn’t so much of how I think about it. What I’ll say is that the characters in BRUJOS are alive; they’re struggling to be alive.

TWH: Can you clarify this point?

RG: I would say the BRUJOS are people, they are also racialized and gendered subjects. Their humanity is always in question. That is a reality for people like the characters in BRUJOS–on and off the screen. When Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown, he referred to him as “demon.” This country calls undocumented Mexican (and other Latin American) immigrants “aliens.” Gay sex is constantly referred to as “unnatural.”

To be honest, I don’t know what human is; I don’t know what constitutes humanity; I just know we haven’t really seen it. What is fantasy and fiction and what is real, especially when it comes to defining or outlining what or who is “human” is really fuzzy territory. I’m not saying this to be philosophically pretentious. I really mean this. So, it’s hard for me to answer this question. So, I could say, “yes, they’re human” but I’m not really sure.

TWH: Getting back to the film’s witchcraft, are you or any of your crew familiar with or practitioners of modern Witchcraft, conjure, hoodoo, magic, or something similar? If not, do you have a consultant that is working with you on that aspect of the show?

RG: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Certain aspects of brujeria have always been a part of my life. There are ways in which brujeria is part of quotidian culture for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latin American peoples. It was something that I grew up around. But, I would say that I was going through some hard times that caused me to seek answers, help from alternative forms of knowledge and that opened me up more to magic, witchcraft, etc. My own connection to brujeria and psychic abilities deepened.

For the show, I have and still do talk to people about magic, ritual … We are careful how it’s all represented in the show. In various moments, BRUJOS draws from brujeria, Santeria, hoodoo, witchcraft, etc. But, I’m not interested in providing an ethnographic or voyeuristic window into those practices. Instead, I obscure the actual practices or spells. It’s not my place to represent “factually” any of that. I’m not trying to expose or give people a how-to manual. Many of those practices have survived and thrived (and had to do so) in secret and I’ve always been good at keeping secrets. Power can’t touch what it can’t see.

And, again, I don’t want BRUJOS to boil down to a representative project; it’s a political project, and one that is invested in political imagination and thinking of different ways to imagine politics and power. Magic, superpowers, etc. are a conduit for that.

TWH: You write that supernatural has two meanings: the actual practice of magic and the going beyond what is considered socially normative. Can you explain this concept?

RG: Supernatural also refers to our characters –queers of color, women of color, etc– where supernatural also refers to their ability to survive oppressive systems and find ways to love and understand their selves and other.

TWH:The visuals in the short trailer are striking and rich. At the same time, the trailer has moments that are unsettling and startling. Is this what we can expect to see more of in the show?

RG: Yes.

TWH: Can the show be classified as fantasy, drama, horror, crime? What would you say?

RG: I am deeply invested in defying genre boundaries and conventions. Genre is about leading the viewer, contextualizing their experience, providing them expectations. It is part of a larger project of normalizing sensation. BRUJOS mixes genres: telenovela, sitcom, fantasy, drama, noir, horror, etc. We live lives that are mixed genres; BRUJOS mirrors that.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Can you site your inspirations that led you to this point of artistic discovery and process? 

RG: I really want to live. I really want people around me, people from the communities to which I belong, to be able to live. I am so exhausted from seeing people die and being devalued. I would say the people I love, the people I see struggling to stay alive, to be alive are my inspiration.

I can cite comics, supernatural film, queer directors or pulp magazines, talk about Fanon or Mignolo–but that’s just grammar, syllables, etc. What makes me speak and what motivated BRUJOS and what is the impetus of BRUJOS isn’t other art or ideas, but social realities and personal biographies. The politics is the art.

TWH: You say “get involved.” If people want to help or support this effort, what can they do?

RG: Visit our website and contact us. Share the site and trailer. We’re definitely looking for more financial support and will be launching a crowd-funding campaign. But, beyond that, I’ve been thinking about ways to make the series more “interactive” and including our audience more thoroughly.

TWH: Beyond BRUJOS, where else can we find your own work?

RG: I don’t have a website. I’m not commodifying myself. I hope that my web presence is created for me because people engage my work. I have films and performance art pieces littered over the internet. But, a lot of my work is theater, mostly in Chicago in the communities to which I belong.

The thing that I’m most proud of is my work with The Young Fugitives at Free Street Theater. The Fugitives are a radically politicized youth of color ensemble that creates really provocative plays. I’ve been working with the members of that group since they were graduating middle school and now they’re well into college. Another project of mine that’s really important to me is The Southside Ignoramus Quartet (SIQ). SIQ is a brown comedic ensemble that performs in a tent in a backyard to deliver affordable and politicized comedy for the hood in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that our members grew up in. We also have a web series coming out this winter.

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BRUJOS will debut on Jan. 20, 2017 on OpenTV (Beta), “a platform for television by queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color” founded by Northwestern professor Aymar Jean Christian. Gamboa, who wrote the script, will be joined by co-director Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, producer Stephanie Jeter, graphic designer May Cat, and director of photography Ben. The preview can be found on Vimeo, OpenTV(beta) and Brujos TV.

ATLANTA, Ga. – Over the past 30 years during Labor Day weekend, fans from around the world descend on Atlanta for the pop culture convention DragonCon. The sprawling event, which began in 1987, offers its thousands of enthusiastic attendees four days of programming exploring a wide-range of pop culture fandom. From lectures and workshops to cosplay, gaming, and the famous parade, Dragon Con has become one of the largest fan-based conventions of its kind. This year, Dragon Con reported a record 77,000 attendees over a four-day period, and its parade was broadcast for the first time on local television.

DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography ©]

DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Since its inception DragonCon has been regularly attended by celebrities, artists, writers, gamers, cosplay experts, and an incredible diversity of pop culture fans from all over the world. Within that crowd, at any given point, one can easily find a group of Pagans, Heathens or polytheists. Although there are no official statistics on just how many such people attend, it is safe to assume from casual observation that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens and polytheists attending DragonCon is higher than the same measure in the general population.

In an attempt to roughly gauge that number, The Wild Hunt queried groups of random people throughout the weekend at various points. From that highly non-scientific method, we have extrapolated that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens, polytheists and the like stands at 9% of the total population of attendees at DragonCon.

Regardless of any data, the DragonCon fandom world does seem to intersect comfortably with Pagan, Heathen and polytheist cultures. In fact, DragonCon featured three openly Pagan musicians and groups, including Tuatha Dea, S.J. Tucker and Emerald Rose. In addition, author Kathryn Hinds, occultist Michelle Belanger, and artist Laura Tempest Zakroff offered presentations in their fields of expertise. Beyond that, in the extensive vendor spaces, it was easy to find jewelry and other products decorated with pentacles, Thor’s hammers, and other common symbols found within Pagan, Heathen and polytheist practices.

“There is a large overlap between Pagandom and geekdom,” explains singer and song writer Arthur Hinds. “It has to do with the power of imagination, the building of thought forms.”

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography ]

Hinds has been attending DragonCon for years, performing with the band Emerald Rose. The oddness commonly associated with what he called “geekdom” doesn’t matter as much to Pagans because, as he explained, “There is a willingness to accept that you are already on the fringe of normal society.”

This particular DragonCon was bittersweet for Hinds and the other members of the Atlanta-based band. This year marks their final appearance at the con as a group. Band member Logan said, “We’ve had a blast. This is one of the most significant [crowds] we have ever played for, because there is such a wealth of creativity and camaraderie.”

Logan added that performing at DragonCon has been a “great ride” and one of the “most fun things [he’s] done in [his] life.”

Members of Tennessee-based band Tuatha Dea agreed with Hinds and Logan, saying that there wasn’t much difference in playing to DragonCon or Pagan crowds. Contrary to Emerald Rose, Tuatha Dea was making its debut appearance at the con, and their excitement was infectious. Not only did the group perform several shows, one of which was on the main stage, but they also offered a “Facilitated Rhythm Event,” and could be found sharing their drumming energy with the dense crowds passing by their table in Marriott hotel.

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Another Pagan musician found at DragonCon was singer/songwriter S.J. Tucker. She said, “My first crowd is the Pagan crowd obviously, so I’m use to people being able to groove to whatever you bring to the table. The Pagan crowd is extremely good at that. They know how to listen. They know how to respond … I am spoiled.”

Tucker equated that comfort level to performing within the filk community, which is represented at DragonCon with its very own track. She said, “It is the only other thing that comes close” to what she experiences with performing for Pagans.

“[The filk programing] is where you can bring your song, no matter what it’s about, if it’s your song that you wrote, or someone else’s song that you really want to sing, everyone will listen and everyone will applaud when you are finished, no matter what happens.”

S.J. Tucker between DragonCon workshops, 2016 [© Desosil Photography]

S.J. Tucker, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Tucker is a regular at Pagan and non-Pagan conferences, including big festivals like Burning Man. This was not her first time at DragonCon and, along with her performances, she offered a singing workshop where she told the small group of singers to be themselves. “There is only one you. Don’t worry about sounding like someone else,” she encouraged.

It is this very spirit that Tucker finds expressed at DragonCon as a whole. She said there “is call to come and be welcome. No matter who you are.”

Tucker added that the only real difference in performing at DragonCon and Pagan events is the size of the convention itself and the competition for the attendee attention. She stressed that this point is not necessarily a negative, just a reality.  However, over time, she has learned to keeps things in perspective, focusing on the people that do make the effort to show up at her classes or shows, and not on those seats left empty by people who decided to attend something different.

Outside of the music world, artist and performer Laura Tempest Zakroff traveled from Seattle to present and display her work in the Dragon Con art show. She has been attending the con since 2012, first performing with her partner Nathaniel and the Nathaniel Johnstone Band, or performing with other friends’ bands (e.g. Ego Likeness, Frenchy and The Punk, The Cog Is Dead, Voltaire, The Ghosts Project). Then, in 2014, she began showing in the con’s extensive art gallery.

Zakroff said, “The fandom crowd tends to be more free-thinking, and open to new ideas than most people, which makes sense when you think about what the sci-fi/fantasy genres represent in terms of imagination and society. So much of science fiction and fantasy is about re-imagining our culture and challenging ideas, couched in a veil of fiction. Some of the most popular films and books are about overcoming the issues that plague our society, and envisioning a future/world that is more respectful, healthy, balanced, fair, and communicative.” She believe that the overlap between “Pagandom” and fandom makes perfect sense.

Laura Tempest Zakroff at DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Laura Tempest Zakroff, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Along with showcasing her art and performing, Tempest offered two classes that touched on occult topics, including “The Power of Line and Symbol: The Art of Sigil Magick” and “Visual Alchemy: Where Art & Magick Meet.”

When asked about the difference in presenting or teaching to the Pagan crowd versus the DragonCon crowd, Zakroff said, “At Pagan events, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of the attendees have a basic understanding in metaphysics and P-word paths, but I never really know what to expect when I present at other kinds of events. I tend to brace myself for getting some static, but (knock on wood), it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s self-selection; that if you’re interested or intrigued by the topic, then you’re probably going to be somewhat familiar with it, or at least respectful in finding out more.”

Zakroff said the feedback is mostly positive, and people are often “pleasantly surprised, comforted, and excited” about her workshop topics. She added, “They’re finding out that ideas they’ve had [or] thought aren’t crazy, and that there are more avenues for them to explore in terms of art, religion, and spirituality.”

While some attendees engage, perform, or present openly as Pagan or Heathen, such as Zakroff or Tucker, others are there strictly for learning, fun, and for the “epic” fandom experience provided by the highly creative, secular DragonCon environment.

Author, poet and English professor Kathryn Hinds enjoys the many aspects of the con, and presents on various non-Pagan specific writing topics on various tracks. She said, “Both of [the Pagan and geekdom] realms allow people to explore parts of themselves that they cannot explore very often or actualize in their everyday lives, which is why people will spend a year planning their costumes for DragonCon. Like they spend all year looking forward to [Pagan Spirit Gathering].”

This year, Hinds participated on two panels, “Gender Roles in Young Adult Literature” and “Author Roundtable: Avoiding Historical Mistakes.” One was on the Young Adult Fiction track, and the other on the Alternative History track.

One her favorite aspects of the con is the cosplay, and she is not alone. People-watching is an activity in and of itself, and it is what fuels the popularity of its famous parade.

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

In consideration of the overlap of religious practice and fandom, Hinds said that for those people working in a “tradition where you invoke deity, draw down the Goddess or the God, [you are] opening yourself up to other identities.”

“I think in cosplay people do that a lot that,” she continued, adding that she often likes to speculate why someone chose a particular costume: was it just fun, or does it draw out a part of their spirit that is otherwise unexpressed in their daily lives?

When asked how comfortable she is as a Pagan at DragonCon, she said very comfortable, adding, “You have so many flavors of geek here […] and Pagan is just one more. You are not singling yourself out.” Hinds said that there are very few public, secular conventions where she feels open about being Pagan. DragonCon is one of them.

Meghan Harker, a Victorian spiritualist, agreed, saying “People are more open-minded here. I have never been accosted for being a spiritualist or dressing like this.” Harker enjoys the Victorian Gothic aesthetic. However, Harker did add that she would like to see a better representation of this niche genre in panel discussions at the con.

For those of any particular religion, Pagan or not, the interest in fandom might speak directly to their religious beliefs, and even support them. Yet, for those people without religious affiliations, such as atheists, secularists, or “nones,” fandom and the mythologies resident in their worlds might provide a place to connect to deeper meanings, philosophy, and one’s own spirit. In that way, the con itself becomes an important personal pilgrimage, bringing together people of like minds and allowing for the expression of spirit in a safe space.

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [© Deosil Photography ]

DragonCon is certainly not the only pop culture convention of its kind. But not all “geek conventions” are multi-genre-based, like DragonCon. Some focus on a particular medium, such as comics, manga or gaming (e.g. ComicCon or MomoCon). Others are devoted to a particular pop culture product, such as Star Trek or BronyCon. Others still are focused on the demographics of the attendees, such as Seattle’s GeekGirlCon or the new BlerDCon.

As for Atlanta’s DragonCon, the convention remains one of the biggest in the U.S. and continues to grow each year. In 1987, it was held in one hotel and attracted 1,200 fans. Today, it needs five hotels and three of Atlanta’s AmericasMart buildings in order to contain its vast programming. Aside from this year’s record crowds, DragonCon also reportedly had to enlarge its gaming space by 60% just to accommodate demand. In addition, over the four days, most of the convention hotels are completely off-limits to non-DragonCon attendees, and the downtown Atlanta area is completely transformed.

Whether the experience provided is secular or spiritual, DragonCon appears to be successfully feeding a deeper need in its attendees, and that alone keeps them coming back year after year.

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Looking up, DragonCon Hotel [© Deosil Photography]

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Pagan community lost one of its members in an apartment fire early Monday morning. Leticia Gill, also known as Tisha Gill, and her mother Rhonda Gill were killed after becoming trapped in the burning building. According to the most recent reports, the fire has been ruled arson, set by a downstairs neighbor. Because of that designation, Tisha’s and her mother’s deaths are being treated as homicides.

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Tisha Gill [Public Facebook Photo]

Born Feb. 15, 1975, Tisha was a solitary Hellenic Dianic Witch who had just begun reaching out into the local Pagan community. She was a member of the Coven of the Sacred Moon located in Topeka, and she helped to create Topeka Pagan Gatherings, attending the group’s local “coffee events” when possible.

Kansas Pagan Jeannie Hazelwood said, “I met [Tisha] while working on the Pagan Pride committee a couple years ago. We spent a good amount of time together as part of that effort and got to know each other. We met for coffee a couple times. I had invited her to join us for ritual a couple times. She had never been to festival so we invited her to join us at Heartland this year, loaned her a tent, shared our camp, and watched as she bloomed and blossomed with the new experience.”

Tisha lived with her mother and two cats Castor and Pollux, both of whom also are presumed to have been victims of the blaze. In an interview with a local news station, Tisha’s aunt Jessica Jones said Tisha and Rhonda were very close, calling the two “inseparable.” Jones added, “I really feel like I am in a nightmare, a nightmare slash dream, I’m here I’m kinda numb.”

Tisha was the oldest of five children and graduated from Topeka West High School in 1993. She was employed at Math Tutor, and studying to be a forensic scientist at Washburn University.

She was also known as a poet and musician, and was involved with several online poetry forums. She published some of work directly on her Facebook page. One of her last poems, titled Moonfire, begins:

“A Silver Flame
Ignites my heart
Its mercurial heat
Searing my skin
Bringing a vitality
A quickening within…”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill (July 8, 2016)

Tisha had recently attended a workshop given by ritualist, artist, teacher and performer Shauna Aura Knight, who was “saddened to learn” of her death. Knight said, “I did not know her very well, I had only met her that night, but she had lots of plans for her life and was very excited to be reaching for them.”

Knight added, “[My] workshop was about finding your personal magic and reaching for your dreams so this is a little heartbreaking especially because of that.”

Tisha had also promised that she would bring her violin to the next ritual that Knight held in the Topeka area. Knight said, “Many blessings on your journey, Tisha. I wish we’d have gotten that chance to musically jam together.”

“Higher, higher- I am lifted
Of lost Happiness- I am gifted
Blessed by the Divine
I am given what is truly mine.
The vision of the tungsten blaze.
Enlightening my eyes with its glaring gaze.”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill

According to investigators, the fire was intentionally started by the Gills’ downstairs neighbor in her own living room. Some speculate that the neighbor’s motive was suicide, but no official reports have been issued confirming that theory.

The morning blaze quickly spread upward, trapping the Gills in their home. The mother and daughter were unable to escape through their only means of exit, the front door. They hid in a closet in a back bedroom with the hopes of surviving.

The Topeka Fire Marshall told local media, “Fire crews arrived to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the rear of the apartment building, with flames engulfing all exterior stairways and four apartments.” Neighbors did reportedly attempt to rescue the women, but were unsuccessful. The downstairs neighbor. who allegedly started the fire, was also killed in the blaze.

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Tisha Gill [via Facebook Memorial page]

Since family, friends, and community members received the tragic news, there has been an outpouring of support. Topeka Pagan Gatherings will be hosting a Pagan Passing Blessing and Candlelight Vigil in Tisha’s honor. Members will be gathering at the rose garden in Gage Park Sunday at 5:00 pm to “offer blessings and stories about Tisha among fellow Pagans and friends.”

Later that same night, family and friends will be gathering at 10:00 pm for another candlelight vigil – this one at White Concert Hall located on the Washburn University campus.

A friend, who asked to remain anonymous, explained, “Tisha and her mother would take nightly walks. Just Sunday evening Rhonda was telling me about the fox that visits them when they are sitting on the steps of White Concert Hall. So what better place to honor their memory but where they got such great enjoyment with the moonlight and nature.”

In addition, family member Chelcee Gill has set up a “Rhonda and Letitia Gill Memorial Fund” to help with the funeral costs.

In remembrance, Jeannie Hazelwood said, “[Tisha] was the kind of person who loved every new experience and had an innate curiosity. She was extremely intelligent, but at the same time had an innocence and naive quality that allowed her to fully experience the wonder of new knowledge and experiences.”

Close friend and fellow classmate Joy Spicer posted on Facebook, “Tisha was clever, exquisitely beautiful, so funny, earthy, a lover of G’d and nature, and a gentler, truer friend is hard to find.”

Another friend, Adolphus Coleman, posted, “Such a beautiful spirit. When I had nothing to write about you gave me inspiration. When I battled depression you were there with encouragement. When ever I thought about giving up you’d send me a quick inbox.”

And, in Tisha’s own words:

“Hotter, hotter
Sweat begins to fill my pores
Coolness covers me
I am drenched from head to toe
The inferno grows bigger,
whiter It now consumes me.
Dark Phoenix, I have become
My transformation is now complete
The old self is long and gone
Purged and shed away
Liveliness has granted me Rebirth
I have become anew.”
– From Moonfire by Tisha Gill


What is remembered, lives!

TWH – Muggle. Ravenclaw. Azkaban. These are familiar words to the millions of Harry Potter fans around the world. With more than 450 million books in print in over 200 countries, the Harry Potter franchise, including films and other marketing tie-ins, make it one of the most successful in history. This success has not subsided, as shown by the recent buzz surrounding the London opening of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is set 19 years after the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The play premiered July 30 and a print version of the story was released July 31, a date that also marks both J.K. Rowling’s and Harry Potter’s birthdays.

2180px-Harry_Potter_wordmark.svgOver the past 19 years, the Harry Potter stories and their expansive pop culture mythos have drawn a significant amount of attention to the possibility of world filled with magic. Rowling asks, “What if…” and proceeds to answer the question with the Harry Potter world.

Due to the magnitude of the franchise’s influence, a natural intersection has formed between its fantasy exhibition of magic and the reality of modern Witchcraft practice. This cultural intersection, which does in fact exist with other pop culture witch products, is sometimes an amusement for real practitioners, many of whom are loyal Potter fans. But, in other cases, the intersection is ignored or shrugged off as silly.  In other cases still, this cultural intersection between real magic and fantasy play can cause a real-life problem.

That is just what happened recently to small business owners and eclectic spiritualists Richard Carter and Jackie Restall. In April, Restall opened Mystical Moments, a metaphysical shop located on Britannia Road in Slaithwaite, England. She and Carter had been previously traveling around selling their craft works, crystals, and other items at local Pagan festivals and events. The store was the next step, and they used much of their remaining life savings to make it happen.

In an interview, Carter told The Wild Hunt, “Although we are a business, one of our main aims is to sell spiritual goods at a price that people can afford.” The couple sees their work as a service to other magical and spiritual workers. Mystical Moments offers healing services, as well as selling items such as “incense, crystals, sage, Angels, Buddhas, [their] own handmade ringed love goblets, runes, and wands.”

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Richard Carter [Courtesy Photo]

While Restall focuses on crystal work and healing, Carter makes the wands, which he considers “a spiritual calling.” He said, “I received an urge to craft wood […] I still can’t explain it, having never had worked with wood in my life.” In 2012, Restall gave Carter a lathe, after he had suffered a heart attack and was unable to return to work.

Carter went on to say, “The first time I used [the lathe] it was like I was being guided on how to use the chisels and how the wands turn out.” Four year later, wand making is now his passion. He said, “I make wands from oak, yew, mahogany, cherry, walnut, sycamore, sweet chestnut, and sometimes a combination of woods.”

In July, the new store’s presence attracted the attention of local reporter Chloe Glover, who writes for The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. After meeting with Restall and Carter, she wrote an article titled “From Slytherin to Slaithwaite – magic wand shop opens in the village,”  which was was not-so-coincidentally published July 30 – the opening day of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

While Glover’s article does provide an objective overview of the store itself, she focused predominantly on Carter’s wand making and injects language from the Potter world. Glover wrote, “Richard Carter may sound like a character out of a Harry Potter book, but his curious real-life skill is gaining nationwide fans amongst those with a spiritualist leaning.”

Despite the article’s level tone, it became the catalyst for a controversy of the magical kind. Carter explained, “The day after [Glover’s] article appeared I received a call from a freelance journalist asking if he could also do a piece on the wands. During the conversation it became apparent that he was interested in Harry Potter.”

Wands in Olivander's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Pixabay]

Wands in Olivander’s at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Public Domain]

During that second interview, Carter said that the journalist asked him if he “would sell one of [his] wands to a Harry Potter fan.” It was Carter’s quoted response that captured international attention: “If I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering.”

On Aug. 6, the Sunday Express published that quote along with a short article titled, “Real-life wandmaker bans Harry Potter fans from his shop.” Within 48 hours, both British and international media had picked up on this click-bait story:

Man who runs magic wand shop in Huddersfield BANS Harry Potter fans for not taking magic seriously” – The Sun
Harry Potter fans banned from wand shop for not being real wizards” – The Independent
Witchcraft shop refuses to serve Harry Potter fans because it sells ‘spiritual tools’ not toys for young Muggles” – The Telegraph
Expelliarmus! British Wand Shop Bans ‘Harry Potter’ Fans“- The Hollywood Reporter
UK wand-maker bans Harry Potter fans from ‘real magic shop’ ” – The Indian Express
Magic Shop bans Harry Potter fans” – New Zealand Herald

Without fail, each of these articles reports that Carter stated that he would not sell a wand to a Harry Potter fan. They also report that Carter can tell fans from a real magical practitioners by their auras.

However, according to Carter, much of what is being reported is inaccurate. He said, “We have never banned anyone from our shop.” In fact, Restall herself is a Harry Potter fan. The aura comment was in reference to helping customers choose the proper wood for their wands.

So what did Carter really say and mean? Both Carter and Restall “believe [their] wands are spiritual tools and not toys for Harry Potter fans to play with.” In other words, their wands are not intended to be used for cosplay, Halloween parties, or other types of pretend play. Carter’s wands are real.

He explained, “The point that I tried to make, but was misunderstood or more like misquoted, was that the wands, which I am guided to make, are for other like-minded people to partner with.” He added that they are made “to help [practitioners] with spells, to use during an healing, or to sit with in meditation. They are not toys.”

Carter believes that if Harry Potter fans want a play wand, they should “look on eBay and buy a mass produced toy, not something that has been made as a spiritual tool.”

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Mystical Moments hand-crafted wands [Courtesy Photo]

American wand maker Gypsey Teague agrees with Carter to some extent. Her wands, like Carter’s, are handmade as spiritual tools, and are not toys. In fact, Teague won’t even sell them over the internet for that very reason. She said, “No one should buy a wand over the internet. You have to match your energy to the wand.”

She added that other craft people, and even buyers, are shocked and put off by her policy. She said, “Other sellers have said, ‘How dare you not sell over the internet?’ I respond, ‘How dare you sell over the internet, as if they are toys?'”

Like Carter, Teague places a emphasis on the importance of the wood matching the user’s energy and magical needs, and, she would know. Along with being a Georgian elder, Teague has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and has been worked with hundreds of species of wood for over 35 years. She sells her wands at events and said that, in some cases, people take hours looking for the right wand match. In other cases, a customer can walk clear across a crowded field or vendor room and pick the right wand in seconds.

Teague added, “J.K. Rowling got a few things right,” one of which is the concept that the wand picks the witch. Like Restall, she is a Harry Potter fan. In fact, in her book The Witch’s Guide to Wands, Teague included a short chapter called, “The Wands of J.K. Rowling.” It begins, “Yes, I know. J.K. Rowling probably doesn’t have wands. However, her most famous protagonist does, and so do his friends and enemies.”

In the subsequent six pages, Teague analyzes the woods described as being used by several of the Potter characters, including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Rubeus Hagrid and more. “It is not surprising that the holly was the wand of choice for Harry Potter. Harry embodies all that is good and strong in the magical world,” she wrote.

When asked if she would sell a wand to a Potter fan, Teague said, “Yes, as long as it is in person.” Unlike Carter, she doesn’t mind if they want to own a real magical wand. However, she did note that her wands don’t look like the movie wands, and most fans want replicas, which are typically mass-produced toys.

As far as she knows, she has never had anyone buy a wand specifically because they were a Potter fan. With that said, she has undoubtedly sold to Potter fans, because many real Witches and Pagans, like herself, are in fact also fans.

Wand make Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Wand maker Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Carter agrees with Teague. He was quoted as saying that “J.K. Rowling has obviously done her research” with respect to wands and woods. And he himself has enjoyed the movies.

Fortunately for Carter and the store, there has been no direct backlash. Most of the negative commentary has been contained within internet-based public comment areas. In the Telegraph articlefantasy author GP Taylor was quoted as saying, “I think this is terrible. Harry Potter fans should be served. They are going crazy over the Cursed Child and need their wands. It is discrimination against Potter fans. They should go to court for justice.” Several Twitter users called for a protest outside of the store, but nothing ever manifested.

Carter said, “We have had Bento magazine in Germany, Marie Claire magazine, Dublin radio and the BBC contact us but at least that gave me the opportunity to put the facts across on what I had actually said.” Journalist Chloe Glover, whose local article about the store started the media frenzy, also did a follow-up article that shares Carter’s reaction.

But it didn’t end there. On July 14, the entire fiasco caught the attention of J.K. Rowling. She tweeted:

Her tweet launched another round of international articles about Carter and his wand making:

Harry Potter author JK Rowling defends fans ‘banned’ from wand shop – ABC Online
Spells trouble: JK Rowling joins row over Harry Potter fans’ right to ‘real wands’ – The Guardian
J.K. Rowling responds to store owner’s ban on Harry Potter fans – New York Daily News

On Twitter itself, Rowling’s comment garnered many responses, many of which supported her words and ridiculed the controversy or Carter himself. However, other tweets came in from Pagans, looking to correct her seemingly irreverent statement.

“Really? Mocking a man over his religion, and not selling his religions tools to just anyone?” – @Acadia Jules

“They’re hand-crafted religious objects. They deserve to be treated with respect.” – @Laina

“He’s selling to Wiccans, a proper religion. It’s like someone taking a cross from a church to go hunt vampires.” – @MystBornWoW

When asked if he had responded to Rowling’s statement, Carter said, “No […] mainly because I am not on Twitter and a bit of a technophobe.” He went on to say that if he was to respond it would be to say simply: ‘Each to their own, but like us try not to be judgmental of other people.’

Carter will continue making his wands and selling them in the new store, letting his customers choose their woods as guided by their own energy. At this time, Mystical Moments does not have a website or online presence with the exception of its Facebook fan page. Carter added, “We would like to thank all the people globally who have shown their support and respected our right to keep our tools sacred.”

UNITED STATES — As November looms ever closer, Americans continue to grapple with the many issues and the rheteroic surrounding the 2016 Presidential election process. The national conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties are now over, and candidates officially declared. At the same time, the smaller Libertarian and Green parties have also declared candidates. To date, this race has been one of the most contentious, and only promises to continue in that vein.

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One of the most critical issues for Pagans, Heathens and polytheists is a candidate’s position on religious freedom and the protections granted by the First Amendment. The Pew Research Center recently published an  overview of “Religion and the 2016 Election.” Where do various religious communities fall within candidate support? According to the June polls, GOP candidate Donald Trump finds his biggest support among white Evangelical Protestants. “Roughly eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestant voters (78%) say they would support Trump if the election were held today.” That percentage is up slightly from 2012.

On the other hand, black Protestants strongly favor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “Nine-in-ten black Protestants who are registered to vote say they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today (89%), as would two-thirds of those with no religious affiliation.” The unaffiliated is defined as the ‘nones,’ or those not connected with any religion.

Pew’s report did not record any interest in third-party candidates, nor did it analyze the responses from voters within non-Christian religious populations. Pew states, “There were not enough interviews with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members of other religious groups to analyze their responses separately.” That includes Pagans, Heathens and polytheists, unless some were labeled “unaffiliated.” Regardless, the data aren’t there.

Another Pew study published in January discusses the value of candidate’s religion within the campaign process. Does a candidate’s religious affiliation matter to voters? According to that study, 51 percent of Americans are less likely to support a candidate who “does not believe in God.” That statement could be read as meaning simply an atheist candidate, which is how Pew analyzes the data, or it could also be read as a candidate practicing a minority religion, who does not believe in the Abrahamic god. This nuance was not addressed.

At the same time, Pew does note that the percentage of people concerned about a candidate’s “faith” has been dropping. That figure is down twelve points from 63 percent in 2007. Similarly, the number of Americans who are “less likely” to support a Muslim candidate is also down from 46 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2016.

And, this trend follows with other major religions as well. The candidate’s own religious affiliation is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the election process, paralleling the growth of the ‘nones,’ an increase in minority religious practices, and other similar trends that suggest a movement toward greater secularization.

While the candidates’ religious beliefs are of decreasing interest, their position or their party’s position on religious freedom is still a vital part of the campaign process. Religious freedom was and is still one of the backbones of the American system.

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[Courtesy Pixabay]

So where do the parties stand? Here is a look at the official 2016 party platforms with statements by the candidate in no particular order.

2016 Democratic Party Platform

“Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” (p. 22)

The Democratic platform predominantly addresses religious freedom in general terms. It is included in discussions of general civil liberties, diversity in the military, LGBT rights, and the condemnation of profiling and hate speech. Democrats state, “It is unacceptable to target, defame, or exclude anyone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. ” (p. 18)

The platform talks more specifically about religion in three places. First, when discussing marriage equality, Democrats say, “[We] applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love.” They go on to indirectly reference the run of Religious Freedom Restoration acts (RFRAs) in the following statement: “We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 47)

U.S._Democratic_Party_logo_(transparent).svgThe Democrats also mention religion in a section titled “Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations.” They pledge to “empower tribes to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs,” among other things. And, they offer to “acknowledge the past injustices” that have led to the destruction of such beliefs. (p. 22-23)

Under the title “Religious Minorities,” Democrats say, “We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 51)

This idea is supported by a comment in Clinton’s own book, Hard Choices, published in 2014:

Religious freedom is a human right unto itself, and it is wrapped up with other rights, including the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, and assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that each of us is born free to practice any religion. (p.74)

Clinton herself is reportedly a Christian and, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, said, “[It] is our duty, to build that bright future, and to teach our children that in America there is no chasm too deep, no barrier too great–and no ceiling too high–for all who work hard, never back down, always keep going, have faith in God, in our country, and in each other.”

More recently, in an Op-Ed for the Deseret News, owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and with a Mormon readership, Clinton wrote, “As Americans, we hold fast to the belief that everyone has the right to worship however he or she sees fit. I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years.” She ends noting the “blessings” of Constitution and promise to uphold the President’s “sacred responsibility” to protect it.

2016 Republican Party Platform

“[Republicans] oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination.” (p. 9)

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

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

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

Religious rhetoric can be found in other sections of the platform, similar to the party’s position on marriage equality. However, the Republicans do not directly address religious freedom again until their discussion on foreign policy with regard to Israel and Syrian refugees. In both cases, they acknowledge their support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The platform reads:

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

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

Trump’s running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, is a supporter of the RFRA movement, having signed one of the most publicized of such laws. Trump wrote in his book Crippled America, published in 2015, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132)

Trump’s foreign policy has been a hot topic after he suggesting banning Muslims from entering the country. However, he has since explained that his statement is about “territory” and not religion. As noted in the New York Times, Pence recently supported this idea when he stated that the campaign suggested an immigration ban on all people coming from certain Daesh-controlled territories.

In July, Trump himself was quoted in The Washington Post, saying “We have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. […] I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution.”

2016 Libertarian Party Platform

“As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” (p. 1)

The Libertarian Party published its 2016 platform in May after holding its own national convention. The platform is far shorter than either of the two major parties. Similar to the Democrats, the Libertarians did not address, condone, or endorse any specific religious freedom actions or proposed legislation. They simply expressed their general position with regard to religious liberty. In section “1.2 Expression and Communication”, the party writes:

Libertarian_Party_US_LogoWe support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion. (p. 2)

That is the only section that directly mentions religion or religious freedom; however, it is implied within other held positions affecting “personal liberty,” such as abortion, parenting and marriage equality. In all cases, Libertarians stress that government should “stay out of the matter.” (p. 3)

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson supports the platform in full. However, in his book Seven Principles of Good Government, he did note a nuance with regard to child care. He supports the use of government vouchers for child care, if and when it is within a religious facility. (p. 96-97)

More recently, The Deseret News published an op-ed with Johnson, who addresses religious freedom to the news agency’s Mormon readership. He wrote, “Given the divisiveness and pain that have accompanied several state religious freedom laws, I approach attempts at legislating religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws with great sensitivity and care.”

Johnson goes to say that he supports religious belief but fears “politically-driven legislation which claims to promote religious liberty” and is used to for discrimination. Here he is referring to the RFRAs.

In his conclusion, Johnson writes, “America is big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and practice on religious and social beliefs. As a nation and as a society, we must reject discrimination, forcefully and without asterisks. Most importantly, as president I will zealously defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments.”

2016 Green Party Platform

“As a matter of right, all persons must have the opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, any discrimination by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion, or physical or mental ability that denies fair treatment and equal justice under the law.” (10 Key Values)

logo-of-the-gpusa_square_weblogo_0The Green Party addresses religious freedom throughout its platform. In its Ten Key Values, the party condemnes the “systematic degradation or elimination of our constitutional protections,” and as part of that, they support the “U.S. constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and that there shall be no religious test for public office.” The Greens go on to say that they look to eliminate laws that “discriminate against particular religious beliefs or non-belief,” as well as eliminating the use of public funds to support “faith-based initiatives.” (Democracy)

In the Social Jusice section of the document, the Greens restate their support of the Bill of Rights, and then go on to offer a call to action with regard to a number of common situations in which religious freedom enters the debate. These situations include “curricula in government-funded public schools,” the Pledge of Allegiance, displays in public spaces, courtroom oaths, Boy Scouts, abortion, tax exemptions and more.

The Greens say, “We affirm the right of each individual to the exercise of conscience and religion, while maintaining the constitutionally mandated separation of government and religion. We believe that federal, state, and local governments must remain neutral regarding religion.”

On her own site, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein reiterated key components of the party platform. She only mentions religion specifically once, and that is with regard to foreign policy. She writes, “U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality.”

In a 2016 interview with OntheIssues, Stein spoke about religious freedom within the U.S. She said “We don’t live in a religious country–in the sense of having no national religion, and instead the separation of church & state–so faith should not be a public issue. […] Failing to separate church and state is a bad prescription.” Stein added that she brings a “perspective of religious neutrality,” which she believes is needed in this diverse “modern world.”

  *    *    *

While statistics appear to tell a story of a decreased interest or concern with religion’s place in politics, the decline is still very small. Whether religion is dealt with in specific terms, as the Republican Party did, or in more general ways like the Libertarians, it will continue to play a significant role in the American political machine. Religious conviction can be found underlying many major social issues, such as marriage equality and abortion rights, and at forefront of other debates, such as in public prayer and holiday displays. The U.S. may not be a religious country, but it is a country that continues to concern itself profoundly with the practice of religion, or lack thereof, in its many forms.

Editor’s Note: The Wild Hunt Inc is a non-profit news journal and does not take a position for or against any one party.

RIO DE JANEIRO – This week the world has turned its attention to famous Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro as it has become the host of the 2016 summer Olympic Games and the first South American city to stage the “biggest show on earth.” The games opened officially in Maracana Stadium Friday with traditional Olympic ceremony, as well as a spectacle showcasing Brazilian history, religion and culture

This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )

Since the location was announced and event plans executed, the Rio games have generated controversy, concerns and outrage, which included obstacles created by a downward turn in the Brazilian economy, and reports of political corruption and instability. The infamous Zika virus, which continues to plague the South American continent, caused a number of athletes, most notably the world’s top golfers, to completely pull out of competing in the Rio games. Other issues concern poor infrastructure, inadequate security measures, crime and life-threatening pollution of the local waters. And finally, one of the biggest concerns has cycled around the serious toll that event production has had on the Brazilian people themselves, which has included mass evictions.

As if that was not enough, the opening ceremonies itself ignited more backlash as producers directly confronted, through performance art, several problems facing humanity as a whole. These included climate change, violence, and the many growing divides between the world’s peoples.

This is not the first time that an Olympic event, winter or summer, has found itself at the epicenter of sociopolitical- or economic-based problems. Being a true world stage, the modern Olympic Games generates a spotlight serving to highlight both the very best and the very worst in humanity. Over the Olympics long history, we have seen religious extremism and racism in its ugliest forms as well as well as intense spiritual devotion and personal triumph from single athletes raising their victory medals. The Olympics can both horrify and inspire.

RJ - RIO-DE-JANEIRO - 05/08/2016 - REVEZAMENTO DA TOCHA OLIMPICA RIO 2016 - Revezamento da Tocha Olímpica para os Jogos Rio 2016. . Foto: Rio2016/Fernando Soutello

05/08/2016 – Olympic Torch Relay for the 2016 Rio Games. [Photo Credit: Rio2016/Fernando Soutello]

Regardless of these recent controversies, the Rio games are continuing on, and all under the watch of the city’s colossal statue Cristo Redentor, which sits atop of Mount Corcovado. As has been the case since the very first Olympic games held in ancient times, politics, economics, and religion find a place and even a voice within the sporting world.

The Ancient Games

Religion and politics weren’t always simply a sideshow at the opening ceremonies games, relegated to individual or community expression; nor were they simply a catalyst for Olympic controversy and distraction. It is believed that the Olympics themselves began as a sacred religious rite to honor Zeus. According to the Tufts University Perseus Project:

The games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce or small cakes, in thanks for their successes.

During the games a truce was established that allowed for the safe travel for worshipers, athletes and spectators. While the truce didn’t end wars, it served as a damper. And, over time the sporting event grew into a major athletic competition, attracting people from all over the ancient world.

In Hellenic society, the lines between religion and politics were not so clearly drawn as they are today, and interactions between these areas of life happened more fluidly. Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, an Associate University Librarian and Director of Research, Teaching, and Learning for American University, said, “Our distinctions now of sacred and secular are coming out of our modern history and generally do not apply to the ancient Hellenic world.”

Reece, who is also a Witch and Hellenic priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon, noted that the word “politics” comes from the Hellenic work “polis,” translated as “city-state” but meaning community. She said, “When Aristotle says that a human is a political animal, what he means is that we, as humans, naturally organize ourselves into communities that are larger than the family.”

“One of the things that I find deeply interesting and significant as an American is the way in which ancient Hellenic Pagan culture navigated the relationship between individualism and communalism,” explained Reece. “In many ways, the Olympic Games is one of the areas in which you can see this creative tension and interplay between these two commitments.”

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

This interplay between politics, religion and sports find its roots not only in the ancient tradition of the Hellenic games, but in the philosophical underpinnings of the ancient society in which they were born. Reece said, “The Hellenic ideal embraces the notion that in order to live a good human life, an individual must pursue areté, which is often translated as ‘virtue’ but more appropriately could be considered the pursuit of excellence. The highest goal of a human life is to strive as strongly as one can to fully embody your perfected human nature.”

This goal applies directly to Olympic athletic competition. Reece went on to say, “This kind of striving is not only something one does for your own glory, but an individual does this also to honor the gods by striving to be as like them as possible.” In that way, the ancient games were a competition for self and for country, as well as an offering to the gods. The games were both religious and political.

While these ancient offerings, regardless of the purpose, may have included animal sacrifice, food and drink, vegetables and flowers, prayers and hymns, it was the athlete’s own risk and commitment that were an essential aspect of the overall process. At the same time, as Reece explained, “an individual can only take these risks and develop excellence through the sacrifice of his/her whole community,” which included people such as trainers, family, food growers and more. The religious act is one of the polis.

Reece went on to say, “The community released the athlete and his team from other duties so that he could train and maintain focus. He was not just presenting himself and his own excellence for competition; he was standing for his whole polis as the best his community could offer and his individual glory was also their communal glory.”

“The idea that the effort a human being gives to pursue excellence is a sacred act and a community’s effectiveness in supporting an individual human’s pursuit of excellence is profound,” Reece described, “and one of the most powerful ways to honor the gods.”

While the ancient games were rooted in the commitment to the gods and community, they were not free from greater political manipulation and strife. Reece explained that the games, in many ways, were used as a way to define who was and wasn’t Hellenic. “Only Hellenes could compete,” Reece said. “When the Dorian kingdom of Macedonia was ascending to power, its rivals tried to undermine them by proclaiming that they were not ‘really’ Hellenic.” However, the Macedonians were allowed to compete in the games, and as Reece said, “Philip II won the horse-race on the day that his son, Alexander the Great, was born.”

When Greece lost its political power, the Roman Empire kept the Olympics Games alive, and over time the ancient games developed into a more secular event. However, its Pagan origins were not easily forgotten, causing the demise of the ancient games. The Perseus Project explains:

Once the Roman emperors formally adopted Christianity, they discouraged and eventually, outlawed old “Pagan” religious practices. Since the Olympic Games were first and foremost a religious celebration in honor of Zeus, they held no place in the Christian empire. The emperor Theodosius I legally abolished the games in 393 or 394 A.D.

The Olympics were born as a Pagan religious ritual and were eventually banned for that very same reason. By 393 A.D., the games were gone … more or less.

Toward a Rebirth

According to Frank Deford of the Smithsonian magazine, there is historical evidence that small, local Olympic-style games were played around the world for many years. Some even used the name Olympics. For example, in Cotswald, England, a Roman Catholic staged an elaborate Olympick games to counter the “dour Protestantism of the time.”

1908 London Games (public domain photo)

1908 London Games (public domain photo)

Then in 1865 Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern games, traveled to Much Wenlock, England where William Penny Brookes had been holding local games for years. Together both men aimed to bring back the romance and glory of the ancient event. After much negotiation, Athens became the first host city for the modern Olympiad in 1896. The games were held in the fully restored ancient panathenaic stadium and the marathon was added to honor ancient Greece.

The subsequent Olympics in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) were largely disappointments. Needing to bolster more support and publicity for the cause, Coubertin looked to the Olympics’ roots and asked Rome to be the fourth host city. Unfortunately Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 which ended that country’s bid. In 1908, London took up the reins and hosted the fourth modern Olympic Games. Deford writes, “All else had been pre­­­lude only now had the modern Olympics truly begun.”

The Modern Games

Although the games’ original religious focus had not been resurrected alongside the showcase of athleticism, the modern games were not without religious influence. According to USA Today, De Courbin himself said, “The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion above and outside the churches.” Additionally, several Olympic mottoes were coined by clergy such as “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger.)

Despite this joyful return, the political reality of faith-based conflict would eventually find its way into the Olympic spotlight. For example, at the 1936 Berlin games, Hitler outlawed German Jewish athletes from participating. The games were canceled in both 1940 and 1944 due to the Second World War. In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were held hostage by Palestinians at the Munich Games. This standoff ended in the death of all 11 Israelis and five of the Palestinians. Then in Atlanta in 1996, an Army of God fundamentalist detonated a bomb in a crowded Centennial Olympic Park.

Fortunately the more violent conflicts are few and far between. However, national political conflict, even absent of religion, has found its way into game play, as it did in ancient times. For example, as a reflection of the ongoing Cold War, the U.S. Olympic team staged a boycott of the 1980 summer games held in Moscow and, four years later, the Soviet team retaliated doing the same for Los Angeles games. North Korea boycotted the 1988 games held in Seoul, South Korea. The country of Georgia protested the winter games held in Sochi, Russia. These are only a few examples.

Grecia - Olimpia - 20/04/2016 - REVEZAMENTO DA TOCHA OLIMPICA RIO 2016 - Ensaio geral da cerimônia de acendimento da Chama Olímpica Rio 2016 na cidade de Olímpia, na Grécia. . Foto: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello

Dress rehearsal for the 2016 Torch Lightening Ceremony in Greece. Presentation of the Priestesses. [Photo Credit: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello]

For our expansive modern world, there is an increased potential for interactions and clashes among different communities, whether it be over religion or politics or both. The Olympics is a cauldron for the world’s cultural and religious diversity. The challenge for an Olympic committee is not just in the staging of an epic and expensive athletic event or the choreography of the opening ceremonies. It is also in the peaceful bringing together of the world’s people, who represent an enormous range of beliefs, experiences and cultural expectations.

Despite the continued complaints and allegations directed at Rio’s Olympic committee, the 2016 games has already attempted to spotlight that diversity, demonstrating that the world sporting event can serve as a voice against all odds, a call for peace, and a showcase for diverse cultures. Along with Rio de Janeiro being the first Olympic city in South America, the International Olympic Committee, with help of various nation sponsors, created a Refugee Team, made up of athletes who have been displaced from their own countries. The team consists of members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.

IOC President president said, “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

Grecia - Olimpia - 21/04/2016 - REVEZAMENTO DA TOCHA OLIMPICA RIO 2016 - Cerimônia de acendimento da Chama Olímpica Rio 2016 e início do revezamento grego no sítio arqueológico do Templo de Hera. . Foto: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello

2016 Olympic Torch Ceremony at the Temple of Hera in Greece [Photo Credit: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello]

In this way, the spirit of the modern games is not entirely different from the spirit of the ancient games. Dr. Reece said, “There is symbolic importance to the Olympics […] Whereas the Olympics of old were a true causal force in the development of a Pan-Hellenic identity (the idea that being “Greek” meant something), I think the [modern] Olympics are a causal force in the development of cosmopolitan identity. The ideal of the Cosmopolis, which is present in Hellenic culture from Alexander the Great on, is the idea that we are not just citizens of the polis, we are citizens of the Cosmos and have a duty to each other as fellow-citizens.”

Reece added, “That doesn’t mean that we necessarily get along or agree with other nations, but it helps expand our notion of connection and identity because the type of excellence we see in a runner, for example, is not different based on nationality, race, creed or any other division. It is the excellence of a human who is a runner. In that way, I think [the modern games] have a strong continuity with the ancient games.”

While direct aspects of the Hellenic religion are mostly muted or completely removed from the modern games, we are reminded of those origins through various Olympic rituals, including the torch ceremony, which begins at the Temple of Hera in Greece, or in the athletes’ march in the opening ceremony, which is led by Greece. Yet, at the same time, the very spirit found in those ancient games, stemming from ancient sociopolitical and religious ideals, are still very much alive in the modern event. We can find this spirit in the athletes, as they stand on the winners’ podiums receiving their victory medals, or in the many personal stories of individual and family sacrifice.

It is on this world stage where we witness politics, religion, and sport merge and intermingle, for better or worse. And, within that intersection, just as it was in Hellenic society, the individual athletes, who strive and sacrifice, stand as champions and as inspirations for themselves, for their polis and the greater cosmopolis.

Over the past month, the new mobile virtual game Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. The app is now reportedly the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. According to the SurveyMonkey Intelligence blog, Pokémon Go has exceeded by several million the daily peak users record held by Candy Crush. Within “three days of release” the game attracted more users than Twitter and now, according to the blog, the breakout game is aiming “for Snapchat and Google Maps.”

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What is Pokémon Go? It is a mobile game application created by the same team that originated the Pokémon franchise in 1996. Just as in the original concept, the user is a Pokémon trainer who must gather Pokémon, or fictional “pocket monsters,” to train for battle. Using GPS locators, the game “places” Pokémon virtually within the users real space. They are on sidewalks, in homes and in buildings. Trainers can “see” when these virtual creatures are near and must get within a certain distance to catch them. But there is far more to it than that, including PokeGyms, PokeSpots, battles, leveling up, teams and more.

Rattata found roadside in South Georgia [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Rattata found roadside in South Georgia [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

But what does Pokémon Go, or Pokémon in general, have to do with the occult? The easy answer: absolutely nothing.

However, when are we ever satisfied with the easy answer?

So let’s get out our flux capicitors and head back in time 20 years to when Pokémon first arrived on the pop culture scene.

In the not-so-distant past, Satoshi Tajiri imagined a video game that involved users catching bugs and training them to fight. After six years of consideration and negotiations, the idea became Pocket Monsters, which was shortened to Pokémon. In February 1996, Nintendo released two Pokémon games for its popular handheld Game Boy system. The games weren’t an instant hit, but there was enough buzz for the launch of the first generation card game in October of that year, and an anime cartoon series the following spring.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It didn’t take long for the new franchise to generate backlash. Excitement surrounding the card game built to near fever-pitch among children. Many school officials opted to ban the game from their campuses due to a variety reasons, including: distraction, competition, excessive commercialism, fights, and the violence of in-game battles themselves.

Along with those practical and secular concerns, another issue arose; this one of a moral variety. Religious groups began to speak out against the franchise’s promotion of immorality, which some labeled satanic. They equated the game’s symbology and monstrous qualities to demonology, mysticism, Witchcraft, Wicca and modern Paganism. In one video sermon, a pastor explains:

Pokémon is a game that teaches children how to enter into the world of witchcraft. How to cast spells. How to use psychic phenomena. How to put to work supernatural powers against their enemies. How to fantasy role play… Pokémon World is a world of the demonic, of the satanic.

Several of the Pokémon histories suggest that reactions, similar to that above, led to the creation of the Christian card game Redemption. However, this Bible-based trading card game was created and released an entire year before the Pokémon came on the scene. Redemption was more a reaction to the lingering memories of Dungeons & Dragons and the contemporary success of Magic: The Gathering and other similar gaming offshoots.

Redemption‘s creator Rob Anderson said, “Many of the games available had dark and horrific themes […] Much of what is offered in the collectible trading card game market is difficult to reconcile with the Christian faith.” Although Anderson’s card game preceded Pokémon, the idea was the same and the arrival of Pokémon only fueled the flames of that fear and ideology.

The Christian backlash became so prevalent that the Catholic Pope reportedly spoke out. In 2000, the Vatican TV satellite station announced, on his behalf, that “Pokémon trading cards and the computer game is [sic] ‘full of inventive imagination,’ has [sic] no ‘harmful moral side effects’ and is [sic] based on the notion of ‘intense friendship.’ ”

While the Pope’s alleged message signaled his followers to relax, others, outside of the Christian and Catholic world, remained unconvinced. As reported in 2001 by the BBC and other outlets, as the cards reached the Muslim world, national leaders began actively banning the franchise because they believed it promoted gambling and other immoral activities. Saudi leaders specifically called it a “Jewish conspiracy” that promoted Zionism. Interestingly, these same leaders also identified as a problem the franchise’s use of “crosses, sacred for Christians and triangles, significant for Freemasons.”

In 2001, the Anti-Defamation League responded to the cries of “Jewish conspiracy,” calling them “outrageous.” But, several years prior, ADL had its own concerns with two specific Pokémon cards (Golbat and Ditto) that contained what looked like a swastika. As explained in an ADL press release, the symbol on the cards were “intended to represent a ‘manji’ sign ascribed to Buddhism and Hinduism.” These versions of the two cards were only suppose to be released in Japan where the image would be understood as such. However, due to the game’s popularity, the cards made it to the U.S. where the symbols were read as a swastika.

In 1999, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director said, “In today’s shrinking world due to globalization, what is deemed appropriate or acceptable by one culture may have a significantly different meaning in another.” Nintendo did reportedly take the ADL complaint seriously and responded to the group’s satisfaction.

[Photo Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia]

In the same year, Time magazine published an interview with creator Satoshi Tajiri. While the conversation focused on his work, the interviewer did briefly ask about criticisms specifically concerning the immorality or “satanic” nature of the game. He responded, “I never heard of that! [Laughs] I heard there was a guy who criticized [kid’s book character] Harry Potter because of the magic. But I saw the author, and she seemed really nice. The critic seemed like a grouchy mean guy.”

Putting things in context, this era, 1996-2000, occurred just after the notorious satanic panics in the U.S. and U.K., and it also followed on the tail end of a pop culture Witch craze. This was a period that saw the release of The Craft and the reign of The X-Files, Sabrina, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. J.K. Rowling had just released a new book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which would soon become an international best-selling series and movie franchise.

While the pop culture engine generally and slowly shifted from a high concentration of satanic Witches to other occult or fantastic themes, the interest in magic and mysticism never died. Cultural fears and desires, relating to social issues, politics and more, continued to play out in various fantasy narratives. Pokémon played into this collective dreaming.

Additionally, the game was a feature of the shrinking global culture, which was precipitated by the internet and an increasingly tech-driven world. Not only was the card game a symbol of this new world-based digital cultural phenomenon, but it was also a distraction for a generation of children, who were showing a decreasing interest in attending religious services, as noted by Pew Forum.

Now let’s go back to the future….

It is now 2012, with the internet and social media in full swing. A blog site called Playing4Real published a mock Time magazine interview with Satoshi Tajiri. The post, titled, “Pokémon Creator Admits Games are Anti-Christian, Aimed Towards Satanists,” was not marked clearly as satire. The mock interview has Satoshi Tajiri saying, in part:

Tajiri: Yes. Pokémon is essentially the correct answer towards life, not Christianity. Everything presented in the game is the opposite of what Christians may believe. Some have said that the game promotes voodoo or magic, and I agree in the sense that there are many things that occur in nature that are unexplainable …

Any regular user of social media might expect what happened next. The Playing4Real post was shared with wild abandon. The fake interview inspired a new round of Pokémon backlash, feeding any still lingering demonic origin theories.

For example, as published in 2010, opponent Brett Peterson compared the Pokémon universe’s use of the elements as equivalent to that use in modern Pagan practice. Peterson wrote, “Most Pagan and earth based religions and philosophies find power in the Four Elements? Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind. These are the energy cards in the Pokémon game! […] What are we allowing to come into our homes!”

Yet, at the very same time, another cultural reality was being birthed, one that makes that same connection between the occult and modern Paganism, but from an entirely different angle. This new reality can be found embedded in the growing practice of Pop Culture Paganism. As an example, the owner of the Pokemon Paganism Tumblr blog writes:

I have been working for a while now on a Pokémon elemental correspondence system based on a combination of the two most prominent systems from antiquity (Western and Eastern). So far I think I’ve come up with a pretty fleshed out system and I hope to be able to make a few posts on it in the coming weeks. My goal is to have a workable magic system to be used alongside my devotional work with the various Legendary/Mythical Pokémon. All and all I’m hoping to form a more vibrant practice that is more immersive and can also work alongside some of my more traditional polytheist practices.

The majority of people integrating Pokémon into magical practice were born in the Millennial generation or are younger. That should not be surprising, because these are the same people who grew up with the original Pokémon franchise of the 1990s.

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Pokemon Tarot Deck [Publicity Image]

Tumblr user Kitty, who runs the Pop Culture Paganism blog, also posts and reblogs notes concerning the use of Pokémon in religious, spiritual or magical practice. And, in 2014, Cokujyo Eikyu created a Pokémon Tarot deck, now in its second edition.

Let’s move forward in time again to the present.

This year, 2016, marks the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and the release of its arguably most popular game, Pokémon Go. And, although it’s based on the same gaming premise, the backlash has been decidedly different because of the way it has played out within our collective world cultures.

The new game is getting people outside and moving around, even if that movement is zombie-like or resembles herds of wild animals on a David Attenborough special. One Tumblr user wrote, “Pokémon Go deserves a nobel peace prize for getting me off my ass.”

Pokemon show up in the most untimely of locations [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Pokemon show up in the most unseemingly of locations [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Additionally, the company has created what it calls PokeStops and PokeGyms, which are actual places where Pokémon congregate and where battles happen. Users must be physically within range of these locations to catch these wanted Pokémon and engage with the game further. As a result, Pokératti, those masses of players, are showing up at random locations, with phones in hand, and sometimes are even putting themselves at risk of being arrested for trespassing.

Interestingly, many churches are reportedly labeled as PokeGyms and, as a result, groups of young people are showing up at their doorsteps to play the game. Many church leaders, such as in the Church of England, are beginning to see this phenomenon as a positive development. While the Pokératti may not stick around for sermons, leaders see this move as “a good way to start a conversation that may lead on to other things,” as noted by the BBC.

The same Pokémon game, which once was thought to have driven people from religion, is now being considered a tool to potentially lead them back.

And churches aren’t the only institutions looking to take advantage of the PokeStop or PokeGym feature. Companies, organizations and event planners are using the built-in “lure” or the “incense” game actions to bring Pokémon to their locations in hopes of attracting visitors, customers or the like. The more Pokémon at the site, or the stronger and rarer the Pokémon, the more Pokératti show up.

The Wild Hunt’s own Cara Schulz, who is running for political office in her hometown of Burnsville, has teamed up with a local restaurant and is using the game’s lure feature to attract people to her campaign event. It is a clever marketing tool that creates a pickup community space, which could potentially “lead on to other things.”  As we move into Pagan Pride and fall festival season, this tool may be a marketing concept that organizers can employ to attract visitors to their own public events.

However, before a planner jumps on the band wagon, there is a downside. Do you want groups of gamers lingering on your doorstop? These players are typically more interested in catching Pokémon than the services being offered. This fact has caused problems worldwide where players create hazards for real shoppers or similar. The U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial, for example, was made a PokeStop and has been reportedly attracting groups of loud and disrespectful Pokératti.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told the Washington Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

As noted earlier, the PokeStops and PokeGyms are chosen by the company, and only recently has it opened up the option to suggest new locations. The system is not at all monetized, but the company has suggested that it may be in the future.

Another organization contending with Pokératti is the Westboro Baptist Church. The location was made a PokeGym, attracting battling trainers who are now allegedly vying for the right to control this particular gym in order to “troll the Church.” The church’s leaders responded with their own Pokémon-inspired message saying, “Pokémon Go and Sin No More.” One spokesperson told USA Today that they are using the “language that is understood.”

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Another one caught. [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Today the Pokémon franchise, which began as a simple video game, has now become a viable tool within a magical system, an exercise method, a community-building activity, a marketing strategy, and a political weapon. At the same time, the game is still inspiring the same backlash that it did in 1990s, including new conspiracy theories, angry sermons and fatwas.

Going back to the original question: what does Pokémon have to do with the occult? The easy response, as said earlier, is absolutely nothing.

But human culture never allows for that level of simplicity. Therefore, the actual answer is “a whole lot.”

Happy hunting.

Get ready for the seventh generation in November as a new wave of danger hits the market.