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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

csi_crime_scene_investigation_logo__140218204850

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

In other news:

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

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

Public Domain Photo

Public Domain Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pagan Federation

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

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

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

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Starhawk at Harvard Divinity School.

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

In Other News

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

The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. Donate Now!

That’s all for now! Have a great day.

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

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

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

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

The Satanic Temple's Children's Activity Book

Created by The Satanic Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early in September, a large number of people received notification that their Facebook accounts were in violation of company policy. These advisories explained that all users are required to register with their authentic names. Because the majority of flagged accounts belonged to drag queens, there was an immediate outcry based on the assumption that Facebook was deliberately targeting the LGBTQ community. That outcry led to action, and the action led to results.

In response to the initial warnings, affected users such as Sister Roma, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Heklina, and others living in the San Francisco Bay area, immediately spoke out via Twitter, radio shows and other venues. They accused Facebook of discriminatory practices. Sister Roma, a performer, activist and longtime member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, led the charge. In a tweet on Sept. 11, she said:

Sister Roma’s tweet was the catalyst for the hashtag campaign #MyNameIs, which was quickly picked up by other affected Facebook users and, subsequently, printed on purple signs and logos. A live protest at Facebook headquarters was planned for Sept. 16.

However, the protest was canceled when Facebook called a meeting with the activists. On Wed Sept. 17, Sister Roma, Lil Miss Hot Mess and others met with Facebook representatives who explained the reason for the name policy. They gave all the flagged users an extra two weeks to create profiles with their legal names.

By this point news was spreading beyond those directly affected. As that happened, Facebook users, including many Pagans and Heathens, began looking for alternative social media platforms. Many worried that Facebook was stepping up enforcement of its name policy. Like drag queens, many Pagans and Heathens use adopted names corresponding to their chosen identity. The rumored “crack down” could have significant repercussions on the well-being of many social and cultural groups. Sister Krissy Fiction, a Gnostic Pagan and Prioress of the Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, told The Wild Hunt

This is really about much more than just drag queens.There are lots of valid reasons why people might not want to use their legal name on Facebook. While we’ve gained a lot of ground, there are still those in the LGBT community who can’t be fully open about their sexual orientation. They risk losing family relationships and jobs. In the Trans* community, sometimes a legal name might not match their current gender identity or how most people know them. Do we really want to out Trans* people by forcing them to use a name that belongs to a gender they don’t identify with?  

In the meantime, the #MyNameIs campaign was bolstered by the Facebook meeting. A new protest was scheduled for Oct. 2 on the steps of San Francisco’s city hall. One affected user, Mike Woolson or Unkle Mikey, designed this graphic to illustrate clearly that the name policy doesn’t only burden the LGBTQ community.

image2

Facebook’s insistence on maintaining a name policy is encased in very real concerns that fake identities facilitate abusive acts (e.g., cyber-stalking, trolling) and could possibly foster other destructive social or criminal behaviors (e.g., bullying, stalking, domestic violence, terrorism) by masking the real identity of those that commit the acts. It is more difficult for authorities to identify or track an abuser, troll or terrorist, who uses an online pseudonym. However, as illustrated in the above graphic, the same mask that protects the criminal also protects the victim or the potential victim.

Sister Krissy did not have her page removed. She was already using her legal name on Facebook, only partially due to the policy. Sister Krissy is one of the lucky ones who does not worry about the public exposure of both identities. But that level of comfort doesn’t exist for everyone, including many practitioners of alternative religions.

Sister Krissy Fiction [Courtesy Photo]

Sister Krissy Fiction [Courtesy Photo]


Should it matter if the adorned name is for personal protection, artistic expression or sacred purposes? Sister Krissy said:

There is a long tradition of using chosen names within our [Pagan] communities.That exists partly to help protect from possible discrimination, but also because we recognize that there is power in chosen names and we value being able to decide what image we are going to present to the world. The reality is though, that if Facebook doesn’t change the policy, we run the same risk of one individual fueled by spite being able to shut down hundreds of profiles. Sure, this time around it was drag queens and Sisters, but it could have just as easily been someone who doesn’t like Pagans who decided to go on a reporting spree. 

Two weeks after the initial meeting, Facebook called a second one. Sister Roma tweeted, “Off to @facebook representing the millions of users with chosen and protective names – your voice will be heard.”

At that Oct. 1 meeting, Facebook Chief Products Officer Christopher Cox formally apologized to the coalition of activists and the represented communities. In a press release, Cox explained that the company was not at all targeting drag queens. The accounts were flagged only after someone complained. Additionally, he stated, “Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what’s been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.” The response was posted on Facebook:

 

After that meeting and Cox’ public statement, the coalition of activists announced that the Oct. 2 protest would now be a #MyNameIs Victory Rally. While some have criticized Facebook for its back peddling in the wake of potentially losing customers, most people are applauding Facebook for attempting to find workable solutions that fit their security concerns and also serve the real needs of loyal users. In an Oct. 5 video interview, Sister Roma said that she was “thrilled with Facebook.”

Sister Krissy agreed, saying: “I do appreciate and accept the apology. However, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I appreciate the apology, but I’ll appreciate some real changes even more. I’m hopeful that Facebook will do the right thing.” As critics have pointed out, the policy has yet to be changed. Facebook’s promise was only to evolve the way it enforces the policy, not to alter the policy itself. Some don’t consider this a win.

However, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), who had representatives at the Oct. 1 meeting, suggested otherwise. It said in part:

The coalition in attendance, including HRC – which is a member of Facebook’s Network of Support team, combatting [sic] anti-LGBT bullying online – will continue to work with Facebook’s team as the policy is clarified and new measures are put into place to ensure LGBT community members can still think of Facebook as place to call home.

Despite HRC involvement and Facebook’s apparent interest in serving a diversity of populations, both revising and enforcing the policy poses complications that raise questions about self-making and identity within our culture. Facebook wants to protect its product through preventing phony user accounts employed for spamming purposes and false identities that mask criminal activity. Even if Facebook doesn’t require legal proof of identity, issues will still arise. How do you prove a legitimate, self-made identity that has no documentation? Many religious-based or Craft personas fall into that category. They can’t be proven with even unofficial documents such as junk mail or club cards.

Regardless of these sticking points, like Google before them, Facebook has now conceded that the process of defining what constitutes a “real identity” is complex and requires more than a simple algorithm or automated process. “Real identity” extends beyond the typed letters on a birth certificate or gas bill.

On Saturday, Crystal Blanton will tackle this subject. In her column “Culture and Community,” she will explore the issue as it specifically relates to Pagans and Heathens who, like drag queens, often live with multiple real identities and multiple real names.

 

[On a weekly basis, we bring you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. If you value our work, please consider donating to our fall fund drive today. Bringing you important news and stories, like the one below, is what we love to do. Your support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

The Druid NetworkOn September 29, the Interfaith Network of the United Kingdom (IFN UK) admitted both The Druid Network (TDN) and The Pagan Federation (PF) into its organization as members. Previously, both Pagan groups were denied membership because they did not represent “one of the big nine faiths.” According to The Druid Network, “This refusal resulted in TDN becoming involved in dialogue with IFN, with a view to reviewing their membership policy to become both more inclusive and to remove any suggestion of discrimination against minority faiths.”

The Pagan Federation and others were also involved in the talks, which eventually led to a presentation before the House of Lords. TDN says, “The eminent human rights lawyer, John Halford, from Bindmans LLP publicly issued a legal opinion for the event.” After that official meeting, IFN began a “strategic review” of its membership policy that has resulted in revised criteria by which both the PF and TDN are eligible. Additionally, Rev. Prudence Jones of PF will be serving on IFN’s executive committee. She marks the first Pagan to hold such a position within that organization. TDN says:

This is an historic achievement on many levels, it is the fruition of the work of many people seeking to find resolution within conflict, those people coming from many diverse backgrounds, professions and faiths. The Druid Network extends its appreciation and thanks to all who helped bring about this momentous.

conference-logo-transparent-background1The 11th Conference on Current Pagan Studies will be held January 24-25, 2015  in Claremont, California at Claremont Graduate University. This year’s theme is “Fecundity and the Richness of the Dark.” Conference organizers explain, “Monotheistic notions over the past two millennia have separated and polarized our manner of being in the world into realms of light and darkness, positive and negative, holy and desacralized, valued and devalued.  Polytheists, Pagans, animists, et al view differently the interplay of light and dark, and seek to revalue, re-sacralize, and retrieve the dark. How do we interpret the Darkness?” 

This year’s keynote speakers will be Viviane Crowley and Orion Foxwood. The deadline for submissions is now October 15. They say, “We are looking for papers from all disciplines. A community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc.” 

10689864_296726883849996_5087655294117168377_nThe Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) is holding its debut exhibition at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts from Oct 25 – Nov 15, 2014. The public exhibition is titled, “Doorways to the Underworld” and will feature Ali Beyer (Artemis Namaste), Anne Marie Forrester (Helga Hedgewalker), Paul Rucker, and Roger Williamson. MCPA says, “In this exhibit, Halloween is explored through the eyes of those who experience the season as a profound time to commune with the ancestors and the spirit world.  For these artists, the work is an extension of their spirituality, allowing a glimpse into what is often an unseen tradition.”  The opening reception includes a dance performance by Alana Mari and live music by Comets Ov Cupid.

In Other Pagan Community News:

 

That’s it for now, have a great day!

 

[On a weekly basis, we bring you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. If you value our work, please consider donating to our fall fund drive today. Bringing you important news and stories, like the one below, is what we love to do. Your support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

 

LC BookSeventeen years after the release of her last book, Laurie Cabot has returned to the world of publishing with a new title called Laurie Cabot’s Book of Spells and Enchantments. Produced by Copper Cauldron Publishing, her new book details the “nuts and bolts” of spell creation, including some of the recipes, rituals and secrets contained within her own family grimoire. In the book, Cabot also discusses the place of magic in life, a Witch’s apothecary, divine power and her own spell-making tips for both the beginner and lifetime practitioner.

Laurie Cabot is arguably one of the most well-known witches in contemporary American culture, outside of Pagan circles. In the 1970s, Governor Michael Dukakis honored her with the title “The Official Witch of Salem,” a name she accepted proudly.

Throughout much of her magical life, Cabot has owned and operated witchcraft stores in the historic New England town of Salem. Through those stores, she was able to do what she loved most: sharing the beauty, reality and power of Witchcraft. In 1973, Cabot opened her very first store, called The Witch Shoppe, and, as it turned out, it was one of the very first stores of its kind in the United States. At one point, she also owned the well-known Crow Haven Corner and, more recently, The Cat, Crow and Crown, which was eventually renamed The Official Witch Shoppe.

In 2012, at the age of 79 years, Cabot announced that she was finally closing the doors of the Shoppe. She explained to The Boston Globe, “The Witch City has dipped to the point where a brick-and-mortar store is no longer sustainable.” Despite the downward turn in business at its physical location, the store has maintained an online presence to this day.

During the 1990s, Cabot wrote and published four books including, The Power of the Witch (1989), Love Magic (1992), Celebrate the Earth (1994) and The Witch in Every Woman (1997). Writing books became another way for her to share the magic and joy of Witchcraft with new audiences and new seekers. However, after publication of the last book, she turned her attention away from writing to focus on other pursuits and didn’t publish again … until now.

We talked with Laurie Cabot about her new book, the current state of Witchcraft in today’s society and her future projects. At 81 years of age, she was enthusiastic to answer our questions and share her thoughts. Her passion for teaching and for the art of Witchcraft was very evident in her voice as she answered the questions. Please note that the conversation was not recorded and, therefore, will not be presented in a traditional interview format. 

After a 17 year hiatus, why suddenly return to print?

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

When answering this question, Cabot was very candid. She explained that writing books had become very cumbersome. She is not a computer user and, therefore, her books were all written long-hand with paper and pen in the old-fashion way. The task was enormous and, in 1997, she didn’t want to devote the time and energy into producing another one. Then, several years ago, she finally agreed to produce a new spell book because, as she said, “I had a wonderful person who could type as fast as I could talk.”

That person was Christopher Penczak. In the forward of the book he says:

…on a Beltane evening, while discussing the state of publishing, I suggested that she release a spell book because she loved sharing the majick. She agreed, but asked for my help in organizing it, along with her daughter Penny, and thus the seeds of the book you hold now in your hands were planted.

Cabot added that Penczak having his own publishing company, Copper Cauldron Publishing, “made it easy.” After the process was complete, she said, “I could have done three volumes because we have collected and created spells for over 50 years. But I wanted to do something that was easily understandable to all people.” The result of that collaborative work is this new book – a “how to” guide to spell making born from sixty years of Cabot magic.

The book is aimed at a general readership; not only Witches or magical practitioners. Why?

Cabot said, “There’s a little witch in everyone.” She believes that the science of magic is “what is vital” and, as such, “can be used by anyone.” She added, “Quantum physics tells us what we are doing is real.”

In the book’s introduction, Cabot says:

You don’t have to be a Witch to borrow majick. Some think you do, but I say absolutely not. Anyone can use majick. We teach the science and art of Witchcraft separate from religion, so you can be a scientific Witch. You can be an artful Witch too. And you do not have to practice the religion at all.

She went on to describe how she dervived at such a science-focused understanding of Witchcraft. She said that it was the “finding of science” within the spiritual experience that became so important to her development. As a child she had many psychic experiences, after which her father would always say, “There has to be a science behind it.” She said that it was those conversations that “led [her] in search of that.”

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Why the “j” in majick?

In the book, Cabot uses the term “majick” rather than magic or the popular magick. When asked what the spelling difference meant to her, she simply said that a “j” is used in place of a “g” to identify her particular system of Witchcraft with its focus on science. She has been using this spelling for over a decade.

What major observations have you made concerning the changes, beneficial or otherwise, in the practice of Witchcraft today as compared to past decades? 

When answering this question, Cabot focused on the retail experience, which has dominated much of her “majical” life. When she opened The Witch Shoppe in 1973, there were no witches anywhere. She said that the store was the only place where people could find a witch. Now, there are stores everywhere.

She said that, unfortunately, today, “it seems that people open stores to become rich.” She said, “You don’t become rich with one store. It may pay for the mortgage but you won’t be rich.”

Cabot also observed that the focus of modern Witchcraft stores has changed. In opening any store, her intent was always to “help people understand that Witchcraft was real.” She wanted to teach and share her passion. All her products, including incenses, spells, potions and oils, were handmade. She said, “I know the ingredients. I know how to make them real.” The store was an experience for the buyer that she created from her experience as a Witch.

Now, most metaphysical shops get their products from vendors. She laments this system saying, “the spells may not work. They may not have anything to do with the right energy.” This commercialization of the Witchcraft industry saddens her, and she added that people just seem to be “jumping on the band-wagon.” However, Cabot did acknowledge that the increase in stores has significantly helped with the sharing of magical practices, making them more widely accepted.

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

As awareness has grown over the years, Cabot has noticed a recent influx in the number of international students coming to her classes. She said that, just last week, 6 Brazilians flew to Salem in order to attended her Witchcraft 101 class at Salem’s magickal store, Enchanted. In addition, her online classes have been attracting an international audience. She said, “They want to learn the science,” which she thinks is “wonderful.”

What would you say is the most important legacy or message that you would like to leave for future generations, Pagans or not, as the Official Witch of Salem?

Cabot said, “I would like everyone to know that magic is real.” She said that there has been “so much propaganda.” She explained that, as children, we all know in our hearts that magic exists but we are told by adults that it is just imaginary. But it does.

She also wants more people to accept and learn the scientific aspects of magic. She said, “I want it to be used to better the world.” Then she added, “Isn’t that what the world needs right now?  A little magic.”

One would be hard pressed to argue that point.

Now that the book is finished and due to be released in digital and paperback formats later this month, what other projects are on the horizon?

Along with her teaching at Enchanted, Cabot has several new projects in the works. She enthusiastically shared that she is working on her memoirs. Although she does not have a time frame for it’s completion and release, it will be published by Copper Cauldron Publishing with the help of Christopher Penczak.

Cabot is also developing a Tarot Deck, one that she hopes to release in the spring of 2015. She said that it does not have a name yet, but the deck will be focused, as one might expect, on scientific and the numeric spirit in the occult system.

As the conversation ended, Cabot added, “I’m using my time carefully now. I want to make sure that I leave something for people to gain knowledge. I don’t know everything. There are people that know far more.” But what Laurie Cabot does know, she wants to share in ways that will foster a better and deeper understanding of the self, the outside world and of the art of Witchcraft.

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

World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

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

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

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

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

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

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

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

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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