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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.”

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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.

NEW YORK — WitchsFestUSA, an annual Pagan festival held in the heart of New York City, was attended this year by Christian protesters. The noisy group, who stood all day on the corner of Astor Place, held up large signs calling for repentance and angrily yelling at the passing crowd. Despite the protesters’ presence, the Pagan festival kept to its program and ended on a high note.

[Photo Credit: Emma Story / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Emma Story / Flickr]

Now in its fifth year, WitchsFestUSA describes itself as an outdoor, Pagan street faire. Its mission is to “bring the community of witches or pagans together in general and enjoy who we are as such, while at the same time raising funds for The NYC Wiccan Family Temple acquire our own space of worship.”

The festival was founded and is annually hosted by elder High Priestesses Starr RavenHawk and Luna Rojas. RavenHawk founded and now runs Wiccan Family Temple and the Academy of Pagan Studies, both located in New York City. In 2013, RavenHawk was featured in a Time Magazine about Witchcraft and its modern day practice. Rojas is also a high priestess and member of the Wiccan Family Temple. Additionally, Rojas is the founder of the New York City Pagan Council, a pagan civil rights organization.

RavenHawk and Rojas have been running WitchsFestUSA since 2011. The festival takes place in New York City’s Greenwich Village on Astor Place between Broadway & Lafayette Streets. The one-day Pagan event hosts a variety of workshops, rituals, performances, and vendors, all set up on Manhattan streets like a typical city street faire. This year’s guest presenters were many, including: Rev. Don Lewis, Lilith Dorsey, Christopher Penczak, Courtney Weber Hoover, Lady Rhea, Rhonda Choudry, Qumran Taj, and Lexa Rosean.

Starr Ravenhawk WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

Starr RavenHawk WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

The group of protesters, who numbered between 10 and 20 at any given time, arrived early and stayed all day. They set up on one corner of Astor Place, near the festival’s teaching tents. The group held up signs and yelled at the growing festival crowd. According to RavenHawk, this was the same group of people who protested Pagan Pride in 2015.

Witch and author Christopher Penczak told The Wild Hunt that the protesters appeared to be “some evangelical variety” of Christian, but he could not identify any specific denomination or church affiliation.

“I have never encountered such a belligerent group,” said Hannah, a member of the Temple of Witchcraft and a regular attendee at Pagan and other similar conventions. “One [protester] screamed in my face that I need to repent.” She said that, in her experience, most convention protesters are typically more passive. “These guys were seriously full of aggression and hate.”

While the group kept to its physical location on the street corner, its members were reportedly extremely loud and often shouted over the teachers trying to teach, which appeared to be their goal. In a blog post, author and priestess Courtney Weber Hoover wrote, “We delayed the beginning of our workshops as their ‘Repent, you guys! You’re all going to hell!’ rallies were too loud!”

Lexa Rosen, who was scheduled to teach in the tent directly beside the protesters, attempted to start a chant and a spiral dance to hush them,” as relayed by Wiccan High Priestess Dawn Marie. She said, “In the end we moved her tent over so she could do some of her workshop.”

As Penczak began to teach his workshop, he quickly realized that he couldn’t “speak without yelling to be heard.” He said, “Though naive, I thought: ‘has anyone asked them to be quieter in a polite way?’ Have we tried to just talk to them?’ So I tried.”

While other attendees had engaged with the protesters in theological debate, Penczak “had a more practical request in mind.” He simply wanted to ask them to lower their volume. As his story goes, he approached the woman leading the chants, who said, “Can’t you see I’m busy. I got a job to do. I’ve got no time to talk to you.” Penczak then “tried to explain that [he] also had a job to do and she was making it impossible.” She ignored him.

Penczak said, “I tried to talk to what I thought was her associate right next to her but the gentleman turned around, and his sign said ‘Will work for cigarettes,’ and he explained he wasn’t with her.” He said that he then returned to his “teach-yell” workshop.

Weber Hoover said the same: “I led my Tarot class with a chorus of shouts about Jesus and redemption off to my left.”

Weber Hoover teachers WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Weber Hoover teachers WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Priestess and author Lilith Dorsey experienced the same. She shared this story with us:

I was all set to give my Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism workshop when I realized I was about 10 feet away from a loud group of Christian protesters. My godson who had come with me asked if I was going to try to reason with them. My initial response was that I used to sing on Broadway and it would be possible to talk louder than them even at this close distance. So my understanding class gathered close and I proceeded to project a well-received and well-attended lecture despite the circumstances.

Dorsey added, “After my class was over I think there was a moment where I flashed some devil horns and stuck out my tongue.”

In talking about this unfortunate situation, Dorsey made it a point to express her “respect for Christians who practice what they preach.” This sentiment was echoed in Weber Hoover’s blog post. She wrote, “I won’t call [the protesters] Christians. I know too many wonderful Christians to lump them in with this crowd.”

However, Dorsey said that, in this particular situation, she felt “disturbed and disrespected.” She added, “I have sat on interfaith councils with Christians and people of all faiths. Fortunately I have never had to directly deal with such vitriol until now. It was extra disheartening to see many people of color protesting, which in light of recent events and the #blacklivesmatter movement makes me want to ask them don’t you have better things to shout at.”

Winifred Costello, a Traditional Witch and the proprietor of AwenTree, was visiting from her home in Western Massachusetts. She said, “I felt upset for the presenters, organizers and attendees that worked hard to put on the event. The protesters were yelling so intensely and with such anger, that I did could not hear the workshop presenter speaking and I did not feel comfortable sticking around.”

Dawn Marie echoed that sentiment, saying, “[The protesters] were really angry and aggressive, and I started to worry that it would get out of hand because of the recent shootings.” She had to shield herself, adding that she felt “rattled” and “inconvenienced.”

The New York City Police Department was on hand and watching the protest. RavenHawk noted that four officers remained near the protesters at all times to protect the attendees. Dana Marie said that “[The officers] were respectful and kept us protected while keeping an eye on the protesters and telling them to stop getting so loud.”

WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Attendees at WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

However, not everyone felt safe. As mentioned earlier, Costello left the festival because of the intensity of the protest. She said, “Due to recent events in the nation, I felt far more sensitive to, and disturbed by, the strong vibe of intolerance radiating from this group in particular. It is not that I haven’t encountered religious protesters before but given the reality of how intolerance is literally leading to folks being killed, I just had no stomach for the energy these protesters had. If they want to spread their beliefs I think there are more productive, kinder and tolerant methods than the actions they choose.”

She continued on to say, “The biggest take-away from this experience was that we need to keep advocating for positive, safe change, for acceptance of diversity in our country. The time of angry intolerance and fear-driven actions needs to shift towards a time of inclusion, acceptance and peaceful interactions.”

While many attendees simply ignored the protesters, others, like Penczak, did engage with them in some way. RavenHawk told The Wild Hunt, “I tried at first to reason with them that, this is our civil rights to be here and practice our religion, just like they do. To which they answered that it was their right as well to do their job and save us despite ourselves.”

On her blog, Weber Hoover describes her own action, in which she hugs two of the protesters and repeatedly says, “I love you.” Her chanting first elicited the same statement back. However, as she continued and got louder, the two protesters became fearful that she was casting a spell.

WitchsFestUSA 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber]

WitchsFestUSA 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber]

Weber Hoover said, “[A leader] held his hand up and started shouting an incantation, as though to strike the Devil out of me.”  She added, “I don’t know that my choice this time was the answer, but it was the right answer for me at that moment.”

Other actions included the drawing of pentacles, spirals and other magical images in chalk and salt on the ground at the protesters feet. Dawn Marie said “One gentleman had started smudging and charging the circle he had drawn as well as the other symbols around him. The whole thing was a barrier of peace.”

Dawn Marie was impressed with the attendees’ reactions to the situation. She added, “They didn’t blow the smoke at the protesters or disrespect the protesters as much as pray to the Gods for protection on the festival.”

In retrospect, RavenHawk said that the situation was “very offensive” and “traumatizing.” She said, now, “I literally cannot seem to want to hear anyone speak to me or near me about Jesus. I am so turned off by it right now, and never noticed or paid attention to it before.”

Despite that experience, attendees universally reported that RavenHawk handled the situation with grace and was “cool and calm” despite the unwanted guests and the continual disruptions.They said that she did her best, communicating with officers and being available to attendees, vendors and presenters.

By the end of the day, nothing that was done by the organizers or festival participants provoked the group to leave their corner. However, at the same time, nothing the protesters did ended the festival. Although presenter voices needed to be louder and some teaching events had to be relocated, WitchsFestUSA 2016 was considered successful, ending with a rousing closing ritual.

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“Making lemonade” at WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

Dorsey said, “Overall it was only a minor distraction at an amazing event, run by some of the most competent and powerful people I know. ”

RavenHawk expressed her personal gratitude to everyone involved. In a public post, she wrote, “We sang songs of love and the Goddess, clapping our hands to our own beat… later on many drew sigils of pentagrams on the street before them.. witches took lemons and made lemonade. Refreshing.”

WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

The sixth annual WitchsFestUSA is already in the planning stages and will be held July 15, 2017 at the same location.

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — In his home studio in Belfast, artist Glyn Smyth spends his days designing album covers, gig posters and other similar commissions, while working on his own pieces in the off-time. He is a full-time, professional printmaker, illustrator and graphic design artist with a wide range of styles from textile patterns and art nouveau to print illustrations depicting a haunting realism. Despite this artistic range, there is one particular element that does bind all of his work together, and that something is found through his deep devotion to esoteric themes.

"Savage Mistress"

“Savage Mistress”

“Although I don’t align myself to any one school of thought or tradition, my interest in Witchcraft seems deeply rooted on an emotional level. I do feel that many artists — and not necessarily just those who identify with the esoteric or occult — regularly invoke similar forces to those experienced by magical practitioners. My gut feeling is that to a great extent, magical thinking and practice is something universal, even if it manifests in a myriad of forms,” Smyth explained in an email interview with The Wild Hunt.

He further said, “Ultimately, I have an aversion to the concept of ‘religion’ which I tend to view as a control mechanism, but feel that the ‘New Atheism’ of the last few years is essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water. We’re dismissing millennia of shared cultural experiences and interactions with what appears to be another form of intelligence. On its most basic level, Witchcraft — regardless of what form it takes — seems to be a proactive way of interacting with these intelligences and that interests me greatly.”

Both Smyth’s artistic endeavors and his interest in the occult began at a very early age. He said that he can’t recall a time when he was not fascinated by either. As a child, Smyth was an avid drawer, picking up techniques very naturally. But, then in his teens, he drifted away from art due to a “dissatisfaction with [his] own efforts.”

But Smyth eventually returned to his roots in 2006, when friends began asking for his help with promotional material for their metal bands. “Graphic design would definitely be the bridge by which I returned to making art,” he said. “In older punk and metal culture, collage art was definitely a predominant aesthetic. Before Photoshop, we had scissors and glue and these were my weapons of choice for many years. The highly charged, political work by anarchist bands like Crass and pioneers such as John Heartfield are very important influences to me in this regard.”

"Thanatos" Commission for NYC metal band Tombs

Commission for American metal band “Tombs”

He moved into printmaking, designing t-shirts and posters for his own band and others, eventually incorporating “illustrative” work. Smyth is now a full-time artist supporting his own studio. He said, “I’ve been freelance for over 10 years now, and whilst I still accept suitable commissions I am endeavouring to spend more of my time working on personal projects and printmaking from this point onwards. There is a distinct vision and aesthetic I have in mind for Stag & Serpent (my studio identity) and I’m keen to develop this more fully.”

Much of that identity is wrapped up in his personal interest in folklore and occult themes. He explained, “On one hand, it’s easy to say that subjects such as Witchcraft, mythology and other esoteric pursuits provide ample resources to draw from for visual art. This is undoubtedly true. But I am repeatedly drawn to similar types of imagery. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, other times I realise there’s certain motifs and symbols that keep appearing without much pre-planning. Essentially, I feel that by drawing from these myths and engaging in an act of creation with them, I am helping myself to understand them more thoroughly.”

Within Smyth’s body of work, occult imagery and esoteric symbols can reveal themselves as tiny fragments embedded within a larger collage illustration, or as overarching themes breathing through the entire composition. Some of his work is purely symbolic in nature, such as in No Help for the Mighty Ones, and at other times the expression comes through in full illustration, such as in the Gathering.

Smyth imagery is dark and at times haunting, but it is equally evocative and empowering.

GATHERING

“The Gathering”

As noted earlier, many of Smyth’s prints are commissions for use as promotional material, including posters and album covers. He said, “I’m a long time fan of underground bands and I feel that this respect for these genres crosses over into the work. I take it seriously. The world of ‘metal’ is very diverse with a myriad of subgenres and aesthetic conventions in play, but I always strive to bring a fresh approach whilst acknowledging what’s come before.”

Although the term “metal” does cover a wide variety of sub-genres, he said, generally speaking, metal “does indeed seem to have a natural home with these [occult] themes.” This is idea is similar to that expressed in Peter Berbergal’s book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. Bebergal discusses “the remarkable influence occult beliefs have had on culture.” (Introduction, p. 28).

Smyth said, “The solemn and often experimental nature of many of the bands I work for echo the sentiments of past art movements. I feel that much Black Metal is essentially a modern incarnation of Romanticism in its basic themes and overall aesthetic, for example.” These sentiments often live at the crossroads of myth, magic, religion, and artistic expression.

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Commission for metal band “Wolves in the Throne Room”

When designing an album cover, Smyth doesn’t always have the new music available for inspiration. In those cases, he said, “I listen to the band’s earlier work at the outset to get a general feel for it. But more so than the sound of the band, it’s the ideas they want represented I rely on as a guide. I usually try to find some visual symbolism inherent in the concept, do some reading and let it stew for a while.”

He added, “I try not to force it, or let myself get coerced into too strict an approach. Keeping things malleable until the late stages seems the key to success in my experience. I like getting a good conceptual starting point and then being allowed to see where that takes me as opposed to having the specific visuals mapped out.”

Smyth approaches his own art in the same conceptual and spiritual way, saying that simply “appropriating symbols” is not the aim. He explained, “I prefer to succumb to the idea itself, rather than try and force it as such. On a conscious level I focus primarily on composition and technique, but also like to leave room for the idea to breathe and ‘do its own thing’ as such […] With my own personal work I’m inclined to leave the process much more open to suggestion from external sources, synchronicities and the like.”

"Celestial"

“Celestial”

While commercial illustration can often confine his exploration and limit the depth of expression, Smyth has been spending more time with his own work in recent years. Before 2013, Smyth operated under the name Scrawled Design, a moniker that he felt he had outgrown as he increasingly began to explore his own work beyond the band commissions. On Samhain 2014, he launched Stag & Serpent.

“It was a conscious move to reframe my illustration work more in line with my own personal interests whilst placing renewed emphasis on the pure “design” aspects of my work,” he said. “I also saw this as an opportunity to set myself some personal rules regarding aesthetics and the type of projects I wished to be involved in.”

When asked if he had any one piece that was particularly powerful for him, he first said, “I try not to dwell too much on work once it’s done and keep moving forward.” But he then added, “On a personal level, I’m very happy with my ‘Gathering’ print [shown earlier] which I just released. I feel I achieved the atmosphere I was going for here…which is not always the case. Over the last while I’ve tried to express more nuance and even ambiguity in my work. It’s the mystery that endures, not so much the answer I guess.”

"Maiden, Mother, Crone" prints

“Maiden, Mother, Crone” prints

As for the meaning behind the studio’s name, Smyth said, “Stag & Serpent is essentially a title that acknowledges duality in nature. Solar and cthonic. The serpent on the cross. Male and female polarities. These positions are not necessarily fixed. There’s a certain gnostic quality to the thinking here. The name and symbol design came very much out of the blue and I’m content to let the meaning evolve with time.”

Although Smyth’s aesthetic, working style, and personal interests are strongly centered in occult expression, he hasn’t illustrated much specifically for occult projects. He said, “I have been approached by a few esoteric publishers on the possibility of illustrating specific magical texts. Obviously I find this interesting and is something I would certainly consider if the timing and material was right.” Some of his work will be in the Pillars Vol. I : Perichoresis, to be published by Anathema Publishing in late 2016.

"Our Flame Returned" Smith's newest illustration not yet printed.

“Our Flame Returned” Smyth’s newest illustration not yet printed.

Smyth added, “a Tarot deck is definitely something I would like to work on some day. I could see this being quite a few years further down the line however.” That idea is not at all far reaching when looking through his gallery at many of pieces.

Right now, he said that he has a backlog of personal projects to work on, including one called the Shadows of the Fort, an “open-ended project which may also find outlets in the form of small publications or books.” He also continues to take commissions to help sustain his studio and freelance business. And, he sells his limited edition prints over the Internet through his studio site.

Smyth described his work and this new direction “a calling.” He said, “The material is both poetic and challenging, and invites different approaches and interpretations. It also allows me to embark on work that is directly related to the land around me which feels important after years of working with overseas clients.”

More of Glyn Smyth’s work is on display at his gallery, Stag & Serpent. The site also includes journal entries, which offer a further looks into his influences, as well as a video displaying his printmaking techniques.

“In retrospect,” said Smyth “I now at last feel I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.”

NOTE: All images appearing in this article are the property of Glyn Smyth. They are copyright protected, and are not to be reproduced in any way without written permission from the artist. © 2016 Glyn Smyth. All Rights Reserved.

BALTIMORE — In a year’s time, our collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities are offered countless opportunities to come together in person in order to celebrate, educate, worship or just to connect. These eclectic and wide-spread events consist of everything from indoor weekend conferences, day-long symposiums, and seven-day camping festivals to picnics, concerts, and small community gatherings. Some of these events provide a space for a vast diversity of programming, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, Paganicon, or PantheaCon. Others are more focused in their theme, mission and service, such as Trothmoot, Merry Meet or HexFest. One of the newest such events, which was just announced in May, is the day-long gathering called Dawtas of the Moon.

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[Courtesy Image: Dawtas of the Moon]

“Dawtas of the Moon is a collective of seven women who have joined together to send out the call to all women of color who are witches, shamans, priestesses, oracles, diviners or healers to convene and uphold the indigenous ways of our foremothers,” explained the organizers in an email interview. (Click here for the full unedited interview.)

The Event Brite page reads, “The time has come to make sure our voices are heard. The time has come to step out of the back room. The time has come for us to connect, grow, learn, heal, and share our knowledge and sisterhood energy.”

The seven organizers are An L. Kenion, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann, Omitola Yejide Ogunsina, and the three women that make up Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. Kenion, also known as MoonLight Star, describes herself as a shaman and healer among other things. She said that she was born from “a long line of spiritual workers: seers, sages, medicine women, oracles, diviners, hoodoo practitioners.” Barmore describes herself as a “free spirit,” saying that she “greets the world with an open heart.” She is an ancestral-led healer and doula specializing in ritual practices. McKann is a holistic sensual healer whose mission is to bring women back in balance with their feminine energy.

Omi Yejide Ogunsina, known as Mama Omi, is listed on the event site as the primary organizer. She is a an “aborisha on the path to priesthood in the Ifa Spiritual tradition of the Yoruba people (Isese Agbaye).” Among her multitude of experiences and roles, Mama Omi describes herself as a “womb shaman, reiki master, meditation teacher, womb yoga instructor, psychic and medium.”

The final three organizers make up a group called “Magic Moja,” which is an “initiative created […] through the guidance of [their] ancestors.” Moja (pronounced Moy-ya) is Swahili for “one.” As the three women explain, “We are here to assist in the reawakening of the Divine Feminine in melanated women. By doing so this also helps to heal and uplift our melanated men to the Divine Masculine.” Magic Moja “wants [their] people to be balanced on an emotional, mental, social, physical and spiritual level through the restoration and practice of ancient African principles. We don’t want to just merely survive. In this world it is our birthright to thrive.”

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

The seven women came together to create the Dawtas of the Moon event after Mama Omi had a vision of a “Black Witches Convention” in a meditation. MoonLight Star said that, in this meditation, Mama Omi was “surrounded by generations of women, some she knew and others she didn’t. The only words  she heard was ‘It’s time!’ From there, she approached other sisters who are now working with her to plan the convention. They fell in love with the idea.”

That phrase, “it is time,” was repeated in the interview multiple times, as it is on the website. When asked what that means exactly and why “it is time,” Mama Omi said, “Each of us involved in this project have women coming to us who are ready to learn. We have more women of color who are moving away from traditional religion and want to heal mind, body, and spirit. More women are also coming out and boldly using the word Witch, Wise Woman, Shaman, Healer. Many women want to learn from other women of color.”

MoonLight Star said, “We are being guided by Gaia, Mama Earth however you want to call her. She is demanding the harmony to be returned to this planet. The energy shifting demands the respect of those who inhabit this earth to adhere to the Universal Laws which this planet is governed under. Everyone needs to hear the call, however women of color are the first mothers and hold the keys to ensure the harmony is being brought forth.”

Barmore agreed, but added, “The time was actually generations ago. I feel that the inter generational wounds are being healed and it is time to come together. It has been time. We’re late.”

In the interview, the women emphasized that the goal is to demonstrate that there is a sisterhood of like-minds and that “woman of color are not alone in their [spiritual] journey.”

MoonLight Star said, “When An and Omi do their weekly blog shows with Divine Wisdom Radio, [they] often hear our sisters speak on the fact that they don’t have other sisters in their area to connect with and they feel alone. By coming together, we hope to create a time for sisters to create lasting connections with sisters so they no longer have to feel alone.”

Like many practitioners of minority religions that have communities spread out around the country and even the globe, the organizers agree that social media has been very beneficial. However, they also said that “there is nothing like actually coming together and holding each other and being able to see someone’s eyes.” Dawtas of the Moon is an attempt to create that opportunity for a “coming together” in real time and real space.

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

The women are calling this coming together a ‘coven,’ which is a term typically reserved for small groups of Witches. We asked about the reason behind the use of the term. They said, “While the word coven may be generally applied to a small group, to Mama Omi it also implies a group that comes together as a community and even in some cases with a sense of family. […] Since we are focusing on sisterhood and those who embrace the term “Witch” it only seemed appropriate to use that word.”

Despite the focus on the word ‘Witch’, the event is not limited to practitioners of a specific type of Witchcraft or those who identify as such. The organizers said, “Some [attendees] will come from the African Traditional Religions such as Ifa, Akan, Kemetic, Vodun. Others will may not be part of those particular traditions and work with Hoodoo and other earth based religions.” They said that the purpose is simply to come together. Both the seasoned practitioner and the newbie are welcome.

When asked whether the event was conceived as a private event limited only to women of color, Mama Omi said, “Yes, the event does focus on women of color. This was intentional.”  She added, “We are not banning white women; it is a public facility. However, we do ask anyone who is not a person of color to understand that these are women who are Africans living in diaspora, indigenous Native Americans, and we identify as such.”

Mama Omi went on to explain, “There is not much out there for women of color to be able to come together in a safe space and discuss their spiritual journey especially when it is not connected to Christianity or Islam. Because women of color are not able to connect openly, it causes great distress, depression, loneliness, and a lack of sisterhood.

“All of the women involved are spiritual healers and some are womb healers. The one thing we constantly see are women who are not connected to their own feminine energy due to a variety of trauma. […] By bringing black women together, you are creating a community of shared experiences, healing, awareness, and sisterhood. While a lot of us have attended events with white women, there is still nothing like gathering with your sisters and feeling free to be yourself and hearing each other’s experiences and fully relating to them.”

Barmore added, “My upbringing was in the AME Church. When my spirit was calling for something more, it was my childhood friends of non-color that understood my need for more. As I have grown into accepting myself for who I am and what I do, I feel that I was able to heal because of the people in my community that looked like me, acted like me, understood what it is to be tossed aside by your family because of your Truths. Women of Color have very few safe and sacred spaces… there are now many sacred spaces for women, Native American women, etc… but very few for women of color.”

As for men, the organizers said that they are also welcome to attend, but they must also show respect for the event’s mission. The women added, “We hope that the men [who attend] gain an even deeper awareness of the value of the embodiment of the goddesses they have living in their home.”

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Dawtas of the Moon aims to give women of color a chance to gather with those of like mind and like experience, and to afford these women the freedom of voice. This idea was another underlying current in the interview. As they explained, not only do women of color, specifically Witches, have few chances to meet together, but they also have fewer opportunities to be heard beyond their own small circles. When asked what they might say if given a global microphone, here is what three of the women said:

Mama Omi: We are not sinners, we are not Satan worshipers. We are women who have chosen to return to our traditional indigenous way of life. We have chosen to honor the Divine Feminine and honor our connection to nature.

Barmore: It is time for you to listen to us, and to take heed. To my sisters, within you is everything that you have prayed for. You are your own manifestation. It is time to do the work.

MoonLight Star: The world needs to hear, feel and truly understand that we are present regardless of our battered history. We have been denied the right to be powerful due to lack of understanding and misplaced fear. We as women or color or indigenous women only want peace to be free.

Dawtas of the Moon is scheduled to take place Saturday, October 29 as many Witches and others are preparing for religious and cultural ancestral festivals, such as Samhain. When asked if this timing was happenstance or purposeful, MoonLight Star said, “The time seemed right. It was in alignment with so many things […] the new moon, Samhain, hallows eve, all souls day; it felt more than right to have a gathering of this magnitude.  We will being doing a lot of ancestral work to bring in harmony.”

They aren’t concerned that the holiday weekend will lower attendance. MoonLight Star said, “Within the community a lot are solitary. We have no coven or are informally practicing. This is a chance for all of us to come together and share in the energy and create new practices and rituals.”

Dawtas of the Moon is conceived as an annual event that will grow in size and give strength, support and connection to community year after year. The inaugural gathering will take place October 29 in Gwynn Oak, Maryland at the Wisdom Book Center. Current speakers include Iyalosa Osunyemi Akalatunde, Queen Mother Imakhu, and Iyanifa Alase Olori Oyadele. A luncheon will be catered by the Grind House Juice Bar and Market, a vegan restaurant in Baltimore. More presenters and workshop facilitators will be added over the coming months.

After all is said and done, Mama Omi would like attending women to take away this message: “Be you authentic self and be bold with it. ” Barmore added, “I would hope that my sisters understand that they are no longer alone. That I am here for the conversations, the rants, the healing, the loving and growth. To know that after the convention that we are family, and that I am here for you if and when you may need me. We are all that we need.” And MoonLight Star agreed, saying “They are being welcomed back to the beginning. We have always held space for them.”

  *    *   *

[Correction 6-29 11:34 am: The original article was adjusted from its original form to replace a three sentence summary of the statements of inclusion with the exact quotes as found in the original interview. We have also included the full unedited interview.]

TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

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And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

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The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

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Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

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In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

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“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

  *    *    *

* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

TWH – Today marks Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day to honor the many men and women who have died in military service. According to a news report on ABC, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans together state that at least “1.2 million people have died fighting for America during its wars dating back 241 years.” The VA has a breakdown of the losses per conflict since the American Revolution.

In a recent post, blogger John Beckett wrote, “Let us remember our warrior dead. Let us remember those who answered the call to do what had to be done and who sacrificed all they had. It is right and good to celebrate their courage and valor.”

[Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr]

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists have served and are serving in the U.S. miltiary, and still others are members of military families. Memorial Day has a special significance to them. Veteran and Wiccan Priest, Blake Kirk said,

Memorial Day isn’t about veterans like me, who got to come home and go on with their lives. No, Memorial Day is supposed to be all about the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who came home in caskets or in body bags. Or who never came home at all, like my father-in-law. They paid the highest possible price to defend this nation, and it trivializes their sacrifice not to make their one day a year just about them.

As with those in other religious groups, members of our collective communities have also given their lives in service, and because of the efforts of others, their sacrifices can be recognized and honored within military circles using the religious emblem of their choice, including the pentacle and Thor’s hammer.

[Photo Credit: John C. Hamer / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: John C. Hamer / Flickr]

The year marks the 9th anniversary of the victory of the Pentacle Quest. In 2007, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox wrote, “Working together, we, at last, have success in this quest – and in the greater quest for equal rights for Wiccans, Witches, and other Pagans in the United States of America and around the world.”

In 2013, when Thor’s hammer was approved by the department of Veterans Affairs, a number of Heathen groups released celebratory statements. The following words came from Hrafnar:

Today, Hrafnar stands with Heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

The group also said, “Today, Hrafnar […] stands with Heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have. Hail the fallen! Hail the Heathens!”

The modern military experience can be part of the modern Pagan, Heathen and polytheist experience. Those who are wounded and die in service to our country are not an anonymous “other” removed from our society and daily lives. They are us.

We honor our Pagan, Heathen and polytheist brothers and sisters who have fallen in the line of duty. As said by Hrafnar, “The death of one of us is a loss for us all.”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

In 2011, Solar Cross Temple’s T. Thorn Coyle wrote, “I have inadequate words for those who have died in this endless war humanity is waging upon itself and upon the earth and the other beings of the earth. All I can do is send out compassion in my meditation and my prayers today for those involved on any side…”

The New York Times published an article describing military photographer Andrew Lichtenstein’s journey to capture, or recapture, the meaning behind the Memorial Day holiday, which he felt “has been largely reduced to a day of sales, sleeping in, or go out.”  That article, titled When Every Day is Memorial Day, shares some of his experiences attending military funerals and memorial services.  At the end, Lichtenstein says, “I learned something from the families: The true cost of grief is beyond politics. It was important to realize an individual life had been lost and people were greatly affected. That loss is so much greater than agreeing or disagreeing with [the] war.”

Pagans and Heathens around the country will be observing this day in both private and public spaces. At Arlington National Cemetery, Circle Sanctuary Ministers Jeanet & David Ewing led the 7th Annual Visitation of Pentacle Markers at noon today. And Circle Sanctuary has also created a Facebook page titled Memorial Day Remembrances, inviting people to post remembrances of those loved ones who were killed in US military service.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen,” originally published in The Times, 1914

What is remembered, lives!

A new independent fiction film exploring Witchcraft has hit the festival circuit. Anna Biller‘s latest film The Love Witch is a colorful feast of pathological obsession, violence, narcissism, love and Witchcraft. Filmed in 35mm, the film contains a remarkable retro flair combined with a contemporary sensibility. Through the film, Biller explores both modern themes, such as the expression of female fantasy and non-traditional religious practice, along with age-old struggles involving gender politics and romantic love.

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In an interview, Biller told The Wild Hunt, “I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to make this film, but it initially came from getting interested in pulp novel covers and being struck by the images of witches on some of them.” Her research began while shooting publicity stills for the film VIVA. Biller said, “The first real eureka moment I remember was being in a pulp novel bookstore in San Francisco several years ago, and picking up a 1970s pulp novel called ‘For the Witch, a Stone.’ That novel sparked the beginnings of my script.”

The Love Witch tells the story of Elaine, a single woman and Witch, who lives in northern California. We meet her as she first moves into a new apartment within a classic Victorian home. The space is owned by a friend and Wiccan High Priestess named Barbara and was decorated to reflect a Witchcraft aesthetic.The film then follows Elaine through her negotiations of love, dating, friendship and ritual practice.

It sounds as if the film might be better described as a drama or maybe even a romantic comedy. However, it’s neither. This is horror film. Elaine is a sociopath, who moves through the extremes of desire devouring men, in hopes of finding true love. The film, in many ways, can be described as George Romero’s Hungry Wives (1972) meets Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. While neither work is a perfect comparison, The Love Witch fits somewhere between the two. Hungry Wives tells the story of a lost middle-age woman searching to regain her power, and ultimately finding it in Witchcraft. American Psycho tells the story of a violent sociopath who empowers himself through the extremes of a narcissistic and violent male fantasy.

Elaine, like Joan in Hungry Wives, is a victim of a male-dominated society. As demonstrated in a flashback voice over, Elaine’s father calls her stupid, crazy and “a fatty,” and her ex-husband complains about her cooking and the housekeeping. Like Joan, Elaine turns to Witchcraft to find her own power. She tells a police offer, “Witchcraft saved my life.”

Yet, at the same time, Elaine takes this self-empowerment tool to an obsessive extreme. Like American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, Elaine is a sociopath who functions through the realization of personal fantasy regardless of the outcome. The expression of that extreme becomes the basis of film’s theme and where it finds its horror.

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When discussing her use of horror, Biller said that she wanted to “use the genre to subvert the genre.” She explained, “When you market your film as horror it sets up certain expectations, and then through the course of the film you can subvert these expectations.”

Traditional horror films present women as the victims of male violence and aggression, the over-sexualized subject of the male gaze and the monstrous unknownable, which is often a witch. Biller says, “Elaine is not a monster, except insofar as she is selfish and narcissistic. She does not destroy out of some evil power, but because she is unstable and is the type of person who creates chaos around her. But she is fully human, and she is sympathetic because you can see why she’s turned out the way she has. So you don’t get the stereotype of an evil witch or an evil temptress.”

In addition, traditional American horror films, specifically those from the 1970s, conflate violence, Witchcraft, Satanism, occultism and voyeuristic displays of the female body. After 1968, there was a huge upswing in the number of these American exploitation films centering on Satanic witchcraft (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Necromancy, 1972). They were all created by men, many of whom gained notoriety making “nudies” or “sexploitation” films during the previous decade. To build their witchcraft scenes, these filmmakers relied heavily on newly published or newly available occult material by Anton le Vey, Paul Huson, Gerald Gardner, Raymond Buckland, Sybil Leek and others. They took what they needed in order to form a highly sensationalized product that fed a growing “counterculture” audience. While this particular sub-genre lost momentum by 1980, the expression of ritual Witchcraft practice has never fully emerged beyond that trope in mainstream American film.

While The Love Witch recalls those period films, in its retro styling and striking visuals. it actually subverts the genre, as Biller suggested, in a number of ways that are reflected in her presentation of Witchcraft. First, the male gaze, as defined by feminist film critic and theorist Laura Mulvy, doesn’t exist.The film’s display of nudity is not focused only on women’s bodies, but on both men and women equally. While the scenes are visually graphic, they are not exploitative. In the older horror witch films, it was typical for ritual or coven scenes to contain only naked, or partially naked, women (e.g., Blood Sabbath, 1972). There are rarely any men. In Biller’s film, both genders participate sky clad around the sabbat circle and both genders, fully clothed, serve as on-lookers in robes. There is a gender equality in the visual display of Witchcraft ritual.

All displays of female bodies in a true voyeuristic setting, such as in the dance club, are purposeful and part of Biller’s commentary as suggested by her framing choices. The camera doesn’t caress.

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In addition, the typical horror tropes used to define Witchcraft were completely absent. The ceremonial practice is not defined as demonic-based, evil, fantastical, or derived from an historical Salem mythos. In fact, part of Biller’s project was to present Paganism in a contemporary light. To make this possible, she began her research with books and films from prominent authors, including Janet Farrar, Amber K, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. She said, “Several people in the cast who played witches were practicing witches, and I talked with them about their practices. I also lurked on internet forums and read a lot of blogs and articles, and interviewed some of my friends who are witches.”

But her work took her even further into exploring Paganism, and she reached out to the community. Biller said that, while writing the script, she attended “a few rituals, classes and study groups […] and did some solitary practice.” She added, “I have always been an uncanny sort of person and slightly psychic.” She received her first Tarot deck, the Marseilles Tarot, as a child. And, she owns a copy of a rare edition of Crowley’s Magick Without Tears, which was originally given to her father as a gift. Biller said that, while she doesn’t identify as a Witch, she does “practice magic and the Tarot at home” and “believes in spiritual entities.”

Although the presentation of Witchcraft is contemporary and remarkably accurate in many of its details, there is also a stylized exaggeration to the entire presentation that makes the Pagan reality feel completely contrived. The ritual scenes look almost like cartoon versions of Wiccan ceremonies with bold washes of color and stylized set decor. Elaine’s potion making recalls a mad scientist rather than a witch, and the coven’s unexpected appearance as Renaissance Medieval players is almost laughable.

With that said, this is just how the film represents its entire universe – not just the practice of Witchcraft. Elaine herself is caricature – a life sculpted to conform to the unreality of a heterosexual male fantasy. “Give men what they want,” Elaine advises her friend Trish. The contrived nature of the film plays out consistently from the visual elements and dialog to the narrative and themes. The large blocks of vivid color, such as the red of her purse, the purple on the walls, the blue on her eyelids, give the film a dramatic and surreal look that reflects the bizarre extremes found in the main character’s inner world.

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Biller said, “The design comes mostly from character symbolism. I tried to create Elaine’s character according to her self-fantasies, in which she is a sexy, 1960s-styled done-up burlesque pulp-novel cover witch who drives a cool car; the tea room is pink and Victorian as a way of pointing up Elaine’s personal fairy princess fantasies; the renaissance faire is styled liked Elaine’s wedding fantasies”  And that technique goes beyond Elaine’s development. Biller said, “The police station looks like the police stations in television shows in which absolute authority was suggested, enhancing the character of the lead cop, Griff.”

This technique is partly what gives The Love Witch its theatrical, or seemingly contrived, look and feel. Although it takes some getting use to as viewer, it does work for Biller’s thesis – most of the time.

As noted earlier, Biller’s recent interest in “pulp novel covers from the ‘60s” and the way they “depicted witches as fierce powerful, sexual women,” is what led to the making of The Love Witch. She said, “I wanted to use that imagery and combine that with the feelings of persecution I’ve felt as a woman, and all of the issues women have to face with self-presentation and sexual identity in a man’s world.”

Ths film does this with no apologies.

While The Love Witch is not a completely polished film, it is packed with meaning, embedded in its stunning visuals, the use of music, and the narrative presentation. The incredible attention to symbolic detail make The Love Witch a juicy film to watch. Film buffs will enjoy the visual texture that comes across in 35 mm, if seen it in that form, as well as the careful nods to old film constructions, including the resident “expert” on Witchcraft and the close-up framing on Elaine’s eyes. Biller even employs classic high pitch repetitive noise and music, similar to what is found in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), to signal danger and cue tension, such as in the scene in which she first meets Wayne.

Modern Witches and Pagans will also find this film fascinating, if only because it is unusual to see Pagan practice presented in a quasi-realistic, non-judgmental, contemporary fiction setting. Many details will be recognizable, including the five-fold kiss, spoken spells and prayers, sabbats, aesthetics, and the infamous Witch’s Bottle. Interestingly, Biller even captured a modern Pagan debate. High Priest Gahan recalls the “olden days” when his community wasn’t so “uptight.”  He says, “we hung Baphomet posters” and “made love freely.” According to Gahan, nobody cared whether you were a Witch, a Thelemite, a Druid a Satanist or a Wiccan.

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Biller’s film is a creative, aggressive and open commentary on life as a woman in modern society, both in body and heart, as well as a treatise on love as it exists between the genders. It is a horror film, not because of its use of Witchcraft, but rather because the narrative presents a uncomfortable expression of the extremes reached to fulfill a fantasy.  And the ending is unsettling.

Biller wrote in a press release, “My hope is that other women will identify with Elaine as I do: as a woman seeking love, who is driven mad by never really being loved for who she is, but only for the male fantasies she has been brainwashed to fulfill.”

Currently The Love Witch is being shown only in select festivals around the world. As it gets picked up, Biller updates the screening list on her site. Eventually, the film will go to video and will be available for streaming. That date is not yet available.