Archives For Heather Greene

four quartersFour Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, a farm and campground located in Pennsylvania, was in the news after a festival-goer reported being attacked. Four Quarters opens its land to a number of yearly external events. One of these events is Big Dub, a 4-Day EDM festival that brings together “40 of the regions biggest electronic dance dj’s to perform and hold workshops.

On the final day of the festival, a women reported to festival security that she had been drugged and raped. Security turned the case over to local police who launched an investigation. Both Four Quarters and Big Dub are reportedly cooperating fully with authorities. Four Quarters spokesperson Orren Whiddon told local reporters, “We are allowing the law to work its course.” Unfortunately neither Whiddon or Big Dub organizers answered our requests for further comments or updates. Currently, Big Dub’s website is down.

Despite the investigation, Four Quarters is moving forward with its own extensive schedule of fall events and happenings. Upcoming this week, the organization is hosting its own 5 day festival called Stones Rising. The sanctuary is also home to the Four Quarters Meadery, which earned 4th place recognition for its sweet brew back in the Spring.

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starhawkStarhawk is in the final hours of her Kickstarter campaign to self-publish City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. As we have reported in the past, Starhawk’s manuscript was rejected by her former publisher. While she was initially both frustrated and angry, Starhawk decided to take a leap and publish the book herself.

Starhawk describes the new book, “Do you choose to imagine a future filled with food gardens and community or guns and isolation? City of Refuge offers the world an alternative vision of the future- one where we can face down the oppressors and the violence with confidence that a peaceful and abundant world is possible.”

Starhawk launched the City of Refuge crowd-sourcing campaign on Aug. 5 with a goal of $50,000. However, she has surpassed that goal, raising $73,136. The campaign closes later today and, according to the site, a special first edition of the novel will only be available through the Kickstarter event. Additionally, Starhawk announced that, if she reaches $75,000, she will create an audio book version of City of Refuge. The book is due to be released for sale in 2016.

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Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo.

We have now officially entered Pagan Pride Day season. A few events have already taken place but most are still in the final planning stages. Pagan Pride events offer a wide diversity of opportunities, which often reflect the flavor of the local community. At the Patheos’ blog Heathen At Heart, guest writer Náf Andrewson shares a unique reflection on representing Heathenry and the group Heathens United at Pagan Pride Day Omaha. Andrewson wrote, “My purpose was simple; represent Heathenry at this event and make the distinct voice of all of Heathenry clear compared to other Pagan religions.”

Generally speaking, Pagan Pride events typically contain three main elements: public ritual, a food drive and media outreach. While not every event is run the same, these elements are reportedly required in order to be considered a part of the Pagan Pride Day project. For example, in July, Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day sent out its press release announcing the event’s return on Sept. 5. Others have made similar efforts. The Pagan Pride Day website has an easily searchable list of all local Pride events even some happening in Latin America and Europe. In addition, many of the local Pride organizations host Facebook pages and groups for community support.

In Other News:

  • EarthSpirit Community has announced its schedule for the upcoming Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City. Members will be involved with at least 6 different scheduled programs, serve on various host committees and will be speaking on panels. The organization has launched a fundraising campaign to offset travel costs to the big interfaith gathering.
  • For those of you who missed the Many Gods West conference, Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address has been published in full at Polytheist.com. In her speech titled “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” Ravenna said, “The key, in my mind, to understanding the nature of the Gods and what makes Them distinct from archetypes, is agency. And this is a theme I am going to emphasize a lot here.”
  • Circle Sanctuary will be hosting its fall festival on Sept. 19-20 in Wisconsin. The event is called an “Old Tyme Community Harvest Faire: a Celebration of Hearth and Harvest.”  It includes rituals, workshops, crafting and more. For more information and for tickets, Circle has set up a dedicated web page filled with information and photos from past events.
  • Humanistic Paganism has opened a call for submissions for its September theme: Gaia philosophy and the Earth. Editors write, “This month in 1965, James Lovelock, the author of the Gaia Hypothesis, started defining the idea of a self-regulating Earth … In the meantime, also in September … one of the fathers of Neo-Paganism, Tim (Oberon) Zell had his a vision which inspired him to articulate vision of the earth as a single living organism.” In honor of that work, editors are looking for papers that focus on Earth Stewardship and related topics. All deadlines and requirements are posted on the site.
  • The Association for the Study of Women and Mythology has put out a call for proposals for its 2016 conference. “ASWM’s supports the work of those whose scholarly/creative endeavors explore or elucidate aspects of the sacred feminine, women and mythology.” The conference, to be held in Boston in April, is themed: Seeking Harbor in Our Histories: Lights in the Darkness.” Specifics on the conference and submission guidelines are listed on the organization’s site. In addition, ASWM is seeking nominee’s for its Kore award and for its Sarasvati book award.
  • The Pagan band Taibhsear has just released its debut album called “Tears Upon the Water.” The band’s sound is described as “somewhere between Pink Floyd and Damh the Bard.” The new album is available through iTunes, Amazon and other outlets.

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That is it for now! Have a nice day.

[Warning: This article deals with a topic that may be upsetting for some of our readers.]

On Aug. 26, 1920, American women were granted the right to vote when the Secretary of State certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ninety five years later, the day is acknowledged as “Women’s Equality Day.” While the Utopian ideal of gender equality in the U.S. is far from realized, long term statistics do suggest significant improvements for American women.

Political and cultural shifts have opened doorways, allowing for opportunities that were not available to the many brave women who walked in those early protests nearly a century ago. American women are also increasingly finding the voice to continue the work needed to improve their lives, to confront issues still lurking in the corners of American society and to empower the next generation of girls by reminding them each and every day, “We are half the sky!”[i]

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

But as we pause for a moment to acknowledge, reassess, plan or celebrate, the following creeps across our digital desks…

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. (From “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2015)

To fully comprehend the quote above, one must read the entire New York Times report. A summary will not capture the sheer horror embedded in that story as relayed by 21 survivors. Briefly, Yazidi women and girls are being sold to Daesh soldiers as sex slaves and systematically raped in prison structures as part of the conquest of war. These violent acts are being justified by Daesh’s developing theological legal system for the caliphate. The social boundaries that once may have prevented such attacks are now lying in ruins alongside the shattered remains of the Mosul museum, Palmyra and other similar ancient sites.

Daesh is attempting to rebuild a society based on its own extremist interpretation of Sharia law, and sex slavery has become a legitimate part of that construction. The organization has even created a functioning infrastructure specifically to uphold the practice. As The Times article reports, “The Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales and contracts notarized by ISIS-run Islamic courts.” And within that theologically-based legal structure, rape is considered a form of worship.

This new slavery system was institutionalized when Daesh first invaded the Yazidi region. They killed both men and older boys. Then, they transported the women and girls and the remaining young boys to prisons and camps. Professor Matthew Barber, a expert on the Yazidi, told The New York Times, this “offensive” was not at all a land invasion, but a calculated “sexual conquest.”

As we reported last September, the Yazidi people are a small, often misunderstood religious minority living in northern Iraq. Many news outlets have defined their religious practice as polytheist and, periodically throughout history, they have been labeled “devil worshippers.” However, neither is correct. The Yazidi tradition is a closely held belief system that, by design, remains a mystery to outsiders. While their religion may be kept hidden, what is clearly known about the Yazidi is that they are currently the direct targets of a modern genocide.

Last October, Daesh’s online magazine Dabiq published an article explaining the organization’s actions. The text reads, “The Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in regions of Iraq and Shām … Their creed is so deviant from the truth that even cross-worshipping Christians for ages considered them devil worshippers and Satanists … ” The article goes on to justify not only slavery as a whole, but specifically sex slavery and the taking of women as concubines. The writer explains how slavery was once openly practiced, and Daesh seeks to return to that time.

While Daesh is openly enslaving the Yazidi women, it has not yet demonstrated a large-scale offensive against the area’s Islamic, Christian or Jewish women. Islamic women are considered believers, and have a designated role in the caliphate as dictated by a March 2015 piece of propaganda, titled, “Women of the Islamic State: A Manifesto on Women by the Al-khanssaa Brigade.”  Interestingly, this manifesto is being used to recruit young Muslim women from around the world.

Christian and Jewish women, on the other hand, have a special non-believer status because of their theological link to “the Book.” As explained in October’s Dabiq article, Christians and Jews have the option of making ” jizyah payments,” which is a tax for non-Muslims living in the caliphate.

However, the Yazidi are considered, as noted earlier, pagans and devil-worshipping polytheists or mushrikun (shrik is defined as the sinful practice of idolatry or polytheism; mushrikun are those that commit this sin against Islam). The mushrikun can either be converted, killed or enslaved.

The bartering for and enslavement of women as a war conquest is sadly not a new practice. For centuries, the female body has been treated like the hidden valuables of a conquered region. Women exist for the taking; a spoil of war and a right of victory, as demonstrated by the phrase to “plunder, pillage, rape.” In May, when Nigerian troops freed 234 women and girls from the terrorist group Boko Haram, many returned pregnant. Boko Haram treated these women and girls in very much the same way that Daesh is treating the Yazidi women.

However, Daesh has added a new spin to this entire horrific engagement. It is brandishing these attacks and promoting these laws as a way to encourage young men to join its ranks. Sex slavery and rape have become the proverbial carrot before the horse; a prize for signing up or reward for a job well-done. And, the entire process is wrapped up in a guise of religious clothing. In a March 2015 Dabiq article, writers attempt to justify their institutionalization of slavery by criticizing the world for even calling a sexual act with a slave girl “a rape.” [ii]

A prostitute in your lands comes and goes, openly committing sin. She lives by selling her honor, within the sight and hearing of the deviant scholars from whom we don’t hear even a faint sound. As for the slave-girl that was taken by the swords of men following the cheerful warrior … then her enslavement is in opposition to human rights and copulation with her is rape?! What is wrong with you? How do you make such a judgment? What is your religion? What is your law?

That very comment in the April issue of Dabiq invites a broader discussion on basic human morality. Is there an intrinsic morality embedded within humanity, or even a socially-constructed baseline that defines which acts should never be considered acceptable regardless of religious belief? That discussion goes well-beyond this article. But it does lead back to the original New York Times headline, “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape.” Is the institutionalization of rape through religious doctrine truly a mark of “theology?” Or is a religion simply being used – victimized itself – as an excuse to commit violent sexual acts against women, to perpetrate a genocide against a perceived enemy and to strengthen a propaganda campaign to recruit new young male followers?

The world’s Islamic leaders are decrying these atrocities and publicly discussing the secondhand destruction being caused to their faith practice and belief system. There is a distinction being made between Islam and Islamism; between Muslims and Islamists. In a recent CNN report, Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed wrote:

 I am an observant Muslim. And because I am a Muslim, I believe in pluralism. I believe in tolerance. These are the beliefs that Islamist totalitarians are determined to extinguish in the world as they oppress and brutalize those they deem to be ‘the other.’ … Because of their abuses in the name of Islam, Islamists smear each and every Muslim, tarring us all with the same brush.

As the world has became increasingly aware of Daesh’s slavery practices, some people are asking why the world’s governments don’t appear to be focusing more on this particular horror. “Do they believe it is just a women’s issue?” In a 2014 article published at Foreign Policy, Aki Peritz and Tara Maller, former CIA analysts ask that very question. They observe, “Rarely do [sexual attacks] seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counter-terrorism actions against the group.” Peritz and Maller conclude, “Sexual violence carried out by terrorist groups should be catalogued as ‘terrorist attacks.”

Before Daesh’s 2014 Yazidi offensive, there were already reports of rapes and kidnappings in the general Iraqi region. Where once the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) was steadily working to improve Iraqi women’s legal rights, it now, as reported Foreign Policy in Focus, “takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.” The article explains how, in war-torn Iraq, all men have guns and can do whatever they want. Women live in fear.

Along with OWFI, human-rights organizations around the world are joining the struggle to help the region’s women. Yazda is an Iraqi-based international Yazidi organization that is sponsoring relief efforts. YezidiTruth is a U.S.-based organization that educates and collects donations. In Israel, The Combat Genocide Association is also working to educate, raise money and find ways of actively assist the many refugees from the affected areas. These are only four examples.

While grass-roots efforts and government action may end the nightmare and alleviate some of the trauma. None of those actions can fully root-out a more deeply embedded problem – one of indoctrination found within the pages of Daesh’s manifesto and the writings by the organization’s supporters. All of these works continue to teach boys and men that it is culturally acceptable and even their right to objectify women’s bodies.

Living far away from the violence and the realities in Iraq, American women can walk freely, secure enough in their own struggle for equality. But even in the U.S. there are reminders that a very similar problem still lies deep beneath the lands where once the suffragettes marched. This was recently demonstrated by several back-to-school fraternity banners displayed at Old Dominion University. “Freshmen daughter drop off,” one read. While these manifestations and related traumas are not comparable to the open institutionalization of sex slavery and rape in Iraq, a connection remains.

In celebrating the advancements made over the past 95 years, we also acknowledge there is much work to be done. That work includes continuously encouraging our young girls to stand up and speak up because they are half the sky. But at the same time we cannot forget to teach our boys that they are only half the sky.

And, without both, the sky will fall.

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[i] The term “Half the Sky” is borrowed from a movement that addresses the worldwide oppression of women. The term originated as the title of a book written by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and then was adopted for a corresponding effort to help women worldwide. The Half the Sky movement is not to be confused with the foundation of the same name, which specifically addresses child welfare in China.

[ii] There are countless published articles and essays by Daesh supporters that demonstrate and theologically justify the promotion of the slavery practice. However, we have made editorial decision to not link to any of these pieces.

In December 2014, a new website was launched to promote active religious learning and to act as a storehouse for primary religious text and information. The site, called Deily.org, is the brain-child of Shawn Bose and Justin Halloran, two Austin-based entrepreneurs with experience in tech media. In recent months, the site has expanded its content to include “Paganism.”

The site’s name “Deily” is a play on two words – daily and the “latin world “dei, of a/the god or the nominative plural – the gods.” As is explained, Deily’s mission is “to host an online community, where members share and leave their understanding of religious content, that you will participate in every day.”

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In January 2015, Halloran and Bose were interviewed by The Washington Post and, in that article the co-owners offered a bit of background on the project. Bose said:

For many people, their religious experience has become passive. They go to church, temple, synagogue, listen to a sermon, digest and leave. It’s one-way. We wanted to let people engage with content. How can a community come together to explain things to one another? This way they can deepen their faith or understanding. . . .

At the time of that interview, the majority of the published material was on Christianity, and three of its four most popular posts were Christian prayers. The fourth was a piece from the Quran.

However, as the months past, Deily increased its population of non-Christian material. The site now lists searches for Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamic, Judaism “and more.” As Bose told The Wild Hunt, they have recently been expanding into Paganism. Korin Robinson, an elder of the Ancient Celtic Rite tradition and a training priestess of Greenwood Covenstead, has been assisting with this expansion. The site now lists Wicca and Paganism. However, a simple content search demonstrates that the site is also gathering pieces on various Heathen and Polytheist practices.

As explained in both the Washington Post interview and in our email conversation with Bose, the site’s content is purely user driven, similar to YouTube and many other social media sites. Bose explained, “It’s a community-managed marketplace. We have no agenda of our own; there’s no invisible hand. We just say the content has to be about religion, not intolerant, not hateful, and we allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.” He added that they are forming an advisory board to manage any problems.

And, as issues with Facebook, Instagram and Etsy have recently proven, problems do arise in a purely user-based content model. In fact, one just did. It has come to the attention of several Pagan media outlets and writers that Deily was hosting their written material without any permission, unattributed and unlinked. The work was lifted from Patheos Pagan Channel, Polytheist.com and The Wild Hunt, to name a few.

In reaction, director of Polytheist.com Anomalous Thracian said:

Morpheus Ravenna, co-founding priest of the Coru Cathubodua and author of “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” contacted me today to alert me that this piece of writing — which is published exclusively on Polytheist.com — has been copied over and appears without attribution to the site, at Deily. This is definite violation of Polytheist.com‘s stated and visible policies, of US copyright law, and — apparently — of Deily’s own policies …

Polytheist.com is a small and intentionally slow-growing platform for polytheistic voices, owned and operated by Polytheists in service and trust to the greater intersection of polytheistic religions and advocate. As marginalized religious groups facing at times aggressive erasure, a violation of this sort does little to help the development of safe visibility and open engagement in our world, of the sort that all religious groups should be expected to receive. Responsible and respectful treatment of copyrighted material is paramount to the continued developments of the sorts of religious dialog and interfaith trust that will be needed to preserve these — and any — religious traditions in the future.

Thracian’s own essay, The Polytheist Primer, which was originally written and published exclusively for The Wild Hunt, was also copied to Deily without attribution or permission.

In response to the issue, Bose said that Deily’s official “policy asks [users] to properly cite content and not to post copyrighted materials.” The policy itself is stated on the site’s “terms page.” It reads, in part, users “will not infringe any third party’s intellectual property rights including but not limited to copyright, patent or trademark rights.”

Several writers have reached out to the company in order to correct the problem, and it does appear that Deily is very willing to make these corrections. A number of the Patheos Pagan Channel articles, which were not attributed yesterday, now do have appropriate bylines (i.e., For “Deep Well: Great Heart Society” by Jenya T. Beachy; “Beyond Female Role Models: The Triple Goddess as Nature” by John Halstead). However, there are still many works, originating from multiple sites, that have not yet been fixed.

Unfortunately, due to the user-based model, this copyright infringement problem may be on-going for Deily, who makes it a point to note that it’s staff does not routinely monitor content. As with YouTube and the like, Deily must rely on its audience to identify problems. As Bose said, “We allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.” Unfortunately, copyright infringement and plagiarism are rampant in the digital media world. Copy, Cut and Paste is all it takes.

Because Deily.org is new and the team, as Bose said, is small, it is just beginning to run into copyright and other problems that typically plague these user-based content sites. As content and use increases, Deily will eventually have to develop a strong watchdog system.

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[From Wikimedia Commons]


Interestingly, Deily doesn’t only see itself as a collector and curator of religious content. Within the internet startup world, one of the first big questions for any new company is “How are you going to monetize the site.” While Deily formed with investment money “well over seven figures,” its answer to this fiscal sustainability question is crowd-funding. Deily users can create profiles for their chosen nonprofit religious organizations (church, academic institution, temple, community group etc) and, then anyone in the Deily community can choose to donate, through the site, to that organization. The catch? Deily takes 10 percent of all donations.

At the present time, Deily is running a special “Deily Donates” campaign, in which the site matches user donations in several ways. First, for every new member that a current user signs up, their chosen organization receives $10.00. It is a win for Deily, as they build an audience, and it’s a win for the religious organization in donations. As of now, Cherry Hill Seminary and Circle Sanctuary are both listed on the site and have received donations. Through the current “Deily Donates” campaign, the first five organizations to reach the $2000 donation point will also receive a matched donation from Deily.org.

There are a number of Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist groups of interest already listed. This includes Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC), CUUPS, Pagan Educational Network, Ardantane Learning Center, Asterflag, several local Pagan churches (i.e., Richmond Urban Pagan Church), event-based organizations (i.e., Phoenix Pagan Pride), clergy organizations (i.e., Maine Pagan Clergy Association) and other local groups (i.e., Spokane Pagan Alliance).

It remains to be seen how Deily develops or is used by the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities. In August, the site entered a partnership with Patheos.com. There is now a Patheos Deily Channel that publishes select content from Deily. In addition, the new site “powers” Patheos’ new “Ask an Expert” blog.

As the Deily grows its content, there will certainly be tech-based and copyright issues to resolve as is typically the case in any user-based platform. However, The Washington Post article touches on two others issues that might plague this particular site, especially as it now builds its Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist content. Halloran and Bose have both said that Deily’s content should focus on religious source material, primary sacred texts and related discussions with limited moderation. How do they define and determine sacred texts and source material for the incredible diversity of world religious practices?  Additionally, as a user-driven platform, how will they negotiate and police what is flagged inappropriate. One person’s inappropriate can be another person’s divine. Where or how will those lines be drawn?

Only time will tell as the site continues to grow.

 

11892119_10153539515579120_7165674815583408908_nOver the last week, University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) graduate students and the school’s administration have clashed over a number of issues including student insurance benefits and overall treatment. The more than 1200 students, calling themselves the Forum for Graduate Rights, have threatened to walk-out of their jobs if the school does not meet their demands. These demands touch on everything from equitable pay, health benefits, tuition wavers, housing, childcare and fees.

The protest was sparked when the University announced that it would be cutting subsides used to pay for health insurance. Our own Wild Hunt columnist Eric O. Scott is one of the seven organizers of the movement. He is currently a graduate student at Mizzou working toward a PhD in English. Scott has been involved since the beginning and has been interviewed by local media.

After the demands were sent, the University did agree to restore the insurance subsidies. However, the students are still unimpressed. As Scott explains, “They have restored our health insurance for one year, but next year we could be right back in this position, and we still have a host of other grievances that haven’t been addressed. We are still rallying on Wednesday, both to celebrate our initial victory and to keep the pressure on the University of Missouri’s administration to recognize the importance of graduate student labor.” The student rally, which is now garnering faculty support, is planned for noon Aug. 26.

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Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]In Virginia, Priestess Maya White Sparks has been also been involved in organizing and attending protests and rallies. But for an entirely different cause. Known for her vocal support of tarot reading in Front Royal, Sparks lives in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountain community nested in the Shenandoah Valley. This region is slated to become home to Dominion’s new Atlantic Pipeline. The main gas line cuts through several of the area’s prized forests, just south of the Shenandoah National Forest.

Through the Women’s Alliance of Environmental Justice and Renewal, Sparks first helped to coordinate a local march in the town of Front Royal. But that march was part of a much larger grass-roots movement to protect the region from the planned pipeline. Sparks told The Wild Hunt, “…The deadline for transitioning to renewable energy is upon us. Be vigilant in your local community and say no to any new fossil fuel infrastructure! … Scientists report we are in the 6th Great Extinction, losing species at an unnaturally accelerated rate due to human impacts. Even the Pope sees the critical dangers facing humanity from climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and an exploitative world economy.”

The Front Royal rally was staged in conjunction with a seven state protest coordinated by Hands Across our Land. Sparks added that she is also working with a local core organizing group called Free Nelson, named after the town that will have the main gas pipeline running directly through its center. Sparks added, “When the Pope sounds like a Pagan, you know the writing is on the wall! The Fates have spoken. Please do what you can. Blessed Be!

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This August a new Pagan charity, called PagainAid, formed in the U.K. In the simplest terms, its mission is to “fight poverty and defend the environment.” Founded by Ian Chandler, PaganAid “seeks to break this vicious cycle by supporting communities to improve their lives by living in greater harmony with nature.

Along with Chandler, the new organization’s board includes Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal and Chief of the British Druid Order Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf). PaganAid has no paid staff and will be run only by volunteers. All donated money will be used directly to support projects that are inline with its mission. Specifically, PaganAid will partner with other international organizations to improve the lives of those people living in the poorest regions of the world, with the aim of curbing poverty and, at the same time, reducing carbon footprints.

Chandler explained, “Often people living in extreme poverty have little choice but to over-exploit their natural environment just to survive. We will use our supporters’ donations to help people generate an income that preserves the natural world, lifting them and their children out of poverty.” Chandler also said, “Sometimes, communities already living in harmony with nature are being pushed off their lands by outsiders who want to exploit their natural resources. We will support their campaigning and legal actions so that they can defend their lifestyles and roles as guardians of nature.” For more information on its projects and on donating, go to the PaganAid website.

In Other News:

  • Writer Kenya Coviak has launched a new book project that will showcase “images of Pagan Women of Color” and is looking for submissions. She explained, “[The Projectis about collecting, and preserving, images of real women of Pagan faiths so that other women who find themselves on these paths can look and say, ‘Hey, there is someone like me’.” Along with the images, the book will include interviews that will also be cross-posted in the Detroit Paganism Examiner. The specific requirements to be part of this new book are detailed on the media project’s Facebook page. All submissions are due Nov. 7. Once the book is published, a portion of the proceeds will go to Pagans In Need in Michigan.
  • Singer and songwriter Celia Farran will be performing her first ever live broadcast concert from home. To be aired on Aug. 26, the concert will stream through the site concertwindow.com. Farran said, “The show will be at least an hour and we shall see if it spills over. I have at least THREE hours of songs I want to share!”  The concert begins at 5 p.m. PDT. More information is available on the site.
  • Rev. Kirk S. Thomas has released his new book Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods. Rev. Thomas is a Senior Priest and the Archdruid of Ár nDríaocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship (ADF). As noted in the book’s description, Sacred Gifts “explores the development of personal relationships with Gods and Spirits. [Rev. Thomas] describes the subtle and complex integration of personal commitment, devotion and reciprocal offerings that begin and sustain with the Gods and Spirits.” Published by ADF, the book is now available on Amazon.
  • In Sept, actor, singer and tarot creator Mark Ryan will be in the U.K. where he will be visiting the Atlantis Bookshop in London. While there, Ryan will be talking about his personal journey and signing copies of his new book, Hold Fast. Publisher John Matthews will also be on hand with only 40 copies of the new book. The signing and talk will be held on Sept 18 at 6.pm.
  • And finally, a photograph of Margot Adler’s memorial bench in New York City’s Central Park located near the west 93rd street entrance.

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

That’s all for now.  Have a nice day!

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On Aug., 5, Keith James Campbell, also known as Twilight, died after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Keith was an active member of the Blue Star community and High Priest, who helped launch several different Blue Star groups and used his creative talents to offer service beyond his religious communities.

Keith was born in Kirkwood, Missouri graduating from Kirkwood High School in 1986. He went on to attend the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, where he studied graphic arts. After finishing, he began a long career as a freelance graphic designer and remained in Missouri through 2001.

During that time, he became involved with the local Pagan community and with the Blue Star tradition. He founded his first group called Heretic Clan and became a regular at Midwest Pagan festivals and events. According to close friend and member of the Blue Star Foundation Wendy McNiff, “Diana’s Grove was one of his favorite sacred spaces.”

In 2001, Keith packed up and left for Minneapolis, where he re-established himself and continued his involvement with Blue Star. Under the name OnyxTwilight, he became an active voice within the Blue Star Tradition Live Journal forum posting news, thoughts, prayers and more. He also studied FeriReclaiming, and TwiTrad.

McNiff remembers, “Keith was a legal pagan minister and performed many of our wedding and hand-fasting ceremonies. He was a master of ritual theater, managing to be creative, discerning, and engaging.”

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During that time Keith continued his professional career in graphic design and was fortunately able to merge with his love of singing with his design skills. He was hired as the marketing director for One Voice, Minnesota’s LGBT mixed chorus. For six years, he performed with the group and was also responsible for their visual material. In addition, Keith designed logos for various Pagan businesses, individuals and events including the Blue Star Tradition and Twin Cities Pagan Pride.

In Aug. 2008, Keith moved again. This time he relocated to Pennsylvania, where he received his third degree and helped to create “Coven of the White Oak and Grove of the Acorn.” He eventually settled in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.

Keith had struggled with his health for a long time. On his birthday in 1998, he was diagnosed with diabetes. During a particularly difficult bought with his health in the summer of 2008, Keith thanked his community for its support and wrote, “I am blessed. And I know it.”

But it wasn’t that condition that took his life. In July 2015, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a type of cancer that is seldom detected early and spreads very rapidly. Within three weeks of receiving the diagnosis, on Aug. 5, Keith died surrounded by his loved ones, who sang to him as he passed.

Wendy McNiff said in her memorial,

Keith was a beloved friend and mentor to many within the pagan community. He was a scholar, a singer, a lore keeper, a graphic designer, and a queen. He was a wealth of knowledge. He was also an open door. Keith helped to welcome many people to their path and helped guide them to their best self.

PNC-Minnesota’s Nels Linde, a Blue Star member, wrote:

I met Keith some twenty years ago as a Heretic singer at festival, and then again last fall at a Blue Star Family Gathering in Minnesota … He was invaluable to my tradition and clearly well-loved and highly respected.

Linde invited PNC readers to post memorials and memories on the site. Kristin of Sprial Tor Coven did just that saying:

Keith was a dear friend and Trad mate of mine. His personality filled every room he entered, and he was loved by countless people. I am deeply honored to have known him. His loss was a great shock to me personally and to our Tradition. While holding vigil during his passing, some of our coven members joked that Keith was such an over-achiever that it didn’t surprise us that he managed to complete his life’s mission in half the allotted time. It might seem trite, but to know him really was to love him. The Summerland has gained a beautiful soul. Hail the Traveler!

Demonstrating the shock felt within that community, Lapis wrote in a public post for the Well Spring Grove & Coven:

We lost a very dear member of our tradition to cancer recently and that has sent us all into a bit of a tailspin … This harvest season and Samhain will be an especially poignant one for us … My advice for everyone lately is to not take your loved ones for granted.

Keith is survived by his parents, his sister and an enormous community of people who have long held him dear. They speak of his energy, his creativity, his devotion to his beliefs, and his commitment to community. Through all of that work and that passion, Keith demonstrated an overwhelming joy in life. As Keith said himself, he was “Blessed.”

Memorial services are being planned in multiple locations across the country. Over Labor Day weekend, there will be services in the Pennsylvania area; no details have yet been released. In Sept. a memorial will be held at Harvest Homecoming in Missouri. Additionally, there will be a service Sept. 13 in Minneapolis from 3-6 pm at the Lake Hiawatha Park Recreation Center. McNiff writes, “Please bring your stories to share, your willingness to sing, and your love of Keith.”

What is remembered, lives.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. 

  • Let’s begin with a community note. The New York City Pagan community celebrated its 4th annual Witchfest USA in July.The event is a “Street Faire” that is hosted on Astor Place in the heart of Manhattan. The 2015 event was visited by a Broudly journalist who published her, somewhat skeptical or baffled, take on the entire experience. She wrote, “The crowd looked exactly as you’d expect a crowd of polite pagans to: Near the corner of Lafayette and Astor Place...” Regardless, the article offers a nice array of vivid photographs of WitchFest, its people and happenings. For more photos or information on next year’s faire, go to the organization’s Facebook page.
  • Now for less festive news, several Kentucky lawmakers appear to be unwilling to end their quest to publicly support the so-called “Ark Park.” According to Americans United, “Kentucky Sens. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) said they will file a bill (SB 129)” to delay the start of Kentucky public schools in order to “give more tourists the opportunity to visit state attractions in August.” More specifically, Senator Thayer was quoted as saying that Ark Encounter will become a major tourist destination, and that delaying school will give local children an expanded opportunity to visit. The bill, which will be considered in 2016, comes on the heels of “Kentucky officials [rejecting] up to $18 million in tax rebates” for the theme park. Owned by the group Answers in Genesis, the park is scheduled to open in Summer 2016.
  • Unfortunately, attacks related to “witchcraft” continue to plaque sub-Saharan Africa. But this month, one story shares the hope hope being brought to those who have been victimized by such violence.Tanzanian children, who are born with albinism and are often targets of such violence, are finding aide through a New York-based charity called The Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF)With guidance from Under the Same Sun, GMRF is bringing young victims to the U.S. for medical assistance. According to an Associated Press article,There has been a sharp increase in attacks in Tanzania and neighboring Malawi in the past year,” despite laws against “witch doctors” using human body parts. The first five children sponsored by GMRF are being fitted with prosthetics in New York City. The Fund’s founder Elissa Montanti said, “They’re not getting their arm back … But they are getting something that is going help them lead a productive life and be part of society and not be looked upon as a freak or that they are less than whole.”
  • On a similar note, a recent Namibian article demonstrates the depth of the problem in sub-Sahran Africa. The media outlet recently had to run a counter article to an older one that reported on the death of a man from tapeworms. According to the second article, there were “a number of comments on The Namibian’s Facebook page show that there is a deep misunderstanding of what is or what causes tapeworms.” They go on to illustrate and describe what actually does cause this medical condition. But the article starts the lesson by saying, “In actual fact, having tapeworms has nothing to do with witchcraft or any form of curse.” And to be perfectly clear, the article is titled, “Witchcraft does not cause tapeworms.”
  • Now moving to entirely different global region,The Independent has published an interesting and detailed article on an entirely different religious observance. Entitled “Beer and blood sacrifices: Meet the Caucasus pagans who worship ancient deities,” the article opens a window on a little known religion and culture in the country of Georgia. As one follower describes, “[The people] are the true inheritors and passers-on of the tradition, but they cannot explain it metaphysically. They cannot tell you why they are doing this or that and what it means. They cannot touch bears or wolves, touch chicken or eggs, or touch a woman when she has her period, but if you ask them why, they don’t know. It’s supernatural, it’s a mystery.” The article goes on to share the specifics on the ritual observance as well as other aspects of their theology, dedication and customs.  
[Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

2010 Toyko Obon observance [Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

  • Photography: Many people in Japan will be observing the Buddhist festival of the dead, Obon (お盆) in mid-August. The site Global Voices has brought together a number of recent photographs posted to Instagram from various events, festivals and observances. The article, entitled “Instagram Photos Offer a Peek Into Nagasaki’s Unique Send-Off for the Dead,” paints a vivid picture through text and these snapshots of the traditions and the reverence paid to ancestors at this time.
  • Books: National Geographic writer Simon Worrall interviews Isabella Tree about her new book called The Living Goddess. The book’s subject is “the Kumari of Nepal: young girls who embody the creative, female energy, or Shakti.” In the published interview, Tree speaks about her experience in researching and writing the book. She says, “It’s one of the things that I found most striking of all, this idea of worshiping a child, particularly a girl. Throughout much of Nepalese history, the King of Nepal has knelt at these little girls’ feet—nowadays it’s the president—in order to receive permission to rule the country.” Tree first met a Kumari when she was very young, and the book is the culmination of thirteen years of research.
  • Art: Inspired by several of the world’s natural disasters, actor and artist Lorenzo Quinn has created a dynamic sculpture series dedicated to Mother Earth. On his blog, he explains his purpose,”This would be reminiscent of the early statues made as peace offerings to the Gods in the hope of quenching their anger.” Each piece, part of a “Forces by Nature” series, depicts a female figure swinging the Earth around. Versions have been installed in multiple locations worldwide including England, the United States, Monaco, and Singapore. The Bored Panda has published a number of photos of the various statues.
  • Film: Lastly, the trailer for the award-winning film The Witch is now available on YouTube. Directed by Sundance Best Director Robert Eggers, The Witch is a horror film based in 17th century New England. After seeing the film at the festival, one reviewer described the film, “In this exquisitely-made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling.” The Witch is due out in 2016.

Covenant of the GoddessOver the past weekend, Covenant of the Goddess held its 40 year anniversary MerryMeet event in Ontario, California. The weekend included its annual two-day Grand Council, during which the consensus-based organization conducted its internal business including the election of officers.

After a tumultuous and uncomfortable beginning to 2015, the organization did come back to internally address what had happened. A break-out group was asked to review and present the organization’s revised social justice statement and make further recommendations. The result of the meeting was the creation of a permanent internal Social Justice committee to address the problems of racial inequity and systemic racism. Of this news, incoming First Officer Yvonne Conway-Williams said, “I think CoG is taking earnest effort at looking towards the future and drawing a line in the sand about who we are and what we stand for.” Conway-Williams is also a member of the new committee and was instrumental in the revising of the statement. More information on these developments will eventually be posted on CoG’s media sites.

The 40 year old organization is one of the oldest Pagan organizations in the country, and that was the theme of this year’s event. Looking toward the future, long-time member Amber K said, “I am fairly hopeful because representatives here seem to embrace change. They are cautious and careful but not stuck in methods of the past which would allow us to evolve and stay relevant.” Covenant of the Goddess will begin its 41st year on Samhain with new officers:  Co First Officers Yvonne Conway-Williams and Jack Prewett, Second Officer Glenn Turner, Co-Publication Officers Stachia Ravensdottir and Zenah Smith, Public Information Officer Greg Harder, Membership Officer Rachael Watcher, Communications Officer Rev. Peter Hertzberg.

 *    *    *

Cherry Hill Seminary

In April 2016, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) will be hosting a new three day conference in conjunction with The University of South Carolina. The symposium and environmental leadership training will be centered around the theme and title, “Greening of Religions: Hope in the Eye of the Storms.” The keynote speaker is University of Florida Professor Bron Taylor.

CHS Academic Dean Wendy Griffin said, “Laurie Zoloth, bioethicist and president of the American Academy of Religion, has called climate change the greatest moral issue of our time.  Increasingly, voices from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions are bringing the link between religion and climate change to national and international notice, from the Green Seminary Movement, to the expected Papal encyclical, to conferences ranging from the purely academic to those like the World Parliament of Religions, and to the growing emphasis on environmental justice.”

CHS is now calling for “proposals from a broad understanding of religion, including the Abrahamic, the Dharmic, the contemporary Pagan and the Earth-based, as well as from diverse methodologies: theoretical and practical, qualitative and quantitative, normative and descriptive.” The due date for abstract submission is September 30, 2015. The three day event runs from April 1-4, 2016 and will be held on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia.

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Rhodes-1-500x308The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece. was dealt a blow in its quest to gain state recognition as a religious community. On Aug. 1, a spokesperson said, “Once again, the Greek State has shown that it has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and, being unable to respect with dignity its own laws (in this case Act no. 4301/2014). It has rejected by the intermediation of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity Hellenic Ethnic Religion.”

Founded in 1997, YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition. Such a recognition would allow them to do things like buy property for the community to use. Its work has included “14 years of activity in the (modern) Greek reality with more than 230 interventions (letters and press releases) and many protests for the protection of the Hellenic tradition, human rights and religious tolerance, 300 seminars, tactical celebration of the ancient festivals, public rituals and educational events.”

In Other News:

  • We are pleased to announced that Polytheist blogger Heathen Chinese will be joining The Wild Hunt as a monthly columnist starting this Saturday. His first work will be a review of the Many Gods West conference that wrapped up two weeks ago. In the meantime, he has posted a link list that includes a number of other reviews and discussions sparked by the new Polytheist conference. As for Heathen Chinese’s new Wild Hunt column, it is scheduled to be published regularly on the 3rd Saturday of each month.
  • The upcoming Haxan film festival has added another day to its roster. Organizers will be hosting a “ritual blessing of the birth of the HÄXÄN Festival” Thursday, Aug. 27 at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore. Along with film screenings, the festival also includes a Friday night costume dance party.  As noted on its site, “HÄXÄN Festival is a Bay Area film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”
  • Pagan writer and blogger Laura LaVoie was just voted “Childfree Woman of the Year” and featured on the website “International Child Free Day.” As described on the site, LaVoie has been a leading advocate for a woman’s right to NOT have children. She is one of the organizers for The NotMom Summit, and blogs regularly at NotMom.com. The write-up offers more details on LaVoie’s work with the NotMom movement, as well as featuring her efforts advocating for Tiny Houses. Congratulations to Laura LaVoie!

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  • A new Heathen podcast is now fully off the ground. Beginning in July, “Heathen Talk” has been airing “live every Wednesday at 7pm Pacific/10 Eastern and post new podcasts every Sunday!” The hosts said, “Heathen Talk was launched by four diverse Heathens who met on Reddit’s /r/Asatru community. This live podcast hosts weekly discussions on topics that are important to modern heathenry, focusing on representing the diverse points of view in the community. [Hosts] Josh, Lauren and Thorin, and producer Marc have a combined fifty years of experience within heathenry.” You can catch the new show through Heathen Talk’s website or its Facebook page.
  • A recent article in Vice.com describes how Witchcraft is an empowering life choice for many “queer and trans people.” The article reads, “Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.” Those witches interviewed include Colby Gaudet, Jared Russell, Dakota Hendrix, and Mey Rude. In the article, Rude was quoted as saying, “There is no one way to be a witch … It’s a really freeing identity.”
  • Nathalie Andrews, owner and operator of Girl and Cat Publishing, is looking for author submissions. As noted on the Bad Witch’s Blog, Andrews is a Pagan, whose “aim is to change the way authors look at non-traditional publishing.” She offers workshops and classes on the subject. Based in the U.K., Andrews describes Girl and Cat Publishing as “not a vanity press but more a self-publishing service.” She can be contacted through her website.

That’s it for now! Have a great day.

Today we update several of the big stories that we’ve been following… 

Instagram bans #Goddess

On July 30, we reported that Instagram had banned the hashtag term #goddess. The social media site was attempting to curb, as it has done before, the posting of unacceptable content or images. In a statement, Instagram specifically said that “#goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity.” The ban inspired a #bringbackthegoddess protest, including wide-spread criticism and backlash from around the world.

After a recent check, it appears that the hashtag is coming back. You can now tag your photos with #goddess and search the term (sort of). In July, if you searched #goddess, you would only see #goddesses. Now you can once again see a listing for the over 1,450,000 images using the #goddess label.

instagram

However there is a caveat. Although Instagram has brought its use back, the company is still limiting the search view to only “top posts.” You will not have the option to view the “most recent” additions. As Instagram explains, “We may remove the Most Recent section of a hashtag page if people are using the hashtag to post abusive content in a highly visible place.” The company adds that the limitation is placed on searches in order to protect the integrity of the hashtag and search page.

This may or may not be temporary. The partial unblock was also done to #curvy, after its banning inspired a similar backlash. That hashtag still contains a moderated search view. Similar to #goddess, the term #curvy will only yield a select group of about 36 “top posts.” In late July, Instagram told The Washington Post,

We want people to be able to express themselves, and hashtags are a great way to do that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to act when we see hashtags being used to spread inappropriate content to our community. In the case of #curvy, we don’t like putting restrictions around a term that many people use in very positive ways, so we have decided to unblock the hashtag while taking steps to ensure that it’s not used as a vehicle for bad content.

It appears that #goddess is now following the same moderated trajectory.

*   *   *

New Orleans HexFest Forced to Change Location

On Aug. 9, we reported that HexFest had been forced to change its opening ritual location with only two weeks to go. Opening Friday Aug. 21, the event is now taking place on the Creole Queen Riverboat rather than at its original location on the Steamboat Natchez. According to the organizers, a Natchez sales representative said that the cancellation was due to religion, but then later changed that reason to breach of contract.

When we originally published the article, we had not yet heard back from either steamboat. We finally did hear from both. Natchez spokesperson Adrienne Thomas simply told The Wild Hunt, “The HexFest river event has been relocated from the Steamboat Natchez to the Creole Queen Riverboat, and arrangements have been coordinated by all parties involved.” She declined to answer any specific questions, nor would she say anymore about the situation.

Creole Queen spokesperson Jill Anderson said that she was “surprised” by what had happened to HexFest. And that the organizers were lucky that Creole Queen was available at such at late date. She also reiterated that company was pleased to be hosting the evening event.

*   *   *

Florida Triple Murder Ignites Witchcraft Frenzy

After an Aug. 4 news conference, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) set off a media firestorm that focused enormous attention on “Witchcraft” and “Wicca.” As we originally reported, the first flood of stories emphasized the alleged reality of a “ritualistic, blue moon, witchcraft” triple homicide. Then, within 48 hours, the news shifted, with local, national and international outlets turning to Wiccans and Witches for reactions.

NBC, who published the first news report using the term Wicca, also returned to the story and included an interview with blogger Peg Aloi. In that update, journalist Erin Calabrese specifically noted that Sgt. Hobbes of ECSO did use the word “Wiccan” during a phone interview. Calabrese’s report is in direct contrast with the ECSO statement, which stressed that Sgt. Hobbes was misquoted and never said the word “Wiccan.”

Regardless, over the following days, there was a swell in similar mainstream reports demonstrating the outrage felt within Wiccan and Witchcraft communities. Along with Lady Liberty League, Covenant of the Goddess and others, even those outside of Pagan religious spheres, made public statements or posted commentary decrying ECSO’s careless use of either term.

On the flip side, the media attention also provided teaching opportunities. Priestess and author Courtney Weber was interviewed by Thom Hartmann for his show “The Big Picture”

Now, nearly ten days later, there have been no official updates to the case, and ECSO is refusing to take any more media questions. However, on Aug. 14, the local Pensacola CBS affiliate WKRG did once again attempt to get clarification on the use of the word witchcraft. While following the Sheriff outside, the WKRG reporter asked specifically if ECSO was still calling the crime witchcraft. The Sheriff said “pull up the tape” and “that’s where the misconception was.” The reporter does just that, demonstrating the Sheriff’s clear usage of the term. This interaction was caught on tape and is now posted on WKRG’s Facebook page.

As for the three victims, they were laid to rest on Aug. 14. Short obituaries with photographs are posted on the website of a local funeral home.

bucklandIt was announced on Aug. 4 that author Raymond Buckland had suffered a “large heart attack” and was battling pneumonia.The brief announcement explained, “[Buckland] was life-flighted to a main hospital [where] he was in incubation for three days.” He also developed a case of pneumonia.

After a week long stay in the hospital, Buckland was able to return to his home and is reportedly getting stronger every day. His spirits are up and his strength is returning as he fights off the illness. Buckland’s family and close friends expressed their thanks for the healing energy, well wishes and prayers being sent his way.

Raymond Buckland is the author of over fifty published books and is the founder of the Seax Wicca Tradition. He arrived in the United States in 1962, and published his first book A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural, in 1969. His most well-known work is arguably the big blue Buckland’s Complete Guide to Witchcraft, originally published in 1986. More recently, Buckland has been working on fiction. His most recent novel, Dead for a Spell, is the second in a series called “A Bram Stoker Mystery.”

Buckland is expected to make full recovery, and his family has said that he will be returning personal messages when he is able. They will be posting health updates on his Facebook page.

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Covenant of the GoddessCovenant of the Goddess (CoG) will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend in sunny Ontario, California. CoG was founded in 1975 by “a number of Wiccan elders from diverse traditions, all sharing the idea of forming a religious organization for all practitioners of Witchcraft.” The bylaws were ratified in the summer of that year, and the organization was registered as a nonprofit in California by October 31. CoG has been continuously operating ever since, making it one of the oldest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations in the United States.

Today, CoG has expanded its reach outside of California, with local councils and members living in all regions of the country. First Officer Kasha said, “40 years is an exciting-and daunting-landmark … So much has changed since 1975, but part of the struggle remains. I honor those who founded this organization, some of whom remain active members, for their vision and tenacity. I’m excited to see where the next few decades will take us.”

The 40th anniversary MerryMeet celebration is being hosted by Touchstone Local Council based out of San Bernardino. MerryMeet is the organization’s annual conference, and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Our Voices.” As is typical, the event includes workshops, vendors, and the official business meeting called Grand Council. But this year’s conference is special, as it marks the anniversary. Part of that celebration will include a “History” panel, where various elders and longtime members sharing stories from the organization’s early days and beyond. Touchstone Local Council has the full schedule of events posted on its website.

*   *   *

mythopoeticIn June we reported that author Sarah Avery was selected to be finalist for the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in the category of adult fiction. The award is administered by the Mythopoeic Society, and given to “the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies ‘the spirit of the Inklings.‘ ”

During the recent MythCon46 held in Colorado, it was announced that Avery had won the 2015 award. The winning book, Tales from the Rugosa Coven, consists of a collection of novellas and is published by Dark Quest Books. In a blog post written just after receiving the honor, Avery said, “Every time I tried to write acceptance remarks just in case, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails to the finalists who aren’t here … Fortunately, Dora insisted that I should prepare some remarks, because you never know.” As it turned out, she needed those words. During MythCon, Avery was presented with the Aslan Trophy by author and former winner Jo Walton. Congratulations to Sarah Avery!

In Other News:

  • Activist and Witch David Salisbury will be making an appearance on ABC’s evening news magazine 20/20. Salisbury was interviewed last week concerning the death of Cecil the Lion. Salisbury said, “When I got the call asking for the interview, everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to be nervous about it. I knew I had to immediately go into extra research mode to make sure everything I wanted to say was accurate and up to date. On the day of the interview, I found the correspondent Deborah Roberts to be warm and friendly, which helped put me at ease and act naturally.” Producers said that the report will most likely air this coming week. However, at that time, they were still waiting to capture more footage and interviews in Africa, and could not confirm the exact air date. They said that the decision to air would be made last minute, and advised interested viewers to look for updates on the 20/20 website.
  • Deepta Roy Chakraverti has written and published her first book called Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters. As noted by the Hindustan Times, the non-fiction work describes Chakraverti’s “experiences in the realm of the supernatural and the practice of Wicca.” She is the daughter of India’s well-known Wiccan Priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, and was raised with and around her mother’s practice. Ipsita, herself, wrote the book’s introduction, while the rest of the content is from Deepta’s own experiences with the “spirit realm” over the years.
  • As we reported last fall, money was raised to honor Margot Adler with a bench in New York City’s Central Park. Over $11,000 was donated; enough to dedicate both a bench and a tree through the Park’s Women’s Committee. The location of Margot’s bench was specifically selected to be near the two that she had previously dedicated to her husband and mother in law. Due to construction in that area, the dedication didn’t officially happen until spring 2015. If you are in Central Park, you can visit Margot’s bench (#09067) and her tree, a Kwanzaan Cherry growing alongside the reservoir next to light post #9323. Both are just inside the 93rd Street entrance on the west side of the park. Now, if you happen to be in Washington D.C., you can also visit a Margot Adler memorial bench and tree. This site, shown in the photo below, is located in front of NPR’s D.C. headquarters at 1111 North Capitol St NE.
margot bench

[Courtesy Sylvia Poggioli, NPR]

  • Pagans are helping to raise money for Raul Mamani’s trip to the upcoming Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City. According to the fundraising page, Mamani “is a native Jujuy of Argentina. He lives in the far northwest, where Argentina borders Chile and Bolivia. He has been at the heart of indigenous organizing.” Over the years, Mamani has been working with interfaith representatives of CoG and with the United Religions Initiative. As the campaign page explains, in 2009 the Spirituality & the Earth Cooperation Circle raised money to help Mamani attend the Melbourne Parliament. As it turned out, “he was the only indigenous representative from South America …his voice was crucial to the sharing that took place in that gathering.” The 2015 fundraising campaign will help allow Mamani to return to the Paraliament again.
  • Amaranth, a new “eclectic” marketplace, is now up and running after Etsy’s policy changes negatively affected metaphysical shops and the sale of magical items. The site went live on June 26 with the intention on serving “displaced members of Etsy.” As described by the owners, “The site supports international selling, multiple payment gateways and several familiar to Etsy user functions for listing and creating markets. Policies and categories are still being made on an as need basis.” Dedicated to metaphysical, magical, spiritual, Pagan, Occult and similar communities, Amaranth is crafting a marketplace model that will allow it to be owned and operated by the sellers and buyers. Owners say, “It is not about us.” At this point, Amaranth Marketplace is still growing and tweaking its systems. But they hope, in the end, to simply provide “a stable, honest, environment with a staff that can understand needs and not judge.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

NEW ORLEANS – In two weeks, HexFest 2015 is scheduled to kick off its magical event in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter. The event begins Friday, Aug. 21 with a Riverboat ride and ritual hosted by Priestess and Voodoo Queen Bloody Mary. Up until Friday, the opening ritual was to be held on the Steamboat Natchez. However, after a phone call early morning, HexFest organizers found themselves scrambling for a new location. The Natchez had canceled their contract due to what was initially described as “religious reasons.”

hexfestIn a conversation with The Wild Hunt, Ty Siddiqui, manager of HexFest, explained that she was awoken Friday morning by a call from Natchez sales director Deirdra Edwards and was told, “We are not going to be able to do your event on the Natchez.” According to Siddiqui, it was further explained that the owner had just “come back into town from being away” and hadn’t known about HexFest. After looking at the website, he said that he didn’t want anything to do with Witchcraft and Voodoo. “He didn’t want it on his boat.”

Siddiqui immediately called Hexfest co-owner Christian Day, who is on his Honeymoon in the U.K., and broke the news. Together they contacted Edwards again, and she reiterated the reason. According to Siddiqui, she and Day offered modifications, including eliminating the entire ritual and drumming. She said, “We were willing to work with them … [but] there was nothing we could do.”

Day added that “the whole thing is just incredibly disappointing.” He went on to explain that the Natchez knew right from the beginning what HexFest was and what they were planning on doing. On May 9, 2014, Day and co-owner Brian Cain officially announced the event dates on a newly launched Facebook page. By early June, they publicized a list of tentative presenters, a rough schedule, a new website and were selling tickets. Then, June 27, 2014, a day after signing the Natchez contract, organizers announced that the opening ritual would be held on the riverboat.

In a Friday letter sent to the boat’s owner, Day wrote, “We had explained everything that was going to be going on to Deidra on the phone and even referred to components such as drumming and voodoo in emails back and forth, none of which she expressed concern over…”

After the initial phone calls, the Natchez reportedly stopped communicating with Siddiqui. She said that she was informed that Edwards was in a meeting with the controller “and others” and could not talk. In the meantime, Siddiqui was able to secure a new riverboat, The Creole Queen, for the opening ritual event. The new boat’s port is farther form HexFest’s main location at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, but the Creole sales team has reportedly been helpful and accommodating.

Then, late on Friday, Siddiqui got another call from the Natchez. She was informed that the HexFest event was actually canceled due to breach of contract, specifically citing two points:

  • It is understood and agreed that the Charterer shall not participate in any ticket sales other than to members of its own organization, unless consent to do so is granted herein.
  • Charterer shall not stage any “exotic” dancing, entertainment or singing without Owner’s prior written approval.

Day told The Wild Hunt, “The sales director of the Steamboat Natchez knew from the beginning that we were a ticketed weekend event and she knew that we were having the Dragon Ritual Drummers onboard. … We explained what we were in the beginning and she said the membership didn’t apply to us because we were not a membership organization.” Day added that he has an email trail proving some of these points.

In addition, he noted that the company had accepted a contract for HexFest 2016. That contract is dated July 7, 2015. It was signed and submitted only one month ago. What changed over the past thirty days?

[Credit: © 2014 Robin Stevens]

[Credit: © 2014 Robin Stevens]

What puzzles organizers even more is that Bloody Mary has been a presenter on the boat in the past. Bloody Mary herself said that she was very “perplexed.” She told The Wild Hunt, “I suggested I do [the] river blessing voodoo ritual on that the boat … I have been called on to work for that company directly, sent many of my groups to them for years … and although I knew they were not necessarily believers in mysticism, they do tours and events on subjects of voodoo, paranormal, seance and such. It seemed they were open to the ideas.” Mary added that she would no longer be recommending the Natchez or any of its sister tourist companies, and is drafting a formal letter of complaint.

According to Day and Siddiqui, it was the owner, Gordon Stevens, who canceled the contract because he wanted “nothing to do with” HexFest, Witchcraft or Voodoo. Stevens is president, CEO and co-owner of the New Orleans Steamboat Company and Gray Line New Orleans. He is also part owner of “Café Beignet and Frostop Restaurants, and is President of the real-estate agency M.G. Stevens Corporation” In his bio, he describes himself as being “guided by the strong Catholic traditions he was raised with.” Along with donating to a number of Catholic charities, Stevens serves as president on the Board of the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. As this suggests, he himself may not, in fact, be a “believer in mysticism.”

While New Orleans has always been somewhat of a progressive city in which Catholicism, magic, mysticism and other spiritual practices intertwine, Louisiana is currently considered one of the most conservative states in the country. Siddiqui said, “Ever since this wave of conservative religiousity hit Louisiana, it has opened the door to allow people to discriminate against each other.” She is referring specifically to Governor Jindal (R) who, in May, issued an executive RFRA order after the state Legislature did not approve a similar bill. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed suit against Jindal for overstepping his authority as Governor.

In response to Jindal’s order, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu penned his own executive order that reads:

I am issuing a clarifying call to the nation that New Orleans is an accepting, inviting city that thrives on its diversity and welcomes people from all walks of life with open arms … In New Orleans, we believe religious liberty and freedoms should be protected and discrimination prohibited, and we have passed our own laws to reflect that principle. This executive order is an important, symbolic affirmation that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated in New Orleans – and it should not be tolerated anywhere in Louisiana.

And, religious discrimination is just what Day, Siddiqui and others now believe is behind the Natchez canceling their event. Presenter Sandra Mariah Wright told The Wild Hunt, “I am shocked. There is no precedent for this.This is New Orleans.” Wright, herself from Salem, Massachusetts, likened the situation to a similar case ten years ago. She was organizing an event in a local Knights of Columbus hall, a location that had hosted Witchcraft gatherings for years. She said, “Even Laurie Cabot had held events there.” Then someone contacted the state’s Knights of Columbus office, who turned around and threatened to pull the local group’s charter if the event was allowed to continue. With two weeks to go, Wright was left scrambling for a new location.

Like Bloody Mary, Wright said that she’ll never use the Gray Line touring company again. She also added that the “timing seems a bit suspect” considering the recent news out of Pensacola. Siddiqui agreed, saying that, while its probably not directly linked, “it’s too coincidental.”

At this point, the Natchez has refunded HexFest its initial deposit of $5768.75. However, Siddiqui said that they are still owed over $5,000 and have incurred a number of new expenses in the ritual’s rescheduling. Siddiqui also added that they are already speaking to lawyers.

Since the news was announced, various presenters and attendees have been weighing in on the situation. Raven Grimassi wrote, “One of the primary problems I see here is the setting of a precedent. If this matter goes unaddressed to the company, then we are allowing a momentum to build that can be a real problem for us all in the long run.” Grimassi, as well as Day and Cain, are calling on attendees and local Pagans to complain to the company and to the city’s tourism board. Siddiqui said that she has been in contact with both the Greater New Orleans Pagan Pride Day Project and the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans.

The Wild Hunt reached out to The New Orleans Steamboat Company for a statement and further explanation, but has yet to receive a response.

While HexFest coordinators are still in shock and are confused by the Natchez decision, they still have an event to run. HexFest 2015 will continue on as planned with the Friday evening opening ritual on the Creole Queen. Details of all changes are listed on the event page and main website.