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In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ’emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” (thesis 8) It’s a good thing that Pagans and Polytheists have been talking about strengthening their communities and developing defense and solidarity networks, but black and brown people in America have long been living in an “emergency situation.” Obama has deported over 2.5 million undocumented immigrants while in office. Black, indigenous, Hispanic and Latino people have been killed by the police at consistently higher rates than those seen as white. This reality must be kept in mind as we analyze the present moment.

Tiger mosaic from the "House of Dionysos," a 2nd-3rd century Roman villa at Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Tiger mosaic, “House of Dionysos,” Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Benjamin also wrote that “to articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” (ibid 6) We live in a moment of danger, but it is up to us whether or not we will seize memories from the past as they flash by, and which memories they will be. For “the true picture of the past whizzes by” and “threatens to disappear with every present which does not recognize itself as meant in it.” (ibid 5)

Like the 1930s, the present is once again “a moment wherein the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had placed their hopes have been knocked supine, and have sealed their downfall by the betrayal of their own cause.” (ibid 10) Like the German Social Democrats, “the stubborn faith in progress of these politicians, their trust in their ‘mass basis’ and finally their servile subordination into an uncontrollable apparatus have been three sides of the same thing.” (ibid 10)

In such a moment, we are reminded that “it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” (ibid 2) This messianic power is weak because there is nothing inevitable about its victory. Like our ancestors before us, we may well be crushed once again by the ruling classes. Like them, we will seek ways to survive nonetheless. But perhaps this time we will become that “final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion.” (ibid 12)

Benjamin described the seizing of the past in the moment of danger as an explosive rather than a progressive process:

For Robespierre, Roman antiquity was a past charged with the here-and-now, which he exploded out of the continuum of history. The French revolution thought of itself as a latter day Rome. It cited ancient Rome exactly the way fashion cites a past costume. Fashion has an eye for what is up-to-date, wherever it moves in the jungle of what was. It is the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before […] into the open sky of history. (ibid 14)

Burned National Guard vehicles, Highway 1806. [Ancestralpride.org]

Burned National Guard vehicles, Lakota land. [Ancestralpride.org]

Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land

Benjamin’s call for the “introduction of a real state of emergency” is echoed in Indigenous Action Media’s recent essay “Anti-colonial & Anti-fascist Action: Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land,” which reminds its readers that “moments and movements” such as Black Lives Matter and the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) “are the result of ongoing resistance that has been waged for hundreds of years on these lands.” The essay quotes black anarchist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s statement that “we must make it impossible for Trump to govern the country, and must put power in the hands of the people in the streets.”

The struggle against the DAPL, also known as the Black Snake (zuzeca sape), is one that reflects both the current global “state of emergency” and a long history of anti-colonial warfare on the plains of North America. On Oct. 27, six different states (Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska) sent officers to assist North Dakota police raid the Sacred Ground camp which was located on Lakota territory under the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and directly blocking the path of the DAPL. The out-of-state police were sent under the auspices of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an interstate compact that was supposedly “designed for natural disaster situations,” but which has been used against two uprisings in the past two years: the Baltimore rebellion after the police killing of Freddie Grey, and Standing Rock.

In the course of the Oct. 27 raid, a DAPL security guard pointed an AR-15 at water protectors, but his truck was run off the road, looted and burned. The National Guard was sent against a blockade on Highway 1806, the incursion was fiercely resisted, and two military supply trucks were set on fire as well. The active participation of the U.S. military in the operation is a clear sign that the Indian wars never ended. Small wonder that an Oct. 30 dispatch from Red Warrior Camp signed off with the phrase, “In The Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

The Indigenous Action Media essay makes explicit the terms of the ongoing war between the forces of colonization and indigenous communities:

We stopped talking about hope when we had to focus on survival. […] We reconnected to the understanding that we never had a choice but to fight. That colonization has always been war. That we are survivors of its brutality. That we’ve never stopped fighting.

We understand the difference between power over and power with. That there’s more power to the power of people than choosing which system will rule them. That no politician can ever represent Indigenous lifeways within the context of a political system established by colonialism. That representational/electoral politics are oppositional to liberation from colonial oppression. That the struggles of our ancestors, who defended Mother Earth and her beings with prayers and weapons in hand, is the same struggle that we carry forward today.

[Black Spring / Instagram]

Olympia anti-fracking train blockade. [Black Spring / Instagram]

We Resonate Across More than One Time and Place

Many calls for direct support and solidarity with the struggle against the DAPL have been made, including by witches and spirit-workers. A “clandestine coven at Standing Rock” has issued a call “to all witches, pagans, and co-conspirators of earth centered spiritual faith to join us in resistance.” They write: “We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.”

Spirit-workers have invoked a curse against “the Agents, Executives, and Mercenaries of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” utilizing a sigil which they invite “those who wish to support this curse to inscribe […] against the buildings, cars, equipment of company executives & agents, and law enforcement and private security agencies who serve as their mercenaries.

Since Nov.11, water protectors in Olympia, Washington have been blocking railroad tracks in order to stop “a train carrying hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) proppants from exiting the Port of Olympia.” “Proppants” are ceramic beads used in the fracking process, and the proppants aboard the blocked train are intended for the Bakken oil fields where the oil which DAPL is being built to transport is extracted. On Nov.18, the encampment was cleared by the police, but in the words of one blockader, “This isn’t over. This is never over.” Funds are being raised for legal fees.

The water protectors in Olympia explicitly state that “as we hold down the tracks in Olympia, we resonate across more than one time and place.” They invoke the memory of the Port Militarization Resistance struggle of 2007, when military shipments intended for the Iraq War were blockaded at the port of Olympia. “There is a real force that shares power between these times and places where people have and continue to resist authority,” they write.

Another article traces the roots of the special agents of the Union Pacific Railroad back to the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency: “It is appropriate that the blockade be facing the same agency that birthed both the FBI and every major private security company in the US. All of them were created to protect capital and for no other reason. This is their only function.” The writers align themselves with the “indigenous people, bandits, and saboteurs” who attacked Union Pacific railroads in the 1800s, with the Homestead Steel Works strikers who fought the Pinkertons, with a long and rich lineage of resistance.

Train blockades have been used elsewhere in the anti-DAPL struggle as well, ranging geographically from Atlanta, Georgia to Mandan, North Dakota (about 80 kilometers north of the anti-DAPL encampments) to Montreal, Quebec to the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. During the 1990 conflict at nearby Kanesatake, warriors from Kahnawake shut down the Mercier Bridge for over a month. In solidarity with the struggle against DAPL, the Mercier Bridge was again blocked for several hours on October 28, and train tracks were blockaded on November 4 and again on November 15. The effectiveness of the tactic can be seen in a proposed law in Washington State that would make blocking oil trains or otherwise disrupting transportation and commerce a felony and label such actions “economic terrorism.”

[Public Domain]

Chess-playing automaton. [Paul K / Flickr]

The Services of Theology

Marxists believe that “the puppet called ‘historical materialism’ is always supposed to win.” Comparing the relationship between historical materialism and theology to that of a chess-playing automaton manipulated by a dwarf hidden inside it, Walter Benjamin turned this thesis on its head: “it can do this […] so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.” (ibid 1)

I believe that the guidance of the gods, ancestors and spirits is what will get me and my communities through the times ahead. Here I use the word “through” not in the sense of “along,” but in the sense of “exploding the continuum of history.” We aim to survive, to keep our traditions alive, to defend ourselves, to destroy the system which seeks to destroy us, and to find joy and beauty and love in every moment of the struggle.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

[Today journalist and Canadian correspondent Dodie Graham McKay shares an interview with a Alma Kakikepinace, a woman who was protesting living conditions on Sagkeeng First Nation.  If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now in the home stretch. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that supports your spiritual community. Donate to The Wild Hunt today.]

SAGKEENG FIRST NATION First Nation, MB – On Sept. 21, Alma Kakikepinace embarked on a hunger strike to protest the lack of safe and healthy housing in her community. In addition to not eating any solid food, she has set up a protest camp and moved into a tent on the land adjacent to the trailer that she once called home.

Alma Kakikepinace (photo by D.G. McKay)

Alma Kakikepinace [Photo by D.G. McKay]

Four years ago, her trailer was damaged by a storm, in which a sheer wind knocked it off of its foundation. Since that point, the trailer has not had electricity or running water. It has also become infested with black mold, which has been making her sick. For years, her band council has repeatedly promised to assist and to find a new home, but nothing has been delivered.

Kakikepinace is now waiting at her camp for Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson to deliver the promised help. Delays and politics are long and complicated with any First Nations issues. Various levels of government and bureaucracy, from the federal Canadian government to the band chief and council, are involved.

These conditions are commonplace on many of Canada’s First Nations reservations, and the province of Manitoba has some of the worst conditions in the country. Government documents, obtained by The Canadian Press through Access-to-Information legislation show Manitoba has the second-highest percentage of First Nations people living in dilapidated housing in the country. According to a 2014 United Nations Human Development Index report, quality of life on Manitoba First Nations ranks the lowest in Canada.

The black mold in Kakikepinace’s trailer is a common problem in Sagkeeng. These shelters were not designed to withstand the climate. But they are cheap for the government to supply, and commonly used on First Nations land across the country. Kakikepinace explained how federal health inspectors visited her:

“My house was studied three times. And when the federal health representative came up, I said you know you have done this three times, why are you doing this, what’s the point, nothing has changed in four administrations. He told me ‘Every time we study your home, Sagkeeng gets a shot in the arm for mold repairs.’ So if I’ve been studied three times, why haven’t I been repaired at least once? This is typical of reservations all across Turtle Island. I can say whatever I want, it’s not a black eye to the chief and council; It’s a black eye in the way the government is held over the First Nation people.”

Kakikepinace lives on her ancestral land at Sagkeeng First Nation, located 125 KM (78 miles) north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1871, her great-great grandfather was one of the chiefs who signed Treaty #1, the agreement between the First Nations people and the white settlers for the land of southern Manitoba. By 1968 the housing crisis was already out of control.

Kakiepinace’s father was speaking out publicly about the deplorable conditions at Sagkeeng and was featured on the national news program “W5,” describing how the government bought and then gave to his family a condemned 20’ X 16’ house. The newsreel shows Kakikepinace as a smiling six-year-old child in a white dress,with her parents and eight siblings, all crammed into the tiny house.

Sam Mann, father of Alma Kakikepinace, and six-year-old Alma (screen grab from W5 expose, 1968)

Sam Mann, father of Alma Kakikepinace, and six-year-old Alma [Screen shot from W5 expose, 1968]

Not much has changed since then. In an interview at her camp with The Wild Hunt,  Kakikepinace spoke of how her home community was just one example of the failure of the system around her: “Sagkeeng is representative of many, many First Nations in what we know as Canada. But in truth, Sagkeeng is representative of the housing and the politics and the conditions across what I prefer to call, in the elder legends, Turtle Island.”

She also has this special message for the leader of Canada: “Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, Justin Trudeau – I need to speak to you, face to face. I have a message about the First Nation housing crisis. I need to speak it to your face. I trust in Justin Trudeau to receive this message, which was cut off by the mainstream media.”

Many people have come to her aid, offering moral, financial, and spiritual support. One such helper is Michelle McNeill, a Witch and activist from Winnipeg. “I first met Alma in June of 2013 at a Womyn’s Gathering of All Nations, spear-headed by the indigenous women who got the direction through a shake tent ceremony, with bones that were unearthed from an ancient ancestor on sacred land in the Whiteshell (a provincial park and heritage site). Alma officially became a clan mother at the end of that first retreat in 2013. In 2014, she returned to the 2nd Womyn’s Gathering of All Nations to continue to share her teachings and spiritual service. We bonded deeply at these gatherings as spiritual allies.”

In addition to being in regular contact with Kakikepinace for moral support, McNeill has been making the drive from Winnipeg to transport supplies and visitors to Sagkeeng. She also set up a funding campaign to raise money for additional supplies, such as firewood, tarps, and equipment to keep the camp running. She stresses that all of the money raised goes directly to this cause.

Kakikepinace's camp, with mold-infested trailer in background (photo by Dodie McKay)

Kakikepinace’s camp, with mold-infested trailer in background [Photo by D. G. McKay]

Chief Derrick Henderson did communicate with Kakikepinace on several occasions via phone and text. He also made some visits to the camp promising that the funds, which had been earmarked for mold repair, would be signed over to her. With those funds, he reportedly said, she could purchase a new trailer, and get out of the elements for the winter until a more permanent home could be arranged.

The days of her hunger strike stretched into weeks, and no settlement was forthcoming.

As her protest progressed, Kakikepinace found herself moving into a softer, more spiritual, trance-like place. She was able to receive guidance and teachings from the Creator. It was then that she began referring to her protest as a spiritual fast to reflect this transition.

Other visitors to the camp included two provincial politicians, Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Judy Klassen, MLA for Kewatinook, along with Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights and former Manitoba Liberal Party Leader. They promised to help carry her message to Ottawa, the capitol of Canada, and to Parliament.

By Oct. 5, and day 15 of her spiritual fast, Kakikepinace came to the conclusion that her beloved cat, Pootie, would need to find a new home. She could no longer care for him properly at the camp. She had rescued him from the local dump as a tiny kitten, but with the uncertainties she was facing, Kakikepinace felt that he deserved better. A post was made to the Facebook page for the camp on Pootie’s behalf. He now has a new home in Winnipeg.

Visitors from Standing Rock with Kakikepinace (centre) Courtesy photo

Visitors from Standing Rock with Kakikepinace (centre) [Courtesy photo]

On Oct 14, visitors from Standing Rock, North Dakota and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) came to lend their support to Kakikepinace. They brought with them two charred logs from the sacred fire at Standing Rock. They pitched in to help with chores and held a ceremony, joining Kakikepinace’s sacred fire to the one at Standing Rock.

On Oct. 19 and Day 29 of her spiritual fast, Kakikepinace was midway through her interview with us when she received a text from Chief Derrick Henderson. He was offering to give her a cheque, to settle her claim for mold damage. This would enable her to purchase a shelter to get through the imminent winter. With temperatures going down to freezing at night, this could not have happened soon enough. Through an exchange of texts, witnessed by TWH, an understanding was made that the cheque would be forthcoming by early the following week, Oct 23 – 29.

Based on this information and in good faith, Kakikepinace broke her fast that evening. After 29 days without consuming anything except lemon water and tiny amounts of bone broth, an exhausted, cold, and drained Alma Kakikepinace was able to eat food again. She was determined to maintain the camp and sacred fire until the funds were transferred, and the new winter shelter arrived.

The following day, her spokesperson, helper and adopted brother, Robert Peters, posted the following to Facebook:

Alma’s health has taken a turn for the worse, with issues around ending her month-long fast. An ambulance was sent to the campsite two hours ago, but she has refused medical care. She is determined to hear from Chief Henderson the words “Your cheque is ready.” He has been promising this for over a week now (when he last visited her at the camp), and still only sends her text messages saying “I am working on it.

Things became very touch and go over the next few days. A nurse who had frequently visited her in the camp throughout the spiritual fast went to check on her and assess her physical state. Kakikepinace accepted traditional medicine. This worked to balance out her medical problems that appear to have been a cardiac episode.

As of Oct. 26, Kakikepinace has accepted delivery of an 18-foot trailer, which is being winterized with help from her friends. She will not leave her ancestral land and is committed to staying for the winter in the trailer, which is now located beside the protest camp. Her fight is not just to secure her own housing; her fight is to draw attention to the unacceptable housing that First Nations people across the country are forced to accept.

How far will she go? How long will she fight? In her own words, Kakikepinace said:

‘Until I die’ – it was not flippantly said. I am willing to give my life. Tired of the status quo, tired of a dark world where indifference has become the norm, tired of my tribe being left out and imprisoned in a world of imbalance. Harsh words? Harsh world, from my perspective. My truth, many people’s truth. I’m sure there are many people who could say this in the world and be there, living it. So not to be using all the baser emotions, fear based, you name it – but if all the nations rise together at this time, and topple the lie that became truth, and put it back into perspective, this change that needs to happen, is not on a physical plane, and I’m not afraid to sound like a nutty case when I say that, there are many, many people who can relate to what I’m saying

The protest camp has been open to visitors from all paths and cultures. Kakikepinace has served as an elder and mentor for many people, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, who want to learn and understand the traditional ways of the First People of Turtle Island. Her thoughts are quoted in the introduction to the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission’s final report that was published last year:

The healing is happening – the reconciliation…I feel that there’s some hope for us not just as Canadians, but for the world, because I know I’m not the only one. I know that Anishinaabe people across Canada, First Nations, are not the only ones. My brothers and sisters in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland – there’s different areas of the world where this type of stuff happened…I don’t see it happening in a year, but we can start making changes to laws and to education systems…so that we can move forward.

Michelle McNeill sees this as an opportunity for Witches, Pagans and practitioners of earth-based spirituality to stand together. She said: “We are stronger when we are able to rise up together united as people of the earth who are here to honor and protect the earth. We all practice earth-based spirituality and are united in our mutual reverence for the earth, elements, and cycles. I honestly believe we all hold pieces of a much larger puzzle and when we are open to healing and sharing with each other the puzzle pieces start to come other and the teaching of our ancestors become more potent and powerful.”

michelle-alma

Michelle McNeill and Alma Kakikepinace [Courtesy photo]

At long last, on the anniversary of the fifth week of her protest at 5:00 pm, the moment Kakikepinace has struggled to achieve finally happened. Chief Henderson drove up the muddy driveway to the trailer. He delivered the long-overdue settlement cheque to Kakikepinace personally. It is not enough to purchase or build a new permanent home, but it is a start.

As per the agreement, Kakikepinace took down the “Housing Needed” sign that had marked the gateway to her camp. The tents will be taken down by a volunteer work party on Saturday. However, this is just the end of the first chapter in the long road of advocacy on which Kakikepinace has embarked. She will not back down in her fight to make sure the others in her community in need of clean, safe, and healthy housing get help. She refers to these neighbours as “The 500,” as she estimates there are at least 500 homes in need of repair or replacement. Many of The 500 visited her camp to offer support when she needed it, and now she will return the favour.

Funds are still being accepted by McNeill at the GoFundMe page, and updates on the protest can be found on the Facebook page.

 

FINAL 6 days of The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive! Donate today.

CANNONBALL, N.D — Friday marked a significant victory for the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access pipeline being constructed near their territory and through their watershed.

In the weeks since The Wild Hunt’s last update on the Standing Rock Sioux protest, national attention on the issue spread, attracting support from commentators and even celebrities, to the chagrin of some involved.

Pagan support and involvement has also expanded dramatically, since that report. Donations have been collected by groups like Ár nDraíocht Féin, Solar Cross Temple and more, an active petition was set out by the Reclaiming Tradition and a number of Pagans showed up at the protest to act as witnesses and support the action.

As noted in our original story, Linda Black Elk, an ecologist and teaches ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, told us, “It doesn’t matter what spirituality you practice, it doesn’t matter what culture or race, everyone is welcome because this really is about all of us. As we come to the end of the fossil fuel age, they get more and more desperate to take the last bit of blood they can from our mother. We need that unity and we need people here with us.”

standingrock-dakotaposter1-223x300
But, troubling events happened as well. A security firm allegedly hired by Dakota Access LLC, the company building the pipeline, tried to provoke a violent response from protesters after they attempted to prevent construction vehicles from excavating. On September 3, using dogs and pepper spray, security officers attacked many of the protesters and several of their horses. At least six protesters, including a pregnant woman and a child were bitten by dogs and many more were hit with pepper spray before the security team fled.

As one website noted, the attack happened to coincide with the 153rd anniversary of the Whitestone Hill Massacre, which occurred near the present-day camp.

The construction that protesters failed to halt ended up going through several sacred sites. According to a news release from Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, “sacred places containing ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were destroyed Saturday by Energy Transfer Partners.”

“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said in the release. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

The following week, and prior to the September 9 decision on the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction, the governor of North Dakota moved the National Guard in, near the site of the protest. It was beginning to look like things were not going to turn out well for the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.

And to follow, on Sept 9, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg denied the Sioux request.

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Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

However, minutes after the court’s decision was announced, an unprecedented joint statement was issued by the Department of State, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior, at the behest of the Obama administration stating, “we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

The statement also created a framework for “formal, government-to-government consultations,” between United States and tribal governments, for future infrastructure projects and protection of tribal lands, and whether or not to propose new legislation to ensure those goals.

Activists and leaders across the Pagan community have shared their opinions and, while the mood is generally positive, there is a definite note of caution as well. What follows are a collection of statements among the many that were issued directly to The Wild Hunt or publicly.

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Mathew Sydney, a Florida activist and founder of the Pagan Environment Alliance

This is an exciting moment but construction has only been stopped temporarily. We must continue pressuring the government and also the banks and businesses that are invested in this project. We must transform the way we relate to our land. This is just the beginning. Please donate goods to the water protectors. Please continue to talk about this issue. Yes, the native peoples are on the front lines. Yes, their lands are being threatened but this project threatens the water that sustains ALL of us: native and non-native alike. We must be as brothers now. We must stand together against ignorance and greed. We are all related.

Colleen Cook, a witch of the Reclaiming Tradition and Sacred Stone camp volunteer

While I am glad that the court order (to allow the pipeline construction) was halted, victory for the water is not yet won. The pipeline company is being asked to voluntarily pause while “further consideration” can happen. We need to not let this pause in pipeline construction make us complacent in our ongoing support. People are still coming together and the ongoing prayers for the water are as important now as ever. Sometimes these pauses are tactics to calm the power of the protectors. I for one, will continue to do my part to ensure that the world keeps watching.

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Ivo Dominguez, Jr., author, teacher

I am speaking as an individual rather than as a representative of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, because we have a process for making group statements and our next meeting is in December. That said, many of our members have already taken action as individuals in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and all the Indigenous Peoples being affected by this crime against them and the Earth. I have given money, signed petitions, called legislators, worked at my altar, and boosted the signal on social media. I will do more and have encouraged others to do the same, but this is not the first nor the last struggle.

Perhaps the greater challenge will be to remain connected and vigilant after this has resolved or receded in the stack of issues of the moment. Many of our related Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are late to enter into awareness or action in this matter because there is a gulf of communication and cooperation with the First Nations. I admit to being distracted by trying to follow too many issues, and that is not an excuse, it is a description. It is neither easy nor painless, but it is my hope that we will work to educate ourselves and reach out often enough so that trust will be built and true alliances forged for all that is ahead. We are the ones that need to be proactive. Alliances between people that know each other last; alliances built on agreements on issues and ideology are fragile and tenuous.

T. Thorn Coyle, Solar Cross

The temporary halt on pipeline construction called for by the Departments of the Interior, Justice, and Army is a good thing, and hopefully offers some measure of breathing room for the protectors gathered at Sacred Stone Camp.

That said, it is only a stay of construction on 20 miles of the pipeline, not a total work stoppage, and therefore, is not enough. Fracking, drilling, oil pipelines, and mountain top removal continue on the Dakota Access Pipeline and throughout the U.S., destroying sacred land, poisoning water, decimating communities of animals, plants, and people, and causing earthquakes where there were none before.

As a nation, we must re-evaluate our values, and start making harder choices around resource consumption and distribution of wealth. Those who have little, are taken from. Those who have much, take more. This is out of balance. Solar Cross continues to stand with Standing Rock and all the nations gathered at Sacred Stone Camp. We will continue to organize to send supplies until the pipeline project is stopped completely.

Those of us who were not calling victory were unfortunately correct to be cautious, as arrests are now being made. From Unicorn Riot: “There are multiple lockdowns at two Dakota Access Pipeline construction sites. All work has stopped. A surveillance plane and helicopter are circling overhead. Police have blocked all road access to both sites. Approx 100 riot police have arrived, to at least one site, armed with assault rifles and less-lethal weapons. Arrests underway, and Facebook is censoring our live video stream.” #NoDAPL

The Coalition of Earth Religions for Education and Support (CERES) and Mother Grove Goddess Temple, Asheville, North Carolina

Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit. We also are people of the Earth and people of the stones. The great circles of Neolithic Europe were the work of our beloved Ancestors, the Forebears we honor during the season of Samhain, which is upcoming. Those ancient stone monuments are sacred to Pagan peoples throughout the world. And here in the southern highlands of the Appalachian mountains, our growing community often conducts ceremony on the banks of the third oldest river in the world—the French Broad. The elemental chant above (from the late Nicole Sangsuree) highlights our spiritual community’s deep ties to the classical elements and the whole of the natural world.

From the Standing Rock website: “A broad multi-state coalition of tribes, landowners and environmental groups issued a statement in support of the tribal lawsuits and speaking out against the project. The coalition called the USACE process “an egregious violation of the relevant federal environmental laws and the 1851 and 1868 treaties between the US and the L/D/Nakota Nations, which remain the supreme law of the land.”

These strong and passionate people have had enough. These People—like all people–are not expendable. Mother Grove Goddess Temple and CERES stand with our sisters and brothers as they protect their sacred lands, our sacred lands. We join as the ragged remnants of the once-proud European tribes to stand with the People. May our voices be heard, may our Ancestors and our Divine Protectors join with us in this important work. May our relationship with the Earth be healed and acknowledged in its sanctity once more. Water is life. We are water.

Reclaiming Tradition: A letter of support (authors include: Zay Eleanor Watersong, Starhawk, Deborah Oak, Rev. Claire Chuck Bohman

Dear Standing Rock Sioux and all protectors of water and sacred sites at the camps:
Following the day of global prayer in support of your water and sacred sites, we wish to convey this statement of support, attached below.

This statement has been signed in the past four days by 85 different groups located across the US and Canada, Great Britain, German, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa, and Israel.
It has been signed by over 3,400 individuals who identify as Pagan or following an earth-based spirituality.

Signatories can be viewed here. We fully expect more signatures to be added in the coming days and weeks, and are encouraging people to visit your site as well for up-to-date information on how they can help, knowing that the situation is changing from minute to minute. We were horrified to hear of the destruction of your sacred site and the use of violence against the defenders and pray that the sacrifice not be in vain, but sparks the necessary collective outrage among the American people to stop this pipeline once and for all.

May the strength of the people, the earth, the waters overcome those who seek to destroy them. We stand with you.

We will continue to follow the story as it develops. 

logo trothTWHAs we reported last week, the Asatru Folk Assembly made public statements on its Facebook page that ignited an immediate backlash from users, which then spilled out across Heathen communities, the blogsophere and beyond. In reaction to those Facebook statements, a number of Heathen organizations and individuals publicly responded to the AFA posting.

On its website, The Troth published “An Official Statement from The Troth.” It reads, in part: “The Troth stands against the AFA’s vision of what Asatru should be, and we do not recognize their beliefs as representative of a majority of American Asatru (Heathenry). There are no arbiters of who can and cannot worship our deities, but the Gods themselves.”  The Troth, founded in 1987, is one of the biggest international, non-profit Heathen organizations.

Similarly, Heathens United Against Racism posted its own statement, saying “We wholeheartedly condemn the recent statements made by the Asatru Folk Assembly […] There are no words to express how strongly we are revolted by their clear, unquestionable embrace of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and pure bigotry.” Other groups and bloggers, Heathen and Pagan alike, published discussions on the topic throughout the week. We highlighted two different viewpoints, Jön Upsal’s Gardener and Josh at Heathen Talk, in yesterday’s edition of Pagan Voices.

To date, AFA’s only public reaction to any of these statements was to thank the general online community for bringing attention to the group’s Facebook page, and its own community for rallying behind its statements. Marc MacLeod ended the response by saying: “We will be clear and stand by our values, but we don’t need to change anyone’s minds, we just have to provide a place for our folk, that have the same world view, to go. That is our mission and that’s what we will continue to do.”

We will continue to watch this story and report as needed.

 *    *    *

logoCANNON BALL, N.D. — The elders of the Seven Council Fires, members of the Great Sioux Nation, have come together to protest the building of the $3.7 billion dollar Dakota pipeline near Standing Rock. As reported by Indian Country in May, private construction had already begun despite protests at the time. Since that point, there has been an outpouring of support for the local community and that support continues to grow daily. Not only has the Great Sioux Nation itself has come together, but other tribes from around the country have brought support as well.

Members of Pagan and Heathen communities have also been joining the protests to stop the pipeline and keep the local land and waterways clean. Some individuals went directly to the North Dakota sites to aide activists at Sacred Stone Camp and elsewhere. Others have been raising awareness locally or online, and shipping funds and supplies to the area.

Solar Cross founder T. Thorn Coyle said, in part, “Solar Cross supports native sovereignty. Genocide, cultural oppression, theft, and broken promises have been hallmarks of white occupation of this continent. The Sioux and other nations who gather in defense of their land and water, in defense of the sacred earth, and of their own autonomy, have called on us all to help.” Solar Cross has been raising funds to purchase supplies for the activists at Sacred Stone Camp, including tents, tables, canopies, tarps, blankets and more. The group is also involved in an effort to send a delegation to Washington DC.

The federal judge is due to rule on the case Sept. 9. We will have the complete story with interviews and more in the coming days. 

 *    *    *

AUSTIN, Tex. — Over the weekend, a Phoenix Rising event was held at the Elysium nightclub in Austin, Texas. It served as a benefit function for the non-profit Council of the Magickal Arts (CMA). Organized by Candyce Eskew and John Elysium, the evening event featured musical guests, Darwin Prophet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and the Flametrick Subs. There was also a raffle, a number of vendors and readers. 

Why a benefit? Elysium and Eskew explained that, “Earlier this year, CMA suffered the misfortune of having several thousand dollars, about half our operating budget, embezzled by a former officer. This benefit is a fundraiser to recoup some of this loss; all proceeds will go directly to CMA’s operating fund.” As of Saturday’s report, Eskew said that the function was a success and they have already raised at least $1,600 toward rebuilding the organization. TWH has reached out to the organization to learn more.

CMA itself will be hosting an upcoming Samhain festival October 20-23. The featured guest speaker will be Aline O’Brien, also known as M. Macha Nightmare, and the musical guest is Goodnight Charlie. All CMA festivals are held on Spirit Haven, a 100+ acre private wooded property in Cistern, Texas.

In Other News:

  • Radio show host Michael Greywolf will be launching a new program on the Pagans Tonight Radio Network (PTRN) called Walking the Unnamed Path. He will be joined by co-host Matthew Sydney. Greywolf said, “Our show will be talking about and discussing topics and ideas pertaining to the Unnamed Path, an emerging shamanic tradition for men who love men. We will be featuring music, guests, and covering general topics pertaining to queer Pagan men.” The new show will first air Sept.10 at 3:00 pm CST, and air the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month.
  • Solar Cross Temple has just launched a new devotionals program. As the group explains, “Every month we will call upon different people to offer a meditation for us all to focus on together. […] We ask … that you follow up with one action-in-the-world to help bolster your connection to the month’s meditation. This can take many forms. Use your creativity, and share it with us on our Facebook page.” The program kicked off Aug. 21 with a prayer called, “To Our Ancestors of Spirit, Body, and Mind” written by founder T. Thorn Coyle. The next one will be Sept. 18 and every 3rd Sunday following. Additionally, the Temple will be continuing its popular “Solar Cross Presents” program with the next class being held Sept. 21.
  • Cherry Gilchrist has released a new book on the tarot. Published by Red Wheel/Weiser, Gilgrist’s new book Tarot Triumphs: Using the Tarot Trumps for Divination and Inspiration is said to “focus on the major arcana, or trumps, of the Marseilles Tarot” with the “aim of encouraging the reader to experience the tarot in a direct, fresh, and uncluttered way.” Gilchrist is a teacher, lecturer, and author or more than 30 fiction and non-fictions books.
  • Speaking of books, TWH’s own writer and assistant editor Terence P. Ward has released his own book Depth of Praise. In 2015, Ward was working to raise money in order to build and complete this devotional work to the god Poseidon. He finally finished the project, with the help of many donors, procuring work from artist Grace Palmer for the book’s cover, and contracting Richard Goulart for the interior illustrations. The completed devotional is now available through CreateSpace.
  • Andras Corban Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit Community, recently stated, “I have just learned, and am delighted to report, that I have been condemned yet again by another Christian extremist.” What is he talking about? In the book, World Empire and the return of Jesus Christ, Pastor Simon Downing included, “I find it deeply disturbing to read of Reverend Desmond Tutu’s involvement with [the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions], not to mention the Board of Trustees and its huge religious diversity.” (pp. 272) Downing lists a number of parliament board members including Corban Arthen and Rev. Angie Buchanan. Corban-Arthen has taken this in stride, saying “Back in the mid-1990s, Pat Robertson […] held up a photo of me wearing Pagan ceremonial garments and accused me of being ‘a bad role model for the youth of America.’ Though I could not sue Mr. Robertson […] I chose to do the next best thing, which was to use his indictment of me as a badge of honor.” He added that Robertson’s “very personal condemnation” ended up opening doors for him in the many years since.
  • Are you going to be attending DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia? The Wild Hunt will be there covering the event, talking to Pagans, Heathens and polytheists about their experience at the world’s largest pop culture convention. We’d like to hear from you, say hello, and see your costume.

Got a news tip or story? Reach out to us via our contact page with information, press releases, statements and other news tidbits. We want to hear from you.

Don’t miss a single story. Sign up for our daily news emails.

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman [Publicity Still]

“Firstly, it’s The Dreaming. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as Hairypeople are not bound by what is,” says Waruu West (Rob Collins) in ABC’s latest original Australian drama Cleverman.  Found in the second instalment ‘Containment,’ this moment stood out. Collins, playing an Indigenous spokesperson on a TV news panel discussion, delivers the line with acid on his tongue, shifting in his seat and barely able to maintain his countenance to suit the panel’s format, which is supposed to represent the epitome of polite society in serious discussion.

In the world of Cleverman, the Dreaming is mentioned here with the same condescension it might be on an actual TV weekly news and current affairs panel. I’ve seen enough Aboriginal Elders and commentators on such shows to know that Collins did not have to look very far to inspire his character’s reaction in this moment. As an Indigenous man himself, Collins probably didn’t even need that.

In the make-believe dystopian near future of Cleverman, not six months before the action takes up with the first episode, the Dreaming just materialised in the form of the Hairypeople. What was once thought of as just an Aboriginal story and a monster to scare children, is now flesh and blood. They are an entirely different species of human that is stronger, faster, harder, covered in hair, and absolutely not a figment of some distant story derived from an uncivilised past. This narrative fact makes the host’s condescension in this scene all the more misplaced, purposefully nasty.

[Above: Q&A Monday 09 June, 2014. Aunty Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ “I am not the problem” speech, in conversation regarding John Pilger’s Utopia.]

This point in the show also created a moment during which, it was white Australian viewers’ turn to shift uncomfortably in their seats, if they had not already. In that scene, with its similarity to real day-to-day viewing, it felt like director Wayne Blair, and writers Michael Miller and Jon Bell were speaking directly to us. And I confess: it was my turn for a little bit of solidarity with my Indigenous Brothers and Sisters fist pumping. Waruu’s statement contained within it something that could easily translate to my own experience as a Pagan and a Witch: Our Mythos. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as the Otherworlds are not bound by what is.

Cleverman is a futuristic sci-fi narrative told using the contemporary language of television and chocked full of very real and very current issues. Included in its themes are Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, forced imprisonment, our nation’s crimes against humanity, as well as the physical, mental, and emotional trauma suffered at our hands by those most vulnerable: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, immigrants, and refugees. Additionally, the show includes the Scientific Frankenstein, the Shady Media Mogul, themes of fear, terror, racism, bigotry, atrocity, isolation, desperation, violence, and police brutality.

These details are all woven together in a sprawling story that we should in fact not be confused about at all. However, it is the twist with which it’s told that is the real highlight. The fictional Hairypeople are lifted directly from several Aboriginal Dreaming stories. They speak Gumbaynggirr, a language from northern New South Wales, as is the Namorrodor, the monster stalking urban Sydney. Indigenous actors dominate in both the Indigenous and Hairypeople roles. The Cleverman is a cultural facticity.

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman show poster

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman [Publicity Poster for SundanceTV]

Our reluctant hero Koen West, is Aboriginal, a refreshing change from what we so often see highlighted by Australian and international news. Koen, an opportunistic young Indigenous man who refuses to choose a tribe, has suddenly had the Cleverman superhero powers thrust upon him. The power is real and present in this show’s world. It is manifest in Koen, Waruu, in the Hairypeople, and in the short (but always sparkling) performance of Jack Charles as Uncle Jimmy the Cleverman who passes the nulla nulla (or waddi a warrior’s club) of the Cleverman onto Koen.

If Koen stands as a proxy for young Indigenous viewers, then the narrative comes with a dare: Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Dreaming is not static. None are left to wonder about the nature of that strength and power. It’s Indigenous and it comes from a very real place.

In this way, Cleverman is the Dreaming. The show is Indigenous story soaked with a real Indigenous past and a contemporary Indigenous experience. With the help of CGI and special effects, the show demonstrates how the Dreaming contains within it the ability to confront new issues and problems with no less potency. The Dreaming refuses to stay static.

The Dreaming is not at odds with western science, political systems, media, or indeed, the future. Rather, here, the Dreaming uses all these modern ideas and formats to its own end. Standing alongside these contemporary mainstream Australian institutions as equally valid and powerful, the show tells a story of change, of how it is made manifest in those who engage with it, and how it can reclaim itself – its Indigenousness – from those very institutions who have sought to diminish it. The Dreaming claims itself, as strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, in the now.

It is here, precisely at this moment, that Australian Pagans and Witches should feel the pangs of empathy. This is art as story magic.

In the first place, we should be familiar with the historical arc that underpins the show. In summary, cultural practices, myths and stories are outlawed, then, after a time, they are repackaged as oddities from a distant past for children’s entertainment. Then, finally, adults start taking these “oddities” back.

Pagans around the world know this story. In recent times, we have seen a major resurgence in many myths and folktales. Appearing on the small and silver screens alike, these stories are being torn apart and remade with entirely relevant themes and contemporary issues, and very often strictly for adults. Examples range from American Horror Story: Coven‘s unabashed, subversive femaleness in all its complicated and messy glory; to the miraculous image at the end of The Witch showing power embraced as the young protagonist is liberated; to Michael Hirst’s Vikings in which a historical Pagan worldview is given prominence over early Christian ideas. Even at Disney, the early and mid-20th Century children’s stories are being approached anew, with the likes of Angelina Jolie’s turn as the Mistress of All Evil in MaleficentWe get this.

However, these things – our myths, reimagined in the mainstream, artistic, and pop culture spheres – can serve to be a hindrance to the legitimisation of contemporary Pagan and Witchcraft discourse. They can be wildly disrespectful and further propagate tired tropes and negative stereotypes that influence the very real lives of the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities. These things do not exist in a vacuum. But at their best, they can serve as a powerful quickening to such communities, who, in turn, find the inspiration to readdress the magical and mythical narratives within the ritual space itself.

These modern retellings can normalise themes and ideas in the mainstream, which can then further legitimise those same ideas as they are contained within our contemporary discourse. The young and aspiring seeker of the Craft, for example, can find heroes and heroines in these places, urging them to look further.

Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Myths are not static.

As a story and as a Dreaming narrative, Cleverman excels at demonstrating that power is best realised through the creative vision, voice and bodies of those who are living a direct experience of it already. Inside contemporary culture, it further demonstrates the power of community support and participation required to push forward with these new narratives. Cleverman‘s mainstream success and positive reviews are a testament to two hundreds years of fighting to legitimise Indigenous voices.

This is a lesson Pagans in Australia can take away. It is a salient reminder that our own myths are strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, now.

Especially as Australian Pagan communities begin to increasingly realise their social and political voices, it is this thought that should stay in the back of our minds when we engage with Pagan discourse, writing, art, and craft, and reimagine our stories inside our ritual space to confront and work with contemporary and very real social and political issues. It is important to promote that same creative talent inside our communities in order to achieve change, justice, fairness, highlight social issues right now.

These ideas and concepts are all on top of the stand-alone joy of engaging with Australian Indigenous voices and creative talent as found through Cleverman. The final episode of season one was aired Thursday, July 7.  This particular episode felt like one giant teaser for season two. It left me wanting much more.

We left our anti-hero, Koen, much less “anti” and coming finally into his own, as all sides are baying for war. I agree with AV Club‘s Brandon Nowalk, whose review pointed out the first season was more promise than delivery in terms of story.  It was a season of exposition that has left a carefully crafted set of characters ready for the real meat of season two.

But that exposition can be easily forgiven. After all, there would only be a handful of people on this continent with enough knowledge of Aboriginal Law and Dreaming not to require background information. I can only imagine the culture shock and complete lack of context for those watching in the US and, shortly, the UK.

Thankfully, for those interested, there are a few helpful guides that wade into the dystopian near future of Cleverman‘s Sydney. This includes Zebbie Watson’s guide at Inverse, and The Guardian‘s episode by episode recaps. For some extra fun, check out the behind the scenes video with Adam Briggs and, one of my favourite Australian voices, Gurrumul Yunupingu and the inspiration for the Cleverman theme song.

Behind the Theme Song – “Cleverman” from Goalpost Pictures on Vimeo.

Paganism in Poland

Terence P Ward —  July 6, 2016 — 10 Comments

POLAND — This European Union member state is a bastion of Roman Catholicism, with as many as 37 million adherents (87.5% of the total population) today. Yet, even in Poland, one of the most Christianized European countries, Pagan religions are growing within the shadow of the Church. Today, that population is still dwarfed by its Catholic counterpart, but its loyal practitioners continue to cultivate a Pagan thriving subculture.

With the help of several Polish Pagans, we examine the diversity of Pagan practice found within the country.

Offering to Żerca [photo credit: Laszka]

According to Wiccan priestess Agni Keeling, Wicca is a growing, but still quite a small, Pagan path in Poland. To her knowledge, there are only about 50 initiates in the entire country. She herself has initiated people from her native land by first requiring them to travel to England, where she has lived for some years. It is difficult to find reliable sources about Wicca in Poland, although Keeling said that some books by Vivianne Crowley are being translated. The three Wiccans who spoke to The Wild Hunt demonstrated a real excitement about helping their religion expand.

The most popular Pagan path practiced in Poland is Rodzimowierstwo (“native faith”), an indigenous form of Slavic polytheism. Adherents tend to use a reconstructionist methodology to rebuild their native faith, which has not spread through the English-speaking world as widely as some other European-based Heathen religions.

Tomasz Rogalinski is one such practitioner. He first encountered the tradition in 1978, before it had acquired the standardized name. He was attracted to it because of his extensive historical knowledge of the Slavs.

Rogalinski explained more of the tenets of this native religion, which varies depending upon the source material. Binding all the traditions together are the beliefs in native Slavic gods, the offerings of mead and food (traditionally groats, white cheese, and bread), a code based on principles of honor, responsibility, and courage, and the “circles of responsibility,” which centers on family and widens to include community.

“The circles are a challenge [to be] understood in a positive way, not a negative one,” Rogalinski acknowledged. “It is looking for similarities and helping those who are nearest to us, it is not about fighting other people.”

As with Wicca, the resources for those interested in Rodzimowierstwo can be a mixed bag. Gniazdo is a magazine created by the Rodzimowiercy, but there are other publications that, according to Rogalinksi, mix traditional and New Age beliefs without providing any context.

He further explained that the tenets of Rodzimowierstwo “exclude creating religious mix or joining different faiths (in a way of joining patheons or following many paths). It does not mean that there is no possibility of conducting one’s life according to the rules taken from the other faiths (unless they’re contradictory to Rodzimowierstwo), fascination by the other culture or having friends, family or know the people who have the other dominant faith.”

Along with the practice of Wicca and Rodzimowierstwo, age-old folk magic traditions continue to be practiced in Poland. Verm, one of our interviewees, was taught folk Witchcraft by a grandmother and an aunt.

Tomasz Rogalinski calls Rodzimowiercy to ritual. [Photo credit: Laszka]

Tomasz Rogalinski calls Rodzimowiercy to ritual. [Photo credit: Laszka]

Many of these practices are somewhat tolerated in this largely Catholic nation, but that might be because no one has noticed them yet. According to Sheila, who is a second degree Gardnerian Wiccan, there are those who worry that, as the population of Pagans grow, this might change.

Sheila said, “Polish people (in general) are not very good in being understandable and tolerant. Most of us live in safe environment – with loving families and thoughtful friends, being quite anonymous while living in the big cities,” organizing largely through social media.

One result of Church domination is a form of syncretic polytheism. “The native religion of Poland could be a mixture of Catholicism with the old, Pagan customs and practices, including the magical ones,” said Verm. “It can be classified as polytheism, but instead of gods, there are Christian saints who had replaced gods and taken over their qualities. The interest in such practices is marginal, but is becoming bigger.”

Laszka shared a narrative that is common in other parts of the world where Christian traditions draw upon Pagan practices.

People bless the eggs on Easter, they decorate the table with green, they have a Christmas tree, they eat the meals that are traditionally connected with Winter Solstice, they hang mistletoe, they celebrate Pagan Dziady (the festival connected to death) and they have to add some invented holidays (e.g. Candlemas in the term when we have Weles’ festival, Saint John’s festival on Kupała, etc.). They just needed something to be at the same time of the year, because of the fact that Pagan festivals and traditions were preserved even despite the Christianisation.

Verm also is familiar with cases in which being public didn’t serve the individual well, highlighting a difference between the urban and rural experience. “I know some cases when people following other than Catholic paths are discriminated, especially in smaller places and in the villages where people point the finger at those who do not attend mass. Very often, those people have problems with finding or maintaining their jobs. I know the case of a girl who was diagnosed as mentally ill by a Catholic psychiatrist, because she wasn’t Catholic and believed in polytheism.”

“I don’t see persecutions preserved in the people’s minds,” observed Laszka. “There are some clashes, but it is more connected to political rather than religious reasons. Fortunately, in Poland there were no such cases as in the Ukraine, where the statues were destroyed on Włodzimierzowe Wzgórze/Starokijewska Góra.”

Rogalinksi said that, while there are “aggressive speeches of clergy” condemning minority faiths, it is not generally talked about by others. “Religion is not the subject of discussion; it is not discussed because of its personal character.”

Religious freedom is a right in Poland, and a group of 100 people can form a church, carrying with it lower taxes and the ability to teach the religion in a school setting. According to Rogalinski, Rodzimowierstwo has three of these formally organized groups.

However, in the view of Nefrestim, who is a second-generation Wiccan, the current government’s conservative bent does make practicing openly uncomfortable.

Drawning Marzanna in the village Jeziorzany in 2014 [Photo Credit: Jacek Świerczyński]

Drawning Marzanna in the village Jeziorzany in 2014 [Photo Credit: Jacek Świerczyński]

Estimates of the number of Pagans vary widely. The 2011 Poland census asked specifically about Rodzimowiercy, but not other Pagan paths. According to Sheila, many Poles shy away from the word “Pagan” even if they do follow such a path, but she believes that they number in the thousands.

Rogalinski downplays the official number of Rodzimowiercy (4-5,000 people); his own figure of up to 2,000 is based in part on activity, not just on self-identification. Laszka, who also practices Rodzimowierstwo, thinks the total number following the tradition is 10,000. Many of the Pagans are solitary, making their numbers difficult to estimate, but they appear to be concentrated in the cities.

Whatever the number, it’s small, and that carries with it certain limitations. Lacking reliable resources for many Pagan paths on paper or online, the alternative — seeking a teacher in person — can also be difficult, due to the low density of Pagans overall. According to Nefrestim, the city of Poznań hosts two esoteric shops. As it is in other countries, these businesses have the potential to become networking hubs as the Pagan population grows. Still, the client base has not grown large enough to support many such businesses yet; online shops fill that gap, especially for Pagans who don’t live in the larger cities.

Another issue with the small number of Pagans is that they tend to know each other, like residents of a small town, which is fine, until it isn’t. Verm said that long-standing disputes can make it difficult for Pagans to cooperate at times. Rogalinski laments that the only agreed-upon sites of worship tend to be cultural or archaeological monuments that can’t be used. He believes, this type of sacred place could bring Pagans together despite their low numbers.

Putting a different spin on that idea, Laszka said that Pagans can buy their own land for worship. “The main obstacle is that there is no possibility to have a traditional burial. Polish law does not provide it. We have been struggling for it for ages (our judiciary system is very slow and the case may even require the changing of the law).”

All told, while laws and aspects of the culture present very real obstacles for Polish Pagans, the small community does enjoy the freedom to practice and continues to eagerly expand despite the very large shadow of the country’s dominant religion.

“For the beloved should not allow me to turn my infantile fantasies into reality: On the contrary, he should help me to go beyond them.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of The Earth

[Home / Movie Still]

[Home / Movie Still]

I resist watching movies. I have things to do, essays to write, shipping manifests to update, revolutions to plot, tea to drink. But his muscled arms are insistent; the scruff of his beard nuzzling relentlessly. We’re full fed on quiche and french toast with Irish butter and maple syrup reduction, and it’s raining. I give in.

He chooses the film, a kid’s movie. Home, it’s called.

I cringe inside – it’s animated, but not Miyazaki. How can I trust something that’s not Miyazaki? He’s the reason I’m a Druid, an anarchist, a fag. One day I’ll write that essay, “Oh, Hayao!” I’ll tell the tale of the 10 year old boy sitting in a leaking, cigarette smoke-filled Appalachian trailer watching a VHS copy of a VHS copy of Nausicaa: The Valley of the Winds and becoming right there an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist gay Pagan boy.

But this isn’t Miyazaki. It’s Dreamworks. “You’ll like this,” he says, and I’m sure he’s wrong. He doesn’t know that I’m pretty sure I hate this shit. But he also didn’t know that I was really certain I hated when a man feeds you bites of the breakfast that you just both made, guiding a fork-speared piece of thick bread dripping with butter and tree-sap toward your mouth, smiling. He didn’t know that I was certain I’d dislike syrup dripping into my beard, or that I’d been convinced I’d never smile and laugh and feel so deeply alive when he tongues it off your face and then kisses you.

Turns out I was wrong on all that, and the film starts on the tiny screen of my overheating $200 laptop. He kisses me, and I meet the Boov.

I didn’t like Rihanna either, though I’d let myself sing along a little (furtively) to Diamonds and What’s My Name. Because who doesn’t sort of want to say to a man, despite it being popular:

You’re so amazing, you took the time to figure me out

Or, even really–

Oh na na, what’s my name?

And especially if he reminds you a little of what Drake is supposed to remind you of, because pop is all symbolic containers into which we invest our dreams. Drake is an archetype; Rihanna another, and you play the song on repeat to awaken the encoded magic.

Post-Colonial Exclusion

The film’s plot is simple. A colonizing civilisation of aliens occupies earth. A young girl is looking for her mother. One of the non-conforming aliens caused a problem for his entire society and is on the run. He befriends the girl, and they help each other out while confronting each other’s differences. But the film is also a work of genius, particularly if you are a Pagan leftist wrestling with the disease of whiteness while locked in the arms of a Native man who makes you think of Brighid and Rihanna.

I do like Rihanna, especially in the film as Tip, or Gratuity Tucci, a girl from Barbados who’s cat saved her from being relocated to internment camps in Australia by the Bourgeoisie Boov. The Boov are an alien race with a highly-refined culture tasting as any other highly-refined product of industrialisation – bland, monotone, and certain of its own superiority. Displaced from their ancestral lands through traumatic displacement, divorced from any sense of community or the consequence of their universal exceptionalism, the Boov decide to make their new home on earth.

The Boov’s mission civilatrice is unmistakably Liberal, Western and Democratic (in case we miss the point, the capitol of their occupation is Paris.) The Boov have come from elsewhere, eternally fleeing their unacknowledged shadow and causing relentless, unexamined havoc in their search for a feeling of home.

Their last planet destroyed, the Boov select Earth, informed scientifically that the inhabitants will benefit greatly from the efficiency and cultural superiority of their new guests. But like Manifest Destiny or the last 80 years of US war, like British occupation of Africa & the Caribbean, or France’s great adventures in Vietnam and Algeria, the Boov re-organize the natives, relocating the primitive savages to places where they will be safer and happier with ice cream. And, as in all modern Democratic occupations, the colonized people are infantilised. The Boov set up pavilions in the center of the refugee camp orreservations where the benevolent paternalists can dispense knowledge to les enfants sauvages under proud banners proclaiming “Ask a Boov.”

Laying on the bed next to my First Nations boyfriend, his arms around me and his beard grinding occasionally into mine, I’d search his face, listen to his laughter, and try not to think about what happened to his people.

The Bourgeoisie and The Witch

It’s difficult not to think about Rihanna throughout the Dreamworks film. The choice for such a voice actor was brilliant. Perhaps more than most pop archetypes in currency. She embodies perfectly Franz Fanon’s post-colonial subject. Born in the former British colony of Barbados (like Gratuity Tucci), she is also the ‘exotic’ product of a Western culture machine which values her as financial capital yet pounces doubly in extreme jouissance at her experiences of domestic abuse.

Rihanna is both spectre and whore on the symbolic. Like Beyonce and other Black women singers, she is both a product of colonial oppression and also a commodified product within Capitalism, priced according to her appeal, rewarded when she entertains, and yet brutally punished when she bites the paternalistic hands that feed her – most of all when she reveals herself to be real. Like other peoples who stories we do not allow to be told, she is acceptable only when she remains a symbol. Otherwise, she’s a whore, which is another word for witch.

Speaking of which, the most poignant scene of Home is where Rihanna and ‘Tip’ become twinned in a parallel of the video for Rihanna’s song,”What’s My Name.” While the music video has Drake and Rihanna standing in front of a convenience store refrigerator, dropping a quart of milk on the ground (Brighid, I thought when I watched that), Tip and the rogue Boov are likewise before a display-fridge.

Tip is in the midst of pillaging the shop of the petty bourgeoisie to eat (New Orleans after Katrina, LA after Rodney King) while Oh – another Boov who is obsessed with the bohemian ideals of parties and friendships, rather than order and security – is doing likewise. Oh is running, because his search for authenticity has triggered a cosmic calamity. Oh has invited the whole universe to a celebration from which certain shadows must forever be barred.

Encountering the alien colonist, Tip locks Oh in a freezer, a trick most witches know. Tip even ‘cools off’ the aggressor by locking him in with…a broom. And in their ensuing conversation, we glimpse the entire core of Marxist post-colonial analysis of the colonizer:

Oh: What for are you did this? I am Boov, beloved by all humans.
Gratuity ‘Tip’ Tucci: I know what you are.
Oh: Excellent. Can I come into the out now?
Tip: No. This is what you get for stealing planets and abducting people.
Oh: Oh, you are thinking a mistake. Boov do not steal and abduct. No. Boov liberate and befriend.

The parallel between the Boov and the modern gentrifier or Liberal Capitalist was delightful, but there’s something even more fascinating here. Throughout the film, Oh quite clearly, and hilariously, seeks authenticity and a sense of community. He is completely unaware of the exceptionalist prison he inhabits.

He then gives voice from the freezer to the question unspoken by the spiritual tourist, the yuppie Yoga practitioner, or the Western Polytheist and Pagan:

Can I come in to the out now?

[Home / Movie Still]

[Home / Movie Still]

Oh speaks the traumatic wound of the colonist. In Provincializing Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty addresses precisely that when he speaks of Europe’s self-classification as ‘modern and secular.’ The colonialist subject cannot see the exceptionalist prison it has made for itself. We are inside, desiring to enter into a world that is completely outside of us. Yet we occupiers by our refusal to see ourselves as non-exceptional, and we cannot comprehend that we have created the very categories of ‘in’ and ‘out.’

Suffering the same displacement from home as the Boov, the American, Canadian, or Australian ‘white,’ just like the modernized European, cannot help but see ourselves somehow ‘inside.’ Civilization, modernity, democracy, capitalism — these are all polite words spoken with our indoor voices, while all the rest of the world stands in the ‘out,’ the primitive, the backward,the fetishized as authentic, and ever so alluring to those of us who want something more than what the markets provide.

Is this not what Western Paganism is thus far, with our foreign gods on occupied, colonized, brutalised land? Our European fantasies of what it means to be native, grand flights of ravens and war hammers, wine and mead poured out upon soil still fed by the blood of the conquered, built upon the bones of slaves—we are still stuck ‘in,’ unable to come into the out.

Why was Rihanna born in Barbados in the first place?

Raven man, Raven gods

I sing Rihanna songs in my head all the time when I think of the man who coaxed me to watch Rihanna-as-Tip. Our first date, he brought me milk. The discount sticker was still on it; half-off, bought with his food stamp card, the only income he had.

“You said you’re always out of milk,” he answered, when I’d asked him why he got it for me.

I didn’t remember saying that. I take milk with my tea, perhaps I’d been out and grumbled how my cereal-eating roommates never bought milk and always depleted the gallon by the time I’d wake. Waking without milk for tea can ruin a day.

Brighid, I thought.

Brighid, I also thought as I watched the search for “home” in Home, the Boov displaced by the decisions of their rulers. They are like all us ‘whites’ in America, displaced from Europe, settled on lands cleared for us by soldiers and slaughter. But, of course, unlike the earthlings in Home the First Nations weren’t given ice cream when pushed onto reservations.

Brighid, I thought, when he first messaged me, a week before we watched that film. “The shelters are full tonight and I’m soaked. Can I crash on your floor?”

He’s Tlingit. Raven moiety. We’d met 16 years before. I’d crushed on him then. I crushed on him still when I saw him again. I’m still crushing on him now.

He’s Tlingit, Raven House. I worship a god named Raven. But I’m a white man on land cleared of natives, a bastard child of a slaughtering empire, housed while a descendant of the survivors slept in shelters and on streets.

Brighid, I thought, and Brân, but also, “what good the gods of whites here on this blood soaked land?”

It is I who want to come into the out. I am Oh, the rogue Boov, eager for the authentic but trapped in the chill of the world that made me.

“Yeah, come over” I’d said. “It’s cold out there. You can share my bed.” And a week later, we fell in love. And during that week, all I listened to was Rihanna.

The Body, The Home

He smashed a “tater tot” into my mouth that day we fell in love. I’d cooked an odd number, I tried to give him the last, he insisted it was for me. “Eat it,” I’d try to say, but there was suddenly shredded potato in my mouth and all over my beard, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the audacity.

It was, admittedly, a little less Rihanna and Drake than I’d been hoping. But utterly Tip and Oh.

Later in the film, Tip calls the Boov a liar. Oh protests, insists he is telling the truth. Tip stands her ground, and he demands to know why she’s certain.

Oh: I never lie!
Tip: Yes, you do! And you know how I know? Because every time you lie, you turn green!

And Oh is shocked, having never noticed such a thing about his people or himself. What caused such an alienation from the body for the Boov is never addressed, but Marxists and most Witches have known for quite some time what caused ours. From Silvia Federici’s Caliban & The Witch:

It was in the attempt to form a new type of individual that the bourgeoisie engaged in that battle against the body that has become its historic mark. According to Max Weber, the reform of the body is at the core of the bourgeois ethic because capitalism makes acquisition “the ultimate purpose of life,” instead of treating it as a means of the satisfaction of our needs; thus, it requires that we forfeit all spontaneous enjoyment of life (Weber 1958: 53). Capitalism also attempts to overcome our “natural state,” by breaking the barriers of our natural state by lengthening the working day beyond the limits set b y the sun, the seasonal cycles, and the body itself. (Federici, p. 135)

This is, of course, the self-same alienation of the modern European subject (Pagan or otherwise) from the knowledge of the body, the ‘out’ for which Oh longs to come into. It’s the tater tot smashed into the mouth; the muscular arms wrestling the body onto the bed to watch a children’s movie. It’s the knowledge lost for which a quart of milk spilled on the floor of a convenience store is the return.

It is also the moment the symbolic stares back from all our talk of gods and ancestry, magic and ritual and leers, lewdly.

What we have now –  our obsession and exploitation of those who are ‘out’ has not changed. Early colonists wrote of the indigenous peoples in the Americas with a mix of fascination and disdain, which is no different from the white world’s love-fear relationship with indigenous culture today. From British explorer and conqueror James Cook:

From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb’d by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not Magnificent Houses, Household-stuff &c., they live in a warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholesome Air…

Of course, such observations never changed colonial policy; if anything, the certainty of conquerors that they fully understand the cultural forms of those they’ve conquered is precisely what enables the continuation of the violence. The colonial mind pieces together the worlds of the others not through the body and its experiences, but through the same analytical and empirical tools which have disenchanted us.

The Boov in Home do this too: human objects we consider deeply important to the functioning of society (like wheels) are deemed useless by the superior intelligence of the conquerors and thus destroyed. Being a children’s movie, we see no mass buffalo slaughters and deforestation. We don’t see the churches built upon sacred lands. We don’t see the mission schools.

Nor do we get a look at what life is quite like for the displaced Earthlings in Australia, only that they are quite compressed together. The internment villages look nothing like the shelters in which my lover slept for months, nor the Indian Community Centers in which he’d wait for hours to get medicine or help looking for housing.

But then again, we adults don’t look at those things, either.

“Love wants to reach out and manhandle us
Break all our teacup talk of God”
–Hafiz

The Boov search for home only because they flee an enemy that they have created. Their leader, possessing all the inherent right-to-rule that every authority claims (and no authority ever has) is heroic; at least until the actual founding horror of their displacement is revealed. They overthrow their ruler, replace him with the enlightened Oh. Presumably, they live happily ever after, co-existing upon Earth without reprisals from the humans who they oppressed. There is no blood in the streets – no Ferguson or Baltimore or Fallujah uprising. One can only hope whites would be so fortunate.

And yet perhaps within this children’s film is revealed precisely the path out of being a settler, addicted to our exceptionalist modernity. At the end, the humans teach the Boov to dance, almost violating their physical autonomy. Their bodies revolt against them, following the thread of wisdom that only the physical can accept. This is, of course, what the post-colonialists have always been on about. Only when we become again bodies can we see the oppressed as something beyond symbols. The homeless Native man, the Black woman singer — they can only be bodies to us when we are bodies to ourselves.

And the only way to do that, of course, is to love.

Is that now why, perhaps, we are so obsessed with pop songs about love? And perhaps also why post-colonialists like Frantz Fanon wrote so much about it. We do not know love, so we must have it sung to us, yet turn around and scorn the bodies which create those songs.

Perhaps to ‘come into the out’ is merely to join the rest of the world, which of course means giving up all the things which keep us in and everything else out.

  *    *    *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

Column: Pantheacon 2016

Heathen Chinese —  February 20, 2016 — 5 Comments

Pantheacon is an annual “conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European and many of diverse beliefs,” which is held on the unceded land of Tamien Ohlone-speaking peoples in the city of San Jose, California. Pantheacon 2016 took place from February 12-15.

CA-map+ohlone-territory

[Courtesy Kanyon Sayers-Roods]

The inherent contradiction of a conference billing itself as being at least partially for “Indigenous Non-European” people while taking place on Indigenous Non-European land was highlighted and addressed by several events scheduled on Sunday February 14.

At 9 a.m., a panel was held on “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community.” The panelists who spoke were Gregg Castro [t’rowt’raahl Salinan/rumsien Ohlone], Jacki Chuculate, Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Hahashkani-Coyote Woman) [Costanoan Ohlone and Chumash], Ryan Ts’ítskw Kozisek [Tlingit and white] and Michaela Spangenburg [multiracial Huron-Wendat].

The 9 a.m. panel was immediately followed by at 11 a.m. by “Native/Pagan Community Dialogue,” at which Ann-Marie Sayers (Mutsun Ohlone), caretaker of Indian Canyon, the only sovereign native lands in central-coastal California, and Director of Costanoan Indian Research, spoke. At 3 p.m., Ann Marie Sayers’s daughter, Kanyon Sayers-Roods, who had already spoken on the 9 a.m. panel, presented on “Finding Balance with Coyote Trickster Medicine.” Kanyon spoke eloquently on being taught the lesson of humility by and through trickster medicine to a packed room, and fielded many questions from the audience.

I have offered space within this column for the speakers from the “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community” panel to write or otherwise publish whatever they wish, if they wish, with no edits or omissions. The time constraint of publishing within a week of Pantheacon has made that difficult, but the offer is continuous and open-ended with regards to future columns.

Kanyon Sayers-Roods recounted her experiences at Pantheacon in a short video which is too large to be uploaded directly, but which can be viewed here.

The questions I had asked, to which she was responding, were as follows:

My main question would be along the lines of: insofar as you feel comfortable sharing, do you feel like the Sunday 9 a.m. panel on “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community” and your Sunday 3 p.m. presentation served your own goals well? How about the other things you attended that day?

To provide some context for the phrasing of this question, I think native-settler conversations (as the Sunday 11 a.m. “Native/Pagan Community Dialogue” was billed, for example) often have an element where settlers are still trying to “take” something from the conversation, even (or perhaps especially) when settlers are trying to be seen as “good allies.” But of course, you (both as individuals and as members of your communities and lineages) have your own reasons for engaging in such conversations, and for sharing your perspectives as you did. I really appreciated the 9 a.m. panel, and I recall that several speakers said that they really didn’t want the visibility of being on it but chose to do so anyway because it aligned with other work they were doing.

Anything that fell short of or exceeded what you were hoping to accomplish? Do you feel you and your ancestors were shown proper respect, or were there moments that you felt tokenized or otherwise disrespected? Any thoughts on how any of your experiences this weekend might influence anything you do in the future? And of course, let’s leave room in this conversation for trickster medicine to have its due, however it may choose to manifest.

Kanyon also offered the following additional thoughts in response:

There are times that I’ve been in the community/public where the sensation and energy is I’ve already conditioned me to feeling like a token Indian, specially around late October and early November. I call those months, “Rent your token NATIVE month” (also with that being said I do enjoy it a lot because that is my most lucrative month, actually being valued for the knowledge I carry and perspective that I share for the work that I thoroughly do everyday of my life ) so because I’ve already been conditioned in that type of environment, I have learned how to shield myself and protect myself so I’m not sure if I can properly assess my feelings if I were to claim I felt tokenized or commodified when it was present at Pantheacon.

I did appreciate those who had the willingness to attempt to voice their perspective with respect and courtesy. One of the things I voiced during one of my panels, was [that] at any given point we are ignorant to any information and what is important is how we walk forward when that new information is brought into our life. Walking with humility, attempting to decolonize our projected actions (less entitlement and privilege and outward energies that lack acknowledgement of how ones actions and words affect those around them–as well as seven generations in the future).

I will say this: I had an amazing time. I enjoyed all of the perspectives and opportunities to share perspective and insight to my life and experiences. Also [to] observe other people in their own native environment (pun intended).

Hospitality: Guests, Hosts, Hosted Guests, Guesting Hosts

A microphone and time were reserved for indigenous attendees to speak at the end of the 9 a.m. panel on “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community,” and several members of the audience did indeed speak movingly and powerfully. As the event description stated, “Indigenous individuals have long been contributors at Pantheacon, and to the community as a whole; yet are often rendered invisible in pagan spaces through pervasive stereotypes, appropriation, and lack of awareness.” The panel provided space for acknowledgement that indigenous people have been present at Pantheacon for many years, but that they just haven’t been seen. Minutes before the room was cleared to make space for the next event, however, the founder and organizer of Pantheacon, Glenn Turner, walked up to the microphone and spoke, despite not identifying as native.

Let’s take a step back here and consider the question of hospitality. In a theological context, Anomalous Thracian writes that “when welcoming gods and spirits into your home and shrines and life, you are welcoming them as sacred guests.” At the same time, however, once the gods are enshrined within a space, you area guest in Their space when you step inside.” In other words, even when “hosting” on one level, one is still a guest on both the smaller level and the larger:

When hosting the gods, it is important to also remember that we are guests in Their dominions, travelers through Their domains of influence, dallying upon the doorsteps of Their infinities. Act accordingly, as guest or host or hosted guest or guesting host. […]

The laws of hospitality are ancient and to a certain extent elastic enough to stretch into different contexts, but always it is about the relationship between being welcome and being welcomed, and in this day, as I sit at a borrowed table, I find that this is as near to the heart of polytheism that I can perceive of in this moment. [Emphasis in original]

By analogy back to the inter-human sphere, one might be the host of a conference, for example, but one is still a guest of the peoples whose land one it is on, and a guest within the spaces provided for those people. A respectful guest would follow the rules delineated within that space. As the Thracian writes, “It isn’t about being a perfect host (there is no such thing, for all guests have different expectations) nor is it about being a perfect guest (there is no such thing, for all hosts have different expectations).” Being aware and respectful of those expectations would be a good first step, however.

[Credit: Klaus D. Peter / Wikimedia]

Matronae Aufaniae Altar [Credit: Klaus D. Peter / Wikimedia]

War: “Allies” and Accomplices

At a 9 p.m. ritual on Sunday evening, the Matronae — “a collective of indigenous Germanic and Celtic goddesses who were worshiped syncretically in the Roman Empire” — spoke through oracular trance possession again, as They had done six months earlier at Many Gods West. They too spoke about the importance of knowing the land upon which one stands: “Some of you know…find this thread and strengthen it.” They spoke of the storm, much prophesied at rituals in the past: “The storm is not coming. It is here.” They spoke of the war in which we cannot fight alone.

This war, then, makes alliances necessary. But the word “ally” itself has been stripped of much of its meaning. The phrase that kept coming to my mind on Monday morning, especially as I reflected upon my own experiences at the Pagans of Color Caucus and at the Pagans of Color Hospitality Suite, was “accomplices not allies.” The author of the article of the same name offers some thoughts on the distinction between the two terms:

In the worst cases, “allies” themselves act paralyzed believing it’s their duty as a “good ally.” There is a difference between acting for others, with others, and for one’s own interests, be explicit. You wouldn’t find an accomplice resigning their agency, or capabilities as an act of “support.” […]

Don’t wait around for anyone to proclaim you to be an accomplice, you certainly cannot proclaim it yourself. You just are or you are not. The lines of oppression are already drawn. Direct action is really the best and may be the only way to learn what it is to be an accomplice. We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence. [Emphasis in original]

“The lines of oppression are already drawn,” and “the storm is not coming, it is here.” For my part, I am looking for people who are already fighting, who remember that they know how to fight, and who exercise that memory. People who are fighting and living with a dignity and ferocity of spirit that can be recognized by any who share it. People whose ancestors are strong, whose ancestors walk close to them, whose ancestors are armed and fighting on their behalf. That’s why I go to events like Pantheacon. That’s why I write.

Dionysus said it this way once: “Under certain circumstances I love what is human”–and with this he alluded to Ariadne who was present–”man is to my mind an agreeable, courageous, inventive animal that has no equal on earth; it finds its way in any labyrinth. I am well disposed towards him: I often reflect how I might yet advance him and make him stronger, more evil, and more profound than he is.”

“Stronger, more evil, and more profound?” I asked startled.

“Yes,” he said once more; “stronger, more evil, and more profound; also more beautiful”–and at that the tempter god smiled with his halcyon smile as though he had just paid an enchanting compliment.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

SOUTH AFRICA — After years of lobbying by Pagan groups in the country, the South African Law Reform Commission has determined that portions of that nation’s Witchcraft Suppression Act are unconstitutional. Witches should be able to identify themselves as such, the commission found, as well as practice divination. However, the proposed replacement law still has its problems, according to members of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, because it singles out “harmful witchcraft practices” for regulation on the basis that they can cause “intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror.” SAPRA members are drafting a response to the bill and hope to see changes in it before it becomes law.sapralogoThe Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 is, like most similar laws in African nations, based on 1735 Witchcraft Act of the United Kingdom, which was itself repealed in 1951. SAPRA requested a review of this law in 2007, an effort which was joined by the South African Pagan Council and the Traditional Healers Association. That slow process has finally resulted in the release of a lengthy issue paper by the SALRC, an independent body created in 1973 to investigate South African laws and make recommendations to the national and provincial governments for reform.

In that issue paper, members of the SALRC agreed that by making it illegal to identify as a Witch, the act violates the right to religious expression guaranteed in the South African constitution. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that there is no definition of Witchcraft in the legislation. In other words, Wiccans and other Pagans fell into the same category as those who are more traditionally considered Witches in sub-Saharan Africa, a place where the word “witch” is often associated with people who use supernatural powers to cause harm.

Where the SALRC paper deviates from the hoped-for outcome is in how it tries to make distinctions between the different uses of the word “witch.” According to Damon Leff, who has been working on this cause for years, “The draft bill is focused on preventing accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts, human mutilations and ritual murder, and what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices.’ ” In Leff’s view, that lumps together actions which should be unacceptable for any person to commit with beliefs that are protected.

We believe that existing laws may be used to deal with human mutilations and ritual murder – we already have a Human Tissues Act which prohibits the harvest and sale of human body parts, and murder is already illegal. We also believe that what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices,’ in the absence of actual demonstrable criminal activity, cannot be proven in any court of law to exist without reference to belief, and since the Bill of Rights protects the right to belief, ‘witchcraft beliefs’ aught to play no role in the determination of actual criminal guilt.

The bill has apparently been structured to address concerns that the widespread belief in malevolent magic makes it possible for one person to cause very real harm to another by convincing them that they intend to cast such a spell. Leff provided a copy of the response that SAPRA is drafting, which lays it out thus:

Whilst certain crimes may indeed be motivated by belief, those crimes identified in the Commission’s definition of alleged ‘harmful witchcraft’ practices, specifically, intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror, may be committed by a member of any (or no) religious faith. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to show that some Christians and Traditional Healers have in the past attempted to justify their criminal acts by appealing to their beliefs as motivation for such acts.

Traditional healers may also underlie muti murders, committed to obtain a specific human body part for the purposes of healing another. Children, the elderly and disabled are most susceptible to these kinds of attacks. The draft response reads:

SAPRA must argue that since the perpetrators of such practices, specifically those who trade in human body parts, do not self-identify as Witches or as practitioners of Witchcraft, but have in the past been identified as traditional healers or as practitioners of traditional African religion (who do not self-identify as Witches), the application of the term ‘witchcraft’ to such practices constitutes an equally inaccurate misnomer. Muthi murders have nothing to do with Witchcraft, because actual Witches are not the perpetrators of such crimes.

Instead, they argue, such crimes should be enforced under the existing Human Tissues Act, which was passed specifically to prevent such crimes.

From the SALRC issue paper, it appears that the Traditional Healers Organization has pushed for a clear definition of Witchcraft in a new law, and regulation of the harmful practices associated with it. Traditional healers, according to Leff, would never identify as “Witches” because of the strong cultural bias against the term, which has only been challenged recently with the spread of Wicca and related religions.

Proudly_Pagan_PFD_KZN_2009

Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Another problem with the replacement bill, insofar as Pagans are concerned, is that while accusations of Witchcraft are banned, it doesn’t go far enough to protect those accused. The existing law has even been flouted by public officials. SAPRA’s draft response asserts, “Such a Bill must however not merely prohibit accusations of Witchcraft and punish those who do make accusations of Witchcraft which lead to harm against the accused, it must also provide the victims of accusation, living refugees of accusation, with access and means to victim support and restorative justice,” Since the lifting of apartheid, restorative justice has become a powerful concept in South Africa.

In short, SAPRA’s position is that laws should be based on verifiable evidence of wrongdoing, and no crime should be associated with a belief system such as Witchcraft, since heinous acts can be committed by anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The comment period on the draft bill and related issue paper ends in April, and it could be another year before it is presented as a white paper, and submitted to parliament for consideration.

“If the SALRC goes ahead with the proposal, the Bill will be sent to Parliament for review before it is published, and only after that, could it become an Act of Parliament,” explained Leff. “We plan to stop that from happening.”

Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee (HHAWK), an organization comprised of First Nation leaders, has put out a call for religious groups and individuals to join them in a Global Ceremony to end massacre. And, Pagans are answering that call. The event is being held on the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29.

Healing Hearts Wounded Knee
Organizers explain that they are using the power of religious ceremony to break the cycle of hatred and conflict, and to heal multi-generational wounds. On their website they write,

Indigenous peoples around the world are bringing back ceremony, bringing back healing practices, bringing back the sacred into our lives. It is with the sacred that we can end massacre. It is with the sacred that we can heal. It is with the sacred that we can make this Great Turning to save our relations with one another, with our sacred planetary home, and with the Divine.

HHAWK is inviting both indigenous and non-indigenous persons to join in from wherever they are located around the globe.

Matt Whealton, a member of the Temple of Ra in San Francisco, was asked to record an Egyptian morning hymn for the the Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee Global Ceremony website. He first heard of the project at the Parliament of World Religions this past October in Salt Lake City. While there he met and had lunch with, Jean Fleury, the Tribal Peace Ambassador of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and also one of the organizers of HHAWK.

Whealton said, “As is often the case at the Parliament, people ask about one’s religious practice, especially if it is out of the mainstream. Over lunch with Jean, I described a bit about Kemetic Reconstruction, and my particular passion of working with the sounds of the ancient language in ritual contexts. I described the Morning Hymn from Egypt, how it might have been sung, etc, and she said ‘Well now, you have to sing it for me’. So I did, and then and there she asked if I could record it for the HHAWK website.”

Whealton said that after he finished singing, Fleury asked him a question that had a profound impact on him. She asked him if he knew that he was singing for the Ancestors out of Egypt. Whealton said, “To me that question meant something powerful. It meant and means that our own rituals and ceremonies as Kemetics, and Reconstructions in general, entail a kind of obligation to the ancient people who can no longer speak directly for themselves or through their own descendants. It meant that I have an obligation to speak justly for those Ancestors, and speak justly for their descendants too, even if they no longer recognize the ancient Gods and Goddesses. It meant that an indigenous person recognizes that song as meaningful in the context of reciprocal relations and obligations of family, land, tradition, and sacredness of Indigenous Culture even though the line of the tradition was broken for 1500 years and even though I was not born to direct descendants of those Ancestors.”

In addition to recording the Egyptian morning hymn, Whealton is hosting a small ritual at his home in San Francisco on Dec 29 to correspond with the Wounded Knee Ceremony. In addition, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of a Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, is organizing a ceremony in Washington State.

From Opening Ceremonies of the Parliament of the World's Religions 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

From Opening Ceremonies of the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Whealton said that he was drawn to participating in the ceremony to help support the, “growing Indigenous movements that use ceremony and education to work towards a healthier environment, equality for minorities, and ending wars and their causes.” He says he spent time during the Parliament of the Worlds Religions at various ceremonies conducted at the Native American Sacred Fire just outside the convention center. This fire was maintained 24 hours a day throughout the conference, with Fire-keepers and ritualists from Ute, Shoshone, Maya, Maori, Mohawk, NaDene, Sioux, Leni Lenape, and Ojibwe tribes.

HHWAK says you don’t need to be part of a group to join in the Global Ceremony. Individuals can spend a time of quiet contemplation at noon on Dec. 29, or they can go to the website, or Facebook group and join in a ceremony at a location near them.