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[Guest journalist Zora Burden returns to her discussion with artist, author and hypnotherapist Iona Miller. In Part One, Burden began her conversation with Miller on the subject of sacred sexuality and the reclaiming of the body and sexual self  – a topic that is rarely addressed publicly within a positive framework. Today, we present part two of that interview.]

Casa della Farnesina, Rome, ca. 19 BC [Public Domain]

Casa della Farnesina, Rome, ca. 19 BC [Public Domain]

ZB: In regards to the practice of sacred sex, what would be the best way for a beginner to approach it?

IM: Approach it with love. The key to love is selflessness, and the fulfillment it brings. The soul’s selflessness is as great as the body’s selfishness. Love is the language of the soul that allows us to unleash its unlimited capacity. It is a poetic and aesthetic act, a celebratory rite, and a marriage of matter and spirit as an experience of wholeness. We don’t need to support that phenomenon with any theory, jargon or interpretation. Sacred sex is an inherently healing practice and attitude that promotes well-being. It’s about rapport, reverie, and rebirth.

When you can fully imagine your lover as God/Goddess, their transcendent embodiment of the essence of male/femaleness, you’re there. “Knowing” in the “biblical” sense is direct, undeniable experience — a gnosis. It is ravishment beyond rapture – complete transport to the sacred world which is beyond time, beyond decay. It conveys a sense of the eternal – the fated. It fascinates us because transformation is our biological imperative.

Ultimately, it’s all about love – in or out of bed. You must approach the world as your lover, with naked awareness. That does not mean to be socially naïve or idealistic, nor to overemphasize the mysteries of semen retention, or ‘vaginal weightlifting,’ for example. Did you feel some cosmic merger, some divine infusion? Transcendence? Most will not go through all the initiations and empowerments, but essentially anyone can enjoy the practice of imagining the indwelling divinity of their sexual partner, in or out of an intimate relationship.

The mind is the primary sex organ. The psychological issues remain the same: projection, sex addiction, folie a deux, co-dependence/interdependence, fantasy, rapport, trust, intimacy, and commitment. All libido is sexual energy to some extent, the natural urges of life at any given moment. It is a self-regulating intentionality that knows where it ought to go for the overall health of the psyche. It is the urge to create, an energy arising from “life” drive — physiological or psychic energy associated with sexual urges.

ZB: Could you describe a typical tantric experience for a person to know what to expect and how it differs from standard sex?

IM: Most ‘sacred sex’ is no more than sex with an added psychic dimension, whether that is individual or shared with the partner. That may include visualizations, imagination, adoration of the archetypal aspects of the partner, and as much or little external ritual as one wants or can produce at the time. It does not have to affect spontaneity.

ZB: What is the best way for one partner to introduce tantra into their relationship? How does a committed partner compare to engaging in tantric practice with a stranger?

IM: If you know the person, you can talk about exploring your spiritual and sexual interaction more deeply. It is much like disclosing an interest in any sexual fantasy, and may be less challenging than some exploratory behavior. You find your way along together, moving in mutually satisfactory directions. I cannot comment to the ‘stranger’ issue, but one should avoid romanticizing a sex and love addiction, where there is compulsion at work. If stranger sex is a default or personal choice, then one can probably figure out how they can work out their sexual and spiritual agenda in that context. It cannot be imposed or judged externally, unless there is toxic behavior or reactions of participants. There can be unforeseen consequences.

Iona Miller photo 1

Iona Miller [Courtesy Photo]

ZB: If a person wishes to find an instructor, how do you advise they find a teacher right for them?

IM: Traditionally, the teacher finds you. One you have a good rapport with is probably better than one you cannot relate to or communicate with effectively, even if they have more knowledge. Pick one that harmonizes with your developmental interests.

ZB: How would one know they are ready to engage in ritual practice as a form of sexual awakening?

IM: There is no harm in trying if it is kept simple. Awakening to deeper levels of sexual experience is open to all who care to do so. It is an experiment you make with yourself. Some people speak of being ‘called’ toward such practice by their unconscious and fantasies.

Libido fuels all appetites. It is a drive, identical with fantasy-images, that motivates us spiritually, intellectually, and creatively. If you think you can have a life-affirming experience in this manner you probably will experiment with it.

ZB: Will you explain how one knows if they’ve activated kundalini and what this means for those who are not familiar?

IM: In some sense any sexual arousal activates kundalini or libido. Senses become more heightened, you may feel heat, vibrations, or pressure, and hear different sounds or pitches. Each chakra has its characteristic effects. The energy flow in the subtle body may range from a trickle to a strong flow. Like sex, it requires surrender. Such broad questions cannot be reduced to quick formulas; each person is different.

ZB: What are the precautions or preparations one should keep in mind for kundalini arousal?

IM: Such precautions for Kundalini yoga and other spiritual practices are covered in Michael Murphy’s book: The Future of the Body.  Gopi Krishna describes Kundalini simply as the normally latent psycho-sexual power that, when awakened ascends through the central channel of the subtle body. The root word “kunda” means a pool or reservoir of energy, likened to a coiled snake, ready to strike at any moment. Correctly directed, it leads to cosmic consciousness and liberation.

ZB: What is the best way to practice tantric sex when so many people are busy with work and the stress of daily life?

IM: Just taking the time to make it special, from relaxing and bathing to a full spa-experience helps prepare both body and mind. But the attitude toward the partner and the sacred dimension remains the main thing, even without any preparation time. Nothing prevents the adoration of the archetype or inner divinity at any given moment. Perhaps it begins with just the interlocking gaze of ‘soft eyes.’

ZB: Do you feel there is any aesthetic that should be included in a ritual of sacred sex?

IM: I don’t think there is ever any rule. Perhaps sometimes you feel very dramatic, other times earthy. It’s nice to have an atmospheric spot, certainly conducive music, and perhaps the right incense for the operation. Aesthetic response is an essential emotional aspect that lends flow and harmony to the process of balance, rhythm and synthesis of immediate perception.

Aesthetics is an artistic philosophy. Imagery evokes a perceptual response — an aesthetic response, a participatory way of knowing, remembering, and reconnecting body with soul and identity. Looks -The nature of beauty is an immediate revelation of things as they are: unity, line, rhythm, tension, elegance. This communion of the soul with the mysteries of inner and outer world is naked awareness of divine self-revelation. The felt-sense of form and beauty is instinctual. There is beauty in the rhythms of nature and our nature. This flow is lyrical, epic and dramatic. Aesthetic signification is one thing, but the deep emotional impact of aesthetic arrest — being suspended for a thrilling radiant moment in the eternal — stops us in our tracks in a moment of realization.

ZB: How can one ideally incorporate working with the gods or goddesses in their sacred sex?

IM: Authenticity – bringing one’s whole self to encounter. If you are sensual, be sensual; whatever your style is, express yourself freely. Let intuition guide you to elicit just what is evocative from the psyche. “She” will let you know, as personal anima and Anima Mundi, soul of the World, the sacred Feminine.

ZB: Regarding those who wish to work with Dakinis, will you give a brief introduction to this practice?

IM: Choosing a Vajrayana dakini, an iconic superhuman form, is a practice path. Traditionally you receive empowerment in order to practice the deity. The practice is always a mix of mantra and visualization based on the principals of the bodhisattva path. Each empowerment is four empowerments, and each dakini practice is mahayoga, based on loving-kindness.

Various blisses may be experienced in the practice. Classical Buddhist practice, in which all the various deity yoga practices are essentially the same. We develop wisdom in solitary practice as emptiness and compassion. Through the years, after various empowerments, one finds practice allegiance to one or two. The only choice involved is to abide in one of the great Vajrayana lineages where such empowerments happen.

ZB: How does one work with the elements during tantric trance states?

IM: The Physical Plane is represented by Earth, and includes the physical trappings, body and instantaneous rapport; the Emotional Plane is Water with its qualities of flow, empathy and inter-being through the subtle body or energy body. The Mental Plane is Airy – conceptual, metaphorical, and mental body; the alchemy of Being. The Spiritual Plane is Fiery, symbolized by co-conscious mindbody melding in Sacred Sex – the essence or Quintessence of Sex Magick.

ZB: What are some aphrodisiacs you recommend? What scents, colors, food, music, environmental factors are important in tantric work or within sacred sexuality?

519ASDEHtUL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_IM: In any mind-expanding experience, set and setting or atmosphere is important, though that will mean vastly different ‘turn ons’ to different people. Personally, I like heavy oriental fragrances, except in summer. Some perfumers compose scents from your chart. My favorite fabric palettes are rich, shimmery jewel tones that really pop. For example, essential oils or flowers with their scents can represent maidenhood or fecundity. But psychologically they represent the flowering of differentiation that gives rise to creativity in inner and outer life. In perfume alchemy, each scent elicits a psycho-sensual response.

How often do we claim to be bewitched or enchanted or under someone’s spell? It all boils down to rapport. I wrote about enhancing sex with trance in Hyp-Know-Sex. Remember the corny line, “you fill up my senses”?  That pretty much says it.  There are 64 tantric arts that play into intensification of the experience, building anticipation. But maybe your lover doesn’t care about the flower arrangement on the buffet or feng shui, or whatever.

[Aleister] Crowley said, “Be strong, then can you bear more joy.”  Love is the best aphrodisiac, of course. The Lover wants to be with The Beloved. The arousal of desire begins in the mind. Incorporating a mythic or spiritual dimension adds depth, even if that nuance is a strictly personal or interior experience. Prescriptions are reliable, but I say use whatever works for you. The mind is the biggest sexual organ. Great sex is like taking psychedelics – it is a psychedelic, releasing DMT, endorphins and oxytocin. The longer you stick with it, the more chemistry you pump out.

ZB: In your book, The Magic and Ritual Use of Perfume, you explain the importance of scent in sacred sex and as a form of alchemical transcendence. Will you talk about this?

IM: It has been said that it is only with scent and silk and artifices that we raise love from an instinct to a passion. Perfume alchemy differs from other magical perfumery in that we rely strictly on the quality of the scent, not any other attributions. The doctrine of signatures attributes botanicals to astrological signs, colors, and a host of other linked symbols, but perfume alchemy is concerned with the scent first and magickal or qabalistic attributions secondly. No matter how much we clean ourselves, we all emit a unique odor that is individual. We all affect one another with chemical codes or pheromones.

We communicate through a silent, invisible, virtually subliminal smell language whether at work, in the dining room, or in the bedroom. This exposed portion of the brain (”nose brain”) samples the external world, and deals with the regulation of motor activities and the primary drives of sex, hunger, and thirst. Olfactory stimulation also shoots electrical signals to the limbic system and amygdale. This emotional part of the brain is concerned with visceral, sensory and behavioral mechanisms. This is why odors produce such strong emotional reactions and bring up memories. From time immemorial perfumes and sweet-smelling herbs have played an important part in both religion and sex magic.

Exotic scents have evoked ardor, charming and luring both men and women. Perfumes are actually love potions. A truly “magical” scent works on the subconscious mind, as well as the conscious, to elicit a specific predetermined response. Scents can also be used to stimulate the sexual centers directly, and to help us “anchor” positive feelings, thoughts, and states. Then by smelling the scent alone, we can re-evoke the gestalt of those peak experiences. To excite is to set in motion. Specific formulae not only to enhance desirability and call forth predictable responses, they can also condition our consciousness through association. They can be stimulating, soothing, activate our psychic qualities, or be healing. They stimulate us at all levels — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Tapping this potential, we can use scents as a language for communicating with and evoking our sub- and super-conscious energies, and creativity.

ZB: Which scents specifically can you recommend for tantric practices or as sexual enhancements?

IM: Keep your partner’s preferences and allergies in mind. Some like florals, or fruity notes, others languid orientals or animal scents. If your practice is qabalistic, keep the scent correspondences in mind, but realize many are not based on scent but on color, visual or medical analogs. It is important to remember in psycho-sexual alchemy the fragrance of the plant and the sensory response the scent elicits are primary. An alchemical essence is formulated for a specific “psycho-sensory, subliminal response”. This sensory response dictates the formulation of an incense or perfume.

The Doctrine of Signatures where herbs, plants, and flowers were assigned either to planetary rulership, or to parts of the human anatomy was based on the color and shape of the plant; so a kidney shaped leaf ‘healed’ kidney ailments and a red flower ‘cured’ blood diseases.  Color associations, linked to astrology, are even more simplistic.  For example, all red flowers belong to Mars; all yellow plants are ruled by the Sun, etc. This system of attributions, however, has no valid application in perfumery since it did not have anything to do with scent. Medicinal attributions are based on the organic principle of the plant and its ingestion as a tonic or tea, but not on the psycho-sensory fragrance.

ZB: How does one practice solitary tantra as compared to with a partner? Is there a difference in the outcome?

IM: Foremost is respect for the forces of creation, sex, and the divine, however you might conceive it. In this case, sex becomes a driver for inducing an altered state of consciousness. Or, such experience may arise in dreams and may or may not include bizarre metaphors.

The essence of tantra is action. Most tantra is not done with a physical partner and is not overtly sexual. The 4 empowerments of traditional Nyingma teachings describe the context. Tantra means: “thread of continuity”, like lineage. Yes, there are “sexual-yoga” practices for practitioner couples but it is called union practice and is essentially a practice to understand the nature of reality. A lama friend called doing union practice alone, “New Age aggressive innocence.” Religious practitioners of Tantra may be intolerant of the self-styled practices of ‘amateurs.’ Their work is a committed lifestyle which involves lifelong discipline.

ZB: How can a person utilize the internet (cyber-sex) as a form of tantra or sexual magick? Can a person experience sacred sex when using such a forum?

IM: Mostly such libido is used as a generator to create a charge around an operation and desired outcome. You can generate it almost any way you like. Soon people will have virtual and ‘designer’ bodies, so it will get very complicated, including the ethics of such encounters, in and out of relationships.

ZB: Can you give advice for women who experience pain or discomfort during long durational sex in practicing tantra?

IM: Any extended or frequent intercourse can cause “honeymoonitis” or urinary tract infection (UTI), which requires medical remedies. Otherwise, choose positions conducive to your fitness level if you plan to sustain activity in one position for a period of time. Pain is not a part of the process, so if it is excessive maybe this isn’t the right path for that person.

During sex, E.coli bacteria which tend to live on the skin around your anus can be transferred to your urethra by fingers or penis. Honeymoon cystitis is more common among young women in their twenties, although single women in their 50s are increasingly reporting that they suffer from the problem. There is more risk if you start having sex again after abstaining for a long period of time. See a Doctor if pain persists.

ZB: In regards to Westerners who’ve been raised with a damaging and shameful view of sexuality and their bodies, how do you see a person overcoming these feelings so they may begin to embrace their sexuality without this shame?

IM: Tantric notions of innate divinity are a good counterpoint to shame-based thinking. The essence of tantra is that the human being is the deity. We have divine qualities within us. Through tantra you can touch and recognize the powerful deity in yourself and partner. Identifying ourselves as victims damages our humanity. Core shame may be a symptom of codependency and is the root of addiction. If a person had severe attachment traumas some basic personality therapy can clear those layers before one takes on the archetypal worlds. Personality work and self-help create a firm foundation for any kind of spirituality. Unless the blocked emotions are released there will still be inhibitions.

Body shaming is a widespread cultural disorder we are left to deal with as individuals. Each person will have a different reaction, so there are also many solutions – many ways through. The therapies include transactional analysis, hypnotherapy, integrative techniques, and gestalt. They deal with the personal unconscious and embedded memories, not the transpersonal dimension of spiritual practice. If feelings, needs and drives are tied to shame, you are shamed to the core. Internalized shame makes us feel inherently flawed, inferior and defective. That pain leads to denial and defense, and sometimes violence, criminality, war and all forms of addiction. We need more self-compassion, not self-loathing. Toxic shame is demonic in its effects.

ZB: How does our orgasm and instant gratification obsessed society begin to understand the importance of abstaining from climax to find the pleasures of the sexual union itself without the goal of ‘completion’?  How can one learn to retrain their bodies to experience sexuality through tantra?

IM: Sex with totally awakened consciousness of the “now” can be enjoyed as an end in itself. Semen retention technique can be used to prolong sex before orgasm. Since the partner who is first to reach orgasm provides the other with an abundance of life force, sex may be seen as a mock battle in which the “opponents” compete to see who can induce the other to climax. Rather than approaching this as a matter of survival, we could view it as refreshing recreational sex play. Even though it is an arbitrary attitude, in the West orgasm is considered the supreme goal and reward of sex. Aside from certain magical practices, failure to experience sexual release is considered harmful and neurotic. But this attitude contains a cultural bias.

We have become obsessed with “achieving” orgasms, the more the better. We may have lost something by paying little attention to the quality of the experience. An evening of “Taoist lovemaking” might restore some specialness to your relationship. It incorporates some subtle nuances by maximizing body contact with your partner while minimizing leaking of vital fluids. If the partners attempt to complement and harmonize with one another, both will be nourished. When the desire for orgasm is so strong it cannot be resisted, we may submit, and then revive ourselves by sipping some ginseng tea!

ZB: What is the practice of hyp-know-sex that you have written extensively about? How does this create healthy sexuality?

IM: Hypnosis, used consciously or unconsciously is always a process of induction, deepening, and emerging. Eye fixation is one of the simplest mutual inductions for lovers. Deepening enhances relaxation, absorption, and visualization, while amplifying the focus of attention and experience. The key is being hypnotic, rather than doing hypnosis. Suggestions create atmosphere and enhance the pleasure of sexual experience and spirituality. Natural trance can be used to facilitate transcendence.

The consciousness altering heightened excitement, herbal refreshments, luxurious baths, oils, sensuous massage, sparkling drinks, flickering candle-light, incense and languid atmosphere of the boudoir setting are all conducive to self-suggestion for greater relaxation, sensual enjoyment, and fantasy experience. By changing your imagery, you can even evoke a more spiritual atmosphere viewing the act as a sexual sacrament. Mutual hypnosis for use with yourself and your lover is easily learned. The deliberate and charismatic use of hypnotic charms in sex has a long history, and created hysterias in past centuries. It is possible to use self-hypnosis or mutual induction to enhance desire, sex and performance. Self-hypnosis is a natural process.

Most of us spend our lives in automatically programmed trance states, such as driving on auto-pilot, anger trances, love trances, fear trances, trances induced by memories of places, phobia trances, archetypal trances, subpersonality trances, social roles, etc.  Reactions are spontaneous trance states when they happen to us. Consciously using hypnosis for changing old programming and for self-enhancement can open new realms of experience and psychic depth. Self-hypnosis, even outside the bedroom, helps us become more aware of the body, more tuned in to it and our feelings, sensual and otherwise. Self-hypnosis and hypnosis among lovers is a permissive process, rather than authoritarian like the old model of the controlling hypnotist. You simply give yourself and your partner “permission” to enjoy altered states of consciousness, other ways of being.

You can change your body image for the positive, and change any outworn attitudes about sex. Problems created by the mind can be solved by the mind, leaving you freer and more passionate about love and life, in general. Self-imposed limitations and constricting boundaries can be dissolved, even eradicated from your belief system. Sexual trance-formation can be applied to awakening or re-awakening the sensual self, overcoming dysfunctions, fears and anxieties, increasing desire and relaxation, building rapport with your partner.

ZB: What are some of the best books on sacred sexuality and tantric work?

IM: My personal favorite is Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger (1999). Montauk Chia is very nuanced in his tantric teachings. Anodea Judith has written extensively on chakras.

ZB: Will you give an example of what we can learn from studying the origins of mythology regarding sexuality and erotica and how this will help us understand it better?

IM: In the myth, Psyche is originally bound to Eros in a paradise of uroboric unconsciousness, and when she sees Eros in the light, this original unconscious tie is dissolved. This change represents a shift from the principle of fascinating attraction and the fertility of the species to a genuine love principle of personal development and encounter. Love as encounter is one of the central psychological insights of the myth. Kama, Eros, Cupid, Adonis are all active and aimed male principles. But Eros transcends erotic passion with ‘divine fire,’ necessary to the Great Work of self-discovery. Such love is fated, an inescapable destiny in which we lose ourselves in a kind of death that transcends our ego’s interests.

*    *    *

[Guest journalist Zora Burden is a regular guest writer at The Wild Hunt, sharing her extensive interviews with interesting occult and Pagan personalities. Burden is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. She also has five books of poetry on the themes of esoterica and surrealism available exclusively at City Lights Bookstore. In all her work, Burden focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]

This year’s Heartland Pagan Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend in McClouth, Kansas, faced severe weather, including extensive thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Although there were some difficulties, including damage to Gaea Retreat‘s roads, a sudden squall that threatened to damage the festival’s PA speakers and audio equipment, and the inability of several speakers to attend due to travel hazards, the incredible efforts of the festival staff allowed Heartland to continue successfully.

The altar beside Forn Halr at Gaea Retreat. Photo by Eric Scott.

The altar beside Forn Halr at Gaea Retreat. [Photo Credit: Eric Scott]

1.

At the far end of First Field, all that is is mud. Every footfall sinks an inch or two into the muck. We vary the paths we take across the grass, as though we hope to find a secret trail from our tents across the field to the gravel road that links the field with the rest of Gaea, but no such route exists. Where human feet tread, sodden footprints follow; there is no escape from the mud.

It is Thursday afternoon, just before the Heartland Pagan Festival is set to officially begin. My wife and I have been at Gaea for a day already. We had arrived early with the intent of helping the festival get set up, but the rain has never abated for more than an hour since we set up our tent. We laid inside until late in the morning, listening to the rain, running our worried hands through the ever-deepening water trapped on the floor. By the time the rain let up enough for us to make an assessment, the only dry thing left was my wooden chest of ritual tools, a showing perhaps too obvious to be taken for providence.

Now we are sitting in our camp’s kitchen area under a shadefly; the ground beneath our chairs appears to be the place where all mud must someday return. My wife and I munch on trail mix and watch the endless rain. Mark is rummaging through his tent across the way. His girlfriend, my old friend Sarah, is on the far side of the campground, cutting tullies (we call them cattails where I come from) for use in the sweat lodge later in the weekend, meaning that she is standing waist-deep in a lake during a thunderstorm. Peals of thunder rip through the air, some close enough to set off car alarms.

A tornado siren goes off. Neither Mark nor I knew tornado sirens could be heard from Gaea, despite both of us having visited the place regularly for decades.

Should we go down to the main hall? I ask. It’s a long walk from the back of First Field, and I’m not eager to make it in bog-ridden shoes if I don’t have to.

Supposed to, says Mark.

I think about it for a minute. If our friends go down there and we don’t, they’ll be worried that we got hurt or trapped.

The sirens stop, so we decide to stay put. But then a few minutes later they start again, and all three of us decide that means it’s time to go. We trek down to the main hall. None of our friends are there; I worry that they got hurt or trapped.

We find them, eventually. Sarah tells us she didn’t see any point in rushing across the dam to the main hall, even with the tornado sirens. She ran to her brother’s truck and hunkered down there with him. If I’m going to die, she said, I might as well die here.

2.

We sleep, or don’t sleep, in the car that night. I wake up in time to help with the Sunrise Ritual, though not entirely on purpose, but nobody else shows up besides Lorelei, the priestess; I suspect the rest of camp is also trying to recover from the long night.

I wander down to main gate and find that Gaea’s gravel road has been replaced by a whitewater rapid. The lake has spilled over the dam, and the water now rushes over the road in a torrent before falling into a ravine on the other side. I hopscotch across the bare chunks of foundation to the other side, where my friend Bill is trying to put a fuse back into his car without setting off the car alarm. (Unfortunately for all the sleepy Pagans, he does not immediately succeed.)

A long line of cars sits in the grass outside the gates; they had to pull off the road to let an ambulance in the night before, as a person had fallen and injured her knee. Nobody can bring their cars in; the road is closed by virtue of there being no road to speak of. Everyone has to drag their gear -– their tents and clothes and pans and food and bright blue plastic water jugs –- up to the campsites by way of a steep hill. None of us want to do it, but we know we have to. We procrastinate by talking about the rain.

See, the water’s already gone down a lot while we’ve been standing here, we say, pointing to water streaming over the dam. It’s true. In the past twenty minutes, it has degraded from a small river to merely a large creek. It’ll be clear in an hour or two.

And then what? The road is gone.

I guess we’ll have to get some gravel out here.

When is it supposed to rain again?

Afternoon. So if we’re lucky, they can lay down the gravel and get these cars up the hill before the rain washes the road away again.

We fall silent and watch the water recede for a little while longer, then look up again to the steel wool sky.

3.

I steal a few minutes for myself later that morning while it’s still clear and after we have dragged our camp to higher ground. I come to Heartland as much to visit Gaea’s hidden corners as anything else, and in the past few years, I have found myself drawn more and more to one particular spot, an oak tree a local Heathen group has given the name Forn Halr, that is, “Old Man.” Forn Halr grows out of the edge of a cliff, a huge old oak whose roots appear anchored in pure stone. The Heathens draped a hammer around his trunk with a necklace made of chain-links, and erected a stone altar before him. The dirt path leading up to Forn Halr is as soaked in mud as anywhere else at Gaea this weekend, but the ground around the tree itself is remarkably dry.

I always come to Forn Halr with a slight sense of unease. I know, of course, that Gaea’s innumerable ritual grounds were all thought of and built by other people for their own purposes. But Forn Halr feels like it belongs specifically to the people who named it in a way the others don’t. I feel as though I am trespassing, that I have entered the one part of Gaea that does not belong to me. But Forn Halr is also the most beautiful spot on the land, and the tree himself the most majestic denizen of these woods. And the magick I work here quickens like it does nowhere else on earth. I don’t belong here, and yet I wholly belong here. It is someone else’s, and it is entirely mine. And in this, I have much the same relationship to this grove as I do to all things named Heathen.

I pour a bottle of apple cider into a horn and share the drink with the Old Man’s roots, and then I lift my hammer from the rock altar and make a circle around the clearing. I whisper a prayer to Thor. We’re tired and wet, I say. Let us have a rest.

Sun dapples in through the canopy and plays upon the altar. It doesn’t rain for the rest of Heartland.

CLEAR LAKE, Wis. — Judy Olson-Linde and Nels Linde are longtime members of the Pagan community in the Midwest U.S., and one of the things this married couple is known for are large community rituals, which they often organize at festivals such as Pagan Spirit Gathering and Sacred Harvest Festival. After 20 years of facilitating large public rituals, the couple has written a book, Taking Sacred Back, so that others may benefit from their practical experience in this area and run rituals of their own.

Taking Sacred BackWe caught up with Nels Linde as they were packing for Wic-Can Fest, where they will be putting their skills to use. Perhaps the most important takeaway from that conversation was that any ritual organizer needs to know the audience.

“Judy and I have worked doing community ritual, mainly at festivals and in public, for 20 years,” Linde explained. “The book is based on our experience, and documents what worked, and what didn’t work. Anyone who has been to a public or open ritual has experienced something powerfully transformative, but also has had that moment of feeling, ‘I want that hour back.’ We’re trying to provide a resource to avoid attempts that fall flat.”

One of the points that they learned the hard way, Linde said, is that rituals need a clearly defined end point. “We designed one ritual that was very powerful,” he recalled. “Everything flowed smoothly, everyone was energized, but no one knew it had ended and no one wanted to leave. It’s a good problem to have,” he said, at least in the grand scheme of things, but after watching some 200 people milling about they retooled that particular ritual. When they held it again at PSG in 2012, the roughly 800 participants didn’t have any trouble understanding when it was done.

Taking Sacred Back turns that experience of trial and error into a manual of best practices. The book breaks ritual down into its component parts and provides both examples and exercises to give the reader the opportunity to understand the principles and practice the skills. That includes discussions on the importance of rehearsing ahead of time, which for complex rituals should include some model participants so the organizers will find out if they’re going to act as predicted. Rehearsals also allow for blocking, which is the arrangement of where participants will stand and move during the ritual just as it’s done in theatrical productions.

[Courtesy Nels Linde]

[Courtesy Nels Linde]

Creativity can be spurred by the restrictions imposed by the space, the purpose, or the expectations of the participants, according to Linde. “One large ritual we’ve done at our home for Samhain involves burning a large effigy,” he said by way of example. “Each year we’ve worked on that same theme, but did it differently.” The limits created by a specific tradition, the physical ability of the participants, or even the time allotted are challenges that actually drive creativity, he said.

Scaling a ritual up and down for different numbers of participants is another area of focus. “Certain activities and processes only work well with small groups of people,” Linde said, or must be adapted for larger numbers. He gave the example of pathworking, which in a small group may be done individually, but at a bigger scale might only be practical if several people undergo it simultaneously. That’s closely related to another principle they espouse, which is to eliminate idle time during ritual. “No one wants to wait around,” he said. “Always have something happening the keeps people engaged.”

These are interrelated issues in the ritual structure. An activity that’s not adapted to the scale can easily lead to the entire experience dragging, and lots of bored people waiting around for their turn. Rehearsals can expose such problems before they happen on the big night.

While the included rituals come from the couple’s own experience, Linde said that they strove to avoid shackling the book to any particular tradition, because they want it to be accessible to Pagans and polytheists of all stripes. Regardless of the gods (or lack thereof) and practices involved, the mechanics of moving people through space and time while engaging their attention are relatively stable. Linde and Olson-Linde describe themselves as eclectic Wiccans and recognize the challenge of trying to write something that would be helpful to anyone under the Pagan umbrella, or simply in its shadow.

“Even references to directions, genders, and deities can be offensive to some,” Linde said. Just as with designing a ritual, they had to keep the scope of their book’s audience in mind throughout. Due to the many rituals in which they’ve participated during their years on the Pagan festival circuit, they were able make this point clear.

How-to illustration [Mickie Mueller]

How-to illustration [Courtesy Mickie Mueller]

Linde said that he and his wife have backgrounds and skills that are complementary for ritual creation. “Judy is more the inspiration and the words, and I’m the organization and prop person.”

Props — how to use them, and how to make them without breaking the bank — are important enough a subject that an entire chapter is devoted to them. Having a team makes it possible to draw on diverse skills and perspectives, shoring up one another and strengthening the final product. Not everyone needs to be a chant writer, a carpenter, or a choreographer. “We’ve been lucky to have each other as a team,” he said.

This particular team tries to be accessible online, as well. In addition to posting book tour dates on their own web site, they maintain a Facebook group called “Ritualista Roundtable.

Taking Sacred Back was published by Llewellyn in April, and received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. According to senior acquisitions editor Elysia Gallo, that’s a big deal.

[I]t’s always been hard to get our witchcraft or Pagan books reviewed in the first place, as the religion category includes books on all types of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and of course general spirituality, New Age spirituality, Eastern religions, and much more. Recently reviewed book topics range from spiritual decluttering to healing shame, from queerness to the Charleston church shooting; it’s a broad category. I think there is a tendency by the mainstream press to view Wicca and Paganism as secondary in status.

Gallo went on to say, “I’m always really excited to get any review in PW, but to get a starred review is outstanding for us.” While there’s no easy way to search for that particular distinction, Gallo is only aware of two other metaphysical books which made the same cut, Wicca for Beginners, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces, and Doreen Valiente, Witch.

What captured the reviewer’s imagination is impossible to say, but it begins by referencing an evocative quote from the introduction, one which Linde provided in full.

After you have been naked in front of 150 people you no longer worry about making mistakes. Besides cementing our relationship as a ritual team, it verified an oft spoken piece of Pagan folk wisdom about ritual. If you want a powerful ritual either include a nude person or burn something. Do both and you are guaranteed success. In this one we did both.

The truth that is espoused in Taking Sacred Back is that, while that axiom may have some validity, it’s still all about the audience.

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

va-largeseal RICHMOND, Va. — In an update to a previous story, Virginia resident Robert C. Doyle was sentenced to 17.5 years for “for robbery, conspiracy, and possessing firearms as a felon.” Doyle was originally charged in November 2015 along with Ronald Beasley Chaney and Charles Halderman, both of whom will be sentenced this month.

During the investigation and initial hearings, the FBI reported that the three men were involved with a white supremacist organization and also practicing Ásatrú. At that time, local and national Heathens immediately responded to those media reports in order to combat negative publicity.

According to the more recent news, the FBI actually used this particular case detail to help the investigation. As was reported, “[Doyle] was contacted in October by a member of the Ásatrú religion who said he was coming to the Richmond area for a job and needed a place to stay. Doyle helped him out, not knowing he was an informant.” Those conversations were recorded and helped lead to the arrest.

USA

  • Need a reading? There’s an app for that. In an article titled “Covens versus Coders” Broadly discusses the frustrations that some modern Witches have with the new generation of digital fortune tellers. Journalist Kari Paul writes, “With thousands of reviews on some of the top occult apps, it’s clear many of these programs have amassed a large user base. However, some seasoned witches are skeptical that their spiritual traditions can be successfully converted into code.”
  • The Satanic Temple Los Angeles is planning to  “announce its presence in the city of Lancaster California with an introductory Satanic Ritual” on 6-6-16. The organization goes on to explain that they will be using GPS to place a pentagram around the entire city of Lancaster for both its protection and as a “solemn promise” that the temple stands with the city.
  • According to the Abilene-Reporter News, local Brainbridge Island craftswoman Sally Noedel has become overwhelmed with orders for Trump “VooDoo” dolls. Noedel has been making a variety of political figures but, in recent months, the orders for Trump dolls have become so high that she had to stop all other crafts work and has contracted with a screen printing company. The “Trumpy” dolls are packaged with book of “VooDoo” spells. In the article, she talks about the unexpected sales growth and added “They don’t have to stick it with pins. They could just cuddle it. Maybe cast happy spells on it.” Noedel predicts that the high sales will continue well into the fall.

International

  • In the BBC Travel edition, writer Inka Piegsa-Quischotte shared her trip to a small “cursed village” in Spain. In the article, Piegsa-Quischotte details her experience in Trasmoz, a city with a long Witchcraft history. To share that history as well as the modern manifestations of magic in Trasmoz, Piegsa-Quischotte spoke with a local modern Witch, Lola Ruiz Diaz, who said, “To be a Witch today is a badge of honour.”
  • Early this year at Ankara University in Turkey, a group of women formed a group known as “The Campus Witches.” They are reportedly “a network of female university students who urge women to stand up against male violence and sexual harassment.” As shown in a YouTube video, the women often “take matters into their own hands” and confront accused attackers. According to the news report, the group’s slogan is “Never rely on a prince! When you need a miracle, pin your hopes on a Witch.” Like many other women before them, the Campus Witches are using the icon of the witch to empower their progressive movement.
  • The Huffington Post shared an article about Haitian Vodou Priestess Manbo Katy, who is the subject of recent documentary by Broadly. Katy works locally as a respected healer, both for spiritual and physical ailments. She says, “I’m always there for everyone. Even when their problems seem overwhelming, I always let them know that one day things will change.”

  • Are the Estonians a nation of Neo-Pagans? Writer Anna-Maria Zarembok describes how the pre-Christian traditions and beliefs have survived in the country through the coming of Christian influence, war and Soviet occupation. She writes, “Estonians maintained a traditional culture of neo-Paganism that has continued to affect Estonian culture, beliefs and traditions to this day.”
  • Traditional and folk healers are now being asked to join Christian pastors and the medical community to help heal or assist those with mental illness in rural parts of Kenya. Many of these illnesses have long been attributed to the practice of Witchcraft, curses or demons. As a result, the afflicted are ignored and do not get assistance of any kind. The program is brand new and sponsored by the Africa Mental Health Foundation, a Nairobi-based nongovernmental organization, the Makueni County government, U.S.-based Columbia University, and a grant from the Canadian government.

Art, Music, Culture

  • In April, The New York Times reported on a European Music Archaeology Project that is recreating ancient instruments. Among those instruments are the Scandinavian war horn, the carnyx, vulture bone flutes, ancient bag pipes, and replica of a instrument found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. “If you reconstruct a sword, no one apart from a homicidal maniac could use it for the purposes intended. But reconstruct an instrument, and anyone can experience it,” said trombonist John Kenny.
  • Ghanaian Artist Azizaa is using her talent and creativity to challenge the religious status quo in her country.  Ghana is considered one of the most religious nations in the world. Back in September, she was interviewed by Fader journalist Benjamin Lebrave about her work and her mission. She said, “How can anyone of African descent be worshiping the same tool used to uselessly murder their ancestors?”  The article shares her video “Black Magic Woman,” which directly addresses this topic.
  • As reported by a number of news sources, The Wheel of Time is finally going to make it to television. A pilot aired with little fanfare in 2015, after which a legal battle began over the television rights. In April, Robert Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal announced that these legal issues are now resolved and the project is back on.
  • Lastly, for your enjoyment, we share the following video starring violinist Lindsey Stirling, who surprised a crowd of people on the street with a dazzling performance.

Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions in Australia are no less subject to the times as they are anywhere else in the world. While we draw vast inspiration from the past of Europe, Christian and pre-Christian, we are subject to the influences of contemporary pop-culture, public discourse, prevailing political paradigms and social trends as they are manifest in post-colonial Australia. This influence can go one of two ways in terms of our practices. First, as a minority spiritual school(s) of thought, as a sub-culture, or indeed, a counter-culture, standing outside the square and looking in on society writ large, modern Pagans and contemporary Witches can be deeply progressive, revolutionary, subversive and flat out contrarian. Or, our practices change according to the influences of the over-culture.

Candles_at_a_graveyeard_on_a_Christmas_Eve

[Photo Credit: Pöllö / Wikimedia Commons]


Our collective strength is in our ability to inhabit the Janus Head and look both ways, drawing inspiration from that past and being completely free to adapt it according to our present needs and into the future. We are not beholden to a dogma, our focus in on praxis, on the demonstrable, the experience of the individual such that the modern Pagan, or Witch, is free to completely re-examine our relationships with spirit, and indeed, notions of belief entirely. A literal reading of our collective myths is not required as it is in Christianity, nowhere is it written that we must subjugate our Will.

This is particularly true of Witchcraft. Here, the key lessons pertain to power; who has it, what doesn’t, how the web of Wyrd subtlety connects us all and moves us, how to see what has power over us, and how to diminish that influence, and exert our own, according to our Will. This key ability or fundamental lesson is not boxed in and cut off from any sphere of human activity or thought, we can, and do apply it broadly and examine power structures and influences in the broader culture as well.

It is precisely these freedoms and considerations that mean, in Australia, most Pagans and Witches celebrate Samhain at the end of April. Anyone with eyes can see that Samhain is linked to a particular power structure in Nature – a particular shift that allows a moment we often describe as the thinning veil between the Worlds. And anyone with eyes in Oz knows that shift in power doesn’t happen at the end of November, it happens on or around April 30.

That is a kind of power that one does not need to be a Witch to see. Everyone in the Southern Hemisphere is well acquainted with it, as is everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Australia and New Zealand though, something else happens in late April: ANZAC Day. Increasingly, it pops up in reference to Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve. And in terms of mainstream Australian culture and dominant political paradigms, it has become extremely powerful and, at the same time, increasingly contentious. The question I find myself asking is simply this: How well have Australian Pagans and Witches considered the influence and power of ANZAC Day to either the growth or detriment of the aims of our ancestral based practices at Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve?

Online advertisement for ANZAC Day 2016 including specials for restaurant Bivianos in Dural in regional NSW.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day falls on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing in 1915. Historically, it marks the operation of the Allied Forces in WWI designed to capture the Gallipoli Penisula and open the Black Sea to the Allied navies. In terms of engagement, ANZAC Day completely overshadows November’s Remembrance Day, which is the day to commemorate the end of the First World War as well as a day to honor all who have died in war.

In terms of the place, one might be forgiven for thinking Australians had a hand at winning the battle fought on the Gallipoli beaches. But, we didn’t. We lost; the Allies never took the Cove and Çanakkale Savaşı (The Battle of Çanakkale) remains one of the most celebrated WWI victories for the Ottoman Empire.

Since 1990, the annual pilgrimage to the Turkish shore has only increased, and the land suffers yearly from Australians’ collective rubbish, which is particularly lovely given the area is a National Park. The bones of the fallen are exposed due to foot traffic, and various efforts have been made to develop and redevelop the area to accommodate the yearly tourist visits. This big business is threatening smaller local enterprise.

At home, it has become acceptable to crack a tinny (open a can of beer) directly after an ANZAC Dawn Service, which is early even for most Australians. This has somehow become a patriotic duty according to both beer companies and former military leaders who advertise the very tinny that one should patriotically crack. And while Australia’s alcohol problem is conveniently forgotten for ANZAC Day, we also blatantly change the rules regarding gambling, so we can all partake of the (illegal every other day)  “Australian Diggers’ Game” of Two-up. While my tone may suggest that we have a serious gambling problem as a culture, fear not. In 2004, during a debate regarding the legalisation of Two-up, the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, told the House:

One of the charities most involved in problem gambling, the Wesley Community Legal Service, a body dealing with problem gamblers, has confirmed it has never encountered a problem gambler addicted to two-up. That is an interesting bit of trivia for everyone to take home with them. If anything, a slight extension of two-up to other days of significance would fit in with the Australian commemorative tradition when we remember our war dead not with strident nationalism but with a beer, a laugh and a few of these harmless games.

Perhaps that is the story of how Australia came to be known as “the lucky country.”

To many an Aussie, my complaints may just be examples of a lack of honour, duty, and the increasingly sacred tenet of Australian society; mateship. This is symptomatic of the fact I’m not a “digger,” not a patriot, and most definitely un-Australian. Peter Cochrane gathered a litany of such criticisms in his article for The Conversation’s article ‘The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac.‘ Included in this piece is a quote from The Australian, originally published April 26, 2013. It reads:

The best advice we can offer is that they ignore the tortured arguments of the intellectuals and listen to the people, the true custodians of this occasion. They must recognise that the current intellectual zeitgeist is at odds with the spirit of Anzac. It recognises neither the significance of a war that had to be fought nor the importance of patriotism. Honour, duty and mateship are foreign to their thinking. They may be experts on many things, but on the subject of Anzac, they have little useful to say.

Arguably, ANZAC Day has become a leviathan of government and privately funded advertising, and the furtherance of an erroneous myth of Australianness that supports and underlies an increased sense of Australia as a military nation. It expresses a nationalism that feeds troubling social trends and promotes Anglo-centric white Australian patriotism.

ANZAC Day is supposed to be a remembrance, not just of the Gallipoli Campaign, but of all wars in which the Australian military have engaged, from the Boer War to Afghanistan. But we must not be confused, ANZAC Day is not for everyone.

The above video shows Murrawarri man Fred Hooper – a man who usually marches in official parades with his non-Indigenous Navy colleagues. Hooper’s grandfather served in WWI, and his great uncle was Harold West, who inspired ‘The Coloured Digger,’ a famous poem by WWII soldier Bert Beros. The poem was written while Beros and West were still on active duty, and it tells of the bravery of Private West, who attacked a Japanese machine-gun pit “single handed.” The final two stanzas read:

He’d heard us talk Democracy –
They preach it to his face –
Yet knows that in our Federal House
There’s no one of his race.
He feels we push his kinsmen out,
Where cities do not reach,
And Parliament has yet to hear
The abo’s maiden speech.

One day he’ll leave the Army,
Then join the League he shall,
And he hopes we’ll give a better deal
To the aboriginal

In 2015, Hooper decided to make the trip to Canberra to lead the ‘undeclared Frontier Wars’ march. As the Australian Federal Police Officer pointed out, “this day is not for you“, Mr Hooper.

In case you thought the AFP officer was just being nasty, or worse racist, he wasn’t really. They are, after all, the undeclared Frontier Wars. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous of us as a nation to recognise an Aboriginal military force as being raised and active at a time when we didn’t actually consider them a people; during a time when we didn’t consider them civilised enough to have so complex an institution as a military or even a guerilla force? Such things would fly in the face of terra nullius.

As Alan Stephens wrote for ABC s ‘The Drum’ in 2014:

According to the Australian War Memorial Act (1980), the AWM’s purpose is to recognise “active service in war or warlike operations by members of the Defence Force”. The act then defines “Defence Force” as “any naval or military force raised in Australia before the establishment of the Commonwealth”.

That definition allows the AWM to commemorate the wars of choice fought by white “Australians” in the Sudan, South Africa, and China before Federation, but excludes the war of necessity fought by Indigenous “Australians” for Australia itself between 1788 and the 1920s.

In other words, pre-Federation white volunteers who chose to fight overseas for the British crown and its commercial and colonial interests have been legally defined as “Australians”, while pre-Federation Indigenous warriors who fought invaders for their homeland, their families, and their way of life, have been officially defined out of our war commemoration history.

Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve have always been a way through which the neo-Pagan and Witch engages directly with the Ancestors. We actively feed them, their memory and propagate their wisdom, keeping that which enriches our lives. Not the positive and the happy memories alone, but also the negative, the difficult things as well. We recognise within these lessons and wisdom, which, by keeping, we strive against repeating mistakes of the past, in order to live more whole, healthier, and happier lives.

As ANZAC Day exerts its not so subtle influence on our lives and increasingly becomes associated with our Sabbat, what powers and structures are we feeding alongside our Beloved Dead? Are we so certain that “lest we forget” as a catch-phrase represents a concept wholly aligned with our goals at All Hallow’s? Here are some quotes:

Calypso Apothecary writes, “Today is Anzac Day. Gathering at dawn, today is a day to show respect and honour the men and women that served and died at war, fighting for our freedom. For me, this day also marks the beginning of Samhain. The decent into the dark part of the year and with the whole of Australia honoring those that have died, today they begin to walk among us.”

Coralturner writes, “In Australia Samhain occurs around the same time as Anzac Day. I find this significant as Anzac Day is the time of year that those from Australia and New Zealand remember those who died prematurely in war. Anzac Day is Ritualized across the country with services, parades, people getting together for meals to remember their deceased friends and relatives. Anzac biscuits are eaten and the game of Two-ups is played.”

Frances Billinghurst‘s, author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, wrote,On the eve of 30 April those of us south of the equator pause in silent contemplation and remembrance of our ancestors. Following on the heels of Anzac Day (the day when those fallen in combat from Australia and New Zealand are remembered as well as the increasing number of victims of war), the timing for the Southern Samhain could not really be any better.”

The following was published on Spheres of Light: “It is a time to honour those who have gone before us and it is a poignant co-incidence that Australia and New Zealand’s day of Remembrance for their fallen in war, ANZAC Day on April 25, should be so close to the southern Samhain.”

Venerating the war dead is not new or unusual. Indeed, there are many military uniforms present on my own shrine to my Beloved Dead, and each serves to remind me to be thankful that for two generations, and counting, my family has not known war.  It is never a bad activity to remember the one thing that all wars have in common is a body count. The fact that, as a nation, Australia has troops currently deployed in conflict zones should be more readily discussed. History is written by the victors and we should examine how that fact has resulted in the otherwise contradictory nature of, on one hand, unabashed celebration of a mammoth defeat in a battle in a war we ultimately won, while on the other, denying completely the existence of a war fought on our own soil.

Another quote comes to us from writer Lee Pike, who lives in Perth. Ruminating on Samhain and ANZAC Day together, Pike writes:

I have been thinking a lot, too, about the role that my ancestors have on how I have been shaped and who I am today. How much are we products of our blood or of our soil? Do the dead remain on this plane or another? What can ancestor work offer a magical path? What would the Anzacs truly think about these ‘festivities’? I am sure the answers would be as diverse as they were. War is complex and so is the notion of sacrifice. When remembering the dead, the last thing we should do is boil it down to simple, digestible, and marketable slogans… and brands.

Lest we forget.

HIGHLAND MILLS, N.Y. –Throngs of people smiling under sunny skies after days of chilling rain, a festive maypole, live music, rows upon rows of vendors hawking their wares.  This was the scene that welcomed Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar to the ninth annual Beltane Spring Festival put on by the owners of Brid’s Closet in the gently rolling landscape of Palaia Winery. The pair were actually on hand for several days, offering workshops, running rituals, presiding over a wedding beneath the ribbons that hung from the maypole and hummed like a flock of the eponymous birds, and talking about their new book, Lifting the Veil. The only potential cloud that might have been cast upon the events was the fact that copies of their book had not yet arrived. Signings were taken off the schedule. If Mercury going retrograde two days earlier had any bearing, no one mentioned it.

[From Farrar and Bone's website www.callaighe.com]

[From Farrar and Bone’s website www.callaighe.com]

A conversation with these two authors, each of whom has had a high profile in Pagan spheres for decades, can wander like an expedition through a hedge maze, with surprises and delights. That includes personal recollections of other well-known Pagans. Raymond Buckland, Gerald Gardner, and Ronald Hutton were all mentioned. It also includes observations about the way the Paganism itself has been divided and transformed, and has multiplied. A fair amount of time was also devoted to talking about Lifting the Veil.

Farrar described Lifting the Veil as a labor of love over many years; indeed, she promised a long wait for this book when the pair was interviewed for The Wild Hunt in 2008. It’s an exploration of trance and possession work that attempts to place these concepts in a Wiccan context. It’s an area of particular interest to Bone, who started exploring these ideas before he met Farrar and her late husband, Stewart.

“I’ve had an eventful life in the craft,” Bone said. He recalled being a solitary Pagan in 1985, and meeting some people to go into the woods near Portsmouth for his first ritual on Halloween. “I was quite Catholic,” he recalled, and he “wasn’t quite comfortable” with the observances. That discomfort may have come from a “nasty elemental,” which had attached itself to him during the ritual; he learned about its presence some time later when the owner of an occult shop made note of it. Then, he said, “I found out that behind every occult shop is a secret group.”

Bone recounted how he built a rather eclectic resume that wove Arthurian elements in with Sufi mysticism, ritual magic, energy work, and spirit contact through mediums. Meanwhile, members of the mainstream Wiccan community in England “shunned” him for not having had an initiation. He eventually was initiated into Seax Wica using a Tree of Life ritual run, he explained, by a dyslexic: “I was the first Jesuit introduced to Wicca,” he joked.

Even as he was exploring esoteric and religious paths, Bone was training as a psychiatric nurse. Studying in these two fields simultaneously placed him in positions where he started seeing patients who had already died and needed assistance crossing over, as well as those who were in trance or ecstatic states induced by conditions such as grand mal seizures and hypoglycemic shock. These altered states of consciousness excited his interest. “I was curious about the physiology” that was tied to these states, he said.

Lifting the VeilThat curiosity led him to look into the seidr practices in Anglo-Saxon cultures, as well as the possessions which take place during Vodou ceremonies. When he met the Farrars in the 1990s, he learned that people sometimes shared with Janet their frustrations about not being able to use the techniques she described for drawing down the moon, in which a deity is invoked into a person. The problem, Bone felt, was that “drawing down the moon was missing training in trance work.”

Farrar and Bone have traveled the world researching this book, including the techniques practiced by Aleister Crowley, shamans of the Russian steppes, Hellenic oracles, Thessalanian and Thracian practices from antiquity. Bone explained that many ancient oracles began their work in caves, and that traces of ethylene found at Delphi validate the hypothesis that subterranean gases helped induce the necessary trance states for them and for similar priestesses such as the Sybils.

Looking into the past and at different modern cultures drew them back to modern Paganism to try to fit together the missing pieces, and they consulted with Diana Paxson about trance work. Seidr priestesses of northern Europe, unlike the Sybils, were traveling seeresses; the methods of inducing trance appear to have included veiling and singing. From other cultures come elements like drumming and alcohol, and gradually Bone and Farrar started to develop the concept of there being four keys to successful trance induction. This includes energy work such as chakra stimulation, recognition of spirits and deities as separate beings, our concepts of mythical cosmology, and exterior elements including drumming, veiling, masking, and use of entheogens.

Even speaking about these topics, Bone can never quite turn off the medical side of his brain. Use of entheogens — hallucinogens — for ritual purpose is not without peril, he warned, just as other intense techniques such as fasting and sleep deprivation can be overwhelming. He recalled a friend who used those last two to have what Bone described as “genuine experiences,” but experiences that his friend “couldn’t come back from” afterward.

“The line between illness and psychic experience can be thin,” Bone said. “Schizophrenics have them, but in that case it’s a symptom, not a cause.” On the other hand, “One person’s madness is another person’s seer.”

Combinations of techniques are most common, and one element — pain — entered into the Pagan communities forcefully in the 1980s, when there started to be overlap with the BDSM community. The release of endorphins caused by those practices are reminiscent of the scourging used in early Gardnerian ritual, he explained, and can be much more intense than entheogens or even substances like opiates. “You can get hooked on it,” he explained.

Some of the work done in writing this book tried to place things like the ecstatic trance of Vodou “in a European context;” not an appropriation, but an attempt to revive practices such as the Dionysian rituals of Italy using techniques which have survived elsewhere in the world when the European traditions did not fare so well.

They did have an opportunity to share views about Paganism more generally, and that’s when Farrar — who took pains to let Bone talk up the book — was more than happy to weigh in. Sometimes described as an oath-breaker for the information she has put into her books, Farrar is unapologetic about her life, and contrasted herself and her husband from English Pagans in particular. Where many of the British “can be stiff-upper-lip people,” they are instead “salty and earthy,” willing to make ribald jokes about well-known figures and otherwise shock their more proper countrymen.

Bone and Farrar describe themselves as polytheists, and count that as part of the Wiccan march away from monotheism. “First it was one god and one goddess,” said Bone. “Then there was a triple goddess. It was awhile before people were polytheists again.”

How they see those gods is as shapeshifters, something which is attested to in many myths and evidenced in the various names and epithets some gods are referred by. “I wear a nurse uniform,” said Bone, but that doesn’t make him a different person. “Do the gods even get a voice?” Many Wiccans, they agreed, get “stuck in the maiden-mother-crone stuff” and seek to mold gods into that model.

“Frey wears an Armani suit and carries credit cards,” said Farrar. “Mercury is a telecommunications worker. Jehovah thinks he’s all alone.” She delighted in announcing that the Venus de Milo statue once bore a name plate of “Eris.” Doreen Valiente, she said, was definitely a polytheist, and likely worshiped Diana. In practice, “she was much more of a hedge witch. She wanted to commune in the forest, not practice high magic.”

Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone

Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone [Courtesy Photo]

Recollections of people who brought modern Wicca into the world include this observation by Farrar: “Gerald Gardner was its mother; Doreen Valiente its father and Alex Sanders smacked its bottom.” Sanders, she said, was a much more complex person than his public persona, but that face was necessary for Wicca to grow.

Farrar practiced with Valiente and is beside herself with excitement over the revelations that she had a secret life working for the British government. “She never mentioned it,” although friends might have had suspicions, and it took the research skills of Heselton to prove it. “I saw Doreen with the Queen Mother, and they were clearly old friends,” she recalled. Knowledge of the occult make creating and breaking codes a natural progression, they theorized, making people with that background more effective than the “chinless wonders” who were otherwise recruited for that work. The Official Secrets Act technically only binds a person for 50 years, but in practice most people take those secrets to their graves, as did Valiente.

On the differences between American and British Wicca, Farrar said the most obvious thing that she noticed when she first visited these shores was a tendency towards titles. “Everyone was lady this and lord that,” she said, but “I’m no lady.” She also said that “American covens tend to watch over each others’ shoulders,” while the British ones are largely left as autonomous units.

They are bemused by the emergence of the term “British Traditional Wicca,” which they say isn’t used anymore in England than the French refer to themselves when frying potatoes. “It started like a group label” around the turn of the century, Bone said, “and now it’s a rejection of it.”

Another interesting evolution is the distinction between Witchcraft and Wicca. When she was initiated by Sanders, Farrar said, “We were Witches and Wicca was the religion.”

Bone said that at one point the aphorism was, “All Wiccans are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Wiccan. Now it’s turned about, so that all Wiccans are Witches, but not all Witches are Wiccan. It’s a generational shifting of the goal posts.”

Generally, they’ve watched as Paganism has matured over the decades. One change they specifically noted is that magic is becoming less the center of Wicca and related practices, and more a tool. The shifting language may at times puzzle them, but they do see a genuine interest in honoring the gods. The path to do so may have changed into an umbrella, and even that umbrella is rejected by many who fall under its shadow, but that may be because like the gods themselves, Paganism is a shapeshifter.

SOUTH AFRICA — Members of the South African Pagan Council are celebrating the organization’s decennial this year with a variety of festivities. It is also an opportunity for Pagans worldwide to learn about the efforts of this one organization, and to gain a greater understanding of the nature of modern Paganism in South Africa. Leaders of the SAPC opted to answer questions from The Wild Hunt as a group because of their organizational structure, which they explain in their responses.

Rainbow_BlackThe Wild Hunt:  How does SAPC fund its activities?

South African Pagan Council:  Currently it is done through contributions and payments by individuals, regional events that fund successive events, and the SAPC 10 year Commemoration T-Shirt, the sales of which will go towards funding bigger things.

TWH:  What benefits does someone gain by becoming a member?

SAPC: The members of the SAPC have at their disposal expert advice, trauma councillors who regularly assist members of the community, lessons, intervention on part of the organisation in cases of religious discrimination at school and in the work place, committees and subcommittees that take care of the spiritual needs of the community, spiritual and moral support, discussion groups, lessons from the high priestess, Pagan Freedom Day celebrations as well as the opportunity to take part in the advancement and upliftment of the Pagan banner through personal involvement in the various committees and subcommittees, becoming RMOs [registered marriage officers] for an officially recognised and registered religious organisation, having officially designated clergy to solemnise legally binding marriages and civil unions and affiliated groups to choose from when networking. The SAPC is run on the Arthurian round table principle. We advocate power with, rather than power over. Community building, bridge building, education, academic research and the presentation thereof in summits and conferences presented by the authorities, involvement with the media, are amongst some of the benefits the members of the SAPC enjoy.

TWH:  Has the face of Paganism in South Africa changed in the past ten years? If so, how?

SAPC: The key role players are still there, but there are a myriad of people out there, solitaries and independents that have met on forums/cyber and which have banded together as small covens and those who have maintained their solitary status but exchange ideas and request for assistance over the internet.

TWH: Is the membership of SAPC racially diverse? If it isn’t, is that something that you’d like to see change? Why or why not?

SAPC: Yes, we have several African, Indian and Coloured members but would (without proselytizing) see more folk from various backgrounds, identify as Pagan and join our organisation. We are not Eurocentric or neo-colonialist as many have intimated. The statistics are what they are because we’re still in a phase of education and introduction, but it is already clear that more and more folk find that they find themselves at home under the Pagan banner irrespective of their cultural or racial background. They find that the possibility of eclectically marrying their ways to the celebration of the days in the wheel of seasons and rites of passage, opens up new horizons.

It is for all of us (the Rainbow Nation) a matter of “coming home.”

TWH:  Do you have any information on the number of Pagans in South Africa, and whether that number is growing or declining? How does that compare to the number of members in SAPC?

SAPC: No proper census has ever been done by the authorities as this alternative option is not present in census forms. Any census done on line, between the various groups, is therefore only a marginal indication and cannot be considered to be accurate. Not all Pagans are cyber active. What we have noticed is that there are more and more applications and more and more online members, in our and in other groups. It is evident, therefore, that the movement is growing by leaps and bounds, but we cannot provide exact figures. I would be comfortable in saying, however that the numbers have trebled in the last ten years.

TWH:  Where in South Africa is Paganism most highly concentrated, to your understanding?

SAPC: We would say in the big cities, because there are more people in the cities, but we have members even in the remotest little towns in the countryside. Paganism is said to be the fastest growing religion in our campuses, but once again, we have no figures. Just some sporadic reports in newspapers at University Cities.

TWH:  As for the Pagan Freedom Day Movement events, how many people do you expect to attend these?

SAPC: This depends on many things from weather, the political climate within the Pagan community, funds available (our country is currently in a bit of pinch) and where people decide to attend the event. Some folk have taken to travelling to far-away events in order to meet friends for the first time, to see how it is done in that part of the country, etc. Some travel because they are curious about the activities advertised and decide that because these appeal to them, that they will support those regional organisers on a particular year. Johannesburg is by far our best attended event, every year. Ryan Fallon Young and his wife Nicki Lunawolf Young are absolute gems and the true experts at event organising.

TWH:  What kinds of activities will be involved? Is there included some kind of education component, such as what might be found in Pagan Pride Day events in the USA?

SAPC: The activities include stalls, meditation, competitions, sword fighting, musical entertainment, dancing and drumming around the bonfire, ending off with a circle and spiritual gathering. Talks on Paganism open the event and continue, in the form of demonstrations and lectures during the course of the day.

The events take place in open and public areas so the public at large joins the crowds, participate and of course learn from the talks and from making acquaintances with the Pagans at the event.

TWH:  For those of us unfamiliar with South African geography, would it be possible for an individual to hit all six event sites in one day?

SAPC: No, not unless he has mastered instant teleportation.

South Africa is a medium-sized country, with a total land area of 1 219 090 square kilometres, or roughly equivalent in size to Niger, Angola, Mali or Colombia. It is one-eighth the size of the US, about a third the size of the European Union, twice the size of France and over three times the size of Germany. [Ref: www.southafrica.info/about/facts.htm]

TWH:  What would you say the major SAPC accomplishments have been in its first ten years?

SAPC: SAPRA were the first officially registered organisation in Africa and the SAPC second. We were the first officially registered Pagan Religious Organisation to have a designated Marriage Officer. Clients of the LHRC and key interested party and role players in the field of equal religious rights along with SAPRA, CRL and SALRC. We have taken on schools and corporate companies on the matter of religious equality and succeeded. Our membership has loyally supported our endeavours, such as the exhibition of Art for Human Rights in 2013, part of our support for SAPRA’s 30 Days Advocacy Against Witch Hunts campaign, which we have supported since its very start. We have alongside SAPRA, also been instrumental in stopping the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Bill in 2007 and in working towards the CRL’s proposal this year, for the scrapping of the 1957 WSA. We have published several volumes of Pagan Literature, ipods and mini videos.

We can proudly say that we have spent the last ten years educating people in matters Pagan and occult, participating in symposiums and publishing papers with University Departments of Missiology and Religion countrywide, fighting against human rights abuses, standing up against misinformation in the media, fighting off the waves of Satanic panic, addressing with SAPRA smearing campaigns by religious extremist and the statal bodies which support them and within which they operate, as well as the cancer of exclusivity within our own community, in order to function as the intended umbrella, and operate as per our motto of “Unity Through Diversity,” a reality in which every affiliated group has autonomy and manages itself independently.

TWH:  What would you like to achieve during the next ten years?

SAPC: We would like to continue striving to outdo what we have so far delivered but most of all, of having a central place where we can run a community garden, a soup kitchen and offer low cost accommodation for Pagans and their families who have been hard struck by unemployment and homelessness.

The Convener has also gathered a library of over 5000 Pagan and Esoteric books which would be housed in a library at this centre.

A Pagan temple is also our oldest yet not forgotten dream.

Last week we reported that the website Lilith’s Lantern had been shut down. Founded in 2003, the site was run by the members of Mandorla coven, many of whom had worshiped with Feri tradition founders Victor and Cora Anderson. It was considered to be a resource that reflected a line of teaching that came directly from their mouths. Also called the Anderson tradition, and Faery and Faerie, the practice was eventually called “Feri” by Victor Anderson himself, and these varied names reflect the way this Pagan path has grown and evolved.

Victor and Cora Anderson, c. 1944 [Courtesy Lilith’s Lantern]

Victor Anderson’s story of being initiated as a boy in the 1920s by a “tiny old woman” sitting in a circle he found one day in his native Oregon was recounted in Drawing Down the Moon. The book includes details of the vision he received of a goddess and god during that process, and what came next:

We sat in the circle and she began to instruct me in the ritual use of each of the herbs and teas in the circle. Then I was washed in butter and oil and salt. I put my clothes back on and made my way back to the house. The next morning when I woke up, I knew it had really happened, but it seemed kind of a dream.

Cora Anderson had learned from her root-doctor grandfather, and grew to become known as a kitchen witch. As recounted by initiate Corvia Blackthorn, the sense of recognition the two felt for each other when they first met in 1944 was so strong that they married only three days later.

When Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today, the Andersons decided to become more public about their own practices, and began initiating people. These included Gwydion Pendderwen and Starhawk, who each went on to expand awareness of emerging Pagan traditions through initiation and public work, including Pendderwen’s music and Starhawk’s books.

The practices that the Andersons taught included concepts such as the triune soul and honored deities, including the Star Goddess, that they considered to be separate and distinct from humanity. Elements from a number of cultures were also included, as Blackthorn explained; she uses the name “Vicia” to refer to the tradition here:

Polynesian lore and magic is woven through Vicia, as is Vodou. Other strands include Kabbalah, Gaelic lore, European and American folk magic, as well as Native American concepts. Victor’s personal heritage was diverse, and included Scottish, Spanish, and Native American ancestry (among others). As Cora phrased it in Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition, Victor was “a regular League of Nations.” Starhawk once said that Victor “was allied spiritually with all the indigenous traditions of the planet; a true shaman.” Victor honored all his ancestral ties and teachers. Victor also encouraged his students to explore their own cultural roots and the magical lore of their personal heritages, as “a Witch’s power is in their blood.” This is not a hard-and-fast rule however. Each person is an individual, and each person’s pathway into the mysteries is unique.

It is perhaps because of that unique nature, according to Aline “Macha” O’Brien, that Victor Anderson in particular didn’t teach the tradition the same way to all of his students. That fact has contributed to the rich tapestry of practices now followed by those claiming ties to his teachings. O’Brien said:

Anderson Feri (spelled variously Faery, Faerie, Fairy back when I first encountered it) is intimate, individualistic, idiosyncratic, and mysterious, as much so as each practitioner, individual coven, and line. I see Feri as an exotic vine, sending out tendrils seeking habitable places to propagate. In the places where the stolons find hospitable ground, they flourish and put out flowers of various colors, intensities, and configurations — some deep, intense, highly saturated, and flamboyant; others paler, more subdued, subtler, and very private.

One thing Feri is not is monochromatic. Neither is it orthopraxic or dogmatic. Some plants (individuals, covens) may sever the vine from the original plant. For others the connection may weaken, while others grow more strongly attached to the matrix. Lilith’s Lantern arose from the last coven of founders Victor and Cora Anderson, and thus avoids distortion and offers a purer picture of the wild garden that Feri has grown. Lilith’s Lantern offered an inclusive perspective and reliable resources. I am sorry to see it fade from cyberspace.

41r0hm6ViOL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The sense that Lilith’s Lantern was a good reflection of those core Anderson teachings was echoed by others who commented on its shuttering. Soulfire, a member of Mandorla who had helped maintain the site, said of his teachers, “Through the work of the Andersons’ initiates, particularly Starhawk, the Craft has grown tremendously. The Andersons’ influence, albeit indirect, cannot be overlooked.”

Storm Faerywolf founded a school in the tradition, BlueRose, and said that Lilith’s Lanters was a site that he’s relied on. He said:

Lilith’s Lantern has been a staple site for students and seekers of traditional Faery/Feri witchcraft for more than a decade, offering insight about our tradition as well as the wisdom of the founders, Victor and Cora Anderson. Unlike the vast majority of other websites and public practitioners of our tradition, Lilith’s Lantern was a unique window into the practices and philosophies of the founders, which were often much simpler than those of the many covens and lineages that stemmed from them.

With the closure of this site we have one less perspective to offer to the rich and diverse tapestry that is Faery, and it will be sorely missed. While the tradition will continue ever on its journey of evolution and growth, this is definitely the end of an era.

Although the site is gone, it has not been forgotten, as it has also been archived and is accessible through the Internet Wayback Machine. The most recent version, prior to the closure, can be found here. The fact that it’s still accessible pleased Valerie Walker, who said that other Feri sites have completely disappeared from the internet when discontinued. She said, “I think that the tendency toward secrecy in all things great and small is a plague on Feri, and leads to silliness like removing things from archives, as if the people who got hold of the material while it was up hadn’t archived them already. All that does is discourage newcomers, which may be the point.”

As for its usefulness across the many Feri traditions, Anaar Niino said, “It was politically neutral and respectful of the variant lines. It was also very friendly to curious Witches who may not have enough information to even ask questions about Feri.” Niino also said, “This was as close to sitting next to the Andersons as you could get without actually being there.”

In short, while Feri is most predominant on the West Coast, it has influenced many forms of Paganism practiced today. Lilith’s Lantern shone a light on many of the core teachings of its founders, Victor and Cora Anderson, who died in 2001 and 2008, respectively.

*   *   *

Update 3/31/2016: When we initially asked “why” the site was shutting down, we did not receive an immediate response in time for publication. The organizers of Lilith’s Lantern have since responded, simply saying that “they want to be more private.”

Attacks on identity are not just hate crimes, they are war crimes. They are assaults on the most basic sense of self whether the target is a person, culture or religion. These types of attacks are designed to undermine legitimacy with objectives that range from oppression to obliteration. They are among the most heinous of attacks.

But sometimes these wars storm quietly. Sometimes they rage for centuries, using imagery and innuendo to suppress ideas and populations, but happen so subtly and infrequently that we catch only glimpses of battle. Salvos of marketing and advertising lay the groundwork for cultural hegemons to marginalize and eradicate people, societies and even faiths.Then they turn to politics, spinning to wipe away evidence and reframe the aftermath as a great work for a better future or a common good. It all happens with rhetoric and magniloquence, because in this kind of warfare words are weapons, and they matter a great deal.

We have been cautioned by many faiths, avatars and gods that words have deep power. In Odin’s discovery of the runes, he comments during his self-sacrifice, “From a word to a word I was led to a word, from a deed to another deed.” (The Poetic Edda, c.1200 CE)  The apostle John affirms to Christians that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (The Gospel of John 1:1)  Words organize intent and expose new gateways into the mind and the spirit, and while we often take them for granted, they are the basic tool of ritual work, the basic tool of change and the basic tool of control. They are also the foot soldiers that both convey and condemn identity.

[photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The town of Nemi, Italy.   [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Science gives us some insight into how words become more important than even the actual, physical objects that they represent. Recently Edminston & Lupyan (2015) conducted a series of experiments to examine how words and ideas co-inform us about our environment. They argue, as an example, that the idea of “it’s snowing” or “snow” can be activated by different cues like the word “snow,” the crunch of snow underfoot, witnessing flurries or a snow-dusted sidewalk. Our brains can identify “snow” many different ways and by any one of these cues. However, the question is whether there is something unique to the word “snow” that is different from the evidence of it. In other words, do we have a mental representation of “snow” — from the word itself –– that is more powerful than, for example, witnessing the event that is called “snowing,” or even holding some in your hand.

What they hypothesize is that our category labels are more important than other sources of information – like watching those flurries — to activate and access our conceptual knowledge of the thing we’re experiencing. That is to say, verbal labels are more important to triggering our knowledge of topics than other modes of experiencing a phenomenon.

A different example of what they are getting at is the word “dog.” That word evokes more knowledge of canines than hearing, say, some barking by those animals. The label “dog” is more important for accessing our information than the sound of barking.  And, thus, we are more adept – faster as measured in their experiments — when we use the word “dog” rather than when we hear a bark, or perhaps even see a dog.

Now that idea of “dog” that we access in our mind from the word may be general. It’s not a corgi or a basset hound or a retriever, it is the general idea of dog. We might think of those breeds collectively as the category of “dog.” It doesn’t evoke a specific one. It’s a generalization from which we can pull specifics if we choose. However, it does open a deep cognitive path that allows us to access all our information on the object, as well as our prejudices. It demonstrates the extraordinary power – even magic — of words.  Those words — and the act of labeling — bypasses the circuitry of the object (i.e., the dog) and goes directly to our idea of “dog,” and in doing so reinforces all those cognitions and predispositions we have about the object: we like dogs, we hate dogs, “who’s a good dog?”

Why this is important is that this new understanding of these psychological pathways has direct implications for our understanding of human perception. These findings suggest that, while we may perceive information with our senses, the labels we use will always frame our awareness of that information. Words buoy our prejudices and, through them, frame our views of others and things whether they be culture or identity-based. And that could have more serious implications about how our implicit biases tint not only our mental impressions but also how we understand the people and world around us.

Understanding a word means an automatic instigation of our mental construct that it represents for us in its fullest form. Words buttress our personal architecture of the universe around us, the good and the bad, and using them strategically can bless or malign our representations of our inner world that becomes the reality around us.

*   *   *

A few days ago, I was visiting the temple of Diana of the Wood in the town of Nemi, Italy. It is a stunning and sacred place; Diana’s presence is immanent and palpable. The temple – now ruins – is on the north shore of the lake for which the town is named. The lake itself is volcanic, surrounded by the crater walls and filled only by rainwater. Wind will cause it to shimmer, but it has no real waves; there are long moments where it becomes absolutely still, reflecting the surrounding woods and crater. Even today, it lives up to its Roman name, Speculum Dianae, the Mirror of Diana.

[photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Lake Nemi: The Mirror of Diana [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

We were visiting the lakeside museum that exhibits the remains of famous Roman ships used by emperor Caligula to cool off when he visited Lake Nemi during the hot Roman summers. He was a devotee of Isis, but also venerated Diana Nemorensis (Diana of the Wood). Why he built the ships as floating palaces (complete with heated baths, mosaics, and plumbing, galleys and sleeping quarters) is unknown, and apparently the subject of much debate. My husband concluded that Caligula was no fool; all you have to do is look around. The area is idyllic and under the watchful patronage of Diana.

And then it happened. While we were exiting the museum, a German-speaking traveler standing close to me spoke to her family member, and I overheard, “Nemi See ist in der Mythologie von Rom erwähnt…. In den kurze Geschichten über die Göttin Diana.” (Lake Nemi is mentioned in Roman mythology. Short stories about the goddess Diana).

So there it was. Just like the word “dog” discussed earlier, the word “mythology” triggered abstractions that were trying to overtake and degrade the magical experience of place. “Mythology” was trying to make it “fake.”  And, “short stories” reinforced the abstraction of simple-mindedness; as though there was a puerile, even naïve, element to them. For a moment, the place became mundane and the stories — the parables of Diana — lost their theism. The lake had become a place in literature like the Marabar Caves or Elsinore.

This traveler reduced — most likely inadvertently, but echoing centuries of cultural reinterpretation — the Roman religion to fables learned in high school. It brought into relief how language has slowly been used to relegate Pagan and polytheistic beliefs from religious discourse to adolescent literature. Thus those gods become undeserving of veneration because they evoke fiction, not religion.

Now, I’m neither a classicist nor a Roman theologian. The closest I got to those areas academically were Latin classes. But I do know that Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes and Bulfinch’s Mythology were both required reading in high school as introductions to ancient belief. And I distinctly remember that we approached these texts as fiction. As Merriam-Webster puts it, myth is “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true… a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence. Looking at the full definitions offered by that dictionary, we can see that myth seems to have nothing to do with religion.

From the same source we see that examples of this usage include, “Contrary to popular myth, no monster lives in this lake.” The language underscores the fictional aspect of the story and undermines the identity of believer for those who may hold those stories as sacred. We are — at best — being encouraged to understand the stories as false.

Members of our broader society would be scandalized if we used the same language in reference to the stories or central figures of monotheistic faiths such as Jesus of Nazareth or the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We are taught that Moses and the prophets of Judaism are historical persons. The Gospels are not myths, neither is the Quran nor the Torah.  As Mircea Eliade noted, “The earliest Christian theologians took the word in the sense that had become current some centuries earlier in the Greco-Roman world, i.e., ‘fable, fiction, lie,’” (p. 162) and that the myth is “a false account portraying truth,” whereas the narrative — like Biblical stories — are accounts of “descriptive of events which took place or might have taken place.’”

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

Remnant of a Statue of Diana [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

If we visit Wikipedia and search for “Christian Mythology,” we do not get Christian doctrine. Instead, we are given a long list of beliefs that are apocryphal to Christianity, and we certainly don’t see the image on the right hand side of the page denoting the section as “part of a series on” Christianity, Islam or really any of the modern major faiths. For Islamic mythology, Wikipedia informs us that, “This section improperly uses one or more religious texts as primary sources without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them.” Norse Religion, on the other hand, is described as part of the “Norse Anthropology” portal. Type in Paganism, and you get a pictures of Venus and comments about antiquity. Type in “NeoPaganism” and you get an underdeveloped “Part of a series on” with one link. We are not only underrepresented there, but the language in Wikipedia diminishes us and our beliefs.

Now I am completely aware that Wikipedia is built on contributions, but the editors and contributors are mimicking the longstanding semantic favoritism toward the major faith traditions. It is the use of language to segregate that which is acceptably believable and part of religion from that which is dramatized and belonging to literature. It highlights the institutionalized bias toward monotheism and marginalizes Pagans and Polytheists as aberrant or antiquated or ill-informed or even immature.

My mistake at Nemi was silence. I had an opportunity to reframe “mythology.” I could have answered, for example, “But they are important stories. Many people still find strength in them.” But I didn’t. The unintentional attack on identity and faith did not get a response. In fact, I didn’t realize the scope of what had happened until I spent some time sitting by the lake shore almost an hour later. But we can respond. And we should.

Doing so is an act of reparation and affirmation. We can knit together the story of our identity as both new and ancient faiths. Through the tiniest of steps, we can re-frame a word at a time to a person at a time. And we can unlink associations that have undermined religious identity even in societies that favor no religion. We need some courage, but we’ve never lacked that. We need to take advantage of that moment of opportunity and share of the responsibility. We can each be weavers of language to knit new meanings to old words that will slowly but unfailingly becomes the tapestry of our identity while restoring unity with and honoring our ancestors.

It’s not about anything remotely related to evangelism; that’s not within our traditions. But it is about giving voice to identity. It’s about honoring our ancestors, and the importance of Pagan and polytheistic beliefs in the present day and in the present moment. It is about unifying the past and the present, and demanding that belief and identity not be casualties of linguistic wars.

At that moment in Nemi, I lost two opportunities. One opportunity was to educate about identity and the other to start re-knitting the association of “mythology” from fable to faith. But I’ll work on doing better.

Ubi concordia, ibi victoria.  Where there is unity, there is victory.

Citations

Edmiston, P. & Lupyan, G. (2015).  What makes words special? Words as unmotivated cues.  Cognition, 143, 93-100.
Eliade, M. (1963).  Myth and Reality”  Harper & Row: New York.

AMHERST, Mass. — Ellen Evert Hopman first collected the interviews in her new book, A Legacy of Druids, in 1996. She did so using methods that might seem antiquated in today’s fast-paced world: by having conversations in person, and by asking questions by mail. The fact that it took twenty years to publish the results of her work echoes the words of the late Isaac Bonewits, “as fast as a speeding oak.” Some things simply should not be rushed.

A Legacy of Druids coverBonewits, who founded Ár nDraíocht Féin in 1983, is one of the people that Hopman spoke with to create this book. Because he and others interviewed, including Lady Olivia Robertson, have since passed away served as an impetus to get this book published, Hopman told The Wild Hunt. “I had a sense that it was historically important,” she explained.

However, the technical hurdles were not insignificant. Much of the original work was saved on floppy disks that were inaccessible because it’s all but impossible to find that kind of drive anymore. Hopman had to resort to scanning transcriptions of the interviews, which she had originally done on a typewriter. This created other issues. As can happen when text is scanned, it “was full of weird symbols, it was just a terrible mess,” she recalled. The entire document had to be carefully reconstructed to make to readable again.

But reconstruction, in another form, is something quite familiar to Hopman. Her approach to Druidry is Celtic reconstructionism, which seeks to build upon the oldest written sources to learn about Druidic ritual, belief, and philosophy. Since that tradition was oral, the best sources available are the writings of Christian monks who recounted the stories of the Druids in the seventh century.”It’s honoring what the ancients did,” she said, but it’s not the only way to follow the path. A Legacy of Druids shows that such diversity is as much in evidence a generation ago as it is today.

Phillip Carr-Gomm, longtime leader of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD), weaves together the many perspectives in his foreword:

. . . when I read the interviews Ellen has collected here, I realised that they articulate most of the issues contemporary Druidry is still concerned with today, and the insights they offer are as valid now as they were twenty years ago. This in itself would be sufficient justification for publication, but in addition I found I could engage with the material in another way. In reading the interviews, I had the benefit of hindsight – twenty years on I could see what ambitions had been realised, and whether any fears had proved justified. In addition, I could imagine how a similar collection gathered today might differ, and I could start to get some sense of what legacy modern Druidry might be leaving the world.

Many of the Druids interviewed for the book are from Britain, which is why Hopman opted to go with a British publisher, Moon Books, at Carr-Gomm’s suggestion. “They accepted it in 24 hours,” she said, and that interest seems to be reflected in the fact that Amazon is showing it as a bestseller, even though it’s not due to be released until April 29. According to Moon Books’ Nimue Brown, “I can only think that’s people pre-ordering copies – and to a degree that we just don’t normally see this far ahead of a book’s release. And of course rankings are all relative – if five people all bought Ellen’s book in a short time frame when no one else was picking up Druid titles, it would put her high on the list for a while.”

That’s something Hopman finds gratifying. One of her other dozen books, Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today, was included on a Huffington Post list entitled “27 Essential Texts About Paganism For Your Bookshelf.” However, she hasn’t seen that translate into sales. That text is the intellectual ancestor of A Legacy of Druids as it follows the same interview model, one that Hopman decided to use for her own Druidic path as it matured and grew. As Hopman wrote in her introduction:

As Druidism slowly gained recognition, I saw that a forum was needed where Druids too could express themselves so that the public would come to know us more fully. At this time in history Druids are still a small sub-set of the current Neo-Pagan revival, with many different flavors and beliefs within each sect. . . . The one thing we all have in common is our reverence for nature and a passionate desire to protect our Mother Earth.

Hopman told The Wild Hunt that she was never trained as a writer, and that she sometimes feels like her projects are directed by a divine force. That sense was especially strong when writing the first of her Iron Age Druidic fiction trilogy Priestess of the Forest. As she explained, “Writing it felt like watching a movie; I was just the scribe.” That might be an apt description, because a screenplay is currently being written based on that book, with Elyse Poppers already having been cast to play the female lead. “That’s new ground for me,” Hopman said. “I’m just lunging ahead.”

While the official release of A Legacy of Druids is April 29 to coincide with Beltane, Hopman does have signed copies available through her web site right now.