Archives For Neopaganism

FORT WORTH, Texas –Members of the Council of Magickal Arts, or CMA, are standing up to help make the organization whole after it was discovered that its director of finance, Alicia Wilson, had reportedly spent more than $4,000 out of operating funds on personal purchases. Wilson was elected to the position at the Texas-based council’s annual Samhain festival last year. The first unauthorized purchase occurred less than three months later, on January 25, 2016.

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The embezzlement represents about half of CMA’s operating budget, according Megan Dobson, the council’s interim director of communications. Even so, plans for Samhain 2016 continue unabated.

“Far from being imperiled, it promises to be an outstanding festival,” Dobson said. “We will be welcoming internationally-published author and activist M. Macha Nightmare as our featured guest speaker . . . it’s all coming together to create an amazing event!”

According to the official account, Wilson embezzled $4,160.22 between late January and April 29, when corporate officer Gary Parks discovered the unauthorized charges. While past directors of finance provided board members with read-only access to financial information, this was one of several practices that Wilson had not reportedly followed. CMA bylaws require that generally-accepted accounting principles (GAAP) be used, “but they do not dictate a specific system,” explained Dobson.

“The financial system previously in place had not been passed as official policy; a set of procedures and guidelines was passed on from one director of finance to the next. Ms. Wilson changed the system by writing all the checks herself, and, as a result, the previous practice of oversight was circumvented.”

This Samhain, CMA members will be asked to vote on a package of reforms to prevent that situation from happening again. “The new system requires that one person writes the checks, a second person keeps the books, and the director of finance is responsible for overseeing both persons. Additionally, the entire board of directors has access to view the accounts and the accounting software system at any time,” said Dobson.

Spirithaven, CMA's grounds 2002 [Courtesy Wren / Witchvox]

Spirithaven, CMA’s dedicated grounds 2002 [Photo Credit: Wren / Witchvox]

While the unauthorized withdrawals did take place over several months, once discovered the reaction was both swift and transparent. Wilson was reportedly removed from all accounts and asked to explain her actions. After claiming that she had inadvertently used the wrong card to make purchases, she reportedly said that she would reimburse the CMA account on May 1.

That payment was not forthcoming, and Wilson resigned from the board for “personal reasons” May 5. D. Blaze Johnson, a prior finance director, was made Wilson’s interim replacement a few days later. By May 13, she had confirmed how much money was missing. With that information, board members agreed to hire an attorney, and it notified the full membership May 29, which happened to be the same day that a town hall meeting was already scheduled.

By the time of that meeting, Wilson had reportedly signed a restitution agreement under which she would pay $300 monthly. If it is not kept, the remainder of those funds — presently on the books as a debt owed — will be re-characterized as an “excess benefit transaction,” and Wilson will be hit with a 25% excise tax on that sum.

In addition, on May 29, board members suspended Wilson’s CMA membership for a year and a day. In October, the full membership will decide if that is sufficient, or if other sanctions should be considered.

Nevertheless, board members have acknowledged that this incident was likely preventable. “The situation should never have been allowed to occur in the first place and the board has taken immediate steps to ensure that it never happens again,” said Dobson. Those steps include the institution of new policies expected to be ratified this October.

“Institutional knowledge from past boards concerning checks and balances on the director of finance was lost,” a situation which the new rules should prevent.

“No system is perfect, and a determined thief will find a way,” said Dobson. “However, the new system is now codified, has more checks and balances, and will allow future boards to identify a problem, if there is one, early on.”

Members of the council have rallied to keep the organization whole, as Dobson recounted, “The recent Phoenix Rising benefit concert, masterfully organized by our Austin Area Lead Representative, raised approximately $1,600 to replace the monies lost. Shortly after the embezzlement loss was reported to our membership, two members approached me; they said that they’d been considering buying a lifetime membership for a while, and that now seemed like the time that CMA needed it most. Between the benefit, the lifetime memberships, and smaller donations made by individual members, we have at this point been able to replace all the stolen funds. It’s been amazing, watching our community come together in support of CMA and its future.”

TWH was unable to locate Ms. Wilson for comment, but she did submit a report to the council’s newsletter, The Accord, for its spring 2016 issue. In addition to updating members on a variety of routine expenses, she wrote, “I am working diligently to get to the transparency that the membership wants and so do we.”

[The Wild Hunt welcomes Nathan Hall as today’s guest journalist . He makes his home in South Florida where he works for a local media company and lives with his wife and soon-to-be first child. He grew up without any real religious background but always felt connected with the spirits of the land. Because of this connection he has always felt a strong kinship with environmental causes and the primacy of nature over humanity’s exploitation of it. Nathan has followed many paths, including ceremonial magick, Norse and Druidic traditions. Recently, he has come into alignment with the Temple of Witchcraft tradition where he is a student in the Mystery School. You can find more of his writing at The Arrival and the Reunion.]

MIAMI, Fla. — “I have a message for anyone who would listen to it, from the spirit of our lady, Florida,” Dayan Martinez begins his presentation, addressing the dire situation of the Everglades. He was a guest presenter, among a handful of speakers, at the Love the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016 held August 6 at Miami’s Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center. Other presenters, representing First Nations, faith groups, local communities, and NGOs, participated as well.

[Photo Credit: Chris Foster / Flickr]

Florida Everglades [Photo Credit: Chris Foster / Flickr]

Martinez recalled reaching out during his shamanic journey work when he first made contact with Her – Our Lady Florida.  Martinez had been struggling with his own sense of powerlessness in the face of decades of over-development and environmental upheaval in Florida.

“Goddess is just a word that I use because everyone seems to get the idea that there is a spirit. But she’s enormous in a way, the entire state, from bedrock to clouds,” he said. Since meeting who he refers to as both La Florida and Our Lady Florida, his life has become more focused, with a new sense of purpose.

This is what compelled Martinez to take part in the summer symposium, as not just an activist, but also as a public Pagan. He was joined by friend and fellow community member, Mathew Sydney.

“I believe it was Dayan who in one of these journeys asked:  ‘What can we do for you?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t want candles and offerings of incense and trinkets, I want you to go out there and speak for the environment and take care of the waters,’” Sydney said.

On June 29, Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties because of the volume of blue-green algae that had clogged the St. Lucie river and adjoining canal systems and estuaries. The order did little to address the immediate problem, however, mostly just providing additional funds to test water and providing vague instructions to store water in other parts of the Everglades.

The Everglades is a one of a kind ecosystem on the planet, with water slowly moving south toward Florida Bay at a near-glacial pace. Also called the River of Grass, it historically extends from the Kissimmee River basin, just south of Orlando, down through Lake Okeechobee, continuing through the current Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve out into the Bay, which is hugged by the Florida Keys.

During the push for agricultural land in the 19th century and a development boom that was facilitated by baron-capitalists of the early 20th century, draining the Everglades became an obsession for land owners, sugar and citrus interests, keen on making money off the Sunshine State. After two nasty hurricanes in the 1920’s lead to massive flooding from Lake Okeechobee, the opportunity was seized upon and the federal government stepped in, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dike along the southern edge of the lake.

From that point on, the historic flow of the Everglades has been cut off. Canals jut out to the east and west from the lake, and when the water level gets too high, instead of flowing south as it has for countless millennia, it is routed out to the ocean.

This has lead to an ongoing environmental disaster that has been reportedly exacerbated by mismanagement, poor infrastructure, and climate change. It has now culminated in large swaths of blue-green algae overcoming valuable estuaries, smothering wildlife, and sickening residents. According to researchers, restoring the historic flow of the Everglades is the best solution to this problem.

Matthew Sydney and Dayan Martinez [Courtesy Photo]

Matthew Sydney and Dayan Martinez en route to symposium [Courtesy Photo]

Both Sydney and Martinez came away from the symposium feeling like it was a great first step, but with the realization that there was a lot more work to do. Sydney said, “The speech was very well received, I think that bringing like-minded people together is more important now.” He especially felt that there was a need for more Pagan-identifying folks to be present, saying that he’d love to see an entire panel featuring earth-centered religions as part of future secular environmental gatherings.

“In my evolution I have come to feel that those of us who identify as Pagan or Neopagan, or who practice earth-based faiths, we of all people have to stand up and lead the way to speak on behalf of the manatee, the bear, the dolphin, and the honeybees and all the other creatures who are being impacted,” Sydney said.

In an effort to lay the groundwork for more Pagan-centered activism, the two men have started a new environmental organization called the Pagan Environmental Alliance. The nascent group has already held their first protest, with a uniquely Pagan twist.

“Ritual can be a protest, ritual can be a political statement. So when we gather (in downtown West Palm Beach), we will be making our political-activist point by being ourselves in a spiritual manner. Hopefully that will inspire further types of ritual protest,” Martinez said.

protest-witches-creed

[Courtesy Photo]

Their first event was a small showing, but they were happy with the outcome. They used Doreen Valiente’s Witches Creed for its ritual structure and theme of stepping out from the shadows and saying what Witches are. They also poured fresh rainwater into the intracoastal waterway between West Palm Beach and the island of Palm Beach and asked that there be an awakening within the Pagan community.

But public ritual and educational symposiums aren’t the only facet of their efforts.

“Another part of what we’re doing, another strategy is guerrilla magick. We’re developing strategies whereby quietly, undercover and surreptitiously we can perform magickal acts. The purpose of which is to restore mankind’s balance with nature,” Sydney said. He said that they’ve already begun covertly utilizing sigil magick in public places.

But, Sydney added that there’s still a good bit of work that needs to be accomplished well within the public’s view. While many Pagans have gotten their start as solitaries and continue their practice alone, he said, “I think that it’s time that (we) put aside all that solitary, private practice and actually become leaders in the community.”

Restoring the natural flow of water in the Everglades system is the goal that Martinez and Sydney have been compelled to do by La Florida, but it won’t come easy. After the economic crisis and subprime mortgage meltdown, which happened between 2008 through 2010, ownership of property in South Florida has moved out of normal, working people’s hands. As home values plummeted, banks, hedge funds, and shady development corporations moved in, consolidating land ownership right into the hands of the people who created the crisis.

These financial juggernauts, as well as Big Sugar, who has actively fought Everglades restoration and contributes to the campaigns of governor Rick Scott and former senator Marco Rubio, are the opponents that Martinez and Sydney will be facing.

Despite the odds against them, the two activists both see a moral imperative to the work that the are doing. “I don’t think that we can continue to call ourselves Pagan and ignore the fact that nature is calling, you know? Nature is asking us to do something for her after she has given us food, shelter, wealth, power and faith. It’s time to give back,” Martinez said.

Sydney feels that Pagans should take a note from those who practice Santeria and indigenous faiths and begin incorporating the idea of reciprocity. “If we want the gods or the spirits or the ancestors to help us with our problems, the mature thing is to have the courage to ask them how we can help them.”

Just this week, Martinez announced on social media that he and Sydney have been asked to be presenters at the fall Florida Pagan Gathering. “We are excited to present on … November 5th,” Sydney said, “Our Lady Florida is ready for us to awaken.”  Martinez also stated that he hopes to take the same workshop around the state in the near future.

Dayan Martinez presentation at the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016

 

TWH – Muggle. Ravenclaw. Azkaban. These are familiar words to the millions of Harry Potter fans around the world. With more than 450 million books in print in over 200 countries, the Harry Potter franchise, including films and other marketing tie-ins, make it one of the most successful in history. This success has not subsided, as shown by the recent buzz surrounding the London opening of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is set 19 years after the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The play premiered July 30 and a print version of the story was released July 31, a date that also marks both J.K. Rowling’s and Harry Potter’s birthdays.

2180px-Harry_Potter_wordmark.svgOver the past 19 years, the Harry Potter stories and their expansive pop culture mythos have drawn a significant amount of attention to the possibility of world filled with magic. Rowling asks, “What if…” and proceeds to answer the question with the Harry Potter world.

Due to the magnitude of the franchise’s influence, a natural intersection has formed between its fantasy exhibition of magic and the reality of modern Witchcraft practice. This cultural intersection, which does in fact exist with other pop culture witch products, is sometimes an amusement for real practitioners, many of whom are loyal Potter fans. But, in other cases, the intersection is ignored or shrugged off as silly.  In other cases still, this cultural intersection between real magic and fantasy play can cause a real-life problem.

That is just what happened recently to small business owners and eclectic spiritualists Richard Carter and Jackie Restall. In April, Restall opened Mystical Moments, a metaphysical shop located on Britannia Road in Slaithwaite, England. She and Carter had been previously traveling around selling their craft works, crystals, and other items at local Pagan festivals and events. The store was the next step, and they used much of their remaining life savings to make it happen.

In an interview, Carter told The Wild Hunt, “Although we are a business, one of our main aims is to sell spiritual goods at a price that people can afford.” The couple sees their work as a service to other magical and spiritual workers. Mystical Moments offers healing services, as well as selling items such as “incense, crystals, sage, Angels, Buddhas, [their] own handmade ringed love goblets, runes, and wands.”

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Richard Carter [Courtesy Photo]

While Restall focuses on crystal work and healing, Carter makes the wands, which he considers “a spiritual calling.” He said, “I received an urge to craft wood […] I still can’t explain it, having never had worked with wood in my life.” In 2012, Restall gave Carter a lathe, after he had suffered a heart attack and was unable to return to work.

Carter went on to say, “The first time I used [the lathe] it was like I was being guided on how to use the chisels and how the wands turn out.” Four year later, wand making is now his passion. He said, “I make wands from oak, yew, mahogany, cherry, walnut, sycamore, sweet chestnut, and sometimes a combination of woods.”

In July, the new store’s presence attracted the attention of local reporter Chloe Glover, who writes for The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. After meeting with Restall and Carter, she wrote an article titled “From Slytherin to Slaithwaite – magic wand shop opens in the village,”  which was was not-so-coincidentally published July 30 – the opening day of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

While Glover’s article does provide an objective overview of the store itself, she focused predominantly on Carter’s wand making and injects language from the Potter world. Glover wrote, “Richard Carter may sound like a character out of a Harry Potter book, but his curious real-life skill is gaining nationwide fans amongst those with a spiritualist leaning.”

Despite the article’s level tone, it became the catalyst for a controversy of the magical kind. Carter explained, “The day after [Glover’s] article appeared I received a call from a freelance journalist asking if he could also do a piece on the wands. During the conversation it became apparent that he was interested in Harry Potter.”

Wands in Olivander's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Pixabay]

Wands in Olivander’s at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Public Domain]

During that second interview, Carter said that the journalist asked him if he “would sell one of [his] wands to a Harry Potter fan.” It was Carter’s quoted response that captured international attention: “If I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering.”

On Aug. 6, the Sunday Express published that quote along with a short article titled, “Real-life wandmaker bans Harry Potter fans from his shop.” Within 48 hours, both British and international media had picked up on this click-bait story:

Man who runs magic wand shop in Huddersfield BANS Harry Potter fans for not taking magic seriously” – The Sun
Harry Potter fans banned from wand shop for not being real wizards” – The Independent
Witchcraft shop refuses to serve Harry Potter fans because it sells ‘spiritual tools’ not toys for young Muggles” – The Telegraph
Expelliarmus! British Wand Shop Bans ‘Harry Potter’ Fans“- The Hollywood Reporter
UK wand-maker bans Harry Potter fans from ‘real magic shop’ ” – The Indian Express
Magic Shop bans Harry Potter fans” – New Zealand Herald

Without fail, each of these articles reports that Carter stated that he would not sell a wand to a Harry Potter fan. They also report that Carter can tell fans from a real magical practitioners by their auras.

However, according to Carter, much of what is being reported is inaccurate. He said, “We have never banned anyone from our shop.” In fact, Restall herself is a Harry Potter fan. The aura comment was in reference to helping customers choose the proper wood for their wands.

So what did Carter really say and mean? Both Carter and Restall “believe [their] wands are spiritual tools and not toys for Harry Potter fans to play with.” In other words, their wands are not intended to be used for cosplay, Halloween parties, or other types of pretend play. Carter’s wands are real.

He explained, “The point that I tried to make, but was misunderstood or more like misquoted, was that the wands, which I am guided to make, are for other like-minded people to partner with.” He added that they are made “to help [practitioners] with spells, to use during an healing, or to sit with in meditation. They are not toys.”

Carter believes that if Harry Potter fans want a play wand, they should “look on eBay and buy a mass produced toy, not something that has been made as a spiritual tool.”

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Mystical Moments hand-crafted wands [Courtesy Photo]

American wand maker Gypsey Teague agrees with Carter to some extent. Her wands, like Carter’s, are handmade as spiritual tools, and are not toys. In fact, Teague won’t even sell them over the internet for that very reason. She said, “No one should buy a wand over the internet. You have to match your energy to the wand.”

She added that other craft people, and even buyers, are shocked and put off by her policy. She said, “Other sellers have said, ‘How dare you not sell over the internet?’ I respond, ‘How dare you sell over the internet, as if they are toys?'”

Like Carter, Teague places a emphasis on the importance of the wood matching the user’s energy and magical needs, and, she would know. Along with being a Georgian elder, Teague has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and has been worked with hundreds of species of wood for over 35 years. She sells her wands at events and said that, in some cases, people take hours looking for the right wand match. In other cases, a customer can walk clear across a crowded field or vendor room and pick the right wand in seconds.

Teague added, “J.K. Rowling got a few things right,” one of which is the concept that the wand picks the witch. Like Restall, she is a Harry Potter fan. In fact, in her book The Witch’s Guide to Wands, Teague included a short chapter called, “The Wands of J.K. Rowling.” It begins, “Yes, I know. J.K. Rowling probably doesn’t have wands. However, her most famous protagonist does, and so do his friends and enemies.”

In the subsequent six pages, Teague analyzes the woods described as being used by several of the Potter characters, including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Rubeus Hagrid and more. “It is not surprising that the holly was the wand of choice for Harry Potter. Harry embodies all that is good and strong in the magical world,” she wrote.

When asked if she would sell a wand to a Potter fan, Teague said, “Yes, as long as it is in person.” Unlike Carter, she doesn’t mind if they want to own a real magical wand. However, she did note that her wands don’t look like the movie wands, and most fans want replicas, which are typically mass-produced toys.

As far as she knows, she has never had anyone buy a wand specifically because they were a Potter fan. With that said, she has undoubtedly sold to Potter fans, because many real Witches and Pagans, like herself, are in fact also fans.

Wand make Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Wand maker Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Carter agrees with Teague. He was quoted as saying that “J.K. Rowling has obviously done her research” with respect to wands and woods. And he himself has enjoyed the movies.

Fortunately for Carter and the store, there has been no direct backlash. Most of the negative commentary has been contained within internet-based public comment areas. In the Telegraph articlefantasy author GP Taylor was quoted as saying, “I think this is terrible. Harry Potter fans should be served. They are going crazy over the Cursed Child and need their wands. It is discrimination against Potter fans. They should go to court for justice.” Several Twitter users called for a protest outside of the store, but nothing ever manifested.

Carter said, “We have had Bento magazine in Germany, Marie Claire magazine, Dublin radio and the BBC contact us but at least that gave me the opportunity to put the facts across on what I had actually said.” Journalist Chloe Glover, whose local article about the store started the media frenzy, also did a follow-up article that shares Carter’s reaction.

But it didn’t end there. On July 14, the entire fiasco caught the attention of J.K. Rowling. She tweeted:

Her tweet launched another round of international articles about Carter and his wand making:

Harry Potter author JK Rowling defends fans ‘banned’ from wand shop – ABC Online
Spells trouble: JK Rowling joins row over Harry Potter fans’ right to ‘real wands’ – The Guardian
J.K. Rowling responds to store owner’s ban on Harry Potter fans – New York Daily News

On Twitter itself, Rowling’s comment garnered many responses, many of which supported her words and ridiculed the controversy or Carter himself. However, other tweets came in from Pagans, looking to correct her seemingly irreverent statement.

“Really? Mocking a man over his religion, and not selling his religions tools to just anyone?” – @Acadia Jules

“They’re hand-crafted religious objects. They deserve to be treated with respect.” – @Laina

“He’s selling to Wiccans, a proper religion. It’s like someone taking a cross from a church to go hunt vampires.” – @MystBornWoW

When asked if he had responded to Rowling’s statement, Carter said, “No […] mainly because I am not on Twitter and a bit of a technophobe.” He went on to say that if he was to respond it would be to say simply: ‘Each to their own, but like us try not to be judgmental of other people.’

Carter will continue making his wands and selling them in the new store, letting his customers choose their woods as guided by their own energy. At this time, Mystical Moments does not have a website or online presence with the exception of its Facebook fan page. Carter added, “We would like to thank all the people globally who have shown their support and respected our right to keep our tools sacred.”

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — British Witch Kate West, author of thirteen Real Witches books and high priestess of the Hearth of Hecate, has been spending the week teaching classes, running rituals, and giving readings at the Awareness Shop, a metaphysical store in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York. Despite her packed schedule stateside, she found the time to talk some about her work for the benefit of Wild Hunt readers. During that conversation, she managed to transmit just a bit of her wit and charm.

West has been practicing Witchcraft for more than 35 years, and she has been quite public about it; so much so that she provided media relations for Children of Artemis, a prominent British Witchcraft organization. And, additionally, she has also served as vice president of the Pagan Federation.

Kate West [Courtesy Photo]

Kate West [Courtesy Photo]

“I met my first Witch when I was six,” she said, adding that she began practicing the Craft in her middle teens. “My father comes from a line of cunning men, but that was never overtly discussed,” because her Roman Catholic mother was not keen on the idea.

West did not find her first coven until she was in her mid-30s, and the story itself reeks of magic. “I was restless at home, and decided to drive around” aimlessly, in the days before smartphones made that an all-but forgotten art. “I was just following roads, and pulled up by an old barn,” which had no evidence that it was anything but private property.

Nevertheless, “I walked ’round, and there was a little esoteric shop around back,” with no sign by the road to announce that fact. She entered and, after browsing the shelves for a few minutes, she worked up the nerve to speak with the proprietor, who invited her to the next meeting of their coven that very weekend. West has since been initiated into the Alexandrian tradition.

Because Hecate is an ancient goddess that is envisioned in divergent ways depending upon one’s tradition, we asked West to describe the goddess according to the understanding of her coven. “She’s a goddess of the crossroads,” West said, and offerings of food are left to her there. Her earlier roots are Greek, but she “found her way up to the Celtic lands,” likely thanks to the Romans.

West sees Hecate as a “working lady” (strong and muscular, or “brawny” in build) appearing old in worn — not tattered — clothes and a dark cloak. “When her horse needs shoeing, I rather imagine she does it herself,” West said. It’s a “jolly good idea” to give this protector of the young and the weak her due and not to trifle with her. “Don’t mess with me and mine,” is the message Hecate sends to the world according to West, whose understanding of this deity’s appearance and personality come largely from pathworking.

While Hecate is what her coven is all about, her personal relationship is with the Morrigan. She was born near the source of the river Raven, hand-reared a raven, and ravens either live wherever she has, or show up soon after she does. Her initials are even “K.A.W,” and it seemed natural for her to seek a raven goddess, and one with close ties to her own Celtic heritage. The Morrigan controls the birds that serve as “nature’s dustbin,” cleaning up after the mess of battle.

[wallpapercraft.com]

[wallpapercraft.com]

West remembers a time when the only way to make contact with other Witches was to go to the library with your name and address on a piece of paper, and slip it into a certain Dennis Wheatley book. Presumably, the person picking them up would just show up at the door one day.

“I did not do that,” she said. “The internet age doesn’t know what it’s got.”

On balance, she considers the open access to be a vast improvement over those days, but there have been changes about which she is not so keen. “There is a difference of opinion between elders and newcomers about the word ‘silent,'” she said. “You can’t tell people secrets of the circle, even though it’s cool.”

After writing thirteen books in the Real Witches series including a handbook, a cookbook, and a book of days, she’s allowed herself a hiatus. That last, the Real Witches Year was particularly challenging, because the editor kept changing the size of the pages, meaning she had to rewrite to make the text fit. The series was named by someone at the first publisher, and she’s stuck with that decision through several more in the ensuing years.

For all the books she has written and for all the appreciation she has for internet, West believes that nothing is comparable to learning the Craft in person. “Anyone who calls themselves a Witch can practice,” she said, “but it’s ten times harder when there’s no one to pick up the pieces.”

There are simply concepts that are easier to show than write about, and there’s also the down side of the internet: “It’s harder to avoid the nutters.” She said that “all of the faiths have their own special and unique variety of idiots; Witches have some of their own.” There are also bits of etiquette which aren’t needed by solitary practitioners, like the tradition of the high priestess draining the chalice.

Still, she does what she can by telling stories of her own coven’s foibles as a warning to others. For example, she recounted a time when one coven member believed wholeheartedly in making his own magical tools. West considered this a good idea until he pointed his athame and the blade came loose from the handle, only to stick in the floor at her feet.

Another time, they misplaced an initiate because the individual was told to remain quiet in the dark as they prepared for the outdoor ritual. When it was time to begin, they couldn’t locate the person. “Of course, no one brought a bloody torch,” she said, and while the would-be initiate heard their name being called, it was interpreted as another test, so they became quieter still.

Her media expertise has also gotten her into some awkward situations. During a speaking engagement at a conference, West was recounting a time when a BBC crew was filming a ritual, and one of the producer’s asked, “Can you move the baby a bit closer to the fire?” That anecdote was part of a larger rant on the mistakes that reporters tend to make. At the conclusion of her conference speech, she asked the audience for questions. “The first person said to me, ‘Do you know how many journalists are in this room?'”

If and when West returns to writing, she said that she is pondering a book about starting covens. “It would be ‘don’t do it’ in 55,000 words,” she said.

OHIO– The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick has been in existence, off and on, since 1966. But the collection, which was once featured in publications from the New York Times to the Scholastic Voice, hasn’t been publicly displayed since Jimmy Carter was president. Now two longtime friends of Raymond Buckland – the man who brought Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States – are trying once again to make an ever-growing collection of Pagan artifacts available to the public.

Buckland, circa 1960s, holding 250-year-old mandrake root [Courtesy Photo]

The museum’s heyday was its first ten years from 1966-1976. During that time, Buckland himself housed it on Long Island where he lived. When he moved to New Hampshire, he tried to keep it up. However, by 1980, he decided to put the collection in storage. He was much in demand as a lecturer and writer, and found himself unable to devote the necessary time to the project.

The collection remained in storage for close to 20 years. Then, Buckland made arrangements to pass it on to Monte Plaisance, whose intention was to reopen the museum in New Orleans. That, unfortunately, never came to pass. As The Wild Hunt reported in 2008, attorneys were retained to negotiate the return of the artifacts to Buckland. Since that point, there have been allegations that the collection was not returned complete from its journey to New Orleans.

We contacted Michael (Monte) Plaisance about the accusations. He said, in part, “When I returned the museum [collection], all of those items were accounted for and those documents were signed off by the mediating attorney, who took the collection and brought it to whoever was the next person to handle it. […] I wish the current curator/owner of the collection the best of luck with the task ahead.” Read his full response to the allegations here.

Rev. Velvet Rieth was the next person to try to take on the project. However, Rieth became ill, so Buckland sought other curators, which he found in Toni Rotonda and Kat Tigner. Buckland has said, “These two ladies have taken on a formidable task but are doing wonderfully well with it. I have absolute trust in them and am extremely grateful to them for taking this on.” Rotonda and Tigner spoke to us about their plans for the collection.

The Wild Hunt: How did the two of you come to own this collection in the first place?

Toni and Kat: The two of us, Kat and Toni, have been friends with Raymond Buckland for quite some time. Over the course of several years, we have had a number of conversations about the museum collection. Last year (2015), we were made aware that Reverend Velvet Rieth, the then-curator of the museum, had become ill and was unable to continue managing the museum. After much discussion and consideration, all parties thought it would be the best option to bring the collection back to Ohio for safekeeping. This has proven to be a monumental task, as the collection is extremely extensive.

TWH: What kind of background in Paganism do you have?

Kat: I have studied witchcraft and the occult since 1970. I was a solitary practitioner for over 30 years until I felt a strong need to connect with other Pagans. I started a Pagan website back in the late 1990s (there were very few back then) and began selling my own ritual candles and oils. In 1999, I decided to quit my lucrative government job to open a small “witch shop” called The Cat & The Cauldron in Columbus, Ohio. A risky endeavor, to say the least, but you’ve heard the old adage “build it and they will come.” Well, they came and business grew. I learned from Llewelyn publishers that Ray Buckland lived in Ohio, so I decided to contact him and invite him for a book signing and lecture at my shop. Ray initiated me into the Craft (his first initiate in 20 years), then became my mentor and close friend, which we’ve been ever since. We co-founded a coven together in 2005 called the Temple of Sacrifice which follows an Egyptian pantheon, but I still recognize and worship the gods and goddesses of many cultures today.

Toni: I grew up in an extremely diverse family in many ways. My great-grandmother was a Vodou practitioner. My maternal grandmother was an in-the-closet Hungarian gypsy. My paternal grandmother had holy water basins attached to several walls of her home (which I loved) and would walk around mumbling prayers with her rosary in hand. And my nanny, well, let’s just say tea leaves and tarot before breakfast was standard fare. I had a very colorful childhood, and for that I am very thankful. I’ve always been fascinated by the various beliefs of different populations, and still am. I have studied various religions and paths over the years, when finally, in 1999, I wandered into a little shop called The Cat & The Cauldron.

TWH: Do you have any experience with starting and running a museum?

Kat and Toni: No, but we certainly have some great guidance from Ray who started the original museum in 1968! We have been involved with and have had guidance from several other museum curators as well as historical societies. Ashley Mortimer, from the Doreen Valiente Foundation, has been instrumental in helping us with laying the groundwork. It has been comforting to work with a group that understands the importance of protecting the integrity of such a collection. We hope to work with them more in the future.

There is definitely a lot to learn but it has been an exciting and worthwhile project. We have each owned and currently own our own businesses and have a wealth of knowledge and guidance from many that are anxious to see this project up and running.

Crystal balls owned by Sybil Leek and Raymond Buckland, respectively [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What can you tell me about the Buckland collection itself that you own?

Kat and Toni: It is as diverse of a collection as one could imagine. When we originally received the collection from New Orleans in July of 2015, the items were not carefully packed or labeled in any way. There were large foot lockers filled with what could only be described as chaos. We had no idea who (and in some cases, what) these items belonged to, or their relevance to the museum. Many of the items were in pieces (in separate foot lockers), broken, or missing. It was very disheartening. Thankfully, because of Ray’s extensive record-keeping (thank the gods!), we were able to identify, catalog, and restore many of the artifacts.

Ray began this collection in the 1960s. Having worked for British Airways, it allowed him the ability to travel around the world to collect various ritual artifacts. Ancient Egyptian, African, Meso-American, and Australian Aboriginal ceremonial artifacts are among the many items in the collection. As we all know, Ray has been a beacon for many on the Pagan path. Because of this, Ray has met many others that have also been instrumental on the Pagan front. Individuals such Gerald Gardner, Monique Wilson, Sybil Leek, Aiden Breac, Israel Regardie, Patricia Crowther, Scott Cunningham, and Eleanor Bone just to name a few. These individuals as well as many others have donated some amazing personal artifacts to the museum.

TWH: Have there been any recent donations?

Kat and Toni: For the past six months, we have been communicating with a number of Pagan elders and teachers. It was absolutely no surprise to us that a number of these individuals that we’ve spoken to were close friends with Ray, some as far back as the 1960s. It’s been amazing to discover that long before the internet, these pioneers all knew each other even though they were spread all over the globe. They have all been extremely helpful and more than willing to donate something to the collection. Some recollect having seen the collection in the 1970s, and many have wonderful stories of the early days!

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [provided]

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [Courtesy Photo]

Recently we made a trip down to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. They had just released their latest book, Lifting the Veil, and were doing a workshop at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore. After the workshop, Janet and Gavin presented the museum collection with a beautiful wooden chalice. This chalice had been used by Stewart, Janet, Gavin, and their coven for many years.

They told us a personal story behind the chalice that most have never heard of until now. When Stewart passed away and after the funeral services, he was cremated. His ashes were placed in many of his favorite places. However, some of them were set aside. Their coven went to one of Stewart’s favorite places, cast a circle and held a funerary ritual. Stewart’s ashes were placed in the chalice and filled with a good Irish whiskey. The chalice was then passed around the circle and everyone got a drink of Stewart! We were very pleased and honored to have received such a personal gift to the collection

The hospitality that we had received from everyone in Atlanta was overwhelming, and we’ll never forget the time that we spent with Janet and Gavin (haven’t laughed that much in a long time).

Since we have started reaching out to the community, we have received some wonderful donations. Among them are Christopher Penczak’s original athame, handmade spell cords from Laurie and Penny Cabot, a chalice from Sam Webster and his coven the Crescent Hellions, a gorgeous headdress that belonged to Morning Glory from Oberon Zell, and Ray has recently included his original manuscript of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. [Ed: We have previously covered Oberon Zell’s similar effort to start a Pagan museum.]

There are also a number [of people] that we have spoken to that are trying to decide what best represents themselves and their path. This is an important decision. We have had extensive conversations with Phaedra Bonewits about what she would like to donate. She says that she has an idea, but is still pondering on what would best represent Isaac.

We cannot stress enough how important this process is for the museum collection. Expansion of the museum collection from donations is imperative to the preservation of our history. Without them, the history would be lost.

Oberon Zell donated items to the museum [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What’s your vision for what the museum will look like once it’s open?

Kat and Toni: We actually have Ray’s original blueprints for a larger museum project that he had planned, and it would be wonderful to stay as close to his vision as possible. The exhibits will walk the viewer through the history of witchcraft and magick, to the present day practices and blending of traditions.

TWH: When do you hope you can open the doors?

Kat and Toni: We have not decided on an exact date as of yet. We are still in the process of restoring some of the items and building permanent display cases. We do have an idea of a location here in Ohio, but we are still working on the details.

TWH: How is the museum to be legally structured? Do you own the objects personally, or is there some kind of board or other organization officially in charge? Are the donations tax-deductible at this time?

Kat and Toni: Currently we own the museum and are legally registered with the State. However, our long term goal (much like the Valiente collection) is to establish a foundation. We feel that it is extremely important to protect and grow the assets, and establishing a foundation with a board of trustees will keep the museum intact for future generations.

Unfortunately, no, donations are not tax-deductible at this time. This, as well as a non-profit status are in the works for the future.

TWH: Please provide all the ways that people can support this project, including financially and non-financially, such as item donations.

Kat and Toni: We have just recently started a [crowdfunding campaign] to help with costs. The costs of restoration, utilities, rent, insurance, application fees, [and] display cases can be overwhelming, so anything donated to the fund is greatly appreciated. There is also a donation page on the Buckland Museum website. We have had some wonderful feedback and contributions from friends, family and fellow Pagans who would like to see this history preserved. People can help in many ways by making a small donation, a large donation, or even just forwarding the information to their family and friends!

We would also like if people could share any memories or stories that they may have of the museum over the years. Along with this, we love hearing stories, tales, and anecdotes of the people that have been instrumental in this cause.

TWH: Do you have any criteria that you could share about item donations, or is it really on a case-by-case basis?

Kat and Toni: We would still like to continue to have as diverse of a collection as possible. Certainly anything that pertains to Pagan religions and traditions. We would also like to try to continue to display items from prominent Pagan leaders who have been instrumental in making Paganism what it is today.

TWH: Who would you like to see attending the grand opening?

Well of course we would hope that Ray Buckland will be there to cut the ribbon!

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman show poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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.