Archives For Neopaganism

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In Florida last week, a moment happened that some members of religious minorities have been anticipating since the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling on sectarian prayer at public meetings. An elected official walked out rather than hear an invocation given by a Pagan. Now, due to similar religious freedom efforts by that same Pagan, the local school board may face a lawsuit for discriminating against minority faiths.

David Suhor [Courtesy image]

David Suhor [Courtesy image]

David Suhor, who describes himself as “an APPLE Biter – that’s an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist Living Existentially and biting every apple I want to,” firmly believes that a moment of silence is the only way for public bodies to be inclusive when they incorporate prayer into meetings. He has been using the language of the Greece v Galloway SCOTUS decision to push that agenda. The court held that prayers are acceptable so long as a policy of nondiscrimination is followed.

Suhor has been repeatedly asking permission to offer a prayer before several boards in Escambia County, Florida. The video of Suhor calling to the quarters singing a prayer written by Starhawk with accompanying magical gestures quickly went viral, to the delight of Atheists and others troubled by the SCOTUS decision.

In this video, he stands before the County Commission. However, the county’s school board has repeatedly rejected his requests.

“The resistance is unique to each board,” Suhor said when reached for comment. “The County Commission and school board let each of the five commissioners choose who gives a prayer. The [school] board [members] all said no. [On the] County Commission, the chairman accepted, [but it] took a little pushback before he accepted. My goal is each and every member should be willing to be welcoming of anyone if they’re going [to have prayer, but my] goal is really a moment of silence.”

What Suhor calls “pushback” has been called “pushy and off-putting” by one of those being pushed, school board member Jeff Bergosh. In Suhor’s campaign to have the school board’s meetings follow the same prayer protocol as expected in the classroom (a moment of silence), Suhor has been theatrical. He told a local news reporter that he may choose to pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Satan if his requests continue to be denied.  On one occasion, he unrolled a prayer mat and chanted while a Christian invocation was delivered. Bergosh characterized this act as distracting, saying on his blog, “I’lll leave the room and come back after, or wear Bose noise cancelling headphones,” rather than witness “disrespectful” behavior during an invocation.

Suhor has also threatened legal action, which prompted the school board to consult its attorney, Donna Waters. “At present, I don’t see that the board has to change its past practice (of holding invocations),” Waters said, adding “that practice does carry some degree of risk for litigation.”

Suhor’s push to force local boards into abandoning the use of an opening invocation goes back long before the controversial SCOTUS decision. “The tradition of allowing each board member to choose who will give the prayer means that they tend to pick their own religion,” he said, “and I’ve sat through a lot of Christian prayers.” He points to his difficulty getting on the calendar; he did it once before at a County Commissioners’ meeting two years ago.  But he has been repeatedly rebuffed by the school board. “No one wants to stand for a minority religion,” he said.

Seal_of_Escambia_County,_FloridaWhat do other local members of those minority religions think about the firestorm Suhor has created? The reactions are generally positive, although the specific content of his prayer is sometimes questioned. While Suhor has participated in Pagan observances at a Unitarian Universalist church, he isn’t well known in the local Pagan community, being mostly solitary. Rev. Edward Livingston of the Fire Dance Church of Wicca said of Suhor:

He has never attended our church or taken part in the greater Pagan community. But not all Pagans like to work in groups or circle with others. I support his challenges to the legal and governmental system, but I also see him as doing this to make them stop using invocations and prayer, but a moment of silence instead. He has said to me he would consider all invocations and prayers outside the normal local top three religions until they change the rules. We are not as political as he is, we are a small Wiccan/Pagan church that provides a ritual 8 times a year for those who want to circle with others.

Cynthia Jurkovic is an ordained Priestess-Hierophant of the Fellowship of Isis who also lives in the panhandle of Florida. She supports Suhor’s goals, but questions his methods. Jurkovic said:

After reading the article about this incident in Escambia County, and watching the news clip from WEAR 3, I have a few thoughts to share. First, I totally agree that if prayer is to be allowed before any meeting of government bodies or other institutions, all spiritual/religious traditions should be given the opportunity to offer a prayer.

Likewise, I support David Suhor’s right to step up to offer Pagan prayers at these government functions. Where I feel he took a wrong turn is in what he presented at this meeting. Invoking the elements is not in alignment with the intention of speaking a prayer to a higher power, however you name it, for wisdom and guidance in decision making, and working toward the highest good regarding the outcome of the meeting.

I thought it was ridiculous that he sang elemental quarter calls. He was not there to cast a ritual circle. The elements are not the same as deities. Why did he not say a prayer to Pagan deities suitable to the intention of the meeting? It appears to me that by coming before the assembled people and then singing elemental quarter calls, complete with gesticulation, that he was purposefully irritating and provoking a dramatic response. This was completely inappropriate!

For Suhor’s part, he’s a musician, and explains that he’s more comfortable singing in public than speaking. “I wasn’t going over the top,” he said, “just expressing as fully as I knew by calling the quarters.” Identifying as a Pantheist, his view on the divine nature of the elements differs from Jurkovic’s. In response to the criticism that the invocation was too long, Suhor responds that he’s sat through many Christian prayers that were longer.

Was he “purposefully irritating and provoking a dramatic response,” as Jurkovic believes? He told one reporter, “In a way I would like for other people to experience what it’s like when I go to a meeting and am asked to pray against my conscience.”

And what about that County Commissioner who walked out? He told a television news reporter, “I’m just not going to have a Pagan or Satanic minister pray for me.” Commissioner Wilson Robertson was not able to be reached for this story, so it is unclear if he’s conflated those two terms, ascribing them both to Suhor, or if he doesn’t care either way.

As for the Escambia County School Board, it continues to be recalcitrant. The Wild Hunt will be watching this story as it develops.

Technological advances and access to technology have greatly changed the everyday experience of many communities around the world, especially here in America. Everything from access to information, training, and the ability to connect with people in different geographical areas, have made the process of connection much different than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

According to Internet World Stats, 84.9% of the population in the United States have internet access or are internet users. Avenues of communication in greater society have been largely replaced with social media platforms, email, video chats, and online learning systems; these same systems are translating to Paganism as well.

The impact of living in a booming technological age on Paganism has shown how interesting advances can enhance or hamper community connectivity. Building community looks much different when there is access to smart phones, iPads and computers, and the ability to generate connection among people can become more about branding than about personable connection that we find in consistent face to face engagement. As technological advances continue to thrive, so does the Pagan community in numbers, yet the freedom that the internet provides can add to misinformation, increased access to rumors, and national attention to otherwise local issues that happen within the Pagan community. Everyone can be an expert in the age of the internet, and all problems are at the fingertips of people around the globe. The increased access to training, research and information does not erase the potential problems that come from the use, and abuse, of technology in Modern Paganism.

The positive and negative impact of increased advances affect areas of community building, publishing, entertainment, small magical or metaphysical shops, organizational structures, information exchange, the media, and a host of other areas in our everyday world. Communities and organizations within Paganism are adjusting to the new ways of functioning efficiently within our modern times, which often highlights differences in cultural aspects of age and socioeconomics. We have seen this, for example, with how some organizations are moving towards the use of online telecommunication formats to incorporate more effective mediums for business, and national communication among members.

In exploring a few of the many areas that technology reaches within modern Paganism, I spoke with several people for perspective on the impact that these changes have had, and are having. As the circumference of the Pagan community has expanded, intersecting interactions have increased the usefulness of different methods of communication, connection and business.

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess (COG), has been doing a lot of work within Pagan and interfaith organizations on a national level. In addition to interfaith work with COG, she is the North American Interfaith Network Regional Coordinator (NAIN) and works with the United Religions Initiative. Her work expands to areas of the world that require technology to access.

How have you seen technology incorporated into Pagan organizations and how does this contribute to the organizational function?

Over the past, umm, say twenty plus years, technology has changed a great deal.  As people have become more accustomed to using the internet, attitudes too have changed.  I remember a gathering of one of my traditions back in the, possibly early nineties.  I suggested that we develop a list to share information and make communications easier among us.  Such a hue and cry you have never heard.  “Oh we can’t do that.  Everyone would be able to see what we are discussing…even the secret stuff wouldn’t be safe anymore.  No absolutely not!”  So of course I purchased a domain name, put up a simple web site and put together a list making it clear that if one wished to be on that list an individual would have to let me know.  Well pretty soon everyone was on the list.  A few years later the list went down for some reason and once again a hue and cry went out, this time because the list was down and OMG how was anyone going to communicate, accompanied by appropriate hair pulling and teeth gnashing.

Today, the term “Google” is a household word meaning “to go out and search for”; the first thing on a new organization’s to do list is put up a website, and list serves are a mandatory part of doing business.  As the technology improves, so does our ability to communicate virtually, without the need for carbon footprint.

How do you feel that the use of technology has changed the Pagan organizations you work with?

With the advent of virtual communications the face of paganism has changed drastically. Before the use of electronic connections anyone interested in becoming an “official” pagan had to ultimately connect with others doing the work.  You will hear many stories from the fifty plus set about how they became pagans because they picked up one of the old magazines and found contacts, or were inspired to search for contacts and training.  People knew one another and knew who they were.

The up side to all of this is our new ability to gather for meetings without the necessity of even leaving the house.  It allows us to come together in greater numbers and have a larger say in the structure of our organizations allowing parents, the less abled, and those who must work, to join in meetings as never before and all without leaving such an oppressive carbon footprint.

Organizational bylaws are changing to allow virtual attendees to count for quorum where such issues are important and the alarming trend for organizations such as the Covenant of the Goddess, who meets once a year somewhere in the United States, to become an organization controlled by those with the funds to travel is certainly mitigated.

Perhaps best of all, people are coming to know us, at worst as harmless, and at best as people with serious theological underpinnings. In my work as an interfaith representative I have often referred folks to various web pages that saved hours of explanation, and frankly a quick bit of research during lunch in my hotel room has saved me serious embarrassment when dealing with religions with which I had not been familiar.

 

M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), elder and Pagan author, works as an interfaith activist and works in several different capacities within the community. In her work as a member of the Cherry Hill Advisory Board member, and as a web weaver, technology plays a vital role in her work.

Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

As an elder in our community, I imagine you have seen a lot of technological changes that are now incorporated in modern Paganism. What are some of the largest changes within in the past 10-20 years that now are common uses for technology in our community?

Change has come so fast and furious that I’m dazzled by its variety and complexity.  Media have combined to give us immediate updates and gales of opinions of every little topic that sparks a flame.  I try to stay current.  I have a cellphone and laptop and am on Facebook.  I subscribe to lists and groups where discussion can be rich.  Just as readily discussion can become heated and obnoxious.  As a social person, I find I have an appetite for engaging in civil discourse.   I find I’m easily seduced by all those virtual venues where ideas are shared.  The downside of that is such engagement can be a time-suck if you don’t maintain strict limits.

Do you think these changes have had more positive or negative impact on the current state of our community?

I definitely think these changes have had a positive effect overall.  Before the advent of the Internet, we had only fragmented communities and a tendency towards mistrust.  Over the years since Internet access has become more common, especially among younger people, we have used electronic communication to build virtual communities as well as to fortify and enhance efficient communication regarding our terraspace communities.  Further, we are able to mobilize quickly if we choose to.

Today we have news sites and networking sites, music and podcasts, special interest sites, as well as scores of blogs and vlogs — anything on everything.  Of course, there is the matter of discerning what sources warrant our trust for their accuracy, reliability, and thoroughness and which tend to be more superficial and inflammatory.  But you have that with any media.

As for teaching, while some kinds of magic-spiritual teachings must be in person, many kinds of teaching and learning can be done effectively online.  Plus, online learning is greener.  We now have institutions of higher learning where all or most of the campus is virtual.  Cherry Hill Seminary, for instance, except for annual in-person intensives, is entirely online, with cool Moodle classrooms, a virtual library, online bookstore.   We Pagans are a small, widely spread demographic, making conventional terraspace learning environments (i.e., schools with classrooms) impractical.  Thus, a teaching and learning institution’s cyberspace presence has made scholarly online learning more readily available to Pagans wherever they may live.

Dr. Amy Hale

Dr. Amy Hale

Education and research continues to be a major aspect of need within the Pagan community. Access to training, information and education around the many different intersecting areas of study has always been a source of discussion, but the methods for attaining such things has drastically changed. We have also seen an increased emphasis placed on higher education, and an importance placed on the value of academic study. Professor Dr. Amy Hale has worked extensively in designing and teaching within online academic formats.

As a professional that works in higher education, do you find that the use of technology in learning modalities are more accepted today than say 10 years ago?

Absolutely!  Educational technologies are becoming ubiquitous, and are found in all sorts of environments in addition to strictly educational settings.  We are seeing the use of technology to support everything from on site and contextual training for businesses to the use of mobile phones to educate children in combat areas.  As technologies develop, we figure out how to teach and learn with them, and as ever, the first to benefit (which may surprise some) are frequently underserved populations and women. Of course, not everyone is an educational technology advocate, some prefer the low tech approach, but I believe the benefits are clear.

How do you see the changing role of technology influencing modern Paganism and what can we learn from higher education institutions in this area?

Technology is, in my view, the driving force behind modern Paganism.  Communication and information technologies give us a way to learn, share and create community.  While I have occasionally heard concerns about “internet solitaries” who some believe may not be as connected to live Pagan communities,  I see no reason to assume that Pagans connected primarily by the internet are any less genuine or living their Paganism in a way that is any less “authentic”.

But technology is changing the way we think, and we need to be aware of how. As when the printing press first came into use, many modern information technologies have the great ability to challenge our relationship with authority and promote a democratization of information. This, however, does not mean that all information is good and that all opinions are equally valid.  This is why we have a much, much greater responsibility to foster critical thinking and a need to understand how to assess the mountains of information we have access to.  We are well past the time when the professor or teacher or church is the ultimate authority, and certainly in many educational settings we are embracing this development.  We need to have the tools to think for ourselves and to know how to craft solid arguments, and we need to learn to do this with respect and civility.   I would like to see Pagans become more rigorous thinkers and better assess their sources.  So many Pagans out there on the internet seem to lack basic information literacy in that they don’t know how to tell if a source is valid or if an argument is well supported. I think this is the challenge that all educational professionals face today, and this is the direct result of the free flow of information.

Cherry Hill Seminary is one of the ways that we have seen this method of higher education exchange take on technology to facilitate learning. Cherry Hill is currently teaching in an all online format.

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogger Tim Titus wrote a recent piece about social media and the way that negative engagement can influence how people engage. Some of the unintended consequences of social media and the influx of online communication has contributed to emerging patterns in the development of community building. In Tim’s piece, Surviving Social Media’s Ocean of Negativity, he discusses some of his observations.  “But the problem I have is that most of the nastiness that circulates around social media, both within and without the pagan community, is petty and exhausting. There’s always someone complaining about life, the universe, and everything. They complain about their work day; they beat dead horses about situations that were resolved long ago; they call out friends for silly things.   We have all this amazing technology to build community around the world, and we use it as our personal bitching platform. If anger and argument were a drug, we’d need a national 12-step program.?”

In a small snapshot of how technology plays an intricate role in Modern Paganism, we see that there these forms of communication and engagement have become an intricate part of the format that we now exist within. The continued growth of our community will rely heavily on how these forms of technology are used and instituted in our functioning practice.

While there are a lot of positive connections that are made with the use of technological advances, we also have some interesting consequences that are a result of the fast paced environment that is created with immediate access to so much information, and lightning fast responses. As much as we thrive as a community with the use of additional methods of research, education, connection, and organizational options, we are also faced with the concept that this level of interaction moves a community into a fast paced momentum that can add to some steep learning curves and promote additional division in the ranks.

This is a large topic that could benefit from continuous unpacking. Exploring this topic brings us to some interesting questions we can ask ourselves in the process of community exploration. Has technology replaced some of the need for interactive personal contact within the Pagan community? How has the definition of community evolved with the use of this level of technology? Does technology give us the chance to connect more often, or does it create a barrier to genuine connection that builds healthy interpersonal relationships?

All very important questions to consider as we are enjoying the access that our various devices give to us, and that we are able to use in our experiences of Modern Paganism.

Perspectives is a monthly column dedicated towards presenting the wide variety of thought across the Pagan/Polytheist communities’ various Paganisms.

The Wild Hunt received responses from four members of the community—Ember Cooke, Gytha of the Vanic Conspiracy and member of Seidhjallr (Sudhri); Richard Reidy, Kemetic Reconstructionist, author, moderator and founder of The Temple of Ra and the Kemetic Temple of San Jose; Erynn Rowan Laurie, author and Celtic Reconstructionist polytheist; and Sannion, the archiboukolos of the thiasos of the Starry Bull—detailing their opinion on whether larger interfaith work (Abrahamic, Dharmic, etcetera) is needed or if it’s a distraction from Pagan-Polytheist-Wiccan-Heathen-Recon-African Tradition inter/intrafaith work?

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

“I absolutely do NOT think that one kind of interfaith work is a distraction from another kind. Both are necessary if Pagans in general are to have increased stability, civil rights and respect, and influence on the world around us. Interfaith work within the Pagan movement is necessary so that we can increasingly work together and function in ways that we have intended to in the past while overlooking the fact of our differences in theology.

Interfaith work with non-Pagan traditions is necessary for us to gain the understanding and support of the larger faith population, which is most of the world. To discard either one is to say that some categories of humans don’t matter very much, so if they don’t understand us and care about us, well, we don’t need to understand and care about them which is a dangerous drawing of lines in the sand that I think causes a lot more harm than good. And yes, I try to actively engage in both kinds of interfaith work when I have the time and energy to do so.”Ember Cooke, Gytha of the Vanic Conspiracy and member of Seidhjallr (Sudhri)

“I see no compelling reason why we cannot be involved in interfaith/intrafaith work with both groups. For myself it is not an either/or proposition. Whatever we may think we know of individual groups or theologies, it helps our own cause to dialogue with them in order to dispel some of the common misconceptions many of them have regarding earth-based religions, pagan and neopagan religions, polytheists, as well as other spiritual/religious groups. Currently in the West the dominant Abrahamic faiths very often label us idolaters, devil worshipers, and profoundly misguided. We—in our own self interest—can work to dispel such potentially dangerous thinking. We owe it to ourselves to try to dispel the myths surrounding our religions.

In regard to the various intrafaith groups, it helps us to interact with others in order to build a sense of solidarity, mutual respect, and understanding. When we see people as “us” rather than just “other,” we enrich each other. Many if not most of our groups are fairly small in number. Many are somewhat isolated. If we wish to last beyond our own lifetimes and achieve any real stability and growth, we cannot afford to remain insular. I remember the great Platonic and Neoplatonic schools that once existed in the Greek empire. They were led by charismatic men and women, with a small group of like-minded students and followers. They all—each and every one of them—died out under the weight of Christian expansionism and repression. All of them—gone! We must not let that happen to us. We cannot afford to simply enjoy our little fellowships and groups and “hope for the best.” The gods and the spirits deserve more.”Richard Reidy, Kemetic Reconstructionist, author, moderator and founder of The Temple of Ra and the Kemetic Temple of San Jose

“I think it really depends on the nature of the work a person is called to do. In my case I’m trying to build a religious community that venerates Dionysos and his associated gods and spirits. The majority of my time and energy goes into research, writing, worship and tending to the spiritual and other needs of my people.

Pagan Leadership ConferenceWhat remains after that goes into fostering dialogue with other polytheists around ways that we can mutually support each other in the restoration and promulgation of our ancestral traditions, which has resulted in projects such as Wyrd Ways Radio, the Polytheist Leadership Conference and the forthcoming Walking the Worlds journal.

I also feel that it’s important to engage in educational outreach with the neopagan and occult communities, particularly with regard to respect for diversity and boundaries, since ignoring our differences tends to create a hostile environment that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to work together on areas where our interests do happen to overlap.

Beyond that I have an interest in ecology and social justice, though I rarely have anything left to give beyond contributing financially to groups whose aims and efforts I agree with. As such I have almost no engagement with members of Abrahamic, Dharmic, indigenous or other religious communities, to say nothing of secular humanist or political groups, though I applaud their efforts when they are not in conflict with my own agendas.

But that’s me, and I have no expectation that others share my vocation or prioritize things the way I do. Indeed I think our communities are made stronger by encouraging people to pursue the goals and activities that they care most about and are uniquely skilled to perform. As Homer said, “No island is made for the breeding horses nor is any man capable of accomplishing all things.” We need priests and scholars and magicians and artists and educators and homemakers and laborers and politicians and soldiers and activists and so on and so forth, each doing their part to create a better society. This is what makes the polytheist worldview superior to all others—the recognition that there are many gods and many ways to serve those gods. It’s only a distraction if you’re not doing the work of your heart.”Sannion, archiboukolos of the thiasos of the Starry Bull

Erynn Rowan Laurie

Erynn Rowan Laurie

“I don’t see why it has to be just one or the other. Both types of work need doing, though maybe not all by the same individuals. It would be a lot to lay on any one person. But it’s important to have communication and attempt to find understanding both within and outside of our various communities. I don’t think restricting ourselves to only one option would actually be a very polytheist type of response, nor do I think doing one of these types of work is a “distraction” from any of the others. That would be like saying “I’m only going to inhale until I’ve got that down. Forget exhaling until I have perfect inhalation technique.” You really rather do need both to function.” Erynn Rowan Laurie, author and Celtic Reconstructionist polytheist

Perspectives is a monthly column with the goal of showing the wide variety of thought across the Pagan community’s various Paganisms.

The US is a nation comprised of native and immigrant cultures, customs and Deities. Each immigrant wave brought not only customs and cultures to this land, but Deities as well. The Wild Hunt asked five members of the community—Henry Buchy, Witch; Fritz Muntean, co-founder of New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (NROOGD) and Editor Emeritus for Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies; author, activist and founder of Tashlin Clan, Wintersong Tashlin; and Sam Webster, President and Executive Director of the Pantheon Foundation and publisher at Concrescent Press—for their thoughts on this topic.

How does your tradition, lineage, or cultus handle the subject of “place” as a specific entity? How does this intersect with the deities with whom you have built devotional relationships?

I’d have to rephrase that as “spirits of a specific place.” In some cases there may be a more concrete feel of a specific spirit in regards to certain land features. There are also other spirits in relationship to that place.The way we handle it is to go out and find out who’s who and what’s what, and try to be as direct and open/objective as possible, and work from there. I don’t really have a devotional relationship with “gods.” I have mutually beneficial relationships with “spirits/entities/beings.” — Henry Buchy, Witch

The traditions I practice (NROOGD, plus a kind of genteel non-lineage Alexandrian) do not especially focus on ‘deities of place.’” — Fritz Muntean, Pomegranate

“For starters, it’s useful to know that in my tradition we draw a distinction between the presence of spirits or entities that may be bound to or identify with a particular “place,” and a place having an agency or spirit all its own. That distinction is a bit hard to elucidate, but here’s my best shot: A spirit or deity of a place takes on some of its characteristics and vice versa. From the human interaction side, one is experiencing a separate Power and consciousness through the lens, or perhaps even the medium, of the place in which they dwell.

So for instance take a hypothetical naval ship (I know I’m stretching the definition of “place”). In the course of its voyages, a spirit or Power of some sort, an ocean sprite let’s say, could come to take residence in the body of the ship, becoming joined with its physical form. The granting of a soul or astral self if you will, connected to and perhaps even dependent on the form. Alternatively, when a place develops a Power and Will all of its own, there isn’t a separation between the spirit and the place itself. They are one and the same. In the context of our hypothetical ship, this would be if rather than gaining a sense of self through joining with an outside power, over the course of its construction and/or through the energies it’s exposed over the course of its travels, the ship was to develop some form of awareness, agency, or will by virtue of what it was.

As to how we “handle” those entities and situations, our approach begins and ends in most cases with respect. When we encounter a place with a distinct spiritual presence or power, we engage in the most limited way we can at the outset. The energetic equivalent of hold out a closed hand for a strange dog to sniff. The truth is that not every spirit or power has the slightest interest in people, or perhaps just in specific people.

In those situations, we don’t engage in devotional, ritual, or outward magical acts unless we’ve been given some form of consent. To do otherwise feels too much like not only barging into someone else’ living room, but holding the door open for a bunch of friends to come in too.

The vast majority of place spirits we have worked with are rudimentary in their interactions and care not one whit what we do as long as we don’t engage in harmful behavior. If we plan on doing a great deal of devotional work, such as setting up formal altars and making formal offerings to our gods, we make periodic offerings of one form or another in thanks and to maintain good will.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“Whether with respect to the Golden Dawn, Thelema, Witchcraft, or the kind of Paganism I find myself in, we have the capacity to make sacred space, and so where ever we are called to worship or practice, we create a place to meet our Deities. When we get to stay in one place long enough, such as our homes, we tend to build altars and shrines to give the Divine Ones a ‘seat’ and settle their presence. We then render our worship or practice before these constructed divine loci.” — Sam Webster, Pantheon Foundation

In the views of your tradition, lineage or cultus, are Gods inherently present in all places, or do they express through specific places? How does place of manifestation change the nature of theistic expression?

“I’d have to rephrase that [question] to are ‘spirits/entities/beings’ present in all places? To that I would say, in my experiences, yes. Do they express through specific places? Certain ones, yes. Specific places have a more concrete feel of a specific being. For other types of spirits, they have the same feel regardless of place in the sense of type, if that is what you mean by theistic expression. In other words, there are types of spirits that inhabit general types of terrain, i.e. woods, fields,swamp, etcetera, that are recognizable by a shared general nature.” — Henry Buchy

“The gods we work with are substantially immanent and universal — as archetypal forces in the collective human unconscious. So they are, generally speaking, present in all of us, wherever we are gathered. Still, our deities are defined by the sacred texts and compelling narratives of the ancient world (ie, through myths). So local landscapes often remind us of the settings that occur in these myths. This is especially helpful in designing the ritual dramas that form such an important part of Mystery Traditions.” — Fritz Muntean

“The answer to this question is again a bit nuanced. The short answer is that no, we do not traditionally view gods as present in all places, that is, not omnipresent. However, for the most part neither are they restricted to only specific places, although there may be some exceptions. While we do believe that our gods can manifest in multiple places simultaneously, we nonetheless see them as having some limitations. And nor are they present or aware of places where they are not making the deliberate choice to be present. That said, we do believe that some places are more conducive to their expression. Those places may have characteristics that are associated with certain gods, or with devotional acts to said gods. We most definitely believe that repeated use of a place for devotional acts “attunes” a place to the gods the devotion is directed to.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“In short, yes to both. The Gods, being Gods, are the structures of existence, much like the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, They pervade the Cosmos, and indeed They are those laws and so much more. Yet, at some point in time, some one had a specific experience of one or more Deities in a location and set up a place of worship there. Usually, the tale is of a specific manifestation of the Deity giving it a characteristic or locative epithet. Thus while the Deity is in all places active and available, at this place, in a manifestation specific to the place, the Deity most especially in that form, is particularly available.” — Sam Webster

When a Deity begins expressing themselves through or in a place not historically or traditionally associated with Them, do you consider that Deity to be expressing through that place in a unique way?

“I’m not sure what you’re asking on this question as far as ‘place’. However, I’d say yes it would be unique simply by virtue of their being somewhere they usually aren’t. that would bring up a lot questions for me, and bear investigation.” — Henry Buchy

“Depends on to whom these deities are expressing themselves. The evaluation of UPGs forms a very important part of the administration of religious traditions of all sorts, and most especially in this regard.” — Fritz Muntean

“No, not really. Perhaps because being a North American who doesn’t work within traditions native to this land, most of the deities I interact with regularly are already outside of their native geographical context. I suspect that some of those deities do express themselves differently than in places associated with them and their historical worship. Unfortunately, I’m not widely enough traveled to have that a frame of reference. It would be fascinated to experience interacting with some of the deities I consider myself closest to in their places of origin in terms of traditional mythos and cultural relevance.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“Any way at any time a Deity expresses themselves is it always unique. If it happens to be a new way, then we are especially blessed to have that experience. It also lets us know that the Gods Live Still, and arise to us in ways meaningful to our lives.” — Sam Webster

What about Gods of exodus, diaspora, nomadism or other human movement? Is there a difference in your tradition or lineage between Gods who come through a new place versus Gods who are carried with Their people?

“Not sure what you mean by “gods who come through a new place.” If you mean the ‘discovery’ of spirits or beings connected to the new place, to me there is no difference, spirits/entities/beings—’’gods’ if you wish, are gods. However, this is a pretty complex question that really depends on the ‘people’ mentioned, and their theology/cosmology, as to whether they incorporate the new, syncretize them with one of their own, or dispossess it.” — Henry Buchy

“Speaking for myself, as well as those downstream of me and my teachings, we are very careful not to engage in mis-appropriation of the spiritual and mytho-poetic traditions of diasporan or nomadic people. On the other hand, most of the specific deities we work with had their origins (or had the details of their narratives reshaped) during the Hellenistic period, when local deities were syncretized over the course of a few short centuries to serve the needs of a population on the move (throughout the Mediterranean and beyond) and becoming cosmopolitan.” — Fritz Muntean

“Overwhelmingly we approach the gods through the lens of diaspora and nomadism, which we see as two separate things. Gods of diaspora came with people from one place to another, where they then settled, and in some cases stayed even as their people spread further.

Gods of nomadism on the other hand are carried with their people wherever they may go, and have no geographical anchor, or have traveled so far afield from said anchor as to render it virtually irrelevant. All that matters is the people, who could be thought of as the gods’ anchor in the mortal world. They may express or manifest in a particular place, but only because that is where their people happen to be at that moment.

In the gray area between diaspora and nomadism you find gods who travel with their people, but only have notable presence once altars or other dedicated space is set up for them in a new place.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“I live in America and am not Indigenous/Native American, so all of my ‘Old World’ deities are being worshiped in a new place.” — Sam Webster

How does movement to, or new expression through, a different place impact the relationships between the Gods and their people? How are these impacts accounted for in ritual and technological expression? How are changes or “new” things dealt with?

“Historically, as mentioned above, incorporation, syncretization or dispossession.” — Henry Buchy

“Again, our own examples are found in the Hellenistic age. Watch Hecate, or Thoth, or (especially) Isis undergo transformations and syncretizations during this period for examples of how we might best proceed. Clearly (from history) this is not a process left up to individual expressions or agenda.” — Fritz Muntean

“In our tradition, people are expected to adapt to our environments, and in doing so hold space for our gods to connect to our world. How we adapt energetically and ritually to new places plays a large role in how we interact with our gods. As we adapt, so does how we interact with our gods, and in some ways, how the gods express themselves in our lives and our world.

So for instance, when my family made its home in relatively rural areas in the New Hampshire and Maine interior, our devotion and the cycle of rituals was tied to the flow of the seasons, and we interacted with our patron in different aspects of Herself in accordance with where in the course of the year we were.

However, since moving to the seacoast our interactions and devotional have come to be oriented around two dominant cycles: that of the moon/tides, and that of the ebb and flow of people and energy in and out of a popular resort town through the course of the year.

She is colored by the energies of the place in which we connect to Her, but how much of that is due to Her act of expression in this place, and how much is a reflection of our own energetic and mental patterns when we are interacting with Her is totally up for debate.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“Once I was given a vision of Tahuti, Lord of Scribes, Lord of Information, and saw Him with a book in His hand. Noting my question, He replied that my ancestors would have seen a scroll, my descendants will see a screen. The Gods are eternal, how we experience Them changes as we do.” — Sam Webster

When “new” Gods arrive in a place (if indeed any God can be considered new), how does Their arrival impact the local Gods and spirits of that place, if at all? How does your tradition, lineage or cultus view these relationships, if at all?

“The same as when a new group of people arrive in a place already occupied, and the same approach of incorporation, syncretization or dispossession.

Nowadays, it’s a fine line between ideas about “colonialism” and “appropriation.” Personally for me, the “God(s)” of my people (family/ancestry) is the Christian God. I’d have to go pretty far back to hit pagan ancestry. Part of my ancestry has been here on this land for three hundred years or so. There is the question of dispossession ancestrally. There’s not much I can do about that past, but to break with it by making my own peace with the land. Though I may be of European descent, I am not European, and I am not in Europe. I’m in this land. My body, bones and blood are of the earth and water of this land, I breathe the air of this land, and so I owe, to an extent, myself to this land. It’s spirits call to me, not in the voice of my European heritage, but in its own voice and so I answer in the best way I can, and approach the elder spirits here with no pretense about my heritage. To them I am still “foreigner,” but yet of the substance of this land, but I listen and learn their ways. I learn their names. I accept them as they come and they do like wise. I respect their domains and privacy. I honor them in the ways of the elder people, who are far and few between now. I do so with no pretense, and they know heart. Some folks say this is appropriation, and it is, though it’s the land that has appropriated me. We learn from each other. I explain to them the ‘gods’ of my heritage, and they explain to me the ‘gods’ of this land, and so there is peace between us.” — Henry Buchy

“In our worldview, the gods (as archetypes) are always present, wherever people dwell and (especially) engage in their devotional activities. The stories of gods, however, can and frequently are adapted to local landscapes. You’ll notice that I’m using ‘landscape’ instead of ‘place’ — to imply a dramatic sense, rather than one of cultural/geographic/political import.” — Fritz Muntean

“For starters, within the cosmology and belief system of our tradition, gods can be both “new” in terms of new to a place, and in terms of literally being new(er) deities. We believe that new gods can come into being and forgotten ones sometimes fade into the shadows.

 The arrival of “new” gods can displace or cause conflict with the existing spirits or even gods of a place if their intrinsic nature differs greatly from that of the native (or at least present) gods and spirits that preceded them. But in truth, that hardly seems to be a common occurrence in our experience.

As to how our tradition sees those situations, we generally come from the belief that the burden to integrate smoothly and without conflict lies with the spirits, energies, or gods that are “new.” If the newcomer is a deity we have a relationship with, for instance if we have moved and are beginning to offer devotion to our gods in a new place, we can do our part to smooth the way through offerings and courtesy to the powers already present.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“When we humans, in my lineage, arrive in a new place, we make offering to the Locals first. It just seems polite. Then we work our way up the chain of being back up to the non-local High Gods we generally work with. Thereafter, we include the Locals in our offerings.” — Sam Webster

Last month The Wild Hunt asked five members of the community — Thracian polytheanimist Anomalous Thracian of the blog Thracian Exodus; Mambo Chita Tann of Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We; priestess, author, blogger, and Solar Cross Temple board member Crystal Blanton; OBOD Druid and Under the Ancient Oaks blogger John Beckett; and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) Druid Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh — for their thoughts on sacrifice. The following continues the conversation with part two of that interview.

How is sacrifice separate from blood sacrifice? Does blood sacrifice include personal blood offerings or is it limited to animal sacrifice?

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“Blood sacrifice is not a term that I use and I would argue it as vague and somewhat useless. Ritual bloodletting would be more appropriate in this context, if I am reading the question correctly, as it is general enough to include many things, such as: ritual cutting of one’s own flesh to create a bond or pact with a spirit; ritual cutting of a sexual partner’s flesh in a ritual or ceremony; ritual cutting of an animal (not for the purpose of killing, but for producing the essence of a specific animal’s life force); “marking” a person with your own essence under certain ritual circumstances, whether for positive (protective, warding) or negative (hostile, magically infectious) reasons. Similarly cutting one’s self to feed one’s own blood to a specific deity — exactly as you might use, say, a goat, but without an immediate death — could be considered a sacrifice, and is still generally categorizable as “bloodletting.” I would hesitate to call anything that does not involve intentional death a sacrifice, in personal use of the term, but I would consider “the feeding or offering of blood, without death, to a deity or spirit” to be a form of sacrifice when circumstances call for it. Note: In many traditions, there are HEAVY restrictions upon forms of bloodletting of this sort, as the spirits and deities in question will take this as indication that the person being bled is “food,” and they will be regarded as such.” — Anomalous Thracian, Thracian Exodus

Mambo Chita Tann

Mambo Chita Tann

“We do not ever offer human blood in Haitian Vodou, despite stereotypes to the contrary. Blood can be offered in the rituals around making animal offerings, which almost always become food for ritual participants, once the spirits have taken their share. It is possible to consider sacrifice in the sense of other offerings of great worth that are given to the spirits, such as the great amount of effort, money, resources, and time an entire Vodou sosyete will dedicate to initiation ceremonies or annual observances of special ritual, but we still do not place these offerings as being more precious or higher than the ultimate sacrifice of an animal’s life to provide protection, blessing, and sustenance for that sosyete and its members.” — Mambo Chita Tann, Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We, Haitian Vodou

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“There are many different types of sacrifice, and it is not limited to blood sacrifice. Different traditions access this differently. I personally do not practice blood sacrifice, but I have made personal blood offerings. I honor the life force of the individual, and the power of the divine within me, adding magic in the process.” — Crystal Blanton, Daughters of Eve

 

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Blood sacrifice is a subset of sacrifice, a particular form of sacrifice. It can include personal blood offerings or it can include animal sacrifice.” — John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

“Sacrifice often is confused with “blood offerings.” Blood sacrifice really doesn’t have a place in a modern Neopagan context, yet there are established cultures that still perform blood sacrifices. In a modern Druid context, sacrifices are often things such as whiskey, grains, flowers, prayers, poems, songs, and anything else that is a tangible item used to give to the gods. There are instances where Neopagans will sacrifice some of their own blood as a form of blood oath, but that is a rare instance. Killing of a live animal is another form of archaic sacrifice or offering that really is not something that is all that common in a Neopagan context. Most of us purchase our meat already slaughtered for consumption, but there are ways to offer a portion of that meat as a sacrifice in the form of the shared meal.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Druid, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)

Do modern Paganisms stand to gain anything positive from giving offerings and sacrifice to the Gods? What about blood sacrifice?

“As a Polytheist who does not really identify as a Pagan, I can’t speak for “modern Pagans.” I believe that authentic religious traditions — rather than psychological models drawing from religious terms or structures, or social movements similarly using the aesthetic of religion for artistic, activist, or community-centered reasons, etcetera — should have trained specialists who handle the navigation of sacrifices to the respective gods of said group, assuming that said gods request, require, or even accept sacrifices. Not all gods like bloodshed or death. As for “blood sacrifice,” I will take this to mean “ritual bloodletting” (as indicated above), and again say, that while I cannot speak for Modern Paganisms, I can state that magically and religiously there is great potency in these technologies which can be certainly used for ‘gaining something positive.’” — Anomalous Thracian

“Giving offerings to the gods cannot possibly be a bad thing. Like prayer and interaction with one’s religious community, I tend toward the belief that you can’t get enough of it. Giving special offerings that take effort, non-blood sacrifices, are just more of the same. I do not believe that Pagans need to give blood sacrifice unless and until they understand the context of that act, have trained personnel who can perform it for them, and have a distinct need to do it: either because they need to share ritual food, they are in a place where they need to butcher their own meat and they choose to sacralize that act by offering their food animals to the gods, or their gods demand it of them and no other options are satisfactory. Even in the last case, I still believe it is imperative and necessary for context and training to occur first. As I stated in the PantheaCon panel, I expect that most modern Pagans, living in countries where they do not have to butcher their own meat and practicing religions that have lost their connection to customs where blood sacrifice was practiced, will never need to do this, and their deities would not ask it of them as a result.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Our relationships with the Gods dictate the value of sacrifice within a particular context. Much of what we would gain would be within the relationship itself, and that would depend on the practitioner and the God(s) in question. To make a broad, sweeping statement here about gain or loss would be devaluing to the individual and cultural relationships of varying practitioners of the craft.” — Crystal Blanton

“I have mixed feelings about blood sacrifice. On one hand, it would do us all good to get a first-hand understanding of where our food comes from and a first-hand understanding that what we are eating was itself alive only a short time ago. On the other hand, butchering animals requires skills you just don’t learn unless you grow up on a working farm and the only thing worse than not sacrificing is sacrificing clumsily – the animal should not suffer needlessly. Beyond that, I look at the community and legal problems blood sacrifice brings to some of the Afro-Caribbean religions – that’s not a battle I care to fight. But when you move beyond the issue of blood sacrifice, there is unquestionable benefit from sacrificing to the Gods. It brings us into closer relationships with Them, and it forces us to consider our relationships with food and with the non-food offerings we may be asked to give.” — John Beckett

“Absolutely, yes. We gain their blessings and we build our relationships with them through sacrifice. As far as blood sacrifice goes, in my years as a pagan and decade plus in ADF I have rarely heard it mentioned. I think we as Neopagans should focus on how we can use practical items to sacrifice in ritual, rather than trying to focus on something that is uncommon.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Where does volition and willingness come into sacrifice?

“Pretty much everywhere. Consent is sacred at every step; consent of the person performing or contemplating the sacrifice, consent of the sacrifice itself, consent of the one who raised or produced the sacrifice, consent also of the spirit or deity in question.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Constantly. If a thing is done against one’s will, it cannot be a sacrifice, period. If a person is forced to make an offering, that is no sacrifice, it is compulsion, and no good spirit or deity accepts that as sacrifice. In Haitian Vodou and in all the other traditions I know of where animal sacrifices are performed, no one would ever offer an animal without that animal’s permission; again, to do so without it would be compulsion and would not be a proper sacrifice. Even in halal and kosher ritual, from Islam and Judaism respectively, the animal must be awake and willing to be sacrificed; it cannot be knocked out before the knife is used. This is causing some issues with animal rights activists, most recently in Denmark, for example; but the alternative, to knock an animal unconscious and then kill it, would be completely wrong in that sacrificial tradition — while it may appear to the untrained eye of an animal lover looking at a video to be “kinder” to do this, an unconscious animal is unable to give consent and thus it is both cruel and, from a sacrificial standpoint, unholy/wrong. Those who understand butchery know that there are techniques to kill an animal without pain, and all who perform halal and kosher rituals must be certified as trained.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Volition means the act of making a decision, and willingness simply means being prepared to do something. As in all rituals, we have to properly prepare ourselves. In many traditions it means putting on special ritual clothing, setting up an altar, smudging ourselves, ritual bathing, and other things to prepare us for the act of ritual. In ritual, we decide who we are going to sacrifice to and why. We always need to enter ritual with a purpose, and we should always have a reason for sacrifice—even if it is just to build a better relationship with our gods. A ritual without a purpose is a waste of everybody’s time.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Does volition come into play in animal sacrifice, does it matter, and if so, how is it obtained?

“Yes. There are various methods for this, from speaking with the animal directly and observing its behavior (or hearing back, if the asker can communicate with animals directly), and so forth. The ritual structure being employed should provide the structures for ascertaining this. If they do not, they should maybe be reevaluated in order to ensure that they are completely understood and trained.” — Anomalous Thracian

“In terms of how we obtain it: In Haitian Vodou, animals are raised explicitly for the purpose of food and for ritual-related food or ritual purposes where the animal cannot be eaten afterward. These animals are raised by hand, by the community that will sacrifice them. Before they are sacrificed, they are washed, decorated, and prepared by the community. They will be led into the peristyle (the Vodou temple), and presented with a number of various foods. One of these foods is chosen ahead of time as being the official sacrificial food. The animal is told what will happen, and that if it is willing to be sacrificed, that it should eat the official food to signify this. Only if the animal eats the special food will it be presented to the spirits for sacrifice. If it eats anything else first, it must be let free because it is not willing to do the work. It has been my experience that the willing animals not only go immediately to the official food, they will eat all of it, and not even touch the other food (which will be the same: for example, three identical piles of corn for a chicken). They also act like they know what is happening, and they do not fight when they are picked up by the butcher, etcetera. It is a profound experience that is observed with the greatest amount of kindness and dignity. The animal has one life, and is being willing to give it up for us — how could we be less than respectful of that?” — Mambo Chita Tann

“It would have to come into play. A person has to choose to sacrifice an animal, and that is the very definition of volition. In a Neopagan context, I find the notion of animal sacrifice not necessary except for rare exceptions.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Should animal sacrifice have a place in modern Paganisms, reconstructionisms, and Witchcraft?

“As I am none of these things, I do not feel that it is my place to answer for them. That said I believe that animal sacrifice should have a place in any authentically lived religious tradition which has spirits or gods which request or traditionally receive such things.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Until and unless those practices have a stated need for animal sacrifice – and I believe that most of them never will – I would say no. Should that become necessary, for logistical reasons (i.e., not living in a land with easy access to food animals, refrigeration, etc.), or should the gods require it, then I would believe that those same gods would provide access to the proper context, training, and ability to do so. Vodouisants themselves have this situation. Very, very few individual Vodouisants perform animal sacrifices, and even those who do, do not do it on a daily or regular basis. In the cases where that is a necessary event, there are trained personnel that one can go to, who will perform it on your behalf. I rarely perform that act in the United States; it is simply less necessary here, given our modern conveniences when it comes to food. Even in Haiti, I do not perform it often, and in all cases, I have access to trained personnel who can help me with the sacrifices I am not trained to perform myself. Everything is community-based. Modern Paganisms would have to define the same sorts of communities before they would even know if that was something they were going to need to do. If it ever happens, I believe it would be a long time in the future.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“In general, it could have a very important place, but unless it can be done right it shouldn’t be done at all.” — John Beckett

“In most instances I do not think animal sacrifice really has a place in modern Neopaganism. I do know of a heathen farmer who raises his own pigs and ritually sacrifices one, but this is a rare situation. In a modern context, there simply are alternatives to sacrifice that are every bit as effective.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What is the nature of sacrifice in terms of transactions between spirits, Gods, and other entities?

“Sometimes sacrifices are a form of payment. Other times they are a form of celebration. Sometimes it is a transaction, sometimes it is praise; always it is reverent.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Depending on the context and the nature of the sacrifice, the sacrifice can reinforce connections by being a thanksgiving for help that has been given; it can be made as a promise for future action; it can be given as a substitute for someone else’s life (as I mentioned above). Sacrifice can represent a total offering of the self to the deities or spirits, or it can be a payment for an expected reciprocal benefit. There is no general meaning that applies to all sacrifices from all people to all spirits or gods – each one, like its nature as a unique and special thing, has a unique and special meaning.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“The nature of sacrifice is that which defines our relationship with the gods (and Kindreds). There are many reasons for sacrifice, and that defines what exactly is being asked or expected in the transaction. Here are few types of sacrifices as our Arch Druid Kirk Thomas has discussed in his various works:

1. Transactional sacrifice is the most common form of sacrifice where the sacred object is offered, and in the nature of hospitality, a gift is given in return. The basis of ADF’s Return Flow portion of ritual is “a gift calls for a gift.” The best one can offer is given, and the blessing and gratitude from the gods is given in return. 2. Piacular Sacrifice was a common Roman offering given during ritual to ask for recompense in case the offerings given weren’t enough or good enough. It is based on the fact that humans are inherently flawed, and the offering is given to acknowledge that. This type of sacrifice is still seen in the Roman Catholic Church. 3. The appeasement sacrifice is a type of offering given to a being or god to leave you alone. It is literally the “take this and leave” offering. Generally, this type of offering is given to beings not aligned with the ritual being worked, and they are given an offering out of respect to acknowledge they exist, but they are not part of the work being performed. 4. The shared meal is a type of sacrifice where a portion of the cooked food is offered to the gods. This is a very common ancient and Neopagan practice. 5. Chaos mitigates cosmos is a type of sacrifice that uses a series of offerings to recreate the cosmos in a ritual setting. This type of sacrifice goes back into the pan Indo-European creation story of Man and Twin. Man kills Twin and Twin is dismembered to create the world and cosmos. The chaos is the unknown or Otherworld, and Man takes his place as king of the Otherworld. This type of offering is meant to recreate this, but without any actual bloodshed.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What about relationship; how does it play into the idea of sacrifice?

“I cannot imagine giving a sacrifice without having a relationship both with the being receiving the sacrifice and the community that would benefit from it; either in the form of food/reversion of the offerings, in the benefits gained from the sacrifice, or both. One might give a random gift to a stranger, for example, but it would be unlikely that one would give a random stranger the most expensive, most wonderful thing one owned. Sacrifice is a special event in the already-existing relationship between beings.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Sacrifice strengthens relationships: between worshipers and their Gods, and among members of a religious community.” — John Beckett

“Sacrifice is as much about building relationships with the gods as any other reason. It is an act of hospitality. When we open sacred space, we invite the Kindreds into the ritual as family and kin. That relationship is built on sharing and trust. We sacrifice to solidify our relationships and make them stronger. Sacrifice allows the gods to give us their blessings and strengthens their bond with us.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Reclining Pan

Eric O. Scott —  March 7, 2014 — 6 Comments
Reclining Pan, c. 1535, attributed to Francesco da Sangallo. Photo by Preston Page.

Reclining Pan, c. 1535, attributed to Francesco da Sangallo. Photo by Preston Page.

Pan lies at the end of a hallway on the first floor of the St. Louis Art Museum, stretched out on his back on a bed of stone. In his right hand, he holds his pipes, ready to bring them to his lips for a song; he rests his head against his other arm, his left hand toying with the head of a goat whose skin the god wears as a cloak. Bunches of grapes rest between his shaggy feet. A tiny salamander crawls near his right hoof. I cannot read his absent gaze; while he would seem to be reclining in leisure, something in the way the god’s lips hang just slightly agape makes me think he is in some sort of sublime state, either pain or rapture.

This Pan is a statue, of course – Reclining Pancarved from a discarded chunk of marble, and once used as a fountain. (Water would have poured from the bag under Pan’s back, which seems highly impractical.) He was carved in the Renaissance, probably by an artist named Francesco da Sangallo, sometime around 1535, and spent most of his half a millennium of life in the collection of the Barberini family, whose members were princes and cardinals. He came to America, and to St. Louis, two years after World War II, where he has been ever since.

So far as I know, Reclining Pan is not considered one of the great works of Renaissance sculpture – not bad, but not one of the masterpieces. But you would not know that from the way my family treated it whenever we visited the Art Museum while I was growing up. We did not always go immediately to Pan, but inevitably, our labyrinthine paths through the museum would lead us to the hallway where he lays. My parents love art, and would happily observe and discuss nearly anything in the museum collections, but Reclining Pan merited a special reverence. He was our icon, our site of devotion.

But he was not alone. In the rest of the European art, there were other works that featured the gods of antiquity: Bartolomeo Manfredi’s Apollo and Marsyas was always a favorite, with its vivid colors and the wonderfully expressive faces of its subjects. If we wandered downstairs to the Ancient Art section, we found other pieces that usually caught my eye: small statues of Horus, Osiris, Ma’at and Thoth in the Egyptian cases, two headless statues of Artemis, an amphora showing the meeting between Heracles and Apollo at Delphi. A young Pagan could spend all day scouring the collections, looking for traces of the gods, and I often did.

When I was perhaps eleven or twelve – just beginning to understand what my religion was, and how it was different from what most of my peers at school practiced – I remember looking at the scenes painted on the case of Amen-Nestawy-Nakht’s mummy, detailing the path his soul would take in the afterlife. I looked at the gods – Osiris, Isis, Anubis, and many more – painted on the casket, and I recognized some of the scenes from the Book of the Dead. Then I looked at the information placard; it said that Amen-Nestawy-Nakht had lived during the 22nd Dynasty, sometime around 900 BC. I paused, and read the placard again. I don’t have the proper metaphor for how this revelation hit me: this person had lived a thousand years before Jesus. A thousand years! I was closer to the Renaissance than this priest of Amun had been to the birth of Christ. And yet we had statues of these gods on our family altar; I may have even had my own statue of Horus in my bedroom by that point. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to know that, in some way, I was connected to something so ancient.

I look at certain things in the Art Museum more critically now than I did as a child. I can’t help but be aware of the colonial stigma attached to the mummy of Amen-Nestawy-Nakht, for example, who had once been interred in the Theban necropolis and would, I am sure, have preferred to stay there, rather than passing into the hands of French collectors and eventually a museum on the other side of the Earth. I notice that the two statues of Artemis on display are both missing their heads, and I wonder what happened to them, whether some patriarchal malefactor destroyed the face of the goddess in an attempt to show his domination of her. And I can’t help but note the irony that Reclining Pan was carved for the family of a Catholic cardinal, the very embodiment of the religion that displaced the worship of gods like Pan.

But still, when I am home and have the time, I make this tiny pilgrimage. Part of growing up Pagan was learning to take comfort in the little reminders of my faith that infiltrated the world around me. I kept my chapels hidden in plain sight. Other visitors to the Art Museum might only have seen a statue of a strange-faced faun reclining on a comfortless bed of stone. I saw a god, and something more than a god.

I saw the face of an old friend.

 

Alone in the Garden

Eric O. Scott —  February 14, 2014 — 6 Comments
The Three Graces. Sculpture by Gerhard Marcks, photograph by Scott Spaeth.

The Three Graces.
Sculpture by Gerhard Marcks, photograph by Scott Spaeth.

 

St. Louis summer: not just hot, but humid, sticky, “muggy,” as we, the low-born of the south side, tend to call it. The world seems to glow orange under the proud gaze of Father Sun. On August days like this, sometimes the death of the Sun King doesn’t seem so tragic after all. He has it coming.

It is a little past eleven, and I am standing, alone, in the English Woodland section of the Missouri Botanical Garden – “Shaw’s Garden,” the other gift of our local saint, Henry Shaw. The year is 2007; I am twenty-one years old.

The English Woodland Garden doesn’t seem traffic like some other spots. It is a quiet, mazelike place. Although there is one asphalt road that splits it in half, a necessary blemish so that the trams and tractors can get across the garden, most of the paths in this garden are made of red cedar chips spread on the ground. They wind and twist around plots of dirt and greenery; black metal signs stick out of the ground and give names to the plants: a swamp white oak here, a dogwood there, a collection of bishop’s hats by your left foot. The dirt and the cedar steam in the heat, enough that my glasses fog up. The Three Graces, Zeus and Eurynome’s bronze daughters, dance together atop a stone on one side of the garden. Squirrels rustle past in every direction.

At the edge of this garden sits a wooden bower. In my memory, this bower was made of rough timbers, lashed together with ropes, the bark barely stripped from the still-round branches. The peak of its sloped roof was decorated with branches spread out like the World Tree. It felt like a tiny Viking hall in the middle of my city. I have been there in the years since, and that is not the building that stands there now. The gazebo that stands on top of my memory is sturdy and made of weather-treated four-by-fours and has metal brackets held together with rivets to brace its angles. Perhaps I remember it wrong; perhaps they tore the old down, or it fell apart during a rough winter. Perhaps I dreamed my Viking hall into being. Perhaps it knew why I was there.

I had no other temple. I needed a place to pray.

I stop at the threshold, place my hand on the rough frame of the doorway. Inside are two wooden benches, one to each side. The back of the bower has a railing and overlooks the last few trees and shrubs in the English Woodland Garden before the landscape melts away and becomes Japan. I first found that place the year before; I had come with friends from my coven. We were smitten. Sarah ran her hand across the tall beams of the frame and looked back at me; she seemed to radiate light. “I need you to build me one of these,” she said.

“Buy a house first,” I said, but I agreed to do it.

I sit down on one of the benches and look at my hands. I haven’t cried yet. I feel like I should have by now. That would be the human thing to do.

Two hours before, I had kissed you goodbye for the last time. I doubted I would ever see you again. We had been standing in the airport with your parents; you were boarding a plane for Washington, DC, en route to Almaty, Kazakhstan. You always said you were going into the Peace Corps: it was one of the first things I ever heard you say about yourself. You never said anything different, even after we found ourselves staying out talking at restaurants until we were forced out by the wait staff, even after I took you to a dance while dressed as a giant mouse, even after you realized I would never be bold enough to kiss you and so you kissed me yourself. I knew this.

You said you would be there for two years at least, but probably three. We had been together for nine months. The literary critic in me has always rankled at the symbolism.

I kissed you goodbye, and I watched you wheel your suitcase away into the bowels of Lambert International, and I rode in your parents’ SUV back to their house in North County, where my car was parked. I hugged them both goodbye – also for the last time – and drove back into the city, to Shaw’s Garden.

I shut my eyes, at last. Sweat pooled on my forehead. I sit in the muggy heat and try to focus. I begin to chant the names of the gods: I pull their names from my diaphragm like ohms, warping and shaping their names until they are pure notes that stretch as far as my lungs will take them.

I pray to Odin, wanderer. Frigg, all-seeing. Thor, protector. Tyr, oathkeeper.

I pray to Freyr, sower. Idunna, youth. Balder, martyr. Loki, changer.

And I pray to Freyja.

Freyja’s name rises from my belly. My eyes are clenched and my hands are clasped and I am not crying but I wish I were.

I pray to Freyja, and I think about you, and I wonder about what will happen to me now.

There’s a feeling, like a gentle brush of fingers against my hands, and I hear a woman’s voice in my ear. Trust me, she says.

If you say so, I say back.

I don’t think of Freyja when we begin to send each other letters that say how much we miss one another. I don’t think of her when my parents pull together the money for us to spend a week together a year into your term of service. I certainly don’t think of her when we break up two years into your time in Kazakhstan and I try – poorly – to start seeing other people.

It isn’t until you appear in the baggage claim at Lambert Airport and I see your face for the first time in two and a half years and we kiss each other good night on your parents’ front step that I think of Freyja.

Trust me, she says.

Last year, when I bought your engagement ring, I wondered where to keep it until I asked the question. I decided to keep it next to the statue of Freyja on my altar. Perhaps “decided” is not the right word; really, she insisted.

(Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.)

(Also, today is the first day of Pantheacon! I’ll be there! Will you be there? We should give each other high-fives.)

2011-year-resolution-400x400The New Year often comes with resolutions, promises, renewed dreams, and interest into the unfolding of the future. It is the time of year when mainstream society tells us to invest in the concept of a healthier self and a healthier world.

New Year’s resolutions range from weight loss to spiritual rededication; some people approach it with a belief of possibilities previously not available. It is a magic fueled by individual and collective belief, cast forward for the year.

I find this subject very interesting, and find that I was quite curious about other’s New Year’s beliefs, practices, and resolution magic. The roots of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back to the Pagan practices of the Babylonians, making offerings to the Gods in exchange for the fulfillment of wishes for the coming year. Some researchers say that the Romans changed this practice to January 1st, to honor the God Janus, and thus the association with New Year’s itself. Janus, the two-headed God, often is revered as a God of beginnings and endings, with one head facing the past and one facing the future. Suitable for a practice of resolutions for the coming year, right?

Offerings to the Gods are nothing new, and exist in many cultures. The beliefs of reciprocal relationships often dictate an offering or sacrifice to solidify and strengthen the relationship between human and the Divine. In A World Full of Gods, An Inquiry into Polytheism, John Michael Greer (2005) talks about reciprocity and sacrifice as a part of the interpersonal exchange that happens in relationships with deities. “For the core of Pagan sacrifice is participation and celebration, not appeasement or renunciation. Making offerings to the Gods is central to Pagan religious practice because it allows human beings to respond to the generosity of the Gods with gifts of their own. Prayers are accompanied with offerings, or with promises of offerings to come, to reaffirm that Gods and humans both participate in the web of reciprocity, celebrating their friendship with an exchange of gifts” (p. 122).

This practice of resolutions at the turn of the calendar year has continued to transform with the times, becoming a part of mainstream culture and yet strangely continues to hold a potentially spiritual element that is reflected through its magical past. In the article New Year’s Resolutions: The History and Psychology Behind Them, author Sinpetru noted the transformative changes throughout the years simply by stating, “So all in all, the idea of promising to do this or do that at the end of each year is nothing new. The only thing that has changed is that, rather than making promises to gods, we make promises to ourselves.” And while this does not apply to everyone, I tend to agree overall.

I imagine that the New Year’s resolutions of fellow Pagans are as diverse and broad as our practices. Whether by making personal sacrifices, promises to the Gods, or commitments to others, there are no clear rules for how one comes to resolutions, nor that everyone has to set them either. As multifaceted human beings, we associate importance on tasks and practices differently – which you can see in the diversity of responses below.

Oseaana December

Oseaana December

“I believe that tapping into certain collective energies is beneficial to magickal and spiritual growth. New Year’s is a time when many folks around the globe are closing down energy of one cycle and making plans to manifest goals during the next cycle. I use that global energy to put power into my own goals for the coming year. Long ago I gave up on what people first think of when they think of New Year’s Resolutions ( lose weight, stop smoking, etc) and instead make my goals more spiritually based. For example in 2014 I asked my Spirits to guide me to those things I need to make my body more healthy. I see New Year’s resolutions as commitments or contracts and because everything I do is from a spiritual place, then these commitments/contracts are made with my Spirits. This past New Year was around a New Moon, so the energy of new beginnings was very strong.” – Oseaana December – owner of Pumpkin Cottage Conjure

Melissa Murry

Rev. Melissa Murry

“Yes I do practice this cultural celebration as part of our family traditions of creating prosperity and good health for the new year coming in. I have made a resolution to travel more. Also, to prioritize things better in this coming year. And to maintain a workout routine. Yes I do this in conjunction with my spiritual path because my Tradition focuses on bettering one’s self and by doing so our reality becomes better…I look at the cultural group mind and intent as giving my resolutions extra “umph” in the coming year!” – Rev. Melissa Murry – Priestess, activist.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree

“I do not practice New Year’s resolutions because it feels like a lot of pressure. For those of us who struggle with feelings of inadequacy I think that setting New Year’s resolutions is a recipe for a further breaking down of esteem. I believe they are limiting as well. I try to remember that every day is as fresh and new as New Year’s Day. Therefore, ANY day is a good day to set myself into new behaviors that permit me to make changes in my life. New habits can begin on any day. My spiritual practice is part of this thinking. With the New Moon, Full Moon, Samhein and even the forth coming Imbolg, all can be seen in that lens of life, death, rebirth cycle that I find so pivotal to my practice as a pagan, witch and Wiccan. Given this view, limiting myself to one day in a year negates the very cornerstone of my belief system. I can have a New Year start on any number of days coming to me. Further if one resolution or chosen course of action does not succeed, the very next day is a New Year day that I can start a different resolution or course of action.”  – Lydia M N Crabtree – author, priestess.

Jelen

Jelen

“As I have grown older, I find that resolutions like losing weight are not as important as “being happy” or “being positive” or “feeling good about myself.” I could be thin, but would it matter if I was blind to my blessings or feel miserable? No, it would not. Therefore each New Year’s Day I reflect on what I am grateful for. Throughout the previous year I have written down things I am thankful for – sometimes many things in one day and maybe one thing in an entire month. But at the closing of the Julian Calendar, I read these love notes to myself, “I am grateful I still have a job. I am grateful for the smell of a puppy’s head when it first awakens from a nap. I am grateful for my loving husband. I am grateful for tea. I am grateful to be alive.” These things bolster me and I not only see the beauty in my every day existence, but I have taken a moment to remember to slow down and feel and love and admire my year and plan for all of the wonders the next year may hold. That is what New Year’s means to me.” – Jelen  – author, priestess

Lady Amber Dawn

Lady Amber Dawn

“I don’t create nor make resolutions. I find them to be filled with failure and are a waste of time in general. I do clean my house including all of my eight altars. I eat the traditional meals as well but no resolutions.” –  Lady Amber Dawn – priestess.

 

This type of practice, adopted by the overculture, becomes a powerful spell of magic that has the potential to ride the collective excitement and focus of the many. The combination of old magic, new magic, hope, dreams, and a snapshot of the future can give a powerful push to individual and collective casting.

For me? I have set some simple manifestations of health, love, and service. Be well within myself, well within my space, well within community, well within mission and in love with the world. How about you?

Nadirah Adeye, writer with Daughter’s of Eve blog on Patheos Pagan, wrote a clear welcome and some sound support in her post The Sacred Sensualist’s Guide to New Year Resolutions. “Welcome to 2014! Happy New Year and New Moon and Super Moon and the BEST YEAR EVER that EVER happened in the history of ever before!”

Happy New Year’s magic to those who choose to employ it.

 

 

 

 

Nature’s Social Union

Eric O. Scott —  January 10, 2014 — 12 Comments
Photo by author

Maiden, Mother, and Crone

My fiancee and I have been waffling about making exact plans for our wedding since May, when we were engaged. This is mostly because of our odd living situation – for a variety of reasons, we have been together for nearly eight years but have only ever lived in the same city once, at the very start of our relationship, and that situation doesn’t seem likely to change soon. But we have finally made up our minds to get things in order. So what if we still live in different states? Are we not moderns?

The idea is to have the wedding in St. Louis at Tower Grove Park – the same park that my parents were married in, and the park where I proposed to her. I like the idea of being married under the branches of those trees; Tower Grove was the park closest to my parents’ house while I was growing up. It was where I took the dog on walks, where I learned to ride a bike. Growing up in the city, Tower Grove was the closest place I could visit to experience nature. Even now, on the occasion that I consider the idea of a Summerland, really I’m just thinking of an eternity laughing on the grass of Tower Grove Park.

Which is odd.

Despite the trees and the flowers and the duck pond, there’s nothing “natural” about Tower Grove Park, nor most other parks in cities across the US. City parks, with a few historical exceptions, are a product of the Industrial Revolution just as surely as factories or high rise apartment buildings, and indeed, rely on those things for their very origins. It was considered important for the physical and spiritual health of industrialized workers that they had an opportunity to spend their leisure time in nature; otherwise, the dehumanizing, “unnatural” urban environment would wear them away. City parks were seen as the solution to this: an area of the city that was reserved away from the weary ugliness of urbanity and instead given over to greenery, where people could interact with the earth in the ways they had since the dawn of the species, according to nature’s design.

Tower Grove Park, in particular, was a bequest from Henry Shaw, who also donated the grounds for the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden, which St. Louisians to this day still call “Shaw’s Garden.” It took decades to improve the property to meet the needs of visitors: there were pavilions to be built, bronze statues to be erected, and the earth itself to be molded, irrigated, and forcefully acquired in order to complete the park. Even today, nearly a century after the last tract of eight acres was added to the grounds and the park declared “complete,” Tower Grove requires a small army of groundskeepers, botanists, and rangers to maintain the buildings, plant the flowers, and keep the grass cut low enough that the insects don’t annoy the patrons.

Of course, in “real nature,” the grass grows tall and in the summer the air is thick with bugs. In “real nature,” the greenery isn’t bounded on four sides by major streets, nor are there life-sized statues of Shakespeare, Rossini, and Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. The city park is an architectural space just as surely as any civic center – it just happens to be sculpted, in the main, with trees and grass as opposed to concrete. To put it another way, urban parks may be “nature,” but they are not in any sense “wild.” They exist because of human design. They are hardly what nature intended, except perhaps in the bizarre alternate reality of the Victorian mind.

This fascinates me, because – despite the debates the community has had over the legitimacy of this definition – my Paganism is, at its core, nature worship. Sometimes when I pray, it’s to the disir or the land-wights or to the gods; but sometimes I just pray to the trees, and that seems like it’s enough. But the way I think of nature – the way I think of “trees!” – has been buttressed by all those afternoons in a heavily cultivated city park, a tamed form of nature where every plant sits according to the plans of human beings. Does that taint the legitimacy of my connection to the earth? Can I really be said to worship nature if my idea of “nature” resembles a Victorian greenway?

Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps not. I have Annie Dillard on my mind right now – I’m teaching Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in my Introduction to Nonfiction course this semester – and the central theme of that book seems to be the presence of nature in all her beauty and all her savagery all around us, everywhere we would care to look. There’s a famous passage near the beginning where Dillard sees a frog eaten alive by a giant water bug, which bites into the frog and devours its insides while leaving the empty skin-sack intact, like a deflated balloon. To Dillard – and to me – it’s an otherworldly, terrifying scene. But it’s just the way those two creatures interact: the giant water bug eats the frog, just as the frog eats the fly. Dillard’s Tinker Creek isn’t a finely sculpted civic attraction like Tower Grove Park, but it’s still shaped according to human intentions – there’s a cattle barrier doubling as a bridge slung over the creek, for example. But if the presence of humanity has made any impression on the frog and the giant water bug, they make no sign of it. Nature – “real nature” – goes on regardless.

“This place look like public property to you, bucko?”

I proposed to my fiancee at Beltane last year. In the days leading up to the sabbat, I made a habit of going over to the spot in Tower Grove Park where I planned to ask her. Without fail, every day I was visited by a cardinal bird. He was a feisty young buck, bright red and full of the warrior spirit. He seemed to take offense at the presence of my car sitting underneath his tree, and would swoop down onto the hood to peck at the windshield glass – probably, I suppose, thinking that his reflection was an intruder on his territory, though I like to think he just thought he was tough enough to scare away even a creature as big as a Chevy Cobalt.

The tree that cardinal lived in was planted by humans, kept up by humans, and was meant for human use. But the cardinal didn’t know any of that. To him, it was simply his tree, just as all his forebears had before him.

Perhaps, if the world were still in its primal state and the hand of humanity had never touched this acre of Tower Grove Park, the tree wouldn’t have been there, nor the cardinal, either. But they are here, and they’re true enough.

santaControversy hit the airwaves this month when Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly referred to Santa as being white. She was responding to an article on Slate magazine, by columnist Aisha Harris, about the complications of having a white Santa in a multicultural society, and suggested he should instead be no race, like a penguin. Kelly responded to this by having an on air discussion about the “Attack on Christmas”, and her views of the “facts” that Santa is indeed a white man.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.”

Not only did this incident cause a stir in mainstream media, it also appears to have created some colorful conversations within social media. Some of those conversations have filtered onto Pagan blogs, articles and Facebook threads, striking up conversations about who Santa is and who he is not. Is Santa really a depiction of Odin? Or is Santa a folkloric icon that has been commercialized in American culture? Are the roots of Santa Claus coming from the stories of good old Saint Nicholas, or is he a generated figment of our cultural imagination?

The responses have been vast, and opinions vary based on many factors, including a person’s belief of whether or not Santa is totally made up, or that he is a part of the historical mythology of the Norse. One of the biggest questions might be whether it matters at all. Is the issue arising from Santa’s potential race about preserving folklore, opening up holiday lore to be inclusive of Black and brown people, or trying to be too politically correct in our multicultural society? Questions with many different answers.

While there are a myriad of different thoughts on the place of Santa Claus in the lives of children, especially within Pagan homes, there is something to be said for how powerful messages of overculture can be in defining our belief systems. Consistent images of the white faced, bearded man in red, often connects to childhood memories, feelings of family, and emotions associated with this time of year. While associations of this time of year are not joyful for everyone, there is power in the image of Santa. Jason Mankey, writer of the Raise the Horns blog on Patheos Pagan Channel, wrote about this magic in his piece on the history and origins of Santa Claus, “It’s a magical memory, the exact type of thing that the image and myth of Santa Claus should conjure up. Santa Claus has power and an energy all his own. To say that Santa “isn’t real” completely misses the point. Few myths are as universal in the Western World as that of Midwinter gift-bringer, and it’s a myth that speaks to the best of who we can be as people. Santa is the spirit of giving and child-like wonder, two impulses that are often in short supply”.

As I see it there are a plethora of issues in potentially conflicting matters like this, individual and familial culture, religious beliefs, mainstream culture, appropriation of ancestral mythology, and the implications on overall current racial tension. The intersectionality of these various issues can create a lot of challenging perspectives.

All of the aforementioned areas add to the Pagan community’s ability to question our collective identity within the overculture of Americanized holidays and values. How do the Americanized holidays affect the practices and beliefs of those who walk a Pagan path?

Upon watching the Megyn Kelly segment on Fox News, I personally struggled with two different, and sometimes conflicting, elements of my personal identity; valuing the mythology that intersects with Pagan beliefs, and the need to challenge the often harsh reality of exclusions within our American stories.

So what do Pagans think about this Santa, Norse, fictionalized conflict, and is it important? Does it matter more to some subsets of Pagans over others? I asked a couple of Pagans some questions on these exact things.

jonathan korman

Jonathan Korman

Santa has a great bushy beard and a sled drawn by reindeer and a magic bag of wonders; that such a figure would not have some kind of connection to Norse myth seems … implausible.

But there is no tidy answer to such questions.

Is Hermes “really” a figure from Egyptian mythology because Hermes is “really” Thoth?

The gods and spirits and so forth are refracted through a cultural lens, and they do not break crisply from one another. The Hermes of my practice both is and is not the same entity as the Hermes an ancient Greek would have encountered. The Santa Claus I encounter both is and is not the same as the Santa encountered by a Christian Minnesota six-year-old in 1890. – Jonathan Korman

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

I suppose American Santa has roots in Odin but most of them are completely twisted and watered down. I don’t desire to use him in my family’s traditions.

In fact, I decided even before I had children that I would not do Santa. I feel badly for parents who get roped into buying their child’s secret expensive gift in the name of Santa. And the “naughty” manipulation. If Santa doesn’t bring your expensive gift – is it because you’ve been naughty? – Melanie Moore – midwife, dancer

Lupa

Lupa

The Santa Claus we think of here in the U.S. may resemble his pagan forebears, but at this point he’s become his own icon. I think it’s important to allow there to be a modern mythology, especially in a culture that often feels it doesn’t have one. This is especially important for Santa Claus since the prevailing theme is “Believe he’s real as a child until someone tells you otherwise, and then he’s just a marketing strategy”. I think looking at Santa as his own mythical being and taking him a little more seriously can reintroduce some of the wonder and magic of the Christmas season at a time when the holiday has become heavily commercialized. That doesn’t mean that every American has to become pagan, of course! But just as we have the mythos of the Rugged Individualist here, I think we could also use a more solid buildup of Santa mythos as it pertains to American culture–generosity, good humor, and a healthy dose of wonder and little-m-magic.

I don’t think it impacts us more than it impacts anyone else. We all are affected by the craziness of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (and, more and more, we’re seeing Christmas decorations for sale in mid-October!) I do see the desire to “reclaim” a more pagan Santa to be something of a backlash both against that commercialization and Christianity on the part of some pagans, though there are also just those who are curious about his roots. But I don’t think that images of the jolly old man in red and white affect pagans specifically either way.

I grew up with a fairly typical roster of Christmas celebrations–the tree and ornaments, presents, carols, etc. It’s something that’s invested with a lot of fond memories and good feelings, and it’s something I carry on even today. Santa is a part of that, though I suppose if I had children he’d be even more present.

I do recognize that for the most part Santa is depicted as a white guy. However, I personally feel that he can show up as any race–there are old men with white hair (and sometimes beards) all over the world. I think the problem is more that “white” is the default race for depicting all sorts of individuals (look at the situation with Jesus, for example). And yes, the original St. Nick wasn’t white. However, I feel Santa Claus, through means good or ill, has again become his own being, and I feel that because of his popular appeal among Americans of many different races, he should be depicted with more diversity himself. By this I mean being depicted as being of all races in turn, not just one. (And not just a case of “when he’s going to a white family’s house he’s white, when he goes to a black family’s house, he’s black, etc.) He could potentially be a mythological figure who can be for everyone, and carry that holiday spirit of “peace and love for all your neighbors”. – Lupa, author

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

Santa Claus is an American phenomenon, this is where he got his name, his modern look, and his red suit. Without America there is no Santa. Of course Santa Claus has roots in other cultures and other things. The Christian tradition and mythos of Saint Nicholas is a building block, and I think Norse/Germanic mythology is another building block.

I know that there are a lot of Pagans who resist celebrating Christmas because they think of it as a “Christian” holiday. Santa being such a visible figure can make that difficult, so that’s way he impacts Modern Paganism. I’m a firm believer in Christmas as a mostly secular Midwinter celebration with pagan and Christian influences. As such, it’s something I enjoy celebrating and I like seeing Santa involved in it. When it comes to inescapable modern icons, Santa with his message of giving, isn’t a bad one to have plastered everywhere for two months out of the year. Now if we could just popularize Befana and Krampus – Jason Mankey, author

While I feel that Kelly’s comments on her television segment were culturally insensitive, biased and racially provoking, there is room to question how mythology, present culture, political factors, and cultural capital all play into the individual and collective needs of the Pagan community. For those who are people of color, there are a multitude of layers to unpack around the continuous stream of American folklore, mythology, holidays, and bringers of hope that are always white faced heroes. This lack of multiculturalism trickles down into the many subsets of our general society and directly impacts perceptions of the status quo.

With that in mind, I specifically wanted to ask Pagans whether they thought the race of Santa had any impact on community.

LaSara Firefox Allen

LaSara Firefox Allen

I believe that Santa as a true entity is beyond race, or religion. Or even gender. But just as “God” (capital G – as in, the Christian God) is presented as a white man in most cases, as a Mystic I believe that the heart of god is inconceivable. I believe that Santa shows up in pop culture mythology as an old white guy because that is what power shows up as in the dominant culture. But I have known since i was young that Santa is an entity that shifts Its presentation. This is why I can still be such a solid believer. If we claim Santa, Santa become a mirror of our own divinity, and we a mirror of It’s. – Lasara Firefox, author

Connie Jones-Stewart

Connie Jones-Stewart

I believe that the Santa Clause of today is a totally fictionalized and secularized character that has developed over time. He may have some elements of Odin, La Befana, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas and others but he is none of those people. I don’t believe that Santa impacts Pagan or Christian culture. He is part of secular Xmas and secular culture. I see Santa as the spirit of giving that comes with the holiday season. He has no race nor religion. – Connie Jones-Steward, Interfaith Minister

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

As a kid raised in an almost all-white school system, in an almost all-white town, seeing images of a non-white Santa might have made me do a double-take. Then again, seeing a non-white Barbie doll would have made me do a double-take. However, I also would have just shrugged and thought, why not. For me, the modern image of “Santa” is something that’s, how to put it…he’s an archetype that should be a mirror, a gift to the community. I grew up with a Santa that looks like me and I’ve always taken that for granted. I grew up with Barbie dolls and toys that look like me. But I also know that Santa comes from an older tradition. Ultimately, one of the sources of what we now call “Santa” may have come from Asian/Siberian shamans bringing mushrooms to their tribe. The modern image of Santa was really branded and solidified by Coca Cola, if memory serves. For me, it’s not important what color Santa is, Santa’s a secular concept that belongs to our culture, and I don’t think it takes away anything to have a Santa that is Black, or Asian, or any race or color. Because, kids should get to grow up with a Santa that looks like them.

Deities and spirits change over time, and based on location. They change to become culturally relevant. I think the modern concept of Santa doesn’t need to be limited to being white; I think a multi-racial Santa is more culturally relevant. Deities and spirits and archetypes change over time, they always have. It’s what makes them live and breathe.- Shauna Aura Knight, author

jonathan korman

Jonathan Korman

What with the sleigh and the reindeer and the furs and the elves and the home as far north as north goes, one might presume that Santa Claus is Norwegian or Finnish. But then Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Smyrna, was presumptively Greek in what is now Turkey; that guy doesn’t sound so … pale. But that misses the esoteric truth of Santa which we only reveal to children when they are ready to hear it, that Santa manifests in our performance of him, be it putting on the costume or delivering gifts under the tree; in that Santa is and must be anyone and everyone.

This lesson, that Santa is a role which anyone may inhabit, is contained in my favorite Santa Claus story, the Twilight Zone episode “Night of the Meek”, in which a department store Santa discovers a magical, inexhaustible bag of gifts and begins distributing them to the poor. Only at the end, at the prompting of a friend, does it occur to him to ask for something for himself — and all he can think to ask for is to be able to do it every year. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_of_the_Meek) – Jonathan Korman

Porsha Williams

Porsha Williams

I feel that the Pagan community would be more wide open to any/many different representations of Santa Claus compared to greater society. As pagans (and to use a term I’ve seen used recently within posts on the Kemetic Tumblr-verse)–“unique personal gnosis” is considered valid, in reference to our experiences with ritual and study of our gods. What feels right, is held in higher regard to our community than greater society. It is respected, vs. ridiculed and discredited because it’s not the norm.

It’s common knowledge that greater society does not accept what’s different without some sort of pushback. In the case of Santa being white or black, I feel that unfortunately it still matters greatly whether he’s portrayed as black or white. Unfortunately, the old guard of baby boomers through Generation X were raised with those “racial boundaries” still firmly intact. As younger generations like Generation Y and the Millennials came up–the time of Jim Crow and it’s customs were more textbook lesson than recent memory. These generations are coming of age with little-to-no boundaries due to social media, shared interest in each other’s differences (vs. aversion) and a lack of fear of any repercussions of racial mixing. While these factors would make a “black Santa” less of an issue for them, the old guard will stick to their learned behavior as they get closer to the end of their life cycle. It’s what’s comfortable and what’s known–sadly yet respectfully, I believe greater society will continue to be impacted in that manner until newer generations come of age. Though the Pagan community does have those few sects of worship who remain firm in their belief that racial segregation is necessary in their chosen path, they are few in comparison to our community as a whole. – Porsha A. Williams, writer of The First Dark

With such a wide variety of associations with the figure and importance of something like Santa Claus, who is to say what he is, who he is, and how important he should be? As we have seen here, the is such a variety of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about this historically significant figure that is is not as clear, as black and white, as some people would like to believe.

blacksantaThe lines between myth and truth, culture and interpretation, race and identity, religion and belief, magic and practice has not always been as transparent from one person to the next. There are a lot of shades of grey within any black and white, Pagan or Christian scenario.  And regardless of the beliefs of origin or importance, we have to admit that Santa is one powerful source of magic to captivate so many people across time. And in my opinion, power has no color or race.

Several recent links on Santa myth and history:

For full statement from Shauna Aura Knight, Jonathan Korman, and Jason Mankey, please click the following link.

Author’s note: A special thanks for the heartfelt, interesting quotes from those who had a moment to respond.