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I first heard of the Eleusinian Mysteries in late 2009. Western Washington University (WWU) Pagans, I was told, always went to Spring Mysteries Festival and Hekate’s Sickle Festival, carpooling to the state parks where they would take place. This is also known as “camping with friends” to any parents with lots of questions.

The field where ATCs Spring Mysteries are held.

The field where ATCs Spring Mysteries are held.

The experienced WWU Pagans assured me that my interest in Greek mythology was a perfect fit for the Spring Mysteries Festival that was held over Easter weekend every year. Work tends not to ask too many questions when you request time-off for Easter weekend and cite a religious event. This makes attendance more feasible for people still deep in the broom closet.

My first year at the Spring Mysteries Festival was in 2010, the twenty-fourth consecutive year that the event had been celebrated by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC). That first year, being at the festival was a profound and magical experience, and only the second one of its type that I had been to. Spring Mysteries participants are bound by an oath to never reveal what they see; therefore, I cannot say exactly what happened. But, I will say that spending a weekend in ritual space and speaking with the gods is a life-changing experience. I went back again in 2011.

The Spring Mysteries Festival (SMF) is broken into two parts: the lesser mysteries and the greater mysteries.The lesser mysteries are attended by both the mystai (“those who have not seen” i.e. first year attendees) and epoptai (“those who have seen” i.e. second year attendees and beyond). The greater mysteries are only attended by the epoptai. Separating the rites into two distinct parts is reminiscent of how they may have been celebrated in Ancient Greece.

In late 2012, I was asked to be a ritual presenter at Hekate’s Sickle, ATC’s fall festival. Not long after that, Belladonna Laveau, the new archpriestess of ATC, asked me to be a priestess of Artemis at the 2013 Spring Mysteries. I was shocked, at first. Artemis? Really? Me? Really? But then I remembered how easily I had connected with Her when I was much younger and so I decided it would be a great experience.

Helping run the festival and carrying a godform was a profoundly different experience, particularly since I was only 21 at the time. My counterpart, the priest of Apollo, was also young. Together we were the youngest priest and priestess pair in Spring Mysteries history. Or so I was told. I played it up quite a bit – Artemis as a youthful rebel – and dyed significant parts of my brown hair a brilliant green.

That year, there were a lot of young faces. There were many more millennials – if there had ever been any before. That was a huge change from when I had been just a participant. When Belladonna Laveau became archpriestess, many doors opened for people who weren’t regularly near the ATC property in Index, Washington. She encouraged people to audition via video, and the roles were no longer limited to known clergy. They were opened to students and other interested parties.

Gabriel Matson as Pan [Courtesy Photo]

Gabriel Matson as Pan for SMF 2014 [Courtesy Photo]

Being the priestess of Artemis also changed my perspective on what was happening. It’s one thing to go to Fort Flagler for a weekend, enjoy the festival and then go back home. It’s another whole thing to start preparing in January and to drive the 160 miles to Seattle and back nearly weekly to go to rehearsals, memorize a script and adapt it to fit our interpretations. The level of work and dedication it takes – especially for those not local – is daunting. 

This year, the Spring Mysteries Festival XXX takes place on the first weekend of April, and the cast has already been rehearsing together since January. Gabriel Matson, age 28, is one of the cast. He has been a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) since 2012 and a practicing Druid for 10 years. Matson was surprised when he was asked to be the priest of the Dark Lord for Spring Mysteries XXX.

“I had to think about it for a few days before giving an answer,” he said. “My only hesitations and reservations had to do with the fact that I’m in this intensive Herbal science program at Bastyr.” This is his third year as a ritual presenter, having been the priest of Hermes and Pan in past years. This will be his sixth year at the mysteries.

Another cast member Brenna Grace, age 24, is in her third year on staff. For the upcoming festival, she is the priestess of Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred poetry and hymns. In the past, she was the priestess of Urania, the Muse of astronomy, and Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry. Brenna is a dedicant in the WISE Tradition and a student of Belladonna Laveau.

“I was so excited. I really wanted to be a part of the Mysteries, and I felt like this was a great entry point,” she said about being asked to be a Muse that first year.

Brenna Grace [Courtesy Photo]

Brenna Grace [Courtesy Photo]

Both Matson and Grace talked about the shift to a younger cast. They believe that it is a great chance for millennials and even younger generations to be involved.

“It’s a great opportunity for [young people] to learn a lot and to grow. I know that our directors wouldn’t cast anyone they did not think was ready. It might be hard for some people to look past their age when trying to speak to deity though, and I totally understand that,” Grace said.

“It is great that younger folk are allowed on cast for one,” Matson said. “It is also rather amazing that I’m not in the ATC or Wiccan. A few short years ago any and all of that would have been unfathomable,” he added, referencing the changes made by Belladonna Laveau that have made it possible for him, as a young Druid, to hold an important role in the mysteries.

On shifting from simple participant to staff, Grace said, “Well, since I started going when I was new to the craft, I didn’t recognize all the magic behind everything. Being on the cast really helped me understand how big of a thing SMF and the Eleusinian Mysteries were.”

On the same subject, Matson said, “As a participant, you are wowed by the cast, and subject to their interpretation. As [a cast member], you are the interpretation. It’s a lot of pressure coming up to it, but always seems to work out in the end.”

Matson added that he intends to take a year off from carrying a godform so he can focus on his final year of schooling at Bastyr and then will see where life takes him after that. Brenna hopes to be on staff for many years to come, though says she’s “Mused” out for now.

As for me, I definitely plan on continuing to attend the rites for as long as they are celebrated. Though, at some point, I may take a step back from invoked roles in order to give others a chance.

WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK – On Wednesday, federal Judge Kenneth Karas handed former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran a 10 year prison sentence for his part in a corruption and bribery scheme. The sentence exceeded the U.S. Probation Department’s recommendation of 6 ½ to 8 years. At the time of his arrest, Halloran was the highest elected official in the U.S. who is openly an adherent of a Pagan or Heathen religion.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

In September 2012, Halloran, along with state Democratic Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith and ex-Queens Republican Party leader Vincent Tabone, were the focus of an FBI sting operation. Halloran was recorded taking payoffs to facilitate a plot to get Smith, a Democrat, on the GOP line for the 2013 New York City mayoral race. Halloran testified during his trial that he expected Smith to appoint him as first deputy mayor.

Halloran says he was trying to uncover corruption when he took the bribes and would have turned evidence over to authorities for investigation. He also said he thought a second bribe was a legal retainer fee for his services to broker meetings with GOP officials.

According to the New York Post, Judge Karas went with the higher than recommended sentence because

“For five days, he lied on the stand,” White Plains federal Judge Kenneth Karas said of Halloran. “It was egregious. There was overwhelming evidence of his guilt,” added the judge as a stone-faced Halloran took a deep breath and nodded. “I saw him squirm and look uncomfortable on the stand … He lied and lied repeatedly. It was grotesque and offensive.”

Halloran faced a tough campaign in the 2009 election when local press, allegedly instigated by his opponent, outed his religion. His beliefs were often sensationalized by the press, including Village Voice cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak. Halloran was at one time a prominent member of the Théodish belief system, a faith that seeks to practice Germanic pre-Christian religion.

See Nick Ritter on Theodish Belief
See Nick Ritter on on Dan Halloran’s History Within Theodism

The tactic, and a possible backlash against Halloran’s opponent for allegedly attacking his religion, worked and Halloran was elected as Queen’s representative on the New York City Council. He went on to a failed bid to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2012. Just five months later, on April 2, 2013, Halloran was arrested for bribery and corruption. A month later he announced he would not stand for re-election for his City Council seat.

Co-defendants Smith and Tabone were convicted on federal corruption charges earlier this year, but haven’t yet been sentenced.

Halloran is scheduled to begin serving his prison term, which also includes two years of house confinement after he finishes his jail sentence that will begin April 17. His attorney says he plans to appeal the sentence.

Follow all Wild Hunt coverage of Halloran here.

Andy Paik at the Grand Canyon  (Feb 14 2015)

Andy Paik at the Grand Canyon (Feb 14 2015)

Andrew Paik, teacher, longtime Reclaiming member and founder of Free Activist Witchcamp, has passed away. The above photo was taken only days before his death. As indicated in a public post written by his wife Karen, the image depicts “how [Andy would] like to be remembered.”

Andy was born and raised in California. He grew up in Mill Valley and attended Marin Catholic High School. After graduating in 1983, he enrolled at the University of California, at Berkeley and graduated in 1988.

In 1994, Andy joined the Reclaiming Tradition, a San Francisco-based collective of Witches that had formed in the early 1980s. Starhawk, one of its original founders, remembered Andy in a blog post, calling him, “a dedicated and courageous activist and a good friend.”

By the late 1990s, Andy, a passionate nature-lover, had joined several environmental activist groups including Earth First! and Cascadia Forest Defenders. He was frequently interviewed in the news media and attended rallies across the country. Andy eventually also joined up with the Pagan Cluster, a national group of loosely connected Pagan activists. He discussed and cataloged some of his work in articles published in Reclaiming Quarterly (RQ).

170781_121893051217382_4803387_oIn 2004, Andy began contemplating the idea of a free Pagan gathering. In an RQ article titled “Money, Power and Free Witchcamp,” he discussed the evolution of his thought process. He wrote:

In our world today, learning magical skills is not a new age, fluffy bunny way to while away a weekend. Magical skills are survival skills … And these skills need to be available to everyone, not just to people who can write a check.

As noted, Andy found support for this idea both at Reclaiming’s 2004 Dandelion Gathering, held in South Texas, and within his local Reclaiming community.

Using the Earth First! national gathering as a model, Andy helped coordinate and host the very first Reclaiming Free Activist Witchcamp. It was held in 2005 at the Twin Lakes region of the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. By 2009, Andy left as the organizer but the event continued on. It is now called Free Cascadia Witchcamp and will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in Summer 2015.

Throughout the decade, Andy was an active member of ReWeaving, an open circle in the Reclaiming Tradition based in Los Angeles. He was a tireless environmental activist and teacher of the Reclaiming Tradition. In her blog post, Starhawk also noted that Andy was an accomplished stage magician. Other friends have recalled his love of puns, his friendship and his many stories.

In recent years, Andy was living in Hawthorne, California with his wife Karen. This February, he drove to see the Grand Canyon and, in one of his last public Facebook posts, he wrote, “Just out on a road trip to see what we can find…”

According to Starhawk, on Feb. 23, Karen returned home from work to find Andy unconscious in his home. The Paramedics were unable to revive him. Writing from Belize with limited and unreliable internet access, she added, “I am really devastated and sad.”

A memorial will be held at a friend’s home on Mar. 14 at 2 p.m. in Glendale. For those that would like to attend, Karen has posted the details on Andy’s public Facebook page. In addition, she included these words by Rumi:

Beyond ideas of rightness and wrongness there is a field. I will meet you there when the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

What is remembered, lives.

Rick Riordan Percy JacksonUNITED STATES –Since the publication of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief in 2005, Percy Jackson and the Olympians has been the leading pop-culture exposure to the Greek gods in the USA. Over the years, the adventures of this fictional son of Poseidon have received a fair amount of attention from Polytheists and others who worship these Gods.This reaction puzzles Riordan, who isn’t shy about saying that he thinks the very idea of modern worship is “strange.” The debate over the religious merits of the book are ongoing.

While adults may enjoy or detest this young adult fiction, the opinions of the young readers, who have made these books “wildly overrated,” are missing. Children, ages 8-15 years, aren’t as likely to write blog posts about books and are more difficult to identify and interview. Nevertheless, their views matter a great deal when considering the impact of books like these.The Wild Hunt asked four young readers about this series. Because of their ages, the minors interviewed for this article are referred to by pseudonyms.

Jacob, an 11-year-old who has read all of Riordan’s Olympian books, as well as those the Kane Chronicles based on Egyptian mythology, had a simple reason for enjoying them: “I like the action. There is non-stop action.” There might be something more going on, though, because since he completed the series, he’s read the Odyssey adaped by author Mary Pope Osborne, and said, “I have research books, too.” His interest in Greek and Roman mythology were stoked by the Percy Jackson series, and the stories have even inspired a desire to learn ancient Greek, which all young demigods in these books can instinctively read.

Since most of the major characters are children of gods, the next question that was natural to ask was what god he’d be the child of, and why. “Hephaestus,” Jacob replied. “He can make automatons, metal stuff, and lasers. I like to make stuff too.”

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the story, the Olympian books present the gods in a decidedly modern context, and depict their personalities in ways that are, at times, either humorous or disrespectful, depending upon one’s point of view.

According to his mother, “Jacob lives in an eclectic Pagan household. In formal terms, he has only been exposed to Wiccan rituals and community. However, both of us are not Wiccan. His religious life is very diverse with close relatives who are Baptists, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish and Atheist. He is exposed to a variety of beliefs. We foster a creative religious environment that will nurture his unique spirit’s journey.”

When asked whether she thinks these books have influenced his attitudes on religion, she said, “He was interested in and aware of Greek and Roman gods before he read these books. He had already heard about these Gods and others from us, in rituals or in religious talk. However, I think the books have fueled a fire that was already burning. They provide a modern context for an ancient concept. After reading the books, Jacob wanted more. I can see the spark in his eyes when he talks about Greek mythology. I am certain the gods are speaking to him and I know he is in good hands.”

son of neptuneThirteen-year-old Thadd lives in a decidedly Hellenic household, and it’s not an understatement to say that he was profoundly impacted by reading about Percy Jackson and his encounters with gods and monsters. In somewhat monosyllabic terms, he spoke of how much he enjoyed the stories, which include a second five-book series, Heroes of Olympus containing both Greek and Roman deities. Thadd thought author Riordan created a “pretty good presentation of the gods” in his works. When asked about what divine parentage he’d have were he a character, he named both Poseidon and Hephaestus without hesitation. Asked why, he answered simply, “They’re my patron gods.”

Thadd’s mother explained further, “He has read every single Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles, and Heroes of Olympus [book] and is waiting to start the Norse series soon. In fact, it was while reading him Percy Jackson at age 8 that we realized that Poseidon claimed him, and then later while reading the Heroes of Olympus that he also answered Hephaestus’ call. It made religious education so much easier for me.”

She added, “I know coreligionists hate the series, but I have nothing but love for it simply for this fact alone.”

Jacob’s older brother, Ian, who is 14, said of the books, “They are well-written. And they are very intriguing. They catch your attention well.” On imagining having a divine parent, he said, “I would want to be the son of Poseidon, because I like to swim and be in the water. Poseidon is very friendly with ocean animals, and most of my favorite animals are water-based.” And on how these books have altered his view of the world, Ian said, “Mainly, I use to think quests were about fighting. Now I know they are more about knowledge and using your mind. The books don’t make me think more about religion. But I also would hate to be hit by a lightning bolt while I’m flying in airplane.”

To that, Ian’s mom added, “He has read some non-fiction books on mythology. But he’s more interested and focused on pure fantasy entertainment. For him, this is all fiction and sparks his imagination. For Jacob, it’s definitely real.”

Ariel is a 15-year-old girl who had a lot to say about these books, which have no shortage of strong female characters. She said:

Overall, I liked the Percy Jackson books. I read them a few years ago, and I read the entire series in about a month. I had been into Greek mythology before I read the books, so I was excited to see a cool, popular series about the exact stuff I had been liking since I was little. I read the books as a tween, so I pretty much originally appreciated them just as a cool young adult series, but I also saw the intricate connections between the actual mythology and the books. I understood that it wasn’t totally accurate always, but it was done in a humorous way that wasn’t very offensive in my opinion. It was also obviously set in modern times, so the classic characters were written as if they had adapted along with human society. I understand how some people might think it’s disrespectful or something, but I believe that if the gods were living that closely alongside humans as in the books, they would adopt human personality and style while still being gods, much as they were in Percy Jackson. So, I liked the books, and while they weren’t absolutely true to the mythology, they definitely inspired some people to look further into Greek mythology, and portrayed everything in a humorous and easy to understand way that, I think, worked well for its purpose as a fun young adult series.

According to her father, Ariel and a sibling live primarily with their mother, who is Unitarian Universalist, but are exposed to Pagan concepts at his home. His wife is “part of a coven of women,” and as a solo practitioner, he says, “I create what I need in the moment, with the attendance and assistance of my personal Guides and Gods.” They celebrate 8 Pagan sabbats, which draws people from throughout their rural area.

Ariel declined to speculate on which god might claim her as a daughter, if she lived in that fictional universe.

magnus chase

Percy Jackson is not the first pop-culture portrayal of non-Abrahamic deities, nor is it likely to be the last. In fact, book one of Riordan’s new Norse series, titled Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, is due to hit stores October 2015. For those who worship these gods, you may experience both frustration and enjoyment while reading Riordan’s books. However, the true lasting impacts and deeper lessons may only become evident over time. For now, what’s certain is that many children enjoy these books, and some of them actually believe.

262458_129183977172876_1231043_nOn Feb. 7, as we reported, Green Egg Magazine had announced that it would be abandoning its traditional format and developing a full-time, online blog-style presence. However, after hearing from disappointed fans, the Magazine decided to shift gears once again. On Feb. 22, Green Egg’s publishers announced that they would be keeping with the original quarterly e-zine format and abandoning regular blog publishing.

In addition, they announced that “Hollis Taylor is no longer publisher. The position of publisher will be co-managed by Sylveey Selu, long-time webmistress for Green Egg, and Ariel Monserrat, the magazine’s publisher for the past 8 years.”  Monserrat was planning on retiring but, after hearing the overwhelming response from the readership, she decided to return as co-publisher. The team also has plans to bring back the The Green Egg Radio Hour and expand the magazine’s website. The first issue will be Ostara, for which they are currently asking for submissions.

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mkpagcn

Mark Kay Lundmark

In February, Minnesota’s Pagan community lost one of its beloved members, Mary Kay Lundmark.  A tribute to her life was recently published in PNC-Minnesota. As writer Nels Linde said, “Described as a most loyal and caring friend and priestess, Mary Kay chose to avoid the lime light. She took a major supportive role in many peoples craft and online spiritual paths, and was known to many who never met her in person.”

The article quotes a number of Mary Kay’s friends and students. Through their words, they share Mary Kay’s personal history, her love of the Craft and of life. One of these quotes is from Thea Sabin, who also published an entire blog post about Mary Kay. In that post, Sabin described a woman who was passionate about her religion and the Craft, dedicated to her students and honest with herself. Sabin wrote, “Perhaps most important, Mary Kay loved with her whole heart, without reservation, and in a way that was utterly authentic”  When Mary Kay died, she was surrounded by her husband and loved ones. What is remembered, lives.

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10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nAfter a three year hiatus, the Bay Area Pagan Alliance will be, once again, hosting The Pagan Festival in Berkeley, California. The event will be held on May 9 in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. In celebrating the event’s return, this year’s theme is Spirituality Through Service. Organizers wrote: “2012 Keeper of the Light T. Thorn Coyle will pass the staff to the 2015 Keeper of the Light Crystal Blanton. Our Master and Mistress of Ceremonies are Shay Black and Diana Rowan.”

The day-long event includes “altars, rituals, stage performances, speakers, Authors Circle, Druid Story Telling Pavilion, and vendors and information booths in the Pagan Market Place.” The organizers are excited to bring back this well-attended and popular festival. Local Priest Storm Faerywolf created new flyer art, giving the Festival a fresh look. More information can be found on the Bay Area Pagan Alliance’s Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Bates College in Maine has begun a public lecture series titled “Unusual Positions: Controversial Approaches to the Study of Religion and Sexuality.” Co-sponsored by the religion studies department, women and gender studies program and the humanities division, the five-part series runs into April. It finishes on April 8 with a lecture by Cherry Hill Seminary’s Christine Hoff-Kraemer on “Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Loving Touch as Divine Birthright.”
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its annual “Spring Mysteries Festival.” This year’s event will feature “a two-day psychodrama, recreating the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. Participants will get to see priests and priestesses representing the Gods and Goddesses as they recreate one of the most sacred rituals of ancient Greece. Festival-goers will also have the opportunity to commune with the Gods individually.” In addition, Rev. Selena Fox will be there to speak about her many years working alongside ATC Pete Pathfinder, founder of ATC. This year, ATC’s Spring Mysteries will be held from April 2-5.
  • This year, MythicWorlds was held in Seattle from Feb 20-22. During the three day event, Jason Thomas Pitzl “moderated a panel discussion featuring Orion Foxwood, Grimassi Raven, and Stephanie Taylor.” The panel subject was “walking between the worlds.” He recorded the conversation and posted it on SoundCloud.

  • The American Council of Witches 2015 updated its site as promised on March 1. Although not fully finished, the site now lists many of the councils members with extensive bios, as well as the group’s overall mission and stated tasks.
  • Coming up at the end of the month is the 3rd online international conference of the Pagan Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN). The all-online conference is comprised of a number of panels held throughout the day. Attendees and speakers come from all over the world with a diversity of expertise and religious backgrounds. As a whole, the conference’s main focus is “the different aspects of the future and development of contemporary Pagan culture and Witchcraft practices.” PAEAN’s event is open to the public and will be held on March 31.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day.

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

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As noted in The Guardian, the short list for the coveted Bookseller/Diagram Prize was just announced, and a Pagan author was on it. Diana Rajchel’s Divorcing a Real Witch has been selected as finalist in the annual competition that celebrates books with “odd titles.” It is a light-hearted literary award that has been on-going since 1978. In recent years, the winner has been selected by popular vote through Bookseller’s website. Last year’s winner was How to Poo on a Date written by Mats & Enzo.

When asked how she felt about being nominated for what is called “Britain’s most prestigious literary award,” Rajchel’s said, “In its own strange way, a Diagram award nomination makes me feel a bit vindicated. When I shopped this book, I went back and forth on this title. My friends that are longtime veterans in publishing loved it. Some readers in the UK apparently quibble about what kind of witch is a real witch anyway so this hit a nerve for a few; people in the US found the title either funny or offensive depending on their own worldview. If the attention brought to my book by this nomination gets people to read it, and to think about divorce and taking care of themselves in a different way, I’m glad of it.”  Other nominees include: Nature’s Nether Regions, Where do Camels Belong and Advanced Pavement Research. To vote, go to Bookseller’s sister site “We Love This Book.”  The winner will be announced on March 27.

  • Although it doesn’t appear to be October, The Guardian has published a long article titled “Season of Witch: why young woman are flocking to the ancient craft.” Written by Sady Doyle, the article explores the unending, youthful fascination with Witchcraft. She writes, “Images of witchcraft call to so many women – straight and not, white and of color, religious and devoutly atheist – because the task of reclaiming the witch is a fundamentally poetic one.” Doyle begins and ends with quotes from rapper Azealia Banks who equates her interest in Witchcraft, in part, to being a minority and associated experiences. However, Doyle fails to explore the full implications of Banks’ statement, jumping right into the discussion of feminism and its ties to the cultural mythos of the Witch. She quotes a number of different practitioners, including Starhawk, for an in-depth discussion of Witchcraft as female empowerment.
  • On Feb. 26, The Debrief published an article in reaction to the Guardian’s piece. It is titled “Are More Twenty Something Women Turning to Witchcraft? We asked an Expert.” Who was that expert? None other than our own columnist Christina Oakley Harrington. Writer Stevie Martin, once a teenage dabbler herself, talked to Harrington about the reality of young people “flocking” to Wicca. Martin quoted Harrington as saying, “[Witchcraft] is empowering for young woman, it addresses the sacredness of their individuality, it says that a woman is entitled to power, and the more powerful she is, the more healthy she’ll be. Psychologically. She is not a sex object and she is not a consumer object … She has the right to a place in society, but if she’s forced to the margins of society then she should stand proud of who she is.”
  • Speaking of Witches, the Courtauld Gallery in London is now exhibiting “Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.” According to the site, “This major exhibition reunites all the surviving drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album for the first time, offering a fascinating and enlightening view of a very private and personal Goya.” As the curator’s note, these works were never meant to be seen beyond a few of Goya’s friends. The exhibition will be open until May 25.
  • The Pew Research Center just released its report on the Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and HostilitiesTaken from data collected in 2013, the report analyzes “the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.” According to the Center, “social hostilities involving religion” decreased from 2012-2013, while incidents of antisemitism steadily increase. New in this report is an “analysis of government restrictions and social hostilities aimed primarily at religious minorities.” This data is not broken down by specific practice.
  • A recent U.S.A Today report highlights the recent increase in the tragic and horrible Albino killings in the African country of Tanzania. In Jan, NPR published a similar report, in which they asked, “Can a ban on witchcraft protect the Albinos of Tanzania?” Last month, the country banned the practice of witchcraft in a desperate attempt to curtail the killings of those citizens born with Albinism. Tanzania is considered to have the largest population of Albino citizens. Unfortunately, their condition brings with it real dangers. Many superstitions ascribe magical powers to Albinism, and believers will kill and mutilate those affected to acquire body parts. The witchcraft ban is an attempt to end this practice and to protect the Albino population. News sources and humanitarian aid organizations are littered with these horror stories. But is banning witchcraft really the solution?
  • A student at a Portland, Maine high school sparked a local controversy after changing the way she welcomed others to recite the morning pledge of allegiance over the school’s intercom. Student Council President Lily SanGiovanni said, “At this time would you please rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance if you’d like to.” According to reports, SanGiovanni and two friends had recently learned that reciting the Pledge was optional, and wanted to make that point clear to the student body. In a recent interview with local reporters, SanGiovanni explained, “The reference to ‘under God’ makes us uncomfortable because it’s a public school. It has nothing to do with our patriotism.” Backlash erupted almost immediately and spread throughout the community.
  • ISIL militants have reportedly been destroying priceless, ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum. The leader of an ISIL resistance group was quoted as saying, “Our civilisation and the culture of our people is being destroyed.”
  • The Hallmark Channel turned its successful film franchise, The Good Witch, into an original series. The 2-hour premiere debuted yesterday, Feb. 28.

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Leonard Nimoy, 1931- 2015 [Photo Credit Gage Skidmore]

 

 

“To Know, To Will, To Dare, To No Longer Be Silent – by Tanisia Greer

Today is the last day of February concluding Black History Month for 2015. Each year the U.S. celebrates the legacy, and influence of Black people whose stories have historically been omitted from history books. It was in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson first founded Negro History Week. In 1976, it was expanded into Black History month. One week or an  entire month, this celebration has held a lot of meaning for many of over the years.

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

While the elevation of African American voices during this one month does not erase the disproportionate lack of celebrating these voices throughout the year, it it does bookmark a consistent time where we are mindful of the contribution of Black people in this country.

African American followers of Pagan paths also practice within a community where their voices are the minority and where they are not as visible within the overculture of modern Paganism. The intersections between societal culture and ethnic culture often influence the magical practices and beliefs of Black people.

Joining in the celebration of Black History month for 2015, we honor the voices of African American Pagan practitioners in the modern Pagan community. They speak about their feelings and the importance of Black History month; they share their influences and inspirations as a magical practitioner.

Reluctant Spider

Reluctant Spider

My main altar always has a section dedicated to my ancestors, named or unknown alike. More often than not, I offer incense for the beloved dead and burn candles for the transitioning or living family. Through red or white threads that tie us, they can speak back through time to me in word and energy and I back to them as the end result of their legacy. It’s hard to doubt that what I do in my life matters when I put it into perspective like this.

Black history month is building a history for a group of people who lost touch with a lot of theirs. Though research is getting better trying to trace family lineage beyond the slave trade and prior can be a painful reminder that we could feel like a people without a real homeland nor history, neither this nor that. Black history month is a way of embracing our shared roots from the seeds sprinkled here by our ancestors lives. I do cringe from the occasionally obligatory, even show-pony, nature of Black History Month and yet also allow myself to drink in the wisdom, courage and daring of black people in this country with pride.  After all, I’m black. This is my country and I hope to contribute things with the discovery that is my life too. In order to draw possibilities out of myself I often need examples and Black History Month is an opportunity to remember that there are plenty of amazing women and men of distant and recent past who look like me. It’s nice to occasionally see yourself in the mirrors of time. – Reluctant Spider

Ciera Jennings

Ciera Jennings

As a Person of Color that is a Magickal Practitioner, Black History Month gives me a space to join with the energy of others in our culture and honor Our elders and Ancestors that we may not normally honor every day. In my practice, ancestor reverence is vital. For without them we wouldn’t exist; it is They who birthed us and walked before us to show us how to live and fight. It is our Ancestors that stand beyond the veil and are helping our prayers be answered and our spells manifest. No matter what diety you may worship or if you don’t worship Deity at all, the thing that unites us across all barriers is that we have Ancestors. What Black History gives POC practitioners is public space to honor and educate others, as well as ourselves, about the people who died, and those who are still fighting, to make us great.  – Ciera “Phoenix” Jennings

Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno, Chris Bradford

Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno, Chris Bradford

During February, when I share history and understanding of the horrors of Black History in America, folks expect it. I don’t have to feel like some radical for sharing things we all should already know, but do not because we are taught other people’s history, and taught history with Black folks and Black greatness literally whitewashed away. During February, I can talk about history with the ease I should be able to every month of the year. During the rest of the months I’m a radical, a rabble-rouser, a trouble-maker, “negative,” for talking about the realities of American History and the deep and powerful impact we have had on the world. During the rest of the months, I’m a conspiracy theorist or delusional for speaking about the very real contributions Bantu and other Sub-saharan cultures have made, and for calling out the systems that are continuously working to repress and control us.

Yes us; African-American culture is steeped in it’s Bantu roots, and we are part of that diaspora. I tire of having my history removed from me for the convenience of others. I no longer care if it makes other people uncomfortable. February is a leaping-off point each year for the re-education of myself and my peers about who we are, defined by US and not by the children and culture of our oppressors.

Nat Turner. We had revolutionaries with his same fire, his same wisdom, his same willingness to get things done that serve as honored ancestors who fought slavery in Cuba.  As an African-American, Nat Turner is the warrior and ancestor who took up the gun, took up the machete and showed us how oppression like slavery and vicious harm done to our people should be met. With raised arm, with blade, with gunpowder and fire! I look to his example when I deal with enemies, and when I make plans for my future and the future of my folk in this nation of ours. Palo Mayombe is a fiery religion, rooted in medicine and war, and I’m called as a Tata Nkisi to fight for what my folk and community need. He also is an important reminder that *action* creates change, creates respect, and that talking about the problems we’re dealing with will only get us so far, if all we are willing to do is talk. I’m willing to talk, but I keep my machete close. His spirit stands behind me. –  Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno, Chris Bradford.

Luna Pantera

Black History month has always been important to me since I was a young girl. Even then I thought it was “weird” that it was the shortest month of the year! It is a time for me as a Black woman to turn inward and acknowledge the history, sacrifice of my Ancestors especially female Ancestors.There are three that come to mind:  Nina Simone, Mary Ellen Pleasant and Octavia Butler. 

As a Black female witch who also identifies as an activist and writer the reasons are obvious. Nina Simone never let her fear of her “popularly as a performer get in her way of speaking her truth with such tunes as Mississippi Goddamn or even Jenny the Pirate which takes on a totally different tone with a strong Black female voice. Mary Ellen Pleasant was once a slave who through her own “wiles” got her freedom and studied with Maria Laveau. She then went on in the energy of Harriet Tubman to work the Underground Railroad to free hundreds of slaves and set them up in some of the “finest” homes in San Francisco. She was the richest person in California at one time worth over $10 million dollars! She was also a civil rights activist. And last but never least Octavia Butler who was one of the finest Science Fiction writers who always included race and gender in her stories.

During this month, and truthfully the entire year I celebrate them through my own work of writing, helping others connect with their own Ancestors and inspiring others to learn and respect “those that came before them!” Ashe!!! – Luna Pantera

Tanisia Greer

Many events over the past 5 years, including the many publicized killings of Black men, women & children, and the coarsening of discourse about race in America, has awakened me in ways that I never imagined. In Paganism, and specifically in Wicca, there’s the adage “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Be Silent.” For me, as I’ve learned to re-evaluate how I approach Black history and my own history, the last part of that saying has changed in my mind to “To no longer be silent.”

In magick, keeping your workings “silent” and secret protects the energy of the work and allows the ritual and energy released to go out into the world. I’ve learned in the past 6 months that, sometimes, the true working of one’s will comes when one dares to speak up about things that have been kept silent for far too long.

Our Black historical luminaries created great social workings not by staying silent, but daring to speak out against injustice and advocating for humanity and equality. Their words continue to live and vibrate and create changes in people, long past their passing through the veil. What that has taught me, as a Pagan and a Black woman, is that there is just as much power in speaking out as there is in preserving my words and energies. It has induced me to search out parts of my personal family history and long-suppressed aspects of Black history to help complete the picture of Black history in general, and my place in this world in particular. And that “working” has expanded and brought a new richness to this year’s Black History Month, and challenges me to become a stronger person and witch, ready to stand and speak my own truth. – Tanisia Greer

Erica Shadowsong

Erica Shadowsong

I have a feeling my answers may be reflective of a particular generational perspective, as well as perhaps the modern Pagan of Color who is not connecting to Paganism directly through a tradition passed on through ethnic heritage. The truth is, I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about Black History month. I don’t feel that I have a sense of the context that made it so important to others; people in my generation think that the history of all peoples should be integrated, all the time.

I feel uncomfortable with a month set aside to give what often seems an obligatory nod to African Americans. What I really want, and what would have helped me growing up, would be to see and learn about people like me – women, Pagans, People of Color, varied gender/sexual identities and abilities – as part of the whole tapestry of human history. I do not want to be a special category that only I care about. I want to be included in the greater story. The other way is lonelier.

I draw inspiration from present day Pagan authors of color, such as Stephanie Rose Bird. Throughout my life, I have drawn personal inspiration from Sojourner Truth (especially in her experiences as a woman treated differently than white women, and being strong and independent), Harriet Tubman of course, Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Octavia Butler, and other authors or extraordinary women. – Erica Shadowsong

Toya

Toya

It is important to me that the complete picture is always shown. How many people know that Martin Luther King Jr. was an enemy of the state when he was gunned down? How many people know that the Black Panthers actually were feeding the poor and homeless? Many folks think Rosa Parks was just a tired seamstress, her work before the bus seems to all but disappear.

Every African American Figure who came before me and even after me inspires me. From when they stepped on the boat to come here. To the ones who died along the way.To the ones who reached the mainland.

My (Our) blood is filled with inspirational men and women who were descendants of kings and queens, warriors and healers, farmers and bankers. Each figure who refused to conform to status quo, rules established to keep us in subservient positions inspire me.

Throughout our 500 years of history here in the United States, it is littered with the blood, sweat and tears of men and women who fought for our freedom.Through slavery, Jim crow, the civil right movement of the sixties, to now the new civil right movement still fighting for our equality and our lives.

Some names are known, while others are not. But their blood runs through us all. Our ancestors inspire me to surge ahead and not back down. That is the MAGIC that flows through my veins. Everyday I wake up and breath in is because of them.  It is the fire that burns in my soul.

To simply just name one I can’t. I name them all. They have all inspired me to continue the fight because the battle is far from over. – Toya  ScorpionGoddess

Cecily Willowe

Cecily Willowe

There is only one person that I truly idolized and her name is Alice Walker. I love this woman so much, I swear I swoon at the mention of her name or her written works. It all started when I first read about the term Womanist coined by Walker. A womanist, as Walker defines, “ Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.“ In every way this was me or what I hoped to be. It was the way I wanted to approach my spiritual practice as a Wiccan. For me, magic is about approaching life from a place of love, wonder, pleasure. It is about coming into my full being. Eventually, I learned Walker is a self proclaimed “Renegade, an Outlaw, a Pagan.” I learned that Walker’s paganism includes a love of nature, women and Blackness.

Over the years, her words have inspired me to enhance my Wiccan practice to meet my cultural needs as a Black woman. Womanism gave me the tools to apply social justice to my practice and philosophy. Nowadays, driven by the power of womanism, my practice has become fuller and blacker.Cecily Willowe

Black Witch

Black Witch

I know it’s to highlight the importance of Black achievements and that it originally started as a week and then moved into a month and was supposed to be integrated into a year as part of normal cultural history. However, it instead gets used as a crutch for people to not talk about Black history and achievements for the other 11 months of the year and go back to making humanized Blackness invisible and look as mythical as possible.  As a Black practitioner (I still am not a really big fan of the term “person of color”, sadly), it doesn’t really affect me since I already seamlessly integrate Black history and experience into my practices. That makes Feb just another month for me, sort of. It is a relevant month for other people – a relevant month not used like it should be, which is to dismantle culturally embedded racism in permanent or long standing ways – but it doesn’t truly affect me since I have it already integrated into my experiences.

As an individual: Ida B. Wells, I always looked up to her since I was a kid. She’s great and what I want to be. As a magick worker, I really can’t bring anyone to mind off the top of my head. – Black Witch

Oseaana

Oseaana

When we look at common Black History month celebrations they seem to focus on the period between post-slavery and the present as if we had no history before being forced into slavery.

We actually have a long and rich history outside of this country where we were the foundation of civilization itself! We were Queens and Kings. We were the first scientists and mathematician. Our spirituality and philosophy has spread and became the basis for cultures and traditions worldwide. None of this is taught in schools. When I was in school I was taught that slavery was a horrible thing and thank god for Abraham Lincoln for freeing the slaves and then nothing much happened until Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched and gave us all out rights. That was pretty much the history of Black folks in this country. So for me the importance of Black History month is to make a commitment to honoring our rich and ancient history each and every day. To know thyself is the first step in any spiritual practice and if you don’t know the history of your own DNA then how can you really understand who you are?

I am most inspired by my ancestors and their life of struggle and triumph. A few years ago I made a video tribute for my Grandfather Joseph Parker who was one of the first great Black Horsemen. He overcame extreme racism and adversity to become a top horse trainer in a field that was off limits to anyone of color…save for being a groom or cleaning stalls. I know what my Grandparents went through to achieve the success they had. They moved from Baltimore, MD to New York and purchased an 86 acre farm for their family. No small feat for a Black family in 1950’s America. As a spiritual worker it is important to me to have a deep connection with my ancestors. They are my link to the spirit world and guide and protect every spiritual working I do. – Oseaana

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

When I was in fourth grade, I remember when my babysitter gave me a comic book about the story of Matthew Henson. Until that point, I had no idea that black people were involved with finding the North Pole, or that we could be explorers of more than what was familiar. The more common credit at the time was given to Robert Peary. Even when Peary’s  discovery of the North Pole was disputed, the name of Matthew Henson, explorer remained untarnished in my mind. Black History Month is a time of sharing wisdom and exploration. As a person of color, my sole regret is that my culture and race are categorized into one brief time period by the term “Black History Month”.

As a practitioner, I glide through the flowing masses of Pagans as an invisible minority within a racially visible majority. During the past ten years, I would love to say that I had seen an embrace of Black History Month in the Pagan community, or that I was encouraged to take a stronger stance during this time both as a Pagan and as a black woman. Instead, my history, my learning, my curiosity sparked by Black History Month was cultural; as a practitioner, my goal during this time was survival.

During this time, I am a split individual: a practitioner who embraces culture to pass on to the next generation; a representative of culture who seeks to embrace magic to preserve our history, our dignity, and our strength as  the non-majority persons of color. I would love to agree with those who criticize the existence of Black History Month; however, my fear is that without it, we would have no public time and mental space to acknowledge the accomplishments of those who might explore and journey, yet, like Matthew Henson, remain invisible at first.Clio Ajana

Dava Greely

Dava Greely

When I read this question, the spirit of none other than Eartha Kitt pushed her way to the front of my mind. She overcame so much and created a life and legacy for herself that is something to behold. I believe she was something like a Pomba Gira spirit. She was intelligent, beautiful, classy, sensual, witty, and bold. She was outspoken and held no punches when it came to exposing the bull. Her greatest honor was that of Motherhood.

When you remember how she stood up in the White House and told the truth about the agony of the war – when you remember that Lady Bird Johnson cried at the audacity – when you remember that she was blackballed and took a ten year hit in her career after the fact – and that she STILL made a comeback and had a successful career…yeah…only a witch could manage that.- Dava Greely

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“I just finished arguing with some folks on social media who didn’t understand why I hate the holiday, and suggested I read the words of Carter Woodson, the originator of Black History Month. Of course I have read Woodson, but I choose to look at the words again. What is so disheartening is that even though he wrote about a world in which “we teach ourselves,” the reality almost 80 years later is something discouraging and different. Looking at my own long journey through higher education, and that of those I know, there were few if any educators of color, and the agenda they were required to teach was limited and prejudiced. I have dedicated my life to helping people to understand the glory and majesty of traditional African-based religions such as Voodoo, Vodou and Lucumi (Santeria.) In no other arena is prejudice and miseducation so rampant. Most curriculum won’t touch these subjects, and the work of good people like myself is buried and marginalized for the same old song about MLK and Rosa Parks. In actuality Black History is a scar, a brand, a continuous systemic reality of oppression. In my work I write a lot about Zora Neale Hurston, because she was both an anthropologist and a Voodoo priestess like myself. The other day I rediscovered her words following the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and they seem appropriate when thinking about Black History today.
“It is a contradiction in terms to scream race pride and equality while at the same time spurning Negro teachers and self association. That old white mare business can go racking on down the road for all I care.” – Lilith Dorsey

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

[photo credit: T Thorn Coyle]

The voices of Black people are just as diverse as the varying pigmentation of our skin. Looking at the vast range of association and inspiration that come from the voices of our Black voices within the Pagan community, there is an opportunity to see a variety the of levels of connection to a lineage of history that is often silenced for a more common, taught version of history.

Why is it important to feature the voices of African American practitioners on The Wild Hunt? The voices and faces of people of color within modern Paganism show a array of diversity and culture that is not often visible within our broader community, much like within greater society.

Black history month has a range of influence in the larger culture, but that does not always seem to reach the culture of the modern Pagan community. It is rarely spoke about within Paganism, and yet it holds space for something very important within the building demand for equity. The ability to be seen should not be regulated to one month or one snapshot in time. Yet, this month allows for the acknowledgement of the marginalized that are often not considered.

Many people do acknowledged Black heroes this month, pass on Black history memes on social media, and remain supportive in matters of equity and justice. At the same time, a great majority of people do not acknowledge the significance of Black history in February, or in any other month of the year. We should ask ourselves, how can we support the celebration of Black culture within our Pagan framework? Why would it be important to include the heroes, history and ancestors of Black people into the honoring we do? What does it communicate to ethnically-marginalized people within the modern Pagan community when we do not acknowledge their history, heroes and ancestors? How do those choices continue to shape culture within our community?

As Black History month closes for 2015, let us celebrate all the ways that African Americans have contributed to the history of this country, our society, and our Pagan community.

“In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support – not mutual struggle – has had the leading part.” – Peter Kropotkin

I.

It was a maddeningly hot afternoon in August, and I had just spilled some cat food on the living room floor. I instinctively reached for the vacuum, momentarily forgetting that the air conditioning was already on, momentarily forgetting that I lived in a hundred-year old brownstone with a fragile electrical system. I hit the button on the vacuum to turn it on and, at that exact moment, I realized my mistake. The power went out.

Losing power was a regular occurrence in that house, and I didn’t think much about it at first. The breaker panel was in the basement, which could only be reached by exiting the house at the ground floor and re-entering the house again through the basement door. As I stepped out the front door, my next-door neighbor stepped out of her house at the same time, a confused look on her face.

“Our power just went out. Did your power go out?” she asked.

“I just blew the power out,” I told them. “Your power went out too? Shoot, my bad, sorry about that. I’m on my way down to turn it back on right now.”

I ran down to the basement, confused as to how and why the circuitry in my house could possibly affect the house next door. I swung open the door on the breaker panel and shined a flashlight on the panel. To my surprise, the circuit switch that was usually at issue had not flipped to the other side. I reset the entire panel, to be sure, but the power still did not come on. I ran back upstairs, dreading the call I was going to have to make to the landlord.

When I surfaced on the ground floor again, there was a small crowd on the sidewalk, and other neighbors were starting to exit their houses. “We have no power,” yelled a man from across the street. “Do any of you have power?”

I looked around at all the brownstones and realized that the entire block was out.

For a split second I tensed up, briefly paralyzed with the possibility that my little error had inconvenienced the entire neighborhood. How could one overloaded circuit knock out the whole street? I then glanced down the block and saw a few folks from the next street over walking towards us and, at that moment, it finally hit me that the outage had nothing to do with my running the vacuum cleaner and the air conditioner at the same time.

But with that realization, my guilt was immediately replaced by fear, and as I looked into the eyes of my neighbors, I saw nothing but fear in their faces as well. We stared at each other for a moment in silence, eyes wide, suddenly feeling as though we were in a Twilight Zone episode or a Ray Bradbury story. It was one of those strange moments where despite the fact that we were relative strangers to each other, every single person knew exactly what every other single person was thinking: terrorism.

It was less than two years after 9/11, and the trauma associated with living through that experience was still a fresh wound for most people in the neighborhood. Since the tragedy, the city’s inhabitants had been collectively walking on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The emotional climate was such that an event as ordinary as a power outage, which would not necessarily engender fear prior to 9/11, suddenly took on a new and terrifying potentiality.

At that moment, another neighbor emerged from his house, cranking up an old weather radio as he walked towards us. “It’s a grid failure,” he yelled at the crowd. “Newscaster says that the whole Northeast is out. Everything is down.”

I witnessed a sigh of collective relief and a release of tension that immediately transitioned into a breath intake of differing anxieties. The fear of the unknown and the fear of potential terrorism had quickly morphed into a fear of violence, of looting and of rioting. Everyone suddenly started to intently study each other, deeply searching with their eyes, seeking out potential levels of trust or distrust. We stood there uncomfortably, the residents of a Brooklyn block who before this moment had the privilege of never needing to know or trust each other, who suddenly realized that we were in a situation where our safety and well-being might depend on each other. Eyes darted around from person to person, with the silence ever deafening as the seconds ticked by.

“Do you think we’ll be safe?” one woman asked, breaking the silence. “The last time this happened…”

In the late 1970’s, riots, looting and arson broke out throughout the city, especially in Brooklyn and the Bronx, after a power outage caused by a lightning strike kept the city off the grid for just over twenty-four hours. Nearly 5,000 people were arrested; hospitals filled up city-wide as a result of the violence. The incident is well-remembered among the city’s residents. Many of the folks on that very block had lived through those riots, and the tension in their faces signaled that they were bracing for such chaos to potentially occur again. I looked around, somewhat tense but determined not to be overly affected by the worry of others.

Eventually the immediate crowd scattered, and I nervously headed indoors. As soon as I entered the house, I hunted down every candle, flashlight, and spare battery that I knew of, put them in a pile in the middle of the floor, and looked out the window at the sun. We had three to four hours of sunlight left, at which time the entire city would be facing a night of blistering hot temperatures and no power. No power meant no traffic lights, no subway trains, no running elevators.

Crowds walking home in NYC during the 2003 blackout. Photo by Glitch010101.

Crowds walking home in NYC during the 2003 blackout. [Photo by Glitch010101.]

My partner texted me from uptown Manhattan, letting me know that he was walking back with a huge crowd of people and would not be home for several hours. Not knowing what to do with myself, and increasingly becoming affected by the heat, I decided to lay down for a nap.

II.

I woke up as the sun started to set, and my heart immediately began beating as I remembered that we were in the middle of a blackout. The house was sweltering, and I quickly pulled my shoes on, armed myself with a knife and a flashlight, and headed towards the front door. I walked past the refrigerator, and it occurred to me that the food in there would be spoiled by the morning. I opened up the fridge, gathered all the edible food into a bag, and continued out the house, figuring that I might run into someone else who needed food.

I stepped out the front door and could not believe the sight before my eyes. The same neighbors who were so fearful only a few hours before were engaged in what could only be described as an impromptu block party. There were several tables filled with food, a man was cooking on a propane stove, a few folks were playing music, kids were kicking a ball around, and several women were standing around in groups with drinks, obviously engaged in meaningful conversation. I thought back to my instinct of sharing food only a few seconds earlier, and realized that everyone else had the same instinct. Everyone was sharing, cooperating, working together to make the night a little easier.

It was a miserable and muggy night. A night that, in Park Slope, would be inevitably spent in front of an air conditioner, in front of a television or a computer, isolated from others and walled-off by design without much thought to the intent or consequence behind that arrangement. But in the absence of electricity and the inability to amuse oneself with all the various devices that run on electricity, everyone was out of the house and engaging in person with each other in a way that I had never witnessed before. And as I stood there and watched, I realized that what I was witnessing was probably not confined to this block.

I made my way down towards the commercial strip on Seventh Avenue and, as I turned a corner, I noticed that the bar, which sat catty-corner to where I was standing, had its doors open and the sides rolled up. There was a large crowd out on the sidewalk. I walked over and found that the place was packed. The restaurant was giving away everything they had, and everyone looked like they were having the time of their lives. Not only was everyone merry and conversational, there were several people among the affluent crowd who were visibly poor and homeless, and they were being welcomed and loaded up with food and drink just as everyone else.

I stood there at the entrance to what I always considered to be one of the snobbiest bars in the neighborhood, and watched as class lines evaporated before my eyes in the face of an unexpected situation. Firefighters were chatting with bankers, wealthy housewives were sharing food with dishwashers.

Continuing down the street, nearly every house had people sitting out on the porch, talking, sharing food or drink. The entire neighborhood was alive and bubbling with activity. Tables were set up all around with people playing card games and board games on the sidewalk in front of their houses. Down the road, the grocery store was handing out ice cream and bags of ice to everyone who walked past. A man was cooking hot-dogs on a charcoal grill. Grandmothers were sitting together knitting under the light of a gas lamp, and children of varied backgrounds who had never met before were playing together in the street.

From the open containers to the open street fires, laws were being broken left and right, and yet civility still held firm and there was not a single police officer to be seen. I walked up and down, the entire length of the neighborhood, taking in the miraculous beauty that had unfolded over dozens of city blocks. I met and spoke with a countless number of people. I was offered food and drink dozens of times and was invited by complete strangers to play music and card games. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was actually experiencing what it means to be a ‘community’.

III.

After what seemed like endless hours accepting all the hospitality that I could possibly stand, I decided to wander out past the immediacy of my neighborhood. I headed towards Prospect Park, which among many other functions served as a barrier of sorts between the wealthier white neighborhoods in the western half of Brooklyn and the poorer, immigrant and minority neighborhoods to the east. It was in those neighborhoods that the majority of the damage occurred during the riots of the late 70’s. Yet I had a strong feeling that the atmosphere unfolding in Park Slope was somewhat consistent throughout the city.

As I entered the park, I was taken aback by the sudden darkness. My own block and several others were still lit with gas lamps and that, combined with the candles and flashlights being used, kept me out of touch with how dark complete darkness actually was. I made my way across the park toward the east side, relying much more on my previous knowledge of the terrain than what I could actually see in front of me. I stuck to the paths that wound along the southwest corner of the park and, as I walked, I heard the sound of music coming over from Ocean Avenue. When I got to the corner where the park meets the street grid, I saw a nearly identical scene to the one I had just left behind. Music, food, community, laughter.

Nearly identical, but with one glaring exception. While I didn’t see a single police officer in the dozens of blocks that I walked in Park Slope, on this side of town, the police were everywhere. There was practically an officer stationed at every corner, and it was apparent from their stance and their demeanor that they knew full well that their presence was unnecessary to the point of absurdity. They were painfully out of place, standing awkwardly among the people communing on the sidewalk, knowing full well that they were only creating tension in an otherwise safe and joyous atmosphere. They looked as though they wanted to disappear.

I re-entered the park several blocks north of where I had exited and, as I crossed the street toward the path, I saw what looked like a group nap occurring in a patch of grass just to the right of the path. I headed towards the grass, and saw at least two-dozen children of various ages, spread out like snow angels, staring intently at the sky.

I looked up at the sky and gasped aloud. The sky. The stars.  They were larger and clearer and more mesmerizing than could ever have been thought possible in New York City. I was immediately taken back to my childhood, to summer camps in the Catskills where the stars seemed so close that you could almost touch them. I hadn’t seen such a sky since then and, as I stared at the sky and then at the children on the ground, it occurred to me that most, if not all, of these kids had spent their entire lives in New York City and had never been to a summer camp and had never seen the night sky before.

Night sky. Photo by Michael J. Bennett

Night sky. Photo by Michael J. Bennett

As my eyes darted back and forth between the sky and the children on the grass, one young boy saw me and sat up in excitement. “You need to lie down and see it from on your back,” he said to me urgently. “There must be a million stars up there. It’s amazing.”

And so I lowered myself down to the ground next to him and flattened myself on the grass under the large, waning moon, taking in the pure wonder that was the night sky at that moment. I forgot about everything but the stars, and I lay there for what seemed like hours, in complete awe, allowing myself to melt into both the sky above and the earth below. The experience was a rare gift, a gift that I was sharing with a grateful and hypnotized group of young stargazers. I pointed out as many constellations to the kids as I could find and remember, and then, after a while, I simply zoned out into the sky.

Eventually the kids got up and headed back toward the crowds on Ocean Avenue and, after the last one left, I stood up and wiped myself off and headed for home. I took a long, meandering route home through the park and, by the time I was back in my neighborhood, the sun was just starting to come up. There was still a group of guitarists perched on the stone wall that enclosed the park and a few random stragglers were slowly making their way home.

IV.

The power went back on the next morning and, on the surface, everything went back to normal rather quickly. Yet there was this resonance, a certain shared magic between neighbors that never quite faded. For many months afterward, every time I ran into or made eye contact with one of the others who I remembered from that night, there was always a pause, a smile, a sparkle in both of our eyes as we briefly remembered the joy and wonder in that experience.

There was something incredibly healing about that night, both collectively as a neighborhood and as a city, on a deeply personal level. Witnessing such kindness and cooperation, such an instinctive and widespread expression of both mutual aid and merriment in such stressful circumstances, greatly restored my faith in humanity and strengthened my belief in the feasibility of a decentralized, cooperative society. It was a night where love triumphed over fear, where beauty was unexpectedly revealed both within us as well as above us.

In a world of increasing uncertainty and dwindling resources, where the future may be technically unwritten but hints strongly at bleakness and tragedy, I still retain a bit of hope whenever I think of that night when we temporarily swapped out the streetlights for the stars.

 *   *   *

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

WASHINGTON – On Feb. 24, U.S. President Obama vetoed a bill that would have approved construction of the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline. After installation, this pipeline system would carry 830,000 gallons of crude oil from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The current legislative battle is over the final phase of 1,179 miles of pipe that are part of the entire 3,200 mile project.

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

In January, Keystone proponents won three significant victories. Both the U.S. House and Senate approved the project. At the same time, Nebraska’s state Supreme Court removed the remaining blocks preventing the pipeline from being constructed in its state.

Then, in mid February, the approved federal bill was sent to President Obama, who promptly vetoed it, saying in a message to Congress:

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.

Experts do report that this veto may have dealt a fatal blow to the Keystone proposal, at least in its current form. Congress doesn’t appear to have the votes necessary to block the veto. In addition, legal battles have re-surfaced in Nebraska, which have halted Trans Canada’s acquisition of needed land. Does it mean an end to the project entirely or just delays?

For those unfamiliar with Keystone XL, CNN has published a short digest on the issues being debated. Briefly, proponents argue that the new lines will bring temporary and permanent jobs, boost the economy and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. Opponents cite numerous environmental concerns, as well as the destruction of lands owned by Indigenous populations and the potential threats to those communities.

As has become quite commonplace, this battle pits economic stability and growth against environmental safety and community protection. It is an old struggle dressed in new clothes. However, as pointed out by Chris Mooney of The Washington Post, the conversation may be changing, which makes the veto particularly significant. As Mooney points out, past cultural debates have centered on finding ways to make production safer or cleaner. This may be the first time at this level of government that the conversation focuses on stopping production entirely. The message isn’t “do it cleaner;” but rather “don’t do it all.”

We talked to a number of Pagans who are, in some form, significantly engaged in environmental activism. As expected, they all were very pleased with the veto. Courtney Weber, co-founder of the Pagan Environmental Coaltion of NYC, said:

It’s certainly very exciting and encouraging for the environmental movement. This pipeline is never going to supply a large number of permanent jobs and its oil was never meant to support the American people–it’s been an export-only plan from day one! A few will get rich and many will run the serious risk of contaminated farmland and drinking water…

As a member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC, this news is very encouraging. Our work focuses on encouraging sustainable green infrastructure and opposing fossil fuel infrastructure. I hope that this will encourage Governors Cuomo and Christie to veto to the Port Ambrose LNG port, which would have the same dangerous impacts on the Tri-State coastline as Keystone would to middle America.

Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), Witch at Large and co-author of the CoG environmental policy, said:

I’m heartened by the President’s veto. After all, he has two daughters who will have to live in the world. I think he knows how serious our environmental problems have become and feels, as I do, that all the jobs in the world cannot justify the risk of such disastrous environmental degradation that Keystone could generate.

I fail to see how imperiling our lands with a pipeline does anyone any good. This proposed pipeline would be 36″ in diameter; the recent broken lines in the Northern Plains and elsewhere were only 4″ diameter. I shudder to think of the devastation a broken pipe could wreak. Not to mention the fact that plans call for it to traverse sovereign Native American lands. Furthermore, exploiting our Earth for petroleum-derived energy sources ignores the bigger problems.  Instead, we should be cultivating alternative energy sources.

I hope it’s the end, because I know the Congress doesn’t have the votes to overrule Obama’s veto. This allows more time to educate more people who’ve had their heads in the sand or who’ve been convinced otherwise about our environmental crisis.

O’Brien and Weber point to the typical concerns raised by pipeline construction, which include leaks, spills, the acquisition of “sovereign Native American lands,” exploitation of oil sands, the impact on coast lines and climate change. Blogger and Druid John Beckett said:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is troublesome on many counts. Much of the recent debate has focused on the risks to our water supply – the pipeline would run over the largest underground aquifer in North America and leaks are virtually inevitable. But there’s been little talk of the fact that the pipeline was designed to transfer oil from the Canadian tar sands. Tar sands extraction and refining are some of the dirtiest operations in the entire petroleum industry – some have called it “Canada’s Mordor.”

Beyond that, this project extracts additional fossil fuels to drive additional consumption, which will dump additional climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere. The entire tar sands project needs to be killed, not just the pipeline.

Beckett went on to say:

I have been critical of many of President Obama’s decisions and I want to acknowledge when he does the right thing. I’m very happy he vetoed the bill approving the construction of the pipeline. But I’m disappointed he didn’t use the occasion to emphasize the need to reduce carbon emissions and to encourage the Canadians to leave the tar sands in the ground.

Instead, his veto statement focused on procedural issues: “this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest.” This leaves open the possibility that his administration or that of the next President could decide the pipeline is an acceptable risk. It is not.

His skepticism is justified, considering that Keystone proponents in Congress have pledged to overturn the veto or attach the proposal to other legislation. Beckett’s sentiments were echoed by others interviewed. Weber said:

This veto is not a coffin nail on tar sands oil. This veto doesn’t get rid of it, it only keeps it in limbo. It is likely to come back attached to another bill. In addition, that oil can still flow through numerous other pipelines being built or already built. But it’s an important symbolic action in which public health and environmental concerns are given consideration before profits of large companies. 

James Stovall, who was recently elected to the board of directors for the Jackson County Conservation District (JCCD), offered his personal opinion, saying:

I do think the veto was the right call, but sadly it is not the last of the issue. The President vetoed the Legislative attempt to pass the pipeline but could still approve it after State Department studies are completed. Be it by pipeline or rail we need to make environmental safety is paramount. Make sure to keep speaking to the White House on these matters.

Similarly, Wild Hunt columnist and activist Alley Valkyrie, who has extensively written about and researched oil sands and the transport of energy resources, said in reaction:

While I’m glad that Obama decided to veto Keystone XL, it’s definitely not a victory. This veto is far from the end of the Keystone XL fight, and I have no doubt that the current Congress will try again and again to revive Keystone, most likely in the form of attachments to other bills. And meanwhile, while everyone is focused on and distracted by this one pipeline and this one federal approval process, other pipelines are being built all over the country, literally in our own backyards. While stopping Keystone XL obviously has importance to both the environment as a whole and especially those who are individually affected by it, stopping this one pipeline will not halt nor reverse the consistent damage that industrial capitalism is wreaking upon the earth. It’s the entire destructive system that needs to be stopped.

I wish I could be more hopeful, but unless and until the industrialized nations of this planet collectively decide to radically alter how they produce and consume fossil fuels, and until the people decide that the ability to live on this planet is more important than engaging in a never-ending cycle of producing and consuming, all the effort put into stopping individual projects like Keystone XL will be in vain.

John Halstead, Managing Editor of HumanisticPaganism.com and organizing member of the working group for the Draft Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, wrote:

I applaud the President’s veto and the work done by groups like 350.org that have opposed the pipeline, recognizing that there is still work to be done to oppose the pipeline. But as important as this victory is, it is the tip of an iceberg, one which expands to include an unsustainable system of resource extraction and consumption, which is rapidly making the earth uninhabitable for human beings, as it has already been made uninhabitable for countless species. [This] expands further to include an economic model — global capitalism — which has failed in its promise to reflect the true value of that which is consumed, and expands still further (largely beneath the surface of our consciousness) to include a spiritual hegemony which alienates human beings from the material source of our being and from all life.  We must attack this iceberg at all of these levels; at the points of consumption, production and destruction (economics), the point of decision (politics), and the point of assumption (ideology/religion). 

Whether the veto stops construction completely or simply delays it, there are currently other pipelines in operation, as noted by Valkyrie and Beckett. This includes the other TransCanada lines that make the trip from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. In order to end oil sands operations entirely, there must be a collective shift in our relationship with energy use. In addition, there must be a simultaneous and significant economic shift to prevent a catastrophic structural social collapse. Our world economies are deeply tied to the current energy industry, its operations and its products. This is a complicated venture that will require far more than a single piece of legislation, as suggested by Halstead and others interviewed.

However, this presidential veto may be a sign that the global conversation is evolving from “do it, but do it cleaner” to “don’t do it at all.” As is often discussed, those people who follow environmentally-centered religious practices may now have unique place in helping to shift this conversation. Beckett said:

One of the core principles of modern Druidry is that the Earth is sacred. The value of the Earth does not come from the benefits it provides to humans. Rather, the Earth is a living thing and it has the same inherent value and worth as all other living things. Druids seek to live in a respectful and reverent relationship with the Earth.

Halstead echoed that sentiment:

It is in this last area that I believe Pagans have the most unique contribution to make to this fight. We can lead the way in effecting paradigm shift away from from a mode of consciousness which is linear, atomistic and disenchanted — which lies at the root of all of these failed systems — to one that is cyclical, interconnected and re-enchanted. We need to personally and collectively cultivate the spiritual and psychological resources to sustain us for a prolonged struggle on all of these fronts.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – In the heart of the Southeast Asian peninsula lies the Kingdom of Thailand. Once known as Siam, Thailand is now considered a constitutional monarchy the size of Spain, with a population 65 million. The country lies only a short distance north of the equator, which allows for its lush, green and tropical climate. Within Thailand’s rich and vibrant Southeast Asian culture, there lies a very small, but growing, Pagan community.

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Thailand Pagan Pride Ritual [Courtesy Photo}

“I found Siam Wicca in 1999, and the people there were so open-mind and loved to share their experiences. The community grew wider and wider. We had many beliefs, not only Wicca [but also] Native Thai, Druid, Shaman, Asatru, etc. After the founder of Siam Wicca left the site…the remaining people, including me, ran a new webboard and started meeting once a month. The community has grown since then,” said Atiwan Kongsorn, a Pagan living in Bangkok and co-owner of the only witchcraft store in Thailand.

Kongsorn explained that Siam Wicca was originally founded by Thitiwat Netwong, known in the community as Fianne. The site was part of the “first wave” of Paganism to arrive in Thailand via the Internet in the late 1990s. At that time, Siam Wicca was simply a website that, as Kongsorn said, “provided knowledge about Wicca’s beliefs translated into Thai.” The site also hosted “web boards” for community discussion.

After a few years, Fianne left the group, and as Kongsorn noted, it was later discovered that he had died. However, Siam Wicca continued to operate for a period of time, eventually moving to Facebook. Followers began meeting more frequently, and a new group was formed called Thailand Pagan Pride. Eclectic Wiccan Thanchai Jaikong, also known as MasThander, said, “We only use the [Facebook] page to promote events or news that can be posted in public.”

Like many places in the world, life as a Pagan in Thailand has its obstacles. MasThander said, “Being a witch or a pagan in Thailand will make you [a] deviant. Most people don’t understand who you are and what you do. So you have to stick to your own people who share the same spiritual understanding. That is what makes our community strong. We have to stick together.”

However, the assumption of deviancy is not exactly the same as experienced by Pagans in other parts of the world. Why? As reported by the tourism department, 96.4 percent of the population is Buddhist, which fosters a very different religious cultural environment than in countries dominated by Christianity. Kongsorn said, “Most of scholars say the main religion in Thailand is Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism to be precise). In my opinion, people believe in native Thai animism mixed with Buddhism. It is like animism disguised as Buddhism.”

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

As such, both Kongsorn and MasThander agreed that the general population’s attitude toward modern Paganism is fairly positive or, at the very least, open. There are no religious-based hostilities embedded within Thai culture. They even note that the term “witch” is not really considered a negative. Kongsorn said, “The sweetest thing for Pagans in Thailand is that you can freely tell everybody that you are a Pagan. Thai people are open-minded. ‘Every religion leads people to good deeds.’ Thai people always say this. So as long as you have something to believe or something to worship, everything is fine.”

Despite this religious tolerance, there are still, as noted by MasThander, many cases of misunderstandings that have lead to accusations of deviancy. However, these negative experiences not based on religious expectations but on cultural differences. As MasThander explained, “Thai people at almost every level lack the knowledge about Paganism and Witchcraft, especially when we talk about the western Paganism or witchcraft that is now growing in Thailand. People think about Harry Potter or that kind of fictional thing. That’s our main hurdle; to explain the right identity to the community.”

Kongsorn agreed, explaining that while the term “witch” is not negative, it does conjure, so to speak, images of “silliness.” He said, “Thai people here know the term “witch” (the western witch) from movies, cartoons or books. Not quite evil but something far from their everyday life.” MasThander added, “These points of view are not troublesome or harmful, but it is irritating sometimes.”

Along with Buddhism, Thailand’s culture is also influenced by “Vedic Hinduism, Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism from India. Taoism, Confucianism, Mahayana Buddhism from China.” As Kongsorn said that because of “the existing belief in animism, [the belief in] magic still exists nowadays. [Thai people] like the Shamans, or witch doctors, who help people using herbs, rituals or talismans.”

While both Kongsorn and MasThander acknowledge and celebrate these rich aspects of their country’s culture, they do not regularly include the religious details do not directly influence their own modern Pagan practices. This particular growing Thai Pagan community is predominantly focused on western Pagan practice. The dominant religion is currently Wicca. However, Kongsorn said, “Some are Druid and Asatru. I met a guy who practices Santeria once … and there other are solitary pagans, like myself.”  There are several Wiccan covens, but the number of practitioners is unclear. Kongsorn said “maybe hundreds” and most are under the age of 35.

The majority of their educational material, including mythology and writings, originate from Europe and the U.S. Access to the Internet has not only launched the Thai Pagan movement, but has also continued to play a vital role as the community grows. MasThander found Wicca through witchvox.com and, as noted earlier, Kongsorn discovered his path through the Siam Wicca’s website. Today there is far more material available to them online, and more people have Internet access.

In addition, there are several English-language book stores in Bangkok, such as Kinokuniya and Asiabook, which offer small number of “new age” books. In 2013, Kongsorn and his business partners opened the Ace of Cups Witch Cafe in Bangkok, which is described as the “perfect place for any pagan and individual who interested in Pagan, Witchcraft and Spiritual development.”

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Because Thai Pagans are not living in U.S. or the U.K., from where most of these materials originate, Thai Pagans have had to adapt the works and suggested practices to reflect their own ecology, culture and natural experiences. Kongsorn said, “As you know we live in a tropical climate with actually two seasons, wet and dry. There is not much difference between the seasons. It always green here … It’s a bit struggle [to follow the Western practices] if you stick with the concept of the physical world. In my opinion, the Wheel of the Year not only represents the cycle of Mother Nature, but also represents the cycle of one’s own spiritual improvement. If you stick with this concept [instead], there is no struggle at all.”

MasThander agreed, saying, “We try our best to follow the original rituals. But it’s somewhat difficult or impossible due to the geographical differences. But we try to focus on the spiritual meaning of the rituals and symbols; what everything in the ritual really means and does to our both physical and spiritually life.”

Both MasThander and Kongsorn expressed excitement about the growth of the modern Pagan movement in Thailand. Both are both doing their part to support and welcome anyone who is interested in the community and their practices. MasThander said, “For non-Pagan people, we try to offer a better understanding of who we really are. And for other Witches or those who are interested in the Craft, we try to bring them into our community, so we can help and support them.”

Kongsorn uses his shop as a place to welcome the community and to “provide information to the public about Pagan beliefs, mysticism and occultism.” He added, “We are trying to set up a Pagan Association here in Thailand … There will be a meeting here about setting it up this Ostara. Pagan beliefs in Thailand are just a little sprout. We now need the support and guidance from other countries.”