Archives For Paganism

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

At this time of the year, perhaps more than any other, it becomes very apparent that we live in a multi faith world. Whether the shows of diversity are in public displays leading to debates on religious freedom or the variety of holiday wishes and celebratory rituals, December brings a very visible demonstration of the breadth of religious belief in the U.S. and, even, worldwide. With that spirit, we have collected a number of religious news stories that have been making headlines over the past few weeks.

*   *   *

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

At a Dec. 11 meeting at the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the Ohio Department of Education hosted an information session on the state’s new Community Connectors program. Established by a legislative vote in the spring and then signed into law by Gov. John Kasich (R), the program aims to bring together community organizations and businesses with school systems in order to assist at-risk children and strengthen districts with high poverty and dropout rates. The underlying belief is that direct community involvement and mentorship will help children succeed in school and in life.

However, directly after the United Way meeting, the program drew criticism because of its alleged new focus on faith-based organizations. According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Buddy Harris, a senior policy analyst for the Ohio Department of Education, told the gathering of church and non-profit representatives that each application must include a school district (or charter school) plus a business and a place of worship or faith-based organization in its partnership.

The original legislative bill, HB 483, did not include this requirement. According to the state’s website, the law reads, “Eligible school districts shall partner with members of the business community, civic organizations, or the faith-based community to provide sustainable career advising and mentoring services.”  To date, the program’s promotional material also doesn’t suggest any religious requirement. However, according to news reports and Americans United (AU) the Governor only recently changed this detail.

If the news reports are correct and this new policy is in place, then, as noted by AU, “this is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”  The organization goes on to suggest, ” … if he really wants to improve the lives of Ohio’s students, he can start by respecting their right to an educational environment free of religious coercion. ”

*   *   *

As reported by The New York Times, the U.S. Senate approved, in a 62-35 vote, the appointment of Rabbi David Saperstein as Ambassador-at-Large, or head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. When Saperstein was nominated in July, Secretery of State John Kerry said, “Religious Freedom is human freedom. … When it comes to the work of protecting religious freedom, it is safe to say that David Saperstein represents the gold standard.”

Why is this particular appointment significant? Rabbi Saperstein is the first non-Christian to hold that particular office. His initial nomination happened during the buildup of tension and violence in Gaza. This suggests that the choice may have been a calculated political message or move. However, the Senate’s approval, which came Dec. 12, may also demonstrate something more significant about the U.S. cultural landscape. Judaism may be a monotheistic faith; but it is still a minority religion. How will having a member of a minority religion in a prominent position change U.S. religious freedom policy both nationally and internationally? Time will tell.

*   *   *

Mt. Soledad [Photo Credit: Kathleen Gorby [Public domain], via Wikimedia]

Mt. Soledad [Photo Credit: Kathleen Gorby [Public domain], via Wikimedia]

In another religious freedom battle, U.S. Senate approved a “defense policy bill” that may allow a large cross to remain at the top of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California. According to the L.A. Times, the legal battle over this cross has been on-going since 2006. Proponents claim that the bill will end the conversation because the Senate approved the sale of the property to private investors. Once sold, the cross can no longer be considered a “church-state violation.” However, opponents don’t agree and promise to continue the fight.

For Pagans and Heathens, religious freedom in the Military has always been a major concern. This month, AU released a response document called “Clear and Present Falsehoods: The Real State of Religious Freedom in the Military.” This publication mentions a number of religious freedom cases, including one in which a cross was “placed inside the Wiccan circle used by Wiccan cadets.”

*    *    *

As this is a holiday season roundup, it would not be complete without a few stories on religious displays in the public square. Each year this particular conversation is reborn, ironically, with the erection of nativity scenes, menorahs, Fesivas poles, gigantic illuminated letter As and the like.

As is typical, Atheist organizations have been sponsoring billboards around the country to counter overt religiosity. For example, in Arkansas, American Atheists sponsored a billboard that reads “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

As we reported last week, The Satanic Temple takes part in this holiday tradition. Along with its Florida display, the organization is preparing one for the Michigan capitol. To be erected on Dec. 21, this particular holiday presentation is called a “Snaketivity Scene” and will contain a snake, a book and sign that reads “The greatest gift is knowledge.”

While most of this activity centers around conflict and debate, the Wisconsin legislature has chosen to take another more positive approach to holiday displays. Since 1998, it hosts a yearly “Interfaith Awareness Week,” during which representatives of organizations can sponsor an informational holiday display in its capitol’s rotunda. Circle Sanctuary has been part of this tradition for 16 years. This year was no exception.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

*    *    *

Do dogs go to heaven? After a Dec. 11  New York Times article, many Catholics believed that the long theological debate was finally settled. Dogs do go to heaven. However, The Times and other media outlets have since corrected their original articles saying that the Pope never made any statements about seeing our pets in eternity. In its correction, The Times admitted that it had not verified the quotes with the Vatican before publication.

*    *    *

Replica of Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando [Photo Credit:  Rstoplabe14 en.wikipedia]

Replica of Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando [Photo Credit: Rstoplabe14 en.wikipedia]

While that particular theological question may still be unanswered, another, far less theological one has been definitely cleared up. There are no Wiccans at Hogwarts. When a Harry Potter fan asked via Twitter if there were Jewish characters in the popular series, author J.K. Rowling tweeted back, “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.”

Apparently, this set off a discussion on the religious views represented by students at the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In response to that debate, Rowling tweeted:

To everyone asking whether their religion/belief/non-belief system is represented at Hogwarts: the only people I never imagined there are Wiccans.*

*    *    *

Finally, last night was the first night of Hanukah. Many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens with Jewish heritage enjoy celebrating the Festival of Lights or simply spending time with their Jewish families. May those readers enjoy the warmth and light of the holiday.

 

* UPDATE 1:50pm EST: Rowling defended her tweets about Wicca. The Independent quoted her as saying, “It’s a different concept of magic to the one laid out in the books, so I don’t really see how they can co-exist.”

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Protesters continue to fill the streets of cities, large and small, across the county. Many Pagans, as collective units, have been joining these efforts in order to lend their own voices or assist those protesting. As noted last week, the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used very strong words in their public call-to-action. Over the past three days, the group has taken their own words seriously and has been attending the protests in both Berkeley and Oakland. In addition to marching themselves, members of the Priesthood have also brought medical aid and similar services to those in need.

On the other side of the country, a group of east coast Pagans organized themselves into a unit to join the Dec. 13 march on Washington D.C, which is now estimated to have included over 25,000 people. The photo shows several of these marchers. The small group of around 15 Pagans stood with that crowed, holding up signs and chanting for change.

*   *   *

PEN-logoThe Pagan Educational Network , based in Indiana, continues its preliminary research for a possible new “clergy” conference. Organizers want to create a focused event that will help “teach clergy to become better at their calling.”

The idea was originally announced last summer, when PEN informally asked for feedback on the concept. Now organizers are asking for proposals from potential presenters. They said, “Examples of workshops would be/but not limited to: Life transitions, Hospital visits, grieving, counseling both individual and couples, interfaith,group administration, community relations, just to name a few.”  All proposals should be sent to: Rev. Dave C. Sassman, Pagan Clergy Conference, PO Box 24072, Indianapolis, IN 46224 or RevDavecs@gmail.com

 *   *   *

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

On Sat. Dec. 13, Circle Sanctuary participated in the national “Wreaths Across America” program that “lays wreaths at grave sites honoring deceased veterans.” Circle Cemetary is listed on the main website among the many other sites that also participate in this yearly interfaith memorial event.

Circle Coordinators said, “At Veterans Ridge of Circle Cemetery, wreaths [were] placed at grave sites of Pagans from across the nation who served in the U.S. military. These Pagan veterans include those who served in national guards of several states and those who did active duty service in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.” The wreaths themselves were blessed inside the temple space before being carried out and placed on the graves.

In Other News:

  • On Nov. 20, the San Francisco Chronicle published an obituary for Louise Muhler born in 1920. The obituary caught the eye of several Pagans, who shared it on blogs and social media. As it turns out, Muhler’s birth name was Astarte Lulu Panthea. She was the daughter of famed occultist Aleister Crowley. According to the obituary, Muhler, a practicing Christian, lived a full and very active life that took her around the world and back. May her family find peace in its loving memories.
  • Over the past month, The Earth Spirit Community, based in Massachusetts, has been holding its annual fundraiser to support events, interfaith outreach and other community-based work. To kick off the drive, the organization published a Samhain newsletter detailing a year’s projects, including those done locally, nationally and internationally. Since that point, it has been sharing photos and testimonies on its Facebook from new and longtime supporters.
  • On Dec. 5, shortly after author Raven Grimassi’s personal page was challenged Facebook, he and his wife, Stephanie, were in a car accident due to ice and snow. According to reports, his car flipped twice after sliding down an embankment. When he was finally able, Grimassi announced that both he and Stephanie were physically fine, aside from a few aches, but their car was totaled. He has since launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help offset the financial burdens caused by the accident.
  • There are many Yule events being planned for the next week. One of the, perhaps, more unusual celebrations is organized by Chalice of the Willow, a CUUPS chapter. The group is holding an overnight event starting at 6 pm on Dec 20 through 8 am Dec. 21. Organizers said, “The popularity and great response from last year’s event has brought on a new tradition. We will be having food, fun, and friendship! There will be workshops and discussions on various topics through out the night.”  Details, admissions costs and a schedule are posted on its Facebook event page.
  • For fans of Pagan Singer/Songwriter Arthur Hinds, his song “Set Your Spirit Free” is available for free on his CDBaby site. He says that he has released this song as a yuletide gift to his fans.
  • On Nov. 26, Sannion at The House of Vines blog announced the release of his latest book Thunderstruck with Wine: the hymns of Sannion. Now, just 18 days later, Sannion has posted that he has only two copies left. But he says, “I plan to order more copies of Thunderstruck as well as my other Nysa Press titles after the new year, so don’t despair if you miss out on this batch”  Thunderstruck with Wine is a collection of “31 poems honoring the god Dionysos in his multitude of forms.”

That is it for now.  Have a nice day.

 

Niklas Gander [Courtesy Photo]

Niklas Gander [Courtesy Photo]

[The following memorial is a guest post written by Niklas Gander’s husband and partner of 23 years, Willow Moon]

Dr. Thomas Johnson, also known as Niklas Gander, died Oct. 5, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. As he took his last breath, Willow Moon wiped the tears from his eyes and immediately performed the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Powa. This was to ensure Niklas’ rebirth in the Buddhist paradise of Dewachen or “The Land of Great Bliss,” a place of solace and comfort. There, he will meet his teachers and peers to gain greater knowledge and peace before moving on to another, better life.

As per his wishes, Niklas’ body was kept at home, undisturbed for three days while his spirit finished a Buddhist meditation on death. Friends visited during the day, and Willow Moon kept him company at night, performing regular Buddhist prayers and meditations. When a slight warmth over his heart area moved to the top of his head on the third day, Willow Moon knew that he had completed his meditation.

Niklas was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, Oct.13, 1959. He was the son of Swedish immigrants Elmer and Britta Johnson. After high school, Niklas attended North Park College in Chicago, where he earned a B.A. degree in music and Swedish. He then went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1986, in German Linguistics and Swedish Literature; and a Ph.D. in Swedish Folklore, Old Norse Language, Literature and Culture from the same institution in 2010.

Niklas was fluent in several languages including English, Swedish, Old Icelandic and German. He taught Swedish language classes at UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and privately. He could communicate with just about anyone who spoke a Scandinavian language. He could translate Old Norse immediately as he read it; he also learned some Faroese and worked hard to acquire an intermediate fluency in Tibetan.

IMG_0651Niklas was also gifted musician. He started playing the violin in the seventh grade, and after one year, he made the district orchestra. In addition to winning competitions and receiving awards, he played with the civic orchestras in Attleboro and Chicago, where he eventually acquired the second violin chair in the Chicago Symphony orchestra and toured the country.

The violin was not the only way he expressed his musical talent. Niklas had a rich, trained baritone voice. Consequently, he was instrumental in starting the singing group “Our Pleasure” which still performs to this day. One of the reasons he liked the Anderson Faery Witchcraft tradition so much was because there is so much music and singing during the creation of sacred space.

Although Niklas was a gifted linguist, musician, teacher and scholar, his real love was the study and practice of Witchcraft. When he was asked what he would like to do for his dissertation, he immediately replied that he wanted to collect, translate and analyze Swedish Black Art books (svartkonstböcker).

In 1992, as a visiting fellow at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, Niklas found the remnants of many Black Arts books in both libraries and homes throughout Sweden dating from 1693 to the 1950s. None of these books had ever been completely translated or even published. No studies had been done on these books for over 50 years and they were rotting away.

Niklas rescued a huge portion of Swedish folklore for future generations. He brought his insights gleaned from the old books into his own teaching of Swedish, Swedish folklore, sagas, the Eddas or Old Norse literature, archaeology, religion and mythology. He was even known to sing Swedish songs in class to teach his students “the language of the soul.”

After completing his research, Niklas gave two guest lectures on the material: one at the Folklore Society in Stockholm and one at the Swedish Women’s Educational Association in San Francisco. Additionally, he presented a conference paper at the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study Annual Conference in Salt Lake City. This paper was titled, Something Queer in Images of Old Norse Myth and Magic. It focused on a philological study of the concept of ergi (queerness) as a constellation of related concepts throughout the Germanic region, all of which suggest a greater semantic field than a simple description of unprivileged sexual behavior.

His other writings include: Klokskap eller Häxeri?, which contrasts the traditional cunning folk and the archetypical Witch in Swedish folklore; the book The Graveyard Wanderers (Kyrogårdsgångarna): The Wise Ones and the Dead in Sweden; and his dissertation titled Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition.

IMG_0386Niklas’ love and knowledge of Witchcraft was profound. He received full initiations, elevations and training in the NROOGD tradition, the California Gardnerian tradition, the Gardnerian tradition, the Alexandrian tradition, the Minoan tradition, Bill Love’s hereditary tradition and the Anderson Faery tradition.

Of all these traditions, Niklas preferred to practice and teach the Anderson Faery tradition. He felt that, with the Anderson Faery tradition, there were no gender checks. He could give back by teaching and creating new material based on previous work, and also be respected as an equal. He and his husband could form a coven together. They never had to pretend to be something they weren’t; they could just be themselves and no one ever said they could not stand or work together. In private, the couple continued to practice their own hereditary tradition.

Niklas was the kind of person who easily made friends, and who was always willing to help. He also loved people as much as he loved the subject he was teaching, which made it a fantastic instructor. Whether he was teaching music, language or Witchcraft, he would learn and experience as much as he could before passing on knowledge, in order to give his students the best possible education. He didn’t teach things in isolation but pointed out the connections between diverse subjects to create a richer context for understanding. Niklas was a true scholar with a true heart.

All this demonstrates why he had such a profound impact on so many people. Many have said that, although it was obvious that Niklas was talented and knowledgeable, he never made them feel any less than himself. Niklas learned early on that the secret of truly touching people is to show respect. He practiced that and, in return, people respected him. Niklas changed so many people’s lives for the better, not for fame or money but out of love and kindness; so by any measure his was a life well lived.

rewilding_our_hearts_cover

My initial approach to this book was … ambivalent. Putting a finger on what caused that reaction was challenging. I was nearly finished with the book by the time I sorted it out. Before I explain, let me get back to the book for a moment.

Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence is another well-researched and well-written book by Marc Bekoff. The idea of rewilding as a means of conservation has become more popular in recent years, and this book is a good introduction into the concepts and work being done. If nothing else, it has more than 20 pages worth of references to books, journal articles, and other sources of information that would arm a person with the knowledge needed to truly understand what is happening to our planet and to the beings that are residents of it.

Nothing about this book should have been difficult. I am Pagan and take my vows as a steward of the Earth seriously. By no means am I perfect, but I do care, and I continue to make changes to how I live and spend my money. I seek information about the impact that my activities, or proposed activities, have on the Earth and Her residents, in an effort to educate myself.  I care. I’m invested. This book should have been an easy read for me.

Bekoff says that rewilding our hearts is about:

…becoming reenchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathic, and harnessing our own inborn goodness and optimism. In the most basic sense, ‘rewilding’ means ‘to make wilder’ or ‘to make wild once again.’ This means many things, as we will see, but primarily it means opening our hearts and minds to others. It means thinking of others and allowing their needs and perspectives to influence our own.

In contrast, “unwilding” is “the process by which we become alienated from nature and non-human animals; it’s how we deny our impacts and refuse to take responsibility for them; and it’s how we become discouraged and overwhelmed, and thus fail to act despite the problems we see.”

Enter the 10-day break I took from reading. During that time, a broken song lyric began to tease me as I spent some time soul-searching my resistance to Bekoff’s newest publication. It took a while for it to come together enough to pin down but I eventually found it within the words of an Ani Difranco song:

the mighty multinationals have monopolized the oxygen
so it’s as easy as breathing for us all to participate

And therein lies the problem that I had with reading this book. In those words, I found the reason it took me nearly three weeks to finish barely 150 pages of content of which I support. The problems discussed by Bekoff are so big, so pervasive and so ingrained. Is the change that is needed even remotely possible?

Do the small changes really make a difference or am I deluding myself into thinking that those adorable cloth “paper” towel rolls I saw on Pinterest will really save trees, wildlife and the climate on which we all depend? Is my decision to start a vegetable and flower garden for the first time in my life (using heritage varieties of course) really going to make a difference in reducing fossil fuel consumption, improve the health of my family and support healthy environments in which bees can thrive?

Bekoff says small changes help, and he is not alone in this message. Before I picked up this book, I felt comfortable that I was making a contribution, and that my upcoming changes would be increasingly impactful. Now I’m not so sure.

Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska. [Photo Credit: Matt Lemmon via Flickr]

Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska. [Photo Credit: Matt Lemmon via Flickr]

In psychotherapy, a theory that is popular in the short-term treatment crowd is Solutions-Focused Therapy. Arguably, the most well-known intervention is the “miracle question:

Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?

In my own practice as a psychotherapist, I have often used this with positive results. It takes the client from being completely mired in their difficult situation to being focused on the things that make them feel better that make their life better that give them a sense of control. People who struggle coping with difficulties often feel powerless and see no way out of their dilemma. Often that powerlessness is an illusion though. As Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

For the past decade or so, I have lived in a solution-focused way where environmental and conservation issues are concerned. I research ways that I can make a difference and implement lifestyle changes. I focus on what I can do and let go of the details that form the bigger, more dismal, picture. But in doing so, I have lost sight of the enormity and entrenched nature of the problem. Reading Bekoff’s book was like hitting a “zoom out” button and seeing the whole complex tragedy at once. Calling this experience overwhelming and discouraging would be putting it mildly and wholly inadequate.

To be clear and fair, Bekoff’s focus was not on everything that is going wrong. Instead he wanted to offer a solution, or at least a pathway to various solutions. He says:

Rewilding Our Hearts is a positive and inspirational book about what we can do, as individuals within a global community, working in harmony for common goals, to deal with the rampant and wanton destruction of our planet and the innumerable and awe-inspiring residents and their homes. We really do need wild(er) minds and wild(er) hearts to make the changes that need to be made right now, so that we can work toward having a wild(er) planet.

Bekoff goes on to explain how his “Eight Ps of Rewilding” – a social movement that is “proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, powerful and passionate” – will help us all engage to create a “contagious and long-lasting” movement.

It sounds lovely. It sounds like something that I would naturally and easily get behind. Except that I see and hear the motives that so many have for money, to maintain their perceived superiority, and to kill animals exclusively for sport without guilt. How could we possibly create a paradigm shift in those people in order “to make compassion, empathy and peaceful coexistence a social value?” Can we even do that in ourselves, let alone others, to make it lasting?

Bekoff provides some suggestions such as, increasing our awareness of how words and media are used to support agendas that “unwild” us; bringing such words to light; working to change our own use of language, photos and videos.

Adding to that, he suggests that children can be raised with less unwilding if we allow more unscheduled, unsupervised, unmanaged play and incorporate “nature time” during school hours. Finally, he also observes that participants in the conservation circles have become more interdisciplinary, creating pathways for professionals in social work and psychology to become more involved. The insights of these professions can shed light on the complex social, economic, and personal issues that act as barriers to change and bring a new perspective on how to rewild humans.

These more tangible interventions felt more manageable to me and helped me remember some of the changes that have already been made. Dam removals, reintroduction of wolves, and the granting of equal rights to nature are just some examples of the changes that have occurred recently. A few days after I completed the book, I searched out hopeful stories about rewilding, conservation, and environmental activism to bring me back to my center; to bring me back to the place where I feel comfortable that my efforts mean something.

Perhaps this is what Bekoff means when he says, “…we know that being positive and hopeful are important for getting people to care and act. Concentrating on successes, on what works, is important for overcoming hopelessness.”

Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence was published in Nov by New World Library. It is available in paperback and electronic formats. Berkoff can found as a regular columnist in Psychology Today and through his regular appearances.

 

Óðinsgata street sign, Reykjavík, Iceland. Photo by the author.

Óðinsgata street sign, Reykjavík, Iceland. Photo by the author.

Hallgrímskirkja sits at the center of downtown Reykjavík, a massive gray slab of church that has, to me, about the same level of architectural charm as the Potosi Correctional Center. It rises up from the street in a concrete wave meant to look like the basalt pillars found elsewhere in Iceland; it has no color to it, and given the cloudiness of Iceland’s skies, often it forms a gray wall against a gray curtain. Although Hallgrímskirkja is probably the most famous building in Reykjavík, I found few reasons to visit it. I am told that for a handful of krónur one can go up into the spire and enjoy a wonderful view of the city, assuming that the fog isn’t too dense. Some of my classmates did this, and reported having a lovely experience, but I never made the trip myself. This was, in part, because my Heathen character found the idea distasteful – I mean, I didn’t come to Iceland to spend time in churches. The other part is that I didn’t have any handfuls of krónur to spare.

But I spent quite a lot of time in the neighborhood around Hallgrímskirkja, all the same. The neighborhood around the church is called Goðahverfið, or, as a handy placard notes, “The Neighborhood of the Gods.” The streets to the west of the church are all named for the Norse gods. Not 500 feet from the doors of the most impressive Christian edifice on the island sit streets named for Thor and Freyja. The metaphor almost seems too obvious. I remember something that my friend Kári, a member of Ásatrúarfélagið, said: I think the reason Ásatrú comes so easily to us is because we were never very good Christians in the first place.

I made an afternoon of walking the Neighborhood of the Gods one day after my morning Icelandic class let out, taking pictures of every street sign that bore some relation to the myths. (I justified this as a way of studying noun declensions. Freyjugata – weak feminine noun; you can tell by the way Freyja becomes Freyju. Njarðargata – the ö in Njörður becomes an a in the genitive.) The selection of deities seemed to me odd and fragmentary. Most of the major deities have streets – Óðinsgata, Þórsgata, and so on – and so do many of the more obscure figures – Fjölnisvegur, named for Fjölnir, a son of Freyr named in Ynglinga Saga, and Sjafnargata, for Sjöfn, a goddess mentioned a few times in Snorri’s Edda. But some others are looked over. Freyr himself, for instance, has no street. Neither does Frigg. Urður gets one, but not Skuld or Verðandi. I don’t pretend to have an explanation for this, except that perhaps having Freyjugata, Freysgata, and Friggjargata within a three-block area would have made giving directions to foreigners a nightmare.

Other than the signs, there’s nothing especially significant in the Neighborhood of the Gods to draw the eye of a mythology buff. Even the signs themselves are mostly just fun to look in a scavenger-hunt kind of way, though there were a few intersections and parallels that caught my attention – the intersection of Baldursgata and Nönnugata is sweet in a sad way, and, as Karl Siegfried at the Norse Mythology blog has pointed out, it’s amusing that Lokastígur is hidden behind Þórsgata, just as Loki always seems to be working at something behind Thor’s back. But I never found any hidden statues or secret shrines there; it is, for the most part, just another neighborhood in Reykjavík.

And yet there is something in it that pulls at me. It’s the magic of the names. Óðinsgata is Óðinsgata; it’s a street named for the god I spend the most time thinking about. I wanted to see that street sign with my own eyes almost as much as I wanted to see Þingvellir or Skógafoss. It’s just the name of the street. But that name was enough to lure me to it.

The name was also enough to make me visit Odin, Minnesota, a postage-stamp of a town about 35 miles north of the Iowa border. Odin was about two and a half hours out of my way on the drive from Minneapolis to Missouri, which was otherwise a straight shot down I-35. I took the country highways out past St. Peter and Mankato and found myself approaching Odin a little after noon.

Nothing in Odin drew a connection between the town and its namesake, except perhaps for a yellow “NORWEGIAN X-ING” sign hanging on one of the electric poles. The Neighborhood of the Gods at least had a plaque and the Guesthouse Odinn; Odin, MN, just had a cheery red-on-white sign that read “WELCOME TO ODIN.” I wandered around for a few minutes, taking pictures of the Odin Community Center and Fire Hall, the Odin State Bank, the Odin Post Office. (Alas, no First Church of Odin, which was of course my real desire.) The town seemed empty – nobody on the streets at all.

I walked over to the Odin General Store and Bait Shop. I opened the door and found that apparently everybody in the city was there too, standing around folding tables; it looked like they had just finished lunch. Perhaps it was a regular Sunday gathering. The room was dark, and even though it seemed like it was the closest thing to a grocery store around, there were only a couple of shelves holding dry goods and a freezer with sodas and Hot Pockets. I drew stares. I don’t think they saw many tourists there. I paid for a Cherry Coke and left.

It’s been six months now since I returned home from my trip to the north, and I still think about that seemingly uneventful visit to Odin, MN, nearly every day. We give things names to connect ourselves to them, because the name has meanings beyond what it appears to signify. Odin is a one-eyed god, and Odin is a town of 100 people in southern Minnesota, and Odin is a street in downtown Reykjavík. And Odin is the space in my mind where these three things, and three thousand other things, intersect, meld, and are sent forth again.

I remember driving away from Odin, a few moments after I took an obligatory selfie next to the welcome sign. I watched that sign recede into the distance in my rearview mirror as I began my journey southward, signaling the end of one pilgrimage, marking the beginning of whatever came next.

#odinselfie

#odinselfie

On Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, a Wild Hunt columnist, author, Priestess and activist, issued a challenge to the Pagan community, as a whole, after noticing “the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of recent unrest.” She said, “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community … Tonight, I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you. The question is, do you SEE us?”

 

That single Facebook post was a catalyst for an avalanche of response from individuals, small groups and organizations across the nation. Over the past six days nearly 50 public statements and articles have appeared in blogs, websites and Facebook status updates, making this, quite possibly, a historic moment of unprecedented solidarity. Moreover, the responses aren’t limited to the so-called Pagan community. Responses have come from Heathen organizations and Polytheists, as well as a large variety of Pagans from a diversity of traditions.

“The response of many organizations and leaders over the last week has shown something we haven’t really seen before in our community; a willingness to speak up and speak out about the needs of Black people and ethnic minorities,” Crystal said, expressing her surprise.

Due to the number of reactions, it is impossible to share in detail each and every statement or article. It is even more difficult to encapsulate the grief, anger, frustrations, power, hope and even confusion expressed in many of these statements. A full list is included at the bottom. Of course, it is important to also remember that this list is not comprehensive. More statements and discussions are published every day.

Before Blanton issued her call-to-action, several Pagans had already made public statements on the #blacklivesmatter national protest campaign On Nov. 25, T.Thorn Coyle, who wrote an “Open Letter to White America.” In that statement, Coyle called for empathy and compassion, saying, “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well-being.” On Nov. 29, Peter Dybing posted a photo of himself holding up sign that read, “White Privliege is real. Stay calm and listen.” Like Thorn, he was speaking to white Americans, asking them to stay silent and listen to those oppressed.

[Courtesy Photo]

Following Dybing’s lead, author Christopher Penczak also posted a photo of himself holding the same sign. He issued a heartfelt statement, saying:

I have tried to take the advice of a friend who said one of the best things we could do, particularly those of us in a place of privilege, is to listen …  I know sometimes I don’t want to, but its so important, particularly at this time. So I thank Peter Dybing for asking me and others to let people know that listening while keeping calm in uncomfortable situations is absolutely necessary at this time. Blessed be.

These statements came shortly after the Ferguson grand jury decision. However, after that announcement was made, other similar incidents made headlines, including the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City and the shooting death of Tamir Rice in Ohio. At that point, the tone of the public conversation changed from simply “stay silent” to “act and acknowledge.” Additionally, the messages, which were originally aimed predominately at white Pagans, also changed direction. This wake-up, so to speak, was expressed by Jenya T. Beachy, who wrote in a blog post, “I’ve fallen prey to the ‘nothing is right to say so say nothing’ theme.”

Crystal2014

Crystal Blanton [Courtesy Photo]

After Blanton’s facebook post, most of the first responses came from the blogging world. Similar to Beachy, the writers opened up discussions of the issues, as each of them personally grappled with the reality of the national crisis. Not all of these posts were specifically in response to Blanton’s challenge, but all deal with the situation head-on. Polytheist blogger Galina Krasskova  discusses her obligation, and that of other white citizens, to speak out. Drawing from her religious practice, she wrote that we have an “ancestral obligation to take a stand against racism.”

Other bloggers and writers who responded include Shauna Aura Knight, Jason Mankey, Anomalous Thracian, Sarah Sadie, John Beckett, Kathy Nance, Rhyd Wildermuth, Peter Dybing and Tim Titus. Patheos Pagan Channel has posted a static link list of all posts that reflect on Ferguson and Police Brutality.

Some of the topics raised within these varied articles include white privliege (e.g., Tim Titus and Anomalous Thracian), how it all relates to Paganism (e.g., Jason Mankey and Shauna Aura Knight), and the need for decisive action (e.g., Peter Dybing). Some bloggers, like Tom Swiss at The Zen Pagan, also incorporate a discussion of spirituality. Swiss wrote, “If you’re not outraged by all this, you’re not paying attention.” He goes on to say, “Buddhism realizes the place of wrath, and assigns significant deities to its proper function — the “wrathful deities.”

In addition to bloggers, there was a flood of solidarity statements from individuals and leaders (e.g., Ivo Dominguez, Patrick McCollum, Starhawk); from small groups (e.g., CAYA coven, Circle of Ancestral Magic, Bone and Briar, Vanic Conspiracy) and from national organizations (e.g., Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, Ár nDraíocht Fein, Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Cherry Hill SeminaryThe Pantheon Foundation and Heathens Against Racism).

Some of these statements were specifically meant as calls-to-action in support of the public protests around the nation. The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used powerful language saying, in part:

We are angry … We want justice … We who are the priesthood and war band dedicated to the Morrigan stand and take our place in the streets as allies to justice.”

While they used strong language in their call to action, the Priesthood also said, “We have hope.”

Similar to the Priesthood, Free Cascadia Witchcamp organizers used potent language saying, “We will not be complicit through silence.” They added, “We grieve the irretrievable loss of integrity for all those who participate in, and uphold structural opppression, and we grieve the tragedy of those impacted by it.”

Not everyone used forceful words in their calls for action. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) asked its membership and friends to “act as partners in the work to create more justice in our broader communities.” They added, “None of us can be truly safe or free when some lives have value and others don’t.” Other similar calls to action, both strongly worded or not, came from Bone & Briar in Pennsylvania, Solar Cross in California, CAYA coven, Patrick McCollum, Cherry Hill Seminary, and others.

Some goups focused their words on recognition and awareness. These statements were in direct response to Blanton’s statement “Do you see us?” In these public expressions, organizations and groups acknowledged bearing witness to injustice and are essentially saying, “We see you.”

This was well-expressed on Polytheist.com, where representatives stated, “We see the harm. We see the fear and the hatred. We see the injustice … Together, we stand for something better.” Circle of Ancestral Magic, Blanton’s own coven, wrote, “We say this most of all to the people most affected by these atrocities. We see you. We hear you, and honor your lived experiences.” Other similar treatments were made by groups such as Vanic Conspiracy and Immanion Press.

Rather than make a comment, Circle Santuary chose a different route. It opened up its regular Tuesday night Circle podcast to host a round-table discussion on racial equality. In retrospect, Rev. Selena Fox said:

Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League are committed to working for a world with freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all, and where people can live in harmony with one another and with the greater circle of nature of which we are all a part.  It is our hope that this solution-focused Pagan community conversation can enhance awareness, inspire considerate communications and encourage effective, collaborative actions to help manifest racial equality

In a statement for Ár nDraíocht Fein (ADF), Rev. Kirk Thomas ended on a spiritual note saying, “We must all look deeply inside ourselves to root out prejudices we have been raised with that linger in the dark. Only then can injustice end. Only then may we all live in peace.”

Several organizations, due to internal processes and the distance between its board members, were unable to issue their statements in time for publication, but told The Wild Hunt that they were currently working on words. These organizations included The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, The Officers of Avalon and The Troth.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

In response to all this activity Lou Florez, a spiritual counselor, rootworker, Orisha priest, told The Wild Hunt,

I wish I could say that these acts of violence, racism, aggression, and brutality on black bodies were rare, but unfortunately, they are not. These experiences are the lived reality for a vast majority of People of Color. While it is very touching to see the outpouring of support, discussion and commitments, I see this as just the beginning of a first step. As witches, Pagans, magicians, conjurers, and clergy we are mandated to transform the world as we transform ourselves. It’s time to awaken to the ramifications and reality of power, privilege and oppression in our circles, and communities.

Turning back to Blanton, we asked what she thought of this flurry of reaction to her Facebook comment, as well as the opening up of conversations and the calls to action. She said, with a hopeful tone, “I am so humbled to see such clear, fast and strong responses and it renews my hope that we might be able to actually do something together with that energy in our community.”

*   *   *

The following is a list of the public (only) statements, posts and articles that were issued since Dec. 4 and referenced above. This is not an exhaustive list and more statements will undoubtedly surface over the days to come.

Coru Cathubodu

Bone and Briar

Free Cascadia Witch Camp

Immanion Press

The Family of the Forge in the Forest

The Firefly House

Shauna Aura Knight

Hexenfest and Pandemonaeon

Vanic Conspiracy

Heathens United Against Racism

Polytheist.com

The Troth

CAYA Coven

Solar Cross

Anomalous Thracian

Starhawk

Pantheon

ADF

Circle Sanctuary

CUUPS

Peter Dybing

T. Thorn Coyle

Jason Mankey

Courtney Weber

Patrick McCollum

Officers of Avalon

Jenya T. Beachy

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

Covenant of the Goddess

Christopher Penczak

Tea & Chanting Sangha/Dharma Pagans

Lykeia

Galina Krasskova

Cherry Hill Seminary

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Tim Titus

Lydia Crabtree

John Beckett

Rhyd Wildermuth

Kathy Nance

Tom Swiss

Circle of Ancestral Magic

Sarah Sadie

Aquarian Tabernacle Church

The Pantheon Foundation

 

The Satanic Temple logoTALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA –The Satanic Temple struck another blow for religious equality when it secured the right to erect a Satanic holiday display in Florida’s capitol. It will sit alongside a display celebrating the birth of Jesus, the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a pole marking Festivus. This is the same Satanic organization that has previously offered to make a bronze statue of Baphoment for the Oklahoma capitol, announced it would distribute Satanic literature to Florida schoolchildren, and performed same-sex weddings over the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother. Reviled by stalwart Christians and mistrusted by other Satanists, The Satanic Temple invariably makes a media splash when it comments on the separation of church and state.

So many Pagans have spent time either rehearsing or actually having conversations explaining how Paganism differs from Satanism. Therefore it is no surprise that The Satanic Temple has received negative reactions from Pagans. But is there anything this group can teach Pagans about public relations or defending religious freedom?

To find out, we first asked how this organization relates to Pagans, if at all. The spokesperson for the temple, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, explained that there’s always been a bit of push back from Pagans:

It happens less now — probably because of our apparent successes — but in the beginning, we would receive occasional messages from Pagans and Atheists, both concerned that our activities were attaching their own values or symbols to a caricature of ultimate evil. The concern seems to be that, by invoking Satanism, we serve to justify the worst fears born of superstitious bigotry.

The notion that we should coddle such divisive witch-hunting impulses by maintaining a taboo against Satanism is, I feel, a completely backward approach. In fact, there is a culture of Satanism, culled from various elements, including Pagan symbols. The identification with Satanism isn’t arbitrary to the point that we feel it could simply be exchanged for a more palatable label. Satan symbolizes unsilenced inquiry, rebellion against tyranny, and personal freedom.

For a Pagan, or any other minority religion, to openly engage in efforts to distance themselves from Satanism serves only to affirm the misguided notion that Satanism stands for cruelty, abject depravity, and unabashed evil. As Satan, mythologically, stands in opposition to the Biblical God’s authority, Satanism too is feared to challenge Biblical doctrines of faith. To concede that such opposition must, by its nature, be corrupt and criminal is to conversely affirm that traditional religious institutions hold a monopoly on moral virtue.

In fact, we feel our campaigns embrace the highest of moral callings — from gay rights, to women’s rights, to the protection of children against institutionalized abuse. In each of these cases, we fight against regressive mainstream religious thinking. I think that by embracing Satanism, we represent another phase in our civilization’s social growth. This is another step toward ensuring that each individual is judged for his or her actual actions in the real world, free of fear from persecution for symbolic crimes and/or “blasphemy.” If our past has taught us anything, it’s that the most cruel and evil acts are committed not at the hands of secret religious minorities, but by the witch-hunters whose paranoia allows them to imagine such minorities are willfully acting against the common good.

With that background, we asked a few Pagans and Polytheists the following question. What can Pagans learn from The Satanic Temple? It turns out that they had a lot to say.

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle recognizes the activism in the temple’s work:

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

The Satanic Temple is approaching the public square head on, with no apologies. I appreciate that. Their take on things is, “OK. Religious materials in schools? Here’s an educational children’s book that we are handing out. You ruled that it was fine,” and, “Monumental religious statues at the state capitol? Here is one of our own.” They are also mobilizing around issues such as reproductive rights and the rights of children to not suffer corporal punishment.

The Satanic Temple are unapologetically themselves and move ahead by assuming they already have the same civil rights as other religions. In approaching the public sphere in this way, they serve to highlight where the real cracks in the wall of “separation of church and state” are. The Satanic Temple, by acting forthrightly, are taking a hammer and chisel to those cracks. For this, I applaud them.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt spoke of the need to become ‘conscious pariahs’ rather than parvenues (assimilationists) or pariahs outcast by society. The conscious pariah rejects and directly challenges the status quo, not from petulant rebellion, but because the status quo is corrupt. There is great power in choosing to be a conscious pariah. I see some Pagan groups wishing to be “just like everyone else” and that can take away some of the power and bite we have in not being like everyone else. The role of the conscious challenger is important to society. I think that Pagans could take some lessons from the ways the Satanic Temple are issuing their challenges and refusing to assimilate. They are acting from their power, rather than begging for it or giving it away.

Their most recent holiday display, though? I find it offensive. Why? It’s bad art.

Kirk White, author and (now unaffiliated) founder of Cherry Hill Seminary also appreciates that The Satanic Temple is true to its path:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

I have long been an advocate for Pagans walking a middle path. On the one hand, I think it behooves and benefits us to resist being cast as ‘other, outcast, the antithesis of normal.’ On the other hand we absolutely must retain our integrity and not sell out those features of our beliefs and practices that define and distinguish us just to gain respectability and acceptance. And of course, we must always be willing to stand up against institutional oppression.

What the Satanic Temple is doing greatly benefits religious freedom across the spectrum and Pagans should support those and similar efforts. Their outrageous, funny, ‘in your face’ approach is proving effective. But they do so purposefully building on their otherness and with no expectation of being accepted or even taken seriously as a religion. Their social power is in their marginality and their oppositional approach. If Pagans decide to replicate their ‘in your face’ approach we allow the overculture to define us in contrast to themselves rather on our own unique qualities and merits. We become the enemy rather than the neighbors. We should support them, but I do not believe that we should replicate their methods.

Boeotian polytheist and Neo-Cyrenaic Ruadhán J McElroy would like to see more people pushing boundaries:

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

I pretty much only know the highly publicized activities of The Satanic Temple, but from that alone, I think between that and the later, philosophy-focused writings of LaVey, it would do the Pagan Community, and all pagans, polytheists, and others involved in alternative religion, a lot of good to do more questioning of the status quo and pushing boundaries of both society and oneself. Sometimes comfort zones exist for a reason, but a lot of times we construct them as a crutch, which does us no good.

If a person who can walk chooses to instead live in a wheelchair, their muscles atrophy and they come to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again, and if a wheelchair bound person doesn’t get certain physical therapies and daily time in a standing frame, they open themselves up to all sorts of health issues, from muscle spasms to potentially fatal blood clots. With my chronic back pain, you have no idea how much I want to just give up and get a wheelchair, some days, but if I can at all walk through the pain, I make myself cos it’s better for me to walk than to not. Since we clearly need to do physical things every day that push our boundaries, lest we risk atrophy or worse, we also have to push our boundaries mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and of the culture we are in. Or as the Cyreniacs might say, sometimes you gotta make a little rough motion to make a big smooth motion.

It’s good that The Satanic Temple is willing to push those boundaries of the culture in such a public way, though I wish I could say at this point that I’m disappointed that I’ve not seen as many pagans and polytheists doing similar –I’m too used to pagans (and especially Pagans) who are content with the status quo and too fearful of rocking any boats, even if someone set the starboard on fire and you gotta douse it (like what’s been going on in Missouri), to be disappointed in pagans, anymore.

Ritualist and speaker Shauna Aura Knight thinks it’s worth learning how The Satanic Temple handles the media:

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

The Satanic Temple effectively uses shock and the legal system to their advantage. There are few Pagan groups out there with much media savvy, and fewer still able bankroll lawyers. I have a background in marketing work, and I’d say that The Satanic Temple is cleverly using the fact that many people think that Satanists are about the worst thing ever. Specifically, they’re using the outrage to call attention to infringements on the separation between church and state.

It’s pretty clear that the dominant religions want those infringements—so long as it’s their own religion. When TST introduces themselves into that infringement they appall people. It’s incredibly effective tactic as an activist. You want prayers before city council meetings… religious holiday scenes…statuary at public buildings? You want to give out religious texts at school? You want your religion to provide a legal loophole supporting your beliefs on contraception and abortion?

Ok. Then Satanists can do that too. People rarely see a problem with the status quo until provoked.

This strategy of contrast doesn’t work quite as well for Pagans because most Pagans have been trying hard to put out the PR that we’re not that bad, we’re good people. Satanists don’t seem afraid of their own bad press and use it to further their goals.

However, Pagans can still effect the same legal pressuring which could provoke the, “If I have to include you, then we just won’t have any prayers at all.” However, that still requires us to have professional media and PR folks as well as lawyers on retainer.

What we can learn from The Satanic Temple is that with trained media professionals and a legal budget, we too can combat the system. TST understands a strategic aspect of activism; sometimes you have to play the legal game. TST grasps the rules of the system and is willing to exploit those rules and find the loopholes. We can do this too with enough budget and expertise.

Knight’s comments about being able to “bankroll lawyers” was not a unique sentiment, but Greaves says it’s not entirely deserved.

Our cadre of lawyers (from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) representing us in Florida were pro bono, working for us at no charge, simply because they believed strongly in our position. To be clear, it would be a mistake to think that these lawyers were motivated by the prospect of receiving compensation in the form of monetary damages from the lawsuit. In fact, we weren’t seeking monetary damages at all, only to secure the right to place our holiday display in the Capitol Rotunda. And this, largely, is how we’ve managed to get so many things done: our campaigns have resonated deeply with people who support our positions, to the point that they will volunteer their efforts, even if many of them don’t care to identify as Satanists themselves.

In the case of the Baphomet monument, we crowd-funded around $30k through Indiegogo, after which we found an amazing sculptor who was willing to work on the project at-cost. Even with that solid foundation, the monument ended up costing 10s of thousands more. I, and the other core membership of The Satanic Temple, have consistently put significant amounts of our own money into our campaigns. It seems we’re always scraping up the bottom dollar to push things through, but we keep moving forward. Despite the heavy burden this imposes, we think that the imposition of dues for religious affiliation is inappropriate. We sell merchandise in hopes of generating revenue toward our campaigns, but this hasn’t proven lucrative by any means. We clearly have the beginnings of some enormous legal battles now in the works, for which we have set up a legal fund.

As for Greaves’ advice for Pagans talking to the media, he recommends, “Stay on point and control the dialogue. Don’t be pulled into superfluous and irrelevant arguments. If you’re asked an unreasonable question, simply answer with whatever message you wish to put forward, whether it addresses the question in any way or not.” He might file all questions about theology under ‘unreasonable,’ because he also says, “Move away from meticulously describing what it is you believe and practice. Your material has long been publicly available to the genuinely curious. You simply do not have to justify your religious perspective to anybody to assert your rights as equally regarded citizen[s].”

[Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!]

justice graphicOn Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, Wild Hunt columnist, Priestess, writer, and long-time activist, issued a challenge to the collective Pagan communities, saying “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.” Over the past four days, a growing number of individuals, groups and organizations have responded by publishing statements of solidarity, open letters and personal blog posts.

The Wild Hunt will be covering this story in detail in the coming week as others organizations and individuals are currently finalizing their own words. Some of statements already published include those by Starhawk, T. Thorn Coyle, Pantheon Foundation, CAYA covenSolar Cross, Ár nDraíocht Féin, and more. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

*   *   *

316790_10150404496717410_1044410180_n

The New Alexandrian Library announced that it has received its certificate of occupancy. The statement read, in part, “This means we are now ready to do the final walkthrough with the contractor; to begin the process of moving in shelves, furniture, books and artwork; and to think about a grand opening. We want to thank everyone who worked so hard and so long to make this dream a reality, who believed that the ASW could create such a resource for the Magickal Community.”

Additionally, the library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

*   *   *

The Druid NetworkThe Druid Network announced that it has compiled and recreated the shared liturgy of the now closed Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF). Shut down in September, SDF was an experimental project for solitary Druids and an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). As explained on the Druid Network website, “The Fellowship provided free liturgies for each of the Eight High Days of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, each based on ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.”

In the spirit of digital archiving and preserving important work, members of The Druid Network have uploaded all of these liturgies in one location for easy download. Organizers said, “It was such an excellent resource – not only for ADF druids – but for the whole community.” They also added that, if SDF should re-emerge, they will be happy to pass on the files to the new founders.

In Other News:

  • Over the past two weeks, Facebook has shut down several Pagan accounts as part of the enforcement of its “real name policy.” A number of people were targeted in this sweep, including authors Raven Grimassi and Storm Constantine. Speculation continues as to how and why this happens.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the opening of registration for spring classes. This registration is for both the masters courses toward a degree, as well as they four-week insight classes for non-seminary students.
  • Rootworker and Orisha Priest Lou Florez will be taking a pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an interview with Erick DuPree, Florez said, “…an invitation has been extended to travel to Nigeria in February with an esteemed elder and teacher, and to take the high priesthood initiation in IFA, the root of all Orisha religions. In addition to receiving this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual elevation, I will also train in traditional medicine making, and herbalism from elder priestesses and priests.” Florez has started a fundraising campaign to help fund the trip.
  • The deadline for submission to Paganicon 5 and Twin Cities Pagan Pride annual Third Offering sacred art exhibition is drawing near. As organizers explain, “Inspired to gather and create beauty as our third offering to our Gods and our community, this exhibition welcomes all types of visual media by artists who are capable of expressing a Pagan or polytheistic aesthetic.” The deadline is Jan. 1. The exhibition will be held at Paganicon, Mar.13-15.
  • Tea & Chanting Sangha is “is doing 100,000 recitations of OM MANI PADME HUM to create healing and change regarding police brutality:” The organization “integrates Pagan and Tibetan Buddhist practices.” Throughout the month, organizers will tally the number of recitations, whether recited together or individually. They encourage people to participate or join them on line. As of Dec. 7, they have done 13,075 recitations.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

On Nov. 15 at the Witchfest International, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) launched a new program to capture the history of the “mother of modern Witchcraft in the United Kingdom.” Over time the Foundation’s trustees have been collecting fragments of Doreen Valiente’s legacy, through her possessions and writings. Now they are looking to the public. They have asked people to digitally record their memories and stories to demonstrate “What Doreen Means to Me!”

Doreen Valiente Foundation
“It’s so important that newcomers to Witchcraft and Paganism are aware of their heritage, if we don’t keep talking about Doreen and Gerald and the people who put their life into creating the Pagan community we have today then who will?” said Ashely Mortimer, a trusteee of DVF. He continued to say that DVF organizers felt that “this was a great way for people to express their feelings about one of the founders of our modern traditions and to help new people come to learn about the roots of modern Paganism.”

Currently, DVF has a play list on You Tube Channel with an introduction video starring trustee John-Belham Payne. In his short 1:45 intro, Payne shares one of his own memories, as well as asking others to join him. He says, “all of these little stories will help make a larger picture of Doreen the person, as well as Doreen the witch and poet, and High Priestess.”

DVF began filming these segements themselves at Witchfest, but has received more since. The trustees are currently uploading the new videos as fast as possible. At this time, there are eight available segments, each ranging from 2-4 minutes and each containing a short story about a personal encounter with Valiente.

Included in these videos is one by Janet Farrar, who reveals Valiente’s love of football (soccer). The amusing tale includes the unlikely combination of Ray Buckland, a bouquet of flowers and the World Cup. Through this video, we get a peak into Valiente’s own life through Farrar’s eyes, as well as a look at Farrar’s own personality as a storyteller.

The other seven videos include stories from Gavin Bone, Melissa and Rufus Harrington, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal and Colin, who drove Valiente to an event and ended up befriending her. The DVF trustees are pleased with the early response to the project and are looking forward to hearing more from the extended community. The Foundation’s website says, “The first way to contribute is to make a short video of yourself telling the world what Doreen Valiente means to you personally.”

Why are they doing this now? Mortimer said, “Simply because we thought it was a great idea and one we’d not had in detail previously. We’re a small team, and we like to think we always deliver beyond our resources. We just hadn’t thought about doing this until now.”

Not only will the acquired information, memories and stories be available online or in a future DVF museum, but they will also be incorporated into a future biography. Author Philip Hesleton has recently taken on the role of Valiente’s official biographer. According to DVF, Heselton “has been researching through the Foundation archives and many other sources.”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation is using is a relatively new technique in archiving and recording history, one that takes full advantage of the proliferation of digital technology and internet connectivity. Such projects, which began popping up ten years ago, use crowdsourcing methodologies to build, update and enhance their catalogs of the human experience.

DC29053LOGOFor example, The National Archives is currently looking for “citizen archivists” who have previously taken digital photos of some their logged material. The website says, “If you have taken scans or photographs of records you can help make them accessible to the public and other researchers by sharing your images with the National Archives Citizen Archivist ResearchGroup on Flickr.” At many archives, museums and libraries, the hired professionals do not have enough time to digitize all the stored materials. To speed up the process, they’ve turned to the public for help.

According to Jan Zastrow, an archivist and librarian in Washington D.C.:

Crowdsourcing in archives and special collections can take the form of transcribing handwritten documents, indexing genealogical records, identifying people and places in photos, correcting optical character recognition (OCR) errors in digitized newspaper collections, tagging or captioning historical images, adding pictorial content to maps, transcribing oral histories, and much more.

Similar to the DVF, the Atlanta History Center has asked the public for personal photos and videos, in order to better tell the city’s rich history. The Center maintains a community database to which people can upload their images of Atlanta. This database is part of an album, which already “contains 16,000 photographs from 84 collections of the Kenan Research Center … The images document people, places, and events in Atlanta, and the state of Georgia from 1863 to 1992.”

downloadThe Atlanta History Center is also part of wider movement to record people’s stories, part of the StoryCorps initiative. Since its inception in 2003, StoryCorps has facilitated, “collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 90,000 participants.” The digitally captured tales are stored at the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps has also partnered with NPR to air many of these tales. According to the website, the organization is one of the “largest oral history projects.”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation’s newly launched video project is another example of an oral history project. This is a uniquely contemporary method of capturing human experience through the everyday person before it gets lost in time. In fact, there is now even a push to create digital archives of one’s own personal history. Columbia University Libraries has a resource guide to personal archiving.

While opponents are quick to point out that one digital error can “can obscure a document from researchers forever,” as noted by Zastrow, digital archiving and oral story projects are becoming more prevalent. The format allows libraries to house more material, offer research over the internet and capture a greater amount of human history with, perhaps, a never before seen level of detail.

For relatively new religious movements with short histories, citizen archiving and digital oral recordings may prove beneficial, even crucial, to preserving the past. At this point, there are only a few places in which someone can perform any archival research specifically on Pagan, Polytheist, or Heathen collective religious practices, traditions, organization, events and groups. Much of that data – that history – is still scattered around the world, in personal homes and in basements, and much of it is not even written down.

Could citizen archival projects and “oral history recordings,” as being used by the Doreen Valiente Foundation, provide a way to capture that history for future generations? Julie Belham Payne, a trustee of the Foundation, believes so. She said, “For me it is an important project and these testimonies must be recorded before they are lost forever.”

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  G.K. Chesterton–Orthodoxy

I.

Over the past few years, there’s a place I’ve frequently gone to think. Or rather, not to think. Or not to think in that way; the way required of us to go to work every day, to pay bills, to negotiate living in a city full of others so close that their thoughts become your own for a little while.

undine four

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

It’s a rectangular pool, shallow, framed by a low stone wall. It’s just beyond a chapel on a Catholic university campus, and ever since I first came upon it, some 15 years ago, it’s always “felt” sacred.

The surface of the water reflects the sky near perfectly; the sort of mirror that we’ve always had before we learned to polish glass. And the reflection, in perpetually sodden Seattle, is grey-blue; greys made of every blue, the ocean of the sky.

I’ve come to this place hundreds of times, at all hours. I work a quarter-mile from the campus where it sits, and I sometimes suspect my job would be much more difficult without the lunch breaks where I sit at its side and forget the stress of being a social worker.

II.

I was gone from Seattle for a year, first on pilgrimage, and then a few months to visit family, and then a few more months in the strange, spirit-drenched town of Eugene, Oregon. I returned early this summer. The pool was one of the first places I made certain to visit, a call upon an old, dearly-missed friend. Like all such returns after distance and time, I feared the place might have changed somehow, or I had changed and would not find it quite as comfortable, quite as sacred and calming now that I’d seen 1500 year-old wells and 4000 year-old standing stones.

Perhaps I would find it to be not quite as numinous, less magical, maybe a mere plastic Disney version of the old world.

But then I saw the undine rising from its waters, the spirit who’d dwelt there long before I ever knew it was there.

undine five

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

This is maybe the part where you stop reading and decide I’m crazy, even though you’re a Pagan and sorta believe in things like undines. Or it’s the part where you begin to sort of rationalize my words, translating them into something which fits slightly better into your beliefs.

Or maybe, you’ve met one as well; or nymphs or dryads, perhaps one of the Fae, or even if you dared (and also, in my experience, even if you didn’t dare) a god.

To describe precisely what I saw is not exactly easy. “Saw” implies vision, the faculty by which light (and only light) is translated into signals in the human brain. To “see” something, then, is to visually identify the way light reflects and refracts off surfaces, and by this we verify that something is in front of us, or is a certain color, or is a tree or a building.

If that were the only faculty by which we could verify the existence of something, however, no blind person could know anything except as relayed to them by others. I could tell a blind friend there was a step in front of them, and they would have to have faith in my words in order to know this.

But there are other ways of finding out if the surface before you is uneven. Touch works quite well for this as does falling, though the latter is much less preferable. This would be the same if a car was coming at my blind friend. Fortunately, hearing could confirm this fact as well, before the touch of impact was required to verify this truth.

If I am not dishonest, the vision-impaired companion can rely on my statements. And I am no jerk. I would not intentionally trick a blind person at the top of a stairwell.

undine two

[Credit: R.Wildermuth]

Lacking a particular sense is no barrier to comprehending the world, though it can sometimes be a barrier to conversing about the world. Certain perspectives considered universal cannot be fully understood, but only accepted. If I’ve never seen “blue-grey,” I would have to rely on the descriptions by (or, better, the emotions evoked in) others when they speak of that color.

But even among eyes, colors are hardly universal, nor our aesthetic preferences regarding them. Few people I know call a grey sky blue, but I do. Grey clouds seem to me composed of so many blues together that one cannot possibly call them not-blue.

But to speak to someone about all these brilliant and otherworldly blues together can turn, sometimes, into an argument.  Someone might only see grey, might ‘know ‘what grey is, might be certain that grey cannot be anything else, or definitely not blue unless it is specifically grey-blue, or blue-grey. If they tell me I am wrong about those blues, I might respond with anger or defensiveness.

“No,” I might say. “I see hundreds of blues which make grey.” 

Or more truthfully “I see both hundreds of blues making many greys.”

And if I could not convince that person, it’d be wisest of me to shrug. Perhaps some people just don’t see as many blues as I do, or see grey as some monolithic color and cannot see the myriad of blues behind them.

III.

What did I see at the pool?

With my eyes I saw likely what everyone else sees, though maybe they don’t see so many blues in the grey clouds reflecting upon its surface. I saw the same thing that I “saw” for years, sitting by that pool on lunch breaks, when I needed to think or not to think.

Sometimes I’d take friends there, a lover or another, staring at the sky-on-water while talking, or not talking at all. I’m sure we all saw mostly the same thing, though one or two of my companions hinted about some presence in the pool. It seemed likely; they seemed trustworthy, the sort of people who I’d believe if I were blind and crossing a street or climbing a hill with them.

I didn’t see anything, though. Not till a few months ago.

I didn’t start out trying to see gods and spirits and the dead. The gods just sort of appeared, a sudden presence re-arranging everything in your mind so severely, a flood of different impulses which made me think I was going crazy.

Brighid was like a strange light and constant laughter, the source of which I could never find; a kind and inexplicable warmth from the “universe” around me despite how chill and otherwise despairing my circumstances seemed.

Brân felt like a force or a physical push; a “feeling” of black and red; an occasional unheard voice telling me that the car about to hit me wouldn’t, and the relentless inability not to notice every crow I came upon on the streets.

Dionysos sort of exploded around me in revelry. Everything seems to go “right” when He shows up, but it’s toward something, some meeting, some relentless repeating encounter. Faces change around you. You see a face and also another face. You sit in a crowded room and make sense of the patterned laughter or are alone and feel the trees breathing on you. More than any of the gods I’ve met, he makes words seem no longer to fit, like they’ll collapse under so much contained meaning.

But to say all these things makes me sound “crazy” or it may seem I’m trying to hide my meaning behind too many words. You’ll have to believe me that I’m doing the best I can here.

After so many gods, the Dead might have seemed easy, but they weren’t. When the dead surround you and flow through you, into others to get their attention, you (I mean me) think you are going to die, or think you want to die. There are sudden thoughts of suicide, which were so foreign I knew that they were “outside” me. So many strangers mistake me for someone they knew that even very cynical companions found it bizarre. Then one stranger asks me to take a drive with him so he can tell me about his friend’s suicide, and then others tell me about how I remind them of a dead friend for some reason, and….

There were no dead in my vision. That is, with my ocular senses, I could not “see” the dead. But they were undoubtedly there.

IV.

So…this undine.

Undine one

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

I turned the corner, and it rose from the pool to greet me.

I heard it, though not with my ears, the water spilling off its form back into the pool. I felt the gravity of its presence; the sense of another being nearby, just out of your sight. It’s like the feeling you get when someone stands behind you; the feeling of being watched just before you turn to see them.

And what I “saw?” I saw both the pool without the undine and also the pool with the undine.

I closed my eyes, and it was still there. I opened them, and it was there again.

That “image,” or “sight” or “vision” both utterly surprised me, but also didn’t. I’d been coming to that pool for more than a decade, taking in the presence of the place, finding my mind wandering always to thoughts of otherworldly things, receiving insights and sometimes visions as I watched students interact with it, or the play of clouds upon its surface. Why wouldn’t such a thing dwell in the pool?

I feel little need to convince others of what I’ve seen, because I myself hadn’t seen it for so long. And I don’t always see it, and I don’t think I need to. I know when it’s there and we talk. It tells me things, and I do things for it. But mostly I just sit and listen, and continue to watch the play of light upon the surface of the water.

To see something that isn’t “there” to the eyes is a strange thing. Relying only on our traditional senses, one could certainly suggest I’m making such a thing up, or because no-one else standing with me has “seen” it (regardless of how many have “suspected” it’s there), one could insist that empirical evidence would be needed to verify its existence.  Confirmation from independent researchers might work, or perhaps an evaluation of my mental health, the testing the chemical make-up of the water or using other instruments to try to see what cannot be seen with the eyes.

This is where “belief” comes in, but it isn’t what we mostly mean when we speak of belief.

Before I saw the undine, I did not believe there were undines. Enough people I trust had attested to their existence that I suspected it was quite likely. The world that I live in allows for such things, just as it allows for the possibility that there are no such things.

But when I met one, it no longer mattered to me whether or not I “thought” they existed or “believed” they existed. Nor did I need to do much work to fit its existence into what I already understood the world to be.

That is, I don’t “believe” there’s an undine in the pool, but I’m a lot more likely to believe other people when they tell me they’ve met undines in other pools. It’s been the same thing for gods and the dead–I no longer start from a place of doubt or need to translate their accounts into something more palatable to my own understanding of the world.

I choose to accept their existence, having seen one myself.

undine three

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

V.

Others might believe it’s there too, even if they do not get such a clear vision of its presence. Perhaps reading this, you accept my story as-is, finding it comparable to experiences of your own. Or you’ve already formulated your commentary; your way of transcribing my experience to fit into your idea of what the world is, to seal off my aberrant experience into wishful thinking, mental instability, or just grand poetic metaphor.

Or maybe, hopefully, you’re inspired to go sit for years by the reflective surface of a sacred pool to meet one, too.

My experience is likely not your experience, and that’s fine. Also, the consequences of the existence of this particular undine matters little to the everyday lives of most people. My life’s rather enriched by meeting it — the conversations we’ve had and the gifts we’ve given each other have certainly made my world much larger.

But it makes me wonder. When others tell me things I haven’t experienced, how often do I seal off or quarantine their accounts so they do not change my beliefs on how the world works?

How much do we do this even with experiences of humans to with other humans, let alone the Otherworld?

When a black friend tells me they get harassed by cops daily, do I accept their account as true, or do I dismiss it because I don’t want to accept the implications of such a world? When I hear people telling me that America is a very racist place, do I discount their stories because I’m white and don’t experience it first hand?

I’ve seen black friends and First Nations friends get harassed by police. Once, a bi-racial friend of mine was thrown to the ground in an intersection as police with assault rifles aimed at him (mistaken identity, they told us later). We stood, unable to help him. My gay friend started filming, and I stood helpless as a police officer bashed his head against a wall, shouting, “I said stop filming, faggot.”

So, I guess it’s a little easier for me to accept the accounts of others, even if I’ve never personally been victim to that violence. My world is big enough to comprehend such a thing occurs, and I do not need to dismiss others’ stories, even if I haven’t witnessed their experiences.

Violence against blacks is much more common than seeing undines, unfortunately, but should be easier to believe.