Archives For Paganism

TWH –In the collective Pagan communities, it is not at all unusual to encounter people with disabilities. There are no studies to suggest that there are more Pagans and polytheists with disabilities than in any other cultural and religious subgroup. However, the fact that such people are so visible might indicate a level of accommodation and acceptance that may not be present within other communities Whether or not being under the Pagan umbrella provides more support, many people with disabilities still yearn for better accessibility on festival grounds and in ritual spaces, and can still often feel isolated from their community of choice when unable to fully participate.

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Three years ago The Wild Hunt reported that Janet Callahan and Tara “Masery” Miller were conducting a survey about festival experiences for people with disabilities as part of the Pagan Accessibility Project. The two were willing to offer some insights from those findings and from their own experiences in the Pagan community. Callahan provided an overview of what they found at that time:

We had about 40 responses, covering a wide range of disabilities and chronic illnesses. Respondents also covered a wide range of ages from the 20s to 50s, plus several responses from parents of children with disabilities.

Common themes in the responses were that most (not all) event coordinators, when asked about specific accommodations, tried to be helpful, but didn’t always know how to be helpful.

When they weren’t helpful, they often “blew off” concerns about there being a need for accommodations, or flatly said that they could not provide help or were not required to provide assistance. This was particularly true for the blind/visually impaired and the deaf/hard of hearing, but the issue went across all categories.

Outdoor events seemed most commonly a problem, in terms of getting to the location, and then getting from parking to the actual event, and a lack of seating. Camping, too, can be a challenge for some, and camping areas aren’t always easy to get to, nor are setting up tents and other equipment easy for those with physical challenges.

Finding quiet areas for those who were over-stimulated or otherwise in need of a break was also frequently listed as a challenge.

A fair number of people (7 of 40) stated that they had been turned away from a coven or other small group due to their disability.

Interestingly, the need for public transportation was also brought up multiple times. It’s not uncommon for those with disabilities to be living on a fixed income, and it’s not uncommon for some disabilities to make driving difficult or impossible.

Callahan said that the greatest challenges come from the outdoor events, which are understandably quite common among Pagans. She said, “It’s not like we’re going to not have events in the park, or events that are camping based, but we should think about the locations we choose,” she explained. “We should try to have spaces with electricity available, and spaces that are closer to the action (or some way to get around the camping venue). Even day events in parks can be better or worse depending on the venue, and unless one of the organizers knows that, it’s hard for them to make better choices.”

Grove of Gaia Fest 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Grove of Gaia Fest in Pittsburgh makes accommodations its priority. [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Part of the challenge of accommodating people with different levels of ability is that an organizer might not know what questions to ask potential attendees. This is particularly important if changing the venue is impractical.  The answers to well-placed question can help potential attendees  decide if they wish to participate and, if they do, how they must prepare in advance and what obstacles they might encounter.

Chesh, a Pagan who wrestles with mobility issues, provided a wide array of such questions as examples, including ones that are of general interest such as the length of the ritual, whether there will be consumption of alcohol, and if one should dress for indoor or outdoor activities. Others that Chesh suggested included if there would be a safe space or outlet for people who might become overstimulated, where the parking is located, what types of chairs will be provided, what the accessibility of toilet facilities will be, and what is quality of lighting into and out of the area.

Issues reach beyond those of the physical space, however. Callahan said, “Because many of our covens and circles are small, personal groups, those who struggle with interpersonal relationships are often not welcome. Those with frequent illnesses, or the sorts of conditions that mean their ability to participate varies greatly also have a hard time finding groups that will accept them. Those with mental health issues frequently find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place; many covens and other working groups still tell people that if they have mental health issues, they are not eligible to join. That’s medicated or not, no matter what the actual diagnosis might be.”

There is still another issue that might be unique to Pagan communities. Callahan explained:

Many of us with disabilities or chronic illnesses of any sort are frequently told that if we “really believed” in magick, we’d find a magickal way to fix ourselves, and if we can’t, we aren’t “Pagan enough.” But one of the things I’ve realized over the years is that some things are not broken in the sense that they need to be fixed.

Miller said she’s also faced that kind of reaction. “I was told this a few times,” she said. “I have a genetic disorder, Turner Mosaic, which caused a collapse of my endocrine system. The impression I got at workshops and presentations (even Deepak Chopra) was that I wasn’t awakening enough to the healing of the universe or didn’t believe enough in magic. I tried magic, prayer, offerings, meditation, and crystal work. It wasn’t until I found professional specialists with a good bedside manner that I started to feel better. Meditation helped me conquer my fears but there isn’t always miracle. The best way for the Pagan community to assist someone who is ill is to pray for them if a person asks, offer to bring food if they can’t cook, [and] assist with transportation…” In short, to act as if they are in community together.

A source of frustration for Pagans with disabilities is the frequency with which others don’t seem willing to understand their perspective. Chesh recalled a time when she broached this very topic with one group, which held held rituals that she found particularly challenging, given her mobility issues.

Even after I opened a discussion about different types of access needs (by gently asking what they usually provide and what the community’s needs are besides me) not a single person was pro-active about asking me how to make my access easier. They did not even suggest easy ways by bringing a folding chair or offering to shine a torch to light my way. But I was very welcome to “just turn up” and “have a go,” without any supportive infrastructure. They “might” wait for me in the grassy knoll, to show me the way to the ritual site I’ve never seen before.

When I asked how often they schedule indoor open rits (especially in the winter), I was told, “John doesn’t like indoor rituals, so we just don’t do them.” John, who is a little older than me and appears very able-bodied, nodded his head wisely at this, and offered no other explanation. I gently said that indoor rits might make a big difference in access for me, and I was told — in completely friendly and oblivious terms — that I was welcome to lead some to make that happen.

The control that ritual organizers have over the experience should not be underestimated, she said. “For example, ritual leaders frequently plan a trek down a steep hill to the fire circle on uneven ground in the dark in the cold,” which can put even more able-bodied people off. Simply ferrying people with disabilities to the end point without specifically incorporating that process into the ritual can be disruptive to the energy, she pointed out, and diminish the experience for everyone involved.

Miller agreed that outdoor events, popular as they are, require some extra effort to be inclusive. “Parking that is very close to the event” is one non-negotiable, she said. “Have it on level ground ([It] doesn’t have to be paved, just not rocky or muddy) so it’s easier for the disabled or elderly to use canes, crutches, etc. If there are restrooms available make sure there is a handicapped stall. Pagan counselor Drake Spaeth recommends to have a quiet space for people after an intense ritual. This can help anyone ‘come down’ and it is especially important for people with anxiety and PTSD.”

Pagan Federation dedicates ritual to those Pagans with disabilities who could not attend its 45th Anniversary event [Video Still]

Pagan Federation dedicates ritual to those Pagans with disabilities who could not attend its 45th Anniversary event. Watch video on Vimeo [Video Still]

It may be challenging to incorporate accommodations into rituals. And those challenges only grow if the accommodations are an afterthought.  Specialists such as interpreters for those with sight or hearing difficulties must be arranged well in advance, and the process of asking questions can also yield many helpful solutions that are easier to execute prior to an event’s launch.  “I think the key is to have open discussions with folks of various ability levels to find out what is actually needed, not to make assumptions and to avoid being patronising,” Chesh agreed.

Given that this can be a steep learning curve for an organizer, Miller recommends pleasantness and patience when possible. “Offer friendly advice,” she said. “If an accommodation isn’t offered, the organizer may not have seen that need yet. Don’t suspect malice until someone gets upset over the advice or flat out refuses to assist.”

There are also many people with disabilities whose voices are not included in this article. Some are quite isolated and have difficulty attending events at all, and rely almost entirely upon the internet to make contact with people of like mind. The Wild Hunt did reach out to a number of Pagans with disabilities about sharing their perspectives, but one thing that is all too common is that some disabilities — regardless of its other impacts — sap energy and make otherwise simple tasks much more difficult, such as sending an email or typing out a sentence or two in reaction. We would like to acknowledge these unheard voices within our community.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A famous internet meme tells people to come to the Dark Side because there are cookies. The Satanic Temple of Minneapolis (TST) turned that statement into reality when it hosted its 2nd Annual Bake Sale last Saturday. The bake sale is a fundraiser for the temple, and all money raised went to “combat fundamentalist legislation by supporting reproductive rights campaigns and [its] LGBT friends and family in [the] battle for separation of church and state.”

The event was held at Magus Books & Herbs, a metaphysical shop popular with local Pagans.

The Satanic Temple Bake Sale 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

The Satanic Temple Bake Sale 2016 [Courtesy The Satanic Temple]

Within 30 minutes of the start of the bake sale the line for vagina cupcakes and biracial brownies was all the way through the store.  TST also offered cookies with gluten-free and vegan options. Two hours later they were completely sold out of everything.

Nikki Wakal, a Pagan living in the Minneapolis area reached the bake sale shortly before they sold out of everything. Wakal said that she wanted to support the local Pagan community. “I went for two reasons, to support Magus Books, which does a lot for the Pagan community, and second to support another Pagan organization.”

Ms. Wakal includes Satanists, as well as some other religions not part of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, as being under the wider Pagan umbrella.

She said that when she was there at 11:30 there was approximately 30 people still in line. The brownies and cupcakes were sold out, but she was able to get a cookie. 

[Courtesy The Satanic Temple]

[Courtesy The Satanic Temple]

Although TST members do not worship the devil, they do claim status as a religious group and have a defined mission. As noted on its site, “The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice.”

The Satanic Temple is often at the forefront of First Amendment, civil rights, and anti-child abuse issues, using a combination of savvy public relations, humor,.and lawsuits.

In January 2016, TST asked to give the invocation before the start of the Phoenix City Council meeting. The group noticed that the council appeared to prefer only allowing Christian clergy to perform the invocation, which they stated was discriminatory under the US Constitution. After some back and forth, the city council decided to forgo prayers prior to meetings and have a moment of silence instead.  TST is currently pursuing the same or similar actions in other cities in Arizona.

Back in 2015, TST made international headlines when they created a large statue of Baphomet specifically to sit alongside the large Ten Commandments sculpture at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Spokesperson Lucien Greaves said, “The entire point of our effort was to offer a monument that would complement and contrast the 10 Commandments, reaffirming that we live in a nation that respects plurality, a nation that refuses to allow a single viewpoint to co-opt the power and authority of government institutions. This is the very essence of our explicitly secular Constitution. Any one religious monument on public grounds is intolerable. However, once one is allowed, it is orders of magnitude better that many should be represented, rather than a single voice claim unique privilege.”

Once the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ordered the 10 Commandments removed, The Satanic Temple felt the matter of religious discrimination was resolved and sought a new place for their statue of Baphomet.  

[Courtesy The Satanic Temple]

[Courtesy The Satanic Temple – Minneapolis Chapter]

The Minneapolis Chapter of The Satanic Temple has, in recent years, focused more on LGBT issues. They are using a portion of the funds raised from its bake sale to support Minneapolis PRIDE activities. Similar to the national TST based in New York, the local chapter uses an irreverent sense of humor to get their message of benevolence and empathy across to all people.

In their invitation to the bake sale they noted, “You don’t have to sell your soul, just buy our cookies.”

13254755_10209918507864198_1764277838079894992_oSAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — On May 19, Solar Cross Temple board member Elena Rose graduated from the Starr King School for the Ministry and, a few days later, was ordained by the historic Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. During the graduation ceremony itself, all students were given two minutes to speak at the podium, and Rev. Rose used this opportunity to ask her school “to do better.” She explained, “I used my speaking time both to declare my love for the community and to speak about the various struggles I’ve faced there as a trans woman of color, and then asked the community to do better.”  These struggles, which happened over five years, included everything from the continued use of wrong pronouns to physical threats.

Prior to graduation, Rev. Rose’s speech was approved by the dean of students, who expressed support and even asked for suggestions on policy changes. When the speech was delivered, it was given applause. Then, the next day, President Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt released a public statement in response to Rev. Rose’s words.

It read, in part, “Starr King School for the Ministry is dedicated to educating people for progressive religious leadership. We study and work as a community in order to counter oppressions and to create sustainable, inclusive, beloved communities […] One of our graduates shared her story of the moments when members of our community, or the school’s systems, failed her. Her story is deeply unsettling for all of us at Starr King, and though these events preceded my arrival as president, I am so sorry that this happened to her.”  The statement also noted that the school would be implementing training programs to address the “larger, complex issues of oppression against transgender people, including the specific issues and concerns of transgender women of color.”

Rev. Rose said, “My focus wasn’t punitive; it was on helping the community grow so it was better equipped to deal with these kinds of issues.” She has not received any personal communication from the school about the statement or the speech.

When asked what she plans to do with her new title and education, she said that she plans to enter into clinical pastoral education (CPE) with the aim of getting her “certification as a hospital chaplain.”  Along with that she will continue her work with the Transfaith Council, Solar Cross Temple, and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. She is writing a “forthcoming book of monster theology,” co-editing Queer and Trans Artists of Color, Volume II and will be performing at the Fresh Meat Festival show for the National Queer Arts Festival in June.

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The 11035923_398746940336347_2258995926034856886_nCaldera Music Festival kicks off this weekend in the north Georgia mountains. More than 30 musicians and 100 vendors will be descending on Cherokee Farms for festivities lasting from May 26-30 in Lafayette. The festival organizers have created an app for use by attendees. They said, “In an effort to stay green and avoid printing as much as possible, we have created a simple app for Android and iPhone with the info you need to navigate CalderaFest.”

As we reported Sunday, Caldera Fest will be hosting the launch of The Green Album. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The website contains a preliminary schedule of all the performances and workshops.

At this time,organizers are still looking for volunteers. They said, “We have had, for legitimate but frustrating reasons, five volunteers drop out. If you, or anyone you know who can be vetted, would like to attend this festival for FREE (our favorite price), please have them fill out an application.” That application is on their website.

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421599_10151180992283414_1147831352_nOver the past few years, TWH has reported on the damages caused by natural  and man-made disasters, including fires, flooding and storms. Not all of these stories happen on a big scale. Recently, Wild Hunt journalist Terence P. Ward discovered such problem in his own home town.  A small Pagan community, called the Church of the Eternal Circle, has been struggling with regular flooding at its sacred space. Ward reached out to the church to offer assistance. He  helped them to create an informational video news release and a corresponding GoFundMe campaign.

The Church of the Eternal Circle is a Celtic Wiccan Fellowship based in New Paltz, New York with approximately forty members. As noted by high priestess Lisa Stewart, they have been circling at their site for more than 20 years. The flooding has only been occurring recently and is now affecting their ability to use the outdoor circle space. Stewart said that the cause is most likely “breached cisterns” that were first built 40 years ago in a neighboring fully-paved lot.

The church has decided to turn to the greater Pagan community for help in funding a new french drain system. Such a system would take the water away from the circle space and channel it into a holding tank that would then allow them to reuse it for gardening and other needs. Stewart said that members of their local village have already pledged some financial help, but she estimates the total cost to the church, after that donation, will be around $5,000. The group is very active, holding weekly sacred circles. Stewart looks forward to a day when she doesn’t have to worry about the whether her space is usable.

*Editorial Note: Ward’s work on this project was done independently of The Wild Hunt. TWH has no direct affiliation with the Church of the Eternal Circle.

In Other News:

  • For those in the Northeast, EarthSpirit Community kicks of its 38th annual Rites of Spring festival May 25. The Rites of Spring is “open to all who celebrate the sacred nature of the Earth”  and is billed as “a week filled with over a hundred workshops, rituals and performances.” The festival takes place at a summer camp in the the southwestern corner of Massachusetts. Registration is still open.
  • In July, Treadwell’s will be co-hosting an evening conference called “UK Satanic Abuse Scare, 25 Years On.”  To be held at the London School for Economics, the event’s purpose is to educate attendees about the UK Satanic panics of the 1980s and 1990s. Through five different speakers, the event will revisit “the scare with first-hand accounts of what it was like for Pagans, and then how it ended after researchers and investigative journalism got involved.”  As noted on the site, the event will include a wine reception and “small exhibition of periodicals and ephemera of the era.”  More information is available on Treadwell’s website.
  • Wild Hunt writer and activist Crystal Blanton will be starting her annual #30DayRealBlackHistoryChallenge. The online educational series begins May 28 and runs through the month. Each day she posts a story, a picture or a news article that promotes and highlights people, organizations and events in black history. Her series has been very popular since its start in 2014. It can be followed on Facebook and on the series’ website.
  • The New Alexandrian Library is making headway on building its collection.  The library’s organizing board thanked the volunteers for their work in “shelving recently acquired books and cataloging them.” They said, “We are very close to a mini-milestone, the cataloging of the first 1000 books. Now that a number of people have experience with the software the pace will increase.”  Located near Georgetown, Delaware, the library is “dedicated to the preservation of books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, and digital media focused on the metaphysical aspects of all religions and traditions.”  It is open to both research and lending.
  • As June gets closer, more and more people begin to make plans for Summer Solstice. For some, that includes attending Pagan Spirit Gathering, which is readying for its first time at a new location. After last year’s floods, PSG organizers moved the popular week-long camping event to Tall Tree Lake campground, in southern Illinois. This year’s theme is Our Spirit – The Key to Our Roots. Registration is open, and organizers are looking forward to “welcoming everyone home.”
  • Not all Pagans are preparing for summer solstice. Our friends in the southern hemisphere are moving toward the winter solstice. Australia’s Tasmanian Pagan Alliance has just announced that “Choon & Goon will be [the] entertainment” for the Saturday evening of their Yule festival. The alliance said, “We loved them last year, so bring your dancing shoes!”  The Yule Fest is advertised as a “weekend honouring the deep, dark winter” and away to “warm yourself with good company, fire, feasting & celebration!”  The Tasmania Pagan Alliance is based in Hobart.
  • From the blogosphere, Tim Titus shared his interview with author Tomás Prower about his book titled, La Santa Muerte. Titus wrote, “So who is Holy Death? […] Prower is a devotee of the La Santa Muerte, and his book unveils many aspects of Her worship and details about working with her magickally that were previously difficult to find in the English speaking world.”

Due to be released next weekend, The Green Album is a collaborative work containing songs from 14 different Pagan musicians. The project was born in late 2014 and has been spearheaded by Tuatha Dea, a “Celtic, Tribal, Gypsy Rock Band” from Tennessee. Not only is The Green Album a collection of songs expressing an eclectic musical variety, but it also focuses on the preservation and stewardship of our ecosystem. Each song is devoted to the theme and 25 percent of the album’s profits will go to the nonprofit organization Rainforest Trust.

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“Music is the Universal language. It crosses all barriers. As musicians we are often allowed a larger (or at least louder…lol) voice and we personally believe we do have a responsibility to address topics that affect us all. Not just the environmental ones, but any and all,” said Tuatha Dea’s Danny Mullikin in an interview with The Wild Hunt. “Music is known for touching peoples’ spirits.”

We caught up with Tuatha Dea while they were on the road headed for the Pagan Unity Festival. Mullikin explained that the idea for The Green Album came when Tuatha Dea was producing its third CD called The Tribe. The recording included a collaboration with a number of other Pagan musicians. Mullikin said, “We were more than a little blown away by their graciousness and willingness to step in and help selflessly create music with ‘the new kids.’ ” Tuatha Dea had only first formed in 2010, unlike many of the collaborators who have been around for decades.

After that powerful experience, Tuatha Dea felt that something bigger could be done, something that was “important” and. as Mullikin explained, “could give back to [the] community and the universe as a whole, not just in word and art but in action.” The group imagined this as a global effort.  And, the mounting concerns for the world’s ecosystem seemed the most logical choice for a focus. Mullikin said,”The idea of producing something so potentially important was admittedly a bit daunting but fortunately we knew the right universally conscious amazing folks to contact.” That is just what they did.

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea first reached out to Wendy Rule, S. J. Tucker and Murphey’s Midnight Rounders and, then, a few months later contacted Sharon Knight and Winter. The response was “immediate” and “overwhelmingly positive.” From there the project only grew.  Mullikin said, “We all began inviting other wonderful artists, including Ginger Doss, Bekah Kelso, Damh The Bard, Kellianna, Celia Farran, Mama Gina, Brian Henke, Spiral Dance and Spiral Rhythm; all of which graciously stepped in, stepped up and stepped beyond to create a musical message that would hopefully both draw attention to the circumstances of world that sustains us and Celebrates her nurturing majesty.”

Adrienne Piggott, lead singer and lyricist for the Australian band Spiral Dance, recalled, “[We were] on tour in the USA last Samhain, and we got a call from Danny Mullikin from Tuatha Dea asking us to come on board with the project. Danny was so excited about the project and his enthusiasm was infectious! Straight away we thought what a wonderful thing to do on so many levels.” The band discussed it and, as Piggott said, “It was just a no-brainer.” The group immediately began working on their musical contribution.

UK-based musician Damh the Bard also heard about the album through Tuatha Dea. He said, “There is a wonderful phenomena with Pagan musicians. In many other walks of life we would be seen as being in some kind of competition with each other, but the reality is that we all support each other. The words and music we write and sing about speaks to all of us. It’s what we believe in, so the idea of bringing all of that together on one album was too exciting a prospect to pass up.”

Kellianna, a singer and songwriter from Massachusetts, was first contacted by Wendy Rule. She said, “I loved the idea of a being involved in a collaborative project with our global pagan music tribe.  I was pleased with the idea of a portion of the proceeds going to a green charity, and I love nothing more than singing about our wondrous Earth!”

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album will not only fiscally benefit a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability efforts, but the songs themselves all reflect on our relationship with the earth and are performed in ways that are unique to each of the artists. Singer and songwriter Ginger Doss begins the album with a song titled “Gaea Lives,”  and Atlanta-based Spiral Rhythm ends the album with “Help it Grow.” And the twelve songs in between are no less environmentally-centered.

Florida-based singer Mama Gina said, “I had just written a very angry song about the Florida Bear ‘Harvest’ (Slaughter) last October, and had my guitar still in my hands wondering what I was going to do with this very angry song, since I don’t do angry often. My cellphone rang, and it was Brad from Murphey’s Midnight Rounders inviting me to participate in The Green Album. I said, ‘Brad, I think I just wrote that song!'” Mama Gina’s song, titled “Due North,” is number 9 on the album. Although the song’s recording has not yet been released, she has played it at a few recent live performances, during which she noticed that the audience “gets angry” and cries.

While Mama Gina‘s song was written just as the project began, most of the album’s songs were written specifically for the project. Cleveland-based musician Brian Henke said, “The song that I’ve written and recorded for The Green Album, “Queen of the Summer Stars,” is taken from the perspective of Mother Earth as a playful little girl from morning to night dancing barefoot under the Sun and then playing with fireflies and stars, keeping the World green for yet another day.” Henke’s song is number 10 on the album.

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

A few of the songs, like Henke’s, had a spiritual, mythological or religious component.  Spiral Dance, for example, weaves the story of the Green Man in its song “Spirit of the Green.” Piggott explained, “We like to think of the Green Man as the bridge between us and the land and if we listen closely enough we will hear his song of the earth reminding us of our relationship with our environment.”  Of her song “Gaea Lives,” Doss said, “It speaks of my love for this living planet and reminds us to be mindful of every step we take upon her.”

Some songs were created as celebrations of earth’s tangible and natural abundance, such as Sharon Knight and Winter’s “Blood for Gold” and Kelliana’s “Sing for the Day.” Kelliana said, “I did not write about the cause and effect of our actions on this Earth. I sang about the glory of the natural world that we are trying to protect.” She then added, “I believe that we as musicians are in a unique position in that we are able to reach a broad range of people with our messages. If we can positively influence just one person toward living an eco conscious lifestyle, then it is like ripples in a pond as they in turn influence someone else, and so on.”

Damn the Bard agreed, saying “Music is a universal language. It goes in through the ears and grabs us in our gut, then we sing along and declare the lyrics out into the universe. Music can reach people with songs, short 3-5 minute messages that are listened to over and over again. It really is a powerful way to get a message across. Just ask Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and John Denver.” His song, “How Can We Believe We Own it All,” directly addresses the environmental crisis facing humanity including issues of politics and war.

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

He was not alone in this focus. Many of the musicians chose to emphasize the politics, the problems or, what might be called, the human factor. For example, Celia offers the spirited “I Will Not.” Tuatha Dea presents the haunting song “Green,” and Mama Gina sings a soulful “Due North.” Other similar themes were included in the songs by Murphy’s Midnight Rounders’, S.J. Tucker, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, and Wendy Rule. But lines are blurred and each song layered with meaning, weaving in moments of celebration and moments of lamentation. Some even offers suggestions for change.

Doss said, “I have written many other songs about my love of the planet and its sacred nature. But this is the first project in which funds from the sale of a song are benefiting an environmental organization.”

Henke echoed her thoughts, saying “All of my instrumental music has been influenced by nature, many of the songs actually written while hiking. This is the first time I’ve been able to give financially to Mother Earth with my music though.”

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

The involved artists chose the nonprofit Rainforest Trust, to receive 25 percent of the album’s profits. Based in Virginia, the Rainforest Trust states its mission is to “protect threatened tropical forests and endangered wildlife by partnering with local and community organizations in and around the areas that are being threatened.” They do this by purchasing acres of endangered land and then “empowering the local people to help protect it by offering them education, training and employment.” Formed in 1988, Rainforest Trust reportedly has already purchased more than 11.5 million acres in over 20 countries.

Doss said, “Musicians (song writers) have always had a cultural voice like no other. They are capable of putting into words and music the deepest parts of our being and bring to light issues of grave importance in a way that crosses all boundaries and can touch the heart of all who hear.”

Mama Gina agreed, saying, “We do what we do best – make folks feel something, and take the opportunity, while folks hearts are cracked wide open, to educate (for me, that comes without prosletyzing).”

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album won’t be released until the opening of the Caldera Music Festival, which is being held over Memorial Day weekend in Lafayette, Georgia. Many of the performers will be sharing their songs live for the first time. On the Saturday evening of the festival, 12 of the 14 artists will be debuting their songs together on one stage. Mullikin said, “This will be a truly unbelievable moment as it is very likely this many of the albums artist may never be all together in one spot ever again.”

Outside of The Green Album, each of the artists that we spoke with have other projects in process. Tuatha Dea, Brian Henke, Mama Gina and Spiral Dance all said to look out for new albums in late 2016 or early 2017. Damh the Bard is working on a project that has been in the planning stages for 20 years. He described it as a “very deeply writing a spoken word/musical retelling of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a series of ancient myths that tell the stories of many of the Deities we revere. Rhiannon, Arawn, Aranrhod, Blodeuwedd, Pryderi and Lleu Llaw Gyffes to name just a few.”  Similarly, Kellianna started writing “what will be [her] seventh CD, all based on Norse Mythology.”

As for Doss, she said, “I will continue to travel and perform my spiritually centered music and do all I can to bring light to the world and her people.”

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album is a unique and powerful addition to the Pagan music world. Not only does it tie words to action giving directly back to its stated cause, but it also provides a sampling of the eclectic variety of sounds produced by a number of popular Pagan musicians from around the world. If you don’t like one song, go to the next. There is something for everyone on the album and, as such, it provides a way for those unfamiliar with Pagan music or with any one of these musicians to get a taste of their sound, their voices and their art.

The Green Album will be available beginning May 26 at the Caldera Music Festival, and through the album’s website and the individuals artists. The songs will not be available for purchase individually. Starting on the release day, the album’s website will contain some previews and the option to purchase the album. The collaborative group also maintains a Facebook page with project updates, along with links and music from the various artists.

Mullikin said, “Producing The Green Album has been an amazing experience! Rewarding beyond compare.” He added that the enthusiasm has been so high that there is the “potential for future projects and compilations incited by this first production effort.” He already has ideas, but added, ” I think we’ll give it a minute to bask in this one before jumping into the next but It’s safe to say this is hopefully only the beginning […] We are STOKED!!!”

Column: Dionysos

Heathen Chinese —  May 21, 2016 — 13 Comments

At the keynote address of the recent National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach, the director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, Thomas Jordan, warned that the southern San Andreas Fault is long overdue for a large earthquake. And in 2013, the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast estimated “a greater than 99 percent probability of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake in the next 30 years in the state as a whole.” I’ve written before about ongoing crises such as California’s drought and the inevitable consequences of the American delusions of progress and white supremacy.

Wounded Bear of California Atop Burning San Francisco, 1907.

Wounded Bear of California Atop Burning San Francisco, 1907. Public domain.

Drought, especially, is a crisis characterized not by a singular event, but rather by an ongoing “non-event” (Cohen 72-73). Furthermore, the longer a drought lasts, the greater the emotional anxiety generated about when it will finally end. An earthquake, on the other hand, is a singular catastrophe. However, just like a drought, the longer we go without experiencing a major earthquake, the more pressing the question of when “the big one” will hit becomes.

In Euripides’ tragedy Bakkhai (Βάκχαι), King Pentheus of Thebes unsuccessfully attempts to ban Dionysos’ cult. Dionysos, impersonating his own priest, is brought before Pentheus, who orders him imprisoned. Dionysos then summons an earthquake to destroy Pentheus’ palace. “So much for trying to put me in jail,” he comments wryly (36).

In a recent ritual I participated in, Dionysos possessed a medium and warned that the earth is going to split open soon, and the dead are going to rise…literally, not metaphorically. He said that ceremonies will need to be performed for the dead bodies that are exhumed by earthquakes, and that people will need to take care of their communities.

Ironically, in San Francisco, already famous for its destruction in the 1906 earthquake, cremations and cemetery burials were banned in the period between 1902-1910 and “families were forced to transfer their beloved’s remains elsewhere,” leaving only the Columbarium to house the dead. But San Francisco’s historical eviction of the dead, coupled with its contemporary evictions of the living, will not save the city from Dionysos’ prophecy.

Though Dionysos stressed that the rising of the dead will be literal rather than metaphorical, there is always a metaphorical dimension as well. In the words of Tupac Shakur:

The ground is gonna open up and swallow the evil. That’s how I see it, my word is bond. I see—and the ground is the symbol for the poor people, the poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people. Cause the rich people gonna be so fat, they gonna be so appetizing, you know what I’m saying, wealthy, appetizing. The poor gonna be so poor and hungry, you know what I’m saying it’s gonna be like… there might be some cannibalism out this mutha, they might eat the rich.

Judgement (XX), Rider Waite deck. Public Domain.

Judgement (XX), Rider Waite deck. Public domain.

Through his medium, Dionysos pointed out that the dead are cannibals, for they are fed by the blood of the living soaking into the earth. Nor did he forbear to offer his own unique social commentary, raging that corruption hides in order and pretends to be good because it’s orderly…but that doesn’t make it lawful. “We’re sick of that shit.” Things are going to change, things are going to get torn apart. The same theme is present in the initial exchange between Dionysos and Pentheus in Bakkhai, where the god scorns the double standards Pentheus applies to corruption:

Pentheus: And are your mysteries performed at night or in the day?
Dionysos: Mostly at night. Darkness is serious.
Pentheus: Yes it is, seriously corrupting, for women.
Dionysos: Can’t corruption [αἰσχρόν] be found in daylight too? (30)

San Francisco is no stranger to corruption masquerading as order in broad daylight. On May 19, a San Francisco police sergeant shot and killed an unarmed 27-year-old black woman, SFPD’s third fatal shooting of a person of color in six months. In the last year, SFPD has seen not one but two scandals over racist and homophobic text messages exchanged between officers, convictions for corruption, investigations of rape, and video evidence of systemic anti-black racial profiling. The 2014 police shooting of security guard Alejandro Nieto, falsely accused of being a “gang member” by the so-called “user experience design professional” Evan Snow, has been labelled “death by gentrification.” Tensions between tech workers and the homeless have led to the destruction of homeless encampments, “leaving, still unanswered, the question of how to truly get rid of tent settlements that keep popping up in the city.” In the wake of the most recent shooting, the police chief has been deposed, but the problems run much deeper than one man.

San Francisco’s systemic corruptions, long known to their survivors, have been exposed for all to see in recent months. There is a word for this process. The English word “apocalypse” is derived from Greek apokalyptein (ἀποκάλυτειν) meaning “uncover, disclose, reveal,” from the prefix apo- “from” plus kalyptein “to cover, conceal.” An apocalypse is an uncovering. An apocalypse is an initiation on a massive scale.

The whole world is going to go through initiations,” Dionysos said through his medium. The destruction of the twin towers was an initiation, an old sacrifice, not necessarily feeding things that we might want fed, but feeding them nonetheless.

Why is initiation important?” he asked. Answering his own question, he told us “you only stay in your mother’s womb for a bit, the rest of the growing happens outside.” The first initiation any of us undergo is birth, coming into the world screaming.

Antigone, Sébastien Norblin, 1825. Public Domain.

Antigone, Sébastien Norblin, 1825. Public domain.

The second is naming. Dionysos scorned the replacement of traditional naming ceremonies by government-issued birth certificates, noting that the newborn is thereby made known to the government, but not properly introduced to the spirits and gods. In ancient Athens, for example, every Athenian man was presented to the familial organization known as the phratria in front of the shrines of Apollo Patroos (Ancestral) and Zeus Herkeios (Of the Enclosure) by his father at age three and again as an ephebos; a newly-wed husband would also bring his bride before the altars of his phratria (Burkert 255).

The Athenian tragedians understood well the precedence of the laws of the gods over the laws of men. Sophocles’s Antigone, for example, centers on this conflict. Several generations after the events of Bakkhai, King Kreon of Thebes attempts to forbid his niece Antigone from carrying out the religious obligation of burying her brother Polyneices.

Antigone famously defies Kreon, appealing to the laws of the gods:

It was not Zeus who made this proclamation;
nor was it Justice dwelling with the gods below
who set in place such laws as these for humankind;
nor did I think your proclamations had such strength
that, mortal as you are, you could outrun those laws
that are the gods’, unwritten and unshakable.
Their laws are not for now or yesterday, but live
forever; no one knows when first they came to light.
I was not going to pay the gods just penalty
for breaking these, dreading the purposes of a
mere man. (lines 450-460)

In Bakkhai, the conflict of Dionysos and Pentheus highlights the same theme:

Pentheus: And hand over that stupid thyrsos.
Dionysos: Take it yourself. It belongs to Dionysos.
Pentheus: Then I’ll put you in jail.
Dionysos: The god will let me out. (30)

Pentheus, Casa dei Vettii, Pompei. Public domain.

Pentheus, Casa dei Vettii, Pompei. Public Domain.

After Dionysos destroys Pentheus’ palace with earthquake and frees himself from imprisonment, he convinces Pentheus to dress as a maenad and spy on the Theban women worshiping Dionysos in the mountains. The women, led by Pentheus’ own mother Agave, discover him and tear him to pieces with their hands. Agave brings her son’s severed head back to Thebes, under the delusion that it is the head of a lion she has slain.

Thus, in his own way, Pentheus is initiated into the mysteries he sought first to suppress and then to surveil. The chorus of Dionysos’ Lydian followers exclaim: “born of a snake/dressed as a woman/he took up a thyrsos and followed a bull directly down to Hades./For the thyrsos is certain death!”

According to Plutarch’s Life of Crassus, when Crassus, the Roman general who suppressed the slave revolt of Spartacus, was killed fighting the Parthians, his head was used as a prop for Pentheus’ head in a performance of Bakkhai (33.2-4). Whether this story actually happened or not, it is noteworthy that Plutarch says of Spartacus, “when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power” (8.3).

Spartacus’s wife is described as a Dionysiac prophetess, and Crassus’ head ends up as a double for Pentheus’. Classicist Page DuBois notes, “Dionysos is present here in these moments of rebellion and vengeance” (29). From his recent words, delivered through a possessed medium, the same appears to be true today. And the state of affairs in California, both geological and social, make his prophecies nearly inevitable. Ιω Βάκχε!

Bibliography

  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985
  • Cohen, Paul. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • DuBois, Page. Out of Athens: The New Ancient Greeks. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • Euripides. Bakkhai. Translated by Anne Carson. London: Oberon Books, 2015.
  • Sophocles. Antigone. Translated by Ruby Blondell. Newburyport: Focus Classical Library, 2002.

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

Ice cold lemonade on a warm sunny day can be one of the most enjoyable moments in an otherwise complex world. This is often the concept that comes up for me when thinking about great summertime drinks and refreshing moments of bliss created by what is notoriously sour.

On April 23, 2016, Beyoncé released her video album, Lemonade. Not only did she capitalize on that analogy, but she also used an intense combination of imagery, music, poetry, and Black Girl Magic to do it. The hour long video premiered on HBO for 24 hours, showcasing the incredible musicality of one of today’s largest and fiercest performers.  

beyonce-lemonade-video-trailer
However, the video did much more than that. Images of Black women flooded the screen; magnetic poetry from
Warsan Shire transitioned us from scene to scene, as Beyoncé told a story of womanhood and recovery through her songs. Not only did the screen light up with images of the rural deep south, there were also beautiful faces of Black women painted with the tribal artwork of South African artist Laolu Senbajo. Serena Williams used her strong powerful body to dance in her feminine embodiment, and the sisters of Ibeyi and actress Zendaya made an appearance on the video alongside Beyoncé.Screenshot 2016-05-18 23.09.14

Lemonade tells the story of a strong woman walking through the stages of hurt, grief, and recovery, while healing from infidelity within her relationship. There were 11 stages in the process outlined in the video: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption. With each segment the video shows an intense and personal process to which many people can relate as they cope with a cheating spouse, and with the experience of womanhood.

But was this video just about a cheating husband? Through the piece, Beyoncé created a complex piece of art by layering on the experiences of the personal, political and cultural within one snapshot. Is it about Black women and empowerment? Is it about a political agenda? Or is it about the power and magic of Blackness?

Freja Dam appropriately and eloquently responds to this topic in a piece on Spin.com. She wrote, “On first listen, Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade is all about Jay Z’s cheating. But the 65-minute film accompanying the music makes the personal political by visually empowering black women, celebrating Deep Southern culture, and referencing the Black Lives Matter movement, Malcolm X, and Hurricane Katrina. Beyoncé is not just a single woman scorned — she represents a scorned demographic, or as the film directly quotes Malcolm X: ‘The most neglected person in America is the black woman.’ ”

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Some might wonder why this celebrity release has gotten so much attention, or why some in the magical community are talking about it. But the reality is that an intense tie to the magic of the African American community is often ignored in mainstream celebrity culture. People all over are now talking about the images and references to the African Diasporic religions, Orisha, Black Girl Magic, and Southern magic cultures that Beyonce brought into the Lemonade video documentary.

In exploring the intense connection felt by many in response to the release of Queen Bey’s latest work, I started to take note of article after article highlighting the same observations that I had made. Opinion pieces, Lemonade reading lists, and interviews started popping up everywhere. And while all of the circulating pieces were not favorable toward Beyonce, Lemonade, and the hype, many correlations were being made about the impact of this work and the implications of Black women and their magic.

I was not expecting to be cracked wide open by this project. I was not expecting to shed a lifetime of tears. But I did. Lemonade is about so much more than one relationship and its infidelity. Lemonade is about the love that black women have – the love that threatens to kill us, makes us crazy and makes us stronger than we should ever have to be.  – Ijeoma Oluo, The Guardian

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is grown-ass black woman magic. And the lemons that Queen Bey is working with, powerful hoodoo ingredients for overpowering bad energy, are clearly the Louisiana kind. Lush, troubling visuals show that Beyoncé is the goddess, the goddess is furious, the goddess is victorious, and most important: The goddess is every black woman. Slay. – Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Time magazine

This latest work of art by Queen Bey essentially ends silences around many aspects of our culture, centering black women and potentially daring to acknowledge neglected spiritual practices that have femme deities. What a time to be alive. –  Amanda Alcantara, Remezcla

Every Black woman in Lemonade has been robbed of something. Every Black girl, too. And they are owed accountability. They are owed healing. They are owed more than what the world has granted them. Lemonade sends the message that we must be vocal about this. We must not assist the world in erasing our suffering. We must honor ourselves. We must perform magic tricks. We must pull ourselves out of our own bones and help ourselves along. We must find communion in our reflections in each other. We must say: I see us. – Dominique Matti, Medium

Mainstream reflections of powerful Black women have always been problematic in our culture. We are more likely to see images of the “angry” black woman, the hyper-sexualized black woman, or the welfare queen than those who humanize our complex experiences and highlight our survival in alignment with hundreds of years of power, spirituality and healing.

I have personally struggled with the disconnect between the magic of my people and the magic taught to me through modern Paganism. There seems to be little room within our community to explore, or often to acknowledge, that the magic of Black women has a rich lineage that is enmeshed with the struggle and survival of our people. Black women have continue, through time, to use our stories, our folk remedies, our lineage and our pure existence as a way to enhance and manifest magic throughout time. It has often been the medicine to our ailment, the way that we conjure faith, and the opportunity to shift our reality toward mental and physical survival. 

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In Lemonade, Beyoncé highlights that richness and, as a result, it has as become a anthem for Black women empowerment. She dances around the screen showing the various faces of the Black woman, all powerful and all present. She wears an Ankh in the Don’t Hurt Yourself segment, shows strong ties to the rebirth in various prominent water scenes, demonstrates righteous anger wearing an Oshun inspired dress in Hold Up, dances with South African face paint in Sorry, and sings Freedom to the mothers of Black men while they hold up pictures of their children killed by police.

While many have been able to connect with the intersecting spiritual messages throughout Lemonade, what kind of impact has it had on the Modern magical communities? On Black women within our community? On the culture of Blackness our current times?

I reached out to a few Black women within the modern Pagan, Polytheist and African Diasporic Religions to see what their thoughts were on these very topics. 

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Kenya Coviak wrote:

Let’s talk about Beyonce’s offering in Lemonade, or as I refer to her energetic reality shifting super-self, Our Lady of Unapologetic Blackness. She has really sparked a fire under some of us due to the phenomenal imagery and historical inside references in this work. Specifically, some of the Witches and Magickians in the Diaspora found a “moment” in this that resonated not just on the sociopolitical level, but on the soul deep level of being a Black woman in magick.

In her archetypical representations of the female experience she elicits the more complete gnosis of the Goddess and the Story we live as her images on earth. The detail of human experience, the mother wit, the sheer raw grit and tears and joy of it all, are an empowering and heady mix. Despite the attacks and dismissive diminishing of her motivations, this new veil rending into her maturing role as a voice in the continuum of our artistic experience is powerful.

How many of us have had those moments when we reach that wall of shared ancestral and current experience when we try to share our Black Magick with others?  She pushes that soda pop punchline political pandering of our assimilationalist Sisters in Black and gave us a good swift kick in the skirt ruffle. Her video primer on being ourselves in our own skin motivated countless diasporic Witches to become more visible.

I could dissect the imagery to death, and still not touch on the impact that it had on many of us. The thrill of seeing that parlor with all these powerful women. The nod to the transcendence beyond the petty colorism. The bold embrace of the right to anger, sexuality, and emotional agency are blazing through my blood.

And sorry, bell hooks, I admire you but you need to put the machete down a second. If James Brown could write that he could say it loud that he was Black and proud, why can’t Beyonce? This is a new time and generation, and thus new entertainers say it their way. I really have a scored bone to pick with this constant criticism of her using her talent to be successful. I am no member of the Bey Hive, but I can tell when an artist aspires to be more than what she is thought to be. I find it odious and offensive that she be belittled and denied her journey of actualization because she is not doing “feminism” like you think she should.  

The markings on the faces of the women in the bus were hitting too close for me. These are very close to what is used in my practices when I am alone. The white dresses for rebirth and death of the self, the yellow for what many suspect was a nod to Oshun, and the anger of the parking garage represented every vengeful goddess story. These images fed me. They fed my soul in a similar way that I am sustained when I am quickened in ritual. And finally, I have to get one of those sharp ass hats. Elizabeth Ruth said it best when she said we need to step up our Witch fashion game. Seriously, my ritual closet needs to get in formation. 

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Iyanifa Fayele said:

Lemonade was affirming for Black Girl Magic culture in that it offered a popular and empowering face to what has traditionally been something that was hidden. Suddenly those who were dabbling in African spiritual traditions felt like…”if Beyonce” is not afraid to put her practice out, I can too.” I don’t know if it did much for me as I was already there. It did cause my phone to blow up though…because everyone had questions and wanted to know more.

The images that were most spiritually empowering for me were those involving the irunmole..primordial power, Ọṣun. Ọṣun is well loved and known all over the world and represents self esteem, self value. A lot of people focus on Ọṣun as beauty and sweetness, but they don’t know that Ọṣun is the epitome of women’s power and might. So much of the video touched on things many women go through… In relationships … We hurt, we cry, we transform, we are reborn, we rise, we trample under foot, we forgive, and we love … Ọṣun teaches us about relationships…and merging that with the video, it offers some healing magic through the process of relationship. It says … feel a thing, but don’t get stuck, own your power, use i t… And stand tall. That is Ọṣun.

She speak of many things those who are initiated in the tradition go through. Initiation is a death and resurrection process. Everything means something…and old you dies … A new you is born … Of blood and stone, of power and spirit … You are protected as a child and nurtured through that process. That is what she is describing as she goes under water. Anyone who initiated knows what all of it means because we all went through it. 

Tanisia Greer said:

Water. That was the biggest through-theme I took away from Beyoncé ’s “Lemonade” visual album.

Water is life and death. It can wash away dirt and “sins”, and can suffocate and drown. It can give life and take away life. Grow plants and people, and break down the biggest mountain over time. And in the most breathtaking (literally) sequence in the Lemonade film, Beyoncé acted out, in a dreamy underwater sequence, the similar suffocation that some women go through to make themselves small in life. Not just in relationships, but in society itself. And that happens to Black women more than most –holding our breath, holding in our essence so as to not disturb other people’s conceptions of our existence. To stop our breath, to make ourselves still and silent, and to drown ourselves, if necessary, in order to appease other people.

When Beyoncé emerged from that building, water gushing out, that felt like a vicarious birthing sequence, a baptism and a cleansing in more ways than one. Being set free to express the fullness of herself, and myself by implication. (I could wax poetic about her epic “Hold Up” destruction sequence,but that’s a whole ‘nother delicious subject to get into. To express joy in finally owning and expressing that righteous fury like a tsunami, but I digress.)

The entire Lemonade movie was magical. There were the obvious tribal cues – the face paintings and tattoos, the signaling of the Orishas (Oshun of the Sweet Waters, most of all), invoking of divine sisterhood and claiming of woman power writ large. And that theme was carried over into her Formation Tour, which I was blessed to attend on Monday night in Santa Clara, at Levi’s Stadium. That’s where the magic came to life for me.

Near the end of the show, the foot of the catwalk filled with water. And she and her crew slowly glided toward the platform on the catwalk conveyer belt. And they performed three dramatic numbers, splashing through the water, stomping and ululating into the night. And when they were finished, the concertgoers around the foot of the platform were treated to Beyoncé playfully splashing them from the stage. A sort of baptism that I felt even from my lofty perch. Her joy. Giving joy to us.

Joy and permission to love ourselves. That’s the magic that I’ve carried from being exposed to Lemonade. That’s been her consistent message throughout her tour, from Lemonade, and possible throughout her career.

Beyoncé has become my new muse. She and Lemonade have rekindled my inspiration fire and reminded myself that I’m the most important person in my world. If I’m not happy, I can’t be there for anyone else. She also reminded me to revel in my womanhood – my Black womanhood, specifically. To be unapologetically “Black” and proud of my roots.

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Celebrity and mainstream culture often have an influence on the shifting tone within modern society. Dismissing the impact of Lemonade ignores the incredible power that something of this magnitude – something that uniquely centers Black women at the forefront of the discussion – has on the dynamics of our interconnected communities. Empowerment of any historically marginalized population has immediate and lasting repercussions on how that group navigates the world. Within our modern Pagan and Polytheistic communities this can change how we look at spirit, how we connect to others, how we redefine our shared space and how we speak on matters of our spiritualness.

The layers of the political, spiritual and magical, which are all demonstrated in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, show a clear correlation with the everyday path of Black women all over the world. Embracing the #BlackGirlMagic in our circles and communities only enhances our collective power in society.

If you haven’t seen it yet….Maybe you should get in Formation.

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

THEDDLETHORPE, Lincolnshire — The Lincolnshire Salt Marshes in England are an unforgiving place. The countryside edges the local Wolds and the wind blowing in from the neighbouring North Sea can be bitter. The flat landscape lends itself to breathtaking panoramic skies.

This area is steeped in Viking history, a past etched into the landscape in its place names, in which Nordic suffixes such as -thorpe, -gham, -by and -ford abound. Perhaps it’s link to Viking culture also explains the fighting spirit that pervades its history, right up to modern times.

© Copyright Mat Fascione

© Copyright Mat Fascione

Lincolnshire has birthed radical and revolutionary thinkers including English Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell, Methodist Church founder John Wesley and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. All of three, whatever people think of them, demonstrate the region’s prevailing sense of self-sufficiency, stoicism, modesty and pragmatism.

And it seems as if such spirit is still alive. If proof were needed that the people of Lincolnshire are still radical yet rooted in tradition, and ultimately ready to fight for their beliefs, then that proof can be found in annual Pagan festival called Spirit of the Marsh.

The festival was conceived as a defiant response to a briefing by the Lincolnshire County Council, which rated the coastal village of Theddlethorpe as “failing” and “unsustainable.” The county announced that it would no longer fund any public services there.

Locals held an impassioned meeting to determine a course of action and, from that meeting, the Spirit of the Marsh (SotM) festival was born. The event is the vision of local Pagans Julie Shepherd, Sarah Goodley and Gary Nowell. Taking guidance from the late Anna Salter, the three began planning the first gathering in 2011, which was finally held in 2013.

“No one from the council came to talk to us when they pronounced that we were a ‘failing village’ says Julie. “We didn’t like being labelled that way.”

From the left: Gary, Julie and Sarah [Courtesy Photo]

From the left: Gary Nowell, Julie Shepherd and Sarah Goodley [Courtesy Photo]

The long-term vision of the festival is threefold: to create a space where Pagans from all over the UK could come and celebrate Beltane; to provide a market space to showcase the diverse talents that are hidden away in the area; and for proceeds of the weekend (minus running costs) to be ploughed back into a community fund for Theddlethorpe village.

In previous years the festival has explored the region’s Nordic roots by having a Viking village and re-enactments on site. However, the team stresses that Spirit of the Marsh is a truly Pagan festival and a celebration of Beltane.

The importance of community dominates the weekend and it was also integral to the creation of the camp. As Sarah explained: “We wanted to show the hidden qualities in and about this area. There’s a real alternative subculture here of healers, Pagans, home educators. We wanted to celebrate the energy, the talents and the knowledge of people in the region.”

This year, the festival celebrated its 3rd anniversary and despite some teething problems (last year the wild winds of the marshes carried one of the marquees away), a relaxed mood prevailed. The camp has moved to a new site on a local farm, where the farmer and his family are supporting the event by providing the land for free and selling their locally reared produce on a stall.

Spoonmaking Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Spoonmaking Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

There are many local businesses here, including woodworkers, falconry centres, massage therapists and artists. Julie said: “We wanted to show the world that we are not failing and that there is passion and talent in our area. By having the fair we wanted to give some confidence back to the region and show what we can do.”

During the festival, Ian, a woodcarver from the nearby town of Market Rasen, gave a demonstration of the ancient craft of spoonmaking. He said that he was keen to get involved with SotM, saying: “This festival is refreshing in that it doesn’t pander to over-commericalisation and marketing, it’s just about helping the community.”

Creating an appropriate space for a temporary Beltane community was important to the team. As Gary stressed, “We wanted to create a space where people can get together to celebrate and create a community, albeit for the weekend. We’re particularly keen on providing a space for Pagan families to come and celebrate Beltane. We’re not interested in becoming the next Glastonbury, but just helping the Pagan community, and in turn helping the local community in Theddlethorpe.”

The festival also features bands and musicians, from both the region and afar, playing the main tent each evening. Local folk heroes Whiskey Before Breakfast returned as did Liverpool-based rockers Leafblade. And Leafblade’s effort to help out underlines the broader sense of community present at SotM.  Gary met lead singer Sean Jude on a camp site in Wales years ago, and they became friends. When Spirit of the Marsh launched, Jude answered its call.

Leafblade [Courtesy Photo]

Leafblade [Courtesy Photo]

There were also talks and demonstrations from local pagans, which Gary in particular is hoping to develop for next year’s festival. The energy of the weekend was held in the steady and gentle hands of John Licence from Pan’s Grove in South Wales, who led all of the Wicca-inspired ceremonies of the weekend.

Since the festival’s inception, the word has quietly spread about the importance of this festival and how the Pagan community can help out Theddlethorpe. People travelled from far and wide to this remote patch of Eastern England, where all main roads have long since petered out. They came to offer support because they believed in its ethos.

There were people from Dorset in South West England, people from the cities of Manchester and Liverpool in the North West, and one couple, who had driven from Southend-on Sea on the south coast. But one striking new development was that the festival now had registered on the radar of The Dagda.

Members of The Dagda. From Left to Right: Aus, Elric and Rich [Courtesy Photo]

The Dagda describe themselves as “the gatekeepers.” In Irish mythology, the Dagda is a father figure or protector of the tribe. These “gatekeepers” are a team who provide security, marshalling and general helping-out at the majority of Pagan summer camps across Britain. Aus and his son Elric, who were part of the crew, spoke with The Wild Hunt about their own take the subject of community building.

The Dagda came about at the tail-end of the 1980s after a series of high-profile and often violent clashes between Pagans and various groups, including the police and Christians. The most notorious of these was the Battle of the Beanfield. The Dagda was created on the back of these events. Aus explained, “There was a lot of persecution then against Pagans from Christians and other groups. Any gathering that we tried to have was either cancelled at the last minute or would get mobbed by Christians. People used to get worried by it, saying ‘What happens if the Christians turn up?’. Me and my mate Dog decided that this was something we could do for our community, so we kept on doing it.”

The Dagda is going strong now, with approximately 45 members and, as Aus is quick to point out, “Under Anglo-Saxon law that’s enough for a small army.”

The group gatekeeps most of the Pagan camps on the summer circuit. “This year we’re doing 28 camps,” says Elric. “This is our summer, virtually every weekend we’re off all over the country helping out at camps, collecting tickets, making sure people don’t get too drunk and helping out where needed.”

Elric has grown up in The Dagda and now organises his own Pagan events. His commitment to the British Pagan community is obvious. “This is one way I can give something back to our community. I wouldn’t be the person I am today, have the mindset I have, the outlook I have, if it wasn’t for growing up Pagan.”

Aus has seen many changes over the years and stresses the need to remember the importance of community. He said, “When The Dagda first started out, people would ask, ‘How can I help the community?’ I think we’ve lost that, sadly. People seem to turn up to camps now and say, ‘Here’s my money, entertain me’. It may be that this is an inevitable result of Paganism being more widely accepted in British society today. People are fine with it now. Where I work, they just take the piss out of me! But then I take the piss out of them for supporting Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanders soccer club, which is based in the West Midlands, England)! It’s just good-natured banter.”

Ritual at Spirit of the Marsh Festival 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Ritual at Spirit of the Marsh Festival 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Elric is keen to point out that the Pagan Symposium, a coming together of groups representing the wealth of different Pagan paths in the UK, has been important for the British community. He said: “I think it’s a good idea, it’s brought lots of different facets of the Pagan community together instead of working against each other. There’s enough people outside of the community who are against us, let alone the people inside the community being against each other. We should be coming together.”

As Aus said: “This is what we do for our people and our community, I can’t write articles or organise events, but I can do this, so this is my way of giving back.”

The sense of giving something back is what is at the heart of Spirit of the Marsh and what has clearly resonated with The Dagda. As the dust settles on the 2016 gathering, Julie, Sarah and Gary are already brimming with ideas for 2017. And as their fight for Theddlethorpe continues, they can expect plenty of new recruits.

TWH — May 2016 has been punctuated by a series of worldwide climate-action protests organized under the name Break Free. These actions have been focused on ending the practice of using non-renewable fossil fuels for energy. The Wild Hunt spoke with John Halstead and Margaret Human, two Pagans who participated in this week’s Break Free protests.

Police surround protesters at Whiting refinery [courtesy photo]

Police surround protesters at Whiting refinery [Courtesy Photo]

While both Halstead and Human were focused on the same goal, their experiences leading up to and during the actions were very different.  A retired person in her 70s, Human is open about her Paganism, but she doesn’t write, teach, or promote her beliefs other than to gather with like-minded people in various locations near her home in the Hudson Valley. She has been protesting against war and environmental degradation since the 1960s. She has been arrested multiple times over that period of time, although nobody was arrested at this week’s action.

An attorney in his 40s, Halstead writes prolifically online about his particular flavor of Paganism, and spearheaded the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment from its inception. Halstead became actively concerned about the environment only in the past few years, and this was his first direct action. This was also the first time he’s ever been arrested for any reason.

The idea behind Break Free fired Halstead’s imagination. It is coordinated on a massive scale (20 actions on six continents, according to the official web site) with civil disobedience being a key component. Halstead said:

Our part of the action took place at the BP oil refinery on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Whiting, Indiana, which is 30 miles from where I live. The action drew over 1,000 people from around the region. Many people who had never been to the area discovered first-hand how unbreathable the air in Whiting and surrounding communities is. We had specific demands, which included creating a moratorium on all new pipeline projects and creating a regional citizen review board to oversee all fossil fuel related industry projects. But the larger context is that we want BP shut down, and a just transition to renewable energy worldwide.

The Whiting refinery is, Halstead explained, the largest refinery for tar sands in the United States. It’s also not far from where 1,600 gallons of oil was spilled in Lake Michigan, which supplies drinking water to the region. Environmental concerns are high in that area.

Human was also one of a cast of over a thousand concerned about newer — and likely more dangerous — petroleum products when she joined marchers in Albany, New York. With a number of other people who were prepared to be arrested, she sat down on railroad tracks to stop the movement of so-called “bomb trains” through the state’s capital city. These are trains carrying petroleum — often Bakken crude, derived from hydraulic fracturing — to refineries for processing. In addition to worries over the environmental impact of using these products, the rail shipments have local residents concerned about what might happen if one derails, which is not unknown.

Protesters block train tracks in Albany, NY [Stop the Bomb Trains: Albany Free of Fossil Fuels]

Protesters block train tracks in Albany, NY [Courtesy Photo: Stop the Bomb Trains: Albany Free of Fossil Fuels]

Halstead explained that, only a couple of years ago, he “wasn’t even recycling, much less taking part in direct action.” Many of those who joined him were also quite new to the idea. He said, “I was driven to take part in the arrest action by a growing sense of urgency in the face of increasingly undeniable global climate change and seeing (and smelling) the effects of the petroleum industry where I live and in neighboring communities, like Gary, Indiana, where people of color are disproportionately impacted.”

After he helped draft the community statement, one of the few criticisms he saw about it was that “words are not enough,” and he found himself agreeing with that enough to take action himself. He said:

About 40 people were arrested with me. We marched with over 1,000 at our backs. That alone was incredible. When we arrived at entrance . . . and then unanimously decided to cross the property line of the BP refinery. We then formed a circle in front of the police line. Then we sat down and began singing, “We shall not be moved, Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, We shall not be moved.” And after a period of time, we were given warnings to disperse, and then we were arrested one by one, handcuffed with plastic zip restraints, and put in waiting vans. The police were, for the most part, professional and restrained.

In Albany, the only arrests were some miles away from where Human and others arrived at their point of civil disobedience, also with a massive network there to support them. If police had rounded them up, though, she would have missed out anyway; it was the cold and the rain which ultimately defeated her. She explained that she’d caught pneumonia during the Occupy protests in Washington, D.C., “and that’s when I got really old.” Therefore, she made the decision to leave due to the weather. “I’m willing to risk arrest, but not risk pneumonia,” she said. In the 1960s she made a similar decision, but at that time she chose not to risk arrest because she was the mother of young children.
She plans on protesting a pipeline in Peekskill, New York this coming weekend, and to continue with such actions as long as she is able.

Halstead was philosophical about the impact of his efforts. “The effect we had on BP’s bottom line was undoubtedly negligible,” he said, “but I know we made an impression, not just on BP, but also on the Northwest Indiana community, and on many others who will read about or watch the event in the media – and if those people will stand together, then will not only hurt BP’s profits, but we can bring an end to Big Oil altogether!”

In the video above, Halstead is arrested at time marker 44:46. The Break Free website also includes a second video of the Free Midwest march.

SAINT ALBERT, Alberta – When a fire nearly engulfed a Canadian polytheist’s cabin, not only was the structure spared, but so was an altar and shrine to his ancestors and Brighid, both of which were, and still are, tucked in the woods.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]


Mhaoillain and his wife were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon on the deck of their cabin, located in the woods near Saint Albert when they heard a voice call out for help with a fire.

“At first, I thought it was some stupid joke, as the whole of Alberta has been under a strict fire ban for weeks, and considering the recent devastation in Fort MacMurray, in northern Alberta, why would anyone purposefully start a fire?” said Mhaoillain in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

Then he heard the voice call out again saying that there was a fire. Mhaoillain said that he ran through the wooded area to the end of his property and was met with a growing brush fire. It was quickly spreading onto his property and up his very dry trees.

Mhaoillain said his first reaction was to attempt to stamp the fire out, “Here I was, alone in the trees, doing a little dance as the flames grew and began to move past me.”

When he realized the fire was too large and serious to be put out this way, Mhaoillain went back to the cabin. His wife was holding a garden hose. He explained, “She had seen the flames, and was obviously thinking much clearer than I was. I began spraying at the approaching flames, trying to chase the circumference with my pathetic garden hose, when I heard more and more voices all around me.”

The voices belonged to neighbors who were carrying shovels, hoes, and buckets of water. The neighbors helped him battle the blaze for almost an hour, until the Barrhead County Fire Department arrived and took over.
[Courtesy Photo][Courtesy Photo]
When the fire department had finally put out the blaze and was satisfied the danger was over, one fireman approached Mhaoillain and asked ‘Is that your set-up out there, with the candles and such?’ He was referring to an altar, which Mhaoillain had created in a secluded area tucked back in the trees.

“I replied ‘Yes sir,’ expecting him to begin accusing me of starting the fire,” Mhaoillain recalled. ‘[The fireman] said ‘Come with me,’ and so I followed him through the blackened trees. He stopped just before my altar, and motioned with his hand, ‘It didn’t burn. I thought you should see that,’ he said, then turned and walked off.”

To Mhaoillain’s surprise, while the fire had burned the area around the altar on three sides, the altar, the two upright tamarack poles holding deer antlers, as well as all the items on the altar were untouched by the fire.

“I stood there alone, just looking at it all. I didn’t know what to think at all.” said Mhaoillain.

Mhaoillain said that the cabin is a creative oasis for him and his wife to write and paint. He added that he may do a ritual of thanksgiving at the altar, “…but I haven’t thought about it enough to come up with something appropriate.  Maybe something with water!”

Indiana-StateSeal.svgWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two members of Indiana’s Heathen community were arrested last week on child molestation charges. David Hindsley and Nicole Leffert are being held “on felony charges including child molesting and conspiracy to commit child molesting.” Local news reports state that neighbors overheard the couple talking about “sex acts with children” and contacted the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. After an investigation, the arrests were made on the evening of May 10.

Hindsley and Leffert are both known within the local Heathen community as artisans and the makers of specialty kilts. Hindsley owns the Etsy shop and Facebook page Heathen Spirit. In a 2014 article published in Purdue University’s student newspaper The Exponent, Hindsley was interviewed about the health benefits of wearing kilts. Both Leffert and Hindsley are listed on Odin’s Children, attend local Pagan events and participate in online Pagan and Heathen communities. The Wild Hunt has also learned that the Hindsley and Leffert were trying to start a new kindred in the Lafayette area. We reached out to several local Heathens, all of whom were declined to comment at this time.

According to reports, “prosecutors are not yet identifying the victims in the case.”  The bond amount is listed at $500,000 for each arrest, and both have court dates set for May 19. We will bring you more on the story as it develops.

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[Courtesy Photo]

STOCKON, Calif. — It was announced this weekend that Scott Symonds, a regular and well-known vendor at PantheaCon, had died. Scott was originally diagnosed with cancer in January 2015.  As he wrote himself, “I was rushed to the hospital, bent over, all day, in pain.”  The doctor’s assumed that he had diverticulitis and pancreatitis, but after a colonoscopy, they found tumors. He endured many months of difficult treatments. Then, in November 2015, Scott was diagnosed as terminal.

Several weeks ago, Scott asked friend Eleina Ridolfi to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help his wife Amber after he was gone. He said, “I would like to build a fund that Amber can pull from as needed for the first so many years on a monthly basis to help cover costs that I am no longer able to cover.”  To date, the campaign has raised nearly $20,000 over a short nine-day period of time.

Along with donations, people from Scott’s various communities have been reaching out to post words of support for his family, express love, and share memories on his Facebook page. Chris Sanchez wrote, “Scott Symonds you will be forever in our hearts and thoughts. You will missed my friend. Thank you so much for your courage, your strength, and your inspiration to make us all better human beings. I wish I could find the words…..”  What is remembered, lives.

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11141331_129118137493653_3811564180993915340_nTWH – A new anthology, edited by author Dr. Mary Canty Merrill, is due to be released in June. The book, entitled Why Black Lives Matter too, is a multi-author work that includes a diversity of voices from around the country. One of the voices chosen for this work was Pagan blogger and activist Cat Chapin-Bishop. She said, “The writing I’ve done against racism, for the book and at my blog, has been from a spiritual root. It’s not an intellectual drive, the drive to speak out on racism–it’s coming from spiritual leadings (of the sort Quakers talk about, but which Paganism first taught me to follow).”

On her website, Dr. Merrill writes that the book is due to be released on what is known as Juneteenth—a holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.  She added that all proceeds will “benefit the Sentencing Project, a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system through the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns and strategic advocacy for policy reform.” Chapin-Bishop is passionate about the effort and the book’s launch, saying, “I really, really want this project to do well. The Sentencing Project is [an] important tool in the fight against systemic racism.”

In other news:

  • On Friday, May 13, Leigha LaFleur, a Wiccan practitioner based in Portland, led a public ritual to offer support to the Bernie Sanders campaign. The story caught the attention of mainstream media, who expressed both curiosity and skepticism. The L.A. Times wrote, “There are lots of ways to support a political candidate, from making phone calls to donating money. Some turn to prayer, Christian or otherwise. Add Wiccan rituals to the list.”  According to the article, there were as many observers as their were participants. LaFleur, not deterred by the media’s attention, has planned a second ritual event, scheduled for Monday, May 16 at 5:30. As with the first one, the Ritual for Bernie Sanders 2 will be held in Woodstock Park in Portland, Oregon.
  • “Heathen at the Helm.” Wild Hunt writer and Norse Mythology blogger Karl E. H. Seigfried was elected to be the new president of Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago. Seigfried said, “I’m not sure how many interfaith organizations at major institutions are headed by a practitioner of Asatru, but I’m guessing not many.” As noted on the website, “Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago is an organization that hosts discussions on religion and spirituality, presents guest speakers, visits local places of worship, studies different religious traditions, and produces an interfaith journal.”
  • Normal People Productions has launched the trailer for the upcoming theatrical production Doreen Valiente: An English Witch. Based on the recently published biography, the play will run Nov. 21-27 at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton. Tickets are now on sale.

  • Three Drops from the Cauldron, a U.K.-based publisher, is putting together an anthology on, as it says, the “best writing we receive on Witches, rituals, and spells.”  The deadline for submission is coming up May 29.  The anthology will be called Full Moon & Foxglove (An Anthology of Witches & Witchcraft), and will be published in paperback. Not a practicing Witch? Three Drops has several other calls for submissions with deadline and requirements posted on its website.
  • And, from the blogosphere, Alison Leigh Lilly discusses the Shaman & Priest: How America’s Cultural Landscape Shapes Its Religious InstitutionsOn Nature’s Path, the Patheos blog dedicated to Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Lilly writes, “In a culture that still clings to the social traditions of agricultural society and dismisses hunter-gatherer lifestyle as inherently “primitive” even while adopting some of its characteristics, Druidry can find a place of balance and harmony, acknowledging everything priesthood and shamanism have to offer.”
  • The Wild Hunt is currently accepting submissions from Pagan, Heathen and polytheist writers from outside of the United States for its Around the World monthly column. For more details, contact editor at wildhunt [dot] org.

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