Archives For Paganism

[Today journalist Nathan Hall reports on a national concern that is affecting Pagans and magic-workers. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 43% with 11 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that is, in part, for and about modern Witches. Donate today.]

UNITED STATES – Kratom is an innocuous medicinal plant, a drug, and herb used in religious ceremonies, or a killer, depending with whom you speak. A woman in Florida blames the drug for her son’s suicide; addiction recovery advocates say that it can be a useful harm-reduction tool; journey-workers believe that it’s good for relaxing the mind and aiding in trance work. Additionally, there are a growing number of people who find kratom to be an enjoyable intoxicant. They drink it rather than going to a traditional bar and ordering alcohol.

By ThorPorre (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

[Photo Credit: ThorPorre / Wikimedia]

The plant, which originates in southeast Asia and some islands of the South Pacific, has been used for centuries as a mild stimulant or pain reliever, as well as in religious ceremony. In the last decade, kratom has found popularity in Western countries, especially through kava bars. And, as a result, it has been followed by bans and laws limiting its availability.

Liz Johnson is the owner of Magus Books, a store serving the Pagan and magick-using communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The store sells kratom.

“As with all the herbs we sell it is supplied for the use that the person sees fit to use it for. Our intent is to provide magickal tools and resources and that herb, like all the other herbs, certainly falls into that category,” she said.

Johnson explained that one of the issues that creates problems for the herb is that there are different strains.

“Each of them have their own effects, each of them have their own purposes. This is one of those reasons for that regulation, a preponderance of people will have a typical reaction to a given strain. This doesn’t mean it will be your reaction to that strain, which is a typical thing with any herb,” she said.

There are a number of reactions that are considered to be standard, or what you would expect to see. However, since people each have their own unique body chemistry, there will always be instances where unexpected reactions occur, she further explained.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency attempted to add the plant to the list of Schedule 1 drugs, or  those substances seen as having no medical benefit, including heroin, cocaine, LSD and marijuana. On August 31, the DEA announced their intentions to schedule kratom as such by the end of September 2016.

The August announcement lead to a massive public protest, after which the DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson admitted, “I have been with the DEA for 20 years and have never seen this level of public response,”as noted by the Los Angeles Times,

In fact, 51 members of Congress, across party lines submitted their own protests to the proposed legislation, which forced the DEA to backpedal and open up a another 6 week period for discussion. That will close on Dec. 1.

At that point, the DEA will decide whether to move forward with the ban or begin discussing alternatives.

A sign in front of Magus Books in Minneapolis, prior to the DEA's extension of the discussion period about potentially banning kratom. (Photo from the Magus Books Facebook page.)

Sign in front of Magus Books in Minneapolis on Sept 27 prior to the DEA’s extension of the discussion period about the banning of kratom. [Courtesy Magus Books Facebook page]

For Johnson and Magus Book, a ban would have some serious implications for business.

“We’ll lose those sales; we’ll lay people off; there will be cutting of hours. It’s not an insignificant percentage. It will impact the business to lose that particular herb. But, it would impact the business [also] to lose white sage. [Kratom] is our most popular herb, make no mistake. It will have the largest impact the loss of a single herb would have. But at the same time with the number of herbs we sell, any loss we would have a noticeable impact,” she said.

As a tool for journey work, Johnson said that if kratom were made illegal, most of those folks would move on to another alternative.  However, if people are using kratom to maintain a regimen where they’re attempting to not use opiates or synthetic opiates, there aren’t a lot of alternatives.  Johnson said, “For the people who come looking to replace a physical pain reliever (that) they’ve become addicted to, I don’t have a great replacement for that. I have a protocol as an herbalist to help with the detox.”

Justin Kunzelman is the co-founder and director of Rebel Recovery, a nonprofit with several branches across the United States. He is based in South Florida.

“It could be used as a safer alternative replacement drug, but it depends on the individual. If an individual’s goal for harm-reduction is, ‘I don’t want to shoot heroin anymore,’ then our responsibility as a professional is to find the best way for them to do that. If it’s possible for them to do that in an abstinence-only setting then they should,” he said.

If they feel like kratom is a good alternative that could prevent them from being on heroin, then they should do that, he added.

“You also can’t tell people what their goals should and should not be and what they should believe. I don’t know that there’s really enough research to use it as a replacement therapy, but somebody that’s addicted is just looking to escape, could they use this to escape and use it as a replacement for heroin? Absolutely,” Kunzelman said.

Where he sees cause for concern is that it’s another drug and to people who suffer from addiction, trading one for another isn’t the ultimate goal.

“It has everything to do with the mindset behind using the drug,” he said. “Everything from caffeine, nicotine to kava, kratom, crack, heroin, it’s all going to set off the same cycle in their minds. It’s all gonna set off the same cycle in their lives.”

Kunzelman points to the openness of the internet as a likely source of fuel for the protests seen after attempting to ban kratom. The spread of information has lead to a lot of social change, including the attitudes of people who use kratom.

“I think a lot of them… understood the danger of putting another plant as a Schedule 1 narcotic and saying it had no value, while doing no research. […] Look at how many people could have been helped were we able to openly study marijuana in the 50’s. How many people’s lives could have been improved had we known then what we know now about CBD oil (cannabidiol, an extract of cannabis being studied for health benefits, including treatment of epilepsy)?” he said.

There’s a lot of potential research to be done with kratom, but having it as a Schedule 1 substance would prevent any of that from happening, Kunzelman said.

Liz Johnson feels that for Pagan or shamanic work, practioners should view the open access of plants and plant materials as a religious right.

“Every time we make a move to decide that we are not responsible enough as a society to handle these things, we take a step backwards evolutionarily, we take a step away from reaching those pinnacles of spirituality that we know create a better world,” she said.

As a recovery advocate and a person in recovery himself, Kunzelman sees the drug war as a failure, and the current heroin epidemic as a product of that.

“The last thing we want to do is add to that. Add one more thing to the list of things that we can kick in your door for, seize your home and your car,” he said.

[Here are this week’s Pagan Community Notes!  Each Monday we feature events, book releases, and important news stories coming out of our collective Pagan and Heathen communities. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 42% with 12 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. Donate today.]


SUMTERVILLE, Fla. – Oberon Zell announced Oct. 19 that his son Bryan David Zell had died after a long battle with multiple health problems, including pancreatitis, diabetes, and liver failure. Bryan was born Sept. 19, 1953,, and grew up in and around his father and eventually his stepmother’s work , just as the Pagan community was beginning to grow. Zell described his son as a “Pagan and a Pirate.”  He said,”Bryan was a magickal child, and he always maintained an altar. He would find interesting-looking rocks and identify them as having magickal functions, such as making rain, snow, or other things he determined from their markings.”

At 18, Bryan joined the Army, after which he traveled and worked with his family. In 2001, he graduated from Mendocino Community College located in Ukiah, California with a degree in geriatric nursing. Shortly after, he moved to Florida and got a job working with the TSA in Orlando, a job that Zell called “miserable.” He believes it contributed to his son’s worsening condition.

By 2015, Bryan’s various illnesses had overtaken him and, in December of that year, he was hospitalized.  As time passed, the situation only worsened.  Bryan was eventually placed in hospice care.  The morning of Oct. 19, Zell posted on Facebook, “We discovered that the consecrated blue ‘Dreamwalker’ candle we had burning for Bryan on the ancestor altar had gone out. I tried to relight it, but the wick wouldn’t ignite. I said to Anne, ‘I can’t seem to relight it.’ She replied, ‘Perhaps you don’t need to.’ And we knew.”

Bryan died peacefully the night of Oct. 18. Zell said that he felt the passing and that Bryan’s “beloved stepmother had come to carry him home.” Zell also recounted that an owl had visited Bryan’s room at the time of his death. Zell believes this to be a family familiar that had lived with them when his son was young. Zell added, “Let these memories lessen grief.”

Pagan priestess Doreen Lavista was able to give him his last rites. Zell said that Bryan will be cremated and his ashes will be present at the Nov. 4-6 Samhain retreat at Annwfn. The retreat will include a memorial service and a telling of stories. Bryan is known among his friends as a kind and loving soul. What is remembered, lives.

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WASHINGTON – The Firefly House has been invited to appear as a guest on the ABC affiliate talk and news program Good Morning Washington Oct. 31. Author David Salisbury, co-coordinator of the Firefly House, will be joined by member Caroline Gould. Salisbury said, “The main focus is on modern Witchcraft as practiced in Washington D.C. and also a little bit on how Witches celebrate Halloween religiously, and also perform some type of ritual.” The goal, Salisbury said, is to “educate the masses.”

But that is not the only public relations effort that members of the Firefly House will be making this Halloween season. The group’s annual dumb supper will be attended by local news website the DCist. The organization’s sixth annual dumb supper will be held later that same evening of Oct. 31.

If you want to watch Salisbury and Gould on morning show, the ABC broadcast will be live-streamed through the affiliate’s website, and for those who can’t watch live, clips should be available later in the day.  We will update this story in our next edition of Pagan Community Notes.

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Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

WISCONSIN –  There are now more Pagans on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Religious Advisory Committee. This is big step forward for Pagan chaplains working in prison ministry in the state.  According to Rev. Selena Fox, who has been involved in this type work for decades, “[This committee] advises the Wisconsin Department of Corrections on religious accommodation issues involving state prison operations.”  The more Pagans, Heathens, and people of minority religions serving on such committees, the better understood the practice of such religions is, and the more likely accommodations will be considered and appropriately granted.

According to the report, the committee now has three members who follow a Pagan tradition. The members include Fox, Dianne Duggan (Minerva) and Wade Mueller.  Rev. Fox has been serving on the committee since 2001, while the other two were just appointed. While Duggan is a Circle Sanctuary member, Mueller is not; he is a member of the group Deeply Rooted.

Duggan and Mueller have already attended their first meeting, and Rev. Fox said that she is glad to have them on board.

In Other News

  • After the first round of formal decisions went out for PantheaCon’s 2017 presentation selections, there was brief outcry as many regular presenters were not given a space. Speculation as to why was rampant. TWH spoke directly with both PantheaCon founder and director Glenn Turner. When asked about any changes in the decision process, she confirmed that nothing had indeed changed, and that the organization is simply ensuring fresh programming and providing space to new presenters. Turner said, “We have always welcomed new presenters; many published authors have started as PantheaCon speakers. In order to make room for new faces, as we have grown, we’ve needed to rotate out some excellent presenters and welcome them back in future years.” This year PantheaCon will be held Feb. 17-20.
  • The Druid College UK will be opening its application process Oct. 31 for the next set of year one classes, to begin in October 2017. Co-founder, tutor and author Joanna van der Hoeven explained, “We are opening for applications a full year in advance to allow for more flexible payment arrangements.” Now in its second year, the college “provides a three year non-accredited course in studying the tenets of the earth-based spirituality known as Druidry.” It is the sister school of the U.S.-based Druid College in Maine. The college has also announced that it has a new location: classes will be held at Messing Village Hall in the Essex countryside.
  • Blogger, lawyer and tarot reader Benebell Wen has released a new book titled The Tao of  the Craft. According to her website, the book “reveals the rich history and theoretical principles underlying the ancient practice of crafting Fu talismans, or magical sigils, in the Chinese Taoist tradition.” This is Wen’s second book.
  • In other book news, Red Wheel/Weiser has begun its third annual Wicked Wonders Giveaway. The winner receives a “tote bag filled with books by Weiser authors Judika Illes, John L. Steadman, Courtney Weber, Crystal Judy Hall and others. The winner will also receive a galley copy of Love Magic written by author and blogger Lilith Dorsey.” Entries are being accepted through Oct. 31.
  • TWH journalist and filmmaker Dodie Graham McKay was involved in project that resulted in a film titled Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. As explained on the website, the film is a “documentary featuring scientist and acclaimed author Diana Beresford-Kroeger. [It] follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential eco-system.” Currently the film is only being screened in Winnipeg and Sarnia. It will be released on a wider scale in the months to come.  Here is the trailer:

Call of the Forest – Theatrical Trailer from Treespeak Films

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UPDATE 10/24 4:06pm: This article was updated with additional information about Bryan Zell as provided directly by his father Oberon Zell. 

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

The gods are powerful, as are many other entities and beings. They have the power to begin a series of events that culminate in a coincidence that is also a deliberate sign. They have the power to bump that algorithm and make it do what They want to give us that sign. They have the power to make the wind blow a certain way so that all those birds act in that natural but slightly unusual way that grabs our attention and makes us go, “It’s a sign!”

It’s not just these unsure signs either, but the more awesome obvious things. Consider John Beckett’s green glowing bird. A rather noticeable thing, and he admits to reaching to find an explanation for what he was seeing, some mundane reason for it. Because that is what we do – even when we believe deeply in the “supernatural,” we still reach for mundane reasons.

–Bekah Evie Bell, Maybe it’s a Sign, Maybe it’s Just an Oddly Specific Facebook Algorithm

Greed loves monopoly. Monopoly is fed by centralization. Centralization has gotten worse. The more greedy corporations can get away with centralization, the more they will, until no one creates online content except those with the big bucks to produce corporate-driven, insipid “culture.” Social media corporations want advertisers. Advertisers put their money on watered-down content, mostly. If corporate media can get away with it, the only online “Paganism” will be as mindlessly numbing as most television.

Paganism tamed! Imagine if wildly witchy articles no longer existed? Imagine only corporate media “Pagan” blogs, as milquetoast as the fake Christianity that dominates media to suppress robust, responsible Christianity?

–Francesca De Grandis, Social Media and Pagan Culture

Let’s go back to the basics: the acronym stands for Unusual (or Unverified) Personal Gnosis. It’s unusual if it isn’t corroborated by the collective past experiences of others. It’s personal if it is revealed to one person alone during the course of their active worship of the gods. But gnosis – I think we need to remember that gnosis does not mean simply an idea or thought or piece of information, it’s a (mystical, spiritual) insight, the kind that typically comes as a revelation (often after prolonged study and practice).

When you’re just pondering the ways of the gods and you have an idea about something new – maybe you think, for instance, that a god might like a certain offering not attested to in the sources, or you see a connection between one myth and another that you never noticed before and haven’t seen discussed – that idea might be entirely valid and true and interesting, but it is not really the same thing as when the gods themselves reveal something to you during ritual, or when in a deep state of devotional mind you have a sudden and profound insight into their natures.

–Dver, Some thoughts on UPG

There is no escape from yourself. There is no escape from pain. There is no escape from this moment. There is only what is in front of you and your choice of how you face it. When you are faced with a challenging person or situation, do you find yourself wallowing in the toxic miasma of the situation? Unable to let go of the muck. Do you find yourself complaining to your spouse or friend or relative? In a way, what you are doing is scooping a little of that sludge and flinging it at someone you love, hoping some of it will stick. Misery does love company.

–Rúndaingne Ash, My truth about happiness

I have never understood why, when others speak to us about our faith, it sounds like they believe that we just decided to put on the black hat and pointed shoes because we had nothing better to do. The truth is, that for many who proudly call themselves Witch, they are simply finding their way again. I have taught and known many spirited Witches over my life, and many who have recently discovered their magickal ways. They describe it as a returning to a life they knew they were a part of, rather than something new or something they just started. It is simply who we are.

–Lady Abigail, Samhain and the ‘Witch Questions’

The thing that makes deep time difficult for many people to cope with is that it makes self-evident nonsense out of any claim that human beings have any uniquely important place in the history of the cosmos. That wouldn’t be a difficulty at all, except that the religious beliefs most commonly held in Europe and the European diaspora make exactly that claim.

–John Michael Greer on the anthropocentric nature of time

There seems to be a sentiment among some Pagans and polytheists that being a good person isn’t important. That as long as we give offerings to the gods, ancestors, spirits . . . that we can be whatever kind of person we want.

I’m not here to tell you otherwise. You practice your religion in the way that you feel is right for you and your powers. But for me, personally, I believe that my religion is ineffective or incomplete if it is not making me a better person. If I am not becoming kinder or more compassionate to others, especially the poor, outcasts, downtrodden, hungry . . . I don’t see my religion as being complete. I need to be making the world a better place for others in some way, shape, or form. . . .I understand that this may seem very Christian to Pagans. Meekness and compassion are not often seen as important values to polytheists, and perhaps to ancient Pagans they weren’t.

–R.M. McGrath, Good People

To demand my vote is to demand my consent for the horror that America does in my name, be that the imprisonment of millions for property and drug crimes here or the obliteration of children to get at the oil they’re living atop in the Middle East. Insisting I must “play” in order to “win” is a sick joke at best when the jackpot is only the hope of less slaughter of others and a little less poverty for myself. At worst, it’s the language of the abuser and the rapist. If you don’t say no, it means yes–yet even if you do say no, it still means yes because they have power.

The mass ritual of voting for who will be the new face of the Leviathan sucks everyone into a vortex of celebrity-worship, displacing radical political actions onto candidates resembling our hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, some get richer, drowning in revenue from campaign advertisements, just as state coffers swell with sales from lottery tickets. That the same massive media corporations who shape our perception of the world and the urgency of our vote make the most money from the election frenzy is hardly accidental.

–Rhyd Wildermuth, Editorial: I Won’t Play

Local and state elections – who we vote for matters more than who we vote for for president. Congresscritters usually filter up from state and local governments. Presidential candidates come almost exclusively from Congress and state governments. If we want different candidates for president, we must put different candidates in office down ticket. That’s where our vote truly matters. That’s where the change begins. If we help put someone in office who turns out to be vile, we need to work to unseat them. Whenever possible, pick candidates for are for term limits for Congress. That forever candidate and seat holder is dangerous to public welfare. Once ensnared in the political machine, they spend most of their time and decision making energy on staying there, rather than doing what is best for citizens.

Change from ground up – that’s how I vote, in every election. I encourage you to do the same.

–Boneweaver, The downticket shifts the upticket

A polytheistic relationship to truth forces us to see plurality as a fundamental feature of the world. We produce truth through a process of living and engaging with the beings that surround us. Truth becomes participatory. The tension between competing truths is recognized as powerful and real, and our choices, adjudicating between these truths, have real and meaningful consequences. The world is full of complexities, and as we move through it, we only produce more and more. We make the world a stranger place with every passing day.

–Julian Betkowski, I Believe that Polytheism is Important Right Now

[Here is our October version of Unleash the Hounds, a monthly article fearing links to stories outside of our collective communities.  If you enjoy this article and others like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt.  We have 13 days left to meet our goal, and you make it possible for us to continue. The Wild Hunt is your community news service. Donate today.]

640px-amy_goodman_national_conference_for_media_reform_denver_2013_8626124929NORTH DAKOTA — It was announced this week that a judge “dismissed the riot charges” against journalist Amy Goodman for covering the protest efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. In September, the Democracy Now! producer was charged with criminal trespassing after reportedly filming “security guards working for the Dakota Access pipeline company using dogs and pepper spray to attack protesters.” At the time Goodman said, “This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” adding that she was just doing her job.

Goodman has been a very vocal proponent of free and independent news media. This particular story reached national news, as Goodman turned herself over to authorities risking jail time for her right to work as a journalist. However, on Oct. 17, District Judge John Grinsteiner rejected the charges on the basis that the state lacked “probable cause.” The ruling is being hailed as a victory for freedom of the press.

Goodman is quoted as saying, “It is a great honor to be here today. The judge’s decision to reject the State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson’s attempt to prosecute a journalist—in this case, me—is a great vindication of the First Amendment.” She then invited other media outlets to join her in North Dakota as she continues her working covering the pipeline protests.

In Other News

  • Rolling Stone magazine recently reported on a triple murder within the furry community. The story went national and, as reported by the magazine, has this poorly-understood, private community worried about backlash. “The incident is causing concern among furries already sick of defending the scene from negative stereotypes,” writes Rolling Stone journalist Mary Emily O’Hara. “They worry that the tragedy will become a joke to the general public, like a 2014 chlorine gas attack at Midwest Furfest did, when MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski was unable to keep a straight face after she learned, on-camera, about furries.”
  • The Gothamist reported that a woman found a cow tongue nailed to a tree in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an area of Brooklyn, New York.  According to the report, this is not the first time that cow tongues have been found around the area. The article’s interviewee linked the tongue to a “wicked spell.” While the journalist did speak to a professor of religion on the possible meanings or origins of the tongue and its uses in religious work or magic, no more concrete information was provided. Was it really a spell or simply a joke? At this point, there is only speculation and accusations.
  • In an AJC investigative series, it was revealed that an Oklahoma psychiatrist has been accused of “spiritually manipulating” several of his female patients over a ten-year span. He allegedly “convinced [these women] that they had multiple personalities that could seize control of their bodies, that their mothers had given them over to witchcraft as babies, and that they were powerful witches.” After one victim committed suicide in 2003, the doctor reportedly told the police a similar story about witchcraft and the occult. The investigating officer at the time “didn’t know then what he had stumbled over” and never followed up. Since that point, other women have come forward now accusing the doctor of sexual manipulation and abuse. No Witchcraft practice was involved.
  • Witchcraft is also being linked to a kidnapping trial in Dallas, Texas. According to reports, a “jar containing a dark-colored liquid” was found under the alleged kidnapper’s bed. In court, the investigator speculated that this bottle was a hex spell, and is quoted as saying, “If she had to put it in context, she told the judge, it was more than a lucky nickel but not as serious as voodoo.”
  • Astrologers are currently fighting over Hillary Clinton’s exact birth time in an attempt to predict the election. As Christopher LaFond told The Wild Hunt in our own report on election astrology, “the time of day for Hillary Clinton’s birth is suspect,” making certain analyses difficult. The Washington Post dives into that debate.
  • According to a recent Upworthy article, a local Baltimore school has replaced detention with meditation. As reported, “Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.” The program was created and is sponsored by the Holistic Life Foundation. School officials have reportedly said that, since implementing the program, there have been no suspensions and the detention rate has dropped.

Arts and Leisure

  • The New York Times published an article on Star Trek’s beloved character Spock and his “outsider role model.” As the article reports, “For years [Spock] was about the closest viewers could get to a multiracial role model on American TV.” His dual identity as both human and Vulcan is uniformly reported to be his most popular trait. Audiences identified strongly with this duality, and still do.

Witches, Witches, and more Witches…

  •, a site focused on California’s Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, featured an article about the practice of modern Witchcraft in that region. “Many North Bay residents are carving pumpkins, scouring thrift stores in search of 1980s threads for Halloween costumes of their favorite Stranger Things characters, or building Dia de los Muertos altars to remember their beloved dead. Meanwhile, Preston and thousands of other witches are preparing for the Oct. 31 Pagan festival of Samhain. And, no, the festivities do not include eating babies.”
  • For your enjoyment, here is a performance from the popular German dance troupe Wolfshäger Hexenbrut:

Donate Today!

[Today, The Wild Hunt welcomes author Christine Hoff Kraemer. Over the year, The Wild Hunt welcomes guests, like Kraemer, to share unique viewpoints and practices. Doing so is an important part of our overall mission. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a world platform to a diversity of voices, and we’ve got four more fantastic writers scheduled over the next three months and more coming in early 2017. The Wild Hunt is your community news service. Donate today.]

befunky-design2I’m nine years old, and it’s a sunny summer day. School’s out and there’s nowhere to be, nothing I have to do. I say goodbye to my mother, grab my bike and ride to my best friend’s house. “Can Lisa come out and play?” We walk in the woods near the playground. The sunlight filters down through green leaves and dances across the wet-weather creek where we go to hunt for frogs. Birds are singing, and distantly I can hear shouts from the kids spinning the merry-go-round at top speed. My friend has walked ahead, following the creek, and for few moments, I’m alone with the sound of my breath.

Does this sound like your childhood? If you’re my age—thirty-seven—or older, it may. Most children raised in the United States in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s spent a great deal of time playing unsupervised outdoors, often in the company of a mixed-age group of other children.

My childhood experiences of encountering the natural environment on my own, without direction or interference from an adult, are part of the bedrock of my Paganism. The quiet of the woods helped me learn to listen and connect to the land around me. Outdoors, by myself, was the first place that I felt spirit. Being out with other kids also helped make me self-reliant. We knew which houses had trusted adults in them if we needed help, and we knew how to find our way home. Those senses of interconnectedness and of my own personal power are part of what ultimately made me a Witch.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Today, it is the rare child that spends much, if any, independent time outdoors. Some of this shift is because so many homes now have streaming television and video game systems—engrossing entertainment that discourages kids from going outside to seek fun. But why are parents no longer kicking their kids outdoors for some healthy exercise, far away from these hypnotic screens? The explanation lies in a generational change in American parenting culture.

“You Can Never Be Too Safe”—Or Can You?

Since the 1990s, constant supervision of children has become the norm, especially in urban and suburban areas. American parents have embraced safety as the top priority for their children, to the extent that even minor risks have sometimes been deemed unacceptable. As a result, many of the useful skills that were part of my childhood—small things like learning to use a sharp knife or operate the oven—have been actively discouraged. Today, many parents (as well as police, social services workers, and other authorities) assume that pre-adolescent children are essentially helpless. Children are commonly not permitted to play outside unless an adult can be present.

Journalist Lenore Skenazy was unexpectedly catapulted to national fame in 2008 when she allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway by himself. The media picked up the story, and Skenazy suddenly found herself being decried as “the world’s worst mom”… and invited on talk shows. Skenazy used the opportunity to write a book, found a website, and ultimately start a movement: Free-Range Kids.

Skenazy’s book Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) advocates strongly for independent outdoor play as soon as the parent judges that the child is ready. It also reflects on an important question: Why are American parents so obsessed with the idea of safety when we are, in fact, living in incredibly safe times? Skenazy rolls out statistic after statistic: after a peak in the early 1990s, crime rates are down to where they were in the early 1970s and are still falling.[1] Yet there are widespread perceptions that American society is much less safe for children than when today’s parents are growing up.

Skenazy argues that this is due to a media culture of fear-mongering that has made parents unable to calmly and rationally evaluate risk, especially when it comes to “stranger danger,” the possibility of child abduction by a stranger. Journalists say that “If it bleeds, it leads”— stories about tragedy and violence draw viewers and, therefore, make money. This is especially true for news stories about strangers preying on children. These tragedies routinely receive national coverage and are then recycled into true-crime shows and made-for-TV movies.

The painstakingly detailed, terrifying coverage of crimes against children gives the impression that child abductions by strangers are common. In reality, they are incredibly rare. As Skenazy reports, stranger abduction is so unusual that children are 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than they are to be kidnapped and killed by a stranger.[2] 2,000 American children die in car accidents every year, yet it is the rare parent who hesitates over strapping a child into a car.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

Is Skenazy arguing that allowing kids independent outdoor play is 100% safe? Not at all—but she argues that in most cases, it is safe enough considering the benefits. In Free to Learn, educational psychologist Peter Gray writes that free play is the primary way that children develop emotional resilience, learn to solve problems, and develop social skills—and that to develop these skills, outdoor play with friends is ideal.[3]

Being able to explore freely outdoors gives kids opportunities to explore their world, make up creative new games, and build community through befriending their neighbors. Play unsupervised by adults encourages self-reliance and gives a sense of competence. Children who run their own errands or can spend an evening alone are learning the street smarts and self-care skills that they will need as adults—and today, cell phones means they can do it with their parents only a quick call or a text away.

It’s probably no surprise for Pagans to hear that being outdoors is also hugely beneficial to our health, but this fact is now becoming well-known in mainstream culture. Recent studies suggest that time spent in natural settings improves short-term memory and concentration, increases energy, encourages creativity, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, and more.[4] Too much indoor time can actively harm one’s health as well: dangers include vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of diabetes and depression.[5]

The Free-Range Parenting Movement in the Courts

The right to raise our children with our religious and spiritual values should be fundamental. Pagans who want their children to spend time in nature independently, however, need to be prepared to educate disapproving neighbors and deal with suspicious law enforcement. Because of today’s overprotective parenting culture, parents who allow their children to walk to school or play outside unsupervised may find themselves being interviewed by Child Protective Services or even arrested.

In 2014, Debra Harrell was arrested and jailed for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to play at a park while she was at work. According to news coverage, the daughter had a cell phone and a key to her house, which was a brief walk away. She had asked to go the park as an alternative to what she had been doing for most of the summer: playing on a laptop at the McDonald’s where her mother was employed.

Skenazy documents this and many similar cases on the Free Range Kids blog. Fortunately for Harrell and her daughter, however, Skenazy was not the only one taking notice. Media outlets as large as CNN picked up the story, noting potential racial bias against a “mother of color.”[6] Harrell received pro bono legal assistance to secure her release, keep her job, and restore her custody of her daughter. Happily, in the summer of 2016, a Facebook group formed to help raise legal funds for the Harrells reported that the jury had declined to indict and that there will be no further action taken against Harrell.[7]


[public domain]

It is exciting to see that as such cases receive more media attention, government decisions are often coming down in favor of families’ right to give children more freedom. In 2015, the Meitiv family of Silver Spring, Maryland were repeatedly harassed by local authorities after allowing their six-year-old and ten-year-old to walk together in their neighborhood.[8] After the Meitivs announced their intention to sue, Maryland officials clarified that so long as there is no specific and substantial threat of harm, children walking or playing outside unsupervised do not require the attention of Child Protective Services.[9] This statement is a tremendous victory for the Meitivs and may help protect families with free-range parenting philosophies in the future.

Free-Range for an Uncertain Future

As reports from government agencies and scientists mount, we can no longer be in doubt: climate change is already causing volatile weather patterns, rising temperatures, and flooding. These shifts are impacting agriculture, clean water supplies, housing and more in ways that will ultimately affect us all. For those of us in the United States, our grandchildren—perhaps our children—may need to learn how to live in a lower-tech, less comfortable environment than we enjoy today. Some may be at the mercy of the elements in a way most of us have never experienced.

When my husband and I discuss the education of our son, now just a toddler, this global reality is never far from our minds. We want to encourage our son’s independence, resilience, creativity, and persistence. We want him outdoors as much as possible, learning to use his body and forming relationships with the animals and plants he finds there. We want him to feel supported and loved, but we also want him to be able to take care of himself.

Because there is so much pressure to keep kids indoors and supervised at all times, we’ve realized that if we want our child to be competent, self-reliant, and comfortable in nature, we will have to create opportunities for independent outdoor play deliberately. When I imagine my son at twelve years old, I see him able to ride his bike to the store to buy milk; I see him able to catch, clean, and cook a fish over a fire he made; I see him able to mow a lawn, operate a smartphone, care for a dog, and bandage a burn.

We’ve started out by putting him in a nature preschool where the children play in the woods and learn to recognize animal signs and identify plants. I hope that in the future, we will continue to find support for our parenting with other free-range parents, alternative schools, scouting, and Pagan groups.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

What Can I Do?

Are resilience, self-reliance, and love of nature some of the Pagan values you want your kids to have? Want to protect your parental rights and form communities of support for free-range parenting? Here are some positive steps to take.

  1. Educate yourself. Read the Free-Range Kids blog at, or check out the work of Daniel Pimentel, a professor who is writing about parenting philosophies and the law.[10]
  2. Get to know your neighbors, and make sure the people around you know that your child is permitted to play outside independently. You can even download a “Free-Range Kid” membership card that your child can give to other concerned adults.
  3. Join the National Association of Parents at This nonprofit group works to protect the rights of parents to raise their children as they choose.
  4. Educate your community. To head off neighbors’ concerns, offer to give your neighborhood association or community group a presentation on the benefits of free-range parenting. Distribute safety statistics, and arm sympathetic friends and fellow Pagans with them too.
  5. Organize a Free-Range Kids Project in your Pagan group or at your kids’ school.[11] FRK Projects provide support for kids to do something new on their own. Parents connect with each other around their worries and hopes, and the community as a whole gets to discuss parenting philosophies and form new friendships.

 *    *    *

[1] Skenazy, Lenore. Free Range Kids (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 182-183, or for updated statistics, check
[2] Skenazy. pp. 228. [For citations, see “Strangers with Candy” 209-210.]
[3] Gray, Peter. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2013).
[4] Friedman, Laura F. and Kevin Loria, “11 scientifically proven reasons you should be spending less time in the office,” Business Insider 30 June 2015.
[5] Skenazy. pp. xx-xxi.
[6] Wallace, Kelly. “Mom arrested for leaving 9-year-old alone at park.” 21 July 2014.
[7] Support Debra Harrell group, 30 July 2016.
[8] Williams, Mary Elizabeth. “A ‘free range’ family fights back: ‘The police coerced our children into the back of a patrol car,’” 15 April 2015.
[9] St. George, Donna. “Md. officials: Letting ‘free range’ kids walk or play alone is not neglect,” The Washington Post 11 June 2015.
[10] Pimentel, David. “Criminal Child Neglect and the “Free Range Kid“: Is Overprotective Parenting the New Standard of Care?,” Utah Law Review (2012).
[11] For more information, see Skenazy’s article, “The Simple School Project that Sets Kids Free,” published in The Huffington Post 7 Oct 2013.

[About the Author: Christine Hoff Kraemer is a religious studies scholar specializing in contemporary Paganism, sexuality, theology, and popular culture. In 2008, she completed her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. Christine is an instructor in the Theology and Religious History department at Cherry Hill Seminary. Her books include Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies and the collection Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy (edited with Yvonne Aburrow). She is also the proud parent of an extremely high-energy toddler.]

[There are only fifteen days left in the TWH Fall Fund Drive. Donate today. Don’t miss out on some great perks, while helping to support an important service in the collective Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist worlds. Remember “We don’t stir the cauldron. We cover it.” And it is your support that keeps our team covering the important stories and the diverse issues that matter to you. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]


Cultures throughout the world have beliefs and traditions honoring ancestral practices.  Ancestral veneration is not just a hot topic in October when the popular holiday of Halloween hits the mainstream celebration circuit, but it is also a practice routinely honored in sacred space and in many ways throughout the year.

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

Whether for protection, wisdom, guidance, reverence, or for much needed intervention, the way that religions and communities work with the ancestors is often very personal and cultural. I have often found that discussions of ancestral work within the Modern Pagan community often neglect to speak to some of the very relevant pieces of my own ancestors stories, which do differ from the crowd. The ancestors within the African American communities tell a very different tale, one that can be neglected in the generalized perception of who the “mighty dead” are. There isn’t often allowances made or room for the discussions of our ancestors specific path.

So when I heard of a celebration honoring the very specific ancestors of the Middle Passage and slavery, I knew it was important for me to be present.

The Annual Maafa Commemoration began on Oct. 9 at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California. This event celebrated it’s 21st year of putting on the Maafa celebration in the Bay Area.

According to the Maafa SF Bay Area website, Maafa is a Swahili word for “disaster, calamity, or terrible occurrence.” It has come to be known to describe the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, otherwise called the Middle Passage. It is also often referred to as the “Black Holocaust” within communities of people of African ancestry.

The Maafa SF Bay Area group has continued to facilitate this open “commemoration ceremony and mourning ritual” to honor the ancestors that suffered in the middle passage, and to those who have continued to suffer under the weight of the aftermath of slavery into modern day. The website invites all people of African descent to come to the remembrance to support personal and collective cultural healing for those of the African diaspora. The website states:

In the San Francisco Bay Area, October is Maafa Awareness Month–it is a time to reflect on the legacy of slavery: victims and beneficiaries in the short and long term and look at ways to mend, repair and heal the damage to Pan African descendants of the enslaved and their New Afrikan societies. The toll has been tremendous: psychological, economic, social, physical, emotional and spiritual.

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

I decided to go to the Maafa commemoration after hearing about it from a fellow African American Pagan woman. The importance of the legacy of historical oppression and the pain that many African American/Black people carry in this country, and throughout the world, is something very tangible and real. It felt like an important spiritual experience to promote a healing that is very much needed in current times, as well as being a way that Black people local to the Bay Area can venerate their ancestors whose graves are in the ocean.  

I arrived about 5:30 AM, in the dark of the morning with my 15 year old son, several family members, and a couple of fellow Black Pagan friends. There were well over 100 other people of African descent gathered around a fire burning on Ocean Beach, and the air was filled with the rhythmic pounding of the drums. People were standing, dancing, and celebrating in the dark morning hours to honor the ancestors of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.

In the crowded darkness and dampness of the beach, we gathered among people we did not know. In any other context this would have been quite frightening, but among a few friends and several family members, I felt strongly comforted by the energy of the shared legacy present in the air.

What followed was a series of events that contributed to the overall experience of connection and mourning that comes with celebrating the that shared history of commiseration among the descendants of slaves living here in the United States.

The unfolding of events took up about 5 hours as the sun came up. A series of symbolic and magical moments happened, all of which were profoundly and spiritually impactful for me as a Black woman. The drums continued to beat throughout the dark and into the light of day while we went through what felt like initiatory, magical, and ritualistic honoring of the ancestors, our journey, and the legacy of those who were enslaved during the Middle Passage.

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

As I stood there in line with my family in front of me and my son behind me, I faced the ocean, looking at the large fabricated gates that symbolized the “gates of no return.” I held the rope as the slaves would have held the chains, and there was a somber alignment in that moment with my ancestors.

Standing in line for over an hour, I was able to really contemplate what that meant to me, to my family, and to my spiritual understanding of ancestral connection.

Following our journey through the “Gates of No Return”, we gathered by the ocean to share songs, ritual, poetry, stories, and connection in remembrance. Wanda Sabir welcomed us all to the healing ceremony with the following words:

As we process through the Door of No Return give thanks for what we remember…. Trauma induces amnesia, yet the body remembers what the mind forgets. Intuition is another name for Divine Spirit. The bones which lie between Alkebulan and the West link Black people genetically through this liquid experience: sweat, blood, feces, urine, milk, after-birth, death.

The transcontinental passage, our ancestors packaged as if they were inanimate cargo, connects our souls and scarred bodies to this day. The Maafa Commemoration acknowledges this. The yokes and chains and shackles many of us still bear speak to this, as does freedom.

After 5 hours of amazing alignment in the honoring of those who came before, I took some time to consider the spiritual significance of the experience and the importance of ancestral connection. While my own path honors the ancestors all the time, this level of veneration and remembrance is radically different than what I imagined it would be.

After the ceremony, I also took a moment to speak with two fellow Black Pagans who had attended this year’s Maafa Commemoration. What motivated each of them to go this year, and how did the experience contribute to spiritual path and experience of the world?

I went to a Maafa event years ago but hadn’t been in quite a while. I decided to go this year because I felt the need to reconnect with my ancestors’ presence.

I realize that honoring my ancestors and recognizing their sacrifices is an integral part of my spiritual path. My ancestors who suffered through the Middle Passage, through slavery, through Jim Crow and all the abuses and oppression Black people suffer until this day; enable me to keep pushing forward. – M. A.

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

That’s a good question. I had a busy week, and was looking forward to “sleeping in” until 8 that morning when I notice a post on Facebook with a video attached from the previous year. I am a native San Franciscan and had never heard of the ritual at Ocean Beach. I am studying to facilitate Ancestor Healing, so Ancestors are extremely important to me. I had just gone through yet again another, “Dark Night of the Soul” where I questioned my Spirit Guides to why they allowed us (Black Folk) to continue to suffer. When I pulled a card to help me reconnect to my core spiritual self, I go, “When the waters of life don’t flow, we feel disconnected. Our intuition or inner compass seems unable to get us back on track. A ceremony to connect with water may be indicated, where you can consciously connect to the power of this element.” It seemed like a “no brainer.”

I got some very powerful messages from my Ancestor that confirmed the path that I’m on. When we were holding the rope and walking down the path to “The Doors of No Return” I felt a deep sense of hopelessness, fear, and regret. I actually felt the chains around my neck. It helped me to realize that we (My Ancestors) have gone through so much and survived without a sense of bitterness or hate. And looking at what we still are going through it really showed me how resilient we are as a people. I am still sorting out my feelings, and even though it was a very emotional day with sooooooo many signs that they are with us, it gave me a renewed sense of hope. Hope that we will get through this “dark time” and more importantly, we are not alone! – Luna Pantera

There is power in being able to connect with the ancestors in true, authentic, and supportive ways. While many traditions within modern Pagan and polytheist communities embrace a connection to the ancestors, how are we addressing the distinct stories of the diverse ancestry that enters into our communities and circles? How can we acknowledge the necessity of such things when we engage in community ancestral practices? How are those specific stories left out of our shared spaces?

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

While none of these questions have easy answers, the importance of being able to acknowledge the very real history of my ancestors and the pain of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is now much clearer. These stories are uncomfortable and bring up different emotions for different people; they break through the walls of cognitive dissonance that we often have in place to protect our feelings of safety.

Yet, if there are Black people in our circles, keeping out the stories of these ancestors contribute to making those members feel unwelcome and unaccepted. The stories of our ancestors are important; our ancestors need to be heard.

I will continue to unpack my own experiences from participating in the Maafa ceremony and having a different level of connection to the very real history of my people. There is something about walking through the symbolic doors of no return together with my family, while facing the ocean, and hearing the waves hit the shore. In contemporary society, when many of us are experiencing and watching the horror of oppression and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, it is imperative that we hear what the ancestors have to say.

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GLASTONBURY, England — As the wheel of the year turns and Samhain draws ever nearer, many people’s thoughts are turning to death, release, and endings.The Harvest is gathered; the nights grow long; the weather turns damp and cold. Some would argue that this is summer in Britain.

There are some people who can easily embody the energy of a particular time, and John Awen, a Druid based in Glastonbury, Somerset, embodies the energy of Samhain perfectly.

John Awen [Photo Credit: Adrian Farris photography, copyright reserved]

John Awen [Photo Credit: Adrian Farris photography, copyright reserved]

Awen’s life has been a reflection of the phoenix rising from the flames – not once but many times. He had his hopes of a military career dashed. He descended into drug abuse and crime, before suffering a near-fatal stabbing that served as a catalyst for change. Having grown into his spiritual path, Awen learned that, as a consequence of his previous life, he now has an incurable heart condition.

But ever positive and living in the moment, Awen believes the only way is up – and he has now realised another childhood ambition by becoming a published writer.

Awen’s latest offering, Baby Naming Day, is an exploration of the tradition of naming including, but not limited to, baby names. He said: “It’s a metaphysical look on how we name, what we name, popular names, gender-less names, then culminating with ceremonies around the world and given a descriptive on naming ceremonies today and devising ceremonies.”

He added, “Names are important – there’s a great power in names.”

The book comes not long after his first major published work, Journey to the Summerlands: Pagan Death and Rebirth. This is a Druidic take on a subject Awen knows intimately. Born in 1969 with a urine infection and underdeveloped lungs, Awen spent his first four months in an incubator.

“I’ve been battling to stay alive since I was born,” he said. “My parents were told I probably wouldn’t make it – yet here I am.”

Awen became interested in Druidry at a young age. Sent off to weekly Sunday school at seven, he began asking difficult questions. “After a while I was just ignored by the teachers, even though I had my hand up all the time. In the end I just bunked off and started going to the woods and asking my questions there.”

Awen’s world was turned upside down when he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 19. “From the age of three I wanted to be a soldier. That was all I wanted to do. I’d been accepted into the army at 19, and shortly after I had the accident that shattered which my ankle. It was plated and pinned and I was on crutches for 18 months. I couldn’t join after that. I felt like I’d been dealt a bum hand.”

Despite his intention on being a soldier, it would seem that fate was already working through him to make herself known. As he explained, the one time that he was actually asked what he wanted to be as adult, he didn’t answer soldier. “I said ‘I want to write books!’ ” He was only seven at the time.

This early spark of the awen, however, was to lie dormant for years. Lacking direction, he drifted “from dead-end job to dead-end job.” He started using cannabis and amphetamines, and explained: “My addictive personality kicked in, after a while I didn’t just want to be buying it, I wanted to be selling it as well.”

[Photo Credit: Adrian Farris photography, copyright reserved]

[Photo Credit: Adrian Farris photography, copyright reserved]

This period in Awen’s life was also punctuated with stints in prison for driving offences.

Then in 1997, his life turned again, when he discovered heroin. The following 10 years were a cycle of drug use, petty crime, and prison. He also suffered three heart attacks. Awen laughs: “I’ve crossed over so many times I’ve lost count!”

This cycle was finally broken in 2007 during an aggravated robbery in which he, once again, nearly lost his life. Awen said, “I felt someone punch me in the back and I fell to the ground. I was on my way to score some gear [slang for ‘heroin’] with my mate and had a wad of notes in my back pocket.

“I felt my pocket being touched, someone ran past me, and I knew I’d been robbed. I cried out in pain and said ‘What was that?’ My friend said ‘Hang on John, you’re in trouble here.’ I’d been stabbed in the back three times.”

The brutal incident proved to be a turning point in his life. Awen said: “As I lay there I was floating above my body, feeling warm, and content, and I thought ‘Right, I’m happy with this.’ Then something, some gear cog, just clicked into place and said, ‘There’s more to life than this.’ I don’t remember anything else for several days – I’d been rushed into hospital and had a full blood transfusion. I discharged myself a few weeks later and within two months I was off methadone and clean of all illicit drugs.”

This near-death event marked a rebirth. “When that gear cog kicked in, that was it,” Awen explained. And, it was one little sentence that he took refuge in over the subsequent months as he became substance free. There’s more to life than this.

During this change, Awen returned to his childhood sanctuary of the woods and nature. “After 11 to 12 years of not having to think much, my mind was like a tap that was totally, totally turned on. I started asking questions again, people didn’t seem to have any answers. I started walking again and asking questions, and getting them answered.

“I also started reading, I knew I felt a connection to the universe, to the land, the moon, the sun, the stars all of it. I knew about the word Pagan. I started researching the different beliefs, traditions and faiths and Druidry ticked all the boxes.

But I needed to put my own take on it. Any tradition is not about adhering to someone else’s indoctrinations and allowing them to have power over you. What you believe in and what that becomes should be a state of heart. If you can balance your body and allow your mind and body to feel the same, then that resonates on a much deeper spiritual level.”


[Photo Credit: Adrian Farris photography, copyright reserved]

It is this hard-won balance and perspective that informs Awen’s work. However, death was not finished with him yet. He worked for a time in the funeral trade, experiencing death as it happened to others.

“I’ve been through the whole lot of it, I’ve comforted people as they’ve come to terms with the passing of a loved one, I washed and cleaned up bodies, I’ve lowered coffins into the ground and tended bodies in the burning rooms at the crematorium.

“I’ve been with people as they’ve transitioned over and seen their lives expire and I’ve supported and comforted. Even with animals as well, so it’s been a massive part of my life.”

However, it is another, more intimate knowledge of death that informed Awen’s best-known offering, Journey to the Summerlands: Pagan Death and Rebirth. Since 2015, Awen has been living with the knowledge that he has a heart condition that could stop it from working at any moment. Doctors have told him there is no treatment for his condition and every day is a blessing. It is this finality, his acceptance of this condition, that led him to write Journey to the Summerlands.

Ironically, it is this wisdom that has birthed him as an author. Journey to the Summerlands is the book in which he shares his unique, intimate perspective of death and rebirth. Awen’s life is a testament to this concept, literally and metaphorically.

He said: “My aim is to enable others to reach an understanding of the afterlife. What we’re aiming to do on all of our journeys is to know everything. Everything is there to shape and mould us. What I find important is creating a state of heart, which in turn creates a state of mind.”

Despite his condition, Awen is incredibly upbeat and at peace with life. Next March will see the publication of his fourth book, titled Ancestors.

Awen reiterated, “Ever since the age of three I wanted to be a soldier, but the one time I was asked as a child aged 7, what I wanted to be when I grew up, ‘I said I want to write books!’”

He has embraced his past and sees it as an integral part of his journey. “There’s been prison, there’s been shoplifting, there’s been all sorts of things that are part and parcel of who I am today, but it was my path and I don’t have any regrets.”

Then he added, “I have had regrets in the past, but now I’m happy with who I am. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am; I know what I’ve done and I know what I’d like to achieve. I’m a million-piece jigsaw and if I take one little piece away from that jigsaw, the picture isn’t complete. After 47 years of constantly bloody fighting, this is the best place I’ve been.”

[There are only 17 days left in the Fall Fund Drive. How much would you pay for a monthly magazine subscription or a daily news service? If you read The Wild Hunt and enjoy the service, donate today. It is your support that keeps our team serving you with professional news and commentary each day. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

Gordon only created the Pagan of the Year Award so that he could give it to himself.” — Arwen Starda

DETROIT –That wisecrack about Gordon Ireland was recounted by Arwen Starda’s daughter Gwenn, after Arwen was named Michigan’s 2016 Pagan of the Year. And, Ireland has taken great pains to be certain that Arwen’s prediction doesn’t come true. Not only will he not be involved in selecting the annual honoree for 2017 and beyond, he has also secured an agreement that he himself will not be named in his lifetime.

Awarding the honor to longtime co-conspirator Arwen Starda as one of his last official acts before his retirement may well be evidence of what Gwenn Starda calls his “sick sense of humor.”

But Ireland isn’t talking about that.

Gordon and Paula Ireland [courtesy photo]

Gordon and Paula Ireland [Courtesy Photo]

What he was willing to talk about was the incredibly vibrant Pagan community in Michigan, a community that he himself has sought to improve in multiple ways. Ireland has had a hand in a number of other high-profile projects. Those include the Midwest Witches’ Ball, Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund, and the Pagans in Need food bank.

In addition, he launched the Pagan of the Year award, which is now in its fifth year. The 2016 winner Arwen Starda joins other winners: Kenya Coviak, Jacki Smith, Michael Wiggins, and David Trexler, who have all been recognized for their contributions to Michigan’s Pagan community.

Ireland and his wife Paula came up with the idea as a way to recognize those people that always seemed to be lending a hand, year in and year out. “We made a list of people, came up with 15 that we thought would deserve it,” he recalled. Honorees get a handsome plaque at the Witches’ Ball, and free tickets to next year’s soiree.

Exactly who is on that list remains a secret, but Ireland made it clear that his name isn’t among them. Pagans in the region might intuit who future honorees may be from Ireland’s description of the criteria: “must be doing something positive for the community, and we like people who do it because it needs to be done, not people who do it to say, ‘look at me.’ ”

Ireland’s list has now been delivered to the leadership of the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry. The winner will no longer be selected by Ireland and his wife, as in past years. Part of the agreement in passing the award-selection on to the church is that neither Gordon nor Paula are eligible to receive it.

“I told them that after I die, they can award me with whatever they want.”

Just the two of them picking winners has worked well, Ireland says, because the fewer people that know, the easier it is to surprise the recipient. However, the process has always welcomed nominations from the public. If no one deemed suitable is nominated in a particular year, the award goes to someone else from that original list, he explained. Others have been entrusted with the winner’s name, and it’s worked out well until this point.

“We had to give a wife free tickets to get her husband to attend, but she was good at keeping the secret.”

According to the loose criteria he provided, Ireland would otherwise be well-qualified to be named Pagan of the Year several times over. It’s been given to luminaries like David Trexler, who in the wake of Tempest Smith’s suicide founded Witches of Michigan to educate people on the Wiccan faith. Smith’s mother Danessa started a scholarship for Pagans in her daughter’s name, and when that foundation was closed, Ireland helped launch the Michigan Pagan Scholarship to continue that legacy.

Another winner, Michael Wiggins, saw to it that the Magical Education Council — host organization for ConVocation — donates $500 annually to that scholarship fund.

As for this year’s honoree, Arwen Starda, her daughter explained some of what she’s been up to.

In addition to being part of the Witches’ Ball committee for all these years and organizing all the good works that I spoke about, Arwen has also been hosting the Pagan Roundtable the first Tuesday of every month at the Mount Clemens library since 1996. I can remember myself and my brothers being hauled there as kids. This group was a lifeline to Pagans seeking to connect with one another in the days before the internet was ubiquitous. People that met there have made lifetime friendships and relationships.

Ireland might be considered worthy of being called “Pagan of the year” just for his work on the scholarship, or even for establishing the annual award alone. However, he has also done many other things to normalize Pagans as being members of a religion, albeit an alternative religion. There’s a Boy Scout troop sponsored by the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry church, as well as a recovery group and food bank that are designed for Pagans, both with his fingerprints on them.

Pagan of the Year award from 2013 [courtesy photo]

Pagan of the Year award from 2013 [courtesy photo]

What makes it all possible, however, is the Witches’ Ball. It is the financial engine making all the other programs possible. In fact, the ball was among the first projects that Ireland worked on 20 years ago, and it is not one he’s going to divorce himself from completely.

“I’ll still attend,” he said. “I just won’t plan it.”

What makes the ball such a powerful platform, Ireland believes, is the marketing behind it. That program includes the marketing of the sponsors, who pay more than half of its budget each year. The fact that there are solid covens around, the members of which are willing to collaborate on setting up the space and the yearlong organization, certainly helps as well.

Pagans in Need — one of his proudest accomplishments — started out, Ireland explains, as “a food bank filled and maintained by Universal Society of Ancient Ministry supporters to meet the needs of those who might be turned away from other sources due to their professed religious orientation.”

Ireland put the paperwork in order to make this a non-profit agency, and he’s proud to see how it has grown. “This charity has expanded to address diverse needs such as lack of home appliances, shutoff notices, and eviction notices,” he said.

Most of these projects involve the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry, and that is no coincidence. Ireland founded the church, set up the by-laws, and made sure that it was recognized by IRS officials. He also built the web sites for the organization’s numerous programs, but otherwise says he’s not involved with it.

“I helped with it because I wanted to see if I could,” he said.

Gordon Ireland probably doesn’t have any more good ideas than any another Pagan, but he does possess the ability to follow through until they become reality. That, and he unabashedly taps into the large number of “people of like minds” to whom he has access within the Detroit area. While he won’t become the official Pagan of the Year — at least in his lifetime — the impact of his 20 years of service to Paganism in Michigan will be felt for a long time to come.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The 13th annual Nashville Pagan Pride Day (NPPD) event was visited by three Christian street preachers who call themselves Nashville Saints. The men arrived at the Two Rivers Park with bibles, signs, and a bullhorn. They proceed to shout at the attendees for several hours before they finally left.

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

According to organizers, this was the first time that Nashville Pagan Pride Day had attracted this type of attention. “There were three of them,” said Rev. Mary Hawk, is the local co-coordinator for the event as well as the president and secretary for NPPD Inc. “I had a part in main ritual, and they showed up while I was busy with that.”

Rev. Hawk is a longtime volunteer and attendee at NPPD. She has been part of the event since its early days in 2003 when it was still at one of two local Unitarian churches. In 2015, the organization moved the event to Two Rivers Park, because they had outgrown the indoor church space.

Rev. Hawk said that this year they saw their biggest crowd yet, topping at 739 guests.

This fairly recent change in location and the event’s growth may explain why it had yet to see any type of protesters. Rev. Hawk said, “My daughter who was present tells me that she has seen this group on Second Ave. (a major Nashville tourist destination) yelling out the same sort of stuff to everyone passing by.”

That is true. The three men make up a local street preaching group that labels itself the Nashville Saints. They are regulars in the area and travel around the Southeast with their bullhorn and signs.

Quentin Deckard is one of the two main speakers. He calls himself Saint Quentin and says that he is “Disciple of Jesus Christ.” As he explains on his Facebook page: “Who I was before this point in my life is irrelevant.” He was joined by two other men identified as Marvin Heiman and Tim Baptist.

As reported by Rev. Hawk and others, the park police escorted the three men through the event one time. “After that tour up and down the length of vendor row, they remained at the front of the event, between our welcome table and the line for the food vendor,” notes Rev. Hawk. Yelling the entire time, the men walked slowly through the space, carrying their backpacks, a sign, bibles, several cameras, and a unused bullhorn.

Their entire walk can be seen in the above 40-minute video taken by the men themselves, as well as in a Facebook live video shot by Deckard. Many Pagan onlookers also recorded videos. Ariel Marie Barnes and Carria Woodburn posted their videos on the Nashville PPD event page.

Attendees reacted to the street preachers in different ways. Some tried to reason with them, and even tried to shake their hands. Rev. Hawk said, “I approached them to ask if they would care to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank (one of our designated charities) but they totally ignored me and continued ranting.”

One woman circled them with a smudge stick and, as can be seen in the longer video, another appears to have circled them with salt. As the men walked by, Rev. Hawk and others joined their voices in a chant of “We all come from the Goddess.”

Rev. Hawk said said that a few people were very upset by the presence of the street preachers. However, most thought “it was hilarious.” She said that there were people surrounding them at all times. “At one point, the protesters yelled, ‘You are all going to die.’ Several people yelled back, “Well, so are you!'”

Lucia Jameson, one of the other event coordinators and the vice president of NPPD Inc. agreed, saying, “Most of [our attendees] treated the religious bullies as free entertainment and took the opportunity to mock them a bit.

“One attendee wearing a jester’s cap, black and red pants, and black-and-red arm bracers decided to mimic every move of the main yeller. […]  A young lady and her girlfriend shared a kiss in front of them and them skipped past them, holding hands and shouting ‘We’re Pagan and we’re gay!'”

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016. The man in the jester’s cap can also be seen in Carria Woodburn’s video. [Courtesy NPPD]

Jameson added that there was no way to fully shield attendees or keep people away from the street preachers. The crowd was too large. She added, “Primarily I tried to make sure that our attendees knew not to physically touch them no matter what they said. [The protesters] weren’t leaving until they got enough video to post and our folks were not going to ignore them while they were screaming.”

However the coordinators did get help from the park police. Rev. Hawk said, “Metro Parks requires that anyone holding an event in a park pay for Metro Park Police to provide security.”

“[Officers] did closely monitor the situation,” continued Rev. Hawk. “[They] explained what we had to allow legally and saw to that that protesters stayed with in those bounds. I cannot speak highly enough of their work at NPPD, especially Lt. Houston Taylor.”

TWH reached out to the Metro Park Police, but they did not respond in time for publication.

Nashville PPD [Courtesy NPPD]

Metro Police talking to street preachers at Nashville Pagan Pride Day 2016 [Courtesy NPPD]

Jameson said, “The police were there the for the entire event. I spoke when them several times throughout the day. They were very helpful, keeping an eye on the incident as it unfolded. They were ready to intervene as necessary.”

In the end, the street preachers only stayed for a reported two hours, after which, Jameson said, the street preachers began to get hoarse. She explained that they could not use their bullhorn. “That may have contributed to their departure.”

Rev. Hawk speculated that a dwindling audience also contributed to their short stay. She said, “Our main entertainment, a concert by Rowena of the Glen, started. Most of those watching [the protesters] left to hear the concert.”

Despite the disruption and the shouting, NPPD saw its most successful year yet. As Rev. Hawk and Jameson both reported, the organization raised collected 369 pounds of food and $148 in cash for Second Harvest Food Bank, and 267 pounds of dog and cat food, plus treats, miscellaneous items and $230 in cash for the Middle Tennessee Pet Food Bank. The organization also raised $230 in cash for the school at the NoDAPL camp in North Dakota.

Jameson said, “Both our vendors and attendees were pleased overall with the event and let us know that they are looking forward to next year.” With that said, she added that the NPPD committee will be discussing what happened. “Based on the events this year we are looking at what we can do to have better control if a similar incident occurs next year.”

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14724656_10210624116742889_6722353328289287912_nCHICAGO – The mid-west Pagan community lost one of its elders last week. It was announced that Lady Flora, also known as Georgeanne Hollingsworth, had died on Oct. 7 after complications due to “diabetes and numerous bouts of congestive heart failure.”

Lady Flora was trained and initiated by David Cole and Janet Berres, the leaders of the Coven of Hecate. She eventually went on to establish her own group, becoming the high priestess of the Grove of Aphrodite, which thrived in the Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s. Due to her location, Lady Flora was able to easily attend the very first modern Parliament of the World’s Religions, which was held in Chicago in 1993.

Over the years, Lady Flora taught both Wicca and tarot. Additionally, she taught shamanism with the help of her husband, high priest Rex Hollingsworth, who was reportedly part Mohegan. Lady Flora’s sister, Lady Annabelle, who is high priestess of the Pittsburgh-based Grove of Gaia, said that “Lady Flora was a dynamic and amazing high priestess and teacher and initiatrix of Wicca.” Her group is planning a celebration of life in Pittsburgh, and is also working to host a second memorial in Chicago. What is remembered, lives.

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logo trothTWH – The Troth has voted to amend the oath taken by its elected or “titled” representatives. As explained in an Oct. 16 blog post, “The new verbiage includes some small changes to the third paragraph to make it read more easily and the inclusion of a new paragraph (fourth) that reflects current Troth policy.”

The new oath will be required of all newly elected representatives. However, opportunities will be made available for current representatives to renew their oath using the updated version. The board statement continues, “We on the Rede see this step as a positive, proactive change that is aligned with The Troth’s Mission and stated positions.”

What is this stated position? The oath’s new additions reinforce statements of inclusivity with regard to race, sexuality, gender and more. This oath change coincides with the Troth’s recent re-assertions of its mission to support inclusive Heathenry. The new oath can be read in full on the Troth’s blog.

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308979_10150223697084956_60467375_nNASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Oct. 1 Pagan Pride Day event held in Nashville, Tennessee was visited by a group of Christian protesters. The protesting organization, which is led by a man named Saint Quentin, is called the Nashville Saints. Quentin labels himself an “open-air preacher” and frequents Nashville street corners and other parts of the city in order to share his beliefs. In this case, Quentin explained, “The Nashville Saints take up the sword of the spirit against the wicked demonic powers at work within Nashville’s Pagans.”

Fortunately for the Nashville Pagan Pride Day organizers and attendees, the protesters did remain within their legal limits, and were monitored closely by the park police. The daylong event was considered a success, despite any disruptions from Quentin’s group. We will have much more on this story tomorrow. 

In other news

  • If you participated in Saturday’s Warrior’s Call to action “Voices on the Wind,” the group would like to share your photos and experiences. Organizers are asking people to send them links to blog posts or any photos taken for use on its own Facebook page and website. This blog, for example, shared the Voices on the Wind event held in Cheshire, England. In December, Warrior’s Call will be hosting a single day workshop in Glastonbury, England. The goal is to “explore ways to work constructively to prevent fracking around the world.”
  • Pagans in Need (PIN) has uploaded a Yule application for its holiday program. The application should be used to apply for any assistance needed during the upcoming busy holiday season. PIN hosts a number of assistance programs, including a Secret Santa service and a toy collection. PIN is affiliated with the collective of Michigan-based Pagan organizations and community services.
  • Priestess and author Courtney Weber has released her second book. The new book is called Tarot for One and was published by Red Wheel/Weiser. The new book focuses on reading the cards for yourself, rather than for others, and includes a number of layouts and methods. Weber, who is based in New York City, has been reading and teaching tarot for over a decade.
  • The Maetreum of Cybele radio station was mentioned in a New York Times article on local terrestrial FM radio stations. The NYT article doesn’t focus on the Maetreum’s station but mentions it as contributing to this niche industry and as part of the discussion on the value of these stations within our contemporary, digitally-driven culture.
  • While many Pagans and Heathens continue to spend their fall weekends celebrating together at Pagan Pride Day events, others groups are getting ready for their upcoming Samhain observances, festivals, rituals and classes. In New York City, Rev. Starr Ravenhawk will be hosting the 11th Annual Samhain Eve’ Masquerade Ritual. Across the country in San Francisco, Reclaiming will be staging its popular Samhain spiral dance, which is both a ritual and fundraiser. In Massachusetts, the EarthSpirit Community will be hosting its annual open Samhain ritual. These are just three examples of the many public and private events being held around the world over the next two weeks.

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