Archives For Religion

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Last week, religious rights activist David Suhor delivered an invocation before the Pensacola city council. It wasn’t the first time that he had successfully lobbied for the right to give an opening prayer before a local governmental body. However, doing so as a member of The Satanic Temple resulted in much more attention than when Suhor offered a specifically Pagan prayer before the Escambia County commission in 2014. While only one commissioner left the room during the 2014 prayer, his recent appearance before the city council was greeted by dozens of Christians seeking to drown him out.

When Suhor rose to deliver the invocation, dressed in a black robe with a hood partially obscuring his face, many of the attendees rose along with him. It was not their intention, however, to join their voices in with his Satanic prayer. They stood to recite the Lord’s Prayer, while some of their number brandished crosses and apparently sought to cast out demons. After the protesters began their third recitation of the Christian prayer, council president Charles Bare was forced to order the room cleared.

[Video Still from July 14 Pensacola City Council Meeting]

[Video Still from July 14 Pensacola City Council Meeting]

The decision was faced with objections by people who knew that Suhor himself had recited his own prayer during the delivery of the invocation at the previous meeting, which had been called to specifically discuss whether prayers should be replaced with moments of silence. The first twelve minutes of the official video show the entire series of events as they unfolded, including how the fervor spilled over into the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“My approach in the beginning was to get invocations dropped” from the meetings, Suhor told The Wild Hunt, but those efforts led to no changes. Now, he said, “I am demanding radical inclusion.”

That shift was in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v Galloway, which rather than eliminating prayers from public meetings, required that members of all religions be given the opportunity. In addition to the prayer he offered before the county commissioners meeting, he has also tried to get on the agenda of the Escambia County School Board and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, but was unsuccessful.

According to Suhor, “We meet all the requirements of all the boards, which are none.” He also noted that, because they are not legislative bodies, neither the school nor utility board is allowed to include prayer under the Galloway decision.

Suhor said that he still identifies as Pagan despite having joined The Satanic Temple (TST), and doesn’t find anything contradictory about that fact. He also continues to use the term “agnostic” to describe himself, but does not consider himself an atheist.

He said, “I can identify with ten different paths, and reject all religions that say you can have only one. I explore many faiths.”

He still enjoys Pagan rituals, he explained, because of the “strong spiritual component.” However, he finds nothing in the seven tenets of The Satanic Temple that makes him uncomfortable. On a pragmatic level, joining TST opened his and mind to finding allies. He said, it “helped us up our game. […] No one seemed to care when I did Pagan, pantheist, or agnostic invocations, but when name Satan and they care about the issue.”

Suhor has shown consistency about that position over time; during his 2014 interview with The Wild Hunt, he was already considering invoking Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to get the issue taken seriously.

None of the four elected boards has a written policy to ensure non-discrimination, he said. This leaves members to practice what he calls an “appeasement policy,” only allowing prayers from individuals who won’t upset the Christian majority in the area. “They give the veneer of inclusion,” he said, but only just barely.

He recalled one school board meeting that he attended on the issue during which the invocation was provided by a local rabbi. The board member who invited him specifically said it was for the cause of diversity. “That poor rabbi thought he was being honored,” Suhor observed, but was actually being used to advance “tokenism.”

Bayview cross [David Suhor]

Bayview cross [Photo Credit: David Suhor]

This is not the only way in which Suhor has expressed dissatisfaction with what he sees as unapologetic Christian privilege in his part of Florida. He is also one of several local residents suing to get the Bayview cross removed from public property.

Named for the public park in which it stands, the 20-foot-high cross is a gathering place every Easter Sunday. After determining that no one had ever obtained a permit for the gathering, Suhor himself applied for and received one for this year, but the day was rained out. Both the lawsuit — which is being advanced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association — and the permit move are about opposing the tacit governmental endorsement of one religion.

In truth, Suhor seems satisfied that his invocation was delayed and constrained and otherwise opposed. City council members opted to leave his scheduled invocation on the schedule, choosing to “grin and bear” the Satanic blessing and hoping the issue would then go away. However, a press release made sure that local reporters were following the debate leading up to the July 14 meeting very closely.

It is not clear if Suhor’s latest invocation received more scrutiny because it carried the name Satan, as he believes, or because The Satanic Temple is more media-savvy than most Pagans. Suhor is a co-founder of the West Florida chapter of TST, and while he’s careful not to say that he speaks for the organization, he acknowledges that he has assumed the de facto role of public face for the group. Membership is growing, he added.

While city council members may not have been prepared for the furor resulting from the request to perform the invocation, Suhor did prepare for the possibility. He recorded a video of the prayer he sang, complete with hand motions, in case it was difficult to follow along at the meeting. That video is below.

ANTELOPE VALLEY, Calif.– Steve Hill, the first open Satanic Temple (TST) member to run for office, was defeated in the June 7 California State Senate primary for the 21st district. Mr. Hill faced off against fellow Democrat Scott Wilk.

Hill received 12% of the vote, amounting to just over 13,000 voters who supported his bid for State Senate.

Steve Hill [Courtesy Photo]

Steve Hill [Courtesy Photo]

Although Hill did not win the primary and was, according to him, shunned by Democratic Party officials, the Los Angeles Chapter of TST saw his campaign as a positive step:

Our very own Steve Hill ran as a Democrat for California State Senate in the 21st district/Antelope Valley. He is the first openly Satanic, black political candidate in U.S. history. According to the 2015 census, Antelope Valley is largely white and Hispanic with roughly 20% of the populace being African American, it also boasts the largest concentration of churches per capita in California. The mayor of the City of Lancaster, Rex Parris has decreed Lancaster to be a ‘Christian City,’ a statement from a public official, that is in direct violation of the first amendment.

On election day, Steve secured 12% of the vote. Over 13,000 people in this small community went to the polls to support his campaign. Not only was this a huge victory for Steve, but it clearly shows that a substantial cross section of this community has, until now, been without a voice. The city officials in Antelope Valley have now heard that voice loud and clear. Steve’s campaign and our recent actions in Lancaster are a pretext to a series of legal and political actions in the valley. They are a reflection of the greater vision of The Satanic Temple which is nothing short of a revolution. A SATANIC REVOLUTION!

Hill may be the first open TST member to run for office, but others may soon join him. TST spokesman Lucien Greaves said that although he doesn’t know of any members who are elected officials in the US, “…every day, we’re being told of new plans for credible people within our membership to make a run for various public offices.”

According to Hill’s bio, he is an atheist and is currently helping to organize an L.A. chapter for TST. In his career, he has served in the United States Marine Corps, then worked as a civilian in the aerospace industry. After that he worked for the California Department of Corrections and is now a business owner and comedian. The focus of his campaign was alleviating poverty and protecting civil liberties.

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. TST is known nationally for challenging organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church, which regularly holds anti-gay protests at military funerals, and for creating a large statue of Baphomet specifically to sit alongside the large Ten Commandments sculpture at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

More recently, TST is reportedly making waves in Pensacola, Florida, where member David Suhor is listed on the city council’s July invocation schedule. In 2014, Suhor made headlines when he delivered a Pagan invocation at an Escambia County Board of Commissioners meeting. As noted in the RNS article, the Pensacola city council is now rethinking its inclusive invocation policy in order to allegedly “stop [Suhor] from delivering his message.” In early 2016, TST members forced a similar action in Phoenix, Arizona.

Although the Satanists say they do not worship the devil, they do claim status as a religious group and do have a clearly defined mission. That mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people.” In addition, they “embrace practical common sense and justice.”

Despite Hill’s loss in California, the Satanic Temple has said that more temple members are planning future campaigns for public office.

Hill was unavailable for comment.

PARKERSBURG, W. Va. — A single mother who wanted to bring in some extra income by opening up a tarot-reading shop has found her plans thwarted by a decades-old law that most city council members weren’t even aware was on the books. However, it was definitely on the radar for the zoning administrator who explained that she’d need a zoning variance to practice her craft legally. Instead, Heather Cooper opted to try to get the law repealed.

[Photo Credit: Atell Rohlandt / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Atell Rohlandt / Flickr]

Cooper, who has been reading tarot at home, was offered space in a friend’s building to open up a new metaphysical shop called Hawthorn, which would focus on card readings. A longtime resident of this West Virginia city, Cooper learned that there’s been a law on the books forbidding the practice of any “trade or profession having as its object the foretelling of happenings of future events.” While there isn’t a tarot police enforcing the law, which was first passed in 1906 and then amended since 1947, Cooper decided she wanted to start her business on the right foot.

“I’m too honest for my own good, and put a stop to the readings. I have a store and no customers; nothing to advertise,” she said.

Her shop Hawthorn has not remained entirely vacant while this process plays out; Cooper has opened the space up to local artists who wish to display their work.

Anti-fortunetelling laws are nothing new. In a 2014 Wild Hunt report on efforts to repeal such legislation, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed how such statues come into being:

There have been, generally speaking, two primary reasons why fortune telling and other divinatory services are banned in a town or city. The first reason is to address concerns about fraud, about individuals running cons to bilk the gullible out of their money. The second reason is about religion, specifically in America, the Christian prohibition against (some forms of) divination. Often these two threads will conjoin, sometimes inflamed by prejudices against minorities who have engaged in divination to make money (the Roma, for example). In our modern era, these laws have been increasingly challenged by those who believe it limits free speech, or the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Despite the town being located in a what is considered to be a conservative region, Cooper has not found Parkersburg to be populated with people opposed to divination on religious grounds. For her, the hurdle is the time value of money. Even with city council members appearing supportive, Cooper is unfamiliar with the process for changing the law, one which invariably isn’t quick.

Heather Cooper [courtesy photo]

Heather Cooper [courtesy photo]

“I don’t know what I will do” in the meantime, she said. “[My] family sacrificed so much for this business. Hawthorn, my little tree of knowledge, is not doing so well now.”

Cooper doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer for advice on the actual procedure, but she recognizes that she needs one. This week, she started a crowdfunding campaign to get that professional guidance. She said:

I am fighting this and have hired a lawyer so I can get this city ordinance removed. My business is just getting started so I do not have the funds to afford said lawyer. Please help me in this fight so I and other readers can use our gifts in the town that we love.

With an autistic child to care for, Cooper hopes that the flexibility of her own business will give her the ability to earn a bit more money “to buy that loaf of bread” since her responsibilities at home make it difficult to work a job with set hours. She’s been interested in tarot since she was a teenager, and been reading professionally for over a year.

Cooper is optimistic that this law can be repealed without controversy, although she admits to having some trepidation. A similar effort in Front Royal, Virginia met with stiff resistance only a few years ago, and if this debate is framed in a religious context, it could bring out opposition to her request.

Cooper, herself, does not label her religious views. “When everybody asks my faith, I say, ‘I’m Heather.’ I was raised in a church, believe what I do; why can’t I just be me? Christians might think I’m horrible, but I can’t really say I’m Wiccan. I’m stuck in the middle. Why should I have to choose a face to do what I love, what I’m good at?”

Nevertheless, she’s well aware that divination is considered a core part of the religious practices of some of her customers. “They use it to guide them, to answer their questions. It’s a kind of prayer for a lot of people,” she explained.

hawthorn
The erstwhile business owner is facing unanticipated challenges with this effort; not only does she need to raise money to start earning money legally, she also is not very comfortable with the public speaking that’s required. “It kind of bothers me,” she said. “Why am I the one that wanted to step up?”

More than willing to follow her own advice, Cooper did consult a psychic about this issue. She was told, “I’m on the right path,” but that the story could get bigger before it’s done, which isn’t exactly what she wanted to hear.

“I gotta do this,” she concluded. “I may be crazy for doing it, but it’s what I gotta do.”

I recently stumbled upon three unrelated articles examining new ways of combining technology and religion. The first reports on a robot Buddhist monk, the second asks if apps believe in God, and the third promotes the use of computer models to study religion. The articles aren’t actually as unrelated as they first appear. In each case, the use of current technology serves to create an artificial distance between the twenty-first century (schizoid) man and the spiritual, in whatever form it may take. The focus is on reducing the poetic and unquantifiable experience of religion to prosaic and measurable object that can easily be filed away as just one more manufactured moment in our digital lives.

A Robot Monk

The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports on “the world’s first robot monk,” a two-foot-tall device modeled on a character from a Buddhist comic book. Named “Worthy Stupid Robot Monk,” it was designed and built by Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple and a consortium of approximately twelve Chinese culture, investment, and technology companies. Looking like a bald monk in a saffron-colored robe, the apparatus holds a touch-pad that allows visitors to the temple to enter questions and statements that are then answered.

“Worthy Stupid Robot Monk” of Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple [Photo Credit: http://eng.longquanzs.org]

“Worthy Stupid Robot Monk” of Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple [Photo Credit: http://eng.longquanzs.org]

The New York Times provides samples of interactions from the robot monk’s WeChat account, including:

Q: What is love?

A: Love is your own obsessions not being satisfied, the clashing of other people’s troubles with yours.

Q: I want to die.

A: Don’t assume you’re the most pathetic person in the world.

Q: Could there be another Cultural Revolution?

A: Wait, I will ask my master.

The article’s title states that the robot is “mixing spirituality with artificial intelligence.” The concept of AI is regularly invoked in popular media posts dealing with everything from Hello Barbie to smooching. Most of the time, the concept of AI is a clickbait stand-in for “thing that responds to input by producing output.” Any device or program with even the most basic responsive algorithm can lead to a journalist on a deadline to write a breathless post about the coming rise of the machines.

Take another look at the exchanges with the robot monk. The first question causes the device to produce a definition from its database. The second includes a keyword that triggers a prepared response. The third broaches a subject outside the programming of the robot and causes a deflecting non-answer to appear. This type of simulated interaction is strongly reminiscent of ELIZA, the 1960s computer program parodying a psychotherapy session that became widely known in a BASIC version of the late 1970s.

As a child in the early 1980s, I took ELIZA for a game and played it on a dumb terminal connected to Loyola University’s mainframe computer via a dialup modem. Even as a primary school student, it quickly became apparent to me that the virtual therapist’s answers were drawn from a limited pool of responses triggered by certain keywords in my questions, and that any unexpected input would draw stock evasions.

ELIZA

A computer simulation of one of my sessions with ELIZA, c. 1980 [Via www.manifestation.com/neurotoys/eliza.php3]

If 2016 robot monks are really running the same basic software as a 1966 computer therapist – or, at least, the same concept of interaction is serving as a model for its programmers – are we really that much closer to HAL 9000? More importantly, is seeking spiritual enlightenment from a robot monk any less ridiculous than seeking psychological insights from a computer therapist?

The monk project assumes that there are simple answers to the great questions that religions have asked throughout human history. It assumes that the job of a monk or other religious leader is to provide unthinking stock responses. This is unflattering to both the believer and the monk, for it sees each of them as a simple creature unable to wrestle with the complexities of the questions that religion struggles to answer – and it misses that this very struggle is at the core of the religious experience.

Siri’s Bat Mitzvah

The How We Get to Next website asks “Does Siri Believe in God?” and writer Leigh Alexander provides “A theological guide to chatbots and the world’s major religions.” Although the post generates the usual gagging reaction triggered by the tired trope of “the world’s major religions” (here, as always, the three Abrahamic traditions with Buddhism added for “inclusiveness”), it also provides an interesting insight into the way a young twenty-first century woman views the abandoned religion of her childhood – and how that view informs her conclusions on the intersection of technology and religion.

[Public Domain]

“Mr. Watson, come here. I want to know if you believe in God.” [Public Domain]

“I haven’t thought about religion in a long, long time,” writes Alexander, “but I was raised in a Jewish family.” Providing a perspective that is not uncommon in Pagan and Heathen communities, she portrays her former monotheistic religion as a tradition of rituals “the purpose of which seems primarily to demonstrate the ability to learn rules.” Given such a perspective on her abandoned religion, it is unsurprising that Alexander concludes, “Everything I can remember doing to prepare for my bat mitzvah service a bot could theoretically do.” I think I can hear the groaning of her rabbi from here.

After a dialogue with a computer scientist at UC Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies, Alexander concludes that “it would be most in line with Jewish thinking” to welcome a robot as a practicing member of the religious community. After having similar interactions with a Muslim video game designer, a Christian science writer, and a cognitive scientist – and reading a blog post by a Buddhist (an unfortunate lack of personal engagement with the one non-Abrahamic tradition included) – she offers a somewhat standard conclusion for these types of articles, referencing Asimov’s 1942 laws of robotics while warning against the coming rise of the machines.

Alexander’s piece is interesting and insightful, but it also exemplifies the intersection of post-religious identity with today’s personal technology. My own unverified personal gnosis generated by my wizard eye tells me that the most vocal supporters of the “new atheism” are those who were raised in earnestly-believing monotheist families. For some, it seems that the fact that their only religious experience was during the time of their life when their will was subjugated to the wishes of their parents has led to an understanding of religion that is mired in a childhood worldview of seemingly capricious rules and regulations. A similar view of Christianity is especially common among Pagans and Heathens who converted into their current tradition after conservative Christian childhoods.

Such a perspective on religious experience is a natural fit with an embrace of technology as a metaphor for spirituality. Alexander’s reflection on the rituals of her Jewish childhood as rule-bound training devoid of spiritual meaning unsurprisingly leads to a conclusion that an app or robot powered by if/then programming is fully capable of participating in religious community. As with the acceptance of a cartoonish robot as something that can fulfill the complex role of a monk, the idea that a cell phone app can be a contributing member of a religious community brushes aside the deep and complex human experiences and interactions that comprise what we call the spiritual and the religious.

Replicant Believers

A random tweet led me to the website of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion’s Simulating Religion Project. The anonymous article introducing the project summarizes its ultimate goal: “If the Simulating Religion Project (SRP) succeeds, when questions about religion’s social functions arise, scientists can answer, ‘There’s an app for that,” with app defined as “a simulation program.” In other words, the SRP “aims to develop software that will simulate the cognitive-emotional mental processes and social interactions that mediate the effects of religion on social and cultural systems.”

computer

“Somewhere in here, we’ll find the gods.” [Still from “Manchester Baby.”]

The author argues in favor of “the accuracy or power of computer modeling to model complex human behaviors and interactions.” The study of religion as it exists today is portrayed as something unscientific, unreliable, and imprecise. The primary aim of the SRP is to reduce the unmanageable complexity of religious studies, to “force religious studies theorists to explain their theories in sufficient detail such that they can be modeled,” which “would make theories about religion more specific and hold them to explicit stadards [sic] of coherence and consistency.” Asserting that “religious theories often grow to such a large degree of complexity that one cannot tell what exactly falls under their scope of explanation,” the project “demands clarity from theorists on this front also, because nothing less can handle the concrete challenges of simulation and modeling.”

Note that the final statement suggests that religious studies must be simplified in order to deal with the inherent limitations of computer modeling, rather than calling for computer modeling to be developed that can handle the complexities of religious studies. While acknowledging the limitations of previous attempts to create synthetic models of human religious behavior, the writer seems profoundly troubled by the complexity of data generated by the study of religion:

Past simulation research in religion has grossly oversimplified the way humans interact, think, behave (especially morally), and change; this, obviously, will not do. At the same time, one should not include too much complexity in the simulation because this risks obscuring the issue rather than clarifying it. Too much simplicity gives wrong answers, and too much complexity gives unclear and confused ones.

On the website’s Modeling Religion Project Portal, the stated goals include production of “a simulation development platform that will allow SSR scholars and students to create complex simulations with no programming” and “a series of simulations of the role of religion in key transformations of human civilization, such as the Agricultural Transition (c. 8000 BCE), the Axial age (c. 800-200 BCE), and modernity (c. 1600-2100).”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

The spirit of Dr. Asimov is again invoked, if not by name, as the SRP seeks to create analytical models of human religious history from 8000 BCE to 2100 CE – from the ancient to the future – along the lines of the fictional Hari Seldon’s psychohistory, “that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli.” Creating any sort of model of religious cultures from 10,000 years ago involves assumptions about the knowability of incredibly ancient worldviews that would make even a reconstructionist blush, while asserting the ability of computer models to predict spiritual beliefs of those who will live nine decades in the future seems to evince a belief in the power of prophecy not so different from that of the arch-Heathen. Such an embrace of the powers of computer modeling borders on the mystical.

The pulling back from the messy complexity of religious studies is a typical reaction to the uncertainties of human experience that regularly makes an appearance in scientific communities. A friend who is a professor of engineering recently gave me a personal lecture to the effect Bernie Sanders supporters are sloppy-minded humanities folks whose emotions rule their lives while Hillary Clinton supporters are clearheaded scientists who have objectively evaluated the data. This engineering attitude seems to underlie the SRP’s belief that those who study religion are troublingly incoherent and inconsistent, and that real scientists need to get the data in shape in order to save religious studies from a state of irredeemable confusion.

This worldview is similar to the one expressed in the articles about the robot monk and the Jewish chatbot. While insisting that “too much simplicity gives wrong answers,” the SRP still embraces the idea that religious experience is something that can be reduced to a role-playing game and that believers ancient and yet unborn can be brought to digital life as non-player characters. Human existence is full of irrationality in general. Our desires, decisions, and deaths are not often algorithmic. Religious feeling is one of the least rational experiences of all, for good or ill. The idea that spirituality, of all things, is something that can modeled by computer engineers is itself irrational.

That scholarship on religion is so complex and irreducible to formula is largely due to the nature of the beast. Religious experience, across its broad spectrum and in all its variations, is not something that can be reduced to a Speak & Spell in a saffron robe, an iPhone app in a synagogue, or a computer model on a gaming table. If you want to understand religious experience and haven’t had it yourself – aside from being forced to go to Sunday school or Hebrew school – the best thing to do is to meet people from different religious traditions, get to know them, and listen to what they have to say. That’s a messy process, and it takes much more time and commitment than listening to a one-sentence answer from a robot, downloading an app, or studying replicant religionists that can be silenced with a keystroke. Many in today’s world will go to great lengths to avoid dealing with the complicated world of face-to-face human interaction. That’s not something to be celebrated as progress.

[Editorial Note: The Robbie the Robot photo that was previously in this article and is still being used in social media in connection with this article was used taken by DJ on Flickr]

TWH – For many people around the world, this weekend marks the celebration of the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun. The astrological date for this year’s solstice is June 20, 22:34 UTC (or 6:34 pm ET).

In honor of the abundance of daylight and sunshine, communities have long used bonfires, music, dancing, and outdoor festivals as traditional features of both religious rituals and secular celebrations. In some modern Pagan practices, it is believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity.

At the same time, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are experiencing the exact opposite. They are coming together to celebrate and mark the winter solstice – a time of darkness, candles and inward reflection.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. Photo by Hephaestos.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos]

This 2016 solstice event is particularly special. It will be the first time in 70 years that the full moon is happening at the same time. Slooh.com will be broadcasting the rare event live.

There are several international secular holidays that correspond to the midsummer holiday. In 1982, Make Music Day, held annually June 21, was established in France and has since spread to become a global solstice celebration of sound. And, on that same day, others will be honoring the United Nations’ official International Yoga Day, while still others will be taking to the warm summer mountain trails to celebrate Naked Hiking Day.

Additionally, the summer solstice typically falls on or around the celebration of Father’s Day in the United States. The history of this secular holiday does not have the same radical roots as its counterpart Mother’s Day. In 1908, a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who had been raised by a widower, wanted male parents to be honored in a similar way as mothers. In 1910, Dodd was able to convince the state to establish an official Father’s Day. The idea spread very slowly, meeting much resistance. Many felt that the holiday was silly, and others protested against the establishment of yet another commercially-focused celebration. However, after being given a boost by World War II nationalism, the unofficial Father’s Day was widely embraced by people around the country. Then, in 1972, Richard Nixon signed the proclamation that made the day an official U.S. holiday.

June also marks gay pride month — officially proclaimed this year as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month — which has grown in popularity over the past few decades. Events are specifically held in June to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which happened in New York City on June 28, 1969.

Similarly, in the social spectrum, June 19 marks the formal end of slavery in the U.S. and is often called Juneteenth or Emancipation Day. While it is not widely celebrated, the holiday is reportedly becoming more popular and gaining ground in cities and local venues. The day is currently marked as an official state holiday in Texas.

While those celebrations mentioned above are all examples of secular-based traditions, there are just as many religious-based holidays that occur at this time, many of which are honored by modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists.  As already noted, there is the celebration of Litha or Midsummer, or conversely Yule and Midwinter.

The Fires of St. John festival, a Christian-holiday, is also held at this time in many countries and is closely associated with the older midsummer solstice’s traditions, including bonfires and feasts. Similar celebrations are found in many European countries, often known by different names.

In Vodun, Lucumi and other African diaspora religions, there are a number of feast days celebrated around this time, including the Feast of Ochossi and Feast of Eleggua.

In modern Hellenic reconstruction, the festival of Promethea occurs on June 21. One of the traditions is to eat fennel, which this is what Prometheos used to smuggle fire to man.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering [Courtesy Photo]

Here are some thoughts on the season:

“Litha or Midsummer, a time of bonfires, mugwort, mythical beings, nights and days of mischief and love. The veil is thin. The Celts, the Norse and the Slavs believed that there were three ‘spirit nights’ in the year when magic ran amok and the Otherworld was near. The first was Halloween, the second was May Eve and the third was Midsummer Eve. All sorts of enchantments are in the air now and Spirits and Fairies abound.” –  Danette Wilson, “Outside the Circle: The Bad Fairies of Litha

  *    *    *

“As we honor the solstice we may reach out to the sun, but while doing so we will also reach out to those that have been lost. We will grieve for them and we will grieve with them. Hopefully the energy we raise in their remembrance will inspire us to help bring about the change that will make for better tomorrows. This Midsummer will be a somber sabbat, but that’s what it should be.” – Jason Mankey, “A Somber Solstice

*    *    *

“There’s a powerful juxtaposing of realities going on right now: one is the world as we know it, with an ethos of fear and scarcity, and an ugly underbelly that’s so evident in the horrific news of recent weeks; and the other is a life-centered ethos revealed in Nature’s emerging summertime landscape of stunning beauty and overflowing abundance.” – Karen Clark, “Three Lessons from the Summer Solstice

*    *    *

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.” –  Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

*    *    *

However you choose to celebrate the season, a very happy solstice to everyone!

The massacre in Orlando was an act of war, but how are the sides of the war delineated? Donald Trump, who declared in March that, “I think Islam hates us,” frames the war as Islam against the West. After the Orlando mass shooting, Trump again promised that if elected President, he would use his power to ban “immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.” Trump also accused Muslim communities in the United States of failing to report the “bad” Muslims whom he claimed were known to those communities: “Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad – and they do know where they are.”

Leviathan

Frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, 1581.

The New York Times published an article covering Trump’s speech dramatically entitled, “Blaming Muslims After Attack, Donald Trump Tosses Pluralism Aside,” in which Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns noted that Trump’s “language more closely resembled a European nationalist’s than a mainstream Republican’s,” and described him as “flouting traditions of tolerance and respect for religious diversity.” Even Republicans have accused Trump of uncivilized behavior:

“Everybody says, ‘Look, he’s so civilized, he eats with a knife and fork,’” said Mike Murphy, a former top adviser to Jeb Bush. “And then an hour later, he takes the fork and stabs somebody in the eye with it.”

Both Trump and the New York Times cast the civilized nation-state of the United States as the protagonist of their stories. The Times just happens to include Trump in its list of those who threaten “American traditions,” whereas Trump would list Mexicans and Muslims instead. But not all storytellers consider civilization itself to be a protagonist.

AgainstHistoryCoverIn his 1983 book Against His-story, Against Leviathan, Fredy Perlman questions the entire narrative of civilization. Perlman borrows the term “Leviathan” from the authoritarian political theorist Thomas Hobbes, who described the organization of human societies into a “great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, in Latin Civitas, which is but an artificial man” (qtd. in Perlman 26). Hobbes’s “artificial man” bears an uncanny resemblance to what Karl Marx called capital: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Perlman, too, describes a leviathan as a carcass “brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside.”(27)

Perlman notes that the human beings within the earliest leviathan, that of Sumer, “still seek contact with the spirits of the winds, the clouds, even of the sky itself,” and that this continued contact with the spirits and gods “is probably what accounts for the exoticism that will continue to cling to what we will call ‘early civilizations.’”(23) Later in his narrative, Perlman writes that the commandment “thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a precursor to modernity: “this is modern.”(57) He writes that monotheism is Moses’ “inner emptiness, his armor, his own dead spirit” projected “into the very Cosmos.”(56)

In Perlman’s analysis, leviathans expand by conquering and subsuming more and more human beings. Naturally, many human communities attempt resistance, either by fleeing or fighting. Perlman describes the decision to stay and fight in eloquent animist terms:

Not all communities want to flee. Their valleys, groves and oases, the places where their ancestors are buried, are filled with familiar and often friendly spirits. Such a place is sacred. It is the center of the world. The landmarks of the place are the orienting principles of an individual’s psyche. Life has no meaning without them. For such a community, leaving its place is equivalent to committing communal suicide. So they stay where they are. And they are kissed by the monster’s grotesque lips.(32)

Unfortunately, as these communities attempting resistance build their own permanently walled cities and establish their own permanent standing armies, “soon there are many Leviathans.”(34) The resisters turn into precisely that which they had attempted to resist, and they develop what Wilhelm Reich called “character armor.”

William Blake, "The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve," 1826.

William Blake, “The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve,” 1826.

Perlman uses terminology borrowed from Zoroastrianism to describe the need to shed this internal armor:

Zarathustra reduced Hesiod’s five generations to two: one is outside the Leviathan, the other is inside. The outsider is Light, Ahura Mazda, associated with the spirits of fire, earth and water, with animals and plants, with Earth and Life. Ahura Mazda is the strength and the freedom of the generation Hesiod considered the first, the golden.

The insider is Darkness, Ahriman, also called The Lie. Ahriman is the Leviathan as well as the Leviathanic armor that disrupted the ancient community. […]

Ahriman is in the world and in the individual. The war against Ahriman is waged in the world and in the individual. It is simultaneously a struggle against Leviathan and against the armor. It is waged with fire, the great purifier. The mask is burned off, the armor is burned out, the Leviathan is burned down. And woe to the world if the fire should fall to Ahriman, to the hands of armored men!(77)

Of course, the fire does indeed fall into the hands of armored men, and subsequently, the clashes of rival leviathans are deceptively framed as cosmic battles of good and evil, where one’s own leviathan or civilization is “on the side with the angels,” while “the wilderness is elsewhere, barbarism is abroad, savagery is on the face of the other.”(1) That is precisely what we see today, with Trump, with Clinton, with the New York Times. Tellingly, Perlman begins his entire book with an epigraph from Matthew Arnold:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.(1)

A Darkling Plain

In an interview in The Atlantic, “The Meaningless Politics of Liberal Democracies,” Shadi Hamid argues that “there’s a general discomfort among American liberals about the idea that people don’t ultimately want the same things, that there isn’t this linear trajectory that all peoples and cultures follow: Reformation, then Enlightenment, then secularization, then liberal democracy.” He says that political Islamist movements (which vary widely in their interpretations and applications of Islamic law to politics) often “don’t ultimately want the same things” as American liberals, and that these differences should be acknowledged and respected:

As political scientists, when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, “Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?” But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It’s about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre. Political scientists don’t use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that? But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.

Hamid also states that rise of “ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics” all signal a widespread loss of faith in secular liberal democracy. He says to the interviewer, “the question of whether it’s good or bad is beside the point […] I see very little reason to think secularism is going to win out in the war of ideas.”

William Blake, "Behemoth and Leviathan."

William Blake, “Behemoth and Leviathan.”

Hamid’s analysis isn’t too dissimilar from that in the New York Times in seeing xenophobia and nationalism as rejections of liberalism, but unlike the Times article, his approach is to analyze the reasons why this may be happening. In Fredy Perlman’s words, “Leviathan, the great artifice, single and world-embracing for the first time in His-story [sic], is decomposing” (301).

Like Perlman, Hamid also understands that violence is central to state building. Therefore, the question of whether Islam as a whole is violent or not is a strange one to him:

A question I get a lot is, “Wait, ok, is Islam violent? Does the Quran endorse violence?” I find this to be a very weird question. Of course there is violence in the Quran. Muhammad was a state builder, and to build a state you need to capture territory. The only way to capture territory is to wrest it from the control of others, and that requires violence. This isn’t about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad; state building has historically always been a violent process.

Perlman writes that although the world-embracing leviathan is now decomposing, “being above all else a war engine, the beast is most likely to perish once and for all in a cataclysmic suicidal war.”(301) We see today an “array of competing actors” in Syria, that battleground that has become emblematic of our times, one where “opposition groups frequently merge and disassociate, producing a dynamic churn that makes understanding the opposition challenging.” These days, the question of “sides” in spiritual and cultural warfare is only relevant if one speaks of the ancient struggle of human communities against leviathan. The decomposition of one leviathan into many little leviathans is no longer particularly interesting.

William Blake, "Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing," c. 1786.

William Blake, “Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” circa 1786.

“People waste their lives when they plead with Ahriman to desist from extinguishing the light.”(301) However, Perlman writes of another vision as well, one which does not involve another armored leviathan rising from the ashes as so many have before:

In ancient Anatolia people danced on the earth-covered ruins of the Hittite Leviathan and built their lodges with stones which contained the records of the vanished empire’s great deeds. The cycle has come round again. America is where Anatolia was. It is a place where human beings, just to stay alive, have to jump, to dance, and by dancing revive the rhythms, recover cyclical time.(302)

The Orlando shooting took place at an LGBTQ+ nightclub. It wasn’t just an attack by one leviathan against another. It was an attack on human beings, on human community, on dancers, on “kinship and community,” on those who “still have an ‘inner light,’ namely an ability to reconstitute lost rhythms, to recover music, to regenerate human cultures.”(301)

*   *   *

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

Once again we are standing in the wake of a horrific tragedy and trying to make sense of the lives taken away by an act of violence. On June 12, 2016 around 2 A.M. a gunman walked into the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida with an assault rifle, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. Pulse, a LGTBQ club, was hosting a “Latin Flavor” event that was packed with approximately 300 people enjoying life and love on that Sunday morning.

Celebrations of love, during this Pride month, turned to the mourning of those who were killed and to the honoring of those wounded in Sunday’s tragedy. While many people try to make sense of the losses and the continued hatred directed at LGTBQ individuals, the mainstream media continues to focus on the shooter and his apparent motives. They have neglected to show the impact on the local, LGTBQ, or Latinx communities.

[Courtesy: Wikimedia

[Courtesy: Wikimedia]

The pain and loss experienced by these intersecting groups is being overshadowed by the most sensationalized tactics of the mainstream media machine. The erasure of politics and fear is in full force, which is nothing new to this community or to other historically marginalized communities. Little room is left to collectively grieve and support LGTBQ people without hate, fear and political nonsense creeping in.

After the event happened, the spotlight quickly moved toward attempts to identify the motives of the killer, tie him to specific agendas of extreme terrorism, which then becomes political fuel for the upcoming elections. Instead of a focusing on the very real grief of the affected communities, the media bypassed the LGTBQ voice for sensationalized news coverage and terrorist plots.

With so many publications focusing on the story of what happened at Pulse, I felt it was important to prioritize the voices of the LGTBQ, LatinX and the interconnected Pagan/Polytheist communities – voices that are too often lost in the madness.

In doing so, I also recognize that the grief, shock, and pain of such an incident makes it challenging to speak up at times like this. In reaching out to some within the local areas, or within the LGTBQ Pagan community at large, the rawness of the situation deserved care and consideration. Below are some of the reflective, inspiring, emotion filled, fierce words of a community impacted by the events of June 12.

The LGBT community in Orlando, the rest of Florida, and throughout the country and the world is still in shock after this tragic act of hate and violence. Our pain and outrage is compounded by media erasure of the fact that this was a deliberate attack on the LGBT community, and by those who seek to use our tragedy to further Islamophobic and gun control related political agendas.

We are doing our best to build something good out of the tragedy, by using it to bring us together and renew our sense of solidarity and community. Monday night I worked with a coalition of the LGBT leaders and organizers here in Pensacola, working together more closely than ever before to put together a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the Pulse massacre. I’ve never been more proud of my community than I am now, since I’ve seen how we respond to tragedy with love and support. – Katharine A. Luck, Ordained Minister of Florida’s Fire Dance Church of Wicca and vice president of STRIVE

10835041_634898819947050_4134799355407870099_o

A few days before the Orlando massacre, I was talking to a straight friend who was giving me the “things are so much better and homophobia is dying out with the older generations” speech. I disagreed, but my well meaning friend was not ready to hear me. I was in the Orlando area about a month ago and had reconnected with people I know there.

I am an early riser so the horror of watching the news started very early in the day as I worried for my friends, grieved for the losses, and so much more. In addition to everything else, I saw repeated efforts to ignore, minimize, and sidestep the centrality of homophobia to the why and the when of the attack. So in addition to the emotional wound delivered to every LGBT person by the attack, there was also the wounding message that we matter less than making political hay.

I have been out for 42 years and every single one of those years I have been affected by physical, emotional, and political violence. It is useful to have gained some legislation over the course of those years, but ultimately the real work is in changing the culture. Homophobia is not dying out with the older generation, pay attention to the age of most of the perpetrators of violence. The hateful ideas are passed down the line like most abusive behaviors, and I see the same hateful values taught and role modeled today as when I was 16. If you want to do something about Orlando, work to change yourself and our culture, that is where real change lives. – Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

The news about Orlando has pulled at my heart in so many ways. I still can’t read the names or look and their pictures. They look too much like my community, my friends, the ones I go out with to queer bars in San Francisco. It could have been any of the people I know. It could have been me. I’m grieving for the families, especially the mamas burying their young. I’m grieving for the young queers, especially queer Latinx and other QTPOC who feel afraid.

Queer bars are not just safe spaces for me. They are temples. They are where I find the Blue God, the Peacock Angel, dancing among us, rejoicing in our beauty, power, and freedom. And I find myself asking, in what ways does our practice hold us in these moments? How do we stay present when our communities and the communities of those around us experience so much violence?” – Abel R. Gomez

13450749_548795611994291_5188478879138996697_n

The first thing I read yesterday (June 12) when I woke up was about the Orlando shooting. For most of the day I didn’t really have an emotional response; I was angry but a lot of my other queer friends were more effected. I was driving to a café at around eleven at night when it hit me as I was listening to NPR, though, and I just started crying in the car.

I felt bad for crying. I don’t really feel I have the ‘right’ to be upset, even though I’m queer and even though the whole situation is horrid enough everyone should be crying. I’ve appreciated seeing my queer Pagan friends and leaders talking about the shooting and how to heal and extending themselves to the wider community, especially Elena Rose.  – Aine Llewellyn

Queer is the only word to define us. Queer is the word we will wear. And an ocean of strange friends that we call family, ebb and flow around us. All making up their families as best as they can, too.

And another year follows yet another day. Checking in after morning prayers, there is word from a beloved friend: There’s been a mass shooting. His friends go to that club. One still unaccounted for. He is bereft.

A day of grief shatters a month of joy. A month set aside to mark the uprising, a riot where trans women led gay men to say, “Enough!”

Enough harassment. Enough beatings. Enough killings. Enough arrests. Enough denials of housing. Of children. Of jobs. Of health care. Of being with our loved ones. Enough. Enough. Enough.

We too say enough.

You will not kill us. A few may fall, cut down, but you cannot kill us all. We will not let you. And we will not let you use our blood to organize more hatred and more war. Yes. I’m looking at you. And you. And you, too.

Last night, I made a decision. It is one I’ve made before:

I don’t want to, but if I have to, I will die in the streets defending my siblings from harm. Be they cis or trans. Black, brown, or white. Men or women. Not men, not women. Queer or straight. Or something wholly new. A parent defending a child. A band of Pagans. A Muslim at prayer. A young black man just hanging out. Two women, white, or brown, kissing on a sidewalk. Comrades locking down. A group of friends dancing and laughing, drinking beer at one a.m. – T. Thorn Coyle

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Apparently our mainstream media (MSM) and conservative politicians are bound and determined to erase us, to make the mass murder in Orlando into a “tragedy” that does NOT acknowledge precisely who lost their lives. Queer people. Latinx / Latin@ people. People who were in a safe place, dancing, sharing love and lust and light and space.

The dead are dead because of homophobia. The dead are dead because people in this country have become far more visible in persecuting (through word and deed and law) LGBTQIA people. The acts of violence are nothing new; the laws are flashbacks to the old days when what we wore was legislated.

I am queer. I am terrified, because a man was arrested before he could get to an LA Pride event, and he had guns and bomb-making materials, and apparently enough hate that he drove from the middle of the country to attack people he didn’t know. I am sick with heartbreak, because the conversation is (once again) about the identity of the man who did this, and not about the identities of those who died because of his hate.

Visibility is so necessary to our community. Yes, it’s dangerous, and not everyone can practice it. But if we are not seen, not acknowledged in the truth of who we are, then bigots will continue to ramp up their hateful words, acts, and legislation. – Dee Shull

I have been trying to unwind the various threads that combined to weave together the tragedy of last weekend. Instead I found myself tied up in knots unable to move and heartbroken. The fact that the shooting had even occurred was devastating; the number of deaths and injured unbelievable.

In the GLBTIQ community we refer to each other as family. We share common experiences, some of rejection and hate, others of acceptance and Love. It is these experiences that help to bring us together. We come together in clubs like Pulse to share community, dance, sing; to be our authentic selves and to be safe. These are the only locations where many of us are able to do this.

This attack has devastated our family and shattered our sense of security. In addition that devastating news that most of those killed and injured were Lantinx/Hispanic/Mexican, communities that have been exploited, marginalized, oppressed and are under vitriolic attack in political and public discourse, added an almost unfathomable overlay to the story.  People who have been attacked for both their ethnicity and their sexuality, gunned down in a venue where they anticipated being safe from the attacks they endured from the outside world.

The added knowledge that the killer may have been struggling with his own orientation only adds to the tragedy.  This attack may have been fueled by a combination of internalized homophobia and the misogynistic abusive propaganda put out by individuals and organizations skewing the teachings of their religions to meet their warped political end goals. If this is the case, the shooter is a victim of the lies and hatred told him as much as the victims he shot. This is not to diminish his actions but to highlight the complexity of this tragedy.

And so I find myself in knots, knots that time will eventually unwind, but knots that will forever have an impact on the fabric of my community and my chosen family. – David R. Shorey

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

3 hours
Yes I’m going there. We, the queers, have been thinking and talking about those three hours.  “Mommy, I love you …  He’s coming.  I’m gonna die.”
Walking in, saying, “If you are still alive, raise your hand.”
WE are talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it.
3 hours to be hunted, wounded, die.
Black, Brown, Queer people, and three hours.
A part of me says, “There is no Justice.”  Another part says, “We make our own Justice.”
The cottage/community witch in me is working fiercely to love and be present to my Queer family. The Social Justice witch in me, is in that place where there are three hours going by. For now, that is all I have to say. – Jacki Chuculate

I actually started receiving text messages and emails of solidarity from friends and allies long before I heard the news about Orlando first hand. And of all the messages and voices and memes and social media posts I’ve seen, one message rang the most true. It went something like: If you don’t understand how a club can be a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid of holding someone’s hand in public.

And that brought to mind a poem I wrote my freshman year of college. It’s included in my book, The Playground. It came about after I was physically reminded that I am not – or was not – allowed to exist in all spaces. I was not welcome, and my mere presence was seen as some kind of threat.

And it is in that space where I am beginning to process the fact that in 2016, in our own places of sanctuary, we are just as vulnerable and just as endangered as ever. These spaces are just as important as ever.  – Fire Lyte

I don’t feel sad. I feel RAGE. Being entirely free and open to others, whether Gay or Polytheist, in a country where savagery, ignorance, and entitlement are nurtured is a gamble not worth taking. Want to learn more or come near me, my culture, my beliefs? Fuck you, you can sit by your lonesome until I’M good and ready. Don’t like it? KEEP WALKING. – Lāhela Nihipali

>We are adaptable creatures. Our brains are built to cope with horror. But if you don’t feel this pain, if you can say to yourself “this isn’t about me,” or “this isn’t my fight.” You’re wrong. No matter your sexuality, your gender identity, your race, or your religion.  Violence against one is violence against all. Until we can accept that we are all connected, that we are all responsible, it’s going to happen again. And that is the true horror. – Rúndaingne Ash

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

>I am the mother of an LGBT teen and I had to tell her about the shooting before she left her bedroom this morning. It broke my heart to see her bouncing out of bed in a good mood (a rare enough event in adolescence!) and to have to take that joy away. Her political awareness and spiritual sense of self are both developing in the context of the current climate of divisive and hate-filled politics and public shootings.

She’s scared that marriage equality will be taken away; she’s sad and afraid of violence and hatred. She’s had to deal with ignorant questions about her faith but I don’t think she’s had any vitriol due to her sexual identity. I know that I can’t shelter her from all the hate and ignorance in the world but I’d love to keep her safely under my wing for a little while longer. Of course our family, our friends, our religious community are completely welcoming and loving. It is a gift I am happy that I can give my children. Their Gods and Goddesses love them, their trad mates love them. They have examples of happy adults living all sorts of different  lives.

I wonder if the dissonance between the loving and accepting cocoon of our community and the hate and fear of broader society are going to cause her pain in the long run. Because I know that someday, someone will say something ugly to her for being who she is, whether it is directed at her religion or her sexual orientation. It breaks my heart that I can’t protect my child from the sickness of our society. These are just some thoughts off the top of my head. I appreciate you giving space on TWH for this issue this week. Our home has been rocked by this horrifying event. – Larissa Güran

Truth time;
We are of one blood,
And it bleeds red,
Regardless what pigmentation your skin.
No matter,
Who you like to fuck,
Which is what it boils down to
No matter
Who you are on the inside,
Showing who you are on the outside
And if our paths do meet,
Who am I
To choose when your ending ought to be?
All of our lives
Our Paths,
Even if our paths never cross,
Stitched together by a Maker,
Whomever that might be,
Who can speak for Them?
And if
They do not possess the power to speak for Themselves’,
Who are we to speak for Them?
And furthermore,
Why are we following Them?
So,
50 lives for 50 states,
50 hearts,
50 souls,
Gone in a matter of moments
53 more
Unspeakable atrocities
Made in the image
Either of what you believe in
Or what you fear. – Jeremy Shirey

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

In the wake of this horrific catastrophe, we have the opportunity to step forward and center the voices of the LatinX and LGTBQ communities in our society. We get to challenge a narrative that is so often pushed into the mainstream consciousness without challenge or question. We have the opportunity to embrace those who are often ignored or discarded and pass the mic that will amplify their voices.

Within our interconnected Pagan and Polytheist communities we have a unique chance to truly embrace the spirit of community by listening to the words of our marginalized. We are small enough that we can dismantle the walls keeping us separated and large enough to make an impact in the process.

The chance to use our collective power to demand changes in legislation and laws, and to demand proper representation in our government and organizations holds more power than a simple social media meme or a lit candle. The isolation created by erasure can be lonely and harsh, we can counter it by being present and willing.

As we all continue to heal from the devastation of this unspeakable injury to the LGTBQ community, we should ask ourselves: “Who are the most affected?”

How can we give space and honor those who have lost their voice? What can we do to support our LGTBQ community members and friends? How can we lift up our most marginalized? What actions are needed to support our LGBTQ and other marginalized peoples beyond this moment in time?

The legacy of erasure, oppression, marginalization and othering that happens within the larger societal construct will continue to impact those who we care about, if we are not willing or brave enough to speak up, step out, and work for love.

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

In our collective road to understanding, let us now acknowledge the names of those who lost their lives while celebrating Life in Orlando, Florida.  As we say, what is remembered, lives! 

Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

More from LGBTQ and LatinX leaders:

Author’s note: A special thank you to those who were willing, able or available to contribute to this piece during such an emotionally challenging time. In an effort to put LGTBQ voices forward it became apparent how understandably challenging this was at this time. I honor those who took the time to do this, and I also honor those who were not at the space to be able to. I see you. Thank you.

 *   *   *

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.

TWH — Although a signature is still needed by President Obama, it does appears that women in the United States will soon be required to register with Selective Service, making them eligible to be drafted into the military. As it stands now, all men ages 18 to 26 must register for possible involuntary military service with the Selective Service System. Women have previously been exempt due to restrictions that kept them off the front lines and out of combat roles.

That all changed earlier this year when Defense Secretary Ash Carter, implementing an Executive Order from President Obama, opened all military jobs to women.

[Public Domain / Video Still]

[Public Domain / Video Still “Women in the Military”]

The proposal was first introduced to the House Armed Services Committee by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who placed this measure in the Defense Department Spending Authorization Bill to protest the President’s Executive Order. Although he feels the rules limiting Selective Service registration to males is sexist, he made it clear he doesn’t want women in combat roles or possibly being drafted to fight in a war. Unfortunately for Hunter, the proposal passed a vote in the committee and is expected to be signed into law later this year.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists and asked their opinions on women being required to register for Selective Service.

Druids

John Beckett There is no draft. There is only registration for the draft, which would expedite the draft process should it be necessary, which would require an act of Congress. Given that we’ve done without a draft for over 40 years despite fighting seemingly endless wars, I don’t see where we’re likely to have one in the foreseeable future. Maintaining the draft registration is a waste of public resources.

That said, if we should need a draft, there is no reason to exclude women. Women have shown over and over again they can serve as well as men.

Misty Pullen (Eclectic)  If they think that there should be a draft, then both sexes should be a part of it. I am a military brat that if my mother hadn’t gotten out to get schooling (she could have taken long distance learning even in the 80s) I would have been a child that would have changed schools myself and gotten to know what it was like to be in while she was in.

Dean Jones While I detest the notion of the draft, I will comment. As a former member of the armed forces I worked under many women supervisors and had many women in command and they were without exception as capable or more capable than the men they served with. I am not comfortable with anything that bars women from receiving any right that a man has equally, the world is already too unbalanced. As we reach a time period where people are considering more than one gender, I’m not sure that it should even be a consideration for armed service.

Patricia Lacasse I do not want my granddaughters to have to register for a draft. I don’t want anyone to have to register for the draft. I never want to see the mandatory draft come back. I lived at a time when I watched with horror as friends and family were drafted and sent to Vietnam to be killed in that senseless war. If someone of their own choice decides to serve in the military that is one thing. I respect their sacrifice and appreciate their service. No one should be forced to serve. If women want to join the military it should be their choice If they want to serve in combat situations that should be their choice also. I don’t think it should involve registering for the draft. It will be too easy for the U.S. to go to continuous wars if both women and men are registered, and next thing will be the Congress will vote to bring back the mandatory draft. I do not and will not trust the war hawks in Congress in this situation. I served my country as a V.I.S.T.A. volunteer but have no military experience.

Heathens

Erin Lale I have not been in the military but many members of my family were. Get rid of the draft entirely. Forcing someone to work under threat of jail is slavery.

Erik Saulness I’m a navy veteran and I identify as a culturally Pagan (Norse Heathenism, if it matters) Atheist. I see the draft as inherently immoral; it’s slavery. There are conceivably situations of existential crisis where it could be the lesser evil, but it’s evil. That said, intellectually, if we allow women in combat roles and we have a draft… then it should be a draft for all. It’s not a policy I would ever choose, but it’s the only morally consistent one that we’ve set ourselves up for. And in a situation where a draft could ever be justified, I suppose we would need everybody manning the wall anyway.

Ideally, I would test for combat eligibility without considering gender. The PT standards shouldn’t be lowered or altered, if a recruit passes and is eligible… then give them a gun. Again, this is a distasteful hypothetical in which we’ve already embraced a draft at all, which I oppose for all.

Angie Kunschmann I am not OK with it but I certainly don’t see why women wouldn’t be a part of the draft if men are. I would prefer we got rid of the draft period. I was an army brat as a child.

dogtags

[Courtesy Photo]

Robert Anthony Parobechek  Personally, I don’t think there should be such thing as a draft period. If a foreign power actually did invade our country, I am sure the citizens would be sufficiently motivated to volunteer. Outside of that I think women should have to register in a draft. If the country goes crazy again in its lust for war over oil, someone drafted to fight against their will has international political refugee status.  Australia, Sweden? See you there.

Heather Honeycutt-Wyne I come from a military family and was a Navy wife. Like most here, I would prefer to abolish the draft. I don’t necessarily think that women should be drafted. ‘Equal to’ does not mean ‘the same as’, and many women may not have the necessary physical qualities for combat. However, during war there are a lot of positions that need filled, and not all of them are combat positions.

Hellenic Polytheists

Anne Hatzakis I was turned down for military service at 18 because of poor vision. If we keep the draft, both men and women should be required to register for it. Personally, I would like to see the draft abolished for everyone as I think it’s not a good thing.

Victory White Being blunt here I think this is a game by an increasingly schizo Congress. They don’t want to even talk about the Equal Rights Amendment, equal wages, women’s rights over their own reproduction and several other women’s issues but they will add women to the roles of a program that hasn’t even been used in over 30 years?! What are they trying to sell here? And most importantly why?

The economic situation has already created a group of citizens to fill the current needs of the military as it stands now. They draft is out dated and was unfair when it was in use.  As a Hellenic. I have too many questions about this to be anything more than doubtful. As a patriot I believe in defending my country. That also means to me defending it from becoming a way mongering greedy monster run amok.

Pagans

Morninghawk Apollo (Animist) I oppose the draft (or even registration for the draft) in general. I am a feminist, and believe that every position a man is qualified for, so is a woman. As a result, if men are to be forced into slavery for the state, so should women. It is part of the responsibility of being equal. I think there is a positive, unintended consequence of forcing women to register for the draft like their brothers. It will raise the issue and the evilness of the whole process in the social consciousness. Maybe that will cause politicians (especially those who have daughters) to reconsider the whole thing.

Philipp Kessler (Eclectic) In the interest of equality, women should be required to register with the draft. That is, unless we abolish the draft entirely. Which I feel is a very good idea. The draft has not been activated in decades. It is an unnecessary requirement. If we were truly in a time of world war, then yes the draft should remain intact with the addition of women being required to register for the draft.

I am not in favor of the bill. The proposed bill includes a rider that would eliminate federal protections for the LGBTQ employees of contracted companies. As well as an unnecessary increase to military spending.

Amanda Durfee-Spencer (Eclectic) I don’t agree with making any one regardless of gender register for the draft. To me, the draft violates the very things this country stands for by forcing someone into military service such as what happened in Vietnam. There are other ways to “serve” your country that don’t include being shipped out to war. And until the government fixes the broken Veterans Affairs health system and starts taking better care of our military men and women, they really have no business asking anyone to register.

Scott Reimers This seems to be topic which Pagans can agree on. While conservative Pagans tend to be pro-military industrial complex and liberal Pagans tend to be anti-military industrial complex, both sides believe in supporting our troops. Both sides almost always share a perspective in support of gender equality. Since our community tends of be at the front of equality issues most of us have stopped considering women “weak.” Additionally warfare has changed. It’s not about being big and strong to hike long miles before swinging a sword. It is about being properly trained to use tools… and hey… cliche to the rescue. Women aren’t known for the adventures in trying to figure something out without reading directions.

Lee J. Lavallee-Cothran Former active duty military, and yes I would agree to that. With caveats excusing single parents of either sex, and limiting parental units to one from a family with dependents, and this goes for same sex couples who have families as well. Remember, signing for a draft does not necessarily mean being drafted into the military like it once did. It means being eligible in case certain situations arise.

Tracie Wood As someone who served in the Marine Corp for 6 years I’m all for the draft for women. Women have the right and responsibility to serve and protect this country the same as men do. More and more combat roles are being opened to women across all services. Also, even if a woman is not serving in a combat role, there are supporting jobs that need to be filled so the men can serve in combat. Why should all the responsibility fall to men?

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- From left to right, Staff Sgt. Josie E. Harshe, flight engineer; Capt. Anita T. Mack, navigator; 1st Lt. Siobhan Couturier, pilot; Capt. Carol J. Mitchell, aircraft commander; and loadmasters Tech. Sgt. Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez and Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo, pause in the cargo bay of their C-130 for a group photo following their historic flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

First all female C-130 Hercules crew to serve a combat mission for the U.S. Air Force, 2005 [Public Domain]

Witches or Wiccans

Ash Sears I’m a Navy brat, former army wife and now wife to marine.  Having two daughters I am not a fan of it, but honestly I am not a fan of the draft at all. Having said that, I think it’s a natural part of the process since women are fighting for equality as much as we are

Tasha Rose I don’t have military background, but I’d just like to point out that liberal “equality” is what gets women being forced to register for the draft. I’m not interested in being equal to men’s warring patriarchal system. I want to smash it to pieces.

Tony Brown I oppose conscription for people of any gender. But if there is to be a draft, then yes, it should be implemented in a gender neutral fashion.

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern (and Heathen) When I was 18 I considered registering for the draft because I thought it was wrong that women didn’t get drafted but men did. However I was a naive and scared Catholic girl who was afraid she might actually get drafted and end up in barracks with men and that was scary then. As a dual trad witch and Heathen I think both genders should be eligible if there is a draft.

*    *    *

Senate lawmakers must sign off on the draft review and changes before they can be sent to the president to become law. The authorization bill isn’t expected to be finalized by Congress until this fall. U.S. citizens have not been subjected to a draft for over 40 years and both lawmakers and military leaders say they do not foresee a situation in which one would be used.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Mary Hudson made waves when she became the second Pagan chaplain at a higher education institution in the United States, continuing a service that began with the advising the Syracuse University student Pagan club. Two years after that chaplaincy appointment, Hudson decided to attend the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education, which was being held at Yale that year. Unfortunately, the experience left a decidedly bad taste in her mouth, which she shared with the conference organizers. They took her feedback to heart, and asked her to return this year as a presenter.

Mary Hudson preparing an altar

Mary Hudson preparing a handfasting altar. [Courtesy Photo]

Hudson would like very much to return to the conference to do so. However, “global” means that the conference moves around, and this year it will be in Brisbane, Australia. She has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the needed travel expenses. As of this writing, her campaign has raised nearly 60% of the $5,000 she expects the trip will cost.

Hudson’s history of working with college students on questions of religion dates back some 14 years, as she told The Wild Hunt. The position fell into place because she was already a university employee and practicing Pagan:

Many years ago I was sitting in my office when a student, non-trad, walked in. We had met at a small Pagan gathering a couple of months earlier and they had a request: would I consider being the advisor for a student Pagan group registered at the chapel? This student had been working with the Lutheran chaplain to get Pagans recognized, as it had become evident based on the amount of students looking for such a group that something needed to happen. I asked what my duties would be and I was told all I had to do was sign the paperwork. Well, that wasn’t exactly true as I came to find out. I stuck with it because the students needed to find community someplace and they needed to learn, from elders and from each other, that they were part of a larger community and not alone.

When in 2009 Hudson was preparing to leave that job, she began to look for another adviser for the Pagan students, whose club was called Student Pagan Information Relations and Learning, or SPIRAL. What she learned from some of the campus chaplains was that she was qualified to become one herself, partly because she belonged to the legally-recognized Church of the Greenwood. She worked with the church’s president and university officials to create the first Pagan chaplaincy. Then, she was appointed to the newly established position.

The University of Southern Maine had already created such a position in 2002, but Hudson understands that the original chaplain there, Cynthia Jane Collins, has since left and no replacement has been found. As TWH reported at the time of Hudson’s appointment, “Not everyone is happy with this growing ethos of interfaith cooperation, both Free Republic and conservative Anglican site Virtue Online have gotten the vapors over this development.” Despite those complaints, the overall reaction was positive.

Three years later, TWH reported tha,t under Hudson’s guidance, Pagan students had obtained and built their own sacred space on the Syracuse campus.

The project was approved with relative ease. On October 14, the school installed four permanent altar stones in the main quad, each representing the cardinal directions. Coincidentally, while the stones were laid, a Native American student group happened to be performing a ceremonial dance across the quad. Mary says,“[This] is a true symbol of the dedication that the university has to supporting all people in a diverse world.”

But it was in 2012, attending the chaplains’ conference at Yale, when Hudson experienced firsthand what it can sometimes feels like to be a Pagan in a predominantly Christian world. It is not that she was openly discriminated against, as she explained. However, the overall impression she received was that Paganism was a surprising oddity. At one workshop in particular, which was focused on crafting a common language for spirituality, she found the intolerance towards non-Abrahmic paths quite overt. She said:

The workshop leader started by declaring that they had found, based on research they had done on their own campus, that spirituality was a word that should be done away with; it was not a viable way to talk about connection to anything. Religion had to be based in longstanding tradition and practices and that is what was needed to be built on in the schools so that students “have a foundation of belief.” This attitude and belief was cheered and it was stated that only religions with texts which tell people how to live, and the organizations which hold those texts, are valid. It became worse as the participants began to snicker and mock the idea of [the] “other religious” designation in the program. I was the other religious designation – literally. I wasn’t listed as Pagan but as Other.

The mocking grew more vociferous when the workshop presenter talked about a student in her study that identified as Jewish Wiccan Quaker. These three faiths were what the student grew up with in her household. Participants openly mocked the student’s self-identification and attempt to claim a multi- and inter-faith tradition. The man seated next to me openly stated that the terms multi-faith and interfaith should done away with as there were no such things and never would be. I was seething with anger, and at the same moment felt attacked. No one in the room other than my friend knew my faith practices; no one knew the other was sitting amongst them and so there was a comfort in belittling and mocking anyone not part of the norm – meaning Christian.

Hudson said that this was just one of the many experiences she had at that year’s conference.  When organizers called for a reflections paper, she provided some strongly-worded feedback, and it was that paper that led directly to an invitation for her to participate again, including sitting on a panel.

[The feedback] was scathing, and I called it what it was – a horrible event that wanted nothing to do with anyone other than Christians. I was contacted immediately and told that my paper would be published in the journal dedicated to the conference and asked permission to share it with the forming committees so that they could change. The individuals in charge had no idea how the “other” faiths were treated or felt. It was eye-opening. This request to participate shows and effort to change and I think it is imperative to attend and show those that are willing to see what true hospitality is about. I firmly believe it takes just as much courage to accept change in others as it does to try and change the self.

The panel, on which she will be sitting, has the curious title of “Pulling Apart a Platypus.” The focus will be four different models of chaplaincy in use today. Hudson will be sitting beside a Catholic priest, a Buddhist, and one other person whose religious designation — if any — Hudson didn’t know.


After her emotionally bruising experience at Yale, Hudson does have some advice for other Pagans who feel put upon. First, she said that what you do and say really depends upon the situation. Then she offered:

I don’t normally “hide” and after the first three workshops that is exactly what I did. I was in “hostile” territory and I didn’t feel safe. I did find two friends that came with me. They were allies with whom I could talk to about what was going on and what I was feeling. I think it is important for people to have someone to talk about what is happening and how they are feeling.

I have to stress that no one is alone. They may feel that they are at times but truly they are not. Look to the local shops, PPD websites, Witchvox for local groups, and other such places for contacts that might be able to give you support and healing kindness. I would also stress that help doesn’t have to come just from other Pagans. Someone being mistreated for their faith will find allies in people who dislike injustice. Talk to people of faith, minority on non-mainstream traditions, to seek out an ally if you need to. You would be surprised at where help can come from.

Those interested in helping Hudson with her triumphant return to the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education can contribute to the GoFundMe campaign here.

ANADARKO, Okla. – Two months ago Pagan practitioner Angel Hawks moved with her two children from Texas to the small town of Anadarko, Oklahoma. She was looking for an opportunity to start over after a break-up with her long-term girlfriend and a storm left her home heavily damaged. However, within weeks of moving into her new apartment in Anadarko, Hawks began experiencing repeated vandalism and the hostility of neighbors and teachers. She said that people are targeting her due to her religion.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

“We don’t deny our faith nor blast it either,” said Ms. Hawks, adding that she lives a normal life. She works at a local store and her children, ages 12 and 14, attend the local public middle school.

Although she doesn’t “blast her faith,” Hawks does perform some practices that are very common in Pagan religions. She meditates.

Hawks said that she and her children meditate under a tree most every day: “My upstairs neighbors yelled from the window ‘devil worshippers’ and said they are calling [Child Welfare].”

Those same neighbors now believe Hawks’ son put a curse on their son and caused him to become ill.

Both of Hawks’ children attend Anadarko Middle School, and she claims that, on Mar. 31, her children were offered Bibles during school hours by agriculture teacher Mr. Edmund. It was reportedly part of a community religious observance called Revival Week. When her children refused the Bibles, Hawks said that she was called into the school.

“It was horrible I was called to school because my son and daughter refused them. My daughter being very proud said she does not need words made up of man. She trusts in what she feels. She didn’t deny god, just the hate [and] the spew,” explained Hawks.

[Courtesy Anadarko Middle School]

[Courtesy Anadarko Middle School]

When contacted, Cindy Hackney, Superintendent of Anadarko Public Schools said, “I have been unable to confirm that Bibles were distributed at Anadarko Middle School by any school employee nor have I received any complaints from any parents or employees about any such activity. I am unsure of the reference to Revival Week activities as there were no school activities related to any form of revival.”

Hawks said the vandalism started soon after that incident. On Apr. 5, she noticed the porch light was broken, leaving her walkway leading to her apartment door in the dark. On the following morning, she saw that someone had spray painted “witch” with a cross on the wall facing her front door. Then, on Saturday, Apr. 9, her apartment was egged.

She called police to report the vandalism, but didn’t feel that they had taken her seriously. “They don’t care,” she said. “Oh no not at all. [It was] more like I bothered them. Told me: ‘Darn kids.’ ” Ms. Hawks added that she doesn’t believe the police took down a formal report.

Hawks also described other ways in which the townspeople are letting her family know that they aren’t welcome due to their religion. Her son is unable to join boys scouts, and the family was told that they could no longer volunteer at the local food bank.

“I was helping out until someone told the Pastor I was a witch,” said Hawks. It was at that point that the pastor of Grace Church said her help was no longer needed.  

The family plans to leave Anadarko as soon as they can save the money to move. Hawks said that most of her extended family is gone; it’s just her and her children. Although she’s on an extremely tight budget, she hopes to save enough money to move within a few months. Until then, they are stuck in a community in which they are feeling increasingly concerned for their safety.

Hawks added, “If I had money and means I would be gone today. I would almost rather be homeless living in a tent then all this hate.” The family is asking for blessings from the Pagan community.

*    *    *

Update and Additional Information 4/12 4:00 pm ET: The Wild Hunt has attempted to contact both the Police and the Agriculture Teacher. Neither has responded to our calls. Additionally, Ms. Hawks has stated that she only wants community blessings and is not accepting money.