Archives For Religion

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

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“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

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“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

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“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.

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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)

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

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

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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

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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.

“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”
W.B. Yeats

Public Domain

Easter Proclamation of 1916. [Public domain.]

On Easter Monday (April 24) of 1916, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens’ Army and Cumann na mBan launched an armed insurrection against British rule, seized the General Post Office in Dublin and several other locations, and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The Easter Rising, as the rebellion is now known, was suppressed by the British Army and sixteen of its leaders were executed. One hundred years later, numerous commemorative events have been scheduled in Ireland for Easter Week (Easter Sunday falls on March 27 this year) and following months.

I interviewed P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Morpheus Ravenna, two Polytheists living in the United States who worship gods and heroes of Irish origin, to ask their thoughts about the centennial of the rising. I also contacted two Irish Pagans who I was told had expressed interest in participating in the interview, but as of time of publication, have not yet received responses to my questions.

HC: Do you honor any of the individuals or groups who participated in the Easter Rising of 1916, religiously or otherwise? How do you frame that honoring or veneration? Do you have any plans for the 100th anniversary of the rising that you wish to share?

PSVL: Padraig Pearse is one of the Sancta/e/i of the Ekklesía Antínoou, whom we honor for a variety of reasons: his dedication to the revival of Irish culture, his role in the fight for Irish independence and freedom and his heroic death in that struggle, and also because he is what might be considered “queer” in our own terms, despite being celibate for life (to everyone’s current knowledge). He is not an entirely unproblematic figure in any of these regards, certainly, but very few of our Sancta/e/i are, and while I’d prefer not to focus on those problematic aspects at present, nonetheless I think this bears mentioning lest anyone think we have any illusions in this regard. I plan to not only mark the occasion “officially” in April, as many will be around the world, but I also plan to visit the GPO in Dublin on March 21st when I am in Ireland for a conference this year. I carry a coin in my pocket on a daily basis — which I also do for various other deities and hero/ines as a reminder of my devotion to them – -that has Cú Chulainn on one side of it and Padraig Pearse on the other, which was a commemorative piece of currency issued in Ireland in 1966; I will likely see if I can get something similar while I’m in Ireland this year, too, so that I can gift them to others who are engaged in cultus to various modern Irish heroes, Sancta/e/i, and to Cú Chulainn (if indeed they are engraved on the same pieces once again!).

Padraig Pearse. Public domain.

Padraig Pearse. [Public domain.]

MR: In my practice, I offer ongoing veneration to a group of spirits I refer to as the Warrior Dead. These are spirits of warrior and military individuals from a wide spectrum of times and places, who have been brought into my practice by way of my devotional relationship with the Morrígan as a goddess of war (among other things). Spirits of Irish revolutionary fighters are certainly among them. In other words, I honor them collectively, but not highlighting any specific individuals by name among the fighters of the Easter Rising.

HC: The relationship between a specific land and the members of cultural diasporas originating in said land is always complicated, but especially so when there are ongoing political conflicts and/or struggles for cultural preservation and survival being considered. Can you speak to that, specifically with Ireland and the 1916 rising in mind?

PSVL: I’ve always found the relationship between Irish-Americans and actual Irish history and politics to be even stranger than the relationship between the people of Ireland in modern times and their own history, culture, and mythology. On the one hand, Irish-Americans are deeply invested in “all things Irish” a great deal of the time, and their ancestry is a source of pride, which comes about from the very deep and hurtful persecutions they endured when they came to the U.S. in the post-Great Hunger period of the mid-1800s and the resulting defiant psychological stance as coping mechanism in which this can result. On the other hand, there is a great deal of misinformation, ignorance, and even a lack of desire for getting to know things better amongst Irish-Americans, which no doubt springs from similar situations, in which Irish culture, the Irish language, and other things were taken as “backwater” and detrimental baggage for their lives in the diaspora, especially in British and British-influenced cultures like the U.S. of the 1800s happened to be, and the internalized shame the persecution of Irish culture created. If it’s a leprechaun (or maybe a banshee), green beer or corned beef and cabbage, Irish-Americans love it and eat it up; if it’s Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, Guinness and real Irish whiskeys, or soda bread and boxty, one is likely to get as little interest in these things amongst Irish-Americans as amongst the non-Irish. While 1916 represents “Irish freedom” and “Irish independence” to a large extent for some Irish-Americans, it often does so in a vague fashion, and apart from mentions of it in The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and perhaps the folk song “The Foggy Dew,” the realities of the situation and the aftermath of it are far less clear in many people’s minds. As an undergraduate, I was invited to my college’s Irish-American Student Organization trip into New York City for an “Irish cultural fair;” it turned out to be a Sinn Féin rally. To say that these things are quite different from one another, and that many people who went didn’t seem to understand that there is a difference, is an example of how difficult this situation is for many Irish-Americans, I think, is an understatement, but it is an understandable error, since coverage of Irish and Irish-American history is seriously lacking, even at the collegiate level, throughout the U.S.

MR: One of my Irish friends, in a conversation about Ireland’s history of resistance, commented to me that there was only ever one invasion, the Norman invasion from Britain, and that all the subsequent conflicts up through to the struggle for independence in the 20th century had been the continuation of that conflict. Looked at from this perspective, you can look at the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution as the fruit of centuries of resistance. I also observe that the foundational tales and sagas that we as Celtic polytheists look to for our mythology (the Book of Invasions, the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, etc.) carry this strong theme of invasion and conflict for sovereignty, and that many of these foundational stories were committed into written literature from the oral tradition during the time period of the Norman conquest, when the people of Ireland were themselves living through a period of invasion, resistance, and conflicts for sovereignty. So this theme seems deeply ingrained in Irish spirituality as we know it today. I’m not sure you can separate Irish culture and spirituality from the historical experience of resistance.

I’m a practitioner of Celtic polytheism drawing deeply on Irish culture and history in my practice, but I’m also very aware that I’m not Irish-born, and have not lived their experience nor been part of that landscape. I’m a product of a different history. I think as members of a devotional diaspora we have to tread very carefully around this. It’s natural for people like me to have feelings and sympathies that align us with one side or another in political conflicts like the struggle for Irish nationalism, but I think we need to practice a lot of discernment about how we act from those sympathies, and to ensure that we’re not projecting our own ideas as outsiders into their struggles. I feel a lot of sympathy for the notion of Irish liberation from British rule, but I also know it’s a very complex situation that I can know only the barest outlines of. So when it comes to ongoing political issues in Ireland, I regard it as my role to support my Irish friends in their understanding of their own sovereignty.

[Courtesy Photo Brennos Agricunos]

Cu Chulainn statue with crow on shoulder, General Post Office, Dublin [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

HC: The Dublin General Post Office famously (at least in my mind) contains Oliver Sheppard’s statue of Cú Chulainn, with the crow on his shoulder. Padraig Pearce was a devout Catholic who urged the Irish people to call upon “the dear God who loves the people/For whom he died naked, suffering shame,” but he also declared the story of Cú Chulainn “to be the finest epic stuff in the world,” arguing that Cú Chulainn possessed “a love and a service so excessive that one must give all, must be willing always to make the ultimate sacrifice.” James Connolly was a socialist who wrote that socialism “leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mahommedan nor Parsee – it is only human.”

The occultist and poet William Butler Yeats, who did not participate in the rising, wrote in his poem “Easter 1916” that after the rising, “All changed, changed utterly:/A terrible beauty is born.” Yeats admitted that he had had personal conflicts with one of the leaders of the rising, but acknowledged that by his deeds, “He, too, has been changed in his turn.” And echoing Pearce’s words about Cú Chulainn, Yeats asked of the rebels, “And what if excess of love/Bewildered them till they died?” To my mind, all of these quotes speak to a certain transcendent quality of the Rising that is difficult to pin down to any single religion or ideology. Does the heroism of the rising inform your own spirituality? Do you see a relationship between your gods and powers and the rising?

PSVL: The planners of the Easter Rising did their actions on that date very intentionally, and with superlative symbolic purposes in mind, by foregrounding the implied hope and renewal of Christian resurrection and the necessity of redemptive death in that process. However, symbolism of death and resurrection, even for redemptive and what can be called a “salvational” (but in a non-exclusively Christian valence) purpose is not unknown to polytheist religions throughout the world. I think it is probably more accurate to discuss any and all manifestations of Christian symbolism, thought, and practice from Ireland, from the fifth century up to the present, not so much as “primarily Christian” but as more “primarily Irish, secondarily/incidentally Christian,” since Irish Christianity always had (and still has!) things about it which are very different in comparison to the expected orthodoxies of Roman Catholicism.

I suspect that the great Irish heroes and deities were not “behind the R\rising” in a motivational sense, so much as very happy to support and participate in it with their descendants. Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, in addition to being idolized by Pearse and others, now both have some degree of public cultus in Ireland that they might not have had otherwise, and that has a knock-on effect for other divine beings in the Irish cultural sphere as well. Everlasting fame is an essential part of the Irish heroic ethos, and not only those who participated in the Easter Rising on the human level, but some of those on the divine levels as well, have reaped the benefits of this ever since.

MR: I didn’t connect my own spirituality to the Easter Rising much at all before visiting Ireland last year. I understood that for its participants, the rising carried these very Irish mythic themes of heroic valor, struggle for sovereignty, and sacrifice for one’s people. But until I spent time in Ireland, the rising itself didn’t figure directly into my personal practice and relationships with my gods. While there, I began having very distinct experiences with the gods, ancestors and Irish warrior dead that really centered that sense of the heroic, transcendent meaning of the rising, much more so than I expected. In Dublin, I was profoundly affected being at the battle sites, where the bullet holes can still be seen in the buildings and statues of O’Connell Street and other places. I very much felt the gods of Ireland, and the heroes of the rising, in strong and vocal presence there. I also experienced very vocal presences at the site where earlier resistance fighters had been executed, in what’s now St. Stephen’s Green. What became apparent to me in these places is that for the gods and the spirits of Ireland, this isn’t just history. It isn’t over. There is a sense of that same spirit of transcendent heroism waiting for its next moment to flower.

Bullet hole from 1916 on O'Connell Monument [Courtesy Photo Brennos Agrocunos]

Bullet hole from 1916 on the O’Connell Monument [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

I think that for practitioners in the spiritual diaspora, like myself, the relationship to Ireland’s lived history tends to be abstract ;we tend to focus on the ancient, not the recent. But when you go and spend time there, grounding your practice and devotional connections in that landscape, that abstraction dissolves. When you’re wandering around Dublin, and you encounter spirits of dead fighters of the rising who are speaking to you and saying, “You – there’s whiskey in your bag. Have a drink with me here and now,” – when you’ve shared whiskey with those spirits, you’ve entered into a relationship. I think that will be a lasting relationship for me and I’m still unpacking what that will mean.

HC: Cú Chulainn imagery has also been used by Unionists as a symbol of “Ulster’s defenders.” Obviously, this particular conflict is occurring more on the level of political propaganda than of Polytheist theology, but both sides of a given struggle claiming relationship with the same power happens to be a particular interest of mine. Do you see any theological implications in this conflict?

PSVL: I suspect that from the viewpoint of Irish heroes like Cú Chulainn, “fame is fame,” whether it is from one’s allies and devoted descendants or one’s adversaries, and in terms of his own associations and how these line up or don’t line up with modern political movements and governmental edifices, no one has a monopoly on these or a clear alignment one way or the other. “Unionist” and “Republican” have no meaning when applied to Cú Chulainn, even if “culturally Irish without foreign domination” (which would imply Republicans) and “the Ulaid” (which could imply Unionists) might apply to him. While there are traditional symbolic associations of the province of the Ulaid with “battle” in medieval Irish texts, some of which are held in high regard by modern practitioners of Irish forms of polytheism, I don’t think it is necessarily responsible nor required to view these symbolic associations as in some sense prophetic, divinely ordained, or in any way significant; especially if the people making such associations are not living in Ireland, and particularly in the areas of Ulster which have been most deeply impacted by these recent realities of violence and oppression.

HC: Fredy Perlman has brilliantly critiqued “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism” for its premise that “every oppressed population can become a nation, a photographic negative of the oppressor nation.” He observes that “nationalism continues to appeal to the depleted because other prospects appear bleaker. The culture of the ancestors was destroyed; therefore, by pragmatic standard, it failed; the only ancestors who survived were those who accommodated themselves to the invader’s system.” Perlman was a vociferous critic of the “pragmatic standard” that he identified. As members of religions and spiritualities who do see value in “the culture[s] of the ancestors,” do you have any thoughts on this quote?

PSVL: I think Perlman’s observations are poignant; and yet, the notion of “failure” is somewhat problematic when applied to a lot of these situations, especially in mythic contexts. Heroic individuals do not get to live happily ever after; no true hero of Irish myth has their life end on a deathbed of an illness surrounded by adoring friends and family. An early death is often the lot of the hero, as the case was with Cú Chulainn. From a certain modern perspective, including those that can exist amongst modern polytheists who draw on Irish cultural elements for their inspiration, there is a deep misunderstanding of this reality, and thus a great lack of comprehension about what constitutes failure and thus what constitutes success as well. This is why so many people think that Cú Chulainn was “punished” by his death for transgressions against The Morrígan, which is as far from the reality as it is possible to get in many respects. Cú Chulainn knew what was in store for him the moment he committed himself to the warrior’s path at age seven, and his own heroic death was not a failure or a lapse in any way, it was a triumph toward which he looked forward. While this might even seem more bleak than what Perlman discusses, I think it’s important to realize this when looking at Irish — and, for that matter, any and all — premodern cultures. The appeal of some of these premodern cultures’ imagery and standards and legacy for oppressed peoples seeking nationhood is not something that can be critiqued, I don’t think, but it is also something that requires a nuanced understanding of which not many people might be capable, especially if they are not directly involved in the situations concerned and have no investments in those identities.

MR: I think there are some very problematic assumptions in this statement, both generally and with regard to the Irish nation and culture. First, I think a lot of Irish people might disagree with the notion that the culture of their ancestors was “destroyed.” This begs the question, “which ancestors?” The modern Irish population contains interwoven ancestries from the early indigenous pre-Celtic population, the Celtic or Gaelic Irish, the Vikings, the Normans, the Scots, and more. Which ancestors would we be thinking of? If the focus here is the Celtic Irish, which is what people tend to think of in terms of Ireland’s pagan past, I still don’t think it’s clear that that culture was totally destroyed. Very strong elements of ancestral belief and practice persisted in Ireland right through the Christian period and continue today, just as we often find that folk belief and practice preserve deeply pagan elements within monotheistic cultures everywhere. Ancestral folk practices like this often persist even through conquest because they provide meaningful benefit to the people, and because they tend to be far less visible than public religious ceremony. Far from being evidence of failure, it is precisely this deep resiliency and ability to persist that makes ancestral culture a source of strength and support for populations who are in a position of struggle against colonialism, erasure, and subjugation by a dominant power. The notion that “your culture, gods and traditions must be weak, or we would not have been able to conquer you” is imperialist thinking; traditional cultures would tend to measure the value of ancestral culture differently.

HC: Dominic Behan’s song “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans” links the Irish struggle against the British army and its auxiliaries to other colonial wars waged by the British:

Come tell us how you slew
Them old Arabs two by two
Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows,
How you bravely faced each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them poor natives to the marrow.

Do you see connections between the Irish struggle and other struggles against colonization? If so, does this have an impact on your religion or spirituality?

James Connolly. Public Domain.

James Connolly. [Public domain.]

PSVL: Yes, and this is historically true today, too. There is great sympathy for the Palestinians in Ireland (though whether that is due to actual sympathy or to incipient anti-Semitism is another question entirely!), and there was also an alliance and empathy between the Irish in America and various Native American peoples and the African-American population. Peoples of indigenous mindsets and cultures always have more in common with one another, despite other cultural and linguistic differences, than with those who seek to oppress, colonize, and commit genocide against them. As a result, it is important to me in a religious setting to make those connections whenever possible, to seek to understand other indigenous peoples and their struggles, and to support them in whatever ways I might be able to, if such support is desired.

MR: I do see parallels between struggles against colonization and imperialism throughout the world. The notion of the sovereignty of a people -– the relationship between a people, its native landscape, its governance, and its autonomy relative to other peoples –- is deeply embedded in Irish myth and history, and this theme is articulated again and again in Irish literature from early mythology to works of modern literature. But these are themes that play out everywhere in our world. On the American continent, we have seen a resurgence of the language of sovereignty in the current struggles of indigenous/First Nations people against their continued erasure and subjugation by the United States and Canadian powers. The Idle No More movement speaks of sovereignty in strikingly similar terms to how I have seen it framed by Irish people in their experience of resistance. I think it’s interesting that in both of these cases, these struggles are seen by a lot of mainstream people as artifacts of history, as conflicts that came to a head and ended in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but when you talk to Native people here and Irish people, it’s clear that these struggles are not closed by any means.

For me, as a dedicant of the Morrígan and a practitioner of Celtic polytheism, this does impact my spiritual and religious life. Sovereignty as a spiritual principle and power is hugely important in my religious worldview, arising from Celtic traditions. In my understanding of the Morrígan’s role, She acts as a guardian or protector of sovereignty, and in support of the warrior function whose role is also to safeguard their society’s sovereignty. I can’t compartmentalize sovereignty as if it only existed in relation to individual personal sovereignty, and I can’t restrict it to the abstract. To fully engage with this crucially important aspect of my spiritual life, I have to also recognize it and engage with it in the world around me – in the political life of my own society, and that of others in the world.

HC: At his funeral oration for O’Donovan Rossa, Pearse said, “They [i.e. the English government] think that they have pacified half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have provided against everything: but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s observation that “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious,” which I always pair with his thesis that the spiritual dimension of class struggle “will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question.” Any thoughts on the relationship between the dead and the longevity and continuity of social conflicts?

PSVL: Interestingly, Chief Seattle’s 1854 Oration seems to have some similarities with these statements as well, and many Irish people ended up in the state of Washington in the late 1800s! I would not want to state anything categorically either way on this question, since I do not speak for the dead in this case; but, I don’t think the two can be separated — easily or otherwise — either. Ireland’s past, though — in terms of its ancestors, its deities, and its land spirits — is not quiet and never will be. I think it is no coincidence that the economic crash of 2008 impacted Ireland quite severely, and it fared worse than many other nations in Europe under those circumstances, and not long before that, the Irish government built a motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley (the very seat of the sovereignty of Ireland) and destroyed many archaeological monuments of significance in the process. If the people of Ireland and their governments, as well as Irish-Americans and other Irish abroad in the diaspora, don’t wake up to the relevance and persistence of their heritage, I foresee things like this continuing well into the future. The dead may not have the final say on many things for the living, but to ignore that they have any say at all in our lives is a grave error, I think.

MEXICO CITY — Nestled between Central America and the United States and extending from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans lies the country of Mexico, known for its rich culture, traditional foods and ancient history. Mexico is also known for supporting a deeply religious culture with the majority practicing Catholicism. In the most recent reports, 82.7% of its 128,109,966 residents identify as Catholic. But thriving within that dominant religious culture are a growing number of minority religions, which are now shifting a religious landscape that has held strong for centuries. One of these emerging religions is Asatru.

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[Courtesy Photo Allthing Asatru Mexico]

In a paper for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Dr. Alberto Patiño Reyes, a professor at Iberoamericana University, wrote :

Religiosity among Mexicans is not a fad or a recent invention; it is a constitutive dimension of the personal and historical identity of the Mexican people. Religiosity not only means the set of expressions and external activities that we conventionally associate with “religion”; it is a reference to the anthropological dimension that undertakes the search for the ultimate meaning of existence. One of the expressions of this religiosity – though not the only one- entails a steady decline in the percentage of the Catholic population in the country.

In his report, Dr. Patiño notes that, according to the “General Population Census of 2000,” 96.48 percent of Mexicans identify as being religious. But only 87.99 percent said that they were Catholic, which is down from 99.5 percent in the 1900 census. And today, that number is still lower, at only 82.7 percent. Despite the decrease in the Catholic population, there is very little decrease in religiosity, which supports Dr. Patiño’s observation on the importance of religion within Mexican society. It also points to the growth of minority religions.

“Heathenry in México is largely unknown and misunderstood for fashion or even a form of cosplay. The average Mexican barely knows Marvel’s Thor, let alone the old Norse religion,” explained Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano, the Góði of Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Sed.

Founded in 2007, Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk is the largest known kindred in Mexico. Salazar, who has been practicing Asatru for 14 years, was unanimously voted its Góði in 2008 and has been ever since. Outside of religious work, Arellano is a computer engineer and brewmaster at Brewery Brauerwolves and lives in the country’s capital, Mexico City. As Dr. Patiño noted in his report, “Religious diversity is not homogeneous across the country. It reaches different percentages at a regional, state and local level.” Most Heathens do live around Mexico City but not exclusively, and Salazar said that he makes an effort to travel around the country to meet other Asatru practitioners and kindreds.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Like most emerging religions, the exact date of origination is difficult to pin down. However, the new collective Mexican Heathen organization, called Allthing Ásatrú México, puts that year roughly at 1997 with the birth of the Kindred Asatru based in Camecuaro in Michoacan. On its website, Allthing recounts the history and politics of various kindreds from that year to its own founding in the fall of 2014.

Salazar, who is also the Góði of Allthing Ásatrú México, said that its difficult to know exactly how many people are “serious Ásatrúar,” because there is a popular “viking metal crowd who wear the Mjölnir on their necks and think of the [Norse] tradition only like a fashion.” Despite the lack of clear data, he does see that their numbers are growing. Currently, Allthing has five member clans, including Clan SvarturDrekar, Clan del Oso, Clan Hijas de Gullveig, Clan Úlfar and Clan Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Sed.

Speaking more specifically about the individuals, Salazar said, “Most of our members are Mexicans. Although there are few cases where they come from Europe or the U.S. As for religious background, most of our members come either from a Catholic background […] or from New Age religions.” He added that some members have “European ancestry, either German or Scandinavian.” In those cases, relatives, typically grandparents, “taught [them] the myths and legends and the lore.” Speaking generally about Allthing members, Arellano said, “We have some history and anthropology enthusiasts, medieval recreationists and practitioners of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) and HMB (Historical Medieval Battle),and others [found us] through music (mostly folk metal).”

When asked about their relationship to Mexico’s own heritage and ancient traditions, Salazar explained that the groups generally try to keep true to Norse mythology and lore, rather than creating an eclectic religious practice. He said, “We don’t mix rituals and elements of other traditions.” However, he did later say that the Aztec and Mayan cultures “were great and leave much cultural and traditional folklore,” adding: “We do give some offering to the local Gods in our Blotar, as they do allow us to work our ways in this Land.”

AllthingNeither Allthing Ásatrú México nor the individual clans are currently members of any international Heathen organization. They generally keep to themselves. However, Salazar said that they “do have relations with some local groups such as those with “Mexican roots (aztec dancers or concheros, Mayan’s sorcerers and sorceresses)” and those practicing “Afro-Cuban witchcraft like Palo Mayombe.” He described such relationships as being based on friendly hospitality and not religious practice. Allthing Ásatrú México also maintains similar friendly relations with a few Heathen kindreds around the world.

Despite the heavy influence of Catholicism on Mexican culture, Salazar said that Asatruar rarely run into any problems. Their numbers are too small to be on the “radar” of the Catholic Church, or anyone else for that matter. Salazar said that the biggest problem facing Mexico’s kindreds is one of public image and not of religious freedom. He explained, “Here in Mexico many Nazi groups use Heathen symbolism with ignorance. You can see them with Mjölnir or Runes on their necks.” He said that Allthing is trying to “clean the Ásatrú and Odinist Image” and that, while all the member clans are autonomous and independent, they all must agree to stand against racism and white supremacy to be a member.

12321669_1532502773717318_5585939726037500073_nAllthing’s latest outreach project is the launch of a monthly digital magazine called El Skalðr. This new magazine’s mission will be to “help spread and promote Ásatrú among all those Spanish speakers interested in it, in a clear and concise way.” Salazar described the scope as going as including, “culture and tradition from both Germanic and Scandinavian Heathenry, practice both in the past and in the present all over the world, archeology, anthropology and history, and news and events from the Heathen world.”

The first issue of El Skalðr will be out in two weeks around the equinox and will feature articles “about the Ásatrú and Odinist History on Mexico, the difference between Odinism, Ásatrú and Wotanism.” It will also contain music recommendations, articles on Ostara and more.

When asked why the clans wanted to take on this project, Salazar said, “There are a number of websites and Facebook groups belonging to the Allthing Ásatrú México, some clans and some moderated by individual members dedicated to spreading the culture and tradition, and informing all those who want to learn about Ásatrú. We wanted to integrate these sources in one publication to make this more efficient.” He also said that there are issues and stories that are very specific to Spanish-speaking Heathenry that would be inappropriate for general forums and needed a dedicated place to “be addressed.”

And the larger Spanish-speaking Heathen community is the target audience. The magazine will be published only in Spanish with contributors, at this point, predominantly from Mexico. While, at first, the magazine will focus mainly on Mexican Heathenry, Salazar did say that they do hope to later “include issues concerning other Spanish speaking countries.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Although Mexico’s Heathen community is small, it is one of the minority religious movements that is shifting the bigger religious picture in the country. Salazar is enthusiastic about this development and future of his religious community. He noted that, in recent years, more and more talented Heathen artisans and artists are available locally to support their religious practice and their study. He said that they now have a store project called “Heathen Drinks and Arts.” And the new magazine will continue in that vein.

As the members of Allthing are now preparing to launch their publishing venture, Salazar welcomes the growth and expansion. Reflecting on his own personal spiritual journey, he said that being a Góði is “hard work,” but he considers it a duty and a way to “honour [his] ancestors, [his] Gods and [his] family.” He added, “Í want to thank my grandfather Luciano Arellano to teach me this wonderful Tradition, to my brother and Clan co-founder Jorge Ballesteros, to all the Clan Úlfey members and the Allthing Ásatrú México Clans by their Support and at last þó my brother and Master Isaac Vázquez at the H.O.S.F.”

The magazine will be available on the Equinox in a downloadable, free PDF format. Look for it on Allthing’s website and Facebook page.

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[Editor’s Note:This article is currently being translated into Spanish and will be made available in PDF form in the coming days. We will provide a link here and announce its availability in social media.]

Attacks on identity are not just hate crimes, they are war crimes. They are assaults on the most basic sense of self whether the target is a person, culture or religion. These types of attacks are designed to undermine legitimacy with objectives that range from oppression to obliteration. They are among the most heinous of attacks.

But sometimes these wars storm quietly. Sometimes they rage for centuries, using imagery and innuendo to suppress ideas and populations, but happen so subtly and infrequently that we catch only glimpses of battle. Salvos of marketing and advertising lay the groundwork for cultural hegemons to marginalize and eradicate people, societies and even faiths.Then they turn to politics, spinning to wipe away evidence and reframe the aftermath as a great work for a better future or a common good. It all happens with rhetoric and magniloquence, because in this kind of warfare words are weapons, and they matter a great deal.

We have been cautioned by many faiths, avatars and gods that words have deep power. In Odin’s discovery of the runes, he comments during his self-sacrifice, “From a word to a word I was led to a word, from a deed to another deed.” (The Poetic Edda, c.1200 CE)  The apostle John affirms to Christians that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (The Gospel of John 1:1)  Words organize intent and expose new gateways into the mind and the spirit, and while we often take them for granted, they are the basic tool of ritual work, the basic tool of change and the basic tool of control. They are also the foot soldiers that both convey and condemn identity.

[photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The town of Nemi, Italy.   [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Science gives us some insight into how words become more important than even the actual, physical objects that they represent. Recently Edminston & Lupyan (2015) conducted a series of experiments to examine how words and ideas co-inform us about our environment. They argue, as an example, that the idea of “it’s snowing” or “snow” can be activated by different cues like the word “snow,” the crunch of snow underfoot, witnessing flurries or a snow-dusted sidewalk. Our brains can identify “snow” many different ways and by any one of these cues. However, the question is whether there is something unique to the word “snow” that is different from the evidence of it. In other words, do we have a mental representation of “snow” — from the word itself –– that is more powerful than, for example, witnessing the event that is called “snowing,” or even holding some in your hand.

What they hypothesize is that our category labels are more important than other sources of information – like watching those flurries — to activate and access our conceptual knowledge of the thing we’re experiencing. That is to say, verbal labels are more important to triggering our knowledge of topics than other modes of experiencing a phenomenon.

A different example of what they are getting at is the word “dog.” That word evokes more knowledge of canines than hearing, say, some barking by those animals. The label “dog” is more important for accessing our information than the sound of barking.  And, thus, we are more adept – faster as measured in their experiments — when we use the word “dog” rather than when we hear a bark, or perhaps even see a dog.

Now that idea of “dog” that we access in our mind from the word may be general. It’s not a corgi or a basset hound or a retriever, it is the general idea of dog. We might think of those breeds collectively as the category of “dog.” It doesn’t evoke a specific one. It’s a generalization from which we can pull specifics if we choose. However, it does open a deep cognitive path that allows us to access all our information on the object, as well as our prejudices. It demonstrates the extraordinary power – even magic — of words.  Those words — and the act of labeling — bypasses the circuitry of the object (i.e., the dog) and goes directly to our idea of “dog,” and in doing so reinforces all those cognitions and predispositions we have about the object: we like dogs, we hate dogs, “who’s a good dog?”

Why this is important is that this new understanding of these psychological pathways has direct implications for our understanding of human perception. These findings suggest that, while we may perceive information with our senses, the labels we use will always frame our awareness of that information. Words buoy our prejudices and, through them, frame our views of others and things whether they be culture or identity-based. And that could have more serious implications about how our implicit biases tint not only our mental impressions but also how we understand the people and world around us.

Understanding a word means an automatic instigation of our mental construct that it represents for us in its fullest form. Words buttress our personal architecture of the universe around us, the good and the bad, and using them strategically can bless or malign our representations of our inner world that becomes the reality around us.

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A few days ago, I was visiting the temple of Diana of the Wood in the town of Nemi, Italy. It is a stunning and sacred place; Diana’s presence is immanent and palpable. The temple – now ruins – is on the north shore of the lake for which the town is named. The lake itself is volcanic, surrounded by the crater walls and filled only by rainwater. Wind will cause it to shimmer, but it has no real waves; there are long moments where it becomes absolutely still, reflecting the surrounding woods and crater. Even today, it lives up to its Roman name, Speculum Dianae, the Mirror of Diana.

[photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Lake Nemi: The Mirror of Diana [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

We were visiting the lakeside museum that exhibits the remains of famous Roman ships used by emperor Caligula to cool off when he visited Lake Nemi during the hot Roman summers. He was a devotee of Isis, but also venerated Diana Nemorensis (Diana of the Wood). Why he built the ships as floating palaces (complete with heated baths, mosaics, and plumbing, galleys and sleeping quarters) is unknown, and apparently the subject of much debate. My husband concluded that Caligula was no fool; all you have to do is look around. The area is idyllic and under the watchful patronage of Diana.

And then it happened. While we were exiting the museum, a German-speaking traveler standing close to me spoke to her family member, and I overheard, “Nemi See ist in der Mythologie von Rom erwähnt…. In den kurze Geschichten über die Göttin Diana.” (Lake Nemi is mentioned in Roman mythology. Short stories about the goddess Diana).

So there it was. Just like the word “dog” discussed earlier, the word “mythology” triggered abstractions that were trying to overtake and degrade the magical experience of place. “Mythology” was trying to make it “fake.”  And, “short stories” reinforced the abstraction of simple-mindedness; as though there was a puerile, even naïve, element to them. For a moment, the place became mundane and the stories — the parables of Diana — lost their theism. The lake had become a place in literature like the Marabar Caves or Elsinore.

This traveler reduced — most likely inadvertently, but echoing centuries of cultural reinterpretation — the Roman religion to fables learned in high school. It brought into relief how language has slowly been used to relegate Pagan and polytheistic beliefs from religious discourse to adolescent literature. Thus those gods become undeserving of veneration because they evoke fiction, not religion.

Now, I’m neither a classicist nor a Roman theologian. The closest I got to those areas academically were Latin classes. But I do know that Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes and Bulfinch’s Mythology were both required reading in high school as introductions to ancient belief. And I distinctly remember that we approached these texts as fiction. As Merriam-Webster puts it, myth is “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true… a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence. Looking at the full definitions offered by that dictionary, we can see that myth seems to have nothing to do with religion.

From the same source we see that examples of this usage include, “Contrary to popular myth, no monster lives in this lake.” The language underscores the fictional aspect of the story and undermines the identity of believer for those who may hold those stories as sacred. We are — at best — being encouraged to understand the stories as false.

Members of our broader society would be scandalized if we used the same language in reference to the stories or central figures of monotheistic faiths such as Jesus of Nazareth or the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We are taught that Moses and the prophets of Judaism are historical persons. The Gospels are not myths, neither is the Quran nor the Torah.  As Mircea Eliade noted, “The earliest Christian theologians took the word in the sense that had become current some centuries earlier in the Greco-Roman world, i.e., ‘fable, fiction, lie,’” (p. 162) and that the myth is “a false account portraying truth,” whereas the narrative — like Biblical stories — are accounts of “descriptive of events which took place or might have taken place.’”

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

Remnant of a Statue of Diana [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

If we visit Wikipedia and search for “Christian Mythology,” we do not get Christian doctrine. Instead, we are given a long list of beliefs that are apocryphal to Christianity, and we certainly don’t see the image on the right hand side of the page denoting the section as “part of a series on” Christianity, Islam or really any of the modern major faiths. For Islamic mythology, Wikipedia informs us that, “This section improperly uses one or more religious texts as primary sources without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them.” Norse Religion, on the other hand, is described as part of the “Norse Anthropology” portal. Type in Paganism, and you get a pictures of Venus and comments about antiquity. Type in “NeoPaganism” and you get an underdeveloped “Part of a series on” with one link. We are not only underrepresented there, but the language in Wikipedia diminishes us and our beliefs.

Now I am completely aware that Wikipedia is built on contributions, but the editors and contributors are mimicking the longstanding semantic favoritism toward the major faith traditions. It is the use of language to segregate that which is acceptably believable and part of religion from that which is dramatized and belonging to literature. It highlights the institutionalized bias toward monotheism and marginalizes Pagans and Polytheists as aberrant or antiquated or ill-informed or even immature.

My mistake at Nemi was silence. I had an opportunity to reframe “mythology.” I could have answered, for example, “But they are important stories. Many people still find strength in them.” But I didn’t. The unintentional attack on identity and faith did not get a response. In fact, I didn’t realize the scope of what had happened until I spent some time sitting by the lake shore almost an hour later. But we can respond. And we should.

Doing so is an act of reparation and affirmation. We can knit together the story of our identity as both new and ancient faiths. Through the tiniest of steps, we can re-frame a word at a time to a person at a time. And we can unlink associations that have undermined religious identity even in societies that favor no religion. We need some courage, but we’ve never lacked that. We need to take advantage of that moment of opportunity and share of the responsibility. We can each be weavers of language to knit new meanings to old words that will slowly but unfailingly becomes the tapestry of our identity while restoring unity with and honoring our ancestors.

It’s not about anything remotely related to evangelism; that’s not within our traditions. But it is about giving voice to identity. It’s about honoring our ancestors, and the importance of Pagan and polytheistic beliefs in the present day and in the present moment. It is about unifying the past and the present, and demanding that belief and identity not be casualties of linguistic wars.

At that moment in Nemi, I lost two opportunities. One opportunity was to educate about identity and the other to start re-knitting the association of “mythology” from fable to faith. But I’ll work on doing better.

Ubi concordia, ibi victoria.  Where there is unity, there is victory.

Citations

Edmiston, P. & Lupyan, G. (2015).  What makes words special? Words as unmotivated cues.  Cognition, 143, 93-100.
Eliade, M. (1963).  Myth and Reality”  Harper & Row: New York.

CHICAGO, Ill. — Chicago Pagan Pride coordinator Twila York and Rev. Angie Buchanan, founder of Earth Traditions and Gaia’s Womb, were recently invited into a local public high school classroom to share a bit about their religious practice and beliefs.* The teacher contacted York through the Greater Chicago Pagan Pride website, and after a brief email conversation, she was asked to present to a world religions class. York enlisted Buchanan’s assistance, and together they offered two forty-minute sessions on Paganism.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Buchanan told The Wild Hunt, “It was explained that these students for the most part had no knowledge of Paganism at all, which was reinforced by the question we asked when we first arrived in the class. ‘How many of you are familiar with Paganism or know someone who identifies as that or Wiccan or Druid?’ Only two hands in the first class and none in the second one.”

Because Buchanan had more experience with presenting to teens, she began each class and York followed. Each of the sessions included an an explanation of the Wheel of the Year, seasonal cycles and “how we all are part of the earth because we breathe in life and when we breathe out we die.” They brought various altar tools, including “a Tarot deck, wooden candle holders, Pentacle plaque, song bowl, crystals, Sage bundle and a pestle and mortar.”

York recalled, “The students and the teachers were open and very curious about what we had to say. They wanted to ask questions and felt comfortable doing so […] What was wonderful about their questions is that they were thought out and were not the usual “are you devil worshipers […] Some of the questions they asked were: ‘Do we have a religious text like a Bible?’ ‘What activities do Pagans do on Samhain?’ ‘What do Pagans think about other religions?’ ‘What are thoughts about the extinction of the dinosaurs?’ We even had a student ask about shamanism.”

Several days after the sessions were over, Buchanan and York received letters from the students thanking them for taking the time to share their religious beliefs. Both women reported that they have not received any backlash personally; nor have they heard of any backlash or complaints aimed at the teacher or the school. York said, “[The teacher] has asked Angie and I if we would be interested in coming to speak to her classes about Paganism every semester. We are so excited that this opportunity was offered and that we have another invitation to go back.”

While this particular teaching moment went well, that is not always the case. Teaching religious literacy in public schools can be a very sticky issue. It is dependent on the school’s location, the city’s religious climate, the support of the administration and the teacher’s own ability to navigate a difficult subject in a public forum with minors. That is not easily done.

bannerlogoIn 2013, another Illinois high school teacher, Greg Hoener, invited a local Wiccan, Lydia Gittings, to present Paganism to his classes. It didn’t go over as well as York and Buchanan’s experience. At the time, Gittings told The Wild Hunt: “There were a couple of students who were visibly uncomfortable in each class […] but I remained positive and kept going back to science. I wasn’t there to convert.”

But the problems continued weeks beyond the class itself. Eventually the principal and the school board began to receive parental complaints. In a letter to the editor of a local paper, one angry mother wrote, “Since parents were not notified in advance, I had no opportunity to express my deep concerns in this matter and to prevent my son and his classmates from being exposed to potentially dangerous information about the occult.”

But problems do not only arise when Paganism and other lesser known minority religions enter the classroom. In a recent story out of Virginia, a high school geography teacher asked “students to try their hand at writing the shahada, an Islamic declaration of faith, in Arabic calligraphy.” As reported in the Washington Post, the Augusta County Public School System was immediately inundated with complaints, which eventually began streaming in from all over the country. These complaints turned violent, forcing the administration to close the school down for several days. In a statement, administrators said, “We regret having to take this action, but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution.”

The geography teacher was accused of indoctrinating students. While some supported the teacher’s assignment, others, with tempered reactions, simply felt it was inappropriate. However, in this case, the more extreme reactions were attributed to Islamaphobia.

Virginia educational standards do allow for religious literacy education, as do many state systems. Other recent reports from schools around the country describe teachers asking students to recite the Muslim statement of faith aloud, to write their name in Sanskrit or in Hebrew, to try on head scarves, to read the Ten Commandments and the Five Pillars of Islam. One high school reports taking a yearly trip to a local mosque. Not all of these cases caused an uprising, but some did. Teaching religious literacy is a very slippery slope, and there is a fine line between the teaching about world religions, and the teaching of religion.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Matthew Staruch, a public high school teacher in Georgia, said, “We stick to the curriculum prescribed to us by the state and/or College Board in regards to religion. That way we are much less likely to ‘cross a line.’ ” Staruch has been teaching AP Human Geography for ten years.* He added, “Most years the students ask about my religious beliefs and I keep that strictly off-limits so I cannot be accused of favoring one group over another. I also try to present the beliefs we do study with as much objectivity as possible and I always try to present their arguments from the perspective of the religious group.”

AP Human Geography is a college-level high school class that focuses on learning geography through human culture and society. Staruch said, “We study the geography of religions specifically so we are most concerned with where each major faith originated, where it has spread to, and the explanation of how it got there. Furthermore, we look at the different ways in which each religion impacts the landscape where they live (e.g. what structures do they build, what do they do with the deceased, do they make pilgrimages to specific holy sites). Finally, we deal with the potential problems that occur and/or have occurred in territories where multiple religious groups occupy the same space (e.g. Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims in Serbia).”

Looking at the curriculum, the classes can also cover, to some degree, the world’s minority religions within that geographical framework, including Paganism.

Echoing what York and Buchanan saw in their recent teaching experience, Staruch said, “The students are great with the material. They are usually pretty interested and ask great questions. The beautiful part about teaching [at this school] is that most of the religions we study are represented in the hallways.The kids want to know about their peers’ beliefs and they want to know more about why certain groups behave the way they do.” And he believes that this education is vital to the children’s growth and to their futures.

He said, “Religion is something in which many people believe very strongly and devote significant amounts of time to practicing. Unfortunately, people spend very little time trying to understand other people’s religious beliefs. […] It is essential for those of us in education to deal with these misconceptions and misunderstandings fully and in a way that promotes tolerance for minority points of view and a more nuanced, enlightened perspective on the differences that exist but that don’t necessarily need to divide us.”

This belief was echoed by Reverand Hansen Wendlandt of the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church (NCPC), who began a religious literacy learning program in his local Colorado community. Like Staruch, he believes that religious literacy is vital to a child’s future and noted that “There are fewer and fewer opportunities for kids to learn about different religions – to become religiously literate.” He wants to fill that gap with is private program. As we reported, Rev. Wendlandt welcomed two local Wiccan priestesses in October. The women offered an overview of Paganism including a hands-on project, and it was well received. Since that point, the program has attracted the attention of many local residents as well as a public world religions high school teacher, all of whom have been supportive and encouraging.

However, there are differences in teaching religion in public schools and in a private setting, church or otherwise. Public schools are government-run and bound by the same laws as any other government space or agency. Therefore, public school teachers must be extremely careful in their negotiating of religion education. Did the assignment to copy Arabic writing cross a line because the students were asked to write a religious text? Or is the teaching of the writing itself a problem? Is the trying on of a head scarf or looking at Witchcraft tools cultural education or a form of indoctrination? What about the field trip to a church or mosque? And, how do you share theology? Does simply hearing the words of a religious prayer pose a problem?

The answers to these questions will vary from person to person; from family to family; from community to community. That is where it becomes sticky.

When asked if there were any specific teaching rules and regulations that might help instructors avoid pitfalls or help administrators guard against problematic employees, Staruch said no, adding, “My teachers know to stick to information that is a part of the curriculum in order to prevent the line-crossing issue.”

51Yl07sHhDL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_He said in all ten years of teaching, he has experienced only two problems. In one case, the children were asked to use an online “which religion are you” calculator. When it didn’t predict one girl’s religion, she got upset, and the parent complained. Staruch said, “I apologized, explained the purpose of the assignment, and it didn’t go any further than that.” More recently, a Muslim parent was concerned that the summer reading book, They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky,painted Muslims in a negative light.” In an email response, Staruch explained how the book is used to teach about religious belief and religious extremism in that region of the world. He added, “She appreciated my email and I never heard another word from the parent the rest of the year.”

Staruch is passionate about his work and the subject matter, and he has managed to walk the line carefully in his field. He also teaches in a area that is religiously diverse and, because of that, his experiences are mostly positive, as was the case for York and Buchanan. Other areas of the country are not as open, as is evident by numerous news report and stories.

Regardless of the situation, navigating the teaching of religious literacy in public schools can be a figurative minefield. Rev. Angie Buchanan offered this advice for anyone asked to be guest in a classroom: “I would agree to a presentation for informational purposes only. I would not agree to a ritual. Keep your explanations very general. Advise the group that you are sharing your personal beliefs and practices, and not speaking about the particular practices of others; that this is a very diverse group of people; that we do not speak for all Pagans. Be prepared to ask leading questions when you see that there is hesitancy on the part of the students to ask. Animal sacrifice came up, as did questions about witchcraft. However, both had to be prompted. […] I would advise maintaining a basic sense of boundaries and ethics with regard to disclosure of identity when dealing with minors and school systems.”

 

 * Names were omitted to protect the identity of the students and other teachers involved.