Archives For Religion

NORTHAMPTON, Mass — When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was staged in Salt Lake City last year, thousands of people gathered for this interfaith event. Being first held in 1893, the parliament is the oldest event of its kind, and others, which have emerged since, have not yet stripped it of its unique characteristics. One way the parliament stands out is in the fact that minority religions, including indigenous and Pagan ones, are given a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion.

The Wild Hunt sat down with vice-chair Andras Corban-Arthen during A Feast of Lights to talk about the parliament, his duties within the organization, and what he sees in its future.

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

Among his several responsibilities, Corban-Arthen is chair of the site selection committee, which is responsible for assessing potential sites for the next session. “It’s a big deal,” he said, and a job he takes quite seriously. The official invitation to submit proposals has not even been released, and already there has been interest expressed on behalf of several cities.

He said. “People think it’s a great idea to bring it to their town,” but not every city can handle the sheer number of people who show up, such as the near 10,000 which attended in Salt Lake City. That pressure depends in part on location: when it’s in the United States, where the parliament held its first and second sessions (in Chicago, 1893 and 1993), many more people attend than when it’s elsewhere in the world. However, there’s a clear desire to maintain the international scope of the organization by not restricting host cities to just one country.

It’s understandable why it’s appealing to bring the Parliament of the World’s Religions to town. The event translates into $15-20 million dollars spent by those visitors. That could offset any infrastructure improvements made to accommodate the crowds.

Corban-Arthen is also part of the nominating committee, which is arguably even more important. “It shapes the direction of the board,” he said, which impacts the overall tenor of the organization. It is because of the makeup of the board that such efforts as its indigenous task force even exist; he’s been part of that since 2008. That might be enough to keep him busy, but Corban-Arthen also is a delegate to the United Nations, representing the parliament as a non-governmental organization in the interfaith field.

“One thing that distinguishes the parliament is that minorities play a big role,” he said. “People ask where the Christians are,” he added, despite the fact that in Salt Lake City they were indeed the majority of those present. “It didn’t feel like it,” he explained, even though they are also a majority on the board, because they are “respectful and conscious, and let us be out in front. It’s a very healthy thing.”

Andras Corban-Arthen

Andras Corban-Arthen

An area that Corban-Arthen has worked in since long before the parliament was reinvigorated in 1993 is that of indigenous European religions. With the parliament now holding sessions regularly, skepticism that there might be survivals of those traditions has fallen away, as members of those traditions have come forth to participate. Indeed, the 2009 parliament in Melbourne generated a small controversy about how that might affect the very definition of Paganism. While Corban-Arthen believes it proved to be a hot topic among Pagans largely due to misunderstandings, at the same time he feels that 2009 represented a seminal moment when the larger interfaith community recognized indigenous European traditions into the fold.

The very concept has sent ripples throughout Paganism and the interfaith community, he said. “I was told that Paganism has nothing to do with indigenous traditions,” he recalled, while some tried to expand the definition of “indigenous” to include religions like Wicca, which while it did emerge in Europe, is generally considered newer than what’s referred to as indigenous. At the same time, he remembers a Presbyterian minister who was excited at the idea of indigenous European survivals, but “it bothered him that they turned out to be Pagan.”

Representatives of those indigenous traditions were included in the plenary session, he recalled, and “people had a huge, positive reaction” to the idea that Christianity didn’t wipe those traditions from the face of the Earth, as has been widely believed. “It felt like a vindication for them.” That’s a key role for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in his view: to support minority and indigenous traditions.

The parliament is where the modern interfaith movement started, and it continues to hold the largest events of that kind in the world. “Other groups may feel it’s not what it should be,” he said. “One major organization has criticized the parliament because it has Pagan members on its board.” That’s part of why it has such a large impact, he believes: minority voices being given the chance to be heard.

The Pagans sitting at that table didn’t get there by chance, though. “They didn’t really invite us” in 1993, he recalled, and he characterized the organizers at that time as being “reticent” to include them. His own Earthspirit Community, together with Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess, combined their efforts into what he called a “three-pronged approach” to convince those organizers to grant them admission. Then, they set up one joint information table in the area reserved for that kind of educational outreach, and disabused many attendees of the notion that Paganism was a thing of the past.

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

One interesting effect of having a parliament in a city, Corban-Arthen noted, is that the local Pagan community tends to thrive in its wake. That was true in Cape Town, Barcelona, and Melbourne, where local Pagans got a seat at the table and it opened doors for them into interfaith work. He said that new Pagan groups formed in those cities, and new leaders emerged. Time will tell if the “parliament bump” helps the Salt Lake City Pagan community find its footing.

Big names at the parliament typically include figures such as the Dalai Lama. However, a Roman Catholic Pope has never attended. That might well change with the next session, although Corban-Arthen isn’t sure it would be a benefit. He noted that among the potential sites is a city in Europe where the erstwhile organizers hope to extend an invitation to Pope Francis, who has proven himself to be more popular — among Catholics and people not of that faith alike — than any of his predecessors in recent memory. “That might be counterproductive,” Corban-Arthen said, because Francis has a following of his own that could distort the character of the parliament. “It might be all about the Pope,” he said. “We might not want that.”

Despite the fact that Vatican City is there, as well as members of those aforementioned indigenous traditions, Europe is a tough place to sell the parliament as an attraction, because “so much of the society is secularized.” That, more than other factors, could be why attendance is higher in the United States: there are more religious people here, despite recent downward trends.

What Corban-Arthen finds gratifying about the parliament is that “people don’t spend time arguing theology. They present their beliefs and observances, but we focus on social issues and trying to solve them, especially when religion is the cause.” That’s why he believes it’s so important for Pagan voices to be part of that conversation, as they have much to say about issues such as the environment and women in the priesthood. They can also be an important part of any dialogue about money, much of which is dominated by the Christian model that presumes it’s the root of all evil(and, seemingly at the same time, an earthly reward for living a good life.

Money is something he’s often found himself at odds with other Pagans about. He recalled a disagreement he had with Judy Harrow in the 1980s on that topic. “She felt that Christians put their model on us, but that small community-based Pagan groups couldn’t build mega-churches,” he said. “I told her that if a thousand people contributed five dollars a week for a year, that would be $260,000, which would be a good start” toward any goal that they established, including paying for staff, programs, schools, films, legal defense, and buying land. “We need to create infrastructure,” he added, echoing his side of an argument which is as old as the modern Pagan movement. “Until we do, we won’t be real to ourselves.” That’s a perspective other parliament members have shared with him: Pagans don’t take themselves seriously enough.

One thing that Corban-Arthen has learned in working with the Parliament of the World’s Religions especially is that his words are sometimes interpreted by members of his own community as speaking for them. “I don’t speak for all Pagans,” he said. “I’m just expressing my opinion. I represent the community that supports me,” not those who see things differently. That’s true for all board members of the parliament: they do not serve as formal representatives of their traditions. If other Pagans were to “step up,” they might also get elected to the parliament’s board. But with the ground work that he and others have helped to lay, perhaps it won’t take as many years of consistent effort to make that happen.

CHICAGO, Ill. — On Feb. 6, a performance collective named WITCH will be hosting a ritual protest in Logan Square in support of local housing rights.The organizers describe the event as a “hexing and protective spell action,” which will include recognizable elements of Witchcraft practice. Due to this design, the protest has been attracting both mainstream media attention and social media backlash. We spoke with the group’s founders to find out more.

W.I.T.C.H. action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

WITCH protest action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

“Gentrification has been affecting Logan Square for the last 15+ years. Our action is concentrating on the increasing lack of affordable housing, which is certainly affected by gentrification, but far from the only issue surrounding it. We have all been impacted by housing speculation and insecurity, though our personal experiences vary,” explained Jessica Caponigro, Amaranta Isyemille Lara, and Chiara Galimberti, the three women who make up WITCH.

Jessica Caponigro is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and activist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she is currently working as an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago. Amaranta Isyemille Lara is a student, poet, and single mother. She is working toward a master’s in linguistics and has lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood since 2004. And, Chiara Galimberti is an artist, activist, parent, and educator. She is currently working toward becoming a herbalist and acupuncturist.

Galimberti said, “My relationship to Chicago has been very difficult as housing insecurity has deeply affected me and my daughters. I have been working multiple jobs since moving to Chicago and I have never been able to afford rent without public assistance. I know that my situation is by no means unique and that the vast majority of people in the city is negatively impacted by housing speculation, especially as that reality combines with endemic racism and sexism.”

This is the type of personal experience that inspired the three women to come together and form the performance collective. Their first organizational meeting was in October 2015 and, at that time, they chose to name the group WITCH. The acronym stands for Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and was used by a number of affiliated but separate women’s groups within the broader feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The original WITCH organization was formed in New York City on Halloween 1968. Its members created a manifesto that began:

WITCH is an all-woman Everything. It’s theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It’s an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression – particularly the oppression of women – down through the ages. Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary … [From the WITCH Manifesto, 1969]

This group of feminists chose to adopt the image and concept of the Witch to represent female empowerment in a way that was antithetical to socially-constructed, traditional gender roles and that flew, pun intended, in face of the patriarchal expectations. Several Pagan writers and historians, such as Chas Clifton, Margo Adler and Ethan Doyle White, have mentioned the 1960s WITCH organization in their writings, highlighting the similarities between that movement and the early modern Pagan movement in the U.S. In his book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America,Clifton wrote, “WITCH was not religious, yet as Eller, and before her, Margot Adler note, it was a small step from the intense, intimate feminist consciousness-raising discussion group of the early 1970s to the Witches’ coven.”(Clifton, p 120)

witch manifesto

Forty-seven years later, Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara decided to resurrect the name, capturing that energy, history and legacy for their own work. While their Chicago protests are not embedded in any specific organized feminist movement, the three modern women have found empowerment and purpose within the original group’s message. They explained, “We think of Witches as historically being women (and some men) who were at the forefront of resistance against oppressive systems, and we strongly believe that there is not one way to be a Witch. We are interested in looking at the connection between social justice, feminism, and the figure of the Witch.”

In November, the women staged their first protest action. It was held in front of Chicago’s Thompson Center on Randolph Street. Similar to the upcoming event, the November action was staged to “protest disparities caused by inequality, chanting to hex those who cause it and protect those who suffer as a result.”

Then, on Jan 3, WITCH announced its second action and created a corresponding Facebook event page. Unlike the November action, the new Feb 6 protest would be held in conjunction with a local art festival called 2nd Floor Rear 2016, a “DIY” event that features art in “experimental contexts.” The protest is listed on the festival site as one of the featured happenings.

Since that Jan. 3 announcement, the group has received media attention from various mainstream outlets, as well as backlash from the online Pagan community. Jezebel and the Chicagoist each published an article titled, “Chicago Witches Will Exorcise ‘Gentrification’ Demons.” The online site Dazed titled its article,”Chicago Witches Hoping to Cast Out Gentrification.” As is often the case for mainstream Witch articles, all three included flashy stills from the The Craft (1996)

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara expressed disappointment in the treatment of their story within these news articles, calling them “unfortunate and misleading.” And, it may have been this misrepresentation that is at least partially responsible for the subsequent social media backlash predominantly found on Facebook. One user wrote, “So you fight colonialism by using cultural appropriation … For many this is a way of life, and you mock it as merely a public art spectacle.” Comments like this one continued on with accusations that the women were disingenuously appropriating Witchcraft or Pagan traditions to serve their own artistic or political objectives. Another user posted, “YOU are not WITCH! You have no concept. I and many like me are witches. The real deal. How about you mock some other group inappropriately.”

But are they? The issue of their own religious or spiritual identity, or practice, was not publicly addressed. So we asked them, “Do you identify as Witches in a religious or spiritual sense? Are you Pagan?”

Caponigro said, “I most certainly identify as a Witch. I come from a long line of independent Sicilian women who strongly believed in holistic medicine and the powers of the earth and intuition, and passed down their spirit and knowledge to me and my sibling. Though I’m not currently practicing, there are parts of my life when I have identified as Wiccan.”

To this question, Isyemille Lara said, “I identify as a Witch. To me, being a Witch has to do most with using an honest and balanced voice to impart support, empathy, protection and power whenever necessary. Witchcraft is personal and adaptive. My family is from the northern deserts of Mexico. I carry this stoic intuition in my veins.”

And, Galimberti said, “I grew up in Italy, where the tradition of Witchcraft is different than in the United States. The memory of Witch hunts and persecution is still present, mixed with a classism that sees Witchcraft and Paganism as part of working class practices, and thus not taken seriously. I was raised largely by my grandmother who practices Malocchio, which mostly included a healthy skepticism for authority (whether of the state or the church), and a rich knowledge of herbs for healing and daily practices that allowed a connection with the spiritual world. I am studying Herbology and Acupuncture and I think of myself as a healer-in-training, with spirituality being a component of that identity.”

The three members of WITCH added that they are not in anyway mocking anyone’s system of belief. “We are empathetic to those who are angry because they mistakenly think we are appropriating their beliefs,” they said. “Those accusing us of being disingenuous or culturally appropriating Witchcraft are working under the assumption that because we do not practice in their particular way, our sincere connection to Witchcraft is somehow less valid.”

They added that Witchcraft has long and varied history, saying, “Witches were and are healers, spiritual workers, subversive independent thinkers, in addition to the definition of “witch” in the Pagan religious sense. The figure of the Witch is present in most cultures around the world, and can come to signify many different practices and beliefs.”

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

As for the group’s mission, the women explained that the Feb. 6 action will hopefully attract the attention of “politicians and companies that are profiting from housing development at the expense of most Chicagoans and especially working class people.” They were quick to add that they are no experts and can’t speak for everyone who has been “impacted by predatory housing” practices. However, they do hope to give voice to those who have such stories.

“During the action people will be invited to speak out about their experience with housing insecurity, the impact of high rents, and speculative development on their lives,” they explained. “We will then perform a protective charm that acknowledges the people and organizations that have been working on these issues for decades, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Grassroots Illinois Action.”

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara described the upcoming protest action as a “combination of both magical ritual and performative gesture” that will be based on their collective “experiences and knowledge.” They welcome anyone to come and join them, Pagan or not. It is not a private or restricted event. They said, “We take our relationship with spirituality, Witchcraft, and social justice very seriously,” adding “Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a non-conformist, sexually liberated, independent thinker. Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a WITCH.”

MADISON, Wis. — Hundreds of people flocked to the capital of Wisconsin yesterday, braving sub-zero windchill temperatures to express their displeasure with a bill that would put Native American burial mounds — and any natural burial, they say — at risk of desecration. The protesters, estimated to be in the hundreds, included members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Circle Sanctuary. In the end, they received welcome news when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that the bill won’t be coming to a vote this session.

Procession around the state capital [Selena Fox]

Procession around the state capital [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

The protesters were flanked by an honor guard of Native American military veterans. They listened to speakers in the frigid temperatures for an hour before processing around. Then they entered the capital rotunda where their words could be more easily heard by state legislators.

Robert Birmingham, a former Wisconsin state archaeologist and expert on the mounds which dot the Wisconsin landscape, explained how changes to the law could imperil the structures, which are formed in the shape of people and animals. “The current law presumes that the mounds are burial mounds based on a great deal of scholarship,” he said. From the mounds that were excavated “long ago,” Birmingham said that 90% yielded human remains. “The law does not prohibit disturbance” under certain circumstances such as building a highway, but “there is a process.”

That process apparently doesn’t sit well with the executives of Wingra Stone, whose sand and gravel mining operations are impeded by the presence of one such mound. Their efforts to obtain permission to dig through it have been stymied in court. That is why the company has backed legislation that would require the Wisconsin Historical Society to issue permits so that property owners could, at their own expense, dig into a mound to determine if there are actually human remains inside.

According to reporting by WRN:

The bill (AB-620), from state Representative Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) would allow property owners to challenge whether human remains are actually buried in a given mound. Brooks and the bill’s Senate author, Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), have cited property owners’ rights to use their land as they see fit, and overly restrictive oversight of mounds by the Wisconsin Historical Society, as motivation for the legislation.

“In my professional opinion,” Birmingham said, the idea that the mounds might not contain remains “is not a reasonable argument. It would be like arguing that there aren’t any graves in a cemetery.” Some 80% of the mounds, which were constructed by people believed to be ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation, have been plowed under or bulldozed to make way for modern land uses.

Protesters inside the rotunda [Selena Fox]

Protesters inside the rotunda [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Rev. Selena Fox was among the representatives from Circle Sanctuary participating in the protest. “Most public attention is on the fact that this directly threatened native burial mounds and other sacred sites, but it also impacts other natural burials, such as old pioneer burials before embalming and steel caskets. Basically it’s saying you must desecrate a grave to see if remains are there.” Circle Sanctuary maintains a Pagan cemetery which promotes natural burials, and could theoretically be susceptible to the same challenges under the bill.

Before Assembly Speaker Vos announced his intentions concerning the bill, some protesters saw a bald eagle flying high overhead, and took it as a fortuitous sign.  Fox recounted how they moved into the rotunda, drumming and chanting, “Save our mounds.” She noted that the speaker released his statement either during that portion of the protest, or immediately thereafter. “I’m not taking credit for it in the least,” she said. “The statement is being hailed with great appreciation.”

“I think it requires an awful lot more study, an awful lot more conversation,” Vos told reporters.

Fox and others are warning that the fight over this bill is not yet done. The fact that it made it so far into the legislative process without being noticed was troubling to her, and she expects that it will be raised again in a future legislative session. At least as long as Governor Scott Walker is in office, she expects that the idea will continue to be floated in one form or another. She spoke extensively about the issue in her Jan. 12 podcast, which was recorded shortly after she returned from the rally.

Washington D.C. — After his boyfriend of three years was killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Ryan Reyes found himself in the position of speaking out against religious intolerance. During the painful days following the violence, Reyes was comforted by members of the local Muslim community and found inspiration in their compassion. Just over one month later, on Jan. 12, Reyes will be taking his message to the nation as a presidential guest at the annual State of the Union address.

12310487 10208184583158639 8669118686722216102 n

L. Daniel Kaufman [Photo Credit E. Towne]

On Dec. 2, 2015, two people entered a conference room at the Inland Regional Center (IRC) and open fired, killing 14 and wounding 12. Reyes’ boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman, was one of the 14 victims. He was employed as trainer for the disabled and a barista at the Coffee N More cafe located in the IRC. He was in the cafe when the shooting took place and, as the story goes, he was responsible for saving at least four lives during that attack.

“[Daniel] was one of those rare individuals that when your spirit was low, a hug from him was like a double shot of espresso. He was life itself and we’ll both miss him,” remembered close friend Jack Prewett.

Since that day, Reyes has been interviewed many times by the media, even making a guest appearance on The Dr. Phil Show, which he described as a “a good and productive experience for my goals.” In fact, it was due to that appearance that Reyes was unable to grant The Wild Hunt an interview in early December. However, we caught up with him yesterday, just after he arrived in Washington D.C.

“My emotional process has been a complete roller coaster since day one,” Reyes said. “[But] I have experienced this kind of pain before (different means, but the pain is the same), so I have been able to predict when it is going to be rough for me and I will take the appropriate measures. This is why it has been rare that anyone has caught me in a breakdown. I am able to keep a cool, level head when I need to.”

Reyes is openly Pagan and identifies as “non-denominational” rather than specifically Wiccan like Daniel. His said that his spiritual beliefs have greatly helped him through the initial mourning process as well as keeping him focused on new goals. He explained, “A lesson I learned in life is that no one promised life would be easy, just eventful. So that helps keep me grounded when I am dealing with difficult things. Like most Pagans, I am a humanitarian, so that guides my current work.”

Reyes is originally from Rialto, California, and met Daniel online over three years ago. When the shooting happened, he was at home. Reyes said, “I was […] getting ready for a doctor’s appointment when my sister texted me to tell me about the shooting. The first thought that crossed my mind was ‘I need to call Daniel.’ ” He had last seen his boyfriend that morning when dropping him off at the IRC.

Due to the initial conflicting reports, it was unclear whether Daniel had died or was only wounded. However, by the end of the day, Reyes learned the truth. Daniel had been killed. But, at the same, he learned that Daniel was also credited as being a hero. Reyes said, “Daniel was a very compassionate and loving person that would go to great lengths to help anyone he could.”

Over the next week, Reyes friends and family came out to support him, including members of the local Pagan community and Renaissance Pleasure Faire. During a memorial vigil held Dec. 5, four leaders of the local Muslim community were in attendance; they approached Reyes with condolences.

In an interview with the Los Angles Times, Reyes said, “They risked their own personal safety to come and pay their respects. It really meant a lot to me.”

At the December vigil, Ryan Reyes [center] speaks with several local Muslim men, who were in attendance to pay their respects to his boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman.

Reyes was touched by the men’s compassion, and he was immediately driven to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment and religious intolerance. Over the next month, he granted a large number of media interviews and appearances. This reportedly attracted the attention of the President, who has recently been very vocal about gun violence. On Jan. 4, the White House released an executive order specifically aimed at “reducing gun violence.”

A White House official contacted Reyes by phone and asked if he “would come as a VIP guest and sit in the First Lady’s box during the speech.” Reyes said, “Daniel’s story touched the first family as well as my speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiments.”

He will be sitting in the balcony with First Lady Michelle Obama, along with 22 other guests. The full guest list was announced Sunday. Additionally, the seat directly next to Reyes will be left empty as a symbolic gesture, representing Daniel and all others lost to gun violence this year. The White House announcement reads:

We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.

Reyes won’t be speaking, as some news outlets have suggested. He said, “I am not going into it with any expectations. I try not to have expectations in anything so that way I can’t get easily disappointed.”

When asked what Daniel might think about his work and all this attention, Reyes said ” I know [Daniel] would approve of what I am doing. He would not want people suffering or being treated differently just because they share the same religion as extremists/radical groups do.”

Reyes will return to California later in the week. Going forward, he plans to continue sharing Daniel’s story and words of tolerance. However, he doesn’t know exactly how that will manifest next. Reyes said, “The only plans I really have are to keep pressing forward with my message. Depending on what happens and how things go, I may write a book as I have been asked to by several people. I also intend on starting a Foundation/Non-profit in Daniel’s name at some point. I am not fully sure about what kind yet.”

The State of Union address will air tonight at 9 p.m. ET.

Update 3:07 pm: It was just announced that Reyes and his story will be featured on ABC News Nightline, which airs from 12:35 a.m. – 1:05 a.m ET.

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

News Update…

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

Convicted killer Charles Jaynes, who has been serving a life-sentence for the murder and molestation of a ten-year-old boy, lost his three-year-battle to change his name. As reported in 2012, Jaynes petitioned to adopt a new name to coincide with his conversion to Wicca. The new name, Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V, was reportedly was given to him by “God.”

As noted in the Dec 2015 appeals decision, Jaynes originally testified that his new name was required for his “Wiccan religious tenets” and that his “old heathen name is religiously offensive. It is also spiritually debilitating due to the fact that God and Jesus Christ had given me a new name.”

The Appeals Court upheld the original decision to disallow the name change, saying that it was not found to be required for the Wiccan religion nor was it in the best interest of the public. The ruling states, “We affirmed the probate judge’s denial of the petition, as ‘granting the petitioner a name change would likely cause significant confusion in the criminal justice system if he were ever released . . . [and] would not be in the public interest if the petitioner were able later to elude criminal prosecution and conceal his identity.’

Jaynes was up for parole in early 2015, but he declined the option. No new date for a parole hearing has been set.

More links:

  • A recent Gallup poll on religion confirmed the statistics gathered earlier in the year by Pew Forum. Americans are slowly becoming less religious. According to the Gallup Poll, 75.2 percent of Americans identify as Christian; 5.1% as other religions; 19.6 as nones. By these stats, the Christian population is down 5 percentage points, while the nones are up by the same number. The “other religion” category lost .2 percentage points. But with the margin of error be +/- 1 percent, the population of non-Christians appears to have stayed constant. Unfortunately, this constancy cannot be explored further. The Gallup poll does not break down the “other” category, and therefore it is impossible to analyze anything specific about the population increase or decrease in any one of the minority religious practices.
  • Capitalizing on Pew Forum stats, Inverse published an article titled, “Paganism grows on Campus.” Writer Sarah Slot concludes that, even though America is becoming less religious, Paganism is on the rise. She writes, “An all-you-can-eat buffet of naturalistic practice, polytheism, social awareness, and environmentalism, modern Paganism is both the outgrowth of Europe’s neolithic neuroses and a belief system well-suited to a generation grappling with the idea of privilege and rejecting the bromides offered by powerful institutions.” The article goes on to explore the growth and expansive nature of the religion both on campus and off, through a number of interviews.
  • According to The New York Blog, women wrote the majority of top books checked out from New York City Public libraries. The NYPL system annually publishes its top ten most requested books in December. Lists are compiled system wide, per borough and per branch. Interestingly, the Eastchester Branch, located in the Bronx, had a Llewellyn book in the top slot. The locals in that area were reportedly most interested in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names for Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens, Mages, Shamans & Independent Thinkers of all Sorts Who are Curious About Names from Every Place and Every Time by K.M. Sheard.

Isis as represented in Goddesses Alive! 2015 [Phote Credit: Greg Harder]

  • Speaking of names, this December saw a new surge in confusion between the Goddess Isis and the terrorist group Daesh. As reported, this confusion has led to some violence and vandalism. On Dec. 25, the news site Broadly decided to set the record straight in an article titled “The Women who worship Isis for Christmas.”  Writer Sirin Kale begins by saying, “No, not that ISIS.” She goes on to discuss the modern veneration of the Goddess Isis through interviews with several people, including Rowan Morgana, Holli Emore, Lady Nephthys, and Mani Novalight. Within the article, Kale shared a video showing a blessing, and several photos, including one from the Goddesses Alive! performance at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
  • Moving outside the United States, the BBC reported that the historic Boleskine House on Loch Ness had been partially destroyed by fire on Dec 23.The house was originally built in the 1760s and was the home of Aleister Crowley from 1899-1913. Due to his occupancy, the house earned somewhat of a notorious reputation. According to legends and stories, Crowley never completed some of his magical work within the space, leaving “demons” about. In the 1970s, Jimmy Page bought the house due to his interest in Crowley’s work. He then sold it in 1992, and the house has since passed through several hands. According to the reports, it was unoccupied when the fire broke out.
  • In Japan, temple administrators are hoping tourism will save their sacred spaces. According to the Religion News Service, Japanese attendance at these temples is in decline, which is “crimping revenue.”  In order to pay for upkeep and support the monks in their studies, some temples are now looking to the booming tourism industry to help cover their costs. With new hotels and bullet trains nearby, administrators hope to capture some of the tourist money by providing a uniquely Japanese experience to would-be visitors.
  • In November, while many were focused on Mar’s book Witches in America, some might have missed another new “Witch” book. Released in late October by publisher Little, Brown and Company, The Witches: Salem 1692 is an historical account of the Salem Witch trials. The new book has gotten rave reviews across mainstream media on both historical accuracy and the depiction of events, including one reviewer who remarked that the writing is “light on sensationalism.” That is often a rarity for Salem stories. The Witches was written by author Stacy Schiff, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the book Cleopatra: A Life.
  • Now for something a little different, here is some folk music from Mali. It is categorized as Folk Wassoulou, and is performed by the talented Fatoumata Diawara.


SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last month saw the second annual memorial to people who had died homeless in this city, located 42mi southeast of San Francisco. Among the participants in this interfaith event was Rowan Fairgrove from Covenant of the Goddess. She agreed to share more about the event and her work in this area with The Wild Hunt.

homeless memorial

[Image credit: Steve Herrera]

According to the 2015 Point-in-Time Count for Santa Clara County, there were 6,556 people without homes there in January of that year, which is the month that these counts are performed throughout the Unites States. Of that total figure, 4,063 people are located in the city of San Jose. Since 2013, the numbers have dropped by 14% in the county, and by 15% in the city. That marks a 10 year low.

While those numbers are high, the trends do show a decline in the total number of unhoused, which is the term Fairgrove prefers. However, Fairgrove said that the official figure “leaves off people doubling up or couch surfing and thus undercounts families by a lot.” Her own work to support the unhoused comes both from her religious beliefs and her own experience. She said:

I believe, deeply, in the interconnectedness of all life. And in our ability to make the world a better place, for humans and for all living things and the earth. But my specific desire to help the unhoused came from having a woman decide that my porch, sheltered by a wisteria, was a safe place to sleep occasionally. I had many conversations with her and tried to work with the city to get her help without much success.

The impacts of homelessness, and the impacts of how the problem is addressed, can be complicated. Fairgrove recounted how she supported the closure of a homeless camp in San Jose, because its presence put a local watershed — one she’d worked to protect — at risk. In November, she attended a screening of a movie about that closure called Exodus from the Jungle (2015), and this led to her re-ordering her priorities.

“I hadn’t realized how much impact the closing of the Jungle had on the ability of service providers (such as the medical bus from a local hospital) to reach the unhoused population,” she explained, “nor had I realized that our city and county have been spending thousands of dollars a month to ‘move along’ any groups that start to camp together. This makes it even harder for service providers to find people who need help. With the coming El Nino conditions in Northern California we are expecting unusual amounts of rain and cold and the situation for the unhoused is predicted to be quite dire.”

Those without shelter are subject to exposure to these harsh elements, but there are some among the unhoused who prefer that risk to the rules and dangers associated with homeless shelters. According to the 2015 survey, there are 4,627 people living without shelter, which is over 70% of the total unhoused population of Santa Clara County.

For 61 of them, “quite dire” meant death this year. Their names were read during the service. Several religious leaders offered thoughts and prayers, including this from Fairgrove:

Prayer of Remembrance for the Homeless Who Died this Year

Your life has flown, all care is gone,
Yet still we wish the best for you
Though you left this world without a home
You are going home now to the Isle of Apples.
To the restful haven of the waveless sea.
You are finally home this night,
To your lasting home, your eternal home

Deep peace of seven lights to you
Deep peace of seven joys to you
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the silver moon to you

Now is your time of rest, of parting
Rest now on the breast of the Mother of Blessings,
Rest now in the arms of the Father of Life.
We hold you in memory
We hold you in mourning
We hold you in honour

Deep peace of seven graces to you
Deep peace of seven loves to you
Deep peace of the red wind of the east to you
Deep peace of the grey wind of the west to you
Deep peace of the dark wind of the north to you
Deep peace of the blue wind of the south to you

We will remember the tragedy of homelessness
We will not forget your Life
We will not cease our work
Until all are finally home in this Life
Until all have warmth and plenty
Until all have comfort and protection

Let us join together to send healing for the hurts of homelessness
Let us send hope and growth, to replace cold and fear.
Let us send respect and inspiration, to replace despair and sorrow
Let us create a circle of protection.
Let us create a circle of healing.
Let us create a circle of justice.
Let us create a circle of renewal.
And let us envision these circles as a spiral, see them repeat, spreading out until through all the world may peace prevail and all be home
In the Names of the Mighty Ones and the Beloved Dead
Biodh sé mar sin — So Mote It Be!

Beyond participating in this memorial, Fairgrove serves breakfast at a local church shelter, and has encouraged the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, a local interfaith group, to hold a leadership forum on the topic. “From various showings of Exodus from the Jungle, a group came together which is now called The Winter Faith Collaborative. Over the past two months we have gathered together about 40 congregations who plan to shelter, warm, feed or otherwise help the homeless,” she explained.

This is not the only memorial for the homeless dead in the region; the Marin Interfaith Council also conducts such a service in July.

DENTON, Texas — A series of fires were set in the Denton Unitarian Universalist church last Wednesday morning, and the damage was significant enough that the congregation will be holding most of its services elsewhere at least until January. The Yule ritual hosted by members of the Denton CUUPS chapter was an outright casualty, as members determined it would be too difficult to use another venue on such short notice.

Police quickly apprehended a 14-year-old boy who is believed to have set the fires that caused an estimated $20,000 worth of damage. At this time, the suspect is not believed to have been motivated by hate.

Denton UU fire damage [Photo Credit: Rev. Pam Wat]

The fires were set sometime between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning, and were discovered by Rev. Pam Wat when she and her husband were checking on the building. Vandalism had already become an increasing problem at the church. In fact, the night before the fire, someone had been caught on the premises. He fled, leaving his cell phone behind. Although the phone was turned over police, this person was allegedly able to return the next morning to set some fires, causing very real damage.

In a written statement, Wat described the building’s condition:

The damage from the fire is significant, but not overwhelming. The office is largely untouched by the fire. The rest of the building has smoke and water damage. In addition, the sanctuary had two smallish fires that caused some damage, but the more extensive damage was to Fellowship Hall and our religious education classrooms. . . . Some furniture is burned beyond repair. In Fellowship Hall half our library was burned and the other half has water damage. The television was damaged. Structurally the church is fine, but we will have some recovery ahead of us.

John Beckett is the Denton CUUPS chapter coordinator, and the one to break the news that the group’s annual Yule celebration would have to be canceled as a result of the damage. He wrote that it was ” . . . with great reluctance and sadness that we canceled this Saturday’s Yule Circle following the fire at the Denton UU Fellowship. The building will not be usable for at least a week, and a variety of logistical issues would make it extremely difficult to relocate this ritual to another location, or to hold it in the front yard of the church.” He then went on to explain some of the reasoning behind that decision:

Some friends have suggested that we do it anyway, even if all we can do is gather in the parking lot and sing a song of defiance in the face of adversity. While we admire that resolve, it simply isn’t doable for us at this time for a variety of reasons, some apparent and some not.

Our sacred space has been desecrated by intentional violence – the building is not the only thing that’s been damaged. On Saturday evening, CUUPS members will hold a private gathering where we’ll talk about what’s happened and how we want to respond. We would prefer to be leading a public Yule circle instead, but this is something we simply must do.

An assessment of the damage in the days since has church leaders suspecting it will cost more than initial estimates of $20,000 to repair the building entirely from the smoke and water, which did most of the damage. Even when the work is complete, some of the books which survived will likely carry the smell — and reminder — for years to come. As the church carries a high-deductible insurance policy, and the 2016 budget is “already tight” according to Beckett, a fundraising effort has been launched to cover the difference, including a “donate” button on the church web site. No information was immediately available on how much has already been raised.

There is some sense of relief that the teen apprehended almost certainly didn’t target this particular building for ideological reasons, but some unease, as well. Beckett wrote, “This was not his first incident and we are not his only victims. He appears to be a deeply disturbed young person. He has already gone from breaking windows to setting fires –- this is a pattern that frequently leads to hurting animals and then people. Our hope and prayer is that he can be helped before he goes any further down this path… and that until then, he can be compassionately restrained.”

Beckett also wrote about how CUUPS members spent the time that had been reserved for a Yule ritual around Baldur and the mistletoe.

We’re thankful it wasn’t a hate crime, but at least a hate crime would have given us a target for our anger. In the end, we agreed this is a good example of the fact that not everything “happens for a reason” -– or rather, sometimes the reason is just that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. . . . when the repairs are finished (probably in early March), we’re going to hold a public ritual and invite representatives from area Pagan groups to help us reconsecrate our sacred space. We’re going to make room for our long distance friends to participate too –- we want as much “juice” going into this ritual as we can get. . . . Our matriarch led us in a guided meditation for healing, after which we performed a group ritual to mark the close of the solar year and to banish the harm this year has brought.

To be thankful that a devastating fire was just a random act of vandalism rather than a targeted act of hate can feel a little bit like letting evil win, but Beckett chooses to see it differently. As he posted on his own Facebook page, “I am extremely thankful for the outpouring of sympathy and support we’ve received since this happened on Wednesday. It is at times like these I’m reminded that despite all our differences, the Pagan community is a community.”

A Blessed Winter Solstice

The Wild Hunt —  December 20, 2015 — 4 Comments

This weekend, many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists in the Northern Hemisphere are marking the Winter Solstice with celebrations, feasts, and rituals. The solstice will occur on Tuesday, Dec 22 at at 04:49 UTC. It is a day traditionally thought to be the longest night and shortest day of the year.

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

[Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia Commons]

This time of year is held sacred within many different modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient Pagan religions. The solstice time was important to pre-historic peoples in both Ireland and England. While there is scant evidence of specific celebrations, it is generally thought that the pagan Celts did, in some way, honor the time around the solstice.

Germanic Pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions, now commonly associated with Christmas, originated in old Yule celebrations such as eating a ham or hanging holly and mistletoe.

The ancient Pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which typically ran from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23. The festival honored the god Saturn and featured lavish parties and role-reversals. From Saturnalia we can see the traditions of exchanging gifts and decorating evergreen trees indoors. These were eventually adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia, there were birth celebrations honoring Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Mithras both held on Dec. 25.

Many modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Witches, several Druidic traditions, and their many off-shoots hold this time as one of the eight Sabbats or holy days. Usually called Winter Solstice or Yule, this is a time when many of these traditions celebrate the re-birth of the god by the mother goddess.

And, for our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the time of the Summer Solstice, considered the longest day and shortest night.

Here are some thoughts on the observance of this holiday:

“The solstice season is upon us, and it’s only a couple of weeks before the longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. It’s a season of darkness and cold, where we are given the opportunity to find the gifts that darkness brings. It can be hard, when the rest of the world seems to be doing their best to stave off their fear with bright lights, noise and extended shopping hours, but if we are able to push beyond that we can see the sacredness of this holy time, and the exquisite power that it brings.” – Joanna van der Hoeven, From “Darkness and the Winter Solstice”

  *   *   *

“A local Protestant minister, an old man with a booming preaching voice, invoked a father god whose radiance shines down. “Ave Sol Invictus,” I thought, considering that the minister stood in front of a wreath-decorated blazing fireplace, no Christian symbolism in sight. Maybe this was his non-sectarian mode of public speaking, but he talked about this “sacred valley” and the “sacred season” and invoked the ancestors. I felt right at home.”- Chas Clifton, From “Invoking the Birds and Hunting at Yule.”

  *   *   *

“Imagine a Yule ritual with a focus on new year’s resolutions; except instead of pointless promises that are abandoned two weeks into the year, these are powerful vows with the backing of a spiritual entity. An ancestor, spirit, or deity is called to witness the vows (each one by each individual, who would also give Them a suitable offering). Such a thing would require a fair amount of preparation and planning by anyone who would like to participate, but it has the potential to create incredibly strong bonds and powerful experiences.” – Molly Khan, From “Yule is more than the Returning Light.”

  *   *   *

“We sat around the fire for only a half hour or so. The night was thumpingly cold, and smoke kept blowing in our faces. My six year old son and four year old daughter were more interested in jabbing the fire with sticks than in listening to their parents’ makeshift stories about the Man on the Moon and other celestial beings. My daughter singed her hair, and the tip of her mitten melted. Glancing up at the stars and moon, I was suddenly overcome with…

Actually, no word captures the feelings that flooded me, but awe will suffice.” – John Horgan, From “Why a Science Writer Celebrates Winter Solstice”

  *   *   *

“The Winter Solstice is likely humanity’s oldest holy day. As the days shorten and the temperatures fall, Nature whispers a truth: Winter is coming. For those who live in northern latitudes and higher elevations, it’s already here. And it’s going to get worse, even here in Texas. What better time for us to come together and enjoy food and drink and to focus our attention on our families, our religious communities, and our most sacred traditions.” – John Beckett, From “Solstice Morning at Newgrange”

  *   *   *

From all of us at The Wild Hunt, may you have a very blessed solstice, winter or summer, and the merriest of holiday seasons.

[Photo Credit: Chris Hutchison]

[Photo Credit: Chris Hutchison]

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Is Nefertiti in Tut’s Tomb?
Or more accurately, was Tutankhamun buried in Nefertiti’s tomb? That’s the theory put forth by archaeologist Nicholas Reeves. He believes that when Tutankhamun died unexpectedly, the front part of his step-mother Nefertiti’s tomb was partitioned and Tut was laid to rest in the front half. In November, infrared and radar technology confirmed that there is at least one hidden space behind Tut’s burial chamber, and it is still sealed 3,300 years after Nefertiti’s rule ended.

Nefertiti is known as one of the most beautiful women in the world, thanks to discovery of a famous bust in 1922. She may also have been one of the most powerful. Married to Egypt’s “Heretic King,” Akhenaten, who is famous for changing the official religion of Egypt from a polytheistic one to a monotheistic one, Nefertiti may have been co-regent with her husband. She may also have succeeded him as Pharaoh Smenkhkare, a feat only three women accomplished in Egyptian history.

Tut’s tomb and his grave goods have long puzzled archaeologists. The tomb is much smaller than those used for other rulers and is laid out like a queen’s, not a Pharaoh’s, tomb. The golden mask covering his face had its lobes pierced in the manner of a female, not a male. Questions about the tomb came to head when the Spanish group Factum Arte, which specializes in replicating artistic works, posted high resolution photos of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Reeves saw fissures in its north and west walls that he thought could be two doors leading to two as yet unopened chambers.

He then brought in infrared and radar imaging technology, which confirmed his theory of hidden chambers. One is most likely a storeroom, but the other one is larger and could be the final resting place of Nefertiti. The next step is to drill a small hole in the wall of the tomb and insert a camera to see if there is, in fact, another burial chamber concealed. If there is, it may take years to open the chamber and catalogue the contents.

Does a newly discovered tunnel in an Aztec pyramid lead to the tomb of Tenochtitlán’s rulers?
Archaeologists in Mexico are also hot on the trail of undisturbed tombs of ancient rulers. They have found a tunnel that they say leads to two sealed chambers, which could contain the remains of the Aztec rulers of Tenochtitlán.

So far, cremated remains, cremains, of Aztec rulers have never been found.

In 2013, archaeologist Leonardo López Luján discovered the 27-foot-long tunnel leading into the center of a ceremonial platform, known as the Cuauhxicalco. The mouth of the tunnel was sealed and, when they opened it, they found gold ornaments and the bones of infants and eagles. Now they believe the tunnel goes even further back, leading to two entrances and possibly burial chambers. After dating the tunnel, archaeologists speculate that, if there are remains in the chambers, they may be of Moctezuma I and his successors. Moctezuma I was the second Aztec emperor and ruled from about 1440 to 1469.

The blocked-up entrances will be excavated in 2016.

Intact Etruscan Tomb Found
Some tombs are found after decades of careful searching; others are found by sheer chance. A farmer working his fields in Italy plowed right into an intact Etruscan tomb dating from the 4th century BCE. A team of archaeologists were called in and were confronted by a rare find: the doors to the tomb were still sealed.

Once inside the space, archaeologists found a burial chamber containing two sarcophagi, four alabaster marble urns containing cremains, and assorted grave goods.

The Etruscans ruled over large parts of what is now Tuscany starting in 900 BCE and lasting until Rome finally swallowed them in 300 BCE. The Etruscans were known for their fine art, written language, road building abilities, and extensive trading networks.

Italian officials say the tomb will be opened to the public for viewing after it is restored and studied.

From Etruscan displayed in Milan [Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia

From Etruscan displayed in Milan [Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia

6000 Year Old Lead Wand Found
As sometimes happens, archaeologists find something historically important, but don’t always know what the item is. The lead and wood object may be a wand used for ceremonial purposes or it could be a drop spindle for making yarn.

This unusual object was found in a cave in Israel’s northern Negev desert and is the the oldest evidence of smelted lead in the entire Levant. The cave has been excavated since the 1970’s but new areas of the cave complex were mapped out in 2012. This year, archaeologists found a small chamber used for burials and the tiny lead wand was just laying on the floor of the chamber.  

The artifact has a lead base only 1.4 inches long with an 8.8 inch long stick attached. The object could be a wand or mace-like like object used for ceremonial purposes, similar to other club-like objects found in the southern Levant. Since it’s smaller than other ceremonial clubs, it may be something else.

It also may be a spindle. The wood shaft could be the spindle rod with the lead base serving as a whorl. Yet there’s a challenge to the spindle theory. The whorl, if it is a whorl, would be so heavy it could have only produced a very coarse yarn.

Whatever this object once was, it was important enough to be placed as a grave good and pushes back the earliest date for known smelting of lead in the Levant by almost 1000 years.

3D Printing Shows Spear is Really a Horn
For almost 200 years it was thought that this Bronze Age artifact was a spear butt. However, a PhD student in Australia used 3D printing to discover what the object really was.

Billy Ó Foghlú, an archaeology student at Australian National University, took measurements of the “spear butt” to make a 3D replica. When he had the copy, he found it looked (and sounded) like the mouthpiece of an Irish horn.

New Bronze age settlement found in Scotland
You never know what archaeologists can find when they go for a walk. Several archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Manchester, and the University of Central Lancashire were strolling along the beach on the Orkney Islands, on their way to an established dig, when they stumbled on a Bronze Age settlement. Not only was it an as of yet undiscovered settlement, it was also one of the largest ones on the Scottish isles and one of the best preserved. They estimate there are 14 houses spanning a half mile along the beach.

Stone Tools in Renew a Controversial Debate about Monte Verde
The dig site at Monte Verde and the archaeologist at the center of it are no strangers to controversy. Tom Dillehay and Monte Verde first became archaeological lightening rods decades ago when Dillehay discovered humans had occupied South America thousands of years earlier than thought. While controversial then, it is now an accepted fact that humans were living in the Monte Verde area 14,500 years ago.

However, new discoveries are once again pushing that date back another 4000 years.

Dillehay has found stone tools and evidence of cooked meat and plants dating back 18,500 years ago. Since DNA evidence shows humans left Siberia no earlier than 23,000 years ago, the migration to Monte Verde in the southern tip of South America would have been exceptionally fast. Casting doubt on the new date  is the absence of any human occupation in North America before 14,300 years ago.

Dillehay said his team has found 39 stone artifacts, as well as plants and animal bones, that appear to be remains from cook fires. Other archaeologists question if the stone artifacts were made by humans and if the plant and animal remains were burned in naturally occurring fires.

Monte Verde [Photo Credit: Jardín Botánico Nacional / Flickr]

Monte Verde [Photo Credit: Jardín Botánico Nacional / Flickr]

Once again, Monte Verde and Dillehay will need to prove themselves to a skeptical archaeological community.

Stonehenge might be a hand-me-down Monument
The more we learn about Stonehenge; the more it becomes a mystery. Archaeologists now believe that the large stones making up the monument were originally part of a different monument. Around 5000 years ago, the stones were extracted from a quarry in Pembroke, Wales, and then set up as a monument at a nearby site. The 80 stones, each weighing between one to two tons, stood at this unknown site for around 400 years.

Then neolithic peoples transported the stones 180 miles to their present location in Wiltshire using only  ropes, levers, and sheer manpower. Now archaeologists are searching for the site where the stones originally stood. What did that interim monument look like and why was it taken apart and moved after 400 years?

Chimps entered the Stone Age
Humans are not the only primates to have entered a Stone Age. Now chimpanzees of west Africa, capuchin monkeys in Brazil, and long-tailed macaque monkeys in Thailand have all been confirmed to have entered their own Stone Ages.

While many other animals have been known to use plants and sticks as tools, it was thought that only humans have used and fashioned stone tools. Yet at least 4300 years ago, chimps routinely began doing the same thing and passing that knowledge down through generations. This has given rise to a new speciality in science: primate archaeology.

The primates generally use the rocks as a pounding tool to open tough nuts, and they opted for larger and heavier stones than the neolithic humans would have chosen.

Will the chimpanzees, monkeys, and macaques advance further and master the art of fire and cooking their food? They may have the capacity, but it appears unlikely to happen as their populations shrink through habitat destruction and hunting. Smaller populations often can’t sustain and spread new technologies. This creates another layer to an ethical dilemma of how humans impact other species.

NOTTINGHAM, England –Members of the Nottingham Pagan Network organized an ongoing food drive to the feed refugees who have made it as far as England and any others in need in this storied city. The donations have been given to the food bank run by Himmah, described on its web site as “the first Muslim food bank in the U.K.

NPN members providing donations to Himmah food bank [photo credit: Gordon McGowan]

NPN members providing donations to Himmah food bank [Photo Credit: Gordon McGowan]

It’s interfaith cooperation which made the effort possible, according to Sarah Kay, spokesperson for the Nottingham Pagan Network. “NPN joined Nottingham Interfaith Council in 2014, and we were invited onto the committee to represent Pagans,” she explained.  “We’re finding that many parts of mainstream society are becoming more aware of Paganism and want to see it represented properly and sensibly alongside the other faiths, especially in a city like Nottingham where Paganism’s profile has become more visible thanks to things like the Pagan Pride festival,” she said. “We think the basic concepts of interfaith are already active in the Pagan community since, as Pagans of diverse and sometimes contradictory religious faiths and practices, we are used to coming together with people of a different religious and spiritual outlook.”

Paganism has become so visible in Nottingham due in no small part to the efforts of the Nottingham Pagan Network. It started as an online group and, then, transitioned to the physical plane when a local gathering, or moot, dissolved. “We’ve also run Pagan Pride’s community projects for several years,” Kay explained, “and thanks to a couple of our more high profile members we’ve been able to pull national Pagan leaders together for that.”

The NPN has strong ties to the Pagan Federation, the Children of Artemis, the Centre For Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation and, as Kay put it, has “a reputation of ‘punching above its weight.'” The NPN has itself seeded a number of moots and organized other events, but its purpose, said Kay, “has always been to encourage and facilitate Pagans to connect with each other and . . . to provide communications about Pagan, Pagan-related and Pagan-interest events in the region,” not simply be the source of those events.

Interfaith work is par for the course at Himmah, as well. Local Pagans had already been contributing to a project the Muslim charity had organized jointly with the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, namely the Salaam Shalom Kitchen, which provides prepared meals to those in need on a weekly basis.

Refugees from the war in Syria started being admitted to the United Kingdom last year in a process slowed by a general anti-immigrant sentiment, with half of them so far being settled in Bradford, about two hours’ drive north.  That touched NPN members so much that “. . . deciding which charitable project to undertake our members were probably, like everyone else, focused on current world events which is why [donating to Himmah food bank] was a good choice,” Kay said.

Some of the collected food [courtesy photo]

Ashley Mortimer with some of the collected food [Courtesy Photo]

Kay said that NPN members worked as part of a larger team, drawing more Pagans into the wider effort. “Himmah [has] support from both faith and non-faith communities in Nottingham, so we are just a part of the collective effort to support the project and we thought that if we targeted our own (Pagan) community then Pagans would be supportive of the idea, not just for the good of the project, but to be seen as a community to be doing something good for the wider community. . . the multi-faith aspect of Himmah . . . drives awareness of its good works.”

Where some social groups might make charitable giving into a friendly competition, the Nottingham Pagan community didn’t keep score. “It’s all about understanding that every little bit contributes to the whole, if everyone does something, whether it’s to donate a pound or a tin of soup or to offer to drive around collecting donations for the evening no one is counting, all efforts are communal and we just need to keep contributing and doing without worrying about how much we’ve achieved.”

Nevertheless, “the response has been magnificent, the Himmah people have come to collect from us over two or three moots and we’ve done several runs ourselves to take them supplies. Many of our members simply gave us money so we’ve had a couple of shopping trips to specifically buy for Himmah.”

The profile the NPN maintains by participating in interfaith and charitable work will, Kay hopes, serve as a model, to “inspire and encourage other small local groups wherever they are to get busy and do good works — after all everyone who achieves something big or global is also local to somewhere!”