Archives For Religion

A recent article in the Quaternary International suggests that the myth of Jason and the Argonauts took its inspiration from an actual voyage that occurred sometime between 3,300 and 3,500 years ago. A team of geologists, led by Avtandil Okrostsvaridze from Ilia State University in Georgia, report that they have found evidence that the Golden Fleece was real and was the product of ancient gold extraction techniques.

But did these scientists find definitive evidence? The Wild Hunt turned to a Ph.D. Candidate in the Centre for Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a London-based archaeologist and historian of religion to take a Pagan-friendly look at the paper.

Jason seizing the Golden Fleece from a fragment of a sarcophagus, National Museum of Rome. [Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen, cc. lic. Wikimedia]

Jason seizing the Golden Fleece. From a fragment of a sarcophagus, National Museum of Rome. [Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen, cc. lic. Wikimedia]

Mythos of the quest for the Golden Fleece
Although there are different written accounts of the quest, the basic myth is as follows. Before the Trojan War, Jason gathered together a group of heroes known as the Argonauts to sail to Aietis’ palace in the Kingdom of Colchis [modern day Georgia] to take the Golden Fleece. The fleece was thought to be from the famed golden-haired, winged ram of Zeus. Jason needed the fleece to restore his father as king of Thessaly in Greece.

Jason and the Argonauts faced many challenges – and fathered many children – during their voyage and received help from Gods and mortals. The most famous person who assisted Jason was Medea, King Aitis’ daughter. After they returned home, Jason sets Medea aside to marry another woman. Medea kills that woman and the children she bore to Jason, and then flees to Athens. Jason’s father takes the throne, but Jason dies, lonely and unloved.

Gold mining theory
In the academic paper, geologist Avtandil Okrostsvaridze stated that the quest was a real voyage to the kingdom of Colchis to learn how they extracted gold from rivers, streams and sand deposits.

The team of geologists carried out an eight-year study to test the theory. They compared geological data and archaeological findings with the myths the kingdom of Colchis. The locals in this region have been using wooden bowls to pour water and sand mixtures over thick sheep’s pelt for thousands of years. The sand, being lighter, washes out, while the heavy gold particles become trapped in the sheep’s wool.

This was not the first time that the “gold mining theory” has been suggested. Back in the second century AD, Roman historian Apian Alexandrine put forth this very theory. Since that time, it has been periodically entertained by archaeologists and historians. Yet this is the very first time that geologists have done a thorough examination to test the theory. Will it hold up to scrutiny?

Ethan Doyle White, is a London-based archaeologist and historian of religion currently engaged in PhD research at University College London (UCL). He has “a particular research interest in the pre-Christian belief systems of Europe and the manner in which they have been interpreted and utilised by contemporary Pagan new religious movements.”  He said:

Having read the original research paper, I’d say that the ScienceAlert article does a fairly good job of accurately summarising its conclusions. However, I must express some concerns regarding the original research paper itself. While I certainly would not go so far as to claim that the arguments presented are invalid, I am concerned by the fact that the paper has been written by geologists and then published in a geological journal. Now, without meaning to knock geology as a discipline, the study of rock strata really doesn’t provide the sort of theoretical and methodological basis needed to analyse the development and origins of ancient mythology, for which a blend of history, archaeology, folkloristics and perhaps also linguistics would be required.

Further, I would pay close attention to the statement in the paper’s acknowledgements: “The authors would like to thank the general director of the mining corporation “Golden Fleece”, Dr Mustafa Mutlu, which has funded this research”. I think that that is potentially very telling; a company with a vested interest in the name and concept of the Golden Fleece was funding the entire project.

Caroline Tully [Courtesy Photo]

Caroline Tully [Courtesy Photo]

Caroline J. Tully, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Centre for Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne, primarily focuses on Aegean Archaeology. However, she is “also interested in the reception of the ancient world, particularly the reception of ancient Egyptian religion.” She said:

Like many non-Classicists, when talking about Classical Literature these authors are clumsy and rather cursory. I don’t think there is any point in trying to match the Argonauts’ journey with the alluvial paning for gold in Colchis using wooden utensils and sheepskin. I don’t think there is any point in claiming that the Argonauts’ journey was “real” – it may have been, it may not have been. As far as I’d go would be to say “The story of the Golden Fleece in the Jason and the Argonauts myth sounds like it may have been inspired by actual techniques of gold collection, using a wooden utensil and a sheepskin, by people who lived in the region of ancient Colchis and who still use that method today.

So, I’m saying that the description of a “golden fleece” in Colchis as it appears in the myth of the Argonauts’ voyage may certainly have been inspired by the actual method of collecting gold in ancient and modern Colchis – as Tim Severin suggested in 1984.  

When asked specifically about the geologists’ research approach, Tully said:

While they are rather cursory on their Classical literature, on the other hand, where the authors of this article have expertise, in their sciency approach to the subject, they seem fine and I would cite them myself. They seem to have done the work and know the topic. I, on the other hand, have no science background so I have to take their word for it. But the article is in a peer reviewed journal, which would suggest that it was of a reasonable scholarly standard. I would trust the authors in their expertise re the geology and mineralogy of Georgia / Colchis. What they’ve said in regards to the sciency angle seems reasonable to me.

I’m not saying their claims about the mythology are wrong, just that they shouldn’t bother trying to specifically match Jason and the Argonaut’s voyage – especially because they are not specialists in Classical Archaeology or Classical Literature… They should stick to their specialty – science.

Tully then went on to speculate more deeply on the theory from both a mythological or historical standpoint. She said:

Surely lots of Greeks went to the corners of the Black Sea. There were Greek colonies all around the Black Sea. That is well known. So, Jason and the Argonauts could be a sort of generic adventure that combines stories from all those sailors’ adventures. I mean there might be evidence of “Jason” over there in Colchis, I don’t recall any inscriptions saying “Jason was here” but there might have been and that would be mentioned in Severin’s book

Jason is quite interesting. His name comes from the root for “medicine” or “doctor” or “healing”, that sort of thing, the root being “Ia” as in “Iatros, or any mediciney word that derives from the Greek root “Ia”. thats “i”, not “L”. Anyway, there is talk that perhaps Jason was originally the magical one who had knowledge of herbs and poisons, rather than (or as well as) Medea.

What Tully is referring to here is a theory proposed by scholar Yulia Ustinova in 2004. In her paper titled Jason the Shaman, Ustinova claims that Jason’s mythical biography define him not only as a hero and a father, but also as having a “shamanic personality.”  She concludes, “The most important functions of a shaman are healing, retrieving of the souls of the sick from the malevolent powers, and escorting the souls of the dead to the nether world … These major elements, initiation period under the tutelage of a skilled shaman and seer, a horrible ordeal, healing talents and a voyage to the netherworld in order to bring back a dead soul and a magical object are present in Jason’s mythic personality.”

The Goddess Athena helping Jason's ship, terracotta relief, British Museum [Credit: Townley Collection, cc. lic. Wikimedia]

The Goddess Athena helping Jason’s ship, terracotta relief, British Museum [Credit: Townley Collection, cc. lic. Wikimedia]

Tully went on to say, “The idea that collecting gold with a sheep skin influenced the story of Jason and the Argonauts is perfectly feasible…” because, as suggested earlier, myths can be based in historical fact. She added as an aside:

Speaking of myths being real.. there’s a great new book out by Adrienne Mayor called “The Amazons.” Classicists have always thought the Amazons were completely mythical, but Mayor, who is a classical scholar, interprets archaeological remains of female warriors from around the Black Sea and into Central Asia as what probably were … the “Amazons” of Greek myth. Of course “myth” doesn’t mean “untrue”… but we mainly tend to think that the bulk of myth is just a story. But its perfectly feasible that myth has components of actual events in it.

While Tully believes that the geologists do make a reasonably good case from a scientific perspective, she said that their work would have been more convincing if they were “better writers” or knew more about “classical literature and archaeology.” Tully also would have liked to have seen a photo of one of the collected fleeces. However she also noted that this failing is not unusual in the academic world. She said:

This is a bit like the spate of articles that came out with varying degrees of dry sciency language when it was discovered that there indeed was a crevice that produced psychoactive gases under the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Because the scientists verified it.. but they aren’t very evocative writers.

In the end Tully summed up her discussion of the topic by saying, “Yes, it is a perfectly reasonable claim which seems to be backed by science. (Well, except that I think they can’t possibly say that it is “proof” that the Argonaut’s story was ‘true”. It’s suggestive that  some of the Argonauts’ story may have had factual components).”

The Satanic Temple logoTALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA –The Satanic Temple struck another blow for religious equality when it secured the right to erect a Satanic holiday display in Florida’s capitol. It will sit alongside a display celebrating the birth of Jesus, the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a pole marking Festivus. This is the same Satanic organization that has previously offered to make a bronze statue of Baphoment for the Oklahoma capitol, announced it would distribute Satanic literature to Florida schoolchildren, and performed same-sex weddings over the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother. Reviled by stalwart Christians and mistrusted by other Satanists, The Satanic Temple invariably makes a media splash when it comments on the separation of church and state.

So many Pagans have spent time either rehearsing or actually having conversations explaining how Paganism differs from Satanism. Therefore it is no surprise that The Satanic Temple has received negative reactions from Pagans. But is there anything this group can teach Pagans about public relations or defending religious freedom?

To find out, we first asked how this organization relates to Pagans, if at all. The spokesperson for the temple, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, explained that there’s always been a bit of push back from Pagans:

It happens less now — probably because of our apparent successes — but in the beginning, we would receive occasional messages from Pagans and Atheists, both concerned that our activities were attaching their own values or symbols to a caricature of ultimate evil. The concern seems to be that, by invoking Satanism, we serve to justify the worst fears born of superstitious bigotry.

The notion that we should coddle such divisive witch-hunting impulses by maintaining a taboo against Satanism is, I feel, a completely backward approach. In fact, there is a culture of Satanism, culled from various elements, including Pagan symbols. The identification with Satanism isn’t arbitrary to the point that we feel it could simply be exchanged for a more palatable label. Satan symbolizes unsilenced inquiry, rebellion against tyranny, and personal freedom.

For a Pagan, or any other minority religion, to openly engage in efforts to distance themselves from Satanism serves only to affirm the misguided notion that Satanism stands for cruelty, abject depravity, and unabashed evil. As Satan, mythologically, stands in opposition to the Biblical God’s authority, Satanism too is feared to challenge Biblical doctrines of faith. To concede that such opposition must, by its nature, be corrupt and criminal is to conversely affirm that traditional religious institutions hold a monopoly on moral virtue.

In fact, we feel our campaigns embrace the highest of moral callings — from gay rights, to women’s rights, to the protection of children against institutionalized abuse. In each of these cases, we fight against regressive mainstream religious thinking. I think that by embracing Satanism, we represent another phase in our civilization’s social growth. This is another step toward ensuring that each individual is judged for his or her actual actions in the real world, free of fear from persecution for symbolic crimes and/or “blasphemy.” If our past has taught us anything, it’s that the most cruel and evil acts are committed not at the hands of secret religious minorities, but by the witch-hunters whose paranoia allows them to imagine such minorities are willfully acting against the common good.

With that background, we asked a few Pagans and Polytheists the following question. What can Pagans learn from The Satanic Temple? It turns out that they had a lot to say.

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle recognizes the activism in the temple’s work:

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

The Satanic Temple is approaching the public square head on, with no apologies. I appreciate that. Their take on things is, “OK. Religious materials in schools? Here’s an educational children’s book that we are handing out. You ruled that it was fine,” and, “Monumental religious statues at the state capitol? Here is one of our own.” They are also mobilizing around issues such as reproductive rights and the rights of children to not suffer corporal punishment.

The Satanic Temple are unapologetically themselves and move ahead by assuming they already have the same civil rights as other religions. In approaching the public sphere in this way, they serve to highlight where the real cracks in the wall of “separation of church and state” are. The Satanic Temple, by acting forthrightly, are taking a hammer and chisel to those cracks. For this, I applaud them.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt spoke of the need to become ‘conscious pariahs’ rather than parvenues (assimilationists) or pariahs outcast by society. The conscious pariah rejects and directly challenges the status quo, not from petulant rebellion, but because the status quo is corrupt. There is great power in choosing to be a conscious pariah. I see some Pagan groups wishing to be “just like everyone else” and that can take away some of the power and bite we have in not being like everyone else. The role of the conscious challenger is important to society. I think that Pagans could take some lessons from the ways the Satanic Temple are issuing their challenges and refusing to assimilate. They are acting from their power, rather than begging for it or giving it away.

Their most recent holiday display, though? I find it offensive. Why? It’s bad art.

Kirk White, author and (now unaffiliated) founder of Cherry Hill Seminary also appreciates that The Satanic Temple is true to its path:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

I have long been an advocate for Pagans walking a middle path. On the one hand, I think it behooves and benefits us to resist being cast as ‘other, outcast, the antithesis of normal.’ On the other hand we absolutely must retain our integrity and not sell out those features of our beliefs and practices that define and distinguish us just to gain respectability and acceptance. And of course, we must always be willing to stand up against institutional oppression.

What the Satanic Temple is doing greatly benefits religious freedom across the spectrum and Pagans should support those and similar efforts. Their outrageous, funny, ‘in your face’ approach is proving effective. But they do so purposefully building on their otherness and with no expectation of being accepted or even taken seriously as a religion. Their social power is in their marginality and their oppositional approach. If Pagans decide to replicate their ‘in your face’ approach we allow the overculture to define us in contrast to themselves rather on our own unique qualities and merits. We become the enemy rather than the neighbors. We should support them, but I do not believe that we should replicate their methods.

Boeotian polytheist and Neo-Cyrenaic Ruadhán J McElroy would like to see more people pushing boundaries:

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

I pretty much only know the highly publicized activities of The Satanic Temple, but from that alone, I think between that and the later, philosophy-focused writings of LaVey, it would do the Pagan Community, and all pagans, polytheists, and others involved in alternative religion, a lot of good to do more questioning of the status quo and pushing boundaries of both society and oneself. Sometimes comfort zones exist for a reason, but a lot of times we construct them as a crutch, which does us no good.

If a person who can walk chooses to instead live in a wheelchair, their muscles atrophy and they come to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again, and if a wheelchair bound person doesn’t get certain physical therapies and daily time in a standing frame, they open themselves up to all sorts of health issues, from muscle spasms to potentially fatal blood clots. With my chronic back pain, you have no idea how much I want to just give up and get a wheelchair, some days, but if I can at all walk through the pain, I make myself cos it’s better for me to walk than to not. Since we clearly need to do physical things every day that push our boundaries, lest we risk atrophy or worse, we also have to push our boundaries mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and of the culture we are in. Or as the Cyreniacs might say, sometimes you gotta make a little rough motion to make a big smooth motion.

It’s good that The Satanic Temple is willing to push those boundaries of the culture in such a public way, though I wish I could say at this point that I’m disappointed that I’ve not seen as many pagans and polytheists doing similar –I’m too used to pagans (and especially Pagans) who are content with the status quo and too fearful of rocking any boats, even if someone set the starboard on fire and you gotta douse it (like what’s been going on in Missouri), to be disappointed in pagans, anymore.

Ritualist and speaker Shauna Aura Knight thinks it’s worth learning how The Satanic Temple handles the media:

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

The Satanic Temple effectively uses shock and the legal system to their advantage. There are few Pagan groups out there with much media savvy, and fewer still able bankroll lawyers. I have a background in marketing work, and I’d say that The Satanic Temple is cleverly using the fact that many people think that Satanists are about the worst thing ever. Specifically, they’re using the outrage to call attention to infringements on the separation between church and state.

It’s pretty clear that the dominant religions want those infringements—so long as it’s their own religion. When TST introduces themselves into that infringement they appall people. It’s incredibly effective tactic as an activist. You want prayers before city council meetings… religious holiday scenes…statuary at public buildings? You want to give out religious texts at school? You want your religion to provide a legal loophole supporting your beliefs on contraception and abortion?

Ok. Then Satanists can do that too. People rarely see a problem with the status quo until provoked.

This strategy of contrast doesn’t work quite as well for Pagans because most Pagans have been trying hard to put out the PR that we’re not that bad, we’re good people. Satanists don’t seem afraid of their own bad press and use it to further their goals.

However, Pagans can still effect the same legal pressuring which could provoke the, “If I have to include you, then we just won’t have any prayers at all.” However, that still requires us to have professional media and PR folks as well as lawyers on retainer.

What we can learn from The Satanic Temple is that with trained media professionals and a legal budget, we too can combat the system. TST understands a strategic aspect of activism; sometimes you have to play the legal game. TST grasps the rules of the system and is willing to exploit those rules and find the loopholes. We can do this too with enough budget and expertise.

Knight’s comments about being able to “bankroll lawyers” was not a unique sentiment, but Greaves says it’s not entirely deserved.

Our cadre of lawyers (from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) representing us in Florida were pro bono, working for us at no charge, simply because they believed strongly in our position. To be clear, it would be a mistake to think that these lawyers were motivated by the prospect of receiving compensation in the form of monetary damages from the lawsuit. In fact, we weren’t seeking monetary damages at all, only to secure the right to place our holiday display in the Capitol Rotunda. And this, largely, is how we’ve managed to get so many things done: our campaigns have resonated deeply with people who support our positions, to the point that they will volunteer their efforts, even if many of them don’t care to identify as Satanists themselves.

In the case of the Baphomet monument, we crowd-funded around $30k through Indiegogo, after which we found an amazing sculptor who was willing to work on the project at-cost. Even with that solid foundation, the monument ended up costing 10s of thousands more. I, and the other core membership of The Satanic Temple, have consistently put significant amounts of our own money into our campaigns. It seems we’re always scraping up the bottom dollar to push things through, but we keep moving forward. Despite the heavy burden this imposes, we think that the imposition of dues for religious affiliation is inappropriate. We sell merchandise in hopes of generating revenue toward our campaigns, but this hasn’t proven lucrative by any means. We clearly have the beginnings of some enormous legal battles now in the works, for which we have set up a legal fund.

As for Greaves’ advice for Pagans talking to the media, he recommends, “Stay on point and control the dialogue. Don’t be pulled into superfluous and irrelevant arguments. If you’re asked an unreasonable question, simply answer with whatever message you wish to put forward, whether it addresses the question in any way or not.” He might file all questions about theology under ‘unreasonable,’ because he also says, “Move away from meticulously describing what it is you believe and practice. Your material has long been publicly available to the genuinely curious. You simply do not have to justify your religious perspective to anybody to assert your rights as equally regarded citizen[s].”

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin

MOSCOW –An influential figure in the Russian Orthodox Church has said he’d like to see “neo-paganism” made illegal in that country. In remarks at the international congress of Orthodox youth, as reported by Interfax, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin declared, “Let’s say that three things – Wahhabism, Nazism and aggressive neo-paganism – should be removed from the country’s life at the level of the law. Let’s not try to be friends with any of that.”

We spoke to Gwiddon Harvester, the national coordinator of the Pagan Federation International Russia. He provided some context for this statement for Western readers.

The Wild Hunt: Is Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin credible enough that his suggestions might be considered by the authorities?

Gwiddon Harvester: Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin is the Chairman of the “Department of External Relations of Church and Society” in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). He is also a member of the National Civic Chamber, a hand-picked counsel of 126 persons, who are supposed to be advising the Kremlin on issues important to the Russian people. He is a member of the “President’s Committee on Liasons with Religious Organizations.” He serves as a parish priest in Moscow. Unofficially, he is regarded by many as a “Church spokesperson.”

Whether he is considered credible enough by the authorities or not is a very open question. Russian internal politics are extremely opaque … Despite a formal separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution, we have seen a general trend over the past twenty years of gradual merging of the Church into the fabric of Kremlin’s power system. It is not a great stretch to claim that as far as everyone is concerned the ROC is the Kremlin’s “Department of Spiritual Ideology.”

ROC receives significant state funding and forced “shotgun donations” from businesses; holds monopoly licenses on certain sectors of the economy, [and] receives vast grants of land and buildings. The State conveniently allows the ROC to maintain non-transparent accounting and hushes up any scandals related to money-laundering, corruption or pedophilia in the ROC. The Kremlin in turn uses the Church influence on the common folks to translate certain ideas and messages.

I do not believe that everything Chaplin says is sanctioned by the Kremlin. It is not quite as simple as that. There have been times in the past, when Church rhetoric provoked significant public backlash, and Chaplin was forced to backpedal or refuse ownership of his words.

Considering that this particular speech was presented at the “International Forum of Orthodox Youth” in Moscow, this could be an unsanctioned, personal or a ROC-sanctioned only attempt to tie-in religious extremism of various kinds (except for the Orthodox extremists, whom Chaplin conveniently omits) with political risks … Whether or not the Kremlin makes a fuss over it, we do not know yet.

Considering how often Chaplin says outrageous things, I doubt that much will come out of this particular speech. Then again, as the Kremlin becomes increasingly unpredictable, anything is possible.

TWH: On what basis does he lump together these three concepts? What do you think he means by “aggressive neo-paganism?”

GH: I am unable to do any sort of analysis on how he lumps up these concepts. The only clear description is that of Wahhabism, which Chaplin calls, incorrectly, “pseudo-Islamic.” He also talks about Nazis, but whether he means the Russian nationalists or actual followers of Nazi ideology, I cannot wager a guess.

I do not know precisely what he means by “aggressive neo-paganism,” as this turn of phrase is new to me. I have not seen this [term] being used by anyone in the past. However, if I were to speculate, the main theme may be an extremist ideology … and the potential for using violence.  Chaplin says that these extreme groups are more likely to cause a revolution than the liberal democrats, which the Kremlin fears the most at the moment. Therefore, he proposes to pass a law banning the extreme ideology.

By the way, extremism is already a criminal offence in Russia, meaning that anyone publicly calling for extermination of certain members of society or claiming their own superiority gets jail time … Chaplin’s suggestion to ban the ideology is redundant, as extremism is already a criminal offence.

[In] another article, dated Feb. 2014, as a response to the shooting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Chaplin says that there is a danger from “pseudo-islamic extremists, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Pagan groups.” It means that he was working on developing ties between these three categories for some time. In that article, Chaplin also refers to the Church Counsel of 1994, where a resolution was adopted regarding danger of Neo-Pagan cults, because these cults, in the opinion of the Counsel “aggressively destroy the Russian traditional values and attack the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

300px-Christ_the_Savior_Cathedral_Moscow

Russian Cathedral in Moscow [Public Domain]

TWH: Are there extremist Pagan elements in Russia? Alternatively, do people perceive this as the truth, whether or not it is?

GH: This really depends on our definition of Paganism. There are several Russians who identify themselves as Pagans and at the same time espouse a philosophy of hatred towards the society at large, members of other ethnic backgrounds, or homosexuals, or women, perhaps. Their numbers are very small .. but I cannot simply say that they do not exist.

As a national coordinator for Pagan Federation International Russia, I use the following rule of thumb. Iff someone hates others and calls for violence against others, then they are violating the second principle of PFI, and as far as I am concerned, they are not really Pagan, but rather psychopaths, abusing Pagan symbols…

Over the years, we had several incidents, involving such individuals.

  • The largest one was over the “Ancient Russian Inglian Church of Orthodox Old Believers-Inglings” – a group, registered in Omsk in 1992 by Alexander Khinevich, [who] published several books and formed a brain-washing cult, which mixed elements from Scandinavian Sagas, Hindu mythology, Slavic folktales, science fiction (aliens), Mormonism, with rituals from Orthodox sects of Old-Believers (starovery) … Every other Pagan group in Russia considers Khinevich a charlatan, a fraud and someone who abuses the very name of Paganism.
  • In 2009 there was a much-publicized murder of Daniil Sysoev, a parish priest of ROC in Moscow. Sysoev was famous for hateful and extremist rhetoric, as well as dubious efforts of converting Muslims, protestants and Neo-Pagans “back to the flock.” He was shot to death in his own church by an unknown gunman. Interfax widely distributed news, that an unidentified informer told the police that Sysoev was murdered by Pagans … The police currently consider that Sysoev was most likely murdered for converting Muslims to Christianity.
  • In February of 2014 there was a shooting in a church in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. An armed security guard, Stepan Komarov, killed a beggar and a nun, as well as wounded six worshippers, while shouting for everyone to get out of the church. He was detained by police and is currently awaiting trial … [Komarov] had a nazi swastika and a pseudo-Pagan symbol of the sun tattooed on his torso and back … ROC Bishop of Sakhalin Tikhon claimed that this was an attempt to scare people away from the Church and shared that he believes Komarov is a Neo-Pagan.

From time to time, the police detain certain individuals and ban published materials of small Pagan groups for violating the law on extremist literature, usually due to anti-Semitism or anti-government rhetoric. However, in all cases that I am aware of, these individuals were also members of right-wing nationalist groups, so their arrests were not connected to Paganism, per se.

Based on the facts of the matter, I cannot find any aggressive Neo-Pagans out there, who Chaplin alleges are so dangerous, that they can start up a revolution. If there were, we certainly would have knowledge about them in one way or another … The majority of Pagans seem to be happy where they are and don’t feel the need to insult others, or insist on their own superiority. They are doing their own thing and often don’t really know much or care about what others are doing. A growing minority also wants to create ties with Pagans from other countries and recognize common European Pagan heritage. These are the sort of people, who are willing to work with PFI, the more open-minded kind.

TWH: If ROC does has so much influence, why is ROC specifically so concerned?

GH: The reason why ROC is so concerned about Neo-Paganism, and why it thinks Neo-Pagans are aggressive, may be due to the fact that over the past twenty years or so, the ROC is working on monopolizing Russian religious thought. Since 2009, the Church repeatedly stated that Christian Orthodoxy is the only faith for ethnic Russians, in fact, they credit Christianity with the creation of the Russian nation. Therefore, Russian Neo-Pagans are a threat to their monopoly.

How can you be an ethnic Russian and suddenly not an Orthodox Christian? To ROC this is a very dangerous idea. A young and head-strong ideological rival threatens ROC access to State funding and support. This is a question of survival for ROC, as the State may just as easily decide to ditch its support for archaic and poorly-attended ROC, and switch to supporting the young and growing Russian Pagan movement. In the early 1990s the State ditched the communist ideology to support the ROC, so, who is to say that the same thing will not happen again.

Now, the irony of this whole situation is that every Pagan I talked to really dreads any sort of State support or involvement in Pagan affairs, including State funding. The idea of having a national Pagan religion as part of the State ideology will be a disaster for us. Our strength is in being true to our own vision of spirituality, growing organically … What Pagans need is for the State to provide a level playing field, and not to play favorites.

The reference to 1994 Church Counsel in Chaplin’s Feb. 2014 article is revealing, in that Chaplin appears to refer to a very specific Neo-Pagan “aggression” in his speech. Namely, the critical or humorous references to ROC in writings and internet messages posted by some Pagans. Now, Pagans all over the world like to poke a bit of fun at Christianity’s expense now and again, and I personally find it quite in poor taste to do so, as I know quite a few devoted Christians, who are very sincere and actually help others.

[But] ROC is a bit thin-skinned about any sort of criticism, I think in a way, because they are not at all sure of themselves, of how stable they are. Some humor is just too close to the truth for their comfort. ROC would like to position this criticism and humor as sacrilege and aggression. However, I can hardly envision the public buying that idea.

pf_web1TWH: What is the general public attitude toward Pagans in Russia?

GH: [The Public] is largely unaware of the Neo-Pagan movement altogether. Most Russians are not religious at all, although many are superstitious. Hardly anyone ever goes to Church. The only well-attended Church celebration is Easter, and even then people go to Church just to get the eggs and the bread blessed and leave immediately after…

According to the National Census in 2012, 41% of Russians identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. Fewer than 4% of all Orthodox Christians regularly attend mandatory Church services and fewer than 5% belong to a parish. Fewer than 8% have ever read the Bible and fewer than 1% believe that following a different religion is a sin.

Whenever I speak with non-Pagans about Paganism, they mostly think this is a role-playing club or an Eastern religious cult of some sort, something like the Society of Krishna. However the vast majority simply have no idea what it is, or vaguely remember something from school about Christianization of Rus in the tenth century CE and find it surprising. I have never heard any members of the public, other than ROC officials, refer to Neo-Pagans as aggressive or dangerous.

TWH: Was PFI familiar with Chaplin’s recent statements? Do they come as a surprise?

GH: PFI was aware of this talk by Chaplin, as it was mentioned on national news. We decided not to pursue this matter, as there appears to be no specific harm done, and the matter is not new.

TWH: Can you briefly characterize the types of Pagan religion practiced in Russia?

GH: The National Census in 2012 identified that 1.2% of all Russians adhere to Pagan faiths. About half of them belong to native non-Russian ethnic groups … It is estimated that Russian modern Pagans number around 600,000 people in total. PFI commenced an ongoing poll in 2014 held at vk.com, where Pagans may report their tradition or path. Over the past six months 3,049 Pagans participated in the poll, which makes up for about 0.5% of total estimated Pagan population. This percentage is significant enough for statistical purposes to draw an estimate of relative numbers of Pagans in each path.

  • 31.4% Slavic Paganism (reconstruction)
  • 25.8% could not identify themselves with any particular path or were newcomers
  • 18.7% Wicca
  • 15% Asatru
  • 3.2% – Neo-Shamans
  • 3% – Other Reconstructionists (Celtic, Hellenic, Khemetic, etc.)
  • 2.2% – Hermetic (Western Occult) Pagans or Thelemites

This data needs to be adjusted for the fact that not all Pagans are on the internet or have accounts at VK and that many chose not to participate. At present, we have not determined a multiplier robust enough to present credible figures.

I estimate that at least half of all Pagans, or 300,000 people, follow a Slavic path in some way, shape or form. They are inspired by written accounts of old Slavic practices, ethnography, folk traditions, fairy tales, modern Pagan books, as well as their own insight … There are several large associations of Slavic Pagans at present, and many individual groups in various Russian cities.

Many Pagans do not want to be confined to a specific tradition or path, and are happy to pursue their own thing, gathering information and experimenting with various concepts and ideas, including Hindu religions, Tao, Tantra, Dzen-Buddhism, the left-hand path, new age concepts. There are also those who would research the ways of old Russian vedma.

Most Wiccans in Russia are solitary eclectic witches, learning from books and the internet. There are open groups available in Moscow and St Petersburg that we know of. Many Wiccans are university students or young adults.

Asatru and other Norse path practitioners have been practicing for some time in Russia, although I do not know when or where the first groups started. There are groups of Asatru in several cities now, the; the largest ones are in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Other traditions and paths include Neo-Shamanic practices, both Siberian and Castaneda, reconstructions of various ethnic Pagan traditions, Celtic being most popular, followed by Khemetic and Hellenic or Roman. Some reconstruct the Germanic traditions … There are Hermetic groups in Moscow and St Petersburg, mostly of French Masonic or Rosicrucian background. There is an O.T.O. camp and quite a few followers of Thelema.

Russian Pagans cleaning the stones on May 7th

Russian Pagans cleaning public sacred stones 2014

TWH: What is the climate for those practicing minority Pagan faiths in your country?

GH: The climate, generally speaking, is quite neutral. I cannot in all honesty claim that Pagans are being persecuted at the moment in Russia. We are free to set up any internet presence we want. We are free to report the creation of local Pagan groups to the Municipal government, and nobody makes a fuss. We cannot register religious organizations at the moment, unless a religious group has been in continuous practice for 15 years. But these rules are the same for all newer religions, not just Pagans. The public is generally not aware that we exist, however, both Slavic Pagans and Wiccans participated in TV documentaries on National TV over the last few years, and we heard hardly any feedback from the community.

We generally gather in public parks in Moscow or at private dwellings, and I have not heard of any trouble. I personally lead a Wiccan ritual in robes in the middle of a busy lawn in Gorkiy Park after work and not a single passerby even stopped for a gawk. Slavic groups set up permanent altars and open-air temples with statues of Gods in public parks from time to time around Moscow. Occasionally these statues get vandalized, usually by fanatical extreme Orthodox youth groups, or perhaps just deranged individuals, one may never know.

Overall, we try to go by the rule of “live and let live,” not to be too much “in your face” of the establishment, and at the same time not hiding from anyone.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — In a move that has raised eyebrows — and some ire — in the online Catholic community, Loyola University of Chicago recognized a student group that promotes Paganism. The club was approved by the university’s student government, a step which is necessary in many colleges to become eligible for funding and for the use of school buildings, not the school’s administration. When the administration became aware of its existence, the club was told to remove “Pagan” from its name. Administrators were apparently unaware of the new club until the story was picked up by the national news site The College Fix.

loyolaThat’s the story as told by club founder and president Jill Kreider:

I started the club in the hopes of letting people know that there are Pagan students on campus. My friend and VP is a Celtic pagan and he and I both wanted this club to at least acknowledge our existence, even if we didn’t make it past the initial interview stage.The upper administration had little to do with the original process and only came into the picture after the [College] Fix article alerted them of our existence.

Kreider, who also serves as an interfaith advocate on campus, didn’t share much with The Wild Hunt, citing a desire to “tread lightly” and a heavy school workload. In an email to The College Fix about the club, she shared some of her vision:

Loyola’s mission states that, ‘seeking God in all things’ is one of the main [tenets] of the university. While the mission primarily focuses on the Abrahamic God, there is no reason a Pagan student (or a Hindu, Baha’i or Sikh student) cannot seek using his or her own faith, regardless of which god they are doing it for.

Loyola University Chicago is one of 175 run by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member. The school is named for the Jesuits’ founder, Ignatius Loyola. Kreider’s remarks resulted in a firestorm of comments, articles and posts online, especially attached to that original story.

While some equated Pagan religions to Satanism or defended those faiths, a larger number of the posts speak to the internal conflicts within Christianity itself. Based on the comment threads, Roman Catholicism is deemed suspect by many other Christians, in part because of the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary, which critics equate with Pagan idolatry. Defenders of Paganism, using well-worn arguments about the Pagan symbolism underlying many Christian festivals, have been met with agreement from those who wish to denounce Catholicism as a tool of the Devil. Here’s a typical anti-Catholic diatribe from another Christian in the thread:

The Catholic cult is the largest organization of homosexuals, pedophiles and anti-christs on this earth. Their doctrine is pagan and the Word of God identifies them with over 20 points of identification that THEY ARE INDEED THE BEAST OF REVELATION AND DANIEL. –Jennifer Chronister

University officials appear to be treading lightly themselves in this case. In response to inquiries by The Wild Hunt, spokesperson Steven Christensen provided the same statement given to The College Fix. Here is that response in its entirety:

I can confirm that the Pagan Student Alliance was granted recognition by the Department of Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA), which is a unit within the Division of Student Development, on October 9, 2014. Requests to form new student organizations are accepted at the beginning of each semester, and a number of factors are considered before recognition is granted to an organization. Those factors do not require a potential organization to identify with the religious views of the University.

Following the SAGA approval, other leaders within Student Development expressed concerns related to the organization’s name, and the breadth and lack of definition of its constitution. During the week of October 13, the president and vice president of the Pagan Student Alliance met with Student Development leadership regarding these concerns and the group agreed to modify the name of the organization to the Indigenous Faith Traditions Alliance. As with all student organizations, a clear sense of purpose is required, and the group has been asked to further define their purpose on campus. The group has agreed to this request.

Related to this, and all student groups, at Loyola we welcome and foster an open exchange of ideas and encourage debate and sharing differing views and opinions to advance education. We believe that discussion around complex topics results in deeper critical thinking skills and well-rounded citizens.

According to the university website, “The search for truth is carried out in an atmosphere of Academic Freedom and open inquiry based on two fundamental assumptions of the Catholic faith. First, that the truth will set us free. Second, that faith and reason ultimately bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.”  Welcoming a Pagan, or rather an “Indigenous Faith Traditions,” club appears consistent for a university that already has Muslim and Hindu clubs on campus.

In editorial on Christian blog site Aleteia.org, Susan E. Wills prodded at the new name of the club, saying, “. . . one can’t help but picture a group meeting of Buddhists, Taoists, Santeras . . . Wiccans, and pagans all arguing over whether Wiccans should even be allowed in the club. It is not an ‘indigenous’ religion at all. It was basically created in the 1950s by the self-proclaimed Druid Gerald Gardner, an Englishman.” Wills goes on to question how Wiccan theology fits into a Catholic worldview, saying:

“Wicca is a religion only in the loosest sense of the word, having been cobbled together from various sources in the 1950s, having no defined doctrine (as each practitioner is free to believe what he or she wants) and largely practiced alone … While individual Wiccans may be ‘good people’ and ‘good citizens’, it is difficult to see any nuggets of truth or goodness in Wicca itself.”

While the original College Fix article points out that Wicca is one of the better-known Pagan religions, it’s the only reference to the Wiccan faith in connection with the club. It’s not clear why Wills chose to fixate on Wicca in her remarks. Kreider identifies herself as Hellenistic Pagan and her vice-president as a Celtic Pagan. The group’s original mission as posted on Facebook was, “to unify Pagans, the spiritual but not religious, those seeking faith or religion, minority faith students (including but not limited to: Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto practitioners, Santeras, etc…) pluralists and those students interested in New Age religions on Loyola’s campus. If you don’t have a faith group on campus, we’re here to fill that gap!”

In an article published in the Oct. 17 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie discusses the new problems facing Catholic colleges today as the religious climate of the United States changes. According to the article, in 1973 82% of full-time freshmen at Catholic colleges identified as Catholic. In 2013, that number was only 50%. Loyola’s acceptance of the new Pagan club appears to be one example of a Jesuit university being forced to wrestle with its own identity in modern society and, as such, making an effort to adjust to an evolving student population.

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

In recent weeks, a debate has heated up around this topic. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Today we take a closer look at this difficult topic.

Technical details of sacrifice

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

. . . under optimum (e.g. correct, humane) circumstances of animal sacrifice, the animal has been raised in small farming set-ups (rather than industrial meat factories), handled by people it is familiar with interpersonally who regard them with respect and dignity from the start, and in the time leading up to the ritual, treated as living kings. A distressed animal, which is the standard state of industrial slaughter, is literally unfit for most sacrificial rites: the calmness and comfort of the animals is the primary logistical concern. — Anomalous Thracian

Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stoke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

Such exactness in the act was also stressed by Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess trained in sacrifice, who said:

Galina Krasskova

 . . . the animal is carefully chosen. It is cared for, pampered, fed well, and on the day of the sacrifice decorated, soothed, and kept calm. When the sacrifice is made, it is done with a scalpel-sharp blade and a clean, quick cut. Compassion is not what I look for in a sacrificial priest. I look for training and skill. Having the proper skill guarantees that the animal will not suffer, whereas if one approaches the act of sacrifice awash in strong emotion there’s actually a greater likelihood that a mistake will be made, the priest will hesitate, and as a result the animal will have pain.

The idea that an animal that has suffered physically or psychically is unsuitable for sacrifice may be a modern convention. Did the ancient practice of drowning horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon take into consideration the feelings of the animal? Did those people have the same 21st-century understanding of anatomy?

While a portion of the animal itself is often part of the offering, usually the bulk of the meat is consumed, a tradition which is described by Australian Hellenic polytheist Markos Gage:

In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product.

Many who support sacrifice see the disconnect from where our meat comes as being the driving force in the pushback against the practice this rite. Conor O’Bryan Warren, in a column on Polytheist.com, speaks of growing up in an agricultural family, and how his view of the killing of animals differed greatly from many of his college classmates:

Most of the people in the class are inculturated with a Western Protestant worldview which sees the exploitation and torture of animals for profit (and thus a cog in the machine of Corporate Capitalism) as being completely acceptable but which views their sacrifice for religious purposes as being terribly barbaric and backwards.

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

The Druid organization Ár nDríaocht Féin does not permit any form of blood sacrifice in public rituals. Archdruid Kirk Thomas said that it’s fraught with problems for the inexperienced practitioner and from a public relations standpoint.

The reasons are many. One is it would be bad public relations — most people are more than happy to eat meat slaughtered in abattoirs in inhumane ways as long as it’s cheap and they don’t have to witness the killings. But to kill an animal in front of them would bring the horror of violent death far too close for comfort. Also, none of us are trained in the art of killing an animal in a painless and humane way. In the end we’d probably end up with a bloody mess.

However, we don’t regulate non-public rites. We actively discourage animal sacrifice but should some member own a farm and be trained in the slaughter of his or her own herds, then who are we to stop them from praying over their animals before dispatching them? Personally, I’d rather the poor creatures be commended to the Gods before their deaths than not, with forgiveness asked and, hopefully, given.

While it was often a public event in antiquity, modern sacrifice is largely a private affair, noted Night in his explanation of the mechanics of sacrifice.

Ritual context

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. That includes sacrifice as it is understood in polytheist and African traditional religions, both of which categories have some participants who identify as Pagan. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities emerge.

Consent seems to be universal among these religions, and it must be obtained from the participants, the deities, and the animals involved. No one should participate in animal sacrifice if it makes them uncomfortable or violates taboos. This act is also not performed simply to do it; divination is generally used to confirm that a particular deity wants such an offering in the first place. Divination is also one of the ways that the consent of the animal is established. Although, an experienced priest may also observe the animal’s body language and ascertain the emotional state of the creature.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

While sacrificed animals are often offered in part (or, in some cases, entirely) to the god or gods in question, that is not the only reason these rites are performed. This is a detail touched on by Lilith Dorsey, author of the blog Voodoo Universe, when she spoke to us for this story:

I understand that this is a very difficult topic for many, and is obviously one that I could speak about for volumes. Let me start by saying I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and author in addition to being an initiated practitioner of Haitian Vodou and La Regla Lucumi (more mistakenly known as Santeria), both of which include animal sacrifice as part of their rites.

Sacrifice is performed for annual feasts and also to heal individual issues.The way I explain it to people is that if you went to a medical doctor and was told that in order to save the life of a loved one you needed to give them medicine that came from a chicken gizzard, would you do it? If you would offer up the human life refusing on moral grounds, then my hat is off to you.There are several African Traditional Religious houses you can join that do not practice sacrifice of animals. Most people would choose their daughter, their father, or their true love over a chicken, and then the issue really comes to light, which is one of faith.This is a spiritual prescription, you can choose to take it or not. People put much more faith in modern medicine than they do in “scary” (meaning unknown and stereotyped) magicks that may, in reality, be much more effective.This is just one reason we perform these sacrifices, to heal. Another reason is for feasts where the ritual animals are very often eaten, which seems to quell a lot of peoples’ fears. For practitioners, myself included, the animals for ceremony are just what the Orisha or Loa (divine forces) eat. The same way lions are fed steak, the energies call for this type of offering.This is substantiated by time, tradition, divination, and success rate. People who perform these sacrifices are also highly trained, both in the spiritual art and practical design of carrying out these sacred rites.The implementation in most cases is much more humane than your friendly neighborhood slaughterhouse.

While the ADF does not advocate for the practice, Archdruid Thomas is familiar with its place in religious observance:

If we look at the ancients, we see that the sacrifice was seen in a variety of ways, such as the shared meal and as a form of reciprocity. In the shared meal we are sharing our food with the Gods, and this brings about the sense of community. And for animal sacrifices then, it was the chance for a great barbecue. According to Walter Burkert, in ancient Greece the only animal protein available for most people was from the meat of the sacrifice. Even today we often refer to our holidays as ‘feasts’. This is where that comes from.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

But even as some find the practice of sacrifice life-affirming, it’s a clear violation of what other Pagans feel is expected of them by their gods. That’s where Jason Mankey is on the issue.

As a Wiccan I do not practice animal sacrifice, nor would I ever consider such a thing. In the Charge of the Goddess, it’s all spelled out pretty clearly: ‘Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.’ If the Lady demanded sacrifice She would have said so, instead she said it was not required. If it was good enough for Gerald and Doreen then it’s good enough for me.

In addition to my Wiccan practice, I also participate in Hellenic Ritual from time to time.The Ancient Greeks sacrificed animals, like most ancient pagans, and they did so with reverence towards the gods and with a sense of practicality. People often sacrificed to the Greek gods in order to get a good meat dinner, and it was also rare (the practice, not how they cooked the meat). People were far more likely to leave the god Pan honey cakes and wine than they were to sacrifice a goat in his honor.

Should people be free to practice animal sacrifice in 2014? Of course. Eating and hunting are both legal practices, and there is a long tradition of animal sacrifice within many different pagan traditions. As long as the animals in question are being slaughtered humanely and their meat is being eaten, I don’t personally have a problem with it. In addition, if people are sacrificing animals, I hope it’s from a real place of devotion and not simply to ‘prove a point.’ If everyone’s intentions are honorable, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ To some degree we’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves.

Legal and cultural context

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

That said, many Pagans, such as David Salisbury, object to the practice on moral grounds, or because it may lead to connecting these religions with “Satanic panic”-style hysteria associated with the abduction and unwilling sacrifice of house pets. Others maintain that all life is sacred, and that taking any life is never acceptable. In his recent blog post, Salisbury concluded:

Animal sacrifice boils down to ego. Our human egos want us to think that taking a life in our own hands will impress our gods and show them that we’re willing to do big things to appease them. But we must get over ourselves. Animal sacrifice serves only to tell our minds that we’re more important than the majority of other living beings who we share this planet with.

Sannion

Sannion

Sannion is a Hellenic polytheist who, while is does not perform these rites himself, is an outspoken champion of the practice. He questions the notion that animal sacrifice is less ethical than consuming supermarket meat, or even a vegan lifestyle:

Unless you get all of your meat from local-sourced, free-range, organic farms who practice ethical slaughter you’ve got no room to object. Animals are tortured, raised in filth and never permitted to move about, pumped full of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics, shipped ridiculously long distances so that their meat can end up at your neighborhood supermarket or fast food chain. How is that preferable to what we’re doing? And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you do realize that you’re still responsible for the taking of life, right? Life that science is increasingly coming to recognize as sentient and capable of suffering. All you’re doing is prioritizing one form of life over another — a form of life, by the way, that unlike all other forms of life derives its nutrients from sun, soil and water, and therefore causes no harm to other living creatures. If you’re strictly approaching this from an ethical position, plants are the most innocent things on this planet and so should be spared from predation.

Anomalous Thracian was willing to tackle the question of perception in the overculture:

Whether a person supports or is uncomfortable with animal sacrifice, none of us wants to see the evangelical right come with pitchforks. I guarantee that in the list of ways to strategical prevent this, coming after our own with pitchforks is not a suitable answer.

If anyone on any side of this issue is serious about wanting to see peaceful, progressive, enlightened resolution take place, the issue needs to be framed as it is: a topic of prejudice against certain lawful and protected practices, which is definable as religious intolerance and discrimination. It is never acceptable to attempt to pathologize people whose cultures or religions call for the ethical slaughter and sanctification of animals. Instead we should as a movement be examining the pathology of intolerance, prejudice, and panic.

Thracian also raises the thorny question of racism as it has manifested in dialogue around animal sacrifice, a subject which River Devora addressed in her own piece on Polytheist.com about the practice:

I have heard the argument made that reconstructionist Polytheists who engage in ritual animal sacrifice are problematic, while those who are part of African Diasporic or Derived Traditions and African Traditional Religions get a ‘pass,’ as though somehow letting us ‘off the hook’ for our practice of animal sacrifice makes the speaker ‘enlightened’ or more ‘understanding’ of traditional religions.These kinds of arguments are racist and offensive. It is as though you are saying to us,’European traditions, and the (mostly) white people who practice them, should know better –- Europeans are supposed to be more enlightened.Traditions primarily being practiced by African, African American, and Latino folks can get a pass because we already know those folks are unenlightened savages.’ This is far more offensive than if you simply condemned the practice of animal sacrifice across the board.This may not be what you mean, but this is what we hear when you say it.

While animal sacrifice is legal and, in modern America, generally more humane than industrial slaughter, it evokes strong reactions in many Pagans and Heathens. We may never agree on whether or not animal sacrifice has a place in religious practice. However, the dialogue is opening up, as individuals carefully examine their own feelings toward sacrifice within their own belief structures and within their relationships with the gods.

Blessed Samhain

Heather Greene —  October 31, 2014 — 4 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and the new year according to the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of the final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of all the modern Pagan holidays.

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor Altar

During this season, other celebrations and festivals are also being held such as Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Álfablót or the Scandanavian Sacrifice to the ElvesWinter Nights by Asatru, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (October 23 this year) and the astrological Samhain on November 6th for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

We pray to those whose names are gratefully remembered. This includes people we were directly related to by blood, and also anyone we cared for who has passed on. These prayers remind us of the sacredness and impermanence of life. It reminds us of the strengths these people had, the challenges they faced, and the courage they roused up. They urge us to have these things too as we face the new day. – Lilith Dorsey, Voodoo Universe

The Crone is the guardian of the crossroads, and this is Her time. As we journey through our lives we come to many crossroads; we have so many choices, so many roads not taken. How do we choose? How do we know we’ve made the right choice? – Nicole Kapise-Perkins, Walking the Ancient Paths of Witches & Pagans

There’s something spooky and marvelous about Samhain-time, something that was expressed by the Celts and by more modern peoples afterwards … There’s an irrepressible spirit in the air this time of year. It lived with our pagan forbearers and lives within us. – Jason Mankey, Raise the Horns

Samhain is also a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently. - M. Macha Nightmare

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, Jeff Rosenbaum, Lady Loreon Vigne, Sparky T. Rabbit, Apolinario Chile Pixtun, Peter Paddon, Brian Dragon, Donald Michael Kraig, Judy Harrow, Stanley Modrzyk, Colin Wilson, Jonas Trinkūnas, Eduardo Manuel Gutierrez (Hyperion), Randy David Jeffers (Randy Sapp), Chris Keith, Olivia Robertson and many others who have not been not named here, but who have equally touched our personal lives and our communities.

And, finally, in the spirit of Alley Valkyrie’s latest article, we also take a moment to remember the forgotten dead.

On the whole … the ancient feast of Winter’s Eve has regained its ancient character, as a dual time of fun and festivity, and of confrontation of the fears and discomforts inherent in life, and embodied especially in northern latitudes by the season of cold and dark. - Ronald Hutton, The Guardian

So as we approach Samhain we honor the cycle of death, rebirth, and new life; and we honor the memory of those who have passed through the veil. We honor too the gift of life, that most precious of gifts, and we seek to drink of the cup of the wine of life to the full so that no precious drop is ever wasted. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit 

May you all have a blessed Samhain. May peace fall upon you and your beloved dead during this season. Let this be a new cycle of quiet joy and renewed blessings for all of you.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans 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.

Holt-v.-Hobbs-Infograph1

  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Casey Rae

Casey Rae

[The following is a guest book review from Casey Rae. Casey Rae is a musician, public policy wonk and the editor/publisher of The Contrarian Media. An in-demand speaker, he gives frequent talks at conferences and campuses on issues at the intersection of creativity, technology, policy and law, and is a go-to source for major media outlets from NPR to the New York Times. Casey works alongside leaders in the music, arts and performance sectors to bolster understanding of and engagement in key policy and technology issues, and has written dozens of articles on the impact of technology on the creative community. Casey is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and VP for Policy and Education at the Future of Music Coalition. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Media & Democracy Coalition and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.]

I’ve told the story more times than I can count. Five or six years old, hanging out with my high school-age uncles in a town just a couple of clicks from Stephen King‘s place and a few hurried steps through a creepy wooded path to the university where he once taught English (in the same department where my grandmother worked). Actually, “hanging out” with my uncles is probably an overstatement. More like “invading the personal space of.” The adult me is grateful either way.

81FurFykFBL._SL1417_Already a monster movie fanatic on the prowl for anything scary, I would pore through my uncles’ LP collection looking for cool covers. this was the late 1970s; a golden age for outré album sleeves. On this particular afternoon, I recall pulling out a pair of records—Alive II by KISS, and Some Enchanted Evening, a concert from Blue Öyster Cult. My parents had decent taste in music, so this wasn’t so much a rock ‘n’ roll epiphany as it was an opportunity to make choices based on my own interests—in this case, horror stuff. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that curious about the music, but my uncle said we could listen.

First up was KISS. I was definitely impressed with band members’ demonic kabuki gear and sensational makeup. The music, not so much. Even as a rock ‘n’ roll tadpole, I recognized what a shitty band KISS are. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my opinion.

Blue Öyster Cult was next. Frankly, the cover was a little too scary, depicting a black-robed skeleton astride a satanic steed, bony fingers gripping a scythe. Beast and beastie canvassed an angry Martian landscape beneath a cruel midnight sky. I had no idea what any of this was meant to symbolize, but I grokked its heaviness.

From the first needle drop I was in love. “Godzilla” was my favorite, but I was also taken by “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which even in its live embodiment possessed a haunted quality that I couldn’t put my tiny fingers on. Still can’t.

My uncle and I subsequently had a conversation about what a “reaper” is (“he collects vegetables at harvest time”); later I went back to my own burg to ruminate over the connections between these uncanny sounds and images.

And I’ve never stopped.

I’m not alone. I can name several books by legitimate occult scholars that make some attempt to trace these ley-lines; music scribes often hint at the witchier aspects of the rock Renaissance (roughly 1964-1982). But given that each camp has limited sightlines into the other, there is an opportunity for someone to bring focus to a topic that is too often tawdry or incomplete.

9780399167669_medium_Season_of_the_WitchPeter Bebergal‘s Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll [Tarcher/Penguin 2014], is an admirable attempt at uniting the tribes. First, we need a common vernacular. To Bebergal’s definition, “the occult” is less a fixed system and more of a worldview that encompasses many spiritual traditions operating outside of mainstream religious practices. Bebergal’s interest in the subject appears to be fairly similar to my own—we both became enamored of rock music as a form of escapism at a time when other entertainment options were scarce or unbearably straight-laced. Rock, with its otherworldly visual language, coded lyrics, symbolic imagery and strident musicality, provided a perfect vessel for the projections of pre-adolescents and teenagers—largely male, definitely “gifted,” and lacking an outlet for our own creative impulses. We constructed elaborate mythologies around rock, populated by a pantheon of musical heroes and villains, wizards and warriors. Record albums became a kind of palimpsest, an (un)holy writ that only the initiated could hope to discern.

And some of us never grew out of it. Which is why it’s great to encounter a fellow traveler like Bebergal, who brings a scholar’s discipline to this esoteric quest. Bebergal is a lively writer who nonetheless resists hyperbole—quite a feat given the breathlessness this topic tends to elicit. Perhaps more impressive is the book’s comprehensiveness—from Delta blues to beatnik bluster to acid evangelists to metal overlords, Season of the Witch puts the hellfire in highbrow.

Season of the Witch is strongest in its examination of the history of African Americans as they endured the cruelties of slavery only to experience the anguish of segregation. Yet even under these injustices, black Americans preserved elements of their original musical and spiritual traditions, some of which were channeled through Christianity. It is difficult and often ill-advised for those outside a specific cultural group to construct a narrative around the real struggles of a people. Especially when the topic of investigation has been used by the socioeconomic and political elite to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. To his credit, Bebergal avoids many common pitfalls. His comparative analysis of early rock ‘n’ roll and its cultural and spiritual foundries compels examination of the African-American experience. To sidestep these histories is to ignore America’s own troubled past and potential for a better future. Key to the latter is for today’s generations to become more familiar with America’s musical and cultural legacy, including its abuses.

Those who enjoy cultural anthropology and religious studies will find plenty to appreciate in Bebergal’s account of how West African trickster god and “guardian of pathways” Eshu connects to Papa Legba, the guardian of the spirit world in Hatian (and later Louisianan) Voudon. When confronted with the all-pervasive Christian dichotomy of good/evil, these spirits took on a more sinister shape, one that to Bebergal’s reckoning informs the devilish stereotypes found in Delta blues, and later, rock.

But this is hardly a singular ethnomusicology. For his next trick, Bebergal pegs Greco and European mythologies (DionysusPan) to the pagan urges present in 1960s American and European counterculture. This flowering—which ultimately inspired the civil rights agenda along with the LSD-soaked technolibertarians of Silicon Valley—paved the way for a fuller exploration of the occult by progressive rockers of the 1970s, some of whom made a serious study of such metaphysical thinkers as Paramahansa Yogananda and G. I. Gurdjieff, among others. Acting as an accelerant was The Beatles, whose fraternization with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi served as a cosmic permission slip for legions of seekers.

It’s clear that Bebergal has done real investigation; the ideas of such occult luminaries as Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are given more serious consideration than is common to your average rock tome. For example, Bebergal does not refer to Crowley as a “satanist”— an inaccuracy common to pretty much every book on Led Zeppelin I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all). And even occult scholars make mistakes; a recent book on Crowley noted that the Zeppelin LP on which “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed was IV, not III. This may not seem like a big deal to the average reader, but if I can’t trust you to get a detail like that right, can I trust you to illuminate how Rosicrucianism came to Europe?

While it is clear that Bebergal has done his homework, he hasn’t fully soaked in the hermetic traditions of the West (aka magick and its many offshoots). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are other writers, such as Erik Davis, who hit that groove. Bebergal is forthright about how he has less of an interest in the occult as a standalone topic than exploring how the symbols and associations found in rock got there to begin with. To me, this makes his occult research that much more impressive. I’ll take Bebergal’s even-keeled examinations over dilettantism or pedantry any day.

My only real complaint with Season of the Witch—besides jealousy over having not written it—is that its informational organization is a bit awkward. Not much of a gripe, given the difficulties in synthesizing and systemizing such a broad range of concepts and histories. Bebergal’s presentation is like a particularly awesome grad school lecture—it occasionally meanders, it’s not entirely concise, but is rich in context and conviction. (Apparently, we also share a lecture style.)

Some may grouse about what the book leaves out, but let’s give Bebergal a break—it would be fundamentally impossible to catalog every tributary that connects such massive bodies of water. That said, it would be interesting to teach a class in rock and the occult in a manner that could capture even more correspondences. If I were to design such a course, I’d readily assign Season of the Witch as the introductory text.

Kudos to Bebergal for taming the wily spirits of rock long enough to capture their essence in this fascinating book.

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

September 23nd, 02:29 UT, will mark the Autumnal Equinox (the evening of the 22nd in North America) which signals the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating the Spring Equinox). On this day there will be an equal amount of light and darkness, and after this day the nights grow longer and we head towards Winter. In many modern Pagan traditions this is the second of three harvest festivals (the first being Lughnasadh, the third being Samhain).

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

“In the U.S. this equinox comes on September 22 at 10:29 p.m. EDT, 9:29 p.m. CDT, 8:29 p.m. MDT or 7:29 p.m. PDT. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins.”Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

The holiday is also known as “Harvest Home” or “Mabon” by Wiccans and Witches, “Mid-Harvest”, “Foghar”, and “Alban Elfed” by some Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, and “Winter Finding” by modern-day Asatru. Most modern Pagans simply call it the Autumn Equinox. Here are some media quotes and excerpts from modern Pagans on the holiday.

“Autumn is my favorite season. As the Autumnal Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed approaches, I’m thinking of how this season has always carried a sense of magic and spirit… of descent into the sacred secrets of time… a place of reckoning, with a wise power that can see you as you go, while all the foliate cover falls away… a place where truth can’t hide. Truth is powerful and healing and terrible and cleansing and undeniable, and this is the cathartic season where you feast on it, and it feasts on you. Then you journey deep into winter to rest and wrestle and plan, and in spring rebirth comes and you assemble yourself anew, incorporating your truth, with summer being the field to practice it on and cultivate its fruits. It’s a powerful cycle. It’s a part of life for us humans, whether we’re aware of the process or not. It’s nature, and we come from the Earth and her seasons – our psyches formed by our environment… our home… our mother.” –  Lia Hunter, PaganSquare/Sage Woman

“Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon’s novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays. Admittedly, it does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, John Barleycorn. Occurring one quarter of the year after Midsummer, Harvest Home represents midautumn, autumn’s height. It is also the autumnal equinox, one of the quarter days of the year.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“On the equinox, everyone helps to make the feast, often with veggies harvested from the garden.  Little ones are given simple tasks like mashing the potatoes, and my oldest daughter loves to help roll out the pie crust for the apricots and apples collected at Grandma’s house.  Like most days, we like to talk about where our food comes from – the cycle of life that provides for us all.  But on this day, things are a little quieter.  There’s important questions to contemplate. Once the bounty is on the table, beginning to cool off, we begin.  First, I take down the special Harvest glass from the cupboard – a simple goblet engraved with fall leaves and wheat stalks.  It’s filled full of grape juice, a reminder of all the fruits and vegetables we harvest in this season.  We pass it carefully around the table, hand to hand, each family member toasting the things for which they are thankful.  In a way, it resembles a Heathen sumbel rather strongly; but instead of separate rounds, the Gods, ancestors, and spirits are hailed haphazardly along with love, family, and many of the other things we appreciate in our lives.” – Molly Khan, Patheos.com

“Although the specific date of the Autumn Equinox was not marked by any ritual in Celtic tradition, there is evidence that, at some point roughly halfway between Lughnasadh and Samhain, communities would involved themselves with a ceremony that reflected the processes then at work in the Year. This was usually a conclusion to ritual themes invoked at Lughnasadh, and focused on the end of the main harvest activities (i.e., the grain harvest), although it did not imply the end of the entire Harvest season, which continued until Samhain.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“The English holiday Harvest Home was a very real holiday for centuries. There was no set date for Harvest Home but the things that were celebrated on the holiday are what most of us would expect in early Fall. There were games, ritual celebrations of the harvest, corn dollies, feasting, and parades. Many of these may or may not be “ancient pagan” in origin but they certainly all feel pagan, and are at the very least pagan in the sense that they revolve agricultural cycles.”Jason Mankey, Patheos.com

May you all enjoy the fruits of your harvest this season.

Canadians in Print

Dodie Graham McKay —  September 20, 2014 — 7 Comments

For many pagans, books are the gateway to knowledge. They are our first teachers of magic and offer a new world of esoteric lore and knowledge. If you enter the home of just about any modern pagan you will no doubt find a bookshelf (or many bookshelves!) piled high with books written by English authors such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente or the Farrars. There will no doubt be more than a few by high profile American writers, names like Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits and Scott Cunningham or maybe the more contemporary Orion Foxwood or Christopher Penczack. Both Britain and the United States both have successful and high profile publishers of pagan books, Minnesota based Llewellyn Worldwide LTD. being easily one of the most prominent. But north of the border, up in Canada, a growing number of writers are finding their way into print and injecting a Canadian influence into the pagan publishing world. But does being from Canada influence pagan writing?

Kerr Cuhulain, Grand Master and founder of a Wiccan order of Knighthood called the Order of Paladins and author of several books including “Pagan Religions, a Diversity Training Guide “and “Full Contact Magick” had this to say about being Canadian:

Kerr Cuhulain

Kerr Cuhulain 

“I think that it’s given me the opportunity to stand outside of the US and UK Pagan communities and observe what they do. I’ve always been more interested in doing what works than doing what is traditional.”

Lady Sable Aradia, author of the newly published “The Witches Eight Paths to Power: A Complete Course in Magick & Witchcraft adds:

“I’m very proudly Canadian. We are products of our culture and environment, and I think that our particular style of understatement and ability to laugh at ourselves is one of my strengths as a writer. Being Canadian also puts me outside of a lot of the politics of North American Paganism, which allows me the luxury to comment on them from the position of an observer in many ways.”

But are Canadians really different from our American neighbours? Aside from spelling some words differently (yes, we spell it neighbours.) and pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as zed, not zee, Canadians are culturally different as well.

Brendan Myers, a prolific pagan Canadian writer, with more books under his belt than many people read in a year, had this to say about cultural differences between Canada and the US:

Dr. Brendan Myers

Dr. Brendan Myers

“… Canada is really a fringe country. We may be a rich, developed, industrialized nation, with the world’s second-biggest playground, but we’re not very populous, nor especially influential in world affairs. Standing in the shadow of our larger neighbour to the south, we are easily overlooked, or assumed to be culturally the same as that larger neighbour. Our history is not that of a conquering empire-builder, except perhaps by proxy of two of our founding nations, England and France. What is more, Canada arguably has no national mythology. One can easily point to other countries with big stories like “The American Dream”, or “The French Revolution”; these stories might be objectionable, they might have dark sides, and they may even be illusions, but they are definitely glamorous. We Canadians have no equivalent. A transcontinental railroad, a national public health care service, “peace, order, and good government”, and other “Canadian dreams” we’ve had over the centuries, don’t really deliver the same glamour. Ours is a wholesome but boring national brand. (Mind you, that might be okay.)

In that respect, as a Canadian writer, I find myself pulled in two directions. In one way, I want to write something that shows I come from a truly independent and unique nation, a distinct society (know what I mean?), and that we’re not just Americans with funny woolen hats. But in the other way, I want to write something that non-Canadians might still find interesting, and I worry that painting my stuff in red Maple leaves will turn people off.”

One of the biggest challenges for Canadian writers trying to get published is the lack of a big name publisher of pagan books in our own country. So how do these books make it to bookstore shelves? Response to this was varied between these three authors and all answers revolve around our close proximity of our neighbours to the south. Carving out our own distinct Canadian paganism is a tough one when so much of our culture, both pagan and mainstream, is overshadowed by the United States. So, is it hard to get published?

Sable:

“I would have to say not in my experience, actually. At least, not as long as you’re willing to deal with American publishers. The truth is that with such a big market just south of us, it’s very difficult for an independent Canadian arts scene to develop, and I would say that the Pagan market is more difficult still since it’s so small.”

Brendan:

“There are very few Canadian publishers who will carry a book about paganism in their catalogue. All the publishers I’ve ever worked with have been based in England or the USA. Publishers outside Canada often assume that no one outside of Canada will be interested in a Canadian perspective. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that writers in countries with larger populations, richer economies, and empires in their history, don’t need to worry about that. They benefit from a macro-economic and geo-political privilege, and a glamorous national mythology, which allows them to reach an international audience with a lot less effort.”

Kerr:

“I do not find it to be a problem at all. I’ve a large audience in the US, so it is pretty easy to find publishers for my works.”

As a former police officer/dispatcher and former Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon, an organization representing Neo-Pagan professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians), Kerr’s books reflect a Warrior spirit so often perceived from the outside of United States paganism through the work of groups like Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League or Order of the Pentacle.

Brendan’s books come from his academic background. Dr. Brendan Meyers earned his Ph.D in philosophy at the National University of Ireland, and now serves as professor of philosophy at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. His philosophy background informs his pagan writing. This theme of academia is also reflected by other Canadian writer/academics such as Shelley Rabinovich Ph.D (The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (with James Lewis, and ‘An Ye Harm None': Magical Ethics and Modern Morality (with Meredith Macdonald), and Sian Reid Ph.D (Between the Worlds: Readings in Contemporary Paganism)

What resources exist to promote sales and expose writers to new readers? Canada is a huge country; 9,984,670 square kilometers (3,855,101 square miles) stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, yet the population is just over 35 million, less than the state of California. Our pagan population is thinly and widely scattered. In this dispersion is a sense of camaraderie and support that is essential for our combined success:

Brendan:

“I get excellent support from the Canadian public, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve attended pagan events to promote my work in seven out of ten provinces now. The administration of the college where I work has supported my publishing efforts: even the Director General, my most senior manager, read Loneliness and Revelation.” 

Kerr:

“Most of the members of my Order of Paladins are Canadian. I just got back from teaching at PanFest in Edmonton. The support is there, I’m happy to say.”

Sable:

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“Well, my local community has certainly been supportive! And the shop owners I’ve contacted through Western Canada have generally welcomed me with open arms. There’s a strong East/West divide so I don’t think many people have heard of me on the other side of the country yet, but I think there’s a general “us Canucks gotta stick together” sentiment, and I know that the friends I made at the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal in 2010 have been making a great effort to spread the word. So, I would have to say that I feel very supported!”

Taking advantage of this support, Sable Aradia is about to embark on a book tour of western Canada. The tour will span four provinces, no small feat as it can take six to twelve hours to get from one city to another. Packed in her van will also be musical equipment as Sable is an accomplished singer and musician. She will also be doing house concerts to help supplement her travels. Her adventures started off close to home so far and she had this to say about how it is going:

“It’s off to a good start! I started in my hometown of Vernon, BC for the book launch and I sold out. The following weekend I went to Nelson, Castlegar, Enderby and Kelowna for World Goddess Day. This weekend I was at a Kelowna bookstore and a metaphysical store in Penticton (all towns in the province of British Columbia). Then at the end of the month I’m heading eastward.”

T. Scarlet Jory

T. Scarlet Jory

For books with very distinct regional flare, T.Scarlet Jory has released “Magical Blend: Book of Secrets (BOS)” and “Magical Blend: Book of Spells & Rituals (BOS) (Volume 2)”. These books celebrate landmark Le Melange Magique/The Magical Blend, a pagan shop in Montreal Quebec. This shop, which sadly has closed its doors, served customers in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. It was known for its selection of in-house made teas, bath salts, incense and more.

Scarlet reminisces: “When the store’s physical location closed and the reference books of shadows developed by all the staff suddenly were no longer available to the public, I felt it was important to compile them and print them. That way everyone can access them again. The knowledge is a collection of gems from dozens of experienced staff members who helped the community.”

One curious book, written in 1989 by Kevin Marron, a reporter from The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, “Witches, Pagans & Magic in the New Age” was the story of the people he met while investigating allegations of Satanic ritual abuse (remember the Satanic Panic folks? It happened in Canada as well!). While not a pagan himself, Marron provides a rare and sympathetic peek at the Canadian Pagan scene in the late 1980’s.

Many other voices have contributed to recording the story of Canadian Paganism. Some of the books may be harder to find, and unlikely to show up in foreign book or occult shops, but have value and interest to Pagans everywhere. The rise of e-readers and online shopping may put a Canadian book in your own collection soon.