Archives For Religion

There is something special about being a polytheist. Belief and practice with multiple gods necessitates an understanding that all gods are real. Certainly, polytheists argue over a “hard” or “soft” approach, debating whether the gods are actual individual entities or exist in a more archetypal manner, but either way a polytheist is able to accept another person’s religious experience with another deity as valid. We are comfortable with experiences that differ from our own. This is much more difficult in monotheistic faiths.

But what about when a polytheist is confronted with the miraculous claims of a monotheist? Can two seemingly opposing cosmologies live together? Can one overcome skepticism of the “other” religion while still validating their own cosmology?

This was the question in my mind as I entered an exhibit at the Bower Museum’s new exhibit.  Entitled “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Images in Colonial Mexico,” the installation documents the origins of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an apparition revered by Mexican Catholics as symbol of religious favor and national pride, yet often derided as a hoax meant to convert and oppress the native, pagan population.

Photo credit: Tim Titus

Photo credit: Tim Titus

As told in the exhibit, the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe enfolds though the experience of an illiterate, converted Aztec man named Juan Diego. While Diego was out walking on the hill of Tepeyac on the morning of December 9, 1531, he was called to a spot on the hill. There, a unique manifestation of the Virgin Mary appeared to him in all her glory and spoke to him, giving him a message for the local Catholic bishop.  Diego tried to take the miraculous message to Bishop Zumárraga, the highest religious authority of the colonial government, but he was sent away.

The virgin appeared to Diego three more times, however, and finally instructed him to gather special roses into his tilma (cloak) and carry them to the Zumárraga. He did so, and when he unfurled his tilma to reveal the flowers to the bishop, the famous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe shone out, imprinted forever on Diego’s tilma. A church in honor of the virgin was constructed at the manifestation site. The original image, emblazoned on a poor peasant’s cloak, became a source of religious worship, Mexican pride, and large-scale conversion of the native population by its colonizers. Her feast day is December 12.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The image on the tilma, and now on countless canvases, candles, and items of jewelry, contains icons that brilliantly combine the competing Catholic and native Aztec spiritualities, including symbols that many modern Pagans would recognize today. A young, dark-skinned woman in a pose of prayer stands or kneels in the center, rays of light streaming out from her body. She wears a 12-pointed crown and a cloak covered in stars, and stands on a crescent moon held by a youthful angel. The icon combines power with reverence, but it gives that power to a woman. The entire shape is quite clearly yonic in nature.

Catholic and native symbols combine seamlessly. The Virgin Mary is easily suggested, and her pose is one of Catholic prayer. She is held by an cherub and in a pose of submission, and her unbound hair is a sign of maidenhood. Yet the ribbon around her waist was an Aztec signifier of pregnancy. The flowers inscribed on her lower half, particularly a four-petaled one on the lower right, hold native meaning. The crescent moon would appeal to the locals, but the fact that it is held up by an angel suggests the dominance of the invading culture. Her cloak of stars could likely be seen through either culture’s eyes: is she descending from the heavens above or is she Queen of the Earth covered by the sky? The exhibit relates the star patterns on her cloak to the constellations of the zodiac. Is her 12-pointed crown significant of the zodiac signs, or of the apostles?

Many within the Pagan and Polytheist communities have had direct contact with spirits or deities. It is a relatively noncontroversial belief that entities can and do present themselves through visions into the physical world. Since polytheists admit the existence of multiple gods, it is intellectually honest to admit that the Hebrew god may have communicated and manifested himself through Diego and this image. If Zeus can speak to you in meditation, why can’t another god speak to a young Aztec? Therefore, those who practice a polytheistic faith must accept the possibility that the virgin is a true message from a deity.

Photo Credit: Tim Titus

[Photo Credit: Tim Titus]

Believers in the miracle of Guadalupe point to many facets of the original work to prove its divine origin. They say that Diego’s tilma is made of agave fiber, which is not durable enough to have lasted as long as it has. They note the lack of a “preparation,” an undercoating that painters use to even out the surface, and they claim that no identifiable brush strokes can be seen as they would be seen on a human painting. The tilma has survived two attacks and was not very well taken care of for 100 years after it was created, and yet it remains vibrant. Artwork that depicts the Christian god as an artist painting the virgin’s image tell the story of divine inspiration.

The Christian god "creates" The Virgin of Guadalupe [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

The Christian god “creates” the Virgin of Guadalupe [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Through a form of sacred geometry and the law of contagion, official copies of the image are reputed to have magical powers. Reproductions that preserve the same proportions and colors as the original, especially if they have physically touched the tilma or a faithful copy, are used as talismans and are said to grant wishes for health, prosperity, love, and safety. Thankful petitioners create ex-votos, images of worshipers thankful for the boons bestowed upon them by the virgin, and display them as offerings to the virgin.

Brian Dunning at points out the other side of these arguments. He notes that Bishop Zumárraga, to whom the miraculous image was first revealed, never wrote a word about it. It seems strange, to say the least, that a Catholic bishop who wrote prolifically during his career would never say a word about a miracle that manifested before his own eyes. Dunning also notes that the major recounting of the story comes from a text written after both Diego and Zumárraga had died. How did the writer hear about the story?

Dunning adds to his argument the fact that the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, who conquered the Aztecs, was from a region of Spain known to worship an image of the Virgin Mary with dark skin, and that he carried a statue of her with him to Mexico. The natives, he argues, would identify with the dark-skinned statue. Plus, Cortés knew a monk who was both an accomplished painter and familiar with Aztec language and customs.

A representation of the conquering faith that incorporated symbolism of the subjugated, Cortés would have reasoned, would be a powerful weapon in subduing the locals, and it was. There is no question that the conquered citizens of what is now Mexico were successfully converted to the faith of the invaders. In fact, Latin America is now one of most staunchly Catholic corners of the world.

But, as magicians know, one must be careful with the energy they send out. The Virgin of Guadalupe also figures prominently in the expulsion of Spain from Mexican lands. The Mexican revolution against Spain began on Sept. 16, 1810 as Miguel Hidalgo invoked the Virgin of Guadalupe as a symbol of Mexican patriotism and pride in his famous “scream” for independence:

Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once…. Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the gachupines!

While the “miracle” led to the spiritual takeover of the native Mexican population, it also led to the Spain’s loss of its conquered lands and the return of freedom to the people of Mexico. The new energy of independence placed into the image on a humble peasant’s cloak forever changed a country’s future. That is magic in action.

Is the Virgin of Guadalupe a piece of magic or a deliberate hoax meant to subvert a colonized population? The answer may lie at the crossroads of these two questions. Magic is performed in the in-between spaces: crossroads, circles, mountaintops. It manifests in strange ways, and it is sometimes said to return to its creator in ways he or she cannot predict. Is it at least possible that this image of the divine feminine was placed by deity for its own purposes, beginning at the hands of a conqueror but finally turning against its creators and ending in the hands of a free people who constantly strive to overcome lingering effects of colonization? Whatever one’s belief, it is undeniable that this image of the divine feminine has powerfully constructed and reconstructed an entire corner of the globe. She may indeed have become, as the exhibit ad banners name her, “the most powerful woman in the world.”

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.


What is the point of mythology today? What purpose do tales of gods and monsters of the long ago time play in our post-postmodern world?

Any given myth within any given mythology can be read at multiple levels by multiple audiences. The Norse myths are no exception.

Children (and the young at heart) enjoy the d’Aulaires retellings of the myths with a sense of innocent wonder at the exciting strangeness of it all. Teenagers (and other bloodthirsty types) revel in the violence and gore of distant derivations such as the Vikings TV show. Heathens (and related religionists) mine the surviving Icelandic versions of the myths for keys to their reconstruction and re-imagining of belief and ritual, although some practitioners actively deny that these materials have anything to do with religion at all.

Like all myths, the Icelandic tales of Thor and the World Serpent can amaze, entertain, and inspire. In the wider picture, for the wider society, what can be made of these stories that will really make a difference in the lives of those who read them? What meaning can we find in myths of a hammer-wielding god who fights a giant snake that lies deep in the sea and encircles all lands?


Thor fights the World Serpent at the Doom of the Gods by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

Stories of Thor and the World Serpent

The most general understanding of any specific myth is as a story of wondrous adventure. This type of reading focuses on elements of plot (who fought whom), attributes of characters (what weapons were used), and connection to the wider mythology (what effect the fight had).

Here are the basic details of the myths, briefly told.

Adventure 1: The god Thor walks to the World of the Giants with his companion Loki and his two servant children Thialfi and Roskva. After some time, they come to the enormous stronghold of the giant known as Loki of the Outer World.

This second Loki has powerful magic of illusion and plays several visual tricks on Thor and his comrades over the course of a series of tests of their abilities. One of Thor’s challenges is to lift the second Loki’s giant cat into the air. The god grabs the feline under his belly, but no matter how high he lifts the cat, it arches its back enough that only one of its paws leaves the ground.

When the giant wizard reveals all the tricks he played on his visitors, he tells Thor:

That cat was not what it appeared to you. It was the World Serpent which lies encircling all lands, and its length was hardly enough for both its head and its tail to touch the ground. And so far did you reach up that you were not far from the sky.

Thor departs in great anger at having been fooled.

Adventure 2: Thor goes fishing with a giant named Hymir. The god uses the head of an ox as bait and manages to hook the World Serpent. He furiously struggles to pull up the snake, and (in a Paul Bunyanesque moment) he pushes his feet through the bottom of the boat and braces them on the bottom of the sea as he hauls on the line.

The struggle between the god and the serpent is so fiercely fought that “all the ancient earth was collapsing.” Just as Thor lifts his hammer and readies to kill his prey, Hymir panics and cuts his fishing line. Thor throws his hammer after the sea monster, but “the World Serpent lives still and lies in the encircling sea.”

Adventure 3: At the end of mythic time, during the cosmic battle known as the Doom of the Powers, Thor has his final encounter with the World Serpent. The god is victorious, but he only stumbles nine paces away before “he will fall to the ground, dead from the poison which the serpent will spit at him.”


Thor ready to strike the World Serpent by Jenny Nyström [Public Domain]

Meaning within the Mythology

Adventure 1 sets up Thor’s great strength and his position as dedicated adversary to the giants. Before he reveals his illusions to the god, Loki of the Outer World tells him:

Now you shall be told the truth, now you have come outside the castle, which is that if I live and can have my way, you shall never again come into it. And I swear by my faith that you never would have come into it, if I had known before that you had such great strength in you, and that you were going to bring us so close to disaster.

There were several tests set up for Thor besides the trial with the disguised World Serpent. In each one of them, only the deceptive magic of the giant prevented Thor from achieving total victory.

As in the poem “Graybeard’s Song,” in which Thor and Odin debate and insult each other, Thor is presented in direct opposition to magic users. He faces any challenge head-on, using his raw strength and hitting it with his hammer. From his perspective, magic and illusion are dishonest and used as the recurrent refuge of those who refuse to engage openly with their opponents.

Adventure 2 expands on these ideas, positing a situation where Thor is able to face his opponent directly and engage in an open trial of strength and will, yet is still frustrated. Three main ideas are forwarded in this episode.

1. Thor is portrayed as protector and defender. In the late 10th century, the Icelandic poet Úlf Uggason told the story of Thor’s fishing trip, writing:

Fiercely flashed the brow-moons [eyes]
of the friend of gods and mankind [Thor],
deadly glances darting
down upon the serpent.

Similar language appears in the parallel spot in the Eddic “Hymir’s Poem”:

The protector of humans, the serpent’s sole slayer,
baited his hook with the ox’s head.
The one whom the gods hate, the All-Lands-Girdler [the World Serpent]
from below gaped wide over the hook.

The major attribute of the god is not thunder, but protection of the community. He fights to defend the worlds of gods and humans from the threatening forces outside of them.

This story clarifies the conflict between Thor and Loki of the Outer World, providing a motivation for Thor’s journey to the World of the Giants – he wishes to challenges those outside that threaten the world within. It also suggests that the image of Thor traveling with a human boy and girl is to underscore his protective role.

2. Thor is so dedicated to destroying his great enemy that he is completely oblivious to the consequences. He puts his feet through the bottom of the boat and the world collapses around him, yet he never loses focus on his fight to defeat his foe. This concept will be clarified in the next adventure.

3. As in the adventure with Loki of the Outer World, Thor can only be defeated by dishonesty and cheating. Here, Thor is seconds away from finally smashing the World Serpent with this hammer when the giant Hymir cuts his fishing line and allows the sea monster to escape. Without the intervention of the giant, Thor is fully capable of destroying the threat to the worlds he protects.

In typical fashion, Thor’s response is to throw the meddling giant overboard.

Adventure 3 takes two of these strands and follows them to their logical and emotional conclusion in the last battle of Norse mythology. In the “Prophecy of the Seeress,” Thor’s final fight with the serpent is described in cosmic, religious, and moral terms:

Then comes the glorious child of Earth [Thor],
Odin’s son strides to fight the serpent.
He smites in fury, shrine-guarder of the world;
all warriors must abandon their homesteads.
He steps nine paces, Earth’s child,
exhausted, leaving slain the snake which fears no shame.

Thor’s role as protector of the world is emphasized by twice identifying him as the son of the earth goddess. He guards the world itself, but he also defends the culture of men as represented by their shrines. The religious concept of reciprocal gifting between gods and humans is suggested by the juxtaposition of the god guarding the shrines and the warriors leaving their homesteads to join him in battle.

Or do they leave their homes because the battle between Thor and the World Serpent – as in the tale of the fishing trip – tears the world itself apart? In either reading, any wall between the god and his worshipers has now broken down as they are equally affected by the destruction of the last days.

Finally, Thor is able to do battle with his great enemy without illusion or interference. As suggested by both of the preceding myths, his might is enough to destroy the serpent in open combat.

However, both of the other tales suggest that there is a near-equality of strength on both sides, that the protective force is barely stronger than the threatening force. Here, Thor does manage to slay the serpent, but he only lives long enough to take nine steps before he is overwhelmed by the poison spewed by the snake.


Thor fights the World Serpent by Lorenz Frølich [Public Domain]

What the World Needs Now

In 1916, pragmatist philosopher John Dewey wrote, “a theory apart from an experience cannot be definitely grasped even as theory. It tends to become a mere verbal formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine theorizing, unnecessary and impossible.”

In 2016, I suggest a new version of his statement: “a myth apart from an action cannot be definitely grasped even as myth. It tends to become a mere written formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine reading, unnecessary and impossible.”

So, how do we read the myths of Thor and the World Serpent in a way that leads to action today? If Heathenry (both ancient and modern) is truly a world-affirming religion, if we truly are our deeds, how do these myths lead to action in the world?

From the above reading of the myths, here are five concepts that can be applied in our daily lives.

1. Be an adversary. Thor is willing to travel to the World of the Giants and take on any trial. Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and openly challenge those whose actions you oppose? Will you simply signal virtue with a safety pin, or will you stand on the front lines at Standing Rock? We can’t all travel to the front lines, but we can each find some path that leads us beyond our front doors and off of Facebook.

2. Fool me once. After his trusting nature is taken advantage of by the second Loki, Thor heads straight to the sea to pull the serpent from the depths. Once you realize you’ve been played, will you head straight for the core of the corruption and call it out? Americans all along the political spectrum are furious that media and politicians of every stripe have promoted lies and misrepresentations. At what point will you brush illusion aside and focus on reality?

3. Throw the bums out. As soon as the giant Hymir thwarts his victory by cutting his fishing line, Thor throws the giant off the boat. If some supposed ally actively subverts your work, will you keep on smiling or call them out? In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of just such fellow travelers:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

How will you respond to those who claim to have your best interests at heart yet constantly work to undermine them? Will you throw them out or repeatedly reelect them

4. Defend the world. Thor fights for the Earth and all who live on it. His most consistent portrayal is as the defender of the world community. We are all children of the Earth, and we are all part of what was once called – in a more hopeful (albeit patriarchal) time – the brotherhood of man. What can you do to fight for the planet as our common home? What can you do to fight for human rights? As the very ideas of protecting the Earth and the universality of human rights are openly attacked, what will you do to push back?

5. Accept the risks. Thor is willing to destroy the World Serpent even at the cost of his own life. Without taking this literally, without reading the myth as a call for suicide bombing, will you accept the repercussions of standing up for your values? From microaggressions in the classroom to retaliation in the workplace, to hate speech in the online world, will you accept that the trollish elements will rise up to oppose your positive acts – yet still perform those acts? Will you stand strong in the face of ugly opposition?


Hymir cuts Thor’s fishing line by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

The Strength of the Gods

During the fishing trip, when Thor can finally engage in open battle with the World Serpent, he summons his ásmegin, his god-power. It is this power that enables him to grow to enormous size, to push his fight through the bottom of the boat, and to stand on the floor of the ocean as he fights above the waves.

Aside from his famous hammer, Thor also owns a magic belt and a pair of iron gloves. The belt is called megingjörð, the belt of power, and wearing it doubles his god-power. The iron gloves enable him to grasp the lightning-hammer that he uses to crush those who threaten the community of gods and humans.

If we again step out of a literal reading of the myths, we can find a contemporary meaning in this god-power that Thor summons within himself and that his mystic belt doubles. The myths themselves can inspire us and fill us with a unique power that drives us to action, and girding ourselves with their inspiration can make our commitment to act even stronger.

This is not gamma radiation that turns us into superheroes, but an internal inspiration that rises within us to strengthen our resolve to perform the acts that the world needs now. Odin may bring the Mead of Poetry that brings creativity in the arts, but Thor brings the god-power that leads to action in the world.

Why the need for iron gloves? Because the hammer that would smash the trolls burns hotly, and grasping it with bare hands would destroy the wielder. If you are ready to take up the task, be prepared to hold on.

Note: The quotes from Icelandic texts in this column have been adapted from published translations of the Edda (Anthony Faulkes), Poetic Edda (Urusla Dronke, Carolyne Larrington, Andy Orchard), and Húsdrápa (Lee M. Hollander).

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

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IRELAND – In June, we reported on Pagan Life Rites (PLR), an Irish group focused on promoting its celebrancy service through local communities as a way of giving Pagans a voice. At that time, PLR was celebrating its victory in getting Paganism added as a religious option on hospital admission records in Ireland. I caught up with Rev. Barbara Lee and Rev Vinnie Woods so they could explain their specific work and how it has contributed to the overall growth of Paganism in Ireland.

PLR itself began in 2012, but was launched fully in 2015. In little over a year, it has built up a 500-strong membership. Lee explains how they came about: “We felt that there wasn’t an organization in Ireland representing the general Pagan population. There is the Pagan Federation (Ireland) but our focus is different; we wanted to focus on moots, public rituals, and providing a voice.”

In recently years, the Irish Pagan community, in general, has been growing very quickly with celebrations such as public Samhain festivals becoming increasingly well attended. Lee explains: “[A] recent Samhain celebration in County Meath drew 2,000 people, you wouldn’t have had that years ago.”


Samhain 2016 with the PLR Wexford branch [Courtesy Photo]

Woods, who is the PLR representative for South-East Ireland, continues to say: “The Pagan voice has spread to the four – or five! – quarters of Ireland. Barbara, Gavin, and some other people decided that we needed a central pivot, if you like, for the Pagan community and to create a forum for that. In 2015-16 it’s moved at a rapid pace. I’ve seen more moots starting to happen around the country. We seem to be more coalesced.”

This has lead to another campaign recently undertaken by PLR. It wants to see Irish Pagans identify themselves as such on a national census. Lee says: “We’ve … run a campaign on the recent census encouraging people to identify as Pagan, rather than other. In the last census in 2006, there were just over 2,000 Pagans in Ireland, which is the same number as the Jewish population of Ireland. We’ll get the results of that in July 2017, so we’re monitoring that as well. No one really know those numbers, so it would be good to get an approximation.”

In addition to its general membership, PLR features 13 clergy members, all of whom are Pagan and able to perform life rites ceremonies. As all clergy members are registered with the General Register Office (GRO), they can perform legal ceremonies as well.

Lee says: “We basically worked to get legal status for our members to be able to marry people. That was our first thing, just to get the recognition out there. We said at the time that we represented a wider community, we just hadn’t taken them on as members, so we looked at a way that we could grow a membership without them having to fork out of their pocket. So, we came up with the idea of the E-zine.”

The E-zine is a newsletter that people subscribe to via the PLR website. As Lee continues: “So, as they subscribe, they could link to the E-zine, which is free, and be a part of the forum to share ideas and views, read articles, etc.”

The PLR was granted its legal status in February, an important step in building a voice. The next step is applying for charity status to give the group added legal protection and recognition.

Working with the community is at the heart of the PLR’s ethos and is embedded in its structure. The group is keen to make itself as accessible as possible. As Lee explains: “We all felt this was a very important thing for us to do, that we weren’t a faceless entity, you could look at us and see our faces and what we’re doing. Our constitution is on the website”

Woods adds: “We want for people to feel they are not having to hide in hedges but are part of a legitimate organization with a voice that has to be listened to.”

Not everyone agrees with the PLR’s open approach. Lee explains: “We’ve also heard the other side of it too, I’ve heard people say, ‘What do we need people representing us for, we’ve always been the hidden ones’. We’re there for the individuals that need us, we’re not laying down the law.”

In fact, a solid basis in community work is a requisite to becoming a PLR clergy member. “If you want to be a clergy member, you have to be involved at a pastoral level within the Pagan community. It’s about that involvement and making yourself available to general community,” Lee says.

Becoming a clergy member is a serious commitment, due to the gravitas of the work. Lee says: “We do have criteria for people becoming clergy. First is that they are a general member for at least two years. Second, they are involved in the community in some way. Third, they must have sponsors – one from the clergy membership and two from the general membership. Lastly, there’s an interview with other clergy members.”

The celebrancy is the cornerstone of the group’s work and respect for their celebrants is obviously of paramount importance. Lee says: “I’ve done hand-fastings for years but it’s great to be able to say to people that I can now do the legal aspect as well. They look so relieved! It’s about more people becoming aware that we can now do both, not just hand-fasting.”

Barbara Lee performing handfasting [Courtesy Photo]

As Woods says: “The signing of the register is an important part of the ceremony and it’s nice to do that in front of everyone as well.”

The group has also found more people requesting its services for funerals. Woods says: “To allow the relatives the scope to have the ceremony they want and write their vows is very important. A funeral I did recently wanted a Christian aspect to it, and I was asked if that would be OK, and we could do the Pagan aspect at the crematorium. I said of course that would be OK, because it’s about what the relatives wanted and what the deceased wanted as well.”

Lee adds: “It’s such a delicate balance and it’s about listening, that’s so important.”

The PLR has already provoked a lot of interest in Ireland about Paganism. Lee says: “Less than a week ago I had a girl down in Wexford who wanted me to go down and teach classes. At first, I had four people. I put up a post on Facebook to see if we could get a few more bodies along and after 18 people, I had to say, ‘I’m sorry the class is full!’.”

The PLR has also garnered support from more unexpected quarters: “One of the more left-leaning Catholic journals published a supportive article about hand-fasting, what it is was about and then linked to us and listed all our names. It was inclusive, a small thing, but a nice one,” Lee says.

This is not a surprise to the group though, as Lee goes on: “The Irish are very accepting, so we’re working with an advantage, on many, many levels, because the Irish believe in Magic and fairies and the Sidhe.”

Woods agrees: “If you just scratch the surface here, you’ll find we’re all Pagans in Ireland. You’ll see fairy trees in the middle of a field and you’ll say to the farmer, ‘Do you believe in fairies?’. ‘Not at all,’ they’d say. ‘Would you cut that tree down?’ you’ll ask. ‘No I would not!’ they’ll say. They go to mass but when they pass a certain tree or stone, they’ll cross themselves. It’s just there.”

For the future, the group is keen to start campaigning in schools to change how Paganism is viewed within the educational system. As Lee explains: “We need to do more work around education as that is still a problem for parents – they register their children in school as Pagan and the teacher responds, ‘So they have no religion?’. It will be the most difficult challenge of all, as most schools are religious (Roman Catholic) schools.”

The PLR also intends to build on its work with the non-Pagan community by performing open rituals on quarter and cross-water days across Ireland, to give people a better understanding of Paganism and what it entails.

Its membership is open to people outside of Ireland and its comprehensive and highly informative quarterly E-zine is a must for anyone with an interest in Irish tradition and legends. (The recent edition contains some very thoughtful and poignant pieces about death, including instruction as to how a body is traditionally laid out once passed over.)

As Lee explains: “We take people from birth to the grave and everything in-between, and we’re building up recognition. PLR is not just Irish, it’s also the Irish diaspora, people who are internationally connected with Ireland or have a feeling for Ireland. Our International membership is currently about 100-strong.”

Woods adds: “There’s a great feeling of openness, we’re very enthusiastic and knowledgeable of all the disciplines within the Pagan umbrella. So, it’s always fresh.”

The group has achieved much in the past 18 months, and its even more impressive considering Paganism only became legal to practice in Ireland six years ago.

Lee says: “It only came off the statue books in 2010 – but nobody paid it any mind.”

As the group looks to grow, the signs are promising for them. And as Lee and Woods point out, there is a very receptive audience now waiting since the barrier to building Pagan communities has been removed.

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[With only one week away from the final election day in the U.S., we invited Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, a Washington D.C. Witch and Priestess, to share her thoughts on the interplay between politics and magic. Through our guest writers, The Wild Hunt is able to offer perspectives and viewpoints beyond that of its regular columnists. If you enjoy this column and the diversity of voices visiting The Wild Hunt, consider donating to the 2016 Fall Fund Drive. We are now at 62% of the goal with 3 days left. Donate today to support Pagan and Heathen journalism.]


As a Hellenic Pagan and a priestess of Athena and Apollon, I consider my duties as a citizen to be sacred. These responsibilities include being deeply informed and engaged in political deliberation and always exercising my vote, in national and local elections; being ready and willing to serve on a jury; taking the Good of my communities and my polis (neighborhood, city, nation) into account in all of my decisions. This also includes working to serve the collective Good, even if it makes me unpopular; and dedicating time and effort to create opportunities for members of my community to engage in thoughtful discourse. I strive to serve with as much of my nature as I am able, which means, as a priestess and a magickal practitioner, in addition to “normal” political activities, I also perform magick for the good of the polis.


Political magick is a branch of magick that was important in many ancient cultures, and it is part of my greater work to collaborate with others in its revival. In our contemporary context, politics has a narrower meaning than it had in the ancient Hellenic Pagan perspective.

The word “politics” and all of its variants come from the Hellenic word polis, which means the community and also means the body of which we are a part. When Aristotle famously said that a human being is a “political animal” what he meant was that we naturally organize ourselves into communities that are larger than the family. This is, perhaps, the most essential aspect of human nature. We are naturally communal.

Accompanying this understanding, the primary emphasis for the citizens of any polis is on their responsibilities. Although the concept of individual rights is critically important, it is, in no small measure, intended to ensure that all of the members of the polis are able to fully participate in and meet their responsibilities to community.

I believe we are at a dangerous crossroads in our country, much of which has been laid bare in this election and the competing visions of what kind of country we want to create. I see this current situation in our nation within the context of a greater initiatory crisis for humanity. However, regardless of whether or not you concur with any of the following spiritual ideas, I believe we can agree on the objective facts that the economy of the United States is the largest in the world and our military is the largest in the world. Therefore, the citizens of this nation have an ethical obligation to wisely govern ourselves, not just for our own good, but for the good of the planet. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are not just citizens of the United States, we are all citizens of the cosmos, the cosmopolis, and we have responsibilities to all of the beings with whom we share the Greater Earth.

I believe humanity, collectively, is in a coming of age initiatory crisis, as stated earlier. I am convinced in the reality of group minds and that we collectively learn from our past, becoming more “mature.”  This is what I call “spiritual evolution.” The climate crisis is our initiatory challenge and that we are going to make it or die and, if we fail, it will not harm humanity alone. Our world is interdependent.

Democracy, the United States, and Spiritual Evolution

Two of the Great Ones who I believe are deeply invested and involved in helping humanity successfully pass this initiatory challenge are Athena and Apollon. Both of Them have clearly documented historical roles founding Democracy in Athens and, I think, were powerful influences in its rebirth here. So what does democracy, the rule of the people, have to do with spiritual evolution? It is not that democracy inherently leads to actual better government. Whether it does or not depends completely upon its citizens and, historically, it has often led to worse government than monarchy. However, one of the key characteristics of an adult is self-governance, including the taking of responsibility for the decisions one has to make, developing self-control, reason, deliberation, cooperation and compromise, and dealing with the consequences of one’s choices. That is what self-governance is, individually and collectively.

Democracy, when it is functioning, requires a tremendous amount from its citizens and, therefore, is a powerful stimulus to the group soul. In a complex society, our citizens must broaden their perspective into trying to understand global issues. Imagine, for a moment, what a truly functioning democracy would look like and what would be required of its citizenry.

It is my understanding that the United States, at this moment, has a crucial role to play in the spiritual evolution of humanity. Why was democracy reborn here? If Athena and Apollon (and possibly other Divine beings) were part of the inspiration that rebirthed democracy into the modern world, why were we chosen? The United States has a number of characteristics that are incredibly rare and bring important possibilities.


[Public Domain]

With the exception of First Nations people, the blood-lines of everyone who is here are not from here. Many Americans feel some ancestral loss, but it also gives us flexibility and malleability in our national character that is rare. Although most of us are painfully aware that we are not doing as good a job as we need to do in terms of true equality and embracing our diversity, there is a reason the “melting pot” metaphor has poignancy. We don’t have thousands of years of parochial thought forms built into our national identity, and we are blended in ways that reflect the cosmopolis in microcosm.

There are, additionally, certain aspects of our national character that, when we can embrace and embody them, put us in good stead to be able to meet the initiatory crisis of humanity. It is easier to see our national character when traveling abroad, but qualities of daring, creativity, optimism, forthrightness, and generosity are deeply rooted in the collective American psyche.

There are also deep challenges inherent in the American soul. We are suffering under the miasma, the spiritual pollution, of the genocide of the First Nations people and of the slavery of Africans and African-Americans. But these banes were present at the founding of the nation when we were tapped by the Great Powers for the rebirth of democracy, so I believe that we are capable of healing and purifying this miasma, if we can muster the courage and will to really address racism and oppression. I believe we can leverage the higher aspects of courage, daring, and forthrightness to meet this challenge….and we must. Justice is a human concept, it is not a fact in nature, and it is one of humanity’s spiritual duties to manifest it.

The Role of Political Magick

In many ways this sounds overwhelming and terrifying, but we also have good reason to hope. Because we are part of the group soul of humanity, our work, on this plane and on the inner levels of reality, can shift things powerfully. We don’t have to convince every individual. We need to get seminal and important thoughts to the tipping point where they make up part of the mental field of about 20% of our population.  This, combined with emotional juice, will start shifting reality rapidly.

Magickal people know how to work directly in the realms of thought and with power. This is what many of us have been training for. We understand group souls. We understand thought power. We need to use our skills, as members of the group soul of humanity, and drag our collective consciousness over the threshold of initiation and make sure we don’t fall.

We can do many things working in the realm of mind. We can fortify hope and determination. We can construct and strengthen narratives of purpose. We can build heroic belief in change. Humans need to see themselves as heroes in meeting the crises we face.

And we can use our thought power to make people uncomfortable with the status quo, making sure we are not slowly boiling frogs, which is often our greatest danger. We can work to reinforce thought-streams about reforming those things that threaten the integrity of our government.  We can continuously buttress the grand ideals that lie behind our polis and combat the cynicism and coarsening of our national discourse.

Goddess Columbia [By Sean Shapiro / Wikimedia]

Goddess Columbia [By Sean Shapiro / Wikimedia]

In my practice, I work with Columbia as Athena Columbia, because I believe that she is the manifestation of Athena Polias for the United States. I do protection magick for the polis, including working with divine guardians. The psychic atmosphere around most structures of governance and courts is often quite polluted, which is not conductive to clear-headed, compassionate decision-making. I work on dispelling the poison, especially in my city, Washington, DC.

I magickally reinforce thought-forms about what a functioning democracy looks like and our national ideals. I perform magick to emphasize certain needs that require societal focus, either to protect or restore the integrity of the system (“get money out of politics,” “end gerrymandering,” “everyone’s vote should count equally”, “end mass incarceration”). I bless certain important events, such as the Paris Climate Change Summit, to support the courage and resolve of those attending. I feed the sense of urgency on the inner planes about great social issues that require focus.

In ancient Hellas the most important courts met outside under the light of Helios because Light is Truth. I work to reveal Truth and strip away glamour. Likewise, I use magick to boost the best aspects of our national character.

While all of this is part of my individual practice, it is also perfectly appropriate within the context of a 501(c)(3) organization, as many Pagan churches might be. It does not violate the separation of Church and State, because it is not endorsing nor opposing particular legislation or candidates. Magick that crosses that boundary is only properly performed outside of the context of a 501(c)(3) organization.

This summer, Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon held its inaugural gathering for political magick, Thaumapolitikos. The event was tied to election cycles. In 2017, Sacred Space Conference will offer several sessions elaborating on content shared at Thaumapolitikos as well as one session sharing the specifics on how I do this kind of magick.

A Ritual to Strengthen the Vision of a Functional Government

As both an example of political magick and an offering to the community, I am providing a ritual that can be conducted individually or with a group that strengthens the thought forms about how our government and citizens should function. I encourage anyone who has the desire to work for the good of our polis to perform this ritual prior to the election and to carry its spirit with you through the election and beyond. Ideals need continuous reinforcement.

And of course, please vote.

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About the Author: Gwendolyn Reece is the founding priestess of Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon in Washington, DC and serves as Apollon’s mantis. She is also the President of the Sacred Space Foundation, which runs the Sacred Space Conference and is a member of The Fellowship of the Ancient White Stag, a coven in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.


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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

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befunky-design2The story of Tyr’s binding of the wolf Fenrir is the only surviving myth of a god who must have once been a major figure in Germanic religion. Today, there are two popular readings of the role of the wolf that place twenty-first century identity politics over a deep understanding of the mythic figure itself. After examining the myth and the variant interpretations, maybe we can agree on a reading that is both historical and contemporary.

A Myth of Threat and Sacrifice

The very name of the god Tyr provides the strongest evidence for his former greatness; the word týr is used in Old Norse as a synonym for “god.” Parallel names appear in related Indo-European religions as designations for major gods of the sky. By the time the Norse myths were written down in Iceland, this great god had been reduced to a minor figure with only one attached myth.

He appears in the Edda when Snorri Sturluson tells the tale of the gods attempting to neutralize the existential threats of Loki’s three monstrous children: the half-corpse Hel, the gigantic World Serpent, and the monstrous wolf Fenrir.

At first, the gods keep and raise Fenrir, and only Tyr is brave enough to feed the growing wolf. However, Fenrir’s rapidly increasing size and the prophecy that he is destined to attack the gods leads the gods to attempt his binding for their own safety. The wolf manages to break out of the various fetters placed on him under the guise of a game, so the deities ask the clever dwarfs to make an unbreakable band.

The gods the take Fenrir to an island overgrown with heather and tell him that, if he is too weak to break the new fetter, they will know he is no threat – and he will then roam free. Understandably suspicious that they will leave him in bonds, he asks to hold a god’s hand in his mouth as a guarantee of the gods’ good faith.

Tyr volunteers his own right hand. When the gods see that the wolf is unable to break free from the dwarf-forged fetter, “they all laughed except for Tyr. He lost his hand.” Thanks to Tyr’s sacrifice, the wolf is now bound for the coming ages and will be a captive until the arrival of Ragnarök.


Tyr and Fenrir (detail) by John Bauer [Public Domain]

What meaning is behind this myth? The poem Lokasenna (“Loki’s Quarrel”) provides a clue. Loki insults the gods and goddesses one by one, but each taunt also serves to bring out a quality or attribute of the deity being targeted. When he turns to Tyr, Loki says:

Be silent, Tyr, you could never
deal straight between two people;
your right hand, I must point out,
is the one which Fenrir tore from you.

This can be seen in the context of the mutilated gods – figures who have given up a part of their physicality in order to gain a higher power that defines their religious role.

Odin sacrifices one of his eyes and gains mystic insight as the god who seeks wisdom. Heimdall casts away one of his ears and gains the ability to hear all that happens in the nine worlds as the guardian of reality. Freyja gives her body for the sexual pleasure of the dwarfs in order to gain her necklace, an ancient symbol of female fertility power. Both Freyr and Thor have compromised phallic weapons – Freyr gives away his sword, Thor has a hammer with a shortened shaft – and are associated with human and earthly fertility, respectively. Baldr gives up his life so that he can return from Hel after Ragnarök as a bright god of the next world.

This interpretation can be argued against, as can all such systems. However, in this context, it seems that Tyr has given up his hand so that he can do exactly what Loki claims he cannot – bring the hands of men together in honest compact. Tyr is invoked in the inscription to Mars Thingsus on the third-century altar on Hadrian’s Wall in England; as the god of the Thing (assembly), Tyr would indeed see to it that that there were straight dealings between people as they negotiated legal and business cases. As with the other mutilated gods, Tyr has given up a physical part that gives him spiritual power – in this case, as the god who oversees contracts and compacts between men.

So Tyr’s sacrifice in the myth has dual functions of immediacy and implication. Tyr protects the community from the immediate threat by binding the wolf, and he protects it from future threat by becoming a god who insures straight dealings between individuals.

Both threats threaten the safety of the community. The wolf will attack the community of which Tyr is a part, and violations of the social contract lead to chaotic violence – as is so often illustrated in the escalating conflicts of the Icelandic sagas.

Siding with the Wolf

There is a subset of modern Heathenry that seems to valorize the wolf’s violent threat over Tyr’s protection of the community. The image of the snarling wolf appears on Heathen jewelry, logos, avatars, websites, and memes.

Common to the many variations of this theme is the embrace of the attacking wolf as role model set in opposition not to the one who guards the community, but to sheep who are portrayed purely as prey for the wolf. This brackets the fact that sheep are herded and raised for the benefits they provide to the human community, and it instead posits the outer beast who attacks the inner world of men as the ideal.

This disdain for symbolic sheep is sometimes coupled with an attack on supposedly passive Christians, as in the various iterations of the slogan “Better to be a wolf of Odin than a lamb of God.” This imagery sits uneasily with Heathen assertions that Christians have a violent history of converting past pagans by the sword. If the use of force against the weak is something to be celebrated, wouldn’t the Christians who bloodily converted the northern world be heroes to macho Heathens today?

This somewhat self-contradictory valorization of wolfish violence as a specifically Heathen ideal is problematic for other reasons, as well. Those who promote the concept of the wolf-model can push back against the above points by turning to the ulfeðnar (“wolf-skins”) of the sagas as examples of strong men who took on the qualities of wolves. The problem is that the best-known examples of ulfeðnar are harmful to their communities and to themselves.

In the Icelandic saga of Egill Skallagrímsson, Kveldúlfr (“Night-Wolf”) is a Norwegian landowner who is a purported shape-shifter. He is kind to his farmhands and workers during the day, but “towards evening he would grow so bad-tempered that few people dared even address him.” His wolfish tendencies drive away human contact, even from those within his closest community. This antisocial behavior is not portrayed as something to be emulated.

In the Völsunga saga, the hero Sigmundr and his son Sinfjötli don the wolfskins they find beside bewitched men. They howl like wolves and break their companionship to individually assault groups of men who venture into the forest. Sinfötli betrays his promise to his father to only attack small groups and to call on him for help when facing greater opposition – a breach of trust that Sigmundr answers by assaulting him and biting him in the windpipe. The right relationship between father and son is not repaired until they are able to take off and burn the wolfskins, therefore turning their back on animalistic behavior.


Sigmundr and Sinfjötli by Willy Pogany [Public Domain]

In both cases, the closest bonds of kinship and community are broken by the assumption of wolf-like character. Is this something to be celebrated? If so, it goes directly against the example of the god Tyr as binder of the wolf that threatens the community.

Defenders of the attacking wolf as a Heathen symbol can also point to berserkir (“bear-shirts”) as examples of men inspired by Odin who fight with the assumed ferocity of wild animals. In the sagas that purport to tell of historic times (as opposed to ones dealing with fantastic and legendary subjects), these figures are portrayed as out-of-control threats to farming communities who wander in from outside of inhabited areas to demand hard-working people fight them or give up their wives and daughters for their own pleasure. These wolfish figures are portrayed as outside the pale of human society and directly threatening to it, not as anything to be celebrated.

What of the two mythic wolves who are portrayed as the loyal hounds of Odin? They appear in the poem Grímnismál (“Sayings of the Masked One”):

Geri and Freki he satiates,
the glorious Father of Hosts, trained in battle;
but on wine alone the weapon-magnificent
Odin always lives.

The names of the wolves both translate as “greedy.” Odin appears here in his role as a bloodthirsty god of war, as he does at other points in the lore. We know that Old Norse literature regularly refers to warriors as those who feed the wolf and the raven with corpses they slay on the battlefield, and that seems to be the image that invoked in this stanza. To take poetry literally is usually a mistake. The idea here seems to be that Odin-as-warlord is feeding his wolves with dead bodies by causing war in the world while he himself glories in the shed blood which he metaphorically drinks as wine.

I would ask those creating and forwarding memes of the Heathen wolf: who celebrates the destruction and death caused by war? Over the long centuries of human history, we have repeatedly learned the lesson that mass killing is not a glorious and heroic thing.

This is not some sort of postmodern revisionist rewriting of Heathen history. Even in the oldest sources, images of the glorious and victorious warrior are countered by portraits of men made so miserable by their war wounds that they beg to die, of wives who watch their husbands bleed to death on the battlefield, of women violated and enslaved as plunder, of children living among strangers who never know their parents. The Heathens of the elder era lived with their eyes wide open to the realities of the world.

Today, only a true monster would look at the photos of Alan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh and gleefully or wolfishly howl that war is magnificent. To demand that the international community stands up for the human rights of those whose lives are upended by war is to invoke the power of Tyr; to deride these young people as passive sheep is to celebrate and embody the threat that Fenrir brings to the world community.

The Wolf as Victim

Another subset of modern Heathenry reads the binding of Fenrir as a tale of cruelty perpetuated by the gods, with Tyr as the willing deceiver who enables the abuse. Those who promote this idea tend to be of kind heart, and that should be respected. However, this reading makes the common error of reading mythology literally, of mistaking the surface imagery for the metaphorical core of the myth.

The interpretation in question goes something like this. Loki is a sympathetic and misunderstood fellow who is treated poorly by the gods, a group of ingrates who don’t appreciate all that he does for them. When he fathers three innocent young children, Odin and his tribe abuse them by throwing the girl into the underworld, tossing the young snake into the ocean, and abusing the wolf pup.


Loki’s Children (detail) by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

In this interpretation, Fenrir is a gentle creature who is bound and tortured by the evil gods. The fact that he later kills Odin and aids the destruction of the world at Ragnarök is a fair and just retribution for his cruel and unusual treatment as a pup. Tyr is a deceitful cad who betrays the creature he had once fed, gaining its trust only to wickedly trick it into allowing its own painful binding. The gods are the villains of the story, and the myth is really about the unjustified and unjustifiable violation of the innocent.

Leaving aside the question of Loki’s role in Norse mythology, this reading seems to be a willful inversion of the symbolism inherent in the myth of Tyr and the wolf. Like the Heathens who embrace the wolf as an ideal of thrilling violence to be emulated, the promoters of this view pull the wolf out of the context of ancient myth and rewrite him as something entirely postmodern.

Wolf-pups are gentle creatures, says the pro-Fenrir faction, and to bind them is an act of wickedness. Wolves are beautiful and intelligent creatures of the wild, and they form wonderful and close-knit communities that care for their members in a way that humans would do well to emulate. Such assertions are often accompanied by high-definition nature photographs of smiling wolves cavorting with their offspring.

This may all be true, but such a portrayal goes directly against the worldview of the peoples that created the myths and handed them down through the generations. The ancient Norse and Germanic peoples were largely dependent on farming and animal husbandry for their livelihood. In such societies, the wolf was no kindly creature to be cuddled, but a dark and dangerous threat that lurked on the edges of human habitation, always ready to strike and terrorize.

In the 1930s, my father grew up in a German farming village in what was then Hungary. The town’s name was Karavukovo (“the place of the black wolf”). In no way were wolves celebrated by the hardworking rural community as beautiful and wonderful creatures to be marveled at and fêted. They were terrifying predators who prowled the edges of what the Icelanders of long ago would have called the innangarð, the enclosed world of humans.

Due to the very real threat they posed in life, wolves serve as the great symbol of that which threatens human communities. They are found playing this role throughout Germanic folklore, from the earliest surviving examples through the so-called fairy tales collected in the nineteenth century.

In the era described in the Icelandic sagas, the wolf is the symbol par excellence for that which endangers society. Prof. Jesse L. Byock writes of the Old Norse term for one man killing another in stealth and hiding his action: “The killer was then referred to as a morð-vargr, murderer (literally, killer wolf), and was beyond the pale of the law.” He goes on to explain the use of the term vargr (“wolf”) in Icelandic law codes “to refer to outlaws, who could be hunted down like wolves.” A human who commits an inhuman act of violence is then treated like a wolf, is beyond the protection of the laws, and can be cut down in cold blood like a wolf. There is no sympathy in this hard culture for the beast that kills men.

In the poem Hákonarmál (“Sayings of Hákon”), Odin speaks ominously of “The grey wolf watch[ing] the abodes of the gods.” The mythic image of Fenrir connects to the legal concept of the murderer and to the real threat of the actual animal. In light of this context, it seems willfully contrarian to assert that Fenrir is the hero and Tyr the villain.

Finding Common Ground

Myths can be read in many ways. We can both strive to understand the meaning of the mythic image in the parent culture and assert our human right to reinterpret it in light of our own life experiences. However, problems creep in when we choose to forward readings that go directly against everything we know about the religio-cultural worldview from which the myths emanated.

Is it possible to examine the myths from our own cultural vantage point while still being honest about the source material? Both positions of identification with the wolf discussed above – whether as violent predator or gentle victim – toss aside the deeper meanings inherent in the mythic symbol and superimpose concepts from today’s hyper-divisive personal politics.


Fenrir and the Gods by Rona F. Hart [Public Domain]

The core problem here really seems to be an insistence on emphasizing the surface symbol over the metaphorical referent. The modern use of memes – of visual markers to assert meaning – underscores this approach to myth. The photo of the snarling wolf expresses the rugged individual’s constructed self-image as a tough-guy who always stands up for himself. The images of joyous wolf-parents and loving pups suggests that the individual is someone who feels misunderstood and outside of the social mainstream – and therefore seeks alternative images of non-mainstream belonging.

Both projections of self-identity can be deeply meaningful to those who deploy them, and they are completely understandable as social-media creations that seek to assert an image of self within a given community. However, both also go directly against what the wolf represents in the myths themselves.

The tale of Tyr and the wolf neither valorizes the violence of the wolf nor portrays the animal as a sympathetic figure. This is not a literal tale of tying up a struggling young wolf. It is part of a mythology of deities with names like “god,” “thunder,” “fury,” and “lady” – and of a monstrous creature whose name Fenrir means “fen-dweller,” a threat from the uninhabited outer lands who comes to destroy the cultivated worlds of gods and men.

Maybe we can agree on a reading of the myth that is both true to the text and to what we believe today. Here is a simple suggestion that focuses on the symbolism of Tyr and fully accepts that that the wolf is a metaphor rather than a real-world animal.

Out of an entire community, only one individual is willing to offer great personal sacrifice in order to protect his fellows from a dire threat that has grown up within the community. Rather than turning to violence against others, he nobly stands up and takes the resulting damage to himself. As a result, he gains the ability to join the hands of other people in agreement and harmony.

This uncomplicated reading makes sense in terms of the worldviews of then and now. It is up to the individual to fill in the blanks of what they consider sacrifice, threat, community, and harmony.

Will you stand up against the threat to American society posed by the alt-right, knowing that they will target you for retribution? Will you cross the fault-lines in our racially-divided society to work for change, even if people on every side deride you for it? Will you take the risk of standing up for your community, be it Heathen, immigrant, or LGBTQ+? Will you face the harmful elements within your own family, faith, city, and country?

If you are brave enough to stick your hand in the mouth of the beast, maybe you will help your community to bind the forces that threaten it and move forwards toward future reconciliation.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

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UNITED KINGDOM — A petition has been launched in the UK in the hopes of making Parliament debate the teaching of Paganism in schools. The petition was the brainchild of Paul Sefton, a Pagan from Manchester who set it up last month. He said: “We need to change people’s attitudes towards Paganism and it was with that in mind that I thought of the petition. We need to educate the young to give them an overview of Paganism so they can make an informed choice about what religion they may wish to follow, if any at all.”

Outdoor classroom [Photo Credit: Peter / Flickr]

Outdoor classroom [Photo Credit: Peter / Flickr]

“Paganism is having a resurgence in popularity so now is the time to act. Pagans are still looked upon as devil worshippers, which is certainly not the case.”

In the UK, Religious Education (RE) currently consists of learning about the big five mainstream religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. However, the majority of content is given over to Christianity.

Since 2012, the county of Cornwall in South West England, an area long synonymous with Paganism, has included Paganism as part of its religious education provision. This is due to each local county being responsible for its own RE output under the Local Agreed Syllabus framework. Although the UK does have a national curriculum, there can be much regional variation as to what is taught and how.

Sefton notes: “This was a huge leap of faith and much thought was needed to bring this to fruition.”

The Pagan Federation’s regional co-ordinator for Cornwall Eve Salthouse, adds: “Paganism has been part of the agreed local syllabus for some years. Schools can choose to do this and generally approach the Cornwall Faith Forum (CFF), of which I am trustee.” The CFF arranges a time and venue to hold “workshops on several different faiths, including Paganism”, according to Eve. The general age range begins at “seven to eight-year-olds right up to tertiary college, 16 years and over.”

The workshops have been a great success apart from “the odd spot of bother from some more zealous Christian types,” adds Salthouse. Parents can withdraw their child from the workshops but she says it is very rare that they do.

Salthouse says: “The CFF is very firm on all faiths or none. If Paganism is refused as a workshop, then the CFF refuse to give any workshops.” However, Eve remains ambivalent about the current petition. “We’d have to put up with whatever/however it was decided it should be taught – and in an academic way. By holding workshops with people who live/practice each faith, students get a different take on it, not the teacher regurgitating something from a book.”

This comes on the back of a wider discussion within RE provision in schools including “non-religious world views” such as Paganism and Humanism. Paganism falls under this, as some argue, because it does not necessitate a belief in any form of deity.

In November 2015, a ruling at the High Court addressed this very issue. It is first important to note that the High Court is not equivalent of the US Supreme Court, as the UK also has a Supreme Court that has parity with the US version.The High Court, as part of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, is a tier below this. In addition, the UK judiciary does not experience the same domestic acknowledgement as that of the US, partly due to the UK having an unwritten Constitution – meaning the limits of Parliament are less defined and the Supreme Court has less influence over Parliament as a result.

High Court of Justice of England and Wales, London (commonly known as the High Court) [Credit: Wikimedia]

High Court of Justice of England and Wales, London. Commonly known as the High Court. [via Wikimedia]

Returning to the November ruling, the High Court determined that the UK Government had acted unlawfully by omitting non-religious worldviews from the General Certificate of Education (GCSE), the basic qualification taken by 16-year-olds. Five core GCSE, including Math, English Language, English Literature, Science and RE, are seen as baseline and roughly equivalent to a US High School Diploma. In Wales and Northern Ireland, the Welsh and Irish languages are also respective core subjects.

The High Court case was brought by three Humanist parents and, as a result of the ruling, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales announced in July that an Independent Commission would be established to overhaul RE in schools.The Commission is due to publish its findings and recommendations in 2018.

Most recently, the Pagan Federation has been involved in contributing to the material for the RE:Online Resource, which is being created for UK religious teachers. However, it can be used globally. It was written by Professor Denise Cush, former Head of Study of Religions at Bath Spa University. In order to ensure that as many Pagan voices as possible were represented, she consulted extensively with the Pagan and Heathen Symposium. Professor Cush is also a member of the commission panel.

Sefton appears to be picking up on this wider demand for change in the way that RE is defined and taught in the UK in hopes of it better reflecting modern needs. As Sefton says: “Since publishing it has caused much debate in the online Pagan community, which I also felt was a good thing, we need people to talk about it to keep chipping away, little by little. As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.’

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NEW ORLEANS — This week, members of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple hung the official sign outside of the organization’s new home. The Creole cottage, which had housed the temple since 1991, was destroyed by fire in February, and supporters of its leader Priestess Miriam have been working toward this day ever since. The entire process has made clear how well regarded Miriam is for her work, with 543 people donating to the effort and many others putting in time and effort. Witchdoctor Utu, a student who spearheaded the online campaign for Miriam, provided some details about what has already been accomplished, and what’s to come.


[Courtesy New Orleans Voodoo Temple / Facebook]

“Truth of the matter is this past weekend was not the reopening,” Utu explained, “just when they got the new sign, so the place is a bit more visible now. They never really closed, just maneuvered throughout the worst situation possible. They have been in that location since April,” he said, and have been fully moved into the new location since July. The building is located on 1428 N. Rampart St. is nine-tenths of a mile up Rampart from the former temple site.

Sign is removed from old temple location [Witchdoctor Utu]

Sign is removed from old temple location [Courtesy Witchdoctor Utu]

The Voodoo Spiritual Temple was founded in 1990 at yet another address on N. Rampart St., but was moved to 828 just a year after opening. When the 2016 electrical fire forced Miriam and all religious ceremonies out of the 828 building in February, hopes were high that the site could be rebuilt. However, such was not to be.

Nevertheless, many people came forward to work on restoring it in some form. Utu set up a crowdfunding campaign with the assistance of Christian Day, and a fund raising event called Moveable Feast was held in April. While the online campaign has not yet collected a third of the $75,000 goal, enough has been raised through it and through offline donations to make the move possible.

Beyond financing the operation, It has taken a tremendous amount of effort, not all physical, to move the temple after all these years. A new location had to be identified, and a quarter-century of sacred and historic objects needed to be carefully packed away. Utu chronicled that process in pictures posted publicly to Facebook, writing, “the majority of this work, daily, every day for two months has been for the most [part] Miriam herself, her husband Allen, as well as Louis Martine and a few others, but for the most part it’s been Miriam’s job…I don’t know how she has the energy.”

Priestess Miriam may be leading this ongoing effort through example, but she is far from alone. In addition to members of the temple and wider Voudoun community offering money or time, many Pagans have also stepped up, including members of the Salem Witch community, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Ár nDraíocht Féin. Utu attempted to list them all in his Facebook accolades. In addition to Day and other New Orleans residents, he named Alexander Cabot, Kirk Thomas, Ivo Dominguez Jr., Jason Mankey, Raven Grimassi, “and plenty more, too.”

Many that are on the boards of festivals, small and large, came together on behalf of their tribes and for that I am very grateful, and it’s why your festivals are the ones I will be attentive to over the coming years as far as support and attendance. [It] means a lot when the folks in your immediate area rally to support the temple that you are a member of and show thanks for the years of rituals, shows and support we have done over the years, really meant a lot.”

Temple sign is preserved [Witchdoctor Utu]

Temple sign is preserved [Courtesy Witchdoctor Utu]

The transition’s toll has required no small amount of emotional work, as well. “There was no handbook or script for this,” Utu told The Wild Hunt. “No one knew for over a month whether the temple could stay at the original location, so it was a complex emotional ride that took the efforts of literally hundreds of people from across the globe.”

Sorting through beloved objects, deciding what can be salvaged and what must be destroyed, is difficult under the best of circumstances, but here the objects often held sacred significance. Utu said that there were “tons” of actions that needed to be performed to honor gods and spirits associated with the temple, most of which were designed for this specific situation.

“It was pragmatic, hard emotional tiring work, which does possess magic and power in [and] of itself,” he explained. Spirits can be tied to specific locations or items, and much of that had to be disentangled along with the feelings of loss, nostalgia, and grief over this change. Again, Utu wrote of how Priestess Miriam has led the way:

This process is not an easy one, nor a rush job, certain items are being refurbished, sealed and saved from water damage as well as smoke, as some of them are simply irreplaceable with a history few could imagine, it takes a special pace and temperament to make it happen. Priestess Miriam is amazing to be able to keep this pace going while being positive for the future.

The hanging of the sign on Tuesday epitomizes the physical, emotional, and spiritual labor needed. It was painted by Oswan, Miriam’s late husband, who founded the temple with her in 1990. After removing it from the old site, it was sealed to preserve his handwriting, in which Oswan’s spirit might be seen. Putting that sign up again signified much more than simply being open for business.

In fact, the official grand opening of the new location is still in the works, and Utu expects that the healing will take much longer. He wrote on Facebook, “As much as I would love to say things are back to normal nothing could be further from the truth, this will in reality take years to recoup and be back to something resembling normalcy and what once was, but it’s all good, that’s life and [a] new era for the temple is in its infancy.” During that infancy, at least, the fund raising continues.

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Column: Tupac Amaru Shakur

Heathen Chinese —  September 17, 2016 — 4 Comments

Twenty years ago, on Sept. 7, 1996, the rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur was shot in Las Vegas at the age of 25. He is reported to have died in the hospital six days later, on Sept. 13. Conspiracy theories abound that his death was staged and that he is still alive and in hiding. But while the line between death and life may seem absolute to secularists, death doesn’t mean the same thing to polytheists and spirit workers, for whom “there is no death, only a change of worlds.”¹

Whether or not he is currently embodied, Tupac’s legacy is undeniable. From Los Angeles to Rio De Janeiro, he is honored as an ancestor. For ancestry is not merely biological, but relational: one becomes an ancestor by being honored by one’s descendants.

Ipanema, Rio De Janeiro [Marycsalome / Flickr]

Rio De Janeiro [Marycsalome / Flickr]

To better understand Tupac as an ancestor, it is instructive to look at the lineages that he is a descendant of. We start not with his parents, but with his name. Many cultures recognize the power of names, from the Egyptian myth of Isis and Ra to the German fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. There is, moreover, a particular power in the passing down of names from generation to generation.

Two examples from Icelandic sagas are particularly striking in this regard. In Svarfdaela Saga, H. Lauer writes, “Thorolfr promises to pass his good hamingja (luck or power) on to any son of his brother who should be named Thorolfr; it is this or else Thorolfr’s name risks passing ‘out of use like withered grass.’”² In Vatnsdaela Saga, the desire to pass one’s name down is not limited to one’s own family, but even extended into the family of one’s enemy. The warrior Jokull lies dying on the battlefield, and asks a final boon from his killer: “not to let my name pass away…if a son be granted to you or to your son.”³ While every tradition is different, the name “Tupac Amaru” contains an especially rich history of being passed down through the centuries.

Túpac Amaru: I Feel Like Pac For Real

The first Túpac Amaru was the last of the Incan emperors. His brother submitted to Catholic baptism and Spanish rule, but Túpac Amaru refused to do so, and was beheaded by the Spanish in 1573. Túpac Amaru II claimed to be a descendant of Túpac Amaru and adopted that name when he led an indigenous revolt in Peru in 1780. He, too, was drawn, quartered and beheaded. In the twentieth century, several South American leftist guerrilla groups such as the Tupamaros in Uruguay (founded 1963) and the MRTA in Peru (founded 1983) named themselves after Túpac Amaru II.

A similar thread can be found in Chinese history, where several millenarian Daoist movements claimed to be led by reincarnations of Li Hong:

A great many charismatic leaders came from the Li family, and certain of them claimed to be the god Laozi returned to earth; a sage of western China, Li Hong, who had actually lived during the 1st century BCE, became the favourite recurrent figure of later would-be messiahs. […] The last recorded Li Hong was executed in 1112.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to Latin America and China. This year, after the police killing of Alton Sterling, the rapper Young Buck released a song entitled “Riot,” which begins with a vocal sample from Tupac: “I would rather tell a young black male to educate his mind, arm yourself and be free and defend yourself, than you know, just sit there and turn the other cheek. So whatever message that sends out, that’s the kinda message it is.” Young Buck then says, “I mean I feel like Pac for real in this bitch today bruh.” And on the song, “Fuck Donald Trump,” Nipsey Hu$$le directly quotes Tupac’s “To Live & Die in L.A.,” rapping in favor of brown and black unity, “It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans […] Black love, brown pride and the sets again.” Tupac Shakur thus acts in today’s struggles in the United States in a similar fashion as Li Hong did in the first millennium CE, Túpac Amaru I did in the 1780s, and Túpac Amaru II did in the late 20th century.

Tupac’s first and middle names tie him to a lineage of remembrance and revolt in the Western Hemisphere. But why was he given these names in the first place?

Tupac Amaru I [Public Domain]

Tupac Amaru I [Public Domain]

Shakur: It Goes Down my Family Tree

Tupac was born to a family of militant black revolutionaries, the Shakurs or “thankful ones.” In an interview, Tupac stated that “I like to think that at every opportunity I’ve ever been threatened with resistance, it’s been met with resistance. And not only me but it goes down my family tree. You know what I’m saying, it’s in my veins to fight back.”4 He was not exaggerating when he spoke these words.

Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, was a member of the New York chapter of the Black Panther party. While pregnant with Tupac in 1969, she was a defendant in the Panther 21 case, in which twenty-one Black Panther party members were accused of conspiring to assassinate police officers and blow up buildings including police stations. In 1971, the Panther 21 were acquitted of all charges.

In 1982, when Tupac was ten years old, his stepfather Mutulu Shakur was indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) law on charges relating to “participation in a clandestine paramilitary unit that carried out actual and attempted expropriations from several banks” between December 1976 and October 1981 including a 1981 Brink’s armored truck robbery as well as the 1979 prison break of Assata Shakur. Mutulu went underground for nearly five years, was captured in 1986, convicted in 1988, and is still serving a 60-year sentence. Tupac’s song “White Man’s World” was “dedicated to my motherfuckin teachers Mutulu Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu Jamal, Sekou Odinga, all the real O.G.’s.”

Assata Shakur is Tupac’s godmother. She was imprisoned for the 1973 killing of a police officer, but escaped in 1979 and moved to Cuba. Sekou Odinga, who was also part of the Panther 21 case along with Afeni, and who, like Mutulu, was convicted of RICO charges relating to the Brink’s robbery and Assata’s liberation, is the father of Yaki Akiyele Fula. Yaki rapped as Kadafi in the the Outlawz, the rap group founded by Tupac in 1995.

The dedication of “White Man’s World” shows that these family connections and relationships were important to Tupac, and that adoptive kinship was just as important as biological. The political consciousness of his elders is also apparent in Tupac’s lyrics, in which he raps such lines as, “‘It’s time to fight back,’ that’s what Huey said/Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead” (Changes) and “Malcolm X or Bobby Hutton died for nothin'” (Ghetto Gospel). These lines, of course, reflect the pessimism of Tupac’s generation regarding the failed efforts of their predecessors. Therein lies an inescapable truth: we are all shaped and molded by our parents and ancestors, but we all have our own paths to forge, and we choose how to carry our lineages forward. Tupac’s deliberate choice to honor his Shakur family legacy was an integral part of his path.

Mutulu Shakur [Public Domain]

Mutulu Shakur [Public Domain]

That’s Why We Go to Thug Mansion

Given the complex web of ancestry that any individual is descended from and comprised of, it makes sense for that complexity to be retained after death. Tupac’s lyrics posit quite a few possible afterlives. In “Only God Can Judge Me,” Tupac raps, “My only fear of death/Is comin’ back to this bitch reincarnated.” In “Thugz Mansion” he speculates that “Ain’t no heaven for a thug nigga/That’s why we go to thug mansion,” a place reminiscent of the ancient Greek Isle of the Blessed, where one can enjoy the company of such individuals as Billie Holiday, Malcolm X and Latasha Harlins. On the cover of his final album recorded before his shooting, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Tupac, now rapping under the name Makaveli, depicts himself crucified like Jesus.

To some, these may seem like irreconcilable possibilities. Many polytheist and animist traditions, however, believe in multiple souls or in the multi-part soul. Chinese tradition, for example, contains the concepts of the shén (神), the hún (魂, which itself may be three entities) and the pò (魄, which may be seven entities), all of which are distinct from concepts such as jīng () and qì (). The ancient Egyptians conceived of people being comprised of multiple parts as well: “the main constituents were the body, its ka, and its name which remained always in close proximity to each other even in the tomb, and the shadow, the ba, sahu and akh.”

Furthermore, in the realm of practice, multiple eschatologies can coexist simultaneously. In China, for example, Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation have coexisted with traditional ancestor veneration practices for millennia. The multiple-soul theory provides one possible explanation for how this may work on the other side. Even within ancestor veneration, the existence of both grave-tending and ancestor shrines and temples suggest that a distinction is made between the soul attached to the physical body and the ancestral soul. We see in Tupac’s lyrics the possibilities of a soul that is reincarnated (which in some traditions is seen as a neutral fact, in others as something to transcend), one that dwells in the heroic paradise known as Thug Mansion, and perhaps even one that undergoes resurrection and apotheosis. There is also the aforementioned name of Tupac Amaru, which in Icelandic tradition would be linked with the hamingja of Túpac Amaru I, and the familial Shakur ancestral soul.

For a poet like Tupac, there is always the poetic immortality that one finds in the “everlasting glory” promised to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, in Catullus, and in Shakespeare. In Kendrick Lamar’s song “Mortal Man,” he carefully alternates quotes from Tupac’s interviews with his own words, creating through bricolage a conversation between himself and Tupac. As he speaks to Tupac, Kendrick identifies himself as “one of your offspring of the legacy you left behind.” In another song, “Black Friday,” Kendrick declares that he will personally “make sure [Tupac] lives on.” Poetry brings another level of elevation to the dead altogether.

[George Hannz D / Wikimedia]

[George Hannz D / Wikimedia]

We Just Letting our Dead Homies Tell Stories

Tupac is most famous for his musical career, but in his own words, rapping was always a spirit-guided act: “Because the spirits, we ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us.”5 And in “Ghetto Gospel,” he rapped, “God isn’t finished with me yet/I feel His hand on my brain/When I write rhymes I go blind and let the Lord do his thing.”

In his essay “The Head of Orpheus,” published in Scarlet Imprint’s Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis, Michael Routery writes that like Hesiod receiving the breath of inspiration from the Muses on Mount Helicon, in traditional societies “around the world poets were seen as inspired by gods, spirits and the dead, and conduits of a world of transpersonal memory, and prophecy.” Clearly, Tupac’s quotes fit well into this framework of spirit-inspired poetry, and songs like “Pour Out a Little Liquor” exist within a much more widespread street culture of remembering and libating the dead.

Routery’s naming of both memory and prophecy as poetic functions is deliberate, for “among many primal, archaic and indigenous peoples the poet and prophet were combined, or perhaps better to say unseparated.” Some of Tupac’s words have a prophetic ring to them as well, though as P.E. Easterling writes in her introduction to Sophocles’s Trachiniae, “the special characteristic of oracles” is that “they represent a glimpse of the truth which can only be properly understood when the events they foretell take place” (3).

In an interview, for example, Tupac predicted black insurgencies paralleling that led by Nat Turner:

I think that niggas is tired of grabbin’ shit out the stores and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be, like, uh, bloodshed for real. I don’t think America know that. I think American think we was just playing and it’s gonna be some more playing but it ain’t gonna be no playing. It’s gonna be murder, you know what I’m saying, it’s gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831, up in this muthafucka.6

Whether this prophecy will be fulfilled or not remains to be seen, but for now, his words serve merely as a “glimpse of the truth” that cannot yet be properly understood.

[$amii / Flickr]

[Image Credit: $amii / Flickr]

T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.

Tupac is also known for promulgating a standard of behavior for gangsters known as the Code of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., which his step-father Mutulu Shakur is said to have helped write. The code sought to mitigate the effects of drug dealing with prohibitions on selling drugs to children and pregnant women and to reduce violence towards those not involved in criminal activity. At the same time, it was an attempt to embrace the derogatory word “thug” in a manner similar to religious and spiritual practitioners’ reclamations of the terms “Witch,” “Pagan,” and “Heathen.”

The term “thug” is derived from the Hindi “thag,” which literally means “to cheat,” but according to Kim Wagner’s article “The Deconstructed Stranglers: A Reassessment of Thuggee,” it could mean either a conman or a violent robber in precolonial India (943). Under British colonial rule in the 1830s, the term “thuggee” was used to specifically describe a particular form of robbery in which bandits “attacked travelers on the high road using trickery or deception” and in which the victims were strangled (942), and a campaign was launched to suppress thuggee. Thuggee was also said to be a form of Kali worship, and the murders by strangulation were allegedly carried out as human sacrifices.

Wagner casts doubt upon this narrative on the grounds that “there is no mention whatsoever of thuggee as a religious practice in the material predating […] the campaign to eradicate thuggee,” and argues that “ordinary dacoits in 19th century India, who were never assumed to be motivated by religious fervor, would also hold a ceremony or puja after a successful robbery and make votive offerings to a deity” (953). While her article is focused on deconstructing and reassessing the image of the thug constructed by the British, this particular quote also suggests that religious offerings were indeed the norm for bandits, which is in and of itself and interesting area of study.

Wagner suggests that the conflation of thuggee with extreme religious devotion was an example of confirmation bias, and also of a deliberate legitimization of thuggee on those interrogated by the British who may have been sympathetic to thuggee:

The extreme interest in the subject exhibited by the British prompted the informers to rethink their religious identity. When the approvers promulgated thuggee as a religious practice in worship of Devi they were legitimizing their actions and practices, which conferred a higher moral and social status to the thugs, setting them aside from ‘ordinary’ criminals. (954)

Interestingly, Tupac’s Code of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. essentially sought to do the same thing, to distinguish thugs from “ordinary criminals.” Tupac said in an interview: “Yes, I am gonna say that I’m a thug. That’s because I came from the gutter and I’m still here. I’m not saying I’m a thug because I wanna rob you and rape people.”

[Public Domain]

Thugs about to strangle a traveler [Public Domain]

Problematic Ancestors

Unfortunately, despite being one of the few rappers to express moderately pro-feminist sentiments in his songs and interviews, Tupac himself fell far short of his claims. In 1995, he was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse.

Let us be clear about this. Rape, abuse, and all apologia for and minimization of such acts are categorically unacceptable.

The practice of ancestor veneration does not change that position in the slightest. But the question of problematic ancestors must nevertheless be confronted. When Tupac declared, “only God can judge me now,” was he ready for his god to call his bluff?

The concept of multiple souls allows for the possibility that there are souls that undergo judgment of some sort and then receive the consequences of their actions. In the Egyptian conception of multiple souls, for example, the heart (F34, jb) is weighed after death by Anubis against the feather of Ma’at. If too heavy, it is devoured by Ammit. Furthermore, in the case of particularly hated individuals such as the monotheist pharaoh Akhenaton, human descendants would destroy inscriptions containing that individual’s name and their very memory. The Roman senate is also known to have enacted similar decrees against despised emperors and would-be emperors, a practice that in modern times was given the name damnatio memoriae. And if one honors one’s ancestors as collectives, it may well be that particularly problematic individuals have been removed from that collective by its other members.

Not all conceptions of afterlife judgment and punishment are the same. In Chinese Buddhism, when souls go to Dìyù (地獄), they are tortured for their crimes by the Ten Kings (十王, shíwáng), but the tenth and final king “turns the wheel of transmigration that carries the dead to their new existences as either gods, human beings on earth or in hell, good or bad demons, or animals.” In other words, in this particular tradition, the torture is not an eternal punishment, but a form of purification akin to Catholic purgatory.

Just as Catholics perform masses for the dead in order to “help the departed souls undergoing purification” in purgatory, so can ancestor work be done to help the dead within polytheist and animist traditions. The particular details of how this works vary greatly from tradition to tradition. Within the hypothesis of multiple souls, it may be the ancestral soul that is uplifted and elevated by ancestor work, while other souls or soul-parts are affected to differing degrees. There may be purifications or retributions that must be undergone and cannot be affected by the living at all. None of this should be taken to “cancel out” or minimize the effects of harm caused to others during one’s lifetime. Once the stone has been cast into the water, sticking one’s hand in the water to stop the ripples and pretend the stone was never thrown is impossible.

On the other hand, in “The Fire Is Here,” I quoted James Baldwin about “the crime that is committed until it is accepted that it was committed.” Like the curse on the descendants of Tantalos, which manifested as kinslaying in successive generations from the fratricide of Atreus to the matricide of Orestes, the crimes committed by one’s ancestors weigh upon the descendants and seek, vampire-like, to be recommitted and brought into the world in yet another incarnation. In these cases, the best form of ancestor work is to “put the souls of your ancestors at peace,” as the Chinese god Guan Sheng Di Jun advises, “by doing good.” In other words, to break the cycle in one’s own generation.

In “Tupac’s Law: Incarceration and the Crisis of Black Masculinity,” Seneca Vaught wrote that one of Tupac’s “greatest personal shortcomings was the inability to leave the “plantation of maleness,” a mentality that clinical psychologist Na’im Akbar (1991) characterized in Visions For Black Men” (89). Tupac Shakur’s descendants can never erase his shortcomings, but they can try to overcome those shortcomings in themselves, to themselves escape and destroy the “plantation of maleness.”

Weighing of the Heart, Book of the Dead. [Public Domain]

Weighing of the Heart, Book of the Dead. [Public Domain]


  1. Attributed to Chief Seattle.
  2. “Death, Dreaming and Memory” by H. Lauer, quoted in “Arguments in Favor of Universalist Heathenry” by Heimlich A. Laguz.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sampled on Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
*   *   *
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

ENGLEWOOD, Co. — Last week came the announcement that religion site Beliefnet has acquired Patheos, the far more popular home of a wide variety of religious blogs, include a vibrant Pagan channel. While Beliefnet also once hosted Pagan bloggers, since being acquired by the Christian-focused BN Media company, those writers all eventually moved on. With the new purchase, it has been stated that plans thus far are to keep the two sites independent of each other.

beliefnet-logo-6-25-10 A Wild Hunt investigation into BN Media buying Beliefnet in June, 2016, disclosed the company’s focus:

BN Media seems to be a different sort of owner, if their two largest initiatives, Affinity4 and Cross Bridge, are any indication. In short, it seems they are a conservative “family friendly” Christian group. All you have to do is pay attention to all the subtle buzz-words. . . . It doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of future interfaith interactions and diverse viewpoints on Beliefnet.

It’s true that, while Beliefnet no longer hosts Pagan blogs, Patheos Pagan channel editor Jason Mankey isn’t expecting any purges at Patheos. Mankey told The Wild Hunt:

There are currently no plans to change anything at Patheos and at Patheos Pagan. Patheos will continue to maintain its own brand and the sites will be run as a separate entities. As in all acquisitions, there will be some changes but we believe these changes will be in the background and focused on the technology and supporting infrastructure, and we anticipate that these changes will be about improving the experience of the reader.

I’ve spoken to many of the folks coming in from Beliefnet and genuinely believe they are excited about both Patheos in general and more specifically the Pagan Channel. Change is a part of life, and I’m looking forward to this one.

Mankey has earned the respect of people in the Pagan blogosphere since he took over as channel editor, including that of Anne Newkirk Niven, who runs one of the largest independent Pagan blog sites,, who called him an “excellent administrator.”

patheospagan-300x300Niven’s sentiments were echoed by those Patheos Pagan bloggers who agreed to comment for this story as well as Star Foster, who was the channel’s first editor. In her statement, she also touched upon the value of purely Pagan alternatives.

Like many people, I was sad to watch Beliefnet lose its initial luster, particularly after it was bought by Fox and then by an Evangelical organization. The purchase of Patheos by the same Evangelical organization is momentous. An acquisition means merger and all that comes with it. Resources are allocated to the segments of a company that make money, and cuts are made to increase profitability. It will be interesting to see how this acquisition affects Patheos, particularly those writers who left other platforms with whom they had become disenchanted.

For minority faiths, who cannot easily compete for resources with larger faith demographics, it may prove more fruitful to invest talent and resources in quality, homegrown religious journalism, columnists, devotional writers, and cultural analysts. Since the dawn of Beliefnet the religious internet has undergone dramatic changes, and it will be fascinating to see how it continues to evolve.

Support your Pagan media, wherever you find it to be doing good work. In anticipation of The Wild Hunt’ drive, I have already made my contribution.

Editing the Agora for Patheos Pagan is David Dashifen Kees, who agreed with Mankey’s assessment. “I’m cautiously optimistic. My understanding is that, after the purchase, Patheos will be operating essentially as it always has been. We’ll keep writing what we write and the readers will hopefully continue to visit.”

Gus DiZerega has been a presence at many major Pagan blogging sites, including Pagan Square and Patheos. He also wrote for Beliefnet, and he’s more suspicious. “The people who controlled Beliefnet acted unethically in my experience, and cannot be trusted,” he said.

After he wrote a post criticizing management, “they removed comments and when [he] objected.”  He said, “They told me it was their site and they could do what they wanted, I also left. I see no reason to legitimize anything controlled by Evangelicals such as that. Perhaps the Parliament of World’s Religions could someday host a genuine interfaith site free from the imperialistic ambitions of Evangelicals.”

Druidic blogger John Beckett doesn’t think it’s the end of the world. He said:

Nothing is constant in life, much less on the internet. While I had no idea this merger was coming, I’m not the least bit surprised it happened. We’ve been told the merger will have no effect on bloggers – Patheos will remain a unique site and all the changes will be on the technical and business side. That could be helpful.

As long as Patheos stays within its mission of being a multifaith religious site, as long as Pagans continue to be treated with the same respect as everyone else, and as long as I continue to have full control over what I write, I plan to stay.

If any of that changes, I own all my content and can move at any time.

Others also see two sides to this coin. “It seems that the merger is a pretty mixed bag,” said David Pollard, who edits the UU-centric Nature’s Path group blog at Patheos Pagan. “While a lot has been made in the Pagan blogosphere about Beliefnet’s incivility towards Paganism in recent years, when they started they were able to get some very high profile Pagans like Margot Adler and Starhawk to write for them.

“The problem was, that’s where they stopped,” Pollard continued. “They never really developed a second tier of writers, which is something that Patheos through its Pagan Channel editors has really excelled at.”

Pollard said he very much hopes that Patheos bloggers will be left alone, “given how many times Beliefnet has changed owners over the past decade, who knows what their next owner will want?”

One thing that any owner of Patheos is likely to want is a profitable venture, and the main way to achieve that with a content site is through advertising sales. The ads on the site now have been the subject of criticism by Pagans over the years, including from The Wild Hunt founding editor Jason Pitzl, who entered into a partnership in 2011-12.

In announcing the relaunch of an independent Wild Hunt, he promised “zero ads endorsing Mormonism or Liberty University.” Those result from buying into pools such as ones offered by Google, which serve up ads based on a variety of factors, including one’s behavior generally on the internet and search terms used.

Quaker Pagan Reflections blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop has also been concerned about the push for profit. “It has sometimes seemed that there’s been an increasing stress on monetizing our writing, and I have wondered whether the finances were really working out: the ads have always been off-putting, not always relevant to Paganism, and so slow to load some of my friends tell me they can’t read my blog at all. I’ve wondered if we Pagans have been a good investment for the owners, and whether the site is a good fit for us, to be honest. I guess my questions have only grown with this news.

“Patheos has been good to my blog, in that I’ve seen a big increase in readership, and I’ve been part of a conversation with other writers I really admire,” Chapin Bishop said. “Still, I’ve often wondered if it would make more sense to go it alone, or at a Pagan-owned, Pagan-run site.”

“They’re not going for direct-place ads,” agreed Newkirk Niven, who runs such a Pagan site. When she recently looked into advertising at Patheos, she was told that “they don’t even talk to people who aren’t able to spend a grand a month. I think we’re operating in a different universe.”

For most Pagan advertisers, she said, $12,000 is impossible; even $100 a month can be a challenge from owners of businesses the size she works with, she said.

For now, Patheos remains independent, but it’s likely that the new owners will seek to find ways to use this property to improve Beliefnet and other sites. As of this writing, Patheos is ranked 1,922 by site-ranking service Alexa, while Beliefnet stands at 12,451. It’s a question of when and how, rather than if or why the Patheos traffic will be captured. The Wild Hunt will cover developments as those changes unfold.

The interaction of religion and politics in Ásatrú and Heathenry has long been a contentious one, as we have recently been reminded during the many heated reactions to a divisive public statement by the new Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Heathens are not usually shy about sharing their views. There have been some very intense online discussions of current politics by Heathens in the United States. Since worldview is so often stressed as greatly important to Heathen practice, I asked several practitioners the following question:

How does your Heathen worldview affect your view of the presidential election as it now stands?

The goal in asking was to present a diversity of opinion from as many Heathens around the nation as possible. Some were unable to answer by publication, and some – due to the divisive nature of this election in particular – declined to speak out publicly.

Here are responses from seventeen Heathens in sixteen different states. While there are some common threads between their comments, there is also a great diversity of opinion. Even such a small sampling shows the wide range of worldviews within the United States Heathen community. Thank you to all who agreed to spend their time providing a response!

Lagaria Farmer (Coopertown, Tennessee)
I try to live an honorable life and help those around me. I believe our gods and ancestors appreciate that. I strongly hold to the value of hospitality, and I believe it’s a two-way street. I look for these characteristics in the candidates for public office and vote accordingly. There are a few (counting the third-party candidates) who have some of these qualities. There is at least one who doesn’t, and that person will not have my vote.

Matt Walker (Trenton, Missouri)
My worldview is one that places significant importance on community, on loyalty, gifting, and the reciprocity of those things. On relationships and duty. Honor. Obligation. In line with that, my view of a proper president – or any leader – is that they should be a person who is honorable and does right by their people, a person who holds their responsibilities above their own personal concerns. An intellectual, knowledgeable, articulate soul bound by loyalty to the Republic and reverence for the rule of law (especially the Constitution); a person who understands what justice is, as well as diplomacy; and who is known for regular, genuine displays of generosity, compassion and integrity.

Where does that leave me in this election? It leaves me without a candidate, while the world watches my countrymen fight bitterly over whether we should elect a corrupt establishment politician beholden to corporate interests or a trust-fund troglodyte fomenting violence amongst an army of quasi-literate scum.

Thad N. Horrell (Denver, Colorado)
Heathenry motivates me to keep up the struggle for justice and truth, even when so many people close to me are taken in by the demagoguery of angry words and hateful speech. The Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] teaches us to welcome the stranger and be hospitable to guests, especially those who are in need of shelter and assistance. We should be strong against our enemies, but we should know who our enemies are first. Declaring all people who do not look like us or who do not practice our religion are our enemies is cowardly and despicable. I do not practice Donald Trump’s religion, and I stand in solidarity with all those worthy people he would deport or ban from entering our country.

Kari Tauring [Courtesy Photo]

Kari Tauring (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
My Heathen root, like my Christian root, is primarily Norwegian. I come from the school of free farmers and not church or royal landholders. We believe in democratic governance. My grandma and grandpa – who arrived in the U.S. at age thirteen – proudly voted. People walked or rode in wagons miles to their polling places. If I can’t vote for something, I write in my answer. I do this on the census and “race check” boxes. I believe that the people who most value the water and land should be in charge of keeping it clean for everyone. This is the worldview of my Nordic folkway, and I think it is folkways that will save this world.

Thomas de Mayo (Tidewater, Virginia)
I support Clinton, because she is the most likely candidate to defeat Trump and move the country in a progressive direction. Many of my friends are considering voting for a third-party candidate, because they do not consider Clinton sufficiently liberal or have concerns about her character. I sympathize, but I believe they are mistaken.

In Heathen terms, I view modern elections as being like a medieval Icelandic Thing. The Thing was a sacred assembly, a court of law, and a place for vicious politicking. A disputant who wanted to assure a good outcome for their case needed to assemble a coalition of allies; that meant making compromises, returning favors, and pragmatically accepting settlements short of total victory. So too our modern democratic process (although sacred in its own way) requires tempering heartfelt conviction with strategic thinking.

I am totally appalled by Trump’s bigotry toward Muslims and other minorities. I don’t trust him to administer the laws of our country domestically, and I don’t trust him to make military decisions abroad. In the contest of the Thing, it is best to ally with the strongest friendly chieftain able to obtain victory.

Drew Johnston (Los Angeles, California)
This election cycle has been very hard to deal with. Honor is so important to us, and none of our candidates seem to have any, nor do many of our elected representatives. Truth is also one of our core virtues, and I’ve seen very little of that myself. Perseverance demands that I stay my course and vote for the candidate I have chosen, but it gets harder every time I turn on the news. As a Heathen, I would say that I am very disappointed with this state of affairs – both the election and where our country is today.

Vicki Burns [Courtesy Photo]

Vicki Burns (Bronx, New York)
My worldview is best described as neo-tribal. While we can’t return to tribal ways of our ancestors, I still think we can look to them for guidance here in the present and for future generations. Of the two remaining candidates for the upcoming election, I feel that Hilary Clinton, despite some strong reservations I still have about corporate ties that she may have, is still the best choice for me. I have been struck by her commitment to the health of children and of families – which I think is fundamental to our future as a nation – with a focus on higher wages, childcare, insurance, and affordable education. Additionally, she echoes Obama’s original pledge to develop renewable energy and create new jobs. For our sake and for Mother Earth, I hope she follows through.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is nothing but a neo-feudal opportunist who is exploiting the working class, who are understandably upset at the lack of opportunity in the country as it stands. His lack of experience and empathy and his overblown ego and unbridled narcissism will eventually destroy him and, if he is elected, will destroy us all, as well. May the old gods prevent that, and may we all exercise our right to vote on Election Day.

Heidi Shewchuk (Oak Grove, Oregon)
[My worldview] doesn’t really [affect my view]. But what does affect my view is being a history nerd, and for me this means our current presidential election is no different than any of the electioneering that has gone on before. In particular I am reminded of the late Roman Republic. This was a period when politics were rife with bribery, slander, slippery deals, accusations of slippery deals, and all manner of electoral abuses – including vote tampering and election fraud. There were riots in the streets, with the political supporters of rival candidates forming gangs, behaving badly, and engaging in open – sometimes bloody – conflict with one another. Our current election in the U.S. has had all of this, but unlike Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus, Hillary, Trump, and Bernie have yet to form a triumvirate. However, we do have two more months, and anything is possible.

Jennifer Snook (Grinnell, Iowa)
Heathenry sacralizes my commitment to social justice and the urgency and centrality of truth-telling and honor. In that regard, the current election troubles me, as neither candidate has shown a commitment to honesty. However, if I wanted to quantify the “truthiness,” integrity, or honor-in-action of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Trump would most certainly lose. His commitment to divisive politics; childish name calling and bullying of politicians, protesters, and journalists; his consistent and perpetual refusal to honor his debts, his word, his commitments; his pandering to white supremacist ideology and sympathizers; his openly racist, misogynistic, classist and ableist rhetoric; his consistent inconsistency of position; and his inability to formulate a coherent argument are all in conflict with my values and expectations of what kind of person qualifies as “presidential.”

I was a Sanders supporter, and although I’m not a die-hard fan of Clinton and do have some concerns as to her commitment to institutional and structural changes that will alleviate the human suffering caused by the inequalities of income, health access, education, and the lack of political agency of disenfranchised groups – she’s certainly a less terrifying option.

Victor Booker

Victor Booker [Courtesy Photo]

Victor Booker (Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin)
The current major party candidates, just as many before them, tend to push ideals that appeal to Christianity. This is especially true for the Right. As Heathens, we have not only an immunity to this, but perhaps even a tendency to be more scrutinizing when a candidate starts throwing around old political Christian catchphrases. Heathens don’t care about that. Many of us look for progressive ideas, solutions to issues plaguing our communities, and global policies that will help unite America with other countries. Instead we often get roundabout answers that aren’t really answers at all, with a nice thick covering of religious rhetoric that has been successful in buying voters since Americans started voting. All in all, being a Heathen that cares about politics in America is frustrating. A Heathen worldview is just that, a worldview. And American politics is rarely such.

David Carron (New Bedford, Massachusetts)
Religion and politics make poor bedfellows, and this election is poorer than most. Our ancestors were well familiar with the difficulties and faults in leadership. With Mr. Trump, I am reminded of Sigvaldi from the Jómsvíkinga saga. He swore to conquer Norway or die trying – spoiler alert; neither happens. His men, clearly knowing the character of their leader, swore to fight until he turned tail and ran, which he did. With Ms. Clinton, I have to think more of Loki from Lokasenna for a comparison of her credibility, likability, and truthfulness. I may just move after this election.

Douglas Helvie (New Bern, North Carolina)
I am a practitioner of Urglaawe, and my viewpoint is simple. Hillary is crooked, pure and simple. As an avowed political independent, I originally was going to vote for Bernie Sanders – until the world found out that our political system is corrupt, and – more specifically – the DNC has this nasty habit of rigging primaries. So, in true Heathen spirit and in the sense of revolt and revenge, I am voting for Trump.

Stevie Miller

Stevie Miller [Courtesy Photo]

Stevie Miller (Greensburg, Pennsylvania)|
As a Heathen, I’m appalled by the behavior of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president – and their parties – this election cycle. Their lying, mudslinging, and scheming are completely contrary to virtues like truth, honor, and generosity. Polarizing our population and excluding and vilifying certain groups of people flies in the face of the Urglaawe goal to fight rootlessness, that force that undermines both our communities and the World Tree. The designations of “liberal” and “conservative” are completely useless, serving only to create an us-them mentality that hurts people while doing nothing to solve our actual problems.

In the lore, we see again and again that our gods are strongest when they work together, combining a variety of voices and talents to achieve the goals of their community. In action, this translates for me to supporting third parties, speaking up for diversity and inclusiveness, and making a particular effort to listen to and understand opinions I disagree with. I feel that this election – with two candidates who are so widely known to be corrupt and power-hungry, and two out-of-touch parties that are oblivious to the problems in our country – has reached a new low for American politics that I have not seen before as a voter.

As a Heathen, I believe the solutions mean including new voices and perspectives, building strong communities, and working hard at hands-on problem-solving at the local level (not substituting social media for action!) to create the kinds of changes we want to see at the national level.

Ren Anderson (Exeter Township, Pennsylvania)
Being Heathen in this country during any election is disheartening. With the presence of the electoral college and the fact we live in a corporate oligarchy, I fully understand and recognize that our elections do not determine how we choose to be governed but rather serve as a distraction from our crumbling economic infrastructure. In Heathenry, with the emphasis on self-reliance and sustainability, I find our community better prepared than the surrounding culture of consumerism by embracing our agricultural heritage. Although I am active on Facebook, I still encourage people to find actual physical copies of books and to focus on improving personal skills that would do well in a local barter economy as hobbies.

I personally see the U.S. elections as a distraction at best, and a corruption at worst. Instead, to focus on the local community and to personally bring visibility to personal hot button issues that affect our lives is a better use of our resources than arguing over which stuffed-suit sociopath gets to be the “face” of our country for the next four-to-eight years as the bourgeois find ever more terrible and ingenious ways to accumulate more wealth at the expense of the well-being of the common man.

In Heathenry, I feel that we should educate ourselves as well as we are able (even though our media is now void of unbiased journalism) but to focus primarily on personal survival and accumulating contacts of others with useful skills while trying to avoid becoming entwined with the questionable and possibly violent extremists that also exist in great numbers among U.S. Odinists who have drawn similar conclusions about the facade of democracy.

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Vincent Enlund [Courtesy Photo]

Vincent Enlund (Mesa, Arizona)
When it comes to the presidency, I think my worldview affects how I rate a lot of things. First off, I have to look at all the candidates, and how they sling mud at each other. We look at the two primary parties that will always debate over the Left or Right, conservative or liberal. And now this year, for the first time in many decades, there’s a legitimate third-party option – the Libertarian Party and what they have to offer for the future, as well.

Really, if you’re looking at this from a Heathen worldview, for me, I need to think about what my ancestors looked for in a leader. They didn’t look for politicians. They looked to the people who had success and glory in their life – people who made accomplishments and showed what they were capable of under stress to benefit their people and their tribe. I think today, as Heathens with a Heathen worldview, we need to be looking for leaders to do the same thing. We need to be looking for leaders who have shown us that they’re capable of leading a country, of managing the kind of decisions that are required to do what is best for the people of this nation and the Constitution that it was built on – leaders that demonstrate courage, honesty, intelligence, and the ability to lead the community both economically and socially.

For me, the hard part about this is that I haven’t seen a leader like that for this country in my life. I hope that this third-party – the Libertarian Party – may provide a leader for today that could accomplish at least some of those things. But until I reach a point where I see a leader that I think my ancestors would look up to, these are only hopes.

William Thor Conner

William Thor Conner [Courtesy Photo]

William Thor Connor (Villa Park, Illinois)
I take seriously the pillars of troth, key virtues that are sorely needed in our society. Many in our current political arena have no problem straight-up lying and breaking their word, using lies in base ways to bolster their own privilege. The whole current legal progression towards a corporate oligarchy is based on selective control of (dis)information. We have a set of candidates that couldn’t win on the strength of their ideas alone.

Hillary Clinton will be a competent administrator of the current system, and – to be honest – I will vote for her in November. There is not really another choice. Trump originally ran as a lark or a saboteur and had unexpected success. I still think he doesn’t want to win but is acting as crowd control for the less educated aspect of the same outrage at the system that enabled Bernie’s rise. I proudly call myself a progressive democratic socialist and have been following the words and ideas of Bernie Sanders for more than a decade.

Without trying, Sanders embodies the troth. His struggle to bring the U.S. into a more egalitarian, less rent-seeking model that our Scandinavian cousins successfully practice is an effort worth emulating and being part of. And he didn’t lose. We are more aware of the egalitarian dream being possible than we have been since Lyndon Johnson. I hold hope that the progressive takeover of the Democratic Party could be a viable answer for real change in America.

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard (Miami, Oklahoma)
My understanding is that the known tenets and values of Heathen spirituality require its adherents to be consciously present and world-affirming. The current presidential race is a seriously contentious one, which is highlighted by the extremist speech and behaviors it has incited. Guided by my Heathen worldview, I am driven to actively speak up and participate in bringing about political advancement and reform for the benefit of all people.

As such, I must reject the agendas and policy platforms of leading presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both further the advancement of political systems that include cronyism, environmental destruction, cross-sectional oppression, and warmongering. As a Heathen, I am therefore morally compelled not to be a passive participant in political concerns. These have a measurable impact on the well-being of my family, my community, and my country – truly, on the earth itself, which I strive to honor and protect through my daily actions and spiritual votive works. The only way I see forward is through a commitment to political activism that will disrupt and replace these systems towards ones that provide healthful stability for all human beings, so we might reach our best scientific and spiritual potential.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.