Archives For Religion

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SALT LAKE, Utah — In one week, thousands of people from all over the world will descend on Salt Lake City to participate in the Parliament of the World Religions. The opening ceremonies and procession take place Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. and are followed by four full days of workshops, observances, plenaries, meals and music. Within the expansive walls of the Salt Palace Convention Center, eager attendees will be seeking a unique educational, and potentially transformative, experience only found through global interfaith interaction, communication and harmony.

[Photo Credit: Garrett via Wikimedia ]

[Photo Credit: Garrett via Wikimedia ]

“The 1993 Parliament at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago was a truly transformational experience, one that changed my life in ways that I could not have anticipated. I’ve heard a lot of other Pagans say the same thing after attending their first Parliament. So, I would strongly encourage people to come with open minds and open hearts, and with a willingness to let change happen,” said Andras Corban-Arthen, who has attended every Parliament since 1993 and is currently serving on the Parliament’s board of trustees.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions began in Chicago in 1893 and was part of a larger exhibition event. Originally called The World Congress of Religions, the Parliament was the very first large scale meeting of western and eastern religious leaders. Due to wars and economic down turns through the 20th century, the event was never repeated.

Then in 1988, a council was formed to resurrect the concept and host a new Parliament. That happened in Chicago in 1993, a full century after the first one. Not only was that event a landmark as the rebirth of the Parliament, it was also largely considered one of the first times that Pagans “came out of broom closet” to the world’s interfaith community.

The Parliament was then held again in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa; in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain; and in 2009, in Melbourne, Australia. The basic idea was to continue hosting this international interfaith conference every five years. However, in 2012, the Council was having financial trouble and nearly had to shut its doors. Then, in 2013, the Parliament was saved with an emergency fundraiser, in which Pagans played a significant role.

Rev. Selena Fox and others plant a Peace Pole at the Cape Town Parliament 1999 [Courtesy Photo]

Rev. Selena Fox and others plant a Peace Pole at the Cape Town Parliament 1999 [Courtesy Photo]

Soon after, the Council began immediate planning for the 2015 Salt Lake event. Angie Buchanan, a trustee emerita and a member of the Parliament’s site selection committee, told The Wild Hunt, “So much work has gone into producing this event. Staff, volunteers, presenters, attendees but, it’s all worth it in the end because, this event can be life changing. The heart and energy of it has the potential to change the world.”

Before Thursday’s opening ceremonies, there will be a daylong women’s assembly. During that time, women leaders will speak on “two primary themes, which will [then] be further explored by attendees in small group discussions.” The themes include: “the responsibility of the world’s religions to affirm women’s dignity and human rights” and “share sources of religious and spiritual inspiration for women’s empowerment.” There will also be a number of related workshops.

Following the assembly are four full days of scheduled events, ending Monday with a closing plenary at 3:45 p.m. There are religious observances every morning, beginning at 7 a.m. Several Pagan observances are on the schedule. For example, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox will host a Brigid Healing ritual and a Ritual for Planet Earth. Ivo Dominguez Jr. and Jim Dickinson will be offering “Chalice of the Four Waters.”

One of the big Parliament features is a free daily lunchtime meal called Langar, which is the Sikh word for ‘open kitchen.’ Sponsored by local, national and international Sikh communities, Langar is a tradition expressing inclusiveness and the “oneness of humankind.” Everyone is invited, and the only requirements are a head-cover, open mind and appetite. Rev. Selena Fox said:

One of my favorite memories of the 2004 Parliament of World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain was having lunch with thousands of others at the Sikh’s Langar. The Sikh’s free food serving area was in a huge, air conditioned tent pavilion. We sat on the floor in long rows with our plates and cups before us and members of the Sikh community went down the rows and served each of us delicious traditional foods  … I look forward to experiencing Langar again at the 2015 Parliament.

Throughout the conference, there are multiple workshops, talks and lectures during every single time slot and even in-between. In some cases, one time slot may host 20-30 different events at once. Corban-Arthen said, “Be prepared to feel overwhelmed by all the programs you want to attend, which conflict with one another. Pick and choose wisely.”

He also advised, “Don’t just attend workshops – there are also great concerts, religious observances … films, artistic presentations, exhibitions … informational/merchandising booths, and of course, lots of opportunities for making new friends.”

Within that staggering four-day schedule, there will be number of specifically Pagan or Heathen -themed programs. Corban-Arthen said that the 2015 Parliament will have at least double the amount as were ever offered previously. In fact, there is even a specific “Pagan track” listed in the Parliament’s mobile scheduling software.* While there are too many to list here, some highlights include:

“Staving off Ragnarök: A Heathen Response to Climate Change” with Diana Paxson
“Black Madonnas and Dark Goddesses: Images of the Divine Feminine” with Vivianne Crowley
“Calling the Ancestors Home” with Solar Cross
“Diversity in Contemporary Paganism” with Jeanine De Oya, Eblis Correllian and Andras Corban-Arthen
“Goddesses Alive! Ritual Perfomance” directed by M. Macha Nightmare (as featured in a previous Wild Hunt article)

Those are only five of the many amazing workshops, observances, panels, performances and talks with Pagan or Heathen themes. How does this measurable increase in events impact the overall interfaith Parliament experience for everyone? Corban-Arthen said, “This time around, we will have the chance to present various elements of paganism in much greater depth and breadth.”

In addition to an increase in programming, the 2015 Parliament will also have the largest Pagan and Heathen representation than ever before. There will be an estimated 200 Pagans and Heathens in attendance, which is 120 more than the well-attended 1993 Chicago Parliament. Buchanan said, “We are glad so many friends and community members have chosen to come experience it for themselves.”

MotherTongque, EarthSpirit's Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

MotherTongue, EarthSpirit’s Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

Many national and international Pagan and Heathen organizations will be represented including, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit, Solar Cross, Earth Traditions, The Pagan Federation, Cherry Hill Seminary, the Pagan Federation International, The Wild Hunt, Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and others. Rev. Selena Fox said “Circle Sanctuary has more than three dozen ministers, ministers in training, community members, and networking associates as part of our delegation.” Some of these groups, like Circle Sanctuary, will be hosting informational booths in the Parliament’s exhibit hall.

While an attendee’s day could certainly be filled with Pagan and Heathen events alone, there are 100s of other offerings on the scheduled as well. Buchanan said, “I would encourage you to try new things, see as much as possible, sing, dance, participate in rituals and ceremonies that you may never have another opportunity for. Stretch yourselves, learn something new, share, be amazed, and be amazing to those who find you as curious as you find them.”

Corban-Arthen agreed, reminding attendees that this isn’t a Pagan event. He advises, “Leave your prejudices at home … You might be surprised to realize how much others at the Parliament already know about us, how willing they may be to accept us. Some might even tell you that they not only take us very seriously, but that, if anything, they don’t see us taking ourselves seriously enough … And don’t be surprised if a Christian offers you a heartfelt apology for what their religious ancestors have done to pagans over the course of history (I’ve had that happen to me at least once every Parliament). It’s that kind of an event.”

During the conference, there will be six plenaries, each is separately themed and will include a panel of speakers and a major declaration. The topics include: Focus on Women; Emerging Leaders; Income Inequality; War, Violence and Hate; Climate Change; and Indigenous Peoples.

Corban-Arthen said, “The one question that will weave as a common thread throughout this Parliament and beyond is: what insight, what wisdom can our spiritual traditions offer to help us heal these global problems?” He added, “Pagan voices can, and should, be heard in those conversations.”

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World's Religions.

Peace procession of Pagans at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions [Courtesy Photo]

Buchanan agreed, saying, “When the world’s religions come together to be part of the solution, the possibilities are endless. It is positively magical and we Pagans are an important part of it; an important voice in the interfaith movement and at the table for the discussion of global issues that have an impact on our planet; our environment.”

The Council is now in the very final stages of preparatory work as attendees prepare to make the trip to Salt Lake City. The mobile application is available to download and, while it is not perfect, the app does provide a basic tool to help navigate this seemingly monstrous event.

For those that will be attending, Buchanan is hosting a Pagan Reception at the Marriott Hotel Thursday at 3:30 p.m.This scheduled social time will provide a good opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones before the Parliament begins in earnest.

The Wild Hunt will be in attendance and live tweeting beginning Thursday morning through Monday. You can follow us @thewildhunt.


* Important note: Not all Pagan or Heathen – themed events are listed on the Pagan track. This is due to the way they were cataloged. 

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In 1999, artist Lauren Raine was commissioned to create 30 leather masks that each reflected the spirit of a different Goddess from around the world. Earlier that same year, she had a dream during which she saw “a long line of Goddesses in all colors, in beautiful costumes.” Then, as if by magic, Raine was presented with a commission to create the series of masks to be used in Reclaiming’s 20th anniversary Spiral Dance in San Francisco.

On her newly updated blog, Raine wrote, “Masks in traditional societies are viewed as liminal tools, as vessels for the sacred powers. With a mask it is believed the Gods and Goddesses can visit, tell their stories, give their blessings, heal or even give prophecy.”

masks graphic

Oshun, Brigit, Pele [Masks by Lauren Raine]

Although the commission was the beginning of her “Masks of the Goddess” project, Raine’s interest in mask making began years before. She said, “My first Goddess mask was Kali … It was a time in my life when there was just so much I had to get rid of, so much maturation I needed to do, so many old patterns and ways of being I needed to get beyond in order to evolve. In retrospect, I think I made the mask of Kali as my own kind of invocation, my call for help from the One who helps us to slay the demons of the mind, to cut away that which has to go.”

When Reclaiming commissioned the masks, Raine welcomed the challenge, saying “I wanted to create them as contemporary temple masks to be used to invoke and re-claim the feminine faces of God.” In the end, the 1999 Spiral Dance used 20 of Raine’s masks for a 3 minute long Goddess invocation.

One of the mask wearers and supporters of the mask project was Aline O’Brien, more commonly known as M. Macha Nightmare. During the Spiral Dance, she wore the Morrigan mask. In 2007 blog post, O’Brien, remembered, “[This was] the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place … I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.”

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Amateratsu Omikami

After the Reclaiming event was over, O’Brien felt disappointed with the presentation. Although she was personally “inspired by the masks,” she felt that they were underused and “not appreciated.”

With that in mind, O’Brien set out the design her own theatrical ritual that would emphasize Raine’s art, focus on the masks and embody the spirit of the various Goddesses. With the help of Mary Kay Landon, she wrote a script and an innovative ritual structure that focused solely on the Goddesses and the masks.

Then, in February 2000 at PantheaCon, O’Brien had the first opportunity to present her mask ritual, which she named Goddesses Alive! She found volunteers to assist with the both the staging and the various aspects of the performance, which included song, music, readings and dance. The brochure read:

Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine

O’Brien told The Wild Hunt that she chose 13 masks for the project, specifically those that would be the most recognizable to her audience. These included Artemis, Hecate, Bridget, Isis, Spiderwoman, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu, Inanna, Oshun, Sedna, Pele and Kali. Despite the limited budget and time, the ritual was a success.

Later that year, Goddesses Alive! was staged for a second time. With support from the New College of California and the Lilith Institute, O’Brien produced the ritual in a dance studio the following December. Once again, she had no budget but the performance was a success. Live music and a chorus of 5 people accompanied the words and movements of the Goddessess. It was attended by around 100 people. Looking back, O’Brien said, “I loved it.”

Despite the success of both performances, O’Brien had no idea if she would ever have the opportunity, time, energy or money to ever do the project again. The Goddesses Alive! script was filed away. The experience was left only to memory with no photos or video recordings ever taken.

Although Raine was not actively involved in either of the Goddesses Alive! performances, she said, “[O’Brien] activated the masks. She created a beautiful, and effective, sacred container for a community to use the masks, and ritual theatre, allowing each participant to evolve them in her or his own way. I think she would be happy to know that her vision has kept going.”

After O’Brien’s rituals in 2000, the masks were used again many times over in other theatrical performances throughout the U.S. Raine even expanded her collection, including elemental masks and other Goddesses. On her blog, she wrote, “I’ve been privileged to share my work with dancers, ritualists, playwrights, storytellers, priestesses, activists, and students bringing the Goddesses into the world in many ways. No artist could ask for more.” Raine created a compilation video of some of that theatrical work:

In addition to using the masks in performance, Raine also began selling them as art pieces. When thinking back on all the many masks created over the past 17 years, Raine said, “The affinity with certain masks changes as I change, but … my favorite masks concern Grandmother Spider Woman, my guide. She always seems to be in the background, the hand at the heart of the great Web.”

Over that same period of time, O’Brien never forgot her own dream of re-staging her very unique Goddesses Alive! ritual. Then, in 2014 when the Parliament for the World Religions sent out a call for presentations, Raine and O’Brien both had the same idea: let’s bring back Goddesses Alive! And, to their delight, the presentation was accepted. O’Brien said, “I was blown away.” She never really thought that she’d get a chance to do it all again.



With experience both as a ritualist and as a interfaith representative, O’Brien had the know-how and skill to adapt her otherwise Pagan-focused script for a broader audience. When asked about the adaptation, she admitted that “not much really had changed.” The biggest difference is the actual room size. The original ritual was designed for an inclusive theater-in-the round with only 100 audience members. The new script allows for the same set up but within a large ballroom and for an audience of over 300.

In addition, O’Brien selected new Goddesses based on mask availability and also to better reflect global diversity. She chose the following 13 masks: Hecate, Sedna, Brigit, Isis, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu Omikami, Inanna, Oshun, Kali, Pele, Pachamama and White Buffalo Calf Woman.

As Raine went to work on prepping the performance masks and, in some cases, creating new ones, O’Brien dusted off the old script and began recruiting performers and a tech crew. By summer 2015, she had her team and planning began. Jeffrey Albaugh signed on as the stage manager. When asked about the upcoming performance he said:

It is difficult and to serve as stage manager for an event like this, where all the performers are coming from so far away, and with no time for rehearsal. It puts an onus on me to make sure the production goes off without a hitch, and is as close as possible to Macha’s vision. However, with this kind of production, focused on movement, sound, voice and using Lauren’s brilliant masks, I think there is a high possibility of real magic occurring during the performance. The numinous will hopefully break through.

As Albaugh notes, the performers and crew herald from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore will be wearing the Isis mask. She said, “The rich pageantry of Goddesses Alive! is sure to stir people on a level far deeper than cerebral, the emotional place where we become imprinted with life-giving ideas. I feel that years from now we will all look back on this performance as a piece of our collective Pagan history and I’m very proud that I will have a small part in that.”

Emore will be joined by Anna Korn, Jo Carson, Rowan Liles, Áine Anderson, Mana Youngbear, Faelind, Wendy Griffin, Diana Kampert, Maggie Beaumont, Eileen Dev Macholl, Jerrie Hildebrand and myself, Heather Greene.

Rev. HPs. Gypsy Ravish volunteered to be one of the singers. She said, “I am honored to add my voice to this divine Sisterhood.” Other musical performers and script readers include Vivianne Crowley, Celia Farran, Lauren Raine, Rowan Fairgrove, Gypsy Ravish, Robin Miller, Jenn Vallely, Ruth Barrett and Aline O’Brien.



Led by Albaugh, the crew is equally diverse, with everyone coming together to make this single event happen. Mary Kay Landon, who helped O’Brien revise the script, said “Working on this production–and watching it evolve over the years–has given me a unique opportunity to research goddesses from across the world and, as I did so, to enter into relationship with them as we, together, created their evocations. What a privilege!”

When asked what Goddesses Alive! will offer a global religious audience, O’Brien said that she believes Pagans have “a deep appreciation of the art and design of ritual” and that is “one thing that Pagans bring to the interfaith table.” She explained that we have a “freedom of design” that is often lacking in other religious traditions. “We bring a freshness … and willingness to change.” And she hopes that this ritual performance will bring about an appreciation for that creativity and flexibility.

Goddessess Alive! was designed to be participatory ritual theater. The music, the singing, the readings and the Goddesses will move from behind the audience and through the audience. This technique serves to surrounded viewers in the full theatrical experience, and O’Brien hopes it helps to “open their minds to perceiving the divine” in new ways and to respecting “non-traditional, non-Abrahamic religious traditions.”

For Pagans that attend and others who are more familiar with a similar ritual performance, O’Brien hopes the experience will “demonstrate that the we have something to offer [the interfaith community] that maybe was unexpected.”

Ultimately, O’Brien would like Goddesses Alive! to be “consciousness raiser” for all who attend – Pagans and non-Pagans alike, and that everyone “leaves the room with a sense of community.”

The Goddesses Alive! ritual performance, which is being dedicated to the memory of Sparky T. Rabbit and Deborah Ann Light, will be held at the Parliament of the World Religions Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:45 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Currently, the production team is still looking for volunteers to film and photograph the event.

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pagan ethics coverLONDON, ENGLAND — After ten years of work, scholar Michael York has released his book Pagan Ethics, the second of three books in the series Paganism as a World Religion. The volume was preceded by Pagan Theology and will be followed by Pagan Mysticism. York’s work seeks to distill from Pagan religions those common elements that tie these disparate faiths together.

The Bath Spa University professor, sociologist, and Cherry Hill Seminary instructor told The Wild Hunt that this new book discusses what he feels are these common elements and then ties the principles into a variety of hot-button topics as illustrations. It’s a book about Pagan ethics, but with it York would like to “engage in an ethical conversation with everyone,” because he feels that “Paganism has a huge role to play” in that ongoing dialog.

“Paganism ranks like Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism,” York said. “[They all have] a broad religious perspective. What would be the ethical context that goes along with that? Is ethics even integral to any spirituality? Ethics impacts our relationship with the gods. This is trying to look at what a Pagan perspective would be on ethical positions.”

York argues that, in order to find those common ethical elements, one almost has to “strip away the spiritual aspect” of Pagan religions, including the rituals, specific deities and practices unique to those traditions, and regard them from the perspective of a Humanist or Atheist perspective.

“I think Paganism encompasses that position,” he said, noting that a number of his fellow scholars would likely consider themselves Atheist, or at least secular Pantheist. He said, “If you can approach it on that basis, then one’s spirituality follows, rather than precedes” one’s ethics.

What the book presents is a Pagan ethical framework divided into seven of what York calls “virtue-values.” Very much in the spirit of Western philosophy, these virtue-values “interchange, overlap, and are fluid, but all can be reduced to them.” The first of these if freedom, specifically “freedom from coercion and to do what one wants.” The second, comfort, which York understands to be controversial. However that doesn’t make it any less important to recognize. “Human beings desire comfort,” he said. “We have to take that on board when negotiating relations with others,” including people, non-human beings, non-corporeal beings, and the world itself.

Then, he describes health broadly as the virtue-value of completeness, or the idea of being complete. Next is worship — although York says “honor” could also fit. He defines this as the “formal pursuit of beauty and ritual/art.” The reason for blending the two, he said, is that ritual and art can be seen as cognates. “Putting something together properly and completely makes them more than a mere sum of their parts,” he explained. “A painting is not just canvas and paint; it goes beyond the physical components. It’s the same with a ritual: if it actually functions, it achieves a wider end” than simply performing each of the steps in succession.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh ethical principles, namely pleasure, productivity, and generosity, have enough interplay that York found it easier to explain each of them in relation to the others. As with comfort, he said “It’s important to recognize that pleasure is important and not be ashamed of that. It can be accepted as part of the gift of life, and we honor godhead by accepting the gifts of life.” Pleasure for its own sake is lacking, however, which is why he went on to say, “It’s not enough in itself. We have to somehow contribute; we have to produce something even if it’s only a tomato plant. Our contributions to the world are not all going to be Homer and Shakespeare as long as it’s something.” He also noted, “Many of us produce only our children,” which in his estimation fits the bill. Generosity proceeds from productivity as productivity might been seen as proceeding from pleasure and is the recognition that sharing what we create with others increases its value to ourselves and the world.

Michael York

Michael York [Courtesy Photo]

Other issues that York explores in the context of these virtue-values including a most-wanted list of flame-war causes such as same-sex marriage, intoxicants, birth control, and the environment. The book seeks to answer the question: “How would a Pagan in pursuit of these virtue-values address these issues? He said, “Freedom always comes in there.” However the others are also evident. “Is it a healthy pursuit? Does it complete the person? Is it out of sync with the natural flow? Is it honoring or respecting other people? What one does is ask, ‘who am I hurting or reducing in the process? Can we pursue this without being detrimental to someone else?'”

A succinct way of answering these questions, he suggested, is by understanding the golden rule – a version of which he says exists in all religions. “It was derived from Christianity, but they inherited it from Greco-Roman society. I look at ancient classical schools” to understand the roots of the concept, with a preference for his favorites, including Plato. Building upon those philosophical roots, York said he also counts Spinoza and Nietzsche among his influences. “Neither are Pagan,” he acknowledged, but “they contribute to a Pagan perspective, as well as the overall ethical conversation.”

York said that it took a lot of time to trace that world conversation and to understand the Pagan contribution and position within it.  He added that it was more of a challenge to get this second book published than one might expect. New York University Press, the publisher of Pagan Theology, felt that the second volume was less about religion than it was about philosophy, and so declined to pick it up. Pagan Ethics is published by Springer, which has brought its own challenges. The book is hefty at 400 pages, but its price tag — $249.00 hardcover, $189.00 for the ebook — is heftier still. York said that he was surprised by that number. “I found out what they were charging when it came out,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

York remains hopeful that the paperback will be more affordable. For those interested, individuals chapters are available for sale for a lower price. However, York is also encouraging people to ask their local libraries to stock the book. “The more they ask; the more they will consider it,” he said. In this way, a reader can enjoy the completeness of the book within the comfort of home, deriving pleasure not only because the book is more than the sum of its chapters, but also because the finished product was shared generously through the use of a library card.

The world is currently witnessing human migration on a massive scale, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Europe. According to The New York Times, the population of asylum seekers in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will rise to an estimated 4.7 million by the end of 2015. 1.3 million asylum applications are expected by the end of the year for the following six European countries alone: Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland. And so far this year, some 549,000 asylum seekers have already traveled to Hungary, Greece, and Italy. Hungary has closed its border with Serbia, using water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and batons against migrants seeking to travel through to the country to Northern and Western Europe.

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, recently described migrants as a threat to European Christianity: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims […] This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity.” Orban’s rhetoric raises the specter of such past events as the 1529 Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks, the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, or perhaps the meeting of Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun in 452.

Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun [Photo Credit: Public Domain]

Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun [Public Domain]

Speaking of Attila and the Huns, the name “Hungary” came into usage in the 1300s, “probably literally meaning ‘land of the Huns.’ ” Modern-day Hungarians speak an Uralic language called Magyar. The Magyars were a people from the Ural Mountains of Central Asia who conquered the Carpathian Basin many centuries after the Huns: “Middle English uses the same words for both Attila’s people and the Magyars, who appeared in Europe in 9c. and established a kingdom in 1000” ( In a further irony, after the 1956 Hungarian Uprising of workers’ councils was crushed by the Soviets, thousands of Hungarian refugees fled to Austria and other neighboring countries.

I was originally planning on a straightforward comparison between the migration crisis in Europe and the fall of the Roman Empire, but the more I read on the topic, the more complicated that comparison reveals itself to be. Others have made the same connection recently, suggesting that “one of the key lessons” of Roman history “is that mass migration – motivated by war, societal collapse, and/or extreme poverty – is capable of destroying even the most powerful of empires.” On the other hand, Walter Goffart’s Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire, published in 2006, challenges the narrative that foreigners—particularly the peoples often anachronistically called “Germanic”—were responsible for toppling the Roman Empire.

Goffart argues that what is often portrayed as a monolithic Völkerwanderung or “Wandering of the Peoples” during the Late Roman Empire was actually a much more gradual and incremental process:

There was a multiplicity of barbarians. Those who moved did so from positions of rest, having lived near the Roman borders for so long as to lose any memory of living elsewhere. They moved at the prompting of distinct leaders, for definite reasons, and, in general, over short distances. (Goffart, p. 7)

In other words, the movements of “barbarians” during the Late Roman Empire was a very different phenomenon than the refugee crisis we see today, where people have been forced to uproot rapidly and travel long distances to seek asylum. We live in different times, of course, where rapid long-distance transportation is possible, though the routes of entry into the E.U. are largely controlled by professional smugglers.

Goffart also criticizes the tendency to speak of “the barbarians” as a unified whole, especially when they are anachronistically referred to as “Germanic” in any sense beyond the linguistic or the limited Roman usage of the term: “namely, the two Roman provinces of ‘Germania,’ on the middle and lower course of the Rhine river.” (Goffart, p. 187) He points out that, for the peoples being described, the linguistic connection was “(as far as we may tell) unknown to themselves until the eighth century,” and that they would have called themselves by names such as “Goths, Franks, Herules, Gepids, and Marcommanni,” and that they co-existed with non-Germanic-speaking peoples such as the Sarmatians. (Goffart, p.5,19)

In her article “The Matronae and Matres: Breating New Life into an Old Religion,” River Devora makes a similar point that the concept of pan-Germanic religion did not exist in antiquity:

It is important to understand that “pan-European” universal paganism never existed – there was never a single unifying set of religious beliefs nor pantheon that spanned all of Europe. There wasn’t even necessarily a “pan-Germanic” or a “pan-Celtic/Gaulish” paganism.

Every individual tribe had their own pantheons, with their own stories, rituals and worship styles, and their own individual deities that may not have been found in the next tribe over.

Even the more popular or larger, better known deities who may have been found in a number of different tribes may have had different divine relationships, different attributes, or different roles in the pantheon from tribe to tribe (which is why in some Germanic tribes, Odin was the head deity in the pantheon, in other tribes it was Freyr, in others Tyr, and in others Thor).

The implications of these parallels are two-fold. First, “the migrants” of today are not an amorphous mass either. They are, most commonly, Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Somalians, Sudanese, Gambians, and Bangladeshis. Moreover, they are families and individuals: mothers, fathers, children. Second, the idea of a homogeneous “European identity,” despite the various attempts at political unification over the centuries, has forever been and still is a fiction.

Maelstrom, a Pagan professor from New York currently living and teaching in the Czech Republic for the fall, has similarly argued that European cultures have been heavily influenced by outsiders: “(1) European traditions were often formed by foreign intrusions, leading to this seemingly paradoxical, but historically supportable conclusion that (2) foreign intrusion is itself a very old European tradition.”

Of course, over the past five hundred years Europeans have carried out some “foreign intrusions” of their own, displacing, enslaving and decimating other populations around the world. Colonization, however, is not the same thing as migration, especially when accompanied by the establishment of missions and the deliberate destruction of traditional cultures. One example of this disconnect can bee seen in Pope Francis’s plans to canonize Junipero Serra, the founder of the California mission system, which was responsible for approximately 100,000 native deaths and the suppression of native cultures. According to ABC7 News, “Santa Clara University professor Robert Senkewicz […] is among a number of experts who believe the pope is trying to send a message to Americans about immigration.” If so, it’s a strange message, because Serra wasn’t an “immigrant:” he was accompanied by Spanish troops as part of a military occupation. And furthermore, those referred to as “immigrants” in the United States are largely of indigenous descent.

Europe’s own history of colonialism in recent centuries has led to a conflation of the concept of “migration” with those of “colonization” and “invasion,” which has contributed to the fearful language used around immigration in the United States and in Europe. The terms “heathen Chinese” and “Yellow Peril” or even “Yellow Terror,” for example, arose out of American and European anti-Chinese sentiment in the late nineteenth century. Currently,”the leading GOP candidate is talking about ferreting out, arresting, and forcibly removing a population of men, women and children roughly the size of the state of Ohio” or around 11 million human beings.

In his essay “But They’re There,” Wild Hunt columnist Rhyd Wildermuth writes that “Post-Colonialism […] seeks to liberate modern peoples from the lie that we are better than others in order to liberate those we conquer, be it through war or economic policy and consumption.” An examination of the historical complexities and nuances of human migration on the European subcontinent can challenge the idea that modern day Europeans or North Americans are better than those currently seeking refuge and sanctuary in those geographic areas. If, as Walter Goffart argues, even the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the subsequent settlement of various peoples in its former territories does not really constitute a unified “invasion,” then neither does the movement of asylum seekers and refugees from regions of the world devastated by warfare and capitalism.

Migrants in Hungary, 2015. Credit: Gémes Sándor

Migrants in Hungary, 2015. Credit: Gémes Sándor

It is also important to consider the words and stories of “the migrants” themselves. Naaf, a Syrian from Kobani at the Calais migrant camp in France, told a journalist from The Guardian, “Fences? But people can always squeeze under a fence. I can show you five holes under fences over there. That won’t put anyone off.”

The same point was made by Alain, a charity worker at Calais: “For 12 years, authorities been building barriers and putting barbed wire here. It’s a waste of money. Do you think fences will have any effect? Someone who has travelled so far to get here, for months on end, who had seen terrible things and overcome huge obstacles, do you think they would stop at a fence?”

Hail to the Migrant Dead! Hail to the Migrant Ancestors, without whom no one would be where or who they are today! Hail to the gods and spirits who guide and protect migrants!

A Special Note: In tribute …

The Wild Hunt —  September 11, 2015 — 1 Comment

The Wild Hunt would like to take this moment to pay tribute to the many people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001; to the brave who stepped forward and not back; and to the families who still grieve. In memory of the victims and acknowledgement of the survivors, we offer the words often spoken here: What is Remembered, Lives.


[Photo Credit: H. Greene 2013]

For more thoughts from our writers:

Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie

“For the rest of the week, I spent my afternoons in Union Square, praying and making offerings for the dead. The screaming only started to fade a few months later as the fire finally went out, but I heard the screams in traces for the next several years.”

The Sacred Void: the 9/11 Memorial: by Heather Greene

“I can’t pretend to know what the 9/11 Memorial means to others – specifically to those who directly lost loved ones in the attacks. For me the memorial was not what I expected. I had hoped to find a place of calm where I could process my own lingering sadness. But I didn’t. I wanted the memorial to fill me with comfort and pride in my country. But it didn’t.”

Existing in a Changed World: Pagan Reflections on 9/11 by Jason Pitzl-Waters

“September 11th was one of the things that started me on the path towards Pagan blogging and journalism. Years before The Wild Hunt I had a small proto-blog called MythWorks where I tried to find Pagan reactions to the madness that had just occurred. The 9/11 attacks awoke a need within me to find the stories we were ignoring or overlooking, to stop sitting on the sidelines of my faith community and become an active participant.”

KULPMONT, Penn — An on-again, off-again inmate in Pennsylvania’s correctional system has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his religious beliefs were violated when he was required to shave his beard. Randy Elliot, Jr., said in court papers that the incident occurred June 13 of this year, a month and a half before he was released. He was given a choice between shaving his beard, which, according to the filed papers, is “against the Viking way” or being placed on restrictive housing status. Elliot, who is seeking an injunction against such actions and monetary damages, has since been returned to prison due to parole violations.

Beards as a religious issue are nothing new in the United States, in or out of the prison system. In July, Walt Disney World relaxed its “Disney look” to accommodate a Sikh employee who had been restricted to working out of the public eye due to his unshaven beard. It didn’t meet the company’s grooming standards. Through his attorneys, Gurdit Singh, a park delivery driver, claimed that he was restricted to a single route, denied promotions, and singled out by employees because of his appearance. While Disney started allowing beards in 2012, the company’s policies required them to be neatly trimmed; Sikh beliefs do not allow adherents to cut their hair.

[Courtesy U.S. Army]

Army Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, one of the first granted permission to grow a beard and wear a turban on active duty. [Courtesy U.S. Army]

The United States military arguably has more restrictive rules on appearance than the Disney Corporation. However members are allowed to apply for waivers from those rules for religious reasons, accommodating those faiths that call for facial hair, such as Sikhism, and some sects of Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.  The process of obtaining such a waiver has been called into question, because the soldier still must comply with all the grooming standards while the application is in process.

In prisons, there are different reasons for grooming restrictions. Officials must balance the need for safety and security against the accommodation of religious beliefs, and often they err on the side of safety and security. In January, the Supreme Court found that by denying prisoner Abdul Maalik Muhammad the right to grow a half-inch beard, the state of Arkansas was infringing on his rights of religious expression as a Muslim. Justices were skeptical of arguments that contraband, including SIM cards for cellular phones, razor blades, and other items, could be hidden in beard of that length. They pointed out that longer hair was permitted on prisoners’ heads, and that it would not be particularly difficult to search short beards as well, or at least require the bearded prisoner to run a comb through it in the presence of guards.

According to Diane Duggan, case manager at Lady Liberty League (LLL), questions such as these revolve around whether the prisoner is expressing sincerely-held religious beliefs or not. “I don’t know enough about [Elliot’s] situation,” to comment on it in particular, she said. To the best of her knowledge, he had not contacted LLL for assistance. “What you need to look at is other faiths. If, in that system, members of other faiths are allowed to have beards, and his belief is sincerely held, one would think he would be allowed to have it. Because [prison officials] have to balance security where they have compelling interests, it’s a fine line.”

In the case of Muhammed, the court applied the “Hobby Lobby” test to evaluate the question of religious accommodation. As described in The New York Times,

“The test, set out in federal statutes, first considers whether the challenged government regulation places a substantial burden on religious practices. If it does, the test requires the government to show that it had a compelling reason for the regulation and no better way to achieve it.”

When it came to the request to grow a half-inch beard, the Supreme Court found that the denial did place a substantial burden on Muhammed’s religious practices, and it remained skeptical that there was not another way to achieve the goal of safety. In Arkansas, prisoners with skin conditions may grow beards of up to one-quarter inch in length,. Therefore, the justices questioned whether doubling that length would truly tip the scales away from security within the facility.

There is not a good legal test for evaluating “sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and Duggan suspects that this is by design. “Someone who is new to a religion may not know all of its tenets as they learn, but wish to comply with the requirements,” she said. Sincerity cannot be easily measured by length of time that one has been an avowed member of a particular religion for that reason. In addition, inmates frequently renew or begin religious practices while incarcerated.

Nevertheless, there is some speculation about whether Elliot’s “Viking way” actually has its roots in Heathenry. Kari Tauring, a leader in the Minnesotan Heathen community, said, this:

In my understanding, a beard is an affectation. There is nothing in the Eddas or Sagas to indicate that facial hair had religious significance in the late Iron Age.

If this person wants to adhere to ‘Viking’ norms, they may want to henna their beard. Apparently there is much archaeological evidence for this fashion taste. I also recommend eliminating potatoes, coffee, and chocolate from the diet, as well as not wearing black-dyed clothing. These are all post-colonial imports to Europe and would have been completely unknown to the travelers and traders we now call ‘Vikings.'”

Karl E. H. Seigfried of The Norse Mythology Blog also wondered if Elliot’s claims have any basis in history, as reconstructed practice is important to most Heathens.

I’d like to know more about Mr. Elliott’s claim that shaving goes against ‘the Viking way,’ as he calls his religion. Historically, there is evidence that Vikings sported a variety of facial hair fashions, including moustaches and shaved chins. Theologically, it’s difficult to imagine the gods of the north issuing commandments about fashion and personal grooming choices. The fact that Mr. Elliott complains in court documents about other inmates being allowed to have beards almost makes this seem like a case of kosher envy, of wanting to have a strict set of commandments dictated by the gods to a chosen prophet. So far, Heathenry has not had that sort of mass revelation.

In addition, due to Elliott’s “Viking” claims, media reports have all glommed onto an old 2006 USA Today article, in order to suggest that Asatru is universally or overwhelmingly associated with white supremacy in prisons. However, the old article actually provides multiple views with some skeptical of that assertion, and it does not draw any conclusions based on evidence.  Regardless, there are many questions still left unanswered in Elliott’s particular case.

Despite court decisions and settlements, and even federal legislation intended to protect the religious rights of prisoners, the line drawn between those rights and the responsibilities of correctional institution officials still remains fuzzy. Security is a real issue in those facilities, and pursuit of it often results in constitutional rights being infringed, if not trampled. The ongoing task for prisoner advocates is to ensure that precautions are reasonable, and applied consistently to all inmates, regardless of the religion they happen to practice.

NEW ORLEANS – In two weeks, HexFest 2015 is scheduled to kick off its magical event in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter. The event begins Friday, Aug. 21 with a Riverboat ride and ritual hosted by Priestess and Voodoo Queen Bloody Mary. Up until Friday, the opening ritual was to be held on the Steamboat Natchez. However, after a phone call early morning, HexFest organizers found themselves scrambling for a new location. The Natchez had canceled their contract due to what was initially described as “religious reasons.”

hexfestIn a conversation with The Wild Hunt, Ty Siddiqui, manager of HexFest, explained that she was awoken Friday morning by a call from Natchez sales director Deirdra Edwards and was told, “We are not going to be able to do your event on the Natchez.” According to Siddiqui, it was further explained that the owner had just “come back into town from being away” and hadn’t known about HexFest. After looking at the website, he said that he didn’t want anything to do with Witchcraft and Voodoo. “He didn’t want it on his boat.”

Siddiqui immediately called Hexfest co-owner Christian Day, who is on his Honeymoon in the U.K., and broke the news. Together they contacted Edwards again, and she reiterated the reason. According to Siddiqui, she and Day offered modifications, including eliminating the entire ritual and drumming. She said, “We were willing to work with them … [but] there was nothing we could do.”

Day added that “the whole thing is just incredibly disappointing.” He went on to explain that the Natchez knew right from the beginning what HexFest was and what they were planning on doing. On May 9, 2014, Day and co-owner Brian Cain officially announced the event dates on a newly launched Facebook page. By early June, they publicized a list of tentative presenters, a rough schedule, a new website and were selling tickets. Then, June 27, 2014, a day after signing the Natchez contract, organizers announced that the opening ritual would be held on the riverboat.

In a Friday letter sent to the boat’s owner, Day wrote, “We had explained everything that was going to be going on to Deidra on the phone and even referred to components such as drumming and voodoo in emails back and forth, none of which she expressed concern over…”

After the initial phone calls, the Natchez reportedly stopped communicating with Siddiqui. She said that she was informed that Edwards was in a meeting with the controller “and others” and could not talk. In the meantime, Siddiqui was able to secure a new riverboat, The Creole Queen, for the opening ritual event. The new boat’s port is farther form HexFest’s main location at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, but the Creole sales team has reportedly been helpful and accommodating.

Then, late on Friday, Siddiqui got another call from the Natchez. She was informed that the HexFest event was actually canceled due to breach of contract, specifically citing two points:

  • It is understood and agreed that the Charterer shall not participate in any ticket sales other than to members of its own organization, unless consent to do so is granted herein.
  • Charterer shall not stage any “exotic” dancing, entertainment or singing without Owner’s prior written approval.

Day told The Wild Hunt, “The sales director of the Steamboat Natchez knew from the beginning that we were a ticketed weekend event and she knew that we were having the Dragon Ritual Drummers onboard. … We explained what we were in the beginning and she said the membership didn’t apply to us because we were not a membership organization.” Day added that he has an email trail proving some of these points.

In addition, he noted that the company had accepted a contract for HexFest 2016. That contract is dated July 7, 2015. It was signed and submitted only one month ago. What changed over the past thirty days?

[Credit: © 2014 Robin Stevens]

[Credit: © 2014 Robin Stevens]

What puzzles organizers even more is that Bloody Mary has been a presenter on the boat in the past. Bloody Mary herself said that she was very “perplexed.” She told The Wild Hunt, “I suggested I do [the] river blessing voodoo ritual on that the boat … I have been called on to work for that company directly, sent many of my groups to them for years … and although I knew they were not necessarily believers in mysticism, they do tours and events on subjects of voodoo, paranormal, seance and such. It seemed they were open to the ideas.” Mary added that she would no longer be recommending the Natchez or any of its sister tourist companies, and is drafting a formal letter of complaint.

According to Day and Siddiqui, it was the owner, Gordon Stevens, who canceled the contract because he wanted “nothing to do with” HexFest, Witchcraft or Voodoo. Stevens is president, CEO and co-owner of the New Orleans Steamboat Company and Gray Line New Orleans. He is also part owner of “Café Beignet and Frostop Restaurants, and is President of the real-estate agency M.G. Stevens Corporation” In his bio, he describes himself as being “guided by the strong Catholic traditions he was raised with.” Along with donating to a number of Catholic charities, Stevens serves as president on the Board of the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. As this suggests, he himself may not, in fact, be a “believer in mysticism.”

While New Orleans has always been somewhat of a progressive city in which Catholicism, magic, mysticism and other spiritual practices intertwine, Louisiana is currently considered one of the most conservative states in the country. Siddiqui said, “Ever since this wave of conservative religiousity hit Louisiana, it has opened the door to allow people to discriminate against each other.” She is referring specifically to Governor Jindal (R) who, in May, issued an executive RFRA order after the state Legislature did not approve a similar bill. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed suit against Jindal for overstepping his authority as Governor.

In response to Jindal’s order, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu penned his own executive order that reads:

I am issuing a clarifying call to the nation that New Orleans is an accepting, inviting city that thrives on its diversity and welcomes people from all walks of life with open arms … In New Orleans, we believe religious liberty and freedoms should be protected and discrimination prohibited, and we have passed our own laws to reflect that principle. This executive order is an important, symbolic affirmation that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated in New Orleans – and it should not be tolerated anywhere in Louisiana.

And, religious discrimination is just what Day, Siddiqui and others now believe is behind the Natchez canceling their event. Presenter Sandra Mariah Wright told The Wild Hunt, “I am shocked. There is no precedent for this.This is New Orleans.” Wright, herself from Salem, Massachusetts, likened the situation to a similar case ten years ago. She was organizing an event in a local Knights of Columbus hall, a location that had hosted Witchcraft gatherings for years. She said, “Even Laurie Cabot had held events there.” Then someone contacted the state’s Knights of Columbus office, who turned around and threatened to pull the local group’s charter if the event was allowed to continue. With two weeks to go, Wright was left scrambling for a new location.

Like Bloody Mary, Wright said that she’ll never use the Gray Line touring company again. She also added that the “timing seems a bit suspect” considering the recent news out of Pensacola. Siddiqui agreed, saying that, while its probably not directly linked, “it’s too coincidental.”

At this point, the Natchez has refunded HexFest its initial deposit of $5768.75. However, Siddiqui said that they are still owed over $5,000 and have incurred a number of new expenses in the ritual’s rescheduling. Siddiqui also added that they are already speaking to lawyers.

Since the news was announced, various presenters and attendees have been weighing in on the situation. Raven Grimassi wrote, “One of the primary problems I see here is the setting of a precedent. If this matter goes unaddressed to the company, then we are allowing a momentum to build that can be a real problem for us all in the long run.” Grimassi, as well as Day and Cain, are calling on attendees and local Pagans to complain to the company and to the city’s tourism board. Siddiqui said that she has been in contact with both the Greater New Orleans Pagan Pride Day Project and the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans.

The Wild Hunt reached out to The New Orleans Steamboat Company for a statement and further explanation, but has yet to receive a response.

While HexFest coordinators are still in shock and are confused by the Natchez decision, they still have an event to run. HexFest 2015 will continue on as planned with the Friday evening opening ritual on the Creole Queen. Details of all changes are listed on the event page and main website.

downloadReview: The Case for Polytheism. Written by Steven Dillon. (Iff Book, 96 Pages)

As an undergraduate freshman I stumbled into a Philosophy 101 class primarily by default. It was the only class out of the list of humanities requirements that still had a space available, and I needed full-time status to keep my scholarship. I was not excited to learn about the self-indulgent musings of dead white men; Philosophy 101 usually means Western Philosophy after all.

By the end of the term, however, I was considering changing my major to philosophy. While I ultimately chose not to change majors, I took as many philosophy classes electives as possible. Why the change of heart? I realized by studying Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, et al, that I had never learned to think critically. It was exciting to learn how to deconstruct a series of premises and to weigh the merits and fallacies of arguments made.

Now that nearly 20 years have passed since my last philosophy class, I honestly could not tell you much about any of those philosophers, their assumptions, or their arguments. I found that I lacked interest in reading philosophy without a group of people to talk things out so my studies ended and much of what I knew (or thought I knew) slipped away.

So it has been years since I thought about those classes in logic, existentialism, epistemology, and ethics. Upon reading Steven Dillon’s The Case for Polythiesm, I began to wish that I could remember everything that I had worked so hard to understand so many years ago. I wished that I could be surrounded by others reading it simultaneously so we could talk about it’s content. I wished that there was time to read it a second time and third time to truly absorb and more fully consider its propositions.

In his book, Dillon engages the reader in a defense of natural theology, which is “just a systematic attempt to ‘prove or show’ to be probable the existence of God or gods, and to acquire knowledge about them, on the basis of evidence or premises that can be accepted by non-believers, such as empirical knowledge about the natural world.” While monotheists have been the primary voices in natural theology arguments, Dillon brings polytheism back into the conversation with this book.*

Dillon begins with an exploration of what a God is, and if there is a God. He proposes three conditions needed for something to be considered a God: disembodied consciousness, immensely more powerful than evolved minds, and remarkable greatness. He goes on to explore each of these qualities in turn, recognizing the problem of defining terms like “consciousness,” “immense,” and “remarkable.” He then goes on to present a formal argument for theism followed by an exploration of the assumptions within. The argument he presents is:

  1. The existence of the universe is either due to its own necessary nature or to an external cause.
  2. If it is due to an external cause, then at least one god exists.
  3. The existence of the universe is not due to its own necessary nature.
  4. Therefore, it is due to an external cause (From 1 and 3.)
  5. Hence, at least one god exists. (From 2 and 4.)

The following 8 pages are an exploration and defense of each of these premises in order to present a “reasonable case for theism.” It was at this point in the book that my recollection of my former classes came to the front of my mind, and I felt an unexpected desire to be back in those 200-year-old un-airconditioned university buildings surrounded by other lovers of wisdom.

I have problems with these propositions for which I cannot seem to find the words. I can sense a gap in the logic presented, but have no idea how to express it. In psychology, the lack of words to describe one’s emotions is called alexithymia. Alexithymia (literally, “no words for emotions”) has been linked to depression, eating disorders, and other lovely conditions. I don’t know what the word is for “no words to explain the reason for a dysphoric cognitive response,” but that word should exist for situations such as this. And I am quite sure that this condition would be linked to headaches, inattentiveness in conversations, and forgetting to eat dinner.

But that aside…

After a brief break, I moved on to the next chapter which explores the question of how many gods there are. Since I am Pagan, and therefore biased by my own polytheistic beliefs, his arguments for religious experiences of gods were not personally problematic. However, this could be a sticky argument for a lot of monotheistic and atheistic folk. To sum it up as succinctly as possible, he writes that we can trust perceptual experiences (“unless and until we have good reason not to”) that, if gods have been perceived then polytheism is true, and that gods have been perceived, and therefore, polytheism is true.

It is an endearingly simple argument, but so loaded that I would like to secure a front row seat to watch the debate ensue. He spends several pages presenting these arguments that he assumes (and rightly, I think) would be used to deconstruct his propositions. He even addresses one of several I had but had no name for (until now): the Theory-Ladenness Objection. It explains that prior theory affects observation, and that this influence makes our interpretation of perceptual experiences unreliable. For instance, if one is only aware of a single warrior Goddess, than any warrior Goddess that is experienced would be perceived to be the one already known.

In the end, Dillon concludes that he finds the objections “wanting” and that through his arguments

…we have managed to mount a reasonable case for polytheism. We have good reason to believe in the deities that have been perceived all over the world, from the Goddess experienced by Wiccans and Cernunnos by Druids, to the Hindu deities that have been experienced, and even YHWH. The gods and goddesses come in all shapes and sizes.

I finished this chapter thinking that the objections to his propositions are deserving of more consideration, and that his arguments for polytheism are wanting.

Dillon states that his goal with this book is to “inspire thoughtful individuals to discuss and reevaluate the merits or demerits of polytheism.” Despite any problems with his arguments, he succeeds in opening up a conversation in academic circles, and I feel an unexpected sense of gratitude for this. However, the book may be a bit inaccessible for people without some background or understanding of philosophy and debate. Regardless, Dillon presents many interesting points and poses plenty of questions that naturally encourage discussion and exploration.

Author Steven Dillon is a Pagan living in South Dakota. He publishes the blog Pagan Scholasticism. He “primarily works on researching and developing theoretical foundations for Pagan ideas.” A Case for Polytheism is his first book. It is currently available in electronic and paperback formats.

*  *  *

* The term polytheism, as used in this book, expresses the generic meaning “many gods” within any religious tradition or practice. This is distinctly different from Polytheism as a very specific religious identifier. As such, the term ‘polytheism’ is not capitalized in the book or the article, whereas the identifier would always capitalized. For more on this distinction or on Polytheism in practice, read the Polytheism Primer or visit

sacred heart

“Sacred Heart” by Shaun Ratcliff (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath
And you think I’m crazy, you think I’m crazy

–Monsters, Eminem (featuring Rihanna)

The gods are madness, and so is love.

I couldn’t sleep for the noise; her wails clawing deep into my brain more fiercely when I’d close my eyes. In waking distraction, I could shut her out a little — loud music, pointless conversation, anything to drown out her pain. But in bed next to my lover, her pain was intolerable, becoming pain so loud it became my pain, and I couldn’t make her shut up.

I tried drinking. It doesn’t take much to get me drunk, a beer, maybe two. And I could pass out a bit, let the world spin behind my eyelids, except then, even there in that membranous darkness, she was there. Worse — she wasn’t alone.

My lover said that he couldn’t hear her, but he’d wake from dreams shaking. I saw something in the room last night, he said. Fleshy, like a small man, but not human.

“In a dream?” I asked.

“Uh…sort of. I mean, I think I was awake. I was gonna wake you, but then I went back to sleep.”

I showered, dressed, went to work, said nothing else. At least at work, I couldn’t hear her. At least at work, I wasn’t the ‘crazy’ one. I had a client tell me a bedbug climbed into her vagina and impregnated her with a Pleiadian ascended master. She was crazy. I? I was just going mad.

The difference? My clients can’t stop the voices from coming.
I can.
I can make them stop, but that’s worse than death.


Love is madness, and so is the Other.

You can shut those voices off, close them off.

I remember it well, the day I closed them out.

Close my eyes, and it’s there: the white tower, the ravens flying about them, a pillar of light from a twinned moon. She looks at herself from above into below; she looks back. And there’s the tower, and there are the ravens. And I can’t take it any longer.

Besides, I was in love, and how could he understand? How could any understand? How could anyone?

I wrote in my journal, “I don’t want to see these anymore.” No more tower; no more bones behind the tower; no more whispers; no more trembling power.

And it stopped.

Nothing. Silence, like the grave. I’d go to work; listen to tales of ancient lizard men and psychotronic silver disks, about the machine under the university which, like St. Anthony, helped homeless people find lost things and also urinate themselves.

And I was safe. Safe from them, safe from the Other, safe in an other.

You can hide there for a little while, just like you can hide in work, or hide in drugs. You can even hide in madness, at least for a little while.

Until they come back.


We do not have time for the Other, we do not have time for Love

A few years later, I’m trying to sleep, fearing again the dreams peopled by characters I know too well — and fear.

The woman with the dark iron vat won’t let me pass, but I can’t go back through the town whose streets were so full of those with power, those with power-over, those I must flee.

But the Other does not let you pass until you answer the unasked question.

You cannot hide from the Other. The Other chases you, hunts you. You can flee the dreams of sleeping; flee into waking for a little while.  But then they chase you there.

And so you flee into sleep. You flee in waking, and like that chase of Ceridwen, after the awen-thief. You cannot stop until you are consumed and, too, become The Other.

The Other is all that is without you, and all that is within.


Love is the madness of the Other, the Other is the madness of love

The voices continue, but you can shut them out.  And I remember how a friend shut them out.

She’d been joking one day, a decade ago, flirting, and touched my finger. “I’m giving you a wart,” she says, fingernail touching index above the knuckle.

“Why would you say that?” I’d asked, appalled.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, looking confused herself.

And I showed her the hand a month later, benign annoying growth, rough, ugly. Then her face pale, her voice cold, she shook her head. “What the? I didn’t?”

“You said,” I said, feeling her terror.

“That’s—that’s just weird. I didn’t really make that happen, did I?”

And I didn’t know how to reassure her, and she didn’t know how to take it back. She became angry. Wouldn’t talk about it. It didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, stop pretending, you’re making this up, I didn’t do it.

“But you said…” I said, worried, upset.

And finally. “Okay, I did. I don’t want to talk about it, okay? I’m sure there’s some explanation. I don’t want to talk about it.

We hadn’t talked for a decade. A decade later I see her, after seeing standing stones and gods, after druid mountains and visions. She’d never spoken of it again. In a cafe, she and I. Would she believe what I’d seen, or deride all I’d been? I’d tell her anyway, though the tale would be touch.

But she spoke first, fearful. “I hear voices, Rhyd. Not like I’m crazy … but more—I cry. I can hear all the sorrow of people sleeping, and I can hear their voices, and I turn up music to make it stop.”

Her magic radiating like silver, tinged with fear, and I laugh, tell her my tale.

So you understand? She said, only half asking.

“I think I do,” answering, and then “remember that wart,” showing her where it’d once been.

And she shrugged, smiling. “That was weird, huh?”


Love is the Other.  The Other is Love.

I’d shut them out, like she’d shut out that power.

You can shut them out, the terrors, all the illuminating fears. The Other whispers, but you can talk over this. The Other speaks, but you can shout them out. Sometimes, even the Other shouts but, by then, you can’t silence them without drugs.

Or you can, because there’s always an other to which you can run, someplace safe, someone in which to hide, and the Other will eventually fall silent. But when you do this you have not won, but have very much lost.


The Other is like love, and just as terrifying.

What are we afraid of?

The Other is not myself; the other is not me.

And suddenly, you are not all there is; you are not one; you are not complete. You are you, and there is an other. And no longer are you complete, no longer are you one.  You are broken, divided between self and World, sundered ground broken open to make room for something both self and Other.

Meet him and you are terrified, and you call this desire, you call this love. Hear her voice, and you are missing, empty; though you thought you’d been full.

And suddenly every song reminds you of them. On the street, a woman shakes her head, hair cascading for a moment in sunlight like the way you saw her hair once do. And that woman is her, but that woman is not her, and you are broken, and you are happy. You were everything before her, now you are nothing until she is near you again.

Meet him and you cannot breathe except when he is there holding you, though your lungs have never once failed. You are strong, but suddenly weak unless you see his smile, and also weak when you see his grin, and nothing is ever the same.


Love and the Other are indivisible by one.

Love of an other, or others, reminds you are sundered, infinity no longer divisible by one.

And just the same, the Other.

See a crow feather at your feet and hear a god, an angle of sunlight and see another. Hear winds through branches; there’s a third, embers in a hearth and yet another Other.

The moon is no longer just the moon, but also every goddess of her face.  But the moon is also just the moon, but no longer alone, no longer just itself, just as you are no longer just yourself in love.


And to see the Other, to fall in love, you need only surrender to the endlessness of being.

I remember when I saw the tower again, because I no longer wanted to unsee the tower.

I remember when I saw the moon again, because the moon would not stop being seen.

I work with the mentally-ill, those who hear the voices and cannot shut them out like us. And they are told that they are sick; they are told that they are unwell, and they are given what we can give to help quell that sundered pain.

And I try not to admit what I see when they are staring, shouting at a corner at a voice inside their head. I try not to look there, where there they are looking, because I do not want to admit, I do not want to say, I do not want to allow that I see their Other too.

A client shouts at a ‘demon’ in a corner, and I see the lingering spirit and shrug, unable to help.

A client predicts the birth of my friend’s twins, and we shake our heads, pretending what we didn’t hear.

A client medicalized for talking to rocks and trees, and I try not to think on him as I lay under Alder by granite, hearing them talk back.


The Other’s all that is without us, and all that is within,

And what are we doing, shutting them out?

We’re being good workers, we’re being good slaves.

Stand in ritual; call a god; wipe them off and tuck them away when you’re done, when it’s time to go home to the television and kids because the weekend’s over and you’ve got to make a living.

Fall in love and call in sick, but love can only be love ’till the rent and cable’s due.

It’s easier to be alone, cut off, shut down. Close them out, the other and The Other, and though without meaning, everything is safe.

The gods linger, the other waits, the madness beckons.

The Other is madness, and so is love.

And we are never alone.



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


LINCOLNTON, North Carolina — Prayer at public meetings is often a battleground with members of minority faiths seeking to have their viewpoints represented, while others argue that such religious ceremony doesn’t belong in a governmental setting. Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 Town of Greece v Galloway decision that allowed such prayers provided minority faiths are included, Pagans and others have sought to test those boundaries. For example, the pantheist David Suhor sang an invocation of the quarters at a county commission meeting in Florida.  More recently, when the issue of inclusiveness sprang up in the foothills region of North Carolina, it led to a new level of interfaith dialog in the form of the Foothills Interfaith Assembly.

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

The commissioners of Lincoln County in North Carolina open their meetings with a prayer, and it’s always been a Christian one. When another county in the state was forced by a federal judge to cease pre-meeting prayers altogether, a reporter asked Caroll Mitchem, chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, if any changes would be made to their meetings. Mitchem’s response was to the point. She said that prayers — and only Christian ones — would continue. He was quoted in The Lincoln Times-News.

“A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave,” Mitchem said. “I have no use for (those) people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to (a) Muslim pray.”

Mitchem’s comments caught the attention of local Muslim community as well as others practicing minority faiths in the county, and two of them showed up at the next meeting to speak to the issue. They were Reverend Tony Brown of the North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca, and Duston Barto, a Muslim who doesn’t yet belong to a specific spiritual community. During that meeting, commissioners softened Mitchem’s comments into a policy that said that “the religious leaders or chosen leaders of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets in Lincoln County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives are invited to offer an invocation before a meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.”

In those words, the two men saw an opportunity to have their faiths included, but the idea quickly grew well beyond a mechanism to promote religious freedom. “The policy said any faith could give a prayer, if it was sponsored by something that met in county,” Brown said. “I don’t know if it was designed to be restrictive, but the thought might have been to put up barriers that ensure only established faiths qualify.”

foothills logoBarto and Brown created the Foothills Interfaith Assembly —  named not for the county, but the more inclusive region of the state — as a way to allow people of different religions to engage with one another around their beliefs. Qualifying to offer prayers was the impetus, but Brown said that from the get-go the deeper idea was to “take advantage of everything else that interfaith can do.”

The first meeting had much better attendance than Brown had expected, and was spent hashing out some of the formative of the assembly. “A dozen people were there, and we went around introducing ourselves and explaining what brought us here, and our personal goals for the group. We hashed those around into group goals, and from that we came up with a list of five guiding principles.”

Those principles were given to a subcommittee which was tasked with writing a mission statement, which Brown expected to be voted upon at the June 30 meeting. That sort of administrivia is expected to become less prominent as the group finds its rhythm.

Based on who attended that first meeting, Brown expects the future get-togethers to offer robust opportunities to learn about different traditions. Besides himself and Barto, the group includes members of the Baha’i faith, a Baptist minister from an intentional Christian community, a Celtic Pagan, and a non-denominational Christian. “The diversity of people was a surprise, especially in Lincoln County, North Carolina,” he said. Interfaith work “always will appeal more to minority faiths, but we can band together, lift each other up, [and have a] better chance of being heard than whispering alone.”

The group’s structure will likely settle into a pattern of education, discussion, and socialization. “Ultimately I hope that people will come together, and in the first part of the meeting a person presents or there is a panel,” Brown explained, for example, “the basics of Baha’i, followed by questions and answers, or a panel on reciprocity with members of different faiths to explain its role in their tradition. It will be dialogue, and meeting as equals.”