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Ghosts have become popular in the last decade or so. Paranormal investigation, or “ghost hunting,” shows chronicle the adventures of people armed with an assortment of sensory equipment, most of which is easily available online in case you want to start your own investigative team. Or you can apply for admission to one of the many teams already in existence. For those who want to dabble in exploring hauntings, but not jump into the life of a researcher, there are scores of haunted sites and ghost tours you can pay to visit.

What has stirred up this interest in ghosts? One theory is that the availability of sensory devices like EMF readers and the ovilus have made it possible for more people to go out in the field and pursue their interests in the paranormal. That doesn’t answer the question of where the interest comes from, though. Is ghost-seeking simply another manifestation of America’s current interest in the occult? Is it an attempt to scientifically evaluate the existence of spirits (rather like some forms of 19th century Spiritualism)? Some investigators seem to be doing a grown-up version of legend-tripping, armed with gadgets instead of candles and incense.

Other investigators, though, have gotten involved because they want to help the dead.

Ahmadi Riverwolf

Ahmadi Riverwolf

I spoke with two women who work with Cressona Paranormal in Pennsylvania. Ahmadi Riverwolf is a Yayi Nganga in Palo Kimbisa (a Yayi is a full priestess, Palo Kimbisa is another rama of Palo – a different denomination from Mayombe, so to speak). Jhada Addams is an Omo Yemaya (a Santera crowned to the Orisha Yemaya). Both had mediumistic tendencies before initiating into their respective African Traditional Religions, but have since discovered a calling to help the dead. Ahmadi has been on a couple of investigations with Cressona Paranormal, while Jhada has served as a consultant on one.

Jhada: For me – my entire gig is trying to give the spirit what it needs to elevate. Light. Prayers. Songs. If it needs to go, I help it break free so it can go. If it wants to stay, I then have a conversation with the homeowner about how to live in harmony with the spirit.

Ahmadi: They want to be acknowledged, they have unfinished business, or they need help to be elevated. Sometimes they want to leave where they are and don’t know how.

I asked Jhada and Ahmadi how working with the paranormal team fit their religious practices. Both stressed the deep importance of the ancestors in the ATRs.

Jhada: In both Palo and Santeria, ancestors are VENERATED. Appreciated and incorporated into daily life. You have to remember that from which you came. It’s ESSENTIAL. There are so many spirits out there, cast adrift because so many people in this country can’t handle death – it’s heartbreaking.

Ahmadi: They deserve respect, honor, acknowledgement. We would not exist without them.

I asked them to expand on this a little. There’s a difference between ghosts or restless dead and ancestors in the ATRs – ancestors have “crossed over,” to use the common phrase. They can and do act in the lives of their descendants, but are refined, profound spiritual forces, not the confused shades typically encountered in true hauntings.

Jhada: I’ve run across urns that people had simply dropped off in antique or oddities/bargain shops – with just a rime of ashes in the bottom. The family member didn’t even care enough to wash the urn out properly.

Ahmadi: That just sickened me.

There was a time I found a headstone carelessly chucked into a rubbish heap in a local cemetery. I picked it up and could hear a woman cry that she had been forgotten. The loneliness of the spirit was palpable. I took her home and she’s been on my altar ever since, decorated with bling and happy.

Jhada: I do what I can to ease their spirits, and their crossing.

By working with Cressona Paranormal, Ahmadi and Jhada explained, they benefitted from all the perspectives the team brings to their investigations – including practical experience with things that go bump in the night for entirely mundane reasons, like plumbing.

Jhada Addams

Jhada Addams

Ahmadi: Sometimes our beliefs can color our judgment. We need to approach these cases with a spiritual, yet clinical eye sometimes. We are going into people’s houses. ANYTHING could happen. Many are things not paranormal at all. Or magic.

Calming people down is sometimes the biggest challenge.

Ahmadi also noted that many physical conditions, allergies, and pharmaceutical side effects can produce symptoms that may seem like spiritual activity.

For those who think they might be interested in working with the dead, Jhada and Ahmadi stressed that the best first step is start honoring the ancestors.

Ahmadi: Anyone can set up an ancestor altar and light a candle and a glass of water. Set up a spot with mementos and pictures.

Jhada: And, honestly, everybody should. If nothing else, for their own dead.

Ahmadi: And if something happens like flickering lights or an opening door, say Hello!!

[Brendan Myers, Ph.D., is the author of numerous books on mythology, philosophy, ethics, and culture. As far as he’s aware, he is the only openly-pagan philosophy professor in the entire world. Originally from a small town in Ontario, Canada, he now lives in Quebec, where the beer is much better.  The following is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, “Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear”.]

Our world is utterly saturated with fear. We fear being attacked by religious extremists, both foreign and domestic. We fear the loss of political rights, a loss of privacy, or a loss of freedom. We fear being injured, robbed or attacked, being judged by others, or neglected, or left unloved. We fear succumbing to an exotic pandemic disease, or losing our homes to catastrophic storms induced by climate change and global warming. We fear the social breakdown that abortion, divorce, and same-sex marriage will supposedly cause. We fear foreign immigrants with their strange customs, coming to our neighborhoods to take our jobs, drain our welfare state, or commit crimes. We have existential fears such as the fear of death, fear of freedom itself, fear of the afterlife, fear of being ‘unreal’ (a surprisingly common one, although difficult to describe), and fear of loneliness and isolation. You might boast of having none of these fears. Yet there is a part of your mind which knows that certain boundaries must not be crossed. We see certain consequences befalling the unprepared, the disbeliever, the nonconformist, the Socratic gadfly. And so we supervise ourselves. We subscribe to moral and political values that separate us from each other, instead of unite us, such as competition, and individualism. We immerse ourselves in escapist mass entertainment, such as ‘reality TV’ programs. We support fanatical politicians and preachers. Our politicians, in turn, support dictators and tyrants in other countries, all in the name of ‘security’ and ‘stability’. And we arm ourselves to the teeth, and pray to God to be saved. Thus even when we say we have no fear of these things, fear still governs our minds.

 

But life does not have to be that way. There is nothing natural, inevitable, or necessary about the labyrinth of fear. We can liberate ourselves. There are better ways to live. Someone has to take the initiative to love and trust her fellow living creature, and set us all free.

Yet this book is not just about social and moral problems. It is about people and relationships. It is about what our lives might look like if we were not so profoundly governed by fear. As we have seen, fear tends to emerge from disordered and dysfunctional relationships. For one of the deepest and most debilitating fears we endure is the fear of other people. We fear what they might do or say, how they may act, whether they will judge you, harm you, steal from you, interfere with your life, perhaps kill you, or simply ignore you. The liberation from fear requires a better understanding of our relationships, and a rectifying and a healing of our relationships. In that sense, this book offers not one way, but twenty-two ways, to escape the labyrinth.

 

I also think that liberation from fear requires a sense of the sacred. For just as our fears emerge from our relationships, so does the sacred.

 

When we think of the words ‘the sacred’, we do not normally think of relationships. We mostly think of ‘things’. We look to sacred places, like the mountain of Croagh Patrick, in Ireland; sacred buildings, like Khajuraho Temple, in India; sacred music, such as Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere, and sacred texts, like the Tao Te Ching. Sometimes we speak of sacred people, like priests, prophets, saints, shaman, seers. Or we might say someone is an elder, or that he is somehow ‘very spiritual’. Sometimes we treat non-religious things in a sacred way, such as a national flag, or the trophy cup of a professional sports league. But as I hope this book will show, these things are sacred not simply because of what they are. They are sacred because of the relations between people which involve them. The sacred, I shall say, is that which acts as your partner in the search for the highest and deepest things: the real, the true, the good, and the beautiful. The name I’d like to give to the kind of relationship that gives us a chance to find such things is a circle of meaning.

 

Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear” (ISBN: 978-1-84694-745-2) is published by Moon Books, in March of 2012, in both paperback and kindle/eBook formats. Click here (or here) for more information, or click here to pre-order your copy. And click here to find out about Brendan’s other books.  Oh, and Brendan has two other books coming out in March! Watch this space, or this one, to find out more, or just to say hi.

 

Many thanks to Jason for letting me promote this book here on The Wild Hunt! You rock!

 

And now, here’s some links that are completely unrelated to the book, just for fun.

 

If you can’t get to Pantheacon, then perhaps you can attend Canada’s first pagan winter camping festival: Northern Lights Gathering.

 

Evidence is emerging that the science behind the denial of climate change and global warming isn’t science at all, but is (mostly) ideology. Here’s a recent example of that evidence.

 

Just about everyone knows about how Stonehenge was designed for the play of light, with its solar and stellar alignments at special times of year. Now a new theory suggests it was also designed for the play of sound. Have a look here, and here.

 

BB!

 

[Pagan since the late ’80s, Cat Chapin-Bishop has also been Quaker since 2001. Cat is the primary author at the Quaker Pagan Reflections blog, as well as the former Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, and her writing has appeared in Laura Wildman’s Celebrating the Pagan Soul, The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies, the Covenant of the Goddess newsletter, and at No Unsacred Place. ]

 

Pagans are the best of spiritual communities; Pagans are the worst of spiritual communities.

Flashback to a room lit by candles and gently wrapped in incense and the braided sound of chanting.  The light gleams on the warm colors of skin and the wood, steel, silver, and terracotta of the altar and its tools.  My Wiccan coven holds me close on the night when I first draw down the moon, and their trust in me and in our gods buoys me up as I move through waves of anxiety (“What if this doesn’t work?”) until finally, She is there, and when I open my eyes, I am not the only one looking out.  Together, the Goddess and I see my coven-mates through my eyes, and we see them as beautiful beyond reckoning, as if they are each limned in gold.  They are perfect.  We look out at them, and We know who they are, and We love them with a depth and joy I can never describe to you, unless you have felt it for yourself.

Flash forward to another night, only a few years later.  Tension is in the room, fear-stink and adrenaline.  The small Pagan church to which we belong is meeting for business, and we are tearing one another to pieces.  Some are spurring conflict on, some are cringing away.  There are a dozen different versions of self-proclaimed Holy Truth in the room, doing their best to rip one another’s eyes out.  And no one is listening to the gods at all—only to the frantic drumbeats of anger, or fear, or disgust being pounded out by our own hearts.  No one seems to remember: We are beautiful.  We are perfect.  We are part of the Holy.

How can we be so good at knowing and loving one another when we are in ritual space, and so bad at preserving that knowledge and that love when we leave it?  Is there a way we can be spiritual community to one another outside as well as inside of the sacred circle or grove?

Yes, it can be done.  We can do business together, while still remembering what it is like to be beloved and loving children of our gods.

This past fall, I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend in one of my Pagan communities to assist the group in moving forward after a period of destructive conflict.  Individually, most of these men and women were kind, generous, and gifted members of their Pagan communities, but together, they had been creating some very unpleasant politics.  Battle lines had become entrenched, some members had left in anger or in disgust, and what had been an annual experience of powerful ritual and fellowship was becoming a cause of dread and resentment.  My friend, who was in charge of this year’s retreat, was starting to feel a lot like a mom trapped in a van full of angry, squabbling children on a cross-country trip.

You’ve been there; I know you have.  We’ve all seen promising spiritual groups get bogged down in self-righteousness and rage, pettiness and fear.

At the retreat, I was given a chance to share a few tools from the Quaker toolkit.  I got a chance to offer a workshop on something I call spiritual accompaniment.  (Quakers call it something else―eldering―but that word has a completely different connotation than it does in Pagan circles.)

One of the mistakes I see Pagans making, as a group, is that we confuse talking a lot with getting a lot done.  There is a kind of centering into the spiritual heart of a community that can be completely silent and yet is so deep that it helps to center everyone in the room.  I don’t have a Pagan vocabulary for this yet, but I have certainly seen Pagans who have a gift for it.  But where Quakers celebrate this kind of gift, among Pagans it is almost always invisible.

Quakers who travel as speakers or event leaders almost always have a traveling companion with them, on the stage or in the front row, silently holding them in the Light.  The companion focuses on keeping that speaker rooted in Spirit even while the presenter herself is focused outward on the crowd.  At large gatherings, you will see a row of the most seasoned Friends sitting unobtrusively behind the clerk’s table, holding the entire group, clerks and all, in silent prayer.  These people contribute little outwardly, except perhaps for a visible model of stillness and calm.  They may not even be following the flow of discussion, but afterward they remember clearly the effort and exertion that went into trying to hold every person present in connection with the common roots of the community.  I have heard Quaker elders describe gripping the edges of their chair with both hands to pull the group into a more grounded state.  Their language sounds very much like that of Pagan energy workers.

This kind of listening-in (or “holding space” as one Pagan called it this year) is not voiceless passivity, nor is it the “active listening” of apprentice psychotherapists.  It’s not manipulative or goal-directed energy working.  Rather, its purpose is to listen into the community’s relationship with its gods, to help us find those connections that brought us together to begin with.  (Religion: religare: to bind together.)

In our workshop, we began with memories of times we had felt that connection.  What was it like to be with our community and our gods, in a way that deepens our relationship with both?  We paired off, one person attempting to stay rooted and spiritually open enough to help draw out their partner, then trading places.  The depth of memory was matched by the depth of listening, and people found themselves re-experiencing something powerful and precious.  From there, we worked at holding that sense of depth, of openness and respect, in something that was like grounding and also like prayer.

I explained the idea of spiritual accompaniment and offered openings to those who were interested in helping to hold the community’s meetings in that way.

We set up benches for our volunteer cadre of “elders,” where they could be seen and where others could join if so moved.  We sat just outside the confidential meeting of the board, unable to hear a syllable of the meeting, but holding the group steadily, for over an hour.  The next day, we sat in shifts through the set-up for the larger open meeting for community concerns, and continued through the final meeting for business.  There were perhaps a dozen of us doing this at various times.  Our work was to hold our people in the Light: The Light of stars seen through the branches of trees, of candle flames, of firelight reflecting off glasses of mead passed between friends.

The intimacy of the work was remarkable.  Quakers can be very reserved, and it can take a long time to get to know most of them.  Pagans seem more extroverted even in our silences.  One man whom I’d never met before had such a deep gift for this kind of work that sitting beside him was like leaning back on a soft pillow; I felt the strength of his compassion like the warmth of a banked fire, hour after hour.

Did it help?

Well, the conflicts that had riven the gathering did not spontaneously resolve in a single weekend.  None of us (that I’m aware of) achieved satori.  But the meeting for business this year was not a blood sport.  We talked as if we cared about one another.  And most people present seemed to feel there had been something useful going on in all that quiet.

If Pagans do develop some tools of our own for keeping the spiritual in our spiritual communities, even in the heart of conflict and everyday concerns, I think we will be one step closer to being what I’ve heard some Pagans call “a full-service religion.”  More importantly, I think we will retain more of our Pagan elders, people who might otherwise succumb to spiritual staleness or cynicism.  We can hold onto the experience of joyful communion, with each other and with the gods.

For myself, I believe that Pagan spirituality can deepen for us over a lifetime, through conflict as well as celebration in our communities.  But we can only do it by reminding ourselves that we are, in fact, spiritual communities, always, every minute.  Whether we are in ritual or resting, feasting or thrashing out a tough business agenda, we need to remember our gods.  And we need to remember ourselves:  Perfect.  Beautiful.  Limned with gold.

Peter Dybing and Officers of Avalon have responded to police violence in the Occupy Movement:

Over the past several days the membership of Officers of Avalon has become highly concerned with both the images of police actions at Occupy sites and the discussion within the Pagan community about these events. This leaves the organization in the precarious situation of having to find a way to support freedom of expression, arguably a Pagan value, and also support our fellow officers.

For most of the last two months police and the Occupy movement has coexisted in a mostly peaceable atmosphere. Over the last week political leaders across the country made decisions to confront the protesters by directing police departments to enforce curfew, sanitation and nuisance laws. This has resulted in confrontations where a few officers have crossed the line and used unreasonable force. Let us state clearly, Officers Of Avalon believes that the use of excessive force on peaceable protesters is a violation of the rights of protesters, clearly immoral and in extreme cases felonious.

That being said, we are highly concerned that much of the discourse within the Pagan community has become “Anti Police”. The vast majority of police officers in this country are middle class, hardworking, honest and interested serving the public in any way they can. As a group, police officers have also experienced the economic instability, uneven distribution of wealth and severe reduction of opportunity that the current economic situation has caused.

It is not the police who are the enemy of this movement. Many officers in fact support the Occupy movement. Certainly, Pagan police officers clearly support the rights of the protesters to openly express themselves. Holding local officers accountable for the decisions of politicians is both unreasonable and illogical. It is no more reasonable than blaming your local bank teller for the actions of their CEO’s on Wall Street.

Officers of Avalon would clearly like to se a more substantive debate around recent police actions. An example of this is noted in the following passage from a recent Democracy Now report:

“There are many compassionate, decent, competent police officers who do a terrific job day in and day out. There are others who are, quote, ‘bad apples.’ What both of them have in common is that they ‘occupy,’ as it were, a system, a structure that itself is rotten. And I am talking about the paramilitary bureaucracy.”

While Officers Of Avalon takes no stand on the validity of such positions we do applaud the tone that does not vilify the police and leads to real debate.

We call on the community to continue to support your Pagan first responders and not participate in the unnecessary and wrongful vilification of an entire profession based on the actions of a few.

For the Board of OoA,

Peter Dybing
President
Officers of Avalon

The Officers of Avalon is a fraternal, educational, and charitable organization. We seek to provide a community and network for Pagan first responders and to serve as a voice for them. We seek to provide accurate information and improve public perception about Pagan spirituality through education. We seek to defend followers of Pagan spirituality by working against misinformation, discrimination, defamation, harassment and intimidation. We are an outreach to Pagans in the Emergency Services. We also seek to demonstrate that Pagans are a charitable people. To that end, we work on the collection and distribution of donations to communities in need for natural disaster relief. Join us today as an Officer of Avalon or a Friend of Avalon. Details may be found at the website http://officersofavalon.com/

We expect to cover Pagan responses and involvement in the Occupy movement more in the future and look forward to the discussion this engenders.

[ Sharon Knight is a musician and artist exploring the fantastical, mythic, epic, and archetypal. She is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to bring us into ever deepening awareness of the mystery and magick all around us. She is fond of preserving folk traditions and bringing new life to them with modern interpretations. She performs as a solo artist/duet with partner Winter, and as a front person for gothic-tribal-folk-metal band Pandemonaeon. She can be found at http://www.sharonknight.net and http://www.pandemonaeon.net.]

The other day I was part of a discussion online regarding the further marginalization of Halloween. The tone of the discussion was one of sadness that we are losing ground on preserving the one mainstream holiday that seems most in keeping with Pagan traditions. We have fought so hard to shed light on the true origins of Halloween and still we are faced with those who would whitewash it even further, stripping it of any meaning and making it no more that another excuse for mindless recreation.

It was this article that initiated the discussion, in the Rockford Spirituality section of the Examiner. (East Coast based).

The article cites examples such as Life Church in Roscoe, IL, which holds an annual Harvest Festival on Halloween Night, complete with Christian music, carnival rides, games, free candy, and guest lecturers inviting you to begin your spiritual journey with the church.

Other examples are date changes for Halloween, both proposed and already in effect, and trick or treating during daylight hours. The writer of the article fears this “blatantly demeans the already unstable recognition that the growing neopagan population struggles for.”

Do I share in the sadness expressed by my Pagan kin over this?

The short answer is no. While I can understand the sentiment that changing the dates of Halloween is demeaning to the recognition of Halloween as a sacred tradition, Halloween and Samhain have never really felt like the same thing to me. Admittedly, I have found it heartening that any remnants at all of a pagan custom have survived in the mainstream culture, but ultimately candy and costumes without any of the accompanying lore misses the mark.

For those seeking mindless entertainment, Halloween as celebrated by the masses will always be there for them, and it doesn’t really matter what day it’s on or what groups are trying to diminish its meaning further. Let them have the candy, crass commercialism, and general spectacle. These were never the folks that Samhain was meant for anyway.

I am not worried about losing our customs because there are still many people in this world seeking more meaning in their lives, not less. There comes a time when we realize the preciousness of life and no longer want to be distracted, but engaged. This is the sort of mindset that raised our Pagan traditions from the rubble of forgotten history and into a living tradition, and from what I see everywhere, this yearning for meaning is growing, not diminishing.

So take heart friends. This is nothing more than business as usual. Christians have been whitewashing our holidays for 2,000 years and still our traditions survive.

Lest I seem to be taking a situation lightly that is dear to some, let me say this – it is nice to feel that mainstream society is contributing to the overall flavor of a holiday that is sacred to us, if only in small things such as décor. It is fun to see our communities decked out with ghosts and goblins and various things that remind us that the veils are thinning. If we are saddened by these things diminishing, perhaps it is time to get involved. Host an “All Hallows Eve Festival” in your community. Why let the Christians have all the redefining fun? Have the proceeds benefit the community at large to gain visibility among non-Pagans. If Halloween is to be scheduled for the first Saturday of the month, celebrate all month, starting with Halloween and commencing with Samhain. If others are taking actions that diminish something dear to us, we must then take actions that emphasizes what is dear to us. We can’t change others’ behavior but we can put our own views out in to the world as well. As Scoop Nitzger used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own”.

[Star Foster is the rather opinionated editor of the Pagan Portal at Patheos.]

Roger Tier, known to the Pagan community as Myrddin, has recently passed and Pagans are remembering his life:

He was always very moral and principled. He was also a very reclusive and private person.” – Margot Adler

I first connected with Myrddin back in the 1970′s and am among those remembering and giving thanks for the many contributions he & Crystal made to the Craft & Paganism … and to animal care & to world peace.” – Selena Fox

Here’s the memorial posted on Witchvox:

In Memoriam: Myrddin (1947-2011)
In Memory of Roger Tier

Roger Tier, often known in the international Pagan and Wiccan community as Myrddin, died from natural causes on October 31, 2011. He was at home in New Brunswick, NJ.

Roger was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1947. He worked as a production manager in various printing and design firms in Manhattan and New Jersey. For many years he and his wife Crystal made their home on Staten Island.

Roger was a quiet, unsung leader in Paganism and Wicca. He and Crystal founded The Gaia Group in 1973, which he described in this way:

“.an initiatory Earth religion with Wiccan roots. Our primary goals are the care and protection of Mother Earth through both magical and practical means, and the continual creation of a sound and meaningful initiatory system that produces strong and effective Initiates to carry on our work.”

Roger and Crystal taught, held workshops and initiated students for three decades, and The Gaia Group has various granddaughter covens throughout the US. In the Cold War years of the 1980s they led an international Peace Network, spread via journal and newspaper notices, and word of mouth. The Gaia Group’s focus was Earth-healing and activism, and they inspired peace and healing work across the globe. Roger and Crystal worked closely with the Covenant of Unitarian-Universalist Pagans at various times in their history. They also supported various shelters, and for many years had a home full of animals, wonderful books and ringing laughter.

He is survived by Crystal, who is in poor health and in a nursing home.

Memorial arrangements will be privately held. Any donations in Roger’s name may be sent to: Best Friends Animal Society, in southern Utah, www.bestfriends.org; info@bestfriends.org
(An animal shelter and sanctuary they have supported for many years.)

As Doreen Valiente wrote in her “Elegy for a Dead Witch”:

Farewell from this world, but not from the Circle.
That place that is between the worlds
shall hold return in due time. Nothing is lost.
The half of a fruit from the tree of Avalon
shall be our reminder, among the fallen leaves.
This life treads underfoot. Let the rain weep.
Waken in sunlight from the Realms of Sleep.

Roger will be sorely missed by his family, his Initiates and his many more-than-human companions. May the journey be smooth and the well-deserved rest happy, Roger.

Merry meet again.

– by Francesca Howell (in conversation with Crystal)

[Pagan, mystic, and activist T. Thorn Coyle is founder and head of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School and lives by the San Francisco Bay. For information on her writing, podcasts, blog, and new video teaching series - Fiat LVX! - please visit http://www.thorncoyle.com]

We have a society in which money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people, and in which that concentration of income and wealth threatens to make us a democracy in name only.” – Paul Krugman, Economist

The occupy movement is important to Pagans because we understand just how important the right to a voice is and how it is essential in meeting the needs of all people… The voice and presence of any collective is the most important instrument that we can use.” – Wiccan Priestess Crystal Blanton

At its essence, the message of the Occupations is simply this: ’Here in the face of power we will sit and create a new society, in which you do count. Your voice carries weight,your contributions have value, whoever you may be. We care for one another, and we say that love and care are the true foundations for the society we want to live in. We’ll stand with the poor and sleep with the homeless if that’s what it takes to get justice. We’ll build a new world.’” – Starhawk, Activist and Co-Founder of Reclaiming

It may be a mostly “secular” movement, yet the term “Occupy” itself draws people to understand its meaning in broader terms—as containing an invitation to mindfulness and participation in ways that are simultaneously spiritual and earthly: Occupy the Earth, Occupy your Life, Occupy Everything.” – Pagan scholar Lee Gilmore

The Sacred Web

We do our sacred work on this earth, of this earth, with this earth. We enact theurgy -God action – theology in motion.

Not all Pagans or Magick Workers support the Occupy movement. I would not expect them to. However, I am unsurprised at the large number of us who do. We are used to linking the spiritual with the material, honoring the sacred in the baking bread, the programmed pixels, the words we speak, the trees, the earth, the sky. Some of us find comfort in humanity and some from our Gods. For me, the Occupy movement includes all of this. Also, Occupy is about the spirit of individual people striving to connect with one another, to feed each other, to fight for each other, and to lift each other up.

How have Pagans contributed to this, and why? Second Wave Feminists often said that the personal is the political, so I’ll start with myself: the whys can be found in my own personal history which you can read about here if you wish.

 


Meditating in public has long been my favored form of engaging in public action, that, working in my local soup kitchen, and providing spiritual tech to activists. After years of blockading, marching, and getting arrested, I took to sitting in silence as an anchor to large Direct Actions. So, after the incredible violence Tuesday the 25th, heading to downtown Oakland to meditate with others was my first response. Recognizing the need for porta-potties was my second. As a Pagan, one activity did not feel more important than the other. Both were responses to the sacred here with us, and both wished to fill a need. I continued to go out to the Occupy camp for meditation, while using Solar Cross Temple to organize funds for outdoor toilets and a handwashing station.

Many Pagans have had similar responses. Pagans and magick workers are supporting this movement of occupation in many other ways. I’ve had reports of Thelemites doing teach-ins in San Francisco, Witches organizing in Austin and Chicago, Pagans marching in Melbourne, bringing food and blankets to D.C., sending money and supplies from New Mexico, doing consensus trainings in Los Angeles, making magick in the streets, organizing rituals for justice, and spreading information around the globe. Some Pagans have even been harassed by Fox News for their efforts.

Owner of the Oakland magickal shop Ancient Ways,which hosts the country’s largest indoor Pagan gathering – Pantheacon – Glenn Turner helped with organization of Oakland’s General Strike, offering the shop as a distribution point for posters, talking with the mainstream media and closing the shop the day of the strike. As a long-term leader in Pagan circles she says this of her role helping with Occupy: “When there is a leader, people simply wait around. Here we know that no one but ourselves is going to step up. So we do.”

 


This is echoed by the words of Sam Webster of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn: “The Occupy movement is the first step in massively networked decision making, which is the only meaningful challenge to the hierarchical command structures that dominate our world and got us into the current crisis.”

Despite our petty squabbles, Pagans are good at networks. Those with a Pagan bent tend to look toward matrices of connection: in Nature, in our theologies, and in our groups. In this sense, Occupy is a dynamic enactment of our magical values. It also can reflect how we view and interact with magick and the world. David Salisbury of Capital Witch writes: “The first thing I noticed while attending Occupy DC was the type of energy the occupation as a whole was putting out. You could clearly tell that this was not just some solitary band of rebels camping in the park. What they held in their encampment was clearly connected to something far greater than just my city… Stepping into the encampment was like crossing the threshold into sacred space. I felt immediately grounded but also infused with power – the power needed to do major Work.”

The Power is Rising

That power Salisbury speaks of has been mentioned by many people involved in Occupy, not just Pagans. I have felt it myself, tears springing to my eyes at several moments. It reminds me of accounts from earlier mass social movements – the Paris Commune, the English Diggers – and is encapsulated by this quote from Mary Heaton Vorse, reporting on the Lawrenceville “Bread and Roses” strikes of 1912: “It was the spirit of the workers that was dangerous. The tired, gray crowds ebbing and flowing perpetually into the mills had waked and opened their mouths to sing.”

That singing spirit was strongly present in the music playing, dancing, marching crowds on Wednesday, during the General Strike in Oakland in which at least 10,000 people – if not more – shut down the 5th largest working port in the U.S. Here’s a helicopter viewof the crowd.

Reclaiming Witch Riyana has eloquently written about her experiences that day: “Imagine listening to… powerful voices singing beneath a nearly-dark sky and brass instruments blaring and drums grooving when the news finally reaches us, for the first time, over bullhorn and people’s mic that we’ve actually done it – we’ve shut down the port.”

I ran into many Pagans the day of the strike, including a lively crew that contained Riyana, Pagan musician Brook , and Reclaiming Quarterly editor George Franklin among other faces both familiar and unfamiliar. They enlisted me to help lead a spiral dance indowntown Oakland. David Wiegleb, owner of Fields Books, the oldest metaphysical bookshop in the country, danced with us. In speaking to why he was there, he said this: “The pagan philosopher Plato describes the character of a good city thus: ‘Clearly, then, it will be wise, brave, temperate [literally: healthy-minded], and just. As a pagan, I want to see my city fully express Plato’s civic virtues. However, it can only really do so in a nation that is also wise, brave, temperate, and just. In a world that is wise, brave, temperate, and just. And only if I embody them in my own sovereignty as well.”

Photo by Gae Sídhe

Gae Sídhe, who walked close to 17 miles shutting down banks and the Port that day said, “Ever since I came to identify as Pagan I’ve been devoted to the path of the Pagan warrior as manifesting today in the liberation struggle and revolutionary activism. I’m Occupying against the Big Lie, and to help plant a seed of a beautiful and powerful new Truth to come…”

Rhett Aultman, who has been out at Occupy Oakland, and live tweeted the Oakland City Council meeting Thursday night reflected: “As an atheist Pagan, my sense of moral mandate doesn’t come from divine forces but instead from my philosophical conclusions that the human condition is universal– that we must all struggle with the profound challenges of our mortality and drive to resolve the challenge of our mortality by making meaning of our existence.”

We make meaning of our condition, right here, right now. We make meaning with our lives, with each other. For me, this is sacred activity. Ritual is the process of making meaning. Occupy, to echo David Salisbury, is a form of ritual, a banding together of those who are saying: “This space, this time, is sacred. We matter.”

Thelemite, author and musician Gerald del Campo puts it this way: “The Law of Thelema is. We are subject to it with or without our awareness. You can tell the ones that have alligned themselves with it by the way they stand in opposition to socio-political issues which are diametrically opposed to Truth, Equity and Freedom – like the folks inconveniencing themselves and putting themselves in harms way at the various OWS protests all over the world. To see the world as it is, is easy because it is only a projection of the Demiurge: it is what we’re supposed to see. Nuit represents potential, and as such those that see the world as it can be are her lovers and soldiers for freedom.”

There is a world that is, a world that was, and the world that is becoming. We have a chance right now to co-create this world, to put our best thoughts and actions together and manifest something we can feel proud to have built. We can do this magick, if we choose to.

 

[Teo Bishop is a Druid hailing from Denver, CO. You can find his blog at Bishop in the Grove.]

As a long-time follower of the Wild Hunt, I’ve found it encouraging to read posts about the different ways Pagans across the country are gathering, celebrating, and organizing. The Pagan community, from my experience, is a charitable one. We have a real desire to take care of our own, but we’re also willing to reach out to others who may not share our world view or religious tradition.

So, in the spirit of Pagan Community Notes, a regular feature on The Wild Hunt, my guest post will showcase some of the important charity work taking place in the Pagan community of my hometown, Denver, Colorado.

Hand to Hand Project

As we move closer to the Winter holiday season, and our hearts and minds open to the spirit of giving, Pagans in the Denver Metro area are taking part in the Hand to Hand Project, and intra-faith Pagan community service project designed to provide assistance to the community’s elders. Services provided by the group include painting, minor plumbing repairs (fixing a leaky faucet), minor roof repairs (replacing a missing shingle or two), weeding, mowing, organizing, weatherizing around windows and doors, and hauling away trash.

Former Hand to Hand Project Coordinator, Mari Cowel, explained her perspective on why Hand to Hand is a valuable service to the Pagan Community in Denver:

“It’s hard for people to ask for help when for their whole lives they’ve probably been extremely independent. And when we age, we get frustrated when we can’t do what we did twenty years ago. And it hurts. It hurts to admit we need help with something as intimate as cleaning our house, or moving things in our garage, or cutting our grass.”

The project is currently headed by Joy Phelan, local coordinator of Front Range Pagan Pride (an event which I blogged about here), who also founded the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans chapter (CUUPS) at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado in 2006. According to Hand to Hand’s Yahoo Page, anyone from the Pagan community can participate, and those who need community service can have their hours logged.

For more details, and to find out how you can donate your time and resources, click here.

ISIS Books sponsors Readings For A Reason

The Denver metaphysical bookstore, Isis Books and Gifts, owned by Weiser Books author, Karin Harrison, whose most recent book, The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook,received publicity in Denver’s widely distributed free paper, The Westword, frequently opens its doors to the Pagan community, offering classes in Wicca, Qigong, and Money Magick, to name a but a few. In December, continuing the spirit of holiday giving, Isis is hosting a local psychic, Sean Michael Morris, for his series, “Readings For A Reason.”

According to the Isis website:

“In this special group reading session, Sean Michael Morris will contact your guides, tell you about past lives, reveal sacred contracts, and more. He’ll be picking from everyone present to offer free mini-readings throughout the hour. As well, he’ll be available for any questions you have about being psychic, spirit guides, reincarnation, etc. This class is on a donation-only basis, and all proceeds will go to a local Denver charity.”

The local charity set to receive the donations for December’s “Readings For A Reason” isMetro CareRing, a non-profit food pantry initiated in 1974 by five downtown Denver churches (First Baptist Church, Central Presbyterian Church, St Paul Lutheran, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and Trinity United Methodist Church). According to the organization’s website:

“Last year, Metro CareRing provided 131,698 hunger relief and self-sufficiency services to low-income and homeless individuals, offering food, nutriton and healthy living education, utility and transportation assistance, employment readiness programs, and identification documents.”

While Metro CareRing was formed from within the Christian community, the organization has been nothing receptive to working with Morris, who said about the group,

“They don’t care what you believe – that isn’t what they’re about. They just want to feed people, and help them get through whatever hard times they may be going through.”

Earth Haven – A Pagan Retreat in the Rocky Mountains

Pagans long for safe places to gather, to do ritual, and to express their religious identity with a sense of freedom and protection. In response to that desire, Living Earth, an open circle of individuals and families in the Highlands Ranch/South Denver area, who present the annual Pagan festival, Beltania, organized under the name, Earth Haven Alliance, and purchased 2.09 acres of land in the Rocky Mountains. They designated the land as sacred space for Pagans of any and all traditions.

“If you seek a commitment ceremony, a rite of passage, a retreat into nature, a place to work your magicks, to unfold your mysteries, Initiations or to hold outdoor workshops and classes, Earth Haven is intended to provide that place for you.

Our whole plan will eventually include a Temple, an amphitheatre with gazebo, sweat lodge and underground kiva, meandering walkways, plenty of camping spaces and more. There are already two permenant fire pits on site, and plans to have a waste management system and driveway with parking spaces by the end of 2011.”

For more photos of the project, visit Earth Haven’s Facebook page. Tax deductible donations can be made directly through the group’s website. I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.

The Pagan community in Denver is vibrant, giving and full of amazing people. I’m grateful to be a part, and I’m honored to be able to share a small bit of news about my home with The Wild Hunt readership.

Bright blessings to you!

 

[Laura LaVoie is a contributor to The Juggler and PNC-GA. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her partner and cats, blogging about brewing beer, tiny houses and Hellenic polytheism.]

I was a Unitarian for a while. I went to church and enjoyed the community. Then we got a new pastor and I didn’t like that church anymore, so I stopped going. But the Unitarian Church was one of the first times in my life I had really been exposed to the concept of Social Justice. I had been raised Catholic, and there was plenty of Social Justice to go around, there just wasn’t a committee for it. Among my Pagan friends, it wasn’t something that my circle discussed on a regular basis. Things changed for me lately to make me reconsider my place in this world and what I can do to make someone else’s place a little better.

It goes back a couple of years. My partner and I began building a 120 square foot Tumbleweed Tiny House on 15 acres in Western North Carolina. We wanted a place that we had built with our own hands that was off the grid and entirely self-sufficient. While the end result of this project would be greener than standard living, saving the planet wasn’t our primary motivating factor. More than anything, we wanted to do something unconventional. Taking the steps to live a more unconventional life is what opened us up to experiences we couldn’t have imagined.

At Beltane of 2010 we got some news. My partner’s cousin died of Pancreatic Cancer in his mid-thirties. I was devastated. We had been close with him in our early twenties. We even ostensibly lived together in a duplex in a not so nice part of Detroit for a while (he would crash on the couch much of the time). I passionately hated him some of the time, but he was fiercely loyal and one of the best people I ever knew. Matt drove out to Reno for his memorial service and while there he reconnected with an old friend. This friend told him all about the things she was doing in South Africa and even though she lived in San Francisco at the time, she was making plans to move to KwaZulu-Natal.

These experiences really lead us to thinking about what we were doing with our lives. We were learning to build this tiny house, but to what end? Then Priscilla told us about a project she was working on. Her organization, the Zulu Orphan Alliance, wanted to build a shelter for the children on land they had been given. She started by asking us questions about how we built the tiny house. The conversations evolved and next thing we knew we were booking our flight. We leave in just a week to fly to Durban, South Africa to begin the project. This trip will be about planning, meeting the other people involved, soil testing, and contacting suppliers. We are even considering building something small like a composting toilet or a solar water heater while we were there.

Social Justice isn’t, of course, owned by any one religious group. The Unitarians didn’t make it up. Pagans are often political as well – fighting for environmentalism and religious equality, among other things. I’ve even been involved in International Pagan Coming Out Day. Many Pagan authors and bloggers have written about social justice and the work we can do as a community to make this world a better place. Last year on the Washington Post On Faith feature, Starhawk responded to the question of whether Social Justice is Ideology or Theology:

“While Pagans do not have a set creed or unified code of beliefs, our traditions hold in common the understanding that we are all deeply interconnected, all part of the sacred weave of the world. The Goddess is immanent in this world and in all human beings, and part of our service to the sacred is to honor one another and take care of one another, to fairly share nature’s bounty and to succor one another in facing the hardships of life. We must create justice in this world, not wait for redress of grievances in the next.”

Recently seen supporting her local Occupy movement, earlier this year blogger T. Thorn Coyle wrote about social justice and its place in Theology, or vice versa.

“As magick workers and Pagans, we come from spiritual and religious convictions that will give rise to actions that look different from those of my Catholic compatriots, but we can act nonetheless. In his recent campaign to raise money for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Peter Dybing showed that we can also work together. I pray that we will continue to do so. We can live from (poly)theologies of justice and connection. Therein lies hope.”

We can also see a strong tie to Environmental Justice in the PNC blog No Unsacred Place, which I think is a model of what the Pagan blogosphere can be.

I’m sort of new to this Social Justice thing and I can’t see myself as a leader of any sort of movement. I just want to do the best I can to help out where it makes sense. The whole thing really kind of snuck up on me out of nowhere. I didn’t choose the Zulu Orphan Alliance – it chose me. I’m doing this because some very kind people, people of all religious backgrounds, asked me to help. My boss is fond of calling my trip a “Mission Trip.” She isn’t entirely wrong. While religious conversion isn’t on my To Do list, I do know that my Gods are with me on this journey. They are guiding me. And it is through them and through this experience that I will be transformed. What are you doing to change the world?

Instead of reading more 2009 predictions from a collection of local psychics, let’s turn instead to the SF Gate’s interview with astrologer Rob Brezsny. The “free will” astrologer takes some time to punch holes in the predictions of your neighborhood doom-sayers.

“I believe that some astrologers, not all, are like a lot of New Age prophets and right-wing fundamentalist prophets in that they gravitate toward the visions of the future that stimulate fear, because at this cultural moment fear is more entertaining than the more uplifting news, and it gives them power. It gives them power to scare somebody. I try to have a very tolerant nature towards all people, but I have to admit that it really grates on me when astrologers just fixate on the ugliest possible interpretation of any astrological aspect.”

Then again, he also says the real prophets of our culture are creating a darker world.

“The more dangerous prophets are the storytellers of our culture – the journalists, the filmmakers, the writers of fiction and many musicians who are constantly besieging us with dark visions. I think about Muriel Rukeyser, the poet, who said that the universe is not made of molecules – it’s made out of stories, and if the storytellers of our culture are constantly telling us that the only true thing is an ugly thing, then yes, I do think that’s a problem.”

Being someone who alternately styles himself a journalist and an artist, I take issue with the idea that “dark stories” are creating an “ugly” future. Art isn’t just joyous inspiration, it is also catharsis and reflection. Imagine how darker things would truly be without the “dark visions” providing a safe outlet for all that “ugliness”. So while I admire Brezsny’s commitment to positive thinking, he seems to be stuck in a sort of “pronoic” tunnel vision of his own making on this particular issue.

But let’s not end the first post of 2009 on a critical note, here is a final quote from Brezsny that should warm a few Pagan hearts.

“I subscribe to Krishnamurti’s principle… he said that “we need four billion religions.” Now that number is up to 6.5 billion – a religious tradition for everyone on the planet, 6.5 billion paths to God.”

For more on Brezsny and Free Will Astrology, check out his web site. I’m also fond of his piece “A Prayer For You”. I hope you had a great New Years, and aren’t suffering too much from last night’s celebrations.