Column: Tupac Amaru Shakur

Heathen Chinese —  September 17, 2016 — 4 Comments

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

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

Ipanema, Rio De Janeiro [Marycsalome / Flickr]

Rio De Janeiro [Marycsalome / Flickr]

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

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

Túpac Amaru: I Feel Like Pac For Real

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

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

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

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

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

Tupac Amaru I [Public Domain]

Tupac Amaru I [Public Domain]

Shakur: It Goes Down my Family Tree

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

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

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

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

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

Mutulu Shakur [Public Domain]

Mutulu Shakur [Public Domain]

That’s Why We Go to Thug Mansion

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

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

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

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

[George Hannz D / Wikimedia]

[George Hannz D / Wikimedia]

We Just Letting our Dead Homies Tell Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

[$amii / Flickr]

[Image Credit: $amii / Flickr]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Public Domain]

Thugs about to strangle a traveler [Public Domain]

Problematic Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes

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

The Polytheist community is vast. Cultures around the world celebrate versions of polytheistic worship and commune with the Gods as a way of life. Modern polytheistic practices are just as wide of a range as in any other time in history. There are many contextual differences, nuances, cultures, beliefs, stories, and practices that fall under a very large umbrella of Polytheism.

[Wikipedia]

[from Wikimedia]

The strength of any community is enhanced and yet challenged by the variety of diversity it faces. How we see worship, who we worship, how we engage in community worship, how we are inspired to worship; all things that can encapsulate the myriad differences that play a role within any snapshot of the Polytheistic community.

The complexity and variety of practice is what brought the My Polytheism project to creation. Writer and polytheist Jolene Dawe started working on this project in August of this year, which has unfolded to include many different writings and reflections from people within the Polytheist community that are speaking about their personal version of Polytheism.

I was quite drawn in by the creativity and variety of the posts on the site because they showed so many different interpretations and practices within this community. The myriad nuances that can be rooted within any practice create a vital context to the very connection one has with the Gods, their practice, community, and their place within it. I can relate to this concept because of the many different aspects in my own practice that are outside of the “norm” within greater community expectations. My personal culture plays a big role in my own brand of Polytheism.

There have always been many attempts, whether over the internet or in person at festivals, to clarify what acceptable Polytheism is. The ongoing desire to define modern Paganism and Polytheism is nothing new, and sometimes that is accompanied by judgement and the creation of normative values focusing on who fits inside of the circle and who does not. Communities often focus on differences as a way to identify parameters and cultivate shared social standards. These very differences and nuances also push people into the margins of a community and can lead to ridicule, feelings of isolation, and additional challenges that come with being right outside of the lines of acceptable culture.

screenshot-2016-09-15-23-09-17

And for all of these reasons, I decided to turn to Jolene Dawe and speak with her about the motivation and drive to create what has become #MyPolytheism.

Crystal Blanton: In creating the My Polytheism site and concept, did you think that it would call to so many people?

Jolene Dawe: I cannot emphasis ‘no’ enough, here. The site started as a place for me to gather links that I didn’t want to lose, when people started writing their own #mypolytheism posts in response/inspired by mine. One day, someone was wrong on the internet, and I got annoyed. Those responses were heartening.

I’ve been blogging about my path for awhile, and I do get people reaching out to me regularly, who are put off by the debate style that passes for community building in the louder section of the Pagan blogosphere, who don’t want their paths or experiences picked apart, who are tired of hearing that they’re wrong somehow. As there’s been more and more talk about this so-called Polytheist Movement, I realized that, you know, phrasing it like that, as if there’s some collective movement around whose tenets people agree, is misleading.

Because My Polytheism has zero interest in deciding if others are ‘doing polytheism right.’ The idea of there being some homogeneous polytheism tradition, where one must approach the gods through appropriate people, really turns me off. The looking back to how ancient polytheism was, with some rose colored glasses, as if that’s something to bring forward . . . no, thank you, but no. I don’t want a state-sanctioned polytheist approach. I’m female; would I have been allowed to devote myself to Poseidon for life, if we existed under a polytheist world since antiquity? Because, I doubt it.

So, My Polytheism came about in part because of that — can we maybe stop arguing about who’s ‘doing it wrong’ and instead maybe share what it is that we’re doing? Can we move away from wanting contemporary polytheism to be rooted in sameness — in where we hold the gods in the ordering of society, in how we think of them, in how we worship — and instead maybe root it in hospitality? I’m weary of it being acceptable to tear into people online, because “they’re nice in person” — which is a refrain I heard all the time during my years interacting with heathens on the east coast, in person. Can we be kind to one another? Can we stop pretending that personal attacks because you don’t agree with someone is acceptable? Can we admit that the perennial debates are going to keep happening, and not everyone needs to be a theologian, or a scholar, or even just want to debate. Can we please, please, move beyond this stage?

I did not know My Polytheism was going to become a project, when it went live. It was really supposed to be this depository of links, for my own ease of reference. Clearly, I was wrong.

CB: What do you feel that My Polytheism adds to the idea of community and the culture of modern Polytheism?

Jolene Dawe

Jolene Dawe [Courtesy Photo]

JD: Off the top of my head? A safe space to share, where the authors of the various essays/blog posts get to determine how they engage with others. It’s been criticized that because My Polytheism does not allow debate on the site, that it’s anti-debate. It’s not. I’m not. What I am, though, is against the idea that people are obligated to participate in debates, that they somehow owe anyone else an explanation as to why their experiences are as they are. I’m not going to provide one more space for people to attack someone. If you want to talk to one of the contributors about what they have to say, you need to go to their blogs and comment to them directly. They then get to decide if they want to engage with you or not. It’s completely up to them.

I think My Polytheism also increases visibility of the diversity with contemporary polytheism. I want it to. I hope it does. I do know that already people have found others whose work they may not have found otherwise — I’ve ‘met’ a ton of new people I didn’t know of before, that’s for sure. There are so many people who have felt alone, or in the minority, and I think My Polytheism is helping to challenge that. Certainly, having examples of the different ways a polytheist life might look is a positive thing.

Another thing about My Polytheism is that — yeah, I’m the curator of sorts, in that I’m maintaining the space — but it is nothing without the contributions of other polytheists. In that way. it’s a collective effort. My Polytheism is ours. It wouldn’t work any other way, because I really do not care about telling people how to be. I want to share what I do, and I want to know what you do, because I’m nosey, and because I’m curious, and because I find this all fascinating, and because I find it inspiring. I like stories. I want to hear yours. You know?

CB: Sometimes bridge work can be difficult in any community. What would you want to emphasize about My Polytheism to those may not understand the need for safe space within the modern Polytheism community?

JD: I’d like them to pause and consider that, if they don’t feel a need for a safe space within the modern Polytheism community, it might be because they have the privilege of not needing it, and that this does not mean others do not. I know ‘privilege’ is something of a buzzword these days, but it’s necessary to confront this: people want safe spaces. I’d argue that they need them. Not everyone can tackle issues in the same manner, whatever those issues are, and they shouldn’t be expected to.

I want community, I even want in-person community, but I don’t want just anyone. I want the people that are going to nourish me, who are going to encourage me. Beyond that, I don’t want people to feel they cannot approach their gods because of whatever reason. Because they can’t leave their houses, because they don’t *want* to leave their houses, because they’re not able-bodied, because they’re not comfortable in their skin, because their would-be communities are intent on telling them why they can’t be involved with the powers they’re involved with, because of their skin color or their gender orientation or their sexual preference, or a host of other reasons. We need safe space within the modern Polytheism community because modern polytheists are asking for it, are responding to it. You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to want to contribute to it — but you don’t get to decide what other people want or need .You do not get to decide how other people want to build community.

My Polytheism is not a place for everyone, and it’s not trying to be. There is the whole of the Internet to debate and attack and criticize. If that’s all you’re after, in community building, you’re going to have to go elsewhere. And, because I know there are those out there who love to send hateful and abusive private messages and emails, I’ve also made it clear that any sent my way about this topic are to be considered submissions for publication, because they will go live. So far, I haven’t gotten any. Which maybe isn’t the best way to build bridges, but I’m not interested in building bridges with people who only want to tear others down.

 *    *    *

When reaching out to Jolene about this project and its subsequent impact, I also decided to reach out to several of the people whose pieces were published on the website. What motivated them to write about their brand of Polytheism? What inspires their reflection of Polytheism? What hope did they have in sharing this with others?

Their answers are just as diverse and layered as the makeup of our community.

I was motivated to write an entry for #mypolytheism because I know I’m deviating from the “mainstream” ideas of Paganism and Polytheism with my practice. There’s a lot of gatekeeping in the wider online community, ideas of how things should be done in order to be correct, which can be demoralizing for those of us who can’t seem to find a home in the established Pagan and Polytheist religions. Personally, I take the stance of a Chaos Magician, in that what is correct… is what works. And that may not be the same for everyone; each person needs to experiment and see what works for them. And it’s likely to be a continuing work in progress.

I wanted to be part of something that strives to show everyone who is doing things a little different that we’re not alone. And I wanted to be part of showing the gatekeepers that we are just as valid and active as they are, no lectures required. We’re all doing our own thing, and it’s beautiful, and awesome, and amazing. By being able to share what we’re doing with each other, we’re sharing ideas, and helping each other.

Maybe someone in Russia is doing something really interesting someone in California might like to try out. Maybe new and more dynamic and inclusive religions and traditions can grow out of solitaries sharing information, and maybe not. I know there’s already a new community of support that’s grown out of the movement, for Pagan and Polytheist monastics, and it’s so exciting to see everyone talking, and so many people saying “I’ve been interested in this for *years* and never knew anyone else was interested!” It’s wonderful to see so many people connecting and sharing ideas. I don’t know if that would have happened without #mypolytheism. – Celestine

Alley Valkyrie [Courtesy Photo]

Alley Valkyrie [Courtesy Photo]

I was motivated on two levels. One was the increasingly rigid definitions that were being put out there by self-styled “leaders” about what polytheism is and isn’t supposed to be. I felt that those ideas were very limiting and excluding of many people and practices, and that they failed to accurately capture the diversity of ideas and ways within polytheism.

The other motivation was those who had already put their reflections out under the #mypolytheism hashtag. It was quickly obvious to me that so many of us had been feeling the same thing and they idea of putting out our own thoughts became quite contagious.I hope that from this sharing that others who are either on the edge looking in or have felt excluded by the rigid definitions of the past realize that there is a place for their practices and style of worship within polytheism, and that there is no “one true way” of being a polytheist.

I envision a community where folks are free to share their ideas and experiences without being told that they are “doing it wrong”, and that they can take inspiration from others who are putting their experiences out there. – Alley Valkyrie

As I understand it, My Polytheism was started in order to highlight the many diverse ways of being a polytheist. It has already shown that people are building community in ways that are unique and valuable, such as polytheist monasticism (the kind of monasticism that serves a wider community). It has created a safe space where people can share their feelings about their relationship with the gods.

Some people have complained about it not being a space for debate. As I see it, there are two ways to arrive at knowledge – (1) by debating and trying to eliminate the “incorrect” point of view; (2) by sharing experience & feelings and building up a richly textured view of reality. Since religion is largely about feelings and experiences, the debating approach won’t help much. My Polytheism is clearly about sharing feelings and experiences. And frankly I don’t want my heartfelt experiences to be a matter for debate. You can debate theology all you want, but ultimately the nature of the gods is a mystery and one that we all perceive in different ways.

There is so much debate everywhere else on the Internet – it’s lovely to have a space that is more like a sharing space where people can post their thoughts & feelings and not get shot down in flames for it. – Yvonne Aburrow

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Yvonne Aburrow [Courtesy Photo]

It was the tag line on the Facebook page that first caught my interest: “Visible. Vocal. Diverse.” That’s well aligned with my values. I want folks to hear from polytheists who celebrate diversity in polytheism. There are plenty of people who will tell you you’re doing it wrong, or assert that you’re not really a polytheist. There are plenty of places that attract attention by courting controversy and heated debate. But there are precious few places where I can set aside that sort of discourse entirely, and simply be heard on my own terms in a space of sacred hospitality. Magic happens in those places, and I want to contribute to that magic!

As a member of a minority religion, it takes courage for me to share details of my devotional and contemplative practice publicly. There are risks involved in doing so, especially given that sincere religious devotion in a polytheist context is often dismissed as “crazy” or “backward” in the dominant cultural milieu. If I fear my personal religious experience might be debated or insensitively picked apart by bullies – people who don’t know me or the challenges I deal with, and aren’t even peripherally involved in my relationships with the deities I venerate – I’m far less likely to share these things.

By providing a welcoming space for marginalized voices, and relief from the constant worry about being dragged into the kind of debate-driven discourse that is so prevalent elsewhere, My Polytheism emboldened me to speak up and contribute.

I hope it will amplify the voices of polytheists who are marginalized – voices that might not have been on our radar otherwise, yet have much to contribute to modern polytheism. I hope the project reaches people who feel underrepresented or unwelcome in polytheism, and brings them comfort, camaraderie, and the reassurance that they’re not alone. And finally, I hope it drives home the importance of creating spaces with clear and well-defined boundaries, in which voices that often go unheard are given a platform to address their communities on their own terms. I’m a co-administrator of a new discussion group on Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism, and our guidelines were inspired by those of My Polytheism, so the project’s influence is already expanding! – Danica Swanson

Danica Swanson [Courtesy of Arrowyn Craban Lauer]

Danica Swanson [Courtesy of Arrowyn Craban Lauer]

This project, while drawing some criticism, has come at a time when many people are looking for a place to celebrate their differences and similarities with others in spiritual community. It is also very relevant that many are actively in search of a safe place within the world; our spiritual communities are not void of this need.

As our communities grow and expand, we see more glimpses of what gaps exist and what needs go unfilled within the larger communal sphere. Acknowledging the needs of those within the margins can be a vital and healthy piece of the much larger picture of any group of people. How do we embrace the sharing of those same perspectives as the gifts that come from the diversity of different practices, experiences and stories?

It brings back into focus many of the questions that communities ask when they are in a process of growth and formation. How can we embrace differences? What is the value of holding space for those who outside of the norm of overculture? How do we welcome diversity? What is the benefit of stretching our own understanding about the practices and needs of others? How is safe space for the nuances of culture intersect with our ability to create healthy community? How does the desire to formulate a common framework for Polytheism limit our ability to learn and grow through the myriad of practices and beliefs we encounter?

While some of the concepts that communities explore in the development of culture are large and require much contemplation, others are rather simple. Our collective community is just as varied as the Gods who are worshiped around the world. We often forget inside of modern depictions of polytheistic practices, that we are but one segment of a much larger system of worship that spans time and physical spaces And what we have to gain from exploring the many different interpretations of personal practice is much greater than what we could ever lose.

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Ender Darling, whose legal name is Devon Marie Machuca, is charged with several counts of trafficking in human parts and burglary of a cemetery. The charges come after a January raid on Darling’s home yielded human bones.

Darling, a practicing Witch, caught the attention of authorities after a Facebook post offering to send human bones to other Witches went viral to the point that the story got its own hashtag #bonegazi. By some accounts, Tumblr alone showed were well-over 40,000 notes and shares on a single mention.

Screen capture of original post

Screen capture of original post

The July arrest warrant issued stated Darling denies digging up any remains from the Holt Cemetery, but admitted to collecting bones which surfaced after rainstorms. Darling also denies selling the remains, saying that reimbursement for shipping costs was all that was requested. According to computer records seized in the raid, at least one other Witch appears to have purchased human bones from Darling.

Timeline of events

16 November:  According to police reports, Darling sent messages through Facebook which indicated that they were obtaining bones from a nearby graveyard.

11 December: Darling posts on Facebook about having human bones for use in Witchcraft and offering to send bones to other Witches if they cover the cost of shipping.

12 December: Fellow New Orleans resident Desier Deja Galjour shares Darling’s post on Facebook and asks people to spread the word. They do.

14 December:  Local media picks up the story

17 December: Tumblr users try to find out identity and location of Darling.

18 December: Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Ryan Seidemann says he has ordered an investigation into the possible removal of human remains from Holt Cemetery in New Orleans.

28 January: After 6 days of surveillance, Police search Darling’s home. Authorities confiscate a laptop, cellphone, and at least 11 bones and four teeth. They also issue a summons for Darling and roommates for possession of marijuana.

Early February: Darling moves away from NOLA to Florida, saying that they feared for their safety.

17 June: In response to public outcry,  the “Louisiana Human Remains Protection and Control Act” is signed into law. It stiffens penalties for removing human remains from cemeteries. A first-offense violation is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a year in prison. A second offense is punishable by two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

15 July: After a forensic lab confirms the bones removed from Darling’s home are human, an arrest warrant is issued. Darling is taken into custody Tampa, Florida.

27 July: Darling is transferred to the Orleans Justice Center

 Queer and Trans youth attracted to Witchcraft

Darling’s friend, Kristy Casper-Saxon says the outrage is less over Darling picking up bones off the ground and has more to do with religion, ethnicity, alternative appearance, sexual orientation and gender. Darling identifies as a transgender genderqueer person of color.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Casper-Saxon said, “I think this is targeting a member of a racial minority and sexual minority. Everything about [Darling’s] identity questions the status quo, and that’s what we love about them.”

According to an article in VICE, there are a growing number of queer and trans youth practicing Witchcraft. A younger queer Witch told Vice “the capacity for Witchcraft to accommodate alternative expressions of gender is what makes it appealing to a new generation of Witches.”

David Salisbury, author of Teen Spirit Wicca and LGBTQ activist, believes that queer youth have been coming to Witchcraft for decades, but their expertise with social media is making it more visible. Salisbury told The Wild Hunt, “And as the old gender norms of Wicca are being reexamined by the masses, queer people are becoming more comfortable in talking about why they’re attracted to it. I think that can only grow.”

He also thinks finding a place of welcome as a trans or queer person is a fabulous reason to embrace Witchcraft, “Queer people are particularly suited for the Craft because we know what it’s like to be between or outside of the norm. Witchcraft requires that we slip into those “between” spaces to bring about change.”

Ethics of using human bones in Witchcraft

“This is where I go to find my human bones for curse work and general spells that require bone. I find human bones are easier (to) work with for me rather than animal bone. I can relate and work with the energy they carry if that makes any sense.” Darling wrote in the Facebook post that ignited the controversy.

[Photo Credit: MusikAnimal / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: MusikAnimal / Wikimedia]

Darling’s use of human bones has had Pagans and non-Pagans alike asking why modern Witches use human bones while practicing Witchcraft and wondering what are the ethics in obtaining and using such bones.

David Salisbury said that working with bones is similar to working with stones and crystals, “My experience with bones is that, like crystals, they carry the energetic memory of their experiences. While stones carry the current of the land, bones carry the current and memory of the human experience, ancestry. Bones can help open the way for stronger contact with the spirits for that reason.”

Salisbury added that the skull is a valuable bone to work with because it holds the current of human thought and expression. He noted that it’s very rare for a Witch to use a human skull due to the cost and legal obstacles to obtaining one. Instead, he makes an accomodation, “I’ve performed many successful workings with my resin substitute.”

Darling picked up bones that were visible on the ground. In an interview with The Advocate, Darling said that they don’t think they did anything illegal or unethical, either by removing the bones from the cemetery or sending them to other Witches for their use.

“This is me passing along something I feel nature has given me,” Darling said.

Salisbury explained that the ethics around obtaining human bone use would preclude removing them from a cemetery. “I would not use found or taken bones from cemeteries. They can be purchased online from people who donated their bodies to science and art who knew that their remains would go to some type of human use,” he said.

“Cemeteries to me are resting places and I wouldn’t want to carry the ethical burden of taking something that was intended to be laid to rest.”

We were unable to reach Darling directly for comment.

Darling appeared in court Friday and was charged with burglary as well as the possession of marijuana. They pled guilty to all charges. They were fined and sentenced to five years probation on the theft charge, and “15 days on possession with credit for time served.” A probation hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANNONBALL, N.D — Friday marked a significant victory for the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access pipeline being constructed near their territory and through their watershed.

In the weeks since The Wild Hunt’s last update on the Standing Rock Sioux protest, national attention on the issue spread, attracting support from commentators and even celebrities, to the chagrin of some involved.

Pagan support and involvement has also expanded dramatically, since that report. Donations have been collected by groups like Ár nDraíocht Féin, Solar Cross Temple and more, an active petition was set out by the Reclaiming Tradition and a number of Pagans showed up at the protest to act as witnesses and support the action.

As noted in our original story, Linda Black Elk, an ecologist and teaches ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, told us, “It doesn’t matter what spirituality you practice, it doesn’t matter what culture or race, everyone is welcome because this really is about all of us. As we come to the end of the fossil fuel age, they get more and more desperate to take the last bit of blood they can from our mother. We need that unity and we need people here with us.”

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But, troubling events happened as well. A security firm allegedly hired by Dakota Access LLC, the company building the pipeline, tried to provoke a violent response from protesters after they attempted to prevent construction vehicles from excavating. On September 3, using dogs and pepper spray, security officers attacked many of the protesters and several of their horses. At least six protesters, including a pregnant woman and a child were bitten by dogs and many more were hit with pepper spray before the security team fled.

As one website noted, the attack happened to coincide with the 153rd anniversary of the Whitestone Hill Massacre, which occurred near the present-day camp.

The construction that protesters failed to halt ended up going through several sacred sites. According to a news release from Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, “sacred places containing ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were destroyed Saturday by Energy Transfer Partners.”

“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said in the release. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

The following week, and prior to the September 9 decision on the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction, the governor of North Dakota moved the National Guard in, near the site of the protest. It was beginning to look like things were not going to turn out well for the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.

And to follow, on Sept 9, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg denied the Sioux request.

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Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

However, minutes after the court’s decision was announced, an unprecedented joint statement was issued by the Department of State, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior, at the behest of the Obama administration stating, “we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

The statement also created a framework for “formal, government-to-government consultations,” between United States and tribal governments, for future infrastructure projects and protection of tribal lands, and whether or not to propose new legislation to ensure those goals.

Activists and leaders across the Pagan community have shared their opinions and, while the mood is generally positive, there is a definite note of caution as well. What follows are a collection of statements among the many that were issued directly to The Wild Hunt or publicly.

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Mathew Sydney, a Florida activist and founder of the Pagan Environment Alliance

This is an exciting moment but construction has only been stopped temporarily. We must continue pressuring the government and also the banks and businesses that are invested in this project. We must transform the way we relate to our land. This is just the beginning. Please donate goods to the water protectors. Please continue to talk about this issue. Yes, the native peoples are on the front lines. Yes, their lands are being threatened but this project threatens the water that sustains ALL of us: native and non-native alike. We must be as brothers now. We must stand together against ignorance and greed. We are all related.

Colleen Cook, a witch of the Reclaiming Tradition and Sacred Stone camp volunteer

While I am glad that the court order (to allow the pipeline construction) was halted, victory for the water is not yet won. The pipeline company is being asked to voluntarily pause while “further consideration” can happen. We need to not let this pause in pipeline construction make us complacent in our ongoing support. People are still coming together and the ongoing prayers for the water are as important now as ever. Sometimes these pauses are tactics to calm the power of the protectors. I for one, will continue to do my part to ensure that the world keeps watching.

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Ivo Dominguez, Jr., author, teacher

I am speaking as an individual rather than as a representative of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, because we have a process for making group statements and our next meeting is in December. That said, many of our members have already taken action as individuals in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and all the Indigenous Peoples being affected by this crime against them and the Earth. I have given money, signed petitions, called legislators, worked at my altar, and boosted the signal on social media. I will do more and have encouraged others to do the same, but this is not the first nor the last struggle.

Perhaps the greater challenge will be to remain connected and vigilant after this has resolved or receded in the stack of issues of the moment. Many of our related Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are late to enter into awareness or action in this matter because there is a gulf of communication and cooperation with the First Nations. I admit to being distracted by trying to follow too many issues, and that is not an excuse, it is a description. It is neither easy nor painless, but it is my hope that we will work to educate ourselves and reach out often enough so that trust will be built and true alliances forged for all that is ahead. We are the ones that need to be proactive. Alliances between people that know each other last; alliances built on agreements on issues and ideology are fragile and tenuous.

T. Thorn Coyle, Solar Cross

The temporary halt on pipeline construction called for by the Departments of the Interior, Justice, and Army is a good thing, and hopefully offers some measure of breathing room for the protectors gathered at Sacred Stone Camp.

That said, it is only a stay of construction on 20 miles of the pipeline, not a total work stoppage, and therefore, is not enough. Fracking, drilling, oil pipelines, and mountain top removal continue on the Dakota Access Pipeline and throughout the U.S., destroying sacred land, poisoning water, decimating communities of animals, plants, and people, and causing earthquakes where there were none before.

As a nation, we must re-evaluate our values, and start making harder choices around resource consumption and distribution of wealth. Those who have little, are taken from. Those who have much, take more. This is out of balance. Solar Cross continues to stand with Standing Rock and all the nations gathered at Sacred Stone Camp. We will continue to organize to send supplies until the pipeline project is stopped completely.

Those of us who were not calling victory were unfortunately correct to be cautious, as arrests are now being made. From Unicorn Riot: “There are multiple lockdowns at two Dakota Access Pipeline construction sites. All work has stopped. A surveillance plane and helicopter are circling overhead. Police have blocked all road access to both sites. Approx 100 riot police have arrived, to at least one site, armed with assault rifles and less-lethal weapons. Arrests underway, and Facebook is censoring our live video stream.” #NoDAPL

The Coalition of Earth Religions for Education and Support (CERES) and Mother Grove Goddess Temple, Asheville, North Carolina

Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit. We also are people of the Earth and people of the stones. The great circles of Neolithic Europe were the work of our beloved Ancestors, the Forebears we honor during the season of Samhain, which is upcoming. Those ancient stone monuments are sacred to Pagan peoples throughout the world. And here in the southern highlands of the Appalachian mountains, our growing community often conducts ceremony on the banks of the third oldest river in the world—the French Broad. The elemental chant above (from the late Nicole Sangsuree) highlights our spiritual community’s deep ties to the classical elements and the whole of the natural world.

From the Standing Rock website: “A broad multi-state coalition of tribes, landowners and environmental groups issued a statement in support of the tribal lawsuits and speaking out against the project. The coalition called the USACE process “an egregious violation of the relevant federal environmental laws and the 1851 and 1868 treaties between the US and the L/D/Nakota Nations, which remain the supreme law of the land.”

These strong and passionate people have had enough. These People—like all people–are not expendable. Mother Grove Goddess Temple and CERES stand with our sisters and brothers as they protect their sacred lands, our sacred lands. We join as the ragged remnants of the once-proud European tribes to stand with the People. May our voices be heard, may our Ancestors and our Divine Protectors join with us in this important work. May our relationship with the Earth be healed and acknowledged in its sanctity once more. Water is life. We are water.

Reclaiming Tradition: A letter of support (authors include: Zay Eleanor Watersong, Starhawk, Deborah Oak, Rev. Claire Chuck Bohman

Dear Standing Rock Sioux and all protectors of water and sacred sites at the camps:
Following the day of global prayer in support of your water and sacred sites, we wish to convey this statement of support, attached below.

This statement has been signed in the past four days by 85 different groups located across the US and Canada, Great Britain, German, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa, and Israel.
It has been signed by over 3,400 individuals who identify as Pagan or following an earth-based spirituality.

Signatories can be viewed here. We fully expect more signatures to be added in the coming days and weeks, and are encouraging people to visit your site as well for up-to-date information on how they can help, knowing that the situation is changing from minute to minute. We were horrified to hear of the destruction of your sacred site and the use of violence against the defenders and pray that the sacrifice not be in vain, but sparks the necessary collective outrage among the American people to stop this pipeline once and for all.

May the strength of the people, the earth, the waters overcome those who seek to destroy them. We stand with you.

We will continue to follow the story as it develops. 

Gavin Frost, 1930 – 2016

Heather Greene —  September 13, 2016 — 187 Comments

In the early morning hours Sunday, Wiccan priest, teacher, and author Gavin Frost died after enduring significant pain from numerous internal physical problems. Gavin had surgery scheduled for late September, but his physical condition worsened making the operation impossible. As early as July, he told his daughter Jo that “he was ready — if he got really sick again to let him go.”

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“Blessed Be those who seek” – Gavin Frost

Gavin Frost was born in Aldridge, Staffordshire, England, Nov. 20, 1930. According to Raymond Buckland, Gavin was “raised in a tight-knit family group ruled by his hard-working, hard-drinking Welshman grandfather.”  But in 1936 after his grandfather died, Gavin’s family moved way from the area to the southwestern coast of England. His daughter Jo said that, as a little boy, he was fond of watching the busy planes and trains moving about the region.

Earlier than most, Gavin was enrolled in boarding school and, after completion, he began his studies at the University of London, King’s College. There, Gavin developed an interest in math and physics, graduating in 1952 with a Bachelor’s of Science in math. He eventually went on to earn a doctorate in physics and mathematics, finishing his dissertation work with the Department of Atomic Energy in Cumbria, England.

In the meantime, Gavin also was developing an interest in the occult. Along with the sciences, Gavin studied the history and mythology of the U.K. and the people that had lived there. In 1948, he was initiated into the coven of Boskednan, based in Cornwall. In a blog post, he wrote, “At that time the young people in college and returning from World War II were all into new lifestyles and religions.” Just as he was finishing college himself, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed and Gardner and other occult figures were becoming more public in the country.

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During the following decade, Gavin pursued a successful career with the aerospace industry, married his first wife Dorothy and moved and traveled around the world. He lived in Canada, England, the U.S. and Germany, eventually settling in Southern California. In 1966, he met Yvonne Wilson, who was also working in the aerospace industry. She would eventually become his second wife and partner in religious work.

In 1968, Gavin and Yvonne moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and formed their first coven using the correspondence course method. This became the Church and School of Wicca, which still exists today. The couple married in 1970, and obtained tax-exempt status for their church in 1972, making it the second U.S. Pagan church, behind the Church of All Worlds, to receive that coveted status. Additionally, Gavin and Yvonne were members of the first American Council of Witches, which met in 1974 at Witchmoot in Minneapolis.

At the same time, Gavin and Yvonne began writing books and attending events. Their very first book proved to be their most controversial: The Witch’s Bible: How to Practice the Oldest Religion was published in 1972. It was followed by The Magic Power of Witchcraft in 1976 and many more over the next forty years.

In addition, their work, specifically their writing, was instrumental in helping the Craft increase public legal recognition in the 1980s. Their teachings were cited in the Dettmer v. Landon case in Virginia, in which the judge eventually ruled that Wicca was indeed a true religion. This was one of the many such cases being heard over that decade.

In May 2016, Gavin told The Wild Hunt*, “To be clear on that topic: The prisoners in Virginia who started the case which got the ruling should be credited with having a great intestinal fortitude and causing the judge to rule in our favor. Yes, we wrote the letters; yes, we published a book.  But we did not actually bring the case before the court.”

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Gavin, along with Yvonne, continued to teach on the festival circuit, to write, and to act as clergy through their church. They took a vow of poverty, and eventually moved from Missouri to New Bern, North Carolina and then to Charleston, West Virginia. They also appeared on radio and television and, despite their disinterest in using email, they eventually began hosting a blog called “The Dancing Wiccans.”

Jo recalls, “[Gavin] was a loving, if not always present parent, putting the Church of Wicca as his first priority — a journey he and Yvonne shared […] Part of the joy of the Church of Wicca for him was challenging people to see if they lived up to their aspirations for themselves, something he also struggled to do. He searched his whole life for wisdom, sharing what he knew along the way.”

But Gavin’s life was not without controversy. Speaking on a personal level, Jo said, “Most of what people do not like about Gavin had to do with how he challenged them […] They would leave a conversation angry and then try to make that fit their paradigm, but he challenged himself as much as, or more than, he challenged others around him. I think that is an inherent part of who he was — are you facing your demons? What do you see there? […] He was not an easy person to know.”

Beyond the personal, Gavin, along with Yvonne, were continually at the center of public controversy surrounding their 1972 book The Witch’s Bible: How to Practice the Oldest religion. It was considered highly controversial from the day it was released, as noted by Gavin himself, and has been openly rejected by many ever since. According to several accounts, the book allegedly almost led to a court case in 1974, only two years after its publication. By Gavin’s account, the problem was over its title, not its content. However, others remember differently.

Regardless, as time went by, it was not the title that continued to ignite outrage; it was, in fact, the book’s contents, specifically those pages describing the sexual initiation of children. Protests over that content have erupted as recently as this past spring. When the book was re-released in 1993, it reportedly was altered, including a note that addresses the offending sections. It was also renamed the Good Witch’s Bible. Gavin said that the book was edited again for a 2014 reissue. He said that this later edit was done in the wake of that year’s protests and at the “urging of other Wiccans.”

[Courtesy Chas Clifton]

[Courtesy Chas Clifton]

Over the past several years, Gavin began making fewer and fewer appearances at festivals. Part of that was directly due to the enduring controversy with fewer venues wanting the couple to present. When asked about his decreased attendance, Gavin told The Wild Hunt that, in addition to the community backlash, “We’re not sure that we have anything new to say to festival attendees.”

He also added, “We are getting older; travel is becoming more and more stressful.” Jo agreed, saying that her father had been slowing down over the past four years. During the 2016 FPG event, Gavin had to be taken to the hospital.

Doctors eventually discovered a tear in Gavin’s intestine, which was causing significant discomfort. Surgery was scheduled for late September. However the tear worsened, causing more damage, internal infection, and severe pain. He was rushed to the hospital Sept. 5, and admitted to the ICU. Jo said, “There are no words for his experience. His nurses would cry because they felt so sorry for him and there was so little they could do besides manage his pain and try to rebuild his strength. His body released him early [Sunday] morning allowing him to cross over and to be free of the pain.”

Gavin Frost was one and will remain one of the most controversial figures in the modern American Witchcraft movement. With that said, there are still many people who continue to be devoted to the Frosts, the Church and School of Wicca, and its teachings. There are also just as many who will continue to speak out against that work and writings.

A memorial is being held Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. at the New River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Beckley, West Virginia. During the service, there will be an opportunity for those that wish to speak in remembrance. Jo said, “We wish for this to be a celebration. We are all so very grateful for everyone’s kind words and thoughts.”

What is remembered, lives.

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[Editor’s Note: After the most recent controversy, The Wild Hunt reached out to the Frosts for an interview on the book and the issues. Due to Gavin’s illness and their use of snail mail, the response was not immediate. However, they did eventually respond, answering all the questions. The quoted conversations made to the Wild Hunt in this article are taken from that letter.]

 

UPDATE 9-15-16: This article was updated to correct the year of the Frosts marriage from 1968 to 1970.

10540809_10152876458837141_521126412855229596_nNORFOLK, Vir. — It was announced that Patheos, one of the most popular religion-based websites, has been purchased by BN Media Associates, LLC, the owners of BeliefNet. According to the announcement, “The joining of the two web sites under one umbrella will open up further opportunities to foster the faith and spirituality discussion in a real and honest way. Combined, the websites reach 15 million unique visitors and generate more than 50 million page views each month.”

BN Media Associates, a holding company which is known to have had an evangelical focus, purchased BeliefNet in 2010. What does this new acquisition mean for Patheos and, more specifically, the Patheos Pagan Channel? Jason Mankey, channel manager, told The Wild Hunt that there are “no plans to change anything at Patheos and at Patheos Pagan.” Mankey added, in part, “As in all acquisitions, there will be some changes but we believe these changes will be in the background and focused on the technology and supporting infrastructure, and we anticipate that these changes will be about improving the experience of the reader.” We will have more on this story in the coming days. 

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13344573_637147323101733_349878647330761325_nTWH – When news broke that the Asatru Folk Assembly had lost its fall festival space, accusations began to circulate as to who was behind that action leading to the cancellation. As we reported last week, it appeared that secular anti-fascist activist groups, like Conflict MN and Antifa, were that driving force. However, the reported proof was not enough for Xander Folmer of Huginn’s Heathen Hoff. “After the Troth cited the two Twitter posts from @ConflictMN, we thought that would be the end of it, ” said Folmer. “The story seemed cut and [dried], but we were still seeing dozens of posts and messages, both on our page and others, from staunch AFA advocates claiming that this was the work of some ‘Universalist’ Heathen group.”

When asked why he decided to dig around further, Folmer said that at first he was just going to “get a statement from the group that started the campaign. We wanted something that could shut down the conspiracy theories that were being used by the AFA’s proponents to redirect the conversation away from the actual issues.” But when he opened the proverbial door and looked around, the simple research spiraled into an entire investigative campaign, resulting in a published article on his blog.

After printing the article “The Real Story Behind Camp Courage,” it was shared extensively. Folmer said that he and his group haven’t received much in the way of backlash, before or after, adding “Overall we haven’t received anywhere near the level of harassment that the Troth or H.U.A.R. has, and their only involvement with the story was sharing the Tribune article after it was all over. If anything, the response thus far has been far more subdued than we expected.”

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1891090_787489287945852_2101210932_nHINTON, W.V. – It was announced publicly by his daughter Jo Frost that Wiccan Priest and author Gavin Frost died Sunday, after suffering from an internal infection and prolonged pain.  Jo wrote, “In our family, we do not believe in grieving too much, so today, raise a glass, a brandy alexander, a glass of mead, but a spirited glass, have a good conversation with a friend, be a little risqué (or a lot), dance a tango, tell someone you love them that you might not have said this to lately.”

Gavin, along with wife Yvonne, have long been regular teachers, personalities, and lecturers on the Pagan festival circuit. Together the couple founded the Church and School of Wicca in 1968 and, since that point, they also coauthored many books and recorded teaching videos. However, Gavin’s life has not been without controversy.The Witch’s Bible, originally published in 1972, continues to generate disputes and friction. We will have more on Gavin Frost’s life and work, both the public and the personal. What is remembered, lives.

Upcoming Stories on The Wild Hunt …

Since our last report, Pagan support for Standing Rock continues to grow. We will be updating that story along with reactions to the court’s ruling and the subsequent joint statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior.

In Other News …

  • This weekend marked the eighth annual Esoteric Book Conference, which is held in Seattle on the University of Washington campus. The conference is a “annual international event to bring together authors, artists, publishers and bookmakers working in the field of esotericism.” The Seattle Weekly published a story, focusing on the local event. The article begins, “One unique aspect of life in Seattle is the number of practicing witches, sorcerers, pagans, warlocks, faeries, alchemists, and other magical folk who call it home.” Although local in nature, the Esoteric Book Conference attracts attendees and speakers from all over the world.
  • The Mountain Ancestors Grove – ADF, located in Boulder Colorado, will be hosting its fall symposium Sept 16-17. For this year, organizers announced that the event’s focus will be on the “exploration of othering and the people that have been pushed outside of mainstream American culture.” As noted in a press release, organizers said, “Whether they are prisoners, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, the elderly or the disabled, MAG will discuss these groups and their relationships, obligations and connections as devotional polytheists and pagans.” The keynote speaker is Robyn Chauvin; other presenters include Jane Kelly, Piper Perry, and Rev. Missy Burchfield.
  • Another upcoming event is the first annual All Hands Together in Hazel Park, Michigan. This will be hosted by the Ancient Faiths Alliance and held in Green Acres Park.  Along with harvest festivities, the day-long event will offer an art show and performances by Blackmail, DJ Brutal Entertainment, The Doppleganger Circus, Sideshow, and Day Oshee Maatin. There will also be a fundraiser to benefit Hazel Park Promise College Scholarship.
  • For those interested in Paganism and other similar traditions in eastern Europe, Pagan Federation International Poland has now joined Facebook. They join a number of the Pagan Federation International’s regional groups in the social media world.
  • Last year, the organizers of Paganicon, a Minneapolis-based indoor Pagan conference, decided to add a Friday night concert to its offerings beginning with 2017. They have just announced that the musician performing that first Friday night concert will be Australian singer/songwriter Wendy Rule. “Wild, wise and empowering, Wendy’s live performances honor her deep spiritual and magical connection to Nature. Her extraordinary voice and beautiful lyrics, combined with her passionate storytelling, invite us to celebrate and connect with our own deep Magic.” Paganicon is held every March at the DoubleTree Hotel Park Place in the Twin Cities.
  • Lastly, The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive is just around the corner. The annual fundraising event, which makes it possible for us to bring you news and commentary every day, begins Mon, Sept. 19.

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“TV can be art. TV can be revolutionary. TV can be popular entertainment AND incite critical dialogue. Audiences are hungry and intelligent enough for challenging work. This describes the philosophy behind BRUJOS…” – from BRUJOS

CHICAGO — There is no doubt that the power held by visual narrative media, from film to television to fine art, is unmatched and only increasing in our contemporary digitally-infected world. Going back in time, American filmmakers alone have been entertaining, guiding, and challenging the opinions of viewers for nearly 120 years. From mainstream blockbusters to art house projects, visual narrative media has a natural way of digging into our psyche and holding on. It can give us what we want and soothe us to complacency, or it can give us what we perceptibly need and provoke us into action.

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While most of us are familiar with the mainstream servings of visual narrative media, there are many artists who consciously reject the conventional modes of film or television operations, including technical methodologies, themes, visual language, and canned plots. These artists seek new ways of using their medium to capture and express ideas without the seemingly inherent presence of showmanship or the expectations of normative society. They want to use the medium’s incredible power to break traditional story telling barriers, challenge audiences, and perhaps make people a bit uncomfortable through a confrontation with a new reality.

Ricardo Gamboa, a Chicago-based artist, performer and filmmaker, is attempting to do just that. He is currently the driving force behind an upcoming web series called BRUJOS. As stated on the website, “BRUJOS is a queer-of-color web series that follows four gay Latino grad students that are also witches as they try and survive the school semester and a witch hunt led by the wealthy, white, male and heteronormative descendants of the first New World colonizers.”

Gamboa has a masters degree in Arts Politics from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently finishing up his doctorate in American Studies at NYU, where he is also a Critical Collaborations Fellow. Gamboa was also a fellow of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, and has a long list of art credits and awards to his name. He was a finalist for Sundance Film Festival Latino Film Fellowship, and his short film The Southside Has Many Beauty Queens was winner of the Best Short at Chicago Latino Film Festival, to name only two.

The Wild Hunt had the opportunity to speak with Gamboa about his background, his motivation, the practice of Witchcraft, and the upcoming series itself.

The Wild Hunt: When did you become interest in art, and more specifically filmmaking?

Ricardo Gamboa: I’ve always made art as a kid: made construction paper sculptures, wrote puppet shows with my sister, memorized and acted out cartoons and comic books, etc. I also have always been invested in the world around me and sociopolitical issues. These two interests have always been braided together. I’ve been doing “art activism” since before the term existed.

TWH: Will you share your personal experience and background that led to you to becoming an activist artist and how or when the two merged?

RG: It was a way to talk back to power without getting killed. The reality is we live in a world of discipline and punish and control. My personal biography is dotted with an assassinated activist, gang members, and people who have resigned to quiet existences. I don’t want to go quietly. I don’t want to die. Art and art-making can provide a wormhole in time-space and from oppressive systems to experience or imagine new things and ways of being.

I started acting and was unable to find work that was in line with my politics or what I thought performance could and should be doing. So, I started writing my own work.

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Ricardo Gamboa as Panfilo in BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: On the website, you wrote, “Grassroots filmmaking that focuses on community building further underline that Brujos is not just about artistic conceit, but also social mission.” Can you define “grassroots” filmmaking and how it functions within a social mission?

RG: There’s this fantasy of filmmaking as some democratic medium, but it’s not. It’s actually a very inaccessible medium because of how much it costs to make films and how the culture/film industry marginalizes people of color, women, etc. So, with my work, I try to create work that bypasses all that and articulates an alternative to big budget filmmaking. It relies on thinking about filmmaking more like community organizing and rather than making a product for the arts or culture economy, thinking about how process can condition a cultural ecology.

So, my filmmaking process sows community into the process at various points: the writing and development, as actors, etc. So, amending the filmmaking process can model alternative forms of being, relating, etc. as well.

TWH: Are any of the BRUJOS characters or depicted events directly reflective of things that happened to you personally or to people you knew?

RG: A lot of BRUJOS draws from my personal experience and people I know. But, what I think is more important is how many viewers will say, “Me too.” That’s what matters to me. And the overarching premise of the show, of racialized gendered subjects living in a world of Western domination or white supremacist, heteropatriarchy is a fact of existence for all of us. So, maybe BRUJOS isn’t fantasy or autobiographically-inspired, just a documentary.

TWHYou also discuss how many groups of marginalized people are “absent in media representation.” Would you say this representation has been getting worse, better or the same? 

RG: I don’t know if it’s getting “worse.” There is more “diverse representation” in media than ever before. But I don’t know what it is doing. There’s a difference between representational achievements and revolutionary achievements. “Looking” is a representational achievement, not a revolutionary one.

I’m not interested in creating work that just “portrays” marginalized subjects (queer people, people of color, etc.). I’m interested in making work that gives marginalized subjects the tools to diagnose our media representation and social realities and that invites them to begin thinking of another world. BRUJOS isn’t about people of color or queer people succeeding or finding love in the normative world. It’s about them taking that world down and living their lives effectively in the anti-matter of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, etc.

TWH: As a child or teen watching movies and television were you acutely aware of the lack of brown and black bodies in film, and then eventually the limited representation of LGBTQ? If so, will you talk about how any of that felt?

RG: I was very aware of it, and it is violence. That’s all we need to know. It is an attempt to deprive people of affirmative images so that they cannot visualize themselves as actors in their own biography and society. Media representation is about giving people a referent. A dream to pursue, a way to be, things to want. But depriving people of affirmative images or an array of desires, lifestyles, etc. is a way to make them negate themselves and limit their horizons of conceptualization.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Now let’s talk about the series itself. Let’s talk witches. These “non-normative characters” practice magic. As far as we can tell from the trailer, the movie’s coven of witches is all men and all queer. Is that correct? And, do you conceive of these four witches as being humans with supernatural powers (e.g. The Craft, 1996) or non-human (e.g. Bewitched, 1964-)?

RG: Yes, they are queer men. I guess. But, I don’t know. “Human” itself is a contract, and the notion of the “human” as we understand it has a very specific genealogy that is tied to colonization, western ideation, etc. Human and non-human isn’t so much of how I think about it. What I’ll say is that the characters in BRUJOS are alive; they’re struggling to be alive.

TWH: Can you clarify this point?

RG: I would say the BRUJOS are people, they are also racialized and gendered subjects. Their humanity is always in question. That is a reality for people like the characters in BRUJOS–on and off the screen. When Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown, he referred to him as “demon.” This country calls undocumented Mexican (and other Latin American) immigrants “aliens.” Gay sex is constantly referred to as “unnatural.”

To be honest, I don’t know what human is; I don’t know what constitutes humanity; I just know we haven’t really seen it. What is fantasy and fiction and what is real, especially when it comes to defining or outlining what or who is “human” is really fuzzy territory. I’m not saying this to be philosophically pretentious. I really mean this. So, it’s hard for me to answer this question. So, I could say, “yes, they’re human” but I’m not really sure.

TWH: Getting back to the film’s witchcraft, are you or any of your crew familiar with or practitioners of modern Witchcraft, conjure, hoodoo, magic, or something similar? If not, do you have a consultant that is working with you on that aspect of the show?

RG: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Certain aspects of brujeria have always been a part of my life. There are ways in which brujeria is part of quotidian culture for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latin American peoples. It was something that I grew up around. But, I would say that I was going through some hard times that caused me to seek answers, help from alternative forms of knowledge and that opened me up more to magic, witchcraft, etc. My own connection to brujeria and psychic abilities deepened.

For the show, I have and still do talk to people about magic, ritual … We are careful how it’s all represented in the show. In various moments, BRUJOS draws from brujeria, Santeria, hoodoo, witchcraft, etc. But, I’m not interested in providing an ethnographic or voyeuristic window into those practices. Instead, I obscure the actual practices or spells. It’s not my place to represent “factually” any of that. I’m not trying to expose or give people a how-to manual. Many of those practices have survived and thrived (and had to do so) in secret and I’ve always been good at keeping secrets. Power can’t touch what it can’t see.

And, again, I don’t want BRUJOS to boil down to a representative project; it’s a political project, and one that is invested in political imagination and thinking of different ways to imagine politics and power. Magic, superpowers, etc. are a conduit for that.

TWH: You write that supernatural has two meanings: the actual practice of magic and the going beyond what is considered socially normative. Can you explain this concept?

RG: Supernatural also refers to our characters –queers of color, women of color, etc– where supernatural also refers to their ability to survive oppressive systems and find ways to love and understand their selves and other.

TWH:The visuals in the short trailer are striking and rich. At the same time, the trailer has moments that are unsettling and startling. Is this what we can expect to see more of in the show?

RG: Yes.

TWH: Can the show be classified as fantasy, drama, horror, crime? What would you say?

RG: I am deeply invested in defying genre boundaries and conventions. Genre is about leading the viewer, contextualizing their experience, providing them expectations. It is part of a larger project of normalizing sensation. BRUJOS mixes genres: telenovela, sitcom, fantasy, drama, noir, horror, etc. We live lives that are mixed genres; BRUJOS mirrors that.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Can you site your inspirations that led you to this point of artistic discovery and process? 

RG: I really want to live. I really want people around me, people from the communities to which I belong, to be able to live. I am so exhausted from seeing people die and being devalued. I would say the people I love, the people I see struggling to stay alive, to be alive are my inspiration.

I can cite comics, supernatural film, queer directors or pulp magazines, talk about Fanon or Mignolo–but that’s just grammar, syllables, etc. What makes me speak and what motivated BRUJOS and what is the impetus of BRUJOS isn’t other art or ideas, but social realities and personal biographies. The politics is the art.

TWH: You say “get involved.” If people want to help or support this effort, what can they do?

RG: Visit our website and contact us. Share the site and trailer. We’re definitely looking for more financial support and will be launching a crowd-funding campaign. But, beyond that, I’ve been thinking about ways to make the series more “interactive” and including our audience more thoroughly.

TWH: Beyond BRUJOS, where else can we find your own work?

RG: I don’t have a website. I’m not commodifying myself. I hope that my web presence is created for me because people engage my work. I have films and performance art pieces littered over the internet. But, a lot of my work is theater, mostly in Chicago in the communities to which I belong.

The thing that I’m most proud of is my work with The Young Fugitives at Free Street Theater. The Fugitives are a radically politicized youth of color ensemble that creates really provocative plays. I’ve been working with the members of that group since they were graduating middle school and now they’re well into college. Another project of mine that’s really important to me is The Southside Ignoramus Quartet (SIQ). SIQ is a brown comedic ensemble that performs in a tent in a backyard to deliver affordable and politicized comedy for the hood in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that our members grew up in. We also have a web series coming out this winter.

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BRUJOS will debut on Jan. 20, 2017 on OpenTV (Beta), “a platform for television by queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color” founded by Northwestern professor Aymar Jean Christian. Gamboa, who wrote the script, will be joined by co-director Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, producer Stephanie Jeter, graphic designer May Cat, and director of photography Ben. The preview can be found on Vimeo, OpenTV(beta) and Brujos TV.

A Special Note: In tribute …

The Wild Hunt —  September 11, 2016 — 1 Comment

The Wild Hunt is taking 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.

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For more thoughts from our writers, past and present:

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.”

Personal Thoughts on 9/11 by Cara Schulz (originally posted on PNC Minnesota)

“I lost one of my best friends, and Air Force buddy and matron of honor at my wedding. I didn’t know she was in one of the towers while I sat in stalled traffic on 394 that morning …  I was horrified hearing the radio news report that a second plane had hit a tower and, judging by how the traffic slowed and then stopped as people lost focus on driving, the other drivers shared my horror. Traffic stopped. And it felt like the world stopped. Each year the world should stop again and it doesn’t and that feels wrong.”

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.”

ATLANTA, Ga. – Over the past 30 years during Labor Day weekend, fans from around the world descend on Atlanta for the pop culture convention DragonCon. The sprawling event, which began in 1987, offers its thousands of enthusiastic attendees four days of programming exploring a wide-range of pop culture fandom. From lectures and workshops to cosplay, gaming, and the famous parade, Dragon Con has become one of the largest fan-based conventions of its kind. This year, Dragon Con reported a record 77,000 attendees over a four-day period, and its parade was broadcast for the first time on local television.

DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography ©]

DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Since its inception DragonCon has been regularly attended by celebrities, artists, writers, gamers, cosplay experts, and an incredible diversity of pop culture fans from all over the world. Within that crowd, at any given point, one can easily find a group of Pagans, Heathens or polytheists. Although there are no official statistics on just how many such people attend, it is safe to assume from casual observation that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens and polytheists attending DragonCon is higher than the same measure in the general population.

In an attempt to roughly gauge that number, The Wild Hunt queried groups of random people throughout the weekend at various points. From that highly non-scientific method, we have extrapolated that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens, polytheists and the like stands at 9% of the total population of attendees at DragonCon.

Regardless of any data, the DragonCon fandom world does seem to intersect comfortably with Pagan, Heathen and polytheist cultures. In fact, DragonCon featured three openly Pagan musicians and groups, including Tuatha Dea, S.J. Tucker and Emerald Rose. In addition, author Kathryn Hinds, occultist Michelle Belanger, and artist Laura Tempest Zakroff offered presentations in their fields of expertise. Beyond that, in the extensive vendor spaces, it was easy to find jewelry and other products decorated with pentacles, Thor’s hammers, and other common symbols found within Pagan, Heathen and polytheist practices.

“There is a large overlap between Pagandom and geekdom,” explains singer and song writer Arthur Hinds. “It has to do with the power of imagination, the building of thought forms.”

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography ]

Hinds has been attending DragonCon for years, performing with the band Emerald Rose. The oddness commonly associated with what he called “geekdom” doesn’t matter as much to Pagans because, as he explained, “There is a willingness to accept that you are already on the fringe of normal society.”

This particular DragonCon was bittersweet for Hinds and the other members of the Atlanta-based band. This year marks their final appearance at the con as a group. Band member Logan said, “We’ve had a blast. This is one of the most significant [crowds] we have ever played for, because there is such a wealth of creativity and camaraderie.”

Logan added that performing at DragonCon has been a “great ride” and one of the “most fun things [he’s] done in [his] life.”

Members of Tennessee-based band Tuatha Dea agreed with Hinds and Logan, saying that there wasn’t much difference in playing to DragonCon or Pagan crowds. Contrary to Emerald Rose, Tuatha Dea was making its debut appearance at the con, and their excitement was infectious. Not only did the group perform several shows, one of which was on the main stage, but they also offered a “Facilitated Rhythm Event,” and could be found sharing their drumming energy with the dense crowds passing by their table in Marriott hotel.

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Another Pagan musician found at DragonCon was singer/songwriter S.J. Tucker. She said, “My first crowd is the Pagan crowd obviously, so I’m use to people being able to groove to whatever you bring to the table. The Pagan crowd is extremely good at that. They know how to listen. They know how to respond … I am spoiled.”

Tucker equated that comfort level to performing within the filk community, which is represented at DragonCon with its very own track. She said, “It is the only other thing that comes close” to what she experiences with performing for Pagans.

“[The filk programing] is where you can bring your song, no matter what it’s about, if it’s your song that you wrote, or someone else’s song that you really want to sing, everyone will listen and everyone will applaud when you are finished, no matter what happens.”

S.J. Tucker between DragonCon workshops, 2016 [© Desosil Photography]

S.J. Tucker, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Tucker is a regular at Pagan and non-Pagan conferences, including big festivals like Burning Man. This was not her first time at DragonCon and, along with her performances, she offered a singing workshop where she told the small group of singers to be themselves. “There is only one you. Don’t worry about sounding like someone else,” she encouraged.

It is this very spirit that Tucker finds expressed at DragonCon as a whole. She said there “is call to come and be welcome. No matter who you are.”

Tucker added that the only real difference in performing at DragonCon and Pagan events is the size of the convention itself and the competition for the attendee attention. She stressed that this point is not necessarily a negative, just a reality.  However, over time, she has learned to keeps things in perspective, focusing on the people that do make the effort to show up at her classes or shows, and not on those seats left empty by people who decided to attend something different.

Outside of the music world, artist and performer Laura Tempest Zakroff traveled from Seattle to present and display her work in the Dragon Con art show. She has been attending the con since 2012, first performing with her partner Nathaniel and the Nathaniel Johnstone Band, or performing with other friends’ bands (e.g. Ego Likeness, Frenchy and The Punk, The Cog Is Dead, Voltaire, The Ghosts Project). Then, in 2014, she began showing in the con’s extensive art gallery.

Zakroff said, “The fandom crowd tends to be more free-thinking, and open to new ideas than most people, which makes sense when you think about what the sci-fi/fantasy genres represent in terms of imagination and society. So much of science fiction and fantasy is about re-imagining our culture and challenging ideas, couched in a veil of fiction. Some of the most popular films and books are about overcoming the issues that plague our society, and envisioning a future/world that is more respectful, healthy, balanced, fair, and communicative.” She believe that the overlap between “Pagandom” and fandom makes perfect sense.

Laura Tempest Zakroff at DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Laura Tempest Zakroff, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Along with showcasing her art and performing, Tempest offered two classes that touched on occult topics, including “The Power of Line and Symbol: The Art of Sigil Magick” and “Visual Alchemy: Where Art & Magick Meet.”

When asked about the difference in presenting or teaching to the Pagan crowd versus the DragonCon crowd, Zakroff said, “At Pagan events, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of the attendees have a basic understanding in metaphysics and P-word paths, but I never really know what to expect when I present at other kinds of events. I tend to brace myself for getting some static, but (knock on wood), it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s self-selection; that if you’re interested or intrigued by the topic, then you’re probably going to be somewhat familiar with it, or at least respectful in finding out more.”

Zakroff said the feedback is mostly positive, and people are often “pleasantly surprised, comforted, and excited” about her workshop topics. She added, “They’re finding out that ideas they’ve had [or] thought aren’t crazy, and that there are more avenues for them to explore in terms of art, religion, and spirituality.”

While some attendees engage, perform, or present openly as Pagan or Heathen, such as Zakroff or Tucker, others are there strictly for learning, fun, and for the “epic” fandom experience provided by the highly creative, secular DragonCon environment.

Author, poet and English professor Kathryn Hinds enjoys the many aspects of the con, and presents on various non-Pagan specific writing topics on various tracks. She said, “Both of [the Pagan and geekdom] realms allow people to explore parts of themselves that they cannot explore very often or actualize in their everyday lives, which is why people will spend a year planning their costumes for DragonCon. Like they spend all year looking forward to [Pagan Spirit Gathering].”

This year, Hinds participated on two panels, “Gender Roles in Young Adult Literature” and “Author Roundtable: Avoiding Historical Mistakes.” One was on the Young Adult Fiction track, and the other on the Alternative History track.

One her favorite aspects of the con is the cosplay, and she is not alone. People-watching is an activity in and of itself, and it is what fuels the popularity of its famous parade.

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

In consideration of the overlap of religious practice and fandom, Hinds said that for those people working in a “tradition where you invoke deity, draw down the Goddess or the God, [you are] opening yourself up to other identities.”

“I think in cosplay people do that a lot that,” she continued, adding that she often likes to speculate why someone chose a particular costume: was it just fun, or does it draw out a part of their spirit that is otherwise unexpressed in their daily lives?

When asked how comfortable she is as a Pagan at DragonCon, she said very comfortable, adding, “You have so many flavors of geek here […] and Pagan is just one more. You are not singling yourself out.” Hinds said that there are very few public, secular conventions where she feels open about being Pagan. DragonCon is one of them.

Meghan Harker, a Victorian spiritualist, agreed, saying “People are more open-minded here. I have never been accosted for being a spiritualist or dressing like this.” Harker enjoys the Victorian Gothic aesthetic. However, Harker did add that she would like to see a better representation of this niche genre in panel discussions at the con.

For those of any particular religion, Pagan or not, the interest in fandom might speak directly to their religious beliefs, and even support them. Yet, for those people without religious affiliations, such as atheists, secularists, or “nones,” fandom and the mythologies resident in their worlds might provide a place to connect to deeper meanings, philosophy, and one’s own spirit. In that way, the con itself becomes an important personal pilgrimage, bringing together people of like minds and allowing for the expression of spirit in a safe space.

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [© Deosil Photography ]

DragonCon is certainly not the only pop culture convention of its kind. But not all “geek conventions” are multi-genre-based, like DragonCon. Some focus on a particular medium, such as comics, manga or gaming (e.g. ComicCon or MomoCon). Others are devoted to a particular pop culture product, such as Star Trek or BronyCon. Others still are focused on the demographics of the attendees, such as Seattle’s GeekGirlCon or the new BlerDCon.

As for Atlanta’s DragonCon, the convention remains one of the biggest in the U.S. and continues to grow each year. In 1987, it was held in one hotel and attracted 1,200 fans. Today, it needs five hotels and three of Atlanta’s AmericasMart buildings in order to contain its vast programming. Aside from this year’s record crowds, DragonCon also reportedly had to enlarge its gaming space by 60% just to accommodate demand. In addition, over the four days, most of the convention hotels are completely off-limits to non-DragonCon attendees, and the downtown Atlanta area is completely transformed.

Whether the experience provided is secular or spiritual, DragonCon appears to be successfully feeding a deeper need in its attendees, and that alone keeps them coming back year after year.

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Looking up, DragonCon Hotel [© Deosil Photography]