In my previous article describing my experiences with Paganism in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, I mentioned that the local Pagans, who I have talked to, are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture and spirituality. American readers also seemed interested in hearing more about this subject as well. As I have mentioned, this subject presents some special challenges. Today, I explore some of those challenges.

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

Let’s begin by acknowledging a basic reality. It is no easier or less complicated for an Australian Pagan to get authentically involved with Aboriginal spirituality than it is for an American Pagan to get involved with Native American spirituality. You’ll see this isn’t the only parallel.

While we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to refer to the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands, we ought to remember that there has never been a single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. The broad term includes 900 regional groups with distinct languages, beliefs, and practices.

British colonisation of Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788. We don’t know with certainty how large the Aboriginal population was at that time. Some ecologists estimate it may have been 750,000 to a million (1). What followed is the familiar story of colonialism and colonisation: the spread of virulent diseases, the appropriation of land and water resources, the introduction of alcohol, opium, and tobacco, violence, exploitation, dispossession, the spread of European settlements, forced religious conversion, the establishment of racist institutions, and the general obliteration of the languages, literature and culture of native peoples.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, by 1900 the recorded Indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000 and the belief that the Indigenous Australians would soon die out was widely held. While Australians are well aware of what happened next, most Americans know little about the Stolen Generation.

Up until as recently as the 1970s, the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments removed Indigenous children from their families. Newspaper articles, reports, and other documents suggest that motivations included child protection and fear over the mixing of racial groups. Aboriginals were referred to as blacks (they still are) and the government wanted to “breed out the colour by elevating female half-castes to white standard with a view to their absorption by mating into the white population” (2).

In Australia: A Biography of a Nation, Phillip Knightley wrote:

This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.

The exact number of children removed is unknown, but the Bringing Them Home Report stated that “not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal”.

On 13 February 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to Indigenous Australians.

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Fast forward to today. Aboriginals have not recovered from the atrocities they experienced. In June 2013, the estimated Australian Indigenous population was 698,583 people. That’s about 3% of the total population in Australia. The Overview of Australian Indigenous health status confirms what many can imagine. Aboriginals live in remote communities, and have poorer health, lower education, greater problems with alcohol abuse, earn less, are at greater risk for self-harm and suicide, and die sooner than non-Indigenous persons.

It’s a bleak picture, but it’s not a hopeless one. A great number of Australians care very much about the state of Aboriginal people and there are many private and public efforts to improve Aboriginal health and well-being as well as promote reconciliation.

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

As I mentioned above, there is no single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. I use the term “Aboriginal spirituality” only for convenience. How to pin-point it? We can talk about the creation, ancestral, and totemic beings, but that misses the point. There is next to nothing I can tell you about what’s left of Aboriginal ceremonies because I am not privy to them. It is “secret business” as one reader commented in my last piece. What we’re really talking about is culture and one that is inextricably tied to the land.

Aboriginal Australian groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Their forcible removal by European settlers severed them from the cultural and spiritual practices necessary to maintain the cohesion and well-being of the group. All the Dreaming stories, the tales of timeless time, tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group’s local landscape and these establish the structure of their societies, the rules of behaviour, and the ceremonies performed to ensure continuity of life and land.

Many Aussie Pagans would love to have greater access to Aboriginal wisdom. I’ve met one Pagan man that traveled to remote areas of Australia and spent time with some Aboriginals and learned a great deal.  There are opportunities to visit cultural centres, public events, and there’s volunteering. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult and there is an invisible line in the sand. Aborigines are distrustful, and who can blame them. Australians are sensitive to the plight of Aborigines and often paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. I rarely hear Pagans here talk of cultural appropriation, but they all know what it means and they know Aboriginal spirituality is mostly off limits.

In Australia, we’re often working with inherited materials from the Northern Hemisphere that don’t always apply well. That’s why I love the science and technology publications from CSIRO and why one of my favourite Pagan bloggers down under is Inga Leonora at Australis Incognita who studies native Australian Flora and Fauna in her Craft. I’ve taken up bird-watching, which gets me out in nature and has helped me learn more about the native wildlife and the seasonal shifts through their migration and breeding patterns.

In the U.S., Pagans balance the myths and rites of a foreign Pagan religion with those of the land we inhabit. It’s no different here in Australia. The best way to learn about native spirituality is to learn about native land.

Sources

  1. Neil Thomson, pp153, “Indigenous Australia: Indigenous Health” in James Jupp (ed), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their Origins, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  2. C. E. Cook to Administrator of the Northern Territory, 7 February 1933, National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Records Series, Department of the Interior file A659/1; 1940/1/408
Send to Kindle

Cultural appropriation is not a new issue and definitely not new within Paganism. The story of American capitalism has created a strong foundation for what has continued to be one of the most important, and yet challenging, discussions underlying the modern Pagan experience. Conversations of cultural appropriation reach outside of the boundaries of this spiritual world and intersect with various other aspects of our everyday society, leaving a complex web to untangle.

For example, the New Age sector’s use of various aspects of Native American* cultures, as well as the selling or misappropriating of that culture, has continued to drum up controversy. Indian Country Today Media Network recently published an article called Selling the Sacred, exploring the objectifying of Native religious and cultural “secrets” in New Age arenas. The article highlights several places that claim to certify people as Shamans or even award a Masters Degree in Native American Shamanism.

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

Native Americans are not the only marginalized culture to be openly appropriated in the United States by New Age practitioners and even Pagan communities. Hindu deities and traditions have become more popular among some people, along with aspects of African heritage as well. It is just as common to find djembe drums in a Pagan fire circle as it is to find candles in a ritual. The line between appropriation and cultural exchange can be a very fine one. It is not only about the intersection of capitalism, but also colonialism enters into the equation.

There are many things to consider. When does exchange become more about honoring another culture rather than just adopting it while leaving its roots behind?

The growing eclecticism of Pagan practitioners make these distinctions more challenging to unravel. How do we determine the boundaries of respectful cultural exchange within modern Paganism when individual understandings of this concept are so vast and varied?

The complexity of exploring the nuances of cultural appropriation versus exchange are not easily defined by one set of criteria. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge, answered questions about the layered intricacies of the often controversial concepts of appropriation and exchange.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo Credit Tony Mierzwicki)

… while on paper one can try to distinguish appropriation from exchange, in practice, it’s much more complicated. Cultures come into contact with one another in many different ways, and some of those involve violence. Nonetheless, cultural exchanges do emerge from those contacts — all the time. Think of cultural exchange as a crossroads. In folklore, the crossroads is a liminal place of magic, but it’s also a dangerous place, a place where death and destruction can happen. Crossroads deities are tricky (Eshu, Loki, Odin) and fierce (Hekate). Yet from that destruction and trickery, new life arises. It’s kind of the same with cultural contact and exchange.

Usually, when defining cultural exchange, the premise is that the two cultures entering into the exchange are on equal terms: neither is more powerful than the other. Cultural material — narratives, verbal lore, music, material culture, foodways, magical techniques — are shared as part of the process of intercultural contact. Thus, for example, when the Irish settled in New York City after fleeing the potato famine in 1848, they found that all the storekeepers in the neighborhoods where they could afford to live were Jewish. They didn’t have any lamb or pork, but they did carry Kosher corned beef. Thus, corned beef substituted the kinds of meats they had eaten in their homeland. That’s the reason we think of corned beef and cabbage as “Irish” food today — it’s really Irish American food, born of that cultural exchange.

Appropriation happens when one culture conquers another, destroys or damages their culture and substitutes its own as the dominant culture, then borrows elements of the subjugated culture, re-contextualizing them for their symbolic value.

So, for example, the destruction of Native American cultures by European Americans, followed by the use of decontextualized elements from those cultures (feather headdresses, sweat lodges, jewelry, fringed clothing, architecture styles, concepts such as “spirit animal”) as icons of authenticity or spirituality is an example of appropriation.

All this is easy on paper, but more challenging on the ground, because in reality, cultures are seldom on equal footing in terms of power. Moreover, cultural borrowing and exchange happens constantly. We are moved to adopt elements we find attractive or advantageous through a process called “mimesis” (imitation).

Attempting to keep your own culture “pure” and free of any appropriated or borrowed elements is just as noxious as free-wheeling appropriation: it leads to a kind of cultural fascism, like what we see now developing among certain kinds of right-wing, nationalist Paganisms in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Basically, avoiding blatant cultural appropriation is about respecting the feelings and rights of other cultures with which you co-exist. It’s about recognizing when there’s a history of power-over, exploitation, and cultural destruction, and being mindful of that … It’s about power dynamics — and those are frequently subtle.

In light of the complicated, interwoven and challenging prospect of analyzing what might be culturally appropriative and what might be considered respectful exchange, several other people have shared their thoughts to this complex topic. The personal insights of these practitioners show a myriad different angles and ideals that mirror such diversity in thought and practice.

Lupa Greenwolf is an author and artist that has worked with shamanic aspects in her personal practice. She is the editor of the 2012 anthology Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation published by Immanion/Megalithica Press. Lou Florez is a Rootdoctor and Orisha Priest in the San Francisco Bay Area. His spiritual work focuses on the liberation of the body, and he works as a southern-style Tarot and Dillogun reader at a metaphysical shop in Oakland, California. Kenn Day is the author of several books on post-tribal shamanism, including Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways published in 2014 by Moon Books. Janet Callahan is an author of several published works and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Tribe.

Lupa

Lupa

The problem in a more practical sense is that, in the U.S. at least, there is no established shamanic path in the dominant culture, and so people who come from that culture (like me) have to choose either to try to shoehorn ourselves into an indigenous culture that we may not be welcome in let alone be trained in, or research cultures of our genetic ancestors and find that we are no more *culturally* German, or Slavic, or Russian than we are Cherokee or Dine’. Or we take a third road, which is to try to piece together from scratch some tradition that carries the same basic function as a shamanic practice in another culture, but which is informed by our own experiences growing up in the culture we happened to be born into.

As to how to realistically avoid appropriation to the best of your ability, while also honoring your own need for spirituality and the spirits/community you serve? A lot of it is a matter of educating yourself on where you’re coming from versus the origins of the traditions you may be inspired by, and how your own cultural experiences inform your own practice of similar-but-not-the-same traditions. One of the problems I have with core shamanism is that it claims to be “culturally neutral”, or at least a lot of the practitioners thereof claim it is. And that’s basically impossible. Your culture ALWAYS affects how you approach everything, from spirituality to communication to food. So try to be a shaman of your own culture, not of someone else’s (unless specifically invited).

I think the biggest problem is when non-indigenous people wholesale take indigenous practices, and then claim to be indigenous themselves. That’s part of what makes it tougher for people who are genuinely trying to create a practice for themselves while remaining as culturally sensitive as possible, because we get lumped in with those who outright lie about who they are. So you need to be honest and clear about where your practices come from and what inspired them, what’s your own creation and what came from others.

I’ve had people tell me everything from “You shouldn’t use the word ‘shaman'” to “You shouldn’t use a drum with a real hide head” to “You shouldn’t work with hides and bones at all”, all because I’m a European mutt. For a while I kept backing up and backing up and acquiescing to whoever criticized me–and then I realized that if I gave in to every criticism, I’d have no practice left at all. So I very carefully reviewed what my practice entailed, did my best to claim that which I created myself while also being honest about how other cultures’ practices inspired me, and that’s where I drew my line, where I would back up no farther. I don’t consider myself a neoshaman any more, mostly because I don’t use specifically “shamanic” practices like journeying, and use the term “naturalist pagan” for what I currently practice, but I still work with hides and bones, I still have my totemic practice, all in ways that I have developed for myself over the years. – Lupa Greenwolf, Author

Lou Florez

Lou Florez [Courtesy Photo]

Experiences of appropriation have left me alienated and displaced in community. At its core appropriation is a form of violence and aggression against brown bodies and brown communities. It is a minstreling, a racist caricature that tells more about the frame of mind of the performer [appropriation is a performative act] then it does about the original practice or cultural significance. Not only does it cause harm through this mimicking of symbols and actions, but it further creates difficulties for seeing real images of brown people and our gods on community altars due to the fear of appropriation.I think that honesty is of utmost importance in these matters because there is a difference between a ritual inspired by a different culture versus one that claims a lineage in that specific tradition. My litmus test is this question, have you been given license to do ceremony and teach from these communities? Just as I would never read a book and pretend to be an authority in Gardenarian Wicca, you can’t read one book and think that you are a rootworker, conjure doctor, or a First Nation “shaman.” – Lou Florez, Rootdoctor and Orisha priest

Kenn Day

Kenn Day [Courtesy Photo]

Cultural appropriation is damaging both to the culture that is being taken from as well as the one who is taking pieces without context. The loss to the culture appropriated is obvious. The damage to the one doing the taking is more subtle.Back in the late 80’s I coined the term “post-tribal shamanism” to differentiate between the teachings I received and those of tribal cultures. However, many people make the assumption that, if you are practicing ceremony with ancestor spirits, then you have taken your practice from a native tradition. This is no more true than it is to assume that only tribal people have ancestors. The call to practice shamanism is found in every culture. Just like everything else, it appears differently in each culture, yet it is still recognizable.The most important difference I see between the shamanism practiced in tribal cultures and what I teach and practice is that the tribal practices are focused on supporting, healing and maintaining the most import unit of that culture: the tribe itself. Our situation is dramatically different, in that the most important unit of our culture is the individual. This is where our practices need to be directed. Too many traditional practices are simply not appropriate for use with individuals, just as what I do would not be appropriate for tribal people. – Kenn Day, Author and Professional Shaman

Janet Callahan

Janet Callahan

The history of cultural appropriation makes me more cautious when I encounter a new group or teacher or situation. I ask more questions about what is planned, look more at the history of who they’ve learned from, and so on. I want to make sure I’m not walking into a situation I can’t ethically support.

I think people really need to do their homework. They need to understand not just the physical aspects of a practice, but the bigger picture in terms of culture and language and what is really going on (and to do that, frequently you realize it’s not actually possible to take it out of context).

My immediate family is not “Traditional” (which is generally used to mean those who follow tribal ways rather than being Christian and otherwise following white ways), but portions of my extended family are. And what I understand now, that I think is lost outside of the culture, is that religion/spirituality and culture are woven together. They are not separate entities. And that means that taking something out of context loses much of the value of it. – Janet Callahan, Author

As the framework of culture continue to evolve and change, so does the black and white definition of what constitutes appropriation. The context of how something is regarded, shared, explored or used may vary within different cultures and different time frames. This means there is not a clear definition of what is and is not an acceptable with regards to the use of elements from another culture. Context is everything.

Instead we are left with a list of considerations that should be given to cultures, people and histories that are not our own, and a level of awareness that reminds us that everything is not open property just because we wish it to be so. Releasing the conditioning of post-colonialism in America reminds us that everything is not ours to take, everything is not ours to sell and everything is not free. What prices are paid when cultural treasures are taken from a people?

Kenn Day spoke to the complexity of learning to navigate our relationships with living cultures. He said, “These living cultures can be dealt with respectfully in much the same way as many modern seekers have approached native traditions of shamanism, by approaching them with humility and asking to learn from the lore keepers of that people. This means recognizing that their traditions are not yours to take. They can be gifted, but even then they remain within the territory of that people. It is demeaning to have elements of your culture taken out of context and displayed for the entertainment of those outside your community.”

How do we as modern Pagans respectfully exchange with other spiritual cultures? What are we giving in exchange for the knowledge that we gain and using for our own spiritual experiences? How can we respect the context, culture, history and people of the cultures we are exchanging with? All of these are questions that should be evaluated on an ongoing basis within any spiritual community that is growing and evolving.

 *   *   *

*Author’s note: I am very aware that many of the different names and labels, which are commonly used to refer to the indigenous of this land, come with traces of colonialism. Since there is no universally-respected term that can possibly fit all native indigenous/Native American/American Indians/First Peoples, I want to acknowledge this fact and communicate my sincere desire to be respectful.

Send to Kindle

Minneapolis Witch Tasha-Rose knows the power of belly dance and how it can transform. She’s hoping to use that transformational energy to help at-risk girls break the poverty cycle through the empowerment found in learning a cooperative dance style know as American Tribal Style belly dance. To achieve this goal, Tasha-Rose has formed a group called Our Dancing Daughters and is seeking funding for a larger studio space and for scholarships for young women in need.

Tasha-Rose instructs students at the Kamala Chaand dance studio. [courtesy photo]

Tasha-Rose instructs students at the Kamala Chaand dance studio. [courtesy photo]

Although Our Dancing Daughters hasn’t officially launched yet, the group hopes to start taking scholarship applications in January. While they received their Minnesota non-profit status as of Nov. 2, they are currently taking the needed steps to achieve 501c3 status in order to be eligible for more grant opportunities. In the meantime, Tasha-Rose, who is also the troupe leader for Kamala Chaand Dance Company, turns to crowdfunding to raise the initial funds needed to launch the program.

While Our Dancing Daughters is not a religious organization, Tasha-Rose is assisted by a board made up all Pagans and Witches. Board members include LaDonna Bartol, Laurie “Remedy” Howard, Breana Larson, and Becky Munson, with Tasha-Rose as the Executive Director.

So far they have raised $1,314 of their $10,000 goal on their GoFundMe site. Stacie Braford, who made a donation to Our Dancing Daughters, says, “This is an awesome thing you are doing! Love it. I wish we’d had access to something like this when I was young.”

The Wild Hunt talked to Tasha-Rose about her plans for Our Dancing Daughters, how her Pagan ethics guides her in this project, and why she believes this could be a valuable resource for at-risk teen girls.

Our Dancing Daughter's Executive Director Tasha-Rose

Our Dancing Daughter’s Executive Director Tasha-Rose

Cara Schulz: Why did you start Our Dancing Daughters? What was the inspiration?

Tasha-Rose: Our Dancing Daughters is a concept I have had for a lot of years. I have daughters and it initially started as a way to get daughters dancing with their mothers. Slowly it evolved in concept to where we are now.

CS: How will Our Dancing Daughters have a positive impact on at-risk young women?

TR: Our Dancing Daughters is designed to teach young women to dance cooperatively using the American Tribal Style format that I and two of my troupe mates are certified in. There is so much emphasis put on at-risk youth that they are on their own. We want them to learn interdependence. Additionally we are all taking crisis intervention training eventually, in order to better mentor these girls. Other components will be financial literacy, education accountability and getting into college. We hope to team up with other groups on occasion as well, namely The Emily Project, for education on healthy body image.

CS: Paganism and non-western styles of dance seem to go together. Why do yo think that is?

TR: I think it has a lot to do with the ability to trance out in this dance form. In ATS you have to be in the moment and communicating with the others dancers. That in itself is a form of trance I feel.

CS: How do your religious ethics come into play with this effort?

TR: My religious ethics have everything to do with this. I believe firmly in helping people to achieve their greatest self whenever possible. It can sound selfish I suppose, like I’m seeking accolades, but really I’m not. Self-empowerment comes from oneself. No one can do that work for anyone else, though I believe it’s each of our duties to be instrumental in the lives following ours, to make for a better world. Altruistic? Maybe. But I do what I can anyway.

CS: Who is Our Dancing Daughters open to and how will you assess eligibility for scholarships?

TR: We will open our applications up to anyone who wants to apply. There will be some focus on family income, since this program is in part focused on breaking the poverty cycle through empowerment. We will also be asking for teacher recommendations, hold a panel interview and ask that they write an essay for us. It isn’t necessarily only about those of limited financial means, however. There are young ladies from wealthier families who may not have involved parents and are suffering. We want to reach them, too.

CS: How long is your funding effort going on? How are the grant seeking efforts going?

TR: We have been working on raising funds for about 4 months now. We are just over 10% funded. We don’t have to raise the whole of it though, which is nice. Our grant research has opened lots of doors for us.There are lots of people who love to give money to projects like ours. We have two of our Executive Board going to a grant information meeting tonight in fact.

*    *    *

Tasha-Rose says the organization is at a major crossroads right now. Next week they have the opportunity, through the East Side Arts Council, to get into Washington High School to teach American Trial Style dance for a week. Tasha says, “It’s a really big foot in the door that we are all really excited about.”

Send to Kindle

This editorial was originally slated to be published two weeks ago, on the last day of our fund drive and a few days after Jason announced his retirement. However, life happened. As a result, we had to move with the news and not with our own agenda. I consider this a “take two” or perhaps even a “take three.” I have lost count. So before time escapes anymore and the world is lost beneath a flurry of silver solstice cheer, I now squeeze this article into the rotation. Please sit back and relax as I welcome you to join us as The Wild Hunt begins its new journey…

I remember as a child standing in the expansive LAX airport, tears rolling down my face, as we readied to board a jumbo jet and to wave goodbye to my grandparents. The pain of leaving was always oppressive. The bonds, which had been forged over a week’s vacation in sunny California, were now stretching, buckling and tearing under the weight of those goodbyes. Before stepping out into the jetway, my grandmother would always kneel down and hug me one last time. I would muddle out a little “goodbye” between sobs and, she would always say back, “This is not goodbye, Heather. This is just a ‘see you later.'”

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

Of course, the time eventually came when the ‘see you later’ didn’t happen. My grandmother died around Samhain 1999 before I could have one last hug. As painful as that was, the spirit of her yearly wisdom remained with me. Even before she died, I began to better understand the power in those words. When I embraced Paganism, their meaning deepened and eventually evolved into a profound truth. There is never truly a “goodbye.” There is always a ‘see you later.’

This concept is particular powerful at this time of year, as the veil thins and we honor our dead. As one road ends, another is always waiting. The memories and imprints of past journeys, good or bad, remain with us as we embark on new roads. The past becomes the archives of our lives – ready to guide, ready to remind, ready to influence. Although it may be hard to let go and frightening to continue, the journey does continue.

After landing back in New York City and returning to my daily routine, I carried with me the memories of our California vacation. I remember picking lemons off the tree while listening to my grandparents’ tales of working in Hollywood during its golden era. I remember my grandfather’s woodshed and my grandmother’s bright pink lipstick. Memories of those summer days made my childhood richer and stronger. They undeniably shaped my future. Furthermore, the bonds between us never broke no matter how far we traveled; even beyond the veil.

So here I am, at Samhain, facing another transition. The Wild Hunt has said goodbye to its founder and turned its attention to a new era. For me, this change is quite profound. Samhain not only marks my transition to full-time editor but also my start as a weekly Wild Hunt writer. My first article, an interview with actor Mark Ryan, was posted Oct.27 2012. Now, almost exactly two years later, I find myself taking on the role of steering this crazy ship or, better yet, leading this proverbial “wild hunt.” As it has always been for me, Samhain brings ends and beginnings.

When I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason said, “Write a post introducing yourself.” I never did. So I suppose this will serve partly as my introduction. Who will be managing The Wild Hunt going forward? Being a Gemini that is an extremely complicated question. What day is it?

Perhaps you would prefer to know what led me to Paganism? Last year, I was asked to write that story as a guest blog post and can still be read online. It has something to do with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, high school angst, social anarchy and Manhattan.

What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.

But that saga has already been written.

So let me begin at Samhain 2012. When Jason first asked me to contribute, I was very surprised. “Who Me? Why? Are you certain that you dialed the correct phone number?”

[Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

Deer in Headlights [Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

I had just ended a freelance job writing for an L.A. public relations firm. Sculpting articles for the wireless technology industry had become less than inspiring. I desperately wanted to produce something meaningful; something with more substance than could ever be extracted from stories on “converting old routers to access points” or “the right settings for optimal wireless streaming.”

Do I really need to elaborate on how Jason’s invitation presented a very welcome change?

Now exactly two years have passed and the best part of the entire experience has been in the learning. Before writing for The Wild Hunt, I was only moderately aware of the myriad colors, details and diversity present within the collective communities for whom we write. I did not personally know anyone practicing Asatru, or a Polytheism or Hellenic Reconstructionalism. Now I work with one of each. You can’t get that writing publicity materials for wireless corporations – at least not yet.

Last spring, when Jason asked me to take over as editor, I was equally surprised – honored but surprised. Stepping into the editor’s role brings with it new obstacles that will, no doubt, be difficult and, at times, grueling. However I’m willing to stand in that space and take up the reins, because I know that the work will ultimately be rewarding for me personally, for our writers and for our readers.

While the entire staff was sad to see Jason leave, we recognize and embrace the need for change – both his and ours. We are collectively thankful to him for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of this wild journey.

On Samhain, we finally closed that door and, in doing so, I was reminded of my grandmother’s words: “See you later.” Although one era is over, the cycle of influence never ends. Jason has left an enduring legacy and a strong foundation here. That influence remains no matter where he travels next or where we go. In that way, our “goodbye” is only a ‘see you later.’

This year’s fall funding drive was a huge success. With your generosity and help, we reached our goal in just two weeks and, then, far exceeded it. Thank you. All of those donations and words of support have empowered us to maintain and hopefully expand our work. Our columnists will be returning at their regular times to explore and discuss the issues of the day. Our two weekly staff writers will be covering the news as it happens. Next month, we will be welcoming our eighth and final weekend columnist, who will be focusing on the issues and subjects important to the youngest members of our communities – the college and high school students.

As editor, I will strive to uphold the ethical standards, sensitivity and substance, which has been the hallmark of The Wild Hunt. Our mission will not change. We will aim to provide a broad spectrum of news and poignant commentary as we have always done since The Wild Hunt‘s inception as one man’s blog and through its evolution into a respected independent news organization.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

As we usher in this new era, I welcome everyone to join us on the journey. Every day as we publish, we will be leaving new footprints along the path.Those marks will eventually become the memories of tomorrow – ones that will linger in a liminal presence waiting to inform, remind and advise our future writers and editors. And, as such, the cycle will continue on.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting us. And most importantly…see you later.

Send to Kindle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send to Kindle

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Blake Kirk

Blake Kirk

On Thursday Nov 6, Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk returned to the Huntsville Alabama City Council chambers to deliver the pre-meeting invocation. As we reported last June, Kirk had been removed from the schedule due to complaints by various citizens. After that news was made public, the Huntsville city council opted to continue opening meetings with invocations that reflect the city’s religious diversity.

Kirk was placed back on the schedule and, last week, delivered the prayer before the council meeting. He opened with, “Let us pray. O gentle Goddess and loving God, we thank You for the beauties and the wonders of the day that You have given to us, and for the opportunity we have this evening to assemble here and work together to make Huntsville a better city for all of its residents. We ask that You grant to the councilors and other officials present here tonight the wisdom they will need to make the best decisions that they may for the governance of our city.” 

*   *   *

tumblr_inline_nesrz38fU31rvkvdhFrom Nov. 12 to Nov. 20, a “group of radical trans activists and spirit workers” will be holding a nine-day ritual to honor beloved transgender dead. Others are welcome to participate. Organizers say “Our dead deserve to be remembered and elevated, and we are humbled by and grateful for the encouragement we have received so far.” They have set up a tumbr blog with specifics and suggestions for participation. They also welcome questions and submissions of photos and prayers.

*   *   *

Pantheon FoundationThe Pantheon Foundation has made two new announcements regarding its upcoming online activist Conference, PACO. The weekend event now “includes an Earth Activism panel, to be held on Friday, Nov. 21.” This bonus panel will include Celia Alario, Andy Conn, Laurie Lovekraft and Starhawk.

Organizers have also decided to cut the conference ticket price. In a statement, they said, “We’ve had a few sensitive queries about the ticket cost of PACO … A few folks have let us know that this cost is just too far outside the means of an activist’s budget for their comfort … We have decided to cut the ticket cost for this event dramatically, to allow more people to attend. Starting today, tickets for the entire event will be $40 instead of $100, with individual panel tickets being $10 instead of $20.” PACO 2014 will be held the weekend of Nov 21-23, completely online. More detail on the new panel and the ticket price change can be found on Pantheon’s website

*   *   *

operation circle care

Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Circle Sanctuary has launched its annual Operation Circle Care program. In a recent release, the Circle organizers state, “For the eighth year in a row Circle Sanctuary will be sending Yuletide gift packages, including pentacles, CDs, crystals, copies of CIRCLE Magazine and other items, as spiritual support to Wiccan, Heathen, Druidic, and other Pagans on active duty in the US Military who are stationed overseas and on deployment.

They are currently calling for donations of both funds and items to support the yearly Yuletide care packages. However, a more urgent need is the contact details for Pagans serving overseas or on deployment. To ensure a Yuletide delivery, organizers have asked that this information be sent by Nov. 29. Further details and instructions are listed on the OCC website. 

In Other News:

That is all for now.  Have a nice day.

Send to Kindle

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, there is small town called Dahlonega. This quaint southern town is home to wineries, apple orchards, antique shops and picturesque views. It is also home to a small college called the University of North Georgia (UNG), which is made up of both a traditional university and one of only six prestigious senior military colleges in the entire U.S.

Downtown Dahlonega [Photo Credit: Gwringle, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Downtown Dahlonega [Photo Credit: Gwringle, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Demographically speaking, the college is quite typical for the Dahlonega area. According to City-Data.com, the town is 89 percent Christian. The dominant religious practices are Southern Baptist, United Methodist and Old Missionary Baptists.This is echoed in the makeup of the student body as shown by the represented faith groups on campus. Of the 9 religion-based clubs, all are Christian except for the Interfaith Alliance. Additionally, there is a Secular Student Alliance or Skeptics Society.

As such, UNG is not a place that one might readily expect to find a Pagan or Heathen student. However, not only are they there, but they just earned official status as a formal university club.

The story begins in the fall of 2013 when a Heathen soldier, who is enrolled in the cadet program, applied for admission to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy training program. At first the program administrators ignored his application. Then he applied again in the spring of 2014 and was informed that, in order to be accepted, he had to be Christian.

This allegedly was not an isolated case. According to multiple reports, other non-Christian cadets have been rejected in the past. While these other cases could not be confirmed, the accusations are plausible considering the program website. The Corps Cadet Chaplaincy advertises itself by opening with a biblical passage and, in secondary document, quotes a cadet chaplain saying, “Keeping the Lord’s purpose as our goal that should be our purpose our drive.”

UNG senior Trevor Graham, a civilian psychology major and Hellenic Reconstructionalist, heard the Heathen cadet’s story in August 2014 after meeting him for the first time. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Graham said that he was not at all surprised. However, he was surprised to find another Pagan or Heathen on the UNG campus.

Graham, better known on campus as the kilt-guy, spent three years not having any Pagan community. Over this past summer, he decided that it was time to look for like-minds. So when school started back, he placed a letter in the campus non-denominational meditation center. Inside this former evangelical church, students can engaged in contemplative, quiet thought and peaceful correspondence. Graham’s letter, which invited other Pagans to contact him, sat with other correspondance on a desk within the space.

Trevor Graham, UNG Student, co-founder of the Old Faith Community [Courtesy Photo]

Trevor Graham, UNG Student, co-founder of the Old Faith Community [Courtesy Photo]

At the very same time, the cadet had been posting fliers around school with a similar intent. Frustrated by what had happened to him, he made up his mind that it was time to try organizing. Unfortunately, he declined an interview due to complications with his position and pending deployment. However, he did say,”I can’t change anything for myself [being a senior] but maybe I can make this better for the next students and cadets that come in behind me.”

Within hours of Graham placing his letter in the meditation center, the cadet answered the call and the two met. Graham said, “It felt amazing to have somebody to talk to.He may not do what I do but it’s somebody.” Shortly after, the two launched an advertising campaign to build a Pagan club and establish a community. Graham took the lead and began chalking the sidewalks and posting flyers.

Within a week, they had a response. By mid-October, the group had grown to 16 students. It was, and still is, comprised an eclectic mix of Wiccans, Hellenic Reconstructionalists, Asatruar, Naturalist Pagans, Polytheists and others. Graham said that their goal is simply to build a comfortable and welcoming place for any student that practices any of these alternative religions.

As one might expect, the newly formed club experienced some backlash from the conservative religious community. Fliers were removed and chalked signs were washed away. Around Halloween, the group placed a cauldron with candy and a harvest blessing message inside the university meditation room. Within 24 hours, the candy was completely removed and, in its place, were Christian pamphlets that read “Atone for your sins.” Despite all of that, Graham did add that he has yet to experience any real personal backlash or threats.

Although the new Pagan group was formed by mid-October, it was not an official university club. They could only meet off-campus or discreetly on campus. However its goal was ultimately to earn university recognition. Both the Interfaith Alliance and Secular Student Association reached out to offer guidance to the fledgling Pagan organization.

During the final weeks of October, the group prepared paperwork on its structure, constitution and mission. Due to club diversity, it was renamed The Old Faith Community of UNG. Then, with the support of faculty member Dr. Michael Bodri, Graham presented its application to UNG administrators on Oct 31. Several days later, the Old Faith Community was awarded its official student club status. The UNG Pagans, as they are still known, have become both the first Pagan group on campus and only the second official non-Christian religous club.

UNG Campus [Photo Credit: Hermione1980, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

UNG Campus [Photo Credit: Hermione1980, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

But the story doesn’t quite end there. While the group was preparing its application, Graham decided to reach out to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy program. He asked the administrators if they would consider accepting a student from the fledgling Pagan club. To his surprised, the Chaplaincy agreed and the aforementioned Heathen cadet was finally accepted into the program. He was able to walk into his first training meeting openly without compromising his own Asatru beliefs.

Why did the chaplaincy administrators change their minds only six months after rejecting the Heathen candidate?

During this period of time, UNG came under fire from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an advocacy group that seeks to “ensure that members of the United States Armed Forces receive the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.” According to UNG school newspaper, The Vanguard, the Secular Student Alliance invited MRFF’s Mikey Wienstein to speak at the school. On Aug. 18, he addressed a large crowd about the problems with school-sanctioned prayer at Corps Cadet events, saying:

We were asked to come here …We want to express in no uncertain terms that we do have a constitution. This is our founding document of this country. In this country, unlike North Korea or Saudi Arabia, we do separate church and state. It does not mean you cannot have your religious faith.

On Oct. 1, the MRFF sent a letter to UNG after learning that the state school had allowed a Christian prayer during a mandatory Corps Cadet 9/11 memorial program. The letter’s intent was to “to make the University aware of its’ “illegal actions.” As an aside, MRFF also did note that the college was only allowing “Baptists into the chaplaincy program.” On Oct. 29, MRFF announced “plans to take litigious measures against the university.”

logo_interior800x600In response, school President Bonita Jacobs stated:

There is no substance for a complaint against the University. MRFF has provided the University with supplemental information regarding their concerns, and the University is examining those claims.

Jacobs also stressed that administrators respect MRFF’s opinion, saying that “the university should not endorse religion” but that ” it is equally important that we strike a balance that also protects the constitutional right of genuinely student-initiated speech afforded by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.”

While Graham and the other members of the Old Faith Community had absolutely no involvement, or even knowledge, of the mounting tensions with MRFF, it is not insignificant that these two situations happened simultaneously. It may very well be that the attention brought to UNG by MRFF helped facilitate the acceptance of the UNG Pagan club. It may have also spurred the Chaplains into finally accepting a non-Christian cadet.

Regardless of that influence, the work done by the UNG Pagans cannot be attributed simply to opportunism or luck. The club’s beginnings, including the dream behind it, began long before MRFF ever came to campus. When we asked Graham what he might tell other students facing a similar environment, he said, “You are not alone. We are all a community.” He specifically wants that message to be heard by any other UNG Pagans or Heathens that have yet to find the Old Faith Community.

As for the cadet who was unable to be interviewed, we asked if he would be willing to, at the very least, offer a few words of wisdom to other Pagan or Heathen cadets or civilian students who may feel alone. He said this: “If there is no local community, be the local community. If you aren’t going to do it, who is.”

Send to Kindle

In 2005, Richard Louv introduced an emerging theory that many of our modern children’s ills – obesity, depression, behavioral problems – are caused by their lack of interaction with nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, he brought together research and information from several sources to support the idea that reconnecting with nature was the antidote for many of these struggles.

His work was inspirational and influential in several ways including the founding of the Children and Nature Network, an organization with a vision of creating a world “where every child can play, learn and grow in nature.” This is a stark contrast to the reports of children who spend endless hours inside watching television and playing video games.

Increasing numbers of people, either out of support for the environment, concerns over rising food costs, or the desire to feed their families higher quality foods, are creating urban and suburban gardens and (re)learning how to preserve food, brew beer, make cheese, and raise chickens. Other people, including many who have been inspired by Louv’s work, are doing so for the healing that nature provides. Still others turn to nature in their search for deity and a meaningful spiritual connection to the Earth that we share.

In Cliff Seruntine’s most recent book, Seasons of the Sacred Earth, he argues that in “this artificially rational, industrial era … it is important that folks remember the truth of a deeper reality.” Seasons of the Sacred Earth is a collection of thoughts, stories, and magical experiences that take the reader from the Louisiana bayou to the Alaskan wilderness and, finally, to his family’s Novia Scotia homestead. Seruntine’s storytelling and vivid imagery make the magic of forests, raging storms and even a struggling vegetable garden come alive.

9780738735535Raised in Louisiana, Seruntine recounts the many childhood hours spent in a “vast, rambling, lazy realm of forests and farms,” losing all sense of time on river banks while deepening friendships on forest floors and becoming mesmerized by the natural magic surrounding him. After leaving this magical environment for college and career, he and his wife moved to Alaska where he learned the ethical hunting of caribou, the way to fish for salmom, and the process for harvesting wild mushrooms.

When his chosen career path as a psychotherapist took a toll on his spirit, he and his family moved to Nova Scotia and began setting up a homestead called Twa Corbies Hollow (“Two Raven’s Hollow). There he “found again the truth [he] knew as a child—the natural world is enchanted, powerful, healing, and ultimately vital to our wellbeing.”

Arranged by months, Seruntine’s book takes us through the Wheel of the Year and highlights the lessons that his family has learned by living close and in rhythm with the Earth. The most important lesson, it seems, is to “live in harmony with life’s weave and Nature keeps you.”

Seasons of the Sacred Earth is rich with stories and ideas that many practitioners of earth-centric religions will appreciate. He does not include spells, scripted meditations, or devotional prayers; nor does he include any history and interpretations of various deities across culture and faith traditions. Seruntine set out not to write a homesteading how-to book, but rather to offer a book about this “knowing,” about finding our spiritual journey in Nature rather than in books. He recalls,

… the more I studied the various paths, the more I realized their essential foundation in Nature was slipping from the experience of modern folk. Most modern witches I had met had never picked a wild herb in the woods. Followers of Norse lore were more concerned with casting runes than wandering the wild mountains in search of wisdom, as their god Odhinn had done. The British druids, who come from a path firmly rooted in the green world, had become an almost entirely urbanized and academic lot. I recall a discussion I once read on an online druid mailing list. A new person asked what he should study to become a contemporary druid. Every person on the network referred him to enormous reading lists on Celtic history and culture. Not one thought to advise him to immerse himself in the green world for a spell. How very odd for a path that is considered a Nature religion to entirely neglect the essential need of Nature.

In many popular seasonally-based, Pagan books and you will find crafts, spells, and meditations for each sabot or rite of passage. The writings often seek to inform us of the harvest of Samhain, the bitter cold and promise of Imbolc, the explosion of life at Beltane, and the hard work and toil of Lughnasadh. Seruntine’s stories take us beyond the meditations and workings that many of us perform in our climate-controlled temples with store-bought bread and wine, which are often followed by a feast of food shipped in from all over the globe.

Through his stories, Seruntine offers the reader the experience of enormous hauls of ripe sweet fruit from Grandfather Apple, blinding blizzards, stir-crazy humans and animals, balefires with friends, home-brewed cider, frighteningly violent electrical storms, and a soggy-turned-wildly-abundant vegetable garden. Along the way, Seruntine weaves in conversations and experiences shared with his daughters on magic and spirit folk, communication with other species, and sightings of the barn bruanighe and the Green Man.

Ban Falls, Novia Scotia [Photo Credit: M. Seely, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Ban Falls, Novia Scotia [Photo Credit: M. Seely, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Between the talks of magic are seemingly practical, mundane discussions of archery, soil improvement, and goat milking, through which he brings validity to his belief that “[m]agic comes in many ways, and there is enchantment in so many things. All you have to do is really open your eyes. It’s everywhere.” The few family recipes that he does share, such as making cider, cheese, and cough syrup, feel like spiritual processes full of tradition and the wealth of the seasons.

He acknowledges that it may be difficult for many people to leave the comforts (and discomforts) of the cities and suburbs in order to set up a self-reliant homestead like Twa Corbies. He writes:

You don’t have to launch off deep into the wilds as we have done, but you do have to go out your door. The trees and grass, the animals and brooks and sea, and earth and sky have much to teach any who look at them. There is magic and wonder beyond your door, and it is happy to enrich you if you walk its way.

As it is for many Pagans, Seruntine’s relationship with deity and with nature is highly personal. This book is an intimate peak into his own experiences and interpretations. There are times when he has profound epiphanies that will easily stir excitement, despair, and understanding. There are also moments that, in his wanderings through the forest and farm, his explanations are so particular to his observations and experiences that readers may find it challenging to follow his logic. But logic is often not the stuff of enlightenment. Seruntine’s overall message is that, if we take care of the land and its spirit folk, they will take care of us in return. There is wisdom is in the dirt, in the trees, in the animals and in the Great Cycle.

The development of deep spiritual relationships with the land is not a new idea. It was over 150 years ago that Henry David Thoreau built himself a tiny house by Walden pond as an experiment, the experience leading to him famously writing, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” His explorations became an inspiration to many who value and advocate for the environment. Seruntine, like Richard Louv, is newer contributor to a continued movement toward a simple life embracing nature for both health, balance and spiritual connectivity.

Seasons of the Sacred Earth is available through book retailers in paperback and electronic formats. Seruntine’s ongoing musings and activities can also be found on Facebook and on his blog.

 

Send to Kindle

Column: Mise en scène

Eric O. Scott —  November 7, 2014 — 3 Comments
Deryk and Carrie Alldrit, the founders of the coven that would eventually become my coven.

Deryk and Carrie Alldrit, the founders of the coven that would eventually become my coven – my great grandparents, in a sense.

It begins with a woman holding a candle. She is walking around the room, a guide for the priestess, who is casting the circle for Samhain. But don’t look at the priestess just yet; hear her, yes, hear the words that begin every circle in our tradition, but watch the woman with the candle. The first bit of magick walks with her – for she is not only a woman with a candle, but an Evening Star, a psychopomp, the leader on a path down into the underworld. In the double-sight of ritual, she is both physical and mythical, both our friend and an unfamiliar star. Long before we make an open invocation to a god or a spirit, the magick has already begun.

A few months ago, I had a discussion about one of my essays with my doctoral committee chair. In the essay, I talked briefly about writing rituals – the choices we make in what to include, what to leave out, and what to invent anew. My advisor was surprised and delighted by this passage, because she had never heard of such a thing: the idea of writing a ritual struck her as a novel concept. She had never thought that a religious practice could also be a creative act.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation, because it had never struck me that religion could be anything else. Ritual writing has always been at the heart of Paganism for me, so much so that I had always assumed that was just how Paganism worked everywhere. You might keep certain touchstones from year to year – the kings of Oak and Holly, the burning of John Barleycorn, the Maypole, and so on – but the actual form of the ritual changes every time, and even those touchstones find new shades of meaning as the ritual surrounding them changes. Now I know that there are actually many Pagans who dislike the idea of “new rituals,” and prefer that the word ritual be taken more literally: a ceremony repeated year-in and year-out, a constant in the turbulence of the rest of our lives. I understand that sentiment, and even sympathize with it, but I still reject it – at least for my own purposes. For me, much of the point is to be found in adding something new that still fits into the tradition. The hard, joyful work for me is in writing a ritual for, say, Samhain, that is not the same as any Samhain ceremony my coven has ever done before, but still feels right for the occasion.

In this case, the ritual started with one image: take a dark room – a basement, somewhere literally under the earth – and turn it into the underworld. Light it with a single candle; make that candle the center of the universe. Whenever something important happens, the candle moves to that actor; when the candle moves, the circle moves with it. That idea – the candle, and the darkness surrounding it – was the first thought I had when I began thinking about a Samhain ritual a year and a half ago. Even at that remove, everything in the ritual revolved around that single point of light.

I wanted to do this in deliberate contrast to the last sabbat my friends and I had performed at last year’s Beltane. That ritual was very much about light and color. We held it outside during the day, wore bright, ostentatious costumes, and danced a Maypole covered in a spectrum of pastel ribbons. We never brought up the way we used these visual tools to reinforce the message of our ritual deliberately – there was no point at which Sarah, my friend and priestess, announced that we were wearing bright colors to subconsciously reinforce the themes of creativity and hope found in the words of the ritual. She didn’t have to; the light did that work in silence, the way the cinematography shapes a film. Our Samhain would try to do the same with darkness.

I have written elsewhere about the project Sarah, I, and the other second-generation Pagans in my family set before ourselves: a grand cycle of sabbats, one a year for eight full spins of the Wheel. I suppose I have never worked on one thing for such a long time; eight years is long enough ago that, between here and there, I’ve finished two degrees, moved to three different cities, written two books, and gotten married. To say that I’ve changed in that time is such an obvious statement as to be absurd; every cell in my body has been shed and replaced since I first drew a pentagram into salt and water at Lughnasadh. This Samhain was the final ritual in our cycle; everything else had been leading up to it.

I wanted our ritual to be thoughtful, and, if possible, kind. Samhain is, necessarily, about death. While we could have made our ceremony a hard and unflinching one – the kind where you’re reminded that death comes to everyone, that there’s no escaping it and no ameliorating it – that felt cruel to me. We have had a lot of death in our family in the past few years, and I didn’t want to hurt the grieving any more than necessary. So instead, we focused on the memory of the dead. We always walk in their footsteps, I said at one point in the ritual, but only at Samhain do the dead stand next to us in the circle. As the ritual began, I tried to visualize those members of our family who had passed on into the next world standing among us: Deryk and Carrie, Ailene, Stephen, Image, Deborah, Kelson, Tom, others whom I knew I would inevitably fail to recall. They felt closer in the darkness, in the flickering candlelight.

I don’t know what other people do at Samhain. At ours, we call the names of the dead, just before the Great Rite. It’s one of the touchstones I mentioned earlier, like the Maypole or the Holly King; it’s the moment when we give voice to our memories. I like to think of it as the holiest moment in our Wicca: the time when we remember those who have walked before us, the time when others will someday remember us. In the darkness, we call to the past. Go if you must, but stay if you will, we tell the ones who have gone before. Hail and farewell, until the next time we call their names at Samhain.

Send to Kindle

Robert Rudachyk is seeking the nomination to become the Liberal Party of Canada‘s candidate for the federal riding of Saskatoon West. What makes this run for office unusual is that Rudachyk appears to be the first openly Heathen candidate to run for public office in Canada.

Robert Rudachyk [photo provided byRudachyk]

Robert Rudachyk [Courtesy Photo]

The nomination meeting is set for November 12 and the political process is very different, and much more complex, than what may be familiar to U.S. readers. In order to be nominated as a candidate, Rudachyk needed to first collect at least $1000 in donations and get the signatures of 10% of the party members in the riding (a area similar to an American electoral district), or recruit enough new members to sign his nomination papers to meet that number.

Since Rudachyk was able to do that, he then went on to fill out a detailed form about his background, financial status, education, every job and address he’s had for the last ten years, along with several work and personal references. All this information was reviewed by national and provincial committees for accuracy. Once past this step, Rudachyk signed a contract agreeing to abide by party rules and Canada’s election rules. He also agreed to be responsible for all costs associated with his campaign.This was, then, followed by an interview with the chair of the National Green Light committee.

Rudachyk has passed all these steps so he can now begin selling party memberships and try to gain support from party members at the nomination meeting. If Rudachyk were the only person running, he would simply be named the candidate at the meeting. However, since three other people have successfully completed all of these same steps, the party must hold a vote. Once a candidate has over 50% of the vote, that person becomes the candidate, subject to a final review by the party and its leader, as well as a thorough audit of their financial statements for the campaign.

If Rudachyk beats out the other three people running, he’ll be the official candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada running for a seat representing the riding of Saskatoon West in the Canadian Parliament in the October 2015 election.

So who is Robert Rudachyk?

Rudachyk is 47 years old and was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He has a B.Sc. degree is biology and is currently an Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator with NSC Minerals. He is married and has two children, and is active in his community, recently finishing a two year term as President of the local community association. He’s also been very active within his religious community and has worked for 24 years in community building. He is also a founding member and current admin for Heathens United Against Racism.

He describes the Liberal Party as a progressive centrist group, which has held power in Canada for most of its history. On his Facebook page, he’s been writing about his approach to different public policy issues, such as this post about his views on crime and punishment.

In the course of this career I have come to see all crimes as an incident no different that a workplace incident, and behind these incidents is a Root Cause. If you can eliminate the Root Cause, you can eliminate future incidents like this. It is the same for crime. Find the root cause of what is causing the individual to commit these crimes, and you will prevent them from re-offending.

He says that while he agrees with much of the platform of the Liberal Party, the views he writes about on his Facebook page are his own personal views.

Logo for the Liberal Party of Canada

Logo for the Liberal Party of Canada

The Wild Hunt talked with Rudachyk about his attempt to be named the Liberal Party candidate for a Parliament seat.

Cara Schulz: Is it true you could become the first openly Heathen candidate in Canada?

Robert Rudachyk: It is true, that I am the first openly Heathen/Pagan ever to be green lit to run for a nomination of a major political party at the federal level. Other Pagans have tried to run provincially or for fringe parties, but I am the first to do this at this level

CS: What challenges do you expect in your candidacy? Is religion as big a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S.?

RR: If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.

Religion and politics are not so intertwined here as they are in the U.S., and we have strong laws protecting people’s rights to worship as they see fit. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is enshrined in the Constitution of Canada gives us a greater degree of protection from religious persecution than most places, including the U.S. By the same token I need to show the general public that Heathens are regular people just like them so that I can earn their support.

To this end I have been very active in my community by taking on the role of the president of our community association for the previous two years, and I have worked hard to make my neighborhood a better and safer place to live and work. The political system here in Canada is also very different than in the U.S. We are a parliamentary democracy, and the fortunes of the party, in no small part, rise and fall with the popularity of the party leader. My purpose is to represent the interests of the people of my riding, the interests of Canadians, and the interests of Heathens and Pagans to ensure that they have a voice at the table when it comes to the affairs of governing this country.

CS: How does your faith affect your ethics?

RR: My faith is my ethics. I live by a code of honor that binds me to keep my word at all costs. I have long stood against the scourge of racism that has been a cancer for the Heathen faiths for a long time, and I carry that attitude through to my real life. I would rather die than compromise these ethics, and over my lifetime, this has caused me a great deal of suffering because I was not willing to bend my personal ethical code to suit others. I will take this with me if I win the nomination.

CS: Why did you decide to run for office?

RR: In many ways, I feel this is a calling for me, and my whole life has led me to this place. I come from a family that has been active in politics for several generations. My grandfather was a reeve in his local Rural Municipality, and my father was a long time city councilor in my home town. I was raised with the idea that to serve your community as a leader is a very high calling. Also my life experiences, which are many and varied, have given me a deeper empathy and understanding of what people need in a leader and how to listen to those needs.

CS: What does your local religious community think about your run?

RR: It varies. There is not a large Heathen community here in Saskatoon, but there is a well-established Pagan community overall. Back in the early 1990’s, I helped start the process of networking, which brought many of the solitary practitioners of this community together to meet and talk. Since then, others have taken up that role.

I did the same thing in Vancouver where I spent a large part of my adult life. In the early 1990’s, I also played a role there in getting the first Pagan organization recognized to perform legal marriages in Canada. In fact I attended the first legally recognized Pagan marriage ever done in Canada, and I am very proud of the role I had in helping our community achieve this.

The community has grown far beyond those early accomplishments and, looking back at all of it now, I am proud to have helped plant the seeds that these communities have grown into. As for how the local community feels about what I am doing, there are Pagans of all political stripes here, albeit mostly on the left wing. While many of them do not necessarily agree with my stances, they are overall encouraging that one of us has made it this far. I see that excitement growing if I achieve the nomination next week.

*   *   *

According to the Liberal Party announcement, “the candidate selection meeting will be called to order on Wednesday, November 12th, at 6:00pm at Westmount Community School, 411 Avenue J N, Saskatoon, SK S7L 2K4. Speeches from nomination contestants will commence shortly thereafter.” Rudachyk says that if anyone wishes to send him positive energy to overcome his opponents in this race, he’d appreciate it. He added, “Let’s ask the gods to help make this a reality.”

Send to Kindle