TWH – For many people around the world, this weekend marks the celebration of the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun. The astrological date for this year’s solstice is June 20, 22:34 UTC (or 6:34 pm ET).

In honor of the abundance of daylight and sunshine, communities have long used bonfires, music, dancing, and outdoor festivals as traditional features of both religious rituals and secular celebrations. In some modern Pagan practices, it is believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity.

At the same time, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are experiencing the exact opposite. They are coming together to celebrate and mark the winter solstice – a time of darkness, candles and inward reflection.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. Photo by Hephaestos.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos]

This 2016 solstice event is particularly special. It will be the first time in 70 years that the full moon is happening at the same time. Slooh.com will be broadcasting the rare event live.

There are several international secular holidays that correspond to the midsummer holiday. In 1982, Make Music Day, held annually June 21, was established in France and has since spread to become a global solstice celebration of sound. And, on that same day, others will be honoring the United Nations’ official International Yoga Day, while still others will be taking to the warm summer mountain trails to celebrate Naked Hiking Day.

Additionally, the summer solstice typically falls on or around the celebration of Father’s Day in the United States. The history of this secular holiday does not have the same radical roots as its counterpart Mother’s Day. In 1908, a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who had been raised by a widower, wanted male parents to be honored in a similar way as mothers. In 1910, Dodd was able to convince the state to establish an official Father’s Day. The idea spread very slowly, meeting much resistance. Many felt that the holiday was silly, and others protested against the establishment of yet another commercially-focused celebration. However, after being given a boost by World War II nationalism, the unofficial Father’s Day was widely embraced by people around the country. Then, in 1972, Richard Nixon signed the proclamation that made the day an official U.S. holiday.

June also marks gay pride month — officially proclaimed this year as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month — which has grown in popularity over the past few decades. Events are specifically held in June to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which happened in New York City on June 28, 1969.

Similarly, in the social spectrum, June 19 marks the formal end of slavery in the U.S. and is often called Juneteenth or Emancipation Day. While it is not widely celebrated, the holiday is reportedly becoming more popular and gaining ground in cities and local venues. The day is currently marked as an official state holiday in Texas.

While those celebrations mentioned above are all examples of secular-based traditions, there are just as many religious-based holidays that occur at this time, many of which are honored by modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists.  As already noted, there is the celebration of Litha or Midsummer, or conversely Yule and Midwinter.

The Fires of St. John festival, a Christian-holiday, is also held at this time in many countries and is closely associated with the older midsummer solstice’s traditions, including bonfires and feasts. Similar celebrations are found in many European countries, often known by different names.

In Vodun, Lucumi and other African diaspora religions, there are a number of feast days celebrated around this time, including the Feast of Ochossi and Feast of Eleggua.

In modern Hellenic reconstruction, the festival of Promethea occurs on June 21. One of the traditions is to eat fennel, which this is what Prometheos used to smuggle fire to man.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering [Courtesy Photo]

Here are some thoughts on the season:

“Litha or Midsummer, a time of bonfires, mugwort, mythical beings, nights and days of mischief and love. The veil is thin. The Celts, the Norse and the Slavs believed that there were three ‘spirit nights’ in the year when magic ran amok and the Otherworld was near. The first was Halloween, the second was May Eve and the third was Midsummer Eve. All sorts of enchantments are in the air now and Spirits and Fairies abound.” –  Danette Wilson, “Outside the Circle: The Bad Fairies of Litha

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“As we honor the solstice we may reach out to the sun, but while doing so we will also reach out to those that have been lost. We will grieve for them and we will grieve with them. Hopefully the energy we raise in their remembrance will inspire us to help bring about the change that will make for better tomorrows. This Midsummer will be a somber sabbat, but that’s what it should be.” – Jason Mankey, “A Somber Solstice

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“There’s a powerful juxtaposing of realities going on right now: one is the world as we know it, with an ethos of fear and scarcity, and an ugly underbelly that’s so evident in the horrific news of recent weeks; and the other is a life-centered ethos revealed in Nature’s emerging summertime landscape of stunning beauty and overflowing abundance.” – Karen Clark, “Three Lessons from the Summer Solstice

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“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.” –  Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

*    *    *

However you choose to celebrate the season, a very happy solstice to everyone!

The massacre in Orlando was an act of war, but how are the sides of the war delineated? Donald Trump, who declared in March that, “I think Islam hates us,” frames the war as Islam against the West. After the Orlando mass shooting, Trump again promised that if elected President, he would use his power to ban “immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.” Trump also accused Muslim communities in the United States of failing to report the “bad” Muslims whom he claimed were known to those communities: “Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad – and they do know where they are.”

Leviathan

Frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, 1581.

The New York Times published an article covering Trump’s speech dramatically entitled, “Blaming Muslims After Attack, Donald Trump Tosses Pluralism Aside,” in which Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns noted that Trump’s “language more closely resembled a European nationalist’s than a mainstream Republican’s,” and described him as “flouting traditions of tolerance and respect for religious diversity.” Even Republicans have accused Trump of uncivilized behavior:

“Everybody says, ‘Look, he’s so civilized, he eats with a knife and fork,’” said Mike Murphy, a former top adviser to Jeb Bush. “And then an hour later, he takes the fork and stabs somebody in the eye with it.”

Both Trump and the New York Times cast the civilized nation-state of the United States as the protagonist of their stories. The Times just happens to include Trump in its list of those who threaten “American traditions,” whereas Trump would list Mexicans and Muslims instead. But not all storytellers consider civilization itself to be a protagonist.

AgainstHistoryCoverIn his 1983 book Against His-story, Against Leviathan, Fredy Perlman questions the entire narrative of civilization. Perlman borrows the term “Leviathan” from the authoritarian political theorist Thomas Hobbes, who described the organization of human societies into a “great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, in Latin Civitas, which is but an artificial man” (qtd. in Perlman 26). Hobbes’s “artificial man” bears an uncanny resemblance to what Karl Marx called capital: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Perlman, too, describes a leviathan as a carcass “brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside.”(27)

Perlman notes that the human beings within the earliest leviathan, that of Sumer, “still seek contact with the spirits of the winds, the clouds, even of the sky itself,” and that this continued contact with the spirits and gods “is probably what accounts for the exoticism that will continue to cling to what we will call ‘early civilizations.’”(23) Later in his narrative, Perlman writes that the commandment “thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a precursor to modernity: “this is modern.”(57) He writes that monotheism is Moses’ “inner emptiness, his armor, his own dead spirit” projected “into the very Cosmos.”(56)

In Perlman’s analysis, leviathans expand by conquering and subsuming more and more human beings. Naturally, many human communities attempt resistance, either by fleeing or fighting. Perlman describes the decision to stay and fight in eloquent animist terms:

Not all communities want to flee. Their valleys, groves and oases, the places where their ancestors are buried, are filled with familiar and often friendly spirits. Such a place is sacred. It is the center of the world. The landmarks of the place are the orienting principles of an individual’s psyche. Life has no meaning without them. For such a community, leaving its place is equivalent to committing communal suicide. So they stay where they are. And they are kissed by the monster’s grotesque lips.(32)

Unfortunately, as these communities attempting resistance build their own permanently walled cities and establish their own permanent standing armies, “soon there are many Leviathans.”(34) The resisters turn into precisely that which they had attempted to resist, and they develop what Wilhelm Reich called “character armor.”

William Blake, "The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve," 1826.

William Blake, “The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve,” 1826.

Perlman uses terminology borrowed from Zoroastrianism to describe the need to shed this internal armor:

Zarathustra reduced Hesiod’s five generations to two: one is outside the Leviathan, the other is inside. The outsider is Light, Ahura Mazda, associated with the spirits of fire, earth and water, with animals and plants, with Earth and Life. Ahura Mazda is the strength and the freedom of the generation Hesiod considered the first, the golden.

The insider is Darkness, Ahriman, also called The Lie. Ahriman is the Leviathan as well as the Leviathanic armor that disrupted the ancient community. […]

Ahriman is in the world and in the individual. The war against Ahriman is waged in the world and in the individual. It is simultaneously a struggle against Leviathan and against the armor. It is waged with fire, the great purifier. The mask is burned off, the armor is burned out, the Leviathan is burned down. And woe to the world if the fire should fall to Ahriman, to the hands of armored men!(77)

Of course, the fire does indeed fall into the hands of armored men, and subsequently, the clashes of rival leviathans are deceptively framed as cosmic battles of good and evil, where one’s own leviathan or civilization is “on the side with the angels,” while “the wilderness is elsewhere, barbarism is abroad, savagery is on the face of the other.”(1) That is precisely what we see today, with Trump, with Clinton, with the New York Times. Tellingly, Perlman begins his entire book with an epigraph from Matthew Arnold:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.(1)

A Darkling Plain

In an interview in The Atlantic, “The Meaningless Politics of Liberal Democracies,” Shadi Hamid argues that “there’s a general discomfort among American liberals about the idea that people don’t ultimately want the same things, that there isn’t this linear trajectory that all peoples and cultures follow: Reformation, then Enlightenment, then secularization, then liberal democracy.” He says that political Islamist movements (which vary widely in their interpretations and applications of Islamic law to politics) often “don’t ultimately want the same things” as American liberals, and that these differences should be acknowledged and respected:

As political scientists, when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, “Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?” But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It’s about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre. Political scientists don’t use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that? But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.

Hamid also states that rise of “ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics” all signal a widespread loss of faith in secular liberal democracy. He says to the interviewer, “the question of whether it’s good or bad is beside the point […] I see very little reason to think secularism is going to win out in the war of ideas.”

William Blake, "Behemoth and Leviathan."

William Blake, “Behemoth and Leviathan.”

Hamid’s analysis isn’t too dissimilar from that in the New York Times in seeing xenophobia and nationalism as rejections of liberalism, but unlike the Times article, his approach is to analyze the reasons why this may be happening. In Fredy Perlman’s words, “Leviathan, the great artifice, single and world-embracing for the first time in His-story [sic], is decomposing” (301).

Like Perlman, Hamid also understands that violence is central to state building. Therefore, the question of whether Islam as a whole is violent or not is a strange one to him:

A question I get a lot is, “Wait, ok, is Islam violent? Does the Quran endorse violence?” I find this to be a very weird question. Of course there is violence in the Quran. Muhammad was a state builder, and to build a state you need to capture territory. The only way to capture territory is to wrest it from the control of others, and that requires violence. This isn’t about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad; state building has historically always been a violent process.

Perlman writes that although the world-embracing leviathan is now decomposing, “being above all else a war engine, the beast is most likely to perish once and for all in a cataclysmic suicidal war.”(301) We see today an “array of competing actors” in Syria, that battleground that has become emblematic of our times, one where “opposition groups frequently merge and disassociate, producing a dynamic churn that makes understanding the opposition challenging.” These days, the question of “sides” in spiritual and cultural warfare is only relevant if one speaks of the ancient struggle of human communities against leviathan. The decomposition of one leviathan into many little leviathans is no longer particularly interesting.

William Blake, "Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing," c. 1786.

William Blake, “Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” circa 1786.

“People waste their lives when they plead with Ahriman to desist from extinguishing the light.”(301) However, Perlman writes of another vision as well, one which does not involve another armored leviathan rising from the ashes as so many have before:

In ancient Anatolia people danced on the earth-covered ruins of the Hittite Leviathan and built their lodges with stones which contained the records of the vanished empire’s great deeds. The cycle has come round again. America is where Anatolia was. It is a place where human beings, just to stay alive, have to jump, to dance, and by dancing revive the rhythms, recover cyclical time.(302)

The Orlando shooting took place at an LGBTQ+ nightclub. It wasn’t just an attack by one leviathan against another. It was an attack on human beings, on human community, on dancers, on “kinship and community,” on those who “still have an ‘inner light,’ namely an ability to reconstitute lost rhythms, to recover music, to regenerate human cultures.”(301)

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

Once again we are standing in the wake of a horrific tragedy and trying to make sense of the lives taken away by an act of violence. On June 12, 2016 around 2 A.M. a gunman walked into the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida with an assault rifle, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. Pulse, a LGTBQ club, was hosting a “Latin Flavor” event that was packed with approximately 300 people enjoying life and love on that Sunday morning.

Celebrations of love, during this Pride month, turned to the mourning of those who were killed and to the honoring of those wounded in Sunday’s tragedy. While many people try to make sense of the losses and the continued hatred directed at LGTBQ individuals, the mainstream media continues to focus on the shooter and his apparent motives. They have neglected to show the impact on the local, LGTBQ, or Latinx communities.

[Courtesy: Wikimedia

[Courtesy: Wikimedia]

The pain and loss experienced by these intersecting groups is being overshadowed by the most sensationalized tactics of the mainstream media machine. The erasure of politics and fear is in full force, which is nothing new to this community or to other historically marginalized communities. Little room is left to collectively grieve and support LGTBQ people without hate, fear and political nonsense creeping in.

After the event happened, the spotlight quickly moved toward attempts to identify the motives of the killer, tie him to specific agendas of extreme terrorism, which then becomes political fuel for the upcoming elections. Instead of a focusing on the very real grief of the affected communities, the media bypassed the LGTBQ voice for sensationalized news coverage and terrorist plots.

With so many publications focusing on the story of what happened at Pulse, I felt it was important to prioritize the voices of the LGTBQ, LatinX and the interconnected Pagan/Polytheist communities – voices that are too often lost in the madness.

In doing so, I also recognize that the grief, shock, and pain of such an incident makes it challenging to speak up at times like this. In reaching out to some within the local areas, or within the LGTBQ Pagan community at large, the rawness of the situation deserved care and consideration. Below are some of the reflective, inspiring, emotion filled, fierce words of a community impacted by the events of June 12.

The LGBT community in Orlando, the rest of Florida, and throughout the country and the world is still in shock after this tragic act of hate and violence. Our pain and outrage is compounded by media erasure of the fact that this was a deliberate attack on the LGBT community, and by those who seek to use our tragedy to further Islamophobic and gun control related political agendas.

We are doing our best to build something good out of the tragedy, by using it to bring us together and renew our sense of solidarity and community. Monday night I worked with a coalition of the LGBT leaders and organizers here in Pensacola, working together more closely than ever before to put together a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the Pulse massacre. I’ve never been more proud of my community than I am now, since I’ve seen how we respond to tragedy with love and support. – Katharine A. Luck, Ordained Minister of Florida’s Fire Dance Church of Wicca and vice president of STRIVE

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A few days before the Orlando massacre, I was talking to a straight friend who was giving me the “things are so much better and homophobia is dying out with the older generations” speech. I disagreed, but my well meaning friend was not ready to hear me. I was in the Orlando area about a month ago and had reconnected with people I know there.

I am an early riser so the horror of watching the news started very early in the day as I worried for my friends, grieved for the losses, and so much more. In addition to everything else, I saw repeated efforts to ignore, minimize, and sidestep the centrality of homophobia to the why and the when of the attack. So in addition to the emotional wound delivered to every LGBT person by the attack, there was also the wounding message that we matter less than making political hay.

I have been out for 42 years and every single one of those years I have been affected by physical, emotional, and political violence. It is useful to have gained some legislation over the course of those years, but ultimately the real work is in changing the culture. Homophobia is not dying out with the older generation, pay attention to the age of most of the perpetrators of violence. The hateful ideas are passed down the line like most abusive behaviors, and I see the same hateful values taught and role modeled today as when I was 16. If you want to do something about Orlando, work to change yourself and our culture, that is where real change lives. – Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

The news about Orlando has pulled at my heart in so many ways. I still can’t read the names or look and their pictures. They look too much like my community, my friends, the ones I go out with to queer bars in San Francisco. It could have been any of the people I know. It could have been me. I’m grieving for the families, especially the mamas burying their young. I’m grieving for the young queers, especially queer Latinx and other QTPOC who feel afraid.

Queer bars are not just safe spaces for me. They are temples. They are where I find the Blue God, the Peacock Angel, dancing among us, rejoicing in our beauty, power, and freedom. And I find myself asking, in what ways does our practice hold us in these moments? How do we stay present when our communities and the communities of those around us experience so much violence?” – Abel R. Gomez

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The first thing I read yesterday (June 12) when I woke up was about the Orlando shooting. For most of the day I didn’t really have an emotional response; I was angry but a lot of my other queer friends were more effected. I was driving to a café at around eleven at night when it hit me as I was listening to NPR, though, and I just started crying in the car.

I felt bad for crying. I don’t really feel I have the ‘right’ to be upset, even though I’m queer and even though the whole situation is horrid enough everyone should be crying. I’ve appreciated seeing my queer Pagan friends and leaders talking about the shooting and how to heal and extending themselves to the wider community, especially Elena Rose.  – Aine Llewellyn

Queer is the only word to define us. Queer is the word we will wear. And an ocean of strange friends that we call family, ebb and flow around us. All making up their families as best as they can, too.

And another year follows yet another day. Checking in after morning prayers, there is word from a beloved friend: There’s been a mass shooting. His friends go to that club. One still unaccounted for. He is bereft.

A day of grief shatters a month of joy. A month set aside to mark the uprising, a riot where trans women led gay men to say, “Enough!”

Enough harassment. Enough beatings. Enough killings. Enough arrests. Enough denials of housing. Of children. Of jobs. Of health care. Of being with our loved ones. Enough. Enough. Enough.

We too say enough.

You will not kill us. A few may fall, cut down, but you cannot kill us all. We will not let you. And we will not let you use our blood to organize more hatred and more war. Yes. I’m looking at you. And you. And you, too.

Last night, I made a decision. It is one I’ve made before:

I don’t want to, but if I have to, I will die in the streets defending my siblings from harm. Be they cis or trans. Black, brown, or white. Men or women. Not men, not women. Queer or straight. Or something wholly new. A parent defending a child. A band of Pagans. A Muslim at prayer. A young black man just hanging out. Two women, white, or brown, kissing on a sidewalk. Comrades locking down. A group of friends dancing and laughing, drinking beer at one a.m. – T. Thorn Coyle

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Apparently our mainstream media (MSM) and conservative politicians are bound and determined to erase us, to make the mass murder in Orlando into a “tragedy” that does NOT acknowledge precisely who lost their lives. Queer people. Latinx / Latin@ people. People who were in a safe place, dancing, sharing love and lust and light and space.

The dead are dead because of homophobia. The dead are dead because people in this country have become far more visible in persecuting (through word and deed and law) LGBTQIA people. The acts of violence are nothing new; the laws are flashbacks to the old days when what we wore was legislated.

I am queer. I am terrified, because a man was arrested before he could get to an LA Pride event, and he had guns and bomb-making materials, and apparently enough hate that he drove from the middle of the country to attack people he didn’t know. I am sick with heartbreak, because the conversation is (once again) about the identity of the man who did this, and not about the identities of those who died because of his hate.

Visibility is so necessary to our community. Yes, it’s dangerous, and not everyone can practice it. But if we are not seen, not acknowledged in the truth of who we are, then bigots will continue to ramp up their hateful words, acts, and legislation. – Dee Shull

I have been trying to unwind the various threads that combined to weave together the tragedy of last weekend. Instead I found myself tied up in knots unable to move and heartbroken. The fact that the shooting had even occurred was devastating; the number of deaths and injured unbelievable.

In the GLBTIQ community we refer to each other as family. We share common experiences, some of rejection and hate, others of acceptance and Love. It is these experiences that help to bring us together. We come together in clubs like Pulse to share community, dance, sing; to be our authentic selves and to be safe. These are the only locations where many of us are able to do this.

This attack has devastated our family and shattered our sense of security. In addition that devastating news that most of those killed and injured were Lantinx/Hispanic/Mexican, communities that have been exploited, marginalized, oppressed and are under vitriolic attack in political and public discourse, added an almost unfathomable overlay to the story.  People who have been attacked for both their ethnicity and their sexuality, gunned down in a venue where they anticipated being safe from the attacks they endured from the outside world.

The added knowledge that the killer may have been struggling with his own orientation only adds to the tragedy.  This attack may have been fueled by a combination of internalized homophobia and the misogynistic abusive propaganda put out by individuals and organizations skewing the teachings of their religions to meet their warped political end goals. If this is the case, the shooter is a victim of the lies and hatred told him as much as the victims he shot. This is not to diminish his actions but to highlight the complexity of this tragedy.

And so I find myself in knots, knots that time will eventually unwind, but knots that will forever have an impact on the fabric of my community and my chosen family. – David R. Shorey

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

3 hours
Yes I’m going there. We, the queers, have been thinking and talking about those three hours.  “Mommy, I love you …  He’s coming.  I’m gonna die.”
Walking in, saying, “If you are still alive, raise your hand.”
WE are talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it.
3 hours to be hunted, wounded, die.
Black, Brown, Queer people, and three hours.
A part of me says, “There is no Justice.”  Another part says, “We make our own Justice.”
The cottage/community witch in me is working fiercely to love and be present to my Queer family. The Social Justice witch in me, is in that place where there are three hours going by. For now, that is all I have to say. – Jacki Chuculate

I actually started receiving text messages and emails of solidarity from friends and allies long before I heard the news about Orlando first hand. And of all the messages and voices and memes and social media posts I’ve seen, one message rang the most true. It went something like: If you don’t understand how a club can be a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid of holding someone’s hand in public.

And that brought to mind a poem I wrote my freshman year of college. It’s included in my book, The Playground. It came about after I was physically reminded that I am not – or was not – allowed to exist in all spaces. I was not welcome, and my mere presence was seen as some kind of threat.

And it is in that space where I am beginning to process the fact that in 2016, in our own places of sanctuary, we are just as vulnerable and just as endangered as ever. These spaces are just as important as ever.  – Fire Lyte

I don’t feel sad. I feel RAGE. Being entirely free and open to others, whether Gay or Polytheist, in a country where savagery, ignorance, and entitlement are nurtured is a gamble not worth taking. Want to learn more or come near me, my culture, my beliefs? Fuck you, you can sit by your lonesome until I’M good and ready. Don’t like it? KEEP WALKING. – Lāhela Nihipali

>We are adaptable creatures. Our brains are built to cope with horror. But if you don’t feel this pain, if you can say to yourself “this isn’t about me,” or “this isn’t my fight.” You’re wrong. No matter your sexuality, your gender identity, your race, or your religion.  Violence against one is violence against all. Until we can accept that we are all connected, that we are all responsible, it’s going to happen again. And that is the true horror. – Rúndaingne Ash

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

>I am the mother of an LGBT teen and I had to tell her about the shooting before she left her bedroom this morning. It broke my heart to see her bouncing out of bed in a good mood (a rare enough event in adolescence!) and to have to take that joy away. Her political awareness and spiritual sense of self are both developing in the context of the current climate of divisive and hate-filled politics and public shootings.

She’s scared that marriage equality will be taken away; she’s sad and afraid of violence and hatred. She’s had to deal with ignorant questions about her faith but I don’t think she’s had any vitriol due to her sexual identity. I know that I can’t shelter her from all the hate and ignorance in the world but I’d love to keep her safely under my wing for a little while longer. Of course our family, our friends, our religious community are completely welcoming and loving. It is a gift I am happy that I can give my children. Their Gods and Goddesses love them, their trad mates love them. They have examples of happy adults living all sorts of different  lives.

I wonder if the dissonance between the loving and accepting cocoon of our community and the hate and fear of broader society are going to cause her pain in the long run. Because I know that someday, someone will say something ugly to her for being who she is, whether it is directed at her religion or her sexual orientation. It breaks my heart that I can’t protect my child from the sickness of our society. These are just some thoughts off the top of my head. I appreciate you giving space on TWH for this issue this week. Our home has been rocked by this horrifying event. – Larissa Güran

Truth time;
We are of one blood,
And it bleeds red,
Regardless what pigmentation your skin.
No matter,
Who you like to fuck,
Which is what it boils down to
No matter
Who you are on the inside,
Showing who you are on the outside
And if our paths do meet,
Who am I
To choose when your ending ought to be?
All of our lives
Our Paths,
Even if our paths never cross,
Stitched together by a Maker,
Whomever that might be,
Who can speak for Them?
And if
They do not possess the power to speak for Themselves’,
Who are we to speak for Them?
And furthermore,
Why are we following Them?
So,
50 lives for 50 states,
50 hearts,
50 souls,
Gone in a matter of moments
53 more
Unspeakable atrocities
Made in the image
Either of what you believe in
Or what you fear. – Jeremy Shirey

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

In the wake of this horrific catastrophe, we have the opportunity to step forward and center the voices of the LatinX and LGTBQ communities in our society. We get to challenge a narrative that is so often pushed into the mainstream consciousness without challenge or question. We have the opportunity to embrace those who are often ignored or discarded and pass the mic that will amplify their voices.

Within our interconnected Pagan and Polytheist communities we have a unique chance to truly embrace the spirit of community by listening to the words of our marginalized. We are small enough that we can dismantle the walls keeping us separated and large enough to make an impact in the process.

The chance to use our collective power to demand changes in legislation and laws, and to demand proper representation in our government and organizations holds more power than a simple social media meme or a lit candle. The isolation created by erasure can be lonely and harsh, we can counter it by being present and willing.

As we all continue to heal from the devastation of this unspeakable injury to the LGTBQ community, we should ask ourselves: “Who are the most affected?”

How can we give space and honor those who have lost their voice? What can we do to support our LGTBQ community members and friends? How can we lift up our most marginalized? What actions are needed to support our LGBTQ and other marginalized peoples beyond this moment in time?

The legacy of erasure, oppression, marginalization and othering that happens within the larger societal construct will continue to impact those who we care about, if we are not willing or brave enough to speak up, step out, and work for love.

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

In our collective road to understanding, let us now acknowledge the names of those who lost their lives while celebrating Life in Orlando, Florida.  As we say, what is remembered, lives! 

Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

More from LGBTQ and LatinX leaders:

Author’s note: A special thank you to those who were willing, able or available to contribute to this piece during such an emotionally challenging time. In an effort to put LGTBQ voices forward it became apparent how understandably challenging this was at this time. I honor those who took the time to do this, and I also honor those who were not at the space to be able to. I see you. Thank you.

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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.

King Arthur Uther Pendragon has been fighting for the rights of British Pagans since the 1980s, and his main battleground has been Stonehenge. His main foe? English Heritage, the charity that manages the ancient monument in the county of Wiltshire.

Stonehenge [Photo Credit: garethwiscombe/Flickr]

Stonehenge [Photo Credit: garethwiscombe/Flickr]

Arthur shot to prominence when he led a campaign to remove an exclusion zone around the inner circle of the monument, so that the solstices and equinoxes could be celebrated properly there.

His fight took him all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, and English Heritage finally dropped the exclusion zone for the quarter days in 2000.

Arthur was born John Timothy Rothwell and was head of a biker gang called the Gravediggers before finding the Druidic path and, as he explained, coming to a realisation that he was King Arthur reincarnated.

He decided to change his name accordingly, but had to wait for updates to English and Welsh Law that allowed it. As a hangover from centuries of being a Christian nation, people could not change their “Christian name” until 1986.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Arthur said, “I’ve been on this quest as King Arthur for 30 years. It was the Queen’s birthday on June 11th, 1986 that I officially changed my name. I couldn’t have done it before that.”

Arthur is backed by his Loyal Arthurian Warband, a Druidic order that describes itself as the warrior/political arm of the modern Druidic movement. According to Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University, a world authority on Paganism, Arthur has “the biggest Druidic order in the world.”

[Courtesy Photo]

King Arthur Urther Pendragon [Courtesy Photo]

The latest battle in his ongoing quest is against English Heritage’s introduction of a car park charge of £15 (roughly 21 USD) at the summer solstice. The site is open all year except for Christmas Day, and then the quarter days – when only Pagan communities are given access.

Arthur has been holding pop-up protests against the levy, blocking access routes to the site for tourists.

“This is a pay to pray charge,” he said. “English Heritage make money off Stonehenge for 360 days a year. They receive 1.3 million visitors per year and charge them approximately £20 each per entry. They have a car park capacity of 600 vehicles per hour, soon to be extended to 900.”

To Arthur, this ruling is partly about a clash of cultures and a lack of understanding about the importance of Stonehenge as a pilgrimage site to modern Pagans worldwide. Access, after all these years, is still a key issue.

Arthur said, “An order has been put in for around the site to restrict parking on the roads in and out of Stonehenge, so they would have a monopoly on the car parking.

“Stonehenge has always been a gathering place for like-minded spirits. It’s a Sun temple and is a sacred clock that comes alive at the solstices and equinoxes. It helped us to transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, as through it we knew which time was the right time to plant (crops), otherwise their whole community would have been wiped out. So it was very important to study the stars and know our place in the heavens.”

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge [Courtesy English Heritage]

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge [Courtesy English Heritage]

When we contacted English Heritage it did not address Arthur’s campaign directly but stressed its role as steward of the site and insisted that the charges were a response to booming visitor numbers.

In a statement, the body said, “In recent years there has been huge growth in people and cars coming to the World Heritage Site for summer solstice. To protect Stonehenge and to keep solstice special, English Heritage has introduced two new changes this year, intended to make the occasion cleaner, greener and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Kate Davies, general manager of Stonehenge at English Heritage, added, “As guardians of Stonehenge, it is our job to look after the monument. We ask all attending summer solstice to respect the stones and the people around you.”

As usual, Arthur will be at Stonehenge this year. But he has decided to use his usual time of celebration to protest the charge.

He said, “I’m not going to pay their charges. I’m going to be stood in the car park encouraging everybody not to pay.”

Another bone of contention is the alcohol ban on the site. English Heritage states that “by making solstice alcohol-free and encouraging more people to travel by public transport, we believe people will be able to enjoy Stonehenge and the solstice here”.

But Arthur points out: “Paganism is not a sombre, po-faced religion. We are there to celebrate the rising of the Sun. How we choose to celebrate in our belief structure is no concern to English Heritage.”

Some have raised concerns about the celebrations held at Stonehenge to mark summer solstice not being spiritual enough and Arthur concedes: “It is akin to a secular event for some, something you’d have on your bucket list, like Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve.”

However, he went on to say, “To all the Druids and Pagans who complain it’s not spiritual enough, I say it’s because you’re not going that it’s not spiritual enough. Put your robe on, get there, and start teaching people about the spirituality of it. Then it will be spiritual enough for you.”

Arthur makes a point. Summer solstice is an opportunity for Pagans of all stripes to engage the public, yet many shy away from this. Arthur uses the annual gathering to inform people about the occasion. He said, “I’m there, robed up, talking to people all night about the spirituality.’

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Summer solstice at Stonehenge is such a big event compared with the other quarter days because the warmer weather and lighter evenings attract a huge crowd. Last year, some 40,000 people turned up.

Another campaign running in tandem with the one on car parking fees concerns the ancient bodies, which had been found buried around Stonehenge. Arthur would like them to be returned to their original resting places at the site.

In his podcast The King’s Speech, Arthur begins outlining what this campaign is about by saying: “As Druids, we believe in honouring the ancestors. We believe that those who were buried around Stonehenge were instrumental in developing the culture there that went before us.”

This re-interment campaign is of its time, as it has paralleled a similar one spearheaded by British Druid Emma Restall Orr called Honouring the Ancient Dead. But Arthur’s campaign is primarily focused on Stonehenge.

He said, “For too long, us Pagans and Druids have been silent on this matter. We cannot see the wishes of our forefathers swept aside in the name of science and technology. We believe our ancient dead have a much right to be left in peace as our recent dead and that their cultural belief structure is as valid as any belief structure to this day.

“They’ve got a skeleton on display in the gift shop. With modern science and technology, they don’t need to do this. Those people were buried there as guardians of Stonehenge and I want them put back. It is disrespectful to take our ancient dead out of the ground and put them on display in such a fashion.”

For this solstice though, Arthur’s focus will be on the car park charges at Stonehenge.

He stresses: “For us it’s a spiritual pilgrimage, we should not be charged to pray, we should not be told how we can and can’t celebrate. We go with a wild Pagan heart and that’s how it’s going to stay.”

NEWPORT, R.I. — When Elizabeth Pepper first started publishing the Witches’ Almanac in 1971, information on Wicca and Paganism was not easy to find. Most of it came in the form of newsletters and word of mouth, or through copies of the magazine Green Egg, where were read over and over again. Pagans had not yet begun to network in any meaningful way.

The Witches’ Almanac was one of the earliest publications to cater to practitioners of these emerging religions, modeled to some extent upon the Farmer’s Almanac in that it provided useful information in an annual format. With the exception of a ten year personal hiatus from 1981-1990, Pepper published The Witches’ Almanac consistently year after year.

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Pepper’s work and legacy continued on past her death in 2006 by her successor Andrew Theitic, who reminisced about the long-lived publication, which now, 45 years later, has evolved into a recognizable brand.

Pepper was already a well-regarded practitioner of the Craft when Theitic first met her in 1974. She clearly embraced the belief that women were the equal of men — an idea that was not widespread by any means. She demonstrated this by becoming the first female art director of Gourmet magazine, serving in that position for most of the 1950s. While her experience in publishing made it possible for the Witches’ Almanac to be created, it was her knowledge of the occult that made the almanac  something to be sought after.

Theitic began contributing soon after the two met, and Pepper eventually asked him to become its managing editor, while she continued to manage the art responsibilities. “When Elizabeth became ill in 2006, and was no longer able to work,” he recalled, “she asked me if I would take over the publication” and of the various titles then within her purview. “Of course I agreed to this. Elizabeth was a close friend for 30 years, and it was important for me to continue her legacy.”

When she died later that year, she bequeathed her publishing business to him, entrusting the legacy into his hands. And, since that point, Theitic has strived to live up to that responsibility. “I have continued with her wishes,” he said, “bringing magic, Witchcraft and wonder to our readership.”

The almanac has seen two overhauls in appearance to keep it up to date, and there have been complementary additions to the business. “I have expanded our line of titles to include books by Charles Leland, David Conway, and soon in the upcoming year, Paul Huson. We now also produce book bags, gemstone jewelry and an assortment of other fun items,” he said. “It is my intention to expand the almanac’s list of authors to include other notable writers. Hopefully we will see this happen over the next few years. In addition, we have some other publishing surprises in store.”

Of those surprises, Theitic was mostly coy, but he did acknowledge that one had to do with hoodoo; the other is “involving a Witches’ Almanac Journal.”

"Flight of the Transformed Witches' [courtesy image]

“Flight of the Transformed Witches’ [courtesy image]

With the tremendous growth and diversification in Pagan and associated religions, the almanac’s content and readership have kept pace. Topics include magic in forms from high to kitchen. It includes histories and discussions of various religious practices. There was even one devoted to the logo used by the Obama campaign, which garnered a thank-you note on White House letterhead.

“We receive letters from Witches, physicists, cunning folk, astrologers, Pagans, IT managers, artists, magicians, folklorists, college professors and many others from all walks of life,” Theitic said. He added that Pepper once remarked to him, “Dear, there will never be a shortage of interesting material. Just look at all of the different people who read the almanac. There will certainly be something of interest for everyone.”

Another example of how the Witches’ Almanac brand has been kept relevant is the release of the coloring book. The annual almanac reaches about 20,000 readers, and with this newest offering, “we are reaching the very youngest of our readership, and as I understand it, these little folks are now interested in the almanac too!”

The coloring book, as previously reported, is derived in part from illustrations that have been included over the years in the almanac proper. This includes images like “Flight of the Transformed Witches,” the standard back cover of the publication. The book is broken into thematic chapters, including sections of tarot, creatures, Egyptian themes, and medieval woodcuts.

In the woodcut category, images range from simple to very complex, allowing the artist to choose his or her level of involvedness. Many of the images can be very educational for children. This is especially true of the tarot, planets and constellations categories. Any age group will find the coloring book to be fun and relaxing. However, I feel that if coloring was a joint effort between parent and child, the education component also gets a chance to shine at its best.

The coloring book notwithstanding, “We are now reaching the grandchildren of the readers who were with us from the almanac’s inception.”

Even with his stated push for more “notable” writers, Theitic is willing to consider others less well-known, so long as they’ve been published. “We have a full complement of regular writers,” he said, but “we do welcome new writers, with new ideas.”

Cover 2016

Cover 2016

In 2004, the trusted publication entered the online world. As with any printed product, it’s a struggled to decide what to put online, and what to reserve for the page.

“For years, my marketing adviser has been suggesting that we charge for content, and make the site a go-to location for a lot of Almanac/Witchcraft/Magic-related information; almost forming a community. The staff and I have struggled with this, and as is evident, have chosen not to go in this direction at this time.”

What can be found on the site, beyond the publications themselves, is “a book review page, extras from almanac articles (usually an overflow from exceptionally long articles that are too lengthy to run in the printed almanac), Sites of Awe photos, and other information.

“I can’t say that the website has helped with sales. However, in a time when book sales everywhere have been decreasing, I believe the website has been helping to keep us around that 20,000 copies we print each year. In order to reach sales figures like this, it requires us to partner with our distributor, Red Wheel Weiser. The folks there have been invaluable to the growth of the Witches’ Almanac and related publications.”

That partnership, in which Red Wheel Weiser handles distribution, in some ways dates back to 1974. Theitic and Samuel Weiser both owned bookstores at that time and developed a friendship. Many years later, when Red Wheel Weiser absorbed the almanac’s distributing company Hampton Roads, their friendship made it easier for Theitic to trust the new company to continue distribution.

That relationship has supported other projects as well. The Weiser-founded bookstore, now called Weiser Antiquarian Books, sold the leather-bound limited edition of Charles Leland’s The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel of York when Theitic’s company published it. The Witches’ Almanac also hosted the following 2010 interview with Donald Weiser, who was the bookstore’s publishing program.

The Witches’ Almanac and associated projects make up a for-profit enterprise, which is not entirely common in Pagan circles. As such, Theitic finds himself a creator of Pagan jobs. In addition to himself, six part-timers and a full-time art director are employed handling tasks ranging from the more mundane, such as sales and fulfillment to a position just a bit more Pagan in character: the staff astrologer.

“Although our staff is paid, and not volunteer, each of them goes out of their way to fly the extra mile,” Theitic said. “We are a family before we are a business.”

From a rare source of knowledge to a well-regarded Pagan brand, the Witches’ Almanac has thrived in its first 45 years. One can only look forward to what surprises are to be revealed in the coming years and decades.

TWH – The Pagan festival season is in full swing and many festival festival ‘virgins’ are both excited and worried about what to expect. They may be familiar with camping, but haven’t been to a Pagan festival before or they may be new to both camping and Pagan festival culture.

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First Time Campers

There are many resources for basic camping tips and lists of gear to bring, and check them out before going to any festival. Two important tips for those new to camping: reuse items already owned and focus on organization.

One of the main frustrations while camping is losing items or wasting time searching for something you need.

Coolers aren’t all that big, but it’s amazing how much stuff can get lost in them. Pack your food items in plastic, waterproof containers. Put all your cheeses in one container and sliced meats in another, and label the top. Prepare and pack all the ingredients for a meal in baggies and put those baggies into a plastic food container along with the recipe. Put snacks for the kids in single serving containers with brightly colored lids. That way, kids can help themselves when they are hungry between meals.

You’ll want a place for your garbage. While there will be communal garbage cans or daily garbage pick up, you’ll  still want your own can. It keeps your area clean and saves your sanity. You can find pop up garbage containers or laundry baskets at most any store in the lawn care or dorm room storage section. Maybe you already have one. Just throw a bag in it and you have a place to put your garbage.

Another organizing tip is to pack your items in stackable plastic bins. Plastic bins protect your items from rain, humidity, animals and bugs. Look for bins that can be snapped or clamped closed. I’ve had my tent completely flooded out but my clothes and gear were kept safe and perfectly dry in these bins. Group your gear in the containers so that everything is easy to find. Your tools go in one bin, your kitchen items in another, and clothes go in a third.

You already own many items that are superior to most camping gear. Just look around your home.

Need a camping kitchen or a dining table? Use an ironing board. Ironing boards are great because they can adjust to countertop or table height. Most camping kitchens you buy are very low which forces you to hunch over while cooking. Another advantage is that an ironing board top, once the fabric cover is removed, is heat resistant and easy to clean. Many of them also have holes or a grid which is perfect for hanging pots and utensils using S hooks or carabiners.

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Want a place to store condiments or other small items? Chances are you have a hanging shower organizer in your bathroom.Take it camping. You can hang the organizer on a tent pole or a tree and fill it with fire starters, tools, ketchup, and napkins. Need something to store all your bedside items like car keys, books, flashlight, and glasses? Bring your craft or knitting organizer. Now you won’t be feeling around in the dark for a flashlight when you need to pee at 3am.

If you have an area rug, bring that and put it on the floor of your tent. Just like in your home, it will keep you from tracking dirt further into the tent, which really means your bed. If you can, take your shoes off outside your tent and wipe your feet on your rug. Otherwise you’ll be sweeping your tent and shaking dirt out of your bedding every day.

Pagan Festival Culture

Camping at a Pagan festival is different from camping at your local park. There are unwritten rules to follow so everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.

The first is that showing skin is not giving consent. Many festivals are clothing optional, or attendees may dress in ways that show more skin than you’d normally see. This doesn’t mean they want sexual attention or an invitation for physical contact. Staring or making comments about their appearance are also not appropriate.

Ask before you touch. Some people set up altars in their camp, and they also may have other interesting items on display. There may be moments that you want to hug a person or pick up a child. Or, you may see lovely items for sale in a vendor booth. The general guideline is, if it isn’t yours or your body, ask before you touch it/them.

Similarly, ask before you enter someone else’s campsite. You wouldn’t just walk into a home without asking first, right? Same with a campsite. Most people are thrilled to have you visit them, even people you don’t know. They want new people to visit them! So say hello, and ask if you can come on in. Chances are, you’ll quickly make a new friend.

Noise. Even though you can see and hear most everything happening in the surrounding tents and campsites, pretend you don’t. Likewise, try to keep noise down, especially early morning and nighttime hours.

Bring fun items. Decorate your camp with Pagan items. Make a small shrine. Wear fun clothes and jewelry. Braid your beard. There will probably be drumming each evening (which may last all night) so bring a percussion instrument.

While at a Pagan festival, it’s easy to get so into meeting new people, attending workshops and rituals, and dancing all night that you forget to care for yourself. You become high on community love and being able to be so far out of the broom closet it isn’t even funny. So while you are doing all of that, don’t forget to care for yourself. Wear sunscreen. Drink water. And obey the 5:2:1 rule.

Fewer and less 3
Get at least 5 hours of sleep each night. Caffeine is not an appropriate substitute for sleep. Eat 2 solid meals per day. Snacks don’t count. If you find yourself so busy during the day you’re forgetting to eat, put a sandwich in your bag and eat it between workshops. Take 1 shower per day. It will most likely be hot, and you’ll be sweating. Dirt will get caked in crevices. You will smell and wonder why people are avoiding your awesome hugs. If you don’t want to shower, wash your pits and groin in a basin. Shower time is also a good time to check yourself over for any infected bug bites, ticks, or other injuries that should be cleaned and taken care of.

The Wild Hunt also talked with Lori Dake, author of A Guide to Pagan Camping: Festival Tips, Tricks and Trappings and asked her for her top three tips for camping at a Pagan festival. Here is what she said:

– Bring everything in the bathroom. By this I mean if there is an item you regularly use in the bathroom, be it a toiletry, medication, or something else, bring it, or a trial size of it, with you.

– Prepare for (nearly) all weather. If it’s a high summer festival, you probably don’t need your down parka, but nights can dip down to the 40’s and 50’s. Extra socks, packed in individual zippered plastic baggies, should be on everyone’s list.

– Bring what you can afford to lose. Anything and everything can happen, so don’t bring anything that cannot be replaced or will result in a serious cramp in your mundane life. For example, if you bring a phone, tablet or laptop, everything on it needs to be backed up!

Her book has many more suggestions on how to have a successful Pagan festival experience and is available in paperback or ebook.

images (1)ORLANDO — Tragedy struck early Sunday morning when a man open fired inside a crowded Orlando night club killing an estimated 49 people and injuring 53 others. As of publication, federal officials have not conclusively linked the attack to the organization Daesh. However, state and local officials are calling it a terror attack due to the gunman’s history and personal statements.

The owner of the nightclub Pulse, which bills itself as the “hottest gay nightclub” in Orlando, posted this message: “Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.”

A Facebook application called Safety Check allowed Orlando-based users to check in “as being safe” and allowed others to check on a friend’s status. Many members of the Orlando-area Pagan, Heathen and polytheist community were using that app as news spread. Regardless, the event has shocked the country and the world, being called the worst terror attack on American soil since 9/11. There have been candlelight vigils, social media memes, prayers, blood drives, and other actions being taken to help and show support for the families and friends involved and for the LGBTQ community as a whole.

The Wild Hunt will have more reactions to the weekend tragedy in the coming days.

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Epona_1ATLANTA — It was announced that Patricia Zook, known to the Pagan community as Lady Epona, had died. She was High Priestess in the Faerie Faith and played a pivotal role it the tradition’s development. According to students Linda Kerr and Cliff Landis, in her early days, Lady Epona worked closely with Mark Roberts, who had previously spent time with Morgan McFarland. They wrote, “Epona emphasized a strong sense of ethics and a focus on personal transformation.”

Over the years, Lady Epona was involved with and led many organizations including the Coven of the White Horse, the Garden Club, and the Mud Witches. She was also a veterinarian and perceptual student of the Craft. Landis and Kerr wrote, “Epona’s thirst for wisdom and community was relentless, and even in her last weeks of life she was sharing her knowledge as a Reiki Master and passing on lessons to her great-grandchildren in the Craft.”

Landis, along with his partners, served as Lady Epona’s caretaker in her final days. She died of cancer, COPD, and congestive heart failure on May 29, 2016, at her home in Decatur, Georgia. There will be a memorial June 19 at 4:00pm at the Clarkston Community Center. A ritual to celebrate her life will be held in October at the FallFling Festival in Alabama. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Gwinnett Animal Hospital’s Good Samaritan Fund. What is remembered, lives.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

TWH – After Tuesday’s hexing action went viral, organizer Melanie Hexen received something unexpected. Hundreds of women began contacting her with requests for more hexings. In a Facebook post, Hexen wrote, “Hundreds of women have sent me pictures of their unconvicted rapists and molesters asking for magick.” On Saturday alone, she reported receiving over 300 requests.

Not all those requests came from Pagans, Heathens or other magical practitioners. One of those women said, “I do not practice the art myself… But you gave me new hope on a case that I thought was hopeless and lost.”

Anyone who has followed the hexing story has seen that Hexen and other participants have received both an outpouring of support as well as fierce backlash. While some of that response may have been expected, Hexen did not foresee the enormous number of requests for additional hexings, or more specifically, for hexings of the “unconvicted.” In her post, Hexen said, “Ladies, you are survivors and the strongest witches amongst us and I am humbled.”

Update 6/13/16 4:24 pm ET: Prior to original publication, we reached out to Hexen to see if she had any plans to help these hundreds of women with spellwork or in other ways. She was not available to respond at the time, but has responded since. Here is what she said: “We formed a private Facebook group for sharing stories, resources, and magick. Also, I’ve been reminding [the women] that survivors have the most powerful witchcraft.”

In Other News

  • The Prairie Land Music Festival is on schedule and will be held June 24-26. It is the festival’s first year, and aims to showcase both folk and Pagan music talent. As we reported in the past, organizers were having difficulty rounding up volunteers and funds. Rumors began circulating that the event had been cancelled. However, that was never the case. The Prairie Land Music Festival is now getting ready to open its doors for the first time, featuring “10  great performers scheduled who specialize in Folk, Celtic and Native American Flute Music.” In addition, there will be vendors and kids activities. The festival will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds North Arena in Iowa City, IA.
  • The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA), in partnership with the Vine Arts Center, will be hosting a new exhibit titled “Modern Pagans/Ancient Realms.” In the exhibition, artists respond to the following question, “What does this revival of pre-modern religions contribute to the larger conversation?” The event will feature painting, live performance, photography, ceramics, video, and mixed media. The “Modern Pagans/Ancient Religions” exhibit opens July 8 at The Vine Center in Minneapolis and will be open through July 29.
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering begins this week and runs from June 19-26 in southern Illinois. Rev. Selena Fox, founder of Circle Sanctuary said, “As part of PSG each year, we do workings for Pagan religious freedom. This will be part of our opening rite on Solstice Eve on Sunday night, June 19.” Lady Liberty League also holds its annual meeting during PSG, and it can be attended by PSG guests interested in religious freedom work.
  • The interest in Doreen Valiente and her work has not yet subsided in the U.K. Ashley Mortimer, trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, was just featured on the podcast show “Cult of Nick” about the exhibitions, the book and the upcoming play. And, this weekend, in honor of Gerald Gardner’s 132nd birthday celebration, Pagans and others will be gathering at Preston Manor, where the Doreen Valiente exhibit is being hosted. On June 18, Mortimer, along with Philip Carr-Gomm and Tam Campbell, will be giving talks to visitors, who come to visit the exhibition.
  • For those that did not attend Caldera Fest or for those that want to relive it, a video of one of Tuatha Dea’s performance, featuring Ginger Doss and Sharon Knight, was posted to You Tube. Enjoy!

TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

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And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

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The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

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Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

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In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

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“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

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* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

[Guest journalist Zora Burden returns to her discussion with artist, author and hypnotherapist Iona Miller. In Part One, Burden began her conversation with Miller on the subject of sacred sexuality and the reclaiming of the body and sexual self  – a topic that is rarely addressed publicly within a positive framework. Today, we present part two of that interview.]

Casa della Farnesina, Rome, ca. 19 BC [Public Domain]

Casa della Farnesina, Rome, ca. 19 BC [Public Domain]

ZB: In regards to the practice of sacred sex, what would be the best way for a beginner to approach it?

IM: Approach it with love. The key to love is selflessness, and the fulfillment it brings. The soul’s selflessness is as great as the body’s selfishness. Love is the language of the soul that allows us to unleash its unlimited capacity. It is a poetic and aesthetic act, a celebratory rite, and a marriage of matter and spirit as an experience of wholeness. We don’t need to support that phenomenon with any theory, jargon or interpretation. Sacred sex is an inherently healing practice and attitude that promotes well-being. It’s about rapport, reverie, and rebirth.

When you can fully imagine your lover as God/Goddess, their transcendent embodiment of the essence of male/femaleness, you’re there. “Knowing” in the “biblical” sense is direct, undeniable experience — a gnosis. It is ravishment beyond rapture – complete transport to the sacred world which is beyond time, beyond decay. It conveys a sense of the eternal – the fated. It fascinates us because transformation is our biological imperative.

Ultimately, it’s all about love – in or out of bed. You must approach the world as your lover, with naked awareness. That does not mean to be socially naïve or idealistic, nor to overemphasize the mysteries of semen retention, or ‘vaginal weightlifting,’ for example. Did you feel some cosmic merger, some divine infusion? Transcendence? Most will not go through all the initiations and empowerments, but essentially anyone can enjoy the practice of imagining the indwelling divinity of their sexual partner, in or out of an intimate relationship.

The mind is the primary sex organ. The psychological issues remain the same: projection, sex addiction, folie a deux, co-dependence/interdependence, fantasy, rapport, trust, intimacy, and commitment. All libido is sexual energy to some extent, the natural urges of life at any given moment. It is a self-regulating intentionality that knows where it ought to go for the overall health of the psyche. It is the urge to create, an energy arising from “life” drive — physiological or psychic energy associated with sexual urges.

ZB: Could you describe a typical tantric experience for a person to know what to expect and how it differs from standard sex?

IM: Most ‘sacred sex’ is no more than sex with an added psychic dimension, whether that is individual or shared with the partner. That may include visualizations, imagination, adoration of the archetypal aspects of the partner, and as much or little external ritual as one wants or can produce at the time. It does not have to affect spontaneity.

ZB: What is the best way for one partner to introduce tantra into their relationship? How does a committed partner compare to engaging in tantric practice with a stranger?

IM: If you know the person, you can talk about exploring your spiritual and sexual interaction more deeply. It is much like disclosing an interest in any sexual fantasy, and may be less challenging than some exploratory behavior. You find your way along together, moving in mutually satisfactory directions. I cannot comment to the ‘stranger’ issue, but one should avoid romanticizing a sex and love addiction, where there is compulsion at work. If stranger sex is a default or personal choice, then one can probably figure out how they can work out their sexual and spiritual agenda in that context. It cannot be imposed or judged externally, unless there is toxic behavior or reactions of participants. There can be unforeseen consequences.

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Iona Miller [Courtesy Photo]

ZB: If a person wishes to find an instructor, how do you advise they find a teacher right for them?

IM: Traditionally, the teacher finds you. One you have a good rapport with is probably better than one you cannot relate to or communicate with effectively, even if they have more knowledge. Pick one that harmonizes with your developmental interests.

ZB: How would one know they are ready to engage in ritual practice as a form of sexual awakening?

IM: There is no harm in trying if it is kept simple. Awakening to deeper levels of sexual experience is open to all who care to do so. It is an experiment you make with yourself. Some people speak of being ‘called’ toward such practice by their unconscious and fantasies.

Libido fuels all appetites. It is a drive, identical with fantasy-images, that motivates us spiritually, intellectually, and creatively. If you think you can have a life-affirming experience in this manner you probably will experiment with it.

ZB: Will you explain how one knows if they’ve activated kundalini and what this means for those who are not familiar?

IM: In some sense any sexual arousal activates kundalini or libido. Senses become more heightened, you may feel heat, vibrations, or pressure, and hear different sounds or pitches. Each chakra has its characteristic effects. The energy flow in the subtle body may range from a trickle to a strong flow. Like sex, it requires surrender. Such broad questions cannot be reduced to quick formulas; each person is different.

ZB: What are the precautions or preparations one should keep in mind for kundalini arousal?

IM: Such precautions for Kundalini yoga and other spiritual practices are covered in Michael Murphy’s book: The Future of the Body.  Gopi Krishna describes Kundalini simply as the normally latent psycho-sexual power that, when awakened ascends through the central channel of the subtle body. The root word “kunda” means a pool or reservoir of energy, likened to a coiled snake, ready to strike at any moment. Correctly directed, it leads to cosmic consciousness and liberation.

ZB: What is the best way to practice tantric sex when so many people are busy with work and the stress of daily life?

IM: Just taking the time to make it special, from relaxing and bathing to a full spa-experience helps prepare both body and mind. But the attitude toward the partner and the sacred dimension remains the main thing, even without any preparation time. Nothing prevents the adoration of the archetype or inner divinity at any given moment. Perhaps it begins with just the interlocking gaze of ‘soft eyes.’

ZB: Do you feel there is any aesthetic that should be included in a ritual of sacred sex?

IM: I don’t think there is ever any rule. Perhaps sometimes you feel very dramatic, other times earthy. It’s nice to have an atmospheric spot, certainly conducive music, and perhaps the right incense for the operation. Aesthetic response is an essential emotional aspect that lends flow and harmony to the process of balance, rhythm and synthesis of immediate perception.

Aesthetics is an artistic philosophy. Imagery evokes a perceptual response — an aesthetic response, a participatory way of knowing, remembering, and reconnecting body with soul and identity. Looks -The nature of beauty is an immediate revelation of things as they are: unity, line, rhythm, tension, elegance. This communion of the soul with the mysteries of inner and outer world is naked awareness of divine self-revelation. The felt-sense of form and beauty is instinctual. There is beauty in the rhythms of nature and our nature. This flow is lyrical, epic and dramatic. Aesthetic signification is one thing, but the deep emotional impact of aesthetic arrest — being suspended for a thrilling radiant moment in the eternal — stops us in our tracks in a moment of realization.

ZB: How can one ideally incorporate working with the gods or goddesses in their sacred sex?

IM: Authenticity – bringing one’s whole self to encounter. If you are sensual, be sensual; whatever your style is, express yourself freely. Let intuition guide you to elicit just what is evocative from the psyche. “She” will let you know, as personal anima and Anima Mundi, soul of the World, the sacred Feminine.

ZB: Regarding those who wish to work with Dakinis, will you give a brief introduction to this practice?

IM: Choosing a Vajrayana dakini, an iconic superhuman form, is a practice path. Traditionally you receive empowerment in order to practice the deity. The practice is always a mix of mantra and visualization based on the principals of the bodhisattva path. Each empowerment is four empowerments, and each dakini practice is mahayoga, based on loving-kindness.

Various blisses may be experienced in the practice. Classical Buddhist practice, in which all the various deity yoga practices are essentially the same. We develop wisdom in solitary practice as emptiness and compassion. Through the years, after various empowerments, one finds practice allegiance to one or two. The only choice involved is to abide in one of the great Vajrayana lineages where such empowerments happen.

ZB: How does one work with the elements during tantric trance states?

IM: The Physical Plane is represented by Earth, and includes the physical trappings, body and instantaneous rapport; the Emotional Plane is Water with its qualities of flow, empathy and inter-being through the subtle body or energy body. The Mental Plane is Airy – conceptual, metaphorical, and mental body; the alchemy of Being. The Spiritual Plane is Fiery, symbolized by co-conscious mindbody melding in Sacred Sex – the essence or Quintessence of Sex Magick.

ZB: What are some aphrodisiacs you recommend? What scents, colors, food, music, environmental factors are important in tantric work or within sacred sexuality?

519ASDEHtUL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_IM: In any mind-expanding experience, set and setting or atmosphere is important, though that will mean vastly different ‘turn ons’ to different people. Personally, I like heavy oriental fragrances, except in summer. Some perfumers compose scents from your chart. My favorite fabric palettes are rich, shimmery jewel tones that really pop. For example, essential oils or flowers with their scents can represent maidenhood or fecundity. But psychologically they represent the flowering of differentiation that gives rise to creativity in inner and outer life. In perfume alchemy, each scent elicits a psycho-sensual response.

How often do we claim to be bewitched or enchanted or under someone’s spell? It all boils down to rapport. I wrote about enhancing sex with trance in Hyp-Know-Sex. Remember the corny line, “you fill up my senses”?  That pretty much says it.  There are 64 tantric arts that play into intensification of the experience, building anticipation. But maybe your lover doesn’t care about the flower arrangement on the buffet or feng shui, or whatever.

[Aleister] Crowley said, “Be strong, then can you bear more joy.”  Love is the best aphrodisiac, of course. The Lover wants to be with The Beloved. The arousal of desire begins in the mind. Incorporating a mythic or spiritual dimension adds depth, even if that nuance is a strictly personal or interior experience. Prescriptions are reliable, but I say use whatever works for you. The mind is the biggest sexual organ. Great sex is like taking psychedelics – it is a psychedelic, releasing DMT, endorphins and oxytocin. The longer you stick with it, the more chemistry you pump out.

ZB: In your book, The Magic and Ritual Use of Perfume, you explain the importance of scent in sacred sex and as a form of alchemical transcendence. Will you talk about this?

IM: It has been said that it is only with scent and silk and artifices that we raise love from an instinct to a passion. Perfume alchemy differs from other magical perfumery in that we rely strictly on the quality of the scent, not any other attributions. The doctrine of signatures attributes botanicals to astrological signs, colors, and a host of other linked symbols, but perfume alchemy is concerned with the scent first and magickal or qabalistic attributions secondly. No matter how much we clean ourselves, we all emit a unique odor that is individual. We all affect one another with chemical codes or pheromones.

We communicate through a silent, invisible, virtually subliminal smell language whether at work, in the dining room, or in the bedroom. This exposed portion of the brain (”nose brain”) samples the external world, and deals with the regulation of motor activities and the primary drives of sex, hunger, and thirst. Olfactory stimulation also shoots electrical signals to the limbic system and amygdale. This emotional part of the brain is concerned with visceral, sensory and behavioral mechanisms. This is why odors produce such strong emotional reactions and bring up memories. From time immemorial perfumes and sweet-smelling herbs have played an important part in both religion and sex magic.

Exotic scents have evoked ardor, charming and luring both men and women. Perfumes are actually love potions. A truly “magical” scent works on the subconscious mind, as well as the conscious, to elicit a specific predetermined response. Scents can also be used to stimulate the sexual centers directly, and to help us “anchor” positive feelings, thoughts, and states. Then by smelling the scent alone, we can re-evoke the gestalt of those peak experiences. To excite is to set in motion. Specific formulae not only to enhance desirability and call forth predictable responses, they can also condition our consciousness through association. They can be stimulating, soothing, activate our psychic qualities, or be healing. They stimulate us at all levels — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Tapping this potential, we can use scents as a language for communicating with and evoking our sub- and super-conscious energies, and creativity.

ZB: Which scents specifically can you recommend for tantric practices or as sexual enhancements?

IM: Keep your partner’s preferences and allergies in mind. Some like florals, or fruity notes, others languid orientals or animal scents. If your practice is qabalistic, keep the scent correspondences in mind, but realize many are not based on scent but on color, visual or medical analogs. It is important to remember in psycho-sexual alchemy the fragrance of the plant and the sensory response the scent elicits are primary. An alchemical essence is formulated for a specific “psycho-sensory, subliminal response”. This sensory response dictates the formulation of an incense or perfume.

The Doctrine of Signatures where herbs, plants, and flowers were assigned either to planetary rulership, or to parts of the human anatomy was based on the color and shape of the plant; so a kidney shaped leaf ‘healed’ kidney ailments and a red flower ‘cured’ blood diseases.  Color associations, linked to astrology, are even more simplistic.  For example, all red flowers belong to Mars; all yellow plants are ruled by the Sun, etc. This system of attributions, however, has no valid application in perfumery since it did not have anything to do with scent. Medicinal attributions are based on the organic principle of the plant and its ingestion as a tonic or tea, but not on the psycho-sensory fragrance.

ZB: How does one practice solitary tantra as compared to with a partner? Is there a difference in the outcome?

IM: Foremost is respect for the forces of creation, sex, and the divine, however you might conceive it. In this case, sex becomes a driver for inducing an altered state of consciousness. Or, such experience may arise in dreams and may or may not include bizarre metaphors.

The essence of tantra is action. Most tantra is not done with a physical partner and is not overtly sexual. The 4 empowerments of traditional Nyingma teachings describe the context. Tantra means: “thread of continuity”, like lineage. Yes, there are “sexual-yoga” practices for practitioner couples but it is called union practice and is essentially a practice to understand the nature of reality. A lama friend called doing union practice alone, “New Age aggressive innocence.” Religious practitioners of Tantra may be intolerant of the self-styled practices of ‘amateurs.’ Their work is a committed lifestyle which involves lifelong discipline.

ZB: How can a person utilize the internet (cyber-sex) as a form of tantra or sexual magick? Can a person experience sacred sex when using such a forum?

IM: Mostly such libido is used as a generator to create a charge around an operation and desired outcome. You can generate it almost any way you like. Soon people will have virtual and ‘designer’ bodies, so it will get very complicated, including the ethics of such encounters, in and out of relationships.

ZB: Can you give advice for women who experience pain or discomfort during long durational sex in practicing tantra?

IM: Any extended or frequent intercourse can cause “honeymoonitis” or urinary tract infection (UTI), which requires medical remedies. Otherwise, choose positions conducive to your fitness level if you plan to sustain activity in one position for a period of time. Pain is not a part of the process, so if it is excessive maybe this isn’t the right path for that person.

During sex, E.coli bacteria which tend to live on the skin around your anus can be transferred to your urethra by fingers or penis. Honeymoon cystitis is more common among young women in their twenties, although single women in their 50s are increasingly reporting that they suffer from the problem. There is more risk if you start having sex again after abstaining for a long period of time. See a Doctor if pain persists.

ZB: In regards to Westerners who’ve been raised with a damaging and shameful view of sexuality and their bodies, how do you see a person overcoming these feelings so they may begin to embrace their sexuality without this shame?

IM: Tantric notions of innate divinity are a good counterpoint to shame-based thinking. The essence of tantra is that the human being is the deity. We have divine qualities within us. Through tantra you can touch and recognize the powerful deity in yourself and partner. Identifying ourselves as victims damages our humanity. Core shame may be a symptom of codependency and is the root of addiction. If a person had severe attachment traumas some basic personality therapy can clear those layers before one takes on the archetypal worlds. Personality work and self-help create a firm foundation for any kind of spirituality. Unless the blocked emotions are released there will still be inhibitions.

Body shaming is a widespread cultural disorder we are left to deal with as individuals. Each person will have a different reaction, so there are also many solutions – many ways through. The therapies include transactional analysis, hypnotherapy, integrative techniques, and gestalt. They deal with the personal unconscious and embedded memories, not the transpersonal dimension of spiritual practice. If feelings, needs and drives are tied to shame, you are shamed to the core. Internalized shame makes us feel inherently flawed, inferior and defective. That pain leads to denial and defense, and sometimes violence, criminality, war and all forms of addiction. We need more self-compassion, not self-loathing. Toxic shame is demonic in its effects.

ZB: How does our orgasm and instant gratification obsessed society begin to understand the importance of abstaining from climax to find the pleasures of the sexual union itself without the goal of ‘completion’?  How can one learn to retrain their bodies to experience sexuality through tantra?

IM: Sex with totally awakened consciousness of the “now” can be enjoyed as an end in itself. Semen retention technique can be used to prolong sex before orgasm. Since the partner who is first to reach orgasm provides the other with an abundance of life force, sex may be seen as a mock battle in which the “opponents” compete to see who can induce the other to climax. Rather than approaching this as a matter of survival, we could view it as refreshing recreational sex play. Even though it is an arbitrary attitude, in the West orgasm is considered the supreme goal and reward of sex. Aside from certain magical practices, failure to experience sexual release is considered harmful and neurotic. But this attitude contains a cultural bias.

We have become obsessed with “achieving” orgasms, the more the better. We may have lost something by paying little attention to the quality of the experience. An evening of “Taoist lovemaking” might restore some specialness to your relationship. It incorporates some subtle nuances by maximizing body contact with your partner while minimizing leaking of vital fluids. If the partners attempt to complement and harmonize with one another, both will be nourished. When the desire for orgasm is so strong it cannot be resisted, we may submit, and then revive ourselves by sipping some ginseng tea!

ZB: What is the practice of hyp-know-sex that you have written extensively about? How does this create healthy sexuality?

IM: Hypnosis, used consciously or unconsciously is always a process of induction, deepening, and emerging. Eye fixation is one of the simplest mutual inductions for lovers. Deepening enhances relaxation, absorption, and visualization, while amplifying the focus of attention and experience. The key is being hypnotic, rather than doing hypnosis. Suggestions create atmosphere and enhance the pleasure of sexual experience and spirituality. Natural trance can be used to facilitate transcendence.

The consciousness altering heightened excitement, herbal refreshments, luxurious baths, oils, sensuous massage, sparkling drinks, flickering candle-light, incense and languid atmosphere of the boudoir setting are all conducive to self-suggestion for greater relaxation, sensual enjoyment, and fantasy experience. By changing your imagery, you can even evoke a more spiritual atmosphere viewing the act as a sexual sacrament. Mutual hypnosis for use with yourself and your lover is easily learned. The deliberate and charismatic use of hypnotic charms in sex has a long history, and created hysterias in past centuries. It is possible to use self-hypnosis or mutual induction to enhance desire, sex and performance. Self-hypnosis is a natural process.

Most of us spend our lives in automatically programmed trance states, such as driving on auto-pilot, anger trances, love trances, fear trances, trances induced by memories of places, phobia trances, archetypal trances, subpersonality trances, social roles, etc.  Reactions are spontaneous trance states when they happen to us. Consciously using hypnosis for changing old programming and for self-enhancement can open new realms of experience and psychic depth. Self-hypnosis, even outside the bedroom, helps us become more aware of the body, more tuned in to it and our feelings, sensual and otherwise. Self-hypnosis and hypnosis among lovers is a permissive process, rather than authoritarian like the old model of the controlling hypnotist. You simply give yourself and your partner “permission” to enjoy altered states of consciousness, other ways of being.

You can change your body image for the positive, and change any outworn attitudes about sex. Problems created by the mind can be solved by the mind, leaving you freer and more passionate about love and life, in general. Self-imposed limitations and constricting boundaries can be dissolved, even eradicated from your belief system. Sexual trance-formation can be applied to awakening or re-awakening the sensual self, overcoming dysfunctions, fears and anxieties, increasing desire and relaxation, building rapport with your partner.

ZB: What are some of the best books on sacred sexuality and tantric work?

IM: My personal favorite is Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger (1999). Montauk Chia is very nuanced in his tantric teachings. Anodea Judith has written extensively on chakras.

ZB: Will you give an example of what we can learn from studying the origins of mythology regarding sexuality and erotica and how this will help us understand it better?

IM: In the myth, Psyche is originally bound to Eros in a paradise of uroboric unconsciousness, and when she sees Eros in the light, this original unconscious tie is dissolved. This change represents a shift from the principle of fascinating attraction and the fertility of the species to a genuine love principle of personal development and encounter. Love as encounter is one of the central psychological insights of the myth. Kama, Eros, Cupid, Adonis are all active and aimed male principles. But Eros transcends erotic passion with ‘divine fire,’ necessary to the Great Work of self-discovery. Such love is fated, an inescapable destiny in which we lose ourselves in a kind of death that transcends our ego’s interests.

*    *    *

[Guest journalist Zora Burden is a regular guest writer at The Wild Hunt, sharing her extensive interviews with interesting occult and Pagan personalities. Burden is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. She also has five books of poetry on the themes of esoterica and surrealism available exclusively at City Lights Bookstore. In all her work, Burden focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]

This year’s Heartland Pagan Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend in McClouth, Kansas, faced severe weather, including extensive thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Although there were some difficulties, including damage to Gaea Retreat‘s roads, a sudden squall that threatened to damage the festival’s PA speakers and audio equipment, and the inability of several speakers to attend due to travel hazards, the incredible efforts of the festival staff allowed Heartland to continue successfully.

The altar beside Forn Halr at Gaea Retreat. Photo by Eric Scott.

The altar beside Forn Halr at Gaea Retreat. [Photo Credit: Eric Scott]

1.

At the far end of First Field, all that is is mud. Every footfall sinks an inch or two into the muck. We vary the paths we take across the grass, as though we hope to find a secret trail from our tents across the field to the gravel road that links the field with the rest of Gaea, but no such route exists. Where human feet tread, sodden footprints follow; there is no escape from the mud.

It is Thursday afternoon, just before the Heartland Pagan Festival is set to officially begin. My wife and I have been at Gaea for a day already. We had arrived early with the intent of helping the festival get set up, but the rain has never abated for more than an hour since we set up our tent. We laid inside until late in the morning, listening to the rain, running our worried hands through the ever-deepening water trapped on the floor. By the time the rain let up enough for us to make an assessment, the only dry thing left was my wooden chest of ritual tools, a showing perhaps too obvious to be taken for providence.

Now we are sitting in our camp’s kitchen area under a shadefly; the ground beneath our chairs appears to be the place where all mud must someday return. My wife and I munch on trail mix and watch the endless rain. Mark is rummaging through his tent across the way. His girlfriend, my old friend Sarah, is on the far side of the campground, cutting tullies (we call them cattails where I come from) for use in the sweat lodge later in the weekend, meaning that she is standing waist-deep in a lake during a thunderstorm. Peals of thunder rip through the air, some close enough to set off car alarms.

A tornado siren goes off. Neither Mark nor I knew tornado sirens could be heard from Gaea, despite both of us having visited the place regularly for decades.

Should we go down to the main hall? I ask. It’s a long walk from the back of First Field, and I’m not eager to make it in bog-ridden shoes if I don’t have to.

Supposed to, says Mark.

I think about it for a minute. If our friends go down there and we don’t, they’ll be worried that we got hurt or trapped.

The sirens stop, so we decide to stay put. But then a few minutes later they start again, and all three of us decide that means it’s time to go. We trek down to the main hall. None of our friends are there; I worry that they got hurt or trapped.

We find them, eventually. Sarah tells us she didn’t see any point in rushing across the dam to the main hall, even with the tornado sirens. She ran to her brother’s truck and hunkered down there with him. If I’m going to die, she said, I might as well die here.

2.

We sleep, or don’t sleep, in the car that night. I wake up in time to help with the Sunrise Ritual, though not entirely on purpose, but nobody else shows up besides Lorelei, the priestess; I suspect the rest of camp is also trying to recover from the long night.

I wander down to main gate and find that Gaea’s gravel road has been replaced by a whitewater rapid. The lake has spilled over the dam, and the water now rushes over the road in a torrent before falling into a ravine on the other side. I hopscotch across the bare chunks of foundation to the other side, where my friend Bill is trying to put a fuse back into his car without setting off the car alarm. (Unfortunately for all the sleepy Pagans, he does not immediately succeed.)

A long line of cars sits in the grass outside the gates; they had to pull off the road to let an ambulance in the night before, as a person had fallen and injured her knee. Nobody can bring their cars in; the road is closed by virtue of there being no road to speak of. Everyone has to drag their gear -– their tents and clothes and pans and food and bright blue plastic water jugs –- up to the campsites by way of a steep hill. None of us want to do it, but we know we have to. We procrastinate by talking about the rain.

See, the water’s already gone down a lot while we’ve been standing here, we say, pointing to water streaming over the dam. It’s true. In the past twenty minutes, it has degraded from a small river to merely a large creek. It’ll be clear in an hour or two.

And then what? The road is gone.

I guess we’ll have to get some gravel out here.

When is it supposed to rain again?

Afternoon. So if we’re lucky, they can lay down the gravel and get these cars up the hill before the rain washes the road away again.

We fall silent and watch the water recede for a little while longer, then look up again to the steel wool sky.

3.

I steal a few minutes for myself later that morning while it’s still clear and after we have dragged our camp to higher ground. I come to Heartland as much to visit Gaea’s hidden corners as anything else, and in the past few years, I have found myself drawn more and more to one particular spot, an oak tree a local Heathen group has given the name Forn Halr, that is, “Old Man.” Forn Halr grows out of the edge of a cliff, a huge old oak whose roots appear anchored in pure stone. The Heathens draped a hammer around his trunk with a necklace made of chain-links, and erected a stone altar before him. The dirt path leading up to Forn Halr is as soaked in mud as anywhere else at Gaea this weekend, but the ground around the tree itself is remarkably dry.

I always come to Forn Halr with a slight sense of unease. I know, of course, that Gaea’s innumerable ritual grounds were all thought of and built by other people for their own purposes. But Forn Halr feels like it belongs specifically to the people who named it in a way the others don’t. I feel as though I am trespassing, that I have entered the one part of Gaea that does not belong to me. But Forn Halr is also the most beautiful spot on the land, and the tree himself the most majestic denizen of these woods. And the magick I work here quickens like it does nowhere else on earth. I don’t belong here, and yet I wholly belong here. It is someone else’s, and it is entirely mine. And in this, I have much the same relationship to this grove as I do to all things named Heathen.

I pour a bottle of apple cider into a horn and share the drink with the Old Man’s roots, and then I lift my hammer from the rock altar and make a circle around the clearing. I whisper a prayer to Thor. We’re tired and wet, I say. Let us have a rest.

Sun dapples in through the canopy and plays upon the altar. It doesn’t rain for the rest of Heartland.