befunky-design2

What is the point of mythology today? What purpose do tales of gods and monsters of the long ago time play in our post-postmodern world?

Any given myth within any given mythology can be read at multiple levels by multiple audiences. The Norse myths are no exception.

Children (and the young at heart) enjoy the d’Aulaires retellings of the myths with a sense of innocent wonder at the exciting strangeness of it all. Teenagers (and other bloodthirsty types) revel in the violence and gore of distant derivations such as the Vikings TV show. Heathens (and related religionists) mine the surviving Icelandic versions of the myths for keys to their reconstruction and re-imagining of belief and ritual, although some practitioners actively deny that these materials have anything to do with religion at all.

Like all myths, the Icelandic tales of Thor and the World Serpent can amaze, entertain, and inspire. In the wider picture, for the wider society, what can be made of these stories that will really make a difference in the lives of those who read them? What meaning can we find in myths of a hammer-wielding god who fights a giant snake that lies deep in the sea and encircles all lands?

thor-jormungand-jormundgandr-world-serpent-snake-that-encircles-the-world-sea-ocean-norse-myth-norse-mythology-the-wild-hunt-symbolism-karl-e-h-seigfried-myth-god-gods

Thor fights the World Serpent at the Doom of the Gods by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

Stories of Thor and the World Serpent

The most general understanding of any specific myth is as a story of wondrous adventure. This type of reading focuses on elements of plot (who fought whom), attributes of characters (what weapons were used), and connection to the wider mythology (what effect the fight had).

Here are the basic details of the myths, briefly told.

Adventure 1: The god Thor walks to the World of the Giants with his companion Loki and his two servant children Thialfi and Roskva. After some time, they come to the enormous stronghold of the giant known as Loki of the Outer World.

This second Loki has powerful magic of illusion and plays several visual tricks on Thor and his comrades over the course of a series of tests of their abilities. One of Thor’s challenges is to lift the second Loki’s giant cat into the air. The god grabs the feline under his belly, but no matter how high he lifts the cat, it arches its back enough that only one of its paws leaves the ground.

When the giant wizard reveals all the tricks he played on his visitors, he tells Thor:

That cat was not what it appeared to you. It was the World Serpent which lies encircling all lands, and its length was hardly enough for both its head and its tail to touch the ground. And so far did you reach up that you were not far from the sky.

Thor departs in great anger at having been fooled.

Adventure 2: Thor goes fishing with a giant named Hymir. The god uses the head of an ox as bait and manages to hook the World Serpent. He furiously struggles to pull up the snake, and (in a Paul Bunyanesque moment) he pushes his feet through the bottom of the boat and braces them on the bottom of the sea as he hauls on the line.

The struggle between the god and the serpent is so fiercely fought that “all the ancient earth was collapsing.” Just as Thor lifts his hammer and readies to kill his prey, Hymir panics and cuts his fishing line. Thor throws his hammer after the sea monster, but “the World Serpent lives still and lies in the encircling sea.”

Adventure 3: At the end of mythic time, during the cosmic battle known as the Doom of the Powers, Thor has his final encounter with the World Serpent. The god is victorious, but he only stumbles nine paces away before “he will fall to the ground, dead from the poison which the serpent will spit at him.”

thor-hymir-fishing-trip-world-serpent-jormungand-jormungandr-norse-myth-mythology-gods-symbolism-meaning-the-wild-hunt-karl-e-h-seigfried

Thor ready to strike the World Serpent by Jenny Nyström [Public Domain]

Meaning within the Mythology

Adventure 1 sets up Thor’s great strength and his position as dedicated adversary to the giants. Before he reveals his illusions to the god, Loki of the Outer World tells him:

Now you shall be told the truth, now you have come outside the castle, which is that if I live and can have my way, you shall never again come into it. And I swear by my faith that you never would have come into it, if I had known before that you had such great strength in you, and that you were going to bring us so close to disaster.

There were several tests set up for Thor besides the trial with the disguised World Serpent. In each one of them, only the deceptive magic of the giant prevented Thor from achieving total victory.

As in the poem “Graybeard’s Song,” in which Thor and Odin debate and insult each other, Thor is presented in direct opposition to magic users. He faces any challenge head-on, using his raw strength and hitting it with his hammer. From his perspective, magic and illusion are dishonest and used as the recurrent refuge of those who refuse to engage openly with their opponents.

Adventure 2 expands on these ideas, positing a situation where Thor is able to face his opponent directly and engage in an open trial of strength and will, yet is still frustrated. Three main ideas are forwarded in this episode.

1. Thor is portrayed as protector and defender. In the late 10th century, the Icelandic poet Úlf Uggason told the story of Thor’s fishing trip, writing:

Fiercely flashed the brow-moons [eyes]
of the friend of gods and mankind [Thor],
deadly glances darting
down upon the serpent.

Similar language appears in the parallel spot in the Eddic “Hymir’s Poem”:

The protector of humans, the serpent’s sole slayer,
baited his hook with the ox’s head.
The one whom the gods hate, the All-Lands-Girdler [the World Serpent]
from below gaped wide over the hook.

The major attribute of the god is not thunder, but protection of the community. He fights to defend the worlds of gods and humans from the threatening forces outside of them.

This story clarifies the conflict between Thor and Loki of the Outer World, providing a motivation for Thor’s journey to the World of the Giants – he wishes to challenges those outside that threaten the world within. It also suggests that the image of Thor traveling with a human boy and girl is to underscore his protective role.

2. Thor is so dedicated to destroying his great enemy that he is completely oblivious to the consequences. He puts his feet through the bottom of the boat and the world collapses around him, yet he never loses focus on his fight to defeat his foe. This concept will be clarified in the next adventure.

3. As in the adventure with Loki of the Outer World, Thor can only be defeated by dishonesty and cheating. Here, Thor is seconds away from finally smashing the World Serpent with this hammer when the giant Hymir cuts his fishing line and allows the sea monster to escape. Without the intervention of the giant, Thor is fully capable of destroying the threat to the worlds he protects.

In typical fashion, Thor’s response is to throw the meddling giant overboard.

Adventure 3 takes two of these strands and follows them to their logical and emotional conclusion in the last battle of Norse mythology. In the “Prophecy of the Seeress,” Thor’s final fight with the serpent is described in cosmic, religious, and moral terms:

Then comes the glorious child of Earth [Thor],
Odin’s son strides to fight the serpent.
He smites in fury, shrine-guarder of the world;
all warriors must abandon their homesteads.
He steps nine paces, Earth’s child,
exhausted, leaving slain the snake which fears no shame.

Thor’s role as protector of the world is emphasized by twice identifying him as the son of the earth goddess. He guards the world itself, but he also defends the culture of men as represented by their shrines. The religious concept of reciprocal gifting between gods and humans is suggested by the juxtaposition of the god guarding the shrines and the warriors leaving their homesteads to join him in battle.

Or do they leave their homes because the battle between Thor and the World Serpent – as in the tale of the fishing trip – tears the world itself apart? In either reading, any wall between the god and his worshipers has now broken down as they are equally affected by the destruction of the last days.

Finally, Thor is able to do battle with his great enemy without illusion or interference. As suggested by both of the preceding myths, his might is enough to destroy the serpent in open combat.

However, both of the other tales suggest that there is a near-equality of strength on both sides, that the protective force is barely stronger than the threatening force. Here, Thor does manage to slay the serpent, but he only lives long enough to take nine steps before he is overwhelmed by the poison spewed by the snake.

lorenz-frohlich-frolich-thor-jormundgand-jormungandr-world-serpent-meaning-symbolism-norse-myth-myths-mythology-the-wild-hunt-karl-e-h-seigfried

Thor fights the World Serpent by Lorenz Frølich [Public Domain]

What the World Needs Now

In 1916, pragmatist philosopher John Dewey wrote, “a theory apart from an experience cannot be definitely grasped even as theory. It tends to become a mere verbal formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine theorizing, unnecessary and impossible.”

In 2016, I suggest a new version of his statement: “a myth apart from an action cannot be definitely grasped even as myth. It tends to become a mere written formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine reading, unnecessary and impossible.”

So, how do we read the myths of Thor and the World Serpent in a way that leads to action today? If Heathenry (both ancient and modern) is truly a world-affirming religion, if we truly are our deeds, how do these myths lead to action in the world?

From the above reading of the myths, here are five concepts that can be applied in our daily lives.

1. Be an adversary. Thor is willing to travel to the World of the Giants and take on any trial. Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and openly challenge those whose actions you oppose? Will you simply signal virtue with a safety pin, or will you stand on the front lines at Standing Rock? We can’t all travel to the front lines, but we can each find some path that leads us beyond our front doors and off of Facebook.

2. Fool me once. After his trusting nature is taken advantage of by the second Loki, Thor heads straight to the sea to pull the serpent from the depths. Once you realize you’ve been played, will you head straight for the core of the corruption and call it out? Americans all along the political spectrum are furious that media and politicians of every stripe have promoted lies and misrepresentations. At what point will you brush illusion aside and focus on reality?

3. Throw the bums out. As soon as the giant Hymir thwarts his victory by cutting his fishing line, Thor throws the giant off the boat. If some supposed ally actively subverts your work, will you keep on smiling or call them out? In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of just such fellow travelers:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

How will you respond to those who claim to have your best interests at heart yet constantly work to undermine them? Will you throw them out or repeatedly reelect them

4. Defend the world. Thor fights for the Earth and all who live on it. His most consistent portrayal is as the defender of the world community. We are all children of the Earth, and we are all part of what was once called – in a more hopeful (albeit patriarchal) time – the brotherhood of man. What can you do to fight for the planet as our common home? What can you do to fight for human rights? As the very ideas of protecting the Earth and the universality of human rights are openly attacked, what will you do to push back?

5. Accept the risks. Thor is willing to destroy the World Serpent even at the cost of his own life. Without taking this literally, without reading the myth as a call for suicide bombing, will you accept the repercussions of standing up for your values? From microaggressions in the classroom to retaliation in the workplace, to hate speech in the online world, will you accept that the trollish elements will rise up to oppose your positive acts – yet still perform those acts? Will you stand strong in the face of ugly opposition?

emil-doepler-thor-hymir-world-serpent-fishing-trip-jormungand-jormungandr-norse-myth-mythology-symbolism-meaning-modern-the-wild-hunt-karl-e-h-seigfried

Hymir cuts Thor’s fishing line by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

The Strength of the Gods

During the fishing trip, when Thor can finally engage in open battle with the World Serpent, he summons his ásmegin, his god-power. It is this power that enables him to grow to enormous size, to push his fight through the bottom of the boat, and to stand on the floor of the ocean as he fights above the waves.

Aside from his famous hammer, Thor also owns a magic belt and a pair of iron gloves. The belt is called megingjörð, the belt of power, and wearing it doubles his god-power. The iron gloves enable him to grasp the lightning-hammer that he uses to crush those who threaten the community of gods and humans.

If we again step out of a literal reading of the myths, we can find a contemporary meaning in this god-power that Thor summons within himself and that his mystic belt doubles. The myths themselves can inspire us and fill us with a unique power that drives us to action, and girding ourselves with their inspiration can make our commitment to act even stronger.

This is not gamma radiation that turns us into superheroes, but an internal inspiration that rises within us to strengthen our resolve to perform the acts that the world needs now. Odin may bring the Mead of Poetry that brings creativity in the arts, but Thor brings the god-power that leads to action in the world.

Why the need for iron gloves? Because the hammer that would smash the trolls burns hotly, and grasping it with bare hands would destroy the wielder. If you are ready to take up the task, be prepared to hold on.

Note: The quotes from Icelandic texts in this column have been adapted from published translations of the Edda (Anthony Faulkes), Poetic Edda (Urusla Dronke, Carolyne Larrington, Andy Orchard), and Húsdrápa (Lee M. Hollander).

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

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

[Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia]

Looking for the perfect Solstice gift for your favorite Pagan, Heathen, or Polytheist? The Wild Hunt’s annual 2016 Winter Solstice Gift Guide with expert advice, reviews, and recommendations can help as you plan your shopping list over this coming season.*

For the Bookworm

Pagans may not be People of the Book, but we are people who own books – lots and lots of books. Yet what book to buy? Here is some help from a few industry experts.

Taylor Ellwood is co-owner of Immanion Press. He’s also a holistic business coach, magician, and author. There are Taylor’s top picks.

books1
The Tao of Craft
by Benebell Wen. The Tao of Craft provides a rare opportunity to learn about Taoist magical practices and what you need if you want to try out those practices.

What is an Altar by Rowan Moss and illustrated by T. S. Lamb. Simply put, What is an Altar teaches your children what an altar is, and how to create and care for one. The book is perfect for Pagan families who wants to teach the kids about their spiritual practices.

Nothing But a Pack of Cards by S. Rune Emerson. Nothing But a Pack of Cards teaches readers how to use Tarot for practical magic work, including what spreads to use and how to create your own tarot spells.

Elysia Gallo is the senior acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, based in Minnesota. She is also active in her local Minneapolis community. Here are her suggestions.

books2

The Chaos Protocols by Gordon White. The Chaos Protocols starts with a sobering, eye-watering view of the current global challenges around economics, industry, and the climate, and then reminds us that “Magic is always the tactic of last resort for those who refuse to give up hope.” This book is for people willing to do the work, and makes a good gift for millennials looking for their best chances at success in this shifting world.

Jailbreaking the Goddess by Lasara Firefox Allen. Part intersectional feminist manifesta and part liberationist book of shadows, Jailbreaking the Goddess challenges the old Maiden/Mother/Crone model that limits women to their biology. It is a perfect gift for those who are seeking greater understanding in fighting for autonomy and for marginalized groups. As Allen writes, “We work to dismantle the system from the inside because we are all inside the system, and the system is inside us. Together we will bring it down.”

Magical Destinations of the Northeast by Natalie Zaman. A book you can have fun with! Zaman guides you through sacred or magical sites all over the northeastern portions of the U.S., including nature sites, museums, monuments and graves, sanctuaries, temples, intentional communities, sculpture parks, historical sites relating to Native American and African American history, and more. It contains spells for each state, but it is also a perfect gift for people who are just beginning on the path, or esotericists who love to travel and are looking for interesting places to visit.

A few other picks by Wild Hunt Staff:
Love Magic by Lilith Dorsey
Doreen Valiente: Witch by Philip Heselton
Witch’s Book of Power by Devin Hunter
Taking Sacred Back by Nels and Judy Linde
A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing by David Salisbury

Infants

infants

Baby Protection Rune ($18) Here is a very thoughtful gift for new parents. The protection rune is made of birch with copper inlay. Cradles were once made from birch for the sole purpose to protect the helpless children. The wood is believed to ward off evil, banish fears, and build courage, and copper is said to have healing properties.

Yggdrasil Rattle ($6) This handmade infant rattle has a spring leaf green fleece top and a bark brown fleece trunk. Brown machine-stitched embroidered leafy vines detail the top and black wood grain stitching details the trunk. The rattle is filled with poly-fil and has one single metal bell.

Little Witch Doll ($25.52) Looking for a gift for your baby witch? This snuggly little witch doll can be customized to hair or skin color of your choice. It is hand crocheted and stands 12 inches high.

Kids

kids

Wood Bowling Game ($25) Long-lasting and made out of wood, this set is not only great fun but also great for developing hand eye coordination. The game is hand carved and finished with beeswax. It is a gift that can be passed down to younger siblings and even the next generation.

Art Cloth Goth Rag Dolls ($55-85.00) These beautiful Ares Crea handmade art dolls can be used for play or for decoration. Each doll is one of a kind and is made to have “its own personality.” Artist Simona Mereu takes custom orders.

Black Doll Cape ($7.99) Now your little Witch in training can take their doll to ritual wearing their very own wool cape. The handmade cape is available in both red or black. Fits all 18 inch dolls.

il_570xn-663597185_3njo

Bow and Arrow Set ($14) For the little Apollo or Artemis on your list, here is a very lightweight bow, made from pvc and wood. The arrows have eraser tips. Designed to be used outside, this set can help develop the lasting lessons of dexterity, patience, and safety, rolled into the fun of learning a valuable skill.

Teens

Backpack with changeable art flap ($60) Made of heavy black duck and nylon with art on the 11-square-inch outside flap. this handmade backpack Includes three additional zipper pockets of various sizes, a mesh pocket for an ID or permit, and special holders for a cell phone, a water bottle and pens. It has adjustable back straps and a loop for easy carrying by hand or for hanging on a hook when not in use. What makes this a great gift ever more appealing for teens is that you can change the look of the backpack by swapping out the art flap.

teens

Minoan Coloring Book ($14.95) Here is a great new coloring book for both teens and adults. Through this beautifully-drawn collection of 48 images, you will discover the amazing world of the Minoans of ancient Crete, including bull leapers, snake goddesses, prancing dolphins, and other images from the Minoan age.

Tarot of Pagan Cats ($3.99) Cats and tarot – what’s not to like? From popular developerThe Fool’s Dog, this newest tarot app shows cats in both of their worlds; here with us and in an exotic realm of feline power. The imagery is inspired by the classic 1910 RWS scenes with cats taking the place of humans. You can download this app from Apple or the Google Play Store.

Gifts Under $10

The New Radiation Cookbook” Refrigerator Magnet ($4) This is a fun, brand new magnet with a vintage pulp look. Jen Talley Art and Design offers many other similar tongue-in-cheek, pop culture, and feminist-inspired products, including greeting cards, prints and buttons.

Purification Powder ($5) Know someone who needs magical cleansing while they’re cleaning? Gift them this purification Powder to add to their wash water. It is good for doors, windows, and floors.

under10Krampus Ornament ($7)  Made from wood, this 3×3 mod-podge ornament may be perfect for your holiday season. There here are several different styles of holiday ornament to choose from, but the quantities are very limited. (I am not sure which side of this ornament I like better: Krampus with his tongue out or the screaming child on the reverse.)

The Whole Seed Catalog ($9.95) A catalog as a gift? Oh yes! Just flipping through the pages, imagining the possibilities, will bring months of pleasure to any herb Witch on your list. The catalog offers seeds from over 1800 varieties of heirloom herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. There’s a smaller catalog available for no charge.

Gifts Under $50

under-50-1

Book of Shadows Coloring Book ($11.99) Over 70 one sided pages for you to color, this new coloring book provides a unique way to create a personal Book of Shadows. The pages include the Sabbats, crystals, herbs, elements and more.

Hand Painted Tea Set ($16.33) Each cup and saucer set is hand painted with the pattern of your choice. You can even have the artisan create a custom pattern for you. As an aside, can you imagine picking this out for a handfasting pattern?

Solstice Morning Diorama ($35) This tiny diorama features a Solstice sun rising over a woman making a libation. The house is made of high quality fiberboard, hand painted acrylic paint,  and then sealed with decoupage medium. The diorama measures 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.25.

under50-2

Cernunnos Wall Hanging ($38.05) This Cernunnos wall hanging is backed with wood and has hooks already installed, making it ready to hang. The Latin word for light is inscribed at the top along with a clear cabochon. Below is the symbol of infinity. This wall hanging is a thoughtful gift for a new homeowner or someone who recently moved into a new apartment. It can be personalized.

Astrological Signs Watch ($38.99) Here is a different take on a traditional gift. This handmade bamboo watch has a leather strap and is very lightweight for its size. A personal message can be engraved on the back.

Leather Wallet ($46) This wallet “Mjöllnir” is made of thick leather in combinations of browns and reds. It is hand-stitched with a waxed thread. It has one main pocket for banknotes and four sections for cards. The wallet’s edges are polished and rubbed with wax.

Cratejoy Magical People Subscription ($5 a month and up) Every month your recipient will receive a themed-box filled with products and illustrated cards with tips and instructions. (To be honest, I was a bit cynical when this subscription first came out, but the reviews have been excellent. After seeing one in person, I was pleasantly surprised.) It is nicely packaged with thoughtful, quality products.

under-50-3

GBG 2017 Year and a Day Calendar ($17.50) Since 2011, the Gerald B. Gardner Calendar has been a treasured yearly gift for many. It is filled with photographs, historical notes, newspapers clippings, and more. The calendar is printed in limited quantities, and a portion of the proceeds go to The Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Museum of Witchcraft.

Gifts Over $50

Oak Leaf Bracelet ($60) This single oak leaf bracelet cuff is made from fold-formed copper and has a beautiful patina that no camera could capture. It contains blues and greens with a bit of the natural copper color shimmering through. Each bracelet is made to order and unique in its patina shading. They are fully adjustable, measuring 5 inches in length and about 2 inches wide.

Handcrafted Broom ($65) These brooms can be used as a working broom, a Working broom, or both. Made by a small, family-owned shop in Washington, these sturdy besoms are woven onto natural branches. They are made from 100% North American broom corn; the sweeps are woven tightly, and the owner says that they’ll never loosen or unravel. The whisks are adorable! (I want one for a hearth sweep.)

over-50

Reproduction Book Travel Case ($195) Is there someone on your list who has a special book or five, and would love to have a unique place to show them off? Perhaps they read tarot and would enjoy a special carrying case when they visit clients? These cases come in your choice of wood: cherry, oak, or walnut. You can also choose between the mesh wire front or a brass privacy screen. Each case has a sun engraved on the left side and a crescent moon on the right.
All three drawers are removable leaving cubbies for your own scrolls or instruments.

Felted Witch Hat  ($198) These are practical, wearable fabric art pieces that will turn heads anywhere you wear them. The color palettes, the detailing – perfection! (I had the hardest time picking out just one hat to feature from this artist.) This particular hat features a large full moon with the bare branches of a tree. Silk chiffon trails down the front, softening the look. The artist also offers belts, shawls, gloves, and vests.

MUSIC

music

Ljos and Svart ($27.31 for both) Originally funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Kari Tauring and Drew Miller put out two spectacular Nordic tradition albums: Ljos (Light) and Svart (Dark). The cuts range from acapella, to trad folk with dulcimer, spoken word with vocal looping, dark electronics backing 10th century verses, improvised spirit journeys, and string arrangements.

Ragnarok  ($15.90) This is Wardruna’s 3rd album and one infused by Nordic spiritualism and Elder Futhark runes. Wardruna’s sound combines the complexity of heavy metal with the repetition of electronic trance. Tracks include Tyr, UruR, and Raido.

Queens of Avalon Original Cast Recording ($20.00) For musical theater fans and Arthurian fans, singer-songwriter SJ Tucker and Heather Dale star in the retelling of the stories Guinevere and Morgana as these two beloved characters meet as young girls. A DVD of the show is also available along with other related packages.

The Green Album ($15) This album is an independent musical compilation created by 14 Pagan musicians from around the world. The goal of the album is to raise eco-awareness with 25% of every album sold by the collaborators is donated to the Rainforest Trust. All fourteen cuts on the album are either brand new or were not released by the artist prior to the album’s release. Available only as a download.

*   *   *

We hope you’ve enjoyed the gift guide. This is just a small taste of what Pagan or Pagan-friendly artisans have to offer.  As always, when possible, support your community by buying local or buying direct from the artist.

*Disclaimer: This is a wholly independent gift guide. The Wild Hunt was not paid to endorse any of the listed products. All prices were current as of publication date.

Happy Thanksgiving

The Wild Hunt —  November 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

Cornucopia photo by Jina Lee @ Wikimedia Commons

Cornucopia [Photo Credit: Jina Lee/Wikimedia]

Whether this is a day of thanksgiving,a harvest day, or mourning (or even “unthanksgiving”) for you and yours, may you find contentment, happiness, and peace. The Wild Hunt will be taking the rest of the day off to cook and spend time with loved ones. We offer thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and supports this site. As we move forward from another successful fund drive, you all give us something to be thankful for.

So thank you.

[Today The Wild Hunt welcomes back religious studies scholar, author and instructor Christine Hoff Kraemer. In November, she, along with other Pagans, attended the American Academy of Religion’s 2016 meeting in Texas, and she has joined us to share her impressions. ]

befunky-design2

The American Academy of Religion held its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas from November 19-22. The meeting is held concurrently with the Society of Biblical Literature, and the two organizations combined bring together nearly 10,000 educators and scholars of religion for a packed weekend of lectures, workshops, and events.

AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group has been in existence since 2005. This year saw the induction of two up-and-coming younger scholars as co-chairs of the group: Dr. Shawn Arthur of Wake Forest University, and Dr. Amy Hale of Helix Education. Hale and Arthur will be taking over from Dr. Chas Clifton and Dr. Jone Salomonsen, influential Pagan Studies scholars who have provided long-term leadership and service in this fledgling academic field.

American Academy of religionsAAR presenters strive for unbiased analysis of the history and current trends in contemporary Paganism. The academic tone of the papers, however, could not conceal scholars’ concern for the future of scholarship and the Pagan movement after the 2016 presidential election. Underlying the thoughtful, measured discussions was a grave sense of responsibility, and a commitment to finding truly effective responses to national and global crises.

A Pagan Scalability Crisis

Many of this year’s papers focused on challenges to Pagan communities created by the movement’s growth, the current political and economic environment, and/or the realities of climate change. Dr. Gwendolyn Reece (American University) gave a paper entitled “The Scalability Crisis: Contemporary Paganism and Institutionalization.” Reece suggests that there is an under-acknowledged element to Pagan institutionalization controversies: namely, that the growth of the Pagan population in the United States has strained the movement’s non-institutional resources to their breaking point.

Reece based her work on a large-scale national survey she conducted from 2011-2012, as well as an analysis of 69 blog articles by Pagans on institutionalization. As with similar studies, Reece notes a large percentage of solitary Pagan practitioners in the United States (52% in her study, 79% in a recent study by Helen Berger). Reece’s data indicates that most of these practitioners are not solitary by choice. Her analysis suggests that around 60% of solitary Pagans want a group but cannot find one given current conditions.

Reece argues that this situation is caused by the non-scalability of the “house church” model used by many Pagans. In a “house church” model, groups meet in a member’s home and all leadership services are provided on a volunteer basis. However, these groups are inherently unstable, as they are easily impacted by leader burnout or unexpected life events on the part of the host. Other challenges include the necessity of hiding Pagan practice due to neighbors’ prejudice, limited space for worship, and lack of funds to support aging volunteer leaders.

Due to its inability to serve the majority of self-identified Pagans and its instability, the house church model is failing on multiple fronts. As a result of this unmet need, Pagans are being pushed toward greater institutionalization despite their ambivalent feelings about organized religion. It is unclear, however, whether Pagan communities have either enough density or cohesion to provide the services that Pagans desire.

From left: Patricia E ‘Iolana, Lee Gilmore, Jone Salomonsen, Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Gwendolyn Reece [Photo Credit: C. Kraemer]

From left: Patricia E ‘Iolana, Lee Gilmore, Jone Salomonsen, Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Gwendolyn Reece [Photo Credit: C. Kraemer]

In a last-minute addendum, Reece also noted the additional urgency around legitimization and protection of legal rights triggered by the 2016 presidential election. She remarked, “I expect organized anti-defamation to again increase in importance. Because these are external threats that do not make a distinction between the variety of Paganisms, it is possible that this will increase the solidarity among Pagans in resistance.”

Pagan Legitimization Strategies

Strategies for forming Pagan identity and legitimizing Pagan traditions in the eyes of the public were a major thread in this year’s presentations. Both Dr. Patricia E ‘Iolana (University of Glasgow) and Dr. Lee Gilmore (San Jose State University) grappled with the belief that an unbroken line of religious practice is what makes a religion legitimate. This belief has often been problematic in Paganism, leading Pagans to cling to outdated historical research because it seems to support their hopes for their religious communities.

Gilmore explored how the desire for unbroken lineage has influenced Pagan use of the term indigenous at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. She notes that there is no universal consensus about the meaning of indigenous. It is contested wherever it appears.

However, when white North American Pagans use the term indigenous in order to legitimize their religious practices, they obscure the economic and environmental desperation of indigenous communities of color. Gilmore states that Pagan use of the word indigenous “purchases political legitimacy for Pagans on the interfaith stage, but does very little to give back to generationally traumatized and impoverished indigenous peoples.”

Gilmore also notes that narratives of unbroken lineage often tie religious authenticity and identity to blood ancestry. This is a legitimization strategy used by far-right white supremacist groups, and it is associated with concerns about “ethic purity”—concerns that in the past have justified violent campaigns of ethnic cleansing. Gilmore encourages white Pagans to “try to get ahead of [this dangerous rhetoric] by allying with indigenous peoples and other communities of color [and] remaining attentive to the differences and intersections of power in these relationships.”

Responding to these remarks, Dr. Shawn Arthur questioned the desirability of narratives of “unbroken lineage” for any religion: “Do we really believe the old is better than the new? …Upon reflection, I think we can see many of the… ideological positions addressed here today are not particularly helpful for strong or unifying identity development. Nor are they particularly useful for… good community relations, especially when these perspectives unknowingly support existing webs of power and authority.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco (California State University, Northridge) noted that North American Pagans are not alone in their attraction to ancient and pre-modern cultures. The desire to reclaim cultural and religious traditions, she explained, is a characteristic of a post-colonial world: part of a global movement, not in any way restricted to North America.

She stated additionally that narratives of victimization, such as the narrative of The Burning Times for Wiccans and Witches, are also part of a wider pattern. Since the 1950s, narratives of oppression have been part of the way groups claim identity, and that pattern is now part of the way groups must position themselves in US discourse to be seen as legitimate.

This paper session raised the question: if myths of unbroken lineage and political oppression have negative consequences for our North American Pagan communities, what alternative strategies for legitimization and identity-formation can we pursue instead? This complex question is too large to answer at a single conference, but the second Pagan Studies paper session suggested ways Pagans might alter their existing strategies to be more effective.

An Inclusive Future from an Imagined Past?

In a joint paper, Barbara Davy and Stephen Quilley (University of Waterloo) examined some of the problematic consequences of some Pagans’ desire to dismantle the modern state and return to a smaller-scale, tribal society. Many Pagans indicate that they are willing to accept trade-offs in quality of life in exchange for the community cohesion, lessened ecological impact, and potential spiritual benefits of such a shift. In her presentation, however, Davy noted that the modern state is what protects individual human rights. Without an overarching state that organizes and governs smaller communities, many barriers to the xenophobic behavior that has historically been a component of small-scale agricultural societies would be removed.

From left: Barbara Jane Davy, Thomas Berendt, Sabina Magliocco, Christopher W. Chase, Amy Hale [Photo Credit: C. Kraemer]

From left: Barbara Jane Davy, Thomas Berendt, Sabina Magliocco, Christopher W. Chase, Amy Hale [Photo Credit: C. Kraemer]

Although our society is already torn by systemic inequalities, small-scale societies could be worse, not better, for people with marginalized identities. As Davy and Quilley state, “In the absence of effective nation states, societies would be likely to experience greater violence, intolerance of diversity and an inability to sustain modern health care systems. Existing patterns of institutional care for the disabled and elderly would break down as would the established provision of all manner of public infrastructures.”

Unfortunately, Davy notes, whether or not we have fully accepted the consequences, climate change is likely to cause a collapse of the global economy and force us back to a smaller-scale society whether we find it appealing or not. This research challenges Pagans to re-evaluate their romantic ideas about small-scale pre-modern societies and to more realistically envision the challenges presented by climate change.

Dr. Amy Hale emphasized the need for Pagan religion to be truly responsive to the historic moment, rather than simply reactive. She states, “A lot of anti-modernist rhetoric… is a Romantic expression of privilege, given that conditions of the past were not exactly favorable to women and people of color… Pagans very explicitly look to a past that probably never was, to try to find inspiration for a better, more tolerant and inclusive future.” The past, real or imagined, may not be the best place for Pagans to find strategies for facing environmental and economic crisis.

As right wing, white nationalist political parties gain power in governments around the world, more than ever Pagans must create robust structures to support diverse but harmonious communities. Mr. Thomas Berendt (Temple University) presented on the diversity of Pagan communities in the Philadelphia area, and he particularly highlighted the prevalence of multiple religious and sexual identities among Pagans. This embrace of diversity and hybridity, he suggests, is a strength of the Pagan movement.

In the ensuing discussion, Berendt and Dr. Christopher Chase both spoke passionately about their efforts to create safe community spaces for students fearing harassment and violence. Magliocco also noted a positive aspect of Pagan narratives of historical oppression: these sacred stories, she says, tell us that “We must be in the first line of fire to protect.”

Relating her own family’s experience with sheltering friends and neighbors during the Nazi occupation of Rome, Magliocco reminded the audience that there are many forms of resistance, some as simple as opening one’s home to those in danger.

Additional papers in these sessions were given by Lee Ann Hildebrand (Graduate Theological Union) and Christopher W. Chase (Iowa State University). A complete listing of titles can be found in the 2016 AAR program book. For members of the public who are interested in future Pagan Studies sessions at AAR, the American Academy of Religion annual conference is accessible with the purchase of a registration. Many of the papers presented at AAR Pagan Studies session are later published in The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies or may be available by contacting the author directly. The 2017 annual meeting will be held November 18-21 in Boston, Massachusetts.

[About the Author: Christine Hoff Kraemer is a religious studies scholar specializing in contemporary Paganism, sexuality, theology, and popular culture. In 2008, she completed her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. Christine is an instructor in the Theology and Religious History department at Cherry Hill Seminary. Her books include Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies and the collection Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy (edited with Yvonne Aburrow). She is also the proud parent of an extremely high-energy toddler.]

*    *    *

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

SILVER SPRING, MD. –In the wake of one of the most contentious U.S. presidential elections in history, a rising number of hate crimes are now being reported against people of color. When an extremely multicultural Episcopalian church near the nation’s capital was targeted, nearly 30 local Pagans showed up at the following Sunday service to make it clear that the victims do not stand alone.

pagans-support-church-of-the-savior

Pagans who attended Episcopal mass as a show of support against hate [Photo Credit: David Miley]

According to reports, a banner advertising Spanish-language services at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior was slashed, and on the back was written the message: “Trump Nation. Whites Only.” That message was also scrawled on a wall, and a “Black Lives Matter” sign was painted over.

An article published by the Episcopal News Network includes pictures of the vandalism.

Local Pagan Sunny Simmons, who has worked in the church office for more than three years, coordinated the efforts to get a Pagan presence at the Sunday service following the incident. It was a gesture that was welcomed by church rector Rev. Dr. Robert Harvey, who knew that Simmons identified as Pagan from the day they met.

As Simmons told interviewers at Pagans Tonight Radio, it was something she could focus on after some weeks of feeling depressed and numb over the election. “I was looking for Pagans that could be grown-ups,” she said, “[and] support a Christian church without freaking out.”

In an interview, Rev. Harvey told The Wild Hunt, “Certainly I will never forget this week.” News of the church vandalism was carried all over the world, he said, and he’s been fielding calls from reporters constantly.

Rev. Harvey’s church is the most diverse one in this Episcopal diocese, with congregants coming from more than 50 countries, mostly in West Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Some 80% of those who attend are immigrants or first-generation Americans, he said. “I’m a white male serving a congregation of mostly black and brown skin,” he said, and those people “felt those racist messages acutely.”

The diversity of the church is intentional, Rev. Harvey said, as an expression of “radical hospitality.” That hospitality was experienced directly by those who came to show their support, which in addition to the Pagan contingent included Muslims, Quakers, Jews, Unitarians, and other Episcopalians. They were all made to feel welcome, and were even invited to participate in the Eucharist, the most sacred ritual in this and many Christian faiths. It is rare for non-Christians to be allowed to accept communion, but not here.

episcopal_church_of_our_saviour_-_hillandale_md_01

[Photo Credit: Farragutful / Wikimedia]

“He believes that communion is God’s table,” explained Simmons, and that anyone who wishes to sit there is welcome.

Rev. Harvey took pains to make non-Christians feel welcome without proselytizing to them. Another portion of Episcopal mass is the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, a statement of faith. “I announced that they should not feel pressured to say this, it’s how we express our faith and ethical imperatives.”

Caroline Kenner, a shamanic practitioner who lives not far from the church, said that this was the first time she’d ever shared the Christian sacrament of communion, and she found it to be an “interesting spiritual experience” that she “felt very deeply.”

Recognizing that some members of this church are now fearful of attending services, she said that she is committed to doing so herself for the foreseeable future. “They have been traumatized,” she said, which can’t be healed with just one show of support, no matter how large. Kenner said, “The idea that they were singled out because of the status of the parishioners really angers and offends me.”

14639624_10154768802081410_1476542690628616306_n

Rev. Francisco Valle, assistant Priest at Church of Our Savior, holding chalk provided by local Unitarian Church. The chalk was reportedly used to cover the sidewalk in words of love. [Photo Credit: David Miley]

Rev. Harvey acknowledged that some of his parishioners are not in this country legally, including some with children who are citizens by virtue of being born here. “They are concerned about deportation,” he said, and the fate of their citizen children should that come to pass.

Even though the Pagans as a block were the largest group of non-Episcopalians in attendance — sources say there were either 28 or 29 present — Simmons made clear that this wasn’t about Paganism itself. In fact, she worked with Rev. Harvey to minimize any distraction that their presence might engender.

The rector introduced the different groups represented, and Simmons recommended the phrase “Earth-based religions” instead of “Pagan” for two main reasons. First, many members of the congregation come from very conservative Christian traditions where the word “Pagan” has a negative connotation. In addition, Simmons wasn’t sure if everyone she’d gotten to show up used that label for themselves, given the complex nature of the interlocking communities often lumped together under that label.

Those diverse groups included Circle Sanctuary’s Order of the Pentacle, the Order of the Elemental Mysteries, CedarLight Grove of ADF, Open Hearth Foundation, Gryphon’s Grove, and participants in the annual Sacred Space conference. According to Kenner, they came from an area spanning from northern Virginia to Baltimore. Simmons made a rainbow sign with the simple message of “love,” which was signed by all the Pagans who attended. It was then presented to church members.

TWH – Pagans across the country continue to join protests organized against the Dakota Access Pipeline and in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Water Protectors in North Dakota.

Tuesday, Nov. 15 was a nationally coordinated day of action against the pipeline. The protests went ahead despite the Army Corps’ postponement of any decision on whether or not to let the pipeline construction proceed – an act which many viewed as a partial success.

In San Francisco, there was a march and protest held outside of the Army Corps of Engineers office. It was organized by local indigenous people, Idle No More Bay Area, and interfaith leaders, including representatives from Reclaiming and the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood.

Claire “Chuck” Bohman of Reclaiming and The Temple of the Waters said that there were several thousand people who gathered for a successful day of action.

Indigenous leaders from Tohono O'odham nation and other tribes leading the march.

Indigenous leaders from Tohono O’odham nation and other tribes leading the march in San Francisco. [Courtesy C. Bohman]

“The prayers and action was powerful and effective, and the US Army Corps of Engineers was forced to close their offices for the day,” she said.

Bohman added that, as people who have a deep spiritual connection with the earth, Pagans need to take action and join in indigenous-led efforts.

“Simply doing magic and praying is not enough. Magic is the food that will sustain our spirits. We must push ourselves out of comfort zones and join together with people of different beliefs who also care about the earth and are committed to stopping this pipeline and moving towards sustainable energy,” Bohman said.

In the nation’s capital, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd, defending the sovereign rights of Native Americans, water quality for the nation’s citizens and affirming the reality of climate change.

“The idea that at this moment in history, when the scientific community is crystal clear that we need to transform our energy system, that at this moment we have the fossil fuel industry pushing for more pipelines, for more dependency on fossil fuel, is totally insane,” Sanders said.

Among the crowd was Gwendolyn Reece, who said she was happy to see Sanders at the rally but she was just as happy to read about the 300-plus cities that took part in the action and the thousands of people who came out.

The issue of protecting the environment seems to be intrinsically tied to the pipeline fight.

“This issue, the environment, should be non-partisan, and most Pagans, the vast majority of Pagans believe in the sacredness of the planet and we believe in the sacredness of water,” Reece said, who heads the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, Sacred Space Foundation, and is a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.

With an incoming White House administration who has reportedly received more than $100,000 of support since June from chairman and CEO Kelcy Warren of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access, the issue seems to be anything but bi-partisan.

For Reece, the results of the election are a setback, but she said that it has only forced her to change focus and tactics.

“To me the pipeline in addition to being something that is a social justice concern, because it’s of the incredible continuing exploitation of native people, it is also one of the clearest demarcated battle grounds for the environment and the environmental activism including for climate change right now,” she said.

Reece added that she sees the battle at Standing Rock as a part of our nation’s miasma, tied to humans’ treatment of the environment, First Nations, and African American people.

The goal, she said, “is trying to heal the miasma, which is when we’re out of right relationship with the gods, ourselves, the planet. As far as our national consciousness, this exists from the beginning of this nation. ”

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

MaryAnn Somervill, a CUUPs member in Asheville, North Carolina, said that she organized a rolling thunder ritual to coincide with the supermoon. The ritual allows people to remotely lend their aid and is so-called because participants join in at a fixed time, regardless of their timezone. If it occurs at 8 pm in the eastern time zone, an hour later it will occur at 8 pm in the central time zone, and so on.

A few hundred people joined in to cast a cone of protection on the camps near Cannon Ball, ND, the water defenders, and their supporters. Somervill said that this event really moved her to take action.

“This is something that made me step up in a way that I hadn’t before. I haven’t been on the front lines of any protests or anything like that,” she said.

At Standing Rock, Linda Black Elk has been there since the beginning. Black Elk, of the Catawba Nation and teacher of ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, has two children enrolled with the Standing Rock Sioux, recently stated on Facebook that she sees a paradigm shift at work with Standing Rock right at the epicenter. She sees the presidential election as a reaction to that shift.

“(People are) scared out of their minds because change is uncomfortable, and shifting away from fossil fuels, a culture of consumption, and ultra convenience is annoyingly uncomfortable,” Black Elk said.

“We just have to be gentle, loving, patient, and understanding …but we must also be strong, powerful, brave and unshakable. Walk with power. Respect eachother (sic). Listen to the women in your lives.”

The camps, meanwhile, are growing in size and scope, and their needs are changing with the seasons. As snow and cold fronts move into the northern plains, protestors and water protectors are preparing for a long winter.

Dusty Dionne and Belladonna Laveau of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church are among the countless number of allies who have made the trip to North Dakota to show their support. From their home in Index, Washington, Dionne and Laveau received enough donations to buy a cord of wood, which they transporter by trailer from Washington to North Dakota.

Wood is one of the many supplies that are hard to find and very expensive. That might be unexpected, until you take into account that in the grasslands of North Dakota there aren’t very many trees to be found.

Dionne describes a very militarized, intimidating scene as you approach the camps. Countless numbers of police line the perimeter, with vehicles that are outfitted with satellite dishes and radio towers, and “Volkswagen-sized halogen lamps” lining the country side.

Standing in opposition to that is a makeshift barrier made of scrap wood and metal and barbed wire. But once you get inside, the atmosphere completely changes.

[Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr]

“I was really moved with how many people were showing up to help and just the sheer energetic power. It was very inviting, not intimidating,” Laveau said.

“They’ve got a big circle of flags and you pull up to Oceti (the camp set up by the Native American water defenders) and it’s just teepees and teepees and teepees and you’ve got buses creating walled off areas for mini-camps and corrals with horses,” Dionne added.

They both describe being overwhelmed by how many people were there.

“I was really afraid that when I showed up there was just going to be a couple of people, not a lot of supplies. (But) this is organized,” said Laveau.

She says that seeing the size and organization of the camps gave her hope that they might win the fight.

“It is a huge area that they’ve made their encampment, it’s the size of a small town,” Dionne said.

In fact, a small town is exactly what the goal is at the Sacred Stone camp, where supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux have begun setting up the infrastructure to support a community, including building a root cellar and a school.

“They need building supplies, they need firewood, they need subzero sleeping bags, canvas tents. They’re building a town, so they need builders. They need people to swing hammers,” said Laveau.

Corey Moore, a Pagan from Kansas City, MO, also brought a trailer full of supplies collected by friends and family to Standing Rock this week.

“We brought lumber left over from a family’s deck project, a few coats, blankets, medical supplies including bandages, milk of magnesia, eye wash kit, and hand warmers. There were also food stuffs and even a few guitars specifically requested by the Rosebud youth camp. In addition we brought nearly $1000 in cash and gift cards to Lowe’s and Menard’s,” he said.

Moore also reported that they helped build the covered root cellar at the Rosebud camp for winter food storage.

“The indigenous people at Standing Rock are sacrificing themselves, their health, their bodies, their livelihood, to protect the planet and the water that feeds us all. The waters they are protecting serve the entire center of this country,” he said.

Moore said everyone who goes to the camp learns to stay oriented toward “prayerful respect.”

He said that, in the face of infuriating actions, it is very important to maintain that approach.

In spite of the forward momentum of the movement and growing awareness of the issue, Dakota Access and the police protecting the pipeline construction are not backing down. As recently as Sunday night, an action to open a bridge that has been blocked by police for month resulted in authorities firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and a water canon on protesters despite below-freezing temperatures.

Democracy Now reported that a team of legal observers noted 20 mace canisters launched into a confined area within 5 minutes, causing those targeted to vomit and lose bowel control. Angel Bibens, a laywer with the Red Owl Legal Collective, said that the water canon had been mixed with mace, so that even medics and observers were impacted. Medics also reportedly revived an elder who suffered a heart attack. On Monday it was also reported that at least 17 people had been hospitalized, a majority for hypothermia after the actions of police and security personnel.

Actions like these have made some Pagan community members question what our future will look like, and what the role of the Pagan community will be.

“We’re all worried about robots rising up and taking over the world in some kind of distant future but right now corporations have taken over the world and they’re not people. The only thing that they value is profit and that is a real fight right now to take the world back from soulless, mindless companies that do not value human life,” Laveau said.

“What kind of ancestors will we be for the descendants? Will there even be descendants of humanity? All of this is at stake and each of us is needed to turn the tides,” Bohman said.

For those interested in contacting local authorities in the area Yes Magazine has put together a comprehensive list with phone numbers, addresses and more.

 *     *     *

[UPDATE 11/23/ 11:22am: The embedded video showing protesters being sprayed with water was removed or blocked at its original source and can no longer be viewed. We removed the embedded bad link. However, the video can still be seen at various online sources, including The Guardian. ]

bloomfield-nm-editDENVER, Colo. — A conclusion has come to a story that we first reported in 2014. Wiccan Priestess Janie Felix and Pagan Buford Coone with the full support of the ACLU challenged their home city of Bloomfield’s installation of a Ten Commandants monument on public property. The ACLU argued that city officials “accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation.” The case was heard in early March 2014, and the U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of Felix and Coone in August of that year.

At the time, Felix told The Wild Hunt, “We are delighted . . . with the court’s decision. It feels that the law was upheld and that the court reflected the Founding Father’s [sic] plan for our country.” However, the city decided to appeal the district court’s decision. The case then moved to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado and was heard in Sept. 2015.

On Nov. 9, 2016, the court issued its decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling. While it did note that the “cluster of other [historically-based] monuments surrounding the Ten Commandments can dampen the effect of endorsement,” the court said, “the city would have to do more than merely add a few secular monuments in order to signal to objective observers a ‘principal or primary’ message of neutrality. Thus the impermissible taint of endorsement remains, and as we have said, nothing sufficiently purposeful, public, and persuasive was done to cure it.”

*    *    *

Dianne Daniels

Dianne Daniels

NORWICH, Conn. — It was announced this week that Dianne Daniels would be succeeding longtime NAACP branch president Jacqueline Owens. Daniels is an eclectic Witch with strong leanings toward Wicca, flavored by the Egyptian pantheon, and including her Native American heritage. In a February article, Daniels told TWH that she gathers inspiration from Madam Marie Laveau, Cicely Tyson, and Maya Angelou. In that interview, Daniels also noted that, more recently, she has been “focusing more on my personal heritage – [her] own Black History.”

Originally from Detroit, Daniels moved to Norwich in 1997 and immediately joined the local NAACP branch. She’s been active in the local community, both as a volunteer and as a professional since arriving. Daniels was elected to the office of president Nov. 16. She is quoted as saying that this election was “one of the biggest honors of [her] life.” We will have more from Daniels and her work in the future.

*    *    *

The Druid NetworkUNITED KINGDOM —  The Druid Network (TDN) announced that it has been recognized as a “full member of the UK Inter Faith Network (IFN).”  The Druid organization, as well as other Pagan organizations, have been involved with IFN for many years. In fall 2014, TDN was granted a two-year probational IFN membership. In 2015, TDN reported that, for the first time, it was able to send a representative IFN’s annual general assembly. At the time, TDN trustee and treasurer Neil Pitchford said, “I have the honour of being the first Druid to attend after I was chosen to be TDN’s first representative.”

Now, after two years of waiting, TDN has reported that it was granted its full IFN membership, which will provide “greater legal standing and also some influence in the religious community of the UK.” In a press release, Joanna van der Hoeven said, “This is a fitting conclusion to over ten years of work by many people to get TDN Druidry recognised as a bonefide [sic] religious practice and outlook. The consequences of full membership, amongst other things, means that the IFN views TDN Druidry as a valid religious practice and, by default because of its funding and remit, the government of the U.K. must now also acknowledge that fact as well.”

Van der Hoeven added, “This announcement marks the end of one journey, one that many asserted could and would never happen. It also marks the beginning of another as we start out in building relationships with other religious groups on an equal standing (possibly for the first time in modern times).”

In Other News:

  • Druid Scott Holbrook will be back in court Nov 22. As we reported, Holbrook was arrested Nov. 2. He was charged with the “dissemination of obscenities,” after he allegedly sent nude photos to an uncover police officer. After a Nov. 3 hearing, Holbrook posted bond and was released from custody. We will update you on this story in the coming week. 
  • In another developing story, Circle Sanctuary ministers Jeanet & David Ewing and Tristan were joined by nearly 30 other members of Maryland’s Pagan and Earth-based spirituality communities in attending the 10 a.m. service at the local Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Springs. The group was there to lend its support to a  congregation that recently found itself the victim of a hate crime. We are following up on this story to learn just what happened at the church and why the Pagan community got involved.   
  • Huginn’s Heathen Hof has announced that it will be launching a new worldwide Heathen survey. In 2013, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried hosted a similar landmark project on his blog NorseMyth.org. “Our hope is that because of that groundbreaking work we will be able to reach a significantly larger portion of the population than that initial attempt, simply because people will be more aware of it due to his previous efforts,” explained Xander Folmer of HHH. The survey is now available in both English and Spanish. Folmer added that they “hope to add Portuguese and a couple of others as soon as possible.”
  • Gods & Radicals has launched is annual fundraiser. This year editors are hoping to raise enough money to pay their hard-working writers. The campaign reads, “Why Pay Writers? Because all work has value. Writing takes time. Writing is work. And in a system that prioritizes profit over creativity, the time and mental space to write is a luxury not everyone can afford.” Gods & Radicals is an online blog and print journal focusing on radical thought and contemplation.
  • Lastly, The Wild Hunt is always looking for new and upcoming guest writers. We enjoy showcasing and sharing the many diverse voices opinions, and practices that exist within our collectives communities both within the United States and beyond. If you are interested in submitting a proposal or a fully written piece, please contact us at editor at wildhunt.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

The Wild Hunt Solstice Guide is Coming!

TWH – Today marks the 17th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Around the world, organizations and individuals will be hosting events, memorials, and vigils to remember those who have been lost due to transgender-related violence. It is a powerful day – one that is part of a larger month-long transgender awareness campaign.

Held every Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) marks the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. The case still remains unsolved to this day. However, a year after her death writer, Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and to bring awareness to the issues faced by transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the very first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Shortly after, other awareness campaigns and movements were launched, including the website, “Remembering Our Dead.”

Seventeen years later, the movement has grown. Throughout November, activities are held, culminating in the Day of Remembrance. The TDoR campaign’s main site hosts a list of not only the worldwide activities, but also the names of people who have died as a result of transgender-related violence over the past year.

transgender-day-of-remembrance

For TDoR 2016, Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary decided to expand its own regular annual memorial observances. Rev. Selena Fox said, “It is important to stand in solidarity with our transgender community members. With transphobia and hate crimes on the rise, it is important that we draw attention to this issue that impacts many in our community and to create a safe and supportive place to share concerns, experiences, perspectives, and support.”

Fox said that Circle has had trans* members since its inception in 1974, and the organization has always worked toward supporting the trans* community’s quest for equality. Four years ago, Rev. Fox began hosting a formal memorial ritual to honor TDoR. This year, that event, which is being facilitated by members Brianne Burne, Jake Bradley, and Nate Metrick, has been expanded to include a candle lighting memorial in the temple room, followed by a sharing circle.

Rev. Fox added, “We recognize that the Divine takes many forms, and that there are many forms of gender expression, all of which are sacred. It is our hope that events like ours will help build a better world where the divinity within each person is honored, and where no one feels afraid due to their gender identity.”

For the 2016 TDoR Wild Hunt forum, we reached out to the coordinators of Circle’s new event, asking them tell us more about living transgender, what this specific day means to them, and how these observance event can help the greater cause. We spoke with Brianne Burke, known as Brianne Raven Wolf or simply Bree. She is a 73-year old gender-fluid trans*woman, who is a member of Circle Sanctuary and a practicing eclectic Witch.

Bree is joined by Jake Bradley, a certified naturalist, death midwife, and doula. Bradley has provided ministry for over 25 years, and designs and manages harm-reduction outreach and shelter programming for people experiencing homelessness. Bradley founded and helped manage the first trans-safe youth shelter in Chicago, and provide training and consultation on LGBTQ competence, trauma-informed care, harm reduction, crisis management, and other topics through their business, Elements Consulting.

In addition to the two Circle event coordinators, we also spoke with activist and minister Katharine A. Luck, who participated in last year’s TDoR forum. Rev. Luck is a transgender woman of mixed racial heritage living in Florida. She is a Neo-Hellenic priestess, minster of Fire Dance Church of Wicca and transgender activist. In 2013, Luck organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Pensacola. The following year, she setup the transgender advocacy group STRIVE of which she is currently the President.

We welcome our contributors, and thank them for taking the time to speak with us.

The first question asked was whether our interviewees have seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender issues. If there was a change, has that change been positive?

Jake Bradley: The last few years have been an interesting and exciting moment in public consciousness around trans* issues. Between the emergence of some transgender pop culture figures and wider-spread efforts of education and advocacy, it seems that the “average American” is more aware of the existence of trans* people than before, and dialogue about the needs and perspectives of trans* people is much more commonplace. I am especially grateful for Laverne Cox and celebrities like her who highlight the particular struggles and triumphs of trans* people of color and who speak out in issues that others in the LGBTQ community have often ignored, such as incarceration and homelessness.

While we still see misguided transphobic rhetoric about the dangers of inclusion and respect for trans* people, and plenty of deference to the comfort levels of cisgender people over the dire safety needs of trans* people, it’s heartening to see more and more public figures and organizations affirming inclusion. For example, as ugly and hurtful as the “bathroom bill” policies have been, we now are in a moment in history where many businesses and public figures are willing to … rebuke and boycott the jurisdictions where hate and ignorance are currently winning the day. In more subtle ways, we see less common exploitation and ridicule of trans* people in mainstream media, and several media outlets are making a real effort to use people’s correct names and pronouns, and to educate the public on acceptable terminology, etc.

Schools and other organizations are more frequently realizing they need to educate and skill-build with their faculty and staff. Trans* kids in many places are being given more access to competent and sensitive medical care. Support groups and alliances are more numerous and accessible. There have been some important changes in government policy under the Obama tenure that have led to greater education and non-discrimination practices, and I’m hopeful we will manage to protect these as we move forward into the next administration. We have a very long way to go, but we seem to be headed in the right direction!

11947460_634898819947050_4134799355407870099_n

Brianne Burne: I think there has been a noticeable change from what it was a few years ago. I’m involved in quite a few groups, locally and nationally. Around Madison [Wisconsin], I belong to the Madison Area Transgender Association and also LGBT OutReach-Madison. We have quite a few trans* activists here, and the growth has really been coming from social media in my opinion.

Katharine A. Luck: Prior to the recent “bathroom bill,” such as the now infamous HB2 in North Carolina, we were largely ignored by legislation, and we have not suddenly started using public restrooms in the last two years. Instead, as trans* people have become more visible, a side effect of visibility is transphobic legislation from people who think our existence began with their awareness of it.

For the next question, we asked what the biggest threat to the community’s safety was. This is a difficult question, but we asked our interviewees, if they could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

JB: This is a difficult question. Trans* and GNC (gender non-conforming) people are at astronomically disproportionate risk for homelessness, unemployment or underemployment, depression and suicide, being physically and sexually assaulted, negative interactions with police, incarceration, and many other challenges and harms, which are all consequences of cisnormativity and transphobia.

It would be easy to say that ignorance and transphobia are the biggest threat. The fact that police often fail to protect and respect trans* folks, and even frequently brutalize us with impunity, makes the everyday safety of trans* people a thing never to take for granted. Still, there are gradations from relative safety to extreme risk inside the community of trans* and GNC people based on other identity and socioeconomic factors.

Race (and racism) is probably the biggest cause of disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable trans* people from competent medical and mental health care, adequate employment, safe housing, and fair treatment by law enforcement. Institutional racism and white supremacy cause so much more harm to trans* people of color, and especially to black and brown trans women, and also cause division within the LGBTQ community, so that young trans* people of color often don’t benefit from allyship on the part of more affluent or empowered LGBTQ people, nor have their safety and quality of life as positively impacted by gains from LGBTQ activism. My magick wand would eradicate white supremacy and dismantle racism. Then, the most at-risk trans* people would benefit, along with people of color of all genders in this nation.

BB: The biggest threat to the community’s safety may well be the new incoming Republican administration given the far right evangelical Christian attitudes of the VP-elect and others in some state and federal governmental positions. Especially in the southern states, such as North Carolina and Mississippi. The one thing that could make an impact: if people everywhere would realize we are all human beings and, even though the trans* community is different, […] we aren’t a threat to anybody.

KL: This country just elected one of the most outspoken enemies of the LGBTQ community to the office of vice president. Our new president-elect is, frankly, a thinly veiled neo-Nazi, having surrounded himself with champions of white supremacy, like Steve Bannon, and has run on a platform of racial fear, hatred, and proposed separatism. Our vice president-elect Mike Pence has specifically targeted the LGBTQ community. He was responsible for Indiana’s anti-LGBTQ legislation and believes LGBTQ people can be “cured” through conversion therapy. He even tried to divert funds from HIV programs to conversion therapy. While its modern incarnation might not include shock treatment, conversion therapy increases suicides, nonetheless.

At present, I can say without reservation that the greatest threat to the transgender community, LGBTQ people, and likely all marginalized people, is the new administration which will begin in January.

Circle Sanctuary TDoR "Green Face" altar [Courtesy Photo]

Circle Sanctuary TDoR “Green Face” altar [Courtesy Photo]

With that in mind, the third question asked was how can non-trans* people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends, and eliminate any of the barriers discussed above? 

JB: Here is a handout we made a while ago called “Top 10 Ways to be a Trans* Ally.”

BB: To elevate the barriers. People need to get educated about trans* people through community programs. I am starting to see this in a lot of public schools with programs like GSAFE and adult programs such as PFLAG. We need to eliminate the “fear” that cisgender people have about us.

KL: I consider intersectionality and solidarity to be the key to equality. Every person of conscience in this country and the world must resist the oppression of all people. Trans* people exist in every demographic, and I will do all in my power to advocate for all of them. I ask that everyone else do the same.

For our fourth question, we asked what the Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities could do better in support of their transgender members.

JB: Neopaganism was perhaps founded in part in reaction against patriarchal religious systems that emphasized masculine personifications of the Divine, and Paganism has been revolutionary in its promotion of the Divine as feminine and also as a “balance” or “marriage” of both feminine and masculine. Paganism has made revolutionary contributions to the world in terms of celebrating embodiment, in promoting some feminist ideals, and in sex-positivity. However, for those of us who don’t see our gender as the most essential aspect of our identity, or for whom our gender is not rooted in anatomy or gendered biological life cycles, or for whom binary gendered paradigms don’t fit, there’s still plenty of opportunity for alienation.

Gender constructions are so rampant in most Pagan practice, and are present in so many standard rites of passage. I think lots of Pagan communities (like many in dominant U.S. culture), could become safer for their trans* members by recognizing and celebrating that there isn’t just one way to be a woman or to be a man, that gender doesn’t have to be based on biology, that “maleness” and “femaleness” aren’t mutually exclusive, and that lots of us don’t fit in that binary system in any case. I think that Pagan communities would also find that cisgender members would benefit from the increased freedom and room that recognizing and celebrating gender diversity can offer anyone.

I appreciate the step many groups have made of affirming people’s self-identity rather than projecting gender onto people or having some other qualifying “test” or eligibility criteria for one of the binary identities. The next step might be to question whether rites of passage need to be attached to biological events and gender-based social roles, and to begin to ask people what things are meaningful to them in their passage through life and what symbols there are of these passages, etc., and to begin to develop some non-gender-based rites that affirm the things that are most meaningful to people as they pass through stages of life.

640px-Transgender_Pride_flag.svg

JB (continued): What are the things all of us have in common as we age, regardless of gender or biology? Teenagers are teenagers. Parents are parents. Many of us, if we are lucky to live long enough, have a part of our lives where maybe we work for a living less, and our bodies start to be less sturdy and reliable in ways we might have previously taken for granted. I’m not advocating that cisgender men and women shouldn’t have opportunities to celebrate their embodiment, but just that there be more spaces where gender (and binary-gendered bodies and biological cycles) isn’t the primary aspect of our humanity, and that there be more spaces where diversity of gender identity, expression, experience, role, etc., are embraced more. Finally, I just want to say that I am so deeply grateful for Selena Fox’s leadership and legacy for LGBTQ inclusion throughout her life, and for the efforts made by Circle Sanctuary to embrace and support gender minorities.

BB:  I think the Pagan community is, from what I’ve been involved in, doing a very good job supporting trans* people. I’ve never had a problem with anybody in the Pagan community not making me feel welcome, accepted, and loved.

KL: As Pagans we must diminish the focus on binary gender and become more inclusive. We must have roles in both our society and our practice which can be occupied by anyone, of any gender. If necessary we must be willing to create new roles to suit the needs of the members of our community. We must remember tradition, but we must be willing to adapt. The trans* community has always had a role to play in both pagan religion and witchcraft, and always will.

Next, we asked for words of hope. Often when talking about silenced populations, we focus on the struggle. So, we asked our interviewees to take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

JB: Oh, wow! Thank you for this question! Spaces where gender variance is the norm and where lots of folks under the trans* umbrella are present can be the most beautiful and amazing spaces! There is so much more room for everyone  to be whoever they are, in whatever collection of attributes and expressions they come up with! Trans* people tend to be phenomenally resilient, adaptive, and creative about making family and community across all kinds of difference!

BB: Something beautiful happened earlier this year in Mt. Horeb, Wis. Here’s a little piece: “Last November, at the Primary Center elementary school in Mount Horeb, a transgender first-grader was about to transition.The school administration and staff were fully supportive, and […] had decided that reading the book I Am Jazz. […] Soon the school district and its teachers were threatened with a lawsuit if the book was read and [it] was cancelled. In a show of solidarity, two readings of I Am Jazz were held–one organized by students […] and the other organized by a local mom named Amy Lyle.” [Read the full story]

KL: It is in the struggle and the pain that I find some of the most beautiful moments. It is in the struggle that we find our family and ourselves. I have seen the strongest of bonds formed in the face of oppression. I see hope in a person’s eyes when they walk into one of our gatherings without anyone to call their friend, and they are immediately greeted as family. In the reading of names on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we speak the names many may not have even heard before that night. I am uplifted when I see people mourn the loss of family and friends they never met because they have faced injustice. I gain strength when I see those allies begin to work because the names of those we lost too soon touched their hearts.

12291143 10153825071918179 7039726374850665963 o

Mt. Horeb community reading of “I am Jazz”[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

To end the conversation, we asked our interviewees what this day, Transgender Day of Remembrance means to them.

JB: In a world where some of us can’t get people to call us by our names and correct pronouns, and where people are invisible (or have to try to be to survive), the reading of people’s names feels entirely necessary; it is simultaneously a frail gesture and one that is revolutionary. Names are commonplace, and they are sacred. We have to call out the names of those who have been casualties of our oppressive and alienating systems. We have to set aside a week for Transgender Awareness, and a day to remember those who have died, so that cisnormativity and cisgender privilege aren’t all that there is, so that trans* folks see that we’re not alone, and so we remind ourselves to keep on working for a world where the numbers of the dead go down from one year to the next.

BB: For me its a very solemn day and has been. It reminds me of all the violence worldwide against our trans* community, more so in other countries. When I hear about the violent murders, beatings, and especially the suicides when a lot of us get so depressed especially when family and friends choose to not love us, or accept us a human beings. That’s where more education will help.

KL: The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a memorial to those we have lost, and it is a reminder of why we must always move forward. It is not only for ourselves that we seek safety and equality. It is in memory of those who came before, and it is for those who will come after. What is remembered, lives.

 *   *   *

Rev. Katharine Luck will be holding a vigil and memorial in Pensacola, Florida through the organization STRIVE. Brianne Burne and Jake Bradley, along with co-coordinator Nick Metrick and Rev. Selena Fox, will be hosting observances in Wisconsin, through Circle Sanctuary.

Bradley noted, “I feel really honored to contribute to [Circle’s event] by helping to shine a light on those impacted by transphobic hate and violence this year, and by helping to celebrate the resilience of the TGNC community. I think events like this are sorely needed, especially at a moment in our national history that feels terrifying and bleak for so many of us, because they help us demonstrate and galvanize allyship.They remind us that some particulars of our stories may differ, but that all those of us who face oppression or marginalization have much in common.”

1450088_506261539477446_410423383353180015_n-1

For those people who are attending organized vigils today or would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, TWH has provided the TDoR list of 2016 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many others resources on the issues discussed for both trans people and allies. GLAAD provides a short list of legal resources and other support. Now celebrating its second anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available nationally

befunky-design2

In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ’emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” (thesis 8) It’s a good thing that Pagans and Polytheists have been talking about strengthening their communities and developing defense and solidarity networks, but black and brown people in America have long been living in an “emergency situation.” Obama has deported over 2.5 million undocumented immigrants while in office. Black, indigenous, Hispanic and Latino people have been killed by the police at consistently higher rates than those seen as white. This reality must be kept in mind as we analyze the present moment.

Tiger mosaic from the "House of Dionysos," a 2nd-3rd century Roman villa at Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Tiger mosaic, “House of Dionysos,” Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Benjamin also wrote that “to articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” (ibid 6) We live in a moment of danger, but it is up to us whether or not we will seize memories from the past as they flash by, and which memories they will be. For “the true picture of the past whizzes by” and “threatens to disappear with every present which does not recognize itself as meant in it.” (ibid 5)

Like the 1930s, the present is once again “a moment wherein the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had placed their hopes have been knocked supine, and have sealed their downfall by the betrayal of their own cause.” (ibid 10) Like the German Social Democrats, “the stubborn faith in progress of these politicians, their trust in their ‘mass basis’ and finally their servile subordination into an uncontrollable apparatus have been three sides of the same thing.” (ibid 10)

In such a moment, we are reminded that “it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” (ibid 2) This messianic power is weak because there is nothing inevitable about its victory. Like our ancestors before us, we may well be crushed once again by the ruling classes. Like them, we will seek ways to survive nonetheless. But perhaps this time we will become that “final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion.” (ibid 12)

Benjamin described the seizing of the past in the moment of danger as an explosive rather than a progressive process:

For Robespierre, Roman antiquity was a past charged with the here-and-now, which he exploded out of the continuum of history. The French revolution thought of itself as a latter day Rome. It cited ancient Rome exactly the way fashion cites a past costume. Fashion has an eye for what is up-to-date, wherever it moves in the jungle of what was. It is the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before […] into the open sky of history. (ibid 14)

Burned National Guard vehicles, Highway 1806. [Ancestralpride.org]

Burned National Guard vehicles, Lakota land. [Ancestralpride.org]

Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land

Benjamin’s call for the “introduction of a real state of emergency” is echoed in Indigenous Action Media’s recent essay “Anti-colonial & Anti-fascist Action: Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land,” which reminds its readers that “moments and movements” such as Black Lives Matter and the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) “are the result of ongoing resistance that has been waged for hundreds of years on these lands.” The essay quotes black anarchist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s statement that “we must make it impossible for Trump to govern the country, and must put power in the hands of the people in the streets.”

The struggle against the DAPL, also known as the Black Snake (zuzeca sape), is one that reflects both the current global “state of emergency” and a long history of anti-colonial warfare on the plains of North America. On Oct. 27, six different states (Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska) sent officers to assist North Dakota police raid the Sacred Ground camp which was located on Lakota territory under the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and directly blocking the path of the DAPL. The out-of-state police were sent under the auspices of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an interstate compact that was supposedly “designed for natural disaster situations,” but which has been used against two uprisings in the past two years: the Baltimore rebellion after the police killing of Freddie Grey, and Standing Rock.

In the course of the Oct. 27 raid, a DAPL security guard pointed an AR-15 at water protectors, but his truck was run off the road, looted and burned. The National Guard was sent against a blockade on Highway 1806, the incursion was fiercely resisted, and two military supply trucks were set on fire as well. The active participation of the U.S. military in the operation is a clear sign that the Indian wars never ended. Small wonder that an Oct. 30 dispatch from Red Warrior Camp signed off with the phrase, “In The Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

The Indigenous Action Media essay makes explicit the terms of the ongoing war between the forces of colonization and indigenous communities:

We stopped talking about hope when we had to focus on survival. […] We reconnected to the understanding that we never had a choice but to fight. That colonization has always been war. That we are survivors of its brutality. That we’ve never stopped fighting.

We understand the difference between power over and power with. That there’s more power to the power of people than choosing which system will rule them. That no politician can ever represent Indigenous lifeways within the context of a political system established by colonialism. That representational/electoral politics are oppositional to liberation from colonial oppression. That the struggles of our ancestors, who defended Mother Earth and her beings with prayers and weapons in hand, is the same struggle that we carry forward today.

[Black Spring / Instagram]

Olympia anti-fracking train blockade. [Black Spring / Instagram]

We Resonate Across More than One Time and Place

Many calls for direct support and solidarity with the struggle against the DAPL have been made, including by witches and spirit-workers. A “clandestine coven at Standing Rock” has issued a call “to all witches, pagans, and co-conspirators of earth centered spiritual faith to join us in resistance.” They write: “We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.”

Spirit-workers have invoked a curse against “the Agents, Executives, and Mercenaries of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” utilizing a sigil which they invite “those who wish to support this curse to inscribe […] against the buildings, cars, equipment of company executives & agents, and law enforcement and private security agencies who serve as their mercenaries.

Since Nov.11, water protectors in Olympia, Washington have been blocking railroad tracks in order to stop “a train carrying hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) proppants from exiting the Port of Olympia.” “Proppants” are ceramic beads used in the fracking process, and the proppants aboard the blocked train are intended for the Bakken oil fields where the oil which DAPL is being built to transport is extracted. On Nov.18, the encampment was cleared by the police, but in the words of one blockader, “This isn’t over. This is never over.” Funds are being raised for legal fees.

The water protectors in Olympia explicitly state that “as we hold down the tracks in Olympia, we resonate across more than one time and place.” They invoke the memory of the Port Militarization Resistance struggle of 2007, when military shipments intended for the Iraq War were blockaded at the port of Olympia. “There is a real force that shares power between these times and places where people have and continue to resist authority,” they write.

Another article traces the roots of the special agents of the Union Pacific Railroad back to the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency: “It is appropriate that the blockade be facing the same agency that birthed both the FBI and every major private security company in the US. All of them were created to protect capital and for no other reason. This is their only function.” The writers align themselves with the “indigenous people, bandits, and saboteurs” who attacked Union Pacific railroads in the 1800s, with the Homestead Steel Works strikers who fought the Pinkertons, with a long and rich lineage of resistance.

Train blockades have been used elsewhere in the anti-DAPL struggle as well, ranging geographically from Atlanta, Georgia to Mandan, North Dakota (about 80 kilometers north of the anti-DAPL encampments) to Montreal, Quebec to the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. During the 1990 conflict at nearby Kanesatake, warriors from Kahnawake shut down the Mercier Bridge for over a month. In solidarity with the struggle against DAPL, the Mercier Bridge was again blocked for several hours on October 28, and train tracks were blockaded on November 4 and again on November 15. The effectiveness of the tactic can be seen in a proposed law in Washington State that would make blocking oil trains or otherwise disrupting transportation and commerce a felony and label such actions “economic terrorism.”

[Public Domain]

Chess-playing automaton. [Paul K / Flickr]

The Services of Theology

Marxists believe that “the puppet called ‘historical materialism’ is always supposed to win.” Comparing the relationship between historical materialism and theology to that of a chess-playing automaton manipulated by a dwarf hidden inside it, Walter Benjamin turned this thesis on its head: “it can do this […] so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.” (ibid 1)

I believe that the guidance of the gods, ancestors and spirits is what will get me and my communities through the times ahead. Here I use the word “through” not in the sense of “along,” but in the sense of “exploding the continuum of history.” We aim to survive, to keep our traditions alive, to defend ourselves, to destroy the system which seeks to destroy us, and to find joy and beauty and love in every moment of the struggle.

*   *   *

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

befunky-design3As many people work to figure out how to move forward after one of the most explosive and unnerving presidential elections in recent history, time marches forward into the holiday season. Despite the current complexity of politics in the United States and around the world, this time of the year is most commonly associated with memories and traditions of family, worship, and celebration.

christmas-1125147_1280

Public Domain [Pixabay.com]

I have always believed that the magic of any season has the ability to transition us toward healing and wellness, and the magic of traditions helps to frame our varied experiences. With this current political client, this idea could become essential in helping us move forward during a time when life feels so uncertain to many.

“Tradition is one of the most beautiful ideologies we have created and experience as living and loving humans. There is no cookie cutter outline for what your tradition should look like, who you should share it with or how it should grow over time.

Tradition remains one of the few practices that truly belongs to your family and close friends, and allows you to cherish the very valuable memories created with your loved ones over the years.” – Daffnee Cohen, Why We Need to Maintain Family Tradition Huffington Post

Traditions within any context reflect on repeated and meaningful customs or beliefs that often connect us to culture. How one interprets culture, and how one enmeshes the many different variations of culture embraced within one’s spirituality can be very unique and very specific. The intersecting layers of culture that we balance are often reflective of our families, spiritual traditions, racial culture, gender, and regional experiences.

Certain times of year we see many of these pieces come together in a very intricate and beautiful way. November and December happen to be the time of year when we often see such things collide.

Traditions are also important within the intersecting communities of modern Paganism. Much focus is placed on training and passing down information from one source or another to support the practice of our craft. But how important are our holiday traditions and do we see them as important?

I see our cultural and familial practices as magical acts that are just as important as any other. These include: the passing down of tradition to those we love; the sharing of memories that hold reflections of history; the solidifying of cultural norms that enhance our connection to identity, purpose, time, and place. In that way, recipes can act like spells and planned activities like rituals that have the ability to manifest powerful threads of connection.

Some celebrate Thanksgiving in November while others embrace the winter holiday season in December. It is interesting to see how many Pagans connect to the different holidays that are widely celebrated in contemporary society. For the same reason that some Pagans celebrate a secular version of Christmas, many of our Pagan families and cultures continue to celebrate the societal norms of such widely accepted holidays.

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

Thanksgiving in my home has always been infused with the smells and tastes of collard greens, yams, cornbread, banana pudding, and walnut pumpkin pie. The ritual of cleaning and cooking starts 2-3 days before the holiday – a routine passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, and to me. Recipes and food preparation are as important as any ritual set up, and my grandmother’s memory comes through as we manifest the same traditions year after year.

My family celebrates a spiritual Yule and secular Christmas, opening presents in the morning and spending family time together in the evening. On New Year’s Eve, we all burn the midnight oil until the clock ticks midnight, when we are able to toast to Apple Cider – another long family tradition that we still do every year.

When we are not able to be together, it is tradition for us to call each other right after the New Year rolls in so that we will be together throughout the coming year.

What does it look like for others? What foods, rituals, traditions, and practices are held as sacred throughout the holiday season? How do we create new traditions when those of our past do not serve us? Because there is such a diverse spectrum of Pagan and polytheistic traditions and a wide array of different types of people within our community, I reached out to others to learn what kind of traditions, cultures, practices, memories, and even recipes where cherished at this time.

During Yule we try to stay up all night. Baking. Playing games. Crafts. We do a traditional Christmas as well with presents, tree, decorating. Looking at lights. Lots of family and good good. Like any good ritual. – Chrystie Sargent.

My holiday tradition is to reach out to anyone who might be alone or find family time traumatic. This year a friend who had personal disaster is my Thanksgiving guest; last Christmas Marie and I took a friend whose family is overseas to a movie, and every New Year’s I hold my door open to anyone needing oasis from the pressures and noise of the night. – Diana Rajchel

We hold vigil for the longest night of the year. Staying up and playing games, chatting, movies or whatever. We tend the flame that was lit at dusk. Then just before sunrise we go out and sing up the sun. Everyone lighting a candle to take home with them to carry the energy home.

I also now use a real Yule tree. When it comes down, I shave off the branches and grind the needles to make incense and save the branches for kindling. The trunk I store in my shed until Beltaine. The trunk then becomes the family May pole. The pole once wrapped in ribbons is then stored again until Yule.

When we get the new tree, I pull the May pole out (the previous year’s Yule tree trunk) and cut it up into smaller pieces. Usually about 7-8 inches long. I use one for my own Yule fire and gift the others to friends. – Sabrina H.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC [Photo Credit: Dominique Smith]

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC [Photo Credit: D. Smith]

Quite honestly my tradition is to run away and go on a spiritual adventure. Last year I was in New York for Christmas, I attended midnight mass at St.Peters Cathedral, a Thelemic rite, an eclectic Wiccan rite, and a Wiccan/Heathen rite, I even did a pilgrimage to Salem. This year I’m running away to Cuba to experience Santeria first hand.

I was keen on reconnecting to Catholicism this past year because I had been finally able to let go of the hostility I had towards Christianity, as a whole, and I wanted to experience it with new eyes. It was a beautiful experience and when the man on the pulpit started in with his judgmental dogma I was happy to find myself in only minor annoyance compared to seething rage.

Essentially, these trips allow me to connect with myself, my spirituality and forces experiences I haven’t had before as I do these trips solo and I’m not distracted by others. I also tend to fly by the seat of my pants during these trips as I don’t tend to have any hard schedule and allow the experiences to flow. I’ve met very wonderful folks and had amazing spiritual experiences that would not have been possible if the trips had been overly organized. Spending nine days this year in Cuba by myself, as a woman, who has never traveled off this continent will definitely take me out of my comfort zone. – Dominique Smith

Like Thanksgiving? For us it’s a small sit-down dinner, and the only time I get out the good china and silverware (inherited), and the lace tablecloth, also inherited, but not “real” in that it’s machine washable, which is for the best. Turkey, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce (both kinds and both from cans), and stuffing, Mrs. Cubbison’s I think.  And gravy, with giblets on the side because I’m the only one who likes them. Husband cooks; I set the table. We go around the table saying what we’re thankful for. We have finally abandoned the familial tradition (both sides) of eating until we hurt.

For Yule, where we used to do Christmas stockings, we now use those 8″ plastic cauldrons. Then, at my parents’ house, we open those gifts (small silly things) first, have breakfast or brunch, and then open other presents. We do Yule as a potluck dinner with friends, and after a ritual battle of the Kings. The party and feast serves as a time for people who want to exchanged gifts. We save family gifts till everyone’s gone. – Ashleen O’Gaea

Some years ago, I purchased a book titled The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I’d like to say that the book is quite good, but truthfully, I haven’t really read it. You see, I’m not super mathematically inclined. Upon the first day that I was looking at the book, I leaned over to ask my more-mathematically inclined partner a question about a formula, and the next thing I knew he was baking bread, and I was enjoying fresh baked bread. Since this is a satisfactory division of labor to me, I never really got around to reading it.

One of the gems from that book is this cornbread recipe. It has been dubbed by my most atheist and scientifically-minded friend as “magic cornbread” and has become a staple in our holiday dinners for the last decade or so. While it’s not a yeast bread like most of the others in the book, it is delicious all the same, and we are frequently asked to bring it to gatherings now.  – Stephanie Kjer

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

[Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia]

Mid-winter is the time of the Promise of Life. The plants will bloom again, the birds will sing, creatures great and small will make themselves known once more. The Dark will fade into sunlight. It isn’t here yet, but it will come.

The holiday season is the perfect time to make our own promises. While this is often done at New Years, this is when we feel the need to plan and affirm the actions we will be taking when the warm weather returns in full power. This is when we chart our course for after the thaw of spring releases our languor into animation.

In our family, we take the time to consciously prepare ourselves for the coming year. We have taken the time to remember what has passed at Samhain, to celebrate our present at Thanksgiving. Now is the time to create our futures at Yule. We use the knowledge of the past and resources of the present to conceive our best future, to invest those resources in the next step of our lives. -Kalisara

While something as personal as traditions and culture can be inspirational and empowering, it is also important to acknowledge that not everyone has this same experience with family traditions or with the holiday season. These holidays can be a very challenging time for many people, and this often includes ways to find refuge, solace, and support during this time. All communities have people with a spectrum of experiences and preferences. Therefore, it is important to hold space for this as well.

In moving forward through the next few months, which are inevitably filled with celebrations, expectations, memories, and observances, there is also a unique opportunity to consider what this time of year means for us individually. What holds magic? Which traditions no longer serve us, and which traditions we want to create?

As Thanksgiving fast approaches, I wish everyone a safe, fulfilling, empowering, and magic-filled time. May we all find balance in the traditions we choose. And, maybe even enjoy some these amazing recipes:

Bacon Cornbread
Crystal’s Simple Crockpot Mac and Cheese
Soul Food Collard Greens

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