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

justice graphicOn Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, Wild Hunt columnist, Priestess, writer, and long-time activist, issued a challenge to the collective Pagan communities, saying “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.” Over the past four days, a growing number of individuals, groups and organizations have responded by publishing statements of solidarity, open letters and personal blog posts.

The Wild Hunt will be covering this story in detail in the coming week as others organizations and individuals are currently finalizing their own words. Some of statements already published include those by Starhawk, T. Thorn Coyle, Pantheon Foundation, CAYA covenSolar Cross, Ár nDraíocht Féin, and more. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

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The New Alexandrian Library announced that it has received its certificate of occupancy. The statement read, in part, “This means we are now ready to do the final walkthrough with the contractor; to begin the process of moving in shelves, furniture, books and artwork; and to think about a grand opening. We want to thank everyone who worked so hard and so long to make this dream a reality, who believed that the ASW could create such a resource for the Magickal Community.”

Additionally, the library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

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The Druid NetworkThe Druid Network announced that it has compiled and recreated the shared liturgy of the now closed Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF). Shut down in September, SDF was an experimental project for solitary Druids and an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). As explained on the Druid Network website, “The Fellowship provided free liturgies for each of the Eight High Days of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, each based on ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.”

In the spirit of digital archiving and preserving important work, members of The Druid Network have uploaded all of these liturgies in one location for easy download. Organizers said, “It was such an excellent resource – not only for ADF druids – but for the whole community.” They also added that, if SDF should re-emerge, they will be happy to pass on the files to the new founders.

In Other News:

  • Over the past two weeks, Facebook has shut down several Pagan accounts as part of the enforcement of its “real name policy.” A number of people were targeted in this sweep, including authors Raven Grimassi and Storm Constantine. Speculation continues as to how and why this happens.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the opening of registration for spring classes. This registration is for both the masters courses toward a degree, as well as they four-week insight classes for non-seminary students.
  • Rootworker and Orisha Priest Lou Florez will be taking a pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an interview with Erick DuPree, Florez said, “…an invitation has been extended to travel to Nigeria in February with an esteemed elder and teacher, and to take the high priesthood initiation in IFA, the root of all Orisha religions. In addition to receiving this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual elevation, I will also train in traditional medicine making, and herbalism from elder priestesses and priests.” Florez has started a fundraising campaign to help fund the trip.
  • The deadline for submission to Paganicon 5 and Twin Cities Pagan Pride annual Third Offering sacred art exhibition is drawing near. As organizers explain, “Inspired to gather and create beauty as our third offering to our Gods and our community, this exhibition welcomes all types of visual media by artists who are capable of expressing a Pagan or polytheistic aesthetic.” The deadline is Jan. 1. The exhibition will be held at Paganicon, Mar.13-15.
  • Tea & Chanting Sangha is “is doing 100,000 recitations of OM MANI PADME HUM to create healing and change regarding police brutality:” The organization “integrates Pagan and Tibetan Buddhist practices.” Throughout the month, organizers will tally the number of recitations, whether recited together or individually. They encourage people to participate or join them on line. As of Dec. 7, they have done 13,075 recitations.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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On Nov. 15 at the Witchfest International, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) launched a new program to capture the history of the “mother of modern Witchcraft in the United Kingdom.” Over time the Foundation’s trustees have been collecting fragments of Doreen Valiente’s legacy, through her possessions and writings. Now they are looking to the public. They have asked people to digitally record their memories and stories to demonstrate “What Doreen Means to Me!”

Doreen Valiente Foundation
“It’s so important that newcomers to Witchcraft and Paganism are aware of their heritage, if we don’t keep talking about Doreen and Gerald and the people who put their life into creating the Pagan community we have today then who will?” said Ashely Mortimer, a trusteee of DVF. He continued to say that DVF organizers felt that “this was a great way for people to express their feelings about one of the founders of our modern traditions and to help new people come to learn about the roots of modern Paganism.”

Currently, DVF has a play list on You Tube Channel with an introduction video starring trustee John-Belham Payne. In his short 1:45 intro, Payne shares one of his own memories, as well as asking others to join him. He says, “all of these little stories will help make a larger picture of Doreen the person, as well as Doreen the witch and poet, and High Priestess.”

DVF began filming these segements themselves at Witchfest, but has received more since. The trustees are currently uploading the new videos as fast as possible. At this time, there are eight available segments, each ranging from 2-4 minutes and each containing a short story about a personal encounter with Valiente.

Included in these videos is one by Janet Farrar, who reveals Valiente’s love of football (soccer). The amusing tale includes the unlikely combination of Ray Buckland, a bouquet of flowers and the World Cup. Through this video, we get a peak into Valiente’s own life through Farrar’s eyes, as well as a look at Farrar’s own personality as a storyteller.

The other seven videos include stories from Gavin Bone, Melissa and Rufus Harrington, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal and Colin, who drove Valiente to an event and ended up befriending her. The DVF trustees are pleased with the early response to the project and are looking forward to hearing more from the extended community. The Foundation’s website says, “The first way to contribute is to make a short video of yourself telling the world what Doreen Valiente means to you personally.”

Why are they doing this now? Mortimer said, “Simply because we thought it was a great idea and one we’d not had in detail previously. We’re a small team, and we like to think we always deliver beyond our resources. We just hadn’t thought about doing this until now.”

Not only will the acquired information, memories and stories be available online or in a future DVF museum, but they will also be incorporated into a future biography. Author Philip Hesleton has recently taken on the role of Valiente’s official biographer. According to DVF, Heselton “has been researching through the Foundation archives and many other sources.”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation is using is a relatively new technique in archiving and recording history, one that takes full advantage of the proliferation of digital technology and internet connectivity. Such projects, which began popping up ten years ago, use crowdsourcing methodologies to build, update and enhance their catalogs of the human experience.

DC29053LOGOFor example, The National Archives is currently looking for “citizen archivists” who have previously taken digital photos of some their logged material. The website says, “If you have taken scans or photographs of records you can help make them accessible to the public and other researchers by sharing your images with the National Archives Citizen Archivist ResearchGroup on Flickr.” At many archives, museums and libraries, the hired professionals do not have enough time to digitize all the stored materials. To speed up the process, they’ve turned to the public for help.

According to Jan Zastrow, an archivist and librarian in Washington D.C.:

Crowdsourcing in archives and special collections can take the form of transcribing handwritten documents, indexing genealogical records, identifying people and places in photos, correcting optical character recognition (OCR) errors in digitized newspaper collections, tagging or captioning historical images, adding pictorial content to maps, transcribing oral histories, and much more.

Similar to the DVF, the Atlanta History Center has asked the public for personal photos and videos, in order to better tell the city’s rich history. The Center maintains a community database to which people can upload their images of Atlanta. This database is part of an album, which already “contains 16,000 photographs from 84 collections of the Kenan Research Center … The images document people, places, and events in Atlanta, and the state of Georgia from 1863 to 1992.”

downloadThe Atlanta History Center is also part of wider movement to record people’s stories, part of the StoryCorps initiative. Since its inception in 2003, StoryCorps has facilitated, “collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 90,000 participants.” The digitally captured tales are stored at the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps has also partnered with NPR to air many of these tales. According to the website, the organization is one of the “largest oral history projects.”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation’s newly launched video project is another example of an oral history project. This is a uniquely contemporary method of capturing human experience through the everyday person before it gets lost in time. In fact, there is now even a push to create digital archives of one’s own personal history. Columbia University Libraries has a resource guide to personal archiving.

While opponents are quick to point out that one digital error can “can obscure a document from researchers forever,” as noted by Zastrow, digital archiving and oral story projects are becoming more prevalent. The format allows libraries to house more material, offer research over the internet and capture a greater amount of human history with, perhaps, a never before seen level of detail.

For relatively new religious movements with short histories, citizen archiving and digital oral recordings may prove beneficial, even crucial, to preserving the past. At this point, there are only a few places in which someone can perform any archival research specifically on Pagan, Polytheist, or Heathen collective religious practices, traditions, organization, events and groups. Much of that data – that history – is still scattered around the world, in personal homes and in basements, and much of it is not even written down.

Could citizen archival projects and “oral history recordings,” as being used by the Doreen Valiente Foundation, provide a way to capture that history for future generations? Julie Belham Payne, a trustee of the Foundation, believes so. She said, “For me it is an important project and these testimonies must be recorded before they are lost forever.”

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Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  G.K. Chesterton–Orthodoxy

I.

Over the past few years, there’s a place I’ve frequently gone to think. Or rather, not to think. Or not to think in that way; the way required of us to go to work every day, to pay bills, to negotiate living in a city full of others so close that their thoughts become your own for a little while.

undine four

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

It’s a rectangular pool, shallow, framed by a low stone wall. It’s just beyond a chapel on a Catholic university campus, and ever since I first came upon it, some 15 years ago, it’s always “felt” sacred.

The surface of the water reflects the sky near perfectly; the sort of mirror that we’ve always had before we learned to polish glass. And the reflection, in perpetually sodden Seattle, is grey-blue; greys made of every blue, the ocean of the sky.

I’ve come to this place hundreds of times, at all hours. I work a quarter-mile from the campus where it sits, and I sometimes suspect my job would be much more difficult without the lunch breaks where I sit at its side and forget the stress of being a social worker.

II.

I was gone from Seattle for a year, first on pilgrimage, and then a few months to visit family, and then a few more months in the strange, spirit-drenched town of Eugene, Oregon. I returned early this summer. The pool was one of the first places I made certain to visit, a call upon an old, dearly-missed friend. Like all such returns after distance and time, I feared the place might have changed somehow, or I had changed and would not find it quite as comfortable, quite as sacred and calming now that I’d seen 1500 year-old wells and 4000 year-old standing stones.

Perhaps I would find it to be not quite as numinous, less magical, maybe a mere plastic Disney version of the old world.

But then I saw the undine rising from its waters, the spirit who’d dwelt there long before I ever knew it was there.

undine five

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

This is maybe the part where you stop reading and decide I’m crazy, even though you’re a Pagan and sorta believe in things like undines. Or it’s the part where you begin to sort of rationalize my words, translating them into something which fits slightly better into your beliefs.

Or maybe, you’ve met one as well; or nymphs or dryads, perhaps one of the Fae, or even if you dared (and also, in my experience, even if you didn’t dare) a god.

To describe precisely what I saw is not exactly easy. “Saw” implies vision, the faculty by which light (and only light) is translated into signals in the human brain. To “see” something, then, is to visually identify the way light reflects and refracts off surfaces, and by this we verify that something is in front of us, or is a certain color, or is a tree or a building.

If that were the only faculty by which we could verify the existence of something, however, no blind person could know anything except as relayed to them by others. I could tell a blind friend there was a step in front of them, and they would have to have faith in my words in order to know this.

But there are other ways of finding out if the surface before you is uneven. Touch works quite well for this as does falling, though the latter is much less preferable. This would be the same if a car was coming at my blind friend. Fortunately, hearing could confirm this fact as well, before the touch of impact was required to verify this truth.

If I am not dishonest, the vision-impaired companion can rely on my statements. And I am no jerk. I would not intentionally trick a blind person at the top of a stairwell.

undine two

[Credit: R.Wildermuth]

Lacking a particular sense is no barrier to comprehending the world, though it can sometimes be a barrier to conversing about the world. Certain perspectives considered universal cannot be fully understood, but only accepted. If I’ve never seen “blue-grey,” I would have to rely on the descriptions by (or, better, the emotions evoked in) others when they speak of that color.

But even among eyes, colors are hardly universal, nor our aesthetic preferences regarding them. Few people I know call a grey sky blue, but I do. Grey clouds seem to me composed of so many blues together that one cannot possibly call them not-blue.

But to speak to someone about all these brilliant and otherworldly blues together can turn, sometimes, into an argument.  Someone might only see grey, might ‘know ‘what grey is, might be certain that grey cannot be anything else, or definitely not blue unless it is specifically grey-blue, or blue-grey. If they tell me I am wrong about those blues, I might respond with anger or defensiveness.

“No,” I might say. “I see hundreds of blues which make grey.” 

Or more truthfully “I see both hundreds of blues making many greys.”

And if I could not convince that person, it’d be wisest of me to shrug. Perhaps some people just don’t see as many blues as I do, or see grey as some monolithic color and cannot see the myriad of blues behind them.

III.

What did I see at the pool?

With my eyes I saw likely what everyone else sees, though maybe they don’t see so many blues in the grey clouds reflecting upon its surface. I saw the same thing that I “saw” for years, sitting by that pool on lunch breaks, when I needed to think or not to think.

Sometimes I’d take friends there, a lover or another, staring at the sky-on-water while talking, or not talking at all. I’m sure we all saw mostly the same thing, though one or two of my companions hinted about some presence in the pool. It seemed likely; they seemed trustworthy, the sort of people who I’d believe if I were blind and crossing a street or climbing a hill with them.

I didn’t see anything, though. Not till a few months ago.

I didn’t start out trying to see gods and spirits and the dead. The gods just sort of appeared, a sudden presence re-arranging everything in your mind so severely, a flood of different impulses which made me think I was going crazy.

Brighid was like a strange light and constant laughter, the source of which I could never find; a kind and inexplicable warmth from the “universe” around me despite how chill and otherwise despairing my circumstances seemed.

Brân felt like a force or a physical push; a “feeling” of black and red; an occasional unheard voice telling me that the car about to hit me wouldn’t, and the relentless inability not to notice every crow I came upon on the streets.

Dionysos sort of exploded around me in revelry. Everything seems to go “right” when He shows up, but it’s toward something, some meeting, some relentless repeating encounter. Faces change around you. You see a face and also another face. You sit in a crowded room and make sense of the patterned laughter or are alone and feel the trees breathing on you. More than any of the gods I’ve met, he makes words seem no longer to fit, like they’ll collapse under so much contained meaning.

But to say all these things makes me sound “crazy” or it may seem I’m trying to hide my meaning behind too many words. You’ll have to believe me that I’m doing the best I can here.

After so many gods, the Dead might have seemed easy, but they weren’t. When the dead surround you and flow through you, into others to get their attention, you (I mean me) think you are going to die, or think you want to die. There are sudden thoughts of suicide, which were so foreign I knew that they were “outside” me. So many strangers mistake me for someone they knew that even very cynical companions found it bizarre. Then one stranger asks me to take a drive with him so he can tell me about his friend’s suicide, and then others tell me about how I remind them of a dead friend for some reason, and….

There were no dead in my vision. That is, with my ocular senses, I could not “see” the dead. But they were undoubtedly there.

IV.

So…this undine.

Undine one

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

I turned the corner, and it rose from the pool to greet me.

I heard it, though not with my ears, the water spilling off its form back into the pool. I felt the gravity of its presence; the sense of another being nearby, just out of your sight. It’s like the feeling you get when someone stands behind you; the feeling of being watched just before you turn to see them.

And what I “saw?” I saw both the pool without the undine and also the pool with the undine.

I closed my eyes, and it was still there. I opened them, and it was there again.

That “image,” or “sight” or “vision” both utterly surprised me, but also didn’t. I’d been coming to that pool for more than a decade, taking in the presence of the place, finding my mind wandering always to thoughts of otherworldly things, receiving insights and sometimes visions as I watched students interact with it, or the play of clouds upon its surface. Why wouldn’t such a thing dwell in the pool?

I feel little need to convince others of what I’ve seen, because I myself hadn’t seen it for so long. And I don’t always see it, and I don’t think I need to. I know when it’s there and we talk. It tells me things, and I do things for it. But mostly I just sit and listen, and continue to watch the play of light upon the surface of the water.

To see something that isn’t “there” to the eyes is a strange thing. Relying only on our traditional senses, one could certainly suggest I’m making such a thing up, or because no-one else standing with me has “seen” it (regardless of how many have “suspected” it’s there), one could insist that empirical evidence would be needed to verify its existence.  Confirmation from independent researchers might work, or perhaps an evaluation of my mental health, the testing the chemical make-up of the water or using other instruments to try to see what cannot be seen with the eyes.

This is where “belief” comes in, but it isn’t what we mostly mean when we speak of belief.

Before I saw the undine, I did not believe there were undines. Enough people I trust had attested to their existence that I suspected it was quite likely. The world that I live in allows for such things, just as it allows for the possibility that there are no such things.

But when I met one, it no longer mattered to me whether or not I “thought” they existed or “believed” they existed. Nor did I need to do much work to fit its existence into what I already understood the world to be.

That is, I don’t “believe” there’s an undine in the pool, but I’m a lot more likely to believe other people when they tell me they’ve met undines in other pools. It’s been the same thing for gods and the dead–I no longer start from a place of doubt or need to translate their accounts into something more palatable to my own understanding of the world.

I choose to accept their existence, having seen one myself.

undine three

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

V.

Others might believe it’s there too, even if they do not get such a clear vision of its presence. Perhaps reading this, you accept my story as-is, finding it comparable to experiences of your own. Or you’ve already formulated your commentary; your way of transcribing my experience to fit into your idea of what the world is, to seal off my aberrant experience into wishful thinking, mental instability, or just grand poetic metaphor.

Or maybe, hopefully, you’re inspired to go sit for years by the reflective surface of a sacred pool to meet one, too.

My experience is likely not your experience, and that’s fine. Also, the consequences of the existence of this particular undine matters little to the everyday lives of most people. My life’s rather enriched by meeting it — the conversations we’ve had and the gifts we’ve given each other have certainly made my world much larger.

But it makes me wonder. When others tell me things I haven’t experienced, how often do I seal off or quarantine their accounts so they do not change my beliefs on how the world works?

How much do we do this even with experiences of humans to with other humans, let alone the Otherworld?

When a black friend tells me they get harassed by cops daily, do I accept their account as true, or do I dismiss it because I don’t want to accept the implications of such a world? When I hear people telling me that America is a very racist place, do I discount their stories because I’m white and don’t experience it first hand?

I’ve seen black friends and First Nations friends get harassed by police. Once, a bi-racial friend of mine was thrown to the ground in an intersection as police with assault rifles aimed at him (mistaken identity, they told us later). We stood, unable to help him. My gay friend started filming, and I stood helpless as a police officer bashed his head against a wall, shouting, “I said stop filming, faggot.”

So, I guess it’s a little easier for me to accept the accounts of others, even if I’ve never personally been victim to that violence. My world is big enough to comprehend such a thing occurs, and I do not need to dismiss others’ stories, even if I haven’t witnessed their experiences.

Violence against blacks is much more common than seeing undines, unfortunately, but should be easier to believe.

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[Today we welcome our newest columnist, Mary Shoup. Mary lives in Washington State, where she volunteers for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. She recently graduated from Western Washington University’s Huxley College with a degree in Environmental Studies/Journalism and currently works full-time as an editor. Her monthly column #Pagan will focus on the youngest sectors of our collective communities, with articles that highlight their work and discuss their concerns. Welcome, Mary.]

Millennials have grown up in a constant state of change. With the seemingly never-ending release of the newest and biggest gadget, and the steady influx of information, we have become accustomed to changes that appear to come out of nowhere.

Having grown up in that near-constant flux, we have learned that it’s not hard to push for change one way or another. It only takes a few people standing up and saying “This isn’t the way it should be” to get others moving in a new direction. Through our history books, we saw this happen with Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X – cases in which a few strong voices motivated a nation into action.

[Photo Credit: Kyle Mooney, Jess Debski / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kyle Mooney, Jess Debski / Flickr]

As a generation, Millennials have started to address issues of money in politics, empowering the homeless, and much more. We’ve been vocal in the big issues and not backed down, demanding change in response to tragic events, such as the events currently in Ferguson, Hong Kong and Mexico.

Change has become an integral part of the millennial generation through embracing it, much like how Wicca, as I learned it, embraces change as a core tenant.

With the recent deaths of Margot Adler and Pete Pathfinder Davis, many Pagan communities have been forced to see the changes that they have gone through over the past few decades. We are no longer made up of the same groups of people that were once fighting for the right to exist. We exist. We are, in many ways, recognized. Now we need to look forward into the future, and see what more we can do.

And that’s where we are headed. The newest generation of postulants and dedicants are Millennials, those who have embraced the ever-changing nature of our world and have tried to fill whatever needs are seen. My own college group Western Washington University Pagans holds quarterly fundraisers, donating half of what is raised such as, Planned Parenthood or the Whatcom Humane Society. The group also has representatives sitting on the WWU interfaith panel, Ask Us Anything. We saw a need to reach out, to donate and to have more representation, and we fulfilled it.

At the same, Millennials have never known many of the early leaders in their prime. People exploring, dedicating or beginning clergy-training now will never have known Isaac Bonewits or Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, or if they have met them, it wasn’t quite in their glory days.

I met Pete Davis a handful of times before his death. And, from all accounts, I never really met him. By the time I did, he no longer had the energy to talk for hours on the phone with community leaders. I will always be left saying, yes, I knew him, but not as well as I would have liked.

However, these elders and leaders of the past have left behind a legacy, one that will write their history. Millennials will learn from that history, through the rose-colored glasses of their students. While we’ll never know exactly what they would have said in response to current events, we can speculate. And, the generation in between, our current leaders, can be both our greatest ally in this or one of our biggest hurdles. Hopefully they will bridge the gap and enable Millennials to make their dreams possible.

It’s a daunting prospect, to be moving forward not quite knowing if the direction we’re taking is the direction that those early leaders intended.

Circle Sanctuary. Photo: Paula Jean West

Circle Sanctuary. [Photo: Paula Jean West]

But that’s okay.

Because while we should never forget what those early leaders struggled through to get us to where we are today, there is a time to move forward. Millennials will bring the concept of change, one that we’ve grown up with, into our spiritual practices. We will form our own ideas, and voice our own opinions with regards to the present. When we’ve done that, we will grow and expand beyond our founders’ and leaders’ wildest dreams.

Belladonna Laveau, the archpriestess of the ATC, has a saying, “When you see a need, it’s the Goddess’ way of saying it’s your duty to fill that need.” Millennials, as a generation, have already internalized this. We’ve come to realize that change is possible, and that if we want it to happen, we need to step up and fill that need.

So what needs do Millennials see? There are so many, varied and determined by the community around us. We will find the needs specific to our own areas, like WWU Pagans did. We will be that change we wish to see in the world. And we should never forget – it’s our world, our religion, now.

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Unfortunately, the case will not be whether he should get ten kinds of cake, but rather whether it is legitimate to ask for cake as a part of Wiccan ritual. If the court rules against him, it will be taking away the rights of all Pagans in Massachusetts prisons to celebrate the ceremony of cakes and ale which is a fundamental Wiccan practice with a long history. – Pagan Chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum

A Wiccan man serving time at MCI-Norfolk since 1987 for a  triple murder is suing the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for allegedly infringing on his religious rights. Daniel LaPlante says prison officials are interfering with his ability to practice the Wiccan religion by preventing him from obtaining specific ritual oils, herbs, teas, medallions, and a variety of cakes for his faith. He also says they are preventing him from practicing his faith in the “time, place and manner” that the Wiccan religion requires.

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Wiccan Altar [Photo Credit: Angie Armstrong/Flickr]

Without those items, LaPlante claims he won’t be able to stay in the Coven Communal Wicca Group, which meets weekly in the prison. LaPlante also maintains he also needs to be able to worship during certain moon phases, such as new and full moons.

In 2013, LaPlante’s attempt to sue the DOC failed. In recent weeks, both LaPlante and the Department of Corrections (DOC) have filed motions for summary judgment, asking the judge to end the lawsuit by ruling in their favor. There is no date set when Judge William G. Young will make a decision.

Prison officials do admit that they haven’t provided some of the items, but quickly add that many items on LaPlante’s list are considered contraband. They also say that they are following guidelines in the DOC’s Religious Services Handbook, which is used to evaluate inmate religious requests for commonly practiced religions. Wicca is included in the handbook.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagan Chaplain and activist Rev. Patrick McCollum about the case, and what it means for the religious rights of Pagan prisoners. Rev. McCollum trains state and federal prison religion directors each year, and he says accommodating Wiccan and Pagan practices is the number one request.

Patrick McCollum [Courtesy Photo]

Patrick McCollum [Courtesy Photo]

We first asked Rev. McCollum how important are things such as candles, incense, and teas to the practice of the Wiccan religion. He responded:

As you know, there are many different traditions under the category of Wicca. To many of them, especially the earlier traditions, things like candles and incense and observances of the phases of the moon are critical to their practice. For example in my tradition, access to actual fire, water, earth, and incense, are fundamental to any working or ritual. And as for ritual teas, that practice is common among many in the Wiccan community. Also, medallions and ritual oils play a big part.

However within a prison context, the question as to whether or not these things are required or supported by our practices is irrelevant. Under RULUIPA, which is the law of the land regarding religious practices in correctional institutions, prisons are required by law to provide all of these items to Pagan inmates if requested unless they specifically create a threat to the safety and security of the institution. The majority of the items requested in this case cannot be seen as creating a security risk, as they have been approved previously in other contexts in the past. Therefore the state should be trying to find a reasonable way to accommodate them.

In the end, one needs to recognize that while it’s possible that the inmate is pushing volume-wise for more than might be reasonable, his actual requests are clearly within reason under the law. Unfortunately, the case will not be whether he should get ten kinds of cake, but rather whether it is legitimate to ask for cake as a part of Wiccan ritual. If the court rules against him, it will be taking away the rights of all Pagans in Massachusetts prisons to celebrate the ceremony of cakes and ale which is a fundamental Wiccan practice with a long history.

When asked if he felt prisons have become more accommodating to Pagan religious practices in recent years, he said they were nationally. He added:

There is no question that prisons are becoming far more accommodating to Pagan religious practices in recent years. Twenty years ago when I first started challenging prison systems for discriminating against Wiccans and Pagans, prisons wouldn’t allow Pagan religious practices period! Now the prison systems in almost every state in the U.S. have designated Pagan religion programs or have procedural manuals on how to accommodate them. I have attended services in prisons in various states across the country where candles, incense, May Poles, BOS, Thor’s hammers, chalices, and even Athames [cardboard or wooden replicas] are common. Also outdoor ritual space and even small bonfires.

While things are getting better across the nation, Rev. McCollum sees this particular case in Massachusetts a continuation of a long standing policy to restrict the religious rights of Pagan prisoners. Yet even there, he sees some progress.  He said:

I advised the Massachusetts DOC on the basic requirements of Wiccan practices at least 15 years ago, and they took the position that they would fight every request, legitimate or not. This case, no matter how frivolous it may seem, is really just the end result of many years of religious discrimination coming to a head.

This case like many others, will likely never see the light of day on the real issues presented. Instead, the state will seek to get it thrown out on technicalities so that they are not forced to comply with the law.

To give credit, Massachusetts has made some progress in this area and have established some Pagan accommodations, but they are generally about ten years behind everyone else in the country on accommodating Pagans.

Rev. McCollum wanted to caution Pagans outside the prison system on how they can unintentionally set these hard fought gains backwards. He said:

Some in our community take the position that nothing is really necessary to practice our faith in prison other than our personal connection with magic. We need to be careful in making that assessment, especially when speaking for others (especially those in prisons). It’s important to remember that all that is necessary to practice Protestant Christianity according to the very definition of Protestant, is the person and a Bible! They do not require Sunday services or Bible classes or a chaplain or minister, or all of the other paraphernalia that they have been given to accommodate them. It is only when Pagans or other minority faiths ask to be accommodated equally, that denials persist.

The Wild Hunt will continue to follow this story and report as things change.

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Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin

MOSCOW –An influential figure in the Russian Orthodox Church has said he’d like to see “neo-paganism” made illegal in that country. In remarks at the international congress of Orthodox youth, as reported by Interfax, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin declared, “Let’s say that three things – Wahhabism, Nazism and aggressive neo-paganism – should be removed from the country’s life at the level of the law. Let’s not try to be friends with any of that.”

We spoke to Gwiddon Harvester, the national coordinator of the Pagan Federation International Russia. He provided some context for this statement for Western readers.

The Wild Hunt: Is Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin credible enough that his suggestions might be considered by the authorities?

Gwiddon Harvester: Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin is the Chairman of the “Department of External Relations of Church and Society” in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). He is also a member of the National Civic Chamber, a hand-picked counsel of 126 persons, who are supposed to be advising the Kremlin on issues important to the Russian people. He is a member of the “President’s Committee on Liasons with Religious Organizations.” He serves as a parish priest in Moscow. Unofficially, he is regarded by many as a “Church spokesperson.”

Whether he is considered credible enough by the authorities or not is a very open question. Russian internal politics are extremely opaque … Despite a formal separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution, we have seen a general trend over the past twenty years of gradual merging of the Church into the fabric of Kremlin’s power system. It is not a great stretch to claim that as far as everyone is concerned the ROC is the Kremlin’s “Department of Spiritual Ideology.”

ROC receives significant state funding and forced “shotgun donations” from businesses; holds monopoly licenses on certain sectors of the economy, [and] receives vast grants of land and buildings. The State conveniently allows the ROC to maintain non-transparent accounting and hushes up any scandals related to money-laundering, corruption or pedophilia in the ROC. The Kremlin in turn uses the Church influence on the common folks to translate certain ideas and messages.

I do not believe that everything Chaplin says is sanctioned by the Kremlin. It is not quite as simple as that. There have been times in the past, when Church rhetoric provoked significant public backlash, and Chaplin was forced to backpedal or refuse ownership of his words.

Considering that this particular speech was presented at the “International Forum of Orthodox Youth” in Moscow, this could be an unsanctioned, personal or a ROC-sanctioned only attempt to tie-in religious extremism of various kinds (except for the Orthodox extremists, whom Chaplin conveniently omits) with political risks … Whether or not the Kremlin makes a fuss over it, we do not know yet.

Considering how often Chaplin says outrageous things, I doubt that much will come out of this particular speech. Then again, as the Kremlin becomes increasingly unpredictable, anything is possible.

TWH: On what basis does he lump together these three concepts? What do you think he means by “aggressive neo-paganism?”

GH: I am unable to do any sort of analysis on how he lumps up these concepts. The only clear description is that of Wahhabism, which Chaplin calls, incorrectly, “pseudo-Islamic.” He also talks about Nazis, but whether he means the Russian nationalists or actual followers of Nazi ideology, I cannot wager a guess.

I do not know precisely what he means by “aggressive neo-paganism,” as this turn of phrase is new to me. I have not seen this [term] being used by anyone in the past. However, if I were to speculate, the main theme may be an extremist ideology … and the potential for using violence.  Chaplin says that these extreme groups are more likely to cause a revolution than the liberal democrats, which the Kremlin fears the most at the moment. Therefore, he proposes to pass a law banning the extreme ideology.

By the way, extremism is already a criminal offence in Russia, meaning that anyone publicly calling for extermination of certain members of society or claiming their own superiority gets jail time … Chaplin’s suggestion to ban the ideology is redundant, as extremism is already a criminal offence.

[In] another article, dated Feb. 2014, as a response to the shooting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Chaplin says that there is a danger from “pseudo-islamic extremists, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Pagan groups.” It means that he was working on developing ties between these three categories for some time. In that article, Chaplin also refers to the Church Counsel of 1994, where a resolution was adopted regarding danger of Neo-Pagan cults, because these cults, in the opinion of the Counsel “aggressively destroy the Russian traditional values and attack the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

300px-Christ_the_Savior_Cathedral_Moscow

Russian Cathedral in Moscow [Public Domain]

TWH: Are there extremist Pagan elements in Russia? Alternatively, do people perceive this as the truth, whether or not it is?

GH: This really depends on our definition of Paganism. There are several Russians who identify themselves as Pagans and at the same time espouse a philosophy of hatred towards the society at large, members of other ethnic backgrounds, or homosexuals, or women, perhaps. Their numbers are very small .. but I cannot simply say that they do not exist.

As a national coordinator for Pagan Federation International Russia, I use the following rule of thumb. Iff someone hates others and calls for violence against others, then they are violating the second principle of PFI, and as far as I am concerned, they are not really Pagan, but rather psychopaths, abusing Pagan symbols…

Over the years, we had several incidents, involving such individuals.

  • The largest one was over the “Ancient Russian Inglian Church of Orthodox Old Believers-Inglings” – a group, registered in Omsk in 1992 by Alexander Khinevich, [who] published several books and formed a brain-washing cult, which mixed elements from Scandinavian Sagas, Hindu mythology, Slavic folktales, science fiction (aliens), Mormonism, with rituals from Orthodox sects of Old-Believers (starovery) … Every other Pagan group in Russia considers Khinevich a charlatan, a fraud and someone who abuses the very name of Paganism.
  • In 2009 there was a much-publicized murder of Daniil Sysoev, a parish priest of ROC in Moscow. Sysoev was famous for hateful and extremist rhetoric, as well as dubious efforts of converting Muslims, protestants and Neo-Pagans “back to the flock.” He was shot to death in his own church by an unknown gunman. Interfax widely distributed news, that an unidentified informer told the police that Sysoev was murdered by Pagans … The police currently consider that Sysoev was most likely murdered for converting Muslims to Christianity.
  • In February of 2014 there was a shooting in a church in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. An armed security guard, Stepan Komarov, killed a beggar and a nun, as well as wounded six worshippers, while shouting for everyone to get out of the church. He was detained by police and is currently awaiting trial … [Komarov] had a nazi swastika and a pseudo-Pagan symbol of the sun tattooed on his torso and back … ROC Bishop of Sakhalin Tikhon claimed that this was an attempt to scare people away from the Church and shared that he believes Komarov is a Neo-Pagan.

From time to time, the police detain certain individuals and ban published materials of small Pagan groups for violating the law on extremist literature, usually due to anti-Semitism or anti-government rhetoric. However, in all cases that I am aware of, these individuals were also members of right-wing nationalist groups, so their arrests were not connected to Paganism, per se.

Based on the facts of the matter, I cannot find any aggressive Neo-Pagans out there, who Chaplin alleges are so dangerous, that they can start up a revolution. If there were, we certainly would have knowledge about them in one way or another … The majority of Pagans seem to be happy where they are and don’t feel the need to insult others, or insist on their own superiority. They are doing their own thing and often don’t really know much or care about what others are doing. A growing minority also wants to create ties with Pagans from other countries and recognize common European Pagan heritage. These are the sort of people, who are willing to work with PFI, the more open-minded kind.

TWH: If ROC does has so much influence, why is ROC specifically so concerned?

GH: The reason why ROC is so concerned about Neo-Paganism, and why it thinks Neo-Pagans are aggressive, may be due to the fact that over the past twenty years or so, the ROC is working on monopolizing Russian religious thought. Since 2009, the Church repeatedly stated that Christian Orthodoxy is the only faith for ethnic Russians, in fact, they credit Christianity with the creation of the Russian nation. Therefore, Russian Neo-Pagans are a threat to their monopoly.

How can you be an ethnic Russian and suddenly not an Orthodox Christian? To ROC this is a very dangerous idea. A young and head-strong ideological rival threatens ROC access to State funding and support. This is a question of survival for ROC, as the State may just as easily decide to ditch its support for archaic and poorly-attended ROC, and switch to supporting the young and growing Russian Pagan movement. In the early 1990s the State ditched the communist ideology to support the ROC, so, who is to say that the same thing will not happen again.

Now, the irony of this whole situation is that every Pagan I talked to really dreads any sort of State support or involvement in Pagan affairs, including State funding. The idea of having a national Pagan religion as part of the State ideology will be a disaster for us. Our strength is in being true to our own vision of spirituality, growing organically … What Pagans need is for the State to provide a level playing field, and not to play favorites.

The reference to 1994 Church Counsel in Chaplin’s Feb. 2014 article is revealing, in that Chaplin appears to refer to a very specific Neo-Pagan “aggression” in his speech. Namely, the critical or humorous references to ROC in writings and internet messages posted by some Pagans. Now, Pagans all over the world like to poke a bit of fun at Christianity’s expense now and again, and I personally find it quite in poor taste to do so, as I know quite a few devoted Christians, who are very sincere and actually help others.

[But] ROC is a bit thin-skinned about any sort of criticism, I think in a way, because they are not at all sure of themselves, of how stable they are. Some humor is just too close to the truth for their comfort. ROC would like to position this criticism and humor as sacrilege and aggression. However, I can hardly envision the public buying that idea.

pf_web1TWH: What is the general public attitude toward Pagans in Russia?

GH: [The Public] is largely unaware of the Neo-Pagan movement altogether. Most Russians are not religious at all, although many are superstitious. Hardly anyone ever goes to Church. The only well-attended Church celebration is Easter, and even then people go to Church just to get the eggs and the bread blessed and leave immediately after…

According to the National Census in 2012, 41% of Russians identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. Fewer than 4% of all Orthodox Christians regularly attend mandatory Church services and fewer than 5% belong to a parish. Fewer than 8% have ever read the Bible and fewer than 1% believe that following a different religion is a sin.

Whenever I speak with non-Pagans about Paganism, they mostly think this is a role-playing club or an Eastern religious cult of some sort, something like the Society of Krishna. However the vast majority simply have no idea what it is, or vaguely remember something from school about Christianization of Rus in the tenth century CE and find it surprising. I have never heard any members of the public, other than ROC officials, refer to Neo-Pagans as aggressive or dangerous.

TWH: Was PFI familiar with Chaplin’s recent statements? Do they come as a surprise?

GH: PFI was aware of this talk by Chaplin, as it was mentioned on national news. We decided not to pursue this matter, as there appears to be no specific harm done, and the matter is not new.

TWH: Can you briefly characterize the types of Pagan religion practiced in Russia?

GH: The National Census in 2012 identified that 1.2% of all Russians adhere to Pagan faiths. About half of them belong to native non-Russian ethnic groups … It is estimated that Russian modern Pagans number around 600,000 people in total. PFI commenced an ongoing poll in 2014 held at vk.com, where Pagans may report their tradition or path. Over the past six months 3,049 Pagans participated in the poll, which makes up for about 0.5% of total estimated Pagan population. This percentage is significant enough for statistical purposes to draw an estimate of relative numbers of Pagans in each path.

  • 31.4% Slavic Paganism (reconstruction)
  • 25.8% could not identify themselves with any particular path or were newcomers
  • 18.7% Wicca
  • 15% Asatru
  • 3.2% – Neo-Shamans
  • 3% – Other Reconstructionists (Celtic, Hellenic, Khemetic, etc.)
  • 2.2% – Hermetic (Western Occult) Pagans or Thelemites

This data needs to be adjusted for the fact that not all Pagans are on the internet or have accounts at VK and that many chose not to participate. At present, we have not determined a multiplier robust enough to present credible figures.

I estimate that at least half of all Pagans, or 300,000 people, follow a Slavic path in some way, shape or form. They are inspired by written accounts of old Slavic practices, ethnography, folk traditions, fairy tales, modern Pagan books, as well as their own insight … There are several large associations of Slavic Pagans at present, and many individual groups in various Russian cities.

Many Pagans do not want to be confined to a specific tradition or path, and are happy to pursue their own thing, gathering information and experimenting with various concepts and ideas, including Hindu religions, Tao, Tantra, Dzen-Buddhism, the left-hand path, new age concepts. There are also those who would research the ways of old Russian vedma.

Most Wiccans in Russia are solitary eclectic witches, learning from books and the internet. There are open groups available in Moscow and St Petersburg that we know of. Many Wiccans are university students or young adults.

Asatru and other Norse path practitioners have been practicing for some time in Russia, although I do not know when or where the first groups started. There are groups of Asatru in several cities now, the; the largest ones are in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Other traditions and paths include Neo-Shamanic practices, both Siberian and Castaneda, reconstructions of various ethnic Pagan traditions, Celtic being most popular, followed by Khemetic and Hellenic or Roman. Some reconstruct the Germanic traditions … There are Hermetic groups in Moscow and St Petersburg, mostly of French Masonic or Rosicrucian background. There is an O.T.O. camp and quite a few followers of Thelema.

Russian Pagans cleaning the stones on May 7th

Russian Pagans cleaning public sacred stones 2014

TWH: What is the climate for those practicing minority Pagan faiths in your country?

GH: The climate, generally speaking, is quite neutral. I cannot in all honesty claim that Pagans are being persecuted at the moment in Russia. We are free to set up any internet presence we want. We are free to report the creation of local Pagan groups to the Municipal government, and nobody makes a fuss. We cannot register religious organizations at the moment, unless a religious group has been in continuous practice for 15 years. But these rules are the same for all newer religions, not just Pagans. The public is generally not aware that we exist, however, both Slavic Pagans and Wiccans participated in TV documentaries on National TV over the last few years, and we heard hardly any feedback from the community.

We generally gather in public parks in Moscow or at private dwellings, and I have not heard of any trouble. I personally lead a Wiccan ritual in robes in the middle of a busy lawn in Gorkiy Park after work and not a single passerby even stopped for a gawk. Slavic groups set up permanent altars and open-air temples with statues of Gods in public parks from time to time around Moscow. Occasionally these statues get vandalized, usually by fanatical extreme Orthodox youth groups, or perhaps just deranged individuals, one may never know.

Overall, we try to go by the rule of “live and let live,” not to be too much “in your face” of the establishment, and at the same time not hiding from anyone.

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The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Chas Clifton

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

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

Many Gods West FB Photo

Last week it was announced, via Facebook, that a new Polytheist conference was being planned for the summer of 2015. Today, organizers launched the official website for Many Gods Westwhich will include “three days of presentations, workshops, panels and rituals.” The keynote speaker is Morpheus Ravenna of Coru Cathubodua.

The website details the conference’s goal and purpose. In a statement of inclusion, organizers say, in part, “Many Gods West is intended as a safe, welcoming, and convivial forum for polytheists to share knowledge, practices, rituals, and other learning experiences with each other.”  The event will be held from Jul. 31 to Aug. 2, 2015 at the Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington.

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[Courtesy Photo]

Last week, Rev. Patrick McCollum co-facilitated a meeting with U.S. state and federal officials to discuss “discrimination against minorities and minority faiths by government.” Held in conjunction with the American Academy of Religions, the meeting was the 11th annual event of its kind, and Rev. McCollum said, “It is unanimously agreed that the meetings and associated training have directly changed governmental policy across the country and have greatly widened the opportunity for the practice of minority faiths in prisons, veterans institutions, and mental health facilities to name a few.”

At this year’s meeting, the U.S. Military approached meeting facilitators about setting up a new chaplain program, to be launched in 2015, based on Rev. McCollum’s work in prison ministry. In response, Rev. McCollum said, “When I first conceived of this idea, it seemed like an impossible task. One which could never come to be. But with a clear objective, committed partners, and a refusal to give up, we have pulled it off.” The Wild Hunt will continue to track this story as the program is put into place.

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T. Thorn Coyle and Gae Sidhe of Brennos of the Coru Cathubodua. Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

T. Thorn Coyle and Brennos of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood [Credit: G. Sidhe]

Since last Monday’s Ferguson Grand Jury decision, protests have stretched out across the country, reaching communities of all kinds, including Pagan and Heathen. These protests have manifested in many forms both in real life and in the digital world, and continue on today and, most likely, well beyond.

However, prior to last week’s announcement, there were Pagans and Heathens already involved in supporting the Ferguson community. Several weeks ago, a local organizer sent out a tweet asking if anyone would be willing to donate tents “to be used to keep peaceful protesters warm.” Led by T. Thorn Coyle, a group of Bay Area Pagans took up the call and raised enough funds to purchase and ship two 10 X 20 tents with sidewalls. Coyle said, “Glenn Turner of Ancient Ways and Pantheacon, Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism, Yeshe Rabbit of CAYA Coven, Crystal Blanton, Jonathan Korman of Solar Cross Temple, and Rhett Aultmun all donated to make this happen … I pray that love, equity, and justice will prevail.”

In Other News:

  • Many individual Pagans and Pagan organizations have already indicated that they will be attending next year’s Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. For those that haven’t purchased tickets, the Council just announced an extension of the “super saver” pricing. The discount is extended through Dec. 10.
  • Photographer Richard Mann has posted photos of Reclaiming’s 35th annual Spiral Dance held on Nov. 1, 2014 at the Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco. The organization’s own site has more information about the event, the organization its history, and feedback on this year’s festivities. Please note that all photos published on Mann’s site are under copyright (C) 2014 Richard Man.
  • Israeli Ph.D. candidate Shai Feraro published an article on his blog called “Wicca and the Israel Connection.” In this short essay, he draws connections between Wicca’s beginnings to the sacred lands in the middle east. He says, “…while modern-day Israel occupies virtually no place (or at least none of importance) in the mind of most Contemporary Pagans worldwide, some early British Wiccans and other figures which influenced the Wiccan movement spent considerable periods of time in the region.”
  • Popular band Tuatha Dea announced this week that member Tesea Dawson would be leaving. Lead singer Danny Mullikin wrote, “Since our inception, [Tesea] has been a constant driving and create force but she has admirably decided that it is time to put all her energies into raising her two incredible children.” Dawson will be making her final public appearance with the band Dec. 20, during a Tuatha Dea “musical party at the place it all started -The Fox and Parrot in Gatlinburg Tennessee.”  The band invites its fans to come out and celebrate with them.
  • Over the past week, a number of Pagan and Heathen sites published gift guides, including The Wild Hunt. In response to ours, Of Thespiae posted one specifically geared at Polytheists. Raise the Horns posted one called “Pagan Things Made for Pagans by Pagans,” and here is another one from The Serpent’s Labyrinth. As the season goes on, more of these gift lists will popup to awe and inspire.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day.

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[To close out this American holiday weekend, we welcome our own columnist Rhyd Wildermuth to share a review of the book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein.Tomorrow we return to our regular Wild Hunt schedule. ]

Review: This Changes Everything–Capitalism vs. The Climate,by Naomi Klein (Simon &Schuster, 2014, 566 pages)

Journalist and author Naomi Klein may be known to some of you through her previous works, including her creedal call against corporate branding No Logo and her ponderous and depressing book, The Shock Doctrine, which discusses the political games played by corporations and governments in order to ram through neo-Liberal, anti-democratic policies.

In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Klein has done something very few journalists, policy makers, or even environmentalists have been willing to do for the last few decades. She reconnects environmental devastation and the warming planet back to capitalism itself.

The last 25 years have seen, what started out as a critique, all the logics of profit taking, extraction, and private property become untethered from their foundations, and instead become an attempt to treat symptoms caused by destructive human behaviors, rather than the cause itself. Instead of demanding an end to economies based on greed, oil, and the destruction of people and land, environmentalism, at least as far as both the public consciousness and the major environmental NGO’s portray, is now about composting, recycling, and buying the right sort of shoe, car or light bulb, rather than about anything that might actually inconvenience the wealthy.

But why does addressing capitalism even matter? And why have the last two-and-a-half decades seen a shift from cause-based solutions to a symptomatic approach?

According to Klein, the answer’s simple. Connecting capitalism to climate change unveils an awful consequence. She writes:

The only kind of contraction our current system can manage is a brutal crashing, in which the most vulnerable will suffer most of all.

So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.

…By posing climate change as a battle between capitalism and the planet, I am not saying anything that we don’t already know. The battle is already under way, but right now capitalism is winning hands down. It wins every time the need for economic growth is used as an excuse for putting off climate action yet again, or for breaking emission reduction commitments already made. (p 21-22)

More “inconvenient” than Al Gore ever let on, the only way to stop this is not just to change our habits, but to radically alter the very system by which we live.

Our Leaders Have Betrayed Us

If capitalism is responsible for the behaviors which cause climate change, than climate deniers and right-wing ‘think tanks’ are technically correct in some of their estimations. Many of them repeatedly warn about the consequences of the environmental movements’ attacks on Capitalist economies. In one of her first chapters, Klein posits that much of the vitriol lobbed at environmentalists as being out to ‘destroy the American way of life’ are quite correct, or would be if the “Big Green” groups were honest about the problem.

But why haven’t they been? Naomi Klein devotes several chapters to the treachery of modern environmental groups, such as the Nature Conservancy (which drills for oil on some of its land in Texas) or the Environmental Defense Fund (which financed and pushed studies to cast doubt on the dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking”).

Reading Klein’s journalistic extractions of such assimilation and collusions, which began in the 1980’s is quite difficult, but not because of her writing.  Rather, one wants to throw the book across the room repeatedly at these points; or, better yet, throw it at the ones who’ve taken so much money from the fossil fuel industry while telling individuals that they should switch their lights off more often.

Concurrent with the rise of neo-liberal, free-trade polices in the 1980’s and 90’s, particularly pushed by the Democratic Party in the United States (President Bill Clinton signed both NAFTA and the WTO treaty into law), major environmental groups shifted their tactics from urging less consumption and extraction to cheer-leading so-called “Green Capitalism.

Green Capitalism, Klein notes, shifted the responsibility from large polluters and the systems which favored them to individuals, advocating for personal consumption changes over systemic changes. She writes:

It would be one thing if, while individuals were being asked to voluntarily “green” the minutiae of their lives, the Big Green NGO’s had simultaneously gone after the big polluters, demanding they they match our individual small cuts in carbon emissions with large-scale, industry-wide reductions. And some did. But many of the most influential green groups did precisely the opposite. Not only did they help develop complex financial mechanisms to allow these corporations to keep emitting, they also actively campaigned to expand the market for one of the three main fossil fuels. (p.213)

No Longer Playing By the Rules of the Rich

But a large question remains: Why did the “Big Green NGO’s” betray us?

Klein’s answer is pretty clear–capitalism, and specifically the massive-scale implications of capitalism’s connection to climate change. Besides those with the most money are doing the most polluting. and “Big Green” gets its money from them.

In page after brutal page, Klein unknots each connection between climate change and our economic activities. While Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, did much to raise awareness of the issues of human-caused climate change, it did little to address precisely how much of our human activities would need to change in order to stop the damage those activities have caused. The actual “inconvenience” of that truth is staggering, but only if one is heavily invested in keeping Capitalism around. Klein says:

Climate change pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustain itself.  But since that economic model is failing the vast majority of the people on the planet on multiple fronts, that might not be such a bad thing. (p. 155)

Climate justice and social justice are related, and she devotes an entire chapter to “exclusion zones,” or places of great poverty with little political power to resist, and the particularly heavy burden rising seas, droughts, floods, and stronger storms will have on the people who have contributed almost none of the carbon pollution which has caused this.  Addressing climate change also means addressing the capitalist system which favors small groups of rich people over the teeming masses of poor throughout the world. In essence, it’s a revolutionary moment and one for which even the U.S. government is preparing.

This is particularly where Klein’s book is most hopeful. She devotes 157 pages of the book to tracing what she, and others, have named Blockadia, defined as the distributed network of protests bringing together disparate groups to fight fossil fuel companies, developers, and corporate interests who are intent on pillaging the land under our feet. While it’s not immediately apparent that protests against austerity and the destruction of a sacred ancestral forest in Greece are related to, let’s say, blockades against the Keystone XL pipeline by the Cowboy Indian alliance in America, Klein threads those events together seamlessly.

For her, these interconnected resistance movements are linked not just by their shared enemy, but also by a determination to revive the spirit of direct democracy. Klein writes:

The process of taking on the corporate-state power nexus that underpins the extractive economy is leading a great many people to face up to the underlying democratic crisis that has allowed multinationals to be the authors of the laws under which they operate….It is this corroded state of our political systems–as fossilized as as the fuel at the center of these battles–that is fast turning Blockadia into a grassroots pro-democracy movement.

…And yet the most jarring part of the grassroots anti-extraction uprising has been the rude realization that most communities do appear to lack this power; that outside forces–a far-off central government, working hand-in-glove with transnational companies–are simply imposing enormous health and safety risks on residents, even when that means overturning local laws. (p. 361)

This loss of faith in inherited leadership structures, and the betrayal of the movement by Big Green and those political parties claiming to be on the side of the planet provides fertile soil for a radical populist movement - one that unites both “left” and “right” as well as a myriad of peoples across ethnic, cultural, and national borders.

Nature’s Revolt

But another loss of faith is necessary before such a movement can be effective and affective: the notion that technological fixes can be found to patch up past damage so that we can keep on polluting. Even as a Luddite myself, I was not prepared for some of this, particularly the horrific problems with geo-engineering, which is adding sulfur into the atmosphere to mimic a volcanic eruption, or seeding the ocean with chemicals to reflect light or bacteria to reduce acidification, as a way to cool the planet.

Cyril Mann, "Dark Satanic Mills" 1920.

Cyril Mann, “Dark Satanic Mills” 1925  [Public Domain]

Throughout her book, Klein dashes every single hope, even my own, that we might be able to stop the damage done without too radically changing the world. Not only are technologies like geo-engineering untested, they are largely funded by billionaires, such as Bill Gates in particular, and come with further political problems. Artificially cooling the earth will cause droughts in some of the already poorest places, and flooding in others, which leads to the potential of a cooler United States and Europe causing suffering elsewhere.

She builds a narrative of human technology any Pagan familiar with “disenchantment” will find quite familiar. Men in the enlightenment, bloated with the certainty they could transcend natural limits, developed theories and technologies which would help them do just that. Francis Bacon, the founder of Empiricism, spoke of conquering the Earth as if by rape; James Watts, the inventor of the coal-fired steam engine, spoke of humanity’s final liberation from Nature. These fathers of Modernity get particular attention. Klein writes:

..these are the tools and the logic that created the crisis geoengineering is attempting to solve–not just the coal-burning factories and colonial steam ships, but Bacon’s twisted vision of the Earth as a prone woman and Watt’s triumphalism at having found her “weak side.”  Given this, does it really make sense to behave as if, with big enough brains and powerful enough computers, humans can master and control the climate crisis just as humans have been imagining they could master the natural world since the dawn of industrialization–digging, damming, drilling, dyking? (p. 266)

Modern Myths and Ancient Struggles

In reading this book I was struck with the strange irony of attempting to explain to Pagans why they should read a book linking capitalism to the destruction of the Earth, as if this were a new theory.

But it wasn’t always like this. Both environmentalism and the peculiar forms of modern Paganism birthed in the 1700’s always made links between the destruction of the earth and the industrialization that comes along with capitalist arrangements of society. Early Naturalists, the European Romantics, and early modern-Druid societies could physically see the link between coal-powered factories, the soot and smog choking the town and cities, and the poisoning of their rivers. When one considers Willam Blake’s assessment of the new industrialization of the British countryside (“those dark satanic mills”) and the Luddite rebellion (with their mysterious patron god/leader “King Ludd”), it’s easy to find a Pagan, anti-capitalist environmentalism.

The 1960’s saw these connections converge again. Environmentalism again became a critique of capitalism, rather than the conservationist hobby of rich white men in the American west. At the same time, Paganism seemed to arise into public consciousness with the embrace of Wicca and other forms of Witchcraft, all oriented towards a reverence for the earth and distrust of those who would destroy it.

Profit-motive was destroying the forests and killing the birds through chemicals like DDT. This much was a given to an environmentalist. And because Paganism revered the earth, it was against the profit-taking that destroyed the earth. That is, Paganism was largely Environmentalist and critical of Capitalism.

So what happened? Klein has written a near perfect call to war from a deeply Pagan perspective. Her last chapter, particularly, reads like the poetic musings of a Druid or Shaman, and yet she is not a Pagan.

How came we to the position we’re in now, where I’m a writer trying to explain to Pagans why they should care about capitalism? Or why I’m reviewing a book written by a non-Pagan journalist whose words are soaked in the very Pagan understanding that we’ve abandoned?

I can’t help but wonder if Paganism has undergone the same shifts as the major environmental movements, abandoning its innate critique of capitalism’s divorce from nature in favor of begging for recognition from the powerful. Perhaps at some point we understood the awful, world-changing implications of our thoughts and practices, and opted instead of the nicer, more polite, and toothless manner of creating the world we see is possible.

I’m glad that in Naomi Klein’s book, a non-Pagan journalist has called us back to our beliefs.

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[The following is a guest post written by Jason Mankey. He is the writer and podcaster behind Patheos Pagan Channel’s blog Raise the Horns. Jason has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest, and can often be found presenting on the Pagan festival circuit. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two cats.]

For many Americans the Thanksgiving holiday is about food, friends and family, but for some of us there is a fourth “f” in there too: football. I know that football is not all that popular in Pagan circles, but it truly is America’s pastime. In 2012 over 216 million Americans tuned in to at least one college football game. The ratings for the National Football League (NFL) are even stronger, with this year’s Super Bowl attracting 111.5 million viewers for a single (noncompetitive) game. For many of us Thanksgiving is just as much about football as it is about turkey.

[Photo Credit: ishutterthethought, cc lic. / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: ishutterthethought, cc lic. / Flickr]

My own football fandom both exhilarates and terrifies me. I enjoy the highs of seeing my team win and often slip into a funk when they lose. Away from the emotional roller coaster there are other, more serious problems, with football. It’s a violent game, and we are only now beginning to realize the true extent of how much it injures not just the body but the brain. Football players often engage in violent unspeakable acts, such as running back Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in the face early this year. Though it is important to point out that arrest rates for NFL players are actually lower than for the majority of men in their age group.

In addition to brain injuries and bad behavior, there’s another troubling aspect of football that bothers me as a Pagan. It’s an extremely conservative institution from a political standpoint. In the college ranks, football and Christianity mix freely. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a coach is a tactician of the game or a missionary, and some will proudly admit to being both.

Today’s Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is a good example of this. At Ole Miss, football and Evangelical Christianity often walk hand in hand. Head coach Hugh Freeze wears his faith proudly on his sleeve. Players and coaches meet every Sunday for church services and Bible study. Attendance isn’t mandatory, but they are certainly made aware of it. In a recent Washington Post story the coach is quoted as saying: “I tell them, or our position coaches will: ‘We have worship on Sunday,’ ”

Freeze’s Twitter account feels more like that of a minister than a highly paid head football coach. On Nov. 9 Freeze tweeted:

Not surprisingly many of his followers chimed in with comments like “So excited for what the Lord is doing there,” and “Thanks for leading well and pointing them to God.” Freeze isn’t alone in using Twitter as a missionary tool, Mississippi State’s coach Dan Mullen has been know to tweet out a little scripture too.

In some ways the Mississippi schools and their coaches are outliers, but only a little. In many parts of the country the walls between team, religion, and coach are much thicker, but those walls have all but crumbled in America’s South. Much of that can be laid at the feet of cultural shifts in the region. While Christianity is in decline in many parts of the country, the religion remains a dominant part of South Eastern U.S. culture. Couple that with the rise of “Tea Party” style politics and you’ve got a recipe for in-your-face Jesus testimony on the gridiron.

As a former Southerner, I can attest to the quasi-religious fervor many of us feel towards our football teams, but the insertion of actual religion into the game has been more noticeable in recent years. Much of that is likely due to the rise of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in college football. Over the last nine years, seven of college football’s “national champions” have come from the SEC, with the other two winners from states like Texas and Florida.

Even in the Midwest, aside from Notre Dame, coaches are sharing their Christian faith rather openly. A recent USA Today article profiling Michigan State University coach Mike Dantonio highlighted both the coach’s faith and that of his players:

“He puts God first,” MSU freshman running back Delton Williams said of Dantonio in the   euphoric locker room after the win against Ohio State ‘And we put God first. Why do you think we’re doing this?’ . . . ‘You can talk about your faith or you can live your faith,’ he (Coach Dantonio) said. ‘You can talk about this program’s culture, or you can be in this culture, live this culture. There’s a difference there. Is it smoke or is it real?’”

Perhaps no college football coach has been more open about his faith than Clemson University head coach Dabo Swinney. Two years ago Swinney stopped practice early so one of his players could be be baptized on the practice field. That story was included in an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education last November:

Last season, Dabo Swinney, the head football coach at Clemson University, gathered his team on the practice field one day for an important announcement. ‘Someone is about to turn their life over to Christ,’ he said …

DeAndre Hopkins, a star wide receiver, stepped forward. A livestock trough had been placed near the 50-yard line and filled with water. Mr. Hopkins, still wearing his uniform and pads, climbed in. As several dozen teammates and coaches looked on, he was baptized.

At Clemson, God is everywhere. The team’s chaplain leads a Bible study for coaches every Monday and Thursday. Another three times a week, the staff gathers for devotionals. Nearly every player shows up at a voluntary chapel service the night before each game.

If the baptism wasn’t enough to stop you in your tracks, “nearly every player” showing up for a “voluntary chapel service the night before each game” most likely did. Many coaches seem to lead religious services, though all of them go out of their way to share that attendance at such things is voluntary. I can’t help but wonder if “everyone showing up” for something keeps it truly voluntary. Peer pressure (and pressure from coaches) is most certainly going to influence young men.

Overt displays of religiosity are a bit more toned down in the professional game, but many NFL players are extremely open about their religious beliefs and often sound like missionaries. Most teams also have team chaplains, and you can bet all of those chaplains are Christian.

On the eve of this year’s Super Bowl, then Seattle Seahawk Chris Maragos credited Jesus for the team’s success. He said, “We understand that we can’t do any of this on our own. You look at what guys have been able to do and the strength that He gives us — that’s really where we draw everything that we have. That’s a cornerstone of what we rely on.” Comments, like Maragos’s, are rather commonplace in today’s NFL.

George Wilson in Prayer [Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr via Wikimedia]

George Wilson in Prayer [Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr via Wikimedia]

Many team owners and players are also politically conservative. Though Peyton Manning doesn’t say much about politics or religion, he has given money to Republicans such as Richard Luger’s and Bob Corker’s Senate campaigns in 2012. Former Broncos quarterback and current General Manager John Elway is also a big Republicans supporter.

Coming into this piece I had assumed that most NFL owners donated overwhelmingly to Republicans, but that’s not always the case. Many do support Democrats. However, I have yet to find a player or owner interested in donating to the Green Party.

Just after World War II, sports leagues were ahead of much of the rest of country when it came to social issues. While Jackie Robinson is famous for breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball back in 1947, that barrier was actually first broken by the NFL in 1946. However, since those days, football has been slow to embrace change. The NFL’s first African-American coach didn’t take the field until 1989, and hiring of minorities was so behind the times that the NFL was forced to institute the Rooney Rule in 2003 requiring teams to interview minority candidates.

This year saw the NFL almost take a major step forward with the drafting of an openly gay player – Michael Sam of the University of Missouri. Sadly Sam was cut before the start of the season, and then cut a second time after landing on the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad.

Reaction to Sam was mixed, with former coach Tony Dungy saying that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he might have been a “distraction” to the team. Dungy, an outspoken Evangelical, went on to say that Sam deserved a chance to play in the league and that he would “not have a problem” with Sam on his team. Sam was a big half-step forward for the NFL and I hope that he ends up on an active roster next season.

Muslim players have been a part of the pro-game since 1972, but even those forty years were not enough to gift the NFL with an understanding of Islam. Just this season Kansas City player Husain Abdullah was penalized for going to the ground while praying after an interception returned for a touchdown on Tom Brady of the Patriots. Players aren’t allowed to “go to the ground” when celebrating a touchdown, but religious observances are supposed to be exempt from that rule.

After much public outcry, the NFL admitted that the official on the field had made the wrong call, and with good reason. Abdullah wasn’t just praying he was performing sujud. The position calls for toes, knees, hands, and forehead to all be touching the ground while facing towards Mecca. Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is well known for taking a knee and praying after a touchdown, and his actions have never drawn a penalty. The NFL often looks a little lost when dealing with religious traditions outside of Christianity.

As a Pagan I often feel like an outsider while watching the NFL. The players, coaches, and many of the fans would probably find me hard to relate to. At this point I have yet to hear of a college Pagan player, let alone a Pagan NFL player. I’d like to think that I’m capable of retiring my football addiction but I realize it’s hopeless. I’m a sucker for the game and would much rather watch the Super Bowl then attend an Imbolc Ritual, and the two are often on the same day. Now if you’ll excuse I’ve got an Egg Bowl to go watch that will most likely end with one of the coach’s thanking Jesus. Pray for me.

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