open_halls_squareAs first reported on the Norse Mythology Blog, the U.S. Army has not yet added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. Dr. Karl Siegfried writes,”Over two months after being notified of approval, Army Heathens are now in a state of limbo.”

We spoke with Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project, who said, “The Chaplain backed away from his initial statement that the addition was approved,” and “he misread the speed in which the addition was going to be processed.” Heath said that the Open Halls Project will continue pressing for this recognition. He added, “The Army Corp of Chaplains has largely been helpful to us during this process. We particularly want to officially thank Chaplain Bryan Walker for his assistance. However, we also are growing increasingly frustrated that it has taken so long for this process to reach its finale. The Open Halls Project will continue to advocate for this addition, and will do everything in our power to ensure every soldier knows when it finally has been approved. Our soldiers deserve this recognition of their right to claim their faith. Heathenry is about a commitment to one’s community, a gift of service. The US Army has the duty now to return that gift as is our custom.”

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Judy_Harrow_Award_Photo_CleanAs we reported last week, Judy Harrow was “honored by The Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) division of the American Counseling Association (ACA).” She had been nominated in January by Michael Reeder, LCPC. At a special award luncheon Friday, a member of the Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) faculty accepted the Ohana award on Harrow’s behalf. CHS Director Holli Emore said, “Ms. Harrow was crucial to the development of Cherry Hill Seminary early on, building our pastoral counseling department into a program which would meet professional standards as well as the needs of the growing Pagan community.”

The award itself will be housed for viewing at the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) in Delaware. Board member Michael G. Smith said, “Ms. Harrow was an avid supporter of the New Alexandrian Library. She recognized the need for the Contemporary Paganism to preserve its history and cultural artifacts for future generations so they would be able to have a greater appreciation and understand their roots, their beginnings. She felt so passionately that she left her personal library in her last will and testament to the NAL. It is a great pleasure for us to see her work celebrated by her colleagues and we are honored to house her award, along with her collection, at the Library.”

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downloadThe Dragon Hills Retreat and Right Time, Right Place Productions will be hosting a spring Pagan Music Festival in 2016. Over Memorial Day weekend, musicians from around the world will come together in Bowdon, Georgia to perform at this private 30-acre campground and event center. According to the most recent updates, the festival will host over 20 bands, as well as100 vendors and more.

Currently booked to perform are: SJ Tucker, Sharon Knight, Celia, Tuatha Dea, Wendy Rule, Damh the Bard, Witch’s Mark, Murphy’s Midnight Rounders, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, Spiral Rhythm, Dragon Ritual Drummers, Elaine Silver, Mama Gina, Beltana Spellsinger, and Robin Renée. Organizers say that more performers will be added and tickets are already on sale. They added that “a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Katie’s Krops.”

In Other News

  • This Friday will be the soft launch of the new site Gods & Radicalsborn out of a PantheaCon presentation made by Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie. On Friday, they will publish their first essay by Jason Thomas Pitzl. Other essays will follow periodically until the site is in full operation. Writers currently scheduled include Asa West, Lorna Smithers, and Sean Donahue. Gods & Radicals has been garnering much buzz in the community. When its facilitators made a call for submissions, the response was overwhelming. The site will publish works that focus on anti-capitalism, environmentalism and social change. They write, “We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes.” 
  • Manannan mac Lir was back in the news again when the Limavady Council decided that the original statue was far too damaged to repair and that they would be erecting a replacement. According to the Derry Journal, the Council said that “a new sculpture should be made by John Darren Sutton at a cost of £9,950 and erected on Binevenagh.” The old statue will be on display as tourist attraction. However, as the decision was made, there was some outcry. According to the Belfast Telegraph, one local councilor believes that the “plan to use the damaged sculpture of a Celtic sea god as a tourist attraction would promote paganism and false gods.”
  • In another part of the world, ancient statues, relics and other historic sites are being pillaged and destroyed by ISIL. The destruction of these treasured artifacts has upset many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. One California Pagan, Jack Prewett has called for a Global Day of Mourning on April 18. Prewett calls the destruction a “tragedy for humankind” and says,“Let us mourn the loss of our history, our heritage. Cry for those that will come after us and know that once we had our history in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.” Why did Prewett choose April 18?  That is the U.N.’s World Heritage Day.
  • Last fall, in the heart of Arkansas, a group organized to host the first ever Pagan Pride event in Conway. According to reports, they had over 300 attendees, which far exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the city of Conway has since passed an ordinance prohibiting all vendor sales on park property. Organizers said, “This means that we wouldn’t be able to have vendors, our singers and presenters wouldn’t be able to sell their merchandise, and there wouldn’t be any concessions! The only option that the city has given us is to rent out the Conway Expo Center.” If the organizers follow through, the event will cost significantly more money. The organization is now reaching out to the community for help through a GoFundMe campaign.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, has recently released several statements responding to the most recent attempts to enact a religious freedom restoration act (RFRAs), specifically in the state of Georgia. The ATC’s statements have created buzz in the mainstream media, the Pagan blogosphere and local Georgia Wiccan community. We are currently working on this developing story and will bring you the details of the debate on Wed.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

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Athena Valletri. Plaster cast of a Roman copy of a Greek original by Kresilas or Alkamenes, ca 420 BCE. University of Missouri, Columbia, MO. Photograph by the author.

Athena Velletri.
Plaster cast of a Roman copy of a Greek original by Kresilas or Alkamenes, ca 420 BCE.
University of Missouri, Columbia, MO.
Photograph by the author.

Athena looms. She towers. She stands above me, dominating my entire field of vision. She raises her right hand into the air, as if to bring some other addressee to a pause; she stretches her left hand to me, palm upturned, as though she were offering to help me to my feet. Fabric folds around her body, bunching together at her waist and shoulder – enough fabric, it seems, to wind around the world. Her war-helm rests atop her head; on her breast sits the head of Medusa. I stare up into her eyes; they are blank, but that blankness is the opposite of empty. Every emotion is inscribed on Athena’s face.

I kneel there before the goddess for a long moment, my breathing haggard from the proximity of the sublime.

Somewhere behind me, I can hear women’s voices. I think they are talking about payroll. In front of me, behind Athena’s back, a car passes by. I see it through the mini-blinds: a black Acura. The windows face out onto the Mizzou North parking lot, which lies off of Business Loop 70 in Columbia, Missouri, the college town where I live. The building itself used to be a cancer center; other medical facilities still share the parking lot. The neighborhood is an aging commercial district, separated from the main campus by about a mile and a half. Around Mizzou North, one finds a Ford dealership, a Break Time gas station, a Payless shoe store, a Long John Silver’s. It is a strange place to go looking for gods – and yet here they are.

The University of Missouri is moving its Museums of Art, Archeology, and Anthropology over to this building from their old homes on the central campus, and so most of the collections aren’t yet on display. One galley, however, is open – the Cast Gallery, full of plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman statuary. The casts on display are packed together in a single L-shaped room on the first floor of the building. I found it rather cramped, but the density of the collection heightened my sense of the sublime; within only a few hundred square feet, the Venus de Milo, the headless Nike of Samothrace, and the Apollo of Olympia shared space with the tender pair of Hermes and the infant Dionysus and the mute horror of Laokoön and His Sons being killed by sea-serpents. A row of luminary busts sits against one wall: the heads of Homer, Sophocles, and Theseus all sit together, members of parliament never elsewhere convened in history.

But the piece de resistance, at least for me, was the Athena Velletri. A copy of an original housed in the Louvre, Athena Velletri dominates her section of the gallery, and I found myself drawn to her over the dozens of other masterpieces littering the room. Perhaps it was simply the size of the statue – Athena stands 10 feet tall, such that her outstretched left arm is at eye-level for the average person – or perhaps it was the intricate details of the bunched cloth in her robe. More likely, it was simply that Athena has always been one of my favorite goddesses, as far back as I knew what a goddess was. (Just now, I remember something: the first book – or long story, at least – that I ever wrote, when I was twelve. The main character worshipped Athena. Write what you know, so the saying goes.)

As I knelt before the Athena, I found my mind wandering away from the cast gallery, and even away from the milieu of the classical world in general, moving instead to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In that essay, Benjamin advanced a theory of “the aura” of an individual artwork – that is to say, the combination of history and physical presence that serves to instill art with the value of authenticity. For Benjamin, this aura originated in the religious functions that works like the Athena Velletri would have had in their classical origins, and which was maintained even after the end of the Pagan period: “The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition,” he writes. “This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.” When art became separated by religion, that holy aura came to be embodied in other ways: in aesthetics, in majesty, in l’art pour l’art, all of which he theorized would find their final culmination in fascism.

Benjamin argues that reproduction cannot help but destroy the aura of the work of art, finding its most triumphant expression in the creation of modern art forms like the film, a genre of art that has no “original” to possess an aura at all, only the many copies[1]. (I’m hardly the first to ask this, but one wonders what he would have made of the internet.) In the age before mechanical reproduction – before photographs or high quality lithography, certainly before instant Google searches and Wikipedia – to experience a work of art, one had to physically travel to that work of art, had to confront its aura personally. Even if one had never worshipped Athena, had lived in a world that had, to all appearances, abandoned worship of that goddess two thousand years before, to see the Athena Velletri was to be a part of Athena’s cult.

The Athena that rises above me is made of plaster, smooth and white. Her right arm is a little out of joint, exposing a crease that reveals the many pieces of which she is made. She is, indeed, a copy of a copy, and perhaps more iterations than that. I am sure that some museum shop would happily sell me a copy of this statue, one of many anonymous thousands. And yet the aura is there – not the aura of aesthetic and authenticity, as proposed by Benjamin, nor even quite the old cultic aura he supposed was held by the Greeks. For me, it is an aura of overpowering recognition. I was raised without temples, but with the longing for them; I suppose I made the identification of the museum with the mysteries long ago. I kneel and whisper my prayers to Athena, to the Athena, to the goddess in the plaster. I am still trying to catch my breath.

 

[1] He thought these new art forms, bereft of aura, could resist the fascism from which he had fled, and was on the whole much more positive about technology than most art critics.

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[From the Editor’s DeskThe Wild Hunt will be leaving the Pantheon Foundation to make another big step forward in its continued evolution. In April, we will begin taking the preliminary steps needed toward becoming our own independent registered nonprofit. We thank the Pantheon Foundation for its time and dedication in helping us achieve this goal, and for supplying us with the needed strength to stand on our own. In addition, we say goodbye to columnist Sam Webster. For the last year, he has shared his writing and work with our readers. We thank him for his contributions and wish him luck in any future projects and pursuits. Starting in April, you will find Webster’s work on Patheos’ Pagan Channel.]

This year, it seems one of the unofficial themes to come out of PantheaCon was social justice. There were many panels, presentations and off-program discussions, and a crisis around issues of race to make it pertinent and lively (see Glenn Turner’s post for a summary.)

We will have to do better before everyone will feel welcome in our halls.

[public domain]

Social Justice / Social Activism

Social justice, and its close companion social activism, are a vibrant energy in our community, at least at the moment. We’ll have to see in what way it will endure. American culture, and we as a sub-culture in it, have a notoriously short attention span coupled with amnesia. Will Pagans and the magical community hold our focus or move on to another outrage du jour? Sadly, the problems, social, environmental, economic, political, and so on, don’t pass so quickly and it has long been the task of social activists to drag our attention back to those problems when our attention wavers.

I laud those whose speech informs us of the oppressions they experience or witness. I honor those who place their bodies on the line to defend, to demonstrate, or even just to demand attention to the intolerable. While not every protest causes obvious change, every action is another weight in the balance that will change society for the better.

The challenges before our community are large. It would take being in a coma to not see the profound social imbalances where some have deep access to resources and others, often simply due to birth, have little to no access. Becoming conscious of these imbalances is necessary. I listen to this discourse and try to learn how others are suffering, what they want to do about it. From that, I determine how I can help.

Beyond the discourse, there are many and various ways of applying effort to actually change society. The really visible ones are the protests, rallies, speakers in presentations and panels. The writers of blogs or other forms of journalism, or more persuasive writing, all contribute to the effort. But not everyone organizes or attends protests, or gives speeches.

There are other less visible types of social activism. The primary kind is voting, a citizen’s duty. The simplest, and I would say most important yet most overlooked, is the raising of children with healthy social consciousness. The mothers and fathers who are doing this are building the next generation. We can see today how important this is in how the Millennials and younger cohorts have such a comparatively decreased degree of homophobia or racism. Generalizing as this is, of course, this is changing society profoundly if slowly.

Serving Community

Other work work to build healthy communities. The small groups that we Pagans form can be ways of concentrating the worst of humanity’s bad habits, or crucibles of transformation that purge our bodies, speech, and minds, of the pernicious poison of sexism, racism, genderism, homophobia, and the like. There is nothing like close contact with the ‘other’ to shatter the barriers in our hearts and build the interpersonal bridges that render the objectified other into a person, even into a friend. Creating these kinds of groups is my work, so I am mindful of its place in the scheme of social activism.

Since graduating seminary in 1993, I have worked as a ‘community minister’ amongst Pagans. Building communities and the empowerment of groups and individuals so that they may be spiritually and materially effective in the world is my work. My space is religion, as befits my training and talents. It is also a space where moral and ethical values can be directly cultivated and expressed.

For thousands of years, basically all the time before the Protestant Reformation (starting 1517), values were expressed and transmitted though ritual and at the hands of the religious specialists of those cultures. We Pagans, who preserve the power of ritual in our civilization, have at our disposal a profound means to transform ourselves, inculcate good social values, and sometimes even directly affect larger society.

Money and Authority

One of the places where we are weak is in our relationship to money. Being one of the four great elemental tools, the coin can no more be ignored than the wand, cup, or sword. Yet we are pretty bad at it, and have serious issues with money. Maybe it’s a hold-over from the hippies who rekindled Paganism in the 60s, perhaps it’s an embracing of spirituality and rejection of materialism and capitalism.

Associated with this is our relationship with the law and with authority. Pagans, witches, and other magical folk, have been marginalized for so long that we forget to use the law to our advantage, even when that law was constructed to protect us or gives us the tools to build what we need. Likewise we sometimes attack authority thinking that it can only be oppressive.

This is quite problematic. Authority begins with the self; yet so many are disempowered that they are not the authority of their own lives. But we can start from where we are, with what little we have. We can then build out from there structures of action and responsibility, which is what creates true authority. As these structures interweave with other people, each their own center of authority, larger more dynamic and powerful structures can be built.

Inevitably, leaders emerge to pilot the institutions the structures create. Recognizing that these institutions are yet another tactic to change society, and that the leaders of those organizations are working to enact the will of those aggregating to create the institution, can help us to realize that this too is form of social activism.

It won’t solve every problem, and only some have any use for it, but certain problems will be hard to solve without these tools. It also has the virtue of being a subtle yet profound means of subverting the dominant social order through alternative, networked, modes of authority. Each success transforms another part of our world.*

Now What?

What to do now that the PantheaCon panels and protests are done? What is the positive creation we can engage in to build a better future?

Overtime, I would like to continue to hear from the overt social activists on what we are able to do. They have done a lot of thinking on the subject. Much of the discussion so far is criticism of self or other, invaluable to understand and be motivated to solve the problem.

Better still that we have also been hearing directly from the oppressed and abused. This should guide our actions. An action plan or at least a strategy is needed that will change our culture or our subculture. What kind of program, what actions can we do to improve conditions? What actionable suggestions can we take back to our small groups to make things better? I’d like to hear some more ideas and apply them.

As for myself, I have a strategy I have been using for decades, one common to the folks working in religion or spirituality. I’ll keep teaching the tools of spiritual empowerment. I’ll keep setting the table to welcome any who wish to do the work, irrespective of race, or gender, or other characteristics. I will continue to build groups and institutions to embody and transmit the wholesome values we must live by if we would live in a just and peaceful society. I will continue to find ways of aggregating the power of individuals and groups into forces that cause good change. These are where my skills and talents lie and how I am best used. There are many other approaches to the problems before us, we will need them all to succeed.

*   *   *

* Author’s Note: Technically I am an anarchist, of what some call the syndicalist variety. For some concrete examples of how this can work look into the Viable Systems Model by Stafford Beer. It gives a powerful tool and examples for robust self rule. The goal is to use this method of organization for the Pantheon Foundation as it matures. More here.

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Terry Pratchett [Photo Credit: Myrmi, cc lic. via Wikimedia ]

Terry Pratchett [Photo Credit: Myrmi, cc lic. via Wikimedia ]

So much universe, and so little time” – Sir Terry Pratchett

It was announced yesterday that beloved fantasy author, Sir Terry Pratchett, had died from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Throughout his 44 year writing career, Sir Terry has touched the minds, spirits and imaginations of people all over the globe, becoming one of the U.K.’s most well-read authors and is, according to the BBC, second only to JK Rowling.

His work has become of particular importance to Pagans and Heathens, who have found within it a unique expression of their own practice and spirituality. Ashley Mortimer of the Doreen Valiente Foundation said:

Terry Pratchett has done several great services to the pagan community and the true Craft of the Wica: He helped the wider community see us as more include-able and accepted by poking good-spirited, perceptive, knowledgeable and downright genuine fun at us through his hilarious characters  – you know you are widely recognised when the writer trusts the general reader to be familiar enough with you to “get” the in-jokes about you. He also painted witches in a positive light with his witch characters always being the heroines and “good guys” of his stories and, best of all, he reminded us in the pagan and witchcraft community that, by seeing ourselves warmly through the eyes of others, we should never take ourselves too seriously.

Sir Terry Pratchett was born Terence David John Pratchett in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. As a child, he was fond of astronomy but was unable to qualify for such studies and, eventually, turned his imagination to science fiction novels and fantasy. He devoured both American and British classics. At the age of 13, Sir Terry published his very first story, called “The Hades Business,” in a school newspaper.

As an adult, he pursued a career in journalism. While working for the Bucks Free Press, Sir Terry wrote and published a number of short stories under the pseudonym “Uncle Jim.” However, it wasn’t until 1971 that he published his first book titled The Carpet People. He followed that up with The Dark Side of the Sun in 1976 and Strata in 1981.

The_Colour_of_Magic_(cover_art)Sir Terry is best known for his Discworld series, which he began in 1983 with the publication of the first book The Color of Magic. This series became so successful that, in 1987, he left his job at Central Electricity Generating Board to become a full time author. The rest, as they say, is history.*

In the early 1990s, as Sir Terry’s popularity reached new heights, the Pagan Federation decided to host its very first indoor conference. Having connected with that community, Sir Terry supported the effort. Vivianne and Chris Crowley recalled, “His talk left us with tears rolling down our faces – tears of mirth. He judged with humour our stunning array of witches competing for the ‘Best Magrat’ competition, impressed by the enthusiasm that we Pagans showed for bringing his characters to life. Evenly-handed, and ahead of his time, he awarded the prizes to two women and a man.”

The Crowleys added that Sir Terry was “officially agnostic” but “was one of the most Pagan-friendly of authors.They said, “He had enough familiarity with the Pagan community to create the kind of jokes that resonate with Pagans everywhere.” Over the years, the Crowleys got to know him better through the fantasy author circuit and found “his humour warmed up in the best possible way those long cold hours hanging around back stage between giving talks.”

More recently, in 2010, the Crowleys joined in Sir Terry’s “lobbying [efforts] at the Conservative Party Conference for the legalisation of assisted suicide.” They noted that his eloquence, sincerity, and authenticity won over many of the legislators.

Sir Terry was also known to have attended other U.K. Pagan events. Author and teacher Christopher Penczak remembers meeting him at Witchfest. He said, “I had not read his books yet, so I really didn’t appreciate the moment.” But Penczak remembers the author as being very friendly and nice to all the presenters at the event.

Penczak eventually did read the novels and said, “I feel like his stories gave me more insight about Witchcraft, the spirit of magick, coven dynamics, responsibility, ego, dealing with the public, humor, and the role of service of the Witch more than most of my occult books. His insights were brilliant.”

2012 [© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons]

2012 [© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons]

Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, Sir Terry continued to write as many as 3 novels a year. The Discworld series eventually contained 41 books and a number of related short stories. According to his website, he has sold over 70 million books, translated into 37 languages.

Along with receiving many literary awards, Sir Terry was appointed ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ for his work. In 2008, he was knighted with a sword that he himself forged. As noted by The Independent, Sir Terry added what he called magical touches to the metal and, then, kept it secret until the event. He was worried about the authorities and was quoted as saying, “It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords…That would be knife crime.”

In 2007, Sir Terry was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease after what was assumed to be a stroke. The Crowleys said, “Terry handled his illness with enormous dignity and courage.” According to the BBC, it was his writing that kept his spirits up and kept him going as his health declined. At least five of the Discworld books were written and published after the diagnoses.

Sir Terry’s death was announced yesterday via Twitter in a style that recalled his work.

 
The capital letters recall the way Death, the character, speaks in his novels.
 


It was reported that he died in his sleep with his cat and his family by his side.

Since the announcement, many Pagans and Heathens have joined the millions of other fans who are now mourning the loss of a great writer and kindred spirit. Ashley Mortimer of the Doreen Valiente Foundation said, “Terry Pratchett proved that the principles of mirth and reverence are perfect partners in paganism, the Craft and indeed wider human culture. His untimely passing is a great sadness to all of us.”

Christopher Penczak said, “I’m very saddened by our loss of Terry Pratchett … While not being a Witchcraft teacher, he was certainly a teacher of Witchcraft, at least of a healthy Witchcraft culture, including the many things I think are important to keep in mind in our practices and community.”

The Crowleys said, “Terry was a true magician, not in the sense of being a practitioner of the Art Magickal, but in his ability to conjure up new worlds, to weave a spell with his words, and beyond the wonderful humour of his writing, to evoke profound ideas that struck chords with the postmodern religious imagination.”

In memory of Sir Terry, people have been posting their favorite quotes.The Doreen Valiente Foundation offered this one:

Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.

The Crowleys shared this:

It was a place where witches met. 
Tonight a fire gleamed on the very crest of the hill. Dark figures moved in the flickering light. 
The moon coasted across a lacework of clouds. 
Finally a tall, pointy-hatted figure said, `You mean everyone brought potato salad?

Finally, there is this one:

If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story

What is remembered, lives!

*   *   *

*Note: Biographical data taken from multiple sources, including www.famousauthors.org.

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“Now that’s what I call magic—seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ ‘em safely on their way…and then cleanin’ ‘em up, layin’ ‘em out, making ‘em neat for the funeral, and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets—which is, let me tell you, no errand for the fainthearted—and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door ‘cuz his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again…We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better’n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft, that is. The soul and center!”Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)

Modern culture has done its best to separate humans from the cycles of life. Once inside our homes we can’t tell if it is January or July, night or day. Our meat comes in tidy packages and we buy asparagus year round. Birth and death happen elsewhere, out of sight.

[Art by Xiaomei23 / Deviant Art / cc. lic]

[Art by Xiaomei23 / Deviant Art / cc. lic]

Pagan culture often seeks to do the opposite, to reconnect humans with the cycles of life. To understand and explore the seasons, the cycles of the moon, and life and death. This isn’t a repudiation of science or comfort, it’s not a step backwards or romanticizing the past. It’s about bringing the best of our ancestors’ cultural values into the modern age to live a more connected and fulfilling life.

The Wild Hunt spoke with several Pagans and Polytheists about the work they do in helping others, Pagan or not, reconnect with the cycles of life.

Birth
While birth is now much safer for American women, they have also lost more of their personal agency. Hospitals can be a birthing factory where women lay on their backs in unfamiliar surroundings. The birth process itself is no longer a Mystery where women experience a deep and profound power. It’s a medical process. While many hospitals are trying to improve the experience and involve the entire family by creating birthing suites, they are unequipped to add back in the power.

Which is why women are once again turning to midwives and giving birth at home, surrounded by family or friends.

A midwife is a person who is trained to give care and advice to women during pregnancy, labor, and the post-birth period. Melanie Moore is an atheist witch and a Certified Professional Midwife in the state of Iowa. She wants to help women regain the mysteries that are experienced during childbirth while also ensuring the health and safety of both mother and child.

“I always loved pregnancy and birth. When I was five and my mother was pregnant with my brother, I wrote and illustrated a pregnancy exercise book. In school reproduction and birth was always fascinating to me,” said Moore.

She said reading Ariadne’s Thread by Shekhinah Mountainwater as a teen also had an impact on wanting to become a midwife. The book uses the Goddess Ariadne as a basis for a women-centered spirituality.

It was during her own second pregnancy when Moore met a midwife and discovered the Traditional Homebirth Midwives of Iowa. After that, she committed to becoming a midwife and giving women birth alternatives.

Hospital births take place in a sterile environment and the birthing mother is given an IV while fetal monitors are attached. The mother is usually confined to bed and isn’t allowed to take in anything other than ice chips. There’s also a limit to the number of family or friends surrounding, usually 2 or three adults. Drugs can also be administered, either for pain or to speed up contractions.

Melanie Moore, background, looks on at a new mother, baby, and family after a birth.

Melanie Moore, background, looks on at a new mother, baby, and family after a birth.

A home birth with a midwife is very different. It can a private and quiet experience or it can be a noisy celebration in a house filled with family and friends. The midwife focuses on helping the mother tolerate the contractions and keeping her comfortable. The mother can walk around, eat or drink. Time isn’t a factor, the birth unfolds on the time schedule nature dictates.

Moore said that birth isn’t a scary mystery you need to pay someone else to do, but if you do pay someone, remember they are working for you. “I know it seems scary to accept that kind of responsibility,” said Moore, but she added that, “You are descended from millions of women that gave birth successfully. You are powerful and strong.” She also said that women should not allow themselves to be talked into an induction, the baby comes when it and the mother’s body is ready.

In Iowa, only Certified Nurse Midwives are licensed to attend births and the majority of them work in hospitals. Moore’s certification, while a accepted in surrounding states, isn’t accepted in Iowa. She, and a group of midwives and other supporters, are working to change that. Women in the group have registered as lobbyists and have worked with Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R) to introduce legislation to define “the terms “midwife” and “midwifery” and states that anyone acting or holding oneself out as a midwife or practicing midwifery shall not have committed a public offense by doing so.”

Moore has been working for 15 years to make midwifery more accessible to women in Iowa and to help women reclaim their power. She said, “I believe in women. I believe women’s strength. I know that midwifery is its own type of magick. Maybe not in a supernatural way, but magick just the same.”

Death
“I have always believed that the moment someone passes over is a sacred moment. A doorway between two worlds and a time of magic and possibility. To be present and help to facilitate that time with beauty and dignity is a sacred trust and an honor.” – Michele Morris

Advertisements for products that claim to help you keep a more youthful appearance are everywhere. Life insurance salespersons take seminars on how to break through clients’ denial that they will eventually die. Older persons are no longer cared for by family and die in their own beds surrounded by loved ones. We send them to facilities and visit occasionally. Then when they die, we send their body off to professionals who stuff them, dress them, and paint them to more closely resemble a living person. Current culture leaves us ill prepared for death and the process of dying. Not for our own and not for our loved ones.

Kris Bradley, who recently completed a course on for death midwives and home funeral guides, said, “We, as a whole, are a very death denying culture. Death is almost a taboo subject – like if we speak about it, we might catch it.”

Similar to birthing midwifes, death midwifes help persons through this transition. They may come to a hospital or assisted care setting or they may come to the home. Death midwifes aren’t new, but the resurgence of death midwifes as a career is.

Rev. H. Byron Ballard is a Priestess of Mother Grove Goddess Temple and has helped the dying and their families for just over 20 years. She said “Just like a midwife at the other portal of life, someone not in the family can do things the family might feel too close to do.” She said that she helps families understand that this process is another rite of passage, and can be natural, participatory, and beautiful.

Michelle Morris started working with the dying while she was a nursing student. She was one of the few students who didn’t mind holding someone’s hand while they took their last breath. Now that she’s also a minister and a counselor, her work with the dying continues at a local hospice with both Pagan and non-Pagan families.

Morris said that Western society in general has no specific death rituals, other than an unofficial but deep seated tradition of avoidance. “People with a terminal diagnosis are often treated as though they are already gone by everyone around them, often including their own family. Because we have no traditions, people often are at a loss as to what they should be doing when they truly want to help,” said Morris. She noted that people will often do nothing rather than possibly do something wrong. She helps provide a framework the dying person and their family can use to say goodbye.

Morris said that, while she doesn’t share her beliefs with the families she’s working with, the fact that, as a Pagan, she’s has a comfortable relationship with death helps create safe place for them to find their comfort, in whatever form that may be.

Rev. Selena Fox presides over a green burial at Circle Sanctuary

Rev. Selena Fox presides over a green burial at Circle Sanctuary

Bradley is following a different path and is working to become a death midwife. After volunteering Reiki sessions at a senior center she said that she was touched by how much the seniors enjoyed the sessions. She found out many of the seniors lived alone and the Reiki sessions were probably the only physical contact they had. “This got me thinking about what it would be like for them when their time came. Would they be alone?” wondered Bradley.

Bradley decided she wanted to be a death midwife and created a Kickstarter campaign to fund half the costs for an 88-hour training program for death midwives and home funeral guides. Within just a few days, the campaign was funded and Bradley completed her training in August of 2014.

Bradley said that one of the greatest contributions a death midwife can offer is information and support before the active dying process starts. Bradley added that people can make the process easier on everyone if they get all of their important papers in order, such as living wills, advance directives and medical power of attorneys. They should also create a plan for how they want their death to play out as far as how their spiritual needs should be addressed, and even pre-plan their memorial service and/or funeral.

While many Americans say they wish to die at home, few actually do. The reasons can range from not having someone at home who can care for them, not having family nearby, or confusion about what is the best possible care, or relatives not knowing the person’s wishes and defaulting to hospital care.  Having a death midwife helps simplify these challenges. “Being a person who can take a shift being in the room, giving the dying’s caregiver a much needed respite so they can continue to care for their loved one. [A death midwife] can act as a coordinator to get family and friends involved in care, and at the same time keep a calm, spiritual space for the dying. It’s much easier for a death midwife to tell loud Uncle John he needs to leave the room for a while then it is a family member,” said Bradley.

Bradley said that even Pagans, with their focus on connecting to cycles and their positive view of what happens after death, still fear death when the time comes. “As much as our faith might mean to us and as much as we hold our beliefs to be true, death is still the great unknown.”

She said her biggest comforts on dying is knowing that she has made plans to be buried in a green cemetery in a simple shroud, “I will literally go back to the earth and help the wheel keep turning.”

Her advice to others is that there is no right or wrong way to die, only what’s right for you. She stresses the importance of putting your wishes in writing and making those wishes known to family and friends, “If you aren’t sure where to start, contact a death midwife or a home funeral guide and ask them for advice where to start.”

Rebirth
“The themes of life and death and rebirth are deep in the human psyche. They have been played out in the mythic poetry, pageantry, ritual theater, music, and dance of deep human culture across the globe. So how has modern humanity lost touch with these myths and the important rites of passage that surround them?” – Kari Tauring

The ideas of rebirth, reincarnation, or even an afterlife where you retain your sense of self are no longer as accepted as they appear to have been in the past. Kari Tauring, an author, performer, and Völva, noted that even the dominant religious rebirth story in the US, the rebirth of Jesus, is starting to be being rejected in modern times. Since Christianity supplanted and replaced all other previous rebirth stories and now that tale has also started to lose its appeal, the wider U.S. culture is left with no stories to help us make sense of our own mortality and hopes for rebirth.

“Perhaps that explains the modern fascination with zombies and television vampires,” said Tauring. She added, “I think it is psychologically dangerous to live without a mythic connection to nature and to our ancestors and to the cycles of life. It’s a human need.”

 Lynette Reini-Grandell (left) and Kari Tauring (right)

Lynette Reini-Grandell (left) and Kari Tauring (right)

Tauring is using song and dance to bring stories of birth, marriage, death, and rebirth back into modern culture. She, along with Lynette Reini-Grandell, have been performing “Waking the Bear” at a theatre in Minnesota for the public. Those in attendance include those of all, or no, religion.

In the performance Tauring and Reini-Grandell explore the folk songs and stories of Finno-Ugric, Scandinavian, German and American bear lore. Through song, poetry, and dance they first tell the the Finnish story of how the forest goddess created a bear from wool fluff tossed into the waters of the world by the spinner in the sky. Tauring said, “In a way, this is how all life is created, from the dust of the stars. This section of Runo 46 from the Kalevala is so beautiful that I could not help setting it to music and dance.”

In the show, the bear goes into hibernation which is like a little death, and in spring, emerges with a cub. Tauring and Reini-Grandell then present three stories of shape shifting with the bear form, one from the Norwegian people, one from the Mansi people (Tyumen Oblast area of Russia) and one from the Ute people (Colorado into Utah, USA). In the third part of the performance they kill the bear and ritualize its death not as a funeral but as a wedding, which comes from a Finnic tradition. By marrying what they killed, the bear transcends death. Tauring explained, “In some way, we agree to become that which we kill, that which we eat, in the deepest of ways. This is the deepest sense of shape shifting and marriage. We make an agreement with the bear to let it wear our shape as we have worn its shape.”

During the performance, the audience often appears moved while a few appear disturbed or uncomfortable. Talking to one attendee named Angela, she said the experience, “…shook me to my core. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not sure if I feel more comforted or less [about death] but I feel like it’s something I’ve avoided.” Her friend Melissa added that she felt this was something she’s been missing, “This filled in a profound hole I didn’t know I was missing. There has to be something, I don’t know, something more after you die. That can’t be the end.” Both women said they were raised Christian, but now consider themselves atheist or agnostic.

Tauring agrees that her performance may stir up a deep ancestral memory in modern humans. “That’s why it is intense and might make many people uncomfortable. It takes us to a place at once universal and deeply personal, an ancient place where we must experience the emotions of life and death and rebirth and shows us a way to transcend our fears around the inevitable. The new modern society seems to be looking for this, hungering and longing for this. It is my intention to continue providing workshops and performances that feed this deep need.”

Author’s note: This article was written in honor of a very young Heathen child in my local community who has been battling cancer for several years. Sadly, all treatments have failed to halt the spread, and this bright and brave 7 year old boy has only a matter of weeks before he joins his forefathers on the other side.

 

Addendum 3/16/15 10:00 am: We are very sad to hear of the passing of author Terry Pratchett, who was quoted at the beginning of the article. Pratchett was much beloved in the Pagan community because he understood the “root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft.”  We extend our condolences to his family and friends. 

What is remembered, lives.

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In the U.S., March is national Women’s History Month, and Sunday was International Women’s Day. Around the world, individuals and organizations celebrated the role and influence of women in society. Pagans and Heathens were among them. There is much to celebrate. In many places, women have come a “long way baby” from the Victorian days of limited opportunity and arranged marriages.

However, this is not the case everywhere. Limited opportunities and crimes against women persist throughout the world, manifesting in many different ways. Last March, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was quoted as saying in an interview with NBC, violence against women is “the worst and most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.”

Stop Gender Based Violence

[public domain]

According to a recent New York Times article,”35 percent of women worldwide, more than one in three, have experienced physical violence in their lifetime.” In that same article, it is reported that “38 percent of women who are murdered are killed by their partners.”

This past Monday and Tuesday, the U.N. convened the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. During the two-day session a number of prominent international women spoke about conditions in their countries. Generally, the speakers agreed that the problem is very serious and highly complex. As such, there is not one single solution that will fit every country and every culture.

In the U.N.’s official report, Phumzile Mlabmbo-Ncguka, undersecretary-general for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and executive director of U.N.-Women was described as saying:

We need urgent action and much stronger political commitment.” Human rights were interdependent and indivisible, Mlabmbo-Ncguka said, adding that men must be partners politically and in the home, including as parents. Men and boys were key to dismantling the patriarchy. That meant, among others, saying “no” to early marriages. The bold, brave acts of one Head of State or one student leader could have far-reaching effects. “We must make the economy work for women,” she stressed, adding, “empowering women empowers nations

Unfortunately, some of the most horrific, violent crimes committed against the world’s women are connected to witchcraft. It is often said that the historical European and American witch-hunts were simply organized attacks on women. In contemporary society, this seems to be, at least partly, true. Whether the reasons or motivations are the same would be a project for sociologists and historians. However, it is enough to know that the current witch-hunts and related tragedies are very real, and women are most commonly the victims.

In June 2014, the U.N. released a report opening with the question, “Did you know violence and abuse against elderly women, the world’s fastest growing demographic group, range from sexual violence, property grabbing, financial abuse and increasingly, extreme violence against older women accused of witchcraft?” It continues on to say, “Witchcraft accusations that are used to justify extreme violence against older women are reported in 41 African and Asian countries…”

But none of that is news. Women, specifically older women, have been the primary victims of witchcraft violence for years. However, what is news, is the growing and very recent pressure worldwide to fix the problem.

In Monday’s U.N. Session, Nana Oye Lithur, minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, reported on the positive momentum and strides being made in her own country in an effort to bring about gender quality.The report describes her as saying specifically, “The [Ghana] Ministry had recently closed down one of the country’s ‘witch camps,’ which had held captive a number of women accused of being witches.” The December 2014 closing was marked as an historical event in the fight for women’s rights.

Women in Nepal. Video Still. ©Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank SB-NP01

Women in Nepal. [From Video Still. ©Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank SB-NP01]

There are efforts being made by local governments and international advocacy organizations to end this tragic cycle, one that is based on a fear, cultural stigmas and gender-bias. Last year, we reported on one of the most recent legislative attempts to curb the witch-related violence. Like others before it, Nepal made illegal all witchcraft accusations and related violence. The South African Pagan Alliance (SAPRA), Witchcraft & Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) and other similar advocacy organizations work with International Human Rights groups, the U.N. and local governments to continue pushing for this level of awareness and legal intervention.

Unfortunately, laws don’t necessarily bring an end to the violence. A 57-year-old woman, believed to be a witch, was just found “thrashed” in a village in Nepal. A recent article out of India suggests one of the reasons for continued hunts is a lack of law enforcement education. The article says:

Murders and other serious crimes in the name of witchcraft, sorcery and superstitious practices continue unabated in the State despite more than a year of enactment of Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013, thanks to utter ignorance of its provisions among law enforcers on the ground.

The article adds that India is now working to educate its local police force.

In Africa, Tanzania’s government has recently taken a different approach. This January, it outlawed the actual practice of witchcraft. Over the past several years,Tanzania has seen a marked increased in the number of albino killings caused by so-called “witch doctors,” who propagate fear and superstition. Many locals believe that the limbs of a person with albinism have magical powers. According to a Red Cross report, these “witch doctors” will pay upward of “$75,000 for a complete set of albino limbs.” While this horrific violence is not at all limited to women, it is yet another abuse in a long list. Last year, the Huffington Post featured stories from a number of Tanzania’s albino women and their struggle to survive.

But murder and dismemberment are not the only problems caused by the propagation of witchcraft superstitions. According to a recent BBC report, the U.K. is facing a similar issue with the African Sex Trade industry. The article reads “British courts have found difficulty in bringing African sex-traffickers to justice because a belief in black magic and juju “spells” makes victims afraid to testify.” The women, taken primarily from Nigeria, are made to believe that these “witch doctors” hold powers of them and, as a result, are terrified to fight back or speak out.

The problem here is twofold. There are women, mostly elderly, who are being accused of witchcraft and, consequently, face abuse, confinement and death. Then, there are others, again mostly women, who are being manipulated through fear of witchcraft, into prostitution, a life of solitude, abuse, dismemberment and death. In some cases, the governments have banned witch-hunting and, in others, witchcraft itself.

30days

Unfortunately, the latter legislation causes problems for legitimate Pagans, folk practitioners, or others using magic for purely spiritual purposes, such as WITZAN in Nigeria. Members of SAPRA have been working to reform these laws within their own country of South Africa, while also raising awareness for the problem. March 29 marks the beginning of SAPRA’s annual event called “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch Hunts.”

The problem rages on with no end in sight, and not just in the countries mentioned above. Equally as troublesome  is that “witchcraft,” even if it’s just in name, is being used as a method to promote gender inequality and to justify the abuse of women and girls.

At this week’s 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was described as saying:

Women continued to suffer disproportionately from the economic crisis, from the impacts of climate change, from the displacement caused by conflict, persecution and other challenges. Extremist groups continued to ‘viciously and systematically attack girls and women…

This work includes the detangling of cultural fears and gender-biases, from superstitions, from would-be “witchcraft,” and from the spiritual practice of magic and Witchcraft.

General Ban Ki-moon then called on the Commission to speed up its efforts, to find workable solutions for these problems and to finally bring about true gender equality and create a world safe for women – all women. He added, “The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”

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btw2015logo-tshirt-3_med-2HUNT VALLEY, MARYLAND –When at any single Pagan conference with a robust lineup of workshops, panels, and rituals, a participant might find it difficult to choose what to attend and what to pass on. When two conferences join forces, those decisions become, at very least, four times as difficult to make. Such was the experience for 3-400 people who attended the combined Sacred Space and Between the Worlds conference in Maryland this past weekend.

These two events became one this year through a combination of cooperation and astrology. Sacred Space is an annual conference which is held around this time. Between the Worlds — not to be confused with an identically-named Midwest spiritual event — is scheduled astrologically, and like Sacred Space, takes place on the mid-Atlantic seaboard. This year, the stars aligned so that the two conferences would be in competition for attendees, speakers, and even organizers, as they have long had at least one board member in common. Instead of cannibalizing resources, the decision was made to combine the two into one whopper of an experience.

Between the Worlds won’t happen again until 2020, and it’s unlikely to ever overlap with Sacred Space again. The events have some common elements, which made the mashup manageable. Both have highly selective processes for choosing teachers, and require the content to be intermediate to advanced. Between the Worlds has handpicked teachers, while Sacred Space combines invited headliners with a proposal process designed to highlight local talent for a wider audience.

A harsh winter storm delayed many arrivals on Thursday. However, with only a few minor scheduling adjustments, the conference kept humming along. Friday and Saturday, the two full days, started with a plenary session during which a panel discussed a single topic before the bulk of the attendees. Friday’s topic was “alliances with the spirit world.” On Saturday a different panel discussed the nurturing spiritual communities.

Each panel was nearly two hours long, with a combination of debate, insight, and wit that highlighted the different perspectives of the panelists. Listening to Archdruid Kirk Thomas and respected author Diana Paxson debate why Odin seems intent on recruiting followers captured the Friday audience’s attention. Is he gathering fighters for Ragnarok, or trying to forestall it?

Ivo Dominguez, Jr, Michael Smith, and James Welch at the gala

The next morning’s discussion on community was equally as engaging. Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki explained that for all the dysfunction in American Pagan communities, they are far more evolved than what she is familiar with in England, where, “we Brits keep a stiff upper lip,” and don’t see much value in community at all. After identifying herself as the oldest person there, Ashcroft-Nowicki said, “I’m here to learn.”

Just as the days began with a single big session, they ended with the same, but those endings couldn’t have been more different. According to Sacred Space organizer Gwendolyn Reece, both Friday’s main ritual and Saturday’s gala were largely Between the Worlds in origin. Sacred Space does not have a large, main ritual at all, and of the gala, she remarked, “Between the Worlds does that better,” in part, because it costs extra to attend, allowing for live entertainment and plenty of food.

The entertainment came in the form of Tuatha Dea, a band that set the tone by musically calling the quarters and raising the energy in the room to a pitch that was joyous, but not so intense as to be overwhelming. In addition to a deep book of original and lively tunes, this band was able to perform everything from “Whiskey in the Jar” to “White Rabbit” with panache and flair. Their work complemented a silent auction to benefit the New Alexandrian Library, which included an astounding variety of items ranging from original art to gift baskets themed around popular Pagan holidays to ritual jewelry of exquisite beauty.

The main ritual, held Friday night, was a very different kind of energy; one that highlighted the strengths of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. Attendees were encouraged to participate in a preparatory class, during which chants were taught and the layout of the ritual was explained through guided meditation.

The ritual itself began on time, characteristic of an organizational decision to reject “Pagan standard time” out of hand, with the doors being sealed against latecomers. The theme was one of personal transformation as expressed by the “Witch’s Pyramid.” It was built on the astrological significance of the event, which was scheduled during the seventh of a rare series of Pluto-Uranus squares that represent the deep transformation of Pluto coming together with the explosive change represented by Uranus. While much time was spent laying those foundations, when the energy did start flowing, the call to move beyond one’s comfort zone and act for change in the world was unmistakable. By the time the seals upon the ritual gates were opened, this energy could be seen burning in many an eye.

Altars at Sacred Space.

Altars at Sacred Space.

But the choices beyond those big sessions are always difficult. Preparing for possession or oracular work with Diana Paxson? The sorcerer’s tongue or journeying to the phosphorous grove with Christopher Penczak? Deepening understanding of the witch’s pyramid with Ashcroft-Nowicki, or Ivo Dominguez, Jr?

Monika Lonely Coyote tackled the difficult question of differentiating mental illness and spiritual experience in one session, and how to act as a psychopomp for a dying individual in another. There were classes on hexes, breaking curses, alchemy of breath and alchemy of sex. Kirk Thomas offered a class on sacred gifts, which discussed reciprocity with the gods and its relationship to hospitality in ancient cultures ranging from the Greek to the Irish. Byron Ballard’s “Hillfolks Hoodoo” couldn’t have been more different than T. Thorn Coyle’s idea of “Practical Magic.”  However, each teacher brought deep wisdom and displayed a mastery of the craft. Dorothy Morrison offered a class on money magic that was both practical and earthy. In short, when all the choices are beyond “Grounding 101,” every decision is a difficult one to make, an opportunity cost by which one piece of knowledge is gained, and another left behind.

In that way, this idea is similar to a point that Morrison made about magic, and why she does not include “an it harm none” in her spells. She noted that all magic comes at a price.

“If you work a spell to get a job interview, someone else’s resume fell into the trash,” Morrison said. Requiring that a spell harm no one takes away its power, she observed; better to understand that no magic is without consequence. Or, as Coyle put it at one point, “You have to own it.” That’s the kind of lesson taught at this conference: very little in the world is black and white, and the burden of the adept who walks in sacred space is to take responsibility for the many gradations between the worlds.

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katwoodhouse1 On Feb. 16, tragedy hit Katwood, a 40-acre Pagan sanctuary and sacred retreat nestled in rural southern Virginia. The homestead and all its contents were completely burned to the ground, leaving its full-time occupants, Priest Daniel and his wife Sue, without a place to live. Katwood has been the couple’s home for decades. Daniel, now in his 60s, is the founder and priest of Oak Tree Clan, a group that considers Katwood Sanctuary its spiritual center.

With the help of neighbors, Daniel and Sue moved into a motel and then a friend’s home. However, they miss Katwood, and do plan to rebuild. After the fire, several members of the Oak Tree Clan set up a GoFundMe campaign and a Katwood Rebuild Facebook group to help support the process. One member, Belinda, told The Wild Hunt, “These people are my family, and they have been for a good many years. This place is my spiritual home … I pray that I shall live to see the day I can return there and spend time with them. In the interim, I’ll be planning on visiting my people… my CLAN… in other locations until Katwood is restored.”

Yesterday, it was announced that progress has been made. Friends and neighbors will soon be installing a temporary home on the land so the couple can return by the end of Summer.

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[Courtesy Photo]

From Moonspell, Shekhinah.net

The Shekinah Mountainwater Memorial Fund has officially launched its website and program. This fund has been established “to ensure that … women are able to complete the work that calls to them during their lifetime.” The spirit of the mission comes straight from the group’s namesake, Shekinah Mountainwater. Organizers explain, “Shekhinah Mountainwater (1939 – 2007) is a foremother of the Womanspirit movement … Shekhinah struggled with financial support during her lifetime. She died envisioning a world in which women were supported for their skills and gifts.”

The memorial fund will be managed by a council of 3-7 women, who either knew Shekhinah or hold true to her vision and work. The founders are currently looking for volunteers to serve on the council. Money raised will be administered through an application process and be used to “support self-identified women doing the spiritual work that calls to them. Projects may include research, publications, events and rituals, music and art, spiritual activism, or anything that provides service or education to enrich the Goddess community.” The application and directions will be posted on the website by late summer.

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Judy Harrow

Judy Harrow

On March 13, Judy Harrow will be honored by The Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) division of the American Counseling Association (ACA). Harrow was nominated in January by Michael Reeder LCPC, a holistic counselor and therapist. In his submission, Reeder had to demonstrate how Harrow’s work fulfilled the award’s requirements. As noted by CSJ, a recipient’s work in counseling must “affirm diversity and advocate for social justice in the spirit of nine elements of the indigenous Hawai’ian concept of ‘Ohana or extended family,” which include “Malama: Caring, Aloha: Unconditional Love, Ha’aha’a: Humility, Mana: Spiritual Power, Na’auuo: Intelligence, ‘Olu’olu: Courtesy, Lokomaika’i: Generosity, Koa: Courage, Kupono: Integrity, Honesty.

Reeder detailed the many ways that Harrow fulfilled the requirements, including her devotion to Wicca, teaching, counseling, and the Pagan community, as well as her bravery in confronting religious bigotry, her perseverance and her roles in various socio-political movements. He also noted that she had founded her own Wiccan tradition and authored “the best book on pastoral counseling.”

On Feb. 12, Reeder received notification that Harrow had been accepted to receive the 2015 ‘Ohana award. Harrow and her work will be honored this Friday “at the ACA conference in Orlando, Florida from 11:00am to 1:00pm at the Hyatt Regency Orlando.”

In Other News:

  • Paganicon begins this weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Organized and run by Twin Cities Pagan Pride, the event is now in its 5th year and includes “workshops, panels, discussions, social space, live music, a ball, vendors and more.” Rev. Selena Fox is the 2015 guest speaker. In a special Sunday ceremony, Fox, assisted by others from Circle Sanctuary, “will be honoring Pagans who have served and are serving in the U.S. Military” with Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Paganicon will be held in the Doubletree Park Place hotel from March 13-15.
  • Covenant of the Unitarian Universalist Pagans has announced its “Second Sermon Contest.” This year’s theme is “Re-enchantment.” The Winner receives $500. According to the announcement, “you do not need to be an ordained minister or a seminary student, nor do you need to be a member of CUUPS” to enter. However, it goes on to say, “you do have to have deliver your sermon, live and in person, to a UU congregation between October 31, 2014 and October 31, 2015.”
  • In other CUUPS news, the organization has relaunched its popular Podcast after a winter hiatus.
  • The new journal Walking the World is still seeking submissions for its next issue. The theme is: “Building Regional Cultus.” As noted on the website,”What does this mean to you? Why is it important to polytheism today? How does one go about doing this? How are you personally maintaining cultus? What problems can arise and how can they best be met? What does it mean to restore and build cultus in the modern world?” The journal premiered at beginning of January with 13 articles focused on the theme of “Ancestors and Hero Cultus.” Submission guidelines for issue 2 can be found on the website.

wtw

  • Author and teacher, Shauna Aura Knight has expanded her writing to include two more blogs. Along with Pagan Activist, Knight will be contributing to a new Agora column, called Seeking the Grail,  published at Patheos’ Pagan Channel. Additionally, she will be blogging about Leadership and related subjects at Pagan Square.
  • In Florida, Pagans will be gathering for a brand new outdoor festival, Equinox in the Oaks, to celebrate the return of Spring. This new event is being held on private land about 30 minutes west of Ormond and Daytona beaches.Organizers have put together four full days of workshops, classes, speakers, rituals, drumming and entertainment. Pagan Bard and folk arist Mama Gina is performing Thursday night and a firewalking event will be held Friday night. Equinox in the Oaks begins March 12 and runs through noon on March 15.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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NEW YORK CITY – On Friday, March 6, #Flood11, as they have been labeled, were found not guilty of disorderly conduct. The ruling not only vindicated the activists, declaring that their actions were within their rights as citizens, but it also set a striking legal precedent. The court openly recognized climate change as a legitimate threat.

Flood Wall Street Protest Sept. 22 2014 [Photo Credit: Eric McGregor, used with permission via K. Star]

Flood Wall Street Protest Sept. 22 2014 [Photo Credit: Erik McGregor]

On Sept. 21, the U.S witnessed the largest organized march against climate change. For most, the People’s Climate March in New York City, which included an estimated 310,000 people from all walks of life, ended that same day with rallies at 34th street. However, for a smaller group, the protests continued the very next day.

On Monday, Sept. 22, an estimated 3,000 activists descended on Wall Street to “highlight the role of capitalism in fueling the climate crisis,” as report by Reuters. This protest was known as “Flood Wall Street.”

During a span of eight hours, the police made 102 total arrests. According to Reuters, “Demonstrators tried to push back metal barricades that police had used to keep them away, an effort that ended when police turned pepper spray on the crowd … Police later broke up the gathering, ordering remaining protesters to disband.” When several dozen refused to leave, the police “handcuffed and walked them away one-by-one.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Photo Credit: Erik McGregor]

According to an NYULocal report, the 102 people arrested were each charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and spent the night in jail. Most of the activists eventually accepted a plea bargain, in which the city dropped the charges if they agreed to not cause any further civic unrest. However, 11 of the activists did not accept the city’s proposal. They adamantly defended their right to protest, “on the grounds that their actions were necessary based on the imminent harm climate change poses.” The #Flood11, as they became known, pleaded “not guilty,” sending the case to trial.

Krystle Star at protest [Courtesy Photo]

Krystle Star at protest [Photo Credit: Shay Horse]

High Priestess Krystle Star, also known as Krystle Holmes, is one of the #Flood11. She said:

I got involved in Flood Wall Street when friends invited me to help with an environmental art-making project at Mayday Space, which is an “open space” created for artists and activists to work, create and hold meetings. I found myself there multiple times a week after that. It was so inspiring to see people working around the clock to save the planet, not only making beautiful art, but actively fighting climate change from every angle.

Originally from Maryland, Star and her family formed the Kensington Park Coven. She identifies as a “Pagan and Solopsist, non-binary, feminist.” Several years ago, she moved to New York City but she still celebrates Beltane and Samhain with her family and the Fireflies, based in Washington D.C.

During the People’s Climate March, Star walked with the Flood Wall Street contingent. They carried a banner reading, “CAPITALISM = CLIMATE CHAOS.” The next day, she joined the core group to protest on Wall Street. She said:

It’s very positive that many people accept a personal responsibility to lower their footprint by doing things like recycling and taking public transportation. But we must all acknowledge that there are powerful companies who are only concerned with short-term profits, and will destroy the planet if we don’t fight back. We have a responsibility, as citizens of this planet, to not only ‘do no harm’ but to also protect our people and planet by taking action against those who do harm. It is our responsibility to ensure the well-being of future generations, and survival of our planet.

Along with the 101 other protesters, she refused to disperse when ordered to do so by police. As noted in a press release, the group was “arrested for sitting in the street at the intersection of Broadway and Wall.” After she and the other members of #Flood11 pleaded “not guilty,” they looked for support in the community. They established a change.org petition and eventually a Facebook Event Page called “#FloodWallStreet Court Support!

As explained on the petition site, their defense was partly based on necessity:

[The #Flood11 defendants] assert that their actions are justified under the New York State law that governs the necessity defense. This is based on the fact that the injury they sought to prevent – runaway global warming and the destabilizing of the Earth’s climate system – is both 1.) An immanent and growing threat to the very future of our planet and of human civilization and 2.) Vastly greater than any harm that was done by their refusal to end their sit-in at Broadway and Wall Streets.

When the court date finally arrived March 2, supporters gathered outside New York’s Criminal Court wearing blue to demonstrate solidarity. Ten of the 11 original activists were there. After the first day in court, Star and fellow activist said:

Monday was a busy opening day in our trial. The day’s first order of business saw the prosecutor drop one of the two disorderly conduct charges for obstructing vehicular traffic, as video evidence has clearly shown there was no traffic flowing at the time of our arrest. The remaining charge in question is whether we failed to obey a lawful order, and whether the order to disperse was in fact lawful. We are arguing that since the police were ordering us to walk away from Wall Street or face arrest, that their order violated our First Amendment free speech rights. 

The trial lasted a total of four days. Late Mar. 5, Judge Robert Mandelbaum exonerated the 10 protestors, declaring them not guilty of disorderly conduct. According to reports, the Judge did “reject the necessity defense,” stating that “the threat posed by global warming remains too vague and abstract for defense of justification to apply.”

However, as noted in a Flood Wall Street press release, Judge Mandelbaum did find “that the NYPD’s order to disperse was unlawful, and that by ordering protesters to leave the entire Wall Street area, police violated protesters’ First Amendment right to carry their message directly to its intended recipients: the Wall Street bankers who bankroll climate change.”

Ten activists with their attorneys after the not guilty verdict. [Used with permission by K.Star]

Ten activists with their attorneys after the not guilty verdict. [Photo Credit: Diane Moxley]

Star told The Wild Hunt that she was “excited that we won.” But she was also quick to point out the legal precedent set by the court’s decision. Despite the rejection of the necessity defense, Star said, “The court [did] declare climate change to be an irrefutable scientific fact. Judge Mandlebaum cited numerous times that climate change is dire and urgent action is required. This can be cited in future cases against dirty energy companies, or in favor of climate activists.”

Defense attorney Martin Stolar agreed, saying, “The importance of judicial notice is that the judge accepted climate change and the need to do something about it as a fact without the necessity of any evidentiary support or proof at trial … To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented and has significance for future litigation involving climate change.”

It is unclear how much of a impact this ruling will have on future cases or how it will affect the the growing global movement against climate change. However, for now, the ruling has strengthened the legitimacy of the activists’ claims and brought significant hope that change, within the system and to the system, may be possible.

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I.

I was looking for my cat, but I met him instead, there on that blasted hill in the Otherworld.

I wake into the city, the city which stretches from borough to borough, neighborhood to neighborhood, downtown to downtown across the earth.

I wake into a city that does not know my gods, the Singers in the Dark. I am a foreigner, though I’m ‘from here.’ I worship ‘foreign’ gods, though they live everywhere, sing from every part of the dark.

I wake and tread through streets soaked with rain; rain which washes from the sky the haze of car exhaust, the particulate of industry. Like gods, like the dead, I walk as if invisible, unknown, and unheard.

As long as we’ve been human, we’ve clustered together along sea-shores or river-banks, along lakes or in fertile valleys. We’ve done this for millennia, though they seem ‘new.’ Paris–founded by a Celtic tribe more than 2000 years ago; London a little younger or a little older, depending how you parse it. These seem old, yet are far from the oldest in Europe and are young, infants compared to the ancients of the East.

And there are the much younger ones. The city into which I wake each morning is but a century-and-a-half old, founded by slaughterers eager to rape the hills of ancient Cedar, Spruce and Pine, selling tree-corpses down-coast to build the sprawling cities of California. And around this city has sprung more cities, cities called towns, cities called sub-urbs, webs of streets connecting them in the great modern nightmare called Metropolis.

The ‘city’ has always been a thing we’ve done. We’ve always huddled together, gathering ourselves near others.

In all the history of the world, the individual, the loner, the fully independent solitary has been a fantasy. Even ascetics and hermits relied on others, teaching their wisdom in exchange for food. We’ve gathered together in villages, settling in a place for awhile or, if it were a very good place, forever. We need others, as much as pretend we don’t. We need the land beneath us, as much as we ignore it and destroy it.

II.

He wore a black hooded tunic, his face familiar and ancient. I knew who he was from, but I didn’t know him.

‘Watch the city with me,’ he beckoned, and showed me a village.

"Lac megantic burning" by Sûreté du Québec - https://twitter.com/sureteduquebec/status/353519189769732096/photo/1. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lac_megantic_burning.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lac_megantic_burning.jpg

“Lac megantic burning” by Sûreté du Québec, Wikimedia / Lic. CC

Another train derailed today. Or was it yesterday? I can’t be sure.

Carrying oil from the earth on iron rails which helped build the city I live in, carrying that oil to be refined so it could be burned so we, gathered in all the many cities, the urban and rural and in-between, can have more things.

The train derailed. Kaboom, it said, and our cars say ‘vroom, vroom,’ and at most we shake our heads and head to work, head to shop, head home in our ‘vroom vroom‘ cars as another train goes Kaboom.

It goes Kaboom like the bombs we drop on people in the deserts to get their oil.

It goes Kaboom like the explosions of pipelines along rivers, like the silent Kabooms we don’t hear and don’t see, the massive leaks into ancient rivers and forever-damaged lands, the Kaboom of a village starving or a town flooding or a glacier melting.

This whole thing’s a mess, and the city is everywhere. All the world’s a city now, except where it isn’t. The photos from space show dark and very bright, illumination into the stellar abyss fired not by internal fusion of stars but the burning of coal ripped from mountains. To power the city we once dug below the mountain; to power the world-city we rip off its top.

Do not mistake me — the rural is no innocent place, no idyllic escape from the death of the city.

I first woke to the world in Appalachia, along the eastern stretch of valley beginning the foothills of those mountains. On the bus to school I’d stare out the window upon mountaintops sheared of forest for the paper mill. On the hills further east were the explosions and the blackened streams to get at the coal beneath those sheared forests.

To the south was the alternative, the nuclear power plant where my uncle and my papaw worked as contractors. My mamaw got a settlement from the owners for each of their deaths, their skulls swollen to bursting with massive tumors. My father took care of his brother in his last days. To this day, I’m harrowed like the earth by his tales, his stories of hosing down his feces-covered twin — they could not afford hospice for him as he died.

Near the city into which I wake, it is the same.

Travel west over water to a peninsula, where there resides the last remaining rainforest in the United States, the breathing ancient pillars of the Hoh. Haunting miles of those silent giants intermittently broken by clearings and sprawling homes with hand-painted signs demanding the ‘urban’ governments allow them to cut more trees.

On a warm summer day, sunlight and joy soaking my skin, I stumbled through a parking lot of a gas-station, blinking back the light as I read the bumper stickers on trucks. Their slogans stopping my heart: “Clearcut America,” proclaimed one, and another, “One less pesky forest.”

And to live in the American rural, one must have a car.

To have a car, one must destroy the world.

Kaboom went that train, yesterday or maybe the day before–I can’t be sure. And which train?  There are so many. Last year was the record for ‘unintentional releases’ on trains: 114, or one every 76 hours. At this rate, why bother counting them all?

Besides, we need that oil for our world-city.

III.

In that faded non-light, light from the earth or from the soul, I stood with him and watched the village. People gathered, lived, ate, fucked, sang, farmed, wove, and carted. And Kaboom, and then suddenly they all died.

DSCN2763

CC. Paganarch

The city is the urban and the city is the rural. Those living far from the seas of concrete we call ‘cities’ require the urban to survive. Mounted to walls in those idyllic homes are the flat-screens translating the digital into images, and they, like the Lady of Shallot, are as free as she, bound to their seclusion, forbidden ever to see the real beyond the image.

But the images are no more real than the fantasy of the Modern. We’re surrounded, drowning, in Baudrillard’s hyperreal, gazing placidly at pastoral scenes or clicking furiously to kill orcs in hyper-real, flat forests. We raze the forests and then pixellate them, flocking to theaters to see sweeping depictions of them, looking at life elsewhere.

If we’ve some fortune, there’s some forest in our city. The city into which I wake has forest. Some are outposts of the ancients in ignored places, some tracks through trees upon which scores of joggers publicly exorcise the demons of their workday. There’s little quiet in those places as they pass, but there’s so little forest in any city, even in such a forested city, that we have to share, I think.

And all the world’s owned now, except where it’s been stolen back. I ‘stole back’ some forest park nearby for awhile, forlorn, abandoned, un-tended. The only attention it ever got was that of a few building contractors, looking for cheap places to dump their trash — old bathroom furnishings, toilet seats, appliances removed and sent tumbled-down into a stream-bed to make more modern someone’s home. Looking into that ravine filled with trash I saw again the viridian hills of Appalachia, the silent grottoes and hidden caves filled with old cars, refrigerators, washing machines, corpses of machines built to make the life of a modern worker easier. Rusted metal and enamel near where I wanted to play, a boy of 8, napping one afternoon upon a burial mound on ‘private property.’

I do not think that mound is still there. In many places, you can level a burial mound just as you can level a mountain, even more so if you’re doing it for profit and claim it’ll ‘create jobs.’ Because everyone wants to work, because everyone needs to work, because all the world is owned, and all the peoples within it. You’re worth something, because you work for someone, you turn the machines, create the codes, hand over the sandwich and count the change. If you do not work, you are not yet owned, and to be your own person, to be un-owned, is to be hungry, invisible, homeless…foreign. To refuse to submit is to be criminal. To refuse to be owned is rebellion. To refuse to consent is deemed at best eccentric, but most often insane.

IV.

Not all of them died, though.  As I watched with him, survivors gathered in the ruins, rebuilding, a stronger and more vibrant settlement than before.  More people, more buildings, stronger walls, more singing.

And then another destruction.

moon city

The city into which I wake, the city into which I nightly sleep, is a city full of unheard gods, the Singers in the Darkness.

Streetlamps fill the night with pale light, recently changed to rotting-flesh sallow LED to save money, not the earth. To save the earth (kaboom goes the oil-train) we’d stop driving, stop working for others, stop buying things we don’t need or even really want.

We’d even turn the lights off.

The lights block out those older lights, those farther lights from distant black shores, great illuminations in the abyssal darkness into which we once stared — which still stares back. Bathing concrete and asphalt in ghostly light, washing sombre faces and tree branch and flower-bed of the colors of life, the lights shine not into the Darkness, only into our distracted sleep.

They make safe the streets from criminals, I’ve heard, though it seems easier to commit a crime when you can see than when you are blind. The lights, I think, protect from someone else, the Singers in the Dark, waiting, whispering, chanting beyond the city from the worlds between and beyond the walls.

There’s no place for gods in a city where there’s no place for poets or the poor, no place for the dead in a city that fears shadows, no place for spirits in a world that cannot abide not-seeing.

But in a city with no place for poets, the poets persist.

In a city with no place for gods, the Singers wait, unquiet, staring from the Darkness.

The city in which I awake, the city in which I sleep, the city in which I write is the whole human world, a gate to the Human, a walled-enclave from the divine. The whole world is made up of walled, fences to keep humans in; fences to keep humans out; prisons and cubicles and schools and cages where we gather and are gathered. The homeless fill the beds of shelters; the poor crowd the jails; the workers and their autos (kaboom) clog the streets to and from the places we are demanded, the places we are shunted, and the places we are allowed.

In the downtowns, towers huddle together like the rain-drenched workers below them, waiting to cross streets to get to buses or cars, to get to home or lunch or another place to shop. Homeless beg on corners and in doorways, and it is the same in Sao Paolo as it is San Francisco, the same in Paris as it is in Orlando. The poor in the shanty and the poor in the city share blood of a different kindred, bearing upon their faces the stolen birthrights of the gods we’ve forsaken and the forests we’ve slaughtered.

The Singers in the Darkness have not stopped singing

They come through the gates to greet us, they flee through the gates at our approach.

We are so loud – our cars, music, jackhammers, fights and laughter, our stereos which surround, our engines which rumble past what needs silence to sing. We shout at nothing, a screen across which men run across false-grass. We thumb and touch and stare at the smaller screens, white tendrils clinging close to the tympani of our skull.

In these images, these frames, there can be nothing else but what we are shown. Not gates but tableaux, processions of shadows from which we weave meaning. She? She was shot. See? This kitten has had a bad day.

What are you looking at? We say to the mad, or the child, or pet, or the poet.

Everything else, they could say, but we can’t hear them.

V.

I watched as he stood silent as ages past.

Another settlement, this time a town, next time a city, next time another. Each time some calamity destroyed them, each time they rebuilt.

I’d been looking for my cat, not for the history of humanity, but when you ask the gods for something, you take what they give you, you witness what they show you.

And finally, a last city, grand, beautiful, the strongest of all, encompassing the world. The strength and brilliance and art of humanity woven into those walls and towers, a city that would not, could not end.

And I saw what was coming.

All the world’s walled now, except for the worlds between the walls, the Singers at the Gate.

We dwell between wall and wall, prison and home, school and work, city and city, all connected by roads and rails.

Kaboom says the oil train, says the dynamite in the mountaintop, says the tumor in the nuclear-workers’ brain, says the gun of the policeman, says the missile of the drone, says the dying of the earth.

What we’ve wrought is glory, is it not? I type and you read my words, I dial and you hear my voice. Strawberries in winter, transatlantic flights now with wi-fi. Medicines to undo aging, to harden the phallus past 70, to impregnate the womb past 50. Cars (vroom vroom) to whisk us to work, or to mountains (kaboom), pocket-toys to help us find sex or restaurants, lights to shine at the darkness, bombs to destroy cities.

What we’ve wrought cannot last forever, and is dying.

The Singers in the Dark scare me with their songs, they terrify me with their tales.

They are singing our death song, they are keening our end.

An oil train derailed yesterday. Or was it tomorrow?

It won’t matter much longer.

I watched the explosions, the annihilation. The disintegrated walls, the immolated children, the flattened cities.

I watched with him, who serves whom I serve, and we were silent.  I waited for stirring in the ruins, for awakening in the rubble, but I knew nothing would come.  No city could spring again from those ruins.

I turned away and met his face, sombre, beautiful as death but not dead, a bard of the Singers in the Darkness.  “You understand now?” He asked.

I said I did. I don’t think I did, not really. I understood what I saw, but I’ll never understand why.

“Good,” he said, nodding, and turned, opening to me the Gates of the Dead.

*   *   *

Author’s Note: A small portion of this piece originally appeared in an essay called ‘Canticle of the Gates’, and the italicized sections are from an encounter involving Brân.

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