[As climate change and extreme weather are at the forefront of people’s minds, many are asking how and where religion fits into the conversation. Today, we welcome guest writer Heathen Chinese. He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes at Gods and Radicals and at heathenchinese.wordpress.com.]

California has been in a State of Emergency due to drought since January 2014. As the map below shows, the U.S. Drought Monitor calculates that as of June 9th, 98.71% of the state is in a condition of “severe drought,” 71.08% is in a condition of “extreme drought,” and 46.73% is in a condition of “exceptional drought.”

[Public Domain]

From U.S. Drought Monitor [Public Domain]

When it comes to definitions of drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) notes that “research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought.” The NDMC draws upon the work of researchers Wilhite and Glantz to categorize “the definitions in terms of four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic.”

Though supply-and-demand or “socioeconomic” aspects of drought can be analyzed through economic and political lenses, droughts that are triggered by a lack of precipitation have historically been interpreted through the framework of another powerful and widespread social force: religion. In History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen writes that in China during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “where it had been widely believed for centuries that there was a link between human behavior and the actions of Heaven, as expressed through nature, it was not at all uncommon to blame droughts and other natural calamities on official misconduct and to seek to alleviate the crisis by changing either the conduct or the official.”

Cohen provides several examples of drought being attributed to the upsetting of cosmic balance by governmental actions:

‘I have heard,’ one censor commented in response to the drought of 1876-1879, ‘that if one woman suffers an injustice, for three years there will be no rain.’ Another censor, citing the precedent of a three-year drought during the Han dynasty following the unjust execution of a filial wife, connected the 1870s drought to the disruption of heavenly harmony caused by excessive judicial torture.”

As these examples show, drought could be linked to widespread policies such as torture, but also to singular harmful acts against individuals like the execution of an innocent. They also show that two different individuals, even if they both share the basic belief that human actions can lead to drought as a divine repercussion, can reach different conclusions as to which particular action is responsible for the current drought.

Cohen rejects the idea that religious interpretations of drought are “supracultural or intrinsically human,” noting that in the modern era many people speak of drought purely in secular terms. He concedes, however, that “supernatural agency is […] a very widely encountered cultural construction.”

Responses
Cohen observes that there are two major categories of attempts to mitigate drought through religious behavior: the “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” and “prayer and other rain-inducing ceremonial practices.” These two approaches can, of course, be utilized either in conjunction or independently of one another. A prayer or ceremony for rain does not necessarily imply a belief in human causation of the state of drought, though it certainly could also be perceived as the right course of action to offset whatever offenses may have been committed. No specific narrative regarding the cause of drought, for example, was included in the description (36) for the “Bring on the Rain! Mojo for Parched CA” ritual that was held at Pantheacon 2014 in San Jose, California.

Cohen suggests that prayer or ritual is common as an initial response to lack of rain, but that if results are not forthcoming, the other category of response may become more prominent: “The first recourse for people faced with drought is, as we have seen, to offer up prayers and perform a range of rain-inducing rituals. But when such conventional means fail to produce relief, and the anxiety occasioned by the drought deepens, people often resort to more heroic measures. The generic element here is scapegoatism, the identification of a human agency deemed responsible for the crisis and the punishment of that agency.”

During the severe drought in Northern China in 1899-1900, participants in the Boxer Rebellion circulated notices explicitly blaming Christian missionaries and converts for angering the gods and thereby causing the drought. One notice, for example, contained the doggerel lines:

They proselytize their sect,/And believe in only one God,/The spirits and their own ancestors/Are not even given a nod/ […] No rain comes from Heaven./The earth is parched and dry./And all because the churches/Have bottled up the sky./The god[s] are very angry./The spirits seek revenge./En masse they come from Heaven/To teach the Way to men. – (translation by Joseph Esherick)

One Boxer placard directly addressed Chinese converts to Christianity, saying that they had abandoned the gods and their ancestors, angering the gods to the point that they withheld rain.

China was not the only traditional society to blame Christianization for drought. Nineteenth-century Botswana blamed a prolonged drought on Christianity, especially when a well-known rainmaker was baptized and summarily abandoned his previous practices. When the local missionary left after several years of disaster, the rain did indeed come back.

Cohen argues that the growing presence of foreigners in 1899-1900 was not a common experience to most Chinese living in the North China plain in the same way that drought was. A villager who had never seen a missionary could be convinced to join the Boxer movement in the hopes of propitiating the gods and bringing back the rain. The drought, of course, also caused widespread unemployment among peasants, giving them both the time and additional motivation—either hunger or fear of hunger—to join the Boxers. Cohen concludes that “it was this factor, more than any other, in my judgment, that accounted for the explosive growth both of the Boxer movement and of popular support for it in the spring and summer months of 1900.”

Scapegoating, of course, is a dangerous phenomenon, especially when one is a member of a minority religion. However, it can be secular as well as religious. California has already seen television commercials by a group that believes that “California’s drought could have been prevented” with anti-immigrant policies. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out that blaming the drought on immigrants is illogical. It isn’t caused by immigrants drinking too much water or showering too often, he says, but rather it is due to meager snowpack and poor planning.

Though most people are not so quick to attribute causation of the drought itself to any demographic, the drought has highlighted awareness and criticism of individuals and institutions perceived to be using more than their fair share of water. One group that has been criticized is almond farmers, who grow a popular perennial cash crop that requires watering every year and cannot be left fallow. Another group that has been criticized is Southern California residents, who astoundingly “used more water than ever this February,” according to Amy Westervelt of The Guardian.

Public outrage has also been directed at companies bottling water in California to sell elsewhere, such as Walmart and Nestlé. Nestlé’s CEO recently stated that Nestlé would “absolutely not” stop bottling its water in California and added that “if I could increase [the amount being bottled], I would.” An online trend known as “drought-shaming” has also targeted members of the upper class who still maintain their lawns and swimming pools.

Percentage-wise, agriculture accounts for “roughly 80% of all human water use” in California. Bottled water companies and urban residents have been quick to point out this fact, disclaiming the overall significance of their own water usage. Even among farmers, though, “water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily,” writes Matt Richtel  in the New York Times. “Buckling land” is a consequence the practice of groundwater pumping, which drains aquifers and can cause the ground to sink, an effect known as subsidence. In areas “where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

The heightened awareness around water usage and its consequences has led to an increase in water’s value as a commodity. However, this has not necessarily led to an increased respect for the sacred—certainly not at the level of public policy. The drought has also drawn attention to California’s system of water rights seniority, in which claims “staked more than a century ago” are the last to be subjected to mandatory cuts in water usage. However, this policy ignores the fact that indigenous people have the greatest seniority when it comes to a relationship to the land and watersheds, and instead privileges the heirs of the first colonizers.

One proposed “solution” to water scarcity is a raising of the Shasta Dam. However, this proposal is a reiterated existential threat to the Winnemem Wintu, an indigenous tribe inhabiting “ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed.” The Winnemem Wintu website states:

The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.

The proposed raising of the dam would have additional disastrous effects. The Winnemem Wintu explain, “A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.” The website poses the question as an issue of religious freedom: “If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple? That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.”

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

The initial construction of the Shasta Dam also “blocked the salmon runs,” and the Winnemem “advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds.” The Winnemem Wintu website promotes salmon restoration as “a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits,” and points out that the proposed dam raise would ultimately “yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.”

The Winnemem Wintu clearly know what they are fighting for. What stance will other minority religious traditions, especially those that see water as sacred or honor spirits related to water, take on the drought and issues surrounding water usage?

Paul Cohen states the obvious when he writes that “while the basic premise that natural disasters are to be accounted for by some supernatural agency acting in response to human wrongdoing appears with great frequency, the particularities of a society’s response to such disasters…will be shaped by the special cultural forms and historical experience of that society.” In other words, given religious diversity, such as one finds across the spectrums of Neo-paganism or polytheism, one can only expect a diverse array of religious interpretations of and responses to drought. The previously cited example of government officials attempting to ascertain the cause of drought during the Late Qing Dynasty shows that divergence of interpretation can reach even the individual level. Nonetheless, some general ideas about the relationship between religion and drought in the modern day can be considered and discussed.

The idea of “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” does not inherently require the targeting of a specific demographic for punishment. At its core, this idea relies upon the religious concept that there is such a thing as “cosmic harmony” in the first place. Second, a quick look at current events is likely to lead many to reach the conclusion that if such a thing as “cosmic harmony” exists, it has been disrupted, and that drought is a symptom of that disruption. Finally, though definitions of what constitutes “human misconduct” may vary widely, the essential principle behind the idea is that human actions matter; they have unseen consequences.

Based upon these three principles, a great number of religious interpretations and responses are possible. The “correction of human misconduct” could entail changing one’s own behavior, seeking to convince or coerce others to change theirs, direct action to stop specific acts of “misconduct,” or a combination of any of the above. The Boxer placard addressed to Chinese Christian converts advocated both change of personal behavior and joining the larger social movement: “It is a matter of great urgency that you quickly join the Boxers and sincerely mend your ways.”

One recent interpretation of the California drought can be found in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s short story “Robigalia 2015,” which marked the annual sacrifice to the ancient Roman deity Robigo or Robigus. Robigo was once propitiated to avert blights on grain. Lupus notes that grain blight is less of a concern in the modern day than it was in antiquity, but proceeds to explore the possibility that “the water shortages of California–an event as much due to human causes as to the waning portion in the cycles of nature–became the outlet via which Robigo was able to come to the fore again.” In a comment below the story, Lupus writes, “I don’t think by any means this is ‘the answer’ or anything of the sort; but, I think given the state of the world, if we thought more in these terms as polytheists, people might want to do something about these matters (insofar as they can) more than they do otherwise.”

In his essay “Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward,” Brennos writes about the ancient Irish concept of divinely-granted sovereignty:

The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship. In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

The quotes by Qing government officials are related to similar ideas in China about the link between political legitimacy and cosmic harmony. Even more explicitly, in Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Suzanne Cahill writes that drought and rebellions and heterodox religious movements were all seen equally as signs “of the imminent fall of the Han rulers.” Or in other words, these events were seen as symptoms of the ruling dynasty’s loss of the Mandate of Heaven.

What does any of this have to do with people who don’t live in California? As Brennos writes, “At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.” This interconnectedness is both natural and divine. It has a social aspect as well.

Everything is Connected

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis links the worldwide droughts of 1876-79, 1888-91 and 1896-1902 to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, the rise of the global capitalist economy, and the expansionist land-grabs of the New Imperialism.

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

According to the NDMC, El Niño is a phenomenon involving increased water temperatures off the western coast of South America, while the Southern Oscillation is a “seesaw of atmospheric pressure between the eastern equatorial Pacific and Indo–Australian areas.” The acronym ENSO is used to describe the two phenomena in conjunction. “Atmospheric interactions between widely separated regions,” such as those seen during ENSO events, are termed “teleconnections.” Though not all variations in weather patterns during ENSO years are attributable to ENSO, the NDMC reports that “researchers have found the strongest connections between ENSO and intense drought in Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, parts of east and south Africa, the western Pacific basin islands (including Hawaii), Central America, and various parts of the United States.”

Davis notes that all of these areas, plus China, were severely affected by worldwide droughts during the late Victorian era, though “the instrumental record before 1957 is generally too poor to support” attaching the El Niño label to specific years. He further observes that colonial policy and capitalist economics contributed to many of the resulting famines. During the 1877-78 drought and famine in British-ruled India, for example, “grain merchants […] preferred to export a record 6.4 million cwt. of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.” The British Viceroy, Lytton, further imposed an increase in taxation on salt and on “petty traders (professionals were exempt),” which he claimed would serve the purpose of “insuring this Empire against the worst calamities of a future famine.”

In fact, however, “the whole accumulated fund was used either to reduce cotton goods tariff or for the Afghan war.” Lytton’s increase in taxation demonstrated not merely a policy of laissez-faire, but of deliberate imperial expansion at the direct expense of the starving poor. Thus, Davis concludes, the deaths attributed to the “natural” causes of disease and El Niño-exacerbated drought cannot actually be separated from economics and politics. Davis’s analysis of the Indian famine of the 1877-78 can be applied to the present day as well.

2015 is an El Niño year. American scientists initially described this year’s El Niño as “weak” in March, but Australian scientists disputed this forecast in May. “‘This is a proper El Niño effect, it’s not a weak one,’ David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.” El Niño has been linked to increased rain in California in the past, but Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pointed out in March that “this El Niño is likely too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California, as California’s rainy season is winding down.” However, as always, El Niño is predicted “to increase prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa” around the world.

Mike Davis calls famines “wars over the right to existence.” He notes that the Late Victorian era saw explicitly religious revolts in conjunction with droughts in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil. And, as the export of wheat from India in the 1870s and Nestlé’s bottling of California’s spring water both demonstrate, famine and drought are inextricably linked with economics as well as with military campaigns and politics. Any religious interpretation of current events, therefore, must necessarily take a global perspective as well; ENSO’s “teleconnections” are not merely meteorological. From a religious point of view, unseen “teleconnections” can be said to underlie the very fabric of reality. As the drought in California continues to intensify, both Californians and non-Californians will be affected by more and more drastic changes. The need for more prayers and rituals—or a perhaps even a fundamental “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony”—will intensify as well.

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It is graduation season. Pictures are popping up all over the internet of people who have walked the stage in accomplishment of achieving their educational goals. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), it is estimated that approximately 1,855,000 students will graduate in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree.The Institute of Education Sciences states that “18.0 million students are expected to enroll in undergraduate programs and about 3.0 million will enroll in post-baccalaureate programs.” The higher learning academic machine continues to see an increase in students signing up for college, and an increase in students striving for the end goal of a graduating with a degree in hand.

Years of study and college classes lead to more than just a diploma or certification. The ritual of completion is a part of many individual’s journey to celebrate achievement, and this is seen in many areas of spirituality as well. Within the modern Pagan community we have seen a wealth of achievement or milestone based ceremonies, such as dedications, initiations, cronings or sagings, unions, and even the celebration of womanhood when a lady gets her menses. These celebrations show us that the ritual act of setting intentions, celebrations and acknowledgements are often done inside a ritualistic process.

The choice to participate in the activities of commencement is an individual one, and there are always people who decline. However, the majority of those that do participate are doing so in a highly ritualized way that initiates them into the world of academics. The ritual song, the long walk, the wait, the outfit and regalia, the turning of the tassel or placement of the hood for Master’s and doctorates, all of these are symbolic and important elements to creating the magic of the moment.

My personal journey to this point in my life was one layered with a lot of excitement, concerns, and questions. Walking the stage June 12 left me with wondering how this process felt for others who were approaching the graduation stage of their academic journey, and how the ritual of this ceremony felt for them. I reached out to several Pagans who have recently graduated with a degree of higher education to ask them some questions about their experiences.

I received my Associate of Science degree in Network Systems Administration, which falls under the (very large) umbrella of Computer Science. I did attend the graduation ceremony because it symbolized a very large milestone both personally and to my family. Being the first person in my immediate family to complete an educational level above high school, I wanted to do the walk, be handed the diploma—get the whole experience. It was something I wanted to share with my wife and my parents/in-laws as well.

Part of the importance of the ritual is acknowledging the work which has been put into the process. Another part is the physical manifestation (diploma) which acts as a sort of reward. The experience was quite inspiring, and I gained a lot of momentum which will be used to achieve future milestones. Bachelor’s degree, definitely. And maybe a Master’s? – Chris Williams

Graeme A. Barber

Graeme A. Barber

I graduated with an Associate Degree of Arts, with Distinction. My emphasis was in Environmental studies, and the bulk of my studies was in archaeology and physical geography. This was awarded to me by Okanagan College, in British Columbia, Canada.

I participated in my commencement ceremony because in a society as bereft of milestone and changes in life rituals as ours are here in North America, it’s important to participate in events like this. There was also a strong family component in my decision. The importance of the ritual was recognition, not just from peers, but from larger society. There was also the aspect that I was one of the few POC in my programme, and there is something important in “showing the flag” as it were. Supporting my transition forward to the next phases of my education, participation showed that I consider myself a part of the academic world, not apart from it, which again, is an important message to send. – Graeme A. Barber

Rose Quartz

Rose Quartz

I graduated with my Master of Arts degree in Education with an emphasis in Teaching and my Single Subject teaching credential in English. I was in an accelerated program and only had one year of graduate school because I started on it while also doing my Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. This is one of the main factors behind participating in my second commencement in two years at Mills College. I am heavily invested in and involved with the Mills community. Many of the other grad students in the Education program did not attend, but all 10 of us in the accelerated program participated.

The sense of community I derived from my program colleagues and from my extended networks at Mills – including the Mills Pagan Alliance – made participating important. It was a time I got to share with friends and family, and a tangible recognition of five long years of difficult, rewarding work. I saw this ritual as one which was both for me and for those I call my extended family to recognize and celebrate my academic successes.

The event marks a beginning of my chosen career – I am now considered qualified to teach, and the next school year will start with one major difference. No longer at Mills, this coming year will see me stepping into the role of teacher instead of continuing as a student in an academic setting. Life-long learner that I am, I know this is hardly the end of all my knowledge-gathering, but there is a certainty that comes with walking across the stage, that once you reach the other side you cannot walk backwards. At the end, I felt like I was truly done with one phase of my life and prepared to go into the next stage of learning. – Rose Quartz

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

I graduated with distinction with an MA in World History with a regional focus on the Middle East and a thematic focus on Urban History. I did not participate in my commencement ceremony due to some stupid red tape reasons that resulted in me getting my financial aid necessary for paying for graduation in time to walk after the deadline. I didn’t really have a choice on that question as by the time I was able to pay my graduation fees it was already too late to be one of the people walking. – Ryan Smith.

Katie Thackrey

Katie Thackrey

I got my Bachelor of science in psychology.Yes, I participated in commencement because I didn’t want to regret not doing it later.

There was the idea that life is made up of experiences and I should have as many as possible. I felt it was important to solidify in my mind what I had accomplished; I don’t think I would have truly recognized the amount of work and how much of an accomplishment it is without the ceremony. The ceremony evoked immense feelings of gratitude for all those who gave their support, knowledge, and patience along the way. – Katie Thackrey

Katrina Ray-Saulis

Katrina Ray-Saulis

My degree is a BFA in Creative Writing. I did attend graduation. I completed my coursework in December so I had already been a graduate for many months before the ceremony, but there was a sense of accomplishment that came from attending that I didn’t get during the months in between the last day of classes and graduation.

It’s possible that I may have received that sense of accomplishment when I got my physical diploma, I’m really not sure. But the head of the writing department has been pivotal in my graduation. She was a deciding factor in me attending that school, she’s been an incredible mentor, and she’s helped me in so many ways. I wouldn’t give up that moment when she traded me my diploma for a hug for anything. I wasn’t going to go to graduation at all until another professor told me how much it meant to the department head to see her students march. I’m heading into grad school in the spring of 2016 and my eventual goal is to teach. I think attending the ceremony helped me to see what I have to look forward to as a teacher more than anything else. – Katrina Ray-Saulis

My degree will be in sociology (Ph.D.), if I complete all requirements by end of August 2015. I did NOT participate in the commencement ceremony for two main reasons: 1) I wasn’t far enough along with completing deliverables for finishing in order to walk;  2) disconnect with my field and specific school of study.

We are a small program within the School of Nursing (incoming class for Fall 2015 has 3 students).[I] did not pursue walking in the school commencement ceremony because 75%+ of graduates are Master’s-level nurses whose courses and fieldwork don’t overlap with ours. Also [I] chose not to walk in the commencement ceremony at the university level because the various schools (Pharmacy, Dental, Grad Division, Nursing, etc.) function independently of each other. Since we also don’t have an undergrad study body, there is even less interaction between schools. – Mary Gee

I participated in my commencement ceremony, though I won’t technically graduate until Summer quarter – but once I get my thesis published, I’ll have an M.A. in Communication.

There’s a bit of backstory to why I wanted to walk for my M.A.. I got my B.A. from the same university, but the day that I walked, nobody showed up for me. I had the other students in the department, but everyone else who said they were going ended up as a no-show. So when I decided I was going to walk for my M.A., I initially planned on doing it just for me. After everything I had gone through to get the M.A., I felt I deserved to do something to acknowledge that. But a number of my friends (who had heard the story about my B.A. commencement more than once) got together and were there for my M.A. It definitely helped heal the wound left over from feeling abandoned on the previous commencement walk.

I will admit, I have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak. I participated in the ceremony because it’s one of the pieces that helps confirm my achievement, but when they put the hood on me… it didn’t have the impact I’m sure they were aiming for. For me, it was a total stranger doing that, someone who had no idea of who I was, what I had done, or everything I’ve gone through in pursuit of my M.A. I’d much rather have been hooded on the other side of the stage, because at least over there one of the faculty I know was helping with the process. It may be more accurate to say, however, that I place more importance on established connections with other people than authority figures. As I said, however, this is just one piece of the whole that is my graduation, and I’m still glad I went through it. – Dee Shull

Many factors and red tape go into the final act of walking the stage, but that very act of crossing the stage gives many grads a sense of completion, accomplishment and recognition to go along with the diploma that will be received. While some people do not feel the need to go through this ritual or were unable to, others find that commencement is a very important part of the academic process.

It is not uncommon within many modern Pagan practices to believe that the symbols and practices of our ceremonies increase in power with repetition over time, and that lineage and acknowledgement from our community of elders has great meaning and purpose. As many people continue to participate in ceremonies from institutions of education, we will continue to identify correlations between the importance of our call to ceremony and how that contributes to the way we relate to it’s significance. This also gives us another opportunity to look at the continued contributions that Pagans within different fields make to the sustainability of our own communities, and how the act of learning within various institutions add to it.

Crystal Blanton being hooded at ceremony [Courtesy of Stephanie Kjer]

Crystal Blanton being hooded at ceremony
[Courtesy of Stephanie Kjer]

In reflection of my own journey, I surprisingly sat under the sun of my own commencement ceremony thinking about all the layers of magic that went into the process of walking the stage; something that would otherwise be such a simple act. In the end, no ceremony alone will make my Master’s of Social Work degree more valuable within the workforce. However the ritual of commencement does give it another layer of special meaning for me personally. After not participating in my undergrad ceremony, I am glad to have experienced the magic of commencement for my masters.

Congratulations to all those who completed their degrees in the class of 2015. May your hard work bare the fruit that you intended!

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On Thursday, Pope Francis released his long-awaited 184-page encyclical on climate change and environmental protection. We will have reactions to this work in the coming days. In the meantime, we consider one particular phrase from that document as it relates to a question recently raised by Debra Macleod in The Huffington Post.

Macleod asks whether the Catholic Church should acknowledge its role in the destruction of classical Pagan culture and religion. In the new encyclical, Pope Francis says, “Human Beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” Using that framework, Macleod’s question can be rephrased. Should the Church “rise above itself, choose again what is good and make a new start?”

[Photo Credit: Neokortex &: Kallistos via Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Neokortex &: Kallistos via Wikimedia]

In the article, Macleod explains:

Forced conversions to Christianity were common, as was the seizure of property or assets belonging to pagans. And in an unprecedented move of religious tyranny, it became illegal – upon pain of torture or death to honor Vesta or other gods and goddesses even within the sacred privacy of one’s own home.

It isn’t pleasant to hear — especially for those who hold their religion dear — but forced conversions and cultural destruction, done on a massive scale, played a significant role in the way Christianity established itself as the dominant religion.This approach set the tone for the fear and oppression of the “Dark Ages” when anything that wasn’t Christian — including science, medicine and free thought — was deemed heretical and violently suppressed.

…To solidify Christianity as the sole religion of the Empire, early Christian leaders legalized brutal policies that persecuted pagans. This gave Christians the legal green light to commit atrocious acts of vandalism that destroyed centuries of Classical art, history and culture.

Christian vandals smashed the heads and limbs off statues of beloved gods and goddesses that had been venerated for generations. They knocked the noses off the faces, and carved crosses into the foreheads, of deities, heroes and emperors. They burned ancient texts, obliterating centuries of knowledge, literature and heritage.

While some comments on Macleod’s article note the similarities between the early church’s destruction of historical sites and forced conversions to ISIL’s current actions, many people appear to refuse to acknowledge this history, or they believe the early Catholic church was justified in its action in order to save souls. However, this history isn’t news to many Pagans. It has been outlined in books. In 2000, a group of Pagans even sent a formal letter asking for such an apology.

We decided to ask several Hellenic Pagans what they think. Should the Catholic Church acknowledge its role in the destruction of classical Pagan culture and religion?

Here is what they had to say:

This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand if they do acknowledge the destruction of the Temples and statues, it would be a nice gesture, but actually rather meaningless unless they are going to rebuild them. Which I am fairly certain they aren’t. The more important thing though is what they did to the status of the worship, the practice of the religion. That legacy lives on today. I’ve been flat out asked by a Christian, ‘How could can you believe in that Zeus crap?’ My rather indignant answer was,’because Zeus has been around for six thousand years or more. A whole lot longer than you guys.

The actions of the Church were in many ways unprecedented, they set out to completely destroy another religion, not for political reasons like the ones between the Romans and the Druids, but because they wanted to. Like The Huffington article said, the early Christians were determined to make their God the one and only. And they didn’t stop with Greco/Roman religion/culture, they carried it wherever they went for centuries.They have never acknowledged the harm they have done throughout the world. This would be a first step, but only if they acknowledge the harm on a spiritual level, a cultural level and how wrong it is to attempt to only allow one religion in a world of 7+ billion people. By one religion I mean all three monotheistic religions because they are related. I’m a hard polytheist so I see each pantheon as being different individuals. – Victoria White

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292232_408317739179337_410892228_nThe Catholic Church’s denial of wiping out the Greek and Roman polytheistic religions was for centuries a matter of academic interest only. In recent years, however, more and more people have been embracing these spiritual modalities, not just as a curiosity but as a viable belief system, imbuing them with life again. Denial stands as a major obstacle to effective interfaith dialogue between the Catholic Church and contemporary practitioners of the revived Greek and Roman polytheistic religions. What is needed is an environment of transparency and openness.” – Tony Mierzwicki, author

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“My personal belief is that any such apologies only develop from within a given organization, not from without. So, since not a current practice, not something for us to decide. Reparations for groups persecuted within past 200 years by entities are much more valid pursuits, such as the Native American population and Japanese Americans in the 1940’s, for example.” – Kalen Cap

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Dr. Gwendolyn Reece [courtesy photo]

“I would like them to apologize because what I want acknowledged is that there is a political reality of oppression that is behind the triumph of Christianity and not its inherent superiority that is an expression of a greater stage of spiritual evolution. That is a myth that continues to be largely promulgated and it is not true. However, that is also why I don’t think that they will apologize for the destruction of classical Paganism. Also, at least in the Hellenic situation, it predates the split between the Roman and Orthodox churches. The Greek Orthodox church is still highly repressive.” – Gwendolyn Reece

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“It is the continuing fact of the continuing denial of the authenticity of the Gods and our religions. I am pleased to say that their God is authentic. Why can’t they return the civility? I don’t want to see anyone’s religion destroyed. However, our Gods were around for a lot longer than theirs and for them to claim that They do not exist is hubristic.” – Julia Ergane

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11356266_10206618088587980_67432500_n“The apology would be valuable because it would help pierce the idea that “people just changed their minds.” It’s time this discussion took place within Jan Assman’s coordinates, “religion” and “counter-religion.” Those coordinates are so crucial that any discussion of Abrahamic atrocities without them seems philosophically naive. The point, briefly, is that the Abrahamic religions developed as a reaction against and anathematization of traditional (read “Pagan”) religions. The oppression of traditional religion isn’t some “wrong choice.” It’s a structural prerequisite of Abrahamic religion.” – Todd Jackson

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“There is a need to acknowledge that the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans was appropriated by Christianity in the Classical Era. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the temples of the Gods were turned into things like brothels and animal pens in a way do insult the Pagans and discredit the Gods.

There needs to be an acknowledgement of the destruction of scientific knowledge in things like the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the murder of scholars like Hypatia. If these things had not happened we might have been much farther along in both the physical and social sciences than we are now instead of having regressed because even knowledge that wasn’t “approved” by the Church powers was “of the Devil”.

Until we can get the general population to acknowledge these things intellectually, an apology from the two largest Christian denominations (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) would be essentially a meaningless gesture. It took many years of increasing awareness by the Jews and African-Americans before apologies were offered in any meaningful way.”  – Anne Hatzakis, GreekRevivialistMommy blog

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For those who participate in one or more festivals during the warm weather, it’s an opportunity to let down some personal guards and be temporarily freed from the pressures of the overculture. Festivals are often the only way for many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists to worship in groups, learn from respected authors and elders, and compare notes with co-religionists. Within these spaces, they can recharge their spiritual batteries and become inspired to deepen religious practice.

Attendees dance at Pagan Spirit Gathering, photo credit cara Schulz

Attendees dance at Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: Cara Schulz]

Joy and revelry are also not at all uncommon. As such, festivals represent a mixed blessing for would-be participants who struggle with a substance abuse problems, or those wishing to continue a recovery process without backsliding. Alcohol and, in some jurisdictions, marijuana are legal for adults to consume, and can be readily found. These and other temptations can prove difficult to resist for a recovering addict, but they are part and parcel of these beloved festivals that offer valuable opportunities to connect, learn, and celebrate.

The Wild Hunt reached out to organizers of a wide range of festivals to find out what, if any, resources are available for people in recovery. The answers varied, depending on a number of factors, including the size and age of the event, the interest level of participants in there being sobriety supports, and the philosophy underpinning the festival itself.

12 Steps and More

The 12 step program, first developed for Alcoholics Anonymous, is by far the best-known support system for people in recovery. It is also strongly rooted in Abrahamic tradition and, therefore, it is often presented in a strongly Christian context.  However, there are adaptations designed to be more explicitly Pagan-friendly, such as Spiral Steps. With those changes, it is possible to run a 12-step meeting for Pagans that provides participants with the support they need.

Rev. Selena Fox wrote the book on Pagans in recovery called When Goddess is God: Pagans, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is the 60-page thesis that resulted from research done as part of her Master’s degree in counseling. While the work wasn’t published until 1995, Fox’s applied work in the field began much earlier, and led to the creation of Amethyst Circle at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

Amethyst is both a site for daily 12-step meetings during PSG, and a camping area that is alcohol-free. Zan, one of the coordinators, took the time to talk to us, even while packing for this year’s event:

We have meetings at lunchtime every day.There is a lot going on across the festival at that time, but we are located away from most everything. We never talk to anyone about who we saw at our meeting, or what was said.That is the norm for 12 step meetings so we can feel safe to talk. As far as I know, there has never been a problem involving anonymity. I have had people run into me around the festival and talk about issues. This might be indicative of the quest for more anonymity or busy schedules, I cannot be sure.

The camping area is open to anyone who does not plan to drink. Many people camp there who are not familiar with 12 step programs [and choose to camp there] because it is a quieter area of the camp. In truth, there are few people who go to our meetings who actually camp in Amethyst camp itself. I chock that up to relationships people have formed over the years.

Florida Pagan Gathering also has similar meetings. As explained by organizer Ann Marie, “We had a request from some of our patrons about 10 years ago, and since that time we do have onsite AA meetings,”  which are run each evening by a longtime attendee. She added, “We set aside a very private space for the group to meet. Thus far everyone has stated they do not want a sober section and prefer to camp with all of their friends, but if we had such a request from even one person we would designate an area. FPG supports sobriety and are happy to accommodate the needs of our patrons whenever possible.”

Hand in hand with confidentiality is discretion, which is part of why camps like Amethyst Circle are away from the main traffic areas. At Kaleidoscope Gathering, discretion extends to the programming, which according to organizer Maryanne Pearce includes this blurb for AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings:

Some people have a difficult time with the Well of Dionysus, the gold of Aegir’s Cauldron, Kvasir’s Blood, or the products of Faerie Wings. If that describes you, then you are welcome to hang out for some positive support, on-site temporary sponsorship, or simply get some things off your chest.You’re not alone. We ask attendees to maintain the trust and anonymity of other participants. Come together, and find support for your path in life from a community of sober, magic-loving people. Meetings daily.

The meetings at Kaleidoscope Gathering arose spontaneously, and were formalized some 10 years ago. “Given that one person cannot know everyone, or all those in AA, [the organizers] thought having it in the program was important,” Pearce explained. “Now that we run KG and own the land, one thing we did was to provide a physical space. Meetings are in the schedule daily, and held at 7 pm in the children’s area, which is empty at night. The door is off to the side, so those entering can do so discretely. The people who first told us about the meetings no longer come, but that is fine. Many people do attend. No one had asked us to do this, but we thought it important. However, in the past 3 years, I would say there is at least 1-2 people who are new that contact us or staff about meetings. This is why its so important to have it in the schedule and program.”

SSF GraphicFor someone for whom a 12-step program works, knowing that there is support available can make all the difference. Todd Berntson, president of Summerland Spirit Festival, speaks from experience. “Over the past couple of years we have scheduled space for people in recovery,” he said. “I have been sober since 1983 and have been active in twelve step programs since then. Several of our other attendees also have a considerable amount of sobriety, so we make it a point to hold a couple of meetings for people in recovery throughout the week.” In addition, “We just try to make it known that there are sober individuals who are available and times set aside so that people who are in recovery can find support.”

However, not every event that has 12-step programming gets any interest.  At  Michigan Pagan Fest (MPF), Jim Ekhardt has offered a 12-step program that he calls Chalice Well, but so far he’s not had a lot of takers. It’s the same program that he has facilitated at ConVocation for many years, and he freely admits that Amethyst Circle was part of the inspiration. But like Spiral Steps, Chalice Well has tweaked the classic AA formula to make it more relevant for Pagans, and so a name change was in order. “You can’t say it’s AA if you change it,” he explained. The eponymous well in England, he said, is “where people go to put their troubles in. They make offerings to Cerridwen or the Goddess, and we thought it would be a cool symbol for a recovery group.” The rewritten steps, which are “easier on the ear for Pagans” and adapted so that members of any 12-step program would feel included.

Ekhardt said that, while 2-3 meetings a day can be supported at ConVocation, he has only had one person approach him at MPF. “I think it’s because a lot of people are local, and can leave the site, and know where the meetings are,” he said. However, he believes that having it available is important, because an initial meet-and-greet can provide people with familiar faces, and allow them to seek each other out for support at any time.

Joy Burton explained that Beltania, in Colorado, provides 2-3 support group meetings over the four days of the event, and staff have laid out clear guidelines for the use of intoxicants:

“Alcohol and legal marijuana is not allowed in community space and must be confined to private campsites, and there is no smoking in or within 20 feet of any building (as the new and uncertain legal marijuana situation unfolds, we are defaulting to combining our smoking and alcohol regulations).So it is an expectation that everyone should arrive sober at any ritual, workshop, or other activity. In the rare case that alcohol is a part of an event (like a mead-n-greet or Heathen blot) it will be clearly stated in the program. Rituals that offer cakes and wine will have a non alcoholic option always available.”

Free Spirit Gathering also has support meetings, and sometimes a sober camping space. Coordinator Eve reported, “We have two staff members for sobriety support who also offer a meeting every evening. We’ve had a sober cabin on and off when there have been folks who requested one. No one requested for this year.”

According to Cecelia Thomas, Communications Officer for Dragonfest, sobriety has long been part of that event’s traditions. “Dragonfest is celebrating our 30th year here in 2015, 15 of those years we have had a dedicated sobriety circle. Phoenix Circle is a drug and alcohol free space for those looking for recovery support. Families and friends of those with drug and alcohol problems are also encouraged to join us. We have daily recovery meetings and plenty of fellowship. We also have a nightly fire circle until 10 PM.”

Depending on the year, they have also hosted various workshops and rituals, two repeat favorites being the Wild Breakfast (spicy and/or weird foods) and the Caffeina Ritual. No further information on either of these rituals was available at this time.

Beyond the 12 Steps

While 12-step programs are widespread and are being used with or without adaption at Pagan events, the tenets do not sit well with all comers. That’s why the organizers of the Heathen event Trothmoot have been exploring other options, including SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery. One of the leaders of those ongoing discussions, Su Eaves, explained what these systems have to offer:

“Both SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery reject labeling the person in recovery as a lifelong ‘addict’ or an ‘alcoholic.’ Neither uses god or any sort of divinity in their approach to recovery. SMART Recovery lists four points as its main goals: it helps a person to enhance and maintain motivation to abstain, cope with urges, manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and balance momentary and enduring satisfactions. . . . Unlike SMART Recovery or AA, there are no support groups in Rational Recovery. In fact, this is the issue that caused the two systems to break apart. Rational Recovery . . . . claims that the desire to attend groups comes from the AA model that tells people that they will have a relapse if they do not attend meetings. They say that this self-doubt is the addictive voice, and reinforces the belief that one cannot stay sober independently.

I believe that both of these systems can have a lot of merit for Heathens. Heathens highly value self-reliance, courage, and strength of character. Both of these systems emphasize self-reliance and teach coping techniques. They don’t rely on a higher power, but on one’s internal strengths. Because of this, I believe that these systems could be very beneficial to Heathens attempting to get (and remain) sober.

trothTogether with Robert L. Schreiwer and Laurel Mendes, who have also guided these discussions, Eaves explained that other parts of the popular 12-step programs aren’t a good fit for Heathens. “For example, stating that one is powerless over one’s addiction is, in the minds of many, not a Heathen value. While we do not see a particular need to create a program within the Heathen religious context, we do need to consider the content even of secular programs to be sure that they are consistent with the general Heathen mindset.”

Some forms of alcohol, such as mead and ale, are widely considered sacred by Heathens, said Schreiwer, but groups usually make accommodations. “For example, Urglaawe ceremonies typically include two steins: one with alcohol and one without, and the two are considered equal,” he said. “The Troth has typically had two horns at some Trothmoot ceremonial events for many years, [but] having two horns became an official Troth practice at Trothmoot this year.”

Other Strategies

Not every event is set up with formal recovery supports, for a variety of reasons, but every organizer who responded indicated that the use of intoxicants has at least been considered. Here’s a sampling:

Equinox in the Oaks: “Our host site had specific rules about use of alcohol use,” said organizer Manny. “However, we did note to participants that we would set up a private sober area and none of the participants requested the accommodation. Also, we make clear expectations of sobriety at rituals and have mandatory clean and sober events such as fire-walking and similar challenges.”

Spring Mysteries Festival: ” Our festival is very spiritually focused. The schedule doesn’t allow time for drinking and partying, so we have never had a need,” said Belladonna Laveau.

Free Cascadia Witchcamp: In a similar vein, the unsigned response read, “Free Cascadia Witch Camp is actually an entirely sober event!”  It continued one to explain, “There are designated spaces for people who medicinally use cannabis to take their medicine, but recreational use of alcohol and drugs of any sort are not permitted. This camp is a program in teaching magic, ‘the art of changing consciousness at will.’ From our perspective, learning to shift and change our state of awareness at will takes focus and concentration, and requires a clear state of consciousness as a starting point. Blending our awareness and raising energy together in ritual flows easier when consciousness isn’t pre-altered by chemicals or alcohol. Out of respect for the intensity of the spiritual and healing work we do here, we encourage participants within the circle of camp to engage in the transformational work of changing consciousness at will without the use of externally intoxicating substances.”

Starwood: A full response was not available by press time, but organizers did reply, saying, “We do have sobriety programing on our schedule.”

Beltaine: Pagan Odyssey Festival.  Organizers provided an unsigned statement which read, “Actually, the sober space embraces the whole festival except for the over 21 camping area, and BYOB under a dining tent. It solved the whole problem as too many get sloppy and rude when they are drinking. We have discussed a support group at festival, and there was one person who wanted to lead one but he left the temple. Still open to that idea. The Panthean Temple is a sober space at our other public events; even the ‘ale’ is pomegranate juice.”

PanGaia: Co-director Katrina Rasbold advised in part, “Guests are aware that alcohol is served by the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars, owners of the site] and it is their choice to remain there or leave with that being the case. We do not provide support groups for those who might be traumatized by the fact that someone in the general vicinity has consumed alcohol. There has been no discussion by the North Western Circles Association (who hosts the festival) to add these services or options to future events because we trust each guest who is of legal age to be a discerning adult who knows how to excuse themselves from what they perceive as an unhealthy situation …We have security in place to handle anyone who is over-served, as well as information cards giving guests options for designator driver services. We have had events at this venue for more that fifteen years and have never had an issue of the type your questions might address. The greatest issue we ever encountered was from VFW members who became volatile when drinking alcohol, not festival guests, and they were managed quickly and efficiently by event security.”

Pagan Unity Festival: As reported by one of the organizers, Star Bustamonte:

puflogoPUF is a family-friendly festival.Our policy regarding alcohol is, no alcohol in original containers in common or shared areas. What you do in the privacy of your own cabin or tent is your own business, provided you are not causing a problem or disturbing others. Drunkenness is prohibited. Alcohol (and the consumption of it) is not allowed in any of the areas where children and teen activities are conducted.

The grounds where PUF is held are large enough to find plenty of places to avoid revelry that might include drinking. And while we do not have a policy about alcohol during workshops or rituals, I cannot remember a single incident where drinking was an issue at either. To my knowledge, no one has ever expressed a desire for a sobriety zone or for any type of support group. If someone were to ask, we would likely suggest they take on organizing it and would support them in their efforts to do so.

Sun Wheel Music & Arts Festival: “We believe that sobriety is an important aspect of much of our festival, especially in sacred spaces [and] ritual,” responded Terry for the organizing team. “As Sun Wheel Festival is an outdoor camping event, we do expect that some folks are going to want to unwind and socialize with a drink, but we are also a family event, and many folks bring their children to the festival. As a result, we try and keep the families with children in one area of the tenting/RV space, away from the tenting areas where folks without children will be.”

MerryMeet: Gordon Stone, Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess, had this to say about CoG’s big annual event: “The workshops at MerryMeet are provided by volunteers from within the organization. The facilitator chooses the topic for a workshop, which is then submitted to the organizing committee. CoG welcomes any proposal from our members to provide sober space or a support group meeting during MerryMeet.”

Many Gods West: Niki Whiting explained how this polytheist gathering is positioned.

Many Gods West does not have any designated sober spaces. We are a small, first-time gathering, and this year our focus was on affordability, access for the mobility restricted, and diversity across race, tradition, sex and gender. We do have two 21+ events, a social and musical gathering at a local venue and one ritual. I can see that that might be alienating to some. We at MGW would be happy to work with people if they are concerned. If someone wants to offer their room as a safe space we can include that in the program (we already have one person offering up their room as a shrine space during certain hours) and get the word out to our attendees.

Ultimately, everyone’s sobriety is their own responsibility, but Many Gods West aims to be a supportive, inclusive, harassment-free gathering. Peer pressure or other activity that aims to override anyone’s consent in any regard will be unwelcome and not tolerated. Depending on the feedback we receive after our event, we will decide not only how to best serve our communities, but also if we will do a future gathering!

Coph Nia: “We do not currently have a designated sober space but the sole reason for that is that we have not had a request for it. While Coph Nia is a festival for the larger queer pagan community, our sponsoring organization Ordo Aeternus Vovin, is a Thelemic organization so there’s a lot of emphasis on personal choice at our event. Because we’re small (about 50 men), we’d prefer to provide networking, support and sober alternatives over a designated sober space. In a festival our size, our worry is that a designated space requested by someone might be stigmatizing or single them out or isolate them,” advised Julian Hill.

Harvest Gathering: “HG hasn’t had the ‘sober spaces’ before, but we do offer activities that don’t encourage drinking,” said organizer Gina Martini. “During the day it’s all about learning, not really the format for drinking festival style. Evenings we offer all sorts activities that have nothing to do with drinking, walking an illuminated labyrinth, yoga by candlelight, rituals, relaxation tents, and we have a massage therapist. We don’t want to single anyone out as ‘the alcoholic.’ We provide a relaxing environment for everyone. If someone would like to talk or feels the need for sober space, we have someone to talk who also doesn’t drink.”

[Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae / Flickr]

All told, those events without a formal program tend to focus on personal responsibility or simply avoiding exposing young people to intoxicants and intoxicated behavior. Most event organizers were open to the idea of a more robust program, particularly if someone stepped up to organize it.

Being an addict doesn’t necessarily mean being cut off from the festival circuit. There are many events that make available supports for those in recovery, but there are quite a few others which placemore of that burden on the attendees themselves. Anyone in recovery should take the time to find out what policies and programs are in place for any given event, and decide whether or not to attend accordingly.

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[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

[Photo Credit:Beth Yoder-Balla]

EARLVILLE, Illinois- Shortly after we reported on the extensive flooding at the 35th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), organizers announced that the festival would be shutting down. All attendees and staff personnel must evacuate by tomorrow. According to reports, the grounds have become unsafe, and more rain is on the way.

As reported by local news, Illinois state emergency planners are now closely watching the Illinois River as the waters begin to rise, reaching flood-level in some locations. Due to the record downpours across the region, several cities have already initiated emergency plans.

Circle Magazine editor Florence Edwards-Miller said, “While PSG has endured severe weather before, including a near miss by a tornado at a different campground, this is the largest scale emergency in the festival’s 35-year history.”

During the Tuesday morning meeting, attendees were informed of this decision, and an emergency evacuation plan has been put into place. During stage one, those people camping in the flooded areas, such as Rainbow and Quiet, will be evacuated first. PSG has asked anyone in the drier areas of camp to help assist with the effort.

After the meeting and before the packing began, Rev Selena Fox led a “community ritual of healing and farewell.”

[Courtesy Pagan Spirit Gathering]

Edwards-Miller said:

In the wake of the emergency, the community rallied to support those displaced and the PSG volunteers and Safety team. Offers of spare tents, bedding, and food flowed in and people opened their hearts and campsites to friends and strangers alike. Guest musician Wendy Rule performed for those displaced and waiting.This year’s PSG theme is ‘Celebrating Community’ and the community rose to the challenge.

Evacuating and clean-up won’t be easy. There are about 800 people currently on site at PSG, including the staff.  Many cars still won’t start, and camping gear is underwater. In addition, the sanitation fields are flooded, which brings further safety and clean-up concerns. PSG will be holding a mandatory meeting tonight for those people still around. Edwards-Miller added:

PSG and Circle Sanctuary plan to release further information later in the week, but for now the focus is on helping those affected and on organizing a safe early departure from the site.  Circle Sanctuary thanks the PSG community for a truly awe-inspiring display of strength and mutual support, and asks for continued understanding as we work together to get everyone home safely.

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EARLVILLE, Illinois – As the 35th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) got underway June 14, attendees found themselves grappling with unusually wet weather. Earleville, located 70 miles west of Chicago, has seen an above average amount of rainfall since May, with more than double the monthly average falling in the first half of June alone.

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

The rains began again on Wednesday and continued on and off through the weekend. By Monday, PSG attendees found themselves in the middle of a deluge with rising waters throughout the campgrounds. One of the fields, which is now completely underwater, has joined with a nearby pond that has overflowed its banks. Attendees have jokingly labeled this “Lake PSG.”

Rainbow, the LGBT area, was the first to flood and, as reported,  the waters rose so fast that attendees had to “quickly grab their stuff and run.” The parking area is also completely flooded. On Monday, attendees joined with PSG staff members in a muddy attempt to rescue remaining vehicles. Some cars did sustain water damage, and a few reportedly wouldn’t start. Additionally, there have been limbs down throughout camp, and unconfirmed reports of trees falling on tents and campers.

Many PSG attendees have taken to social media to report on their experiences and on the damages. Blogger Lori Dake has posted a video:


A small number of attendees have left permanently; most are staying. Of those staying, some people have taken refuge temporarily in locals hotels, and others have moved into their cars. Despite these adverse conditions, spirits remain high, and nobody has been hurt. The community is cooperating with the PSG staff, who have reportedly worked efficiently and effectively to make the best of the situation. Praise has been pouring in specifically for the work being done by the PSG security team, known as the Guardians, as well as the medics. Some people are going so far as to call them, “heroes.”

Today’s weather reports call for part sun and only a 10% chance of rain. Although the waters have not yet receded and very little has dried out, today’s prospect for clear weather brings with it the hopes of assessing damages and reorganizing the week’s activities. Unfortunately, the weather reports are also calling for more rain tomorrow through Sunday. As a result, there may be little drying out, more water soaked tents and more rescheduling in PSG’s future.

We are in touch with the Staff. We will share more as reports come in and the story unfolds.

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Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

On Thursday June 18, Pope Francis is scheduled to release a “teaching letter,” also called an encyclical, on the environment. This highly anticipated document will most likely become big news of the week as the Pope enters the debates on climate change. A recent New York Times article suggested that, through this work, he is “seeking to redefine a typically secular discussion within a religious framework.” Many activists, around the world, stand ready to applaud his efforts to publicly engage in the global Earth Stewardship conversation and, thereby, hopefully increase pressure on communities, businesses, organizations and governments to enact change.

To some Pagans and others, who already position the Earth or a connection to natural systems of place, at the center of their spiritual practice, the need for such a document might seem superfluous. However, the team who created the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment did a very similar thing. They made a public statement that clearly positions environmental protection within a spiritual framework.  Now, many Pagans view the pending encyclical as an opportunity to demonstrate, in a concrete fashion, that people of different religious beliefs can stand together for one cause. Writer John Halstead said:

I wonder if the timing of the publication of ‘A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment‘ and the papal encyclical on the environment might be an opportunity for the beginning of a rapprochement between Pagans and Christians. No doubt this will be difficult for both, as we tend to define ourselves in contrast to each other … It can be difficult to see this when we are immersed in our own distinct paths. But when we suddenly find those paths intersecting, as they are at this moment, perhaps we can reconsider whether we — and all other life on Earth — would be better served by emphasizing our similarities, rather than our differences.

As for the Pagan statement itself, it is now has 6, 272 signatures, coming from people all over the world and many religions.

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10978531_1780791502145011_5268602471913887142_n

In the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, there is a small metaphysical store called Raven and Crone. Although the store has only been around a short time, it has been making headlines in one of the city’s local magazines. In a recent article in Capital at Play, writer Roger McCredie featured the store in an article titled “Raven & Crone: Asheville’s Most Bewitching Retailers: Wiccan Make This Work.”  McCredie writes, “In recent decades a saying has arisen that there are probably more Wiccans in the woods of Southern Appalachia than there are rabbits. The sentiment may be fairly new, but the fact it addresses is as old as human habitation of these mountains.” He refers largely to the traditional magical practices and spiritual beliefs found within the Appalachian region.

The store is owned by Lisa Svencicki and Kim Strobel. In the article, McCredie, who is not Pagan, interviews them both about their backgrounds, the decisions that led to the store’s birth and how they are doing. He writes, “Lisa and Kim saw the runic writing on the wall and decided the time was right to create a retail source that could serve the whole spectrum of Asheville’s growing alternative religion communities and also to cross-market to the general public.” The entire article, originally published in print, is available online. Raven & Crone, which bills itself as “the only only “Old Age” metaphysical supply store,” is located on Merriman Avenue near the University campus.

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Christopher Lee at the Women's World Awards 2009 in Vienna, Austria

Christopher Lee at the Women’s World Awards 2009 in Vienna, Austria

On June 7, actor Christopher Lee (1922-2015) passed way at the age of 93. Lee is remembered for a number of roles, including Dracula in group of Hammer Horror films and the Man with the Golden Gun in the James Bond film franchise (1974).  However, younger movie goers will recognize him as Count Dooku or Darth Tyranus in the Star Wars series (2002-2008), or as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2012-2014). And, many Pagans will also recognize him as Lord Summerisle in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man.

Lee was born in London in 1922; in the early years of the film industry. During WWII, he served as an “intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the SAS, Britain’s special forces.” He returned to London in 1946 and began his illustrious acting career. After sixty-three years of work, Lee was knighted in 2009 for his contribution to the arts.  Known for his deep voice, Lee was also a singer and recorded a number of operas during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010, at the age of 88, he recorded a symphonic metal album called “Charlemagne: By the Sword and Cross” and then in 2013 “Charlemagne: the Omens of Death.”

Lee’s career was extensive, full and long-lived. Through his artistic legacy and the characters he brought to life, he will continue to entertain generations to come.  What is remembered, lives.

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In Other News

  • Twin Cities Pagan Pride has just released details about its Paganicon 2016 conference. The theme for its 6th year will be “Sacred Traditions: Global Visions & Voices” and the guest of honor will be T.Thorn Coyle. Organizers said, “We walk this world together; we have different spiritual ways of interacting with our deities, our ancestors, our families, and our rites, but ultimately we share many similar traditions and techniques of relating to the sacred.” Next year’s event will celebrate and honor this diversity. Submissions for programming will be accepted later this week.  In addition, organizers are currently holding a related T-Shirt design contest. Entry rules are posted on the website. Paganicon 2016 will be held from March 18-20 at the Double Tree Park Place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
  • Lydia M. Nettles Crabtree’s book Family Coven: Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft has just been released. Crabtree has been researching and writing this book for over ten years. She calls it a “comprehensive guide to developing a family oriented spiritual practice … covering the basics of communication, relationship building, finances and parenting.”
  • Coming in October is Cernnunos Camp, a five day festival devoted to the Horned God. Organizers say, “Come and feel the antlered mysteries and abandon yourselves in a celebration of wild unfettered worship of Him with hand, tooth, claw, hoof and feet. Bring your bodies, your drums and rattles, antlers, masks and other ceremonial tools.” Cernnunos Camp will take place from October 14-18 in Shropshire in the West Midlands of England. Tickets are now on sale.
  • Over at Patheos’ The Agora, Dana Corby recalls the making of the album “Songs for the Old Religion.” As the story begins: “In 1973, a friend of mine returned to Southern California from a visit to a Wiccan gathering in the Bay Area telling me about a musician he had met by the name of Gwydion Pendderwyn who had a songbook full of wonderful music … “  Corby then goes on to describe the process and spirit that led to actual recording of the music.  She writes, “We didn’t know we were pioneering anything, or that there would soon be a booming cottage industry in self-produced Pagan music. We just wanted to “show ‘em how it should be done!” This post, which is marked as part one, provides a nice look into some of the early history of the modern Pagan movement in the United States.

songs of old religion

  • On June 5, a writer for Motherboard published an article called “Pop Culture Pagans Who Draw Power From Tumblr.”  The article discusses the use of Pop Cultural icons within magical and religious practice, as well as the controversies surrounding it.  A number of Pagans were quoted or interviewed for the discussion, including author Christine Hoff Kraemer, lawyer and witch Emily Carlin, and editor Taylor Ellwood, who has published a number of books on Pop Culture Magick. In the Motherboard article, Carlin explains, “For those of us who grew up stewing in pop culture, using those ideas in magick seems only natural.” In addition, Carlin has published the writer’s full interview on her own site.
  • Organizers of the upcoming 2016 Pagan Music Festival have recently announced some changes to the spring event. Originally the festival was to be hosted by Dragon Hills in Bowdon, Georgia. However, those plans fell through. Organizers have successfully relocated the festival to Cherokee Farm in LaFayette, Georgia, which is only 2 hours north of its original location. In addition, the event has been renamed to The Caldera Pagan Music Festival. Organizers did add that programming ha not changed; more than 20 bands are scheduled to perform over the 4 days from May 26-30. More information can be found on their website.
  • Tomorrow, Ardantane Learning Center will begin a new “Teaching intensive with Ina White Owl and Amber K.”  The four week course will instruct students on how to “teach more powerfully and effectively,” including “creating lesson plans, working with psychic energies in classrooms, communicating on multiple levels, evaluating your own strengths as a teacher, and handling various other challenges.” Teacher and author Amber K is the executive director of Ardantane, which is located in the deserts of New Mexico. The teaching intensive will be held Tuesdays at 7 pm from June 16-July 7. Registration is now open.

That’s all for now,  Have a nice day!

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For most of the United States, public school is out of session, and children are outside making mudpies, playing ball, climbing trees and building Minecraft fortresses on small electronic gadgets. Nobody is thinking about school.

Well, almost nobody. June is “Public School Religious Freedom Month.” Or, at least it is in Pennsylvania; the state in which the historic 1963 Schempp case began. As we previously reported, Abington School District v. Schempp is considered a landmark case in the on-going struggle for religious freedom and equality within public school environments. Schempp challenged the constitutionality of Bible reading within American public schools.

[Photo Credit:  Joseph Barillari, cc-lic. Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Joseph Barillari, cc-lic. Wikimedia]

In recognition of Pennsylvania’s honorary month, we decided to look at recent school-related court cases and proposed or enacted legislation, which challenge and even flout (e.g., Basevitz v. Fremont RE-2 School District) the U.S. Constitution’s implied “Separation of Church and State.”

Religious equality in public schools is unique within the larger cultural negotiations of religion in the public sphere, chiefly because it involves minors – the very protected, very impressionable, youngest sector of the population. These cases often become a power struggle between the administration or even a single teacher and parents or guardians. In a few cases, the struggle is between a teacher and administrators. The Atheist activist group Freedom From Religion Foundation has said that 40% of its received religious-freedom complaints are school-related.

In some situations, the struggle over control of a child’s education and personal expression calls into question the social lines drawn between educational responsibility and rights. These situations also question the ethical boundaries of exposure and advertising to young people (e.g., Lubbock v. Little Pencil), and the capitalizing on expectations or positions of authority (e.g. Boy Scout in-class recruiting.) These cases can even go so far as to insult a parent’s credibility, marginalize a minority religious practice or culture (e.g., Griffith v Caney Valley Public School), and place a fragile young spirit in awkwardly social positions, ostracizing them from friends during a critical social growth period.

These battles, in many ways, are a wrestling-match over our future – personal, community, and legislative.

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[Photo: H. Greene]

Imagine picking up your child school from school and finding a group of older men in sensible sport jackets, red ties and khakis handing out mini copies of the New Testament. As the last bell rings and children exit the school building, these men stand ready to hand each child a brightly colored book strategically decorated like a school locker for greater appeal.

This very scenario happened in May at a school district in north Georgia. When approached, the men happily said that they were simply “sharing teaching Bibles with the children” and that the school knew they were there. Unconstitutional? The men passing out the Bible made it a point to stand just off school property near the three entrances, and only began distribution after school ended. While this situation remains frustrating for many non-Christians and Christians alike, the group was within legal boundaries.

Situations like this and other school-related religious freedom issues are unfortunately not uncommon. While every case doesn’t directly involve Pagans and Heathens, every situation and decision affects the entire student body, not only the families who take their story to the press, to the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United or, if you are in the Pagan world, to Lady Liberty League.

Let’s look at two recent situations.

Creationism Regularly Taught in Louisiana Schools

Do you have children in Louisiana public schools? If so, you might want to look closely at the science curriculum. According to a recent Slate magazine article, Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education said, “We know that one in eight high school biology teachers advocate for creationism, even though it’s unconstitutional.”

In 2008, Louisiana passed the “Louisiana Science Education Act,” which opened the door for the teaching of creationism within its public school system. This law, commonly referred to as the “Creationism Act,” states that its purpose is to “promote students’ critical thinking skills and open discussion of scientific theories … including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” Although the law also specifically states that it “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine,” a new investigative report has proven the contrary.

Recent investigative work by Slate’s Zack Kopplin demonstrates that creationism is regularly taught in school districts across the state, using Bibles as supplemental teaching texts. He revealed his findings in two separate articles for the online news journal. Not only does his research demonstrate open school support of such teachings, he also suggests that state legislators have been pressuring districts to include creationism in the curriculum.

Kopplin also notes that there have been 10 attempts to repeal the Creationism Act since its enactment, but none have been successful. In his latest report, Kopplin concludes, “All it will take is for one Louisiana parent or student to sue the state for endorsing religion in public school, and teaching creationism will become illegal again. But for the moment, because Louisiana politicians refuse to take action, Louisiana students are reading Genesis in science class.” Americans United (AU), the ACLU, and Freedom From Religion Foundation have all made it clear that they are watching and waiting. AU wrote, “Let’s hope someone will step up soon.”

Prayer in School

In Indiana, the ACLU filed a lawsuit June 1 on behalf of a Jim and Nichole Bellars, whose son attends River Forest Junior / Senior High School. As reported, the complaint reads:

The coach-led prayers, the School Board prayers, and the graduation prayers all violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

According to the Indiannapolis Star, the child was told to “get along better” with the coaches and that he should “just sit there and be quiet but that the prayers would continue and that [he] had to remain huddled with the team.” Since the parents got involved, the child has been subjected to harassment by others at the school.

Interestingly, the case touches on three different observational complaints, implicating the sports program, the graduation exercises and the school board meetings. According to ACLU reference material, the Supreme Court is clear on the unconstitutionality of both coach-led and graduation prayers. “In 1992, the Supreme Court held in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577 (1992), that prayer – even nonsectarian or nonproselytizing prayer – at public school graduation ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” Similarly “in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 68 U.S. 4525 (2000),” the United States Supreme Court ruled against coach-led optional prayers before sporting events. The ACLU explains:

Such system encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens the imposition of coercion upon those students not desiring to participate in a religious exercise. Simply by establishing the schoolrelated procedure, which entrusts the inherently nongovernmental subject of religion to a majoritarian vote, a constitutional violation has occurred.

The third issue raised in the Indiana case is the legality of prayer before school board meetings, which is an entirely different challenge. School Board meeting are largely adult forums and do not involve the education of minors. So this raises an important question. Does the 2014 Town of Greece v. Galloway case, allowing for sectarian prayers during government meetings, apply to such school boards?

According to the ACLU documentation, it does not. The document says that “In Coles ex rel. Coles v. Cleveland Bd. of Educ., 171 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999) …the Court observed that ‘[t]he very fact that school board meetings focus solely on school-related matters provides students with an incentive to attend the meetings that is lacking in other settings.” The organization goes on to suggest that, in many cases, students are required to attend such meetings. Therefore, since there is a potential for coercion of minors, sectarian prayer at school board meetings is definitively unconstitutional. This idea is firmly based on the premise of protecting our youth. Adults can presumably handle hearing opposing views without being coerced, where children can’t.

Americans United agrees with the ACLU. However, without a specific SCOTUS ruling, there is still much debate.

[Photo Credit: Jayhawksean via Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jayhawksean via Wikimedia]

Many other situations and cases are on file and pending. In the Basevitz case, as linked below, a Jewish teacher is currently suing her district for allowing a local church to offer services in the lunchroom during school hours. In the Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools case, a student sued the school board for not allowing her to wear a sacred eagle feather during graduation. She lost her case. In Lubbock v. Little Pencil, a school district was sued when it rejected a religious advertisement proposed for its stadium’s jumbo tron. The court ruled in favor of the school. And, in Georgia, a local high school has recently announced that its “back to school activities” will be held in a nearby Baptist megachurch due to building construction. There is no legal challenge to this action yet.

The cultural discussions over religious equality often seem to just spin round and round. The freedom of religious expression (e.g., Griffith v Caney Valley Public School) and the definitive separation of church and state (e.g., Basevitz v. Fremont RE-2 School District) often come into conflict within that struggle, adding nuance to already complicated legal situations and personal sacrifice. In addition, the rules change and situations become more emotional when children are involved; when the future and the, often-considered sacred, right of parents and guardians as religious and cultural guides is challenged.

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[With the Summer Solstice just a week away, we decided to take a pause from our regular schedule and invite Erick DuPree back to share his thoughts on this seasonal celebration. DuPree is the author of Alone in Her Presence: Meditations on the Goddess and editor of Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral. He teaches heart-centered practices that unite breath to heart, inviting a holistic relationship with the Goddess. His writing can be found on his own website as well as on the Patheos Pagan Channel.]

“Who made the world?” begins Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day

“Who made the world? 
Who made the swan, and the black bear? 
Who made the grasshopper?”

As dawn rises over the horizon and into the warmth of possibility, the northern hemisphere approaches the Summer Solstice. For many people, this is the time of Helios, the sun g*d, the Oak King and of St. John. Here the masculine has triumphed anew. These are the days when the sunlight lazily lingers into a short balmy dream. Where the possibilities are seemingly as endless as the sun stands still in the sky.

Midsummer is not in my colloquial “wheelhouse” of Pagan holidays. The myths, legends, and wisdom traditions where, as Joseph Campbell describes, “mankind’s deep need to give g*d a name and face” have never been for me the names of Cernunnos, Lugh, Oak and Holly King or Ra. Those masculinized representations seem a foreign extrapolation of all things resonant, a dual binary not reflective of how I honor the world.

[Photo Credit: ©2015 Norm Halm | Photographmaker]

[Photo Credit: ©2015 Norm Halm | Photographmaker]

So, imagine my trepidation when I was invited to write about Midsummer! Dare I attempt feebly to write about Litha? Or better still, some dilettante collection of musings about each Sun g*d? Well, I could always just write about the matriarchy… and the breath! Because that’s exciting, right?

“Is that all he ever writes about?” I can hear it now.

But there is still meaning in the sun and a lesson within our common lexicon that is Midsummer, even when how we come to know and experience Midsummer is different. It was Starhawk who reminds us,“Paganism has no litmus test for belief entry.” And so, I set out to write about Summer Solstice and, more directly, Midsummer.

For me, “who made the world” is always divinely feminine, even before I could identity what was distinctly different between “male” and “female.” Like a gravitational pull, that once was “alone, awesome, and complete within herself.” I have always known a generative nexus that is all Goddess. I recognize that this is not a common denominator within my Pagan community, or at times even a welcome one. Perhaps had I been born a cis-gendered woman, I’d be writing a very different article to a very different audience. Actually, I’d probably be married to an Evangelical Christian preacher, hosting a ladies luncheon on the actual solstice.

How we come into presence weaves our lives. For me, it all started while being the only guy participating in a group of all women of a certain age in the parish room of a Unitarian Universalist Church, and with a book called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. Lead by a woman name Janice, she begrudgingly made the exception. A year later, she revealed another name to me, EveningStar, and explained there was more to The Spiral Dance than a book. She taught me to spiral dance, she gave me ecstatic ritual, and she called me priestess.

She was the one who first taught me to be in presence. The truth is, when I stand in the sun at Summer Solstices longest day, I am in presence. It is a reminder of the living, of growth, renewal, and generation. Summer Solstice lives in my heart (and I suspect the hearts of many Pagans and Heathens, regardless of praxis of belief or knowing) as a time to drink-in the glowing, our faces turning towards the radiance that is sunlight, and the cultivation of brightness and renewed warmth. I lean into the possibility of what can be, because the sunshine invites a newness that is possibility.

What might it be like to step into the sun from the shadows? Each ray of sun that comes foreword at this time of year feels like a hand extended and to beckoning me. To be unafraid of this light. I spent years hiding from the rays of the sun. What might they reveal? Ashamed to be seen. My body heartbroken and battered; and like so many, not good enough. Not for the beach or a pair of shorts or even a t-shirt? No dancing around a fire or merry making. There was no worshiping in a heart that rejoiced.

Yet Midsummer can be the healer because healing is the sun as She fills the shifting spaces of darkness with a new light of potentiality washing over pale forearms and faces. This is the promise of the sun as I take her hand and step out of the darkness of winter and allow myself to be held in the generative mother that is Goddess.

[Photo Credit: ©2015 Norm Halm | Photographmaker]

[Photo Credit: ©2015 Norm Halm | Photographmaker]

To me, this too is the ultimate expression of Midsummer. This is where I can hear the speaking of the trees as I lean against bark, or nestle into the grass. Here taking a moment to breathe into Her sacred embrace that is All Goddess. The fertile Earth that has blossomed anew from the warmth of a sunlight, which has nourished Her fertile mantle some the beginning of time. The riches of seeds planted that feed and sustains all.

While cultures near and far have rituals and celebrations that occur on or around the midsummer, I come into this time with a simplicity that is knowing the Goddess as Earth Mother. It is here where I see the brightness of the sun reflected most. This matrifocal wellspring that is Goddess inviting the complicated curiosity to heal and nurture. You and I looking at Her. Where possibility is met with a maternal-like spaciousness that Midsummer creates.

I couldn’t write about the longest day and the warmest of night, and feel empowered to come out of the dark and step into the sun, without Goddess. That wouldn’t be me. Goddess is the reflection of the generative space that first appears when we take a deeper breath in, and a longer one out.The breath we have known from the beginning. From before we knew that we were actually breathing.

This isn’t about an obligation but rather the invitation to give permission to create space to explore to feel the light. This Midsummer’s dream is the revelation that is always the saving message when we turn toward the mother whom flows in, among, and around us to feel her warmth.Growing full. Inviting abundance. Shining from that place of limitless virtuosity. That which is All. That which invites hope. That which heals. That which says. “Come walk by me, in the sun and get comfortable.”

Mary Oliver continues…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Solstice and Midsummer continue to invite the precious warmth of community. Each of us has pause to reflect on the things that draw us together. How like the sun, we can support each other; generative, growing, renewing, warm. Wildly imperfect, yet perfectly complete, this cycle is the continued moment we share together. For me, this is the generative promise Goddess gives our precious life.

*   *   *

Oliver, Mary. “The Summer Day.” New And Selected Poems. Beacon Press: Boston 1993. 102-103. Print.

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A statue of the god Pan, found somewhere in MacLouth, Kansas. Photo by the author.

A statue of the god Pan, found somewhere in MacLouth, Kansas.
Photo by the author.

Some things remain constant despite life’s tumult. Though we may find ourselves in the midst of many changes, still some things remain: the sun doth rise, the moon doth wax and wane, and the rain doth obliterate everyone’s campsite at least once every Heartland Pagan Festival. I have been attending Heartland off and on since I was a little boy, and every year, there is a wash-out thunderstorm. In my memories, it’s usually on Sunday afternoon, just before the end of the festival. I remember once standing in the open field where the merchants set up, looking up at a roiling sky and realizing that, even if I ran as fast as I could back to camp, I’d never make it before the rain hit. Some kind soul pulled me into their shelter and fed me rabbit stew, and we waited, eight or nine of us crammed beneath a 10×10 pavilion, for the storm to pass.

The storm at this year’s festival hit on Saturday evening, just as the Vision Quest ritual was supposed to begin, and it kept going for twelve hours. The Vision Quest asks its participants to walk alone through a trail in Camp Gaea’s woods, and along the trail the walkers encounter figures who advise, challenge, and bewilder them. I was scheduled to be one of those aspects that evening, and had already put on my costume and set up my station when the rain hit. Most years, aspects spend seven or eight hours out on the trail, seeing more than a hundred visitors. But the trail is largely unimproved, and it can be a challenging hike even in good weather. The ground had already absorbed all the water it could from preliminary storms earlier in the week, such that even after several sunny days some parts of the trail had become shoe-eating soup; once the rain began, it became clear that somebody was going to break an ankle if we proceeded with the ritual.

So instead we sat beneath the pop-up back at camp, our rain-soaked costumes left hanging, if not exactly to dry, then at least to drip, on a line, and we watched the storm. My wife built a fire in our Smokey Joe barbecue for warmth, while I tried to comb the biscuit dough out of my hair. (My aspect was an old man, see, and I thought, well, I can make my hair gray by rubbing some flour into it…) Sarah, one of my oldest friends, was also there, as was her boyfriend. It was far too early to consider going to bed, and far too wet to consider leaving camp.

Somehow this led to us discussing Weird Al Yankovich, who, I must admit, is my standard proof that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. But I was the only one who held that opinion among the four of us.

Eric has very particular tastes in music, my wife said. He has his music that he likes, and anyone who likes anything else is wrong. I found this statement to be both totally unfair and reasonably accurate.

He gets that from his dad, said Sarah. He’s the exact same way.

I have been turning that thought over in my mind ever since.

There’s a gag from the Three Stooges where Moe, the bossy one with the soupbowl haircut, receives a bill and does a double-take, snapping the paper between his fingers as he comes to a realization about the difference behind the figure on the paper and the figure in his wallet. My father has revived this gag every time we have gone out to dinner; it is part of the ritual of the meal. Every time my wife and I go to a restaurant, I perform it too. It’s automatic, unthinking, a reflex. As soon as the waiter hands us the bill, my wife knows to expect it, and smiles anyway.

I have a lot of tics like that one – little gestures, sayings, tones of voice. The way I flirt, the topics I choose for small talk, the voice I use when talking to animals and small children. Ways of acting that I fall into automatically, only realizing afterwards that they come from my parents. I would guess that everyone has things like that – it’s how we’re socialized, and, I suppose, part of what it means to be someone’s child. We don’t get to choose them; they come with the package.

My Paganism, I come to realize, is full of these unnoticed assumptions and inherited behaviors. It has always been an issue I’ve struggled with in writing about Paganism, actually – because I grew up within a coven, I unconsciously assume that the ways we practiced Paganism are the backdrop everyone else has as well. I often feel as though I am a poor authority on these matters, because so much of what I know I received through the slow course of maturation. I absorbed ways to enter a circle, chants to sing, formulae to invoke; but I also learned ways to conceive of the divine, ways to format a ritual, ways to lie about who I am to bosses and in-laws. Nobody ever sat me down and taught me any of this, but I know it just the same – just as I never made an agreement with my parents to mimic their other behaviors, and yet I do so anyway.

At the edge of the mud pit that was our camp’s kitchen, underneath an evergreen, there is an old statue of the god Pan. The statue has seen better days. If I remember correctly, it used to be displayed in the yard of the house where Sarah and her brothers grew up; I remember seeing it through my child’s eyes, but it is always hard to tell where that kind of memory ends and photographs begin. These days, Pan is chipped and broken, the holes in his side and torso revealing the hollow cavity of his belly. In the thundering darkness of the storm, his image is lost to me – our lights don’t stretch that far. But in the morning, when the rain has begun to clear, I walk over to his tree and find him just as we left him before – dry, even, barely touched by the rain.

I look at this statue of the little goat-footed god, this artifact brought to Gaea from my childhood dreams. My parents have a statue just like it at their home. I look at Pan, and I wonder about the things that remain constant.

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