Washington, D.C – On Monday, it was announced that the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, a new Hellenic organization, had officially become “a legally recognized and incorporated entity within Washington, D.C.” Priestess and founder Gwendolyn Reece has been working toward this moment for over two years after receiving instructions directly from her gods. Although the structural process is not completely finished, Reece is enthusiastic and ready to begin this new adventure.

[Courtesy G. Reece]

[Courtesy G. Reece]

“I am responding to a call from these two Great Ones, this isn’t about me … I am working on setting this up so that it survives me,” wrote Reece in the public announcement. The Wild Hunt spoke with her further about the project, its origins, its purpose and its future.

While Theophania is new in its public inception, Reece has been working on “laying its foundation” for several years. She is a Witch and a Priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon. She has been facilitating rituals and workshops for many years. As one of the organizers for the popular Sacred Space conference, Reece helps maintain the presence of Athena, who is one of two deities asked to bring protection to the weekend event.

But, as she explained, it wasn’t until her trips to Greece that she was divinely inspired to birth the new temple. Reece said that her first trip was impactful, explaining, “Greece felt familiar to me. That didn’t surprise me. But it did surprise me how comfortable it felt.” However, it wasn’t until the second trip that she was given the specific direction to create a sacred space in Washington. She received this message from Apollon while simply touring the country. Those specific moments are highly personal; however, Reece did share that her mission became most clear while in Athens and Delphi. She added, “We had omens. Eagle Omens.”

When Reece returned home, she knew what Apollo and Athena were asking. “They are very concerned about our world,” she said. “They are real beings and want to have a relationship with us. They have an agenda just like we have an agenda.” And it’s this divine agenda that she is now helping to serve with the creation of Theophania.

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Reece has spent the last two years carefully constructing a viable and lasting internal temple structure that will serve the mission placed before her. Why the name Theophania? As she wrote on the website:

Theophania was an annual festival at Delphi in which Apollon returned from His time in the hidden lands and made Himself directly known and visible to the people. A “theophany” is when a deity makes himself or herself immediately known and visible to a mortal. Apollon selected this name because He and Athena are coming back to make Themselves known directly to humanity once more. Theophania strives to serve these Great Ones by providing structures through which mortals may have direct experiences with Them as They return to us. They want to be in close relationships with us once more.

Along with completing all the necessary legal paperwork required of incorporation, Reece has also been working on the ecclesiastical structure. She said, “I am using the old Hellenic form, rather than a congregational one.”

This structure may feel unique to modern Pagan temples in that Theophania is not a membership organization. She said that the Temple is a place “to keep relationships with the gods flowing” and will be maintained by a core Priesthood. But that is it. Rituals will be open to anyone and not at all exclusive. It doesn’t matter whether attendees are Hellenic polytheists, Wiccans, Heathens or the like. The Temple will be there for anyone to experience a relationship with both Athena and Apollon.

As for the temple’s mission, Reece explained that Theophania will have three main “lines of activity.” The first is public ritual. She explained, “The temple’s ritual work will be devoted to the ‘good of the polis,’ which is why the gods wanted the Temple in the nation’s capital. A federal city.They are interested in democracy.”

The second line of activity will be oracular work. Reece said this is more complicated because Apollon will have to select which priestess or priest can actually perform this activity. It is up to the God, himself. And, as of now, Reece is the only priestess. But she said that this will change soon enough.

Finally, the third line of activity is for Theophania to “rebirth the Neoplatonic philosophical tradition within the context of contemporary Paganism.” As Reece explained briefly, Neoplatonism, a modern term to describe a mode of philosophy that was prevalent during the late Hellenistic period, was made up of various lines of thoughts all present during that era, including from Aristotelian, Pythagorean, Stoic, Egyptian, Chaldean, Buddhism and more. Neoplatonism was able “to harmonize” these very different philosophical traditions, pulling the best ideas from each one.

However, as Reece further explained, this Neoplatonic philosophy was virtually eradicated around 529 A.D. when the Athenian Academy was destroyed by Justinian I. The surviving concepts were eventually incorporated into a monotheistic framework and have lived on within that context.

One of the goals of Theophania is to return Neoplatonic philosophical concepts into a polytheistic context. As Reece wrote on the website, the results will offer “a truly Pagan approach to the quest for wisdom and Truth that blends logic, mysticism, abstract thought, and practical life applications for the individual and the polis.”

[Courtesy G. Reece]

[Courtesy G. Reece]

Reece is very optimistic about the project. When asked if the Theophania had its own physical space at this point, Reece said, “no.” She will be using rented space or her own home for rituals and workshops. However, she added that in her “hopes and dreams” Theophania will eventually have its own dedicated physical temple. Then, she laughed, adding, “I’d like one of the old Hellenic-style churches on 16th street in Washington. The street dead ends into the White House and is on the old meridian. It is a power line.”

Until that time, she and the future temple priesthood will be maintaining the sacred space elsewhere, and she will continue building the temple’s legal and fiscal backbones. On Jan 26, she submitted the IRS paperwork to earn temple’s 501(c)3 status.

When asked how people can learn more about her work, the temple’s mission or working with the gods, Reece said that Theophania’s website was a good place to follow the temple’s progress. As of now, she plans to lead the temple’s first oracular ritual in March or April. She can also be reached through the website.

More specifically, for Sacred Space attendees, Reece will be offering a workshop on Hellenic oracles, which is tied in to the creation of the new temple. The workshop blurb reads:

Hellenic Oracles: The Oracle of Delphi is, rightfully, the most famous oracle of the Ancient Greek world, but there were quite a number of other oracular cults in ancient Hellas as well. As part of her work as a priestess of Apollon, Gwendolyn is working with Him to found an oracle in the nation’s capital. As part of her preparatory work, she has conducted extensive research on Hellenic oracles. This workshop provides a summary of the historical research

Reece also offered some spiritual advice to those people interested in understanding more about how and why she is taking this journey and how they can go about doing the same. She said, “Be open to pursuing relationships with the gods. Learn how to give and to receive. Develop the ability to be a good friend. And to embrace this as a virtue.” She stressed the need to develop loving and spiritual relationships both between humans, and between humans and non-humans. She said, “Approach Them,” adding “[Apollon is] incredibly compassionate. He will talk about global issues, such as climate change, as well personal problems … They want to be heard. They want to be in relationship.”

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SOUTH AFRICA — After years of lobbying by Pagan groups in the country, the South African Law Reform Commission has determined that portions of that nation’s Witchcraft Suppression Act are unconstitutional. Witches should be able to identify themselves as such, the commission found, as well as practice divination. However, the proposed replacement law still has its problems, according to members of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, because it singles out “harmful witchcraft practices” for regulation on the basis that they can cause “intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror.” SAPRA members are drafting a response to the bill and hope to see changes in it before it becomes law.sapralogoThe Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 is, like most similar laws in African nations, based on 1735 Witchcraft Act of the United Kingdom, which was itself repealed in 1951. SAPRA requested a review of this law in 2007, an effort which was joined by the South African Pagan Council and the Traditional Healers Association. That slow process has finally resulted in the release of a lengthy issue paper by the SALRC, an independent body created in 1973 to investigate South African laws and make recommendations to the national and provincial governments for reform.

In that issue paper, members of the SALRC agreed that by making it illegal to identify as a Witch, the act violates the right to religious expression guaranteed in the South African constitution. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that there is no definition of Witchcraft in the legislation. In other words, Wiccans and other Pagans fell into the same category as those who are more traditionally considered Witches in sub-Saharan Africa, a place where the word “witch” is often associated with people who use supernatural powers to cause harm.

Where the SALRC paper deviates from the hoped-for outcome is in how it tries to make distinctions between the different uses of the word “witch.” According to Damon Leff, who has been working on this cause for years, “The draft bill is focused on preventing accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts, human mutilations and ritual murder, and what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices.’ ” In Leff’s view, that lumps together actions which should be unacceptable for any person to commit with beliefs that are protected.

We believe that existing laws may be used to deal with human mutilations and ritual murder – we already have a Human Tissues Act which prohibits the harvest and sale of human body parts, and murder is already illegal. We also believe that what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices,’ in the absence of actual demonstrable criminal activity, cannot be proven in any court of law to exist without reference to belief, and since the Bill of Rights protects the right to belief, ‘witchcraft beliefs’ aught to play no role in the determination of actual criminal guilt.

The bill has apparently been structured to address concerns that the widespread belief in malevolent magic makes it possible for one person to cause very real harm to another by convincing them that they intend to cast such a spell. Leff provided a copy of the response that SAPRA is drafting, which lays it out thus:

Whilst certain crimes may indeed be motivated by belief, those crimes identified in the Commission’s definition of alleged ‘harmful witchcraft’ practices, specifically, intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror, may be committed by a member of any (or no) religious faith. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to show that some Christians and Traditional Healers have in the past attempted to justify their criminal acts by appealing to their beliefs as motivation for such acts.

Traditional healers may also underlie muti murders, committed to obtain a specific human body part for the purposes of healing another. Children, the elderly and disabled are most susceptible to these kinds of attacks. The draft response reads:

SAPRA must argue that since the perpetrators of such practices, specifically those who trade in human body parts, do not self-identify as Witches or as practitioners of Witchcraft, but have in the past been identified as traditional healers or as practitioners of traditional African religion (who do not self-identify as Witches), the application of the term ‘witchcraft’ to such practices constitutes an equally inaccurate misnomer. Muthi murders have nothing to do with Witchcraft, because actual Witches are not the perpetrators of such crimes.

Instead, they argue, such crimes should be enforced under the existing Human Tissues Act, which was passed specifically to prevent such crimes.

From the SALRC issue paper, it appears that the Traditional Healers Organization has pushed for a clear definition of Witchcraft in a new law, and regulation of the harmful practices associated with it. Traditional healers, according to Leff, would never identify as “Witches” because of the strong cultural bias against the term, which has only been challenged recently with the spread of Wicca and related religions.

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Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Another problem with the replacement bill, insofar as Pagans are concerned, is that while accusations of Witchcraft are banned, it doesn’t go far enough to protect those accused. The existing law has even been flouted by public officials. SAPRA’s draft response asserts, “Such a Bill must however not merely prohibit accusations of Witchcraft and punish those who do make accusations of Witchcraft which lead to harm against the accused, it must also provide the victims of accusation, living refugees of accusation, with access and means to victim support and restorative justice,” Since the lifting of apartheid, restorative justice has become a powerful concept in South Africa.

In short, SAPRA’s position is that laws should be based on verifiable evidence of wrongdoing, and no crime should be associated with a belief system such as Witchcraft, since heinous acts can be committed by anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The comment period on the draft bill and related issue paper ends in April, and it could be another year before it is presented as a white paper, and submitted to parliament for consideration.

“If the SALRC goes ahead with the proposal, the Bill will be sent to Parliament for review before it is published, and only after that, could it become an Act of Parliament,” explained Leff. “We plan to stop that from happening.”

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The Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are in a very dynamic time and who knows what the future for these religions may be. The Wild Hunt asked community members to guess the future by having them answer this question:

“What do you think Paganism in the USA will look like 100 years from now?”

[Courtesy Photobucket]

[Courtesy Photobucket]

Phaedra Bonewits, 60’s, Occult Generalist

“I think about where we were a hundred years ago, still in the throes of German Romantic Neopaganism, folklore obsessions in Britain, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn fallen apart, and America still fascinated with 19th-century Spiritualism and Theosophy, plus the Eastern religions to which they’d been exposed a scant 23 years earlier at the first World’s Parliament of Religions. Wicca wasn’t yet a gleam in Gerald Gardner’s eye, and Heinlein was still in rompers. Magical lodges were still popular, but a vast amount of occultism and magical practice was firmly rooted in a Christian paradigm.

“Now, we’ve got hard polytheists, public rituals to the old Gods, major conventions, scholarly works, Internet research, and more solitaries than at which you could shake a stang. All were unimaginable 100 years ago. Heck, I couldn’t have imagined the Pagan world looking like this forty years ago — forty years ago, we didn’t even have camping festivals!

“Here’s a few guesses, though, assuming our overpopulating, invasive species hasn’t driven ourselves to extinction by then! A hundred years from now, the Neopagan/Pagan umbrella will be a thing of the past. It’s fragmenting even now, and in a century, those fragments will have taken up independent lives. Generic, nature-focused Pagans may be seen as a quaint artifact from the 20th century. Those who attempt 20th-century coven-based, initiatory mystery religion Wicca will be a tiny minority, just as members of magical lodges are today. The Wheel of the Year may become quaint, too, lost in favor of holy days specific to deities being honored.

“Occult practitioners in general may be pushed far to the outside of Paganism as worship-focused Paganism becomes more the norm. Bad news for old-fashioned occultists such as myself, but great for hard polytheists. Temple or shrine-based Paganism may become unremarkable, just as it is now on continents that are not historically dominated by Abrahamic religions.

“About twenty-five years ago, I was walking up the steps of the Field Museum in Chicago, a spectacular example of neoclassical architecture, with a small child in tow. He the son of the high priestess of our little magical working group. As we trudged up the sweeping outdoor staircase, I said to him, “Did you know we used to worship the Gods in buildings like this instead of in our living room?” He looked at me with big eyes and a wondering expression, and said, “We did?” Since then, I’ve wished for the day when one can tell a child, “Did you know we used to worship the Gods in our living rooms instead of in buildings like this?” and the child will respond with the same startled wonder, “We did?” Maybe in a hundred years.”

Selena Fox, Wiccan, 60’s

 “As I reflect on what Paganism in the USA will look like in 2116, here are some thoughts:

  • Paganism will continue to grow in size and forms with more practitioners and paths.
  • There will be more Pagan sacred places established, owned and cared for by Pagan organizations — more stone circles, shrines, temples, retreat centers, libraries, cemeteries, groves, and Nature sanctuaries.
  • There will be chaplains of various Pagan paths and organizations serving in the military, hospitals, hospices, universities, prisons, and other institutions.
  • There will be more Pagans serving in elected public office in local, state, and federal forms of government. Having one’s Pagan orientation known will seldom be a concern raised as an issue during elections as it has been in the 20th & 21st centuries.
  • There will be more understanding and acceptance of Pagans and Pagan paths in society as a whole, and less need to fight religious freedom battles in courts.
  • Paintings, films, music, theater, and other forms of art with Pagan imagery created by Pagans will be more widespread in society.
  • New forms of Pagan ritual practice and meditative imagery will develop as Pagans venture forth and live off planet.  
  • Croning, Saging, and other forms of Senioring Passage rites developed within Pagan communities will be more commonplace among people of many spiritual and philosophical orientations.
  • Pagans and Paganism may be also known by other terms.

“I think it is important to reflect on possible Pagan futures and to have conversations about this. To contribute to this process, I have been facilitating Visioning the Pagan Future workshops, rituals, and discussions at festivals and conferences around the nation. In addition to envisioning the future, may we find ways to share our visions and work together to help Paganism in all its colorful diversity to thrive.”

[Image By: Stgspi / DeviantArt]

[Image By: Stgspi / DeviantArt]

John Beckett50’s, Druid

“The environmental and social factors that gave rise to the emergence of Paganism in the 19th century and to its explosion in the 20th century will continue in the 21st and 22nd. Paganism will continue to grow in both breadth and depth over the next 100 years.

“Paganism will grow in breadth as more and more people begin to recognize the sacredness of Nature and begin to pay attention to the natural world. Pagan concepts and holidays will become generally recognized in the mainstream culture. Witchcraft will continue its growth, as increasingly disenfranchised people look for ways to influence their world. Paganism will remain a minority religion, but it will become a significant minority, even if much of its growth will be at the pop culture level.

“Paganism will grow in depth as a few dive deeper into their beliefs and practices. The witchcraft traditions will focus on individual growth and personal power, while the polytheist traditions will focus on developing robust devotional practices and building strong communities around them.

“But two things are sure about predicting the future: something we think is certain will fail, and something we aren’t even considering will arise. If we are wise, we will focus on being the best Witches, Pagans, polytheists, and such as we possibly can. Strong practices and resilient communities can succeed in any environment.”

Jason Mankey, 40’s, Gardnerian Witch:

“Imagining Paganism one hundred years from now is difficult. I think it will still exist (at least as we define it today) and probably in greater numbers, but I think it will be extremely fragmented. Today we sometimes talk about the Pagan umbrella having some ‘leaks,’ in one hundred years I think the umbrella will be long gone, with many groups and traditions distancing themselves from the word ‘Pagan.’

“I don’t think that’s all necessarily bad. Many traditions under today’s Pagan umbrella will undoubtedly grow because of these changes. Out there, on their own, many communities will create new infrastructures, mythologies, groups, and festivals; those are the good parts. On the downside, the break-up of the umbrella will make us even less strong politically, and limit the give and take that comes from being a part of wide-ranging coalition. (Think of all the things we share right now: festivals, blog-space, magazines, ritual space, etc. I for one find those shared moments beneficial.)

“I love my own tradition (Gardnerian Witchcraft), but the traditions of my friends (Druidry, Heathenism, and many more) have made my Pagan experience all the stronger, and richer. I think we will lose something when Re-constructionists no longer dance under the moon with Witches and Neo-Pagans. I think we are far stronger together, but see the divisions that are emerging among us as unfortunate but probably inevitable.”

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, 30s, polytheist with initiations in a variety of traditions:

“It’s hard to imagine but when I do I hope that it’s in a place where the current struggles against oppression are no longer as necessary or as vital as they are now to the engagement of pagans who identify as part of communities typically marginalized by the overculture.

I hope that my tradition is thriving and handling their rites and their W/work as best as they can with the guidance of the Elders who came from my teachings and from the guidance of Spirit (of which I hope I am called on). I hope we’re in a place where the ability to care for each other extends beyond what we do in circle to outside of circle.

I hope that polytheists, pagans, Wiccans, ceremonialists, heathens, ADR/ATR practitioners, and myriad of faiths have found strength in each other from a place of mutual respect and admiration versus the grudge that we seem to have when forced to interact with each other now. I hope there is a space we carve out for each other and for the G*ds. I hope that we think outside the box of who shows up to really look at how we can be the kind of movement where there is no hierarchy of faiths, but rather a mutual understanding and solidarity in struggle.

I hope for a lot, don’t I? Well, why not? It’s good to want things. It builds character, I’m told.”

Lāhela Nihipali, 30’s, Indigenous Hawaiian polytheist:

“If paganism bucks the trend and learns to be USEFUL to their fellow human, *and* gains a foothold with regards to public policy (ie. better enforcement of environmental and citizen protections) then it can have a huge impact on where the country and the world will be in 100 years. Better health and better land management for one. Polytheists will continue to be an insular but growing part of the population of the US with its own personalised political goals and groups. More often than not, at odds (if only in principle) with pagan politicians/civil servants/policies. Polytheists will bridge the gap over the course of the 100 years with Indigenous and First Nations peoples whereas pagans will not. This will be important in the political divides of the century after the first 100 years.

“If paganism continues on its pursuit of USELESSNESS to general society and the country itself, we could very well see a rise in harmful but technologically manageable environmental disasters as well as civil liberty breaches manageable by political pandering continue. Simultaneously the US will see an increase in divisive groups nationwide as clean resources lessen and prices increase. Paganism and pagans in general become easy targets as they did zero realistic community building and will by this time be rejected by Polytheist organizations which have prepared by becoming more and more insular as resources have diminished.

“Pagans will now finally try to flower power their way into activism, now that they are being used as the boogeyman to rile up the populace. Lack of genuine organization is their downfall; their activism is labeled as unpatriotic troublemaking. Pagans will be politically and socially targeted as perfect scapegoats for the newly elected (some flavour of fascistic) ruling party. Lynching type incident occurs which sets in motion a general notion that its the patriotic thing to target pagans and other “undesirable trouble makers”–itʻs important to clean up the streets after all. Polytheists will by the end of the 100 years, in an act of self preservation, also reach out to other Polytheist organizations as well as Indigenous & First Nations. The next 100 years start with an uneasy tension between the allied Polytheists and the now heavily indoctrinated populace, by the end of this 100 years civil war looms.”

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

Elizabeth Zohar, 20’s, Wiccan:

“I can only hope that Paganism will continue to spread knowledge to anyone who wishes to learn the practices as we are now. However, I feel that in the changing world we live in that it may become more of a trend than an actual look on life. With the up coming generations, being who you want to be without being judge is what the new teachings are. However that also allows people to take advantage of that. They may begin to look at Paganism as something that is “cool” or “in” instead of actually learning the practices of the different religions or doing it to find peace and spirituality in yourself. 100 yrs from now we may have young adults assuming that Paganism is cool because it’s not Christianity or any other common religion. All I can hope is that our generation now will continue to teach the generations after us what Paganism really is and how it can help them in their day to day life.

Aubri, 20’s, Hellenic Pagan:

I believe that in the next 100 years Paganism will flourish because of how attractive it is for people of all ages, sex, race, etc. The thing with being Pagan is that your journey is your own, you can choose what path you want to follow. You can figure out what you want your focus to be as you learn. That’s very refreshing and comforting especially for the younger crowd, myself included. As a young adult your life is cluttered with all kinds of pressures and deadlines that it can be overwhelming. So I think that the biggest attraction to Paganism is the community. I’ve gone to Pagan festivals and picnics my entire life. They’re like vacations from the ‘muggle’ world where you can focus on yourself and your own growth. With the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of the Pagan community, I believe that Paganism will continue to grow throughout the globe and one day make a come back as one of the top “religions” of the world.

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But what about you? What do you think your religion, or our collective religions, will look like 100 years from now? 

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HUAR LogoLast week, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) issued a statement concerning a public Facebook comment made by the Asatru Folk Assembly director Steven A. McNallen. On Jan. 10, McNallen wrote, “Germany – that is the German people, not sellout traitors like Merkel – deserve our full support…Where are the Freikorps when we need them?” The Freikorps were “private paramilitary groups” created after Germany’s defeat in World War I. They were used to stop uprisings and were consider to be largely nationalistic and conservative.

McNallen’s comment was made in reaction to recent reports of violence in Germany. It triggered a wave of reactions and controversy to which he eventually responded that he would not apologize for making that statement. In one response he wrote that he “stands with Germany.” Since those initial comments, there has been a host of blog posts on a variety of Pagan and Heathen sites that either speak directly to his statements or revolve around the related issues.

HUAR’s own statement was released late Monday, Jan. 18. It read, in part: “Calling for the revival of groups of armed, bloodthirsty reactionary killers as a solution to ongoing tensions in Germany related to the Syrian refugee crisis is inexcusable and unconscionable.” The HUAR statement goes on to include a number of calls-to-action for Heathens to stand up against McNallen’s words and includes several links to background material. McNallen has not directly responded to HUAR.

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For those following the Deirdre and Lily story, Druid and licensed wildlife rehabilitator Cindy McGinley announced the following, “We have been in negotiation with the DEC through the Attorney General’s office to find a reasonable settlement on the matter of saving Deirdre & Lily.” In Nov, we reported that the Judge ruled in favor of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). McGinley would have to release or euthanize the two deer. It seemed to be the end but she vowed to not give up the fight. And that may have paid off.

McGinley recently reported the following: “In exchange for being allowed to soft-release the girls together right here on Rivendell Farm (where I believe they will both be able to make it), I have agreed to withdraw my appeal and to forfeit my rehabilitator’s license. I have also had to agree to several other conditions, including carte blanche invasion of my privacy for a short period of time.” She added that she only agreed to these conditions in order save the two deers’ lives, especially Lily, who has been blind from birth.

McGinley has begun the soft release and said everything is going well, adding, “Lily is really amazing in the way that she maneuvers around obstacles even better than most sighted deer. Is it possible that, with the court proceedings, I gave her enough time to actually heal?” McGinley is content with the deal and thanks everyone for their support. She also promised to continue to “shine a light on the wildlife issue in NY and elsewhere.”

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Black Witch

Black Witch

Blogger Olivia Haynes, also known as Black Witch, has openly accused John Hopkins University of discriminatory practices. On Jan 15, she wrote, “I usually don’t like to intermix my personal life with Black Witch because this is not a personal blog but this is pretty outstanding…and in a bad way.” Haynes then went on to describe the situation in detail. According to that account, on Dec 15, she was fired from John Hopkins after only working at one of its libraries for 3 months. Haynes published the termination letter online which discloses the reasons, including “suspicions regarding [her] involvement in the theft of the lunches of other staff.”

In her initial blog post, Haynes wrote, “The whole firing is being investigated by the Office of Intuitional [sic] Equity.” And, she also noted that she has called a lawyer, the ACLU, the EEOC, and the NAACP with little to no results to date. However, in her most recent update Haynes said that there is now a third party lawyer, not representing her or the school, looking over the situation. Additionally, the school’s initial investigation is still ongoing. She also said that she will escalate the case, if necessary, stating that the issues present at the school are more than just the firing.

In the meantime, Haynes is trying to make due and opened a crowdfunding campaign to help bridge the gap until her new job begins in February. She is posting updates to the situation on her Twitter and Tumblr accounts as well as her blog.

In Other News:

  • Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar have announced the preliminary dates of their U.S.tour. They will be traveling in April and May, attending a number of festivals and running workshops in various locations around the eastern portion of the country. According to the preliminary schedule, Bone and Farrar will be attending both Florida Pagan Gathering in Florida and Beltania in Colorado. The workshop cities include Cornwall, NY, Miami, Atlanta, and Denver. They said that more locations will be added over the next few months.
  • Pagan Pride Detroit announced today the date for its annual spring event. It will hold its Community Earth Day April 23 at the Madison Heights Senior Center. It is currently taking applications for vendors.The free day-long spring festival is one of two events the group sponsors. Its fall event, Pagan Pride Day, will be held Aug 9. And, for those readers who are in the Detroit area, don’t forget that ConVocation is just around the corner.
  • T. Thorn Coyle has released a reader-sponsored free fiction short story called Salt. It begins, “Once the random itching settled down, the water soothed him,” and tells the story of 52-year-old Jasper, who spends his life in and out of magical experience. Coyle, as well as other Pagan writers and artists, have taken to the site Patreon to help sponsor their work. In her blog, Coyle thanks some of her sponsors including a link to her Patreon site, which explains how the process works.
  • Mercury went direct.
  • The Labrys Community in Greece has posted a video of its annual Lenaia ritual, which was held Jan. 24. As explained on the Temenos site, “The Lenaia was a three-day festival in honor of Dionysos and the maenads, perhaps the origin of the City Dionysia in the Classical Era. Like many festivals, there was a procession carrying a representation of Dionysos, dancing by Athenian girls with castenets and carrying the thyrsus and dramatic competitions. It may have included a midnight revel by women.” The video, as posted below, only shows the ritual portion of a bigger festival.

 

 

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Over the weekend, the east coast was hit with record snow falls, blizzard conditions, white-outs, thunder snow and more as a Winter Storm “Jonas” came in for a visit. According to The Weather Channel, who began naming these winter storms in 2011, Jonas is the “largest snowstorm on record for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Baltimore; and JFK Airport in New York City, with all of those locations receiving over 2 feet of snow.” As far south as Georgia through New York, the snow fell in varying degrees, and Pagans and Heathens took to social media to report the conditions at their locations. We reached out to a number of them to get a better idea of the conditions.

Tweeted from Space Station [Courtesy NASA]

Winter Storm 2016 as seen from the Space Station [Courtesy NASA] www.nasa.gov

Hardest hit was the New Jersey, Washington D.C. and New York City metro regions. Author David Salisbury reported going out to stores in preparation for the storm event and seeing goods lying on the floor and empty shelves. He said, “It looked liked a Walking Dead supply run.” Salisbury lives in the D.C. area and reported that he hadn’t seen a blizzard warning like this for six years. After making his own preparations to be stuck inside for several days, he posted the following public announcement on Facebook:

I’ll be stuck inside until at least Sunday so we might as well make the best of it! I’m offering deeply discounted rune and tarot readings until ‪#‎Blizzard2016 is over.

On Saturday, he did venture outside and took the following photo of adults and children enjoying the snow:

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

Not far away in Delaware, author Ivo Dominguez Jr. was watching the snow come down near his home. Dominguez is one of the founders of the New Alexandrian Library, located in Georgetown, Delaware.  He said that the library was safe, adding, “This was nothing. Hurricane Sandy went over it with zero damage.”  He shared this photo of his home at Seelie Court:

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

Farther north in central New Jersey, Elder Priestess Lady Pythia was watching the snow fall from the comfort of her home. She said poetically, “Noreaster sweeps. Cats eyes widen at ephemeral windy prey just out of reach, and we Witches toss herbs into the small cauldronfire, sip cinnamon creamed coffee, joke about animating shovels to tackle hip-high arctic drifts rendered in A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Pythia shared these photos as the snow piled up on her back deck:

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

Lady Pythia added, “A Witch sends out safe vibes for all in the storm’s path, with awe at the Mother’s wild Full Moon brushstrokes.”  As she and many other Pagans have pointed out, January 23 at 8:46 pm ET marked the full moon. NASA satellites captured the beauty of the moon’s light on the storm in this photo:

[Courtesy NASA]

[Courtesy NASA]

Over in Pennsylvania, Robert Schreiwer of the Urglaawe Kindred was also watching as the storm dumped more than 30″ of snow in his yard with sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts of up to 50 mph. Taking a spiritual look at winter’s process, Schreiwer said, “Many of us hail those associated strongly with snow: Skadhi and Holle. Being an Urglaawer with Holle as my patroness, I look at the snow blowing in the whirlwinds as a reflection of Her power. She has shaken her featherbed for over a day here, and the land is covered in the down. Although small, the first hail of the new year has fallen.” He shared this photo taken from his window:

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

Not missing an opportunity for some traditional religious work, Schreiwer added, “Per Deitsch tradition, I have collected some of it. One little stone I added to my drink; another I have retained for luck. The hail represents luck and opportunity for transformation and change. In the Deitsch healing and magical practice of Braucherei, the focus during this early time of the new year is on fixing that which needs repair, conserving the resources we have for last year, and planning and organizing the changes we need in order to make our lives better throughout the year. While we hail the snow, we also honor those who put their lives at risk to ensure the safety of others in this weather. Hail!”

Also in Pennsylvania, Priestess BrightFlame said that she was “snowed in” with  about 30″ of snow on the ground. But the resultant downtime caused by the weather has allowed BrightFlame to rest her sprained wrist and “reread The Fifth Sacred Thing ahead of allowing [herself] to indulge in Starhawk’s sequel, City of Refuge : the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing.”  This quiet time has also offered her the opportunity to prepare for an upcoming workshop that she is hosting in New York City with Starhawk,on February 20. BrightFlame shared this woodland photo from her home:

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

In New York City, Priestess and author Courtney Weber reported having a “perfect snowday.” She said that she also spent Saturday, “catching up on reading, writing the next book, and doing it all in pajamas because real Witches know how to multi-task. And do things better in pajamas.”  She shared this photo taken from her apartment window as the snow fell:

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

The storm’s reach stretched down the east coast forcing a number of governors to declare states of emergency and warning against travel. New York City shut all bridges and tunnels down through Sunday morning. Even as far south as Georgia, offices and schools closed early on Friday in preparation for the worst. And this wasn’t an unnecessary act. As the news has reported, at least 18 people have died in the wake of the storm with most of the deaths caused by slick roadways.

Star Bustomonte, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, has been stuck inside due to the weather. Although her area was not hit as hard as the coastal mid-Atlantic region, Bustamonte did report that she had over a foot of snow. She also said, “I’ll be several hours digging out once it starts to warm up. But I’m not even starting until it gets about 30 degrees.” She’s spent the weekend, like many, watching television and hanging out with her cats.

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

Due to this reportedly historic storm, there have been many store closures and event cancellations. For example, Asheville’s Raven and Crone was closed yesterday and has canceled today’s workshops. Brooklyn’s Catland Books was also closed yesterday with plans to open today. However, Sunday morning owners posted on Facebook, “BROOKLYN! Take another day to build snow altars and leave offerings for blizzard spirits – we’ll see you on Monday, and back again next month for Black Mirror Salon!”

We contacted EarthSpirit, the organizers of Feast of Lights to see if they were at all concerned that this mega storm would damper attendance at next week’s conference. EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen said, “No.”  The event takes place in Amherst, Massachusetts which was not in the storm’s path. However, he did say that they are watching weather, adding “Living in New England, we have to do that every year. So far, things look pretty good for next weekend, and in the 18 years we’ve been putting on Feast of Lights, we’ve never had to cancel once.”

Back in Washington D.C., Salisbury looked out of his window on Sunday morning. The storm had passed and the skies were clear. He shared this photo of his courtyard:

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

Over the next few days, as the weather warms above freezing and the snow begins to melt, the east coast will get back to its normal activity with schools back in session, businesses open and travel schedules on track. Until then, much of the east coast will be gathering by fires, digging out and finding ways to enjoy the quiet of a winter’s storm.

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[Important Note:  For today’s Saturday column, we have decided to share editor Heather Greene’s analytical essay of the new Star Wars movie. Greene has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Film Studies, and has been writing about film for over twenty years. The following article contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. You have been warned. ]

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.

– Albert Camus

[Photo Credit: Rob Ketcherside / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Rob Ketcherside / Flickr]

Nostalgia is a very powerful force. It drives us, surrounds us, binds us. Wait. No. That’s another force.

Let’s start again.

Nostalgia is a power that exists as romanticized remnants of our past, pieces of memories clinging passionately to our emotional reserves, controlling our dreams, wishes and the way we inhabit our present. Nostalgia can connect us to our ancestors in religious ritual or bring us to tears as we walk down the streets of our youth. It also can seduce us into a dangerous point of complacency and prevent us from moving forward. Nostalgia exists in the parts of our mind that remain slave to the heart, craving a dream-like innocence.

It is this very human connection that can drive and influence the popularity and production of pop culture, even bringing music and fashion back into vogue after years of retirement. And, it is this power of nostalgia that has made Star Wars: The Force Awakens the mega hit that it is has become.

On Dec. 18, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened to record box office sales after Disney, in typical fashion, created a fully-saturated, oppressive merchandise marketplace. From Star Wars Lego to Cover Girl’s Dark Side Mascara, nothing was seemingly left untouched. The film’s shadow became so big that even Santa Claus felt upstaged during his big day, as parents reported that their children were watching for flying Wookiees rather than reindeer.

Tennessee DOT gets in on the act. [Courtesy H. Greene]

Tennessee DOT gets in on the act. [Courtesy H. Greene]

The force certainly did awaken. And, to fully understand and appreciate why and how that happened, we need to go backward in time.

The Star Wars franchise began in 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope. Filmmaker George Lucas grew up loving television, cars and comic books, and sought to recreate this joy in his films. This is particularly evident in his first big hit American Graffiti (1973), which celebrates 1950s youth culture. In fact, Star Wars, itself, was first produced as a comic book. The original series was published by Marvel Entertainment beginning in early 1977 as a marketing tie-in to the new film. (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 524).

In their book Film History, historians Kirsten Thompson and David Bordwell wrote, “Star Wars offered chivalric myth for 1970s teens, a quest romance in which young heroes could find adventure, pure love and sacred cause.” Later they add, “Lucas believed he was spinning a simple tale grounded in basic human values.” Those values and that sacred cause were often labeled as “New Age.” (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 523)

Star Wars: A New Hope was an attempt to revive something innocent and universal that had been lost when the Hollywood Production Code was finally dropped in 1968, and film subjects began to venture into more challenging realms in terms of violence, sexuality and horror. Lucas, a film-savvy, young storyteller, was driven by a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era, the innocence of childhood and the purity of human experience.

The whole narrative, in fact, begins as an exercise in mythic nostalgia. “A long, long time ago…”

61176269_884847cf77_oAs Thompson and Bordwell remark, Lucas was trying “to recover [his] boyhood pleasure in movies” and “to recreate the uncomplicated fun of space opera.” Even the visuals contained nostalgic elements. Thompson and Bordwell write:

In making Star Wars, Lucas pulled together the most exciting portions of several air battles from Hollywood combat pictures, storyboarded the compiled sequence, and then shot his space dogfights to match older footage. (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 523)

And the concept worked; the film’s sensibility held great appeal. Since their release, the three original Star Wars episodes combined have grossed over 1 billion at the domestic box office. Nostalgia, in a way, put Star Wars on the pop culture map.

Nearly two decades later, the second set of films was released. The prequels generated excitement, and brought in 1.2 billion dollars to date. However, they were ultimately not nearly as popular. The three films were plagued with multiple, complicated plot twists, poor acting and large amounts of exposition. And then, of course, there was the very unpopular Jar Jar Binks.

But more importantly for this discussion, the sense of belonging or the sense of nostalgia – to a time long, long ago – was not the focus. Unlike the originals , which felt like an adventure that could end anywhere. The prequels had a goal. They had to answer one important question: How did Annakin become Darth Vader?

In the process of getting to that answer, the nostalgic romance woven into the original three films was buried. The prequels rush through their stories in short segments, cutting from sequence to sequence. The films are packed and detailed, containing interesting new characters and ships, epic battles scenes, and complicated politics. However, the stories rarely slow down long enough to let a character, or a viewer, breathe. Nobody stands poignantly in the sands of Tatooine, under in the light of three moons, contemplating the future.

revenge_of_the_sith_by_1darthvader-d6ftwy7-600x375Granted, these prequels were partially a product of their time. They were released in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and were competing for box office realty in a market that was drunk on CGI technology. Shots were shorter; scenes were cut faster. And, computers were used at every turn. Lucas enjoyed this new technology and even remade his original films with updated CGI imagery – some of which worked, and some which didn’t.

That being said, the three prequels served their purpose. Fans got the needed back story and were not left ungratified when, in the final scenes of Revenge of the Sith (2005), Darth Vader rises up in his full costume as smoke swirls around his head. “Lord Vader, Can you hear me?” asks the Emperor. And, in the voice of the recognizable James Earl Jones, Vader responds, “Yes, my master.” Here, and in following end sequences, the prequels hit a moment of emotional nostalgia that sends a shuddered excitement down the spine. It took a lot of talking and fancy film transitions to get there; but we got there.

Jump forward to 2015, The Walt Disney Company now owns Lucas Films, Inc. and has promised a third trilogy, along with a few standalone stories. To date, The Star Wars: The Force Awakens has grossed $863,148,249 at the domestic box office, making it one of the top grossing films of all time. Interestingly, if you adjust for inflation, Star Wars: A New Hope is at No. 1 according to some charts.[i]

So what was it that made the new film so palpable? The answer was expressed by one viewer’s response, “When I saw the Millennium Falcon for the first time, my eyes leaked water.”

Unlike the prequels, The Force Awakens capitalizes on the viewer’s deep nostalgic connection to the franchise and the its mythic universe. The production does this in both overt and subtle ways, creating a brilliant dance with its audience. Lucas himself used a similar concept with the original three, in that he was attempting to “recover his boyhood pleasures.”  However, The Force Awakens isn’t working to connect viewers to the specific bygone cultural era of Lucas’ childhood. The new film’s “long, long time ago” is defined by the viewer’s own experience with the first six films and the virginal joys of experiencing them.

The more overt nostalgic elements are found in scenic details and props, including the Millennium Falcon, the blasters, the Skywalker light saber, and the derelict ships laying in the sands of Jakku. It also is found in the presence of characters like C-3PO and R2-D2, Han Solo, Princess Leia and, of course, Luke Skywalker. The story methodically introduces these beloved figures throughout the narrative so as not to lump all the nostalgic candy into one place. In the opening we meet storm troopers and then Han Solo and Chewbacca. As the story plays out, we are reintroduced to C-3PO and Princess Leia and then finally, at the very end, R2-D2 and Luke. It’s a nice steady nostalgic drip.

And the movie enjoys these movements, slowing down the pace of action to savor each introduction, which allows fans to drink deep from the cup of their own Star Wars memories.

[LucasFilms]

Even the original series’ distinctive color palette (red vs. blue) is honored. [LucasFilms]

But the film did not stop its “walk down memory lane” with props, sets and characters. The narrative itself frequently rehashes portions of the past six films. Just as Lucas was said to have compiled fight sequences from old combat pictures, The Force Awakens seems to be compiled from pieces of the older Star Wars films.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”[ii]

Many of the major moments were adaptations from the older films. For example, when Rey is standing with Maz Kanata after discovering the light saber, Maz explains the power of the force. “It flows through us and binds us… ” Time slows down and the shots go back and forth between close-ups of the small nonhuman creature and the young adult. It parallels the scene from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) in which Yoda explains the same mystical premise to Luke. Interestingly, in this case, the two figures are female with a crone passing on wisdom to a maiden. But that’s another discussion…

The sequence is familiar, despite the gender difference.

Many other similar parallels exist. For example, the destruction of the Starkiller Base is reminiscent of the Death Star’s destruction in A New Hope. In both cases, the precision flying of X-Wings and B-Wings is needed to hit the target. Another example? At the beginning of the The Force Awakens, a determined little BB-8 droid, carrying an important resistance message, rolls across a desert planet in search of its owner. This is similar to R2-D2’s quest at the beginning of A New Hope. Another one? In the final battle, Kylo Ren is left for dead after a light saber battle, as the land surges from inside and breaks apart. At the last moment, his master arrives just in time to save his student and transport him to safety. We’ve seen this in Return of the Sith.

And it goes on from major sequences, like those above, to minor moments, such as the Imperial ships passing in front of a planet  or Han asking if the Starkiller base has a trash compactor. Even the unstable characterization of Kylo Ren is based on a misguided nostalgic-like yearning for his grandfather’s dark glory. The movie winks, nods and treats the viewer like an in-the-know guest at an exclusive party.

A striking thematic example of this nostalgic-based adaptation happens during Hans death scene. During his mission on the StarKiller Base, Han confronts Kylo Ren. Chewie, Finn and Rey notice this confrontation from across a room that is defined by a constructed metal space. Rey, unable to get to them, must watch Kylo Ren kill Han. The scene parallels the one in which Luke watches Darth Vader kill Obi Wan in the Death Star or the scene in which Obi Wan watches Darth Maul kill Qui-Gon Jinn on Naboo. In all three cases, the child witnesses the surrogate father’s murder. This is a thematic element often present in the typical male coming-of-age story, and is paralleled visually and narratively in the stories of these pre-Jedi heroes (Luke, Obi Wan, Rey).[iii]

The narrative and thematic parallels, along with the presentation of familiar elements, create a film that is comfortable and feels like a big high-five. Of course, it probably isn’t surprising that one of the members of the film’s writing team was Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on both the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

While the film banked on this nostalgia (and was handsomely paid out for it), there were certainly some new elements. The Nazi references were far more pronounced than in the past, with the First Order’s speech scene eerily similar to images from Leni Reinfenstahl’s 1935 propaganda film Triumph of the Will and other images from the Nuremberg Rallies.  And, the introduction of the silver female Storm Trooper, Captain Phasma, recalls the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Still from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

Still from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”

Race and gender are newly treated. The film’s two main characters are Finn, a black man who manages to escape his Storm Trooper enslavement, and Rey, a white woman who was languishing on a sandy planet waiting for her family.[iv] While the two seem to be developing a romantic interest, it never plays out. However, near the end, Finn lies unconscious on a platform. Rey leans over to kiss him. We are momentarily caught in what looks like a Snow White story, in which Finn could wake up from “love’s true kiss.” Hey, this is a Disney movie, isn’t it?

Well, that never manifested. But R2-D2 does wake up, and “water leaked from our eyes.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been criticized for being a “mediocre” movie with little redeeming cultural value. However, the value of any cultural product is always subjective. Are its elements a rehash of what’s been done? Yes. It rides on the waves nostalgia, manipulating our love of Star Wars for its own applause. The film is charlatan, in that way. And its methods are cheap.

But like the 8 mm home movie, The Force Awakens is only worthless if you don’t allow it to take you on that journey back in time – to your first attempt to use mind control on a teacher or “force” choke the annoying kid popping bubbles on the bus. The film takes us back to a time when we first saw the Star Wars crawl and heard the theme song with eager anticipation of going on its mythical journey. Is there no cultural meaning or value in that?

Nostalgia is a force. It drive us. It surrounds us. It binds us. It is a romantic force that connects mind to heart, allowing us to find peace in our present through our memories. It is the creator of stories that become legend and myth. And, at the same time, it fuels the continued recycling of pop culture through remakes, adaptations and reboots. X-Files, anyone? Nostalgia was the driving force behind the birth of the very first Star Wars trilogy beginning in 1977, and that very force awoke in 2015 to create the new one.

As they say: May “the Force” Be With You.

Notes:
[i] Inflation adjustments are typically based on tickets sold. In some adjusted charts, Gone With the Wind (1939) still ranks at the top.
[ii] This is phrase said in every Star Wars movie, which can be used as a nice seek-and-find game for the uninitiated Star Wars fan.
[iii] The film operates with a male coming of age structure despite the presence of Rey. The narrative resists converting into a traditional female coming of age story. While this is an interesting point, it is beyond the discussion of this particular essay.
[iv] Race and gender politics within the Star Wars franchise offer another important point of discussion, however they are also beyond this article’s subject matter. The choices made in The Force Awakens are certainly worth noting and observing as they play out in the next two films of the new trilogy.

Book Sources:
Thompson, Kirsten and Bordwell, David. Film History. McGraw Hill: New York. 2003.

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[Today we welcome Liz Cruse, a poet , passionate environmentalist and Druid in the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. Cruse has worked as a nurse, health educator and trainer and has a profound interest in plants for healing, magic and food. She has Degrees in History and English and a Masters in Art History. Cruse facilitates workshops in the areas of Druidry and protection of the land. Recently she participated in the Generation Hex: Paganism and Politics at Cambridge University Department of Anthropology.]

I am standing in a field holding the northern gateway in a ceremony. Due to recent relentless rain, the centre of the circle is marked by a pool of water. Wind blows into my face and low December sun blinds my eyes. It is December 20, 2015 at the OBOD ritual of Alban Arthan.  The Mabon has been reborn and progresses around a circle of some forty people bearing her lantern of hope. She allows every individual to light a candle from her flame. The small lights blow out quickly but nevertheless the sun has been reborn.

So far, it’s predictable. Variations of this would have been enacted throughout Britain and in all countries where Druidry is practiced, in groves and gardens, in stone circle, and even in sitting rooms.

Upton Winter Solstice ritual 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Upton Winter Solstice ritual 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

But this ritual was taking place near Chester, in the field where dedicated individuals have maintained a camp to prevent iGas from carrying out an exploratory drilling aimed at fracking the area for shale gas. The pool of the water at the centre of the ritual marked the point where the drill would penetrate the earth if the testing went forward.

Paul Beer, a member of Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and one of the founding members of the Frack Free Dee Coalition, is a untiring supporter of the camp. Beer organised this ritual to add to the magical protection surrounding the camp. But also, in line with a point that he makes in a recent Touchstone article, Beer wanted, as a Druid, to be visible and to be seen as active in expressing his spirituality in support of the struggle to prevent this technology from being used here.

To support the cause, some of us who are part of The Warriors’ Call had come from across Britain to stand and be counted in the fight against unconventional gas extraction. There were also many people present in that circle who were not members of OBOD and who did not identify as Pagan. They were there simply to express solidarity with the protection camp. And that particular opportunity would not have existed without the ritual.

As Druids we claim to love the land and many of us relate to deities we find in the landscape. We gain insight from the woods and ancient monuments of Albion, or our local environment. Surely then, we should make our presence visible when the integrity of our environment is threatened? Why is the Druid and Pagan voice so muffled? We say the Druid prayer, and ask for the knowledge and love of justice. Climate change and other environmental threats are creating and founded upon injustice. What are we doing about it? What are you doing?

This was the concern voiced by Jonathan Woolley recently in an account of his attendance as a researcher at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris. Describing the visibility of Christians, Muslims and other faith groups in the civil-society focused “Green Zone,” Woolley recounts how he tried to find other Pagan activists in the Green Zone but could not.

This was also my experience when I attended the Climate Change Lobby of Parliament at Westminster in August 2015. CAFOD and other Christian organisations were very evident, but there was no Pagan presence. Woolley summarises, “Our [Pagan] organisations have shown a puzzling lack of initiative; failing to capitalise upon the almost unique relevance of our philosophies to climate change.”

Returning to the Winter Solstice ritual at Upton, as the Mabon lit the lights and before the Oak and Mistletoe bearers spoke, I walked around the circle giving everyone a button badge bearing the Warrior’s Call protective sigil. I explained its function, asking people to meditate on it when they re-lit their candles at home. One individual is weak but together, acting in the world, we can be strong.

The Warriors Call sigil. Image courtesy of TWC.

The Warriors Call sigil.

In his article on the OBOD website titled “Done fracking,” Beer wrote, “Being Pagan or Druid should not be about what you do in retreat or hidden away from the world. It should be about what you do in the world.”  As one of the founders of The Warrior’s Call and one who took part in what Philip Carr-Gomm called “The Biggest Magical Operation on Earth” (the 2013 public ritual to protect Albion against fracking in Glastonbury), I need no convincing of this. While some might argue that it is our role to throw pure spiritual and magical intent secretly into the mix as Dion Fortune did in the Magical Battle of Britain, I would argue, as did Woolley, that this is not enough. As Druids we are in a unique position to show moral leadership in the struggle to protect the environment and slow down Global Warming.

When speaking of my resolution to stand up and be counted with a non-Pagan friend, he retorted,  “Who’s counting?” For one, the people of Upton are counting. The Solstice Ritual was reported in the local press. Secondly, iGas is counting. Though eviction has been imminent since Dec. 4 2015, the camp remained in its field surrounded by venerable oak trees through Jan. 8.

Upton J16 Rally [Courtesy Photo]

Upton J16 Rally [Courtesy Photo]

Then, on Jan. 12 the camp was evicted by bailiffs with some three hundred police from Cheshire, Manchester and Wales Constabularies in attendance. But four days later, on Jan. 16,  hundreds of people, including Druids following The Warrior’s Call,  attended the J16 Solidarity Day at Upton.  A rally was held outside the ruined camp to reassert community opposition to fracking at Upton and everywhere.

To paraphrase the words that we often use to close our rituals: The camp has gone from the apparent world, but our memories retain what our eyes and our ears have gained. The fight goes on; Pagan participation goes on. And, I, for one, feel that Druid and general Pagan involvement should become more visible in all areas where our lands are threatened.

   *    *    *

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

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DALLAS, Texas –Last month we reported that Morgan McFarland, founder of what eventually came to be called the McFarland Dianic tradition, had died. As she chose a solitary practice for herself nearly 40 years ago, few people today are familiar with her contributions to Wicca. In fact, McFarland helped shape a debate over the nature of the Dianic path which continues today. The Wild Hunt sought out those who knew her well, to better understand how her influence continues to be felt in the 21st century.

Morgan McFarland [credit Mark Roberts, deceased]

Morgan McFarland (1941-2015) [Photo Credit Mark Roberts]

Also known as Johnnie Lee Myrick-Haynes, McFarland was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1941. While it’s unclear what first put her on that path, she was already performing rituals on her own thirty years later when, in 1971, she met Mark Roberts, a man who had been initiated into a British family tradition by his former wife. The two began a partnership that was to last for several years, combining Roberts’ contacts in the nascent Pagan movement with McFarland’s willingness to be the public face for their covenstead to build the new tradition.

According to a chronology provided by Monica Granath, a member of the tradition, it was Roberts who discovered the term “Dianic cults” in Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe, and McFarland chose to adopt it because “it spoke to her beliefs and practices.”

Both McFarland and Z. Budapest have claimed to be the first to use Dianic to describe their work, but no matter who deserves that credit, the two traditions have clear differences. As it is said in the McFarland tradition chronology:

Although McFarland Dianic covens espouse feminism as an all-important concept, the exclusion of men from any coven is solely the choice of its individual High Priestess.People of all genders have always been welcome initiates to Old Dianics, a designation used by some to separate the two Dianic philosophies.

Shari Tripp was one of the earliest people initiated into the tradition. After having been introduced to McFarland by her sister Renda, she joined the mixed-gender coven. “Renda was Morgan’s ‘first born,'” she said. “I was living in Houston working with a gentleman with Craft connections and Renda told me about Morgan and her tradition and covenstead. I met her and began training in early 1973. At that time I traveled from Houston to Dallas once a month and trained directly with Morgan and sometimes Mark. I was initiated in December of 1973 and started passage to become a High Priestess in January of 1975. Renda went through passage earlier than me and was Morgan’s first High Priestess. I was Morgan’s 2nd High Priestess.”

Granath, who knew McFarland well, said that she “was an amazing woman, my dearest friend, my Craft Mother and mentor. I miss her every day, but I know she was welcomed into the Summerland with open arms and her memory will always be in my heart.”

Tripp observed that the gender dynamics definitely changed how the 13 moons were celebrated. “I can say that the energy between the covensteads was quite different. Neither was ‘better’ but as you can understand, women create a different energy than adding the masculine aspect to a circle. When I hived off and started my own circle, it was a mixed one as I had men that wanted in and those men were definitely an asset to the group. Later, I ended up with only women but would have been open to a man coming in if all was right [with] the man and the timing.”

Part of how her presence is felt is in the rituals and mysteries which she handed down to all the high priestesses of the tradition she founded. That information is copied by hand from one book of shadows to the next, preserving and oral tradition that McFarland kept until she decided to write it down when she began working with Roberts in 1971. They created the tradition with just one other person joining their original covenstead, called Morrigana, but it soon grew into three groups: one was exclusively female, a second was mixed gender, and the third catered to families with children.

Roberts opted to take a different path in 1977, but the Morrigana covenstead continued until 1979. McFarland had always expected its existence to be limited to training high priestesses for descendant covens, and there were six of those in existence when Morrigana finally did dissolve. That was also the year that McFarland opted to retire as leader of the tradition.  In her honor, tradition members decided to dub themselves McFarland Dianics to distinguish themselves from other Dianic paths. Even after retiring, McFarland continued to serve as an advisor on the McFarland Dianic Council.

While she took a back seat in the tradition in her later years — largely interacting only through Granath and by monitoring emails, according to Tripp — McFarland did continue to care about tradition members. Tripp shared an anecdote, from when the Bastrop wildfires destroyed her own home in 2011. ” I only had 30 minutes to leave my home which only allowed me to take some of my animals. All my Craft/Wiccan things were lost along with everything else in the house. Morgan took on the task of organizing the members of the tradition to help me with the things I needed. Specifically, to replace and restock my Craft things which meant a lot to me. Morgan called in energy and love for me subordinating her own needs and situation. A selfless, pure action. She wrote me letters which I still cherish. She also sent me a blank book and copies of the rituals so I could re construct my Book of Shadows. Morgan had a talent in writing of conveying emotions and transferring love and energy; her writings touched anyone deeply.”

What is remembered, lives.

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UNITED KINGDOM –In the United Kingdom, “God Save the Queen” (or king, depending upon the current monarch) has been considered the national anthem since the early 19th century. It is used for the combined kingdom by custom only and for England alone when referred to during athletic competitions and the like. The other three portions of the United Kingdom — Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland — already sport their own anthems.

[PHoto Credit: Maurice / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Maurice / Flickr]

Recently, members of Parliament have agreed to consider replacing the song as the anthem for England alone. Under the new proposal, “God Save the Queen” would continue to be used when the four act as one body, such as during the Olympic games. The Wild Hunt asked some English Pagans what they think of the current debate, and what they might like to see “God Save the Queen” replaced with, if anything.

In supporting the idea, Labour minister Toby Perkins said it would “re-establish the idea that the United Kingdom is a union of four separate nations with their own identities,” and that he personally favors “Jerusalem,” with words written by William Blake. Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg fears it will lead to “individual nationalism” within the United Kingdom, and told reporters:

What greater pleasure can there be for a true-born Englishman or true-born Englishwoman than to listen to our own national anthem —a national anthem for our whole country, our whole United Kingdom.

Readers in the United States may be familiar with periodic attempts to remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, or “in God we trust” from the currency; these movements — sometimes supported by Pagans — are often led by atheists and have typically resulted in court decisions supporting “secular deism.” In the United Kingdom, while some of the Pagans commented on the use of the word “god” from a monotheistic perspective, others were more focused on the fact that the song is royalist in character.

“This kind of thing comes up on a regular basis,” said scholar Michael York. “As a royalist, I would be opposed. And I agree with Rees-Mogg that it would splinter British unity even further. I would not expect Perkins proposal to have the majority of the English behind it. They tend to favour the maintenance of tradition.”

While York was born in the United States and now resides in England, Anton Stewart has made the opposite journey. Stewart is High Priest of the Church of the Eternal Circle, and he largely agreed with York’s assessment, saying:

Not the first time this issue has raised its head. Unlikely that there will be any change. Sure the bill can be proposed, but I wouldn’t rate its chances through the House of Commons, let alone the House of Lords. As long as the United Kingdom remains a united kingdom, then the UK’s national anthem is not likely to be usurped. There are lots of other patriotic, quasi-anthems that are used at various sporting events and rallies where the individual ‘nations’ that make up the UK are participating in their own right… Men of Harlech is actually the Welsh National Anthem and Scotland The Brave is far more commonly used than Flower of Scotland.

Jo Hollingsworth, one of several English Pagans asked their views on Facebook, is of a different mind than York, saying, “The national anthem should not be about a single person. It should be something that people are proud to join in with. I think the current anthem is irrelevant and depressing. It has no meaning to most people these days. As someone who would be very happy to see the end of our monarchy I will not sing this song. Ever. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be British or English or indeed both.”

Sarah Kay of the Nottingham Pagan Network canvassed those in her group to find out their opinions. She reported that in general, members feel that the anthem “is relatively inoffensive unless you have especially strong political feelings about the monarchy. Certainly ‘God’ is only mentioned in passing and even then only in his capacity to strengthen and fortify the Queen so that her reign may be stronger and longer.”

For her part, Helen Clipson also thought this sounded very familiar. “This comes round at least once a year, usually at the time the rugby is on telly and people realise that the England Rugby team sing Jerusalem.”

While most interviewees focused on the royalist implications of “God Save the Queen,” some were troubled by the Christian sensibilities of “Jerusalem.” Kay said:

The Pagans we canvassed were more concerned about the suggestion of replacing ‘God Save The Queen’ with ‘Jerusalem’ by William Blake where the Christian religious overtone is far more overt and in fact carries the implication that should Jesus have actually visited England it would be cause for celebration that Christianity should gain supremacy over the nation, presumably by the use of might and power. The pagan view seems that it was England’s own pagan heritage that was once already usurped by such heavy handed Christianity and countless pagans have suffered under that yoke for centuries since. Although some of the pagans we asked did prefer ‘Jerusalem’ to the current national anthem but with changes to the wording make it less Christian.

Straddling the royalists and monotheist concerns were views like those expressed by Jackie Palman, who wrote on Facebook, “I would prefer a national anthem that was about our country rather than about our monarchy. I wouldn’t like Jerusalem as it feels to Christian to me. I used to think Land of Hope & Glory would be a good national anthem, but some of the lyrics are rather colonialist. I can’t think of an existing song which I think would fit the bill but I would like it to be something that doesn’t exclude people of different religions or none, or people who think we should be a republic.”

Megan Mills, however, likes “Jerusalem,” albeit ironically: “I wouldn’t mind ‘Jerusalem’ as our English national anthem. I like William Blake, the tune is good, and it brings back fond memories of singing it in school and making sure we roared ‘chariot of FIRE’ as loud as possible and did our best scary black metal voice for ‘SATANIC mills!'”

The question got Joanna van der Hoeven of the UK Druid College to thinking. “As a landed immigrant to the UK, I find this an interesting question. When I first came across the lyrics, I saw how terribly outdated they were: they were about saving a different Queen long dead, and helping Marshal Wade to destroy the Scots. What relevance does that have today? An anthem that has relevance to today, and without reference to crushing rebellious Scottish folk, might be a nice change. It’s odd though, that such a secular country albeit with a strong religious past still holds onto its outdated anthem. If they truly want to separate religion and state, then this needs to be addressed.”

While many of those who weighed in believe it’s not at all likely that this will get any traction in the houses of Parliament, it didn’t stop them from suggesting alternatives. In addition to those who think “Jerusalem” might work, there were also suggestions like “Land of Hope and Glory,” and many that ranged further afield. Some that stand out: changing the words of the current to be “Goddess Save the Queen,” the Sex Pistols version of “Freedom Come All Ye,” “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. Then there was this observation by Hywel James: “Whatever the lyrics,” he said, “I want it to the tune of ‘Nelly the Elephant.'”

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, California’s Bay Area played backdrop to a number of different events as part of the second annual #96Hours action organized by the Anti Police-Terror Organization. Many of these events were attended by local Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. The weekend action, consisting of everything from protests to vigils, culminated in a march through the city of Oakland.

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

T. Thorn Coyle, who had been involved with the Anti Police-Terror Organization all year, helped to coordinate the first #96Hours action in 2015. This year was no different. In an email, Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “It is important to us that we honor the radical legacy of Dr. King – as called for by Black leadership – rather than upholding the whitewashed and sanitized Dr. King that so much of white America insists on remembering. King grew more and more radical before his death, when he had close to 30% approval among white Americans. This is around the same amount of approval white Americans currently give to Black Lives Matter and anti police brutality movements. We need to rethink what we value in this country. As a Pagan, I value justice, beauty, equity, and love. I try to act towards those qualities and join in community with others who uphold them.”

As she noted, the #96Hours action is part of a larger movement to reclaim Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical legacy. The common hashtag being used is #ReclaimMLK.

The Oakland #96Hour weekend events began on Friday, Jan. 15 with 7 am meditation and, then, continued on from there. At 4 pm, Coyle participated in the “Can You See Me?” Interfaith Procession in Remembrance of Black Lives in Oakland. As she described, the service was led by a Rabbi, Imam, and two Christian ministers, with Buddhists leading meditation. Then, there was a processional of nine coffins, representing those killed locally by police in 2015. That ended at Lake Merritt, where a tenth coffin was floating to represent those people whose names were not known.

While at the lake, Coyle led the group in song and prayer, asking them “to call upon the ancestors and [their] beloved dead, naming those killed by police.” She explained that “Pagan and polytheist traditions it is important to many of us to remember and call upon our beloved dead, asking them to walk with us.” 

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

Brennos Agrocunos, Vice Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, was in attendance at the Friday evening service. He said, “We choose to stand alongside local Black Lives Matter activists as an act of service to our Gods, our ancestors, and our communities. As Coru priests committed to core values of sovereignty, kinship, warriorship, and service, one of the ways we enact these values is in the streets standing shoulder to shoulder with members of all faiths in our communities, calling for justice and an end to oppression, and providing medical and logistical support to other activists.”

Agrocunos and other members of Coru Cathubodua were also in attendance at Saturday’s action at the Oakland airport. Starting 6 p.m., terminal passengers were “greeted by activists chanting the names of People of Color killed by the police in the Bay Area, holding signs reading ‘Welcome to Oakland.’ ” This same action was then repeated on Sunday at the San Francisco airport, a much larger and busier facility.

Morpheus Ravenna, Lore Chieftain, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood said, “In the San Francisco Bay Area, nonviolent Black Lives Matter demonstrators have often been met with excessive force and violence. We find that the presence of clergy people acting in solidarity can help protect the community while underscoring the moral and spiritual imperatives of the movement.”

Oakland Airport Action [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

The events noted above were only a few of the many that were organized over the 96 hour period that culminated in a Monday march through the streets of Oakland. This final action attracted the largest Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen contingent, many of whom walked behind a large banner reading, “Pagans United for Justice.”

Kristen Oliver and Rose Quartz of the Mills College Pagan Alliance were two of those walking. Oliver said, “Rose and I went to the march to honor MLK and stand with the people who he died to raise up who are still dying in our streets. I have always been an out and proud Pagan and so was happy to join the group of Pagans marching today under the ‘Pagans United for Justice’ banner. As someone who works to raise the visibility of Pagans in the public eye I have always said I would love to see more of our community out there working for social justice. And yet I have to admit that today I felt a bit disingenuous about identifying myself as anything other than just a person who wants humanity to learn to understand each other and stop hurting each other. Dr. King’s legacy and the Black Lives Matter movement is far too important to dilute or hijack with personal agendas and yet it is so important to show that support comes from many different places. I am still grappling with this question of intention tonight.”

Marching along side the Oliver and Quartz were members of Coru Cathubodua, Solar Cross Temple, Golden Gate Kindred, Reclaiming and more. Ryan Smith of the Golden Gate Kindred posted on Facebook: “Our kindred puts our words into action!”

Pagans March [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos]

Oakland MLK March 2016 [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

Beginning around 11am, marchers walked from “Oscar Grant Plaza,14th & Broadway, to the Bay St Mall in Emeryville” and were reportedly close to 1000 people strong.

Then, as the march neared its end, an unscheduled action took place on one side of the Bay Bridge. Around 4 pm, 25 Black Lives Matter protesters stopped a line of cars, chained themselves and the cars together, blocking the entire side of the road. Their original intent was to remain in that position for 96 minutes in honor of the #96hours of action. However, the protesters were only there for 30 minutes before being arrested. The entire event was reportedly peaceful.

The #96Hours and, more specifically, the #ReclaimMLK actions were not limited to the Bay Area, attracting attention and inspiring action throughout the country. While the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend is now officially over, the #ReclaimMLK movement will undoubtedly continue into the future as more groups and people, from all walks of life, join and support this growing social justice movement.

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