[Walking the World is a monthly weekend column. It features different Pagan and Heathen writers from outside the U.S.A. bringing varied perspectives to The Wild Hunt. Today we introduce Cosette Paneque, a blogger and Priestess in the Georgian Wicca Tradition, who lives in Melbourne, Australia.]

Greetings from Down Under!

I’m an immigrant twice. The first time, I emigrated from Cuba to Miami in 1980. In 2012, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to be with my Aussie partner. I left behind an incredible spiritual community. I belonged to Beachfyre Coven and to the Everglades Moon Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess through which I held ministerial credentials. I was involved with Cherry Hill Seminary and the Pagan Newswire Collective. I belonged to an ilé. I went to Florida Pagan Gathering and PantheaCon. I am Wiccan and I counted Santeros, Druids, Heathens, Hellenists, and various other kinds of polytheists as friends and acquaintances. I expected that Australia would have the same kind of vibrant community, but, if it does, I haven’t found it.

Australia has a smaller population than California spread across a vast and diverse country roughly the size of the United States. The Pagan pool is much smaller here. In the 2011 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 32,083 Australians identified their religion as a Pagan. Pagans are also widely dispersed, but no one is ever too far when you have the Internet. I made contacts and met some people and, eventually, made some friends.

Great Ocean Road [by C. Paneque]

Great Ocean Road [Photo taken by C. Paneque]

My experience with Aussie Pagans has been delightful. They are intelligent, talented, caring people with a hunger for knowledge and community. But many of them – in fact almost every Pagan I’ve met – have had extremely negative experiences with other Pagans, which has left them deeply wounded and suspicious of each other.

The negative experiences fall within a few categories. There are those who know very little and place themselves in positions of leadership, the responsibilities of which they are unable to handle. They are quickly challenged by others or they burn out. There are those out to make a quick buck and manage to succeed for a while before they acquire a terrible reputation. Some groups are little more than cliques. The worst are the stories of abuse – of initiates coerced into getting tattoos as a sign of membership and allegiance; of priests who accept only young women as students; and of priestesses who make sex a requirement for participation and twist sacred rituals into something sordid.

Even organizing a casual lunch can be challenging because Pagans are afraid of running into someone who has hurt them. There are a few well-regarded groups such as Reclaiming and ADF, but covens remain largely hidden. Most Pagans that I’ve talked to prefer to remain solitary.

Many, however, express a longing for community and access to teachers. They seek information and a sense of kinship on Facebook and other online sites. I’m primarily speaking of Wiccans, Witches, Druids and other kinds of eclectic Pagans. I haven’t met other kinds of polytheists and, if there is a community of African diasporic religions such as Vodou or Lucumi, it is deeply hidden.

Blue Mountains National Park [By freeaussiestock.com / CC lic.]

Blue Mountains National Park [By freeaussiestock.com / CC lic.]

Contemporary Paganism has been in Australia for a long time. By the 1970s, Alexandria Wicca was established and came to be the most popular initiate tradition in Australia.* And yet Australia has since developed very little infrastructure to support and connect Pagans. The most well-known organization may be the Pagan Awareness Network, but it’s difficult to say how active the group is or what its impact has been. The media release on the website’s home page is dated 2012, and my attempts to get an interview with a representative have gone nowhere. There are few festivals, but most of these suffer from organizational problems. The most well-known festival may be the Mt. Franklin Pagan Gathering, a casual weekend camping event that has been taking place for over 30 years.

Legally, Aussie Pagans don’t fare very well. The 1901 Constitution of Australia prohibits the Commonwealth government from establishing a church or interfering with the freedom of religion. However, none of the Pagan religions are legally recognized. Here in Melbourne, I’ve met three Pagans who are marriage celebrants (marriage is a civil act) and none who are clergy. Although I do know of at least one Pagan church, the Community Church of Inclusive Wicca Incorporated (CCIWI)in South Australia. Strict weapon laws generally mean that athames are illegal and difficult to purchase even from abroad.

When it comes to rituals and magick, a major struggle is that much of the Pagan material comes from the Northern Hemisphere, primarily the U.S., and it doesn’t easily apply here. Our seasonal cycle is opposite; some of us just observed Imbolc while our friends in the Northern Hemisphere celebrated Lughnassadh.

That one is easy, but others things are sources of conflict. For example, the sun travels from the east to the west through the north, as opposed to through the south. There are countless arguments among circle-casting Pagans about the direction in which to cast the circle and whether the elements should be associated with different directional points. It’s the old debate on whether to use what we inherited from the symbolism in the Western Mystery Tradition or to apply a geographical interpretation. When it comes to correspondences, there has been little work done with Australia’s unique flora and fauna, and many Australians have simply been working with material developed in the U.S. and England.

There’s a great divide among the Pagans that I’ve talked to regarding what they want. Some just want to be alone. Some want community, but they don’t think it’s possible to achieve it due to previous negative experiences.  Therefore, they don’t support efforts to develop it. Many others want to develop friendships and networks, build infrastructure, and establish festivals that could create access to teachers. Many Aussie Pagans are familiar with well-known American Pagans, especially authors, and bemoan the fact that they have neither the means to bring them to Australia, nor the funds to travel to the U.S. to see them at events such as PantheaCon or Pagan Spirit Gathering.

I am thrilled to know some wonderful Pagans doing great work here in the Lucky Country. More groups, publications, and festivals are popping up every day. I know Aussie Pagans who are podcasting, writing, facilitating public workshops and rituals, and doing research on Australia’s unique plant and animal life. Many are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture, but that presents its own special challenges.

[Photo by C. Paneque]

[Photo taken by C. Paneque]

As for me, I’m in the curious position of being well-versed in a particular form of Wicca from the Northern Hemisphere and being a complete beginner Down Under. Everything is different here – the land, the spirits, the wildlife, and plants. I have a lot to learn. After being unable to find my niche, I decided to create it. After two years of networking and five months of teaching an introductory course on Wicca, I have formed a coven. I am excited and privileged to be working with such bright and talented people, to re-introduce the Georgian Wicca tradition to Australia, and I look forward to learning as much from them as they might from me.

* Reference: Douglas Ezzy’s essay “Australian Paganisms”, Handbook of Contemporary Paganism edited by Murphy Pizza, James R. Lewis

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[The following is a guest post from Erick DuPree. Erick DuPree is author of the popular blog Alone In Her Presence, and the book Alone In Her Presence: Meditations on the Goddess, as well as co-founder of Dharma Pagan, an online resource for dharma practitioners. He lives in Philadelphia, PA.]

They came by the blazing fire, circling and singing, invoking the Goddesses and Gods of old. There was dancing, merriment, deep reflection; even a few tears, all from the men of Coph Nia.

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Coph Nia is a mystical gathering of gay and bisexual men organized and sponsored by the Ordo Aeternus Vovin, a Thelemic, ceremonial magickal order for gay and bisexual men that was held August 6-10.

Founder of the event, Julian Hill explains,

“The organizers of Coph Nia started the festival with a simple vision based upon a verse from Crowley’s Book of the Law — “Every Man and Every Woman is a Star”.  Many of us had come out into a queer community that was far more united, compassionate, loving and respectful than what is typically experienced in today’s queer community.  We knew that if there was to be any hope of reclaiming a queer community that nurtured and supported one another, the process must start with those that feel a connection to spirit.  This year’s event definitely gives us hope that not only are there other spiritually minded men who feel as we do, but that they will be the vanguards for a new type of queer community that focuses on building each other up rather than tearing us down.” 

Open to long-time practitioners and new seekers, the event started with lighting an eternal fire at the drum circle, which burned the entire event. Here stories were told with master storyteller, Quill, dynamic drumming with Ben, as men raised voices in chant and song. With registration the festival includes a commemorative t-shirt, glow bracelet, and artfully designed program guide with poems and inspirational writing.

I had the pleasure of being invited as a featured presenter along with my colleagues Mel Mystery and Steve Kenson. Of the event, Steve offered this reflection:

“The element that rises most prominently for me at this moment is the connection we mentioned so often over the course of the gathering: the common threads that run between us, the experiences both shared and created, the back-and-forth and swirling dances of conversation, movement, thought, and interaction, the simple expressions of love and affection, and those unexpected moments of deep connection, where your soul says “Oh, there you are – I’ve been looking for you.”

The theme for Coph Nia: 2014 was Periculum, and focused on the risks or dangers of initiation. Each of the featured presenters, as well as the OAV presented workshops and rituals that explored initiation and/or enlightenment, empowering participants to bring their own risks and rewards and the process of conquering one’s fears.

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Mel Mystery and the men of Coph Nia explored the power creating Rites of Passage in three information packed workshops. Steve Kenson brought workshops on the intersection of magic and gaming, creating sustainable communities in the Aquarian Age, as well as his very popular Fires of the Queer Spirit. It was here that we saw some of the deepest and most heart opening sharing between men. For my part, I offered workshops in Tantric intuition and breathwork, as well as an exploration of Men in Goddess Community. From that workshop, the men of Coph Nia have developed a reflection for inclusion in the forthcoming anthology, Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral; Men in Ritual, Service and Community to the Goddess, being published by Immanion Press.

Travis offered this reflection on his experience.

“There was such a deep sense of inner connectedness which allowed my spirit to see beyond the veil of the mundane, that this is where I belong.”

10517544_10203235580664495_3779651843741708883_nRituals were offered nightly. Glen Velez opened the first night with a beautiful midnight Hekate ritual aspecting the Queen of Magick and serving as oracle. Supporting the theme of Periculum, OAV dedicants offered Tempting the Da’ath as a gateway into ecstatic practices in ritual with participants scrying, aspecting, and delving deep into mysteries, and Stealing the Me, a journey as Innana through her myths. The opening ritual invited the God Gugalanna who stayed present throughout the event. Gugalanna was also the focus of the main ritual, which breathtakingly invited participants to witness High Ceremonial Magick in true splendor. With drums and chanting, men came together united under Julian’s stellar priesting.

Of the ritual experience Monte shares, “The main ritual held on Saturday night is extremely powerful for those who have witnessed it at prior Coph Nia’s as well as equally powerful for those viewing it for the first time.  Even though we all experience the same happenings, each individual’s experience is unique and that is what makes it difficult to put into words.  What I experience will be completely different from what anyone else experiences.  However, three generalizations seems to come out of everyone’s mouths…a unique and positive brotherhood, a deep sense of connection, and an overwhelming sense of community.”

Radical Fairy, Eldritch lead a Heart Circle, Monte guided Tantric massage, and Queer Archivist, Rich Wandel reminded us of where we as gay men have been with an eye to the future.  But it was not all workshops and ritual, for we feasted sensuously and danced the night away, sang Queer-oke, and raised money for future Coph Nia festivals with a silent auction. The highlight of the silent auction was a limited edition RuPaul doll, needless to say, the bidding was fierce! (She went home with Glen Velez, naturally!)

From a logistic standpoint, Coph Nia is held at the beautiful 4 Quarters interfaith community in Artemas, PA. Camping with hot showers and flush toilets, 4 Quarters fed us like kings with food, both omnivore and vegetarian that was unbelievably delicious. The land was spacious, magical, and truly other worldly at times. Many rounded out the event activities with swimming at Hemlock Hole and nature walks.

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Each night brought us closer in community. One beat and one breath, culminating in a concert with enchanting harpist, Gaffer That Harp Guy, his songs and harp a serenade to Goddess herself.  “I feel like I found my tribe. I felt such resonance with the group.” said Mel Mystery.

“The experience of Coph Nia is more than can just be put into words.  It’s a feeling that comes form the connections you make with the people you meet, the people you reunite with, and/or the people you came with.  The energy created by throwing away the normal cliques and masks we hide behind creates an experience that provides a true sense of brotherhood.” said Monte. In the safety and love of brotherhood, the men of Coph Nia discovered that love is always stronger than fear. Love after all is still the law, unwavering.  Coph Nia was everything it advertised to be and more. “The common threads, stories and shared experiences of Coph Nia 2014 reminded each of us just how much we are alike.” said Julian Hill.

Coph Nia‘s dates are set for next year, August 5-9th 2015. For more information visit: www.cophnia.org.

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Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), a Pagan camping festival held in SE Minnesota, celebrated its 17th year last week. While the festival has experienced ups and downs over the years, most recently a new campground zoning restriction limiting night time drumming, it now faces the challenge of finding a new location.

The Harmony Tribe stewards announced at this year’s festival that it was the last time the event would be held at Harmony Park. They also said that they had not yet secured a place to hold the festival next year.*

The campground, which has hosted the festival for all 17 years, is a favorite with attendees. It’s small, private layout combined with a full grove of Burr oak trees gave the festival an intimate feeling and helped attendees connect with nature and one another. “I’ve loved the serenity and privacy of Harmony Park,” says festival attendee Traci Amberbride, “the way the weather seems to be held somewhat at bay, the shade of the trees, the dappled sunlight coming through. Watching the sunrise of the lake and set beyond the parking field. I love the flow of the park and the ability to determine how in the middle of things you want to be.”

The announcement was met with a range of emotions. Heather Biedermann, who has attended the festival since 2007, said she was heartbroken at hearing the festival would no longer be at Harmony Park, “The oak trees have always felt like home to me. However, I understand that with the changes that were happening at Harmony Park, it just wouldn’t be right to stay either.”

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Sacred Harvest Festival 2013 [Photo credit: Teo Bishop]

Some of the changes included the noise restrictions which took effect in 2011. This meant drumming ended at 10pm on weekdays and 1am on weeknights. This year, attendees could no longer drive vehicles into the park to load and unload their camp gear while campers and RVs had to park in the treeline just outside the park.

Harmony Tribe member Tasha Rose says Sacred Harvest Festival was treated differently by the campground owner than the camp’s larger music festivals. She says,”I honestly saw it coming. It sort of felt like a slow pushing out by [the owner] Jay. We have such a positive impact on the land there and have had one obstacle after another thrown at us for the past few years, while large events that disrupt the environment are allowed to continue doing their thing.”

Rachael, one of the Harmony Tribe Stewards responsible for helping produce SHF, says, “The decision to move was a series of factors including the limits placed on us by the sound curfew, the limited access to the park, and the camping restrictions for RVs. We have many who attend our fest who are mobility impaired or have small children, so limiting where we could go and how we get our things into our space was difficult to work within those confines.” She noted they are a community who drums into the night as part of their spiritual experience and said the drumming curfew has detracted from the festival experience.

Moving a festival location is not without risks. Author and SHF presenter Crystal Blanton says changing venues is challenging for any festival, “I anticipate that SHF might lose some of it’s regular festival goers but will gain some more in other area. I think it is a chance to shake things up and grow in the process, but it is always sad to see people leave the community after large change. It is to be expected though.”

There is an additional layer of risk in announcing a festival is changing location before securing the next venue. “Being an event planner, I know that not having a secured place to host even a year out is not ideal in the least,” says Tasha. She says her family doesn’t have plans to return to SHF with the move.

[Festival Theme Art 2014 by Judith Olson]

[Festival Theme Art 2014 by Judith Olson]

Heather says her major concern is that the festival will take a year off while they search for a new location, “What that usually means to me is that the festival won’t happen again. I sincerely hope that wherever Harmony Tribe decides to go, it will be a positive, growing change for the better.” She says she plans to attend the festival next year, although location and dates may affect that decision.

Traci is more optimistic about the venue search, but knows it won’t be an easy task. “As sad as leaving the Oaks is, I think this is a change for the better. Everything has a cycle, and there have been many changes in the last several years within Harmony Tribe. It’s time for a new birth and beginning. To reestablish what this community is and to whom it is important. I’m excited about the possibilities a new beginning brings.”

Moving a Pagan festival is more challenging than moving other types of camping festivals. In addition to a venue which allows late night drumming, there are other needs and wants particular to Pagan festivals, such as privacy and nudity. Rachael says the Harmony Tribe board is weighing all the criteria and asking for community input, “We put it out into the community to tell us what they need and got a lot of responses. The most popular responses to that question were showers, communal campfires, RV parking, shade, and privacy. The responses that were given as wants were a swimming place and a playground. The places that we’ve seen have great amenities, but where you get a little more, you have to give a little more.” She says attendees are encouraged to fill out the festival feedback form located here.

There are non-tangible criteria as well. Crystal Blanton isn’t just a presenter, she’s also an attendee. She has flown from California with her family multiple times to attend SHF because of its importance to her spiritual and emotional well-being, “The supportive, loving and family atmosphere is very important to me personally, and my desire to expose my children to other Pagan families. This particular festival has something very special it offers to my family – the ability to come and be a part of a community that embraces our diversity and supports our collective needs.”

Tasha, who has attended the festival for ten years and whose husband has attended all 17 years agrees that SHF plays a large role in her spiritual life, “The grove and the people who live in it for the week of SHF are all a part of who I am.” She says the festival is also important for her children to experience Pagan culture, “I go because my children get to have time with other children in their own culture. They don’t really have that in our day to day aside from their siblings. Without this festival in that Grove, we won’t have what we have come to need in our spiritual family life, and I am sad about that.” But she says it feels like it’s time to move on and create that culture with new people in new places.

“This Festival is very important to my spiritual health and my family’s,” says Traci. “We have grown, experienced, and learned so much from both the Tribe and the presenters. My children have made lasting bonds, as have Jackie and I. We live in a small, rural community and aren’t always able to find time to commune with our spiritual/religious community. This is a big chunk for us.”

The search continues to find a new home for the Sacred Harvest Festival. Only time will tell if this is the end or the rebirth of a much loved part of upper Midwest Pagans’ spiritual lives.

“We will do our best to continue to meet the needs of the community,” Rachael says. “There is no place like the grove, but we are going to find some place that gives us a new home with the same or better festival experience.”

* [Harmony Tribe and Harmony Park have no formal relationship and were named independently of one another]

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

pageHeaderTitleImageThe Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has just published a special double-sized edition, catching the publication up after a delay. Quote: “Welcome to a double issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. We regret that our publication has fallen behind schedule, but this 2013 double issue will help bring it more in synch with the calendar. Thanks to guest editors [Manon Hedenborg-White] and Inga Bårdsen Tollefsen, both of the University of Tromsø, Norway, this issue includes a section of interesting papers on gender issues within several varieties of contemporary Paganism and occultism, ranging from Canada to Russia.” Also covered are articles responding to a 2012 critique of Pagan Studies. There are also a number of interesting (and free to download) book reviews. 

The Druid NetworkThe Druid Network performed a global ritual in honor of peace on August 10th. Quote: “Last night, on 10 August 2014 members of the international organisation, The Druid Network, performed a ritual all across the globe in honour of peace. Crises of war are happening all over the globe, and members of TDN gathered together on the member-only social network site to discuss matters. What evolved was the creation of a ritual for peace, that could be enacted by anyone, anywhere, at this August Supermoon. Over 300 people responded to the Facebook event, and even more Pagans from all over the globe performed either this version or their own with the intention of creating peace.” The press release includes the ritual format shared amongst the participants, and they intend to perform the ritual at every following full moon.

Kraemer-Eros-Touch-coverEditors Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow have announced a call for entires in a new anthology concerning Pagan consent culture. Quote: “This collection will define Pagan consent culture; articulate widely-held Pagan theologies of the body; examine theological resources in various Pagan traditions for building consent culture; explore strategies for making seeking consent to touch a normal community practice; give recommendations for safeguarding policies at events for children and adults; provide procedures for communities to use when responding to accusations of sexual abuse; consider the role of unequal power dynamics in relationships in Pagan communities; and examine the ethics of sexual initiation, erotic healing, and other Pagan religious practices involving the ritual use of touch.” The deadline for first full drafts is Feb 1, 2015.

Janie Felix

Janie Felix

We had previously reported on the case of Janie Felix and Buford Coone, members of the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage, who had challenged a 10 Commandments monument being erected on government property in New Mexico. Well, on August 7th, a federal judge ruled that the monument was unconstitutional. We reached out to Janie Felix, who sent us the following statement: “We are delighted (the many people I represented) with the court’s decision.  It feels that the law was upheld and that the court reflected the Founding Father’s plan for our country.  This is an important victory for all the non-Christian folks here in New Mexico and around the country … I, personally, hope that the monument will be removed to a prominent spot on the grounds of the largest local church where it can be admired and not impinge on the lawful rights of the non-Christian community here in Bloomfield.  It saddens me that the local comments in dissent to the ruling reflect the prejudices of the folks in favor of the monument staying where it is rather than understanding the reasons for the suit in the first place. Comments were made, i.e. ‘if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to look at it’ … ‘she can just move’ … ‘she is ruining our country.’   We, the plaintiffs, have always expressed that this was impinging on our rights as citizens and was not opposition to the commandments per se.  By staying out of all matters of faith and spirituality, the government gives all religions an equal chance to thrive in our country.  Indeed, that was the purpose of the religious liberty causes in the 1st amendment.” 

open_halls_squareLast week we reported on the news of the Air Force adding “Asatru” and “Heathen” to their religious preferences list. For more on the background of this story, check out The Norse Mythology Blog’s interview with Master Sergeant Matt Walters, who worked with the Open Halls Project to make it happen. Quote: “I got a notification that it would be shortly that the approval would go through, and on a whim I decided to check. Apparently only hours before I checked, the personnel office had made the inclusion of the two requested denominations, and I was able to officially be recognized as a heathen. Now any airman can identify themselves as Ásatrú or Heathen in their military records, if they wish.”

Victor_WellesleyVictor Kazanjian, the Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative (URI), was hosted at a reception held by the Northern California Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG). Quote: “This was an opportunity for him to meet the Pagan community of the San Francisco Bay Area and for us to meet him.  A reasonable sample of the many groups of the Bay Area attended.  The Fellowship of the Spiral Path graciously donated their monthly time-slot at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) hall as a welcoming space to hold the reception. [...] I have the highest of hopes for Victor, and the URI, and for the growing relationship between the URI and the Pagan community of the Bay Area and the world.  I will give everyone a chance to introduce their groups soon, but first it is both a pleasure and a privilege to welcome Victor Kazanjian.” Be sure to also check out COG Interfaith Reports blog for their summary report on the Global Indigenous Initiative meeting

Book-Fault-Lines-Gus-DizeregaThe results for the 2014 Independent Book Awards have been released, and Gus diZerega’s “Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Cultural War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine” won the Silver prize in the New Age/Mind-Body-Spirit category. DiZerega’s book was tied for Silver with “Garden of Bliss: Cultivating the Inner Landscape for Self-Discovery” by Debra Moffitt, which was published by Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote from the book’s blurb: “The United States is suffering its greatest upheaval since the Civil War—politically, economically, socially and religiously. In Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine, author Gus diZerega explores the complex causes leading us to this point, comparing them to giant fault lines that, when they erupt, create enormous disturbance and in time new landscapes.”

Pantheon FoundationWith the Pantheon Foundation’s funding campaign for The Diotima Prize successful, the process to award the prize has begun. A selection committee has been announced, as well as an essay contest to decide the winner. Quote: “The Pantheon Foundation, dedicated to building 21st century infrastructure for Pagans, calls for you to apply to receive the Diotima Prize. By the power of the Pagan community’s generosity $1,000 has been crowd-funded to support your studies this year. Send us a 1,000 word essay on the nature of Paganism and Pagan ministry, and the author of the best, selected by our committee, will be awarded this year’s prize.” Deadline for essays is September 1st. Applicants must be currently in an accredited seminary program.

Patrick McCollum in IndiaA crowd-funding campaign is has been launched to help fund Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum’s participation in several world peace-oriented Fall events. Quote: “While Patrick’s service and presence at these powerful events is clearly of high value, the organizers of the events do not have the financial means to provide for his airfare. Our desire is not only to get him there, but to insure his safe travels and maximize the outreach of the important messages he has to share. We are aiming to raise $6,000 for this trip. What this would afford us are the round-trip tickets to India for Patrick and to have some money for other travel expenses. It will also be used to support the youth. If we receive more than our funding needs, the extra money will go towards the foundation and to supporting the various work that Patrick is a part of.” McCollum’s efforts were recently mentioned in the LA Times.

10541858_10152353140474755_4646233186467081917_nDebbie Chapnick, owner of Datura Press, has released a new book that melds tarot and food entitled: “The Journey of the Food, Snacking your way through the Tarot.” Quote: “In a deep sleep a voice said to me ‘The eight of swords… that’s a Mississippi mud cake’. The phrase repeated over and over again. When I finally woke up in the morning I was exhausted, but I knew what I had to do… write a cookbook! That’s where it began, ‘The Journey of the Food.’ I cook for my friends all of the time and get hired to do desserts for the occasional party. It was the perfect for me. The two things I love doing the most all together.” You can order yours by emailing Chapnick at: daturapress@gmail.com.

David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced that that faculty member David Kling, M.Div., will serve as the new Chair of the Department of Ministry, Advocacy & Leadership. Quote: “I started the long journey to become a chaplain after my mother and I made the decision to take my father off life support. During the seven months he was in critical care not once did we see a chaplain. His death was particularly difficult for me and every death I experience since transforms me. It is my intention to be of service to others who are suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is a wonderful yet often very emotionally painful career path, I cannot imagine doing anything else. I may not have had a chaplain when I needed one, but I hope I can be there for others when they need one. [...] It is my hope that I can assist current and incoming students navigate through their programs successfully and graduate and settle into various ministry and leadership roles that will be as fulfilling for them as mine is for me.”

1980427_666404363420110_559223200_oCamilla Laurentine has issued a call for submissions for a new devotional anthology dedicated to the Beloved Dead. Quote: “Calling for submissions for Crossing the River: A Devotional to Our Beloved Dead, edited by Camilla Laurentine (and possibly others to sign on at a later date). Submissions open August 7th, 2014 and close February 28th, 2015. The intention of this devotional is to build a source book of modern meditations, hymns, prayers, and other resources for death workers working in our greater community. All Pagan and Polytheist traditions are welcome and encouraged to submit to this project. Submissions should fall into one of three categories: Vigil of the Dying, For the Recently Deceased, and Funerary Tools. They may include, but are not limited to meditations, poems, hymns, prayers, original retellings of myths, rituals, and scholarly articles with a focus on historical practices within one’s tradition. Artwork is also welcome and encouraged with a preference for pieces that are easily reproduced in black and white.”

a3269500119_2Sharon Knight and Winter have announced a collaboration with urban fantasy author author Ellie Di Julio, a collection of songs based on the work  “The Transmigration of Cora Riley.” Quote: “Sharon Knight and Winter, have teamed up with author Ellie Di Julio to produce original songs inspired by her urban fantasy novel, “The Transmigration of Cora Riley.” This album tells three different character stories – Cora’s, Jack’s, and the Mistress’ – through their own eyes, echoing the book’s themes of change and desire. The sound ranges from light-hearted pop to driving metal to haunting folksong, giving each character their own flavor and adding new layers of meaning to the original text.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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In recent months there have been many discussions and debates about infrastructure in the wider Pagan movement and our collective ability to see Pagan values manifested in the wider culture. In my many years covering our family of faiths I’ve seen many ambitious plans hatched regarding new institutions which have met with varying degrees of success and sustainability. It is easy, especially within a religious movement that often values decentralized grass-roots initiatives, to become skeptical about impressive-sounding plans and announcements. 

However, there’s one campaign I’m not skeptical about, that I think is a good idea. That project is the The New Alexandrian Library. It’s headed by a solid, stable, group of folks who know what they are doing, and are focused on a clear, definable, goal. I believe that initiatives like the New Alexandrian Library will be vital for preserving our past, as university and private collections won’t be sufficient to fully preserve or document our movement’s legacy. Wanting to explore what’s driving this project in a deeper fashion, I was lucky to conduct this interview with Ivo Dominguez Jr., an Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and one of the driving forces behind this library project.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

For those who haven’t heard about this project, what is the New Alexandrian Library project, and why should Pagans care about its construction?

The New Alexandrian Library, located in southern Delaware, is in its final stages of construction. The physical structure itself is a highly durable concrete dome. It will serve as a research library, a lending library, a museum, an archive, and as a hub for the preservation and the evolution of pagan culture. Books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, digital media, etc., will all be carefully cataloged and cross-referenced to ease the work of research and study. The Library will work to restore and to preserve rare and damaged documents. The history of our many interrelated spiritual communities will also be collected for the future.

The content of the library will also be made available via internet to the greatest extent possible (respecting copyrights, etc.) to be a resource for the entire esoteric community. The NAL will also serve as the library of record for formal esoteric religion studies at a variety of institutes of higher education including The Cherry Hill Seminary to assist them in meeting accreditation criteria. The New Alexandrian Library will be open to all, and will engage in inter-library loan with similar projects elsewhere. Some extremely rare materials will not leave the library, but will be scanned.

It is being built in a location that has the benefit of a beautiful woodland site while being a reasonable distance to many metropolitan population centers. It is about 2 1/2 hours away from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It is about 3 1/2 hours to New York City, 4 hours to Richmond, and 7 hours to Boston. There are also plans for on-site housing in the future.

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Why should Pagans care about the New Alexandrian Library? If you’re a student, a teacher, or researcher, then the NAL will be an amazing resource to further your efforts. If you want to be in the presence of art, ritual objects and books that belonged to notable figures in our history, then you will want to make a pilgrimage to the museum component of the NAL. If you care about trying to capture the memories of how our various emerging religions came into being over the last century, then you’ll be happy about all the ephemeral material that we are collecting and preserving. If you want some good news about the power of long-term commitment in our community, then the NAL could inspire you.

Can you talk a bit about the progress you’ve made so far, and how the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is managing to cover the costs of construction?

This project was announced at the Between The Worlds Conference of 2000. The 30 acres that the library sits upon was bought and paid for by members of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. There is no mortgage on the property. So far about 85% of the funds to date have been either donated by ASW members or raised through fundraising events such as workshops, conferences, the sale of chant CDs and books, etc. the rest has been through donations from individuals, organizations, and crowd-funding. We’re in phase one which is the building of the first part of the library which is a two-story concrete dome with about 3000 square feet of floor space. This is the first in a series of several buildings as it was more financially realistic to plan for adding buildings in the future rather than trying to collect enough money to build one huge structure from the outset.

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At the time of this interview the interior walls are being painted, and shortly the floors and the fixtures will be installed. Progress has been slower than we would have liked, but we have been paying as we go. Since there will be no debt to pay off, it will be easier for the project to continue in the future.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is a Wiccan organization. Will NAL focus primarily on Wicca, or will it have a broader focus? Will it include material from other Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal groups?

We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal paths in all their forms, but our mission is broader than that. We are also collecting the esoteric teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Once the NAL is open and running we will also be creating an Advisory Board of people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

I know NAL recently received books and papers from Judy Harrow’s estate. What are some other notable elements in NAL’s collection at this stage? How can individuals reach out to NAL if they feel they have important papers or publications to share with your institution?

In addition to Judy Harrow’s legacy, we have received donations from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Macha Nightmare, Katherine Kurtz, Shakmah Winddrum, and many other notables in the broader esoteric community. We also received the entire library of the Theosophical Society of Washington DC when they closed down their library. Not all of the donations are books. We have received original artwork, ritual robes, magical tools, old photographs, correspondence, newsletters, ancient Egyptian artifacts with proven provenance, jewelry, and much more.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

I am particularly delighted by Dolores & Michael Ashcroft-Nowicki’s donation of four paintings of the Archangels that were created by Dion Fortune, and that once hung in her temple space. We also have many other collections promised to us in people’s wills. In the case of a death, we will always take donations now, but we have so many things in storage right now that if you can hold off a bit longer we would be grateful. As soon as we are up and running we will be very interested in receiving further donations of books and materials. Please consider naming the new Alexandrian library in your will so that your collection can serve the community when you no longer need it. Also it is often hard to predict what will be important in the future, so the ephemera, newsletters, flyers, posters, photographs, and recordings from smaller groups or lesser known individuals also need to be preserved as all these things make up the culture of our many communities.

Many Pagans are skeptical about movement towards institutions and infrastructure, could you talk a little about why they shouldn’t be skeptical of NAL? What is it that makes NAL essential?

If you have no personal need for institutions and/or infrastructure, then don’t participate in their creation. If over time you find that you are deriving benefit from the resources provided by Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure, then consider giving to them to balance the exchange. If they have no appeal for you, live and let live.

You’ve probably seen some variation of the internet meme:

Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one. Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one. Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them. Don’t like sex? Don’t have it. Don’t like your rights taken away? Don’t take away anyone else’s.

I would add: Don’t want Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure? Don’t block the way of those that do.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the sponsor of this project, celebrated its 30th year as an organization in February 2014. This is a good long run for any kind of organization, and is quite exceptional for a Pagan organization. Community service is an important part of our group’s culture, and we fully expect and intend to be continuing our work 100 years from now. Many similar projects have failed, not for a lack of vision or need, but from a lack of organization and practicality. We were in existence as a group for 15 years before we decided to take on this project. If the skepticism about the NAL project is about continuing the funding once it’s open, then I’ll point out that we intend to continue fundraising in perpetuity, and that several individuals have already named the NAL as the beneficiary of their life insurance or their entire estates in some cases.

10156015_10152359299887410_458860695135604823_nWhat is your long term vision for this project?

Like the original Great Library of Alexandria, the schools of Qabala in medieval Spain, and the flourishing of esotericism that occurred in renaissance Italy, the diverse confluence of minds and resources would result in great leaps forward in theory and practice. There will be many conversations between people of different traditions that will result in greater intellectual vitality and new awarenesses for all. No doubt people will gather in the meditation garden, go out to lunch together, etc. The benefits of these face to face encounters are incredible. In a way, it is like an esoteric conference that never ends. The NAL will be one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance. We hope that many other similar sorts of Pagan infrastructure will be created by various groups across the globe. The benefits of this growing network of resources for future generations is incalculable.

One of the great triumphs of the original Alexandrian Library was the creation of the first card catalog (actually clay and wood tablets). I hope that one of the New Alexandrian Library’s great triumphs will be a systematization of esoteric knowledge in a comparable manner. It is now a clichéd complaint that most of the esoteric books available are basic and aimed at the mass-market. That is the nature of the publishing industry, and we should expect little more. More advanced materials are usually published by university presses and by publishing houses owned by charitable or religious institutions where profit is not the primary motive. I hope that The New Alexandrian Library will in time either directly publish such works or facilitate the bringing together of the people and groups to engage in such activities.

Finally, in a broader sense, what is your vision for Pagan institutions and infrastructure? Obviously you’d like to see NAL thrive, but in what kind of Pagan community? What are your hopes?

Self-determination and self-reliance require having your own resources. I would like to see more ritual space, workshop space, performance space, schools, gardens, and woodlands, etc. that are owned by us. There many times when it is convenient and appropriate to rent or to borrow space from friends such as the Unitarians, but it is always on their terms and within their comfort zones. I’ve also seen Pagan businesses and organizations that are doing well suddenly find themselves homeless because the owner of a facility raises the rent or simply tells them to leave. There have also been pagan library projects that have closed because they were unable to keep up with the rent, and in some cases valuable materials were pitched into the dumpster by landlord.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL's foundation.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL’s foundation.

I also think we have to get over the connotations that words like institution and infrastructure have developed in the Pagan community. A food co-op is an institution. A community garden is an institution. A campground for festivals and gatherings is infrastructure. Institutions and infrastructure need not call forth images of huge battleship gray buildings with people scurrying about like drones in a hive.

An institution is a resource designed to survive past the life or the commitment of a handful of people. When we speak of infrastructure, what we’re really talking about is solid, tangible, resources that enable and facilitate our dreams and endeavors. If fear of what something might become is reason enough to prevent its coming into being, then we might as well settle our affairs and exit planet. From my perspective, the challenge we have right now is to decide that we will take the challenge of becoming truly present in the world. Will there be corruption, abuses, errors, and failures? Yes, there will be, and that is part of the cost of the work of mending and evolving. Will there be reforms, progress, and new horizons? Yes, and we will get those by also cleaning out the inevitable muck that arises by doing the work.

Recently there were a flurry of blog posts and discussions about how successful or unsuccessful Pagans have been in having an impact on environmentalism. What I’d like to add to those discussions, is that our impact on the matters of the world are reduced if we do not have power that is grounded in tangible resources. Ideas, will, and passion can fuel individual activism, and this is a good thing. However if we do not have the resources to buy land to preserve it, to pay lobbyists, to have staffed organizations that monitor legislation, public opinion, etc., then we are missing part of what is needed to have power and presence in the world.

Let me give you another example. I was extremely involved with AIDS/HIV work in the 80s and 90s. I started as an activist, helped found an organization, and served for several years as the executive director of Delaware’s primary AIDS organization. Institutions and infrastructure were necessary to make progress, and to push back against circumstances that would take away the steps forward that had been made. There are probably a hundred and one worthy tasks and goals that can never progress past a certain point without our own institutions and infrastructure.

I hope the New Alexandrian Library will be one of the many solid institutions that encourage others to dream big and to work hard.

Contact and donation information for the New Alexandrian Library project can be found here. 

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[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

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The immigration of unaccompanied minors is not new to the U.S. border patrol or the country as a whole. However, as reported by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the number of these children has more than doubled over the past year from 31,491 to 62,998. According to reports, the recent wave is due to an increase in refugees from Central American countries. Many of these children are victims of domestic or civic violence, drug wars and other forms of extreme abuse. Obama has called the problem an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

Refugee Teenager [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

In recent months, the immigration story has been all over the news as the American political engine steams ahead in its attempts to grapple with the crisis at its southern borders. Although the number of incoming children has dropped significantly since June, officials expect the number to rise again once the heat of summer wanes. Even if that doesn’t happen, there are still many children living in U.S. or Mexican detention facilities and shelters waiting for something, anything.

Will these young refugees be deported back to the violence and strife of their homelands? Will they ever see their families again? Will they be allowed to stay in the U.S. and, if so, what will become of them once here?

In spite of the “urgent humanitarian situation” and any failings in the immigration system, hope does find some of these children. In recent months, the U.S. Government has sent a large number of unaccompanied minors into communities that already have large, thriving Central American immigrant populations. With the help of a sponsor, these children can start school and a whole new life.

In one such town in Georgia, a public school system is readying itself for another large influx of Central American refugees. The Dalton City Schools of northwest Georgia has created a special program to assist unaccompanied immigrant children adapt to their new life. The “Newcomer Academy,” established within the city’s Morris Innovative High School, was specifically created to cater to children who have fled Central America. School Official, Caroline Woodson told a local news station:

Really the big challenge for our students doesn’t even come with academics. It comes with feeling safe and feeling that they have adults they can trust.

Over the past year, Georgia alone has received over 1,100 immigrant children. Other states, such as Florida and Texas, have also received large groups of these children. With the help of state-funding, private advocacy groups, personal sponsors and extended-family members, the children are acclimated to the classrooms and given a new “lease on life.”

However, not every child can find a sponsor, can reconnect with family, or has the resources needed to open an entry point into U.S. system. For those children left behind or those yet to arrive, there are organizations advocating for their care, raising funds for legal fees, and performing community outreach to raise awareness.

Fence with prayer ribbons [Courtesy T. Thorn Coyle]

Fence with prayer ribbons [Courtesy T. Thorn Coyle]

For example, in Arizona, the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) provides “free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona.” Similarly, in Texas, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) “promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.” In California, an organization called Pangea strives to “stand with immigrant communities and to provide services through direct legal representation, especially in the area of deportation defense.”

To continue the work, these nonprofit advocacy organizations need money. Recently, several Pagan groups have come out in support of these organizations’ efforts to protect the rights of unaccompanied immigrant minors. Using their own voices, these Pagans are attempting to amplify a message of need.

On June 20, Come As You Are Coven (CAYA) launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for FIRRP in Arizona. Priestess Amata Maia writes:

We are looking to create a miracle for the many unaccompanied children who have been crossing the border into Arizona and Texas. These children are fleeing the gang violence in Central America and Mexico.  Many of them have lost their families to this violence and are trying desperately to escape the same fate. Currently there are so many children coming in that they are being warehoused like cattle. 

The fundraising goal was set at $500 and has raised, to date, $815.

T. Thorn Coyle leading prayer [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

T. Thorn Coyle leading prayer [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

On Thursday, T. Thorn Coyle participated in a vigil outside the San Francisco Federal Building with other community religious leaders. The group gathered together to ask Obama to expedite the immigration processes for unrepresented children and to draw attention to the crisis. Coyle read the vigil’s opening prayer. In retrospect, she said:

[I] called upon Demeter to give us strength. I called on she who knows what it is to grieve for a child, and she who perseveres. And I asked Tonantzin, Goddess of the Americas, to bless and protect the children. I then led a chant to these Goddesses and to the children at the border.    

In addition to a diversity of faith leaders, the vigil was attended by several children and adults who had survived the crossing. They also spoke out, sharing their lived horrors and tears of suffering. Thorn recalls:

A young man approached me to thank me for being there. I’d seen him singing along with my chant. He was the child of a deportee … I listened to the testimony of a family only recently escaped from El Salvador. They were all in tears. The father refused to work for the drug gangs and was killed. The women of the family were raped, and threatened. They are staying with a brother and may still be returned. 

Coyle was not the only Pagan at Thursday night’s vigil. Claire “Chuck” Bohman, an Interfaith minister and Reclaiming Witch, was also there to lend an ear and voice. She said:

The truth is that the vast majority of us are immigrants here. One side of my family were German immigrants who first migrated to Canada and walked across the border before they settled on a farm in Ohio. In a different time and place, the children of the border could have been my grandmother. I invite you to take a breath and connect with your ancestors. How is it that they came to live on this land? Who did they displace when they settled? 

Both Bohman and Coyle expressed compassion for the children but also a sense of civic duty. Bohman says:

The problems in these countries are connected with NAFTA and US foreign and economic policy. We have an obligation to these children and it’s time for the U.S. government to act … Obama has the power to intervene and we join together across our differences to call for justice for these children and justice for immigrants.

Coyle agrees, saying “This is our problem. We helped create this situation and we are honor bound to deal with the results. That is what adults do.”

Claire "Chuck" Bohman With Rev. Israel Alvaran [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

Claire “Chuck” Bohman With Rev. Israel Alvaran [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

Solar Cross Temple has begun raising money to help RAICES fund the mandated legal processes that enable unaccompanied minors to leave detention centers and enter U.S communities. Coyle also emphasizes that there are other ways to get involved. The California Endowment is digitally collecting letters of support for the “border children.” Vigils continued to be held across the country, like the one in San Francisco or the one held last night by Humanity is Borderless. Coyle also recommends contacting local governments about “offering homes to children locally” or finding ways of supporting those communities already open, such as Dalton, Georgia.

Coyle has hope saying, “In my heart, I know that we can learn to treat one another better. We can act from our true strength and offer one another compassion.”

 

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Buffalo-Skulls-1870

Collected Buffalo Skulls, 1870. The U.S. Government and private corporations encouraged the slaughter of Buffalo to starve First Nations peoples.

(this is for the dead)

Fighter jets are flying overhead; their screeching rage punctuating the rumbling roar of heavy-tread machines behind me. Particles of dust and exhaust cling to sweat-drenched skin in the searing sun. Everything feels dry, desiccated, as if all the shadowed life of this place has been swept over by a sudden desert.

My attention’s drawn to something unexpected–four red strokes against white, crimson vivid as blood, pasted against a steel pole. It’s a glyph, a sigil, with a power steeped in terror.  I need to leave this place to find a friend, but my attention is held. Something hardens in me as I stare, a sorrow awakening in veins constricted by anger.

I cannot believe what I am seeing. I look around myself to see if others note it. Women wearing head-scarfs are gathered nearby, speaking to each other quietly next to buildings which soon, too, will become rubble to be hauled away. It’s unlikely they’ve seen this mark.

I scrape it off the pole. No one seems to note my actions, neither the uniformed man who watches the gathering of Arabs a hundred feet from this pole, nor all the others passing by. It peels off easily, and I slip it into a pocket to show others, just as another aerial machine-of-death makes a second pass over where I stand.

“Indian Country”

I’m standing on a street corner in Seattle, not the Middle-East.

There’s a naval celebration going on–those jets are The Blue Angels a military performance troupe. I’m not in the middle of a declared war-zone, but I am in the middle of an occupation. And the sticker? It was three K’s, placed on a light pole in the middle of a traditionally black neighborhood undergoing massive gentrification. The bulldozers behind me are tearing down old homes and shops to make room for high-priced condominiums.

This was not far from the house I’m staying at. My host has been a First Nations man who was adopted out as a child to a white family who actively worked to keep him disconnected from his indigenous past. Neither of us have ancestral connections to Seattle, though he’s got closer claims to actually being on this land than I.

Also, he’s gay, like I am. Seattle’s a remarkably “tolerant” place for sexual minorities who play the middle-class games.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here so long, why I returned here after being gone for a year. I was elsewhere, searching for home, but this place called me back.

But by being here, I’m helping to displace the people who lived in this neighborhood before. In fact, this was one of the few places where blacks could live in Seattle due to redlining and other practices. I’ve met folks who still remember when it was called “coon town.”  They’re younger than you’d think.

White, mostly liberal folks, flooded this area after the recent housing-price collapse, buying up foreclosed homes. Many of those evicted were black. Many, from the stories I’d heard, had taken out equity loans on houses that their grandparents were born in and found the sudden inflation of rates meant they couldn’t pay it back. Real estate agents harassed the residents who hadn’t lost their homes; My neighbor and friend complained of still getting unsolicited offers from white realtors several times a week. The poor, mostly minorities were pushed out, and bourgeois entered.

Blacks were hauled over in slave ships to help white people make money in America. Immigrants were brought in to build the railroads and then vehemently oppressed when they were finished.  And all these groups helped displace the indigenous First Nations before them.

Did I just say displaced? I’m sorry. I meant slaughtered.

You used to be able to get money for “Indian” scalps. The U.S. government once encouraged people to shoot buffalo to help starve the First Nation resistance to westward expansion. Freed-slaves who joined the army were heavily involved in the Indian Wars and called Buffalo soldiers. And even today, “Indian Country” is U.S. Military slang for enemy territory.

But because of all that violence, the smallpox blankets and massacres and starvation, this open, tolerant, liberal city I live in has space for me. I’m “free” to practice my Pagan religion now, and the same military which killed natives now officially recognizes both my religion and my sexuality. This is all supposed to be “progress,” except I just saw a KKK sticker in a traditionally black, gentrifying neighborhood, and we’re all on stolen, conquered, and occupied land.

We Inhabit The Past

buffalo 4What we know and believe that the past and our histories greatly determine how we encounter the present. Without knowledge of slavery, for instance, I might be inclined to see the poverty of minorities in America as some sort of problem inherent within their cultures or, worst of all, intrinsic to their very nature.  And if I am ignorant of that past, I might encounter all the anger, rage, and despair of minority communities as unwarranted, unjustified, and dangerous.

Most everyone, though, knows about slavery and has at least a vague understanding of the slaughter of First Nations people on this continent, so the matter is less what is actually known than what is actually believed about those things.

As I’ve mentioned before, belief affects human actions, not just human perceptions. Our accepted histories are not mere narrative. They rise to the category of belief precisely because they determine the way we encounter the present.

One of the most difficult problems in our histories is the notion of “progress;” the Enlightenment notion that we have moved beyond the past into a better present. This Progress Narrative is a way of divorcing and disconnecting our present from all the atrocities of the past while justifying our actions now. Once, Americans held slaves and treated minorities as less-than-human, but now, we are equal. Once, Americans slaughtered indigenous peoples on this land, but now we’ve passed to a more progressive, enlightened state.

It’s a narrative of the past, certainly, but it defines what we think of ourselves now. Post-Colonial, Marxist, and Anarchist scholars have variously noted how Western civilization creates a conception of itself which poses all other present and former societies as primitive, existing in a less (politically, economically, and socially) evolved state. That is, it “others” all societies besides itself, positions itself as the most-evolved form of society humanity has yet attained, and then sees all societies (including itself) through this filter.

A particularly pernicious effect of this, though, is that parts of our own society that do not fit this narrative become ignored, made invisible by the story we tell about ourselves. We see moments of crime against sexual, religious, and racial minorities as aberrations to the liberal, tolerant society in which we live, as if all the past is behind us and all the blood of scalped and starved natives, of tortured slaves, of murdered immigrants do not, even now, fertilize the ground upon which we plant our organic gardens. And when we look at our past, we disconnect those events from the present in which we live. The displacement of peoples, slavery, First Nations genocide–those happened then, but we live in now.

But history is full of processes, not just events and presences, which continue to haunt and continue to not just shape but inhabit our modern interactions with each other.

The post-colonial historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty, writing about European mode of disenchantment and secularism, noted:

what allows historians to historicize the medieval or the ancient is the very fact that these worlds are never completely lost. We inhabit their fragments even as we classify ourselves as modern or secular (Provincializing Europe, p112).

This has a terrifying consequence. Our notion of being different and removed from the atrocities of the past is utterly false, even more so when those atrocities are unacknowledged and unrepaired. White Americans do not currently own African slaves, but the conditions of slavery continue to affect the descendants of those slaves and the wealth derived from slavery continues to benefit the descendants of those owners and American society. The land taken from indigenous peoples through violence is where we all now live. We’re not just the inheritors of atrocity–we are also the beneficiaries and the continuation of them.

We can look at our present through this lens and start to understand much of our current political, racial, and economic crises and how we, willingly or more often inadvertently, continue the atrocities of the past into the present. The United States of America was birthed in colonization with the oppression of peoples. Is it any wonder that our government supports other governments doing similar things?  It took a very long time for the U.S. Government to stop supporting Apartheid in South Africa precisely because “European settlers on non-European land” looked awfully familiar.  We can see the same thing in the Middle-East, as well. Regardless of what one thinks of that conflict, it should give us pause that the U.S. Government has given more military aid to the Israeli government since the second World War than to any other country in the world.

“Not in My Name”

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From the frontispiece of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Speaking of governments, one of the other legacies of The Enlightenment besides Capitalism, Nationalism and Democracy, is the notion of complicity. Like egregores, the modern state demands a shared identification of its people. That is, since sovereignty no longer derives from the land or the gods and now is said to derive from “the people,” it’s become difficult to separate the actions of a government from the people whom they are said to represent.

This is different in other countries though. I first noticed it with a German friend. She and I had been talking about American CIA involvement in the overthrow of socialist governments in the Middle East and South America. I’d said to her something regarding how “we claim to believe in Democracy, but will undermine it when the people vote for someone we don’t like.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?’” she asked me.

I didn’t understand the question.

“We?  Why ‘We’?  You weren’t there, and you didn’t do it. The government did. Americans often say ‘we,’ and I don’t understand why. Germans don’t do that.”

I’d noticed this, but had thought it was merely a linguistic difference. “You never say ‘we’ when talking about Germany?”

“That’d be silly,” she replied. “I’m not Germany. I’m German, but I’m not Germany. You’re not America, either.”

I still think on that matter. It was relieving to understand that I was not personally responsible for everything the U.S. government had ever done. It was also terrifying, because I began to understand the meaning of implicit consent; how people in power were bombing children in Afghanistan and Iraq as if they represented my interests, and I was helping to pay for it with taxes from my paltry wages.

Before I’d understood this, my reactions to the founding (and foundational) violence of America were most often ones of disbelief. Sometimes I’d accuse the historian of such horrors of lying, or twisting facts towards an agenda.  But I realized I was mostly just being defensive, because I couldn’t believe “we” had done such a thing.

Thing is, “we” didn’t. Others did, just as others do now. But they did it in “our” name, just as they do now.

I’m a vehemently anti-racist Pagan Anarchist. On what grounds could a government ever have thought I’d want them to kill indigenous people? Or buffalos? Or allow and encourage people to own slaves?  And how could they possibly think that they’d be accurately representing my will by dropping bombs on children in the Middle East?

The answer’s awfully obvious. No government such as that could ever speak on my behalf.

There’s another side to this idea of sovereignty and complicity. If the actions of a government are a reflection of the will of the people, then it makes perfect sense that our government was wrong to attack us directly.  For any government to attack the people for whom that government is a mere proxy. After all, governments just do what they’re elected to do, right?

Many Gods, No Masters

So here I am, a gay Pagan living on stolen land. I didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was stolen. Not having been directly responsible, I cannot personally make amends, nor can I, with all the magic of the gods and spirits, hope to resurrect the dead, to undo those crimes.

More difficult, I have little choice in this matter. I live where I can; where I can afford; where things are open to me; where I feel safe. And I’m bound by the citizenship conferred to me at birth. I cannot merely “go back to Europe,” to my ancestral lands, because I have no legal claim to do so.

I guess I could perhaps do what many people do, which is ignore the whole thing, tuck the horrors away into a neat little envelope called “past” and pretend like these things don’t still happen. The more I work with spirits, though, the more I realize the dead don’t just go away like that. Besides, the horrors continue.  Poor minorities are still shot dead on American soil by city militia. The descendants of slaves continue to live in deep poverty and are thrown in prisons now, instead of slave ships.  And the government which claims to represent me, which derives sovereignty from my “consent,” slaughters people in other countries, too.

Knowing all that, I cannot look away.

This, too, is why it’s impossible for me not to see conflicts elsewhere as part of the same legacy of which we, in America, still re-enact. Watching the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I cannot help but think both of the plight of the people in the occupied territories and their poverty as being similar to what the indigenous people around me suffer. Simultaneously, I cannot help but identify with people in Israel who did not themselves choose to steal land from others. Many of them are the descendants of people who moved elsewhere, some are also people who fled from violence and hatred elsewhere.

Besides thinking Capitalism is the worst thing we’ve ever come up with, this is why I’m an Anarchist. The foundational violence which haunts every “freedom” in America was perpetrated by people who were not me. The violence which America still enacts in the world is committed by people who falsely claim to be acting on my behalf. I did not consent to those horrors, nor do I consent to them now, nor will I allow them to do those things on my behalf.

Anarchism doesn’t stop at rejection of a government. Recognizing that the suffering of other people relies on my implicit consent, I cannot allow that violence to occur. Governments who claim to represent my interests and who extract money from me in order to commit atrocities must be toppled, and the conditions which have allowed them to thrive must be changed so that they no longer may do so.

My Anarchism, however, is also my Paganism. The gods and spirits we’ve pushed out of our present continue to exist, as do the dead. Just because I live in the present, I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy.  I cannot perform rituals on stolen land without working to have it returned, I cannot worship gods of place and people without fighting those who’d poison those places and sever those people from their gods.

There’s something really liberating about this knowledge, though. The notion that the past is dead is false, and this means we Pagans who are attempting to reconstruct ancient worship of ancient gods are still living among fragments of those religions. We don’t need to prefix what we’re doing with “neo-,” even if what we come up with, guided by our gods, is a different configuration from what our ancestors had.

That is, if the past is not ever truly gone, it can be rewoven, reshaped. It’s around us now. Processes which started centuries ago and continue to this day can be ended and amended. Fragments buried in plain sight under our illusion of being modern can be teased out from their hiding places.

We only need to stop claiming that the past is over, so we can own up to the past that is still with us.

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Njord

Eric O. Scott —  August 8, 2014 — 23 Comments
Njord

Idol of Njord in the assembly hall of Ásatrúarfélagið, Reykjavík, Iceland.
Photo by the author.

“Did you know that this idol once received a blood sacrifice?”

The Icelander and I were standing in the assembly hall of Ásatrúarfélagið1, the Icelandic Ásatrú church, waiting for our companion, Tandri, to finish putting some supplies away in the back room. We were standing in front of a carved wooden idol, six feet tall, made of pale, honey-colored wood. Dozens of runic inscriptions had been carved into the idol and marked with red paint; I might have been able to work out their meanings, assuming I had an Icelandic dictionary and about twelve hours of spare time. I only knew that the idol represented Njord2, the sea-god, because the Icelander told me so.

The Icelander looked to be around my father’s age, mid-fifties; he was short, gray, and scruffy, and his English had a heavy Nordic tinge. We had been at Ásatrúarfélagið´s blót in Thingvellir3 earlier that day, and on the car ride back to Reykjavík, the Icelander had only spoken Icelandic, of which I understood just a little. He seemed to be the only man in the country who didn’t understand English, which pleased me – it’s disheartening to hear everyone in the country speak your language flawlessly when you are incapable of even ordering coffee in theirs. But then he realized I was a foreigner and switched to English. (His advice for learning Icelandic? “Read comics.”)

I shook my head; obviously I had never heard about any “blood sacrifice,” since this was the first time I had ever visited the assembly hall.

“Would you like to hear the story?” he asked.

,” I said. Although I had only been studying Icelandic for a month, “” had completely overwritten my vocabulary; even in English, I never said “yes” or “yeah” anymore, but instead “,” with its curving diphthong like the sound in the English “hour.”

He smiled and started to tell a story I could tell he had told many times before. “Oh yes,” he said, “The god picked the sacrifice himself. She was a beautiful young girl. Only seven years old, too.” He grew wistful and turned away from the idol. “That is the short version of the story. Would you like to hear the long version?”

,” I replied.

“Bah,” said the Icelander, who grimaced and waved me off. “You just say to whatever anybody says to you.”

No other Icelander ever called me out for this, but he was absolutely right.

Tandri finally came out of the back room. I marveled at the clash of expectations when I saw him. Usually, when I tell people that I am a Heathen, and especially when I mention that I went to Iceland in large part to meet members of the Icelandic Heathen community, their minds rush to visions of viking raids and valkyries, blood-soaked battlefields and mead-drowned nights in some dank drinking hall. In reality, Ásatrúarfélagið´s offices are modest and clean, located in an unassuming part of Reykjavík. There are tables and chairs set up for meetings, along with a bookcase and a table with toys for children. In the back room, they store two iron firepits, some flagpoles, and a coffee pot. Hand-knit sweaters hang on the walls with prices marked next to them, with the proceeds going to support the church. The only obvious signs of Heathenry are the two large wooden statues, namely the idol of Njord and a seated Thor next to the entrance. The setup reminded me of nothing so much as a typical Lutheran Church basement.

And yet there was Tandri, standing just outside the men´s room in full viking drag. (He had missed the blót because he had a gig pretending to be a viking for the benefit of tourists.) His chainmail rustled in time to his footsteps. “I think we’re all good to go here,” he said – in English, for my benefit.

The Icelander nodded, and the three of us headed out to Tandri’s car, a brick-red Honda that I’m certain has been on Earth longer than Nirvana’s In Utero. My phone’s clock read midnight, but the summer sky was only a dusky indigo. I would not see true night again until I returned to Minnesota.

The Icelander climbed into the backseat. He and Tandri exchanged a few words in Icelandic – directions to the Icelander’s house, I suspected. Tandri started the Honda and began driving west, towards the part of Reykjavík I knew. As we drove, the Icelander spoke up again.

“So,” he said, “do you want really want to hear about the child sacrifice?”

“Yes,” I said, trying not to offend his sensibilities.

He chuckled. “The statue fell over on her. She broke her arm in the accident. But you see? There was a child! There was blood! And Njord did pick her – she was the one he fell on!” He leaned forward in his seat. “This was many years ago, you know. She is grown now. I love to tell people that story when she is in the room. I say that there had been a child sacrifice, and everyone – especially foreigners – their faces get so pale and they go quiet. Oh, how awful! How barbaric! The sacrifice of a child!” As though Heathens really were living up to all of the worst fantasies of Viking degeneracy – the stained altars and babes giving over to flesh-craving gods. “And all the while, she is sitting there, not saying a word!”

The Icelander continued to talk, uninterrupted by either Tandri or me, for the rest of the drive, mostly about his distaste for the American Heathens he had met online. (“I see this on Facebook – click ‘like’ if you want a visit from Odin. Odin! You might as well say, click ‘like’ if you want a visit from Satan!”) He talked about the expectations Americans seemed to have regarding Ásatrúarfélagið, and how frequently they were disappointed by the truth – that, as Tandri told me earlier in the day, the church was “basically a big hippie organization.” As the Icelander talked, I noticed that Tandri, who was closer to my age, seemed embarrassed; he had evidently not expected the Icelander to go on such an extended rant about American Heathens in the presence of, well, an American Heathen.

I hadn’t come to Iceland hoping for blood and viking glory, as I am by nature both a pacifist and a coward. But I understood the subtext in the Icelander’s words: that people like me came to Iceland in the same way that some people go to Bangladesh or Tibet, expecting to find some kind of “authentic” encounter with the divine that they can take home and brag about. Enlightenment tourism – as though enlightenment were something that could be advertised in a tourbook next to the Golden Circle and the National Gallery. Of course, that was exactly what I had been expecting myself. I called this trip as a pilgrimage; I had never considered what it might mean for the Icelanders themselves – for their practices, their landscape, and to some degree their entire lives to be viewed as a tourist attraction for the Heathen seeker. I could tell myself that my journey was different somehow – that I was genuine in my aspirations and had the academic and literary credentials to support my project – but everyone else could make similar arguments. I wasn’t special. I began to see my visit in an altogether less pleasant light.

We arrived at the Icelander’s home, which I recall as one of the innumerable concrete and tin structures that make up Reykjavík. He got out and said goodbye by reminding me about comic books. “Andrés Önd – Donald Duck,” he said. “Best way to learn.”

Once the Icelander had shut his door, Tandri turned to me. “He can talk, can’t he?”

“Já,” I said. Then I wondered if I should have said something else.

1. It’s spelled the way it sounds! And vice versa, I suppose.
2. The Old Icelandic name for the god is Njörðr, but Njord is such a common Anglicization that I have used it throughout this essay. Same for Thor and Þorr.
3. Þingvellir.

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Cara Schulz is a resident of Burnsville, Minnesota, and has decided to run for one of the two open seats on the Burnsville City Council. Like many small city councils across America, the election is non-partisan, meaning the primaries coming up later this month will simply winnow the field down to four candidates from the current seven, regardless of each candidate’s personal party affiliation. The public will then vote two candidates into office this November.

Oh, and did we mention that Cara Schulz is also a Hellenic Polytheist?

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Longtime readers of The Wild Hunt won’t be surprised at this news, after all, Cara is a staff reporter here now, and has been an active part of the larger Pagan community for several years. Here’s a brief excerpt from a piece she wrote about her faith for Patheos.com back in 2011.

“I ‘toss the barley’ and am humbly grateful to do so. I pour wine as a libation, the same as my ancestors did. I feel sacred Hestia in the flame that burns in my hearth and in my heart and I reap the benefits of my careful tending to the flame. I pray before my home altar, make offerings to the Agathos Diamons, and ask Hermes to guard me as I venture out of the protections of my home. There is a spiritual rhythm to my life that gives me great personal strength. My household worship practices, such as cleaning out the entire house and getting rid of all broken or wanted things each month on the Deipnon, improve the quality of life for all my family members. These ancient rituals have profound meaning that I would have missed if I had dismissed them as old and pointless.”

Schulz has also been active in politics for a long time, most notably, she was an active volunteer for Libertarian Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson in 2012. Like Gov. Johnson, Schulz is liberal on social issues, and conservative on fiscal policy, or as she puts it “Socially Accepting and Fiscally Responsible.”

“Although Cara wants citizens more involved in local government, she feels government has become too involved in peoples’ personal lives and businesses. Her general rule is, ‘If you aren’t hurting or cheating anyone, and you’re doing it on your property, it’s none of the government’s business.’”

In a local paper’s candidate questionnaire, Schulz expanded on her political philosophy, and how it would affect locals in Burnsville.

“The townhome I live in had a pool rule of No Food Allowed, which residents ignored. There are two possible approaches. What city councils normally do — assume the problem lays with you and force compliance. Or what our association did — realize there’s no damage or injury so the problem was with the rule and eliminate it. I’ll bring the second, common-sense approach to the City Council because residents aren’t the problem, but the solution.”

Not backed by the Democratic or Republican parties in this race, Schulz faces an uphill battle to get her message out to voters, though she has received an endorsement from the Liberty Minnesota PAC, a libertarian-minded group that hopes to steer the Republican party toward their ideals.

“Cara is a dedicated liberty activist involved with a variety of causes in and around her city. Cara is an Air Force veteran who does a wonderful job covering a variety of policy topics on Youtube videos [...] According to Cara’s responses on Liberty Minnesota’s candidate questionnaire, Cara is focused on removing or replacing: Building codes, nuisance laws and blue laws in Burnsville.”

As their endorsement points out, Schulz has been posting videos to Youtube where she discusses various issues as they relate to her political philosophy.

The primary election will be held on August 12th, and if she makes it to the final four, no doubt more endorsements, money, and scrutiny, will flow towards her campaign (such is the way with elections). We will keep you posted as things develop.

[Editorial note: The Wild Hunt is dedicated to documenting instances of Pagans, Polytheists, and other members of our broad religious movement engaging themselves in the political process. Coverage of a candidate should not be confused with endorsement, and The Wild Hunt will not make official endorsements in any political race. Here are some instances of us covering Pagan political candidates: Rev. Kathryn Jones, Lonnie MurrayDeirdre Wadding, Erin Lale, and Jessica Orsini, among others.]

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