MargarianCALGARY, Alb. — Members of Pagan and Wiccan communities across Canada were saddened to hear of the passing of elder Margarian Bridger (1957-2016). Born in the prairie city of Regina, Saskatchewan February 7, 1957, Margarian was raised in Toronto where she attended the University of Toronto, Victoria College. She graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Geology.

In 1991, Margarian began the study of Witchcraft with the Calgary-based Covenant of Gaia Church of Alberta (COGCOA). A year later she was initiated into the Black Ring lineage of Branwen Stonecipher. She was elevated to the third degree seven years later, and went on to co-found the Evergreen Tradition, a blend of traditional and progressive Wicca, along with her husband, Stephen Hergest.

In their travels across Canada, Margarian and Stephen visited with other Pagan folk, forming connections, leading rituals and teaching workshops in ritual leadership in Calgary, Red Deer, Winnipeg Toronto ad Ottawa. Margarian served on the board of COGCOA from the 1990s through to the early 2000s, and also on the Calgary inter-aith Community Action Association board in the early 2000s.

She first became sick in 2008, and was then diagnosed with kidney failure in 2011. After that point, she lived in a nursing home, where she was able to receive regular dialysis and specialized care. Then, on Aug. 6, she died suddenly from heart failure.

Margarian loved to sing, read and write science fiction, and was talented in a number of handicrafts. She will be missed by her many loving family members and many friends around the country. What is remembered, lives.

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Covenant of the GoddessSAN JOSE, Calif. — Covenant of the Goddess held its annual business meeting this past weekend, during which it elected the incoming 2016-2017 board. New officers include Oberon, Tabitha Pousson, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and Morgana Raventree. Greg Harder, Zenah Smith, and Stachia Ravensdottir will remain on the board in varying capacities, along with Jack Prewett as First Officer.

It was also announced that next year’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be held in Southern California, and the 2018 meeting will be held in Florida. The specific locations have not yet been decided.

Along with discussing the operations of the 41-year-old Witch and Wiccan organization, attending members also announced the CoG Award of Honor recipients. This award, established in 2014, is given annually at the meeting and recognizes “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.” This year’s recipients included Rachel Watcher, Greg Harder, Starhawk, Zenah Smith, Fritz Jung, Wren Walker, Wild Hunt founder Jason Pitzl and current managing editor Heather Greene.

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13932872_1216133978407555_191847176209308355_nTWH — The Warrior’s Call: Pagans United Against Fracking has announced its fifth worldwide anti-fracking event titled “Voices on the Wind.” This new international action is scheduled for Oct. 15, 2016 and includes a “blessing and healing” ritual for the Earth. Organizers write, “We have heard the Voices on the Wind…from across the world, we have heard the people crying for the hurt done to their sacred Land by fracking, and we have heard their voices raised in resistance. Now we call on you to respond.”

Fracking has generated much press over the past few years, generating vocal protests from many diverse communities, which include Pagans, Heathen and polytheists organizations and individuals. As we reported in the past, the UK-based Warrior’s Call was born in 2013 after a group of Pagans staged a local ritual at Glastonbury Tor. Their attempt to raise awareness about fracking went global and, in retrospect, organizers said, “We felt it a shame to let the energy go to waste and so consolidated ourselves into a pagan anti-fracking pressure group; thus was the Warrior’s Call born.”

As with past actions, the upcoming “Voices on the Wind” ritual is not scheduled for a specific time. However, there are some suggested actions and workings. “Go to a windy place and create ritual space according to your own tradition,” organizers explain. “Make a sound of blessing and healing with your own voice or the voice of your musical instrument. Let the wind carry it across the Land and the World.” More details can be found on The Warrior’s Call website.

In Other News

  • The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has released its most recent issue (vol. 18. No. 1). The new edition includes three articles by Christopher Josiffe, Ethan Doyle White, and Gwendolyn Reece, and seven book reviews by various writers. The three full articles are accessible by subscription only. However, the reviews are open access and can be read online or downloaded in PDF form. “The Pomegranate is the first international, peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies. It provides a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”
  • Mystic South 2017 has opened its registration and application processes. The new conference is now preparing for its inaugural year, to be hosted in Atlanta, Georgia at the Crowne Plaza Ravnia July 21-23, 2017. Mystic South organizers are planning a three-day indoor conference with the theme: “theory, practice, play.” There will be vendors, entertainment, workshops, and presentations. Additionally, the organizers are hosting PAPERS (a Polytheist and Pagan Educational Research Symposium), which focuses specifically on academic studies. They are currently accepting proposals for this track along with non-academic presentations.

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  • The Occidental Temple of the Wise Lord, “a Western Zoroastrian organization made up of Zoroastrian converts to the Mazdan Way,” has just launched its website. The new site details the group’s mission, practice, history, and writings for all those interested in its work.
  • For New Hampshire residences, a new metaphysical store has opened in Nashua.The store, called Tangled Roots Herbal, is the seven-year dream of owner Sheryl Burns, who has been a longtime student of herbology. This dream became reality when the store opened this summer on West Pearl Street. Burns sells both metaphysical products and services, including drumming circles, healing sessions, and a variety of workshops.
  • Dragon Con, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary, will be opening its doors Sept. 2, 2016. Over that weekend, three familiar Pagan performers will be playing at the world’s largest pop culture convention. Emerald Rose, who has been included on the DragonCon Walk of Fame, will be reportedly be performing its last concert as a group. Tuatha Dea and S.J. Tucker will also be performing live on one of the many stages throughout Dragon Con’s sprawling venue. The official schedule of performance times has not yet been announced.

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NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — British Witch Kate West, author of thirteen Real Witches books and high priestess of the Hearth of Hecate, has been spending the week teaching classes, running rituals, and giving readings at the Awareness Shop, a metaphysical store in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York. Despite her packed schedule stateside, she found the time to talk some about her work for the benefit of Wild Hunt readers. During that conversation, she managed to transmit just a bit of her wit and charm.

West has been practicing Witchcraft for more than 35 years, and she has been quite public about it; so much so that she provided media relations for Children of Artemis, a prominent British Witchcraft organization. And, additionally, she has also served as vice president of the Pagan Federation.

Kate West [Courtesy Photo]

Kate West [Courtesy Photo]

“I met my first Witch when I was six,” she said, adding that she began practicing the Craft in her middle teens. “My father comes from a line of cunning men, but that was never overtly discussed,” because her Roman Catholic mother was not keen on the idea.

West did not find her first coven until she was in her mid-30s, and the story itself reeks of magic. “I was restless at home, and decided to drive around” aimlessly, in the days before smartphones made that an all-but forgotten art. “I was just following roads, and pulled up by an old barn,” which had no evidence that it was anything but private property.

Nevertheless, “I walked ’round, and there was a little esoteric shop around back,” with no sign by the road to announce that fact. She entered and, after browsing the shelves for a few minutes, she worked up the nerve to speak with the proprietor, who invited her to the next meeting of their coven that very weekend. West has since been initiated into the Alexandrian tradition.

Because Hecate is an ancient goddess that is envisioned in divergent ways depending upon one’s tradition, we asked West to describe the goddess according to the understanding of her coven. “She’s a goddess of the crossroads,” West said, and offerings of food are left to her there. Her earlier roots are Greek, but she “found her way up to the Celtic lands,” likely thanks to the Romans.

West sees Hecate as a “working lady” (strong and muscular, or “brawny” in build) appearing old in worn — not tattered — clothes and a dark cloak. “When her horse needs shoeing, I rather imagine she does it herself,” West said. It’s a “jolly good idea” to give this protector of the young and the weak her due and not to trifle with her. “Don’t mess with me and mine,” is the message Hecate sends to the world according to West, whose understanding of this deity’s appearance and personality come largely from pathworking.

While Hecate is what her coven is all about, her personal relationship is with the Morrigan. She was born near the source of the river Raven, hand-reared a raven, and ravens either live wherever she has, or show up soon after she does. Her initials are even “K.A.W,” and it seemed natural for her to seek a raven goddess, and one with close ties to her own Celtic heritage. The Morrigan controls the birds that serve as “nature’s dustbin,” cleaning up after the mess of battle.

[wallpapercraft.com]

[wallpapercraft.com]

West remembers a time when the only way to make contact with other Witches was to go to the library with your name and address on a piece of paper, and slip it into a certain Dennis Wheatley book. Presumably, the person picking them up would just show up at the door one day.

“I did not do that,” she said. “The internet age doesn’t know what it’s got.”

On balance, she considers the open access to be a vast improvement over those days, but there have been changes about which she is not so keen. “There is a difference of opinion between elders and newcomers about the word ‘silent,'” she said. “You can’t tell people secrets of the circle, even though it’s cool.”

After writing thirteen books in the Real Witches series including a handbook, a cookbook, and a book of days, she’s allowed herself a hiatus. That last, the Real Witches Year was particularly challenging, because the editor kept changing the size of the pages, meaning she had to rewrite to make the text fit. The series was named by someone at the first publisher, and she’s stuck with that decision through several more in the ensuing years.

For all the books she has written and for all the appreciation she has for internet, West believes that nothing is comparable to learning the Craft in person. “Anyone who calls themselves a Witch can practice,” she said, “but it’s ten times harder when there’s no one to pick up the pieces.”

There are simply concepts that are easier to show than write about, and there’s also the down side of the internet: “It’s harder to avoid the nutters.” She said that “all of the faiths have their own special and unique variety of idiots; Witches have some of their own.” There are also bits of etiquette which aren’t needed by solitary practitioners, like the tradition of the high priestess draining the chalice.

Still, she does what she can by telling stories of her own coven’s foibles as a warning to others. For example, she recounted a time when one coven member believed wholeheartedly in making his own magical tools. West considered this a good idea until he pointed his athame and the blade came loose from the handle, only to stick in the floor at her feet.

Another time, they misplaced an initiate because the individual was told to remain quiet in the dark as they prepared for the outdoor ritual. When it was time to begin, they couldn’t locate the person. “Of course, no one brought a bloody torch,” she said, and while the would-be initiate heard their name being called, it was interpreted as another test, so they became quieter still.

Her media expertise has also gotten her into some awkward situations. During a speaking engagement at a conference, West was recounting a time when a BBC crew was filming a ritual, and one of the producer’s asked, “Can you move the baby a bit closer to the fire?” That anecdote was part of a larger rant on the mistakes that reporters tend to make. At the conclusion of her conference speech, she asked the audience for questions. “The first person said to me, ‘Do you know how many journalists are in this room?'”

If and when West returns to writing, she said that she is pondering a book about starting covens. “It would be ‘don’t do it’ in 55,000 words,” she said.

UNITED STATES — As November looms ever closer, Americans continue to grapple with the many issues and the rheteroic surrounding the 2016 Presidential election process. The national conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties are now over, and candidates officially declared. At the same time, the smaller Libertarian and Green parties have also declared candidates. To date, this race has been one of the most contentious, and only promises to continue in that vein.

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One of the most critical issues for Pagans, Heathens and polytheists is a candidate’s position on religious freedom and the protections granted by the First Amendment. The Pew Research Center recently published an  overview of “Religion and the 2016 Election.” Where do various religious communities fall within candidate support? According to the June polls, GOP candidate Donald Trump finds his biggest support among white Evangelical Protestants. “Roughly eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestant voters (78%) say they would support Trump if the election were held today.” That percentage is up slightly from 2012.

On the other hand, black Protestants strongly favor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “Nine-in-ten black Protestants who are registered to vote say they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today (89%), as would two-thirds of those with no religious affiliation.” The unaffiliated is defined as the ‘nones,’ or those not connected with any religion.

Pew’s report did not record any interest in third-party candidates, nor did it analyze the responses from voters within non-Christian religious populations. Pew states, “There were not enough interviews with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members of other religious groups to analyze their responses separately.” That includes Pagans, Heathens and polytheists, unless some were labeled “unaffiliated.” Regardless, the data aren’t there.

Another Pew study published in January discusses the value of candidate’s religion within the campaign process. Does a candidate’s religious affiliation matter to voters? According to that study, 51 percent of Americans are less likely to support a candidate who “does not believe in God.” That statement could be read as meaning simply an atheist candidate, which is how Pew analyzes the data, or it could also be read as a candidate practicing a minority religion, who does not believe in the Abrahamic god. This nuance was not addressed.

At the same time, Pew does note that the percentage of people concerned about a candidate’s “faith” has been dropping. That figure is down twelve points from 63 percent in 2007. Similarly, the number of Americans who are “less likely” to support a Muslim candidate is also down from 46 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2016.

And, this trend follows with other major religions as well. The candidate’s own religious affiliation is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the election process, paralleling the growth of the ‘nones,’ an increase in minority religious practices, and other similar trends that suggest a movement toward greater secularization.

While the candidates’ religious beliefs are of decreasing interest, their position or their party’s position on religious freedom is still a vital part of the campaign process. Religious freedom was and is still one of the backbones of the American system.

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[Courtesy Pixabay]

So where do the parties stand? Here is a look at the official 2016 party platforms with statements by the candidate in no particular order.

2016 Democratic Party Platform

“Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” (p. 22)

The Democratic platform predominantly addresses religious freedom in general terms. It is included in discussions of general civil liberties, diversity in the military, LGBT rights, and the condemnation of profiling and hate speech. Democrats state, “It is unacceptable to target, defame, or exclude anyone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. ” (p. 18)

The platform talks more specifically about religion in three places. First, when discussing marriage equality, Democrats say, “[We] applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love.” They go on to indirectly reference the run of Religious Freedom Restoration acts (RFRAs) in the following statement: “We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 47)

U.S._Democratic_Party_logo_(transparent).svgThe Democrats also mention religion in a section titled “Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations.” They pledge to “empower tribes to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs,” among other things. And, they offer to “acknowledge the past injustices” that have led to the destruction of such beliefs. (p. 22-23)

Under the title “Religious Minorities,” Democrats say, “We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 51)

This idea is supported by a comment in Clinton’s own book, Hard Choices, published in 2014:

Religious freedom is a human right unto itself, and it is wrapped up with other rights, including the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, and assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that each of us is born free to practice any religion. (p.74)

Clinton herself is reportedly a Christian and, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, said, “[It] is our duty, to build that bright future, and to teach our children that in America there is no chasm too deep, no barrier too great–and no ceiling too high–for all who work hard, never back down, always keep going, have faith in God, in our country, and in each other.”

More recently, in an Op-Ed for the Deseret News, owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and with a Mormon readership, Clinton wrote, “As Americans, we hold fast to the belief that everyone has the right to worship however he or she sees fit. I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years.” She ends noting the “blessings” of Constitution and promise to uphold the President’s “sacred responsibility” to protect it.

2016 Republican Party Platform

“[Republicans] oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination.” (p. 9)

The Republican Party tackles religious freedom head-on. In a section titled “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty,” the party begins by saying, “The Bill of Rights lists religious liberty, with its rights of conscience, as the first freedom to be protected. Religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives.” (p. 11)

From there, the Republicans continue on to discuss the “ongoing attempts to compel individuals, businesses, and institutions of faith to transgress their beliefs” and the “misguided effort to undermine religion and drive it from the public square.” More specifically, the urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which removes the 1954 IRS code restricting tax-exempt entities, including religious bodies, from engaging in partisan politics. (p. 18)

Republicanlogo.svgThe Republican Party platform goes on to endorse the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (HR 2802) that addresses “discriminatory actions against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction.” This includes the repeal of the IRS tax code as well as further protections for faith-based institutions. The Republicans explain, “[the act would] bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” As such, the platform also “condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor.” (p. 11)

Religious rhetoric can be found in other sections of the platform, similar to the party’s position on marriage equality. However, the Republicans do not directly address religious freedom again until their discussion on foreign policy with regard to Israel and Syrian refugees. In both cases, they acknowledge their support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The platform reads:

The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. (p. 59)

Where does Trump stand specifically? He has reportedly spoken out briefly on the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. According to Time, Republican platform committee member Tony Perkins said, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.”

Trump’s running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, is a supporter of the RFRA movement, having signed one of the most publicized of such laws. Trump wrote in his book Crippled America, published in 2015, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132)

Trump’s foreign policy has been a hot topic after he suggesting banning Muslims from entering the country. However, he has since explained that his statement is about “territory” and not religion. As noted in the New York Times, Pence recently supported this idea when he stated that the campaign suggested an immigration ban on all people coming from certain Daesh-controlled territories.

In July, Trump himself was quoted in The Washington Post, saying “We have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. […] I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution.”

2016 Libertarian Party Platform

“As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” (p. 1)

The Libertarian Party published its 2016 platform in May after holding its own national convention. The platform is far shorter than either of the two major parties. Similar to the Democrats, the Libertarians did not address, condone, or endorse any specific religious freedom actions or proposed legislation. They simply expressed their general position with regard to religious liberty. In section “1.2 Expression and Communication”, the party writes:

Libertarian_Party_US_LogoWe support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion. (p. 2)

That is the only section that directly mentions religion or religious freedom; however, it is implied within other held positions affecting “personal liberty,” such as abortion, parenting and marriage equality. In all cases, Libertarians stress that government should “stay out of the matter.” (p. 3)

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson supports the platform in full. However, in his book Seven Principles of Good Government, he did note a nuance with regard to child care. He supports the use of government vouchers for child care, if and when it is within a religious facility. (p. 96-97)

More recently, The Deseret News published an op-ed with Johnson, who addresses religious freedom to the news agency’s Mormon readership. He wrote, “Given the divisiveness and pain that have accompanied several state religious freedom laws, I approach attempts at legislating religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws with great sensitivity and care.”

Johnson goes to say that he supports religious belief but fears “politically-driven legislation which claims to promote religious liberty” and is used to for discrimination. Here he is referring to the RFRAs.

In his conclusion, Johnson writes, “America is big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and practice on religious and social beliefs. As a nation and as a society, we must reject discrimination, forcefully and without asterisks. Most importantly, as president I will zealously defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments.”

2016 Green Party Platform

“As a matter of right, all persons must have the opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, any discrimination by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion, or physical or mental ability that denies fair treatment and equal justice under the law.” (10 Key Values)

logo-of-the-gpusa_square_weblogo_0The Green Party addresses religious freedom throughout its platform. In its Ten Key Values, the party condemnes the “systematic degradation or elimination of our constitutional protections,” and as part of that, they support the “U.S. constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and that there shall be no religious test for public office.” The Greens go on to say that they look to eliminate laws that “discriminate against particular religious beliefs or non-belief,” as well as eliminating the use of public funds to support “faith-based initiatives.” (Democracy)

In the Social Jusice section of the document, the Greens restate their support of the Bill of Rights, and then go on to offer a call to action with regard to a number of common situations in which religious freedom enters the debate. These situations include “curricula in government-funded public schools,” the Pledge of Allegiance, displays in public spaces, courtroom oaths, Boy Scouts, abortion, tax exemptions and more.

The Greens say, “We affirm the right of each individual to the exercise of conscience and religion, while maintaining the constitutionally mandated separation of government and religion. We believe that federal, state, and local governments must remain neutral regarding religion.”

On her own site, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein reiterated key components of the party platform. She only mentions religion specifically once, and that is with regard to foreign policy. She writes, “U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality.”

In a 2016 interview with OntheIssues, Stein spoke about religious freedom within the U.S. She said “We don’t live in a religious country–in the sense of having no national religion, and instead the separation of church & state–so faith should not be a public issue. […] Failing to separate church and state is a bad prescription.” Stein added that she brings a “perspective of religious neutrality,” which she believes is needed in this diverse “modern world.”

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While statistics appear to tell a story of a decreased interest or concern with religion’s place in politics, the decline is still very small. Whether religion is dealt with in specific terms, as the Republican Party did, or in more general ways like the Libertarians, it will continue to play a significant role in the American political machine. Religious conviction can be found underlying many major social issues, such as marriage equality and abortion rights, and at forefront of other debates, such as in public prayer and holiday displays. The U.S. may not be a religious country, but it is a country that continues to concern itself profoundly with the practice of religion, or lack thereof, in its many forms.

Editor’s Note: The Wild Hunt Inc is a non-profit news journal and does not take a position for or against any one party.

What’s the deal with all this moss? asks the new hydroponics expert. He had heard things about the weirdos from the first Mars colony – the ones that called themselves “The Seeds” – but he figured that had all just been rumors. But now that he’s actually in their habitat, seeing thick layers of vegetation instead of sterile metal sheets lining the walls, his perceptions have begun to change. This can’t be sanitary.

Please calm down, says a voice, buried deep within the foliage. You’re making my plants feel windy.

I don’t even know what that means, says the expert, trying to figure out the source of the voice – whether it belongs to a human or, somehow, emanates from each of the plants in unison.

Of course you don’t, says the voice. A human figure rustles from deep within the web of vines. Nobody understands our language but us.

Dialect, A Game About Language and How It Dies, by Thorny Games.

Dialect, A Game About Language and How It Dies, by Thorny Games.

This scene came from near the end of an unusual roleplaying game called Dialect, which I had the chance to play at this past weekend’s GenCon. GenCon, for the uninitiated, is the premier convention for hobby gaming: there are a few video game events, but for the most part, it caters to those who love games with boards, cards, and dice. I’ve been twice, and both times I’ve spent the majority of my time chasing after new roleplaying games. While there are plenty of opportunities to play Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder at the convention, it’s also the best place I know of to learn about more arcane RPGs; at last year’s con, for instance, I picked up Gregor Vuga’s Sagas of the Icelanders, which I have written about before.

What I liked best about Sagas of the Icelanders was how it invited players to play with the social concerns of a historical moment: unlike a purely fantastic RPG, the theme of Sagas was to imagine oneself as a medieval Icelander, facing not only the stereotypical challenges of Viking warfare, but also resource scarcity, social pressures, and gender anxieties. (In D&D, one chooses her religion to determine what spells she can cast. In Sagas, one chooses her religion to make sure her neighbors won’t cause trouble for her at the Althing.)

Although Dialect has almost nothing in common with Sagas on a mechanical level, it shares a similar interest in playing with an intellectual field; in this case, language, in particular the intimate forms of language we build within various communities. The premise of Dialect is that the players portray characters within a society that has become isolated from the rest of the world; in our case, a Mars colony mission that got cut off from communications with Earth. Within that isolation, the characters invent, appropriate, and redefine words to suit their community’s needs and interests. By the end of the game, the isolation ends, and the community’s dialect comes under pressure to conform to the baseline of the larger society.

The structure of the game has a beautiful effect. As the game goes on, words that mean one thing in our daily speech come to take on very different shades of connotation. In the game I played, for example, the word windy came to mean something like “troubled, worried.” The word asset came to mean “traitor,” by means of a sarcastic comment: You’re a real asset to the mission, a character said to another who had a chance to escape the isolation without anybody else.

The game ties the community’s new words to the ideologies that define the community. In our case, these were statements like we are pioneers and desperate times call for desperate measures. As a result, the new language players invent in Dialect comes to personify the community as a whole. A community rises, defines itself, and falls, all with the use of just a few new phrases. I found it a remarkable experience.

This is what our game of Dialect looked like by the end - the cards are the new words we invented, and the lines represent the three eras of play. (Photo by Eric Scott.)

This is what our game of Dialect looked like by the end – the cards are the new words we invented, and the lines represent the three eras of play. (Photo by Eric Scott.)

Dialect –- or any game like it –- can only imperfectly mimic reality, a fact that the designers readily acknowledge. The actual process of a community creating its own jargon is much more complicated than can be replicated in a three-hour roleplaying game. But the beauty of such games comes in how they invite us to reflect on the real world. Despite the science fiction trappings of our particular session, the basic scenario –- a community is formed, defines itself, becomes submerged within the broader society, confronts the conflicting desires to maintain its individuality and to be accepted by the wider world –- is highly applicable in the real world. Indeed, since GenCon, I have thought a lot about how Dialect mirrors my own experiences as a Pagan.

Take some of our words; the words that have special meanings to us. Pagan, itself, or Heathen. The notion that these terms mean “a member of a Neopagan religion” or “a member of a revivalist religion based on ancient Germanic religion”[1] seems so automatic to me that I get caught off-guard when I am reminded that most of humanity does not share these definitions. (When I first explained my writing to my dissertation advisor, she couldn’t stop chuckling: the notion of Heathen as a positive term struck her as utterly novel.) We could compile a list of these specialized terms –- indeed, I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay doing exactly that -– and observe just how many words take on different meanings in a Pagan context.

And indeed, the end of Dialect –- the encounter with the over-culture, the incentive for a community to abandon its idiosyncrasies in favor of acceptance by the outside world –- is a problem I’ve wrestled with since I was conscious of my own Paganism. The desire to be normal can be a powerful thing. I’ve made my choice by this point, but the push-and-pull of language remains ever-present. We have seen a long programme of attempts to explain Paganism in terms that are more palatable to the over-culture; recently we have seen some strong rebukes to that programme as well.

Although this process of identity-building far exceeds the scope of Dialect, I am thankful for the game giving me the opportunity to consider the issue. This is what games can do at their best: they allow us to live through the big questions in miniature, and with luck, bring some insight back with us when we return to the world outside.

 

[1] I realize we could have endless debates over whether or not these meanings actually suffice, but really, that proves my point more than anything – these are the meanings the words developed in my personal lexicon through my interactions with Pagan communities. Yours may be different, because your experience of the “Pagan community” is different.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

An archaeological dig at the Tintagel heritage site in Cornwall, South West England, has uncovered a complex of well-constructed buildings dating to the 5th or 6th century that could have been a royal palace – fuelling age-old speculation that the area was the seat of King Arthur.

Photograph by Emily Whitfield-Wicks. Tintagel Castle Archeology dig.

Tintagel Castle Archeology dig. [Photo Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks / Courtesy English Heritage]

In Britain’s first significant find from the Dark Ages, the team unearthed one structure with walls a metre-thick and artefacts that indicate a high and widespread level of trade. Analysis of artefacts shows the inhabitants enjoyed olive oil from the Greek Aegean and wine from Western Turkey. They ate off of plates and bowls that came from what is now Tunisia in North Africa. These details suggest that the inhabitants were of high status.

Whoever lived there is thought to have been the ruler of the Dunmonnia tribe, which occupied the entire South West region of England at the time, including Cornwall. Each area had tribal Kings, and continued to do so until the 9th century when King Ecgbert of Wessex became the King of “All-England.”

It must to be remembered that, although the Anglo-Saxons had arrived in England by the 5th century, the Western half of England, including Cornwall, was still very much under the control of the ancient Britons.

Historically, Cornwall has always been an important strategic point, due to its geographical location and its natural resources – particularly tin. The region was famous for its tin mines, which made the region very useful to the Roman Empire. The trade made the area rich, even after the Romans lost their footing in Britain in 410 CE.

Photograph by Emily Whitfield-Wicks. Tintagel Castle Archeology dig. Ryan Smith (Trench Supervisor) holding a phocaean red slip water from Western Turckey.

Ryan Smith (Trench Supervisor) holding a phocaean red slip water from Western Turkey [Photo Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks / Courtesy English Heritage

While dating to the 5th or 6th century, the complex is thought to have fallen into disuse by the 7th century. There is no evidence of military conquest, leading some experts to believe it was abandoned due to the bubonic plague, which ravaged the country around that time.

Win Scutt, English Heritage’s properties curator for the West of England, said, “The discovery of high-status buildings – potentially a royal palace complex – at Tintagel is transforming our understanding of the site. It is helping to reveal an intriguing picture of what life was like in a place of such importance in the historically little-known centuries following the collapse of Roman administration in Britain.”

This remains a landmark discovery regardless of any Arthurian connection. However, it has inevitably renewed debate on whether Tintagel was indeed the home of the legendary king, as told in the famous legend.

Many different regions lay claim to Arthur but most of those claims usually concern his final resting place. Glastonbury, in Somerset, has a historical claim in the grounds of its ruined Abbey, for example. A local legend at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, North-West England, claims that Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are currently sleeping under the rocky outcrop that gives the region its name. This local legend continues that when England is in dire need, they will awaken to defend the land once more.

There is also a persuasive theory from alternative historians Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett that much of Arthur’s story took place in South Wales. They argue that the legends about him represent a conflation of two historical kings, both called Arthur, separated by several centuries.

It cannot be denied that the Arthur legend is still very popular in Britain – and he is being given his latest cinematic outing by director Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which is due out next spring.

Most of conventional Arthurian legends come from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). Geoffrey was a Welsh monk, although some think Breton, meaning from Brittany.  This area in France was settled by a branch of Britons toward the end of the 4th century CE, who gave the region its name.

Incidentally, this is why Britain is referred to as Great Britain. It is not, as is commonly thought, a hangover from the days of Empire, but rather a way of distinguishing it from Brittany. Historically, Great Britain meant the larger mainland where Britons lived, and Brittany was known as Little Britain. This partly explains the confusion about Geoffrey of Monmouth, as interaction between the Britons of France – Bretons – and the ancient British would have been much more frequent than today.

Geoffrey was writing in the 12th century and claims to have translated a little-known Welsh book into English at the behest of his immediate superior Walter, the Archdeacon of Oxford.

Tintagel Castle. Prince Dafydd's tale. [Photo Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks / Courtesy English Heritage]

Tintagel Castle. Prince Dafydd’s tale. [Photo Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks / Courtesy English Heritage]

Many have claimed that Historia is merely an amalgamation of the writings of earlier clergymen such as the Venerable Bede, who wrote Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) and Gildas the Monk’s De Excidio et Conquestu Britannaie (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), as well as other sources, including material on the Bardic oral tradition.

Geoffrey’s work has long been dismissed as mythical and fantastical, but his claims that Arthur was conceived and raised at Tintagel Castle (giving rise to the legend of Merlin disguising Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, as the Duke of Cornwall in order to sleep with Igrainne, Arthur’s mother), have been strengthened by the recent find at Tintagel.

The Dark Ages complex is not the only ancient ruin on the Tintagel headland. There are also the remains of a much later medieval structure from the 13th century, which belonged to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was the brother of Henry III.

The Kingdom of Cornwall has always been prized by British royalty, and Geoffrey notes that Brutus, the mythical Trojan founder of Britain, gave Corineus, his second in command, the region to preside over and settle. In more recent times, the position of Earl or Duke of Cornwall has been held by someone very close to the Monarch. At present Prince of Wales Charles, who will inherit the throne from his mother Elizabeth II, presides over the Duchy of Cornwall.

Like Arthurian lore, Tintagel offers layer upon layer of history and meaning, and is intricately woven into the fabric of the nation’s mythic life. The latest finds may be able to offer some more concrete pictures the Dark Ages. However, they may also offer a fresh chapter in King Arthur’s story.

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Meanwhile, Tintagel has also been in the news this year due to regeneration plans by site manager English Heritage intended to raise visitor numbers.

A series of artworks exploring the myths and legends of the area have been commissioned and, to date, two are in place. A sculpture called Gallos, which is Cornish for “power,” was installed near the castle ruins on the headland in April. It’s creator, Rubin Eynon, says the piece is a warrior king who represents Tintagel’s royal past in general, but it is commonly referred to as Arthur.

Photograph by Emily Whitfield-Wicks Tintagel Castle - Installation of King Arthur Sculpture. The Sculptor Rubin Eynon from South Wales, just after the sculpture has been landed.

Installation of King Arthur Sculpture by Rubin Eynon from South Wales. [Photo Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks / Courtesy English Heritage ]

In the cove below, a carving in the granite near the entrance to Merlin’s Cave represents his sleeping face emerging from the rock as he waits for Arthur to return. The piece, by artist Peter Graham, was unveiled in February.

But the works have proved divisive. Many visitors approve of them, but locals and supporters of the Tintagel heritage zone dismiss them as a cheapening or a desecration of the area or what has been referred to by some as “Disneyfication.”

The Merlin carving lost the end of its nose by May and, while English Heritage claimed it was due to storm damage, rumours abound of it being knocked off in protest.

Merlin carving [Courtesy English Heritage]

Merlin carving by Peter Graham [Photo Courtesy English Heritage]

BETHEL, Vt. –Whether or not there is such as thing as “Pagan community” is as slippery a concept as the definition of “Pagan” itself. The core question is whether or not people who follow vastly different traditions have enough in common to share a common label, or a common table. Some festivals are positioned to reinforce a feeling of community. For example, at the end of Pagan Spirit Gathering participants don’t just leave; they head out on a “year-long supply run.” This week, participants at CWPN’s Harvest Gathering are told, “Welcome home,” as they arrive at the camp.

This begs the question: can community exist if its members gather only once a year?

Lunch at Laurelin is a colorful affair [Terence P Ward]

Lunch at Laurelin is a colorful affair [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

One group of Pagans, who gathered in rural Vermont at the end of last month, certainly think so. They were attending the annual Lughnasad festival at Laurelin Retreat, where notions of community were reinforced by this year’s theme: “The Journey Home.”

For some, Laurelin is considered one of the most beautiful Pagan places that no one has ever heard of. It is located on over 50 acres of land that was once farmed a generation ago. It slopes gently upward from ritual fields into verdant forest. Earlier in the summer the site was descended upon by well over a thousand people who disappeared into the woods for the Firefly Arts Collective, a Burning Man regional feeder festival.  But the aggressive leave-no-trace ethic makes that hard to believe.

The Lughnasad festival is a much smaller event with some 70 in attendance this year.

That number of people together for meals, rituals, workshops, and discussions for five days is small enough to form personal connections, but large enough that this bounding won’t happen widely without some effort. Attendees were randomly assigned to “houses,” color-themed groups responsible for aspects of the main ritual. Encouraged to wear their house color, they were also asked to sit together for lunch, whether or not they were on the meal plan. It’s not a new idea, but it encouraged people to forge connections they might have otherwise overlooked.

Laurelin's community shrine

Laurelin’s community shrine

This is a far cry from the halls of Pantheacon, where people juggle massive schedules and often meet each other waiting for elevators. Only one or two workshops were held at a time, under the dining fly or the shade of the box elder tree. There were also daily guided discussions, and one of those was focused specifically on community. Since blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop — who wrote a love letter to the Pagan community — was in attendance, Laurelin host Kirk White tapped her to facilitate.

Chapin-Bishop is a teacher, she explained, and “during the school year, online is the only community [she] can find.” It was in that space that she has seen Pagans debate whether there is a community among these religions, and if it’s even important to strive for one.

“Some say we don’t share enough theology” to make that viable, she went on, but “that’s not at all my impression.”

White has been hosting events at Laurelin for at least 30 years, and said a loose definition of membership had been adopted: “If you’ve been here at least once, and identify yourself as part of the Laurelin community, then you are.”

People from many different Pagan traditions have crossed through the gate, he said, in part because of how he differentiates community from tribe in his thinking. “Tribalism is us against them,” he said, but he models community more on the annual town meeting tradition in Vermont. “People disagree with me on a lot of things, but we work together for the common good of the community.” It’s a broader concept than tradition or tribe, he explained.

Shrine to Aphrodite [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

Shrine to Aphrodite [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

Walking the land and meeting the attendees reinforces that notion of community. Shrines to several deities, which were erected by a Hellenic reconstructionist group, dot the landscape in among old ritual circles used by White’s family in days gone by and sites which once held more temporary shrines to local spirits or foreign gods. The most prominent shrine is a standing stone on the cusp of the woods; this is the community shrine, where news of the year is shared as offerings are made.

High magicians and Witches alike participated in a Heathen sumbel, drinking to the many gods worshiped and honored by those around the fire. Some of the same people joined the five Quaker Pagans in silent worship. Conversations during meals or over a shared drink helped forge connections among people who traveled from as far as Texas and Michigan to be in attendance.

A common aspect of community, agreed those at Lughnasad, is the coming together over death and grief. One community member was even buried on Laurelin lands.

Not all aspects of community are tied to place, observed one traveler. “I feel a sense of community in Pagan gatherings all over the country,” she said. Chapin-Bishop characterized that as the cross-pollination which makes the next generation stronger as a result.

A herm stands at a crossroads [Terence P Ward]

A herm stands at a crossroads [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

“I don’t feel woven into a community until I return a third time,” Chapin-Bishop said, but even that depends in part on the nature of the event. She drew a distinction between what she called “consumer Paganism” — paying to be entertained at a festival — and the notion of “duocracy,” in which people who want to improve the experience simply do something to make that happen. The difference is partly cultural, and partly pragmatic. The more people in attendance, the more likely a festival will take on a consumer feel.

Another way White has tried to avoid the consumer feel is by employing something he has borrowed shamelessly from the Rites of Spring.  Prior to the event, a group of village builders transform the site and make it ready for everyone else. By doing so, they create bonds which they attempt to infuse into the entire site. Then these builders are broken into different houses, so that they don’t just talk only to the people that they know for the rest of the week.

“It’s easy for the locals to hang out together,” White said, but he’s mindful that many Pagans are introverts. The goal is that it “doesn’t feel like you’re going to someone else’s family reunion.”

White’s daughter Killian has watched this community shift and change over 25 years. She likened the way people step into a central role for a time before backing away to “part of a tree breaking off.” That can happen for any number of reasons, including when it arises out of conflict.

“Are conflicts a bug or a feature of community?” Chapin-Bishop pondered.

Conflict can arise over theological differences, leadership styles, or personal relationships. One goal of community might be to find ways for people to experience conflict without one member feeling that they must leave, and never return. As one attendee said, “Real communities have ragged edges,” both as a result of conflict, and because the definition of who belongs can often get fuzzy.

Impromptu Buddha shrine erected by an attendee [Terence P Ward]

Impromptu Buddha shrine erected by an attendee [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

The community feel at Laurelin was palpable during Lughnasad. The site is more primitive than some with only porta-potties and limited running water available. But, this fact also may be considered a feature rather than a bug. It meant that worshipers of Caffeina tended to gather around the great central percolator each morning, and that dish washing after meals was also a communal experience.

That’s only possible because of the small number of people.  However, White is confident that triple the number wouldn’t change that vibe or tax the facilities.

What a small festival doesn’t mean is a lack of options. A half-dozen or more vendors opened up shop for the week, and their number swelled Saturday afternoon to accommodate a psychic fair that’s open to the public. Lughnasad also has a history of attracting talented musical guests; this year Jenna Greene and Willowfire graced the stage for a concert that brought the energy levels up. Many later used that juice to climb the road leading to the fire circle in the deep woods, where drums and dancing continued until light returned.

One particularly poignant observation about community was made by Sybelle Silverphoenix. “I was one of the last 250 finalists for the Mars One project,” she told people at the community shrine.  During the first round, 4,227 people applied, and she was ultimately not selected as part of the “Mars 100” finalists. Nevertheless, “It made me think long and hard about what home is,” and by extension, community as well. Silverphoenix is planning on applying to future rounds, and if she’s successful, she’ll become the most distant member of the Laurelin community to date.

This idea of community remains a moving target, particularly among Pagans who attempt to create it largely through the internet or annual gatherings. While this group of Vermont Pagans probably don’t have a universal key to the idea, they have at least found a sweet spot for creating community with Yankee flair.

MICHIGAN — Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists living in Michigan’s 9th Congressional District have a candidate they may want to take a closer look at. Matt Orlando is an Ásatrúar running for Congress as the endorsed candidate of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. And one of his campaign stops is at the All Hands Together Harvest Festival hosted by Ancient Faiths Alliance.

Orlando is facing off against incumbent Sander Levin (D) and Christopher Morse (R) in the general election November 8, 2016. Orlando said his platform is focused on jobs, gun rights, freedom, privacy, and federal taxes and expenditures.

12670050_1735882656644681_5004245005220285737_nOrlando is currently employed as a compliance analyst and is married with four children. He has followed the Ásatrú religion for 20 years and has been an active member of the local Pagan community. He’s a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc. and serves as president of the newly formed Ancient Faiths Alliance.

Orlando is bringing his campaign to the event hosted by the Alliance as a way to connect with other Pagans and Heathens, and to let them know, “…there are candidates out there who aren’t Christian, who are from our community” Orlando hopes to spread the idea that liberty folks have a deep respect for liberties and rights as a whole.

Kenya Coviak, an organizer for the All Hands Together Harvest Festival, said that she likes the prospect of someone running who isn’t your average candidate and someone who is active in the Pagan community. Coviak said, “Though he is Ásatrúar, he has not fallen into the rutted roads that so many have when it comes to grouping Heathens and Pagans as mutually exclusive communities. This is evidenced by his involvement as a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc.”

Coviak admitted that she paused when finding out that he was running as a Libertarian. “As far as his political party affiliation, at first I had to give it a major look because of the unfortunate infestation of authoritarian right-wing hard liner factions, but have found that he is not a part of that.”

“[Matt’s] values and my values are similar,” Coviak added. “He is a fine person, and takes no stance he does not believe in wholeheartedly. I have no concern about him standing in a Hall at the end of his life trying to make excuses, for he stands in his truth. I believe he will be that kind of candidate, and that kind of elected official if he makes it. His party has some things that don’t ring my bell or stir my cauldron, but what is good has endured to make me believe that if he can be endorsed by them, then they are worth the time to look into as a viable choice.”

Orlando explained that he has found a philosophical home in the Libertarian Party. “One day a friend showed me some information on the Libertarian Party and I met with some Libertarians. I wanted to know if it was all just talk or if it was real. They explained it wasn’t about trying to control others, and having respect for people as individuals.” He also noted that when he had a different viewpoint, his fellow Libertarians didn’t browbeat him over the differences.

For Orlando, Libertarianism and Heathenry are very compatible. He said, “Both libertarian ideals and the 9 Noble Virtues are about being part of community and caring for each other while still being able to excel as an individual.”

He added that about half of the Libertarian Party of Michigan know of his religion but it is something the party has never asked about. “It’s not been an issue, I’ve never been pressed about it, and I love that about the Libertarian Party.” He believes that is how it should be, that a candidate’s religion is not part of a campaign or party politics.

Additionally, local voters haven’t seemed to focus on Orlando’s religion. “They’ve only care if I can get things going in the right direction and they come away believing I can,” he said.

Orlando is hoping more Pagans and Heathens run for elected office. And, for those thinking about it, he had this advice: “Do your research into parties and what they stand for. Not just at the national level, but at your state level.”

He also encourages candidates to stand on their principles and be confident so their words match their deeds. “You are your deeds,” he said, adding “I’d rather have people hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not.”

Although Ballotpedia is calling this race a safe win for the Democratic incumbent, Orlando is optimistic. “If I can get out there and my ideas are seen and heard, my chances are very good. When people from all over the political spectrum hear my ideas, they are very positive about them,” said Orlando.

The challenge is getting his name out there. Currently, Orlando has run his campaign with no fundraising and no attention from the press. The incumbent has raised over $600,000 and garners press. Orlando said that overcoming the deficit in money and media coverage is very difficult, but he has enthusiastic volunteers ready to help him go door-to-door and speak directly to voters.

The Wild Hunt will follow Orlando’s campaign and update readers as the election cycle progresses.

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BUTLER, Mo. —  The Sacred Well Congregation, an “independent, non-evangelical Wiccan Church,” announced Thursday that it has become an “Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the Department of Veterans Affairs.” The announcement reads, “We will now be able to endorse qualified clergy from Wicca and Earth-Centered Spiritualities who wish to apply for chaplaincy positions with the VA.”

The Sacred Well Congregation needed to meet a number of very specific criteria to qualify for this designation. These requirements included things such as functioning exclusively as religious ministry, being a tax-exempt religious organization, and agreeing to abide by “all federal, VA, and VHA laws, regulations, policies, and issuances on the qualification and endorsement of persons for service as VA chaplains, federal employment, and veterans health care.”

The requirements also ask that the group “Acknowledge that acceptance of an ecclesiastical endorsement by VA does not imply any approval by VA of the theology or practices of a religious organization.” There are many different religions represented on the current VA list; however, none are Wiccan or Pagan. Sacred Well’s Board of Deacons wrote, “This is a tremendous breakthrough, and will enhance our standing with professional chaplains organizations such as COMISS and APC, as well as strengthen our position as we move forward in our endeavors to secure status as an EEO for military chaplains.”  We will have more on this story in the coming weeks. 

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Charlie MurphyLANGLEY, Wash. — It was announced this weekend that songwriter and musician Charlie Murphy (1943-2016) has died. In spring 2015, Charlie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). At the time, a group of close friends called The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team wrote, “[The diagnosis] was a heavy blow for him and his husband Eric. They are fortunate to have loving families and to live in a supportive community with people who are doing so much to help them cope with the reality of this disease.”

The team set up a YouCaring funding campaign to support Murphy’s husband with the mounting medical bills. Along with traditional medicine, Charlie was working with “doctors of traditional Chinese medicine using acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements.” The funding campaign has raised $109,400 USD since its creation.

Charlie is best known in the Pagan world for his song, ” The Burning Times,” that, as we reported last year, “weaves a captivating story of the end of matriarchal, earth-based religions in Europe.” That popular song was first recorded in 1981 on Charlie’s solo album Catch the Fire. BOver the following decades, it was rerecorded many times by Charlie and others.

Aside from his musical career, Charlie was also known for his work as co-founder for Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE) an organization which trains people to empower children through art and the creative process. This group has set up a dedicated fund to assist his organization continue in its community service work.

Charlie died Aug. 6 at home with his loved ones present. His legacy will live on through his music, the PYE organization, and the many fond memories left with friends and family. A memorial celebration will be held September 1 at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island. What is remembered, lives.

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12958923_1468587901.5275HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — The Grove of Nova Scotia Druids is looking to buy land for Pagan worship. Founded in 2002, the Grove is an ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship)-affiliated organization located in eastern Canada. Its website explains, “Our core beliefs are in honouring the Kindreds, serving the Family, Grove and Community, living a more naturally-balanced lifestyle, and above all that the Grove should be an extension of family.”

Since its founding, Grove members have been involved in an number of public works, including rituals, meet and greets, and interfaith efforts, as we reported in June. The group is now looking to purchase and maintain land specifically for the Pagan population in the province.

On the GoFundMe campaign site, the group explains, “The Grove of Nova Scotia Druids hopes in the long term to build and facilitate a place of worship for the maritime Pagan community. We wish this place of worship to be all inclusive to all peaceful paths in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes inclusive. From either an outdoor location or a sheltered location to even a permanent structure we hope to provide all pagans of all paths a open and welcoming space.” Their current goal is set at $50,000 CAD, and they are looking into multiple forms of fundraising to earn that figure.

In Other News

  • Tuesday is voting day, and our own TWH journalist Cara Schulz is running for a city council seat in Burnsville, Minnesota. Over the past few months, Schulz has been out in the community speaking with journalists and residents about her platform. If she wins Tuesday’s primary, she will move on to the general election. There are currently two open seats with no incumbents running. This is Cara’s second run for public office. TWH will report the results in coming week.
  • Covenant of the Goddess will begin their annual business meeting, Grand Council, and the corresponding conference, Merry Meet, on Thursday. The four-day event is held in a different location around the country each year. San Jose, California is the host city this year, with CoG’s Northern California Local Council sponsoring the event. Nonmembers are welcome to attend.
  • Another upcoming weekend event is Witches in the Woods held in Ben Lomond, California. The annual camping festival begins Friday and runs through Monday. It includes guest speakers, rituals, workshops and “witchery.” This year’s theme is “Engaging the Invisibles: Calling Forth the Helpful Spirits, Ancestors and Allies.” Registration closes on Tuesday.
  • Pagan Pride Day (PPD) season is upon us once again, and people around the world will be coming out to celebrate, educate and enjoy a community of like minds. It is impossible to acknowledge the many Pride events that occur throughout the season. These festive events, only some of which are connected to the sponsoring organization the Pagan Pride Project, begin in early August and run through November. Pagan Pride UK, one of the first such independently organized Pride days, kicked off its 2016 festival Sunday morning. Held in Nottingham, the well-attended festival was captured in the video embedded below. PPD events will continue to pop up around world on weekends throughout the late summer and early fall, with the majority scheduled around the equinox. These festivities attract a large diversity of Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist guests and vendors, as well as many other locals curious about the unique community, its culture and beliefs.

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RIO DE JANEIRO – This week the world has turned its attention to famous Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro as it has become the host of the 2016 summer Olympic Games and the first South American city to stage the “biggest show on earth.” The games opened officially in Maracana Stadium Friday with traditional Olympic ceremony, as well as a spectacle showcasing Brazilian history, religion and culture

This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )

Since the location was announced and event plans executed, the Rio games have generated controversy, concerns and outrage, which included obstacles created by a downward turn in the Brazilian economy, and reports of political corruption and instability. The infamous Zika virus, which continues to plague the South American continent, caused a number of athletes, most notably the world’s top golfers, to completely pull out of competing in the Rio games. Other issues concern poor infrastructure, inadequate security measures, crime and life-threatening pollution of the local waters. And finally, one of the biggest concerns has cycled around the serious toll that event production has had on the Brazilian people themselves, which has included mass evictions.

As if that was not enough, the opening ceremonies itself ignited more backlash as producers directly confronted, through performance art, several problems facing humanity as a whole. These included climate change, violence, and the many growing divides between the world’s peoples.

This is not the first time that an Olympic event, winter or summer, has found itself at the epicenter of sociopolitical- or economic-based problems. Being a true world stage, the modern Olympic Games generates a spotlight serving to highlight both the very best and the very worst in humanity. Over the Olympics long history, we have seen religious extremism and racism in its ugliest forms as well as well as intense spiritual devotion and personal triumph from single athletes raising their victory medals. The Olympics can both horrify and inspire.

RJ - RIO-DE-JANEIRO - 05/08/2016 - REVEZAMENTO DA TOCHA OLIMPICA RIO 2016 - Revezamento da Tocha Olímpica para os Jogos Rio 2016. . Foto: Rio2016/Fernando Soutello

05/08/2016 – Olympic Torch Relay for the 2016 Rio Games. [Photo Credit: Rio2016/Fernando Soutello]

Regardless of these recent controversies, the Rio games are continuing on, and all under the watch of the city’s colossal statue Cristo Redentor, which sits atop of Mount Corcovado. As has been the case since the very first Olympic games held in ancient times, politics, economics, and religion find a place and even a voice within the sporting world.

The Ancient Games

Religion and politics weren’t always simply a sideshow at the opening ceremonies games, relegated to individual or community expression; nor were they simply a catalyst for Olympic controversy and distraction. It is believed that the Olympics themselves began as a sacred religious rite to honor Zeus. According to the Tufts University Perseus Project:

The games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce or small cakes, in thanks for their successes.

During the games a truce was established that allowed for the safe travel for worshipers, athletes and spectators. While the truce didn’t end wars, it served as a damper. And, over time the sporting event grew into a major athletic competition, attracting people from all over the ancient world.

In Hellenic society, the lines between religion and politics were not so clearly drawn as they are today, and interactions between these areas of life happened more fluidly. Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, an Associate University Librarian and Director of Research, Teaching, and Learning for American University, said, “Our distinctions now of sacred and secular are coming out of our modern history and generally do not apply to the ancient Hellenic world.”

Reece, who is also a Witch and Hellenic priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon, noted that the word “politics” comes from the Hellenic work “polis,” translated as “city-state” but meaning community. She said, “When Aristotle says that a human is a political animal, what he means is that we, as humans, naturally organize ourselves into communities that are larger than the family.”

“One of the things that I find deeply interesting and significant as an American is the way in which ancient Hellenic Pagan culture navigated the relationship between individualism and communalism,” explained Reece. “In many ways, the Olympic Games is one of the areas in which you can see this creative tension and interplay between these two commitments.”

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

This interplay between politics, religion and sports find its roots not only in the ancient tradition of the Hellenic games, but in the philosophical underpinnings of the ancient society in which they were born. Reece said, “The Hellenic ideal embraces the notion that in order to live a good human life, an individual must pursue areté, which is often translated as ‘virtue’ but more appropriately could be considered the pursuit of excellence. The highest goal of a human life is to strive as strongly as one can to fully embody your perfected human nature.”

This goal applies directly to Olympic athletic competition. Reece went on to say, “This kind of striving is not only something one does for your own glory, but an individual does this also to honor the gods by striving to be as like them as possible.” In that way, the ancient games were a competition for self and for country, as well as an offering to the gods. The games were both religious and political.

While these ancient offerings, regardless of the purpose, may have included animal sacrifice, food and drink, vegetables and flowers, prayers and hymns, it was the athlete’s own risk and commitment that were an essential aspect of the overall process. At the same time, as Reece explained, “an individual can only take these risks and develop excellence through the sacrifice of his/her whole community,” which included people such as trainers, family, food growers and more. The religious act is one of the polis.

Reece went on to say, “The community released the athlete and his team from other duties so that he could train and maintain focus. He was not just presenting himself and his own excellence for competition; he was standing for his whole polis as the best his community could offer and his individual glory was also their communal glory.”

“The idea that the effort a human being gives to pursue excellence is a sacred act and a community’s effectiveness in supporting an individual human’s pursuit of excellence is profound,” Reece described, “and one of the most powerful ways to honor the gods.”

While the ancient games were rooted in the commitment to the gods and community, they were not free from greater political manipulation and strife. Reece explained that the games, in many ways, were used as a way to define who was and wasn’t Hellenic. “Only Hellenes could compete,” Reece said. “When the Dorian kingdom of Macedonia was ascending to power, its rivals tried to undermine them by proclaiming that they were not ‘really’ Hellenic.” However, the Macedonians were allowed to compete in the games, and as Reece said, “Philip II won the horse-race on the day that his son, Alexander the Great, was born.”

When Greece lost its political power, the Roman Empire kept the Olympics Games alive, and over time the ancient games developed into a more secular event. However, its Pagan origins were not easily forgotten, causing the demise of the ancient games. The Perseus Project explains:

Once the Roman emperors formally adopted Christianity, they discouraged and eventually, outlawed old “Pagan” religious practices. Since the Olympic Games were first and foremost a religious celebration in honor of Zeus, they held no place in the Christian empire. The emperor Theodosius I legally abolished the games in 393 or 394 A.D.

The Olympics were born as a Pagan religious ritual and were eventually banned for that very same reason. By 393 A.D., the games were gone … more or less.

Toward a Rebirth

According to Frank Deford of the Smithsonian magazine, there is historical evidence that small, local Olympic-style games were played around the world for many years. Some even used the name Olympics. For example, in Cotswald, England, a Roman Catholic staged an elaborate Olympick games to counter the “dour Protestantism of the time.”

1908 London Games (public domain photo)

1908 London Games (public domain photo)

Then in 1865 Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern games, traveled to Much Wenlock, England where William Penny Brookes had been holding local games for years. Together both men aimed to bring back the romance and glory of the ancient event. After much negotiation, Athens became the first host city for the modern Olympiad in 1896. The games were held in the fully restored ancient panathenaic stadium and the marathon was added to honor ancient Greece.

The subsequent Olympics in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) were largely disappointments. Needing to bolster more support and publicity for the cause, Coubertin looked to the Olympics’ roots and asked Rome to be the fourth host city. Unfortunately Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 which ended that country’s bid. In 1908, London took up the reins and hosted the fourth modern Olympic Games. Deford writes, “All else had been pre­­­lude only now had the modern Olympics truly begun.”

The Modern Games

Although the games’ original religious focus had not been resurrected alongside the showcase of athleticism, the modern games were not without religious influence. According to USA Today, De Courbin himself said, “The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion above and outside the churches.” Additionally, several Olympic mottoes were coined by clergy such as “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger.)

Despite this joyful return, the political reality of faith-based conflict would eventually find its way into the Olympic spotlight. For example, at the 1936 Berlin games, Hitler outlawed German Jewish athletes from participating. The games were canceled in both 1940 and 1944 due to the Second World War. In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were held hostage by Palestinians at the Munich Games. This standoff ended in the death of all 11 Israelis and five of the Palestinians. Then in Atlanta in 1996, an Army of God fundamentalist detonated a bomb in a crowded Centennial Olympic Park.

Fortunately the more violent conflicts are few and far between. However, national political conflict, even absent of religion, has found its way into game play, as it did in ancient times. For example, as a reflection of the ongoing Cold War, the U.S. Olympic team staged a boycott of the 1980 summer games held in Moscow and, four years later, the Soviet team retaliated doing the same for Los Angeles games. North Korea boycotted the 1988 games held in Seoul, South Korea. The country of Georgia protested the winter games held in Sochi, Russia. These are only a few examples.

Grecia - Olimpia - 20/04/2016 - REVEZAMENTO DA TOCHA OLIMPICA RIO 2016 - Ensaio geral da cerimônia de acendimento da Chama Olímpica Rio 2016 na cidade de Olímpia, na Grécia. . Foto: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello

Dress rehearsal for the 2016 Torch Lightening Ceremony in Greece. Presentation of the Priestesses. [Photo Credit: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello]

For our expansive modern world, there is an increased potential for interactions and clashes among different communities, whether it be over religion or politics or both. The Olympics is a cauldron for the world’s cultural and religious diversity. The challenge for an Olympic committee is not just in the staging of an epic and expensive athletic event or the choreography of the opening ceremonies. It is also in the peaceful bringing together of the world’s people, who represent an enormous range of beliefs, experiences and cultural expectations.

Despite the continued complaints and allegations directed at Rio’s Olympic committee, the 2016 games has already attempted to spotlight that diversity, demonstrating that the world sporting event can serve as a voice against all odds, a call for peace, and a showcase for diverse cultures. Along with Rio de Janeiro being the first Olympic city in South America, the International Olympic Committee, with help of various nation sponsors, created a Refugee Team, made up of athletes who have been displaced from their own countries. The team consists of members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.

IOC President president said, “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

Grecia - Olimpia - 21/04/2016 - REVEZAMENTO DA TOCHA OLIMPICA RIO 2016 - Cerimônia de acendimento da Chama Olímpica Rio 2016 e início do revezamento grego no sítio arqueológico do Templo de Hera. . Foto: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello

2016 Olympic Torch Ceremony at the Temple of Hera in Greece [Photo Credit: Rio2016/Andre Luiz Mello]

In this way, the spirit of the modern games is not entirely different from the spirit of the ancient games. Dr. Reece said, “There is symbolic importance to the Olympics […] Whereas the Olympics of old were a true causal force in the development of a Pan-Hellenic identity (the idea that being “Greek” meant something), I think the [modern] Olympics are a causal force in the development of cosmopolitan identity. The ideal of the Cosmopolis, which is present in Hellenic culture from Alexander the Great on, is the idea that we are not just citizens of the polis, we are citizens of the Cosmos and have a duty to each other as fellow-citizens.”

Reece added, “That doesn’t mean that we necessarily get along or agree with other nations, but it helps expand our notion of connection and identity because the type of excellence we see in a runner, for example, is not different based on nationality, race, creed or any other division. It is the excellence of a human who is a runner. In that way, I think [the modern games] have a strong continuity with the ancient games.”

While direct aspects of the Hellenic religion are mostly muted or completely removed from the modern games, we are reminded of those origins through various Olympic rituals, including the torch ceremony, which begins at the Temple of Hera in Greece, or in the athletes’ march in the opening ceremony, which is led by Greece. Yet, at the same time, the very spirit found in those ancient games, stemming from ancient sociopolitical and religious ideals, are still very much alive in the modern event. We can find this spirit in the athletes, as they stand on the winners’ podiums receiving their victory medals, or in the many personal stories of individual and family sacrifice.

It is on this world stage where we witness politics, religion, and sport merge and intermingle, for better or worse. And, within that intersection, just as it was in Hellenic society, the individual athletes, who strive and sacrifice, stand as champions and as inspirations for themselves, for their polis and the greater cosmopolis.

In an article posted May 31, Kari Paul at the Broadly channel on Vice pitted Wiccans and professional tarot card readers against popular smartphone apps that purport to offer divination to any user at the tap of an icon. To Paul’s credit, her piece was not the sort of exploitation piece you often see when mainstream journalists cross paths with Witchcraft and Paganism. Her tone comes off as that of a sincere investigator trying to discuss a real tension between two different types of people.

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The Wildwood Tarot Application by Fool’s Dog [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

At the same time, Paul presents a relatively black and white world where the battle lines are clearly drawn: Witches have a bone (or a card, or a rune) to pick with programmers who think they can mathematically create the randomness and relationships necessary for accurate divination to occur. For example, she quotes one professional reader named Tea Cake who calls divination apps “extremely gimmicky and next to useless.” Tea Cake goes on to question the tarot skills of app programmers, stating that their unknown credentials make it “difficult to sort out what is bullshit.”

Another Witch in the article, Maria Palma-Drexler, tells Paul that “technology has its place in witchcraft, but only as an aide,” while another, known as Blue June, states emphatically that “practices like divination are better carried out the way they have been traditionally: by humans, not apps.” She stresses that “there is no need to add technology.” While Paul does quote author Mary K. Greer in support of apps toward the end of her piece, the overall picture is one of Witches and readers distrusting the skills and sincerity of software developers. It is right there in the headline: “Covens vs. Coders.”

Is that picture correct? Pagans are often less black and white in their thinking than other people and, much like the rest of the industrialized world, most have embraced the digital culture we live in today. Smartphones and the apps that go with them are just another part of that culture. According to some professional and experienced readers, there may actually be a much more complicated relationship between them and the new experience of divining by tapping an icon.

Fiona Benjamin [Courtesy photo]

Fiona Benjamin [Courtesy photo]

Fiona Benjamin, who reads tarot and bones professionally at modernfortuneteller.com, believes the apps can be used for divination, especially in public situations. “Sometimes you need to pull your cards out in a location where you can’t shuffle your cards,” said Benjamin. “I don’t see it as an ‘evolution’ of the physical cards so much as a welcome alternative.” As a parent of young children, she also notes the convenience of being able to answer a question for herself “without fear of ripped cards in the hands of babies.”

Lupa, a professional reader, blogger and author, believes these apps are useful for answering a querent’s needs. “I don’t see them as less effective than paper cards or carved runestones,” she said. “After a certain amount of experience the exact tool you use is kind of like Dumbo’s feather—it’s just a way to trick your mind into getting in the right place for divination.”

While some professional readers are on board with smartphone divination, others are not so certain about it. Yet their criticism does not come from the “extremely gimmicky” place mentioned by Paul. Their concerns are little more nuanced.

Lupa [Courtesy photo]

Lupa [Courtesy photo]

“I would love to say these apps are completely useless, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” states Mat Auryn, who reads tarot at shops throughout New England as well as on his own website. “Do they work for divination?” asked Auryn. “Yes and no.”

Basing his theory of the tarot on Carl Jung’s ideas of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, he said that, “The collective unconscious is always trying to communicate psychic information to us via symbolism.” He stressed that, “the cards that are drawn are the cards meant to be seen.” Divination, by that theory, is admittedly possible.

The trouble, according to Auryn, comes both with how the software is developed and how it is used. The apps rely “on computer generated algorithms instead of randomly shuffling,” a weakness which harms the random nature of card pulls. “Both are random,” he explained, “but one is based on preset coding, which will eventually repeat.”

A further concern, according to Auryn, is that “most of the meanings are set and short,” which means that, “without a deep understanding of the cards, the answer is totally out of alignment with the question and the position in the spread.” The cards, then, may be providing the correct message, but the finite number of keywords available to the user may not be able to accurately convey the intended message. The implication here is that one must already be experienced in the tarot in order to accurately interpret the messages on the screen. Of course, an appreciable number of users do not have that expertise.

Mat Auryn [Courtesy photo]

Mat Auryn [Courtesy photo]

Auryn concluded that, while the apps are not useless, they need to be used wisely. “A legit psychic is tapped into the collective unconscious,” says Auryn. “The professional reader is an expert in their field.”

“The difference,” he said, “is the same as going to the doctor and having a WebMD app.”

In Paul’s original Vice article, the lack of person-to-person energy was a major concern. “Each client comes in with their own energy,” Blue June was quoted as saying. “The problem with an algorithm is that it’s just random—it has nothing to do with intuition.”

Auryn only partially agreed with that statement. “It is important to feel the energy of a client,” he admitted, “but that doesn’t have to be in person.” Since we are all connected by the collective unconscious, in his view, “distance has no bearing on a reading.”

Mary Paliechesky, who has been reading tarot for over 30 years, agreed. She said that, “I used to agree that you needed to feel the energy of the person that you are reading. However, I think that was an artifact of my skill level and training. The energy is all around us. You can connect to a person across space as long as you know their energy.”

Mary Paliechesky [Courtesy photo]

Lupa said that she does prefer to check in with clients during a reading. “Any reader, no matter how good,” said Lupa, “is by necessity projecting some of their own biases into the reading, and it’s important to make sure that they match up with the client’s experiences.” The ability to check in with a client, a capability that is difficult to obtain through an app, helps to eliminate a reader’s bias.

In her professional life as a reader, Benjamin is more concerned with communication than with energy. “I can feel the energy all day long,” she explained, “but if I am failing to meet the needs of the client or if I don’t communicate the message in a way that is clear, the reading will not be useful.”

To be fair, the Golden Thread Tarot app, which is featured in Paul’s article, does contain some emotional interfacing to address this concern, but it allows only a limited number of emotional responses from the user, leading back to the criticism of being finite. It’s not useless, and some professionals even say they use this app regularly, but as experts it is much easier for them than it would be for a typical client. In the end, perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship of professional readers and experienced Witches to electronic divination is a much more complicated picture than Paul seems to paint. While there are some reservations in the community, there is not an attitude of wholesale rejection, and there is a definite strain of recognizing their value.

Auryn cautioned that, “It is important to remember that you always get what you pay for. There is no app that can ever replace a talented psychic or an advanced student of the tarot.” Others, however, are much more positive. “Divination apps are genius,” concluded Benjamin. “A tarot reader’s skills will never be diminished because of technological aid.” In the same camp, Paliechesky put it simply: “Times change and energy is all around us. If it works for you, it works.”