EUGENE, Or. — Last week, Sara Kate Istra Winter, also known as blogger Dver at A Forest Door, announced the release of her new book, Komos: Celebrating Festivals in Contemporary Hellenic Polytheism. It’s intended to be a “201-level” book for Hellenic polytheists who wish to explore the religion beyond household practice. As she was gearing up for publication, Winter was kind enough to answer some questions about her background and the book, giving a sense both of what Komos offers to worshipers of the Hellenic gods, and what it does not.

Sara Kate Istra Winter

Sara Kate Istra Winter

The Wild Hunt: For those who are unfamiliar, can you share a little bit about your religious practices and/or beliefs?

Sara Kate Istra Winter: I usually describe myself as being on the “outskirts” of Hellenic polytheism, simply because while I have a strong foundation in that religion, I am foremost a mystic and spiritworker and I let my experiences with the gods and spirits guide me to whatever will feed my practice best. Therefore I am also influenced by Slavic, Germanic and English folklore and customs, I pay some limited cultus to non-Hellenic deities such as Odin, and all of the spirits I work with are either local or personal, but not from the Hellenic tradition. I am devoted to Dionysos nearly to a point of henotheism (these days I might say I am more of a Dionysian than a broad Hellenic polytheist), though my relationship with Hermes balances that out a bit.

I am a hard polytheist, an animist, and I favor a foundation of reconstructionism tempered by ongoing personal experimentation. I have spent the past two decades studying ancient religion, including as part of a college degree, but I will ultimately choose to follow instructions from a deity or techniques confirmed by divination rather than a strict adherence to past practices.

TWH: What kind of experience do you have with Hellenic festivals specifically?

SW: I have been celebrating Hellenic festivals for nearly twenty years in one form or another. At first I mostly tried to fold them into my ritual group’s multi-tradition rites, then I experimented with a few on my own, then I spent about seven years closely working with Sannion (another Dionysian) to develop a complex and powerful festival calendar. These days I mostly do the strictly Hellenic festivals on my own again, and sometimes with the help of my Heathen partner. I have adapted ancient festivals, created many new ones, worked through interconnected festival cycles, and have experienced both large successes and utter failures. Some festivals were done once and never repeated because they just didn’t work. I have been celebrating others for many years consistently. I have accumulated a lot of experience via trial and error.

TWH: The word “festival” suggests something different than “ritual.” How do you define it?

SW: This is an important point that I address early on in the book. A festival is definitely more than a ritual (and in ancient Greece, it was also more than a sacrifice, which could be held separately from a festival). It is a set of rituals, and ancillary activities, that all focus on a common religious theme. That theme might be a certain aspect of a deity, or a seasonal marker, or a semi-magical concept such as purification. In addition to offerings, libations, [and] prayers . . . a festival also includes celebratory activities such as dancing, music, and feasting, as well as specialized rites particular to each one — this might be something like replacing a statue’s clothing, or making a certain type of cake, or going to a special place sacred to a deity. It is also important to note that a festival is by nature something that is repeated consistently, generally at the same time each year.

TWH: Where do you get your own ideas for festivals?

SW: Well I definitely started with research into the ancient festivals, which I still advise for others. Some of the festivals I still celebrate are ancient ones, such as the Anthesteria. But I also took a lot of inspiration from those and used it to craft new festivals, by learning what the basic approach was, what types of activities might work, what concepts could be expressed, etc. Some of my festivals spring from the place where I live — those honoring the local nymphs for instance, or marking times of regional significance (either culturally or environmentally). Others have arisen in response to personal spiritual experiences with my gods, wanting to mark those in some way, for instance to honor the specific faces of Dionysos that I myself have seen.

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TWH: What might the solitary practitioner find valuable in Komos?

SW: Since I personally have done so many festivals either alone or with only one or two other people, and I’m pretty sure most other Hellenic polytheists are in a similar position, I wrote Komos from that perspective. Almost every suggestion is meant to be adaptable to a solitary practice. Frankly, the Hellenic festivals of antiquity were designed to be celebrated by large groups, so adapting those (or new festivals based on the same principles) for a large group now isn’t much of a challenge — the real issues come up when you try to figure out how to do the same things all by yourself. Processions, competitions, revels, these are all collective activities in our minds, and I’ve tried to suggest ways they can be incorporated even into a solo event.

TWH: How about someone who would like to organize something for a group, or in public? Does it include any advice about the issues that need navigating?

SW: I have mostly focused on solitaries and small groups with this book. I do not know of many people attempting to put on entire festivals (as opposed to rituals) for large or public groups. However, I do think the way I’ve broken down the key elements and the issues regarding timing and localization could all be applicable to larger festivals, and will be especially helpful when people are trying to create new festivals rather than just reviving the same few Athenian ones we all know.

TWH: You’ve described this as a “201-level” book. What would you recommend someone read or do before picking it up?

SW:  Well, it would definitely be useful to read my first book on Hellenic polytheism, Kharis, which covers the religion in a broader sense. I also think anyone coming into Hellenic polytheism should at least read a few basic scholarly books to get a footing — though they don’t need to become scholars themselves by any means! — and this would include authors such as Walter Burkert, Martin Nilsson, Jane Ellen Harrison, Jennifer Larsen, Robert Parker, Karl Kerenyi, [and] Sarah Iles Johnston . . . I also like to recommend Pausanias since he paints a great picture of the variations in cultus across the Greek lands, and of course the ancient playwrights though you have to take them with a grain of salt.

However, I always stress that you can practice Hellenic polytheism from day one, and learn as you go from a combination of reading and experience. It doesn’t take an complicated knowledge to pour out a libation and hail the gods. The rest will come with practice. Komos will definitely make more sense if you’re at least familiar with the Greek gods and some basic ideas of how they were worshiped in antiquity, but it doesn’t require anything more than that. I define all the terms that are in Greek, and I take a fairly practical approach to the whole issue. I call it a “201-level” book because instead of just being an overview of the religion as a whole, it’s focusing in on a specific aspect in more depth, and aimed at people who want to really dig in and expand their practice.

TWH: Will this book be useful for people who worship Roman deities, or perceive them as identical to Hellenic ones except in name?

SW: I suppose it depends on how important it is to them to reconstruct the Roman way of doing things, which was similar but not identical to the Greek way. I admit I am not very knowledgeable about Roman religion, so I’m not sure exactly how much of this would be applicable. I have distilled the concepts that were especially important to the Greeks when thinking about what makes up a festival; I do not know how many were equally important to the Romans, although I would guess there is a lot of overlap. Certainly some of the specific ideas and suggestions could work for either.

TWH: More broadly, is this information specifically Hellenic in character, or do you include methodologies or strategies which could be adapted to unrelated religious practices?

SW: This book is definitely specifically Hellenic in focus. With all my religious practice, I attempt to explore what the foundational assumptions and priorities are in the original religion, and then extrapolate to create new practices that are still consistent with tradition. These things are going to be different for every culture, at least to some degree. Sometimes these differences are negligible — an athletic competition during a Hellenic holy day might seem quite familiar to a Norse heathen — but sometimes there are crucial differences, such as traditions in which you consume the offerings versus those (like ours) where that is forbidden. My discussion of the lunar calendar will have little relevance to those outside the Hellenic worldview, but my chapter on how to localize your rites might strike a chord with anyone practicing a recon-based tradition. I also briefly touch on the issue of celebrating festivals in multi-tradition households in my troubleshooting section.

Komos is now available through Createspace, and also on Amazon, along with Winter’s prior book on the subject, Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored.

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Just over 10 years ago work started on a new Egyptian temple dedicated to the Goddess Hathor. The design for the temple was revealed by the Goddess herself to Tim, a solitary Kemetic Wiccan living in rural Wisconsin. Over the years, Tim worked almost daily to recreate the temple that he saw during his trance.

Now nearing completion, the temple consists of an eleven foot entry gate and two circles of cement pillars 11 feet high and weighing two tons each. The temple is a testament to Tim’s dedication and shows what one devoted polytheist can accomplish when he’s sincere in honoring his Gods.

Tim describes himself as a Kemetic polytheist who was initiated into an eclectic Wiccan Goddess path back in 1979. The Wild Hunt talked to him about why he built this temple and how it has affected his worship.

View of the entire temple. [Courtesy photo]

View of the entire temple. [Courtesy photo]

The Wild Hunt: Many people dream of building a Pagan temple, how did your dream start?

Tim: By 2006 I had been a practicing Wiccan for 27 years following an eclectic Goddess path and was wondering if maybe the circle casting for Wicca could be a subconscious residual type memory carried through from previous lives relating to the stone circle rituals of a forgotten distant past. I wondered what would happen if someone built a modern structure to practice ritual in. I also wanted to move away from the eclectic path of many Goddesses and go into a path of total devotion to one Goddess only. With these two issues at the forefront of my ritual practice every time I did ritual, I decided to act on them both.

For Spring Equinox of 2006 I did my usual circle casting and put myself into a trance and asked Goddess to reveal a specific form for me to put my devotional efforts towards. She whispered the name HauetHer to me and simultaneously I was shown many images of Goddess Hathor and Her temples from old Egypt. OK, I now have a Deity to direct my efforts towards, even though I had pretty much never heard of Her before. So then the next time I did a circle and ritual, which was Beltane of 2006, I asked Goddess Hathor for Her help in designing a temple as I had tried for almost 10 years and just could not get any ideas. Again, in a ritual trance, I put my question to Goddess Hathor and Her reply to me and I quote Her on this, “if you are to build a temple for me, this is how you shall do it”, and in a split second I had a sort of video clip put into my memory of the structure I have built.

Still in trance, I wondered how am I going to build this. She replied that I need not be concerned, She will show me all I need to know. The next question I had was what am I going to use to build this and Her instant reply was “liquid stone” and images of concrete were put into my mind. And that is how it all got started.

TWH: This is a major undertaking. How long have you been working on the temple and how have you funded it?

Tim:  I have been working on the temple for 9 years now, with the first 7 working on it almost daily. The temple itself has cost about 5 thousand dollars total in materials. It is built on a 40 acre parcel of land I bought in 1989 which is also where I built my house. I have financed the whole project through my paychecks from my employment as a Tool and Die maker for manufacturing.

Images of Hathor can be seen from any point in the temple [courtesy photo]

Images of Hathor can be seen from any point in the temple [courtesy photo]

 

TWH: The pictures are amazing. Can you describe the temple layout and the significance of why it laid out in that manner?

Tim: The layout of the temple is 2 concentric rings of columns with a semicircle entry/transition path. When I was building the structure, I had no idea why it was built this way. I put my complete trust in my designer, Mother God Hathor and as construction progressed, She would reveal to me the exact purpose behind each group of components.

The inner circle of columns is 33 feet across and consists of 4 pedestal quarter markers with a pair of obelisks equally spaced between the quarters. The obelisks make this a strictly solar temple. For some reason still unknown to me, the obelisk shape works only with solar energy .This is also the main working circle, creating a ring of energy, a permanent version of a cast circle. Alignment of the temple is to magnetic north.

The main circle entry is also on the north end, as we enter as earthly beings, earth being a north aspect in my practice. The center point of the central table is the point of origin for all measurements used to build the temple. In the west, there will be a Naos shrine with sacred image of Hathor in it. For now, I have a temporary image of Her at that spot.

The outer circle of pillars, the T shaped ones, are the outer boundary of the temple. These are an array designed to collect and amplify the natural energies flowing through the Earth and create a large and permanent bubble or sphere of living interactive energy flow. This circle is 47 feet across and consists of 26 triangular shaped pillars with capstones placed on top of each one. The capstones somehow change the vibrational frequency of the whole temple. Before the capstones were put on the outer pillars, the site had a low hum type of feel to it. After I put on the first 6 capstones I noticed the hum started to change to a ring. After all 26 pillars had capstones installed, the site had a constant ringing feel to it, sort of like the effect you get with a Tibetan bell. Not an audible ring, just a sensory type of feel to the site. The outer pillars are equally spaced based on a 27 position circle, however one was removed to allow the entry ring to be built.

The entry ring, the stargate looking structure, is a molded concrete ring 9 feet across on the inside and 11 feet across on the outside. It is of critical importance for safe passage in and out of the temple circles. The entry ring leads out to the transition pathway, a pathway lined with 9 pairs of equally spaced pillars, another critical component and a safety feature. Pairs of pillars create a mild energy field between them and you get energetically groomed passing through this area. When doing temple ritual, one enters and maintains very heightened states of being and the transition path reintegrates you into the regular world.

At the end of the semicircular transitional pathway are the massive entry pillars. These pillars are 10 feet tall and over 2 tons each. They are spaced closely so you can stand between them with hands on both to completely ground yourself whether entering or leaving the temple. All structures in the temple have integrally molded foundation posts extending into the ground between 4 and almost 6 feet. This withstands frost heave in the winter and gives a solid connection to the flow of earth energies. And that is the basic operating principles of this temple.

The entry arch spans 11 feet and the flanking pillars are 12 feet high. [courtesy photo]

The entry arch spans 11 feet and the flanking pillars are 12 feet high. [courtesy photo]

TWH: I know the Goddess Hathor asked you to build the temple, but what purpose does it serve? How will it be used?

Tim:  The purposes of this temple so far are for worship and personal spiritual development. It also is developing into a metaphysical research device. For now, it is private worship only as I have very few facilities for any larger uses. Future plans call for building a small pavilion shelter and getting a porta toilet put in place to accommodate small groups. The religious holidays I celebrate are the 8 quarter and cross quarter days and also an additional 20 ancient Egyptian days to honor Mother God Hathor.

When I started out on this project, I had some ideas on how I was going to utilize a permanent temple. In very short order, I found out that what I thought I knew and what actually happens with a functioning temple are very different realities. Because of the permanent energy field the temple generates, circle casting is not needed. I was made aware of that very clearly when I went to cast a circle to use after the inner circle of columns was completed. I started to cast my circle and had a rather firm thought come to me that it is not necessary to do circle casting anymore. I continued anyway and as I almost was done with my circle, I got a command, “you don’t need to do that anymore”. So I haven’t cast a circle since. Have not needed to either.

The space between the inner and outer circles of pillars I use as a processional path to do temple purifications and cleansings. There are 33 images of Hathor of 4 different types in the temple so wherever you are in the temple Her image is visible. Symbolizes Her presence everywhere in creation. The entire structure is an interactive device that seems to stimulate the intuitive areas of the brain and heighten this type of sensory awareness. I have used it daily since I started on it in 2006 and have noticed a dramatic increase in creative abilities, intuition and chakra activity.

Another very important side effect is the instant credibility I get from the mundane world when it comes to discussions of the religious practices I follow. So that is the story behind my adventure into the world of contemporary temple building.

Construction is now

Construction is now focused on detail work such as painting the pillars and images. Tim works under a portable shade canopy. [courtesy photo]

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For now, the temple is for private use only, and Tim is still working to finish painting the pillars, images of Hathor, and the capstones. If the temple space becomes available for groups to use or visit, The Wild Hunt will update readers.

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Covenant of the GoddessOver the past weekend, Covenant of the Goddess held its 40 year anniversary MerryMeet event in Ontario, California. The weekend included its annual two-day Grand Council, during which the consensus-based organization conducted its internal business including the election of officers.

After a tumultuous and uncomfortable beginning to 2015, the organization did come back to internally address what had happened. A break-out group was asked to review and present the organization’s revised social justice statement and make further recommendations. The result of the meeting was the creation of a permanent internal Social Justice committee to address the problems of racial inequity and systemic racism. Of this news, incoming First Officer Yvonne Conway-Williams said, “I think CoG is taking earnest effort at looking towards the future and drawing a line in the sand about who we are and what we stand for.” Conway-Williams is also a member of the new committee and was instrumental in the revising of the statement. More information on these developments will eventually be posted on CoG’s media sites.

The 40 year old organization is one of the oldest Pagan organizations in the country, and that was the theme of this year’s event. Looking toward the future, long-time member Amber K said, “I am fairly hopeful because representatives here seem to embrace change. They are cautious and careful but not stuck in methods of the past which would allow us to evolve and stay relevant.” Covenant of the Goddess will begin its 41st year on Samhain with new officers:  Co First Officers Yvonne Conway-Williams and Jack Prewett, Second Officer Glenn Turner, Co-Publication Officers Stachia Ravensdottir and Zenah Smith, Public Information Officer Greg Harder, Membership Officer Rachael Watcher, Communications Officer Rev. Peter Hertzberg.

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Cherry Hill Seminary

In April 2016, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) will be hosting a new three day conference in conjunction with The University of South Carolina. The symposium and environmental leadership training will be centered around the theme and title, “Greening of Religions: Hope in the Eye of the Storms.” The keynote speaker is University of Florida Professor Bron Taylor.

CHS Academic Dean Wendy Griffin said, “Laurie Zoloth, bioethicist and president of the American Academy of Religion, has called climate change the greatest moral issue of our time.  Increasingly, voices from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions are bringing the link between religion and climate change to national and international notice, from the Green Seminary Movement, to the expected Papal encyclical, to conferences ranging from the purely academic to those like the World Parliament of Religions, and to the growing emphasis on environmental justice.”

CHS is now calling for “proposals from a broad understanding of religion, including the Abrahamic, the Dharmic, the contemporary Pagan and the Earth-based, as well as from diverse methodologies: theoretical and practical, qualitative and quantitative, normative and descriptive.” The due date for abstract submission is September 30, 2015. The three day event runs from April 1-4, 2016 and will be held on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia.

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Rhodes-1-500x308The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece. was dealt a blow in its quest to gain state recognition as a religious community. On Aug. 1, a spokesperson said, “Once again, the Greek State has shown that it has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and, being unable to respect with dignity its own laws (in this case Act no. 4301/2014). It has rejected by the intermediation of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity Hellenic Ethnic Religion.”

Founded in 1997, YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition. Such a recognition would allow them to do things like buy property for the community to use. Its work has included “14 years of activity in the (modern) Greek reality with more than 230 interventions (letters and press releases) and many protests for the protection of the Hellenic tradition, human rights and religious tolerance, 300 seminars, tactical celebration of the ancient festivals, public rituals and educational events.”

In Other News:

  • We are pleased to announced that Polytheist blogger Heathen Chinese will be joining The Wild Hunt as a monthly columnist starting this Saturday. His first work will be a review of the Many Gods West conference that wrapped up two weeks ago. In the meantime, he has posted a link list that includes a number of other reviews and discussions sparked by the new Polytheist conference. As for Heathen Chinese’s new Wild Hunt column, it is scheduled to be published regularly on the 3rd Saturday of each month.
  • The upcoming Haxan film festival has added another day to its roster. Organizers will be hosting a “ritual blessing of the birth of the HÄXÄN Festival” Thursday, Aug. 27 at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore. Along with film screenings, the festival also includes a Friday night costume dance party.  As noted on its site, “HÄXÄN Festival is a Bay Area film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”
  • Pagan writer and blogger Laura LaVoie was just voted “Childfree Woman of the Year” and featured on the website “International Child Free Day.” As described on the site, LaVoie has been a leading advocate for a woman’s right to NOT have children. She is one of the organizers for The NotMom Summit, and blogs regularly at NotMom.com. The write-up offers more details on LaVoie’s work with the NotMom movement, as well as featuring her efforts advocating for Tiny Houses. Congratulations to Laura LaVoie!

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  • A new Heathen podcast is now fully off the ground. Beginning in July, “Heathen Talk” has been airing “live every Wednesday at 7pm Pacific/10 Eastern and post new podcasts every Sunday!” The hosts said, “Heathen Talk was launched by four diverse Heathens who met on Reddit’s /r/Asatru community. This live podcast hosts weekly discussions on topics that are important to modern heathenry, focusing on representing the diverse points of view in the community. [Hosts] Josh, Lauren and Thorin, and producer Marc have a combined fifty years of experience within heathenry.” You can catch the new show through Heathen Talk’s website or its Facebook page.
  • A recent article in Vice.com describes how Witchcraft is an empowering life choice for many “queer and trans people.” The article reads, “Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.” Those witches interviewed include Colby Gaudet, Jared Russell, Dakota Hendrix, and Mey Rude. In the article, Rude was quoted as saying, “There is no one way to be a witch … It’s a really freeing identity.”
  • Nathalie Andrews, owner and operator of Girl and Cat Publishing, is looking for author submissions. As noted on the Bad Witch’s Blog, Andrews is a Pagan, whose “aim is to change the way authors look at non-traditional publishing.” She offers workshops and classes on the subject. Based in the U.K., Andrews describes Girl and Cat Publishing as “not a vanity press but more a self-publishing service.” She can be contacted through her website.

That’s it for now! Have a great day.

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Today we update several of the big stories that we’ve been following… 

Instagram bans #Goddess

On July 30, we reported that Instagram had banned the hashtag term #goddess. The social media site was attempting to curb, as it has done before, the posting of unacceptable content or images. In a statement, Instagram specifically said that “#goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity.” The ban inspired a #bringbackthegoddess protest, including wide-spread criticism and backlash from around the world.

After a recent check, it appears that the hashtag is coming back. You can now tag your photos with #goddess and search the term (sort of). In July, if you searched #goddess, you would only see #goddesses. Now you can once again see a listing for the over 1,450,000 images using the #goddess label.

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However there is a caveat. Although Instagram has brought its use back, the company is still limiting the search view to only “top posts.” You will not have the option to view the “most recent” additions. As Instagram explains, “We may remove the Most Recent section of a hashtag page if people are using the hashtag to post abusive content in a highly visible place.” The company adds that the limitation is placed on searches in order to protect the integrity of the hashtag and search page.

This may or may not be temporary. The partial unblock was also done to #curvy, after its banning inspired a similar backlash. That hashtag still contains a moderated search view. Similar to #goddess, the term #curvy will only yield a select group of about 36 “top posts.” In late July, Instagram told The Washington Post,

We want people to be able to express themselves, and hashtags are a great way to do that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to act when we see hashtags being used to spread inappropriate content to our community. In the case of #curvy, we don’t like putting restrictions around a term that many people use in very positive ways, so we have decided to unblock the hashtag while taking steps to ensure that it’s not used as a vehicle for bad content.

It appears that #goddess is now following the same moderated trajectory.

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New Orleans HexFest Forced to Change Location

On Aug. 9, we reported that HexFest had been forced to change its opening ritual location with only two weeks to go. Opening Friday Aug. 21, the event is now taking place on the Creole Queen Riverboat rather than at its original location on the Steamboat Natchez. According to the organizers, a Natchez sales representative said that the cancellation was due to religion, but then later changed that reason to breach of contract.

When we originally published the article, we had not yet heard back from either steamboat. We finally did hear from both. Natchez spokesperson Adrienne Thomas simply told The Wild Hunt, “The HexFest river event has been relocated from the Steamboat Natchez to the Creole Queen Riverboat, and arrangements have been coordinated by all parties involved.” She declined to answer any specific questions, nor would she say anymore about the situation.

Creole Queen spokesperson Jill Anderson said that she was “surprised” by what had happened to HexFest. And that the organizers were lucky that Creole Queen was available at such at late date. She also reiterated that company was pleased to be hosting the evening event.

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Florida Triple Murder Ignites Witchcraft Frenzy

After an Aug. 4 news conference, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) set off a media firestorm that focused enormous attention on “Witchcraft” and “Wicca.” As we originally reported, the first flood of stories emphasized the alleged reality of a “ritualistic, blue moon, witchcraft” triple homicide. Then, within 48 hours, the news shifted, with local, national and international outlets turning to Wiccans and Witches for reactions.

NBC, who published the first news report using the term Wicca, also returned to the story and included an interview with blogger Peg Aloi. In that update, journalist Erin Calabrese specifically noted that Sgt. Hobbes of ECSO did use the word “Wiccan” during a phone interview. Calabrese’s report is in direct contrast with the ECSO statement, which stressed that Sgt. Hobbes was misquoted and never said the word “Wiccan.”

Regardless, over the following days, there was a swell in similar mainstream reports demonstrating the outrage felt within Wiccan and Witchcraft communities. Along with Lady Liberty League, Covenant of the Goddess and others, even those outside of Pagan religious spheres, made public statements or posted commentary decrying ECSO’s careless use of either term.

On the flip side, the media attention also provided teaching opportunities. Priestess and author Courtney Weber was interviewed by Thom Hartmann for his show “The Big Picture”

Now, nearly ten days later, there have been no official updates to the case, and ECSO is refusing to take any more media questions. However, on Aug. 14, the local Pensacola CBS affiliate WKRG did once again attempt to get clarification on the use of the word witchcraft. While following the Sheriff outside, the WKRG reporter asked specifically if ECSO was still calling the crime witchcraft. The Sheriff said “pull up the tape” and “that’s where the misconception was.” The reporter does just that, demonstrating the Sheriff’s clear usage of the term. This interaction was caught on tape and is now posted on WKRG’s Facebook page.

As for the three victims, they were laid to rest on Aug. 14. Short obituaries with photographs are posted on the website of a local funeral home.

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In 2009, the Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Melbourne, Australia. Over 6,000 people, including American and Australian Pagans, attended. The theme was “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth.” That same weekend, in Sydney, the National Conference for all Concerned Christians was held. Its theme was “Australia’s Future and Global Jihad”.

Australia is a secular country. Australia is a Christian nation. Which is true?

AustralianReligiousAffiliation_2.svgIn his book A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor identified three different forms of secularism.The first is a political secularism – a strict removal of religion from the public sphere through exercise of legitimate state power. The second is social, when there is a decline in the level of religiosity of the population. In this second sense of secularism, religious communities generally cease to influence politics, education, and public life. In Taylor’s third notion of secularism, belief in God is one option of many, and religion is just one voice in the public sphere.

Whether you consider Australia to be secular depends on the definition of secularism that you use.

Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Secularism in Australia means no state church. It means people have a choice between belief and no belief, and parliament can’t discriminate against people because of their religion. Another basis for describing Australia as a secular nation is the relaxed attitude and even scepticism toward institutional religion. Although 64% of Australians check the Christianity box, attendance at religious services is declining, and people often describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

However, it should not be assumed that religion takes a marginal place in Australia’s public and intellectual culture.

In the U.S., religious freedom means rigorously protecting the boundary between Church and State. Not so in Australia. The law prevents establishment of religion. It doesn’t prevent interaction with it. There are small ways in which this happens, such as prayer in the parliament. And then there are big ways. For example, in the state of Victoria, special religious instruction (SRI) is given in public schools.  

SRI is “instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs.” Scheduled during normal class time, SRI is not compulsory, and parental consent should be obtained.

The most common form of SRI is Christian religious education (CRE) delivered by ACCESS Ministries. Between 2009 and 2012, ACCESS Ministries received almost $20 million in government grants. The parent-run, grassroots organisation Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) claims that alternate forms of SRI are less common and receive no government support.

ACCESS Ministries also provides chaplains for the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). In the 2014 federal budget, the government provided $243.8 million over a four-year period to continue this program, which funds chaplains in Australian primary and secondary schools. The 2015 budget added $60.6 million every year for four years.

In a 2008 address to the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion National Conference, Dr. Rev. Evonne Paddison, CEO of ACCESS Ministries said:

In Australia we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.

SRI has its critics and there are allegations of proselytizing and bias. In an article in The Age, Melbourne priest and academic Professor Gary Bouma called the curriculum “appalling” and “crap” delivered by “bullies.” Mostly, it goes on unnoticed and unchallenged.

Some Pagans don’t see a problem with SRI or the Christian chaplains in public schools. The connection isn’t missed by academic and former High Court judge Michael Kirby, an Anglican. In the article mentioned above, he said:

One just has to look around at the ignorance and prejudice concerning homosexuals and women to see what damage can be done by some narrow religious instructions. There have to be viable alternatives which parents and students can consider and opt for.

Marriage equality is currently a hot topic. Australians rejoiced with Ireland and the U.S. when both countries legalised same-sex marriage. Many Australians think it’s time for it to happen here. Polls consistently show that a majority of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage.

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Australians rightly point to conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a major force against marriage equality. However, a big undermining effort comes from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

The ACL is a powerful, political organisation headquartered in Australia’s capital, Canberra. Its vision is to see Christian principles influencing government and business.The ACL successfully sways votes and controls outcomes. During the 2010 election, the ACL struck a bargain with both sides of politics not to support the introduction of same-sex marriage. The ACL is a potent political force not just because it can mobilise its supporters, but also because of its direct influence on politicians.

It is a paradox that Australians are increasingly identifying as non-religious, but don’t object to huge amounts of Government dollars being poured into Christian organisations that teach Christianity in public schools while climate change funding, foreign aid, university funding, and health care are all cut. It is a paradox that the ACL opposes same-sex marriage on behalf of Christians while most Christians actually support marriage equality.

Australia is home to many beliefs, including those of 30k Pagans, according to the 2011 census. Is Australia a secular country?

Yes, but it is one that privileges the members of one faith over others. Australian Pagans don’t need to be dismayed, however. A close examination of the Christian Right reveals a small network of prominent figures who use smoke and mirrors to create a narrative that suggests that they have widespread public support. This doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax; we should continue to engage in causes that are important to us. And, we can feel hopeful about the increasing secular ideals and values, which will bring balance and diversity to the intersectionality of religion and politics.

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Bilden http://www.historiska.se/data/?bild=341354 som visar objektet http://www.historiska.se/data/?foremal=109043

Oden från Lindby. Bronze. Historiska Museum, Sweden.
Gabriel Hildebrand SHMM

The figure stands, unsteady and misshapen, only a few centimeters tall. It lacks its left arm, and its bronze form has become so weathered that I cannot easily read its face; the head rises to a point like an arrowhead, and two curving lines beneath the nose suggest a mustache. Its right eye is just a slit in the metal; a protruding oval marks the wide left eye. A nearby sign lists the figure’s provenance: Lindby, Skåne, Sweden, created sometime during the Iron Age – there’s no more definite date given than that.

Because the figure is missing an eye, it is usually interpreted as the god Odin.

I had not known this figure, Oden från Lindby, was in the Field Museum’s Vikings exhibit before I came face to face with it. It sits in a round glass case that formed one-third of a circle near the far end of the exhibit’s opening hall. In the hollow at the center of the cases, a projector displays a computer model of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, controlled by a touch screen on the outside of the circle. For those seeking the vikings’ myths, this display is the heart of the exposition; beyond this, it’s all ship’s nails and broadswords, blacksmith’s tools and relics of the White Christ. But here, in this case, Odin Allfather stands, incarnated in an inch of bronze.

The Oden was not the only manifestation of the gods in this circle. The Vanir, Freyja and Freyr, appeared as well, and the exhibition featured several Thor’s Hammer pendants. But the figure of Odin catches my attention more than the others. Despite the throng of museum attendees circling the cases, I have to stop and kneel in front of the case for a better look. The fragility of the piece strikes me – the phantom arm, the worn-away feet. I wonder how it had even been found. Had the shovel gone into the dirt three inches in either direction, it could have been missed entirely.

The strangeness of seeing this statue before me, just a few inches away behind the glass shield, increased because I knew this statue intimately, after a fashion. A replica of it – made of clay from the sacred Ganges River, the manufacturers were always keen to say – has sat on my altar since I’ve had an altar. It’s not an exact copy. The replica has both of its arms, and instead of the original’s dilapidated feet has clay filled in to make a sturdy base. (Although the replica shares the original’s arrowhead skull, for some reason, the sculptor chose not to copy the original’s prominent nose, instead leaving Odin with eyebrows that seem to slope directly down into his mustache, giving his face a somewhat squid-like character.)

I can’t say when I came by this statue; perhaps as a Yule present, long ago, along with a heftier bronze statue of Thor. It began at the outer edges of my altar and slowly worked its way into its present central position, mirroring my own relationship to Odin and to Heathenry in general. I have carried it with me to Pantheacon and Reykjavík, a companion on my pilgrimages. The most powerful vision of my mystical career came while sitting in front of this little statue. If you were to ask me for the image that comes to me when you say the name Odin, it would be the face of this replica by firelight.

I kneel there by the case, struck by this figure which I both see every night before I sleep and have never seen before in my life, still caught by the size of it, the delicacy. A person could put all three of these figures, Odin, Freyja, and Freyr, into their cupped hands and still have room for the Thor statuette sitting in the National Museum of Iceland. These little fragments of the past, so unlike the monuments that have survived from Greece and Egypt. A few months ago, I found myself staring up with awe into the impassive face of a plaster cast of Athena Velletri, who stands ten feet tall. This Odin is not so tall as that Athena’s little finger. The feeling it inspires for me is not awe, but astonishment, the wonder that such a thing still exists to be seen at all.

When Christian preachers spoke against the ancient pagan religions, idol worship was invariably one of the greatest targets of their scorn. Augustine wrote in his commentary on Psalm 115, “For they have mouths, and speak not: eyes have they, and see not. They have ears, and hear not: noses have they, and smell not. They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, and walk not; neither cry they through their throat. Even their artist therefore surpasseth them, since he had the faculty of moudling them by the motion and functions of his limbs, though thou wouldest be ashamed to worship that artist. Even thou surpassest them, thought they has not made these things, since thou doest what they cannot do.” The heathen worships idols, but they are deaf, dumb, and dead; they worship rocks and mistake them for gods. Apparently such preaching was effective; I’m reminded of the legend of Thorgeir the Lawspeaker, who, after making the decision for Iceland to become Christian, threw his statuary into the waterfall Goðafoss, many centuries after Augustine.

But that particular line of attack feels like the worst kind of simplistic literalism to me. Of course the idol is not the god. Has anyone ever really thought that? Even in the most grandiose legends of statues with hidden levers and contraptions supposedly meant to gull the naive into believing false miracles, they were only manifestations of deity. Of course the idol is made of metal or stone; of course it is made by human hands. That’s the point. They form a bridge between the human and the numinous; they give us a focus for the invisible, a face for something that is, at its core, faceless.

This little statue of Odin – this little thing – is not Odin himself. But it is a link between me and the ancient heathen who once held it. Perhaps he or she carried it in a pocket, a reminder of their devotion, as I carry the replica in my suitcase. It is worn, a little broken, a little decrepit. But it survives.

I quickly kiss the glass, like an Orthodox Christian before an icon, and rise to let the little girl next to me have her time with the Allfather.

(The Vikings exhibit runs until October 4th at Chicago’s Field Museum.)

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Philosopher, musician, writer, game designer, professor and Pagan, Dr. Brendan Myers is a creative and prolific creator of words, thoughts and music. Deemed a “dangerous man” by the late, great Isaac Bonewits, Dr. Myers prolifically writes fiction and non-fiction with the passionate intensity of a true visionary.

After growing up in the picturesque small town of Elora, Ontario, Myers went on to earn his PhD in philosophy from the National University of Ireland, Galway. This launched his professional career as a professor of philosophy, leading him to teach in six different institutions in both Canada and Europe.

Elderdown cover art

[Photo courtesy of Brendan Myers]

This summer, Dr. Myers accomplished a rare feat. He published his sixteenth book, Elderdown  It is the fourth and final book in the Hidden Houses fantasy series. When recently interviewed for The Wild Hunt, Myers had this to say about this to say about Elderdown:

Elderdown is about a group of refugees, the remnants of a once-proud Celtic clan and their allies, hunted by the Roman-descended demigods of House DiAngelo. Yet these refugees are also divided among themselves. Some want to continue fighting their ancient enemies; some want to build a new home for themselves on the faraway secret island of Elderdown.

The series in general is about an ancient pagan idea: the gods of mythology had mortal children, and their descendants still live among us today. Imagine House of Cards or Game of Thrones, but with Celtic warriors versus the descendants of Roman emperors, and played out in a small town in modern Canada.

It’s a fantasy adventure, but it’s also an human adventure. It features magical characters but it’s not about magic. It’s about what it means to have a home, and to belong somewhere. It’s about the tragedy of the blood feud, and how to escape it. It’s about how we handle grief and loneliness, and whether conflicted or wounded people can still be heroes.

Fiction may be Myers most recent writing adventure, but it is his non-fiction writing that first made him a regular feature at Pagan events across Canada and beyond. These books are where philosophy and Pagan themes meet. “A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World’s Oldest New Religion” published in 2008 was a prime example of this. The work garnered praise from other high profile Pagan writers. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone called it “A remarkable resource for anyone following the Wicca/Pagan path. It gives an insight equally into wiccan philosophy, as well as history and practice. We highly recommend it. A useful book for the individual witch; but an essential book on any coven’s bookshelf”.

So, for fans of the non-fiction writing, does Dr. Myers have another offering on the way?  In our interview, we asked him. He said:

Brendan Myers: I do, and I think it’s going to be exciting. The working title is Ecology and Civilization. Many of us enter the pagan world because of a not-well-defined yet nagging feeling that there is something wrong with civilization, especially Western civilization. It might have to do with the destruction of the environment, or the patriarchy, or the cultural genocide of Aboriginal people, or some kind of intrinsic absurdity. So I want to ask: what is civilization? What’s wrong with it? What can we do about it? Big questions! My working hypothesis right now is that the science of ecology may point the way to some answers. I’m also going to look at economics, anthropology, political science, and of course my own field, philosophy. At this moment I’m 15,000 words into the manuscript. I expect to be finished by the end of 2015.

The Wild Hunt: With sixteen books published since 2004, you have had an incredibly busy writing career, full of challenges and adventures. But what is the highlight that really stands out for you?

BM: The biggest highlight so far has been the evening in 2013 when I was one of the invited speakers at a TEDx conference at the University of Guelph. My presentation was based on the ideas in Loneliness and Revelation, the book of mine which has earned the most critical praise (and the least commercial success). TED is like a nerd’s paradise. It brings together people who think about things in weird new ways, people who make weird new things, and the like, and it invites the public to contemplate and to celebrate their ideas. People dress up in their Sunday best for it. After a childhood and teen years where I was ignored or severely bullied for having nerdy interests, appearing on TED after publishing a book felt like a vindication.

TWH: You’ve said that the wide and varied themes and topics in your books reflect your own love of travel, and for the interesting people and places you meets along the way.

BM: If it is not too bold: I’d like to suggest a new (actually very old) pagan tradition: the long distance pilgrimage. Celts of Ireland used to gather at places like Uisneach and Tara for annual political and Druidic assemblies. Greeks used to hike to Olympus or Delphi, seeking spiritual bounty. Ancient pre-Muslim Persians made the journey to the temple of Zoroaster. I think this custom should be revived. Let’s encourage each other to travel to a spiritual centre of each person’s choosing: a destination of no small cultural or historic importance, and as far away from home as your finances and your physical health will allow. Let’s encourage a culture of traveler’s tales, adventurism, and worldly knowledge. Let’s take short adventures once a year, and a longer one to somewhere very far, perhaps on another continent, at least once in a lifetime. By proposing this, I do not intend to diminish the importance of local values like environmental awareness, or community solidarity. Yet very few activities teach courage, open-mindedness to difference, adult responsibility, generosity, and thankfulness for the generosity of others, like long distance travel.

At the time of this interview, Myers was packing his bags to head to Czech Republic for research and adventure purposes. A 40-minute video with his impressions of this trip can be found here.

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Dr. Brendan Myers, author. Photo by the Man Himself

TWH: Outline the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction.

BM: In nonfiction it’s more obvious that I write with my own voice. But every character in a work of fiction is the author’s self-portrait. In fiction it’s more obvious that I’m telling a story—that is the very meaning of fiction. But good nonfiction tells a story, too. An argument is pursued to a conclusion; evidence and counter-arguments may be met along the way; the conclusion itself is the climax of a rising logical action. A reader might enjoy a well-crafted argument in the same way she might enjoy music. I often call chapters in my nonfiction books movements for that reason.

It seems to me that the differences between fiction and nonfiction are matters of emphasis and style, not essence. Both attempt to reveal something which the reader might not have encountered before, and (following George Orwell’s advice) both attempt to change the way we think about something. Where fiction and nonfiction differ most is perhaps only in the way they are marketed!

Writers who work in both fiction and nonfiction aren’t unusual. Among philosophers, there’s Umberto Eco, and Iris Murdoch, for instance. Among pagan writers there’s Gerald Gardner himself, Stewart Farrar, Aleister Crowley, and Starhawk. There are writers best known for fiction who also write journalism or polemics: Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman, for instance. I like to imagine that by writing both, I am in good company.

TWH: Elderdown was published under your own publishing imprint, Northwest Passage Books. What prompted your to take this route to get your books out there?

BM: Originally, I created it to publish just one book: Clear and Present Thinking, the free college-level textbook on logic and critical reasoning that I launched on Kickstarter a few years back. Having my own imprint allows me to issue ISBNs to myself at no cost. Soon it occurred to me that I can use the imprint to publish my fiction, and to offer self-publishing assistance to other writers. (I still seek traditional publishing for my nonfiction.) At the time, self-publishing was taking off in a big way. Some well established writers were moving to it; industry analysts were calling it the wave of the future; platforms like Kindle, Nook, and Kobo were easy to use. I did shop my first novels to literary agents, but admittedly I didn’t look long. But creating my own imprint taught me a lot about writing and about the publishing industry. I‘m proud of what I’ve published this way.

TWH: With so many accomplishments under your belt, and so many varied interests, how do you choose to see yourself?

BM: I think of myself as an human being and a philosopher first, and everything else second. But between you and I, the word philosopher means rather more to me than a particular kind of professor (although it happens I am a professor, too). The quest for good answers to the highest and deepest questions—the philosophical quest—is for me a deeply spiritual activity. This is so because, for one thing, pagans invented philosophy. Yet for another, the method of philosophy, systematic critical reason, is one way that we mere mortals can discover the immensities, and put ourselves into a better relationship with them. The sacred is that which acts as your partner in your search for the highest and deepest things; the sacred is that which emerges from your relationship with those partners. For me, the most important of them, after my friends and the land where I live, are my predecessors in the western philosophical tradition. And some of them, the philosophers of Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Germanic antiquity, were pagans, living in a pagan culture.

TWH: It will be hard for fans of the Hidden Houses series to say goodbye to it. What can you say to fans?

BM: Now that the main series is complete, I plan to write spinoff books, set in the same world but featuring different characters. I’m following the precedent of Charles de Lint’s Newford and Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld here. I’ve published two spinoffs already: “The Seekers” and “A Trick of The Light”. An entire volume of more is in the works. I’ve also got a tabletop RPG set in the world of the Hidden Houses: the text is 90% complete, and there might be a Kickstarter campaign in the near future to pay for the artists.

Although I’m best known in the pagan world for my nonfiction, I think my novels may be among the most heartfelt and personally revealing works of art I’ve made so far. Like any writer, I hope for commercial success; but I shall consider them truly successful if they are read, studied, argued about, and loved, by good people.

*   *   *

For news and updates on the work of Brendan Myers, you can read his blog, find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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salem

[Photo Credit: Mark Sardella / Flickr]

SALEM, Ma. — An investigation into a heroin dealing in Salem resulted in the arrest of two men August 7, including Richard Watson, a well-known psychic and member of the Wiccan community living in the self-styled “Witch City.” Reaction to the story was swift. Watson’s church revoked his credentials, and people took to social media to condemn his alleged involvement.

According to the Salem News, police received information about heroin being sold out of Watson’s apartment at 100 Bridge Street, and made some undercover purchases before obtaining a search warrant and raiding the premises. Inside the place, they found Watson and another man, Javier Pena-Abreu, sitting at a table on which there was reportedly a pile of heroin.

Pena-Abreu is no stranger to police encounters, and was free on a $20,000 bail resulting from another heroin-trafficking arrest last year. He invoked his right to remain silent. Watson, on the other hand, cooperated with police by showing them the remainder of the heroin in the apartment, totaling more than two ounces. Police allege that $10-15,000 of the drug was passing through the apartment on a weekly basis.

This was not the first time that Watson, or his apartment, had been touched by less-than-legal activities. In 2007, during the so-called “witch wars” over psychic licenses in Salem, Watson arrived home to discover a grisly scene. As was reported by the Salem News at the time,

Richard Watson said he went back to his Bridge Street apartment on the night of May 26 to a disturbing scene: his roommate, Sharon Graham, dressed in black, surrounded by four young men, also all in black, standing around a jar. Inside that jar was the eye of a raccoon, police say. And in two trash bags in Watson’s refrigerator was the rest of the critter, which had been dismembered.

Graham was one of the people who later pleaded guilty to leaving parts of that raccoon on the steps of two psychic shops. Watson was a witness in that case, and claimed at the time that Graham had pressured him to not testify.

However, this time, it was Watson caught by surprise. He and Pena-Abreu have different recollections of what was happening when they were discovered at a table piled with heroin. Watson has asserted that he was allowing Pena-Abreu to keep the drugs in the apartment as a favor, while not profiting from the dealing whatsoever. Pena-Abreu’s attorney, at the arraignment Monday, claimed his client was only there for a tarot reading, and had no involvement with the heroin. Only Pena-Abreu had money on his person, although it is not clear if it was heroin proceeds or cash for a reading.

Reverend High Priestess Lori Bruno of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, where Watson was an ordained minister, issued a statement denouncing the news. She said, in part:

What I cannot stomach is one who would be a purveyor of death to the innocent. Therefore, after the news article I saw today and having also been directly informed about this, I and our clergy counsel have come to the decision to revoke the ministerial credentials of a trusted minister to humanity, Richard Watson. It is with much sadness that I do this, because I trusted Richard Watson to carry on the creed of our people.

I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.

Heroin is a growing problem in Massachusetts, and nationwide. The supply of the drug has increased since the United States took the Taliban, whose oppressive policies included a near total shutdown of opium poppy cultivation, out of power in Afghanistan. At the same time, drug manufacturers developed stronger and stronger prescription drugs to manage high levels of pain, many of which are opium derivatives themselves. The powerful prescriptions created more dependence among legitimate users, and also wended their way into the black market, increasing addiction.

Attempts to curb prescription drug abuse, together with the now greater supply of heroin, has led to more addictions and more overdose deaths. In 2014, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick declared this to be a public health emergency, with at least 185 suspected heroin deaths in the prior six months and 363 opioid-related deaths in 2011, the most recent year for which figures were available for that broader metric.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Another Salem witch, Sandra Wright, had a somewhat nuanced reaction to the news. Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. Speaking only for herself, she commented to The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan priesthood comes with responsibilities” Wright said:

People of the Priesthood of the Craft of the Wise should possess leadership ability. Not everyone is cut out to lead. . . . and they need to display integrity, wisdom, and most of all, compassion. Compassion is the one that can be hardest to maintain, especially when lines are crossed. So I myself failed to show compassion to Rick Watson when this story broke because I believe that even though he claims he was just allowing others to deal drugs out of his apartment and that he himself was not dealing the drugs, he was allowing people to poison the community he claimed to serve. He was serving as a conduit for an epidemic that has taken lives left and right in this city and the surrounding area. And if he was actually dealing the drugs, he is even more directly responsible for ruining the lives of others, nevermind his own. And for this reason, I find myself hard pressed to offer compassion.

At the same time, Wright said, “my compassion kicks in” as a reaction to the Trinacrian Rose Church removing his credentials … and the local community trying to disavow him as a Wiccan. And, as for the broader community reaction, she observed:

And now everyone … he was close to is scrambling to distance themselves from him, and distance him from Wicca, because they don’t want to be associated with a drug dealer. They are making him a pariah because they don’t want the rest of the world to think that Wicca sanctions this kind of behavior. Of course it doesn’t! No faith of any value would approve of capitalizing on the addicted and afflicted. Anyone who thinks Wicca has anything to do with Rick’s decisions doesn’t understand Wicca. Like the Pensacola murders, the mundane media is trying to sensationalize the story by including the buzzwords they think will rile people up. Well, we are riled.

Another Salem witch and High Priestess, Penny Cabot had only these few words. “I feel that the shameful situation speaks for itself, no words are needed,” she said.

Watson’s bail was set at $50,000, but Pena-Abreu’s was set at ten times that. In addition, his bail in the prior case was revoked, so he won’t be getting out of jail before the September 2 status hearing in any case. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.

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While attending last year’s Sacred Harvest Festival, a small Pagan festival held in Minnesota, I heard that a dreaded rumor was true. The festival had to move. The venue, a beloved place set in the midst of a Burr Oak grove, had become unfriendly toward any camping and wanted to focus on large music festivals. To say that I, and many other attendees, were unhappy is an understatement. The trees and the festival were inseparable in my mind. How could you have Sacred Harvest Festival anywhere else?

Sacred Harvest FestivalAs the months went by without an announcement of a new location, my concerns increased. Would Sacred Harvest Festival even happen? What would the new place look like? Can the festival survive a venue change?

When the new location was finally announced in spring, a place called Atchington, my apprehension only increased.

I had heard of Atchington in passing. I knew it was about 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities and was purchased in 2013 by Paul and Janette Ferrise, active members of the Twin Cities Pagan community. While I knew it was their dream to one day turn this 40 acre parcel of land into a self-sustaining retreat, it was presently just woods surrounding an open hay field. Other than their home, there were no facilities at all. There wasn’t even a road to get to the field, where I was told the festival would take place.

I considered not attending. I complained on Facebook. I pumped people for information and was told the venue was being worked on by the Ferrises and by volunteers from Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival. I was assured that there would be a bathroom, a place to shower, and a way to get into the open field to camp. They were working on it. No, nothing is ready yet, but they’re working on it.

I didn’t feel assured.

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[Photo: C. Schulz]

I decided to go for a long weekend instead of the entire week. I also decided to pack light because if it was miserable, I was throwing my tent back into my car and leaving. Yes, I am a delicate snowflake, and I was already biased against the place.

After attending the festival I can say that Harmony Tribe made the right decision in relocating its festival to Atchington. The amount of work already done is impressive, containing many festival venue Best Practices. The Ferrise’s future plans are equally impressive, and it’s clear they have been working with permaculture experts.

The site’s entrance is what you’d expect to find in a rural area. A long drive cut into a heavily wooded area. I could tell immediately when I got to the newly created section of dirt road, because it wasn’t as compacted as the main driveway, and it became slick after a rain. The road dumped out into the meadow, which was far smoother than I thought a converted hayfield would be. We were able to unload at our campsite and then park close by. Everything was clearly laid out with an eye to traffic flow, accessibility, and being as gentle as possible to the land.

Special Guest Kari Tauring teaches a Beginning Staving class on the hay trailer stage.

Special Guest Kari Tauring teaches a Beginning Staving class on the hay trailer stage. [Photo: C. Schulz]

We had purchased electrical and, as of two weeks ago, the electrical wasn’t laid in yet. I had been told it was very limited, but this turned out to not be correct. There was plenty of electrical for any of the 140 attendees who wanted it and then some. In talking with Paul Ferrise, he noted that this year those wanting electrical were packed in a bit tight, but next year the electrical would be extended out further in two directions. This is welcome news for those who have medical conditions requiring access to electricity, but who still would like to attend a camping festival.

The very next thing that I noticed (I drank two Coke Zeros on the drive to the festival) was the portapotties. Two of them were pink and were reserved just for women. They didn’t have the urinal in them and had a hook to hold your purse or bag on the inside. I appreciate having separate women and men’s portas. Let’s just keep our disgusting stuff separate, shall we?

All portas had an LED light in them, a huge upgrade from any other Pagan festival I’ve attended. Just having a built in overhead LED light for night time use kept the portas so much cleaner.

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Drinking water tanks in the foreground, showers in the white tent, dish washing station and trash/recycling in front.

The portas were located near the showers. Showers are usually cringe-worthy at camping festivals, but these were another pleasant surprise. The two stalls were built up on wood platforms, one with a ramp for accessibility while the other had stairs. The showers had hot water on demand systems, and the grey water was collected in tanks underneath. There was plenty of room to shower, dress, and move around. In fact, they were downright spacious. Dr. Bronner’s body and hair wash, which is very earth friendly, was provided, and we all got to experience the joy of having our hoo-hoo tingle.

Harmony Tribe members say that the showers were a late addition, and the original plan was much more modest. Two showers for 140 attendees was about right. There was rarely a line, nor did you have to pay for them. Ferrise said that more showers, with a slightly different design, will be added before next year’s Sacred Harvest Festival.

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Sacred Harvest Festival attendee washes breakfast dishes

On the other side of the showers were tanks for filtered drinking water and a sink station for washing hands or dishes. It had a nice long counter-top where many attendees brought items to wash and dry. The drinking water was just what you’d find from a home tap, so next year attendees won’t feel the the need to bring bottled water. Because the tanks formerly held raspberries, the water had a slight raspberry flavor. I considered that a bonus.

Atchington appears to have solved one problem that plagues most Pagan events: how to get people to properly recycle. They did so in the easiest, most straightforward way. Several barrels set up with signs on them that list what can be thrown in each barrel. Genius. There was a barrel for food scraps, one for aluminum cans, one for plastic bottles, one for paper, and another for trash. They were emptied each evening. No more guessing what goes in the single recycle bin and what goes in the trash bin.

I looked in the bins periodically to see if people were following the rules and each time I looked, everything was thrown in the appropriate barrel. It appears that clear labels and easy access to proper disposal places are all it takes to make recycling and composting work at a festival. I’m wondering how this will scale up to larger events.

There were other nice touches at the venue, such as Paul driving attendees into town once a day to go to the grocery store; unlimited firewood for personal campfires; and the Tree of Life with accompanying permanent shrine. You could see the Ferrises were serious about living the Pagan ethics of caring for the earth and providing thoughtful hospitality for their guests. Planned upgrades include a storm shelter, gardens, and a place for musical performances.

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Paul Ferrise said that he knew this was the land they would buy once he saw the Tree of Life on the property. They then built a shrine in front of it. [Photo: C. Schulz]

The Ferrises have worked hard to create good relations with their neighbors and to include county officials in their plans. The Ferrises said that the officials that they’ve worked with have been extremely helpful and very open to what they’re trying to accomplish. Their neighbors are excited and supportive of the permaculture ideas the Ferrises are putting into place, and so far haven’t had a problem with late night drumming.

Atchington's vision of a sustainable retreat utilizes permaculture techniques

Atchington’s vision of a sustainable retreat utilizes permaculture techniques [Courtesy Photos]

The festival site itself is located in a large, cleared field and most attendees, like myself, camped in full sun; or full rain depending on the weather. If it hadn’t been so temperate, that could have created problems for some people. By which, I really mean me, and I did feel a bit under the weather after one 80 degree sunny day. There was some shaded camping in the tree lines, but those sites went pretty quick.

Paul said next year’s plans include clearing out some of the underbrush in the woods to provide more shaded camping and cutting a trail so attendees can enjoy the creek that runs through their property. The field was fairly smooth, but there were odd holes and ruts so you needed to watch your step when walking around. A few days and nights of heavy rain left standing puddles of water. However, it was less muddy than I thought a field would end up, so drainage doesn’t appear to be a problem. In addition, the new road had to be worked on after storms went through Thursday night.

groujnds

(left)The Hearth Chakra is where the main community fire and drum circle takes place. (right) Tents dot the treeline [Photos: C. Schulz]

All in all, both Harmony Tribe and the owners of Atchington appear to be a good match for one another. Both are willing to work hard to create a wonderful, uniquely Pagan space to hold festivals. And, both were willing to put in a considerable amount of money to make this happen. Harmony Tribe paid for two years in advance, while the Ferrises turned a 5-year plan into a one year reality.

Other festivals and events have already booked space at Atchington, and now that I’ve been there, I can see why. It’s a beautiful property with dedicated and friendly owners who are willing to get their hands dirty and who appear to have the skills needed to do much of the work themselves. I’m very excited about attending Sacred Harvest Festival next year and can’t wait to see all the new changes happening at Atchington.

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bucklandIt was announced on Aug. 4 that author Raymond Buckland had suffered a “large heart attack” and was battling pneumonia.The brief announcement explained, “[Buckland] was life-flighted to a main hospital [where] he was in incubation for three days.” He also developed a case of pneumonia.

After a week long stay in the hospital, Buckland was able to return to his home and is reportedly getting stronger every day. His spirits are up and his strength is returning as he fights off the illness. Buckland’s family and close friends expressed their thanks for the healing energy, well wishes and prayers being sent his way.

Raymond Buckland is the author of over fifty published books and is the founder of the Seax Wicca Tradition. He arrived in the United States in 1962, and published his first book A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural, in 1969. His most well-known work is arguably the big blue Buckland’s Complete Guide to Witchcraft, originally published in 1986. More recently, Buckland has been working on fiction. His most recent novel, Dead for a Spell, is the second in a series called “A Bram Stoker Mystery.”

Buckland is expected to make full recovery, and his family has said that he will be returning personal messages when he is able. They will be posting health updates on his Facebook page.

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Covenant of the GoddessCovenant of the Goddess (CoG) will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend in sunny Ontario, California. CoG was founded in 1975 by “a number of Wiccan elders from diverse traditions, all sharing the idea of forming a religious organization for all practitioners of Witchcraft.” The bylaws were ratified in the summer of that year, and the organization was registered as a nonprofit in California by October 31. CoG has been continuously operating ever since, making it one of the oldest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations in the United States.

Today, CoG has expanded its reach outside of California, with local councils and members living in all regions of the country. First Officer Kasha said, “40 years is an exciting-and daunting-landmark … So much has changed since 1975, but part of the struggle remains. I honor those who founded this organization, some of whom remain active members, for their vision and tenacity. I’m excited to see where the next few decades will take us.”

The 40th anniversary MerryMeet celebration is being hosted by Touchstone Local Council based out of San Bernardino. MerryMeet is the organization’s annual conference, and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Our Voices.” As is typical, the event includes workshops, vendors, and the official business meeting called Grand Council. But this year’s conference is special, as it marks the anniversary. Part of that celebration will include a “History” panel, where various elders and longtime members sharing stories from the organization’s early days and beyond. Touchstone Local Council has the full schedule of events posted on its website.

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mythopoeticIn June we reported that author Sarah Avery was selected to be finalist for the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in the category of adult fiction. The award is administered by the Mythopoeic Society, and given to “the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies ‘the spirit of the Inklings.‘ ”

During the recent MythCon46 held in Colorado, it was announced that Avery had won the 2015 award. The winning book, Tales from the Rugosa Coven, consists of a collection of novellas and is published by Dark Quest Books. In a blog post written just after receiving the honor, Avery said, “Every time I tried to write acceptance remarks just in case, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails to the finalists who aren’t here … Fortunately, Dora insisted that I should prepare some remarks, because you never know.” As it turned out, she needed those words. During MythCon, Avery was presented with the Aslan Trophy by author and former winner Jo Walton. Congratulations to Sarah Avery!

In Other News:

  • Activist and Witch David Salisbury will be making an appearance on ABC’s evening news magazine 20/20. Salisbury was interviewed last week concerning the death of Cecil the Lion. Salisbury said, “When I got the call asking for the interview, everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to be nervous about it. I knew I had to immediately go into extra research mode to make sure everything I wanted to say was accurate and up to date. On the day of the interview, I found the correspondent Deborah Roberts to be warm and friendly, which helped put me at ease and act naturally.” Producers said that the report will most likely air this coming week. However, at that time, they were still waiting to capture more footage and interviews in Africa, and could not confirm the exact air date. They said that the decision to air would be made last minute, and advised interested viewers to look for updates on the 20/20 website.
  • Deepta Roy Chakraverti has written and published her first book called Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters. As noted by the Hindustan Times, the non-fiction work describes Chakraverti’s “experiences in the realm of the supernatural and the practice of Wicca.” She is the daughter of India’s well-known Wiccan Priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, and was raised with and around her mother’s practice. Ipsita, herself, wrote the book’s introduction, while the rest of the content is from Deepta’s own experiences with the “spirit realm” over the years.
  • As we reported last fall, money was raised to honor Margot Adler with a bench in New York City’s Central Park. Over $11,000 was donated; enough to dedicate both a bench and a tree through the Park’s Women’s Committee. The location of Margot’s bench was specifically selected to be near the two that she had previously dedicated to her husband and mother in law. Due to construction in that area, the dedication didn’t officially happen until spring 2015. If you are in Central Park, you can visit Margot’s bench (#09067) and her tree, a Kwanzaan Cherry growing alongside the reservoir next to light post #9323. Both are just inside the 93rd Street entrance on the west side of the park. Now, if you happen to be in Washington D.C., you can also visit a Margot Adler memorial bench and tree. This site, shown in the photo below, is located in front of NPR’s D.C. headquarters at 1111 North Capitol St NE.
margot bench

[Courtesy Sylvia Poggioli, NPR]

  • Pagans are helping to raise money for Raul Mamani’s trip to the upcoming Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City. According to the fundraising page, Mamani “is a native Jujuy of Argentina. He lives in the far northwest, where Argentina borders Chile and Bolivia. He has been at the heart of indigenous organizing.” Over the years, Mamani has been working with interfaith representatives of CoG and with the United Religions Initiative. As the campaign page explains, in 2009 the Spirituality & the Earth Cooperation Circle raised money to help Mamani attend the Melbourne Parliament. As it turned out, “he was the only indigenous representative from South America …his voice was crucial to the sharing that took place in that gathering.” The 2015 fundraising campaign will help allow Mamani to return to the Paraliament again.
  • Amaranth, a new “eclectic” marketplace, is now up and running after Etsy’s policy changes negatively affected metaphysical shops and the sale of magical items. The site went live on June 26 with the intention on serving “displaced members of Etsy.” As described by the owners, “The site supports international selling, multiple payment gateways and several familiar to Etsy user functions for listing and creating markets. Policies and categories are still being made on an as need basis.” Dedicated to metaphysical, magical, spiritual, Pagan, Occult and similar communities, Amaranth is crafting a marketplace model that will allow it to be owned and operated by the sellers and buyers. Owners say, “It is not about us.” At this point, Amaranth Marketplace is still growing and tweaking its systems. But they hope, in the end, to simply provide “a stable, honest, environment with a staff that can understand needs and not judge.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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