THEDDLETHORPE, Lincolnshire — The Lincolnshire Salt Marshes in England are an unforgiving place. The countryside edges the local Wolds and the wind blowing in from the neighbouring North Sea can be bitter. The flat landscape lends itself to breathtaking panoramic skies.

This area is steeped in Viking history, a past etched into the landscape in its place names, in which Nordic suffixes such as -thorpe, -gham, -by and -ford abound. Perhaps it’s link to Viking culture also explains the fighting spirit that pervades its history, right up to modern times.

© Copyright Mat Fascione

© Copyright Mat Fascione

Lincolnshire has birthed radical and revolutionary thinkers including English Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell, Methodist Church founder John Wesley and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. All of three, whatever people think of them, demonstrate the region’s prevailing sense of self-sufficiency, stoicism, modesty and pragmatism.

And it seems as if such spirit is still alive. If proof were needed that the people of Lincolnshire are still radical yet rooted in tradition, and ultimately ready to fight for their beliefs, then that proof can be found in annual Pagan festival called Spirit of the Marsh.

The festival was conceived as a defiant response to a briefing by the Lincolnshire County Council, which rated the coastal village of Theddlethorpe as “failing” and “unsustainable.” The county announced that it would no longer fund any public services there.

Locals held an impassioned meeting to determine a course of action and, from that meeting, the Spirit of the Marsh (SotM) festival was born. The event is the vision of local Pagans Julie Shepherd, Sarah Goodley and Gary Nowell. Taking guidance from the late Anna Salter, the three began planning the first gathering in 2011, which was finally held in 2013.

“No one from the council came to talk to us when they pronounced that we were a ‘failing village’ says Julie. “We didn’t like being labelled that way.”

From the left: Gary, Julie and Sarah [Courtesy Photo]

From the left: Gary Nowell, Julie Shepherd and Sarah Goodley [Courtesy Photo]

The long-term vision of the festival is threefold: to create a space where Pagans from all over the UK could come and celebrate Beltane; to provide a market space to showcase the diverse talents that are hidden away in the area; and for proceeds of the weekend (minus running costs) to be ploughed back into a community fund for Theddlethorpe village.

In previous years the festival has explored the region’s Nordic roots by having a Viking village and re-enactments on site. However, the team stresses that Spirit of the Marsh is a truly Pagan festival and a celebration of Beltane.

The importance of community dominates the weekend and it was also integral to the creation of the camp. As Sarah explained: “We wanted to show the hidden qualities in and about this area. There’s a real alternative subculture here of healers, Pagans, home educators. We wanted to celebrate the energy, the talents and the knowledge of people in the region.”

This year, the festival celebrated its 3rd anniversary and despite some teething problems (last year the wild winds of the marshes carried one of the marquees away), a relaxed mood prevailed. The camp has moved to a new site on a local farm, where the farmer and his family are supporting the event by providing the land for free and selling their locally reared produce on a stall.

Spoonmaking Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Spoonmaking Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

There are many local businesses here, including woodworkers, falconry centres, massage therapists and artists. Julie said: “We wanted to show the world that we are not failing and that there is passion and talent in our area. By having the fair we wanted to give some confidence back to the region and show what we can do.”

During the festival, Ian, a woodcarver from the nearby town of Market Rasen, gave a demonstration of the ancient craft of spoonmaking. He said that he was keen to get involved with SotM, saying: “This festival is refreshing in that it doesn’t pander to over-commericalisation and marketing, it’s just about helping the community.”

Creating an appropriate space for a temporary Beltane community was important to the team. As Gary stressed, “We wanted to create a space where people can get together to celebrate and create a community, albeit for the weekend. We’re particularly keen on providing a space for Pagan families to come and celebrate Beltane. We’re not interested in becoming the next Glastonbury, but just helping the Pagan community, and in turn helping the local community in Theddlethorpe.”

The festival also features bands and musicians, from both the region and afar, playing the main tent each evening. Local folk heroes Whiskey Before Breakfast returned as did Liverpool-based rockers Leafblade. And Leafblade’s effort to help out underlines the broader sense of community present at SotM.  Gary met lead singer Sean Jude on a camp site in Wales years ago, and they became friends. When Spirit of the Marsh launched, Jude answered its call.

Leafblade [Courtesy Photo]

Leafblade [Courtesy Photo]

There were also talks and demonstrations from local pagans, which Gary in particular is hoping to develop for next year’s festival. The energy of the weekend was held in the steady and gentle hands of John Licence from Pan’s Grove in South Wales, who led all of the Wicca-inspired ceremonies of the weekend.

Since the festival’s inception, the word has quietly spread about the importance of this festival and how the Pagan community can help out Theddlethorpe. People travelled from far and wide to this remote patch of Eastern England, where all main roads have long since petered out. They came to offer support because they believed in its ethos.

There were people from Dorset in South West England, people from the cities of Manchester and Liverpool in the North West, and one couple, who had driven from Southend-on Sea on the south coast. But one striking new development was that the festival now had registered on the radar of The Dagda.

Members of The Dagda. From Left to Right: Aus, Elric and Rich [Courtesy Photo]

The Dagda describe themselves as “the gatekeepers.” In Irish mythology, the Dagda is a father figure or protector of the tribe. These “gatekeepers” are a team who provide security, marshalling and general helping-out at the majority of Pagan summer camps across Britain. Aus and his son Elric, who were part of the crew, spoke with The Wild Hunt about their own take the subject of community building.

The Dagda came about at the tail-end of the 1980s after a series of high-profile and often violent clashes between Pagans and various groups, including the police and Christians. The most notorious of these was the Battle of the Beanfield. The Dagda was created on the back of these events. Aus explained, “There was a lot of persecution then against Pagans from Christians and other groups. Any gathering that we tried to have was either cancelled at the last minute or would get mobbed by Christians. People used to get worried by it, saying ‘What happens if the Christians turn up?’. Me and my mate Dog decided that this was something we could do for our community, so we kept on doing it.”

The Dagda is going strong now, with approximately 45 members and, as Aus is quick to point out, “Under Anglo-Saxon law that’s enough for a small army.”

The group gatekeeps most of the Pagan camps on the summer circuit. “This year we’re doing 28 camps,” says Elric. “This is our summer, virtually every weekend we’re off all over the country helping out at camps, collecting tickets, making sure people don’t get too drunk and helping out where needed.”

Elric has grown up in The Dagda and now organises his own Pagan events. His commitment to the British Pagan community is obvious. “This is one way I can give something back to our community. I wouldn’t be the person I am today, have the mindset I have, the outlook I have, if it wasn’t for growing up Pagan.”

Aus has seen many changes over the years and stresses the need to remember the importance of community. He said, “When The Dagda first started out, people would ask, ‘How can I help the community?’ I think we’ve lost that, sadly. People seem to turn up to camps now and say, ‘Here’s my money, entertain me’. It may be that this is an inevitable result of Paganism being more widely accepted in British society today. People are fine with it now. Where I work, they just take the piss out of me! But then I take the piss out of them for supporting Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanders soccer club, which is based in the West Midlands, England)! It’s just good-natured banter.”

Ritual at Spirit of the Marsh Festival 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Ritual at Spirit of the Marsh Festival 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Elric is keen to point out that the Pagan Symposium, a coming together of groups representing the wealth of different Pagan paths in the UK, has been important for the British community. He said: “I think it’s a good idea, it’s brought lots of different facets of the Pagan community together instead of working against each other. There’s enough people outside of the community who are against us, let alone the people inside the community being against each other. We should be coming together.”

As Aus said: “This is what we do for our people and our community, I can’t write articles or organise events, but I can do this, so this is my way of giving back.”

The sense of giving something back is what is at the heart of Spirit of the Marsh and what has clearly resonated with The Dagda. As the dust settles on the 2016 gathering, Julie, Sarah and Gary are already brimming with ideas for 2017. And as their fight for Theddlethorpe continues, they can expect plenty of new recruits.

TWH — May 2016 has been punctuated by a series of worldwide climate-action protests organized under the name Break Free. These actions have been focused on ending the practice of using non-renewable fossil fuels for energy. The Wild Hunt spoke with John Halstead and Margaret Human, two Pagans who participated in this week’s Break Free protests.

Police surround protesters at Whiting refinery [courtesy photo]

Police surround protesters at Whiting refinery [Courtesy Photo]

While both Halstead and Human were focused on the same goal, their experiences leading up to and during the actions were very different.  A retired person in her 70s, Human is open about her Paganism, but she doesn’t write, teach, or promote her beliefs other than to gather with like-minded people in various locations near her home in the Hudson Valley. She has been protesting against war and environmental degradation since the 1960s. She has been arrested multiple times over that period of time, although nobody was arrested at this week’s action.

An attorney in his 40s, Halstead writes prolifically online about his particular flavor of Paganism, and spearheaded the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment from its inception. Halstead became actively concerned about the environment only in the past few years, and this was his first direct action. This was also the first time he’s ever been arrested for any reason.

The idea behind Break Free fired Halstead’s imagination. It is coordinated on a massive scale (20 actions on six continents, according to the official web site) with civil disobedience being a key component. Halstead said:

Our part of the action took place at the BP oil refinery on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Whiting, Indiana, which is 30 miles from where I live. The action drew over 1,000 people from around the region. Many people who had never been to the area discovered first-hand how unbreathable the air in Whiting and surrounding communities is. We had specific demands, which included creating a moratorium on all new pipeline projects and creating a regional citizen review board to oversee all fossil fuel related industry projects. But the larger context is that we want BP shut down, and a just transition to renewable energy worldwide.

The Whiting refinery is, Halstead explained, the largest refinery for tar sands in the United States. It’s also not far from where 1,600 gallons of oil was spilled in Lake Michigan, which supplies drinking water to the region. Environmental concerns are high in that area.

Human was also one of a cast of over a thousand concerned about newer — and likely more dangerous — petroleum products when she joined marchers in Albany, New York. With a number of other people who were prepared to be arrested, she sat down on railroad tracks to stop the movement of so-called “bomb trains” through the state’s capital city. These are trains carrying petroleum — often Bakken crude, derived from hydraulic fracturing — to refineries for processing. In addition to worries over the environmental impact of using these products, the rail shipments have local residents concerned about what might happen if one derails, which is not unknown.

Protesters block train tracks in Albany, NY [Stop the Bomb Trains: Albany Free of Fossil Fuels]

Protesters block train tracks in Albany, NY [Courtesy Photo: Stop the Bomb Trains: Albany Free of Fossil Fuels]

Halstead explained that, only a couple of years ago, he “wasn’t even recycling, much less taking part in direct action.” Many of those who joined him were also quite new to the idea. He said, “I was driven to take part in the arrest action by a growing sense of urgency in the face of increasingly undeniable global climate change and seeing (and smelling) the effects of the petroleum industry where I live and in neighboring communities, like Gary, Indiana, where people of color are disproportionately impacted.”

After he helped draft the community statement, one of the few criticisms he saw about it was that “words are not enough,” and he found himself agreeing with that enough to take action himself. He said:

About 40 people were arrested with me. We marched with over 1,000 at our backs. That alone was incredible. When we arrived at entrance . . . and then unanimously decided to cross the property line of the BP refinery. We then formed a circle in front of the police line. Then we sat down and began singing, “We shall not be moved, Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, We shall not be moved.” And after a period of time, we were given warnings to disperse, and then we were arrested one by one, handcuffed with plastic zip restraints, and put in waiting vans. The police were, for the most part, professional and restrained.

In Albany, the only arrests were some miles away from where Human and others arrived at their point of civil disobedience, also with a massive network there to support them. If police had rounded them up, though, she would have missed out anyway; it was the cold and the rain which ultimately defeated her. She explained that she’d caught pneumonia during the Occupy protests in Washington, D.C., “and that’s when I got really old.” Therefore, she made the decision to leave due to the weather. “I’m willing to risk arrest, but not risk pneumonia,” she said. In the 1960s she made a similar decision, but at that time she chose not to risk arrest because she was the mother of young children.
She plans on protesting a pipeline in Peekskill, New York this coming weekend, and to continue with such actions as long as she is able.

Halstead was philosophical about the impact of his efforts. “The effect we had on BP’s bottom line was undoubtedly negligible,” he said, “but I know we made an impression, not just on BP, but also on the Northwest Indiana community, and on many others who will read about or watch the event in the media – and if those people will stand together, then will not only hurt BP’s profits, but we can bring an end to Big Oil altogether!”

In the video above, Halstead is arrested at time marker 44:46. The Break Free website also includes a second video of the Free Midwest march.

SAINT ALBERT, Alberta – When a fire nearly engulfed a Canadian polytheist’s cabin, not only was the structure spared, but so was an altar and shrine to his ancestors and Brighid, both of which were, and still are, tucked in the woods.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]


Mhaoillain and his wife were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon on the deck of their cabin, located in the woods near Saint Albert when they heard a voice call out for help with a fire.

“At first, I thought it was some stupid joke, as the whole of Alberta has been under a strict fire ban for weeks, and considering the recent devastation in Fort MacMurray, in northern Alberta, why would anyone purposefully start a fire?” said Mhaoillain in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

Then he heard the voice call out again saying that there was a fire. Mhaoillain said that he ran through the wooded area to the end of his property and was met with a growing brush fire. It was quickly spreading onto his property and up his very dry trees.

Mhaoillain said his first reaction was to attempt to stamp the fire out, “Here I was, alone in the trees, doing a little dance as the flames grew and began to move past me.”

When he realized the fire was too large and serious to be put out this way, Mhaoillain went back to the cabin. His wife was holding a garden hose. He explained, “She had seen the flames, and was obviously thinking much clearer than I was. I began spraying at the approaching flames, trying to chase the circumference with my pathetic garden hose, when I heard more and more voices all around me.”

The voices belonged to neighbors who were carrying shovels, hoes, and buckets of water. The neighbors helped him battle the blaze for almost an hour, until the Barrhead County Fire Department arrived and took over.
[Courtesy Photo][Courtesy Photo]
When the fire department had finally put out the blaze and was satisfied the danger was over, one fireman approached Mhaoillain and asked ‘Is that your set-up out there, with the candles and such?’ He was referring to an altar, which Mhaoillain had created in a secluded area tucked back in the trees.

“I replied ‘Yes sir,’ expecting him to begin accusing me of starting the fire,” Mhaoillain recalled. ‘[The fireman] said ‘Come with me,’ and so I followed him through the blackened trees. He stopped just before my altar, and motioned with his hand, ‘It didn’t burn. I thought you should see that,’ he said, then turned and walked off.”

To Mhaoillain’s surprise, while the fire had burned the area around the altar on three sides, the altar, the two upright tamarack poles holding deer antlers, as well as all the items on the altar were untouched by the fire.

“I stood there alone, just looking at it all. I didn’t know what to think at all.” said Mhaoillain.

Mhaoillain said that the cabin is a creative oasis for him and his wife to write and paint. He added that he may do a ritual of thanksgiving at the altar, “…but I haven’t thought about it enough to come up with something appropriate.  Maybe something with water!”

Indiana-StateSeal.svgWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two members of Indiana’s Heathen community were arrested last week on child molestation charges. David Hindsley and Nicole Leffert are being held “on felony charges including child molesting and conspiracy to commit child molesting.” Local news reports state that neighbors overheard the couple talking about “sex acts with children” and contacted the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. After an investigation, the arrests were made on the evening of May 10.

Hindsley and Leffert are both known within the local Heathen community as artisans and the makers of specialty kilts. Hindsley owns the Etsy shop and Facebook page Heathen Spirit. In a 2014 article published in Purdue University’s student newspaper The Exponent, Hindsley was interviewed about the health benefits of wearing kilts. Both Leffert and Hindsley are listed on Odin’s Children, attend local Pagan events and participate in online Pagan and Heathen communities. The Wild Hunt has also learned that the Hindsley and Leffert were trying to start a new kindred in the Lafayette area. We reached out to several local Heathens, all of whom were declined to comment at this time.

According to reports, “prosecutors are not yet identifying the victims in the case.”  The bond amount is listed at $500,000 for each arrest, and both have court dates set for May 19. We will bring you more on the story as it develops.

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[Courtesy Photo]

STOCKON, Calif. — It was announced this weekend that Scott Symonds, a regular and well-known vendor at PantheaCon, had died. Scott was originally diagnosed with cancer in January 2015.  As he wrote himself, “I was rushed to the hospital, bent over, all day, in pain.”  The doctor’s assumed that he had diverticulitis and pancreatitis, but after a colonoscopy, they found tumors. He endured many months of difficult treatments. Then, in November 2015, Scott was diagnosed as terminal.

Several weeks ago, Scott asked friend Eleina Ridolfi to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help his wife Amber after he was gone. He said, “I would like to build a fund that Amber can pull from as needed for the first so many years on a monthly basis to help cover costs that I am no longer able to cover.”  To date, the campaign has raised nearly $20,000 over a short nine-day period of time.

Along with donations, people from Scott’s various communities have been reaching out to post words of support for his family, express love, and share memories on his Facebook page. Chris Sanchez wrote, “Scott Symonds you will be forever in our hearts and thoughts. You will missed my friend. Thank you so much for your courage, your strength, and your inspiration to make us all better human beings. I wish I could find the words…..”  What is remembered, lives.

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11141331_129118137493653_3811564180993915340_nTWH – A new anthology, edited by author Dr. Mary Canty Merrill, is due to be released in June. The book, entitled Why Black Lives Matter too, is a multi-author work that includes a diversity of voices from around the country. One of the voices chosen for this work was Pagan blogger and activist Cat Chapin-Bishop. She said, “The writing I’ve done against racism, for the book and at my blog, has been from a spiritual root. It’s not an intellectual drive, the drive to speak out on racism–it’s coming from spiritual leadings (of the sort Quakers talk about, but which Paganism first taught me to follow).”

On her website, Dr. Merrill writes that the book is due to be released on what is known as Juneteenth—a holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.  She added that all proceeds will “benefit the Sentencing Project, a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system through the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns and strategic advocacy for policy reform.” Chapin-Bishop is passionate about the effort and the book’s launch, saying, “I really, really want this project to do well. The Sentencing Project is [an] important tool in the fight against systemic racism.”

In other news:

  • On Friday, May 13, Leigha LaFleur, a Wiccan practitioner based in Portland, led a public ritual to offer support to the Bernie Sanders campaign. The story caught the attention of mainstream media, who expressed both curiosity and skepticism. The L.A. Times wrote, “There are lots of ways to support a political candidate, from making phone calls to donating money. Some turn to prayer, Christian or otherwise. Add Wiccan rituals to the list.”  According to the article, there were as many observers as their were participants. LaFleur, not deterred by the media’s attention, has planned a second ritual event, scheduled for Monday, May 16 at 5:30. As with the first one, the Ritual for Bernie Sanders 2 will be held in Woodstock Park in Portland, Oregon.
  • “Heathen at the Helm.” Wild Hunt writer and Norse Mythology blogger Karl E. H. Seigfried was elected to be the new president of Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago. Seigfried said, “I’m not sure how many interfaith organizations at major institutions are headed by a practitioner of Asatru, but I’m guessing not many.” As noted on the website, “Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago is an organization that hosts discussions on religion and spirituality, presents guest speakers, visits local places of worship, studies different religious traditions, and produces an interfaith journal.”
  • Normal People Productions has launched the trailer for the upcoming theatrical production Doreen Valiente: An English Witch. Based on the recently published biography, the play will run Nov. 21-27 at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton. Tickets are now on sale.

  • Three Drops from the Cauldron, a U.K.-based publisher, is putting together an anthology on, as it says, the “best writing we receive on Witches, rituals, and spells.”  The deadline for submission is coming up May 29.  The anthology will be called Full Moon & Foxglove (An Anthology of Witches & Witchcraft), and will be published in paperback. Not a practicing Witch? Three Drops has several other calls for submissions with deadline and requirements posted on its website.
  • And, from the blogosphere, Alison Leigh Lilly discusses the Shaman & Priest: How America’s Cultural Landscape Shapes Its Religious InstitutionsOn Nature’s Path, the Patheos blog dedicated to Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Lilly writes, “In a culture that still clings to the social traditions of agricultural society and dismisses hunter-gatherer lifestyle as inherently “primitive” even while adopting some of its characteristics, Druidry can find a place of balance and harmony, acknowledging everything priesthood and shamanism have to offer.”
  • The Wild Hunt is currently accepting submissions from Pagan, Heathen and polytheist writers from outside of the United States for its Around the World monthly column. For more details, contact editor at wildhunt [dot] org.

Send us your news tips and story ideas.

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Michael Wiggins, a pillar of the Michigan Pagan community, passed away on the morning of May 4, after suffering a sudden heart attack. Michael was not only the “face of ConVocation” and president of the Magickal Education Council,  but also a well-respected artist, dancer, entrepreneur, and visionary.

On June 13, 1965, Michael John Wiggins was born “Guilain Michael Palmateer” to Donald and Alyce Wiggins. He was baptized in a local Catholic church and later given a Wiccaning within his mother’s own coven. Family friend Sue Wert remembered him as being “a little and lovable kid, always sharing smiles and hugs.”

Michael grew up in Highland Park and Hazel Park, both suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Hazel Park High School, where he was introduced to theater, dance and marching band. This ignited a creative spark that never burned out.

After graduating in 1983, Michael went on to study music, performance, and theology at Finlandia University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1986, he earned his associate’s degree and went on to a long successful career in the arts. Sue Wert wrote, “My biggest memory was when you said this was your life and you would live it as you wished. You did just that.”

While still in school, Michael began working for Arthur Murray Dance Studios. He fell in love with dance and, as a result, it became the focus of his career. Since 2000, he was a principal dancer with the company Dance Thru History (The Madam Cadillac Dance Theater and The Detroit Renaissance Dancers). The troupe performs 16th-19th century French and English court dances at museums, schools and historical reenactments around the country. Over that time, Michael was also a choreographer and instructor.

In addition to dancing, Michael became increasingly active in Detroit’s Pagan community. He had grown up with Wicca due to his mother’s own practice and the community as a whole was not foreign to him. In 2013, wife Cindy Wiggins said that he had always kept up with his “involvement in the Pagan community […] in different facets: co-leading a private teaching group for friends and children of friends; attending ‘Meet Your Local Witch’ nights at the long-gone Lavender Moon Cafe.”

But Michael is most known for his involvement in ConVocation. He first joined the event’s security team in 1997. The following year, he volunteered to be the Magickal Education Council’s public relations officer. In 2000, he was named its president, a position that he held until 2014. In a tribute, M.E.C’s Board said, “As a board member and longest sitting president of the Magical Education Council [Michael] was afforded the opportunity to shape the development of a community he loved deeply.  It was an opportunity he made the most of. The institutions he helped to build will continue to inspire generations of seekers yet to come.”

In 2013, Michael was honored as Detroit’s Pagan of the Year, an award given to the “person or group that has done the most to influence events and who best serves as an advocate for the Pagans of Michigan.”

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[Courtesy Photo]

In addition to community service and a dedication to dance, Michael was also the creator of other artistic and theatrical ventures. He was the owner of the Phoenix Cafe art and music venue in Hazel Park.  And, he is the founder of the Steamtopia and Up in the Aether conventions. Just as Michael was instrumental in helping to strengthen the local Pagan community, he was also instrumental in bringing together Detroit’s steampunk community. In a Facebook post, Guy Cox explained, “After the first World Steam Expo, [Michael and DJ Tom Downey] started holding monthly dance parties at the Phoenix in Hazel Park. It was these events that brought all of the unique individuals in the Detroit area together. These events lasted several years and the people from there (myself included) helped support and encourage the creation of Capitol Steam and other Michigan steampunk groups. Without Michael, there is a good chance none of us would know each other.”

Of himself, Michael said that he was always interested in and involved in community and human interaction. He wrote, “With Detroit’s economy being where it is, there is a special value to the many community centers and creative collectives […] that have sprung up […] As money has run out, society has been more able to refocus its attention on something that it can’t always buy in the first place: connection. Connection to ourselves and to others is the substance of life, the deepest measure of success that especially reveals itself when the material measures, such as money and possessions, either run dry or lose their luster.”  Through his work, Michael attempted to create these bonds, and to “help refocus our potential for connection in all its forms.”

It was announced May 4 that Michael had unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving many people throughout the Detroit area shocked at the sudden loss of a respected leader, teacher, dancer, friend and family member. The M.E.C. Board wrote:

It is an impossible task to encapsulate the entirety of a life in a few sentences, especially if lived well. To attempt to do so with the life of Michael Wiggins would be an exercise in futility. The man we know was a loving father and husband, stalwart friend, artist, dancer, singer, motivational speaker and a dedicated leader of our community. His works speak volumes about the degree of change he inspired in everyone who knew him. […] Losing him is something none of us will recover from quickly and so we mourn his passing while we honor his motto “The Show Must Go On.” He is and will continue to be missed.

In a blog post, Detroit native Kenya Coviak said, “Michael was a truly beautiful soul. A witty conversationalist, one evening, I had the privilege of hearing a little about his story as a young boy growing up in ’60s Detroit. You never knew what insight you would get, but it was always something thoughtful and surprising. His wisdom helped shape a vision of what greatness and beauty that can be ours if we grasp it. It sustains those of us who knew him.”

Oberon Osiris, another longtime member of Michigan’s Pagan community, said, “Michael came to the community during a time of great change and brought cohesion, stability, humor and common sense to it. He was the face of Convocation for years and always ready and there for anyone.”

Michael’s cousin and a fellow MEC Board member Claudine Durham started a GoFundMe campaign at the request of both the Pagan and steampunk communities. All raised funds will be used to offset the expenses associated with Michael’s memorial and funeral services. Durham wrote, “Michael was a pillar in the community and was loved by many and respected by all. Even though this is a great shock and loss I know from the amount of requests already in the early hours that we need to help in any way we can. […] We ask that you keep the family in your thoughts and hearts and remember that with each person Michael touched, a part of him lives on in our stories and memories.”

To date, the fund has raised $7,191 with a goal of $10,000, a figure that’s been changed twice already after donors met and exceeded the first two goals. This outpouring of support speaks to Michael’s reputation within the various communities that he has served. In a note attached to its donation, Michigan Pagan Fest said, “Remember him with smiles and laughter for that’s the way he’ll remember you.”

Michael Wiggins lived a life out loud, dancing and creating in ways that he loved. He shared that vibrant spirit with all those around him, through his own art, his teachings, and his unique ability to make creative connections and bring people together. As he told Sue Wert many years ago, this was his life, and he would live it as he wished. And the Detroit community and all of those people he has touched are better for it.

What is remembered, lives.

Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions in Australia are no less subject to the times as they are anywhere else in the world. While we draw vast inspiration from the past of Europe, Christian and pre-Christian, we are subject to the influences of contemporary pop-culture, public discourse, prevailing political paradigms and social trends as they are manifest in post-colonial Australia. This influence can go one of two ways in terms of our practices. First, as a minority spiritual school(s) of thought, as a sub-culture, or indeed, a counter-culture, standing outside the square and looking in on society writ large, modern Pagans and contemporary Witches can be deeply progressive, revolutionary, subversive and flat out contrarian. Or, our practices change according to the influences of the over-culture.

Candles_at_a_graveyeard_on_a_Christmas_Eve

[Photo Credit: Pöllö / Wikimedia Commons]


Our collective strength is in our ability to inhabit the Janus Head and look both ways, drawing inspiration from that past and being completely free to adapt it according to our present needs and into the future. We are not beholden to a dogma, our focus in on praxis, on the demonstrable, the experience of the individual such that the modern Pagan, or Witch, is free to completely re-examine our relationships with spirit, and indeed, notions of belief entirely. A literal reading of our collective myths is not required as it is in Christianity, nowhere is it written that we must subjugate our Will.

This is particularly true of Witchcraft. Here, the key lessons pertain to power; who has it, what doesn’t, how the web of Wyrd subtlety connects us all and moves us, how to see what has power over us, and how to diminish that influence, and exert our own, according to our Will. This key ability or fundamental lesson is not boxed in and cut off from any sphere of human activity or thought, we can, and do apply it broadly and examine power structures and influences in the broader culture as well.

It is precisely these freedoms and considerations that mean, in Australia, most Pagans and Witches celebrate Samhain at the end of April. Anyone with eyes can see that Samhain is linked to a particular power structure in Nature – a particular shift that allows a moment we often describe as the thinning veil between the Worlds. And anyone with eyes in Oz knows that shift in power doesn’t happen at the end of November, it happens on or around April 30.

That is a kind of power that one does not need to be a Witch to see. Everyone in the Southern Hemisphere is well acquainted with it, as is everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Australia and New Zealand though, something else happens in late April: ANZAC Day. Increasingly, it pops up in reference to Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve. And in terms of mainstream Australian culture and dominant political paradigms, it has become extremely powerful and, at the same time, increasingly contentious. The question I find myself asking is simply this: How well have Australian Pagans and Witches considered the influence and power of ANZAC Day to either the growth or detriment of the aims of our ancestral based practices at Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve?

Online advertisement for ANZAC Day 2016 including specials for restaurant Bivianos in Dural in regional NSW.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day falls on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing in 1915. Historically, it marks the operation of the Allied Forces in WWI designed to capture the Gallipoli Penisula and open the Black Sea to the Allied navies. In terms of engagement, ANZAC Day completely overshadows November’s Remembrance Day, which is the day to commemorate the end of the First World War as well as a day to honor all who have died in war.

In terms of the place, one might be forgiven for thinking Australians had a hand at winning the battle fought on the Gallipoli beaches. But, we didn’t. We lost; the Allies never took the Cove and Çanakkale Savaşı (The Battle of Çanakkale) remains one of the most celebrated WWI victories for the Ottoman Empire.

Since 1990, the annual pilgrimage to the Turkish shore has only increased, and the land suffers yearly from Australians’ collective rubbish, which is particularly lovely given the area is a National Park. The bones of the fallen are exposed due to foot traffic, and various efforts have been made to develop and redevelop the area to accommodate the yearly tourist visits. This big business is threatening smaller local enterprise.

At home, it has become acceptable to crack a tinny (open a can of beer) directly after an ANZAC Dawn Service, which is early even for most Australians. This has somehow become a patriotic duty according to both beer companies and former military leaders who advertise the very tinny that one should patriotically crack. And while Australia’s alcohol problem is conveniently forgotten for ANZAC Day, we also blatantly change the rules regarding gambling, so we can all partake of the (illegal every other day)  “Australian Diggers’ Game” of Two-up. While my tone may suggest that we have a serious gambling problem as a culture, fear not. In 2004, during a debate regarding the legalisation of Two-up, the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, told the House:

One of the charities most involved in problem gambling, the Wesley Community Legal Service, a body dealing with problem gamblers, has confirmed it has never encountered a problem gambler addicted to two-up. That is an interesting bit of trivia for everyone to take home with them. If anything, a slight extension of two-up to other days of significance would fit in with the Australian commemorative tradition when we remember our war dead not with strident nationalism but with a beer, a laugh and a few of these harmless games.

Perhaps that is the story of how Australia came to be known as “the lucky country.”

To many an Aussie, my complaints may just be examples of a lack of honour, duty, and the increasingly sacred tenet of Australian society; mateship. This is symptomatic of the fact I’m not a “digger,” not a patriot, and most definitely un-Australian. Peter Cochrane gathered a litany of such criticisms in his article for The Conversation’s article ‘The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac.‘ Included in this piece is a quote from The Australian, originally published April 26, 2013. It reads:

The best advice we can offer is that they ignore the tortured arguments of the intellectuals and listen to the people, the true custodians of this occasion. They must recognise that the current intellectual zeitgeist is at odds with the spirit of Anzac. It recognises neither the significance of a war that had to be fought nor the importance of patriotism. Honour, duty and mateship are foreign to their thinking. They may be experts on many things, but on the subject of Anzac, they have little useful to say.

Arguably, ANZAC Day has become a leviathan of government and privately funded advertising, and the furtherance of an erroneous myth of Australianness that supports and underlies an increased sense of Australia as a military nation. It expresses a nationalism that feeds troubling social trends and promotes Anglo-centric white Australian patriotism.

ANZAC Day is supposed to be a remembrance, not just of the Gallipoli Campaign, but of all wars in which the Australian military have engaged, from the Boer War to Afghanistan. But we must not be confused, ANZAC Day is not for everyone.

The above video shows Murrawarri man Fred Hooper – a man who usually marches in official parades with his non-Indigenous Navy colleagues. Hooper’s grandfather served in WWI, and his great uncle was Harold West, who inspired ‘The Coloured Digger,’ a famous poem by WWII soldier Bert Beros. The poem was written while Beros and West were still on active duty, and it tells of the bravery of Private West, who attacked a Japanese machine-gun pit “single handed.” The final two stanzas read:

He’d heard us talk Democracy –
They preach it to his face –
Yet knows that in our Federal House
There’s no one of his race.
He feels we push his kinsmen out,
Where cities do not reach,
And Parliament has yet to hear
The abo’s maiden speech.

One day he’ll leave the Army,
Then join the League he shall,
And he hopes we’ll give a better deal
To the aboriginal

In 2015, Hooper decided to make the trip to Canberra to lead the ‘undeclared Frontier Wars’ march. As the Australian Federal Police Officer pointed out, “this day is not for you“, Mr Hooper.

In case you thought the AFP officer was just being nasty, or worse racist, he wasn’t really. They are, after all, the undeclared Frontier Wars. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous of us as a nation to recognise an Aboriginal military force as being raised and active at a time when we didn’t actually consider them a people; during a time when we didn’t consider them civilised enough to have so complex an institution as a military or even a guerilla force? Such things would fly in the face of terra nullius.

As Alan Stephens wrote for ABC s ‘The Drum’ in 2014:

According to the Australian War Memorial Act (1980), the AWM’s purpose is to recognise “active service in war or warlike operations by members of the Defence Force”. The act then defines “Defence Force” as “any naval or military force raised in Australia before the establishment of the Commonwealth”.

That definition allows the AWM to commemorate the wars of choice fought by white “Australians” in the Sudan, South Africa, and China before Federation, but excludes the war of necessity fought by Indigenous “Australians” for Australia itself between 1788 and the 1920s.

In other words, pre-Federation white volunteers who chose to fight overseas for the British crown and its commercial and colonial interests have been legally defined as “Australians”, while pre-Federation Indigenous warriors who fought invaders for their homeland, their families, and their way of life, have been officially defined out of our war commemoration history.

Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve have always been a way through which the neo-Pagan and Witch engages directly with the Ancestors. We actively feed them, their memory and propagate their wisdom, keeping that which enriches our lives. Not the positive and the happy memories alone, but also the negative, the difficult things as well. We recognise within these lessons and wisdom, which, by keeping, we strive against repeating mistakes of the past, in order to live more whole, healthier, and happier lives.

As ANZAC Day exerts its not so subtle influence on our lives and increasingly becomes associated with our Sabbat, what powers and structures are we feeding alongside our Beloved Dead? Are we so certain that “lest we forget” as a catch-phrase represents a concept wholly aligned with our goals at All Hallow’s? Here are some quotes:

Calypso Apothecary writes, “Today is Anzac Day. Gathering at dawn, today is a day to show respect and honour the men and women that served and died at war, fighting for our freedom. For me, this day also marks the beginning of Samhain. The decent into the dark part of the year and with the whole of Australia honoring those that have died, today they begin to walk among us.”

Coralturner writes, “In Australia Samhain occurs around the same time as Anzac Day. I find this significant as Anzac Day is the time of year that those from Australia and New Zealand remember those who died prematurely in war. Anzac Day is Ritualized across the country with services, parades, people getting together for meals to remember their deceased friends and relatives. Anzac biscuits are eaten and the game of Two-ups is played.”

Frances Billinghurst‘s, author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, wrote,On the eve of 30 April those of us south of the equator pause in silent contemplation and remembrance of our ancestors. Following on the heels of Anzac Day (the day when those fallen in combat from Australia and New Zealand are remembered as well as the increasing number of victims of war), the timing for the Southern Samhain could not really be any better.”

The following was published on Spheres of Light: “It is a time to honour those who have gone before us and it is a poignant co-incidence that Australia and New Zealand’s day of Remembrance for their fallen in war, ANZAC Day on April 25, should be so close to the southern Samhain.”

Venerating the war dead is not new or unusual. Indeed, there are many military uniforms present on my own shrine to my Beloved Dead, and each serves to remind me to be thankful that for two generations, and counting, my family has not known war.  It is never a bad activity to remember the one thing that all wars have in common is a body count. The fact that, as a nation, Australia has troops currently deployed in conflict zones should be more readily discussed. History is written by the victors and we should examine how that fact has resulted in the otherwise contradictory nature of, on one hand, unabashed celebration of a mammoth defeat in a battle in a war we ultimately won, while on the other, denying completely the existence of a war fought on our own soil.

Another quote comes to us from writer Lee Pike, who lives in Perth. Ruminating on Samhain and ANZAC Day together, Pike writes:

I have been thinking a lot, too, about the role that my ancestors have on how I have been shaped and who I am today. How much are we products of our blood or of our soil? Do the dead remain on this plane or another? What can ancestor work offer a magical path? What would the Anzacs truly think about these ‘festivities’? I am sure the answers would be as diverse as they were. War is complex and so is the notion of sacrifice. When remembering the dead, the last thing we should do is boil it down to simple, digestible, and marketable slogans… and brands.

Lest we forget.

Column: Godsend

Eric O. Scott —  May 13, 2016 — 2 Comments

Last year saw the release of Apotheon, a computer game set in the milieu of Greek myth. The game’s striking visuals mimic the black-figure pottery of the 7th through 5th centuries BCE, which has the effect of making the game feel more distinctively identified with its source material than any of its predecessors. We look at the ancient vases and feel an aura of myth that cannot be replicated by modern illustrations; Apotheon plays on that aura to deliver a sense of wonder that could not be matched by more sophisticated, “realistic” graphics.

But despite Apotheon’s enchanting presentation, its plot engages in a common pattern not at all faithful to the mythology. The game begins by announcing that the gods have abandoned humanity and seek to punish mortals by denying divine gifts, up to and including the light of Helios, shrouding the world in darkness. A young hero named Nikandreos receives the blessing of Hera to fight back against the gods, climbing Mount Olympus and challenging them to battle. By the end of the game, Nikandreos has slain more than half of the Olympian deities, culminating in a final battle against Zeus. In the process of killing the gods, Nikandreos acquires their special tools – -Apollo’s lyre, Zeus’s thunderbolt, and so on -– and thus their powers. By the end of the game, Nikandreos has effectively become a single omnipotent god, commanding the might of every Olympian at once.

This plot bears a strong resemblance to that of the earlier God of War series, in which the protagonist, Kratos, similarly slays and replaces Ares as the titular god of war, and then goes on to slay other deities, culminating, just as in Apotheon, in a battle against Zeus. The pattern continues in other media as well: by the end of Wrath of the Titans (2012), the gods have perished, as much at the hands of mortal indifference as monsters. Even in the Greek mythology-inspired Theros set of the card game Magic: The Gathering, the plot revolves around a mortal hero, the planeswalker Elspeth, slaying a rogue deity with the ambiguously-named magical weapon Godsend.

One would think the gods only exist to die.

Elspeth slays Xenagos, God of Revels. (Art from the Magic: The Gathering card "Deicide" by Jason Chan.)

Elspeth slays Xenagos, God of Revels [Art from the Magic: The Gathering card “Deicide” by Jason Chan]

What’s puzzling is that all of these stories take as their basis Greek mythology, in particular; a mythology which makes a point of the immortality of its gods, in contrast to other myth-systems in which gods can and do die. The trope of mortals doing battle with the Olympians occurs very infrequently in the myths; Diomedes’ battle with Aphrodite, Apollo, and Ares in the Iliad is a rare example. Diomedes just manages to wound the gods, and even then only with the aid of Athena. The idea of a mortal actually slaying a god -– much less the “kill and absorb” motif found in Apotheon and God of War –- is unthinkable within the mythic worldview.

Now, it could be argued that this recurring plot line merely reflects the genre: namely, all the works mentioned have belonged to the action genre. This is especially true for video games; the notion that games must employ combat as a core mechanic remains entrenched in the medium, and games that eschew combat altogether are few and far between. In Apotheon and God of War, the vast majority of “characters” Nikandreos and Kratos interact with are merely targets for their weapons. The argument goes that a combat game requires enemies to fight, so in a game inspired by Greek mythology, one might as well fight against the Olympians. But that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny: Greek myth hardly lacks for fantastic monsters that players could battle, monsters with much more visual appeal and potential for interesting mechanics than the gods (who, in the end, tend to just resemble large humans).

I suspect there is more to it than a simple need for game mechanics. Notably, these works tend to also feature a story wherein the bond between the gods and humanity ruptures. In Apotheon, the gods turn against mortals as punishment for human arrogance; in God of War, Zeus betrays and attempts to murder Kratos; in Theros, the Zeus stand-in, Heliod, similarly betrays his follower Elspeth after she discharges her duty to him. (The Titans films, breaking with this pattern, have the bond severed on the other end: humans stop believing in the gods, and thus the gods become mortal and die.) The pattern is not just one of mortals fighting against gods: it is specifically the revelation that the Father God is a liar, hypocrite, and oath-breaker, who unjustly attacks his human subjects and must be deposed in response.

In other words, it seems to me that Greek mythology is being used in its traditional post-classical role as a stalking horse for Christianity, a version of religion that can be invoked and critiqued without exposing an author to the dangers of openly discussing the dominant religion. Gods -– mainly Zeus, a proxy for the monotheistic God -– act as open antagonists to humanity, and can be used metaphorically to condemn the perceived corruption of religion as a concept. The mortal human grows to have more power and agency than the gods themselves, and in their destruction, rises to a mastery of the cosmos; in the case of Apotheon, ultimately recreating human life as a new, singular deity.

The narrative parallels the decrease in religiosity in western societies. As the nones increase in number, this narrative becomes more and more attractive, for it allows a generation of nonreligious gamers to role-play their resistance to religion within the safe confines of a “dead” mythos. (A God of War where the hero kills Zeus is a fun action game; a God of War where the hero kills Yahweh is grounds for international controversy.) The Titans storyline, if anything, displays this atheistic motif more obviously: the rise of nones in their film universe is directly responsible for their demise.

It’s fascinating, if I’m sure disheartening to those who worship them, that the Greek gods get chosen for this duty. For the most part, gods of other mythologies get more sympathetic treatment in popular culture, even though their stories contain just as many incidents of jerking around their followers. But then, it’s nothing new for the classical gods to be used in this way: when King Lear laments that humans are as flies to the gods, he’s also referring to the Olympians.

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta – On Sunday, May 1, a wildfire was reported 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) outside of the town of Fort McMurray, Alberta. This fire, encouraged by unusually dry conditions, hot temperatures and high winds, spread quickly. By the evening of May 3, officials declared a mandatory evacuation of the entire city of 88,000 inhabitants.

Fort McMurray, or “Fort Mac” as it is often referred to, is an oil industry boomtown located near the Athabasca Oil Sands in northern Alberta, Canada. Edmonton, the capitol city of the province, is Fort Mac’s nearest significant neighbor. The city lies 435 kilometres (270 mi) to the southwest of Fort Mac on Highway 63, the main route between the two communities.

The Fort McMurray fire is just one of the 41 wildfires burning across the province of Alberta. Five of those fires, including the Fort Mac fire, are considered to be out of control. As of nightfall on May 11, more than 1,715 firefighters, 101 helicopters and 26 air tankers were battling the blazes.

Wildfire blazing along Highway 63 (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Wildfire blazing along Highway 63 [Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS]

Among the displaced residents of Fort Mac are a few members of Alberta’s Pagan community.  Naomi, a Pagan working for Suncor Energy as a boilermaker, had very little time to make her escape from the fire zone.  The Wild Hunt was able to reach her via email, which she sent from her mobile phone during the evacuation. Here is Naomi’s account:

I got a little more warning than most people. I received a text from a peace officer friend who told me we were going to be placed under a mandatory evacuation in 30 minutes. I had about 10 minutes to grab the necessities and flee in my car with my dog.

When I received the text, I went to all my neighbours and told them to pack and leave. After my car was loaded I went to my friend’s house to help her pack for her, her partner and their dog. We had 10 minutes to get their stuff. The time between when I arrived at their home and when we left their home, the air went from being slightly smoky to difficult to breathe. We then left and went down the hill from where we all lived in Abasand (a suburb of Fort Mac) via a bike path through the trees. I needed to get gas, so we went to a gas station it was closed, the fuel was emergency locked out.

We then were directed north … It took 8 hours to get to a safe place. We watched the area where our houses were burning, while we were stuck in traffic. We found lodging at a camp for oil workers with my partner and spent the night without sleeping.

In the morning I was able to secure a flight for my partner and my dog from CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited). I dropped them off and then I went to my work at Suncor as I was told I was an essential worker and had to report for work. There was no room at that camp so we were waiting for a room when my peace officer friend told me we had a 30 minute window to make it south through town until the fires would close off highway 63 south again. So I called my work and informed them I was leaving and left.

The devastation surrounding us as we sped south was gut wrenching. We made it though town safely. We then ran out of gas twice on the way to Fort Saskatchewan. People were, and continue to be, so generous and kind. Random strangers gave us enough gas to get to a gas station and buy a sandwich. Now we are all staying at a friend’s house. Safe and sound.Together.

Many evacuees, like Naomi, fled north on Highway 63 to the promised safety of the oil worker’s camps, only to be told they had to head back south through the burned and burning areas around Fort Mac. This journey took most of them to the city of Edmonton, where they were received by friends, relatives and strangers. Edmonton’s local Pagan community opened its doors to ensure that evacuees had the needed shelter, food and hospitality. Kate Lomnes, a Pagan mother of four, was packing to move house when the evacuees began arriving in town. Like many other Edmonton residents, she did not hesitate to open her door to strangers. Lomnes said:

I posted on Facebook that my husband Cory and I would accept a family into our home. Our home was half-packed to move and [we have] four children, three of which are four years old. Aldeady crammed into a narrow town house, I didn’t know how we would do it. However, we have a home, walls, a roof, and means to survive. Our resources are limited, but they are meant to be shared. After all, I am Pagan and this is what we do, right? We love, we care, we share.

Not long after my initial Facebook post, a very close coven member said she had a friend that needed somewhere to house his cat. I found out after speaking to him that him and his girlfriend would not separate from their beloved meow baby, and needed a place too. There was no question; there was no pause. An airbed was dug from the abyss, as were end tables and blankets that had been previously packed. But I still felt we could do more. After a frantic $200.00 Dollarama spree, we dropped and dispersed toiletries at the relief centre and brought some home for our Fort McMurray refugees.

University of Alberta Wiccan Chaplin Samuel Wagar (photo by Ed Kaiser)

University of Alberta Wiccan Chaplin Samuel Wagar [Photo Credit: Ed Kaiser]

Evacuees are also staying on the University of Alberta campus, where they can seek the care and counseling of the on-site Wiccan Chaplain, Samuel Wagar, who said:

As a chaplain, I am part of the counseling and support team for the refugees. The University has mobilized its student services and mental health support, along with city and provincial emergency response.

My specific responsibility is to provide spiritual care – meditation, prayer, a quiet place to reflect. We’ve set up an interfaith chapel space as a headquarters for that.

I’m also a resource person to direct people to other things they may need. I’m getting a crash course in social services and emergency resources. Luckily, the provincial and federal responses have been exceptional (especially considering the scope of the evacuation).

The organizing team of PanFest, a weekend long camping festival that happens just south of Edmonton every August at Lughnasadh, have announced that all funds raised during the their recent used book sale will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross fund for evacuees.  PanFest chose the Red Cross due to the recent announcement that money donated to aid evacuees will be matched by the Government of Canada.

 

2016-DRAFT-poster3-3Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze, and human carelessness is suspected. What is known is that the extremely dry conditions that made this fire get out of control can be attributed to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions cause higher overall temperatures and decreased precipitation, leaving forests drier and more prone to ignition. The influence the oil industry has on these factors is a topic of fierce debate among Pagans. Wagar said:

Climate change is real. There was much less snow this winter, the spring came earlier and much hotter than it was used to. The boreal forest is tinder dry. This is likely to be the new normal, just like drought in most of the United States, the sea level rise, and rendering uninhabitable of many tropical areas. The moral imperative on Pagans to do something to stop climate change is beyond theoretical now. Mother Earth with adjust, this current great extinction may proceed along, but humanity will not survive.

I keep hoping that humanity at large, or at least our Pagan community, will be shocked out of complacency as the ecological disaster of global warming unfolds.

But too many of us are complicit. Here in Alberta, so much of our economy is presently tied into carbon pollution, so many jobs. It is very difficult to ask people to stop working in oil and gas, when capitalism does not provide other options.

Lomnes added, “I know many Pagans are viewing this climate disaster as Gaia on a furious cleansing spree. Others see it as a result in human’s carelessness contributing to Global Warming. I will leave those opinions to the scientfically educated more experienced Pagans. It may be one or the other, or none it all, but we all know we should be doing our part in saving The Earth.”

The most recent on the ground reports state that 85% of Fort Mac is still standing, but the damage to the community goes beyond the immediate destruction from the flames. The power grid is down and the water in the area is not safe to drink. There is an air quality warning in effect because of the heavy smoke hanging over the area. It is not yet known when it will be safe for residents to return to their homes, or if they even still have homes. The government of Alberta website warns that residents of Fort McMurray should not expect that homecoming for an extended period of time.

After their dramatic escape from the flames, Naomi, her partner and their dog are safe. They made their way to Calgary, another large city in Alberta, 655 km (407 miles) south of Fort Mac. For now, the future for them is uncertain, and their house and its contents are gone. Naomi wrote:

My family and I have lost everything. We have left with a little bit more than the clothes on our backs. I am so blessed and thankful that we are together and safe. Everything is extremely surreal right now. I’m still in shock. To my fellow Pagan community I would just want people to know that this disaster is horrible, terrifying, and heart breaking. Everyone got out safe and that is a miracle. Please don’t blanket judge people who live and work up here. Just see us as a community that has been decimated, is strong and will persevere. Thank you for all your concern and support. It is much needed and appreciated.

As of press time, there have been no reported human casualties of this fire. Sadly, two teenagers died when their vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer just outside of Lac La Biche, Alberta during the evacuation. It is predicted by Alberta’s fire authorities i that these fires will be burning for some time to come, and that the best help they can hope for would be for a substantial amount of rain to help put out the flames.

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Pagan inmates at the Lovelock Correctional Center may finally see their day in court. Three judges on the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled in March that a case dating back to the 2009 destruction of an outdoor Pagan worship area will be able to move forward. A lower court had made a summary judgment against the plaintiffs, but the appeals court panel has now found that there is, in fact, enough open questions to allow for a more detailed look at the evidence.

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [image credit: Brooke Keast}

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [Photo Credit: Brooke Keast]

Brian DeBarr, Chioke Gadsden, and Nathan Peterson were all inmates at Lovelock. They used an outdoor garden space to practice their Pagan religions. In 2009, a construction project destroyed that space, according to 2009 court papers. Nevada Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Brooke Keast explained that the focus of that work was a walkway. She said:

It’s a dirt walkway lined with railroad ties. Underneath the walkway are the pipes leading from one building to the next. All the utilities were run underground when they built on to the facility. The walkway and areas near it were dug up when one of the pipes had corroded and was in need of replacement. About 30 to 40 feet of pipe had rotted and was replaced and then the grounds were replaced as well.

At the time, the inmates claimed that while they were aware of the construction project, the area of effect wasn’t supposed to include the sacred spaces. They filed official grievances and, per the relevant regulations, only included one specific complaint for each one. While the exact number of grievances filed isn’t clear, it was enough that prison administrators decided that the inmates were filing just to harass staff members. And, that would be an abuse of the grievance process.

However, the crux of the two lawsuits — which were later consolidated into a single action — was not the destruction of the site or the lack of notification, but the punishments the inmates received for complaining in the first place. DeBarr was transferred from Lovelock, which is near Reno, to High Desert State Prison, which is north of Las Vegas. He believes that was done in retaliation for the grievances that he filed.

The plaintiffs contend that their First Amendment rights were violated throughout the entire process.

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [image credit: Brooke Keast]

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [Photo Credit: Brooke Keast]

Today, the outdoor area still exists and is being used by Pagan prisoners. According to Keast, it’s a space about 40 by 80 feet. “We have approximately 60 people who claim to be Pagan,” Keast said. “Of those inmates, 16 are considered in the ‘solitary group’ and spend time in the gardens. By ‘solitary group’ I mean, they dislike the worship offered for whatever reason, so they go to the garden to worship alone. They often group up in the ‘solitary’ group as well which is rather counterproductive if one wants to worship alone – but whether alone or in a group, they have the garden to enjoy as do the other Pagan inmates.”

In addition to that space, Keast said, there are groups of Pagans who worship together in indoor spaces. Some of these activities are facilitated by outside volunteers, as they are in other correctional facilities. She would not provide the names of any of these volunteers, citing privacy concerns.

While there appears to be access to worship opportunities for Pagans incarcerated at Lovelock now, it  still remains whether three Pagan inmates were punished for complaining when that religious freedom rights were curtailed. The justices on the appeals panel did not buy the argument that the grievances were filed solely to harass.  In that ruling, the justices wrote that the three men “engaged in the prison’s informal resolution procedure before filing their grievances.”

Prison administrators based their position in part on what they called “duplicative” grievances in violations of the rules governing that procedure. However, the justices noted that the law did not actually forbid duplication. It “only limits the number of ‘unfounded frivolous or vexatious grievances,’ a disputed issue in this case.”

That’s just the kind of issue that infuriates Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has been party to lawsuits aimed at providing equal access to worship opportunities for Pagan prisoners. In an email to The Wild Hunt, he said:

Unfortunately the prison system is pre-loaded with prejudice, as its roots are deep in Christian theology. The penal system is based on penance and redemption and the cells and inmate activities are based on monasticism. The courts have mostly deferred to the penal system’s judgment on these issues.

While not intentional (in most cases), when religions like Paganism ask for sacred space and such, it just doesn’t compute! The whole system is simply not set up for that!

In order to counter inmate non-Christian religious requests, the system itself has developed a complex system of derailing grievances and such and has actually created a built in punishment for inmates going against the dominant Christian standard. This is what happened in Nevada.

In California years ago, an inmate received six months in solitary confinement for filing a grievance to have Pagan sacred space in prison. The system has a long way to go, but the inmates in this case are in the right, and hopefully over time will win.

The reason the court ruled to let this particular case go forward after it was denied, is the direct result of McCollum v California and Hartman v the California Department of Corrections. Both are cases that we brought forward. Both of these cases clearly showed the court with evidence, that the system is skewed around Pagan grievances, Pagan sacred space, and Pagan religious accommodation. Progress is slow, but gradually moving forward!

Rev. Selena Fox said that leaders of the Lady Liberty League, the religious rights advocacy organization sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, have taken an interest in the case as well. However, she personally doesn’t know any Pagans working in the Nevada state correctional system.

This case may or may not have lasting legal implications, but its outcome will certainly have an impact on at least one of the plaintiffs. DeBarr is now back in Lovelock, and as he’s serving a life sentence. And he is likely to see more construction projects planned at the facility in the future.

SASKATCHEWAN – On April 27, Robert Rudachyk had an opportunity few in Canada have enjoyed; to attend a meetup with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even more remarkable about the invitation is that, in a time when many politicians run from associating with those in minority religions, attendees were unconcerned about Rudachyk’s Heathen religion. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, he said that it is a non-issue. 

[Courtesy Photo]

Robert Rudachyk and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau [Courtesy Photo]

The meet-and-greet was held at the Sheraton Cavalier Saskatoon Hotel to thank the Saskatchewan-based Liberal Party volunteers, who had worked on the federal election in October. The event was limited to 450 guests, all members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is considered a centrist party in Canada, while the Saskatchewan Party is the provincial level right wing party and the New Democratic Party is to the left.

Rudachyk, a long-time member of Canada’s Heathen community, volunteered as Deputy Campaign Manager for Lisa Abbott’s 2015 federal run. He is also currently the vice president for the Saskatoon-West Riding Association for the Liberal Party. He said that he’s always actively looking at how he can help “serve, guide and build the Liberal Party” in preparation for the next provincial or federal election.

Along with that work, Rudachyk ran himself as the Liberal Party candidate in the April 4 elections. He was running to represent Saskatoon-Riverdale as a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). A seat in the MLA of Saskatchewan is similar to holding office as a Representative in the House at the state level in the U.S. Rudachyk’s election would have made him the first openly Heathen candidate elected in Canada and the highest elected Pagan in North America. Although he was unsuccessful in his bid, the good news for Canadian Pagans and Heathens is that religion appears to not have played any role in the outcome of the race.

He said that the Liberal Party is very inclusive, and it has active and dedicated members of many different religions and backgrounds. Rudachyk said, “It’s nothing. It’s just your faith.”

Religion also appears to not have played any role in the invitation to the appreciation event. The meetup began with a chance for all volunteers to network with each other. He said that everyone knows that he’s Heathen. He has no reason to hide it.  

Then, after some time, Prime Minister Trudeau visited the reception hall. After giving a short speech, Trudeau walked around, greeting as many people as he could. Rudachyk said that he was fortunate. He not only had a photo opportunity with Trudeau but also was able to spend a few minutes chatting with the Prime Minister.  While some politicians may have snubbed a Heathen or Pagan candidate, Trudeau figuratively and literally embraced Rudachyk. 

Rudachyk said that being invited was a huge honor and a positive step forward. He added, “[This] shows what is possible when Heathens […] work to be part of the larger community.” In our interview, Rudachyk added, “This is why we need to work within the systems. The more we isolate ourselves; the more people will not want to trust us. They will only see the bad press about our religions. We need to be part of our communities, and work with them as a whole.” He said that, in doing so, “we bring our world view to the table. We protect ourselves and the future of our faiths.”

And that is just what Rudachyk is aiming to do in his own work. He said, “I’m not in this for me, for glory, or for the money.” He said that he doesn’t care whether everyone agrees with him on all issues or on his approach. He said that he just wants to make things better for his community, his province, his country and his co-religionsists. He added that he aims to do his part now so that his kids can one day say “I’m Heathen” and not have to worry about backlash.

The volunteer event provided the necessary inspiration and incentive for Rudachyk to keep going. He will continue his volunteer work, and he also is researching a possible run for city council. However, there are a number of considerations before he commits. He said, “As the first openly Heathen/Pagan person to become a candidate for a major political party in Canada, I only hope that someday I will finally become successful in this goal and bring our worldview into the political arena so that we can one day have our voices heard.”