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

10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500According to the Londonderry Sentinel, “the Limavady Borough Council is considering” replacing the missing Manannan statue with one that “would be made of mild steel and would stand two-to-three times as tall as the original.” The paper reports that Development Services Officer Valerie Richmond reported, “In all probability, despite extensive searches it is unlikely that the sculpture will be returned. Council’s views are sought on how they would wish to progress.”

Speaking to the Derry Journal, councilman Gerry Mullin said that he would ” ‘absolutely’ be supporting a proposal to replace the iconic statue of Manannán Mac Lir.” But he added that he doesn’t believe it needs to be 2-3x the size. The issue will be discussed tomorrow at a Feb.10 Council Meeting.

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Solar Cross Temple

The Solar Cross Temple, based in California, has announced that it no longer is seeking to create an urban temple space. As the Board explained, the economic downturn “dried up” the fundraising efforts for several years. As a result, the Board put the entire project on hold. After several of years of waiting and watching, they have concluded that the community “doesn’t really want to support a physical structure.”

However, as written in the announcement, “[Their] work continues, and temple members study and honor the Gods in their own homes, and gather together monthly in backyards and rented spaces.” Any money raised in previous years will either be returned to the original donors, if requested, or will be given to the New Alexandrian Library and used for special Solar Cross projects.

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Druid College UKOn Feb. 6, the Druid College, originally founded in New York, announced the opening of its UK branch. The new location will be led by Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne. Together with its sister site in Maine (U.S.) the Druid College will host a “three-year, intensive study” for those interested in taking their spiritual studies further.

In a press release, organizers said, “We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.” The college accepts people of “all walks and intent” into their first year studies program. The Druid College is not accredited and offers no degree program.

In Other News

  • Green Egg has announced that it is now under new management and will no longer be publishing in a print format. In a recent press release, new editor Hollis Taylor and
    Ariel Monserrat said, “Hollis plans to modernize Green Egg bringing the magazine into the new millenium. Green Egg will not be publishing printed issues, as in the past, but will have a large team of volunteer writers who will be contributing to carrying on the legacy of Green Egg.” Once up and running, they hope to publish an article every day.
  • Documentary filmmaker Sam Carroll has produced a 66 minute film that tells Wiccan Priestess Darla Wynne‘s story. The film, titled Bedevil: Never Back Down, details the horrific challenges that Wynne faced after moving from Alaska to a small town in South Carolina, and how she eventually overcame her fear and stood up to the city council. Bedevil is entered in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and will be screened on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m.

  • Shekhinah Mountainwater’s popular book, Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic, is now available in digital format for the Kindle. This release is part of a larger project to capture and share “Shekhinah’s wonderful legacy … music, writings, creations of any kind.” The organizers of this project are asking anyone who might have such things to contact them at shekhinahmemories@gmail.com.
  • The Pagan Educational Network has published the Feb 2015 edition of its newsletter “Water.” In its pages, PEN makes a call for books to assist in its Prison chaplaincy work. While the organization welcomes any book donations, it is specifically looking for copies of Raymond Buckland’s The Complete Book of Witchcraft and Christopher Penzack’s The Sons of the Goddess.
  • Patheos has started a new blog series focusing on art and religion. Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan Channel editor, explained further, “In this interfaith series, writers explore how visual art may persuade, proselytize, or reveals truth. Pagan contributors include visionary painter Paul B. Rucker, Zen Pagan Tom Swiss, and mixed media artist Aaminah Shakur.”
  • PantheaCon, the largest such conference in the U.S., begins this Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16 in San Jose, California.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

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In 2014, artist and pop surrealist Dina Goldstein finished her third large-scale project called “Gods of Suburbia.” The series is comprised of 11 photographs that depict gods, goddesses, prophets and other figures of religious import within a thoroughly unexpected composition. Each photograph challenges the dominant visual and narrative concept of deity by tearing down religious stagecraft and putting up something completely mundane. In other words, Goldstein takes these sacred or celebrated figures and drops them into the framework of contemporary Western society.

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

“‘Gods of Suburbia’ is a visual analysis of religious faith within the context of modern forces of technology, science and secularism. The series plays with narrative and religious iconography in order to communicate how organized belief has become twisted within a global framework driven by consumerism and greed. The project challenges the viewer – religious or secular – to embark on a journey of self-reflection as they contemplate the relevance of dogmata in modernity.” – Dina Goldstein, Gods of Suburbia

Goldstein’s concept, as illustrated in a “making of” video, is not to mock religion, but rather to illustrate its precarious place within modern society. For example, in “Ganesha,” Goldstein presents the Hindu God sitting alone on a bench in an elementary school play yard. He is being bullied by two young boys, while other children play in the background. Using Ganesh as a bullied minor is particularly poignant due to his marked physical difference and his role as a representative of a minority culture and religion. In this piece, the Hindu God symbolically embodies the outcast child.

While religious figures have been subjects for the arts since before antiquity, not everyone is comfortable with visual representations of the divine. For many, there are limits and rules. Some are personal and some are created by religious law.

Within his own personal practice, Hermeticist Jonathan Korman demonstrates this difference. He said, “In the context of modern Pagan culture: I am an enthusiast for visual representations of the gods as a matter both of magickal technique and of cultural taste, and on my altar I keep a cast marble statue of Hermes to honor him as my personal patron deity. On the other hand, being an ethnically Jewish modern Pagan, I honor the god of the Torah יהוה as my personal tribal deity, so my altar also has an empty space for that god, whom I honor by not speaking the name or making any visual representation.”

The issue becomes more complex when the depiction of a deity is presented outside of what might be considered a “proper” proscenium of culture, reverence and religiosity. This brings us back to Goldstein’s work. The Israeli-born, Jewish artist has created images of gods that are not of her own belief, and that lack expected, reverent iconography and religious narratives. The photographs are purely cultural commentary and not meant for worship purposes.

Ryan Smith, co-founder of HUAR, uses visual representation of the gods within his own Heathen practice and also enjoys such expressions outside of a religious framework. But he said, [Non-religious] uses should also show respect to the cultures they came from … I only take issue if it’s being used to reinforce negative stereotypes held regarding marginalized groups. Punching up is always good, punching down not so much.”

Not surprisingly, Goldstein has been criticized for “punching down.” In a press release, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism expressed concern that Goldstein’s work “trivializ[ed] the highly revered deities of Hinduism, Ganesh and Lakshmi … Artists should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects.”

After looking at Goldstein’s “Voodoo Queen” composition, Patheos writer Lilith Dorsey is only left with questions. She said, “The accompanying website says the images are supposed to inspire ‘self-reflection,’ it’s a little naive to think this isn’t part of most devoted people’s daily practice. The image itself leaves me reflecting instead on Goldstein herself, why did she choose to represent my religion with what looks like phantom ghost children and are those chicken feet on the ceiling? It’s a stunning image visually, but I’m not sure exactly why she felt moved to take it in that direction.”

Additionally, due to current global politics, Goldstein herself is unsure how or whether to include “Muhammad the Prophet” in the upcoming March show. In a January interview, she said, “I figured out a way to [depict Muhammed] in a way that adhered to their laws.” As she notes, his face is not shown, and he has a supernatural glow.

But Goldstein knows her art is provocative. She told the Vancouver paper, “Of course, people are going to get insulted, but that’s what happens when you start discussing religion because no matter what you say about it, it’s an extension of magical thinking.”

Pagan artist Valerie Herron enjoys Goldstein’s work, adding “Religion is supposed to evolve with social change, and I think this is one of [her] assertions with this series. It’s nothing very avant garde, putting ancient deities in the context of modern life is a concept well familiar to contemporary Polytheists. In addition, good art is supposed to create dialogue through pathos, catharsis or humor. While I can see the potential for some folks of the faiths represented in Goldstein’s series to decry a flippant representation of their deity/deities, I think [her] work has always been about starting uncomfortable conversations through visual juxtaposition.”

Like Goldstein, Herron also depicts the divine in her art. However, in her case, the imagery is within or close to her own belief structure, and often used as devotional images. She said, “At this point, I find it impossible to keep my creative practice and my spiritual practice separate.” In describing the process of visually capturing a deity, Herron said, “As soon as I begin to envision the specific visage of a god, I begin a conversation with them. I don’t really know how else to explain it, especially since I don’t consider myself a hard theist, but the God’s input becomes crucial to the piece.”

Valerie Herron's Isis [Reprinted with permission]

Valerie Herron’s Isis [Reprinted with permission]

From inception to presentation, “Gods in Suburbia” does not have the same inspiration, purpose or goal as Herron’s work. Despite that difference, Goldstein’s photographs do evoke strong reactions. Rather than spiritual reverence, these responses are, as Goldstein suggests, meant to “inspire insight into the human condition.”

In this exploration of the human condition, she did not omit Paganism. The photograph titled “Horned God and Moon Goddess” depicts a nude, pregnant woman atop a white horse and a horned male figure resting within a stereotypical suburban backyard. The accompanying text reads, in part, “Wicca is a modern witchcraft religion that draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan motifs and ritual practice … [Wicca] is something we associate with people who are on the fringe of society, which is why my Wiccan god and goddess are living outside the mainstream, along the periphery of Suburbia.”

All interpretive meaning is subjective, and the narrative understanding of this particular image can evoke other ideas. For example, the photo recalls the reality of religious ritual practice in home environments or notes society’s need to control natural space. It also suggests that Witchcraft, “associated with people who are on the fringe,” does exist in what is largely considered normative cultural space.

These readings correspond to Goldstein’s assertion that the series explores religion’s existence in contemporary society – one that has become increasingly secular, increasingly separate from the natural world, increasingly consumer-focused and increasingly distance from a depth of meaning. In a number of her photographs the religious figures appear lost, forlorn, overwhelmed, disillusioned and simply out of place. The prophet Muhammad, for example, is ignored by a classroom of children absorbed in social media and texting.

In the photographs titled “Buddha” and “Elohim,” Goldstein tackles the uncomfortable intersection of commercialism and religion. “Buddha” is ignored as blindfolded shoppers purchase overpriced groceries in a Whole Foods market. In “Elohim,” a forlorn “God” sits with a Santa suit in the background. As she notes, he’s forced to “take odd jobs to survive.” Both photographs depict the sacrifice of meaning to the glory of consumerism.

As an extension of that concept, these two photographs, along with others, indirectly suggest concerns raised by the commercialized depictions of the divine, such as in movies, television shows or comic books. Writer Karl Siegfried of the Norse Mythology Blog said, “I’m old enough to be able to tell the difference between entertainment and religion. Marvel’s Thor has built up its own internal mythology over more than half of a century … I think that’s great, just as I think Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythos is fantastic. It doesn’t mean that I blót to Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”

Korman agreed saying that he’s “not above” enjoying representations of divinity outside of religious practice. He added, “Nathan Fillion’s Hermes in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters may not be much like my Hermes, but it still tickles me, and if it helps get a few kids saying his name, that suits me just fine.”

Dorsey, expressed some reservations, saying “My fellow Vodou practitioners and myself were quite upset at a commercial clothing chain using a veve as a window display to gain sales and most certainly attention. The American Horror Story television depiction of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau left a bad taste in my everything, but I still have high hopes for the Marie Laveau comic book character. This is because girls today so strongly need a positive female superhero with kickass pagan powers, not that she has been written that positively yet, but I can dream.”

Although humanity has a long history of visually depicting gods and other sacred figures for many purposes, there clearly are limits of tolerance, some personal and others created by culture and religious law.

As for Goldstein, her “Gods in Suburbia” series is certainly provocative and pushes hard on many of those boundaries. The use of photography alone mirrors her message. As a relatively newer technological art form, the camera symbolizes modernity’s own pressure on religious practice, and demonstrates the hyper reality of our over-dependence on images. It turns this modern visual technology, and by association the observer, into a voyeur, who violates the privacy of the spiritual world – a world that isn’t necessarily comfortable existing in that way, in being viewed.

Whether you like her work or whether you’re offended by it, Goldstein ultimately leaves you with many questions about religion’s fit within contemporary society.

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hearthfire

Hearthfire (Photo: R. Wildermuth)

I celebrated Imbolc before a hearth-fire with a Christian.

Not a ‘pure’ Christian, mind you. One learns in Druidry that purity isn’t something that can exist within Nature, let alone human belief. What’s purity anyway, except a violent stripping away of flesh and bone to get to the very ‘pure’ and perfect core of existence?

And by then, all you’ve got is a pile of shredded skin and muscle and hair and no life left.

The search for ‘purity’ is what gave us the Puritans and the Iconoclasts, riotous men and women shattering ancient statues and art-work to remove every last vestige of Pagan idolatry from the churches of Europe. It’s the same ‘purity’ which torched the Library of Alexandria, what led the Taliban to destroy ancient statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan. It’s even our modern fetish for purity that’s helped create antibiotic-resistance strains of bacteria through anti-bacterial soaps.

We built this hearth-fire, this impure Christian and I, on Imbolc. He’s not a ‘pure’ Christian, as I said. He reads Tarot, has seen ghosts. Cavorted with psychics in New Orleans, has a tattoo of the triskelion on his arm. Comes from a line of Scottish matriarchs, who inarguably possessed a ‘kenning’ sharper than all my recent training has been able to hone.  But…he believes Jesus is pretty awesome, and he worships the Christian’s god. But doesn’t blink when I tell him of mine.

We built this fire on Imbolc, or what some Christians call “Candlemas.” He knew nothing of Brighid. And, as I’ve sworn to be one of her Bards, I told him of her, or the hers, the many Brighids and Brigs and Brides and Brigites and then of St. Brigid of Kildare, that saint whose stories change most quickly according to the teller. A Christian convert or a hidden Druidess, a Catholic cover-up or a Pagan survival. Women tending ancient flames to an even more ancient goddess, or nuns helping remember the Light of Christ. The stories blend into each other so messily that the ‘pure’ Brigit can’t be found by stripping back her tales without throwing away the wrong stuff.

But we’re both in front of a fire – a fire built to her and a fire built for warmth, a fire for poetry and a fire for light – stumbling over the meanings of our beliefs as the flames consume the wood in her hearth.

I watched his face in that flickering light, and I listened to his laughter as he spoke of what fire means to him, just as I laughed as I spoke of what her fire means to me. Between us, fire, illuminating belief.

We told each other stories, recited others’ words. It was he who quoted Tom Robbins’ discussion of fire from Still Life With Woodpecker:

“Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone. Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on them arrow of the volcano. It’s not the tobacco we’re after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.”

“I need a cigarette, and then need to tell you a story,” I said, “and not just because of that quote.”

II.

“Mom’s talking to herself again.”

I’m still haunted by the voice of my little sister saying those words. She’d come to me, panicked, looking for reassurance, and I’d try to calm her.

Our mother is developmentally disabled. ‘Mentally retarded’ is what they used to call people with her intellectual capacities. Now we have more clinical and less loaded (and also less descriptive) terms for her condition.

Most kids probably experience a time when they’re certain that they’re smarter than their parents. Adolescents certainly do, and they’re usually wrong. Unfortunately for my sisters and I, it was true, and it was much more unfortunate when our mother became schizophrenic.

No one diagnosed her until several years after her ‘break.’ Neither my sisters nor I knew anything of mental illness, and the only community we had–a sprawling and very wealthy mega-church in southeast Florida–refused to believe us when we suggested she was a little ‘crazy.’

“No, your mother’s a wonderful person and ‘really kind.’ ” they’d tell us whenever we sought help. “You kids are so fortunate to have such a sweet and generous woman as a mother.”

She was generous, yes. And that was the problem. She’d sign over her entire paycheck to the church every week. I remember something else the elder of my two sisters would say. “There’s no food. I’m really hungry.” Those are the worst words ever, especially when you’re 14 years old and the only one around to fix that problem.

III.

Graffiti on church entrance (Photo by R. Wildermuth)

Graffiti on church entrance (Photo by R. Wildermuth)

The First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida had just gotten a slick new pastor, and we were all excited.

I remember when Hayes Wicker came—the church we’d attended for a few years was suddenly becoming a different place, full of’ ‘promise.’ Things were gonna change, we were told. Our Church was destined for greatness.

Soon after he arrived, a new fund-raiser was announced called “Reclaiming the Land.” There was a painted wooden box up by the altar named the ‘war chest,’ and people were encouraged to fill it with money, jewelry, stock-notes and other valuables all toward the building of a new, bigger, and better church. Special music and performances, lots of quotes from Exodus, and an ever-increasing emotional furor whipped up the congregation to give until ‘it hurt.’

My mother gave until we hurt. She’d had her first schizophrenic break a year before that. She’d started talking to herself, to angels and demons and God, unable to differentiate between them. We’d be in her car as she drove, sitting in terror as she shouted back to invisible voices commanding her to drive my sisters and I off a bridge into the sea.

Despite her condition, she was able to hold on to a job for awhile. She was the really kind and sweet woman behind the bakery counter at a grocery store, the one who’d offer endless samples of cakes and cookies to anyone who came by.  And she was eventually fired for passing out too many samples, entire cakes and boxes of cookies, because she didn’t quite understand how Capitalism was supposed to work.

She also didn’t understand that signing over entire paychecks to a mega-church with a $30,000/week budget meant that her children would have no food. But who could blame her, really? Other church members openly praised her for her selflessness and berated me when I once tried to stop her from giving all of her money ‘to God.’

Soon after, a deacon of the church lectured me on how I should ‘man up’ and get a job to support my family.

“You gotta be a man of God,” he’d told me. “Stop expecting your mother to take care of you like you’re a welfare black.”

The church was full of whites, most of them from money, all of them Republican, and this was what being Christian was about. Capitalism and Christianity were so intertwined that when pastor Hayes Wicker violated IRS regulations by telling the congregation during a presidential election that “anyone who voted for Clinton was voting for their wallets not for God,” no one reported it

So I got a job just after turning 14, first at a Christian bookstore where my mother regularly bounced checks. Later, I worked at an ice-cream shop managed by a woman from our church. I started paying rent, buying groceries for myself and my family, but also started missing school—190 days in all. Others skipped school to do drugs; I skipped because I was exhausted from work and taking care of a household.

All this to help a group of rich white men build a bigger church. And we were told never to apply for food stamps, because that was socialist and anti-Christian.

Tree on sacred hill (photo by R. Wildermuth)

Tree on sacred hill (Photo by R. Wildermuth)

IV.

I felt a bit bad telling this to my companion by the Imbolc fire.

None of what happened to my family was his fault, nor even the fault of the particular god he worships. There’s no verse in the sacred writing of any religion which demands a mentally-ill, developmentally-disabled woman give all of her money to a god and never once apply for government assistance.

He was understandably angry, though, but not at me. We both know the Bible quite well. I surprised him by reciting the first chapter of the Gospel of John from memory (but then added ‘even the devil can quote scripture,’ so he didn’t get the wrong impression).

We both know there’s nothing in the mythic lore of the desert god (he’d call him something else, certainly, and it’d be capitalized) lauding Capitalism, America, and all the other cringe-worthy propaganda one hears from the pulpits of some Christian preachers. Despite this, the sick alliance between American Christianity and exploitation is undeniable.

But there are several Christianities now, just as there have always been. Historians, theologians, and most of us often divide and classify these Christianities according to schisms and organizational structures, but there’s another axis of belief that we often ignore.

Consider. When Christianity came to the British Isles, for instance, it did not destroy the indigenous religions of the others who lived alongside them. It wasn’t until certain political powers arose, donning the religious trappings and divine justifications of the Monolithic Other that strife, oppression, and murder followed the priests of the One-God.

Religion isn’t always just religion—it’s also a mode of governance. Christian Rome slaughtered Druids and Heathens in the name of their God, yes, but they also killed at the behest of their Empire. When Rome fell, the political structures of the Empire remained. Later, the inheritors of Roman power also inherited the political and bureaucratic structures of parish and bishopric. Priests and monks were not just devotees of a Creator-God, but political emissaries and advisers and sometimes rulers themselves.

With the imperialist enforcement of a monotheistic religion upon the peoples of Europe came the foundations of modern mono-culture, the annihilation of difference to make governance easier.

One can argue that this wasn’t ‘pure’ Christianity, but what then is pure Christianity?

Like Paganism, like Nature, like humans, there is likely no such thing. The true essence of monotheistic belief cannot be gotten at without stripping from its structures so much that it is no longer recognizable, reductio ad absurdum, perhaps, or reductio ad nihil. If anything, Monotheism is reductionism in itself—starting from the henotheistic tendencies of early Semitic peoples, worshiping one god among others (‘no other gods before me’) until deciding that one god was the Only God. From many, to few, to one.

This reduction led not only to a new sort of religion, but to a new form of Empire. The Roman Empire struggled to rule over many disparate peoples, and its answer was the syncretic absorbtion of other gods into its own (Interpretatio Romana). Monotheism, however, offered an easier route–the annihilation of all other gods as false and replacement with a True (One-God). And, this has been the model for all Western empires since, whether that one-god be the God of the Christians or the God of the Capitalist Market.

Reducing the myriad beliefs, cultures, traditions and gods into one easily-governed People is no simple task, nor really is annihilation. People keep being born; keep encountering gods and spirits; keep creating new traditions or recovering those that were lost. Pagan beliefs never went away, despite the damming of holy wells and cutting down of sacred trees, but neither have the many heresies the early Roman Church attempted to stamp out by edict or fire. Only one system of control seems thus far to have succeeded where so many political seizures of religion failed: Capitalism.

V.

American Christianity has an awful relationship with those of other religious beliefs, whether they were the Animistic and Nature-Revering religions of the First Nations, the Catholics of Spanish and French tradition, or even the aberrant heretics within its own colonies. This has not changed one bit, even if the ‘enemy’ has changed–America’s new ‘barbarian’ is the Muslim and their imagined ‘existential threat’ to the even more imaginary ‘free-world.’

Christianity, particularly, provided the theological and philosophical justifications for the destruction of many so-called enemies. European Paganisms were conquered only a little less quickly than other indigenous and varied beliefs through Christianity but not because of it. Without ideological and cultural control, no Empire can last very long, and Christianity just happened to be quite well positioned to fulfill this role.

Too many Pagans miss this point when we speak of Monotheism: the destruction of indigenous beliefs may have been ‘in the name’ of the Christian God, but it was actually done for the purpose of profit and power. The gold and silver stripped from South and Central Americas, the precious woods and ores (and slaves) hauled from Africa, and the tea, textiles, and spices of Asia were not just the bonus-prizes garnered from colonization by Christian empires—they were the very point. Catholic and Protestant clerics merely helped assuage the guilt of the many who needed convincing that killing others for king and commerce was not a horrible thing.

Any Christian can rightly protest that Imperialism, Racism, and slaughter are hardly in the spirit of The Christ, and they’d be correct. But such things don’t matter when power is involved, and there’s a frightful thing which happens when you add wealth into the mix.

"Cleansing of the Temple" (painter unknown, c 1570)

“Cleansing of the Temple” (painter unknown, c 1570) [Public Domain]

VI.

That Southern Baptist church whose new building was partially funded by a schizophrenic, mentally-disabled single mother was affiliated strongly with American Republican and Libertarian political causes. Oliver North (of the Iran-Contra affair) was a featured speaker, as was Charles Colson (of Watergate) and many other right-wing, pro-Capitalist speakers. Evening sermons often included ‘business meetings’ where people spoke about the threats of gays, socialists, and welfare-moms to God’s plan for America.

The night that I remember best was when a women came to talk about the godlessness of San Francisco. At one of these talks, I learned why one should never go to San Francisco.

The hospitals are full of men with punctured lungs and ruptured livers,” she’d told us, solemnly. “They’re all gay men, and it is because they’ve turned away from God’s plan for procreation.”

She went on to speak of a peculiar depravity, common among the Sodomites of California. Because gay men could not experience ‘God’s plan for procreation,’ they tried to find other ways to experience pleasure, and the most dangerous of these involved ‘squeezing the liver’ through the digestive tract. “Because they don’t have sex the way God intended us to,’ she’d explained to the gathered devoted, “they reach their arms into each other’s rectums so they can crush each other’s lungs and pinch their sex-partner’s livers to mimic sexual orgasm.”

I was 14 at the time, gay but closeted, and I was terrified despite the anatomical absurdity of her sermon. And I avoided San Francisco for the next two decades, just in case.

Her tale of fear was hardly the only propaganda I heard. We were urged to oppose voter registration at DMV’s (‘Motor-Voter laws’), since this would ‘increase the amount of godless people abusing the electoral process.‘ We were urged to support the first invasion of Iraq, to ‘get out the vote’ against Clinton, and to push hard in local politics against inroads of ‘godless’ socialism such as welfare and food-assistance to immigrants.

Of course, not all Christian churches are like this, though the influence of evangelical churches on American politics has always been profound. But we should be cautious, again—who’s influencing whom?

Because for as many Christians who advocate unbridled Capitalism, rally for foreign invasions, and oppose worker-protections and union activities, there are also those churches who have protected illegal immigrants from deportation, who support picket lines, who protest environmental damage, and who advocate an end to the Capitalist system. In places where Capitalism is doing the most damage, Liberation Theology has a strong hold over priests, pastors, and believers alike. Priests gunned down protecting their people from machine-gun wielding landlords in South America, nuns laying themselves in front of bulldozers and tanks, and solidarity marches of workers holding crosses are all still common occurrences in South America.

Consider even the current leader of the Catholic Church, once a steady and dependable bastion of pro-Capitalist, pro-authoritarian government. Pope Francis is hardly a revolutionary, of course, but one cannot help but think he’s doing certainly more on the side of St. Francis and Dorothy Day (the founder of the Catholic Workers) than on the side of the Capitalist

VII.

Really, though–how do religions become lapdogs of Empire?

Likely, the same way anyone does. For some, investment in the systems of power means privileged positions and the ‘ear of the king.’ Like the courtiers of medieval monarchists, being in the halls of power grants access to that power, even if it merely ‘trickles down’ or falls from authority’s table like scraps for dogs.

Governments are hardly naïve in their use of the faithful and the faithless alike. In the U.S., Christian leaders lend moral and ideological support to each new war against another Middle-Eastern country, but so, too, have anti-religionists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. ‘Men of Science’ standing alongside ‘Men of God’ like Pat Robertston and Jerry Falwell, together proclaiming Islam to be the greatest threat to civilization, urging America to claim its moral right and duty to conquer and subjugate these primitive, violent societies.

And between Government and the Religious are the Wealthy, playing each other deftly, wisely investing in both sides. So much of American Christianity defends Capitalism that I suspect many have confused the ‘invisible hand of the market’ with the Holy Spirit; add to this both Democrat and Republican politicians refusing to restrain the rich, and one can’t help but think this new Capitalist trinity is actually One God united in its war against the poor.

And the poor are the multitude, and they are everywhere. And who stands for them?

VIII.

There’s a story I didn’t tell my companion that night of Imbolc, before Brighid’s fire. I guess I’m telling him now, as I’m telling all of you. It’s not a story, but a dream, a vision I can never shake from the time I first met the gods.

We were standing in a light rain, standing in that Other light.

The crowd was so large before me, anticipating, thronging, so many of them I could not make them all out. And they were all different, people from every nations, drest foreign, beautifully, gaily, but not in high fashion or decked in wealth. Rather, we were the poor of the worlds.

I remember the colors of their garb, bright and vivid, carnivals of hued scarves and robes and cloaks. Some were drab, yes, but as intoxicating to the sight as the gaily-dyed costumes of the others.

Many had skin like mine, but we were a scant portion of all these peoples gathered before the gates, waiting to enter. Most were darker, skin colored like deer hide, or like coffee with cream, or sepia, or sunlight against tree-bark, or rich humus.

I didn’t know where we were going.

I watched the procession pass through great doors before us, opening into a veneer of the modern, impenetrable entrances to inscrutable skyscrapers. Each entered after answering a question, a pass-word, it seemed, or a pass-name.

I worried. I didn’t know what was needed as I approached the gate. I watched the beautiful myriad walk through those gates with wonder and sadness—I did not think I could join them.

“You look worried,” said a man beside me, his face kind, curious, calm. “What is it?”

“How do I get in?” I asked, glad of his offer to help. “I don’t know the code.”

He smiled back at me as a light spring rain began to fall around us. “Oh,” he said, his voice kind. “It’s Brighid.” He paused, appearing to scry through the drops falling from the sky. “See? You can tell by the way the rain is falling, and what’s in-between it.”

I then said her name, entered, and saw we were in a temple far larger than all the earth, full of the poor and faithful of many peoples, many races, and many religions.

Were they all there for Brighid? I don’t think so. But I was there because of her.

Dublin, Ireland (photo by R. Wildermuth)

Dublin, Ireland (photo by R. Wildermuth)

IX.

I’m an Anarchist, Anti-Capitalist believer in many gods, and I’ve more allies than I’ll ever know what to do with.

It’s easy to see the similarities of my beliefs to those of the Haitian revolutionaries who asked Erzulie’s blessing against their French masters, or to the anarchist Catholic Workers who fought exploitation of the poor by the rich, or to my many anarchist Atheist friends who are fighting Capitalists, not because their gods demand it, but because they refuse to live in a world where rich get more power than the poor. In the resistance of Buddhist monks fighting Western colonization and the First Nations rituals against the destruction of their peoples, I see the same faith to gods of the earth and the forests instead of gods of kings and commerce.

The reason for this, I think, is that the monolithic force of Capitalism is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the earth or her inhabitants. In the martyrdom of a Catholic priest protecting his people from foreign land-grabs I see the same Love as the First Nation’s tribal leader fasting until a government stops exploiting her people. In her Love and his, I see the resistance of South American indigenous groups against American investment, and in their Love I see Pagan radicals in Oakland risking arrest and potential death to protect vulnerable people from brutal police repression.

And in their Love I see the opposite of the First Baptist Church of Naples, spreading fear, racism and Capitalism in the name of ‘their’ god. I see the opposite of the hateful justifications of Imperialism and Capitalism in the writings of Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Pinker.

And, too, in their Love I see the opposite of the Pagans eager to support government repression of minorities, foreign invasions of Muslims, those eager to justify their own pursuit of wealth and fame, the opposite of the Pagan who refuses to question the suffering of others and the destruction of the world.

I do not believe there is a one-god, or a one-goddess. I also know for certain there is more than no-god, or no-goddess. Gods and Goddesses are many, perhaps as many as the peoples who have known them.

But the gods that I worship, to whom I’ve been called and to whom I’ve answered, seemed to also be inside that temple in my dream, because they are the gods and goddess of peoples, not of governments or of Capitalism. And I think there were other gods there too, gods of others whom I shall never know.

And so it is easy, then, to recognize the gods of others, even when they call him The One God, or the all-god, and even the no-gods. How they speak of them matters much less than what they do in their names.

X.

Within that hearth on Imbolc were the fires of Brighid, and also the fires of others. The Christian next to me perhaps only saw the flames themselves, and what those flames have meant to humans, the light and warmth and will ‘stolen’ for us from the gods. But I think I saw something else on his face, burning in his heart as the wood burned in that hearth.

Sometimes fire destroys; sometimes we need to burn it all down. Barricades and dumpsters burning in alleys and streets as police approach. Parliaments and banks also burn when they are of no use to us.

And just as often, fire creates. It is not surprising there’s a Brighid of poetry and a Brighid of the forge and a Brighid of the hostel. There are hearth-fire waiting for any who need it.

And I think, in both kinds of flames, of destruction and creation, are the flames of Love.

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Tumblr is an interesting place. In the corner that I occupy, it’s an open and accepting environment, focused on fighting the injustices in the world – with a healthy dose of cute animal pictures. One of the consistent topics to cross my dash is the representation of LGBTQIA in modern entertainment media. Questions regularly appear like “How are LGBTQIA+ portrayed?” and “Is the current portrayal sufficient, positive, and empowering, while challenging stereotypes?” When the answer to the second question is almost invariably no, then the question becomes “How do we make improve it?”

Diana of Versailles". Marble, Roman artwork at Louvre [Public Domain]

Diana of Versailles”. Marble, Roman artwork at Louvre [Public Domain]

Changing the current entertainment industry, and with it public perception, is a difficult and slow process. It is not about wanting to see more token gay male characters or an increase in the number of trans women being used for comedic relief. It’s about improving the diversity of the characters and the depth of their development.

Fortunately, there’s been some progress. Orange is the New Black (a Netflix original) and In the Flesh (a BBC show that was not renewed) are hailed as forerunners in representation.

In addition to pushing for change in modern media, some people, including many Pagans, are looking to mythology for positive representations of LGBTQIA+ personalities. This is a great idea, because mythology is rich, containing a huge variety of Gods, Goddesses, heroes, demigods, and other characters and creatures.

However, there are some pitfalls in doing this, and some misconceptions based on stereotypes about a specific God or Goddess. For example, if I have to hear one more person say that Artemis is asexual/aromantic, I may scream – no matter how ‘clever’ of a pun it is to say she’s an “ace aro [arrow].”

Applying modern concepts of sexuality and gender to myths is an inexact science. Values, perceptions and societies have changed over the years. The Greeks in particular portrayed independent Goddesses as maidens – virgins even – which, in the modern sense would have them abstaining from all sex. However, looking at it in the context of Greek culture, it simply meant not allowing a man to control them or their life. Aphrodite was a maiden Goddess.

In addition, often times there are only a few myths that deal with how a God or Goddess specifically presents gender or sexuality. Thor, for example, doesn’t suddenly become gender-fluid because of one story about him cross-dressing in order to get Mjölnir back. By contract, Loki’s appearance in the same myth, when combined with stories of him magically changing genders, giving birth to a horse at one point, and generally presenting himself as the gender (and species) that’s most convenient, might suggest that he was more gender-fluid.

Despite these pitfalls and contrasting elements, mythology, with its diversity of representation, can offer comfort to young people struggling with their own gender identification.

For many, this is a very touchy subject. I am bi, but cisgendered. I don’t know some of the struggles that others go through – and can’t ever really know. But I do listen, and apply what I’ve learned to what I know about mythology.

As Pagans, many of us take this concept further by working directly with the Gods and Goddesses to see how they feel about this subject. Within our living religions, the Gods can be vocal about their opinions, which evolve our understanding just as much as the rest of our culture. It should follow, then, that how we view the Gods in a modern context should come from a mix of personal experience and the old texts.

Going back to my earlier gripe, mythology tells us that Artemis fell in love with Orion. The story of Zeus and Callisto also implies that she had sex with Her hunting companions – or at least Callisto. After working closely with Her for the 2013 Spring Mysteries Festival, I got the distinct impression Artemis isn’t as asexual as She appears – perhaps demi- or grey- sexual/romantic. On the other hand, my personal work with Athena revealed that She is definitely as asexual as She appears. Similarly, my research into the Egyptian Goddess Bast indicates that She had relations with both Gods and Goddesses.

Apollo, Pan and Dionysus all had both male and female lovers. Dionysus, a male deity, is the patron of trans* people.

Pagan Author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had some insight on why there is often a disconnect between the gender of the deities and those people that worshiped them. E said:

Something really important to remember about all of the deities and heroes mentioned here (and others who aren’t) is that they were rarely if ever valued or worshiped in the past simply because their sexual partners or gender identities matched those of their worshipers.

Despite any suggested diversity, Classical mythology still has some definitive gaps in representation. While there are several deities that either change gender or have a combination of external genetalia, such as Hermaphroditos, Agdistis and Tiresias, they are not trans*.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus speaks often of eirs experiences with the Tetrad++ Group. These six divine beings – Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, Pancrates, Paneris and Panprodexia – are relatively new, and specifically address the lack of gender-queer deities in classical mythology. E said:

One of the reasons these deities came about… is because there was a need to have deities that fit more closely to our own understandings and situations of gender diversity in the modern world, and were not the results of potential cultural appropriation or misunderstanding of the gender roles and configurations of earlier cultures 

These deities – and the many others not mentioned here – can play an important role in people’s lives for a variety of reasons. Their stories are not simply ones that follow the cookie-cutter format most modern entertainment often takes. They are strong, powerful main characters of their own stories. They are deities, heroes  and powerful beings and, at the same time, their struggles can be very human. This makes them very relatable. But Lupus added:

It is important to remember that one’s own personal characteristics, identities, interests, or skills don’t have to match up 100%, or even 50%, with a deity one chooses to worship; and furthermore, deities might decide to get involved in one’s life no matter who one is or what one does that correlates to that deity’s attested areas of influence.

Mythology – be it modern or classic – cannot fully stand in place of all representation everywhere. We can and should demand improved representation of LGBTQIA+ within modern entertainment. While the quest for more positive and accurate representation continues, mythology remains a great resource to help those struggling with their own identities and to encourage the celebration of diversity in humanity.

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In part one of this series, The Wild Hunt looked at several successful infrastructure projects in order to see what they have in common. Today, in part two, we examine a Celtic temple and a Pagan community center to see what went wrong and what we can learn, along with a few other examples of infrastructure that appear to be doing well, but may face challenges in the future.

“I’ve been running a ‘pagan’ organization complete with a paid clergy and a permanent temple building for 15 years. Is it because I don’t identify as Pagan or go to this ‘pagan community’ for membership and support? Or is it something else?  I dunno.” – Rev. Tamara Siuda

Temple of the River
Temple of the River (TOR) was the first official temple of the Old Belief Society, a community intended to train Celtic priests by combining academic and spiritual teachings. Founded by Drew Jacob. the group originally occupied a space in Minneapolis before moving to Jacob’s home. In 2006 the group decided they wanted to build their own temple.

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Constructed to look like a traditional Irish cottage, the temple was built in Jacob’s backyard. Contractors laid the foundation, roofing, and stucco of the temple, while members of the Old Belief Society pounded the earth floor, lime washed the exterior, and painted the trim. Funds to build the temple came from Jacob and from members of the group. Setbacks, ranging from inspections to funding, challenged the building process over the course of three years. The opening purification ritual was celebrated September 2010.

The temple was open to the public for monthly scheduled events, holiday feasts, and classes. The group appeared stable, as did its finances. In June 2011, Jacob wrote, “In less than six months we shifted from a small clique-like organization with no public presence to a bustling, dynamic community … It was because of this surge of enthusiasm and interest—from a primarily non-Pagan crowd—that we were able to finally realize a dream of seeing ancient Irish religion alive and practiced as closely as possible to its original form.”

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Less than a week later after writing that, Jacob announced he was closing the Temple of the River, disbanding the Old Belief Society, and leaving on a spiritual quest. In a press release Jacob said, “We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the [spiritual] impact I want to see it make.”

A lack of  improving enough lives and changing spiritual needs are the reasons Jacob gave for Temple of the River disbanding and the Temple closing its doors. He sold his home and the temple’s property in January of 2011 and was living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Minneapolis at the time of the announcement.

The temple closed in June only nine months after opening. Members of the temple were surprised by the announcement and, as far as is known, have not formed another group.

Takeaways from the Temple of the River:

  • The building of the temple followed all local zoning and building codes. If you don’t, you run the risk of having your building shut down or incurring fines.
  • The group was formed around a capable and knowledgeable leader, but there was no succession plan in place to continue if he left, had a profound change of heart, or died.
  • While the group contributed to the creation of the temple, both financially and in sweat equity, the main financial burden were borne by Jacob, and the temple was located on his privately owned property. Therefore, the property and its temple were legally solely his. This meant Jacob was solely responsible for all costs and legal obligations, but it also meant he could sell it or close it at any time.

The Celtic Temple was beautiful sacred space to which members felt very connected and for which they were willing to contribute time and money. The Old Belief Society was an organized group with clear goals and regular meetings. Yet, when a shared piece of infrastructure is owned entirely by one person, the group can lose it at any moment. The person owning it can hit hard financial times, could die, there could be personality conflicts, or they could change their spirituality – which is what happened in this case.

It’s often difficult for group members, or any potential donors, to decide if a project such as this one, owned by one person, is something in which to get involved. On the other hand, that’s usually the only way projects, such as this one, get started. One person is willing to take the risk and has the resources to accomplish the task.

Tawy House Kemetic Temple
In 1994, Rev. Tamara Siuda filed paperwork to make her religious group, the Kemetic Orthodox House of Netjer, a legal non-profit in the state of Michigan. By 2000, the group had achieved federal 501(c)(3) status.

Also in 2000, the Tawy House,  Kemetic Orthodox retreat, was created out of the childhood home of the group’s founder, Rev. Siuda. The house sat on 2.5 acres of woods in Michigan and was mostly open during the summer months. That same year Suida began drawing a modest salary as the group’s spiritual leader.

By 2003 the group had grown larger and started looking for a larger space that they could use year round. In October of that year, they had raised enough funds to purchase a former convent in Illinois. The 100-year-old three-story brick building was converted for their use and now contains a full-size temple chapel, a library, a dedicated kitchen and dining area, the permanent residence and offices for Rev. Siuda, and short- and long-term guestrooms for visiting clergy and temple members.

A core group of around 50 members donate on a regular basis, and these donations add up to between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Last fall, when the temple’s boiler broke and a ceiling, damaged by leaking water, needed to be repaired, a special appeal for funds was pitched to members. They were able to raise over $3000 for the repairs and also buy a new refrigerator.

The temple got its start by using property owned by its founder. However, it was able to grow past that point within a fairly short time and buy property specifically for use as a temple. The group is still formed around the founder, who lives in the Tawy House temple, and doesn’t appear to have a succession plan.

While it’s generally commonly known that groups are likely to collapse after the loss of the founder, its equally uncommon for groups or organizations to put a succession plan in place to not only preserve the group but also preserve whatever infrastructure they have built.

The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt (TWH), although different from a temple or community center, is one such organization with infrastructure that has survived (so far) intact.

Jason Pitzl-Waters started The Wild Hunt back in 2004. He had been looking for a reliable blog that would link to news stories that were either about modern Paganism or would be of interest to Pagans. He noticed there wasn’t much out there. At first he didn’t post every day, but as the readership grew, so did the frequency of his posts.

In 2011, he held his first fundraiser for the site to gauge if readers valued his work enough to donate. In the summer of 2011, still looking for a modest funding model, The Wild Hunt moved to Patheos. The popular religion site was attracted to The Wild Hunt due to its readership numbers and high quality of reliable, daily content. This continued for almost exactly one year. Then, in the summer of 2012, The Wild Hunt became an independent entity again.

Since that time, TWH has used a yearly Fall Funding Drive hosted on Indiegogo as a way to finance its operating costs, which include robust hosting, an editor, and modestly paid contributors. In the 2012 funding drive, 161 people donated for a total of $9,483. In 2013, 305 people donated to TWH for a total of $12,984. In 2014, the number of people donating dropped to 285, but the total amount raised rose to just over $15,000. In each of the funding drives, TWH clearly lays out its proposed budget for the next year.

None of this happened overnight. Jason Pitzl-Waters wrote almost daily articles for seven years before he engaged in his first funding effort. He slowly added other writers to prevent burnout and then created a succession plan so he could pursue other interests. In spring 2014, Pitzl-Waters handed TWH over to its editor Heather Greene, demonstrating a successful succession plan.

Will TWH continue to survive and thrive without its founder? Will Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists continue to find value in and support the content TWH puts out each day? Only time will tell.

“I wonder if the data shows that Pagans really only fund projects with a clear deliverable they can consume?” Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Northridge

Dr. Kirner notes that The Wild Hunt has a clear, consistent deliverable which contrasts with organizations that need regular funding to operate programs. “Everyone loves funding something new with a clear timeline. It is much harder to get people to fund things that happen more or less the same, month after month, year after year. People tend to take this for granted and not find it very exciting. I think many Western religious organizations get around this through a concept of tithing, which then integrates this not-so-exciting ongoing giving with spiritual values,” says Dr. Kirner. She wonders if, in the absence of an acceptance of tithing as a concept, if Pagans are only going to support projects with a short-term deliverable that they can use.

In the case of a community center in Minneapolis, the answer was yes, Pagans were willing to contribute regular funding to a longer term operation. Yet it still failed.

 “In Paganistan we need meeting space. It was easier when the Eye [of Horus store] had a room but now groups are meeting at the library or a members house or renting occasional church space. Only one group I know has a permanent rented dedicated space and they do that by charging membership dues.”  – Larissa Bedazzler

Sacred Paths Center
After three rocky years, in May 2012, the Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota, announced it was closing. Shortly after the announcement, I spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor.  I looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Director Teisha Magee to find out what happened.

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional. The finances were in disarray; the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income, from two years of road construction right outside their door, didn’t help matters. Despite all of that, they were are united in saying that the center almost made it due to the efforts of the Director, Board, volunteers and the most importantly, community support.

To find out why the center closed, you have to examine how the center was created. In January 2009, after a few weeks discussing the idea of a community center with family and friends, Teisha Magee signed the lease for what would be the Sacred Paths Center. The $1500 raised in a personal Paypal account allowed her to cover moving expenses and open the doors February 13.

Most of the flaws in SPC were formed at its birth, and contributed to its cycle of funding crises.

It was set up as a private business, and the financial accounts of Magee, the owner, and the center were mingled. Magee was unskilled in bookkeeping, and there was little to no documentation of the center’s finances. According to the person who audited SPC in 2011, this was routine and it caused difficulties that plagued the center for the course of its existence.

The center never converted to a 501c3 and was instead registered as a corporate non-profit in the state of Minnesota.  This meant Magee owned the center and the center’s board was more of an advisory council rather than a governing board with fiduciary authority.

The start-up funding of SPC consisted of the private funds from Magee and $1500 raised from supporters after a few weeks. With fixed expenses coming in at around $4000 a month, that was insufficient cash reserves. Small business experts suggest a new business have between six months to two years operating expenses saved and in the bank before they open their doors. SPC started out, almost from the beginning, behind in its bills and without a cash reserve built up. The center experienced repeated financial crises.

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In summer 2009, just six months after SPC opened, the community was told that SPC was holding an emergency fundraiser to help pay its outstanding bills. The funds were raised. During the next year, the center was barely financially stable, and ans August 2010 fund raiser was held to build up cash reserves. But only a modest $3000 was raised.

To make matters worse, a two-year construction project began on the road leading to SPC.  As a result, revenue from the front store dropped. In July 2011, the center said it needed $12,000 within a month to pay past due bills or the center would close. Pagans from across the country donated and the amount was raised. But the center could not get ahead of the bills or create the needed reserve.

In July 2011, when the center had its second financial crisis, the SPC underwent an independent audit. The auditor recommended education on financial best practices for Magee and the board, stronger financial oversight by the board, and that two persons approve all expenses. The director and the board didn’t act on the audit’s recommendations. The auditor believes a lack of financial knowledge and skills prevented them from implementing the recommendation.

Volunteers are one of the reasons the center stayed viable for as long as it did. Every person who staffed the center was a volunteer, even the owner and Executive Director Teisha Magee, who worked all day, on most days without drawing a salary. This is a considerable savings as the average community center director in Minneapolis brings home $78,000 a year.

The location seemed like the ideal place for a Pagan shop and community center, but it wasn’t sustainable from the start and would only grow worse. The neighborhood was welcoming and eclectic, and the landlord was friendly. It was on a bus line, had ample parking, and was very spacious. It was also expensive and only grew more expensive. The rent, set at $1500 when Magee signed the lease, rose to just over $2000 in 2011, and was negotiated back down to $1500 for 2012. Utilities averaged barely under $1000 a month.

The center adjusted to the expenses during the last part of 2009 and seemed to hit a stride in 2010. The store was bringing in the lion’s share of income, but memberships and room rentals were also up. They learned the business cycle and knew how to plan for slower summers and busier winters.

Then construction for a light rail track started. It was a very large straw that broke the camel’s back. Getting to the center became increasingly difficult. Parking was harder to find. In 2011 memberships started to drop as did store revenues. What little cash reserves they built up in 2010 were quickly used. Other businesses around the center struggled and a few of them failed.

By late 2011, the center considered moving and, in early 2012, it became more of a priority. Which brings us to May 2012, with three months unpaid rent,  the phones shut off, and Magee facing up to $25,000 in debt when all accounts were finally settled. SPC had to close, so it did.

Takeaways from Sacred Paths Center:

  • The community gave significant monetary and volunteer support to the center. In 2011 the center brought in approximately $50,000 in revenue. In February 2012 they generated $4000 in revenue and in March, the center received $440 in membership dues alone. 
  • The center was heavily and consistently used, hosting between 45-50 scheduled events per month. There were weekly gatherings, such as the Monday night potluck and the Thursday night Mentoring Elders program. Witch wars were laid to rest at SPC; the most notable being the rift healed between the Minnesota Church of Wicca and the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Photos and ashes rest on the memorial ancestor shrine. Fundraisers were held for community members facing costly illnesses. 
  • The center diversified revenue streams. The store brought in the lion’s share of income, but there were also memberships with perks and room rental income. 
  • Almost every person involved, from the Director/Owner down to many of the board members didn’t have basic business skills. And didn’t take classes to learn basic business skills. 
  • The center was launched quickly, without enough start up funds. SPC was behind on its bills from almost the very first day. 
  • The center’s expenses were too high. 
  • It depended too heavily on volunteers, which lead to burnout and mistakes. 
  • It hoped for the best, but was unprepared for obstacles, such as the road leading to the center being torn up.

It’s clear that the community center quickly became the center of the Pagan community in the Twin Cities area and that it was heavily utilized and supported by the community. With better management, upfront cash reserves, and more modest expenses a community center could once again open in the Twin cities because local Pagans saw a need. The question now is, will area Pagans be willing to support another community center after the ups and downs of Sacred Paths Center?

 My area DESPERATELY needs meeting space. My group is always at the mercy of library spaces. And now that we’ve gotten so big recently, 200+ active members, we are the largest pagan org in DC, it’s getting harder and harder to find spaces that can accommodate all of us. Now we can only rent out one library’s auditorium because its the only space we know of indoors that can fit more than 50 people at a time. – David Salisbury

Star and Stone Druid Fellowship
Many groups are experiencing similar growing pains as David Salisbury’s group. One such group is Star and Stone Druid Fellowship, an OBOD Seed Group. They are still too small to build much infrastructure, but too large to keep operating in a casual, pass-the-hat way. Too big for the living room, but too small to regularly rent a venue.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, who’s part of the grove, says that the group funds its operations in three ways. The 12 initiates pay annual dues of $40 per person, passing the hat at each gathering brings in another $10 to $20 per person per gathering, and a few members routinely pay out of pocket to host rituals or provide the necessary supplies. The funds go to pay website hosting, reservations or the annual Lughnasadh camping trip, and food for regular gatherings.

The group is growing. In addition to their twelve members, they also have two other persons who regularly attend festivals plus friends and family of initiates. With 20 or more persons now attending events, they need a regular space to meet.

They’d also like to host larger public rituals and rent cabins or park space more than one time a year, but they are limited by money. They’re also limited by time. Most members work full time jobs, which means the time they can devote to volunteering for the group or for the wider Pagan community is in short supply. 

Often, I see Pagan communities having to compromise, and to center themselves around who has a resource, like a large plot of land, that they are willing to share, whether the person with the land and resources is good at being in community or not. With time, hopefully we’ll be in a position where stronger, more cohesive Pagan communities will begin to attract some of the resources to themselves, rather than having to center around a few folks with the money or land to be able to subsidize us–because even though such people can be great, that does get in the way of that feeling like our communities belong equally to us all.”-  Cat Chapin-Bishop

Mt. Toby Meeting House
Better known as Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends has infrastructure lessons that emerging Pagan communities and groups can learn from. Yet there are challenges Pagans face that Quakers do not. Quakers place great value in coming together for regular, mostly silent, worship. Pagans may come together in worship, but the differences in types of Pagans means most Pagans only come together in very small groups and do so fewer times a year.

The 120 acres of land and the meeting house Cat Chapin-Bishop attends was donated as a gift, as was the financing to build the actual structure back 1964. Additional gifts over the years helped expand the meeting house and maintain a burial ground. The fact that Quakers have been around for over 500 years makes gifts of these sorts more likely than a religion that has been actively practiced for only a few decades.

There are around 60 to 70 Friends who attend meetings each week at Mt. Toby and this particular meeting house has about 200 to 300 people who regularly support it. They donate about $58,000 per year. Funds are not raised by passing a collection plate, attendees are simply reminded what an average family contributes and what the financial needs are.

Every member or attender of the meeting is responsible for a week of cleaning during the year. While some volunteer up to 20 hours a week to help out, others primarily just attend the meetings. Everything that can be done by volunteers, is done by volunteers.

The major expenses are maintaining the meeting house, utilities, and monetary support for members to attend workshops and conferences. There is no paid clergy among the Friends.

Members have a feeling of ownership toward the meeting house; a feeling that the Society of Friends encourages through their actions. Once you volunteer to clean the meeting house, you have access to the building’s keys. Members care for the property. There is no leader in charge, no one person owns anything. And since worship is held each week, a feeling of community develops. The meeting house starts to feel like a second home.

Takeaways from the Mt Toby Meeting House:

  • This type of self-sustaining infrastructure takes generations to build up, but a gift of land or money for land happens first. The group is able to keep expenses low through the devotion of its members.
  • The Society of Friends is known for having a culture of openness and trust. If you show up, you’ll be welcomed in. If you clean the meeting house, you’re given a key. Want to see the finances? Attend a business meeting.
  • No one is pressured to donate. They list out their needs and trust that people who can afford it will donate funds to take care of one another. Cat Chapin-Bishop says it simply feels natural to give.

Mt. Toby is luckier than many Quaker meeting houses. For instance, they have a larger membership. Some older meeting houses can no longer afford to maintain the space, and the property is becoming more of a liability than an asset. It’s important to constantly evaluate if your infrastructure is helping you or hurting you.

Every group and community has to decide if an potential infrastructure, of any kind, addresses an actual need, or is just something they want. They need to plan carefully, have a detailed business plan in place, and have competent and trustworthy people in charge.

Having the physical assets owned by the entire group or a whole community can protect not just the organization, but the founder, as well.  And none of this happens quickly. It takes years, decades, and generations to build something that will last well-past the original founders.

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – For decades and maybe centuries, the metaphysical bookshop has provided far more than reading material, statuettes and candles. The independently-owned store becomes a veritable community center for a local population of people, many of whom must hide their interests in occult practice and other minority religious beliefs. Whether the store is labeled New Age, Occult or Metaphysical, such shops become treasured institutions within their environment. The attachment can be so strong that when one must close down, the community mourns its loss.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This is exactly what has happened in the town of Charlottestville, Virginia. The Quest Bookshop, owned and operated by Kay Allison since 1978, is slowly preparing to shut its doors. In August, Allison, who will be 84 next month, has decided that it is time to retire. With no interested buyers on the horizon, the store must be closed. An era is coming to an end.

Lonnie Murray, a local Pagan (animist) and naturalist, said, “Since 1978 Kay Allison has provided the community so much more than just a Metaphysical Bookstore. She has been a model small business owner that gives back to the community in many ways, including her program that provides books to inmates, and by providing a place where people … could come to seek answers to life’s big questions and find acceptance and welcome.”

In 1984, Allison opened The Quest Institute, a non-profit organization aimed at facilitating interreligious dialog, education, spiritual exploration and much more. The Institute is responsible for a popular program called “Books Behind Bars,” which collects and sends books to inmates across the state of Virginia. Not all the material is religious or spiritual in nature, as the goal is primarily to facilitate education. On its website, the Institute has shared a number of response letters from inmates, prison chaplains, and administrators. One such letter reads:

Thank you for not forgetting about us. Thank you for volunteering your time. Thank you for your love. Because of you all I am able to share what I learn with others.You don’t even know me yet I’ve learned so much from all of you. You all selflessly give of yourselves and your example has allowed me to “pass it forward.” . . .  We are what we think! Because of people like you I am changing I want to share that for the first time in my life I know SELFLESSNESS. Thank you!  – JWP

books behind barsOver the years, Allison has also provided her local community with spiritually-focused educational opportunities. She has invited a diversity of speakers, which have included renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Buddhist monk Nawang Khechog and spiritual teacher Ram Dass. Along with such workshops, lectures and book signings, the shop has offered regular readings by various local practitioners.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Allison said that visitors have come to her shop from all over the world looking for unique items and sometimes just to meet a friendly face. Murray agreed, saying “For people outside the religious mainstream, her store is a place where people have traditionally gone to find others like themselves.”

That is the unique nature of the local metaphysical store. Often Pagans and Heathens can recall the very first time they ever stepped foot into one of these places, or the first time they bought a book on magic, a tarot deck, runes or other similar products. In many ways, these moments in the metaphysical store become a type of initiation rite, a ritual and even a religiously spiritual experience, in their own right. Losing that store can be a profound loss.

Interestingly, Charlottesville itself has been home to several notable figures in Pagan history. Gelb Botkin, founder of the Church of Aphrodite, left his Long Island home to live the later part of his life in Charlottesville. Once there, he re-established his Church, which is considered “the first Pagan religious group officially recognized as a religion by a modern state,” as noted by Dmitry Galtsin in Pomegranate Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Vol 14, No 1 (2012). The Church of Aphrodite was incorporated in 1939 but did not survive after Botkin’s death in 1969.

Additionally, Raymond Buckland spent a few years in the 1980s living in Charlottesville, before moving to San Diego. While in Virgnia, Buckland set up and ran his popular Seax Wicca correspondence course, which eventually had upwards of 1000 students. Allison said that Buckland and his wife “were lovely people and good friends of hers.” Buckland hosted several popular lectures and workshops at the Quest Bookshop.

But as Murray aptly pointed out, “While Charlottesville has had such memorable residents as Gleb Botkin and Raymond Buckland, it has always been the people like Kay who hold together the fabric of community.”

Although Allison herself is not Pagan, she is considered to be part of the local Pagan community experience. As noted in The Daily Progress, she named the bookshop “Quest” because that is what she has always been on: a spiritual quest. Allison explained that as a child she had an awareness of spirit, saying “I was trying to find people who had more wisdom than I did. There was an absolutely fabulous couple living in Afton who were so wise and had an extensive library … He had the scientific books, and she had the metaphysical books. I would go out and visit with them and come home with a stack of books to read. I’d read them, take them back and get another stack. That was very good for me.”

Kay Allison announcing a guest presenter. [From a Video Still]

Kay Allison announcing a guest presenter. [From a Video Still]

Now at the age of 84, Allison has provided the same educational and spiritual resources to many local residents, visitors, inmates, and prison ministries. A sign above her shop’s door reads, “magic happens here,” and she said “That is true.” One regular customer noted on the shop’s Facebook page

[Quest] was a sanctuary for me, like a few place in C’ville. Sweet smells of incense and oils, and pages, sparkle of crystals in the sun, candles and cloths, and lots of good books, plenty of places to sit undisturbed and read for as long as you like. Kind people behind the counter to chat with if you felt like it — and who would leave you alone if you didn’t.

In August 2014, Allison announced her retirement and the sale of the store. She said that she has “a lot of things that [she’d] like to do.” Outside of taking some vacation time, she wants to continue helping people. That work will include managing the Quest Institute’s Books Behind Bars program.

Daughter Janet Holmes, a spiritual healer in her own work, has been helping her mother with the transition. As of now, the two women are “cleaning house” and selling off some of the shop’s inventory with significant mark downs.

Unfortunately, no buyer has been found yet. Friends of the shop have attempted to raise money through an IndieGoGo campaign called “Save the Quest Bookshop.” However, with only 4 days left in that campaign, they are still very far away from reaching the goal needed to keep the store open.

The Quest Bookshop will remain open until the end of February. Both Allison and Holmes remain hopeful that a buyer will turn up in the next few weeks. Allison said that “there absolutely is still a place for [the metaphysical store] and even for its expansion.” However, if a purchase doesn’t happen within the next month, an era will come to an end in Charlottesville.

 

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NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS –For Pagans who love to spend time celebrating the wonders of nature under sunny skies or dance the night away around a bonfire, New England in February can be disheartening to say the least. That’s where A Feast of Lights comes in. The midwinter festival, hosted by the EarthSpirit Community, is designed to be a “weekend of warmth at the coldest time of the year – a festival of community and hope, of tradition and creativity, of Earth spirituality and the arts, of community and hope, of tradition and creativity.” That promise was fulfilled, and then some.

feast of lights header

Warmth
While the temperatures outside hovered well below freezing, the hotel was comfortable. Some participants even took to the indoor pool, which beckoned from under a stupendous glass dome that allowed the winter sunlight to stream in and reminded swimmers of the warmer days to come.

However, the warmth of A Feast of Lights was better measured by the warmth shared between old friends and new acquaintances alike. Much of that was expressed in song, as longtime attendees raised their voices to join in familiar tunes, or teach the melodies and words to newcomers.

In that sense, “warmth” is closely associated with…

EarthSpirit bannerCommunity
EarthSpirit does community well, and that fact shone through during the entire festivals. Music, as already noted, weaves its members together, creating and strengthening bonds in a way that touches a deeper part of the self.

So too was community evident in the Stag King’s Masque, the annual ritual and ball that plays central to this festival. This first-time visitor was captivated by the flow of the ritual as it moved from storytelling to chanting to the highly-choreographed mock combat, which culminated in the crowning of the Stag King. Easy-to-learn songs and wassails removed barriers to entry for newcomers. The look in the eyes of regulars made it clear that this was not a stale ritual, but something greeted with excitement anew each year.

One possible reason for that enthusiasm was the promise of….

Hope
This is a feeling that is sorely needed in this time and place, when bitter temperatures and biting blizzards curtail activities and threaten life. Hope was expressed in the sharing of memories forged at this and other EarthSpirit events. These stories of hope were told over the breakfast tables and in the coffee nook; through story and song about the role of winter and the promise that it always comes to an end.

At A Feast of Lights, much of that hope is rooted in…

Tradition
Among the many attendees, one could find Wiccans and Hellenists, Heathens and Druids, people without a named practice and those who follow a path without a name. Despite that diversity, the underlying traditions common to EarthSpirit offered a framework in which different perspectives and experiences could be shared and compared in a safe space. An apt phrase of how tradition was shared here might be “share what you will, learn what you must.”

While it was impossible to attend every one of the many offered workshops, the overall event didn’t lose its cohesion. There never was a sense that attendees were experiencing vastly different conferences in the same space. This is perhaps due to the the venerable host community tossing its tradition of welcoming over the entire festival.

And, perhaps because Earth Spirit’s way is rife with…

Creativity
This is manifested in music and song, in dance and the telling of tales, and in many other ways. The art expo, headlined by Martin Bridge’s eye-popping Vision Keys paintings developed in collaboration with Orion Foxwood, added color and life in contrast to the dull, frozen palette seen through the hotel’s windows. The ballroom was transformed into a mystical forest seemingly without effort. One could see spinning in the hallways, newly-minted divination systems being tested in the vendor room, and winter dance steps practiced in conference rooms that are more accustomed to PowerPoint presentations.

How this creativity fits into EarthSpirit’s large cycle of festivals was explained by one of the organizers, Donovan Arthen:

Photo by Afon Art, used with permission

Donovan Arthen [Courtesy Photo]

Rites of Spring is a big festival that’s about enlarging and deepening a sense of connection to the natural world. At Twilight Covening we go inward, to look forward to the dark time, and gather the skills we will need to survive. A Feast of Lights is a time to come and warm yourself, and share the tidbits of what those new skills have wrought. There are little groups and events throughout the year, but these are the focal points.

Like any festival where Pagans and other like-minded folk gather, A Feast of Lights was packed with workshops presented by people both well-known and not. The teachers shared their gifts and often learned as much as they taught. There were too many options one reporter to attend, no matter how intrepid. Here are two highlights:

Andras Corban-Arthen [Courtesy Photo]

EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen gave a talk called In the Spirit of the Earth. He shared stories from the nearly forty years that this group has practiced and sponsored events. Gathered among the long-gone Massachusetts Pagan Federation, a group of people, who would eventually form EarthSpirit, organized a Rites of Spring festival. It was one of the first outdoor Pagan festivals in modern times and it set the tone for the many which came after.

“I had the only drum there,” Corban-Arthen recalled. “No one seemed interested in a fire, but someone had gathered twigs from nine sacred trees, which we used to start one, and I drummed. Some people joined us, but others were almost repulsed, because it wasn’t in the Book of Shadows.”

He further spoke about his interfaith work and quest to find European survivals of indigenous Paganism. He also credited EarthSpirit’s reluctance to rigidly define the word “Pagan” with some of the community’s success. Another wise insight: “Conflict is necessary in community. How you manage it is crucial. The feeling that conflict is wrong feeds it through denial and covering up. Addressing it directly is the key.”

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley [Courtesy Photo]

Wiccan author Vivianne Crowley spoke about Wicca as a Spiritual Path, weaving in tales of her own experiences with various cards from the major arcana of the Rider-Waite tarot. From Crowley’s perspective, one is much like the Fool at the beginning of such a spiritual journey, progressing through points represented by Magician and Priestess, and nearly always facing a point where nothing seems to work any longer. She symbolized that moment with the Tower and Wheel of Fortune.

Her words spoke to a deep truth when she observed, “This is a time when people might decide that a particular tradition is not for them, and go looking for something else, when in fact if they worked a little bit longer, they might get through it.”

Among the many musical offerings was Until the Dark Time Ends: Songs of Winter, presented by Will and Lynn Rowan of the musical group Windborne. Those lucky few who attended were treated to a session which was part concert and part sing-a-long. The Rowans shared wintry tunes from throughout the centuries and the world over. Traditional songs, wassails and recreated boar’s head carols were intermixed with songs of the (original) Wild Hunt, ballads of lonely colonial Vermont winters, songs from Lithuania, Newfoundland and the Pennsylvania Dutch.

The Rowans’ voices, which blend like honey and hot tea, were complemented by a wide array of world instruments, several of which Will Rowan built himself. The set list, which include many opportunities to join in on songs familiar and new, reminded those present that winter is a universal truth for those who live above (or below) a certain latitude.

Winter is indeed a universal truth, an indivisible portion of the cycle of seasons which many Pagans acknowledge or revere. It is often unpleasant, sometimes even dangerous, but so long as there are events like A Feast of Lights held in the coldest days, there will be opportunities to dream again of spring.

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museum of witchcraftThe Museum of Witchcraft, located in Boscastle, Cornwall, will be undergoing major renovations over the next two months. These changes will include a complete overhaul of the shop and entrance way. Director Simon Costin said the first two galleries will also be “radically altered to allow for new material.” Part of the gallery expansion will be the installation of old Victorian cabinets donated by the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge.

In addition to those renovations, the Museum will also have a new temporary exhibition space. Costin said that the first exhibition will display the “illustrations made by Jos. E. Smith for Erica Jong’s book Witches from 1980.” The museum is currently closed to the public and will reopen on March 28.

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AREN_ACTIONACTION, the newsletter for the Alternative Regions Educational Network, has just published a nearly all-Polytheist issue. Editor Christopher Blackwell had been working toward the goal of featuring Polytheists for some time. Finding interviewees is difficult, as he will tell anyone. However, finding interviewees all within a specific religion or practice is even tougher.

The results of his efforts are published in ACTION’s Imbolc 2015 edition. All but one of the interviewees are practicing Polytheists. Those interviewed include Anomalous Thracian, Conor Davis, Niki Whiting, Rhyd Wildermuth, Khi Armand and Karen Tate. Blackwell enjoyed putting together this edition and believes that the interviews, particularly Thracian’s, provide a great introduction to the “hard polytheist view point.”  The newsletter will be available on Aren’s website today.

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Portals-GraphicMusician and Artist Sharon Knight announced a new project, which will include an album, an art book and a music video. The project is titled “Portals.” On her site, Knight wrote, “For as long as I can remember, I have yearned to be part of a thriving artists’ community, one that lifts each other up and shines a light on each another’s talents. With the Portals project, we plan to do just that.”  

Knight, Winter and friends will record the new album as they travel around the country on tour. Describing the project, Knight said it will have a carnival feel filled with “mystery, magic and the unexplained.” Some of the musicians and artists already on board are SJ Tucker, Betsy Tinney, Caith Threefires, Valerie Herron, Morpheus Ravenna and more. The project’s fundraising campaign will be kicked off on Feb. 13 at the PantheaCon conference held in San Jose, California.

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conservation district

James Stovall, an active member of the Michigan Pagan community, was recently elected to the board of directors for the Jackson County Conservation District (JCCD). The JCCD is a locally-controlled state agency that serves as a “gateway” for local conservation issues, offering consultation and advice. Although he ran unopposed, the journey to winning the election was not without its work.

Stovall said, “I ran for the board seat not only because I could then be involved in setting policy for local environmental issues, but to help represent the minority voice. My wife and I own The Wandering Owl, the only metaphysical store in our area, and we are quite open about our spiritual beliefs. I have always felt it is important to be the type of person that others outside our subculture could relate to. We build friendships and support that way, because we become the people they know from scout meetings, board memberships, local business, or civic groups, and not something to fear.”

In other news:

  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church announced Thursday that Janet Farrar has invited its members to help with ritual facilitation at Michigan Pagan Fest. Farrar, together with Gavin Bone, are the headliners for this year’s festival, which will be held in Belleville, Michigan from June 26-28.
  • Grey Mare Books, an independent publishing imprint in the U.K., is looking for submissions for a new devotional anthology titled “The Grey Mare on the Hill.” The project was inspired by the work of the Brython group, which has published a number of writings on its blog including “liturgical material, ritual practices and modern myths.” In addition to using that work, the publishers are looking to include other writing focused on the “Horse Goddesses of Sovereignty and of the Land.” Submission information is on the website.
  • Lithunania’s Pagan culture was featured on the Travel Channel’s show “Booze Traveler.” While visiting the country, host Jack Maxwell got a taste of these local religious traditions. The show’s website explains, “Lithuania proves that 50 years of oppression didn’t change the ways of the people. Jack gets an inside look at the world of paganism, its rituals and its love for mead.” Commenting on the experience, Maxwell himself said that Paganism was not what he expected, adding “It’s just people celebrating the earth and what’s natural.”
  • Circle Sanctuary‘s popular podcasts are changing direction. Rev. Selena Fox will begin a new weekly podcast called “Nature Magic,” which will air every Tuesday night at 7pm CST on Pagans Tonight Radio Network. “Circle Talk” has now moved to 8pm.
  • Finally, a fire has destroyed the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences in Moscow. This particular research library, established in 1918, is one of Russia’s largest and one of the world’s greatest resources for historical and scientific documents. The loss is now being likened to the Chernobyl disaster. For Russian Pagans, especially those who adhere to Slavic-based practices, the loss is of particular concern, because the Institute held a significant number of ancient Slavic texts. We spoke with our Pagan contacts in Russia, who informed us that nobody really knows at this point how extensive the damage is and which texts have been destroyed. We will continue to follow that story for updates.

That is it for now.  Have a great day!

 

 

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Happy Imbolc

Heather Greene —  February 1, 2015 — 2 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when many modern Pagans celebrate the fire festival of Imbolc sacred to the goddess Brigid, patroness of poets, healers, and smiths. Today is also the feast day of Saint Brigid of Ireland, the patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies. In Kildare, Ireland’s town square, a perpetual flame is kept lit and housed in a statue that pays homage to Brigid. Festivities for La Feile Bride in Kildare started on Jan 30 and will continue through Feb 8.

Brigid: Saint and Goddess.

Brigid: Saint and Goddess.

There are many other notable observances held during these first few days of February. For example, in some Celtic Recon traditions, this is a time to honor Cú Chulainn’s three-day combat with his foster-brother Fer Diad. According to the chronology in the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the epic battle happened during these dark mid-winter days.

Additionally, the Shinto Festival of Setsubun is held on Feb. 3 or 4. This holiday is more commonly known as the Japanese bean throwing festival. Around Japan and the world, people visit their local Buddhist or Shinto temples to toss soybeans, in order to drive away the evil spirits of winter. Setsubun is translated as “seasonal division” and is considered to be the final day of winter on the Shinto calendar.

That seasonal theme is carried through in many Pagan Imbolc observances. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, studio owner Diana Walter held the 2nd annual Teton Festival of Light. As she explained, the festival’s purpose is to inspire and remind students that there is life under the snow. This weekend is also Earth Spirit Community’s Feast of Lights, held in Northampton, Massachusetts and honoring a similar spirit.

Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans are celebrating Lammas or Lughnasadh, and enjoying the beginnings of the harvest season.

This year several Imbolc-inspired articles were published in the mainstream media. The Latino Post featured a report entitled, “Witchcraft in the U.S.: Imbolc 2015 History, Facts & Celebration Ideas.” Similarly,The International Business Times, in a continuation of its Wiccan Sabbat series, will be offering its Imbolc edition on Feb. 2. In Pennsylvania, the local Bucks County Courier Times published an in-depth piece titled, “Groundhog Day more than a Weather Forecast for this Faith.” This article features the seasonal religious practices of the local heathen group, Urglaawe Kindred of Distelfink.

Here are a few quotes on mid-winter observances:

Despite its coming in a month of which few are enamored, Imbolc and its goddess, Brigid, are beautiful expressions of life and the arts that bring it—life—into being and give it meaning. Furthermore, Imbolc, a moment which goes by many names (including Groundhog Day!), is a beautiful combination of celebrations in both Pagan and Christian traditions. It is a day that could be well celebrated among UU’s, yet is nearly universally ignored. – Catherine Clarenbach, fromHome for the (February) Holidays: Imbolc, Brigid, and the Union of Opposites”

The last holiday of the Vanic year (as the Vanic new year is the spring equinox) is called Rasthuas Ja’enladata (RAHS-thoo-ahs JIGH-en-lah-dah-tah) [in Eshnesk, the language of the Eshnahai, or citizens of Vanaheim) – translated as Lights of the Winter Storm, observed in early February, where lights are burned through the worst winter storms of the year as a reminder that soon the spring will come.  This is the holiday where the Queen’s half of the year and time of influence begins, power rising again in anticipation of the spring. –  Nornoriel Lokason, “Lights of Winter Storm”

I love Imbolc. The snowdrops are out – so beautiful. And it’s so amazing to think what that delicate green stem with the flower bud at its tip has done. Have you tried pushing your finger down into the cold, hard, frozen earth? It’s difficult and often impossible, and your finger has a good strong bone in it to help it keep its structure – imagine how that is for the flower stem pushing up the other way! We often ignore the everyday magic of the earth in our hurried, busy, self-absorbed modern society and the birthing of the snowdrops is just one of these wonderful magical things. I’ll be with a group of students to celebrate Imbolc this Sunday and we will definitely be sharing a little piece of the everyday magic all around us. - Elen Sentier, Moon Books Author. [Note: this is one of many quotes shared in a post entitled “Pagan Authors’ Plans for Imbolc this Weekend” published on The Bad Witch’s Blog]

Many blessings to you this holiday!

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[As this is the weekend that many Pagans celebrate Imbolc, we are taking a pause from our regular schedule and have invited Erick Dupree to share his thoughts on the seasonal celebration. Dupree is the author of Alone in Her Presence: Meditations on the Goddess and is a co-founder in the Dharma Pagan movement. He teaches heart-centered practices that unite breath to heart, inviting a Tantric relationship with the Goddess. His writing can be found on his own website as well as on the Patheos Pagan Channel.]

We are approaching that time of year, the moment between Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. It is for many Pagans, the birth of spring’s great return from the darkness of winter’s embrace. We celebrate this time as Imbolc, a cross-quarter day within the Wheel of the Year, a time for initiations, a festival of candle-light, and of the Goddess beginning her life-cycle again, ever anew. This is the time to manifest and a time to invite possibilities as we return to light.

From my Philadelphia window, I watch the snow fall blanketing the ground in pure white. It surely doesn’t seem like spring is anywhere in sight, and yet She is there, beneath the snow between slumber and wakefulness, in a place of lucid potential that is Imbolc. This is the time of steadfastness over the dramatic, a gentle shift from the bitter harshness of winter and into the brightness of Spring’s universal promise of renewal. Here in this time called Imbolc, our growth is gradual as the seeds lie hidden deep in the earth.

I have always loved this time of year. Whereas autumn brings for me a sense of melancholy with the decay of life, this lucid dreamlike moment before Springtime has always inspired me. Imbolc represents a time to turn inward, for one more moment, to see the seeds I have planted within my heart at Samhain, winter solstice, and in every dark moon ritual. It is a reminder of the promises I made to myself to regenerate, renew and restore the balance that comes from the fires of commitment needed to foster love, service, justice and peace. Imbolc is for me about the righteousness of possibility that is as fertile as the Earth herself.

[Courtesy of Erick Dupree]

[Courtesy of E. Dupree]

Here is this great promise, this invitation to transform our hearts and mind into the someone and something that is more than we were the previous season. Over the years, I have come to welcome this work as I welcome new beginnings, because like the maiden, Goddess is the work. Our commitment to that great work, and for each of us it might look different, is not always easeful, but that doesn’t mean it has to be full of dis-ease. Imbolc reminds us that there is always a return to bloom from whence there was death. Always in invitation, but never an obligation.

Imbolc is the maiden; it is its newness that inspires me. In these times of turbulence, as our world spirals, what might it be like to if we approached everything as the Maiden? As this gloriously fertile realm of possibility? Imbolc for me isn’t about dogma or mysteries,  or even wisdom traditions, but about the experiences I see reflected back at me through earth, when we invite the possible and banish dis-ease.

Imbolc is that liminal moment now pulsating with possibilities that come when we invite intentional and mindful living and experience each moment fully without fear. The maiden is Love’s warrior, fearless of failure, reminding us that love is stronger than fear. She is action, penetrating the frozen soil to bring blossoms anew.

What might it be like if we immersed ourselves in the potential of love’s great warrior? Imbolc is for the warrior who is too busy doing the work to care that someone may not approve. The warrior asks, “How can I be of service?” “How can I be an agent of change?” “How can I bring the newness of possibility?” The quest is the transformation in how we experience life. It makes life exciting and fresh, and keeps us young and eager to learn.

Imbolc is the eagerness of something great that can inspire at this time of year. When I look out my window I know something is coming. Whether we call upon Earth to rise up and greet us, or invite protection and blessings to our hearth, home, and heart, Imbolc is the moment of conception, the time to rekindle the fires of commitment. As we return to the light of present, what is the promise you make to yourself, for others, and for Goddess?

The time is now, the Maiden is coming, Imbolc is the invitation to that perfectly imperfect magical place that is Love.

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