OAKLAND, Calif. — Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, California’s Bay Area played backdrop to a number of different events as part of the second annual #96Hours action organized by the Anti Police-Terror Organization. Many of these events were attended by local Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. The weekend action, consisting of everything from protests to vigils, culminated in a march through the city of Oakland.

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

T. Thorn Coyle, who had been involved with the Anti Police-Terror Organization all year, helped to coordinate the first #96Hours action in 2015. This year was no different. In an email, Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “It is important to us that we honor the radical legacy of Dr. King – as called for by Black leadership – rather than upholding the whitewashed and sanitized Dr. King that so much of white America insists on remembering. King grew more and more radical before his death, when he had close to 30% approval among white Americans. This is around the same amount of approval white Americans currently give to Black Lives Matter and anti police brutality movements. We need to rethink what we value in this country. As a Pagan, I value justice, beauty, equity, and love. I try to act towards those qualities and join in community with others who uphold them.”

As she noted, the #96Hours action is part of a larger movement to reclaim Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical legacy. The common hashtag being used is #ReclaimMLK.

The Oakland #96Hour weekend events began on Friday, Jan. 15 with 7 am meditation and, then, continued on from there. At 4 pm, Coyle participated in the “Can You See Me?” Interfaith Procession in Remembrance of Black Lives in Oakland. As she described, the service was led by a Rabbi, Imam, and two Christian ministers, with Buddhists leading meditation. Then, there was a processional of nine coffins, representing those killed locally by police in 2015. That ended at Lake Merritt, where a tenth coffin was floating to represent those people whose names were not known.

While at the lake, Coyle led the group in song and prayer, asking them “to call upon the ancestors and [their] beloved dead, naming those killed by police.” She explained that “Pagan and polytheist traditions it is important to many of us to remember and call upon our beloved dead, asking them to walk with us.” 

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

Brennos Agrocunos, Vice Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, was in attendance at the Friday evening service. He said, “We choose to stand alongside local Black Lives Matter activists as an act of service to our Gods, our ancestors, and our communities. As Coru priests committed to core values of sovereignty, kinship, warriorship, and service, one of the ways we enact these values is in the streets standing shoulder to shoulder with members of all faiths in our communities, calling for justice and an end to oppression, and providing medical and logistical support to other activists.”

Agrocunos and other members of Coru Cathubodua were also in attendance at Saturday’s action at the Oakland airport. Starting 6 p.m., terminal passengers were “greeted by activists chanting the names of People of Color killed by the police in the Bay Area, holding signs reading ‘Welcome to Oakland.’ ” This same action was then repeated on Sunday at the San Francisco airport, a much larger and busier facility.

Morpheus Ravenna, Lore Chieftain, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood said, “In the San Francisco Bay Area, nonviolent Black Lives Matter demonstrators have often been met with excessive force and violence. We find that the presence of clergy people acting in solidarity can help protect the community while underscoring the moral and spiritual imperatives of the movement.”

Oakland Airport Action [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

The events noted above were only a few of the many that were organized over the 96 hour period that culminated in a Monday march through the streets of Oakland. This final action attracted the largest Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen contingent, many of whom walked behind a large banner reading, “Pagans United for Justice.”

Kristen Oliver and Rose Quartz of the Mills College Pagan Alliance were two of those walking. Oliver said, “Rose and I went to the march to honor MLK and stand with the people who he died to raise up who are still dying in our streets. I have always been an out and proud Pagan and so was happy to join the group of Pagans marching today under the ‘Pagans United for Justice’ banner. As someone who works to raise the visibility of Pagans in the public eye I have always said I would love to see more of our community out there working for social justice. And yet I have to admit that today I felt a bit disingenuous about identifying myself as anything other than just a person who wants humanity to learn to understand each other and stop hurting each other. Dr. King’s legacy and the Black Lives Matter movement is far too important to dilute or hijack with personal agendas and yet it is so important to show that support comes from many different places. I am still grappling with this question of intention tonight.”

Marching along side the Oliver and Quartz were members of Coru Cathubodua, Solar Cross Temple, Golden Gate Kindred, Reclaiming and more. Ryan Smith of the Golden Gate Kindred posted on Facebook: “Our kindred puts our words into action!”

Pagans March [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos]

Oakland MLK March 2016 [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

Beginning around 11am, marchers walked from “Oscar Grant Plaza,14th & Broadway, to the Bay St Mall in Emeryville” and were reportedly close to 1000 people strong.

Then, as the march neared its end, an unscheduled action took place on one side of the Bay Bridge. Around 4 pm, 25 Black Lives Matter protesters stopped a line of cars, chained themselves and the cars together, blocking the entire side of the road. Their original intent was to remain in that position for 96 minutes in honor of the #96hours of action. However, the protesters were only there for 30 minutes before being arrested. The entire event was reportedly peaceful.

The #96Hours and, more specifically, the #ReclaimMLK actions were not limited to the Bay Area, attracting attention and inspiring action throughout the country. While the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend is now officially over, the #ReclaimMLK movement will undoubtedly continue into the future as more groups and people, from all walks of life, join and support this growing social justice movement.

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mlk

[Photo Credit: 22860 / Flickr]

Today, the U.S. honors Martin Luther King Jr. Public schools, government offices and many businesses are closed in order to recognize his work and sacrifice, as well as the staggering influence that his message has had on American society. Many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens across the country are participating in local activities, both small and large, to recognize Dr. King and his influence.

Some choose to honor his work within the privacy of their practice. For example, T. Thorn Coyle noted that “Solar Cross Devotional will honor the legacy of Dr. King, focusing on economic and racial justice.” However, many others are attending larger public community events such as the second annual #96Hours action held this weekend in California’s Bay Area.

Organized by the Anti Police-Terror Organization, the #96Hours event consists of a weekend of scheduled actions, including protests, interfaith vigils, rallies and other activities, culminating in a march through the city of Oakland. Groups and individuals participating in the various activities include members of Coru Cathubodua, Solar Cross Temple, Golden Gate Kindred and more. Brennos Agrocunos, Vice Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood said, “As Coru priests committed to core values of sovereignty, kinship, warriorship, and service, one of the ways we enact these values is in the streets standing shoulder to shoulder with members of all faiths in our communities, calling for justice and an end to oppression, and providing medical and logistical support to other activists.” We will have more details, including photos, tomorrow.

While King’s words and his life had a very specific purpose during a very tumultuous period in U.S. history, over time his message has been distilled down and come to permeate U.S. culture with a meaning that far exceeds the focused goals of that particular decade. In the wake of this past year’s events, King’s message appears to be returning with such a force, in many ways, to its very origins, regaining a new vitality and forward momentum. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. – Dr. Martin Luther King, a Letter from Birmingham Jail

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sharon knightOn Jan. 23, musicians Sharon Knight and Winter will be awarded the Lost Chord Award by the Society for Ritual Arts (SRA) in Berkeley, California. They are being honored for production of The Portals Project. As explained on the website, “Our honorees combine a love of antiquity and romance with an affinity for the haunting and melancholy, adding a hearty dash of feistiness, and reminding us that we can all see the world through the eyes of enchantment.”

Organizers go on to say, “The Lost Chord Award is given annually […] to a musician or musical group for work that embodies the mission of the Society – to inspire a spiritual sense of wonder, awe or connectedness.” Knight and Winter will be the organization’s first honorees.

The ceremony will be held at the Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, California. It will begin with a meet-and-greet at 6pm, which will be followed by performances by harpist Diana Rowan, fiddle player Michael Mullen, indie band Imager, singer Margaret Davis, and Hungarian shaman Ivan Szendro. The convocation will be given by Chief Luisah Teish and keynote by author Diana Paxson.

Tickets are available on the event site, and all proceeds got to Knight and Winter’s Portals project and to the SRA. For those not in the area, SRA also plans on streaming the event.

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2000px-Pentacle_on_white.svgIn October 2015, Elder High Priestess and founder of the Gaia Group Crystal Tier died, after a long life of dedication to spiritual exploration and leadership in the New Jersey Pagan community. Crystal was born into a New Jersey musical family as Christine Gittler. She loved animals and reading and, due to a transient lifestyle, was often the caretaker of her younger siblings.

In her teens, Christine began her spiritual journeying, moving to Italy to join a rigorous Benedictine order of Catholic nuns called the Disciples of the Divine Master. When the order didn’t appeal to her, she returned to the U.S. to study with another group called the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Although she didn’t take her final vows, she was able to teach in schools across the country.

However, by the 1970s, Christine’s spiritual life took a turn. She began studying with Raymond Buckland’s group on Long Island and, while there, she met her life partner Roger Tier. Together, the two eventually founded their own magical tradition called The Gaia Group, and grew to become vocal environmental and political activists, which led to the creation of The World Peace Network. Christine and Roger continued this public work over the following two decades.

In her later years, Christina suffered from Multiple Sclerosis and spent much of her time studying yoga, knitting and writing letters. Her husband Roger died suddenly on Samhain 2011, and her own disease only worsened, leaving her crippled with pain. On Oct. 9, 2015, Christine died peacefully in a New Jersey nursing home. High Priestess and friend Francesca Ciancimino Howell said, “Crystal was an enlightened, truly awake soul. We of The Gaia Group and The Temple of Gaia were privileged to have known her as Initiator.” What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Immanion Press has released the long-awaited book: The Pagan Leadership Anthology: An Exploration of Leadership and Community in Paganism and Polytheism. Within its 340 pages, this new anthology, edited by Taylor Ellwood and Shauna Aura Knight, includes 30 essays by 30 different authors, who share “their failures and successes as leaders as well as [show] you how you can become a better Pagan leader.” The book is available directly through the Immanion Press website.
  • In February, Starhawk will be in New York City to facilitate a workshop and ritual with BrightFlameThe event, called Stories for the Future, will “explore our ancestral and personal stories,” culminating “in a powerful ritual of collective myth creation.” Organizers explain, “Stories shape our imagination and our ideas of the possible. How can we use the power of story to help us envision a positive future, and inspire people to want to work towards it? Stir in a little magic–the art of shaping and shifting consciousness, of connecting with the deep creative energies of nature, bending time and opening awareness.” Starhawk will also be available to sign copies of her new book. Stories for the Future will take place on Saturday, February 20th in the Westbeth Community Center.  Tickets are on sale now.
  • Green Egg Magazine has announced that it is currently seeking submissions of “original works, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, politics, art, photography, and music,” for the 2016 Spring issue. Editors are also asking any authors who would like their books reviewed to contact them via email. The announcement reads, “We’re looking for writers with knowledge and experience in any issue that is of interest to Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, etc.”  Green Egg Magazine was founded by Oberon Zell in 1969.
  • Two conferences are quickly approaching. In Claremont, California, the Conference of Current Pagan Studies will open its doors on Jan. 23. “This academic conference welcomes the community to be part” of the effort to demonstrate that Pagan Studies is “a legitimate field of study.” Then, on the following weekend on Jan 29, EarthSpirit’s Feast of Lights will welcome its guests to Amherst, Massachusetts. “A Feast of Lights is weekend of warmth at the coldest time of the year – a festival of Earth spirituality and the arts, of community and hope, of tradition and creativity.”
  • For our readers in Australia, the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance is preparing for its upcoming annual Harvest Festival. The event includes “Workshops, Bread Making, Craft Activities, Bardic Circle, Communal Harvest Altar, Ritual, Feasting, Dancing and Trade Table/Market Stalls.” This year’s theme “Celebrating the sweetness of the Wild Harvest.” Harvest Festival 2016 will be held Jan 29 – 31 in Forth, Tasmania.
  • And, lastly, we say goodbye to British actor Alan Rickman. What is remembered, lives.
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SALEM, Mass — On Jan. 11, it was announced that researchers with the Gallows Hill Project had definitively identified where the 19 victims of the Salem Witch trials had been killed. Up until this point, the hanging site was ignored, forgotten or left to speculation. Many believed that the hangings actually occurred at the top of Gallows Hill. However, with renewed effort and current technology, the actual location is no longer a mystery.

salem

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

“We are happy to be able to bring years of debate to an end. Our analysis draws upon multiple lines of research to confirm the location of the executions,” said Dr. Emerson Baker, professor of History at Salem State University, and one of the Gallows Hill Project team members. Dr. Baker has been studying 17th century New England for almost 40 years and Salem’s story for over 20. In an email interview, he told The Wild Hunt, “I find it is an incredibly important story that is often told wrong.”

Dr. Baker further explained that, in 1936, the city of Salem purchased a strip of land near the base of Gallows Hill. It was labeled “Witch Memorial Land,” but was never marked or utilized in any way. As it turns out, this small area is where the hangings actually occurred.

The space is called Proctor’s Ledge and is located behind a Walgreens, bound by Boston Street and Proctor Street. Today that city-owned property still remains unmarked and appears only as a typical unused lot nestled in an urban jungle. The greenery is overgrown, and the ground is littered with scrap iron and trash. Dr. Baker believes that “it needs to be cleaned up and treated with respect and dignity.”

That is exactly what the city now plans to do. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll responded to Monday’s announcement by saying:

Now that the location of this historic injustice has been clearly proven, the city will work to respectfully and tastefully memorialize the site in a manner that is sensitive to its location today in a largely residential neighborhood. Salem is constantly looking to the lessons of its past. Whether it was through the formation of our No Place for Hate Committee and our landmark non-discrimination ordinance, or through the good work of the Salem Award Foundation, the lessons we learn from our history directly inform the values and actions we take as a community today. Salem, long known for a dark time in our past when people turned on each other, is now a community where people turn toward each other. Having this site identified marks an important opportunity for Salem, as a city, to come together and recognize the injustice and tragedy perpetrated against 19 innocent people.

How did this group identify the exact area? Dr. Baker details the methods in his own essay on the topic. To summarize, in 2010, Elizabeth Peterson, Director of Salem’s Corwin House, or the Witch House, brought together a team of researchers to look into the matter. That team included Dr. Baker as well as Shelby Hypes, Chair, Salem Award Foundation; Tom Phillips, producer of Salem Witch Trials: Examine the EvidenceBenjamin Ray, professor of Religion, University of Virginia; Marilynne Roach, Salem witch trials historian and author; and Peter Sablock, professor of Geology, Salem State University.

Over the next six years, the group gathered a combination of data, including the 1936 research done by historian Sydney Perley, eyewitness accounts and testimonies and output from current geological studies, to pinpoint the exact location. Based on their analysis, it became very clear that the location could not be the top of Gallows Hill. The location had to be Proctor’s Ledge.

Gallows Hill Park [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

Gallows Hill Park [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

Aside from documentation and geological findings, the team also explained, “Executions were meant to be public events, so everyone could witness the terrible consequences that awaited those who committed witchcraft and other serious crimes. The top of Gallows Hill would be much more difficult to access than Proctor’s Ledge, which is high ground located just outside the walls of Salem, close by the only road out of town.”

Modern day Witch Sandra Wright is a Salem native and was not surprised when she heard the news. She told The Wild Hunt, “This is knowledge I’ve had for years, based on writings discussing clues like the location of the North River, as well as maps from the 1800s.” Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. She and her husband currently live on land owned by her family for over 100 years – land that is located on Gallows Hill.

“When my husband was researching our home on Gallows Hill, trying to go back before my family acquired the property almost 100 years ago, insurance maps showed [Proctor Ledge] to be the location,” she explained. “For years, Witches and psychics have asked me how I could stand living there with all the tormented spirits, and I said it never disturbed me. I grew up in it, and never felt any ill will or harmful energy in my beloved park or my woods.”

So why has it taken so long for the city to confirm the spot or for this project to even be undertaken? Dr. Baker said, “Witchcraft has cast a long shadow over Salem.” He explained further that Salem, as a city, was embarrassed by what had occurred. The first book describing the incident was published in 1699 in London, and it mocked the city for the hysteria.

In his own A Storm of Witchcraft, Baker argues that Salem was America’s first tragedy and first “large scale government failure and cover-up.” He further explained how the legacy of what happened was carried across the country as people moved west. “It was a terrible fall from grace that people have never been able to forget,” Dr. Baker said. “Salem has long been a metaphor of persecution, scapegoats and rushing to judgment – well before the Crucible.”

In 1936, when Peley theorized that Proctor Ledge was the hanging location, the city purchased the property, noting its value. But shortly after, the data were quickly lost and the study buried. Dr. Baker explained, “I think it was that collective amnesia at work again. Some people wanted to do the right thing, but others would rather have it forgotten.”

Although Salem was dubbed the “Witch City” as early as 1892, it took decades for the concept to be fully and positively embraced. Baker said, “The Crucible, along with Bewitched and then the 300th anniversary in 1992 all helped popularize it, along with the arrival of Cabot and other Wiccans […] And I think the city first really grappled with it in preparations for 1992, which was when the memorial was built.”

Salem Witch Trial Memorial [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

Salem Witch Trial Memorial [Photo Credit: Willjay / Wikimedia]

This 1992 Salem Witch Trial Memorial is located in a entirely different part of the city and rests next to a cemetery with graves dating back to 1692. Dr. Baker speculates that the space was chosen for its convenience to downtown. In 2013, Covenant of the Goddess members held a ritual in that space to honor the dead. This memorial ritual was a spontaneous event that occurred during the organization’s national meeting, Merry Meet, which was being held at the historic Hawthorne Hotel only blocks away.

Unfortunately Proctor’s Ledge, even when converted into a memorial space, will not be big enough to hold similar rituals or larger memorial events. Describing the space, Dr. Baker said, “The site on Gallows Hill is a postage stamp lot, right in people’s back yards, with no available parking.”

Wright agreed, saying “It is no more than a rock ledge and some trees now behind the Walgreens.” She added, “We will continue to hold our public rituals where it makes sense to hold them. We have no desire to disrupt the neighborhood.” She has held rituals in the public park, the Salem Greens or the 1992 memorial site, all of which are downtown.

“Magick is not limited to line of sight or property lines,” she added. “The current runs beyond the square footage designated by the historians or the city government, and we can tap into it without needing to physically stand on the exact location, which has changed over the centuries. What once stood as an ominous cautionary tale to all whose eyes dared look upon it has since become the unassuming, neglected backdrop to a parking lot. That’s the Magick of Time!”

Going forward, the city is taking the Gallows Hill Project findings and “requesting a Community Preservation Act grant to help fund a project on the location that will clean the heavily wooded parcel up, install a tasteful plaque or marker, and include elements to ensure neighbors’ property and traffic are not negatively impacted by any visitors.”

Dr. Baker described the the overall community response as positive. He said, ” I have personally received overwhelmingly supportive and favorable responses from the community, and from descendants. It is really heartwarming.”

Wright, herself a longtime neighbor of Proctor’s Ledge, said, “I’m happy to see the city recognizing this location for the sake of preserving an accurate account of our history.”

For more information on the project or Salem’s history, the Gallows Hill Team has provided an extensive list of sources on the press release website.

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Jean Genet’s text “The Criminal Child,” previously unavailable in English, was translated and published in December 2015. An anonymous commentary on the text, included as an afterword within the same pamphlet, reads “The Criminal Child” as an intricately coded set of instructions for magical initiation and ordeal.

criminal_child“The Criminal Child” was originally written in 1948 as a speech to be read on a radio show in order to address reforms to France’s youth prisons that had been proposed at the time. It was rejected and never read on the air. When Genet published the censored text the following year, he wrote in his introduction, “I would have liked to make the voice of the criminal audible. Not his plaint; rather his song of glory.” 1

Genet, who had spent two and a half years as a teenager imprisoned in France’s notorious Mettray penal colony (punctuated by a brief but glorious escape), clearly intended to prove himself the exception to Nietzsche’s observations that “the criminal is often enough not equal to his deed: he extenuates and maligns it,” and that “the advocates of a criminal are seldom artists enough to turn the beautiful terribleness of the deed to the advantage of the doer.” 2

Though perhaps expected to be supportive of prison reforms due to his own past experience, Genet instead recalled that he and his fellow delinquents took pride in the harshness of their treatment, and were ashamed to admit to light sentences: “It’s with a sort of shame that the child confesses that they have just acquitted him or that they have condemned him to a light sentence. He wishes for rigor. He demands it.” 3  From my own teenage years, I can corroborate this worldview.

Of course, Genet never claimed that all incarcerated youth share this adversarial attitude. As an adult and a well-respected writer, he (re)visited a youth prison where the director pointed out to him a “scout team he formed to reward the most docile children.” Scathingly, Genet wrote that these were not the “chosen” of whom he spoke:

Looking at those twelve kids, it was clear that none of them was chosen, elected, so as to take on some audacious expedition, even an entirely imaginary one. But I knew that in the interior of the Penitentiary, in spite of the educators, there existed groups, gangs really, where the bond, what made them stick together, was friendship, audacity, ruse, insolence, a taste for laziness, an air about the forehead at once somber and joyful—this taste for adventure against the rules of the Good.5

For this latter category of youth, Genet argued that imprisonment is an ordeal: “Their demand is that the ordeal be terrible—so as, perhaps, to exhaust an impatient need for heroism.” 6 The youth prison is imagined to be a “corner of the world from which you don’t come back.” 7 And this premonition conceals an underlying, occult truth: “In fact, you didn’t come back. When you came back, you were someone else. You had come across a blazing fire.” 8

His Unique Magical System

“Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’ ” the exegetical essay published alongside Genet’s text, treats Genet as a sorcerer: “Here Genet details some of the workings of his own internal cosmology, the rites and methods of his unique magical system.” 9

Genet’s system of “criminal rites” offers initiation “not into an order, but into an adventure;” nonetheless, like any initiatory system, it is “ineffable to the uninitiated, but shared between himself and other youthful offenders.” 10

The author(s) of “Notes” fill five pages with their distillation of Genet’s occultism. I cannot quote them in their entirety here, so I must pour these words through yet another alembic:

The youth prison is Genet’s fountain of memory, but each of us has our own clandestine world into which we were initiated as youth. It was there in those spaces that we learned magic as a force of liberation, self-creation, and world-building. Though our childhoods are gone, we can access that space again in remembrance and invocation.11

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

This space is what Genet called “the nocturnal part of man, which you cannot explore, which you cannot enter unless you are armed, unless you are coated, embalmed, unless you are covered with all the ornaments of language.” 12 Genet’s “ritual work prepares the initiate to enter this nocturnal space.” 13

Drawing heavily upon Genet’s novel Miracle of the Rose, “Notes” observes that this “nocturnal heaven” is populated “with spirits, demons, deities, ancestors, and figures from his past with blue eagles carved across their chests, youths who stand ‘the way Mercury is depicted.‘” 14 You know the look.

And how does one arm oneself to enter this “nocturnal heaven?” The same prison director who introduced Genet to the “scout team” of “the most docile children” also showed him a collection of improvised knives, but patronizingly confided in Genet that he didn’t really believe in the need to confiscate the knives: they were made of tin, and therefore harmless.

In his mind, Genet could only laugh at the jailer’s obliviousness—confiscating the knives was indeed pointless, but they were far from harmless, and would only be replaced by more dangerous weapons:

Did he not know that, the more it deviates from its practical destination, the more the object is transformed, becoming a symbol? […] What is the point of taking it from him? The child will choose another object to signify murder, something apparently more benign, and if someone doesn’t take that as well, he’ll keep in himself, preciously, the more precise image of the weapon.15

Armed with symbols, the initiate must “pay attention to signs and signs and sigils carved and painted onto walls—M.A.V. (Mort aux vaches), B.A.A.D.M. (Bonjour aux amis du malheur)—and read these as you’d read inscriptions on the walls of an ancient temple.” 16 “Notes” instructs the initiate to build a temple within as well: “Build your inner temple here and consecrate it to ‘amorous passion.’ In this temple you can now face your ordeal.”17

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

“Notes” recalls the eponymous flowers of Miracle of the Rose—in which Harcamone, convicted of murdering a prison guard, transformed “his chains into a garland of roses, one of which Genet clipped and concealed”—and further explicates the term “ordeal” by quoting Raven Kaldera:

Take the rose into your hands, and squeeze the thorns until your hands bleed, even as you smell the scent of Aphrodite. When you can understand why there is no contradiction there, the first step of the path will be open to you.18

To Insult the Insulters

If mysteries can only be understood through experience, why write of them at all? Sannion, of the Starry Bull tradition of Bacchic Orphism, writes that “There are two ways to keep a religious secret concealed: the first is to never talk about it at all and the second is to talk about it all the time.” Like the Starry Bull tradition, Genet opted for the latter approach.

Genet’s primary objective, of course, was to speak directly to the initiated:

This whole time I haven’t been speaking to the educators, but to the guilty […] I ask them to never be embarrassed by what they do, to keep intact inside themselves the revolt that has made them so beautiful. There are no remedies, I hope, for heroism.” 19

Once his speech was censored from the radio, he despaired of reaching his target audience, but decided to publish anyway: “I speak in the void and in the darkness; but even if it were just for myself, I would still want to insult the insulters.” 20 

For the uninitiated, Genet’s counsel is as harsh as it sounds: “Refuse all pity to the kids who don’t want any.” 21 He is explicitly and unapologetically hostile to mainstream society: “Let a poet, who is also an enemy, speak to you as a poet, and as an enemy.” 22 Even Edmund White, Genet’s biographer, found his “poetry” in “The Criminal Child” difficult to translate: “since for Genet crime itself is beautiful, he supports the cruelty of the unreformed prison system because it turns youngsters into hardened criminals.” 23 But that’s not quite right:

“Supports”White’s word—doesn’t quite fit here. Genet is explicitly in his enmity toward this society, its prisons surely included. He sees the prison as an obstacle to be overcome in a path of criminal becoming, a path of individuation.

This is the folly of trying to read him as “the political Genet.” To say that Genet supports (or doesn’t) any given state policy enmeshes his words in a political mode unbefitting the text at hand. Genet neither supports the prison nor desires to reform it. He seeks to escape it […] 24

Flammarion

[Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

Blinded by Their Brilliance

In Miracle of the Rose, Genet compared religion to prison, but his comparison was based upon the possibility that the bounded space of the finite (as opposed to the infinite) can lead to a “minute” exploration of the heart:

Abhorring the infinite, religions imprison us in a universe as limited as the universe of prison–but as unlimited, for our hope in it lights up perspectives just as sudden, reveals gardens just as fresh, characters just as monstrous, deserts, fountains; and our more ardent love, drawing greater richness from the heart, projects them on the thick walls; and this heart is sometimes explored so minutely that a secret chamber is breached an allows a ray to slip through, to alight on the door of a cell and to show God.25

Similarly, Genet wrote that prisoners “sentenced to death for life” (i.e. those serving life imprisonment) become hardened and brilliant in their captivity:

Living in so restricted a universe, they thus had the boldness to live in it as passionately as they lived in your world of freedom, and as a result of being contained in a narrower frame their lives became so intense, so hard, that anyone–journalists, wardens, inspectors–who so much as glanced at them was blinded by their brilliance.26

One recalls, of course, that Zeus’s name is etymologically derived from Proto-Indo-European *dewos, meaning “god,” is cognate with Latin deus and Sanskrit deva, and ultimately comes from the root *dyeu- meaning “to gleam, to shine.” The “deities” are “the shining ones.” And so the “shining ones” among the living are touched by gods as well.

Indeed, Genet canonized the prisoners he wrote of as saints:

The audacity to live (and to live with all one’s might) within that world whose only outlet is death has the beauty of the great maledictions, for it is worthy of what was done in the course of all the ages by the Mankind that had been expelled from Heaven. And this, in effect, is saintliness, which is to live according to Heaven, in spite of God.27

Genet hated Sartre’s biography of him (Saint Genet) and said of it, “In all my books I strip myself, but at the same time I disguise myself with words, choices, attitudes, magic. Sartre stripped me without mercy. He wrote about me in the present tense.” The “words, choices, attitudes, magic” that Genet spoke of are surely the same “ornaments of language” required to explore the “nocturnal part of man.” Sartre stripped Genet of his magic, perhaps because he was afraid of being blinded by it. We honor him for it.

The Ekklesía Antínoou honors Jean Genet as a Sanctus, especially on his birthday (December 19) and the date of his death (April 15). Similarly, Brennos Agrocunos has declared David Bowie to be “Saint Bowie, Patron Saint of Enchanted Misfits.” And at the shrine of Jesús Malverde (the unofficial “Santo de los Narcos”) in Culiacán, Sinaloa, women who have never met Joaquín Guzmán Loera (A.K.A. El Chapo, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and two-time prison escapee) pray fervently on his behalf: “I ask God to take care of him wherever he is, to take care of his sons, his wife.”

In “The Criminal Child,” Genet expressed the ethic of veneration in simple but elegant terms:

I don’t know of any other criterion for the beauty of an act, an object, or an entity, than the song it arouses in me, which I translate into words so as to communicate it to you: this is lyricism. If my song is lovely, if it has upset you, will you dare say that he who inspired it is vile?

You can say that there have always been words charged with expressing the haughtiest attitudes, and that I would have recourse to them so that the least appears haughty. But I can respond that my emotion calls for precisely these words and that they come naturally to serve it.28

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Genet also castigated mainstream French society for its hypocrisy: “Your literature, your fine arts, your after-dinner entertainment all celebrate crime. The talent of your poets has glorified the criminal who, in life, you hate. So deal with the fact that, for our part, we despise your poets and your artists.” 29

TV shows and films portray outlaws as protagonists, but “those who were their more or less exact models suffered for real. […] You know nothing of heroism in its true nature, in the flesh, how it suffers in the same everyday way that you do. True greatness brushes past you. You ignore it, and prefer a fake.”30

Endnotes

  1. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” v.
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, Aphorisms 109 and 110.
  3. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 3.
  4. Ibid., 11.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 37.
  10. Ibid., 37-39.
  11. Ibid., 41-42.
  12. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 12.
  13. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 46.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 10-11.
  16. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 40. “Mort aux vaches” is translated as “death to cops,” “Bonjour aux amis de malheur” as “Greetings to friends of misfortune.”
  17. Ibid., 42.
  18. Raven Kaldera, qtd. in “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 43-44.
  19. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 14-15.
  20. Ibid., 25.
  21. Ibid., 16.
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 45.
  24. Ibid. Emphasis added.
  25. Jean Genet, Miracle of the Rose, 43.
  26. Ibid., 42-43.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 13.
  29. Ibid., 20.
  30. Ibid., 21-22.
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[Pixabay.com]

For many people January symbolizes the start of one of the busiest times of the year. It is the start of the New Year, post holiday detox time, and a time for goal setting and planning. It is also during this month that PantheaCon preparation kicks into high gear for many people, and the count down to the mid-February convention begins. PantheaCon, a Pan-Pagan convention, consistently draws between 2,000 and 3,000 participants a year to San Jose, California for four days of non-stop magic, music, shopping and fun.

It is at this time we see fundraising requests for hospitality suites, Facebook invites for workshops, and an increasing number of updates from the PantheaCon staff as the date gets closer. PantheaCon continues to be one of the largest and biggest Pagan conventions to date, and one of the few events that pulls people from all over the United States.

I have personally come to acknowledge this time as a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, one that has become a part of my regular routine every year. There is a sense of nostalgia in the spiral circles on the hotel carpet, the tingling of magic in the air, and the anticipation of friends old and new, all of which bring me back every year with a sense of anticipation and wonder. I imagine that these are many of the same things that bring others from across the country to the little old Doubletree Hotel in San Jose.

The 30 day countdown for PantheaCon has already begun – four days with 223 presenter slots and lot of talk about change makers in our community. What is different this year? Who is coming? What workshops to go to? How much is parking? What food are you taking to save costs? Did you get a room in the Doubletree? What time does your flight get in? Wanna have a drink? What kind of wares will there be in the vending room? How much money do I need? What hospitality suites are coming back this year? How will I decide what to go to?

These are all common questions heard during the PantheaCon countdown; all questions that will continue to float around social media until the day that the doors open.

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

What exactly continues to draw people to this convention every year varies from person to person, but it is clear that everyone is looking for some particular experience that they hope to find in the halls of the con. For some people it is the perfect place for networking, while for others it is a place of magical experience. Authors, artists and musicians come to share their work, and healers come to heal. Priestesses and priests come to present rituals, and plenty of others come to simply find community.

This year PantheaCon promises some new presenters, a new theme, and new opportunities to network and have fun. I reached out into the community to ask what is everyone is looking forward to this year.

This year, I’m looking forward to getting to know people. Most cons I fly under the radar, but this year I am presenting on a tough topic (divorce) and I’ve just published two more books so I’m going to be putting myself out there to meet people. I have social anxiety, so that’s not easy for me, but I am going to make myself do it! Also, it helps that there is usually absinthe. Last year I mostly went for the absinthe.  – Diana Rajchel

Pantheacon is always a high point in my year with its four days dedicated to ritual, pageantry, and revelry. This year I am thrilled to be included in the cast of Golden Gate Kindred’s Lokasenna ritual drama on Sunday night. But more than the programs or frippery (much as I love donning my corsets), Pantheacon has become much more about the connections and conversations I explore there. In the past several years, conversations at Pcon have paved the way for social justice work, deepening my practice, and important personal relationships. I am certain this year will yield the same. – Nathania Apple

 I am looking forward to seeing old friends and finally meeting face to face with folks I have only known online like Crystal Blanton. – Katrina Messenger

I was so disappointed when I had to cancel at the last minute last year so I’m especially excited to be back.  I’m looking forward to meeting new people, talking about my books, and finally getting around to presenting that workshop.  I’m also looking forward to checking in with all the folks who sent energy to me in the last year and saying THANK YOU! – Lisa Spiral

I look forward to attending many of the panels and big rituals. I choose panels on topics I know little about, to gain more knowledge of how others interact with the divine. And the big rituals I go to mainly because they seem fun. It’s also a time where I feel I am among similarly minded folks. – Akasha

pantheacon

Every year About this time I start getting ready for PantheaCon. I eagerly look forward seeing friends from far away that I don’t get to see often and just feel the energy of place that exists when we are all gathered together. That energy, that spirit has been one of the touchstones of my year for quite awhile now.

There are presenters, teachers really, that come every year I look forward to of course, but this year there are new people I’m excited about – Tommie StarChild, Lora O’Brien, Lasara Firefox Allen, Byron Ballard.  I’m also looking forward to how the conversations on social justice continue.  There has been great work at the conference over the last few years, not always comfortable, but extremely important.

I go through the program book in the weeks leading up to PCon, work out how which events I’m going to, there is so much on the schedule and in the suites there is always way more I want to do than is physically possible. The first couple of years I went I tried to do all the things.  Now I usually have one or two must-be-there’s and the rest of the convention I ride the wave of that energy we have all raised by our presence and let spirit guide me.  

This year the must-be-there for me is the Ole Time Good Spell Feri Pagan Tent Revival.  In keeping with the conference theme of “Change”, it’s title is “Changes – Turn and Face the Strange”.  I’m not going to miss this one.  I may cry, but I’m not going to miss it. – Jo Lynx

PantheaCon is a time of community, connection and service for the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood. We’re fortunate to be hosting the Temple of the Morrigan and the Blood Heroes blood drive for the third year in a row. We’ve received such an outpouring from attendees for these endeavors. We’re really looking forward to providing hospitality and a place for religious devotion to attendees again this year. This type of community service is both a joy and a sacred duty for us. – Rynn Fox, Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood

These last days leading to the conference mean a lot of preparation, solidifying travel plans, creative food shopping, and lots of wardrobe practicing. One of the largest draws of this event is the ability to experience a lot of things in one place, meet different types of people, and have fun among other Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists.

[Photo Credit: Michael / Wikimedia]

San Jose, California [Photo Credit: Michael / Wikimedia]

Personally, I am really excited for the new presenters this year and learning some new chants. Most of all, I always look forward to spending time with friends that I don’t get to see often and meeting new people in person that I have only known online.

In the preparation for PantheaCon there are many things to consider. My personal list of tips for anyone who will be coming for the first time would include:

  • Bring multiple outfits, some comfortable and some fancy, so that you can change when needed.
  • Bring snacks and some easy meals to eat in order to reduce costs and save you from having every meal in the restaurant.
  • Bring what you need to help you sleep. The energy in the building makes it difficult.
  • Pace yourself; things will get hectic.
  • Schedule time to socialize and shop.
  • Shop during workshops. It is gets busy during lunch, dinner or breaks.
  • Don’t forget to eat. Make sure to have a plan.
  • Spend time going over the program online, and picking out what you are interested in by using the online tool.
  • Be flexible; things change easily.
  • Don’t forget the hospitality suites; they are pretty awesome.
  • Bring your own coffee. The coffee in the room is not that great, and the Starbucks line gets very long in the morning.
  • Make sure to have some cash on you for vendors.

The countdown to PantheaCon can be hectic, but the reward is always a good time. Hope to see you there.

PantheaCon
February 11th – 15th, 2016
Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California
Theme: Change Makers

  *   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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MOUNT FOREST, Ont. – In November 2015, when Jean Swanson’s well ran dry, it did not seem too unusual. The hand-dug well on her older, rural property near Mount Forest, in Wellington County Ontario, was shallow, and it was not the first time in 17 years that she and her husband Barry had experienced decreased water levels. However, their concern came when, despite a very wet and rainy autumn, the well failed to replenish itself.

Mount Forest, Ontario. Courtesy Photo

Mount Forest, Ontario [Courtesy Photo]

Swanson and her family immigrated to Canada from North Yorkshire, England in the 1950s. From a very early age she was fascinated with all things related to Witchcraft. Information on the subject was hard to find, so she searched her local libraries, hunting for anything she could find to read about the Craft.

Then, on one fateful day in October at her new home in Toronto, Swanson, then 21 years old, saw a Witch on television. It was nearly Samhain, and Pierre Berton, an iconic Canadian broadcaster, was interviewing a real life Witch. Try as he might to provoke and insult his subject, the woman remained calm, polite and dignified. Swanson had finally found a lead. There were real Witches in Toronto, and she was determined to contact them.

Swanson wrote to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, begging to be put in touch with the Witch she had seen on TV. Eventually, someone in the mail room felt sorry for her, and disclosed the address of the Witch. Swanson traveled across town, to the Beaches neighbourhood and knocked on the door. Standing in the doorway was the woman who would be her first High Priestess and mentor for many years.

Now in her 70s, Swanson and her husband Barry both suffer from serious medical conditions. When their well failed, a drilling company was called, and the initial quote to re-drill the well was $6000. But when the drilling went down to an unprecedented 196 feet, the cost of the well skyrocketed to $12,000.

In addition, they were informed that the well would also require a filtration system to deal with the silt, iron and other contaminants in the water. A salesman came to their door a few days later, offering to have such a system installed for them within a day. But the price tag for this was another $7000. Barry Swanson has since discovered that he can get a comparable system at a local hardware store for a greatly reduced price.

When Durham Well Drilling came to re-drill the Swanson’s well, representatives reportedly informed them, that in the last 30 years, they have not had to re-drill so many old wells as they have had to since Nestlé, the water bottling giant, has moved in and started extracting mass quantities of water from the local aquifer.

Photo by Dreamstime

[Photo Credit: Dreamstime]

At present, Nestlé has government permission to extract water from two wells in Wellington County. One is located at Hillsburgh where they have a permit to take up to 1.1 million litres of water per day. The second well is located at their bottling plant in the community of Aberfoyle, 50 kilometers away from Hillsburgh. Here they have a permit to take up to 3.7 million litres of water per day.

Nestlé also has an offer to purchase a third well in Middlebrook, near the town of Elora. If this permit is granted, and the sale proceeds, it will be allowed to extract up to another 1.6 million litres of water per day. The price that Nestlé has negotiated with the province is $3.71 per one million litres. The total cost for 6.4 million litres of water would be $23.74. By comparison, the residents Elora pay $2,140 per million litres. On top of this, all of the water is moved to Aberfoyle by tanker truck, where it is bottled. If the water, for example, gets packaged into single serve containers, this would equal 12.8 million plastic bottles per day.

All of these locations are within a 45 minutes drive from the home of Jean and Barry Swanson, who are now responsible for the $12,000 bill to re-dig their own well, plus the cost of a new filtration system they did not previously need.

Swanson’s coven and friends have joined forces, and have started a GoFundMe page. They have also created a raffle to raise money for the cost of re-drilling the well.

Liz Souster, a coven member and proprietor of local shop The Raven’s Rune, said:

Both Jean and Barry have spent their lives helping others, mentoring and teaching, volunteering at the Humane Society, and despite her illness Jean still volunteers to drive for the local community services. Helping them was an easy decision, our only worry was how do we reach enough people…many of our elders have spent their entire adult lives not just teaching us the Craft but mentoring our lives in general. I know I’m a better person for having known Barry and Jean. There are lots of others in the same situation and until this problem becomes news, people in rural Canada will continue to face financial ruin while the big water companies get huge tax breaks and incentives.

In a recent phone conversation with The Wild Hunt, Jean Swanson agreed that rural people are the most affected. She said:

Its amazing, I’m gobsmacked sometimes, there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding. Rural people are more aware of this problem than town people, we aren’t on the civic water supply, we depend on these wells

Pagans in the area have responded to this alleged threat to their water supply in the past. In November 2015, high profile author and teacher, Brendan Myers, pledged to donate the profits from his November book sales to Save Our Water, a community activist group from his hometown of Elora.  His campaign was successful and resulted in some of his best social media coverage to date.

The efforts being made by the Swanson’s friends and coven is an effort to not only help Elders in need, but to raise awareness about the sacredness of our water supply. Natalie Davis Jones, one of the GoFundMe campaign organizers, said:

By starting a GoFundMe campaign, we’re able to leverage the greater Pagan community through social media, and bring attention to the plight of this couple, and highlight how important clean water is for everyone. It’s also a great parallel to the fact that clean water isn’t a legally protected human right in Canada, and companies such as Nestlé would like to see it made a commodity – which would have disastrous results globally.

There are so many causes we can all support, and this one is special to me not only because I know the couple in question, but because it centers on something many of us take for granted in clean water, and supports two of our pagan elders.These are the wise ones that we hope to become. There is a wealth of knowledge that they possess, and we are blessed if we have the opportunity to learn from them, and carry on the traditions that would otherwise be lost.

The controversy surrounding the water supply in Wellington County is ongoing. Nestlé Waters is heavily invested in the region, with two wells operating and a third in the works. They are the largest commercial taxpayer in the county, contributing $1.2 million dollars in taxes last year. They are also a major employer and help to support many local charities. Despite this, community members are still rallying to halt Nestlé, and block them from furthering their water extraction operations, in the name of saving a natural resource for future generations.

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MADISON, Wis. — Hundreds of people flocked to the capital of Wisconsin yesterday, braving sub-zero windchill temperatures to express their displeasure with a bill that would put Native American burial mounds — and any natural burial, they say — at risk of desecration. The protesters, estimated to be in the hundreds, included members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Circle Sanctuary. In the end, they received welcome news when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that the bill won’t be coming to a vote this session.

Procession around the state capital [Selena Fox]

Procession around the state capital [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

The protesters were flanked by an honor guard of Native American military veterans. They listened to speakers in the frigid temperatures for an hour before processing around. Then they entered the capital rotunda where their words could be more easily heard by state legislators.

Robert Birmingham, a former Wisconsin state archaeologist and expert on the mounds which dot the Wisconsin landscape, explained how changes to the law could imperil the structures, which are formed in the shape of people and animals. “The current law presumes that the mounds are burial mounds based on a great deal of scholarship,” he said. From the mounds that were excavated “long ago,” Birmingham said that 90% yielded human remains. “The law does not prohibit disturbance” under certain circumstances such as building a highway, but “there is a process.”

That process apparently doesn’t sit well with the executives of Wingra Stone, whose sand and gravel mining operations are impeded by the presence of one such mound. Their efforts to obtain permission to dig through it have been stymied in court. That is why the company has backed legislation that would require the Wisconsin Historical Society to issue permits so that property owners could, at their own expense, dig into a mound to determine if there are actually human remains inside.

According to reporting by WRN:

The bill (AB-620), from state Representative Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) would allow property owners to challenge whether human remains are actually buried in a given mound. Brooks and the bill’s Senate author, Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), have cited property owners’ rights to use their land as they see fit, and overly restrictive oversight of mounds by the Wisconsin Historical Society, as motivation for the legislation.

“In my professional opinion,” Birmingham said, the idea that the mounds might not contain remains “is not a reasonable argument. It would be like arguing that there aren’t any graves in a cemetery.” Some 80% of the mounds, which were constructed by people believed to be ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation, have been plowed under or bulldozed to make way for modern land uses.

Protesters inside the rotunda [Selena Fox]

Protesters inside the rotunda [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Rev. Selena Fox was among the representatives from Circle Sanctuary participating in the protest. “Most public attention is on the fact that this directly threatened native burial mounds and other sacred sites, but it also impacts other natural burials, such as old pioneer burials before embalming and steel caskets. Basically it’s saying you must desecrate a grave to see if remains are there.” Circle Sanctuary maintains a Pagan cemetery which promotes natural burials, and could theoretically be susceptible to the same challenges under the bill.

Before Assembly Speaker Vos announced his intentions concerning the bill, some protesters saw a bald eagle flying high overhead, and took it as a fortuitous sign.  Fox recounted how they moved into the rotunda, drumming and chanting, “Save our mounds.” She noted that the speaker released his statement either during that portion of the protest, or immediately thereafter. “I’m not taking credit for it in the least,” she said. “The statement is being hailed with great appreciation.”

“I think it requires an awful lot more study, an awful lot more conversation,” Vos told reporters.

Fox and others are warning that the fight over this bill is not yet done. The fact that it made it so far into the legislative process without being noticed was troubling to her, and she expects that it will be raised again in a future legislative session. At least as long as Governor Scott Walker is in office, she expects that the idea will continue to be floated in one form or another. She spoke extensively about the issue in her Jan. 12 podcast, which was recorded shortly after she returned from the rally.

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Washington D.C. — After his boyfriend of three years was killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Ryan Reyes found himself in the position of speaking out against religious intolerance. During the painful days following the violence, Reyes was comforted by members of the local Muslim community and found inspiration in their compassion. Just over one month later, on Jan. 12, Reyes will be taking his message to the nation as a presidential guest at the annual State of the Union address.

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L. Daniel Kaufman [Photo Credit E. Towne]

On Dec. 2, 2015, two people entered a conference room at the Inland Regional Center (IRC) and open fired, killing 14 and wounding 12. Reyes’ boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman, was one of the 14 victims. He was employed as trainer for the disabled and a barista at the Coffee N More cafe located in the IRC. He was in the cafe when the shooting took place and, as the story goes, he was responsible for saving at least four lives during that attack.

“[Daniel] was one of those rare individuals that when your spirit was low, a hug from him was like a double shot of espresso. He was life itself and we’ll both miss him,” remembered close friend Jack Prewett.

Since that day, Reyes has been interviewed many times by the media, even making a guest appearance on The Dr. Phil Show, which he described as a “a good and productive experience for my goals.” In fact, it was due to that appearance that Reyes was unable to grant The Wild Hunt an interview in early December. However, we caught up with him yesterday, just after he arrived in Washington D.C.

“My emotional process has been a complete roller coaster since day one,” Reyes said. “[But] I have experienced this kind of pain before (different means, but the pain is the same), so I have been able to predict when it is going to be rough for me and I will take the appropriate measures. This is why it has been rare that anyone has caught me in a breakdown. I am able to keep a cool, level head when I need to.”

Reyes is openly Pagan and identifies as “non-denominational” rather than specifically Wiccan like Daniel. His said that his spiritual beliefs have greatly helped him through the initial mourning process as well as keeping him focused on new goals. He explained, “A lesson I learned in life is that no one promised life would be easy, just eventful. So that helps keep me grounded when I am dealing with difficult things. Like most Pagans, I am a humanitarian, so that guides my current work.”

Reyes is originally from Rialto, California, and met Daniel online over three years ago. When the shooting happened, he was at home. Reyes said, “I was […] getting ready for a doctor’s appointment when my sister texted me to tell me about the shooting. The first thought that crossed my mind was ‘I need to call Daniel.’ ” He had last seen his boyfriend that morning when dropping him off at the IRC.

Due to the initial conflicting reports, it was unclear whether Daniel had died or was only wounded. However, by the end of the day, Reyes learned the truth. Daniel had been killed. But, at the same, he learned that Daniel was also credited as being a hero. Reyes said, “Daniel was a very compassionate and loving person that would go to great lengths to help anyone he could.”

Over the next week, Reyes friends and family came out to support him, including members of the local Pagan community and Renaissance Pleasure Faire. During a memorial vigil held Dec. 5, four leaders of the local Muslim community were in attendance; they approached Reyes with condolences.

In an interview with the Los Angles Times, Reyes said, “They risked their own personal safety to come and pay their respects. It really meant a lot to me.”

At the December vigil, Ryan Reyes [center] speaks with several local Muslim men, who were in attendance to pay their respects to his boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman.

Reyes was touched by the men’s compassion, and he was immediately driven to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment and religious intolerance. Over the next month, he granted a large number of media interviews and appearances. This reportedly attracted the attention of the President, who has recently been very vocal about gun violence. On Jan. 4, the White House released an executive order specifically aimed at “reducing gun violence.”

A White House official contacted Reyes by phone and asked if he “would come as a VIP guest and sit in the First Lady’s box during the speech.” Reyes said, “Daniel’s story touched the first family as well as my speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiments.”

He will be sitting in the balcony with First Lady Michelle Obama, along with 22 other guests. The full guest list was announced Sunday. Additionally, the seat directly next to Reyes will be left empty as a symbolic gesture, representing Daniel and all others lost to gun violence this year. The White House announcement reads:

We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.

Reyes won’t be speaking, as some news outlets have suggested. He said, “I am not going into it with any expectations. I try not to have expectations in anything so that way I can’t get easily disappointed.”

When asked what Daniel might think about his work and all this attention, Reyes said ” I know [Daniel] would approve of what I am doing. He would not want people suffering or being treated differently just because they share the same religion as extremists/radical groups do.”

Reyes will return to California later in the week. Going forward, he plans to continue sharing Daniel’s story and words of tolerance. However, he doesn’t know exactly how that will manifest next. Reyes said, “The only plans I really have are to keep pressing forward with my message. Depending on what happens and how things go, I may write a book as I have been asked to by several people. I also intend on starting a Foundation/Non-profit in Daniel’s name at some point. I am not fully sure about what kind yet.”

The State of Union address will air tonight at 9 p.m. ET.

Update 3:07 pm: It was just announced that Reyes and his story will be featured on ABC News Nightline, which airs from 12:35 a.m. – 1:05 a.m ET.

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open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project has announced that “the Department of Defense has requested, reviewed and accepted [its] Heathen Resource Guide for Chaplains.” For over seven years, the Open Halls Project, headed by Josh and Cat Heath, has been working diligently to have Asatru and Heathen added to the U.S. Army’s religious preference list.

During that process, as Josh Heath explained, his working group was asked to “produce a document explaining the basics of Heathenry.” Heath said, “We produced a document for him modeled on the Army Chaplain’s Handbook excerpt for Wicca. This basic framework assisted us in developing information that was generally applicable to the largest amount of Heathens possible.”

The new guide will educate Army Chaplains and help them better assist Heathens in military. The guide, and more details on its creation, are fully documented on the Norse Mythology Blog. As for the quest to have the two terms added to the preference list, Heath has reportedly said that the process is moving forward, and that there is now a real push to include both Heathen and Asatru. However, no time line has been made available as to when that will actually happen.

*   *   *

David-Bowie-in-Labyrinth

It was announced this morning that music legend and actor David Bowie had died from cancer at the age of 69. Born in London in 1947, Bowie is said to have shown an interest in music from a very early age, playing the saxophone at 13. His first music hit was “Space Oddity” in 1969, and his acting ability was first really showcased in his album Ziggy Stardust (1972).

Over the years, Bowie continued to draw audiences and attract loyal fans with both is engaging work and eclectic nature. Since 1969 he has recorded 26 albums and has appeared in a 24 films, and countless shorts and TV shows. He is most known for his role as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s cult classic Labyrinth (1986).

Due to a unique performance style that seemed well-suited to science fiction and fantasy, Bowie was often asked about his religious and spiritual beliefs. After the release of his album Heathen (2002), Bowie was interviewed by Beliefnetand said “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me.” Then in 2004, he told Ellen DeGeneres, “I was young, fancy free and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity… pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road.”  And that it has.

The announcement of Bowie’s death was posted publicly to Facebook. It said that he died peacefully surrounded by family on January 10 after 18 month battle with cancer. What is remembered, lives.

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salem

In an update to a story we first reported in August, Wiccan Priest Richard Watson pleaded not guilty to charges of heroin trafficking. The latest arraignment was held on Jan. 5 at the Salem Superior Court.

Watson was arrested on Aug. 7, 2015, during a sting operation which led police to his home. There they found a small amount of heroin. Watson denied the charges and cooperated with police. After news of the arrest broke, Watson’s religious community was very divided in its reactions. Some people offered support and other didn’t. Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, the Wiccan organization in which he was involved, immediately revoked his clergy credentials. High Priestess Lori Bruno said, “I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.”

Watson is currently out on $10,000 bail, which was reportedly posted after his original arraignment in August. He is due back in court, along with the other man arrested in connection with this case, on Feb. 17.

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Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

In an article titled “24 Festivals And Retreats To Revitalize Your Soul In 2016,” The Huffington Post Religion included four popular dedicated Pagan festivals. These include Witchcamp in both Wisconsin and California, Summerland Spirit Festival and Pagan Spirit Gathering. The article begins, “As the new year stretches out before us, it’s the perfect time to start setting intentions. Among them should be a renewed commitment to self-expression and healing — and there’s no better way to do that than in a community of like-minded souls.”

Each of the 24 festivals is featured with a photo and a short descriptive blurb. Speaking about Summerland and PSG, one commenter said, “For me, the beauty of these festivals is the tolerance. No one believes the same thing and that is okay. No one wants to change you. You can be gay, dress outside of your ‘normal’ gender, wear fairy wings or nothing at all and no one will judge you. They will embrace you and your right to free expression.”

Of the other 21 festivals listed, some may be very familiar to Pagans and Heathens, and others not. These include events like Burning Man, Spiritweavers Gathering, Wanderlust, ILLUMINATE film festival, Shakti Fest at Joshua Tree and more. Check out the list before making your spring and summer festival plans this year.

In Other News

  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the programming for the upcoming international conference “The Greening of Religions.” The event, held in conjunction with and at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, attracts “activists, sociologists, bioethicists, anthropologists, seminarians, clergy, planners, philosophers, scholars and students from across the continent and beyond.” This year’s theme is “Hope in the Eye of the Storm,” and the keynote speaker is Bron Taylor, who “brings an interdisciplinary approach which blends religious studies, activism and the application of nature’s lessons to a rapidly-shifting societal landscape.” More information and registration details are on the CHS site. The event will be held in Columbia, S.C. from April 1-3.
  • Prairie Land Pagan Radio has taken some big strides recently. On Jan 4, broadcasters announced that the station will be on air 24/7, which will includes music, interviews and talk. In addition, they are also currently organizing a 2016 Prairie Land Music Festival and Campout in June. This brand new event will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City, IA and already has some well-known, national Pagan musicians scheduled to perform, including Celia and Mama Gina. More information, including pricing, is on the website.
  • The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is now seeking submissions for two new devotional anthologies. One,honoring Hestia, which will be titled First and Last: Devotional for Hestia. The announcement reads, “[Hestia] is the hearth of the Hellenic home, the keeper of the sacred flame of the gods, guardian of hospitality, and keeper of oaths.” A wide variety of submissions are being accepted including essays, rituals, recipes, art and poetry. For the other, which is entitled is entitled Dauntless: A Devotional for Ares and Mars, “The editor is interested in a variety of material, including but not limited to: prayers, rituals, hymns, essays, visual artwork, short stories, plays, recipes, and new translations of ancient and public domain works.”  The deadline for both is June 1. Contact the publisher directly for more information.
  • The Grey Mare on the Hill anthology is now available for purchase. Last February we reported that Grey Mare Books, an independent publishing imprint in the U.K, was looking for writters to help with their project. Titled “The Grey Mare on the Hill,” this project was inspired by the work of the Brython group that “has offered a number of writings on its blog including liturgical material, ritual practices and modern myths.” The resulting anthology, edited by Lee Davies, includes 120 pages of essays, poetry and devotionals from “devotees of the Great Goddess of the Land, the Mare Goddess, the Giver of Sovereignty.” It is available through Lulu.
  • Cró Dreoilín, a Colorado-based Celtic Polytheist organization, will be holding its annual Paths and Traditions Fair this coming weekend. Organizers Kelley Forbes and Chris Redmond describe the event as a an open house “designed exclusively to provide a chance to meet and chat with representatives of various Polytheist and Pagan paths, groups, and traditions, for those who are curious or seeking.” They noted that this year will be the biggest fair yet with over 30 groups already scheduled to attend. Paths and Traditions will be held Jan. 16 at the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado. It is co-hosted by the local CUUPs chapter.
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ITALY – There are many popular mythological figures associated with the winter holiday season. We’ve all heard of Santa Claus, Rudolf, Father Christmas and Jack Frost. This past December Krampus, a figure in Germanic folklore, became a household name through the release of a new horror movie. But there is another figure, who stands out within the canon of European winter holiday lore, and is beloved by those who honor her. She is called La Befana.

“La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!”

traditional song

La Befana, sometimes called “an old woman” and sometimes “the Witch of Christmas,” is part of a long-held Italian holiday tradition. In modern times, she has become an integral figure of the Christian celebration of the Epiphany. In fact, it is believed by some that this religious connection is how the old woman got her name. According to those sources, La Befana is a derivative of the Ancient Greek work for Epiphany, or epiphaneia.

The Epiphany, also called Three Kings Day, is generally celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day that the three wise men, the Magi, visit the baby Jesus in the manager. As the most common story goes, the three men stopped at an old woman’s house on their journey to the manager. She offered them food and rest. Upon leaving the three asked if she wanted to accompany them to meet the baby Jesus, but she refused, saying that she was too busy with household chores. After the men were gone, the old woman changed her mind and set out to find them or to find the baby Jesus. She found neither. But in her searching, she visited every household, leaving sweets for all well-behaved children and coal or onions for the naughty ones.

La Befana’s night is celebrated on Jan. 5, the evening before the Epiphany. It is also called Twelfth Night or Magic Night. Children leave socks out in anticipation of the old woman’s visit, and adults will sometimes leave her wine and broccoli. Before Santa Claus became well-known in Italy, it was La Befana who made the sugarplums dance in children’s dreams.

I love Festa della Befana from Ashley Bartner on Vimeo

Journalist and Wiccan High Priest Davide Marrè said that Santa was not common in his youth, and that it was “young little Jesus” who actually brought the Christmas gifts. Marrè is a native of Arona, Italy and currently lives in Milan. He said that he believed in La Befana for much longer than he ever believed in Santa. “I don’t know why,” he said. ” I was more confident with Befana than Santa.”

Marrè added, laughing, “I still remember that, below the sweets at the end of a sock one year, I found a big onion because – maybe –  I had not been so good! I am still traumatized.”

La Befana’s story comes in many forms, including some suggesting that her own children were murdered or died of disease. In these tales, La Befana actually finds the baby Jesus during her evening ride and gives to him all of her dead children’s belongings. Then, on her journey home, she leaves the sweets or onions and coal for the children.

While La Befana is often called a Witch, this feature of her story is considered quite tenuous. In many cases, she is simply called an “old woman” and depicted as a village crone. Less commonly, she is called a sprite or fairy. La Befana doesn’t always ride a broomstick; sometimes it is a goat or donkey. And she rarely wears a pointed hat; a head-scarf is more common.

However, historically speaking, the cultural lines between this type of solitary crone figure and the typical Witch character have always been crossed and blurred. In the most common modern tellings of the Italian tale, La Befana’s famous midnight ride is done on a broom, which is an iconic element of both the Witch and of the homestead. Over centuries of storytelling, the broom has become one of the common cultural signifiers for both the old woman and the Witch.

The very first mention of La Befana within a modern text is reportedly in a poem written in 1549 by Italian poet Agnolo Firenzuola, who was particularly known for his “burlesque and licentious” work [i]. According several accounts, Firenzuola only calls her “an old, ugly woman.”[ii]  But, at that time, the concept of a Witch as a crone who flies on a broom was already well-established in popular European folklore, as demonstrated by art and literature. The infamous Malleus Maleficarum, originally published in 1486, confirms this fact, stating:

Now the following is their method of being transported. They take the unguent […] and anoint with it a chair or a broomstick; whereupon they are immediately carried up into the air, either by day or by night, and either visibly or, if they wish, invisibly; (Part 2; Section I, Chapter III)

Therefore, it is not a difficult leap to understand how a story of an old woman flying around on a broom looking for a manager could be translated as a “Christmas Witch.”

But folktales are fluid, moving in and out of society and time, through adaptation and cultural nuance. There is no clear picture on the timeline of La Befana’s construction within Italian culture. The evolution of her story is buried within multiple layers of meaning and influenced by diverse regional differences.

In 1823, for example, La Befana is mentioned in a book called Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs: Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicilywritten by Anglican Priest John James Blunt. He calls her “supernatural” and “a sprite.” Blunt also comments on the “burlesque” nature of the “Beffana” traditions. He ascribes these to the “heathen celebrations” associated with the Goddess Strenia, who also brought New Year’s gifts. (p. 119-120)

As suggested by Blunt’s comments, it is widely accepted that La Befana does have pre-Christian influences, even Neolithic. Aside from the already noted Goddess Strenia, La Befana has also been linked specifically to the traditions related to the Italian agricultural cycle. In some regions, her appearance is associated to ancestor worship and divination. In others, Befana is considered to be linked to the magic of Twelfth Night – a holiday highlighted in Shakespeare play of the same name.[iii] In many of these stories, Befana’s arrival marks a seasonal finale of sorts, and she uses her iconic broom to sweep away the old to make space for the new. Anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco explore La Befana’s mythology and traditions in their books A House Without Doors (1996) and The Magic and Mythogy: Toward an Anthropology of La Befana (2006).[iv]

Marrè shared another theory on La Befana’s ancient origins. He said, “Romans thought that, on the Twelfth Night after Natali Sol Invictus, a woman flew over the cultivated fields to give fertility for the future harvest. For some this flying woman was identified with Diaba because of  the link to vegetation; for others she was Satia or Abundia. The Catholic Church forbid rural rituals and this kind of story.”

A statement made in Blunt’s 18th century account corroborates Marrè’s last comment. Speaking about the Goddess Strenia from whom he believes Befana originated. Blunt writes, “Her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotus, and licentious character.”

[Photo Credit: Simone Zucchelli / Flickr ]

[Photo Credit: Simone Zucchelli / Flickr ]

Many modern Pagans are finding a renewed interest in La Befana. Some enjoy her simply for her Witch aspect and others for her relationship to seasonal cycles. Through this latter concept, Marrè and his fellow Wiccans have been incorporating their beloved Befana childhood tradition into their modern Wiccan practice.

Marrè is board president of Circolo dei Trivi, a Wiccan group based in Milan. Every Imbolc, the group incorporates La Befana into their celebrations. Marrè said that this annual tradition is more feast than ritual, and focuses on the turning of the wheel of the year from the old to the new. The group blends two uniquely Italian folktales together to create a new seasonal story that brings meaning to the February sabbat. In this case, La Befana represents the final joys of the old year giving her final “gifts” at Imbolc. And, another Witch, named Giobiana represents the old year’s baggage and dust that must be removed to make way for renewal.

Marrè explained, “Giobiana is another old tradition that is celebrated in the northern part of Italy, near Lombardia (Varese and Como). The legend says that Giobiana was a bad big Witch with very long legs. She lived in the wood and, obviously this is folklore, scared all the children. On the last Thursday of January, she would eat one child. Then, one year, a mother was so worried for her son that she decided to trick Giobana. The mother prepared yellow rice with saffron and sausage (rissotto giallo con la luganega, a very typical food in this area), and she put it in the window. Giobiana smelled the rice and arrived to eat it. It was so good that she forgot that it was dawn, and she was burned by the sun.”

The Giobiana legend is very similar to many other folk stories containing a frightening old crone in the woods, such as the Baba Yaga of Russian lore or the famous Witch of Hansel & Gretel. In fact, in some traditions, La Befana and Giobiana are considered one and the same. Regardless, the Circolo dei Trivi has reincorporated these two different regional stories into their own Wiccan theology, pairing them with their seasonal celebration of Imbolc.

Marrè said, “For us the two legends, Befana and Giobiana, are linked. Befana is the good face of the crone while Giobiana is the bad one. One is the nature that gives us the last gifts, and the second is the nature that, without renewal, will start to ‘eat children.’ He speculates that this had to be important in ancient times because the cold winter months were “when the mortality rate for childhood was at its maximum.” He adds, “So it is really important that the crone is transformed into the young goddess that we represent as Belisama, the Brigid of Cisalpine Gaul.”

La Befana Night in Northern Italian 2013 [Photo Credit: Bas_Ernst / Flickr]

La Befana Night in Northern Italian 2013 [Photo Credit: Bas_Ernst / Flickr]

Similar to modern community traditions in the northern Italian towns, Circolo dei Trivi burns an effigy, a representation of Giobiana, within their ritual space. They collect the ashes and tell the story of nature’s death and rebirth, through the death of Giobiana and the birth of Belisama. In that process, they also thank nature, represented as La Befana, for bringing the final gifts from the previous year. Grazie, La Befana.

As with many regional traditions, La Befana’s modern construction and appearance were developed over an expansive amount of time and stem from a diverse number of cultural elements. Her story has been adapted over and over to fit into a variety of different social or religious structures.

As the international community becomes more integrated, La Befana has become increasingly recognized outside of the small Italian towns from where she came.[v] And, some wonder and even worry … will La Befana follow Santa Claus’ lead and become a largely commercial and secular figure in our global holiday season? Will she lose her regional meaning and connections to Italian culture? Will the Christmas Witch one day grace the label on a Coca-Cola bottle or appear in her own animated holiday special on CBS?

Notes:
[i] This description was used by Henry W. Longfellow in his book Poets and Poetry of Europe published by Carey and Hart in 1845. Firenzuola also did reportedly write more serious works. Interestingly, he also recorded conversations on feminine beauty, which wasn’t published until 1892.
[ii] We were unable to obtain a copy of this poem in time for publication.
[iii] Written around 1599, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is believed to have been based on several Italian plays, and was created specifically to celebrate the final festive evening of the Christmas season. (Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Pelican Books. 1986)
[iv] Neither book appears to be available in English translation at this time.
[v] La Befana’s story, for example, is featured in a children’s book by American author and illustrator Tomie dePaolo. The Legend of Old Befana was published in 1980 by Sandpiper. Tomie dePaolo is also the author of the popular Stega Nona series.

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