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Emerald Tablet depiction, c1608 (Public Domain)

Emerald Tablet depiction, c1608 [Public Domain]

The sun is not the brightest star, but it is the closest, the loudest.

The sun is so close that it blinds from our eyes all those others who, by mere virtue of distance, must wait for the darkest of hours to remind us of their light. Without that garish ferocity, we cannot live, but it is at the cost of the myriad that this one Truth shines upon us.

If these words were in German, her warmth could bronze and perhaps sear your skin with rays of feminine brilliance. Were you reading this in French, his beckoning light might bring you instead to think on his mannish illumination gently coaxing out the life of plant from soil. The sun is feminine in many Germanic languages, while masculine in many Latin-derived tongues, and the moon is likewise gendered. It is female in French and male in German.

Is the sun male or female, though? It certainly cannot be said to have identifiable genitalia, so we are unable to resort to a particularly base methodology to discover our answer. One might even suggest that it has no gender at all, in accordance to our manner of ordering nouns in English. If this is the case, though, we must immediately judge all speakers of languages, which gender the sun, to be fools or, charitably, inheritors of a hopelessly primitive linguistic system.

Another interesting possibility exists. Perhaps the sun is both female and male, according to how and where one views it. We know, certainly, that the sun can both give life and take life away. It can both warm and burn; it might illuminate or blind depending upon where you happen to be standing or looking. That is, the sun is many things simultaneously; many things to many people. In the far northern hemisphere, I experience it in subtle degrees as the year grows cold. My friends in that other hemisphere now feel its coming strength as their winter thaws and spring flowers bloom. Those betwixt our homes at this moment shield their eyes from it, sweating fiercely under its burdensome weight.

The sun is both warm and cold, distant and close, searing and life-giving. Within Her and His and Its intensity is all the contradictions and opposites which compose a wholeness, a unity only understood in its fragmented difference.

One, Two, None, All

For more than a millennium there was one God. Before, there were many, but then there was but one, and he was male - a fierce, strong, creator-lord full of justice and power, might and judgment, as well as love, mercy, and some degree of kindness to those deserving of his favors or loyal to his causes.

We need not be so simple about it, though. There were certainly others gods; otherwise our Paganism is mere aesthetic, and vast civilizations utterly misguided, as the fundamentalist believers in Progress would have us think. The “progression” of religion from Animistic Shamanism to Polytheism, then to Henotheism, then to Monotheism and finally, at the top of glorious and final present, Atheism relies upon the hope that our present existence is somehow “better” than yesteryear, and that we should consider the succession of this forced march closely.

It proposes first a “simplistic” relationality between nature and humanity, followed by an unfortunate anthropomorphization of natural forces into human-gods. Then the desert cults, laboring under the searing, garish and very-loud sun, chose just one of the many and, when a prophet is hanged upon wood, they decide their one is an only.  Nearly two millennia later, some French and English writers decide there’s no god at all, and we are finally now enlightened–from all, to many, to one, to none – and too bad the billions in Africa and Asia just can’t catch up.

Beyond the extreme arrogance of asserting that a mere 2% of the world has accurately answered the question of the existence of gods, we should specifically complicate the “evolutionary” narrative of progressive ascension. Since so many ancient and indigenous cultures think in circles and wheels rather than vertical lines, it’s surprising that such a theory of religious succession could still maintain a grip upon Pagan thought – a theory which can be seen particularly in an unfortunate misstep of Wicca regarding the gender of the gods.

Adam And Eve in The Garden of Eden--by Lucas Cranach The Elder

Adam And Eve in The Garden of Eden–by Lucas Cranach The Elder

A popular reading of the re-introduction of “The Goddess” into modern religious thought (not just Pagan, but also some strands of Christian ‘Theology’) is that it’s a necessary correction of two millennia of male-centered, Monotheistic thought. This is a fair reading, and one can certainly point to all sorts of social and religious tendencies which, through a belief in an a male-gendered Only-god, contributed to the systematic degradation of a full half of humanity. That there was only one god, and that this only-god was male, is certainly peculiar and suspicious, particularly considering the patriarchal succession of priesthoods of this only-(male)-god.

As a political act, the insistence on an equally-important Goddess was quite radical, but also incredibly problematic. Besides the failed attempts of some writers to re-narrate a matriarchal past into pre-Monotheistic Europe (and history is only narration, so we should applaud their attempts as much as we cringe at their failure), the question of the only-(male)-god is hardly answered by giving him a mate, as if the Hebrew god’s act in Eden were a model to emulate.

Worse, this Goddess is a no-one; just as the monotheistic God was also a no-one.

They are not just no-ones, but also All-Ones, or Half-Ones. The Pagan (particularly Wiccan) Goddess is a conglomerate principle, a pastiche, a compound being encompassing half of a split divinity gendered female, or a corporate entity sometimes named the Divine Feminine. What then is left which is not of the one-Half-(female)-Goddess is then re-pasted upon a feral-yet-civil hunter dressed up in sacred loin-cloth and antlers. And, we are thus supposed to sigh, relieved that the One-God’s rib forms his eternal companion.

I do not say here that there is no Goddess, rather that there are many of them, a multitude, a myriad.  Nor would it do much good for us to debate precisely the theological import of such statements like, “I acknowledge the Goddess in all Her forms” (a sort of universalist-monism) or “I worship the Goddess by her many names” (a less corporatist approach). Rather, we should ask precisely why, as inheritors and escapees of monotheistic power, we’d settle for two gods as a solution to the tyranny of the (male) one.

Being a believer in the existence of gods (by which I also mean goddessess–let none say English does not possess gender!) requires me to be a bit extra polite when another Pagan, in ritual or in conversation, speaks of Pagans collectively worshiping “The Goddess.” I must do a bit of translation of their statement in order to not be offended. It’s an allowance for their shorthand, regardless of how much I really wish to ask, “wait–which goddess? I’ve met five of them, and have heard of another eighty, at least.”  

To say they are all-one, that all the goddesses enfold into one great Goddess is a bit colonialist. It’s also understandable, since we do the same thing with gender.  We speak of “female” and “male” as if all humanity is easily divided into two sorts of people, each composing a half of a corporate whole called “humanity.”

It’s a short-hand, a quick-sorting category, which is certainly useful in some circumstances, but it is also only that. And, like all categories and labels, often times they don’t fit, no matter how hard we try to peg certain beings into the spaces we’ve created for them.

Which Man? Which Woman?

Like race, we often approach the idea of gender as if it is a naturally-derived or divinely-revealed thing, though we forget we must actually be taught these categories. I had many black friends and female friends and even a few (but very few) wealthy friends when I was a child. But it was not until our differences were explained (and re-iterated, and enforced) that I understood that there was a difference between them and I. The skin-color of my friends was a mere characteristic, not a difference until I was told that being “white” meant something and being “black” meant something else. Similarly with female: a girl was a sort of a friend, not an opposition to boy. Different genitals was like different hair-length–utterly inconsequential.

But male and female, like white and black, mean something, or mean something to lots of people. Being one means you get paid less, being the other means you get paid more. It’s better to be white and male than all the other things, depending on where you live, but only because people have decided that white and male are better things than black or female.

Even our divine was male for awhile (and maybe even white, judging from most popular depictions of Jesus). Having a female divine as well is certainly nice and having her be equal (and in some traditions superior) to him corrects some imbalances certainly.

But there are many sorts of men, and many sorts of women. There are very old, withered-but-wise men, and very young, mewling, just-out-of-the-womb men. There are the strong and muscled ones, the furry ones (my favorite), but also the lithe or round ones. And the same for women–the maidens, the mothers, the crones, the really strong ones and the really graceful ones, the large and fecund or the diminutive and fierce. To say they are all women or are all men is a strange thing to say.

There are several ways people have gone about re-imagining gender, or re-enforcing gender, and several of these attempts are worth staring at.

One of perhaps the more common treatments has been to re-inforce the divisions between them, cutting deeper “no-man’s lands” betwixt her and him. One strand of thought focuses primarily on the genitals of the person, and to some degree the genetics. On the side of “her” has been Z Budapest and other Second-Wave feminists, insisting that women are only those who’ve been born into such things as “the uterine mysteries.”

On the side of “him” have been writers characteristic of the New Right gaining increasing popularity within Paganism, such as Jack Donovan. “Men” for them are those who possess not just testicles, but also certain physical characteristics defined precisely by their opposition to an imagined Feminine.

In both cases, it is the fault of the other which has brought them to such matters. Second-Wave feminists cite patriarchy as the cause of their need for exclusion, and writers like Donovan cite Feminism as the reason men are bound to desk-work and served “manly” drinks in thin stemware.

A second treatment of gender fails equally. The “Radical Feminism” (which is hardly radical at all) of people like Lierre Keith and Derrick Jenson of Deep Green Resistance, as well as certain positions leftover from late 60’s American Paganism, attempts to resolve the matter of gender by abolishing it altogether. On its surface, such an idea is appealing, as must have been Atheism to Enlightenment writers, noting the problems of European Monotheism. Without gender, there is no division, and all humanity becomes one. Only in its particular violence against a certain group of people, however, does one begin to see the flaws in this.

In fact, what all these attempts have in common is a shared hatred of a specific class of people–trans-folk. Humans, who have chosen to physically embody a gender according to their will rather than circumstance of birth, attract such vitriol from all these groups that we should seriously consider why. Donovan, Budapest and Keith, all on apparently opposite sides of the gender question, stand united in their venom against trans-folk. Why?

The trans-person (and, equally perhaps, the queer) stands in a place more revolutionary and radical than any of their critics can hope to occupy. By choosing their gender, they do not abolish gender, they transform it into a human act, reminding the rest of us that gender, like race, is something we create and can choose to embody, rather than something we are born into. The all is split into many; each half of humanity split into a multitude of individual embodiments.

This transformation is revolutionary because it affects the rest of us. I am a cis-male, deep voiced, muscular, “man,” but if I rely only on accident of birth to claim my specific maleness, I exist in a passive realm of non-choice. For the multitude of other sorts of men, is it not the same thing? As well, for women; if a female relies on her uterus for her identity, what sort of identity is that?

That is, we cannot merely say woman, we must also ask “which woman?” Just as we cannot merely say Goddess or God, but rather ask which goddess? Which god?

"Starry Night" [Photo Credit: ESO/H. Dahle  Lic. CC - Wikimedia]

“Starry Night” [Photo Credit: ESO/H. Dahle Lic. CC - Wikimedia]

The Multitude and the Myriad

To lump a very large group of things, or people, or beings into one whole has not gone very well for us humans these past few millenia, particularly because we’ve had to, like Cinderella’s step-sisters, take some bloody steps to force things to fit into the receptacle of our categories.

Monotheism required the annihilation of other gods except the One God; just as it required the destruction of cultural forms to make people fit into its categories. Communism and Fascism both require similar annihilation, crushing all humans within their realm into the worker or the volk. But likewise, Atheism is hardly an adequate answer, which abolishes all gods just as some would abolish all gender. More pernicious has been Capitalism’s answer, which erases identity altogether, except what can be purchased or sold, leaving individuality to one’s choice of smartphone or automobile. Any anyway, it hates forests.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt introduced the idea of “the Multitude,” the vast teeming flood of humans and their experiences which threaten always to overwhelm Empire. I suggest we Pagans embrace it and expand upon it. I like, particularly, the word Myriad, as in a “myriad of stars,” an immeasurable number which likely has a limit but one we cannot quite reach.

In all our multitudes of experience, we define ourselves and our genders. Each man is a sort of man, each woman a sort of woman. Each goddess is a sort of goddess, each god a sort of god. They are themselves them selves, just as we are each neither cog nor component.

How many gods are there? I do not know, anymore than I could hope to innumerate the sorts of women I’ve met, or of trees. I know it’s more than two and, definitely, more than none.

Likewise, how many ways of encountering the Other, or of making love, or of relating to each other are there?  How many sorts of sunlight are there, how many kinds of illumination does the sun shine upon the earth?.

A multitude, certainly.

A Myriad.

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[From time to time, we invite guest writers to share their thoughts about issues making news in our communities. Today's guest is Lisa Roling, a licensed clinical social worker, a member of Covenant of the Goddess, and the co-priestess of Inanna's Well. She lives in the valleys of Eastern Pennsylvania, where she is loving her pregnant wife and spinning yarn. If you enjoy the diversity of opinions and the new voices that come through our guest posts and through our monthly columnists, please support our Fall Fund Drive. You make it possible for us to continue this work. Consider making a donation today.Thank you.]

Thirteen years ago, on September 11, our country shook as we faced the devastation that hate can inflict. Regardless of our religion, race, sexual orientation, or any other socially-recognized division, we stood together as a people; held our loved ones more closely; grieved for our losses; and vowed to stand together in pride. On this September 11, two gay men were savagely beaten on the streets of Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Philadelphia Sky Line [Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur. cc lic Wikimedia Commons]

Philadelphia Sky Line [Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur. cc lic Wikimedia Commons]

News reports quickly highlighted a similarity shared by each of the 12 people who had confronted the couple, including the three who had physically attacked the men. All were graduates of Archbishop Wood, a local Catholic high school. A coach was also present. However reports differ on what, if any, role he played in the attack. He has since resigned his position, and the school has renounced the actions taken by the mob of former students. Three individuals have been arrested and subsequently released on bail.

The LGBT community is understandably furious, especially since they are now reminded that sexual orientation is not covered by the state’s hate-crime laws. Some members of the LGBT community have found renewed energy and determination in lobbying for the creation of legislation to include sexual orientation and gender expression in the list of protected groups.Several hundred residents of Philadelphia recently gathered in Philadelphia’s Love Park to show their support for the severely beaten couple and to speak out for the protection of the LGBT community by the Commonwealth’s hate crime laws.

"LOVE Park Philly" [Photo Credit: Smallbones. Public Domain lic. via Wikimedia]

“LOVE Park Philly” [Photo Credit: Smallbones. Public Domain lic. via Wikimedia]

Others have directed their anger and outrage into the public shaming of the assailants. On the Internet, there has been a particular interest in the female defendant, who has been widely criticized as being a promiscuous, binge-drinking homophobe. There is also no shortage of hate speech pointed in the general direction of the Catholic Church. It is understandable how easy it could be to look to the Church considering its stance on homosexuality.

But are the acts of a small group of people a reflection on the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Soon after it was learned that individuals involved were graduates of the Catholic high school, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement in response, stating:

…Catholic schools are centers of learning where students are expected to treat each other in a Christ-like manner at all times and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The actions of those who took part in the attack are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable. They are not an accurate reflection of our Catholic values…

Many people have rolled their eyes at this statement and, with heavy sarcasm, laughed it away. Notwithstanding the new voice of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has had a long history of speaking out against gay marriage and teaching that homosexuality is “sinful.” The general stance on the subject has not wavered. However the Church has attempted to repackage it to fit the current cultural context by saying, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

The assumption in this statement is that homosexuality is simply a behavior, just like wearing clothing of mixed fibers, burning bulls to please the Lord, and eating shellfish. While Catholicism does not rail against eating shellfish in this day and age, they have maintained their stance on homosexuality. Clearly this institutional belief and teaching does not endorse violence. Howevever, it does reinforce that LGBT individuals are different and, therefore, not deserving of the respect and dignity of which the Archdiocese speaks.

The Catholic Church, however, does not have the corner market on the intolerance of “difference.” Generally speaking,  we humans, do not like people who are different. Regardless of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, we innately distrust anyone who is different from ourselves. Learning to look past differences, see similarities, and ultimately accept people for everything that they are is a learned behavior. Our biology is such that we are easily convinced to distance ourselves from people who are different from us. If this distrust is a natural human instinct, can we hold a religion accountable for violent and reprehensible actions conducted by an individual member of that religion?

There are certainly many Christians who distance themselves from the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church and Muslims who distance themselves from the ISIL. There have also been countless times that individuals have committed cruel and unforgivable acts, stating that it was part of their Pagan identity. In such cases, members of the Pagan community, have responded by denouncing the person and the act: “This is not a value of our religion!” or “This person isn’t really a Witch!” But the truth is that every religious group, every racial and ethnic group, every conceivable “type” of person we can lump people together as a group, will contain individuals of whom we are not proud; people we want to distance ourselves from because they are clearly not like “us.”

Robert L. Schreiwer

Robert L. Schreiwer

Portraying the entire religious group in that manner, however, is often inaccurate. Rob Schreiwer is a resident of Philadelphia, the manager of Heathens Against Hate, a Chaplain of In-Reach Heathen Prison Service, President of Distelfink Sippschaft, Assistant Steer of The Troth, and organizer of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network. He says:

I want to be careful not to pin the actions of a few adherents of another religion on the religion itself… We Heathens, in particular, know what it is like to be tarred by the brush of vile actions perpetrated by others in the name of our religion, so we must be extra vigilant not to engage in a rush to judgment ourselves.

While the Catholic Church does have a institutional violent streak in its past, the individuals that acted in this particular case appear to be just that: individuals. They did not say they were acting on behalf of their religion. According to media reports, they were simply acting on their own accord; only on behalf of their own intolerant and volatile nature. Unfortunately, as Schreiwer notes, “Such forces are destructive, not only to their victims, but also to entire communities and even to the perpetrators.”

How do religious communities heal from situations like this? How does the LGBT community heal and move forward? Certainly not by ostracizing and shaming the assailants. For as much as our self-righteous indignation enjoys that in the moment, many members of Pagan and Heathen communities know the pain and suffering that come from being on the receiving end of that very same indignation. Schreiwer says that the Heathen community has responded to such actions by taking a more proactive stance. They are “helping to educate at-risk Heathen populations as well as institutional administrators and the general public about what Heathenry is and what Heathenry is not.” He adds, “While there must always be freedom of consciousness and thought, each community has a right and a need to stand against the devolution of our society and the disintegration of law and order.”

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This year’s Antelope Valley Pagan Pride Day (AVPPD) had some unwelcome guests, a small group of loud protesters yelling Christian prayers and slogans. AVPPD organizers asked police to disperse the protesters, but the Lancaster Sheriff’s deputies refused to assist.

The AVPPD event took place September 27 at George Lane Park in Los Angeles County. The organization had rented a portion of the park, and was just getting ready for its first ritual of the day, a Heathen Blot scheduled at 10:30 am, when four protesters arrived. They carried signs with bible verses on them. The protesters did not attempt to enter the park, but stood on the sidewalk as one of them yelled prayers and admonishments about going to Hell.

Lisa Morgenstern, president of the First Pantheistic Center of the Antelope Valley which is the sponsoring organization for AVPPD, approached the group and asked them to not enter the park or disrupt the worship service with its yelling. Ms. Morgenstern captured the encounter on video.

Morgenstern says the protesters interfered with their religious service. “It delayed the beginning of our opening blot, because we were trying to get police response. And there were some children that he frightened because he was shouting.”

Lisa Morgenstern [AVPPD fb page]

Lisa Morgenstern [Photo from the AVPPD Facebook page]

Morgenstern called the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station to ask for assistance. In California, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally interfere with a public meeting or assembly, such as a public prayer vigil, and carries a possible 6 month jail sentence. There is a similar law, with a higher penalty, which makes it illegal to disturb a religious meeting, but this only covers worship services held in a tax-exempt place of worship. Morgenstern says:

I called the station directly instead of 911 since it was not an emergency per se. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the Sheriff’s Deputy with whom I spoke. He did tell me, however, that despite the fact that we had a religious event going on, that he could not take action because the picketers were not on the park property but on the public sidewalk. I walked towards Wayne to notify him of this information and he pointed out the Deputy parked on the lawn, and I spoke further and walked over to him. As I walked the Deputy on the phone was apologetic but did say that they would make a point to slow down their drive-bys when they came by the park to make their presence known. Deputy Goldman told me the same thing after speaking with the Deputy at the station on my cell phone at the request of the station Deputy, that he could take no action without them stepping into the park. At this point I was in tears because I know that it is illegal to disturb a religious worship service in California intentionally, and this was definitely intentional. I asked Deputy Goldman, who was still sitting in his vehicle by the way, if he could walk over to where they were and maybe just observe them and cross his arms and let them know he was there, or look threatening? Please? He responded, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ 

Morgenstern says the group went ahead with the blot and tried to drown out the protesters, who continued to yell until they left, sometime in the afternoon. “The things that he was yelling bothered me enough that I actually turned on some music and tried to drown him out,” says Morgenstern.

Ritual held at the September AVPPD event. {Photo from AVPPD fb page]

Ritual held at the September AVPPD event. [Photo from the public AVPPD Facebook page]

This is not the first time an Antelope Valley Pagan event has been disturbed by protesters, nor is it the first time the Lancaster Sheriff’s department has refused to help.

On March 16th, 2002, a Spring Equinox ritual was held in the parking lot of a Lancaster Pagan shop when a group of Christians arrived to protest. According to news site Unknown Country:

At first the Christian guests remained mostly seated along the edge of the Pagan ceremony, praying quietly. Among them was a volunteer chaplain from the Lancaster Sheriff’s Office who sat in an SUV with its motor running. But as the ceremony got rolling, the Rev. John Canavello [of Life Changers Christian Center ], who has since been suspended from the Sheriff’s office, allegedly pumped up the volume on his car stereo, drowning out the Pagan songs with a loud blast of Christian music, according to High Priestess Cyndia Riker, owner of the Witches Grove gift shop, which hosted the event. Rikker says the protesters then circled the Pagans and began praying loudly.

This time, too, the Lancaster Sheriff’s department, located 3 blocks from the store, was called but didn’t arrive until 4 ½ hours later, long after the Equinox service had ended and the protesters were gone. Lancaster Sheriff’s Capt. Tom Pigott said California law only places limits on protests taking place in tax-exempt buildings that disturb a group, not events held in parking lots.

The AVPPD doesn’t know to what organization or church the protesters from the September 2014 event belong. But organizers say they feel unsafe knowing local law enforcement won’t assist them if they have problems. “Our Pagan Pride event is considering whether or not we need to move back to Palmdale,” says Morgenstern. She added, “We had moved to a county park to save money, but I can say with great confidence that if I call the police in Palmdale, we get response there. The mayor of Palmdale, James Ledford, in grave contrast to the standing Mayor of Lancaster, is open minded, and attends almost every Antelope Valley Interfaith Council event.”

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On Saturday, Sept. 27, a gala was held in Atlanta to kick off the year leading up to the 2015 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Next year’s event is scheduled to be the largest meeting of Nobel Laureates in history and will be held at Phillips Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta Nov. 15-19, 2015. Saturday’s pre-event gala, sponsored by the local Summit planning committee, attracted politicians, world dignitaries and Nobel Laureates such as Jimmy Carter and Muhammad Yunus. Among the crowd of 500 sitting under the courtyard tent of the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead was Rev. Patrick McCollum and his World Peace Violin.

World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

Over this past year, the violin has reached a new level of prominence in Rev. McCollum’s international peace efforts. Just in the last month, the violin was played at the World Peace Concert in Tahoe, and then in New York City’s Central Park on International Peace Day. It has traveled the world from the Himalayas to the streets of Manhattan.

A few hours before Saturday’s Atlanta gala, we caught up with Rev. McCollum as well as Nell Rose Phillips, executive director of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, and world-renowned violinist Scarlet Rivera. While relaxing together at the hotel, they shared their story and their plans for the violin’s future.

The violin itself was created by Rev. McCollum without the aid of instrument artisans or instructions. As the story goes, McCollum wanted a physical symbol of world peace to carry around with him while doing his work. He had no idea what that symbol could possibly be, so he performed a ritual asking for spiritual guidance. McCollum knew that he wanted it to represent the “diversity of culture and ideas” in the world, while still maintaining a connection “to the sacred universal voice.” The very next day, he received the magazine Scientific American and, on its cover, was the answer – a Stradivarius violin.

Rev. McCollum immediately went to work on making what would become the world peace violin. As he says, it’s spirit was born from “Goddess magic.” But the actual instrument was physically constructed from a variety of ethically-attained, sacred woods from around the world. For example, the front piece was carved from wood native to Africa. The back was created out of sacred woods given to him by a California-based Coalition of Native American tribes. On its base, there is an inlaid carving made from an Irish Willow Tree that grew out of a sacred well. And, the list goes on.

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

The violin’s varnish was also developed in the same manner, through the combining of elements from around the world. Rev. McCollum says that varnish mix includes dust from Hiroshima taken just after the bombs went off in 1945 and shell fragments from the battle of Iwo Jima. The varnish also contains sands from Israel “collected from the baptism site of Jesus during Arab-Israeli peace talks in Jordan;” the ashes of a white buffalo “gifted to him by an Anaswabi Chief;” and sacred oil from Rev. McCollum’s own magical tradition. He says, “This is all symbolism.” He wants the instrument to be the world’s violin, created by the world of the world.

As the story continues, when the violin was was finished, McCollum gave it to someone to play. It sounded awful. Therefore he went back to the drawing board; took it completely apart and put it back together. He did this nine times. When the sound still wasn’t right, McCollum turned back to meditation. In doing so, he says that the Goddess instructed him to dunk the violin in the Ganges River. His friends thought he was crazy, but he did it anyway. The violin soaked in the river for 3-4 minutes. When it finally dried out, the instrument had found its voice.

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlett Rivera, a world-renowned violinist, first played McCollum’s violin in Tahoe at the World Peace Concert in September. A few months earlier, a mutual friend had connected Rivera with McCollum. When she heard about what he had done, she says that she was not at all concerned about the homegrown instrument’s sound quality. She called the connection “destiny.” Rivera believes that she was “directed to” the violin as it has become a symbol and agent of global efforts for peace.

Rivera described the world peace violin as “a conduit – a special voice – that reaches the higher realms” as it spreads its sound through a room. Having always “followed a path of human rights, spirituality and peace,” she said that playing the world peace violin is one of the “greatest gifts in her life.” In doing so, she blends her beliefs and activism with her music, a possibility that she called “deeply meaningful.”

Rivera added, “This was not coincidence. I move with the hand of fate and I am open to it.” With the passion of both a musician and peace advocate, Rivera describes how the violin’s sound has changed over time. She called it nothing short of spectacular, saying, “As each person blesses the violin, the sound dramatically changes. It sings now in a way it didn’t just three weeks ago.”

Both Nell Rose Phillips and Rev. McCollum agree. They take the violin to every event, whether it is to be played or not. Wherever they go, even at meals between events, they will ask people to bless the violin. To date, many hands have touched the instrument from, as McCollum adds, “the poor and homeless to dignitaries and kings. This is the instrument of the world.”

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

On the Thursday evening prior to the Atlanta gala, Rivera, McCollum and Phillips spoke with a small local crowd at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore, a metaphysical shop in the northern suburb of Sandy Springs. McCollum gave a talk on peace efforts and the purpose of the violin. Rivera played the instrument, and all attendees were asked to bless it. Owner Candace Apple said:

We were honored at Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore to have Rev. Patrick McCullom, Scarlet Rivera and the World Peace Violin share the “Journey to Peace” and its beautiful healing energy. May all the hearts of the world be touched by its song.

During the gala itself, Rivera performed a piece that she composed specifically for that night called “Journey to Peace.”  As has become a tradition, McCollum also welcomed the attending dignitaries to bless the instrument; thereby adding their own individual energy into its voice.

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

With this increase in visibility, Phillips is building a new website dedicated specifically to the world peace violin. It will contain an appearance schedule, its story as well as photos of people blessing the instrument from around the world. They already have had a number of new requests for violin performances at various, upcoming international peace events. This includes next year’s November World Nobel Peace Laureate Summit in Atlanta.

In the meantime, this coming November the instrument will be heading to Los Angeles for its first-ever, professional recording session. Rivera will be playing a composition written by Yuval Ron specifically for this purpose. The composition is called “Voices of Peace,” composed for a solo violin. While they do not know exactly how the recording will be used in their work, McCollum, Phillips and Rivera do promise that it will be made available to the public in some way to inspire others in the nurturing of world peace.

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[Terence P Ward is one of our talented weekly staff writers. He brings you the news and issues that most affect the Pagan and Heathen worlds. If you like his work and that of our other weekly reporters, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories is what we love to do. Your continued support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

PPD logo

The recent equinox not only marked the change of natural seasons, but also the midpoint of the official Pagan Pride season, which runs from August 1 to October 31, 2014. Pagan Pride Days have been held for at least sixteen years, and probably a lot longer than that. The popularity and success of these events continues to rise, according to some metrics. However there’s an ongoing debate over whether or not the movement is achieving its softer goal – outreach beyond of the Pagan community.

According to reports from the Pagan Pride Project (PPP), the organization behind many of these events, the numbers look great. Carla Smith, Vice President/Membership Director of the PPP provided these statistics:

We have 110 events scheduled for 2014 and 15 of these are new events. We have events in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Italy and Austria. In 2013, we had 98 events across the USA; Canada; Mexico City; Brazil; the Dominican Republic; Rome; and Vienna, Austria. Our 2013 attendance was 65,717: an increase in attendance by over 20,000 when compared to 2012. We collected 39,962.80 pounds of nonperishable food and donated $6,918.48 to charities including the Wounded Warrior Project. We donated 1,262.60 pounds of pet food as well as dog collars and leashes along with other necessities for animal rescue groups. We collected and donated items for Operation Circle Care for Pagan military personnel, clothing and baby items to a charity for infants, coats for the homeless, [and] 53 pounds of sugar for a bee apiary. Our attendees donated 54 pints of blood for the Red Cross and local hospitals. We donated 78 books to prisons for Pagan inmates to further their knowledge.

The events which were new this year included nine in the United States, half a dozen in Brazil, one in Colombia and another in Canada.

Charitable donations, specifically food drives, are a requisite part of any Pagan Pride Day event supported by the PPP. Organizers must also agree to coordinate “a public gathering where Pagans can network with each other and celebrate an Autumn Equinox ritual.” In addition, they are charged with reaching out to local news outlets with press releases for “media coverage of [the] events in order to present the truth about Paganism to our communities, refute common misconceptions, and draw political attention to Paganism in order to try to prevent legislative discrimination against Pagans.”

The success of that public outreach is hard to measure, and that may be what has spurred a discussion about the purpose of PPD events in the Official Pagan Pride Project Facebook group. One member expressed a concern that many PPD events seem to be geared towards Pagans alone, not the wider community. He wrote:

I have gone to many PPDs over the last several years all the activities, workshops, rituals and etc. are geared towards Pagans. No what is Paganism workshops, no this is what and why we do what we do. Rituals take place unexplained. Advertising is strictly to Pagan groups. Media involvement has become unwelcomed. Have we given way to PPDs just being another Pagan exclusive festival?

The Wild Hunt reached out to the Pagan Pride Project, and spoke with several PPD local coordinators to get their take on the issue of public outreach. While it’s basic to the PPP’s mission, the implementation can be complicated.

Location, Location, Location

14524_454460254591551_559255499_nWhere a pride event takes place can determine if it’s a Pagan party or public outreach event. Public parks are the venue preferred by the Pagan Pride Project, but between fees and insurance requirements, they can be cost-prohibitive. Some events are hosted at Unitarian Universalist churches, but an indoor location never has as much visibility as a similar outdoor one, which means extra efforts are needed to draw people in who wouldn’t normally stop by a UU church.

Changing locations worked well for Gina Leslie, who said:

Three years ago we moved our Los Angeles/Orange County event to a much more public location for that very reason. We loved where we were and the park personnel were great to work with but it wasn’t something the public would see driving by and stop to investigate. Now we are in the middle of a very active tourist area in Long Beach, on a very busy main street and we have lawn banners announcing that the event is free and open to the public.

A visible location hasn’t been the sole solution in Kansas City, according to local coordinator Sam Shryock. “We are in a Farmer’s Market shelter,” he said, “so I believe we are on neutral ground and easily accessible.” However, he added, “I struggle to find the angle that would make people want to come to this event.”

In Morgantown, West Virginia, Marc Roney reported that it was difficult to get local Pagans to show up for something in a public setting at first. However, the PPD there has grown from about a dozen people in 2009 to about 110 this year.

Preaching to the Choir

button2Concern about religious persecution is very real for some Pagans, and none of the local coordinators interviewed actually tracks whether attendees identify as Pagan, seeker, or something else. While the lack of data is understandable, it can lead to suppositions about whether or not the public is actually involved.

“This year we are trying something new, and providing name tags that state, ‘I’m a Proud Pagan because…,” said Shyrock. We will see how well that turns out.” At the same time, the Kansas City event has de-emphasized the word “Pagan” and instead markets itself as a harvest festival. His experience has taught him, “People do not seek out different [sic], they avoid it. I think most people are not interested in knowing about Paganism, they would prefer to avoid it or argue with it.”

Roney said that “some courteously curious Christians” have attended, and he adds, “a small part of our funding for this year came from a Catholic couple who were curious about our event.” But most of those who show up at the Morgantown PPD are, indeed, Pagan themselves. Roney attributes the rise in the number of Pagan attendees to the fact that fears about “trouble with Christians” have not manifested.

10615513_10154561726860254_5127674005610753054_nTimothy Anderson and his group, the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus, and Pan, have been involved with the Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day as both vendors and main ritual organizers for several years. “[I'm] not sure how many non-Pagans are getting involved, [but] it seems like it is mostly if not all Pagans,” he said.

Limited Promotional Outlets

With small budgets, local coordinators rely on as much free publicity as they can muster. That means much of the advertising and publicity comes through Pagan-owned businesses like metaphysical shops. It can be an effective way to reach local Pagans and seekers, but not for reaching those people who may have the preconceived notions that PPD is intended to dispel. Free web sites and event calendars bolster those efforts. However, without a means to track the religious affiliation of attendees, determining who actually shows up continues to be a challenge. Privacy concerns will likely keep that from changing anytime soon. This leads to a frustrating irony. When the day comes that all Pagans are comfortable acknowledging their religion publicly, Pagan Pride events might no longer be needed . . . but, in order to reach that day and overcome false assumptions, the impact of such events on the community is needed.

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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. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Fund Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started! 

Blake Kirk

Blake Kirk

The Interfaith Mission Council (IMS) of Huntsville, Alabama has announced that Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk is scheduled to offer an invocation before the Nov. 6 city council meeting. In June, Kirk was removed from the schedule due to complaints from local residents. After much discussion, the Huntsville city council opted to maintain its inclusive prayer policy prayer rather than removing invocations entirely. The executive director of IMS, the local organization charged with coordinating invocation speakers, Jeannie Robison told AL.comWe [IMS and the city council] want to honor Huntsville’s commitment to being an Inclusive City and to meet Constitutional standards regarding freedom of religion.”

This past Thursday, the council demonstrated its commitment to diversity by inviting an Atheist to speak. Following that meeting, IMS announced that Kirk had been invited back. In response to the city’s actions, Kirk said, “I think it’s an extremely positive development for Huntsville, and it suggests that people have learned something from the unfortunate situation in June, and are really trying to do better.” You can watch Kirk’s invocation live on Nov. 6 through Huntsville’s live streaming site

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

On Sept. 28, Oberon Zell-Ravenhart posted a call on Witchvox for information about “Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials.” He wrote, “Since Morning Glory’s death, I have been inspired (nay, “assigned!”) to co-author a handbook for Pagan Final Passages—including green burials.” In the spring, the Church of All Worlds’ sacred land of Annwfn was legally-secured as an “officially-recognized cemetery for full body burials.” Morning-Glory was the first to be buried on that land, and Oberon is thankful to those who helped make that possible. Now he wants to turn his experience into, what he describes as, a “how-to manual.”

To accomplish this work, Oberon is looking for input from anyone who maintains Pagan land, a green cemetery, or anyone who is planning to build a cemetery space. He adds, “Previously, virtually all members of the modern Pagan community who have died (at least in the United States) have been cremated, as this seemed to be the only option other than the impossibly expensive and distasteful mortuary practice of embalming and burial in a fancy coffin in a concrete vault. But for many of us, cremation is a repellent choice, as we remember the Burning Times, and have no wish to consign our flesh to the flames yet again!”

10171120_828816003799940_5240040217082249423_nPagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 2nd online conference on October 9, 2014. The event is held in coordination with the Pagan Federation International (PFI) and is focused on “a variety of topics around the subjects of Paganism and Witchcraft.” This October’s theme is “The changing of Magic: Modern and Ancient Witchcraft.” There will be two panels on the following subjects: “Ancient Witchcraft and its adaptation” and “Western Esotericism practices and the academy.”  

The online PAEAN conference is held twice a year, in the spring and fall. Coordinators hope that the unique online platform, which allows a diversity of people to engage in dialogue and interaction, will “increase learning, understanding and developing from the combined discussions.”

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

On Sept. 20, the CUUPS chapter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida presented local Pagan Spelcastor an award for “his long time service of 19 years as the gatekeeper and facilitator” of Pagan Pride Day held at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Spelcastor is now officially retired but, as CUUPS organizers said, “he will long be remembered for keeping the flame alive.” In response, Spelcastor remarked, “I am deeply honored by this outpouring of gratitude and reminded how persistent service to the Craft year after year pays off.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

That is all for now.  Have a great day!

 

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Hello to everyone! I wanted to let you know how our annual Fall Funding Drive is going just six days after we begun. We’ve raised a little over $6000 dollars, which is 49% of our $12,500 goal! 

This is incredible progress in such a short time. Of course, it is all due to the continued support, and the generosity of individuals, like yourself, and organizations within our community.Through a donation to our 2014 Fall Fund Drive, you are saying that the The Wild Hunt is a valued service and you’d like to see it not only continue for the next year, but also grow and expand in its coverage. With your help, we can do just that.

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Wielding signs and drums and offering chants and dance, Pagans joined the nearly 400,000 people who jammed the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March on September 21. Scheduled to take place just ahead of the United Nations 2014 Climate Summit, the event was the largest in a worldwide series of protests that may have brought out more than half a million people calling for action.The Wild Hunt spoke with several of the participants about how they organized, what they were trying to accomplish, and what may come out of this historic event.

The march couldn’t have come at a better time for Courtney Weber, High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC). Weber said the PEC was “a baby group that just started in March” when she and others “realized there needed to be a Pagan group in the work to make New York, and New York City specifically, an environmentally viable place.” Talk of “a big rally or march” was bouncing around on various activist email lists as early as May, and it seemed like a natural fit for the new group. She said:

“It started with us agreeing that we would be going to the march, then we were talking about organizing it, then it turned into organizing an entire weekend, and bring Pagans from out of town and house some of them, and getting some big speakers and making sure there’s a Pagan presence, and it turned into something really large.”

PEC’s efforts included a crowdfunding campaign to pay the travel costs for several Pagans who wanted to join the event. Seven people had their expenses covered so they could participate in the march. “That doesn’t seem like a lot to members of other religions,” Weber said, “but to have seven Pagans march with us thanks to the support of the community is a very special thing.”

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit:  Groundswell Movement)

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit: Groundswell Movement)

On the night before the march, PEC held a ritual and fellowship-gathering in Central Park, during which participants were encouraged to share how climate change had impacted their lives. What emerged, Weber said, was, “a message of deep concern. People spoke about droughts in their area and, for the New Yorkers, Hurricane Sandy was on our minds. We had a group coming down from Canada, which has been working really hard to fight the pipeline construction up there. We showed up as a community of faith, to say that this was a spiritual calling to be part of this march, because we regard the Earth as sacred and divine, and it was important that we be there and lend our presence and witness.”

Across the Atlantic, the Pagan Frontiers of London  organized its own presence for that city’s march. Dr. Vivianne Crowley joined the group for the event.  She said, “We thought it very important that there should be a Pagan presence at the pre-march multi-faith meditation, as well as at the march itself. We wanted to show that this was an issue that united faiths and we were delighted to say together (with a small Pagan adaptation) Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s prayer.”

Back in New York City, Andras Corben-Arthen offered an invocation for approximately 5,000 people just before the march began.

 

In the Spirit of the Earth, we are coming together;
in the Spirit of the Earth, we are one…” *
We come from the north, and we come from the south;
we come from the west, and we come from the east.
We gather from all directions
to march for this living planet
who is our home, who is what we are.
But we do not march only for ourselves,
we march for all beings of the Earth.
And so we call to sun, to wind and rain;
we call to mountains and glaciers;
we call to all who walk and crawl, who fly and swim;
we call to our ancestors, both seen and unseen;
we call to oceans and streams,
to trees, and grasses and stones
to guide and bless every step we take,
that we may once again live in harmony
with our Mother the Earth.
As it was, as it is, as it ever shall be;
with the flow and the ebb, as it ever shall be.

© 2014, Andras Corban-Arthen
*© 2000, Deirdre Pulgram-Arthen

Corban-Arthen also participated in the Religions for the Earth interfaith conference, which was held in conjunction with the march. He and members of the EarthSpirit community joined the interfaith section of the march alongside PEC.

Another Pagan organization in attendance was the Pagan Cluster, whose members gathered further north on the route. Here’s their account of the interplay between the two Pagan groups:

The group [Pagan Cluster] decided to participate in the ‘We Have the Solutions’ part of the march, bringing the earth-based energy to the midst of the food justice and big NGOs section. Another contingent of pagans organized by the Peoples Environmental Coalition marched as part of the faith block. Midway through the march the pagan groups ran into each other, played with each other’s energy a bit, but ultimately brought different energies to the streets and separated out again.The Pagan Environmental Coalition had a boisterous, high-energy vibe dominated by drums.The Pagan Cluster intentionally brought an energy deeply grounded and expressed through chants, carrying the sacred woad-dyed cloth of the Living River that has been at countless actions over the past 15 years. Both energies were needed in the march and valued by those around them. At the end of the march the Pagan Cluster, having been on their feet for over eight hours and 2.5 miles of pavement, ended with a spiral dance, bringing in bystanders and raising sweet energy to feed the work needed to fight climate change.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York (credit:  Charles Beisser)

In the interfaith section, Pagans were “wedged between the Universalists and Humanist Jews,” Weber recalled, where “Jews marched to the sound of drums and Pagan groups followed close behind.” At one point, in what she called “a perfect moment of interfaith action for the planet,” their musical talents combined:

“Our chants were quickly adopted by members of other faith groups because they’re earth-centered, inclusive, and easy to learn. At one point, while we were singing the ‘Air I Am’ chant, a Jewish guy in a bicycle cab next to me started playing along on his clarinet.”

In London, Crowley experienced the same kind of solidarity, noting in her statement, “For us, one of the outstanding aspects of the march was the diversity of those who came. It wasn’t only dedicated environmentalists and Pagan Earth Warriors. It was all ages from 0 to 90, demonstrating a solidarity for the Earth that cut across divisions of faith, class, race, and politics.”

Historic as the Climate March was, what comes next is more important still.

“We’re all very, very tired, and there’s a sense that we want to take a break,” said Weber, “but I think that would be the worst thing we can do.The march had a carbon footprint of its own, so we have to make this count for something so that carbon we put in was not wasted.”

Credit:  Charles Beisser

Credit: Charles Beisser

Crowley had similar sentiments, writing, “Climate Change marches have impact if they are linked to events like the UN summit that help give them high profile – political and business leaders are sensitive to public opinion. But marches are showpieces. It’s the actions we take every day to lessen our impact on the planet that also make a huge difference, and what we spend our money on. Consumer choices can make ‘People Power’ real.”

The summit itself was full of rhetoric but short on action, which was widely predicted. Weber reacted afterwards with a statement saying, “The words were encouraging, but what was missing were the concrete plans. President Obama pushed the need to reduce carbon emissions yet his administration is railroading the construction of dozens of liquefied natural gas export stations along both US coastlines. Natural gas is worse! Its extraction belches methane into the air which is a worse greenhouse gas than even carbon. It felt synonymous with the march in many ways: encouraging and hopeful. But like the march, the summit is a failure if specific action does not follow. I personally don’t want to hear any more leaders talk about the need to reduce climate change pollution. I want to hear specifically what they plan to do about it.”

Pagans don’t appear to be ready to rest on their laurels. New groups have emerged, such as Pagans Defending the Earth, and there are events on the horizon that can be used to continue the momentum, like the Global Frackdown on October 11. While the earth-centered religions are not able to force lightening-quick change, they are at least demonstrating the relentless pressure of a tectonic plate.

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Accountability is a critical aspect of leadership in any community. For Pagans, this is a special challenge because our structure and power dynamics are neither the norm, nor easily shaped to produce accountability.

Ordinarily, there is a strong dimension of economic and regulatory reciprocity in the relationship between leaders and the communities they serve.The CEO is hired by the board of directors. The minister is called by the congregation (in congregational polity) or placed by the hierarchy. The president is elected by the people. If a leader does not perform to expectation or to standard, he or she can be fired or replaced. In the case of the president, the standards for malfeasance are high, but so are the consequences: impeachment, removal from office, or simply not being reelected.

[Graphic by lumaxart - CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

[Graphic by lumaxart - CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

Pagan leaders are unusual in that they are often ‘self-called’ to their role. They decide to form a group and do so by collecting people around them. They are generally not paid, and often the group meets at the leader’s home. Generally, they are the principal teacher, and likewise, the sole initiator. This makes censuring or dismissing the leader very difficult. It usually disbands the group and, only sometimes, will a fraction of the group continue without the leader. The usual penalty of loss of pay simply does not apply.

Shauna Aura Knight recently wrote about the difficulty of holding leaders, or ‘elders’ in her frame, to account. In a previous and cited work on whistleblowers, Shauna describes the painful reality of individuals speaking out against the abuse of leaders and elders.They are regularly disbelieved and punished, while the accused is often powerfully defended. Many instead choose to remain silent.

The economic dimension of mutual control is only the most obvious lack in Pagan groups. When viewed per their power dynamics, most groups are (hopefully) benevolent and consensual autocracies. Besides being the founders of the group or the event, the leaders are the bottom line, and the one who maintains the commitment to making it all happen. Flakey and unreliable as many Pagans are, without firm leadership events fail and groups fade away.

Basic funding for them also tends to come out of the pockets of the leaders as well, bringing back the economic aspect, but without checks and balances. On the other end of the political spectrum, in consensus-based groups there can be a problem assigning accountability (not to say blame).  However, there can be an advantage in being accustomed to group decision-making, which provides its own kind of accountability. But when the consent breaks down, so do the groups.

There are alternatives but these require significant effort on the part of the group-members and real courage on the part of the leaders. In the Facebook thread on her page commenting on Shauna’s above mentioned post, Samuel Wagar (09122014) pointed to the way our society as a whole has worked out how to solve this problem:

I have created lasting groups (the festival now twenty years old, the church ten years), using democracy and congregationalism as the keys. And one such group fired a leader, and has disciplined others. It can be done, with a model that is not centered on the charismatic leader.

Here, democracy is the power structure, congregationalism is the social structure and ownership model, and not being centered on the charismatic or celebrity leader is crucial to long term success. Since groups of all kinds are most commonly started by charismatic leaders because they are the ones with the chutzpah to make it happen, we need to build models for migrating start-ups into long standing organizations. The leaders themselves need to take the lead in this transformation, and the members have to step up and take on the load.

[Photo Credit: Chris Beckett/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Chris Beckett/Flickr]

This is not easy in a corporatocratic and consumer society. We don’t believe we have the power to govern the institutions in which we are embedded and, in many senses, we believe we should just be delivered good services without our having to work to make them good. This is reinforced by the belief that the ‘invisible hand of the market’ will just provide.

Experience does not support this notion. The iron law of oligarchy (Robert Michels, 1911) painfully shows that, without considerable will, power and authority accrue to the few or the one. The challenge is that leaders need to empower the membership and then give up power and authority to those they empower. Then the membership needs to not develop a new oligarchy. It’s not easy.

We can begin by building feedback-mechanisms. Starting with something as simple, if challenging, as setting up a council of advisers, leaders can begin to establish true two-way communication with committed members. Asking the difficult questions like, “What am I doing wrong?” and “What is the worst thing I have done?” are not fun to ask, hear, or even reply to. Doing this before crisis and developing a de-escalated methodology in a low emotional charge atmosphere can be a significant part of building an organization that learns, corrects its mistakes, and figures out what it is doing well so it can do more of that.

A powerful technique used in businesses committed to being learning organizations is to perform “Plus/Deltas” at the end of each meeting. It is often worthwhile for someone other than the meeting’s facilitator to run. A fresh facilitator steps up at the end of the meeting, draws a line down the middle of the note-taking surface (e.g., white board or easel pad) headed by a plus sign (+) on one side, and a triangle (∆) for the Greek letter Delta on the other. Then the facilitator asks the group what went well in the meeting (plusses) and what should be changed (deltas). Even simply taking down the list of these plusses and deltas  and seeing them on the page leads to improvement.

Building feedback and accountability into organizational structures is a serious challenge, but the laws of our country support a powerful means. This is the board of directors in a corporation. Corporate structure allows for the design of governance structures that can reflect the values of the community that creates the organization and give them the force of law. The community owns the corporation, selects the board of directors, who then empowers the executive officer(s) to run the operation.

[Photo Credit: rrafson CC-BY-SA-3.0  via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: rrafson CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

How this is done is up to the community. The board can be elected with a limited term. The executives could have very specifically defined powers. The Unitarian Universalist Association and its member churches are built this way, and something like this structure is what Samuel Wager is referring to in his above comment. When started by a charismatic leader, the leader has the task of setting up the organizational structure on behalf of the future, designing in democracy, and then subordinating themselves to its authority. Incidentally, this is what the Founders of the United States of America did, and why they deserve the honor in which are held. They easily could have set up an oligarchy.

Besides having the right structures, when there is a (potential) problem or abuse, the right procedures have to be in place. There is a reason why we have developed the justice system that we have in the meta-society. Humans are awful at determining guilt. Due process, worked out over innumerable errors and injustices, has produced the body of jurisprudence that governs our courts. While we neither need nor want that level of complexity, we do need to learn from its wisdom. Besides the general idea of innocent until proven guilty, three specific items are critical:

  1. If someone is accused of malfeasance, the person bringing the accusation has to have ‘standing’“ the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case.” This protects the system from frivolous suits and acts of power from outside of the community in which the offense occurred. This is where the whistleblowers are crucial; they alone have the standing to bring accusation. It also means they need to have access to proper representation and counsel.
  2. The body (court) to which the case is brought must have ‘jurisdiction,’ meaning “the practical authority granted to a formally constituted…body or to a…leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility.” They must have authority over the parties involved and the actions claimed to have been done. Otherwise, one organization is asked to rule over another organization’s problem, without explicit agreements that they can. Naturally, all parties may ask an otherwise outside group to adjudicate a matter but, in that case, they are intentionally submitting to that authority.
  3. A case must be presented. The accuser must produce a defined accusation, preferably in writing, which states that the accused did some specified action at a particular time and place. Without this, the accusation can be a vague claim of misbehavior or abuse which becomes impossible to prove or counter. What is left is a vague air of impropriety; the besmirching of a reputation. No resolution is possible without a specific and clear case.

Instituting structures and procedures like these, appropriately informed by our Pagan culture and values, is part of the long process of maturation that we are undergoing as a community. Our increasing diversity also signals the need to find ways of working out our differences as well as managing conflict and misbehavior. Building the right structures and procedures are foundational to justice and fairness. By Maat, Themis, and Forseti, justice must be duly applied or it becomes a vendetta when we bring accusations against anyone, leader, follower or whistleblower. With time, I pray we can find our way to suitable means in which we can live in justice, correct our errors, and find methods that helpfully support and hold our leaders to account.

Accountability is a mutual relationship. It is not automatic or assured except with effort. Organizations have to be designed with built-in accountability. All parties in the system must fulfill their roles with energy and diligence. The ad hoc approaches that we have used in our small-group religion are reaching their limits, and our community is showing the strain. Hopefully this brief exploration of the common means of accountability and adjudication can provide some guidance for advancing the quality of Pagan leadership.

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[Alley Valkyrie is one of our talented monthly columnists. If you like her stories and want to support her work at The Wild Hunt, please consider donating to our fall fundraising campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it possible for Alley to be part of our writing team. Thank you very much.]

I came across the marsh last spring on my very first walk through the new neighborhood.

Three blocks from my building I stumbled upon it, flourishing within the confines of a city block in sharp contrast to its immediate surroundings. Overshadowed by condominium complexes on three sides, a vacant lot sits to the north, and then another park on the other side of that lot which stretches to the riverfront. The vacant lot allows for a breathtaking view of the Fremont Bridge gracefully arcing over the Willamette River.

Tanner Springs Park, as the marsh is officially known, is a modern recapture/recreation of the creek and wetlands that flowed through this area up until the late 1800’s. The original creek was filled in to make way for industrial development, which dominated this area from the turn of the century until approximately twenty-five years ago. When the industrial cover was eventually stripped away in order to plan the neighborhood as it stands today, the city was presented with an opportunity to restore a small piece of the natural topography, which eventually manifested as a thriving, swampy ecosystem contained within the boundaries of a city block. The park is not only specifically designed to capture storm water as the native environment once did; the storm water is then treated and pumped back into the spring as opposed to simply being directed back into the river.

Since that first encounter with the marsh, I’ve visited the spot nearly every day, sometimes only for a minute or two and other times for the better part of an afternoon. The marsh feels very tucked into itself; there is something very grounding and psychically cohesive about the block that is not felt among its surroundings. There are strange spirits among the grasses and ponds here, spirits both old and very, very new, and their presence seems to magnify the more I pay attention to them. The marsh is both beautifully out of place and also completely fitting as it stands. Its surroundings protect and isolate it while highlighting it at the same time, and the open space between the block and the river creates a positive aesthetic flow that opens up the surrounding neighborhood in a very distinctive and pleasing manner.

The wonderful marshiness of Tanner Springs Park. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

The wonderful marshiness of Tanner Springs Park

At the marsh, I can hide in plain sight. The more I pay attention to the everyday details, which are contained within its borders, the more the everyday details outside of its borders become more obvious to me. I have developed an energetic reciprocity with this spot, and the spirits have made it clear that they welcome my presence. In a sense, it’s the only block in this neighborhood where I feel at ease.

*  *  *

For the past seven years, I had been deeply engaged in a close relationship with a small section of the Willamette River, specifically the curve that defines the border of Alton Baker Park in Eugene; a spot that the State of Oregon defines as River Mile 183, and that I could never quite define myself.

Nowadays, I live exactly 172 river miles north of that spot in a building that sits a few hundred yards away from the west bank of the Willamette in Portland at River Mile 11. While the mile markers of the Willamette generally don’t carry a specific connotation, River Mile 11 is significant and often referred to by name due to the fact that it marks the furthest point upstream where the Willamette has been designated as a Superfund site. From the Broadway Bridge downstream several miles to Sauvie Island, the river suffers from highly elevated levels of toxicity due to well over a hundred years’ worth of industrial activity on the waterfront. The banks and waters of River Mile 11 are specifically noted for their toxicity apart from the rest of the Superfund site. The area from the Broadway Bridge downstream to the Fremont Bridge is the only stretch of the Willamette in Portland where swimming is not only ill-advised but advisory groups caution against even walking barefoot on the riverbank.

The toxic effects of a century’s worth of industry was not confined to just the water itself. The housing complex I live in was built on top of formerly toxic brownfields, as were many of the surrounding buildings and current features of the neighborhood including my beloved marsh. But while the toxicity on the land has been cleaned up to an extent over the past twenty years, any substantive cleaning of the river itself has yet to begin.

The view at River Mile 11.

The view at River Mile 11

I have learned that she is both the same river I knew in Eugene and a completely different character at the same time. I feel as if I’ve gotten to simultaneously know her in two separate stages of her journey. The youthful exuberance of the Willamette at Mile 183 is largely absent from the river that now sits across the street from my building. Here, the river has been altered into submission, industrialized to a point where the energies that I easily sensed in Eugene are almost unrecognizable.  And yet, she is my old friend all the same. And, while I miss dipping my feet in, the understandings and lessons that I am quickly gaining from living on this stretch of the river far outweigh what I used to take for granted.

*  *  *

I stood in front of the statue, keeping in mind that the imposing woman before me was the second-largest copper repouseé statue in the country after Lady Liberty herself. Hunched down, she reaches out to me with her right hand as she wields a trident in her left. I take in her essence, both fierce and inviting.  In the tradition of Columbia and Brittania as well as Lady Liberty, she is intended to embody the persona of this city. I feel that she does in many ways, although not necessarily in the ways that were originally intended. For me, she is a powerful symbol of what is held back as much as what she inspires to push forward.

Symbols hold tremendous power, and one of the reasons that the Statue of Liberty is such a powerful symbol is that she can be seen everywhere. One does not have to visit her in person to quickly conjure up her likeness in the imagination. She appears on everything from birthday cakes to snow globes, and to step inside of any New York City tourist shop is to be visually assaulted with countless versions of her likeness.

The statue I stood before at that moment, however, is barely a recognizable symbol at all. Her likeness is restrained under threat of litigation. Despite the fact that the statue was built with public funds, the statue’s creator retains the copyright to the statue’s image, in contrast to most publicly funded art, which is generally in the public domain. Not only does the artist retain the copyright, he aggressively enforces it, which means that commercial reproductions of the statue’s image are practically non-existent. You will not find a cheap postcard with her image in a tourist shop.

Interestingly enough, despite its failure to become a symbol of any sort, the statue’s name is instantly recognizable among the American public, albeit the association is far removed from its original source. When people hear the name “Portlandia,” they generally think of a television show, not the beautiful copper goddess that kneels before me at that moment.

Standing before her, it struck me as strangely fitting, in a depressing sense, how the name of this statue has come to be primarily associated with a show that satirizes the very real tendencies and excesses of hipster capitalism, as opposed to being associated with the statue itself, a powerful and potentially iconic image that has been intentionally repressed and held back from mainstream recognition on account of its creator’s excessive love affair with capitalism.

Portlandia

Portlandia

I left a flower for Portlandia at the entrance to the building that she hovers over, and bid her adieu. As I walked away, I deliberately tried to picture her in my mind as I had just seen her, but strangely enough, or perhaps not strangely at all, her specifics had already become a bit of a blur.

 *  *  *

The cargo trains are often close to a mile long, and several times a day they slowly roll past less than a hundred feet from my bedroom window. When the cargo is mainly lumber, my throat occasionally tightens as I think of the forest, but my throat tightens much more when I spot the ominous black tanker cars that I know to be carrying crude oil, mostly from the Bakken region of North Dakota en route to a refinery near Clatskanie, Oregon.

The oil trains have been a subject of controversy, especially since a tragic accident in Quebec last year when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed, killing 47 people. Oil trains started running through Portland a few years ago without public notice or input, and oil train shipments have increased 250% just in the past year. Railroad companies are not required to report the entirety of their oil shipments through Oregon; only trains that are carrying over a million gallons of Bakken crude on a single train, the equivalent of approximately 35 cars, must report.

Oil trains crawling past my building complex

Oil train crawling past my building complex

Aside from the dangers of transporting crude oil in the first place, the frequency and slowness of these cargo trains creates additional environmental and quality-of-life issues on a local level. Vehicles are stopped several times a day for the trains to pass, and dozens of cars sit idling, sometimes for the better part of an hour, while stopped in a narrow traffic corridor lined on both sides by residential apartment buildings. Especially in the summer, and when the air is already stagnant, the build-up of car fumes as the train crawls past is noticeable and unpleasant.

There’s a cruel irony in witnessing all the refined oil being wasted as cars just sit there in frustration. These cars, which are often covered in pro-environment bumper stickers, idle away, waiting for the trains carrying Bakken crude to pass on the final stage of the journey towards becoming refined oil.

*  *  *

A block south from the marsh, I walked down Lovejoy Street and once again couldn’t ignore how new the corridor felt. The entire neighborhood feels new to an extent, which makes sense in that most of the development is less than thirty years old. But Lovejoy Street radiates newness in a way which truly captures the feel of the neighborhood.

In relation to the surrounding neighborhoods, I can’t help but to liken the Pearl District to an ultramodern bathroom in an otherwise old Victorian house. From the turn of the last century until the late 1980s, this area was simply known as the NW Industrial area.  Then rezoning and the removal of the viaduct that towered over Lovejoy Street opened up the area for development. The classic gentrification pattern followed: artists moved in, developers followed, artists were then priced out, and today the Pearl District is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Portland. It’s a neighborhood that reminds me more of SoHo in New York City than anyplace else.

Portland Streetcar one block north from Lovejoy Street

The Portland Streetcar one block north from Lovejoy Street

I did not choose this neighborhood — this neighborhood chose me. My ideal vision of living in Portland consisted of a cute little bungalow in the southeast with a garden in the backyard, but the Gods had other plans. I surrendered once I realized what was at work and, while there is something awkward and distressing about both the newness and the lack of standing history in the area, the why part of the “why here?” question is starting to become clearer to me by the day. Right now, within that one question, my task is to simply bear witness and take notes.

*  *  *

I was sitting at the edge of the dock at the marsh last month when I first heard the sound of the pile driver. I looked over at the vacant lot in horror, and noticed that overnight the lot had been surrounded with fencing and filled with construction equipment. I realized immediately that my beloved view of the Fremont Bridge was about to disappear.

And though I’ve only lived here since last Spring, it feels very personal and very raw in its effect upon me.

My view, interrupted by construction

The view, interrupted by a wall and a pile driver

Every day since, I’ve watched as the hole in the ground expands, and the pile driver has just recently been replaced by a crane as concrete paneling is quickly ushered in. Most who walk by seem much more affected and upset by the sound of the construction itself than the fact that another huge mega-building is about to go up in the vacant lot, destroying the open feel of the park. Part of me, the small part that tends to envy the bliss inherent in ignorance, wishes I was as unaffected as everyone else who walks past. But I just can’t shake the inevitability and the reality of the impending loss.

Slowly but surely, developers are stealing a little piece of my sky.

The spirits in the marsh seem unsettled and anxious; their feelings mirroring my own, affected by not only the construction but by the utter disenchantment in everyone around us. Sitting in the marsh, it feels like the spirits and I are the only ones who feel that there’s something subtly disturbing in the acceptance and normalization of urban development as it occurs before us. For everyone else, it seems to be business as usual.

This neighborhood has many impressive features: three well-designed parks, several coffee shops, countless yoga studios and art galleries, Portland’s first dog gym, a spiffy new streetcar line, and more “sustainable” restaurants than one could possibly track. But what it notably lacks is what stood out for me the most at that moment.  It lacks both a collective memory as well as a cohesive community spirit.

construction

 *  *  *

I came back from lunch to learn that activists from Portland Rising Tide had temporarily blockaded the train tracks leading to Clatskanie as a protest against the shipment of crude oil.

I sat with this for a moment, silently honoring anyone and everyone who potentially puts themselves in harm’s way in the name of environmental justice. At that moment, I heard the train signals clanging outside my window, and I could tell from the sound against the tracks that it was a cargo train.

Quickly, I ran out of my building to see the black oil tanks snaking their way down the tracks towards the Steel Bridge. At the end of the side street, I saw vehicles backed up over a mile in each direction from the tracks, most of them idling away as the oil train crawled past. I looked behind me, and something on the light-post caught my eye.  It was a faded sticker that read “Portland: America’s Greenest City.”

I glanced out across at the river and, as the sun reflected off the water, I remembered hearing that there was currently a rare and toxic algae blooming on the Willamette. The advisory not to enter the water now reached far past the confines of River Mile 11. The oil train made its way across the Steel Bridge as I looked on; an ugly feeling grew in the pit of my stomach as I watched the dangerously toxic train cross the dangerously toxic waters.

I walked back in the other direction and headed over the pedestrian bridge that crosses the tracks at Union Station. On the bridge, I looked out at the train. Its black cars stretched eastward as far as the eye could see. A few tourists walked by, snapping pictures from the overpass, and then stopped to stare at a map for a few moments. I asked them what they were looking for.

“Do you know where we can find that big statue, the one that you see in the intro to ‘Portlandia’?” they asked me.

I pointed to a spot on the map. “Just so you know, Portlandia is actually the name of the statue itself,” I told them. “That’s where the show got its name from.”

They looked at each other, surprised. I smiled and nodded and continued walking across the bridge. At the bottom of the stairs, I paused for a moment. My original destination had been the marsh, but I suddenly felt the urge to bring a flower to Portlandia once again.

I took off in the direction of the statue, tuning out the sound of the oil train in the background as I conjured up the image of Portlandia in my mind’s eye and, for the first time, I was truly able to picture her clearly.

 

 

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