“TV can be art. TV can be revolutionary. TV can be popular entertainment AND incite critical dialogue. Audiences are hungry and intelligent enough for challenging work. This describes the philosophy behind BRUJOS…” – from BRUJOS

CHICAGO — There is no doubt that the power held by visual narrative media, from film to television to fine art, is unmatched and only increasing in our contemporary digitally-infected world. Going back in time, American filmmakers alone have been entertaining, guiding, and challenging the opinions of viewers for nearly 120 years. From mainstream blockbusters to art house projects, visual narrative media has a natural way of digging into our psyche and holding on. It can give us what we want and soothe us to complacency, or it can give us what we perceptibly need and provoke us into action.

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While most of us are familiar with the mainstream servings of visual narrative media, there are many artists who consciously reject the conventional modes of film or television operations, including technical methodologies, themes, visual language, and canned plots. These artists seek new ways of using their medium to capture and express ideas without the seemingly inherent presence of showmanship or the expectations of normative society. They want to use the medium’s incredible power to break traditional story telling barriers, challenge audiences, and perhaps make people a bit uncomfortable through a confrontation with a new reality.

Ricardo Gamboa, a Chicago-based artist, performer and filmmaker, is attempting to do just that. He is currently the driving force behind an upcoming web series called BRUJOS. As stated on the website, “BRUJOS is a queer-of-color web series that follows four gay Latino grad students that are also witches as they try and survive the school semester and a witch hunt led by the wealthy, white, male and heteronormative descendants of the first New World colonizers.”

Gamboa has a masters degree in Arts Politics from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently finishing up his doctorate in American Studies at NYU, where he is also a Critical Collaborations Fellow. Gamboa was also a fellow of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, and has a long list of art credits and awards to his name. He was a finalist for Sundance Film Festival Latino Film Fellowship, and his short film The Southside Has Many Beauty Queens was winner of the Best Short at Chicago Latino Film Festival, to name only two.

The Wild Hunt had the opportunity to speak with Gamboa about his background, his motivation, the practice of Witchcraft, and the upcoming series itself.

The Wild Hunt: When did you become interest in art, and more specifically filmmaking?

Ricardo Gamboa: I’ve always made art as a kid: made construction paper sculptures, wrote puppet shows with my sister, memorized and acted out cartoons and comic books, etc. I also have always been invested in the world around me and sociopolitical issues. These two interests have always been braided together. I’ve been doing “art activism” since before the term existed.

TWH: Will you share your personal experience and background that led to you to becoming an activist artist and how or when the two merged?

RG: It was a way to talk back to power without getting killed. The reality is we live in a world of discipline and punish and control. My personal biography is dotted with an assassinated activist, gang members, and people who have resigned to quiet existences. I don’t want to go quietly. I don’t want to die. Art and art-making can provide a wormhole in time-space and from oppressive systems to experience or imagine new things and ways of being.

I started acting and was unable to find work that was in line with my politics or what I thought performance could and should be doing. So, I started writing my own work.

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Ricardo Gamboa as Panfilo in BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: On the website, you wrote, “Grassroots filmmaking that focuses on community building further underline that Brujos is not just about artistic conceit, but also social mission.” Can you define “grassroots” filmmaking and how it functions within a social mission?

RG: There’s this fantasy of filmmaking as some democratic medium, but it’s not. It’s actually a very inaccessible medium because of how much it costs to make films and how the culture/film industry marginalizes people of color, women, etc. So, with my work, I try to create work that bypasses all that and articulates an alternative to big budget filmmaking. It relies on thinking about filmmaking more like community organizing and rather than making a product for the arts or culture economy, thinking about how process can condition a cultural ecology.

So, my filmmaking process sows community into the process at various points: the writing and development, as actors, etc. So, amending the filmmaking process can model alternative forms of being, relating, etc. as well.

TWH: Are any of the BRUJOS characters or depicted events directly reflective of things that happened to you personally or to people you knew?

RG: A lot of BRUJOS draws from my personal experience and people I know. But, what I think is more important is how many viewers will say, “Me too.” That’s what matters to me. And the overarching premise of the show, of racialized gendered subjects living in a world of Western domination or white supremacist, heteropatriarchy is a fact of existence for all of us. So, maybe BRUJOS isn’t fantasy or autobiographically-inspired, just a documentary.

TWHYou also discuss how many groups of marginalized people are “absent in media representation.” Would you say this representation has been getting worse, better or the same? 

RG: I don’t know if it’s getting “worse.” There is more “diverse representation” in media than ever before. But I don’t know what it is doing. There’s a difference between representational achievements and revolutionary achievements. “Looking” is a representational achievement, not a revolutionary one.

I’m not interested in creating work that just “portrays” marginalized subjects (queer people, people of color, etc.). I’m interested in making work that gives marginalized subjects the tools to diagnose our media representation and social realities and that invites them to begin thinking of another world. BRUJOS isn’t about people of color or queer people succeeding or finding love in the normative world. It’s about them taking that world down and living their lives effectively in the anti-matter of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, etc.

TWH: As a child or teen watching movies and television were you acutely aware of the lack of brown and black bodies in film, and then eventually the limited representation of LGBTQ? If so, will you talk about how any of that felt?

RG: I was very aware of it, and it is violence. That’s all we need to know. It is an attempt to deprive people of affirmative images so that they cannot visualize themselves as actors in their own biography and society. Media representation is about giving people a referent. A dream to pursue, a way to be, things to want. But depriving people of affirmative images or an array of desires, lifestyles, etc. is a way to make them negate themselves and limit their horizons of conceptualization.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Now let’s talk about the series itself. Let’s talk witches. These “non-normative characters” practice magic. As far as we can tell from the trailer, the movie’s coven of witches is all men and all queer. Is that correct? And, do you conceive of these four witches as being humans with supernatural powers (e.g. The Craft, 1996) or non-human (e.g. Bewitched, 1964-)?

RG: Yes, they are queer men. I guess. But, I don’t know. “Human” itself is a contract, and the notion of the “human” as we understand it has a very specific genealogy that is tied to colonization, western ideation, etc. Human and non-human isn’t so much of how I think about it. What I’ll say is that the characters in BRUJOS are alive; they’re struggling to be alive.

TWH: Can you clarify this point?

RG: I would say the BRUJOS are people, they are also racialized and gendered subjects. Their humanity is always in question. That is a reality for people like the characters in BRUJOS–on and off the screen. When Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown, he referred to him as “demon.” This country calls undocumented Mexican (and other Latin American) immigrants “aliens.” Gay sex is constantly referred to as “unnatural.”

To be honest, I don’t know what human is; I don’t know what constitutes humanity; I just know we haven’t really seen it. What is fantasy and fiction and what is real, especially when it comes to defining or outlining what or who is “human” is really fuzzy territory. I’m not saying this to be philosophically pretentious. I really mean this. So, it’s hard for me to answer this question. So, I could say, “yes, they’re human” but I’m not really sure.

TWH: Getting back to the film’s witchcraft, are you or any of your crew familiar with or practitioners of modern Witchcraft, conjure, hoodoo, magic, or something similar? If not, do you have a consultant that is working with you on that aspect of the show?

RG: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Certain aspects of brujeria have always been a part of my life. There are ways in which brujeria is part of quotidian culture for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latin American peoples. It was something that I grew up around. But, I would say that I was going through some hard times that caused me to seek answers, help from alternative forms of knowledge and that opened me up more to magic, witchcraft, etc. My own connection to brujeria and psychic abilities deepened.

For the show, I have and still do talk to people about magic, ritual … We are careful how it’s all represented in the show. In various moments, BRUJOS draws from brujeria, Santeria, hoodoo, witchcraft, etc. But, I’m not interested in providing an ethnographic or voyeuristic window into those practices. Instead, I obscure the actual practices or spells. It’s not my place to represent “factually” any of that. I’m not trying to expose or give people a how-to manual. Many of those practices have survived and thrived (and had to do so) in secret and I’ve always been good at keeping secrets. Power can’t touch what it can’t see.

And, again, I don’t want BRUJOS to boil down to a representative project; it’s a political project, and one that is invested in political imagination and thinking of different ways to imagine politics and power. Magic, superpowers, etc. are a conduit for that.

TWH: You write that supernatural has two meanings: the actual practice of magic and the going beyond what is considered socially normative. Can you explain this concept?

RG: Supernatural also refers to our characters –queers of color, women of color, etc– where supernatural also refers to their ability to survive oppressive systems and find ways to love and understand their selves and other.

TWH:The visuals in the short trailer are striking and rich. At the same time, the trailer has moments that are unsettling and startling. Is this what we can expect to see more of in the show?

RG: Yes.

TWH: Can the show be classified as fantasy, drama, horror, crime? What would you say?

RG: I am deeply invested in defying genre boundaries and conventions. Genre is about leading the viewer, contextualizing their experience, providing them expectations. It is part of a larger project of normalizing sensation. BRUJOS mixes genres: telenovela, sitcom, fantasy, drama, noir, horror, etc. We live lives that are mixed genres; BRUJOS mirrors that.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Can you site your inspirations that led you to this point of artistic discovery and process? 

RG: I really want to live. I really want people around me, people from the communities to which I belong, to be able to live. I am so exhausted from seeing people die and being devalued. I would say the people I love, the people I see struggling to stay alive, to be alive are my inspiration.

I can cite comics, supernatural film, queer directors or pulp magazines, talk about Fanon or Mignolo–but that’s just grammar, syllables, etc. What makes me speak and what motivated BRUJOS and what is the impetus of BRUJOS isn’t other art or ideas, but social realities and personal biographies. The politics is the art.

TWH: You say “get involved.” If people want to help or support this effort, what can they do?

RG: Visit our website and contact us. Share the site and trailer. We’re definitely looking for more financial support and will be launching a crowd-funding campaign. But, beyond that, I’ve been thinking about ways to make the series more “interactive” and including our audience more thoroughly.

TWH: Beyond BRUJOS, where else can we find your own work?

RG: I don’t have a website. I’m not commodifying myself. I hope that my web presence is created for me because people engage my work. I have films and performance art pieces littered over the internet. But, a lot of my work is theater, mostly in Chicago in the communities to which I belong.

The thing that I’m most proud of is my work with The Young Fugitives at Free Street Theater. The Fugitives are a radically politicized youth of color ensemble that creates really provocative plays. I’ve been working with the members of that group since they were graduating middle school and now they’re well into college. Another project of mine that’s really important to me is The Southside Ignoramus Quartet (SIQ). SIQ is a brown comedic ensemble that performs in a tent in a backyard to deliver affordable and politicized comedy for the hood in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that our members grew up in. We also have a web series coming out this winter.

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BRUJOS will debut on Jan. 20, 2017 on OpenTV (Beta), “a platform for television by queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color” founded by Northwestern professor Aymar Jean Christian. Gamboa, who wrote the script, will be joined by co-director Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, producer Stephanie Jeter, graphic designer May Cat, and director of photography Ben. The preview can be found on Vimeo, OpenTV(beta) and Brujos TV.

A Special Note: In tribute …

The Wild Hunt —  September 11, 2016 — 1 Comment

The Wild Hunt is taking this moment to pay tribute to the many people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001; to the brave who stepped forward and not back; and to the families who still grieve. In memory of the victims and acknowledgement of the survivors, we offer the words often spoken here:

What is Remembered, Lives.

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For more thoughts from our writers, past and present:

Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie

“For the rest of the week, I spent my afternoons in Union Square, praying and making offerings for the dead. The screaming only started to fade a few months later as the fire finally went out, but I heard the screams in traces for the next several years.”

Personal Thoughts on 9/11 by Cara Schulz (originally posted on PNC Minnesota)

“I lost one of my best friends, and Air Force buddy and matron of honor at my wedding. I didn’t know she was in one of the towers while I sat in stalled traffic on 394 that morning …  I was horrified hearing the radio news report that a second plane had hit a tower and, judging by how the traffic slowed and then stopped as people lost focus on driving, the other drivers shared my horror. Traffic stopped. And it felt like the world stopped. Each year the world should stop again and it doesn’t and that feels wrong.”

The Sacred Void: the 9/11 Memorial: by Heather Greene

“I can’t pretend to know what the 9/11 Memorial means to others – specifically to those who directly lost loved ones in the attacks. For me the memorial was not what I expected. I had hoped to find a place of calm where I could process my own lingering sadness. But I didn’t. I wanted the memorial to fill me with comfort and pride in my country. But it didn’t.”

Existing in a Changed World: Pagan Reflections on 9/11 by Jason Pitzl-Waters

“September 11th was one of the things that started me on the path towards Pagan blogging and journalism. Years before The Wild Hunt I had a small proto-blog called MythWorks where I tried to find Pagan reactions to the madness that had just occurred. The 9/11 attacks awoke a need within me to find the stories we were ignoring or overlooking, to stop sitting on the sidelines of my faith community and become an active participant.”

ATLANTA, Ga. – Over the past 30 years during Labor Day weekend, fans from around the world descend on Atlanta for the pop culture convention DragonCon. The sprawling event, which began in 1987, offers its thousands of enthusiastic attendees four days of programming exploring a wide-range of pop culture fandom. From lectures and workshops to cosplay, gaming, and the famous parade, Dragon Con has become one of the largest fan-based conventions of its kind. This year, Dragon Con reported a record 77,000 attendees over a four-day period, and its parade was broadcast for the first time on local television.

DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography ©]

DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Since its inception DragonCon has been regularly attended by celebrities, artists, writers, gamers, cosplay experts, and an incredible diversity of pop culture fans from all over the world. Within that crowd, at any given point, one can easily find a group of Pagans, Heathens or polytheists. Although there are no official statistics on just how many such people attend, it is safe to assume from casual observation that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens and polytheists attending DragonCon is higher than the same measure in the general population.

In an attempt to roughly gauge that number, The Wild Hunt queried groups of random people throughout the weekend at various points. From that highly non-scientific method, we have extrapolated that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens, polytheists and the like stands at 9% of the total population of attendees at DragonCon.

Regardless of any data, the DragonCon fandom world does seem to intersect comfortably with Pagan, Heathen and polytheist cultures. In fact, DragonCon featured three openly Pagan musicians and groups, including Tuatha Dea, S.J. Tucker and Emerald Rose. In addition, author Kathryn Hinds, occultist Michelle Belanger, and artist Laura Tempest Zakroff offered presentations in their fields of expertise. Beyond that, in the extensive vendor spaces, it was easy to find jewelry and other products decorated with pentacles, Thor’s hammers, and other common symbols found within Pagan, Heathen and polytheist practices.

“There is a large overlap between Pagandom and geekdom,” explains singer and song writer Arthur Hinds. “It has to do with the power of imagination, the building of thought forms.”

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography ]

Hinds has been attending DragonCon for years, performing with the band Emerald Rose. The oddness commonly associated with what he called “geekdom” doesn’t matter as much to Pagans because, as he explained, “There is a willingness to accept that you are already on the fringe of normal society.”

This particular DragonCon was bittersweet for Hinds and the other members of the Atlanta-based band. This year marks their final appearance at the con as a group. Band member Logan said, “We’ve had a blast. This is one of the most significant [crowds] we have ever played for, because there is such a wealth of creativity and camaraderie.”

Logan added that performing at DragonCon has been a “great ride” and one of the “most fun things [he’s] done in [his] life.”

Members of Tennessee-based band Tuatha Dea agreed with Hinds and Logan, saying that there wasn’t much difference in playing to DragonCon or Pagan crowds. Contrary to Emerald Rose, Tuatha Dea was making its debut appearance at the con, and their excitement was infectious. Not only did the group perform several shows, one of which was on the main stage, but they also offered a “Facilitated Rhythm Event,” and could be found sharing their drumming energy with the dense crowds passing by their table in Marriott hotel.

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Another Pagan musician found at DragonCon was singer/songwriter S.J. Tucker. She said, “My first crowd is the Pagan crowd obviously, so I’m use to people being able to groove to whatever you bring to the table. The Pagan crowd is extremely good at that. They know how to listen. They know how to respond … I am spoiled.”

Tucker equated that comfort level to performing within the filk community, which is represented at DragonCon with its very own track. She said, “It is the only other thing that comes close” to what she experiences with performing for Pagans.

“[The filk programing] is where you can bring your song, no matter what it’s about, if it’s your song that you wrote, or someone else’s song that you really want to sing, everyone will listen and everyone will applaud when you are finished, no matter what happens.”

S.J. Tucker between DragonCon workshops, 2016 [© Desosil Photography]

S.J. Tucker, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Tucker is a regular at Pagan and non-Pagan conferences, including big festivals like Burning Man. This was not her first time at DragonCon and, along with her performances, she offered a singing workshop where she told the small group of singers to be themselves. “There is only one you. Don’t worry about sounding like someone else,” she encouraged.

It is this very spirit that Tucker finds expressed at DragonCon as a whole. She said there “is call to come and be welcome. No matter who you are.”

Tucker added that the only real difference in performing at DragonCon and Pagan events is the size of the convention itself and the competition for the attendee attention. She stressed that this point is not necessarily a negative, just a reality.  However, over time, she has learned to keeps things in perspective, focusing on the people that do make the effort to show up at her classes or shows, and not on those seats left empty by people who decided to attend something different.

Outside of the music world, artist and performer Laura Tempest Zakroff traveled from Seattle to present and display her work in the Dragon Con art show. She has been attending the con since 2012, first performing with her partner Nathaniel and the Nathaniel Johnstone Band, or performing with other friends’ bands (e.g. Ego Likeness, Frenchy and The Punk, The Cog Is Dead, Voltaire, The Ghosts Project). Then, in 2014, she began showing in the con’s extensive art gallery.

Zakroff said, “The fandom crowd tends to be more free-thinking, and open to new ideas than most people, which makes sense when you think about what the sci-fi/fantasy genres represent in terms of imagination and society. So much of science fiction and fantasy is about re-imagining our culture and challenging ideas, couched in a veil of fiction. Some of the most popular films and books are about overcoming the issues that plague our society, and envisioning a future/world that is more respectful, healthy, balanced, fair, and communicative.” She believe that the overlap between “Pagandom” and fandom makes perfect sense.

Laura Tempest Zakroff at DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Laura Tempest Zakroff, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Along with showcasing her art and performing, Tempest offered two classes that touched on occult topics, including “The Power of Line and Symbol: The Art of Sigil Magick” and “Visual Alchemy: Where Art & Magick Meet.”

When asked about the difference in presenting or teaching to the Pagan crowd versus the DragonCon crowd, Zakroff said, “At Pagan events, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of the attendees have a basic understanding in metaphysics and P-word paths, but I never really know what to expect when I present at other kinds of events. I tend to brace myself for getting some static, but (knock on wood), it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s self-selection; that if you’re interested or intrigued by the topic, then you’re probably going to be somewhat familiar with it, or at least respectful in finding out more.”

Zakroff said the feedback is mostly positive, and people are often “pleasantly surprised, comforted, and excited” about her workshop topics. She added, “They’re finding out that ideas they’ve had [or] thought aren’t crazy, and that there are more avenues for them to explore in terms of art, religion, and spirituality.”

While some attendees engage, perform, or present openly as Pagan or Heathen, such as Zakroff or Tucker, others are there strictly for learning, fun, and for the “epic” fandom experience provided by the highly creative, secular DragonCon environment.

Author, poet and English professor Kathryn Hinds enjoys the many aspects of the con, and presents on various non-Pagan specific writing topics on various tracks. She said, “Both of [the Pagan and geekdom] realms allow people to explore parts of themselves that they cannot explore very often or actualize in their everyday lives, which is why people will spend a year planning their costumes for DragonCon. Like they spend all year looking forward to [Pagan Spirit Gathering].”

This year, Hinds participated on two panels, “Gender Roles in Young Adult Literature” and “Author Roundtable: Avoiding Historical Mistakes.” One was on the Young Adult Fiction track, and the other on the Alternative History track.

One her favorite aspects of the con is the cosplay, and she is not alone. People-watching is an activity in and of itself, and it is what fuels the popularity of its famous parade.

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

In consideration of the overlap of religious practice and fandom, Hinds said that for those people working in a “tradition where you invoke deity, draw down the Goddess or the God, [you are] opening yourself up to other identities.”

“I think in cosplay people do that a lot that,” she continued, adding that she often likes to speculate why someone chose a particular costume: was it just fun, or does it draw out a part of their spirit that is otherwise unexpressed in their daily lives?

When asked how comfortable she is as a Pagan at DragonCon, she said very comfortable, adding, “You have so many flavors of geek here […] and Pagan is just one more. You are not singling yourself out.” Hinds said that there are very few public, secular conventions where she feels open about being Pagan. DragonCon is one of them.

Meghan Harker, a Victorian spiritualist, agreed, saying “People are more open-minded here. I have never been accosted for being a spiritualist or dressing like this.” Harker enjoys the Victorian Gothic aesthetic. However, Harker did add that she would like to see a better representation of this niche genre in panel discussions at the con.

For those of any particular religion, Pagan or not, the interest in fandom might speak directly to their religious beliefs, and even support them. Yet, for those people without religious affiliations, such as atheists, secularists, or “nones,” fandom and the mythologies resident in their worlds might provide a place to connect to deeper meanings, philosophy, and one’s own spirit. In that way, the con itself becomes an important personal pilgrimage, bringing together people of like minds and allowing for the expression of spirit in a safe space.

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [© Deosil Photography ]

DragonCon is certainly not the only pop culture convention of its kind. But not all “geek conventions” are multi-genre-based, like DragonCon. Some focus on a particular medium, such as comics, manga or gaming (e.g. ComicCon or MomoCon). Others are devoted to a particular pop culture product, such as Star Trek or BronyCon. Others still are focused on the demographics of the attendees, such as Seattle’s GeekGirlCon or the new BlerDCon.

As for Atlanta’s DragonCon, the convention remains one of the biggest in the U.S. and continues to grow each year. In 1987, it was held in one hotel and attracted 1,200 fans. Today, it needs five hotels and three of Atlanta’s AmericasMart buildings in order to contain its vast programming. Aside from this year’s record crowds, DragonCon also reportedly had to enlarge its gaming space by 60% just to accommodate demand. In addition, over the four days, most of the convention hotels are completely off-limits to non-DragonCon attendees, and the downtown Atlanta area is completely transformed.

Whether the experience provided is secular or spiritual, DragonCon appears to be successfully feeding a deeper need in its attendees, and that alone keeps them coming back year after year.

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Looking up, DragonCon Hotel [© Deosil Photography]

BeFunky Design

The time is a few minutes past midnight, on the night between the seventeenth and the eighteenth of August; the place, Svinøya, an outlying island close to the town of Svolvær, the unofficial capital and most populous locale of the Arctic archipelago of Lofoten in northern Norway. I am standing by a bench on the tip of a breakwater, facing the city’s waterfront. Next to me is my colleague Heinrich, a South African who, by a succession of unlikely events has ended up, like me, working in the tourism industry of this Scandinavian nation.

Tomorrow isn’t just a normal day at work, it is the season’s last cruise ship and our employer sent us from our home of Tromsø all the way down to Lofoten; an eight hour car ride through some of the most stunning vistas there are which I have done too many time to count, but not enough not to be amazed — every single time — by the wild majesty of its landscape. The ride was in and of itself uneventful, and we got into town early, ate well (codfish pizzas, a local specialty) and looked forward to the next day’s tour. With the forecast promising fiery temperatures (21° Celsius/ 70° Fahrenheit) and continued clear skies for tomorrow, we both waited in anticipation, not only for the fat paycheck that comes with such assignments, but also to see if this beautiful summer weather might make our wealthy North American patrons loosen their purses further than usual when tipping. But until then and before going to bed, Heinrich and I have some time to kill, and we decide to go to Svinøya to hunt for the northern lights.

[Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

A late summer evening in arctic Norway [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, have held a very special place in both my worldview and my day-to-day life all the way since I moved from the scorching shores of the Mediterranean to their comparatively more frigid Arctic counterparts. While prior to this move I certainly knew about their existence, I wasn’t especially interested in them or even really enthused about soon being able to stare at their luminous, heavenly shapes. Still, I do clearly remember the very first time I saw them, seven years or so ago.

While riding the bus back home one evening, I unaffectedly directed my gaze at the sky, to discover, to my great surprise, where grayish clouds would normally stand, a green arrow of light pierced the horizon. Upon realizing that what I was seeing wasn’t an arrow cast by Apollo’s mighty silver bow but the aurora borealis, I threw myself out of the bus and ran to a friend’s house  where we spent a good hour silently gazing at greenish arches, spikes and other moving figures morphing into each other, illuminating the eastern sky.

Over the following couple of years, I became more and more involved with the northern lights, not only regularly seeing them in the winter night, but actively seeking them, informing others about the phenomena and, since 2011, professionally guiding guests to see what, in the northern lights hunter jargon we simply call, “the lights.”

As a northern lights guide, I am generally expected to, well, talk about the aurora. Most often tourists get very quickly down to business and want to know all about the practical aspects of the lights: What are they? How can we find them? Where and when is the best place/time to see them? How to photograph them, etc., but when one is expected to guide a six- to seven-hour-long tour, researching and finding extra information (“ammunition,” in the guiding jargon) can always be useful; this is how I started to look more closely into the folklore and mythology of the northern lights.

After going through the relatively limited pool of sources on the subject (an area which would benefit from further research), it appears that in many mythologies and folk belief systems, the northern lights were associated with the ancestors, the gods, and the hereafter. In the Inuit homelands, for example, the aurora was most often seen as an aerial ball game played by the spirits of the dead either with a walrus head, a human head or even stillborns’ afterbirths! In medieval Russian chronicles, the lights were described as heavenly armies fighting each other, an image that can be traced back all the way to the Roman Empire and the fourth century writer Julius Obsequies. To go back to the Arctic, the people of the Tlingit nation of southern Alaska believed that the aurora was the light of torches lit by the fallen dwelling in the heaven of Kee-wa-kow-anne to guide the souls of those who died a violent death.

The Aurora over the Whale Island near Tromsø [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

The aurora over the Whale Island near Tromsø [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

There is no doubt that Pagan and Polytheist peoples hold or held the northern lights in high esteem, regardless of what they believed them to be. Such a sacralization of what is, according to modern science, a chemical reaction between solar and gas particles in the high atmosphere is remarkable and even extends in some cases to Christian philosophy and mysticism. The author and Christian minister Harald Falck-Ytter, for instance, saw in the aurora a symbolic reflection of the Holy Spirit, whose at first unfathomable, yet very corporeal nature is gradually revealed to humankind as it progresses towards its destiny.

Even for non-religious people the aurora remains not just a sight to behold, but often the symbol of something greater. How many times have I witnessed guests literally losing all composure at the view of particularly well-defined northern lights? Most people, I have noticed, react to such lights in a similar manner: a mixture of awe, excitement, hysteria and frostbite.

“The northern lights are killing me,” an American tourist of mine once stated, a feeling that I can confirm, is shared by others. Indeed, every winter, thousands upon thousands of travelers are starting to head to our Arctic wasteland to pay up to several hundreds of dollars (the Norwegian industry rate amounts to about 120 dollars per person per tour) in what is increasingly referred to as a modern-day pilgrimage.

When the “hunting season” finally arrives, various plans and schemes are devised, friendly rivalry between guides flares up anew and new recruits are introduced to the bizarre ritual of northern lights-hunting in which individuals compete to find the best frostbitten night spot to gaze at illuminated winter skies. Because it is impossible to know if such a “hunt” will be successful on the grounds of weather, solar activity, and ultimately, plain old luck, one simply must surrender to fate, a fate that can sometimes be cruel, but which is much more often than not generous beyond comprehension. I can barely count the number of times when I was dead certain that the aurora would snub us, only to be proven wrong when in the middle of the woods, on an isolated mountain pass, and even in cases of severe snowstorm the lights finally appeared in all of their glory.

While not every auroral display qualifies as a life changing experience, a moderately strong northern lights storm is enough to bring sheer happiness and life-warmth to any onlooker. Most northern lights hunters, especially in the lower echelons of the industry, are people driven by a sheer passion that is generally referred to as the “green-fever,” a moniker perfectly fitting for the frenzy inhabiting many of us during the aurora season; every opportunity to watch, photograph or experience the northern lights in any way possible becomes more of a duty than a mere obsession, and missing a especially beautiful display feels more like a fault than just a missed opportunity. Even for the casual onlooker, such a devotion would appear as rather peculiar.

A strong Aurora display over an Icelandic lava-field [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

A strong aurora display over an Icelandic lava-field [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

As far as I am concerned, I personally know how much I am indebted to the lights. For now five winters, chasing the elusive aurora has been my main, and sometimes sole, source of income. When I moved to Iceland back in 2013, my only plan for survival was to find work as a northern lights hunter. Discard that, and I would probably not have been able to live there anymore and continue my studies in old Norse religion. A class comrade of mine, Josh Rood, editor of the Óðroerir Heathen journal, whom I took with me on a few tours once joked that the northern lights were the very source of my life force, considering that without them, I could not even afford to eat, let alone pay the rent.

Not that the job pays fantastically, mind you; most northern lights hunters, myself included, make barely enough to survive and could only compete, at best, with grocery store clerks and waiters if one’s employer is honest or competent enough. Yet there is still something that keeps me, and I can only guess, others, going back, year after year, winter after winter. Could it be an age-old remembrance of our once Pagan beliefs and worldview, in which not only the aurora, but various natural phenomena and nature itself were viewed as sacred by all? What pushes so many to reach the end of the world to simply look at the skies?

Back in Svinøya, Heinrich and I were certainly not engaging in such a deeply philosophical conversation. Waiting like sitting ducks for an aurora that clearly was not going to show herself, we passed the time by drinking some locally-produced brews and jeering at the drunken teenagers enjoying one of the very few warm evenings of the year sitting just a few yards away. At midnight, theoretically the darkest moment of the night, the northern half of the sky was still milky white and its darker, southern counterpart was illuminated by the brightest of full moons. Only in the uppermost edge of the sky was the sky dark enough to reveal a handful of stars and thus possibly and in theory, northern lights as well; but, as nothing happened and the beer supplies inevitably dwindled into oblivion, we made the decision to leave.

Mere moments afterwards, Heinrich, whose superior eyesight enables him to engage with the outside world without the help of glasses, stops and points to the jet-black southern sky. Far away on the horizon, a subtle arch appears, soon heading closer to us and taking the form of a downward spiral of pale-green color: the aurora has shown herself at last, almost two months before the beginning of the season. Ecstatic, we grab our DSLR cameras and start shooting, our hearts pumping with excitement and raw, unaltered joy. Finally we, Heinrich, the anti-theist existentialist and I, the ever-questioning Pagan, agree that this is a good sign for the coming season and head back to the hotel. The super-rich Americans will have one more story to hear in the tour bus tomorrow.

The first Northern Lights of the season over Svolvær [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

The first northern lights of the season over Svolvær [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

After half a decade of hunting for the elusive lights, and likely hundreds of sightings, I came to the conclusion that the main reason people from all walks of life, over the whole world head towards the far north to experience the shimmering spectacle of the aurora borealis stems from a desire to reconnect with nature and the primordial wilderness. As a more and more significant proportion of the world’s population moves to large cities in which engaging with nature is all but a romantic and sadly, futile dream, our psyche somehow calls us back away from this sterile modernity and exhorts us to look back at what was ours, and what we once were a part of.

Not only are the northern lights a potent reminder of our pre-modern and pre-monotheist past in the form of the gods, the ancestors and the afterlife, they can only be adequately experienced in the wild, where the artificial city lights are nowhere to be seen and cannot stop us from focusing our sights beyond our immediate and bustling environment. Around this potent, almost mystical attraction has developed not only a multimillion-dollar industry but a whole subculture; a stiflingly dynamic subculture; a sky-gazing subculture; a nature-worshiping subculture; a Pagan subculture? Mayhaps, depending on who you ask, but in my aurora-drenched eyes at least, nothing is more certain.

SHROPSHIRE, England — A row has erupted after the organisers of the Shrewsbury Folk Festival (SFF) decided to ban morris dancers from wearing blackface at this year’s event. The annual festival is one of the biggest of its kind in England, and it celebrates folk music and traditions from across the UK and farther afield. A morris dancing contingent is customary. However, this year’s costuming tradition must be changed due to the ban precipitated by an equality campaign group, Fairness and Racial Equality in Shropshire (FRESh).

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Festival director Sandra Sutrees said, “After last year’s festival, the event was accused of racial harassment and threatened with legal action by FRESh, following performances by morris sides wearing full-face black make-up in the town centre.” In a statement, the organisers of SFF further stressed, “The festival finds itself caught between two sides of this opposing argument and believe that this is a national issue that should not be focused solely on SFF.”

Morris is a traditional English dance, others of which include sword and clog dancing. Some Morris sides, especially what is known as border morris, (so called as it is a dancing style that originates from the Welsh border counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire) paint their faces black. In other words, the dancer appears with all or most of the face covered in black make-up as part of the costume or guise.

There are many theories on the origin of this tradition in morris. One is that it was a form of Moorish dance, which inspired its name. Another is that it is from an ancient folk custom known as guising, which was used at various festival times, such as Hallowe’en and while dancing to protect oneself from malevolent spirits. As it was common during festival periods, it has also been used in mummers plays, which are often performed around Easter or Christmas, and they often incorporate aspects of Pagan traditions.

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Guising also had a more practical application of protecting the identity of beggars during a time when it was still illegal in England and Wales. They often hid their faces under a layer of soot or coal dust. As Sutrees explained: “The use of full-face black make-up is an age old tradition, particularly within border morris. The morris movement has always evolved over time and some sides have made their own decisions to move away from using full-face black make-up towards other forms of colour and disguise.

“In the past 18 months, of the three sides we booked for this year’s festival, two have already moved away from wearing full-face black make up of their own volition.”

The stressing of blackface as an ancient tradition is a sentiment echoed by Adam Garland. The outgoing Ring Squire (leader) of the Morris Ring states: “All over the world, one finds traditional folk customs for which costume and face paint are integral parts; for example, certain tribal dancers in Africa white their faces for the performance. In England, the Morris world is no different; many morris clubs use face paint as part of their costume.”

The ban was welcomed by FRESh leader Jonathan Hyams, who applauded the change as representing sensitivity to “a changed social climate”.

In a public statement, Hyams said: “From FRESh’s perspective, it is good news. We entirely understand the argument from morris dancing communities that this is something that goes back to tradition. However, there are other ways of celebrating this other than “blacking up,” which has very strong connotations of racism.”

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

However, the ban has provoked anger from some parts of the morris community. Garland responded, “The theory of the tradition originating as a form of disguise through the use of soot has been well documented. These days within the three organisations – The Morris Ring, the Morris Federation, and The Open Morris – a whole range of different colours can be seen in many places around the country. The use of one particular colour within these costumes is in no way a statement against one particular societal group and the morris community refutes the accusation of racism most strongly.”

One aspect that has complicated the issue is the guising tradition being conflated with the more modern version of blackface coming from American customs, such as the old minstrel shows that were still being televised in the UK as late as the 1970s. The Morris Ring of the UK is keen to stress the differences between the two customs.

The ban has divided dancers and locals alike. Joseph Healy, secretary of the Britannia Coco-Nut Dancers, who are a clog dancing side from Lancashire in the North West of England and who traditionally used coconuts on their clogs to make a distinctive sound, told LBC radio that for his side, the tradition came from the mining heritage of the area. He added: “We will always dance in blackface because that is the complete and full costume we turn out in.”

Richard Day told to BBC Radio Shropshire, “Just because we have done something for a long time does not necessarily mean we should continue it – unless you want to bring back the burning of witches, maybe?” The Shrewsbury Folk Festival has decided that from 2017, they will not book any troupes that still use blackface.

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Morris Dancers at Bewdley Wassail 2012 [Photo Credit: P. Dixon]

Meanwhile, the Morris Federation is attempting to move the debate forward and open up a dialogue about the issue. It said in a statement: “Blacking up in morris is a very sensitive and emotive subject and we are truly saddened by the division it has caused among morris dancers. We would like to reiterate that the Morris Federation is currently seeking legal advice on the impact of blacking up in morris and chairing an open discussion with our membership at our AGM on September 24th.”

It looks like this debate is set to continue.

CORRECTION 9/20/2016: The original story suggested that it was the Shopshire Council that had banned blackface. But we confirmed that the decision was made by the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. The article has been corrected.

FORT WORTH, Texas –Members of the Council of Magickal Arts, or CMA, are standing up to help make the organization whole after it was discovered that its director of finance, Alicia Wilson, had reportedly spent more than $4,000 out of operating funds on personal purchases. Wilson was elected to the position at the Texas-based council’s annual Samhain festival last year. The first unauthorized purchase occurred less than three months later, on January 25, 2016.

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The embezzlement represents about half of CMA’s operating budget, according Megan Dobson, the council’s interim director of communications. Even so, plans for Samhain 2016 continue unabated.

“Far from being imperiled, it promises to be an outstanding festival,” Dobson said. “We will be welcoming internationally-published author and activist M. Macha Nightmare as our featured guest speaker . . . it’s all coming together to create an amazing event!”

According to the official account, Wilson embezzled $4,160.22 between late January and April 29, when corporate officer Gary Parks discovered the unauthorized charges. While past directors of finance provided board members with read-only access to financial information, this was one of several practices that Wilson had not reportedly followed. CMA bylaws require that generally-accepted accounting principles (GAAP) be used, “but they do not dictate a specific system,” explained Dobson.

“The financial system previously in place had not been passed as official policy; a set of procedures and guidelines was passed on from one director of finance to the next. Ms. Wilson changed the system by writing all the checks herself, and, as a result, the previous practice of oversight was circumvented.”

This Samhain, CMA members will be asked to vote on a package of reforms to prevent that situation from happening again. “The new system requires that one person writes the checks, a second person keeps the books, and the director of finance is responsible for overseeing both persons. Additionally, the entire board of directors has access to view the accounts and the accounting software system at any time,” said Dobson.

Spirithaven, CMA's grounds 2002 [Courtesy Wren / Witchvox]

Spirithaven, CMA’s dedicated grounds 2002 [Photo Credit: Wren / Witchvox]

While the unauthorized withdrawals did take place over several months, once discovered the reaction was both swift and transparent. Wilson was reportedly removed from all accounts and asked to explain her actions. After claiming that she had inadvertently used the wrong card to make purchases, she reportedly said that she would reimburse the CMA account on May 1.

That payment was not forthcoming, and Wilson resigned from the board for “personal reasons” May 5. D. Blaze Johnson, a prior finance director, was made Wilson’s interim replacement a few days later. By May 13, she had confirmed how much money was missing. With that information, board members agreed to hire an attorney, and it notified the full membership May 29, which happened to be the same day that a town hall meeting was already scheduled.

By the time of that meeting, Wilson had reportedly signed a restitution agreement under which she would pay $300 monthly. If it is not kept, the remainder of those funds — presently on the books as a debt owed — will be re-characterized as an “excess benefit transaction,” and Wilson will be hit with a 25% excise tax on that sum.

In addition, on May 29, board members suspended Wilson’s CMA membership for a year and a day. In October, the full membership will decide if that is sufficient, or if other sanctions should be considered.

Nevertheless, board members have acknowledged that this incident was likely preventable. “The situation should never have been allowed to occur in the first place and the board has taken immediate steps to ensure that it never happens again,” said Dobson. Those steps include the institution of new policies expected to be ratified this October.

“Institutional knowledge from past boards concerning checks and balances on the director of finance was lost,” a situation which the new rules should prevent.

“No system is perfect, and a determined thief will find a way,” said Dobson. “However, the new system is now codified, has more checks and balances, and will allow future boards to identify a problem, if there is one, early on.”

Members of the council have rallied to keep the organization whole, as Dobson recounted, “The recent Phoenix Rising benefit concert, masterfully organized by our Austin Area Lead Representative, raised approximately $1,600 to replace the monies lost. Shortly after the embezzlement loss was reported to our membership, two members approached me; they said that they’d been considering buying a lifetime membership for a while, and that now seemed like the time that CMA needed it most. Between the benefit, the lifetime memberships, and smaller donations made by individual members, we have at this point been able to replace all the stolen funds. It’s been amazing, watching our community come together in support of CMA and its future.”

TWH was unable to locate Ms. Wilson for comment, but she did submit a report to the council’s newsletter, The Accord, for its spring 2016 issue. In addition to updating members on a variety of routine expenses, she wrote, “I am working diligently to get to the transparency that the membership wants and so do we.”

“That’s why fiction is so important. It strongly affects people in ways they may not be consciously aware of at the time.” S.M. Stirling

ATLANTA, Ga. – Navigating controversies in established religions is challenging enough, hashing them out while the religious communities are still forming and creating their own identities can be downright brutal. Presently, Heathen communities have been discussing the ethics behind the barring of entry based on race, ethnicity, nationality and other similar criteria. The majority reportedly feel this is unacceptable, while a minority still posits that ties to genetic ancestors are important.

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Could narrative stories help our communities examine these types of questions? Scientists are finding that we are more receptive to new ideas when they are presented within works of fiction, rather than by factual medium such as a news report. In a recent interview conducted at DragonCon, The Wild Hunt talked with author S.M. Stirling about the unconventional Heathen characters found in his Emberverse series including his newest book, The Prince of Outcasts.

The entire Emberverse series is popular with Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists, because it spells out one particiular collective fantasy: what would it be like to live in a community where our religion was dominant?

Emberverse is a work of post-apocalyptic fiction set in what was the United States. A mysterious event happens across the globe that causes electricity, gunpowder, cars, and all the things that make modern life possible stop working. As a results, 90% of the population dies off within one year due to starvation and disease. Those that survive “The Change,” as the event becomes known, band together in small, isolated groups and form new, surprising cultures. Religion, especially modern Pagan religions, are central to the series and, as such, Pagans take center stage as the heroes. Wiccans, who are the majority in the US, are also the majority of Pagans in the Emberverse. There are also Heathens, Hellenics, and polytheists of other varieties throughout the series.

Two of the main Heathen characters in Stirling’s later books fall outside of the expected character norm. Fredrick Thurston is Black; Doer Godulfson is gay. Both are leaders respected by their communities.

Thurston is the President of the United States of Boise, roughly what’s left of Idaho and a bit of the surrounding states. What makes his character so interesting is that readers are along for the ride during his conversion to Heathenry. He is religiously questing, looking for something that speaks to his spirit. A Wiccan character that he encounters notes that Thurston’s last name means ‘stone of Thor,’ and perhaps he should look in that direction for a spiritual home. Thurston does, causing him to have a direct and powerful encounter with a Heathen deity.

The book allows the character to explore, for a bit, what it means to be a Black Heathen. His experiences and devotion to the Gods, which is reciprocated, leave no doubt that Thurston has found his spiritual home. His religion strengthens him and its ethics guide him during the difficult struggles ahead as he tries to reunite his country and defeat his enemies.

[Courtesy graphic]

US after The Change [Courtesy graphic]

Stirling said that it seemed natural to have Thurston’s character embrace Heathenry, ”The way characters work in my head is that I have an idea of the character and then I think of them doing X, Y, or zed and it will either feel right or feel wrong. That felt right.” The other Heathen characters that Thurston meets also see his religious affiliation as natural.

Stirling added that there’s nobody on earth whose ancestors were all followers of the Germanic pantheons. Like most every other modern day Heathen, Thurston’s mixed heritage means he must decide which heritage he wished to emphasize.

When asked if he has received any negative comments from readers regarding Thurston, he said, “Only comments that it was good to see someone discovering Heathenry, and Diana Paxson liked the character. I consulted her on that stuff a fair bit.”

Not only does Stirling consult with Heathens, such as Diana Paxson, to create realistic characters and not misstep on depicting the religion, Paxson actually created the the character Doer Godulfson and his best friend, Thora Garwood.

“Diana came up with them for the story she wrote for the Change anthology and I was taken with them. So I asked for her permission and she said I could use them,” said Stirling, explaining how the two characters ended up in his novels.

Godulfson is from Mist Hills, a Heathen community in what is presently southern California. He’s a sop, or what might be more commonly known as a bard. He’s as valued for his fighting skills as for his singing and ability to read runes. He’s also gay.

If you’re expecting angst over his sexual orientation, you won’t find it in Stirling’s novels. Godulfson, like Thurston, is comfortable in his own skin and steadfast in his faith. Both characters are accepted within their religious communities without incident or reservation.

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SM Stirling [Courtesy]

That view of inclusive, but deeply devout Heathenry, appears to have been another nudge from Paxson. Stirling said that, while he uses the internet or relies on a Heathen friend for day to day information on Heathenry, he goes straight to Paxson for deeper Heathen philosophy.

Recently, Paxson posted her thoughts on inclusive Heathenry and the maintenance of the tribal nature of the religion, on Facebook.  She wrote:

A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends quoted a paragraph by Steve McNallen in which he asked why, if it is all right for Native Americans to reserve religious practices for tribal members, it is not ok for Northern Europeans to do the same. She felt there was something wrong with that stand, but couldn’t find an argument.

I think I may have found one. Just as she was willing to listen to what Mr. McNallen had to say, I hope that those of you who identify as folkish Heathens will consider my reasoning. I welcome polite discussion.

First, a little background. During the 70s, I worked on several projects developing Career Education curriculum materials for Native American students. Our team was a mix of Native Americans and European Americans, and we field tested our materials at reservation and urban schools. Assuming that in most cases the teacher would be European, the approach I came up with was to put everyone on an equal footing by comparing how both the teacher and students’ ancestors used their available resources and technology to solve problems of housing, transportation, etc., with the way that all of us, with modern technology and resources, do today.

Like many others, at the time I was strongly attracted by tribal ways. At the pow wows I saw a number of people who clearly had a lot of European blood who were dancing and participating as accepted members of the tribe. Most of them were, or were children of, people who had “married in”, but not all. I was already married, and I did not feel called to walk “the good red road”. What I really wanted  to wear to the pow wows was my own tribal garb–  my medieval European gear from the SCA.

When we started field testing the curriculum I noticed a difference in how our project was received on the reservation and in the urban Indian centers. In the city, they wanted to know how much Indian blood our team members had. On the reservation, they just wanted to know whether the materials would help their children.

On the reservation the first question to ask a newcomer was “Who are you related to?” and relationship could be claimed through marriage or adoption. This reflected a long-standing tradition among many tribes, who in the old days might adopt especially courageous enemies, or even raid other tribes for people to replace lost population. The focus on blood quantum looks to me like the result of the legal requirements for tribal membership (and rights to land, lawsuit settlements and the like) established by the BIA and other government agencies.  I suspect that using DNA to define identity is a Euro-American idea. While I cannot speak for Native Americans, and certainly do not mean to say that all or even any would agree with me, from the outside, it looks as if tribal identity is much more a matter of personal and cultural connection.

So if adopting genetically unrelated people who are willing to participate fully in your culture into your tribe may happen among Native Americans who are following their tribal religions, then yes, Euro-American Heathens should be able to do it as well.

Going back to the original question: can a work of fiction help communities better examine the questions and controversies that they face? Can the Emberverse series help non-Pagan or Heathen communities better understand these minority religions? And,can it help Pagans and Heathens better examine themselves?

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Review: The latest book in the Emberverse series, Prince of Outcasts was released today, and takes up where the previous two books, The Golden Princess and The Desert and the Blade, leave off. The Outcasts takes place 46 years (and 12 novels) after the first book, Dies the Fire. It features Princess Órlaith, heir to a kingdom that stretches across most of the former western USA and her Knight Heuradys, who stay mostly in the former USA. While Prince John, Doer Godulfson, and Thora Garwood are lost at sea and end up near the kingdom of Capricornia in Australia. There are bad guys, a brewing war, witchcraft, battling Gods, and new cultures and religions to enjoy.

Like all the Emberverse books, The Prince of Outcasts is well-developed and the depiction of Pagan religions is well presented. It is an exceptional view of the daily life of Pagans and Heathens living among thriving communities of co-religionists. The action is enough to keep you going, but develops at a fairly leisurely pace. If you haven’t read any of the series, start with either Dies the Fire or jump to The Golden Princess.

Book:  The Prince of Outcasts
Author:  S.M. Stirling
Publish Date:  September 6, 2016
Sample Chapters
Author’s Yahoo Group
Previous coverage of S.M. Stirling: Author’s Books Change Opinions About Paganism; Review of The Golden Princess

standingrock-dakotaposter1-223x300SAN FRANCISCO – In the past week, four members of the Reclaiming Tradition created a Pagan Indigenous Solidarity statement to show support for the continued battle to stop the building of the Dakota Pipeline. That statement begins, “We, the undersigned groups and individuals of the Reclaiming Tradition and other Pagan Traditions, stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, the Lakota people, and all Indigenous Peoples who are fighting to preserve and protect their homes and lands. ”

The writers then ask others of “Pagan and earth-based traditions” to join with them in signing the petition. To date, there are over 59 covens and groups, and over 2,674 individual signatures. The numbers are climbing and the organizers are listing the names on the support site as fast as time allows. In addition, organizers have suggested other ways to support the cause.

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14264001_681202105362921_2081602285694751735_nTWH – In another signatory effort, the Huginn’s Heathen Hof wrote and published a statement called Declaration 127in order to collectively “state their complete denunciation of, and disassociation from, the Asatru Folk Assembly.” Since Aug. 31, this statement has garnered the signatures of 43 organizations. The group also created a graphic for use on the websites of those affirming groups. That graphic can be seen to the left.

Public statements, similar to the one by Huginn’s Heathen Hof, have continued to circulate across social media, and have managed to filter out beyond the limits of the greater Heathen community. It was recently reported that True Friends-Camp Courage cancelled AFA’s Labor Day event after being informed of its policies and beliefs. This event was to be AFA’s first such gathering in the midwest. According to the news source, the camp cancelled the event because AFA’s “mission and areas of focus significantly conflict with [our] core values.” AFA has not made an official public statement in response to any of the develpments. However, member Joseph Bloch has published a number of blog posts commenting on the events.

Since that cancellation, there have been suggestions circulating that the Troth and other Heathen organizations or individuals were directly involved in forcing the camp’s hand. In response, Troth officials have publicly stated that they are “not at all responsible” for that action. At this point, it does appear that secular-based anti-Fascist organizations and activists, such as Conflict MN, staged a direct social media campaign to shut down the Minnesota gathering. We will continue to follow the story.

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fallon-smart-gfmPORTLAND, Ore. — On August 23, the Sekhet-Maat, Ordo Templi Orientis posted that it had been impacted by a tragedy. Fifteen-year old Fallon Smart, one of its member’s daughter, had been killed by a speeding car while crossing a street. On Aug. 20, friends set up a Go Fund Me campaign to help the family.  The goal was set at $30,000, and within three days, they had reached that number and more. It is currently at $43,139. One family members wrote on the site, “These last few days have been the darkest our families have experienced. This tragedy has devastated two sets of parents, two sets of siblings, and a community who knew and loved her.”

Aside from the personal love for Fallon, there was a secondary reason for the outpouring of community support and that was pedestrian safety. A community of cyclists led a “Slow Ride” memorial and action Aug 26, with a goal of both being a ” memorial ride for the teen” and a way of “calling attention to pedestrian safety.” The ride stopped in front of city hall for a short period of time to “to address the city with [their] concerns for safer streets.” The family has expressed their hopes that such an action will bring city-wide changes to make the streets safer to walk, and prevent another teen death.

As for Fallon, as shown in the many online memorials, she will be remembered for many things, especially her kindness and her vibrant smile. One friend reported that Fallon help start a garden at school, because she “wanted bring the butterflies and birds back.” She sewed pillows for the cats at the humane society and sung in Bridging Voices youth choir. On the memorial site, Fallon’s uncle wrote, “Please hug your kids just a bit tighter tonight and for a little longer. And when you are out driving, please be aware of pedestrians and foot traffic.” What is remembered, lives. 

In Other News:

  • Updating political news from Florida, Augustus Sol Invictus lost in the recent Libertarian primary for a U.S. Senate seat. Since our last update, Invictus has continue to attract mainstream media attention, more often than not described as the “goat-blood-drinking candidate.” This year, Invictus ran for a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot and lost, but not before garnering 26.5% of the vote.
  • Yesterday was World Goddess Day!

world goddess day

  • Patrick McCollum Foundation selected this year’s youth delegates to the United Nations for the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21. Rev. McCollum said, “This year we are proud to sponsor Olivia Phillips from Malvern, Pennsylvania and Sasha Reed from Portland Oregon. Both women are outstanding examples of young people dedicated to a better world.”  The two delegates will attend a number of peace events in New York City, representing the foundation as Pagans. Last year’s delegate was Rowan Weir.
  • Emerald Rose has announced its farewell concert Oct. 8. “Our final concert will be held in the place where it all started. We invite you to come to our final musical party to mark the end of a long and happy journey, and to see old friends again at the turn of the season.” The day-long event will be held at Starbridge Event Center from noon to 10 pm weather permitting.
  • The International Herb Association has selected Secret Medicines from Your Garden, written by Ellen Evert Hopman, to receive the Thomas DeBaggio Annual Book Award for the International Herb Association. Hopman noted that the book contains magical as well as medicinal uses of herbs. She told TWH, “Apparently herb magic is no longer threatening to the general public or at least to Herbalists.” An article was published recently about the book’s recognition. The writer asked about her Pagan beliefs in relation to herbalism. Hopman said, “I’m a Pagan for a reason. As a Druid, I see plants as sacred, animals as sacred, people as sacred. We have to see it all as sacred.”

The Wild Hunt would like to thank everyone who spoke with us at DragonCon and for the DragonCon Media staff for providing media support and great interview opportunities.

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If you have a news tip, press release or event happening, reach out to us via our contact page

GREY COUNTY, Ontario – Mythwood Campground, located an hour and a half north of Toronto, was the scene for a tribute to one of Canadian Paganism’s foremost leaders. On Aug. 19, Tamarra James, high priestess of the Wiccan Church of Canada, was the latest Pagan elder to be “roasted” as part of the Great Pagan Roast series. Now in its fifth year, the series is part of the programming for HearthFire Gathering, an annual festival offered by local organization Tribal Hearth.

HearthFire presents The Great Pagan Roast series (courtesy photo)

[courtesy photo]

Roast co-organizer, Khaman Mythwood, explained HearthFire Gathering to The Wild Hunt:

The tribe gathers at Mythwood Campground & Private Retreat, a Pagan and polytheistic spiritual oasis, built to create sacred space for the Pagan community. Tribal Hearth’s Hearthfire Gathering is a living myth tradition, which includes people from different belief systems working harmoniously together. Our tradition of the livening myth has a 37-year story arc that evolves and changes as the community members take on mythical story archetypes like the champion, the poet and the seeker. This year’s theme was “The Poet in Spring-Communing with the Land Spirit and the Green Man.” Together we built the Green Man Grove, played at the carnival and added stones to the Ancestors Cairn. Hearthfire is a highly spiritual event that focuses on community development and magical experiences.

Mythwood, along with roast founder, Crystal Allard, and a committee, select their “roastee” very carefully, as Mythwood explains:

The Great Pagan Roast committee has quite a list of up-and-coming great Pagans to toast. Every year we go through the list very carefully and all the factors come into play. Have they exacted change in the community? What actions have they executed? How many people’s lives have they affected? Are they an advocate for human rights? Have they been a good influence? Are they qualified to share their teachings? And so on and so on. Lady Tamarra passed all the criteria with flying colors on a broomstick. All that and good timing is what it takes to end up in the hot seat.

It has been 49 years since James’ initiation into the Craft. She began learning witchcraft in the 1960s in Vancouver, British Columbia. She read tarot cards in a local nightclub and met her husband, Richard James. They traveled to California and then New York, eventually settling in Toronto.

It was there, in 1979, that they opened the legendary Occult Shop, which operates to this day, and help found the Wiccan Church of Canada (WCC). The WCC operated out of the James’ home, eventually giving birth to a new, Canadian witchcraft tradition.After being asked by many participants and visitors, “What tradition is this?” they named their path the “Odyssean Tradition.” The name is a reference to Homer’s epic, and speaks of the individual journey of a seeker.

Witchdoctor Utu, of the drum troupe Dragon Ritual Drummers, was on hand as Roast Master, and was enthusiastic about James’ impact and influence on Canadian Paganism:

How doesn’t Lady Tamarra influence a modern Pagan in Canada? She was the first in our now-thriving movement. She has set the bar so high many who are leaders, performers, and organizers can only endeavour to dream of such innovation and trailblazing. She paved the way and laid a foundation that many are not even aware of or take for granted. Her staggering longevity, pertinence and perseverance blows me away. Her and her husband/partner Richard have shown me and many connected to me nothing but support, encouragement and hospitality over twenty plus years of knowing her. The respect I have is immense for everything she has done in her still-continuing legacy.

It was an honour to be on her dais. Best to say that what is said at the Pagan elder roasts stays there…but her good sportsmanship and humour was in full swing, because the roasters were ruthless, as is the style of comedy for them, meaning not only the guest of honour but each member on the dais as well as Canada’s Pagan community at large was fair game.

Another to roast Tamarra James was longtime friend Ross Carter, who explained how James had affected him personally, and the career path he has taken as a result:

Tamarra has influenced my entire approach to my craft. She has allowed me the freedom to explore and to develop my own approach to my craft. She has also been a great influence in my life choices such as my decision to become a Wiccan chaplain in the federal prison system, a career that I love.

I had the honour of sitting to her right and to participate as a roaster. It was hard to make light of her, but I think that I may be one of the few people who can get away with it. What the world needs to know is that she has been an influence on many, many people and has consistently fought for the rights of Pagans and Wiccans across Canada, especially inmates at all levels of incarceration. She is a beautiful human being who really does have the gods foremost in her heart.

Following the event, The Wild Hunt was able to reach James via email. She shared some of her reflections on the roast, and her perspective on how the Pagan movement in Canada has developed:

The Wild Hunt: How does it feel to be roasted by your friends and admirers? Can you share a highlight or two?

Tamarra James: Humbling, honoured, amused, confused. I had not actually thought of myself as an elder in that way, I was taught that your student should surpass you and mine have. Listening to former students, leaders and elders in their own right, who have gone on to chart new territory, speak of early days [with] us was lovely, and knowing I have gained the love and respect of those I met on other paths along the way was truly heart warming. Utu saying this wouldn’t be here had we not opened the door was startling and I suspect it would have happened anyway but perhaps in a different way. I think all the roasters were fairly kind to me and I was certainly touched by the memories they shared

TWH: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the Craft in the 49 years since you became an initiate?

James: I came into a craft that was so secret you could not enter a circle without being initiated. All rights of passage were expected to be performed in your family church because even they didn’t know you were craft. There were many “witch wars” or as I called it, “bitchcraft” in the early days with lots of personality. I’m pleased to see people accepting and celebrating different paths and feeling comfortable sharing spiritual dialogue and ritual space, access traditional lines.

The existence of children as part of the Pagan worldview is a lovely development, watching the young ones having a place in the spiritual world of their parents instead of being shut out is a very positive step, there is room for the mysteries and also for shared experience with others that was absent in the early years of total secrecy, we are now free to live our craft fully throughout or lives without fear of persecution.

TWH: Is there a Craft related issue or topic that is of particular interest to you right now?

James: I’m fascinated with the new interchange of ideas and the growth of broader ceremony though things like Mythwood, and Raven’s Knoll, Gaia Gathering, WCC, the networking and open sharing has give new life to future that is creating a variety of experiences not available before. When I came into the Craft I didn’t envision a day when there would be an open door that was easy to find until we provide one – now I see a whole range of possibilities for those seekers once the find their way to any of the current points of entry. There is much more support for each other then there was in the past and this is leading to real growth and discussion of all.

TWH: Any other comments you would like to share?

James: I don’t think Richard and I really had any idea that what we started was going to grow into what it was. Our initial idea was that various covens as well as ourselves could go to open circle and find people that would be good fits for our covens. It became so much more then that and if what did provided a stepping stone for others to reach further and breathe new life into the craft the Pagan movement I am sincerely grateful to have been given my part to play in this story. I am excited to see where it goes next.

When I first became public, I got a lot of death threats, just for being what I was. That made me think deeply about what we were doing, and I was not convinced that hiding was the best answer. Over the years we tackled issues regarding Pagan spiritual care in government institutions, education of the police, getting Paganism included in religions studies, and Pagan funerals. We devised dedications, child nurturing, betrothal, handfasting, handparting and funeral rites, as well as trimester rituals for pregnancy. As the community grows its members wanted these rites of passage to be celebrated within their own faith and it the people who drove the development of what we became. I am forever grateful to have played apart in this journey that others are now carrying forward.”

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Organizers are already looking forward to next year’s roast. Said Crystal Allard, “This was our fifth anniversary. Our past Roasties include Jim Findley, Gus Croteau, Chris Benson and Carol Murphy. All have been huge contributors to our local community and continue to inspire us in their unique ways. The Great Pagan Roast series is an annual event at Hearthfire, and we are already working on our next roast. Stay tuned for the big announcement at this year’s Northern Lights Gathering.”

TempleFest, the annual summer festival of the Temple of Witchcraft, was held the weekend of July 29-31 in South Hampton, New Hampshire. The festival was hosted on a privately-owned farm deep in the hills of southern New Hampshire, and on a property guarded by red, white, and black masks of Hecate. Her guardianship seems completely appropriate in this place, which feels like a true crossroads between the everyday world and the world of all thing magickal.

Masks of Hecate guard the Crossroads at the entry. Photo Credit: Tim Titus

Masks of Hecate guard the Crossroads at the entry. [Photo Credit: T.Titus]

TempleFest’s theme is “Spirit, Community, Education,” and there was plenty of each on display throughout the weekend in the form of powerful rituals, mutual support for attendees of all experience levels, and an excellent array of classes and workshops. Approximately 370 attendees from the TempleFest community came together along with special guests to learn and grow, and to also have fun while challenging their minds and hearts.

This was symbolized magickally by the Web of Community – a web of yarn which stood near the center of the grounds. According to Robbi Packard, one of the designers of the web, “The intent behind it is to have a visual representation of how we give and receive from community. To show how we are all connected no matter where we attach ourselves to the web. Each of the cards the participant is to put on one side what it is they give to community, and on the other side what it is that they received from community. As the elements bless the web so are we blessed.”

The Web of Community Photo Credit: Tim Titus

The Web of Community. [Photo Credit: T. Titus]

As a featured guest and first-time attendee, David Salisbury was impressed with his experience from the beginning. “I’ve been to Pagan festivals in every region of the country, and my first year at TempleFest truly stood out,” said Salisbury. “As a guest teacher, I was very impressed with the care to detail that the organizers took with every detail.”

Those details began with the very first ceremony. Friday night’s opening ritual was presided over by the Temple’s Aries Minister, Michael Cantone, and his deputies. The leaders cast a circle of protection around the property to ensure safety for all attendees. Deputy Aries Minister Fred Isom evoked the protection of Archangel Michael, and then the sacred fire was kindled.

Representatives from each of the Temple of Witchcraft’s 12 ministries, one representing the archetype of each zodiac sign, charged a log with the blessings of its archetype and placed it into the pit. Participants charged a red crystal point with protection, and the crystal was placed in a cauldron near the sacred fire to send its charge out to the grounds and the people. Additionally, near the end of the ritual, attendees were reminded that the weekend was a spiritual event. They were encouraged to enjoy themselves, but also to keep in mind the sacredness of the weekend, and to use this time as a refuge from this year’s nasty political scene.

The fire crystal [Photo Credit: Brenda Titus]

Then a full slate of classes began. From the beginning, it was clear that the education options were both varied and robust. Friday’s first session included offerings on the triple shadow by author Ivo Dominguez, Jr., as well as sessions on advanced rune technique, Salisbury’s book Cleansing and Clearing, spiritual alchemy, and Faery Tradition teacher Storm Faerywolf’s alignment with the 13 Planes of Progression.

Perhaps selfishly, I attended my wife’s session on “Digging Down to the Roots” through hypnosis, in which she helped her guests identify and explore some of the lesser known roots of the difficult issues in their lives. Judging from the number of people who stayed to ask questions afterward, the session was very effective.

Friday’s second session included a sound medicine journey, a chanting circle led by temple co-founder and Virgo Minister Adam Sartwell, and a mediumship class in which instructor Danielle Dionne taught how techniques from her Spiritualist roots could be used by Witches to communicate with those who have crossed over.

The beautiful Labyrinth Room of the farmhouse, which you really do have to see to believe since it indeed contains a full-sized labyrinth on the tile floor, was packed in a circle three-deep for Dionne’s presentation. She discussed techniques for linking with ancestors on the other side as well as how to provide both “evidence and essence” of the deceased’s presence. She also discussed ethical issues in the practice of mediumship and cautioned that, just because the advice comes from a spirit does not mean it is correct. “Know your dead people,” Dionne cautioned.

The final event of Friday evening was “The Procession of the Fallen Light,” a poetic ritual connecting the stories of three mythological “falls” which allowed the Three Rays of Love, Will, and Wisdom to descend to the Earth. In the dark of night, we made our choice and followed one ray by the light of a lantern to a new circle, claiming the power and light of one of those rays within ourselves.

Three Lanterns of Love, Will, and Wisdom Photo Credit: Brenda Titus

Three Lanterns of Love, Will, and Wisdom. [Photo Credit: Brenda Titus]

“I particularly enjoyed the fact that this was a very Witch-specific festival, which was a fun change from the usual pan-Pagan environment I’m used to while travelling,” said Salisbury. “While the festival had a specific focus, the diversity of workshops and rituals seemed to hold something for everyone. It was also nice to see offerings that held a deeper focus for experienced practitioners, which is hard to find at public festivals.”

Saturday’s slate of offerings began with a talk by temple co-founder Christopher Penczak on the Mysteries of the Seven Stages of Bread. Penczak led his large audience through the seven key stages of creating bread, and he connected those stages to a progressive process of personal and spiritual evolution. Although he acknowledged that this was a rather advanced concept for some listeners, Penczak also noted that the nature of the mysteries is that one gets from them what one is able to see and process at the time. “Preserve the mysteries. Reveal them often,” he quipped.

After this lecture, the educational program broke back out into sessions. There was more to choose from. I ended up attending Winifred Costello’s presentation of the “Three Realms of the Major Arcana.” Costello is clearly a tarot expert, and she presented her personal method of looking at the Major Arcana as a division of physical, mental, and spiritual portions of the Fool’s Journey. Costello encouraged her attendees to “leave their comfort zone” and always look for new ways to examine the cards.

Saturday was a long day, filled with sessions and rituals.  It was punctuated by keynote speaker Judika Illes’ brilliant and humorous presentation entitled “Saints: The Powerful, Generous Dead.” Especially for a person not raised in a Catholic context, Illes knowledge of the saints is both wide and deep. She made a powerful case that saints existed before Christianity, and despite the Catholic Church’s desire to claim them for their own, she emphasized that “Christianity does not own the saints.” Illed detailed a number of them who exist outside of the Christian context and provided an overview on how and why to work with saints, then gave tips on choosing the right saints for particular needs.

Illes enjoyed her time and her audience at TempleFest. “TempleFest was a revelation,” she said. While she arrived somewhat unsure of what to expect, Illes added that, “What I discovered was an amazingly well-organized conference filled with passionate, committed, open-minded, loving people. I felt so incredibly welcomed.”

Prayer flags were available to the community. Photo Credit: Tim Titus

Prayer flags were available to the community. [Photo Credit: T. Titus]

An interesting part of Saturday was a counterpoint between two sessions denoted as “cafes.” On Saturday afternoon, Scorpio Minister Elsa Elliot and one of her deputy ministers, Danielle Dionne, hosted a “death café,” in which folks simply sat down and talked about death over cakes and cookies. Complete with a stuffed, plush Cerberus utilized as a “talking stick,” the conversation proved to be challenging, illuminating, and refreshingly honest.

That evening, the other Deputy Scorpio Minister, Wrentek McGowan, led a “sex café,” with the same basic goals, but with the topic changed to sexuality. Together, the two cafes provided a fantastic experience of talking openly and honestly about two topics which are often considered taboo, but which many Pagans and Witches find sacred.

As a light rain fell on Sunday morning, the day’s highlight was a lively panel on Justice, Hexing, and Activism. Moderated by Penczak, the panel included Illes, Dominguez Jr., Salisbury, Sartwell, and author Courtney Weber. The controversial topic has been discussed around the Pagan blogosphere recently, sometimes leading to anger and insults. This fact made it all the more helpful to have a panel of experienced Witches speaking candidly and sometimes disagreeing politely with each other.

The discussion was full of the complexity and nuance one would expect when wise people come together to discuss a difficult topic. Weber called it “our obligation as citizens to work against injustice.” Yet, she also suggested that it may be better to hex a policy that creates the problem rather than the person who committed it. Salisbury reminded us that justice is “a process,” and just because we can’t see it working does not mean it is not occurring.

The panelists discussed their own ideas of justice. They went deep into the controversies surrounding the casting of hexes, sometimes criticizing the large public calls to send hexes in some cases while often ignoring other instances of injustice. It was one of those situations, much like the two cafes, where everyone knew that some people were made uncomfortable, and yet the airing of ideas and opinions — especially those which conflicted with preconceived notions — both challenged and benefited everyone involved.

Illes cautioned that Witches who seek to curse should take the time to examine their own motivations and the degree of injustice they are battling. “If you think being uncomfortable is suffering, you are so lucky,” she said. “A lump in the throat is not the same as a lump in the breast.” Warning against revenge for revenge’s sake, Dominguez advised that a potential curse should “leave an opening for the person to change and grow.” The target may suffer, but there should be a chance for them to improve as a result.

The panel on Justice, Hexing, and Activism Photo Credit: Nathan Oididio

The panel on Justice, Hexing, and Activism [Photo Credit: Nathan Hall]

Reactions from those who attended were very positive. Chandra Williams, who traveled from Virginia to attend the festival for the third time, said “This has been my favorite one so far. This year was packed full of so many wonderful choices of workshops that it was hard to choose which to attend.” Another attendee, Karen Ainsworth, who came from the United Kingdom for the second consecutive year, called the it “a truly awesome and magickal experience,” adding that, “My heart is so full of love right now!”

Melisande, who drove to New Hampshire from Prince Edward Island, Canada, “felt very welcome and comfortable. She appreciated the chance to “experience the energy of the rituals,” and the “variety of workshops,” adding that she particularly enjoyed Illes’ keynote speech, calling it “Very engaging as well as informative as she shared some of her knowledge with a good dash of humor.”

Debbie Stellhorn, a Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School student who came in from New Jersey, very much enjoyed a lesser known aspect of the TempleFest: The consecration of mystery school students on Thursday night. She says it was a “chance to meet other temple members and elders in our community and through them I’ve formed lasting friendships. The consecrations themselves are so powerful,” said Stellhorn, “I would make the trip up just to take part in them.”

J.T. Mouradian, who came in from Massachusetts, stated emphatically, “TempleFest 2016 was a profound event. Drumming and dancing with the people I love was empowering. Learning from so many wise people was enlightening. Sitting and talking with the people I love was a priceless blessing.”

TempleFest ended Sunday afternoon. The Web of Community was gathered, blessed, and committed to the fire to send out its blessings as participants said their goodbyes until next year. “At the end of TempleFest, we gather the energy that has been flowing through the web to the center of it, and Alix and Christopher carry it to the sacred fire where is burned and released,” explained Packard. With the magickal work complete, the festival was over for another year.

Closing Ritual Photo Credit: Tim Titus

Wright and Penczak commit the Web of Community to the sacred fire in the closing ritual. [Photo Credit: T. Titus]

Nicole, the Temple of Witchraft’s Libra Minister and one of the organizers of TempleFest, said that next year will be a new experience. The festival has outgrown its current location and will be moving to a new venue. “We will be moving to a new location, a nature-focused conference center in southern central New Hampshire,” said Nicole. She added that “We are also starting to get requests for invitations to present at TempleFest, so we know the word is out that we put on a good event.”

Attendees agree. Mouradian told the story of his mother coming to one day of the festival. “On the way out,” he explained, “she hugged and thanked me. She said very plainly, ‘You all love one another, J.T.’”

After her first experience with TempleFest, Illes said, “I recommend TempleFest wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest in Witchcraft and Paganism, whether or not they belong to the Temple of Witchcraft. I can’t wait to return.”

Mouradian concluded poetically:

“This weekend I celebrated Life
This weekend I celebrated Love
This weekend I celebrated Magick
This weekend I celebrated Music
This weekend I celebrated Community…
I am proud to call myself a Witch.”

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.