Sometimes you only walk away with scratches.

A photo posted by Eric Scott (@lofrothepirate) on

[Warning: The following column involves a description of a serious car accident.]

Two sounds in quick succession, so close together that, as I remember them now, I cannot tell which came first – the sound of the front right tire digging into the mud and gravel shoulder of the two-lane highway, or the sound of my wife seizing up in anticipation. I am driving, for the next few seconds, anyway. I turn the wheel, only thinking to escape the shoulder, but my turn is too hard. I try another. Too hard, but in the other direction. We leave the road; our ascent is brief, but dramatic. We land in the grass hard on the driver’s side, and the momentum carries us tumbling, onto the side, onto the roof, onto the side, onto the roof again.

And there we stop. The fury of the ten seconds past rises out of us, like mist against the dawn. We unbuckle our seatbelts, drop onto the floor that was so recently a ceiling, and crawl out through the windows of the set-piece that was our car. Air hisses from a tire. My wife’s duffel bag sits out on the wet turf right side up, as though she had set it there on purpose. Her forehead is bloody – a gash, right on her hairline. Neither of us have our glasses – they were thrown off while we spun against the earth, and we never do find them again.

So we wait, bloody and half-blind, until an ambulance and an Appanoose County sheriff’s deputy appear. They fit my wife with a backboard and a neck brace; me, they leave alone. We ride to a tiny hospital that’s little more than a garage for the ambulance to pull into. They put us in separate rooms – they want to run a CT scan on her, to make sure she hasn’t injured her spine or skull. They insist I stay in the room next door, able to hear but not see her, so that they can occasionally check on my blood pressure. The deputy comes by. Where were you going?, he asks.

To a wedding, I tell him. Up in Chaska, Minnesota.

Are you still planning to get up there today? he asks, and I wonder if that question sounds as insane to him as it does to me.

He writes me a ticket for failure to maintain control, then hands me a bag of soggy documents from the glove compartment and a note saying where we can pick through the car. He leaves, and again I am alone in the room with the blood pressure cuff and the sound of doctors talking to my wife in the other room. The adrenaline has mostly worn off; in the ongoing critique of consciousness that is my inner monologue, I note how quickly shock and fear has turned into irritated boredom.

The CT scan eventually comes back: clean. My wife has a pulled muscle in her neck and some bruises, but is otherwise unharmed. I have some scrapes on my hands from the broken glass where I crawled through the window, and, as I will discover two days later, a half-dozen wicked patches of poison ivy – but that’s all. We walk out of the ER with our friends and, after making three complete passes through the town of Centerville, Iowa, we locate the lot where our car was towed. It’s more like an eight-slot driveway than anything; the cars sit out in front of a garage next to the tow driver’s home, only a few dozen yards away from his flower garden.

I stop for a moment while we are picking through the husk. The car’s roof folds down into a sharp crease that runs the entire length of it, an indented line in the metal that marks the point of collapse. The sharp edge of that point is about three inches away from where my skull would have been. I run my fingers across the bent angle, caked with mud. Three inches.

We eat sandwiches pulled from the wreck for dinner. My wife finds a forgotten set of glasses hidden in the car. We report it to the insurance, and we sleep in our own bed that night.

That was on Sunday. It’s three days later now – Wednesday, prayer night – and I am sitting on the sheepskin prayer rug set out in front of my altar and wondering what to say. When I think back to the moment of the crash – what I remember feeling as the tidal forces in my gut jerked against the pitch and yaw of the rolling car – I do not remember any thought of religion. I didn’t see the face of Odin, nor did I hear any Valkyrie songs. I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I remember distance, and annoyance, and no real fear of death. Mostly, I remember rolling, and crawling out, and wishing that I had my glasses. It was only later, lying in bed next to wife, my wife, with nothing but a pulled muscle in her neck, that the enormity of it came to me.

What does a person say to the gods – these personal saviors, these mythic undercurrents, these names we give to the wind and the sea and the rolls of the dice that make up reality – what does one say to them in a moment like this?

I pour a glass of aquavit for myself and for them. I feel it burn its way down my throat, into my stomach. I think of my uncle, who died in a car accident not much different from mine. I think of the three inches between my head and the bend in the steel. I think of my wife, with whom I was angry the night before the wreck, who was strapped to a backboard out of my sight in the hospital. I think – I think of fear, hope, gratitude, wonder, the troubling revelation of life, life, life.

But I don’t say anything. If the gods can understand our tongues, they can understand their inadequacy; if the gods can hear at all, they can hear the breadth of our silence.

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OTTAWA, Ontario – Last month, a landmark document was delivered to the people of Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its much anticipated report summary, detailing 94 recommendations to heal the generations of conflict, racism, mistrust and misunderstanding that were created by the Indian Residential School system in Canada.

residentialschools-canada

[Public Domain Photo]

Indian Residential Schools were created by the Canadian government in the late 19th century as a way to assimilate aboriginal children into the developing white Canadian society. Aboriginal children were removed, typically by force, from their families and home communities.They were taken to residential schools and forbidden to speak their own languages and were denied access to their culture. Many survivors of the residential school system report extreme cases of physical and sexual abuse, starvation and neglect at these institutions, which were co-run by the church and the state.

Accurate records of how many children were abducted do not exist, but it is estimated that at least 150,000 children were subjected to the system. It is without question that the reach of Indian Residential Schools crept into every native community in the country. We now know that more than 6,000 children died while in the care of the schools, and they were usually buried in unmarked graves. It was even common for the families to not be informed of what had happened to their kids. This is not ancient history as the last school closed as recently as 1996.

In this new environment of reconciliation, many Canadian Pagans are finding themselves thinking about how native spiritual practices have influenced their own journeys and are trying to grasp the extent to which the legacy of these institutions have shaped the attitude with which both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians view each other. Can we learn from each other and share our practices with respect? Is there enough common ground to grow understanding? Can we honor without appropriating aboriginal culture or identity?

 

For some Pagans of European descent, walking the Red Road was part of a path that led to European-inspired Pagan spirituality. For Lawrence, an initiated Witch, the journey from his devotedly Mennonite background to Witchcraft was inspired by experiences with native culture:

My cultural background is ethnic Russian Mennonite. Very European, with my mother born in Russia just before the revolution. My relationship with indigenous people of Canada and US was first a matter of social justice, but spending 2 years working with AIM (American Indian Movement) people in Minneapolis and 2 years in Attawapiskat (a remote northern reservation) gave me experiences far beyond the realm of social justice, and it changed my life.

Most of those people will never know how much they influenced my path. They have been more than generous … and this against the backdrop of the appalling treatment they’ve received. From evangelical Mennonite, to a universalistic mysticism, to paganism, to witchcraft, it’s been a journey that was heavily influenced by the spiritual practices of the indigenous people I spent time with.

For Nana Du, a Canadian Witch of Scottish and English background, her journey on the Red Road came to her as part studying for her degree in social work:

During the late 90s, I was enrolled in a four-year undergraduate degree (in social work). I learned a lot about First Nations People on Turtle Island, while in university. This period of study taught me a lot about the negative impact of Church and State on the Indigenous People of this area. I started to attend sweat lodges, pow wows, as well as Sundance ceremonies to learn more experientially. Returning to the Mother’s womb (lodges) was challenging, yet rewarding. Eventually, years later I started to Sundance.The Aboriginal Traditional Ways of Healing are powerful and deserving of respect. I continue to have visions while in the sweat lodge and/or during the Sundance.

There are many Spiritual and/or Mystical paths, perhaps all leading to the Original Source: Creator, God & Goddess for example. As a professional I work with a large Aboriginal population. My teachings and practices have assisted tremendously in connecting with First Nations People. I am mindfully aware that I sit with Spirit, whenever I meet with any children, youth and/or families. A Pagan Path shares many similarities with Traditional Teachings, both honour and respect Mother Earth (Gaia), Grandmother Moon (Luna), and Father Sky, for example. Both also celebrate the solstices and equinoxes (Sabbats). Many ceremonies (circles) consider the 4 directions (East, South, West & North). Pagan, Wiccans and First Nation People are highly concerned about Climate Charge and social as well as environmental issues. I am honoured to be a Witch, returning to my Celtic Roots, my Blood Memory has been activated along the many paths that I have walked.

Many Canadians are of mixed backgrounds, both native and European. And, for those people, the blending the two cultures and spiritual practices become a part of life. Dr. Maryanne Pearce, Co-Owner of Raven’s Knoll Campground and Co-Director of Kaleidoscope Gathering is of mixed Celtic and Mohawk blood.

I was raised Christian, with indigenous spirituality as a “common-sense” type background. It was this that I gravitated to. Through feminism and environmentalism, I also discovered Paganism. It reminded me of elements of my background that I so treasured. I purposely began to research and experience more elements of indigenous cultural and religious practice. Eventually, after many years, I have found that I am most comfortable describing my religious practice as I do my ethnic background. I am a mixture, and I practice both. For example, it was my Pagan friends who assisted me in creating a huge dreamcatcher, in the shape of the Triple Goddess, as a memorial to the missing and murdered Indigenous women that I documented in my doctoral work. It was raised at our campground as a memorial.

Dr. Pearce made newspaper headlines across Canada in 2013 when she released her Ph.D. thesis entitled “An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System.” This paper drives home the need for a public inquiry into the epidemic of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. This point was also part of TRC’s recommendations.

Anne-Marie Greymoon, organizer of Wic-Can Fest and Harvest Fest, is Metis, a distinct culture of French and Aboriginal blending. She grew up with the all too common experience of not being told the truth about having aboriginal ancestors. Denial, a form of racism, is no longer accepted by a growing number of people as they proudly reclaim their heritage:

I always danced in the rain and loved it when my relatives called me a savage, a term I loved! My grandpa told me about my ancestry when I was a little kid, my mom said it was a lie to make me happy!! Now I know and, yes, my cousins look WAY more native or Inuit than I do. There is a book on the custom of “passing” as in “passing for white” written by someone who discovered she had black ancestors. It’s really interesting as it is in great part what happens here with people of indigenous ancestry … Metis people. My family insists they are all white and all from France! There are so many of us who are strangely dissociated from our roots because of colonial life! How do you repair a people, hundreds of years after the fact?

It is becoming more common to see Aboriginal spirituality being represented at Pagan events. Christian Dennis, an artist from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, a community of Chippewa in southern Ontario, shares his aboriginal teachings with Pagans at Wic-Can Fest each year by leading a traditional sweat lodge:

I feel non-aboriginal people exploring our path is a positive as long there is some sense of a spiritual respect from the beginning. Those that have not the respect for each other seem to create chaotic energy or energy of ignorance. When people come to a place of respect to begin with, they are open to understanding… I am grateful to the pagan community for [their] openness to embrace me as well as I them. I have healed so much in their midst and of considered them as my family… It is my hope that the sweat lodge, or Inipii, will spiritually inform and create awareness to all who visit and experience The Lodge. The Lodge is a Sacred Ceremony where we come together to recreate, heal, and celebrate the remembering of ourselves as ONE

On July 19, Dennis and his work will be featured in an art show in Durham, Ontario.

Christin Dennis will be featured in an art show on July 19, in Durham, Ontario. Photo by Christin Dennis

[Courtesy Christin Dennis]

We can see change happening in Pagan communities, bridges of understanding are being built. The big question facing all Canadians now is, will the Truth & Reconciliation Commission bring change to Canada? The 94 recommendations cover a broad spectrum of need for Aboriginal people, including health care and language rights; new education legislation; a public inquiry into the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls; funding for the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation; a commitment to eliminate the over representation of aboriginal people in the prison system, and the list goes on.

Lawrence sees this as an opportunity to effect a change and build understanding:

At no time in our history have we had a more clear opportunity to respond to the genocide of the residential schools. Though knowledge of the residential school horrors is not new, we now have the clearest, most complete picture we will ever have of the deliberate and callous actions against the aboriginal people of Canada. And this despite the Government of Canada’s refusal to hand over millions of documents still held in secret. So there is no better time than now for our relationship to take a new turn, and start the long road to truly just relationships. We are not called to act unilaterally. We must do this as a relationship.

Dr. Maryanne Pearce observes that this is a call to action and understanding for all of us living in Canada:

I do not think many people found much of what the TRC recommended to be unexpected. All Canadians should be grateful to Justice Sinclair and all of his commissioners and staff for the long years of heart breaking work. But mostly, grateful to the survivors and their families for being so incredibly brave as to expose their hearts and souls by telling their stories. I believe that those who listen, and read not only the tales of what happened, but its aftermath on individuals and generations that followed those students, may have a better understanding of the situation of Indigenous people today – and understand that it is the responsibility of everyone, not just governments, to make the future one built on trust, acceptance and reconciliation.

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LANGLEY, Washington — Many Pagans are familiar with the song “Burning Times, which weaves a captivating story of the end of matriarchal, earth-based religions in Europe. It’s an anthem that has been recorded by a number of artists, including by folk singers Roy Bailey and Christy Moore. While many Pagans identify strongly with the song itself, its writer, Charlie Murphy, may not be as well known in those same circles, since much of his work is not specifically Pagan. Recently, Murphy was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and his supporters, known as The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team, are raising funds to provide for his care.

Burning Times was first recorded on Murphy’s 1981 solo album Catch the Fire. The piece includes the “Goddess Chant” attributed to Deena Metzger, which weaves a haunting counterpoint of goddess names through the mournful tapestry of the song itself. Many Pagan artists have since performed it during bardic circles, around campfires, at festivals and conferences.

When Christy Moore recorded “Burning Times for his 2005 album of the same name, it rose to number one on the Irish pop charts. While some of the historical assertions, which the song is based upon, have since been debunked, it still remains a powerful piece of music. The Online Pagan Song Book notes:

This song is a wonderful, stirring and inspirational song that has brought — and still brings — the Wiccan community together. This is a good thing, so I wish others to continue singing “Burning Times.” However, one must note that there are a few historical inaccuracies in the song that everyone needs to be aware of, if we are to be honest and truthful about ourselves and our origins as a religious movement.

Most noteworthy among those inaccuracies is the claim that nine million women died during the Inquisition, While the death toll was terrible, the number of victims of both genders was likely in the hundreds of thousands, not millions.

Charlie MurphyAs his song caught fire in the Pagan world, Murphy continue to perform, eventually forming a band called “Rumors of the Big Wave,” which recorded the song again in 1992 on another album titled Burning Times.The band included cellist Jami Sieber, who had played on the original 1981 recording of the song.

The Rumors of the Big Wave album provides a glimpse into the larger work that Murphy was doing with his music at that time, as it includes “I Choose Life,” a song about the AIDS epidemic, and “Needle Full of Dreams.” The band opened for such acts as Pete Seeger, Midnight Oil, and Ziggy Marley, and appeared on a Barbara Walters special. Murphy also wrote and performed “Gay Spirit,” “Light is Returning,” and “Free South Africa,” while that nation was struggling with apartheid. Rumors of the Big Wave played together from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, when Murphy laid down his touring guitar to work with young people.

That pivot took place around 1996, when he started working for the YMCA Earth Service Corps. A year later he teamed up with a journalist named Peggy Taylor to form a group which would eventually be called Partners for Youth Empowerment. This arts-based mentoring program now provides activities and training on five continents. According to the organization’s web site, “The happiness and success of our young people rests on more than academic achievement and IQ. They need life skills often missing from traditional teaching and youth program. Our mission is to create a movement of people who are able to fill that gap, providing creative, transformative learning experiences to help the next generation to tap into their full potential.”

While the work of PYE continues, Murphy has had to take a step back, as described in the crowdfunding campaign for his care. The diagnosis came on April 28 of this year:

It was a heavy blow for him and his husband Eric. They are fortunate to have loving families and to live in a supportive community with people who are doing so much to help them cope with the reality of this disease. Caring teams have been set up that are helping them navigate their financial, medical and personal needs.

“Charlie and Eric are discovering what its like to live with uncertainty. Knowing that for the most part there are only experimental treatments available, they are learning how to be pro-active about Charlie’s health and tirelessly researching the most promising avenues in slowing the progression of this disease and hopefully reversing it. They realize the odds are formidable, but nevertheless they are moving forward with hope.

ALS involves the death of neurons and loss of muscular control, with symptoms ranging from difficulty speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing. Only one in 50,000 is stricken by this disease, which became the focus of the popular 2014 ice bucket challenge. It’s a disease that usually manifests after the age of sixty. The cause, in most cases, is a mystery, and there is no cure.

As explained by the The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team:

Charlie is working with doctors of traditional Chinese medicine using acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements to address this disease. Research and clinical trials of new treatments show positive results with stem cell therapy and other approaches. ALS is known to be a costly illness and in the event of disease progression, Charlie and Eric will need to prepare for the very real possibility of having to buy equipment, supplies and re-fit their home to make it accessible and comfortable. Increased costs now and over time, will create financial hardship. They are already seeing a steep increase in their monthly expenses to cover the costs of the current treatments.

Notwithstanding experimental treatments, most ALS patients only live a few years after diagnosis.

Charlie The campaign is seeking to raise $150,000 to provide for Murphy’s care. The Wild Hunt has reached out to him for an interview, and while he is willing, speaking tires him easily and that conversation has not yet been scheduled. When it is, we will bring more of his story to the forefront, particularly about his formative role in Paganism.

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – In late June, the Oklahoma State Capitol monument of Ten Commandments was declared unconstitutional and would have to be removed. This came after several years of public controversy and pressure from numerous religious freedom groups. One of these groups is the The Satanic Temple, who has recently funded and completed a large statue of Baphomet specifically to sit alongside the Oklahoma Ten Commandments. Now that the monument has been ordered down, the question on everyone’s mind is, “What will The Satanic Temple (TST) do with Baphomet?”

Ten Commandments Monument by Texas State Capitol, identical to the Oklahoma monument. [Photo Credit: Kevin via Wikimedia]

Ten Commandments installed at Texas State Capitol, identical to the Oklahoma monument. [Photo Credit: Kevyn via Wikimedia]

Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for TST told The Wild Hunt:

Given the Court’s ruling, TST no longer has any interest in pursuing placement of the Baphomet monument on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds.The entire point of our effort was to offer a monument that would complement and contrast the 10 Commandments, reaffirming that we live in a nation that respects plurality, a nation that refuses to allow a single viewpoint to co-opt the power and authority of government institutions. This is the very essence of our explicitly secular Constitution. Any one religious monument on public grounds is intolerable. However, once one is allowed, it is orders of magnitude better that many should be represented, rather than a single voice claim unique privilege.

Greaves also noted that his organization’s efforts to erect the “Baphomet’ monument alongside the 10 Commandments … was soon credited by many as being instrumental in the Court’s decision.” He said, “After all, it could not have been lost on the presiding judges that a ruling in favor of the 10 Commandments would necessitate their consideration of a suit in favor of Baphomet, and any rationale preserving the 10 Commandments could also be leveraged in TST’s favor.”

The court’s decision came on June 30 and stated that the Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the Capitol in Oklahoma City because it violates the state Constitution. In a 7-2 decision, the justices said the privately funded monument violated Article 2, Section 5 of the state’s Constitution.

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

The Ten Commandments monument was funded by state lawmaker Mike Ritze (R) and was installed at the capitol in 2012. Then in 2014, it was destroyed by a man who crashed his car into the 6 ft high stone monument, saying “Satan told him to do it.” It was promptly replaced by Rep. Ritze.

However, by that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had already filed suit asking that the monument be removed on grounds that the “the monument stands alone, with no other monuments or memorials in the immediate vicinity.” The ACLU also objected to the specifically Judeo-Christian religious nature of the stone Ten Commandments tablet.

At the same time, TST started crowdfunding to create a 7ft high bronze statue of Baphomet to be placed at the state capitol next to the Ten Commandments monument. The organization said that adding the statue of Baphomet would show religious pluralism and address the ACLU’s concerns. As noted in the IndieGoGo campaign:

By accepting our offer, the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution. We imagine that the ACLU will also embrace such a response. Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate, and both the religious and non-religious should be happy with such an outcome. Our mission is to bring people together by finding common sentiments that create solutions that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.

The crowdfunding project attracted 1,041 donors and raised $28,180 in one month.

The Satanic Temple, a non-profit religious group headquartered in New York, has a history of working for religious pluralism, women’s reproductive rights, and ending child abuse.

TEMPLE-OF-SATAN-unfinished-statue-of-Baphomet-May-9-2014

[Courtesy of The Satanic Temple]

In 2014, the organization unveiled a full size template of the proposed statue showing Baphomet sitting on a pentagram throne with two children looking up at him. TST planned to donate the completed statue to Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for display upon Oklahoma City’s capitol grounds next to the Ten Commandments monument. However, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission had placed a moratorium on any requests to donate art to the capitol pending the resolution of the ACLU lawsuit.

The finished statue “weighs one ton and [towers] nearly nine feet tall.” It is scheduled to be unveiled at Berts Warehouse Entertainment in Detroit, Michigan on July 25. Because the statue was destined for the Oklahoma state grounds, this unveiling event was considered to be “a call-to-arms from which [The Satanic Temple would] kick off [its] largest fight to date in the name of individual rights to free exercise against self-serving theocrats.”

Now that the court has ruled that the Ten Commandments must be removed, Baphomet’s future is uncertain. Greaves said, “Unfortunately, our insistence that Baphomet only be displayed to complement and contrast a pre-existing public monument of religious signification doesn’t limit our options nearly enough … there are plenty of areas in the United States crying out for a counter-balance to existing graven tributes to archaic Abrahamic barbarism. Arkansas is looking rather appealing.” Greaves is referring to a newly signed law allowing for the placement of a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument on the Arkansas’ state capitol grounds.

As for the Baphomet statue, it is now being protested by members of Detroit’s religious community ahead of the upcoming unveiling. Change Agent Consortium (CAC), a faith-based community organization whose mission is to engage “people in our democracy to improve food access, better job skills and the economic development of citizens,” is organizing these protests.

“I am horrified by The Satanic Temple’s decision to unveil their ‘Baphomet’ in Detroit. They are a satirical group that attempts to mock religion and destroy the fabric of sincere religious belief and the value of true religious expression,” said Change Agent Consortium leader David Bullock. The group says the statue is not good for Detroit and plans to host a prayer protest on the day the statue is presented to the public.

As for the Ten Commandments monument, Oklahoma lawmakers have said the battle isn’t yet over. They plan to amend the state constitution to remove the section of Article 2, Section V that prohibits the use of public property for religious purposes.

While the fight in Oklahoma is not completely over, Greaves said, “Hopefully, when all is said and done, TST will have helped to awaken within a generally lackadaisical public rightful disgust towards public officials — like Pruitt and Rapert — who so mindlessly and shamelessly pursue these infuriatingly unconstitutional undertakings at the expense of taxpayer dollars.The people of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the world over, deserve better than to suffer politicians who fail to comprehend the very premise of their public duty: the duty to uphold an environment of viewpoint neutrality and plurality, where all people — whether Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Muslim, Satanist, or any ‘other’ — can enjoy equal protection under the law, with preference for, and bigotry against, none.”

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shawnus2We were recently informed that Lord Shawnus, High Priest of Pennsylvania’s Coven of the Catta has passed away. Born in 1951, Lord Shawnus, also known as Gary Lee Hoke, was an initiate of Lady Phoebe Athene Nimue. He met her in 1981 and, through her teachings, pursued his degrees within that tradition. After seven years, he earned his third and stayed on with Lady Phoebe. He eventually took over the role of High Priest.

In 2011, Lord Shawnus appeared on Animal Planet’s original show “The Haunted.” The show features a couple who moved into the house previously owned by Coven of the Catta founder Dr. Santee. In his interviews, Lord Shawnus attempts to “set the record straight” about his coven’s founder and the practice of Witchcraft.

In 2012, Lord Shawnus began blogging regularly at both of his own site and the coven’s. He also created two pdf documents detailing the long history of his coven. In early 2014, Lord Shawnus also recorded his own struggle to clarify Pennsylvania’s marriage laws, in terms of a Wiccan clergy’s right to officiate. After contacting several Pagan organizations for advice, including Covenant of the Goddess and Lady Liberty League, Lord Shawnus found a lawyer who helped work through the definitions and restrictions. His effort not only clarified the laws for his own coven and practice, but also for the local county courthouse who had been unclear as well.

Lord Shawnus was a dedicated Wiccan practitioner and Priest of the Craft. He will be missed by his students and fellow clergy. What is remembered, lives.

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Bell Book Candle

Another metaphysical store, Bell, Book and Candle, announced that it would be closing its doors. The owners explain, “We have been losing money for quite some time and cannot afford to stay open.”

Located in Dover Delaware, Bell, Book and Candle was first opened in 2001, and was imagined as “an old-style general store in that [they] carry a bit of everything and are willing to order or to track down unusual items.” As the owners note, the store is owned by witches who “know what they are doing.”

However, times have changed, and the store will be closing permanently on June 24. Starting today, the store is offering deep discounts, and after July 11, it will accept only cash purchases. In addition, the owners will be selling the building itself.

However, they were quick to note that the popular Delmarva Pagan Festival will happen as planned. And, the book signing with author Courtney Weber, scheduled for July 25, will also be held, but at a new location.

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Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

Over the weekend, it was reported that Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien had a stroke and had been rushed to Marin General Hospital. The stroke occurred Friday night, while O’Brien was home. She was quickly transported to the closest hospital, where she was treated. O’Brien has since been moved to Kaiser Terra Linda in San Rafael for further treatment and therapy.

O’Brien is a longtime witch, Priestess, ritualist and member of the Bay Area Pagan community. She is one of the original members of the Reclaiming Tradition, founded in the 1970s. Currently,O’Brien is an active member of Covenant of the Goddess, a regular presenter at PantheaCon, a representative of Cherry Hill Seminary, and a participant in the Marin Interfaith Council. And, that just scratches the surface of her work. O’Brien is also a speaker and writer. She blogs regularly about her journeys at The Broomstrick Chronicles.

O’Brien’s family is reporting that she is doing well and that the stroke was minor. She is now in recovery and in good spirits. She is thankful for all the healing prayers and has plans to return to her work as soon as possible.

In Other News

  • Another Parliament announcement occurred this week. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had one of three proposals accepted by the Council and will be presenting “Religion, Youth, and Gender/Sexuality: Towards Collaborative Solutions to a Simple Problem.” In a blog post, Lupus explains, “This program is primarily concerned with one aspect of the “Wars, terrorism, and hate speech” subtheme, since hate speech–often of a religious nature–is frequently employed against people of LGBTQIA+ identities, and is a mainstay of the language used to bully and harass young people.” In addition, e has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help offset the cost of travel to the global October event.
  • On Patheos’ Sermons from the Mound, Yvonne Aburrow offers an overview of the recent debates that have hit or meandered through the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities over the past few years. In a post called “Paganism for Beginners: Controversies,” Aburrow writes, “These controversies and discussions raise important questions of who we are, how we relate to each other as a community and individually, what we hold sacred, and how we relate to deities and the world around us.”
  • In a rare event, a group of the Patheos Pagan Channel writers came together to talk about deity on June 17. The long conversation was then edited and published in an article titled, “Atheism, Polytheism and Pagans: A Discussion.” The bloggers included Niki Whiting, Jason Mankey, Molly Khan, John Halstead, Rua Lupa, Shauna Aura Knight, Dana Corby, and Lilith Dorsey. As explained by Mankey, the channel’s managing editor, “In the blogosphere we often talk at each other and never seem to talk with each other enough. This discussion was an attempt to rectify that.

Lifting the Veil

  • Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone’s latest book, Lifting the Veil: a Witches Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual, was originally slated to be published in May. However, that date was pushed back. In a Facebook post, the authors explained, “There has been a lot of tweeking done on it to get it perfect.” They are currently working on “sorting out illustrations and endorsements.” At this time, the book’s Amazon listing displays an August 17 availability date, but Farrar and Bone are saying September. Either way, for those eagerly awaiting the new book, it should be available by early fall.
  • The 12th Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced its 2016 theme and call for papers. Next year’s subject is “Social Justice.” Organizers say, “We face issues of social justice everywhere we look, from something as overwhelming as #blacklivesmatter to the seeming trivial Wiccanate privilege. Like the innumerable heads of the Lernaean Hydra, it seems that every time we manage to quell an issue involving racism, sexism, or privilege, two more such issues appear.” The 2016 conference will focus on this topic, “encompassing issues concerning racism, feminism, womanism, eco-justice, food security, gender justice, classism, neo-colonialism, etc. seen through the eyes of our scholars/activists.” Abstracts are due by September 20. The Conference itself will be held January 23-24 2016, in Claremont, California.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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sacred heart

“Sacred Heart” by Shaun Ratcliff (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath
And you think I’m crazy, you think I’m crazy

–Monsters, Eminem (featuring Rihanna)


The gods are madness, and so is love.

I couldn’t sleep for the noise; her wails clawing deep into my brain more fiercely when I’d close my eyes. In waking distraction, I could shut her out a little — loud music, pointless conversation, anything to drown out her pain. But in bed next to my lover, her pain was intolerable, becoming pain so loud it became my pain, and I couldn’t make her shut up.

I tried drinking. It doesn’t take much to get me drunk, a beer, maybe two. And I could pass out a bit, let the world spin behind my eyelids, except then, even there in that membranous darkness, she was there. Worse — she wasn’t alone.

My lover said that he couldn’t hear her, but he’d wake from dreams shaking. I saw something in the room last night, he said. Fleshy, like a small man, but not human.

“In a dream?” I asked.

“Uh…sort of. I mean, I think I was awake. I was gonna wake you, but then I went back to sleep.”

I showered, dressed, went to work, said nothing else. At least at work, I couldn’t hear her. At least at work, I wasn’t the ‘crazy’ one. I had a client tell me a bedbug climbed into her vagina and impregnated her with a Pleiadian ascended master. She was crazy. I? I was just going mad.

The difference? My clients can’t stop the voices from coming.
I can.
I can make them stop, but that’s worse than death.

 

Love is madness, and so is the Other.

You can shut those voices off, close them off.

I remember it well, the day I closed them out.

Close my eyes, and it’s there: the white tower, the ravens flying about them, a pillar of light from a twinned moon. She looks at herself from above into below; she looks back. And there’s the tower, and there are the ravens. And I can’t take it any longer.

Besides, I was in love, and how could he understand? How could any understand? How could anyone?

I wrote in my journal, “I don’t want to see these anymore.” No more tower; no more bones behind the tower; no more whispers; no more trembling power.

And it stopped.

Nothing. Silence, like the grave. I’d go to work; listen to tales of ancient lizard men and psychotronic silver disks, about the machine under the university which, like St. Anthony, helped homeless people find lost things and also urinate themselves.

And I was safe. Safe from them, safe from the Other, safe in an other.

You can hide there for a little while, just like you can hide in work, or hide in drugs. You can even hide in madness, at least for a little while.

Until they come back.

 

We do not have time for the Other, we do not have time for Love

A few years later, I’m trying to sleep, fearing again the dreams peopled by characters I know too well — and fear.

The woman with the dark iron vat won’t let me pass, but I can’t go back through the town whose streets were so full of those with power, those with power-over, those I must flee.

But the Other does not let you pass until you answer the unasked question.

You cannot hide from the Other. The Other chases you, hunts you. You can flee the dreams of sleeping; flee into waking for a little while.  But then they chase you there.

And so you flee into sleep. You flee in waking, and like that chase of Ceridwen, after the awen-thief. You cannot stop until you are consumed and, too, become The Other.

The Other is all that is without you, and all that is within.

 

Love is the madness of the Other, the Other is the madness of love

The voices continue, but you can shut them out.  And I remember how a friend shut them out.

She’d been joking one day, a decade ago, flirting, and touched my finger. “I’m giving you a wart,” she says, fingernail touching index above the knuckle.

“Why would you say that?” I’d asked, appalled.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, looking confused herself.

And I showed her the hand a month later, benign annoying growth, rough, ugly. Then her face pale, her voice cold, she shook her head. “What the? I didn’t?”

“You said,” I said, feeling her terror.

“That’s—that’s just weird. I didn’t really make that happen, did I?”

And I didn’t know how to reassure her, and she didn’t know how to take it back. She became angry. Wouldn’t talk about it. It didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, stop pretending, you’re making this up, I didn’t do it.

“But you said…” I said, worried, upset.

And finally. “Okay, I did. I don’t want to talk about it, okay? I’m sure there’s some explanation. I don’t want to talk about it.

We hadn’t talked for a decade. A decade later I see her, after seeing standing stones and gods, after druid mountains and visions. She’d never spoken of it again. In a cafe, she and I. Would she believe what I’d seen, or deride all I’d been? I’d tell her anyway, though the tale would be touch.

But she spoke first, fearful. “I hear voices, Rhyd. Not like I’m crazy … but more—I cry. I can hear all the sorrow of people sleeping, and I can hear their voices, and I turn up music to make it stop.”

Her magic radiating like silver, tinged with fear, and I laugh, tell her my tale.

So you understand? She said, only half asking.

“I think I do,” answering, and then “remember that wart,” showing her where it’d once been.

And she shrugged, smiling. “That was weird, huh?”

 

Love is the Other.  The Other is Love.

I’d shut them out, like she’d shut out that power.

You can shut them out, the terrors, all the illuminating fears. The Other whispers, but you can talk over this. The Other speaks, but you can shout them out. Sometimes, even the Other shouts but, by then, you can’t silence them without drugs.

Or you can, because there’s always an other to which you can run, someplace safe, someone in which to hide, and the Other will eventually fall silent. But when you do this you have not won, but have very much lost.

 

The Other is like love, and just as terrifying.

What are we afraid of?

The Other is not myself; the other is not me.

And suddenly, you are not all there is; you are not one; you are not complete. You are you, and there is an other. And no longer are you complete, no longer are you one.  You are broken, divided between self and World, sundered ground broken open to make room for something both self and Other.

Meet him and you are terrified, and you call this desire, you call this love. Hear her voice, and you are missing, empty; though you thought you’d been full.

And suddenly every song reminds you of them. On the street, a woman shakes her head, hair cascading for a moment in sunlight like the way you saw her hair once do. And that woman is her, but that woman is not her, and you are broken, and you are happy. You were everything before her, now you are nothing until she is near you again.

Meet him and you cannot breathe except when he is there holding you, though your lungs have never once failed. You are strong, but suddenly weak unless you see his smile, and also weak when you see his grin, and nothing is ever the same.

 

Love and the Other are indivisible by one.

Love of an other, or others, reminds you are sundered, infinity no longer divisible by one.

And just the same, the Other.

See a crow feather at your feet and hear a god, an angle of sunlight and see another. Hear winds through branches; there’s a third, embers in a hearth and yet another Other.

The moon is no longer just the moon, but also every goddess of her face.  But the moon is also just the moon, but no longer alone, no longer just itself, just as you are no longer just yourself in love.

 

And to see the Other, to fall in love, you need only surrender to the endlessness of being.

I remember when I saw the tower again, because I no longer wanted to unsee the tower.

I remember when I saw the moon again, because the moon would not stop being seen.

I work with the mentally-ill, those who hear the voices and cannot shut them out like us. And they are told that they are sick; they are told that they are unwell, and they are given what we can give to help quell that sundered pain.

And I try not to admit what I see when they are staring, shouting at a corner at a voice inside their head. I try not to look there, where there they are looking, because I do not want to admit, I do not want to say, I do not want to allow that I see their Other too.

A client shouts at a ‘demon’ in a corner, and I see the lingering spirit and shrug, unable to help.

A client predicts the birth of my friend’s twins, and we shake our heads, pretending what we didn’t hear.

A client medicalized for talking to rocks and trees, and I try not to think on him as I lay under Alder by granite, hearing them talk back.

 

The Other’s all that is without us, and all that is within,

And what are we doing, shutting them out?

We’re being good workers, we’re being good slaves.

Stand in ritual; call a god; wipe them off and tuck them away when you’re done, when it’s time to go home to the television and kids because the weekend’s over and you’ve got to make a living.

Fall in love and call in sick, but love can only be love ’till the rent and cable’s due.

It’s easier to be alone, cut off, shut down. Close them out, the other and The Other, and though without meaning, everything is safe.

The gods linger, the other waits, the madness beckons.

The Other is madness, and so is love.

And we are never alone.

 

 

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

 

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Happy July 4th

Heather Greene —  July 4, 2015 — Leave a comment

“Neither Pagan nor Mahamedan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” Thomas Jefferson, quoting John Locke

“…the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” – Article 11, Treaty of Tripoli, 1796. (signed by John Adams)

"Washington as a Freemason," The George Washington Masonic Memorial.

“Washington as a Freemason,” The George Washington Masonic Memorial.

In 2010, Jason Pitzl wrote:

Hail to the pen and muse of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence! Hail to those who’ve honored the true spirit of our founding documents, who defended us with arms, who challenged us with nonviolence, and reminded us of our true nature through art and rebellion.

The United States of America that we know today was built and shaped by an incredible diversity of lives, experiences, religions and cultures; every person that has walked on its soil and stood beneath its skies. Over this past year, we as a nation have faced difficult challenges, witnessed profound changes, and looked into the face of unthinkable violence. We are not a country of perfect. But we continue to try, to rebel, to speak out, and to evolve. As said by Frederick Douglas in his 1857 speech, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Today, we are also reminded of the pre-Christian “pagan” roots of our republic.

Every president, every politician, who takes the oath to uphold our Constitution, are taking an oath that the founders knew would allow for men and women of every faith (or even no faith) to someday take their place among our leadership.They are taking an oath on a document crafted by men who are products of the Enlightenment, whose thinkers looked to ancient pagan thinkers, politicians, and philosophers for wisdom and guidance, unencumbered by the filter of the Christian church.The religious pluralism of the United States of America is a pluralism that had its first breaths in ancient Greece, and later ancient Rome, where a variety of gods, goddesses, cults, sects, and traditions had to live together in a civil society.To return to Professor Majid’s essay, “one can’t imagine the American Republic without the Founding Fathers’ knowledge of Greece and Rome.”Democracy, republicanism, are core pagan inventions, and no matter how Christian the hand who steers the ship of State, those ideals remain lest our institutions crumble.”

As Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists, we can use this day to be thankful that the American founders understood completely that religious freedom meant all religions or none. As said by James Iredell, one of our first Supreme Court Justices:

But it is objected that the people of America may, perhaps, choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for? This is the foundation on which persecution has been raised in every part of the world. The people in power were always right, and every body else wrong. If you admit the least difference, the door to persecution is opened.

Happy Independence Day!  And, for our friends to the north, Happy Canada Day!

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Let’s try something.  Here’s a simple task developed by psychologist Nancy Napier (2014).

  1. Take a sheet of paper and draw two horizontal lines a couple of inches apart.
  2. Now start a timer and write “I am a great multitasker” in the first line and the numbers 1-20 sequentially on the second line.

How long did it take? 20 seconds?

Ok, now flip the paper over and draw two horizontal lines a couple of inches apart. This time, multi-task through the same work.  Write a letter on one line and a number on the other: I/1/a/2/m/3 … etc … How’d that go? Did it take longer? Did it take more energy? It very likely did because we cannot multi-task (Applebaum, Marchionni & Fernandez, 2008).  We can switch tasks, and we do it very quickly.  But two tasks at once. Nope.

We work best when we are mindful, letting our brains do what they do best: be in the moment. Mutli-tasking creates stress and so do all sorts of other things we’re trained to do from creating unmanageable agendas to impossible to do lists. To create the benefits of being in the moment, we must break the cycle of creating constant work. And, one of the best ways to succeed at doing that is simply to play. Something we did as kids, might be really good for us as adults.

Photo Credit:  M. Tejeda-Moreno

[Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

I remember decades ago when I invited a date to a Litha celebration that my local group had organized. My date was interested in Paganism in the context, I think, of having a future ex-boyfriend who happened to be Pagan. He had some interest in the occult that he had cultivated as a teenager, but had let go when beginning a career in science. He held tightly to his faith of origin; or rather his faith of origin was an important aspect of his identity.

It was clear from the start that the ritual was never going to match his expectations. His idea of ceremony had been inculcated by his organized religion. So with observances like Yom Kippur as the counterpoint for comparison, – that being his favorite holiday – I had some real doubts about how the day would go. But beyond the ritual itself, I was surprised to learn that the behavior of the participants also failed to meet his expectations of what adult behavior should be at a religious ceremony. After the Litha ritual, his remarks were an attempt to dismiss its importance. Yet in doing so, he exposed a powerful message that he was unable to appreciate. He found the celebration “a childish waste of time, nothing like a real service.  [You guys] are just playing”.

Well, that relationship ended that week. But he was right about one thing: play was involved. And summer is also a call to play that many of us celebrate in rituals that range from circles to road trips. The festivals that we attend mix structured reverence and unstructured play in magical ways. The journey of summer is an enchanted experience – for those like us who notice – that strengthens our relationship with Nature and one another. In summer, the Earth does her work of fulfilling the promise of harvest set out in spring. It is a season of luxury, relaxation and vacations. The remains of the day last well after the workday’s end giving us more opportunity to share daylight with each other. Summer offers us time for play.

Defining play is in fact a pretty hard task for social scientists. It’s not so much an activity as it is a process. It is a state of being where the act of doing the activity is more important than the outcome of the activity. It’s supposed be an intentional activity of no outcome. It is physical and mental, social, spontaneous and imaginative. It is purposeless recreation with no apparent adaptive function. It is doing nothing and something at the same time. Some of the first Italian words I learned from my Italian husband were Dolce far niente: it is so sweet to do nothing. That’s a good place to start to understand play.

Nature also offers us some interesting lessons on play.  Animals love to play when they are young but, unlike humans, they continue to play into adulthood. And let’s be clear: animals have a rougher life. They have to find food, shelter, and water every day. They have to guard from predation and essentially fight for survival during their entire lives. Yet, they play. They still find time to enjoy doing “nothing.” Animals even engage in play activity across species, and YouTube is replete with examples. Ravens enjoy snowboarding; elephants romp about in mud; dogs love to play catch; cats like to … well, let’s skip cats … and bears enjoy just frolicking about.

We, on the other hand, reserve play only for our young, and even then we have confounded the act of play with the act of playing games. But play is not solely about gaming. It’s about being, not winning. Through gaming, we have redefined play in a manner that gives it a purpose; in a way that has winners and losers. We built a value system that devalues purposeless play in favor of activities that promote competition over collaboration. As White (2000) cleverly observed our society only honors competitive play.

But playing isn’t gaming. It is about being. As we demand that our play have outcomes, we slowly lose our childhood. Worse yet, in my opinion, we teach that to our children and help them slowly loose theirs. And to all our detriments, because play has important benefits.

Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti

Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown reviewed some 6000 play histories of individuals and found that playing together had a range of benefits. He found that play was related to emotional intimacy between individuals and appeared to even help couples regenerate their relationships. He also found that play between strangers speeds up the bonding process that individuals experience by fostering empathy. He also found that  a lack of play appeared related to deviant behavior including becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

In research conducted at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Pellis and his colleagues examined the brains of female rats that were assigned to non-play and play conditions to determine if neurological effects could be observed with play deprivation. Like other mammals, rats are born with an overabundance of a certain type of brain cell for building connections. Based on environmental experiences, these cells create connections with one another while culling off unnecessary ones. The result is a perfectly balanced brain that has maximized its experience from its environment. Pellis hypothesized that play was an important determinant of how health brains grow. And, the findings supported the hypothesis. Play-deprived rats appeared to have damaged brains when compared to their play-available counterparts.

Additionally, there is evidence in to back a claim that there are similar beneficial effects for us as well. We have a physiological system called the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA). This system regulates many different process in the body and serves as an interface point between the nervous and hormonal systems of our bodies. When we experience challenges – something requiring our attention that is difficult and that we may not want to do all the time- the HPA pathway kicks in with different hormones to biochemically represent psychological stress to our bodies. Constantly activating the HPA with all the concerns of adulthood from money to the economy to lines at the gas station result in the chronic activation of the HPA. That unpleasant stress slowly builds up and produces negative effects. A messy HPA system is implicated in a huge number of disorders including depression, attention deficit, burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and even alcoholism. Perhaps the scariest of all, prenatal and early childhood stress can cause the system to misalign with implications for a lifetime.

Medical models have focused on using anti-depressants to get the HPA system back in balance. But psychological models take a different tack. They focus on how we process stress and how we relax. Behavioral approaches to stress reduction impact the key stress hormone we have: cortisol. And through relaxation, the impact of stressors that result in imbalances of the HPA can be lessened.

There are many techniques to relaxation including visualization, repetitive prayer, and physical activity. Social support is also important. Activity with others, from friends to partners, are also part of stress management. But, the beauty of play is that it combines the mental, physical and social to create a simple mindful remedy.

In fact, play is a remedy we should not only consider, but also a remedy we should teach. As a social justice issue, poverty robs many of us, especially children, of play. And for adults, the constant demand for productivity and work, makes many of us assign priorities to playtime in a manner that is counterproductive to our physical and emotional health. Surrounding ourselves with playful people brings us into the moment doing nothing, having a good time,re-balancing ourselves and letting our own nature offer health. Spending time doing nothing is amazingly beneficial.

Dolce far Niente. 

But it is also so very syntonic with a Pagan path. Play is a deeply transgressive act. It is a violation of societal expectations of adulthood. It is a subversion of productivity and responsibility. It is a desecration of industry. It is the rejection of structure and forced outcome. And, it’s actually pretty good for you. Play releases us from the worries created by our society. So will play improve your health? Well, there’s evidence that it can. And more importantly, like many Pagan activities, we’ll have fun trying.

Citations

Appelbaum, S.H.; Marchionni, A., & Fernandez, A. (2008). The multi-tasking paradox: perceptions, problems and strategies. Management Decision, 46(9): 1313–1325. DOI:10.1108/00251740810911966

Brown, S. L. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. Penguin.

Bell, H. C., Pellis, S. M., & Kolb, B. (2010). Juvenile peer play experience and the development of the orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices. Behavioural brain research207(1), 7-13.

Napier, N.  (2014). The Myth of Multiasking.  www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking

Smith, L. K., Forgie, M. L., & Pellis, S. M. (1998). Mechanisms underlying the absence of the pubertal shift in the playful defense of female rats.Developmental Psychobiology33(2), 147-156.

White, B.  (2000). Why Normal Isn’t Healthy: How to Find Heart, Meaning, Passion, and Humor on the Road Most Traveled.  Hazelden Publishing & Educational Services. Center City: MN.

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There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. 

First, we update a story reported on last week:

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary has announced its plans to assist all PSG 2015 attendees, who are in need. Several Circle Ministers have volunteered to offer spiritual counseling. Included in this healing work was a special full moon ceremony last night, which was dedicated to “PSG Healing and Renewal.”  In addition, Circle Sanctuary has also announced that it will be “offering a gift to all 2015 PSG paid registrants who request it — a $100 certificate ($50 for minors aged 12-17) that can be used toward any Circle Sanctuary event.”  The announcement explains more about that gift certificate, Circle’s event insurance, and the various struggles faced by the organization itself.  “This year our community was tested and found to be strong, unshakeable and unbreakable.

Now on to the links:

  • We first visit Russia where officials in the city of Nizhnevartovsk have reportedly banned the practice and teaching of yoga in city-owned buildings. The Moscow Times reports that letters to several yoga studios explained that the “move is crucial in order to prevent the spread of new religious cults and movements.” In addition, the Times reported that Nizhnevartovsk city officials claim that yoga is “inextricably linked to religious practices” and has an “occult character.” In 2013, a similar argument was made by parents of an Encinitas, California elementary school. The U.S. courts eventually ruled against the parents, allowing for the practice to continue. More recently, an Austrian elementary school banned yoga for religious reasons and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, there are a number of American school districts who continue to ban the practice as well. However, it appears today that more American school districts are concerned with the wearing of the pants then the actual physical activity.
  • Another story coming out of the same region tells of the Night Witches. However, they are not who you might expect. According to a story in Vanity Fair, the Night Witches were an “all-female squadron of [Soviet] bomber pilots who ran thousands of daring bombing raids” during World War II. The women, ranging from ages 17-26, flew silently over Nazi soldiers by turning off their engines and gliding. The Nazis reportedly heard only a “whoosh” sound and began calling them the “Nachthexen” or Night Witches. Interestingly, the article claims that the Nazi soldiers had “very real fear of witches.” This statement recalls the 1932 popular German film Blue Light directed by famed filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. In the movie, the townspeople’s fear leads to the labeling of a woman as “witch.” Blue Light was Riefenstahl’s first film and attracted the attention of a young Hitler, who eventually commissioned her to create Nazi propaganda films.
  • Back to 2015, in the United Kingdom, a fear of witches and witchcraft led to an arrest and court hearing. According to the Central Somerset Gazette, “Hilary Joy Osborne took an obsessive dislike to Lynda Brown who was a spiritualist and taught pagan drumming and also practised Druidism, mantra chanting and Buddhist traditions.” This “dislike” led to regular harassment; including threats, the beating on walls and doors, and verbal abuse. Brown called the police and Osborne was charged with harassment to which she pleaded not guilty. However, a magistrate judge slapped Osborne with a 2 year restraining order, fines and other conditions.  Osborne was disappointed with the results, believing that the police “let her down.”
  • Now moving south to a very different climate, witchcraft or the accusation of can lead to far more tragic and distrubing fate. It was reported Tuesday that Daesh, in a first, had beheaded two women for allegedly practicing witchcraft. The terrorist organization killed both the women and their husbands, along with two other women, who were accused of being “agents for the Nusayri regime.” According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Daesh has since seized one couple’s home and property. SOHR has been appealing to the UN for greater assistance in their human rights efforts and is now reporting that the month of June marks the deadliest month in 2015 with a estimated 5247 people killed in Syria alone.
  • In recent months, Americans have faced their own form of home-grown terrorism, including the AME church massacre and the recent church burnings. Religion News Service published an article titled “3 Religions, 3 Approaches to Forgiveness in the Aftermath of Evil.” Through three different voices, the article highlights the concept of forgiveness within the major faith traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For our purposes, this might lead to the question of forgiveness within Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. How and when do we forgive? Are there limits? But the article opens up another concern. None of the three people interviewed represented the American black community – the target of the recent violence. While Charlestonians themselves showed a remarkable unity and Mother Emanuel together with the victims’ families expressed forgiveness, the idea is certainly not universally accepted. A New York Times op-ed piece discusses the other point of view. Writer Roxane Gray writes, “…I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am totally at ease with that choice.”
  • On that note, it would be impossible to run a link list without mentioning Bree Newsome, the activist who climbed the South Carolina flag pole to remove the Confederate flag. The photo of her on the flag pole itself is one that will live in the history books alongside famous images, such as the lone activist standing before tanks in Tiannaman square; the coming down of the Berlin Wall; firefighters in the rubble of 9/11; and even the photo of the famous kiss as World War II ended. This iconic image of Newsome will inspire generations to come. According to Jezebel, Newsome said, “We needed that moment to say ‘enough is enough.’ We want an end to the hate.” Newsome was recently interviewed by ABC News. Here is a link that video.
  • Now we travel across the world to Malaysia where a group of teens violated a sacred space – Mount Kinabalu. In this story, however, the only things broken were the rules. “Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel” climbed Mount Kinabalu and disrobed for an impromptu photo shoot. They were caught, jailed and fined for public indecency. Some reports claimed that the Malaysian people, who consider the mountain sacred, are now blaming the teens for the recent earthquake that killed 18 people. One Malyasian tabloid headline read, “Your boobs have angered mountain gods.” However, some locals are discrediting these sensationalist media accounts, and simply remark that the mountain is a sacred place in Malaysian culture, and that the teens were disrespectful to the local customs, beliefs and rules.
  • According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in religion is at an all time low. The survey, which is limited in its observations, suggests that trust in religious institutions has dropped; now putting it 13 percentage points lower than the historical average. 42% of Americans are estimated to have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in religion; the historical average is 55%. However, as noted, the study is limited in its reporting by only breaking the surveyed sample into three sub-groups: Catholics, Protestants and non-Christian/No-Religion. Additionally, Gallup published a study on America’s overall confidence in various institutions. Until recently, religion was top of the list. Now it falls fourth behind the military, small business and the police. However it is still ahead of Congress, Medical institutions, the media and others.
  • Now for something a bit lighter. Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Man (1973), has launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce his long-awaited third film based on the original cult classic.  Hardy’s second film, titled The Wicker Tree, was released in 2011. Despite its lackluster reviews, the sequel is considered to be better than the 2006 Hollywood remake of the 1973 original. Now Hardy wants to revisit the story one more time with a script that he has titled “Wrath of the Gods.” Hardy told the Guardian that he had always envisioned the story as a trilogy. Through an IndieGoGo campaign, the 85-year old director is hoping to fund the project. With various perks, he is also offering fans a chance to appear in the film and even act as the film’s producer.
  • And, in our last news link for this month, Japan says goodbye to Tama, the stationmaster cat. According to The Huffington Post, “The calico cat has been credited with saving the struggling station, and its railway line, from financial collapse.”  After she was appointed stationmaster in 2007, the financially struggling train station began to earn revenue from tourists and visitors who stopped by just to see the little cat at work. Tama died at the age of 16 on June 22. Nearly 3,000 people attended her funeral. As reported, “During the Shinto-style ceremony, Tama was elevated to the status of goddess.” In addition, she has been given the title, “honorable eternal stationmaster.”
[Photo Credit: Takobou via Wikimedia Commons]

The Goddess Tama [Photo Credit: Takobou via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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LINCOLNTON, North Carolina — Prayer at public meetings is often a battleground with members of minority faiths seeking to have their viewpoints represented, while others argue that such religious ceremony doesn’t belong in a governmental setting. Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 Town of Greece v Galloway decision that allowed such prayers provided minority faiths are included, Pagans and others have sought to test those boundaries. For example, the pantheist David Suhor sang an invocation of the quarters at a county commission meeting in Florida.  More recently, when the issue of inclusiveness sprang up in the foothills region of North Carolina, it led to a new level of interfaith dialog in the form of the Foothills Interfaith Assembly.

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

The commissioners of Lincoln County in North Carolina open their meetings with a prayer, and it’s always been a Christian one. When another county in the state was forced by a federal judge to cease pre-meeting prayers altogether, a reporter asked Caroll Mitchem, chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, if any changes would be made to their meetings. Mitchem’s response was to the point. She said that prayers — and only Christian ones — would continue. He was quoted in The Lincoln Times-News.

“A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave,” Mitchem said. “I have no use for (those) people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to (a) Muslim pray.”

Mitchem’s comments caught the attention of local Muslim community as well as others practicing minority faiths in the county, and two of them showed up at the next meeting to speak to the issue. They were Reverend Tony Brown of the North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca, and Duston Barto, a Muslim who doesn’t yet belong to a specific spiritual community. During that meeting, commissioners softened Mitchem’s comments into a policy that said that “the religious leaders or chosen leaders of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets in Lincoln County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives are invited to offer an invocation before a meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.”

In those words, the two men saw an opportunity to have their faiths included, but the idea quickly grew well beyond a mechanism to promote religious freedom. “The policy said any faith could give a prayer, if it was sponsored by something that met in county,” Brown said. “I don’t know if it was designed to be restrictive, but the thought might have been to put up barriers that ensure only established faiths qualify.”

foothills logoBarto and Brown created the Foothills Interfaith Assembly —  named not for the county, but the more inclusive region of the state — as a way to allow people of different religions to engage with one another around their beliefs. Qualifying to offer prayers was the impetus, but Brown said that from the get-go the deeper idea was to “take advantage of everything else that interfaith can do.”

The first meeting had much better attendance than Brown had expected, and was spent hashing out some of the formative of the assembly. “A dozen people were there, and we went around introducing ourselves and explaining what brought us here, and our personal goals for the group. We hashed those around into group goals, and from that we came up with a list of five guiding principles.”

Those principles were given to a subcommittee which was tasked with writing a mission statement, which Brown expected to be voted upon at the June 30 meeting. That sort of administrivia is expected to become less prominent as the group finds its rhythm.

Based on who attended that first meeting, Brown expects the future get-togethers to offer robust opportunities to learn about different traditions. Besides himself and Barto, the group includes members of the Baha’i faith, a Baptist minister from an intentional Christian community, a Celtic Pagan, and a non-denominational Christian. “The diversity of people was a surprise, especially in Lincoln County, North Carolina,” he said. Interfaith work “always will appeal more to minority faiths, but we can band together, lift each other up, [and have a] better chance of being heard than whispering alone.”

The group’s structure will likely settle into a pattern of education, discussion, and socialization. “Ultimately I hope that people will come together, and in the first part of the meeting a person presents or there is a panel,” Brown explained, for example, “the basics of Baha’i, followed by questions and answers, or a panel on reciprocity with members of different faiths to explain its role in their tradition. It will be dialogue, and meeting as equals.”

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