COLUMBIA, S.C. — Students and supporters of the South Carolina-based Pagan seminary may have been surprised or worried about an announcement placed on the institution’s Facebook page entitled, “The Future of Cherry Hill Seminary.” While there are no plans to close the school at this time, the message reads in part:

Unpredictable cash flow has compromised our ability to be sustainable. The nature of the extended Pagan community, the economy, and even the very face of higher education have all changed dramatically in the past decade. While many of you have been dedicated and committed, we are now considering the reality that we may not be able to continue as we are without a significant increase in participation by many more people in our community.

We spoke with Holli Emore, who has served as executive director of the 20-year-old institution since 2007, to learn more.

“We haven’t been able to make ends meet for several years,” she acknowledged. “It’s been really difficult.”

Cherry Hill SeminaryOver the years, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) has become a model for the sort of formal infrastructure for which some in the Pagan community yearn. However, every step of the way has required the effort of blazing a new trail.

“We’ve never had a sugar daddy, somebody to help us get launched,” Emore said. “Most schools are heavily endowed” at the outset. That means that majority of the seminary’s expenses are paid for on a cash basis out of tuition. Those expenses are include the per-student fees paid to instructors and the modest pay given to Emore. However, she herself hasn’t been paid in quite some time.

The seminary was founded in 1996 by Kirk White, with classes originally being conducted through the mail and then online. Its name was taken from the name of the road that once ran past White’s family lands. For many years, “Christian Hill Road” was the mailing address for Cherry Hill Seminary.

A board of directors was established in 2007 as part of a process to become a formal 501(c)(3) nonprofit with Emore as its chair. Those board members elected to hire Emore as executive director and move the entire operation to South Carolina, where the seminary’s Master of Divinity program was established in 2009 with the first graduate receiving her degree in 2012.

In years since, a priority has been accreditation and formal recognition by the Distance Education and Training Council. While CHS has completed all licensure requirements in South Carolina, accreditation would make the program eligible for student loans, and its graduates would be able to apply to become military chaplains. This process, however, has been stymied both by the expense and by the fact that Pagan theology doesn’t fit the implicitly Abrahamic expectations set forth for seminaries.

“It’s a big deal, and very expensive,” said Emore. “Just sending in the application is $10,000, plus you need the ability to host five people that come in and audit your program over several days.”

Cherry Hill Seminary has no physical campus, making the hosting requirement a complex issue beyond the raising of funds for the application fee. Another financial challenge is that faculty must be salaried; instructors are presently paid based on the number of students in their classes, which is more practical given the decidedly not-deep pockets of the institution.

Emore said that there is significant interest in a seminary program that trains potential military chaplains, but there are again some complicating factors. Accreditation would make the process easier, but an alternate route onto the approved list involves representatives of three other schools vouching that the Cherry Hill Seminary Master of Divinity is equivalent to their own degrees. This is how Oral Roberts University was approved.

While three liberal Christian schools had people willing to work through this process, the schools couldn’t, in the end,  say in confidence that the degrees were equivalent. CHS students “don’t have to study Greek, or Hebrew, or the Bible” as a matter of course, Emore explained, and “while they could see it was a solid program, they couldn’t be sure it was comparable.”

Muslims faced a similar problem, since the training of an imam is not at all similar to that of a Christian priest or minister. Emore said that with “a five-figure infusion of cash and some graduates to use as test cases,” Pagans could follow the administrative process used by adherents to Islam. One of the issues that would have to be addressed is the implicit assumption that graduation from the seminary includes ordination. Since students at this Pagan seminary come from diverse traditions, they must seek ordination from legally-recognized Pagan churches, representing another step that Christians can often skip.

DancersAd1smallerWhat’s not a factor in the problems facing CHS, Emore stressed, are the recent controversies that have involved the seminary, such as former faculty member Ruth Barrett signing a petition against trans* inclusion at a festival. “It was certainly very unpleasant,” Emore said, “but those were not our students or donors, with minor exceptions. Only one person pulled a contribution and said it was over that.”

The statement on the Facebook page included an invitation to support the long-term existence of CHS by taking a course, pledging funds, or providing other ideas. Master-level classes are $435, with courses toward certificates running only $240 each. “We’ve had people offer ideas,” Emore said, but “they all require human or financial resources” that the nearly all-volunteer organization lacks right now.

More than an appeal for money, the school’s announcement is seeking guidance. The Master of Divinity program “is what the Pagan community wanted eight years ago, but it’s hard to say what people want now.” In the past, the offered scholarship seats have been left unfilled, and an annual program, offering a class nearly for free if a student recruited a first-timer to join, was abandoned due to lack of participation.

“We’re finally going public and asking, ‘What do you want?'” Emore explained.

She went on,”We debated stating a dollar or registration goal and decided against it. That would imply that if we reach that everything would be okay, and that’s not necessarily true. We want to see if people see a need for this, and want to keep it open. We think there is, but we need to hear from other people because we can’t be unbiased.”

By the end of the year, board members will make a decision on whether to continue the work of this organization. If the end is indeed no, through a process called “teaching out” the existing 10-12 Master of Divinity students would either complete their degrees or be given support in continuing their studies elsewhere. One thing that Emore makes clear is that the preferred option would be to continue the work for the Pagan community. However, in reality, that work will largely depend upon what Pagans themselves do in the coming months.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – An unusual art exhibition, titled Modern Pagans/Ancient Realms, came to a close at the Vine Arts Center in south Minneapolis Friday, July 29. The show was organized by the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) and featured original works by a total of nine local Pagan artists.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul area may be known as the “Twin Cities” to the public at large, but to the Pagan community, it is often referred to as Paganistan, which is a nod to its uncommonly large, diverse and active Pagan community. If there is a place where a Pagan art show could be staged successfully, Paganistan is the place to do it.

"Modern Pagans/Ancient Realms" on display at the Vine Arts Center (photo by Paul B. Rucker)

“Modern Pagans/Ancient Realms” on display at the Vine Arts Center (Photo Credit: Paul B. Rucker)

The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) is a group of creative individuals who work in a variety of media and styles with a shared spiritual philosophy. They see their work as a way of connecting to and honoring the Divine. Additionally, they use their art in interfaith outreach and to build connections within the Pagan community itself.

In this latest exhibition, the two founding members of the collective Helga Hedgewalker and Paul B. Rucker, were joined by core members Rmay Rivard and Bonita Blumenauer, and by founders emeritus Roger Williamson and Ali Beyer. Other participating artists included Jack GreenEllie Bryan and Tony Koch.

The artwork on display included paintings, sculpture, mixed media, photography, ceramics as well as a video installation. In the curatorial statement, the exhibition was described as presenting, “multiple expressions in various media which explore Midwestern Pagans’ connections with this living spiritual culture, examining a spectrum of responses to the challenges of a polytheistic present, using insights from the realms of the pagan past”

The evocative title of the exhibit had deep significance to the artists, and was a carefully chosen theme. Rmay Rivard and Helga Hedgewalker explained it in recent correspondence with The Wild Hunt. Rivard said, “The title of our latest show Modern Pagans/ Ancient Realms conjures the feeling of being sandwiched between two mirrors where the image goes into infinity front and back and I am the fulcrum that connects the future to the past.”

“For me, ” explained Hedgewalker, “It was an acknowledgement of both how Paganism looks to the wisdoms of the past to help guide our future, and how the history of art itself is religious history. What we know of human-kind’s earliest culture is because of art, and that art was religious in nature. We pagan-artists draw inspiration from those “Ancient Realms” to bring into our modern world.”

"A Circle Dance of Life, Grandma Chairs, Ancestral Altars, Spirit Thrones" by Rmay Rivard, mixed media (courtesy photo)

“A Circle Dance of Life, Grandma Chairs, Ancestral Altars, Spirit Thrones” by Rmay Rivard, mixed media [Courtesy Photo]

One notable addition to this art show was the inclusion of a panel discussion on cultural appropriation. Members of MCPA were joined Sunday, July 10, by guest panelists Louis Alemayehu and Clio Ajana to explore questions such as “Does freedom of speech and expression grant unlimited creative license to artists?” and “What is the difference between paying tribute, homage or respect to the sacred ideas or beings of another culture and exploiting that culture through misappropriation?

Contributing artist and MCPA member Paul B.Rucker explained the rationale behind including this panel. He said, “Cultural appropriation is a very hot topic right now. It concerns Pagans directly because so many of our inspirations come from sources around the world, and we have a special responsibility to be mindful of the differences between inspirations and/or sharings, and outright appropriation. Although artistic expression is often considered a “protected” form of free speech, we as Pagan artists need to look at this issue mindfully if we want to be included in the larger conversation of the art world at large.”

Bonita Blumenauer, another contributing artist and MCPA member, described the benefit of the discussion: “To mutually explore this together that day was an enlivening experience.  Though our individual experiences with the topic of cultural inspiration and appropriation may vary, in talking of them together we realized how much we each value where our journeys of discovery have led us, where the sources of our inspiration come from and the respect we have for who will come to see the work we give to the larger world.”

"Sabbat or the Dark Interpreter" by Roger Williamson, oil on canvas

“Sabbat or the Dark Interpreter” by Roger Williamson, oil on canvas [Courtesy Photo]

The success of the show was apparent to the artists. It was important to everyone involved that the relevance of Pagan art be seen by the public, but also by fellow Pagans. Visual art usually falls into a void in Pagan communities. Festivals and conferences, the usual venues of gathering and networking, usually feature authors as featured speakers and presenters. Musicians are the typical entertainers of choice. Where are the painters, filmmakers and other visual creators? Some may find a corner in the vending area at a gathering, or online sales.

For these artists, being showcased in a gallery, and visited by Pagans and non-pagans was extremely gratifying. Blumenauer said, “The public response was amazing and more intimate than I could have imagined.  Here were all these connections being made…person to person…story to story….inspirations pinging off shared stories….reactions to pieces and the whole effect of the gathered pieces/stories becoming a revelation for each of us for both the artists and those who came to the exhibit as well.”

Hedgewalker added, “I couldn’t possibly have been more gratified. I’ve waited a lifetime to feel like my work, and the work of my fellow pagan-artist-colleges, was respected and appreciated— and this show fulfilled many of those long-held hopes and dreams. I felt so much love, from the gallery members, to the pagan-community who attended (both the opening and closing events) to even random folks who strolled through on weekend afternoons! My heart has grown three sizes this month.”

Triptych of the Muse by Helga Hedgewalker, acylic on canvas (courtesy image)

Triptych of the Muse by Helga Hedgewalker, acylic on canvas [Courtesy Image]

The grand finale of the art show fell the evening of July 29. The closing of the show included a participatory ritual celebrating the season. Rucker explained:

Because the closing date fell so close to Lammas, we as a group felt that creating a ritual to celebrate the Harvest was highly appropriate, both as a symbolic seal on the event itself, and as an offering to the general public of another aspect of the Pagan experience. In developing our ritual plan we emphasized a connection between the literal harvest of the land that feeds the body, and the harvest of creative labor that brings forth art, to feed the soul. In accordance with this idea, the first part of the rite involved a procession of celebrants who “activated” each work of art on display as a kind of shrine, with offerings of (in order); lit candles, incense, fresh flower petals, and danced ritual gestures. Helga as lead vocalist recited a speech, which connected her personal labor to bring forth her work with the labor of harvest in general (and quite well, she has many years experience in both priestess and theatre work).

The second part involved a “crowning” (“drawing down”) of Rmay as the priestess in the center of the circle of Ancestor Chairs, which made a natural “sanctum sanctorum” in this space. She blessed the “Platter of Plenty” already waiting on a shrine in the center with the aid of the women present, and from this platter two assistant priestess took up platters of bread and honey, and grapes, with which to make offerings to the crowd as the song, “Praise Be, Lady” (by Hollis Payer) was sung. The song continued as we segued into an ecstatic dance in which close to half of the (about 50) people present joined in. Two experienced drummers, Diane and Larry, led the rhythm. All of us were very impressed with the level of audience participation, because several non-Pagans joined the Pagans in the dance and the celebration in movement.

We concluded with a single recitation of “Walk with Wisdom” (by Sable) and a general blessing/farewell. Before and after the ritual many people came to look at artwork, to connect and even to visit our “museum shop” (an annex to the main gallery in which participating artists were selling reproductions and small works).

"Hugin and Munin-Thought and Memory" by Bonita Blumenauer, papier mache (courtesy photo)

“Hugin and Munin-Thought and Memory” by Bonita Blumenauer, papier mache [Courtesy Photo]

The MCPA are already planning their next major art show, which will open December 17, 2016 at the Leaping Laughter OTO Lodge in NE Minneapolis. The show’s title is Mother Night: The Goddess in Winter and, it will run through February 18, 2017. Rucker said:

As you can see, it is a two-month show that extends over several Pagan winter holidays, from Yule/Longest Night to Imbolc and Lupercalia. Our show will highlight the connection between winter themes and the Divine Feminine, partly inspired by the active empowerment of women displayed in this particular OTO lodge, which has tripled its membership under the guidance of a female grandmaster. Hilary Clinton’s nomination acceptance speech recently brought home to me how timely this recognition of female empowerment is in the greater public imagination, so this feels very topical.

Looking further into the future, Rucker noted that MCPA is continuing to creating partnerships with venues and artists, and hopes to eventually extend their exhibit to other states. He said, “I personally feel that [what] we have started in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area should be happening in other large cities with a diverse Pagan/artist population: Pagan artists coming together to create space to show together with a shared sense of belonging to a true movement in history. I would like to see artists elsewhere joining this conversation.”

The Wild Hunt will follow up in December with news on the launch of Mother Night: The Goddess in Winter. Additionally, the MCPA members also plan to continue their annual tradition of direct involvement with the art show “Third Offering Gallery” hosted at Paganicon, a Minneapolis-based Pagan conference. That show will be held next year from March 17 to 19, at the Doubletree Hotel, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.


Update 8-4-2016: The original article included incorrect titles for members of the collective, and stated that MCPA hosted the art show at Paganicon. This has been corrected to reflect the proper titles, as well as noting that MCPA members are involved in the conference art show, but not explicitly the hosts.

ATCHINGTON, Minn. — For nineteen years, Harmony Tribe has been hosting its annual Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF) in Minnesota. This year is no exception. Now located on private campgrounds in Atchington, the festival kicked off its week long event Mon, Aug 1. The day began at 3 pm with a Tribe Meeting, followed by an opening ritual called, “Together we Dream.” This year’s festival theme is “Dreams and Bones.”

Our nineteenth year is planting roots, defining and recognizing our dreams, and embracing a home for our bones.  We made the move to Northern Minnesota, helped clear the land, and built our village.  We drum and dance into the night,  create enriching rituals, and bask in our famous tribal community. This year we are free to bring our visions of the future, and bury the bones of the past. Our ancestors are watching and helping us!

Wild Hunt journalist Cara Schulz is in attendance at Sacred Harvest Festival and, using Facebook Live technology, she caught up with a number of the featured presenters to talk about their workshops and offerings at the festival.

Herbalist Kahla Wheeler-Rowan is an ordained minister and a Dianic High Priestess. Wheeler-Rowan says that she practices in the Holy Church of the Great Outdoors. She is also the director and founder of Kansas-based Prairie Wise Herbal, which is now celebrating 20th anniversary. This year at SHF, Wheeler-Rowan is offering several classes titled, “Herbal Mixology.”

Next, Schulz spoke with Emrys Anu, a long-time attendee of the festival. She is a Wiccan minister who has extensive experience volunteering in correctional facilities. Her festival workshops focus on ethics, compassion, responsibility, boundaries and value.

Sitting down with Schulz next was Sharon and Dan Stewart. Sharon is a Certified Death Midwife and longtime hospice volunteer and a trainer for NODA (No One Dies Alone). From her home Spirit Knoll in Wisconsin, Sharon, a member of Circle Sanctuary, teaches Death MidWife classes and educates people on Family Directed Funerals, Green Burials and other similar subjects. She will be sharing her knowledge and experience in a number of workshops over the week.

Sharon’s husband Dan Stewart is also teaching. He has a masters degree in counseling, and is an ordained minister, Reiki master, and certified massage therapist. Dan says that he began his journey as a healer in 1999, and he hasn’t looked back. He “seeks to help clients gain and maintain balance in all aspects of their lives.”

In her final two interviews, Schulz spoke with ritualists and authors Judy and Nels Linde. In one interview, Judy speaks specifically about their new book Taking Sacred Back, which was recently published and released by Llewellyn, Inc. She shares the history of its creation and why its important. “We had learned some stuff that other people did have to learn the hard way. We thought: let’s put it down,” Judy explains.

Part of the Lindes’ extensive experience includes being longtime, active members of Minnesota’s Pagan community. More specifically, the couple has been attending Sacred Harvest Festival for nearly all of its 19 years. Nels talked with Schulz about the event’s history and its place in the Pagan community.

Sacred Harvest Festival runs through Sunday, Aug. 7. Next year, Harmony Tribe will be celebrating the festival’s twentieth anniversary.

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Look for more “Wild Hunt Live” video interviews and live streaming in the future. 

12961669_10207514140345535_8947899318984102784_nSACRAMENTO, Calif. — It was announced that shaman and Deathwalker John Ravenmoon (1970-2016) has died from cancer. John was an initiate and brother of the Unnamed Path, a group founded by Eddie Gutierez who was better known as Hyperion. In Elemental Podcast recording #72, John shares his thoughts on Hyperion’s legacy of leadership within his local community.

John described himself as a “modern mystic.” He didn’t start his formal training in shamanism until 2000. Prior to that, John studied both massage therapy and “erotic education via the Body Electric School, which opened his eyes to the intersection of eros and spirit.” His close friend Beverly Smith said, “[John’s] early studies of the sacred body and eroticism opened a path as a Sacred Intimate. He was a trained healer and masseuse; unsurprising, considering his capacity for empathy in the depths of his great heart.”

According to Smith, John was currently studying “rootwork/conjure and Curanderismo, the healing arts of his ancestors.” Smith added, “Many will remember John for his sweet nature and kind demeanor. A friendlier or warmer person doesn’t exist. He is a constant inspiration to me. His empathy and strength helped me find my footing after losing my dear friend, Dr. E in 2014. John had the magic to make me laugh, while navigating dark waters. [He] was such an extraordinary person. We won’t see his like again.” That sentiment was echoed by many of his friends who used similar words, describing John as kind, loving, welcoming and “one of the good ones.”

In 2015, John was diagnosed with cancer, but that didn’t stop him from participating in community. Smith said, “I was thrilled to attend the Burning Man festival last year with [John]. What an experience to explore an event that was deeply spiritual and extremely important to him! Even though he was already suffering the pain and fatigue of his cancer, he enjoyed that week with enthusiasm and wonder. I feel blessed to have served with Ravenmoon as a Temple Guardian in the sacred space on the Playa in Black Rock City, NV.”

John’s cancer eventually spread to his lungs, forcing him into the hospital. In July, friends set up a YouCaring crowdfunding campaign to assist his husband Michael Shugert cover the mounting medical expenses. Then, on July 29 at 12:40 pm, John died. Smith said, “I hold his memory in the highest regard. John Ravenmoon, you are loved.” What is remembered, lives.

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pr15_069rMINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pagan Holiday Stamps? A recent blog post by Steven Posch at Witches and Pagans has had people confused. His post reads, “The Postmaster General announced today the upcoming release of a series of stamps commemorating the eight holidays celebrated by the vast majority of contemporary pagans.” The post, which allegedly quotes the Associated Press, goes on to say that the new series will begin Nov. 1 with Samhain.

While many Pagans shared the “fantastic news” over social media, the post was actually satire. Posch wrote, “I’m afraid this post is fiction,” adding that the joke was not intended to be mean-spirited. He said, “One of the dangers of being a long-term insider is the amount of presumed knowledge that one comes to take for granted. That said, the notion of the US post office having anything to do with pagan holidays seemed to me so patently absurd that it needed no further direct comment. Clearly, I was wrong on that account.”

Most of the individuals quoted within the hoax are from the Minneapolis region, and the inside joke appeared to be well-received by several members of that community. However, it did have others quite upset. One reader wrote, “I appreciate the satire, but I’m begging you to label it as such right up front.” Another said, “You should be ashamed of yourself for writing and spreading such a blatant lie to the Pagan community.” Posch apologized, but also said, “Caveat lector: let the reader beware. […] Take no one on authority; certainly not me.”

Despite the hoax, the US Postmaster has released a 2016 Halloween-themed forever stamp (pictured). For science fiction fans, look for the Star Trek series in September.

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admin-ajaxNEW ORLEANS — The pre-trial for Kenny Klein’s case was scheduled to begin today, Aug. 1 at the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. According to the court docket, Klein appeared with counsel Bradley Phillips, who asked for a continuance of the pre-trial. It was granted, and the pre-trial will continue Aug. 16. The scheduled court date for the actual trial, originally set for Aug. 15, has been temporarily suspended.

In 2014, Klein was arrested and eventually charged with crimes tied to the possession of child pornography. In June, the judge denied motions to suppress evidence and statements connected with the case. Klein is presently free on $30,000 bail. The Wild Hunt will continue to follow the case.

In Other News:

  • Many Gods West , the indoor conference dedicated to polytheistic practice, begins this weekend on Aug. 5 and runs through Sunday, Aug 7. It is held annually in Olympia, Washington.
  • Sacred Harvest Festival begins today in Northern Minnesota. The annual week long camping festival is in its 19th year and its theme is “Dreams and Bones.”
  • Fans of author Alex Bledsoe will be happy to hear that his latest novel in the Tufa series will be released by Tor/Macmillan Sept. 6. This fourth book, titled Chapel of Ease, is an urban fantasy combining the mysteries of the Tufa people with the lights of New York City’s Broadway. “When Matt Johanssen, a young New York actor, auditions for ‘Chapel of Ease,’ an off-Broadway musical, he is instantly charmed by Ray Parrish, the show’s writer and composer. They soon become friends; Matt learns that Ray’s people call themselves the Tufa and that the musical is based on the history of his isolated home town.” The Tufa series, with its magic and mysteries, has inspired the music of Celtic tribal rock band Tuatha Dea
  • Max Dashu’s new book, Witches and Pagans, has been published and released by her imprint Veleda Press. According to a note for the July 30 release party, Dashu’s book “gathers together strands of folk wisdom to reweave the ripped webs of women’s culture in Europe.” The book is available at the imprint’s website,
  • In the blogosphere, John Becket informs us that The Savior is Not Coming. “One of the advantages of getting old is knowing what’s coming next because you’re seeing history repeat itself.”

Advertise with The Wild Hunt? Contact our editors today.

I write this as a devotee of war gods with the purpose of examining various theories about the State’s monopoly of violence, counter-insurgency and warriorship. This essay is written in the aftermath of the killing five police officers during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas July 7 and the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge July 17, the same city where Alton Sterling was killed July 5.

These two targeted attacks have highlighted other incidents in which police officers have been shot. For instance, a man in Oakland is accused of shooting at a police officer July 23, “solely because she was a police sergeant in uniform.” Several law enforcement officers have also been shot and killed while attempting to transfer prisoners or detain individuals: for instance, two courthouse bailiffs in Michigan were killed by an inmate July 11, a Kansas City police captain was killed July 19, and a San Diego police officer was killed July 28.

The National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund reports that 14 “ambush-style” attacks have resulted in police deaths this year, and that “for the first time in three years, traffic-related fatalities were not the leading cause of law enforcement deaths during the first half of the year,” having been surpassed by firearms-related fatalities. However, it is also worth keeping in mind that a Bureau of Labor Statistics study analyzing 2014 data found that police officers were not among the top ten “civilian occupations with high fatal work injury rates.” Whether police officers should be considered civilians or not, however, is debatable.

State Monopoly of Violence

After the shooting in Dallas, Barack Obama gave a speech in which he said, “Let’s be clear: There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.” By arguing that “justification” does not exist for such acts, Obama actually shifts the discourse in an interesting direction: the question is not whether violence is justified or not, but whether or not it is sanctioned by the State.

In his essay “Politics as a Vocation,” Max Weber defines a state as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” (1). The word “legitimate,” of course, is tricky, but Weber clarifies that he simply means what is “considered to be legitimate.” In other words, there is a bit of a circular definition, since it is precisely the State and those under its rule that are doing the “considering.”

The philosopher Walter Benjamin, in his “Critique of Violence,” draws a very similar distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned violence:

One might perhaps consider the surprising possibility that the law’s interest in a monopoly of violence vis-a-vis individuals is not explained by the intention of preserving legal ends but, rather, by that of preserving the law itself; that violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law. (281)

For example, even though vigilantism often pursues similar ends as the law (and sometimes works with individuals within government, in practice), in theory, it ultimately threatens the State’s monopoly of violence. This is particularly the case when it comes to police officers. The State reserves the right to prosecute its own, discouraging vigilantism; yet sometimes protects even the vigilantes and lawbreakers within its own ranks.

Obama claimed that “police in Dallas were on duty doing their jobs keeping people safe during peaceful protests.” By emphasizing that the protests were peaceful, he means that they did not attempt to usurp the violence that is reserved for police officers, who are simply “doing their jobs” when they use violence.

The implications of accepting the State’s desired monopoly of violence are perhaps best illustrated by one of Aesop’s fables:

Etching by Wenceslaus Hollar [Wellcome Trust / Wikimedia]

Etching by Wenceslaus Hollar [Wellcome Trust / Wikimedia]

The wolves sent messengers to the sheep, offering to swear a sacred oath of everlasting peace if the sheep would just agree to hand over the dogs for punishment. It was all because of the dogs, said the wolves, that the sheep and the wolves were at war with one another.

The flock of sheep, those foolish creatures who bleat at everything, were ready to send the dogs away but there was an old ram among them whose deep fleece shivered and stood on end. ‘What kind of negotiation is this!’ he exclaimed. ‘How can I hope to survive in your company unless we have guards? Even now, with the dogs keeping watch, I cannot graze in safety.’

As Weber’s definition suggests, however, not every would-be State’s claim to exercise a monopoly on violence is successful. Counter-insurgency theory never takes the State’s monopoly of violence for granted: it is always threatened and contested, and must be maintained through the use of force.

Counter-Insurgency Theory and War Gods

Counter-insurgency theory de-emphasizes the importance of the physical occupation of space, instead focusing on the ability to mobilize force. For example, in “Offensives, Ground Taken and the Assumption of Frontal Warfare,” the Institute for the Study of Insurgent Warfare posits that “the ability to mobilize force collapses not because space is occupied, but because supply logistics cannot be maintained, casualties degrade the ability to fight, desertions and mutiny break down force logistics and the capacity to contain crisis is exhausted”(5).

The recent battle on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, for example, showed that the mere physical occupation of the bridge by soldiers participating in the attempted coup did not achieve victory automatically. The blockade of the bridge instead crumbled due to a confluence of factors, including the ability of the pro-Erdogan forces to mobilize greater force against them.

Policing, too, exists as an ability to mobilize force, and thus should also be analyzed through the lens of counter-insurgent warfare. Tom Nomad writes about the projection of force through technology:

There are not ever enough police to cover terrain completely. Take a city like New York, which has tens of thousands of police; this number is not nearly enough to actually cover all space simultaneously. As such, police logistics are largely based on the attempt to project throughout space. This, historically, has been achieved through the combination of four different technologies in modern police operations; transportation, communications, weapons and surveillance.

As participants in insurgent and counter-insurgent warfare, both police officers and those who engage in armed conflict with them fall within the sphere of influence of gods interested in and associated with war.

Within law enforcement circles, there are those who dislike the term “warrior” itself and those who would “embrace” it. That this tension exists at all is interesting. Police officers can sometimes straddle the line between hired killer and bureaucrat, exemplifying the worst elements of each while accepting the responsibilities of neither. A warrior or soldier would accept the inevitability of enemies and open conflict, without claiming a monopoly of violence.

Benjamin writes of a similar oddity within the institution of policing. He classifies what he calls “violence as a means” into two categories: lawmaking, which requires victory in battle, or law-preserving, which requires “the restriction that it may not set itself new ends [i.e. become a new law unto itself]” (286). However, he writes, “police violence is emancipated from both conditions,” even though it combines both functions. That the police are law-preserving is evident, but in moments of crisis, the police can exercise the “assertion of legal claims for any decree.” For example, he writes, “the police intervene ‘for security reasons’ in countless cases where no clear legal situation exists.”

Public Domain.

Odin. [Ranveig / Wikimedia]

But I’m not writing here for the police or for sympathizers. It doesn’t matter if they want to call themselves warriors or not, or if they deny the “justification” of those who fight against them, the gods of war are still watching. And what do such distinctions matter to He who collects half of the slain, from both sides? Or to the Queen who spoke these words?

long life to the Ulstermen
woe to the Irish
woe to the Ulstermen
long life to the Irish (Táin Bó Cúailnge)

In Introduction to Civil War, Tiqqun writes that traditional societies would not even understand the modern legalistic view of “violence,” let alone the State’s attempted monopoly of force.

“Violence” is something new in history […] Traditional societies knew of theft, blasphemy, parricide, abduction, sacrifice, insults and revenge. Modern States, beyond the dilemma of adjudicating facts, recognized only infractions of the Law and the penalties administered to rectify them. (34)

Therefore, Tiqqun declares that “for us, ultimately, violence is what has been taken from us, and today we need to take it back.” When they clarify “for us,” they do so deliberately. Referring to the etymology of Latin hostis (in early Latin, a stranger; in Classical Latin, a public enemy) from the Proto-Indo-European root *ghos-ti-, which could be used to mean stranger, guest or host, Tiqqun argues that civil war creates a situation where one is forced “to leave the sphere of hostility and thereby becomes a friend—or an enemy” (46).

To this effect, Introduction to Civil War begins with an epigram from Solon of Athens, who wrote in the Constitution of Athens that “Whoever does not take sides in a civil war is struck with infamy, and loses all right to politics.” Like the bat in the Aesop’s fable, one must take a side and stick with it. By civil war, however, Tiqqun refers not to a clash between States, but between “parties,” in the old-fashioned sense of “factions” (33).

In this article, I do not seek to convince anyone to switch sides, only to be clear about which side they are on. Let’s have no more of this lie that there are no sides, that there is only the untouchable State. Counter-insurgency theory teaches us that “in this attempt to project through space policing necessarily generates conflict” (Nomad). Conflict is inevitable.

Tiqqun’s argument that this State monopoly of violence is a modern concept is reinforced by Weber, who is most famous for his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He links (perhaps a bit predictably) the authoritarian state to Protestantism:

Protestantism, however, absolutely legitimated the state as a divine institution and hence violence as a means. Protestantism, especially, legitimated the authoritarian state. Luther relieved the individual of the ethical responsibility for war and transferred it to the authorities. To obey the authorities in matters other than those of faith could never constitute guilt. (25)

However, Weber argues, the fundamental problem is that “we are placed into various life-spheres, each of which is governed by different laws. Religious ethics have settled with this fact in different ways.” Weber suggests that historical Hellenic polytheism was more comfortable with different deities ruling different life-spheres, while Hinduism took the approach of making “each of the different occupations an object of a specific ethical code.” For the warrior caste discussed by Krishna and Arduna in the Bhagavad-Gita, he writes, warfare was actually a religious duty:

Hinduism believes that such conduct [i.e. warfare, for those within the warrior caste] does not damage religious salvation but, rather, promotes it. When he faced the hero’s death, the Indian warrior was always sure of Indra’s heaven, just as was the Teuton warrior of Valhalla. The Indian hero would have despised Nirvana just as much as the Teuton would have sneered at the Christian paradise with its angels’ choirs. (25)

Like the warriors mentioned by Weber, one of the shooters seemed unafraid of his death as well. A day before the attack, he tweeted, “Just bc you wake up every morning doesn’t mean that you’re living.  And just bc you shed your physical body doesn’t mean that you’re dead. Don’t let someone get comfortable with disrespecting you.” These tweets echo the warrior ethic found in the Hávamál:

16. A cowardly man
thinks he will ever live,
if warfare he avoids;
but old age will
give him no peace,
though spears may spare him.

129. I counsel thee, Loddfafnir,
to take advice,
thou wilt profit if thou takest it.
Wherever of injury thou knowest,
regard that injury as thy own;
and give to thy foes no peace.

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

 *   *   *
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.

TWH — This weekend and next, many modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, Lughnassa, and Harvest Home. Typically celebrated on Aug. 1, Lughnasadh is one of the yearly fire festivals and marks the first of three harvest celebrations. It traditionally honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu.

In addition, the weekend brings the Ásatrú festival of first fruits called Freyfaxi. Both celebrations are celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits and grains of the season.

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

There are many other late summer religious and secular holidays around the world, some of which are related to the harvest and some are not. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, followers will be celebrating Choekhor Duechen Aug. 4. The day marks the time when “the Buddha Shakyamuni first taught the four noble truths in Sarnath, India, and first turned the wheel of the dharma.”  The Order of the Black Madonna, based in California, hosts a number of feast days in August, including an annual dinner in mid-August to honor the Queenship of Mary.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are readying for Imbolc, and other holidays focused on late winter and the coming potential of spring.

This year, the new moon arrives Aug. 2, and the full moon Aug. 18.

Here are a few quotes about the seasonal celebration:

“This time of year is marked by the burning rays brought down by the Dog Star Sirius, signaling the scorching heat that can come during the “dog days” of summer. The same light that provided nourishment for the green world now parches the earth. This is the last gasping breath of summer, whose days have grown steadily shorter since the solstice. The dark god of the Wildwood, leader of the Wild Hunt comes to claim his throne. The light god of the green that has ruled this half of the year is sacrificed to ensure the cycle continues. This is Lammastide.” – Coby Michael Smith, Lugh, Lucifer and the First Harvest.

*    *    *

“For the vegan Pagan, Lammas presents an opportunity to celebrate the long-standing blessing of plant-based foods. And surely the Queen of these foods is bread. The Hebrew testaments canonized by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam mention the connection between women and the creation of sacred cakes. Of course in these documents, the mention is a disgruntled and disapproving one. But the pagan religions carry forth innumerable references to sacred loaves, or ‘cakes and ale.’ Liquor, incidentally, is another use for these sacred grains, and is also associated with numerous goddesses, like Cerridwen and Bridget. And most of us in Greco-Roman influenced cultures know Demeter as a goddess of the grain.” – Leslie J. Lindor, Lammas, The Ancient Heritage of Grains

  *    *    *

“Our life stories are not blockages or burdens we must repress, cut away or transcend; they are the very life-blood, our teachers and guides, on our journey of healing and transformation. We are meant to harvest and ingest the core lessons held within our stories, and then, and only then, will our stories be done with us …This week, in the spirit of Lammas, the pagan sabbat of the early harvest, spend some time in personal reflection, considering the parts of your life story that are ripe and ready for harvesting.” – Karen Clark, Lammas Pathwork, Harvesting Your Life Stories

*    *    *

“On Lammas day in 1940 witches gathered in the New Forest to raise a ‘cone of power’ to prevent Hitler’s troops invading England. The assembly included Gerald Gardner and Old Dorothy Clutterbuck and several other renowned witches. Traditionally Lammas is celebrated by taking a spiral path to the summit of a Lammas hill such as Silbury Hill or Glastonbury Tor […] When harvesting, farmers will often leave the last stand of corn as it contains the spirit of the crop. In some parts of the country this will be cut by ritually throwing sickles. The corn would then be used to decorate the farmhouse for ‘Harvest Home,’ and be made into a corn dolly to protect the home and guarantee the crops for the next season. ” – Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Lammas Windows

[Photo Courtesy Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Lammas Windows]

Lammas Decorating Ideas [Photo Courtesy Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Lammas Windows]

*    *    *

“It is turning darker sooner, slowly, little by little. The lengthening shadows are appearing as a sign that the nights will be winning once again, as the Wheel of the Year turns. As twilight appears it is rife with legends of the darker ones becoming more and more prominent […] The Witches of the past learned their magic from the fairies, meeting them in the woodlands and fairy mounds that ordinary people avoided. Given herbs, potions, and the secrets of the Craft. In the woodlands, following a path deep into the heart of the greenwood.” – Danette Wilson, Outside the Circle: Dark Spirits of Lammas.

*    *    *

“Traditionally Lammas (or Lughnasadh) is the time of the first harvest, and this is a time to celebrate the abundance in your life – friends and family, physically, creatively, or spiritually. Take time to give thanks for what you have, and consider what you can give back to the world.” – Circle Sanctuary

A very blessed first harvest to all of our friends, family and readers celebrating at this time! 

It was the end of my time in Europe, as I was set to fly out of Cologne in a few days. I had just traveled from Strasbourg, France to a friend’s house just outside of Mannheim, Germany, and I was trying to figure out the best way to Cologne from there.

“If you take the train from Mainz, I can show you the Isis temple in the basement of the mini-mall,” she said to me.

I was sure that I hadn’t heard her right. “Wait, what?” I asked. “A temple in a mini-mall?”

“Well, in America it would be called a mini-mall. Here it’s just a regular mall because we don’t have big malls like you do. But yes, when they were building the mall they uncovered the remains of a temple to Isis, and now the temple is in the basement of the mall and anyone can go visit it.”

Still not quite believing my ears, I immediately decided to travel out of Mainz. I spent the night at my friend’s wonderful old farmhouse, and made plans to go to the temple the next day, and then on to the train station.

That night, I dreamed about the burial mounds in and around Chillicothe. I woke up not quite understanding the connection, but it was made clear to me before long.

*   *   *

Mainz is located in western Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. Known as Mogontiacum in the days of the Roman Empire, the city was founded as a military stronghold in the first century BC and named after the Gallic god Mogons. Mogontiacum was one of the most important fort cities in the Roman Empire until it was destroyed by Attila the Hun in 451 AD.

In 1999, construction workers broke ground for a new shopping center in Mainz only a short distance from the bank of the Rhine. Unlike in America, where many states have no laws whatsoever that protect archaeological remains, German local historic preservation offices automatically oversee the digging of a pit in any historic location.

When the remains of the Isis temple were discovered, construction on the shopping center was halted for seventeen months as the remains were carefully uncovered and catalogued by a team of archaeologists. During the excavation, over 5000 photographs were taken, and over 350 scaled drawings were created of the finds. Three meters of soil were removed and carefully sifted through, and extensive geographical survey charts were drawn up which noted the exact locations of the remains as well as how far above sea level they were found.

Not only was an ancient temple discovered, but also the remains of a Celtic burial ground dating back to the Iron Age. The temple itself was dedicated to both Isis and Cybele, who the Romans knew as ‘Magna Mater.’ It is the only temple to both gods that has ever been found outside of Italy.

When the excavation was completed, local citizens pressured the government and the developers to preserve the temple in its original location, and to make it available for public viewing. As a result, a museum that contains and features the remains of the temple was built right into the structure of the shopping center. Today, the museum is accessible from the inside of the shopping center and is open and free to the public.

*   *   *

I admit that I didn’t know much about either Isis or Cybele other than what is contained in the standard myths that most Pagans are familiar with. I had no idea, for example, that Isis was adopted into the Roman pantheon and that her cult thrived there. I had known that the cult of Cybele had reached Rome, but I didn’t know that temples dedicated to her were ever built within the Roman Empire.


Entrance to the Isis temple in Mainz. [Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie.]

Arriving at the mall that contained the temple was quite a surreal experience. In the downtown of a major city, we parked and took an elevator to the first floor. As soon as we walked into the mall itself, the temple was right there near the entrance with a staircase leading down below.

The volunteer at the desk handed me a tour guide in English, and my friend was kind and patient enough to translate everything on the panels inside the museum, which were all in German. What I learned over the next hour from my tour guide and my friend’s translation was the following, retold to the best of my memory with the assistance of a few notes:

Archaeologists and historians knew that a temple to both Isis and Magna Mater had existed at one point in Mainz, but they didn’t know where until the discovery and to this day they still don’t know why it was built. According to historians, a temple like this was usually built after some sort of political catastrophe and/or misdeed on the part of the Roman Empire as a way to both appease the local community as well as appease and ask forgiveness of the Gods. And given the size and the detail of this specific temple, it is assumed that there was some sort of significant event that the Emperor and Senators of the Roman Empire felt a great need to rectify.


Tablets inscribed to Isis Panthea and Magna Mater. [Photo Credit: A.Valkyrie.]

Among the consecrations carved on limestone tablets was the following:

For the welfare of the emperor (and) of the Roman senate and the people and the army, Claudia Icmas, freedwoman of the emperor, and Vitulus, slave of the prince, under the priest Claudius Atticus, also a freedman, have had this inscription set down for Mater Magna.

Another tablet bears the identical words except that they were set down for Isis Panthea. The naming of these various persons and institutions is suggestive of a very grave or controversial occasion or event that the consecrations were meant to make amends for. There are also a significant number of stamps from various Roman legions on the outer walls of the temple, signifying that not only did the legions feel the need to specifically mark their participation in the building of the structure, but that the structure itself was a state-sponsored and state-financed project.

And yet the specific event or catastrophe that prompted the building and consecration of such a temple is missing from the historical record.

The temple itself was built in several phases, starting in the latter half of the first century, AD, and the cults of Isis and Magna Mater worshiped at the temple for approximately two-hundred years. It had gone through various renovations over that time, with differing materials and architectural styles found throughout the layers. When parts of the temple were demolished and restructured, the building materials from the destroyed parts were re-used in the rebuilding.

Remains of the temple in the center of the museum. [Photo Credit: Matthias Süßen / Wikimedia]

The insides of the temple were off-limits to those who were not initiates of the cults of either Isis or Mater Magna. However, those who were not initiates were still allowed to participate in certain celebrations, activities, and offerings. Pits were discovered outside the temple walls, which contained layers of burnt offerings. Anyone could leave or burn offerings in these pits in order to request and/or secure divine assistance. Hundreds of oil lamps were also unearthed, many which were found in the offering pits. Other lamps had images of gods carved onto the surface. Evidence of animal sacrifices were also found in the pits, primarily the bones of chickens and other birds.

Discovered among the ruins were many poppet dolls and curse tablets, some of which were very detailed in their targets and their aims. The curses ranged from requests for revenge on jilted lovers to pleas for justice in legal matters. The tablets were made of lead, and were rolled up and buried once inscribed. The archaeologists discovered many of these tablets in various stages of decay, which had to be carefully unrolled in order to decipher and translate what was written on them.


Devotional objects and curse tablets on display. [Photo Credit: Martin Bahmann / Wikimedia]

Also uncovered and displayed were a large assortment of sacrificial and devotional objects, such as pottery, resins, carved bone, grains, and various figurines. Some of the figurines were hand-carved, others molded, and varied from representations of ordinary people to statues of gods and goddesses.

Remains from the Celtic burial ground that existed in that space prior to the building of the temple were also on display. A burial chamber built of wood planks, which was originally set between an earthen mound, was uncovered and inside the bones of what is believed to be a noble woman were discovered. Her remains were dated through a dendrochronological analysis and were thought to be from around 650 BC. Found buried with the remains were fragments of pottery and jewelry, ostensibly her personal possessions.


Reconstructed scene and remains from the Celtic burial chamber. [Photo Credit: Martin Bahmann / Wikimedia]

As someone walking through the display for the first time and with little knowledge of what I was about to observe, I felt an immediate connection to the objects and the history that was being displayed and expressed, not only because of its presentation but because it was displayed in the actual location where it was found. There was a certain resonance, a connection between the space itself and the objects on display, that was unlike any other museum I had ever seen.

*   *   *

With my head full of a wide assortment of new knowledge and thoughts and ideas, I bade farewell to my friend, thanked her for her hospitality and her tireless translation throughout our visit to the museum, and then boarded the train to Cologne.

Once I was on the train, I sat and relaxed for a few moments and remembered the dream that I had the night before. I suddenly realized its significance in terms of what I had just learned and witnessed. Aside from the general theme of ancient and sacred places, the Celtic burial chamber that was unearthed below the temple had originally been built below a burial mound, a mound which was constructed for the same purpose and around the same time as the burial mounds in my dreams.

The burial mounds scattered in and around the Ohio Valley and West Virginia were built in the time of the Adena culture, which is estimated to have thrived between 1000 and 200 BC. But unlike the varied historical protection laws that European countries have enacted concerning archaeological remains, Ohio has never enacted a law that protects structures or finds of historical significance despite years worth of pressure on the state legislature to do so.

As a result, countless burial mounds have been destroyed over time, especially over the past century.


Adena Mound, circa 1900, prior to destruction. [Public Domain]

In 1998, a commercial property owner in Chillicothe, Ohio wanted to develop a piece of land for retail purposes. But unlike the situation in Mainz, they knew from the start that the Chillicothe land in question was a sacred site in the form of a burial mound, which was in the way of their plans. So, they simply demolished it despite efforts from preservationists to stop the destruction.

The land then sat for nearly two decades until last year when developers wanted to build a mall. The developers claimed that they were not aware that the parcel was a recently bulldozed sacred site. Under pressure from the community, they consented to allow archaeologists to dig for thirteen weeks.

And over the course of that time, many archaeological finds were uncovered from bones and teeth to shards of pottery. A local archaeologist estimated that the mound dated from between 200BC to 200AD, putting it in the same general time frame as the remains unearthed in Mainz.

But unlike the temple in Mainz, nobody built a museum in the basement of the new shopping center, which was built on top of the sacred site. What stood before in that spot has not been properly respected or honored or protected. What was once a burial mound is now a Dick’s Sporting Goods, with nothing to remind those who shop there that the building stands on sacred ground.

While the trip to the Isis temple was a breathtaking example of the importance of preserving and restoring historic remains, it was also a stark reminder of how little my own country has progressed in showing such respect or care for the sacred remains that are scattered throughout this land.


Early stages of the destruction of the mound, 1901. [Public Domain]

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

  *   *   *

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.

On July 15, reports exploded across the world’s media that there had been a military coup against the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced Erdon) in Turkey. The reaction across the European Union, which Turkey is negotiating to join, was shock and intrigue.

Erdogan, who first came to power in 2003 (as prime Minister until 2014, and President since then) is regarded in Europe as a divisive, authoritarian figure with Islamic fundamentalist leanings. Since Erdogan’s ascendancy, Turkey has slowly been transformed from the secular, progressive Islamic vision of Kemal Ataturk into an increasingly religious and conservative state. Such a change has resulted in an increasing amount of pressure on Turkish Pagans for years.

The Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul was a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica when the city was Constantinople

The Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul was a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica when the city was called Constantinople. [Photo Credit: Arild Vågen / Wikimedia]

The Wild Hunt spoke with Renee Redbird, a Turkish pagan living in Turkey, and Morgana Sythove, the head of Pagan Federation International, which has a branch in Turkey.

“The past five years have been really hard,” said Redbird. “Pagans cannot express their views to other people in Turkey as they think we worship Satan. Turkey isn’t secular, in a secular country they can choose their beliefs – we can’t. My citizenship ID card states Islam as my religion but they didn’t ask me. When my father registered my birth, they put Islam as my religion, and I can’t get that erased.”

Redbird explained that it is also the same in schools, adding: “We just learn Islam, Islam. It’s going extreme, real extreme. Even Christians and Jews can’t say anything, not just pagans.”

Sythove stressed just how much Turkey has changed over the past few years. Erdogan has grown increasingly intolerant of any dissidence. A recent flashpoint was the Taksim Square riots in June 2013, during which local protesters were violently evicted from a peaceful sit-in over plans to urbanize Gesi Park.

Inspired by movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the protesters wanted, among other things, to protect the trees that were scheduled to be destroyed as part of the development. They were also there to protest Erdogan’s authoritarianism. The ensuing riots were suppressed with tear gas and water cannons. In the end, 11 people killed and 8,000 injured.

The protests at Taksim Gesi Park in 2013

The protests at Taksim Gesi Park in 2013 [Photo Credit: Fleshstorm / Wikimedia]

Turkey lies in the far south-eastern corner of Europe and is the gateway to the Middle East. It occupies a small landmass in mainland Europe, which borders Greece and Bulgaria. It then crosses the Bosphorus Strait with the rest of its territory bordering Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Georgia. Turkey is a key country in Europe as it serves as a bridge between these two worlds. Indeed, much of the recent refugee influx has passed through Turkey with the other main route being Libya in North Africa.

Turkey’s story represents something of a pattern for the Middle East, which has been exacerbated by recent International involvement, primarily from the US and UK, which has destabilised the entire region. This has not affected Turkey directly, but has resulted a flourishing of the more fundamentalist arms of Islam across the Middle East.

Over the past few months, tension has built up enormously. Just a month ago, police shut down the annual Istanbul Gay Pride festival, which has been held without concern since 2003. There were issues with the event last year, and the permits to hold the 2016 event were denied. But the festival went ahead anyway. Nineteen people were arrested and water cannons were used.

And, it was a similar story at a transgender event held in Istanbul the week before the Pride March. This authoritarianism is creeping into more informal events as well. Redbird said, “A few weeks ago I heard of a man, I can’t remember where he was from, but it was somewhere in the Far East, and he had a party for Coldplay fans to come and listen to their music at his house. The police went to his house, broke up the party and began beating people.”

It would seem that even this type of more secular, informal gathering is now difficult to hold. “This was not a problem a few years ago,” Redbird stressed. “People could have a party with alcohol. Even non-Muslim shopkeepers who serve alcohol are now being beaten by the police. None of this was happening a few years ago.”

Sythove echoed her comments. “I’ve noticed people being less open, there are more headscarves around now, women are less open as the men seem to guard them – even in Istanbul. I never thought I’d see that in Istanbul.” Although Ankara is the official capital, Istanbul is its most prominent city and enjoys a more liberal reputation than some of its other regions.

The hijab is becoming an increasingly common feature in daily Turkish life. There is concern that this will put pressure on greater numbers of women to wear one. Erdogan is also putting a constant pressure on the judiciary of Turkey to overturn the Constitutional ban on wearing headscarves in public institutions. Redbird said, “We are getting used to it now though, unfortunately. We have to.”

With the way things are going, she admits that she is pessimistic about the future. “It will become like Iran here. There will be no difference between Iran and Turkey.”

Sythove said that since the attempted coup was quashed, Erdogan has worked to tighten his grip on power. More than 60,000 people have been arrested. Erdogan claims that the failed revolt was the work of his former ally Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, Turkey’s main opposition leader who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania, US.

Sythove added, “Academics are not allowed to leave the country, as Erdogan believes many schools and teachers are funded by Gulan.” Redbird chipped in: “That’s a lie!”

Concerned for friends she has across Turkey, Sythove said, “I have some friends who I cannot get hold of, who were having problems even a couple of years ago (due to their beliefs and associations). This has been bubbling under for about two to three years.”

Redbird agreed, adding: “You would hear of isolated cases where someone would be arrested, but nothing on this scale. I’m really scared of everything now. I am scared for my life, for my friends’ lives, for my family’s lives. If I had the opportunity I would leave Turkey. My husband and I are looking into study programmes so that we can leave.”

Unfortunately, Turkey was on the brink of a deal with the EU to ease visa restrictions from Turkey, making work and study more accessible to Turkish citizens. This has been quickly dropped since the failed coup.

While not popular in Europe, Erdogan has solid support at home. He remains a popular figure. Sythove explained, “He has done a great deal for the poorer parts of Turkey, particularly the east. He has improved infrastructure and built roads, airports and so the people love him.”

Redbird added, “Many here are calling for the death penalty for the coup collaborators and soldiers. They are playing music to celebrate.”

Turks take to the streets of Istanbul to oppose the attempted coup in July

Turks take to the streets of Istanbul to oppose the attempted coup in July [Wikimedia]

Turkey is an unusual country in that its secular position has usually been upheld by the army. It has experienced a string of coups, whenever the country is deemed to be swerving too far from the Ataturk principles it was founded upon.

Alarm bells rang in Western Europe earlier this year when major Turkish newspaper Zaman, which was critical of Erdogan and his regime, was seized and its journalists arrested. Zaman was then completely shut down.

These actions were not considered those of a leader who upholds the democratic, secular values of the EU. With Turkey poised to join the politico-economic bloc, and Chancellor Angela Merkel handing the nation billions of euros to keep refugees there in order to ease pressure on Germany, the Brussels bureaucrats were getting worried.

However, the coup put paid to that. Erdogan was pictured facetiming Turkish CNN to urge everyone to get out on the streets and show their support for him. They answered his call and at some time during the night the army surrendered. Many have since questioned whether the coup, which appears to have been poorly planned and executed to the point of farce, was actually orchestrated by Erdogan to justify the subsequent purge and consolidation of his autocratic power.

There have also been reports that many of the troops involved in the attempted coup were unaware of what was happening and thought they were simply taking part in a major training exercise.

The one thing that is certain is, since the events of July 15, the Turkish regime has suspended, detained, or begun probing 60,000 people, including soldiers, policemen, judges, teachers, civil servants and journalists. In this climate, any political or ideological position considered to deviate from a state-sanctioned norm is under scrutiny. Given that the same may happen with religious views, Pagans in Turkey face an even more uncertain future than they did before the failed coup.

Many thanks to Renee Redbird for speaking to me under difficult circumstances, and to Morgana Sythove of PFI for her assistance.


Names and some details have been changed or omitted to protect identities.

OHIO– The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick has been in existence, off and on, since 1966. But the collection, which was once featured in publications from the New York Times to the Scholastic Voice, hasn’t been publicly displayed since Jimmy Carter was president. Now two longtime friends of Raymond Buckland – the man who brought Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States – are trying once again to make an ever-growing collection of Pagan artifacts available to the public.

Buckland, circa 1960s, holding 250-year-old mandrake root [Courtesy Photo]

The museum’s heyday was its first ten years from 1966-1976. During that time, Buckland himself housed it on Long Island where he lived. When he moved to New Hampshire, he tried to keep it up. However, by 1980, he decided to put the collection in storage. He was much in demand as a lecturer and writer, and found himself unable to devote the necessary time to the project.

The collection remained in storage for close to 20 years. Then, Buckland made arrangements to pass it on to Monte Plaisance, whose intention was to reopen the museum in New Orleans. That, unfortunately, never came to pass. As The Wild Hunt reported in 2008, attorneys were retained to negotiate the return of the artifacts to Buckland. Since that point, there have been allegations that the collection was not returned complete from its journey to New Orleans.

We contacted Michael (Monte) Plaisance about the accusations. He said, in part, “When I returned the museum [collection], all of those items were accounted for and those documents were signed off by the mediating attorney, who took the collection and brought it to whoever was the next person to handle it. […] I wish the current curator/owner of the collection the best of luck with the task ahead.” Read his full response to the allegations here.

Rev. Velvet Rieth was the next person to try to take on the project. However, Rieth became ill, so Buckland sought other curators, which he found in Toni Rotonda and Kat Tigner. Buckland has said, “These two ladies have taken on a formidable task but are doing wonderfully well with it. I have absolute trust in them and am extremely grateful to them for taking this on.” Rotonda and Tigner spoke to us about their plans for the collection.

The Wild Hunt: How did the two of you come to own this collection in the first place?

Toni and Kat: The two of us, Kat and Toni, have been friends with Raymond Buckland for quite some time. Over the course of several years, we have had a number of conversations about the museum collection. Last year (2015), we were made aware that Reverend Velvet Rieth, the then-curator of the museum, had become ill and was unable to continue managing the museum. After much discussion and consideration, all parties thought it would be the best option to bring the collection back to Ohio for safekeeping. This has proven to be a monumental task, as the collection is extremely extensive.

TWH: What kind of background in Paganism do you have?

Kat: I have studied witchcraft and the occult since 1970. I was a solitary practitioner for over 30 years until I felt a strong need to connect with other Pagans. I started a Pagan website back in the late 1990s (there were very few back then) and began selling my own ritual candles and oils. In 1999, I decided to quit my lucrative government job to open a small “witch shop” called The Cat & The Cauldron in Columbus, Ohio. A risky endeavor, to say the least, but you’ve heard the old adage “build it and they will come.” Well, they came and business grew. I learned from Llewelyn publishers that Ray Buckland lived in Ohio, so I decided to contact him and invite him for a book signing and lecture at my shop. Ray initiated me into the Craft (his first initiate in 20 years), then became my mentor and close friend, which we’ve been ever since. We co-founded a coven together in 2005 called the Temple of Sacrifice which follows an Egyptian pantheon, but I still recognize and worship the gods and goddesses of many cultures today.

Toni: I grew up in an extremely diverse family in many ways. My great-grandmother was a Vodou practitioner. My maternal grandmother was an in-the-closet Hungarian gypsy. My paternal grandmother had holy water basins attached to several walls of her home (which I loved) and would walk around mumbling prayers with her rosary in hand. And my nanny, well, let’s just say tea leaves and tarot before breakfast was standard fare. I had a very colorful childhood, and for that I am very thankful. I’ve always been fascinated by the various beliefs of different populations, and still am. I have studied various religions and paths over the years, when finally, in 1999, I wandered into a little shop called The Cat & The Cauldron.

TWH: Do you have any experience with starting and running a museum?

Kat and Toni: No, but we certainly have some great guidance from Ray who started the original museum in 1968! We have been involved with and have had guidance from several other museum curators as well as historical societies. Ashley Mortimer, from the Doreen Valiente Foundation, has been instrumental in helping us with laying the groundwork. It has been comforting to work with a group that understands the importance of protecting the integrity of such a collection. We hope to work with them more in the future.

There is definitely a lot to learn but it has been an exciting and worthwhile project. We have each owned and currently own our own businesses and have a wealth of knowledge and guidance from many that are anxious to see this project up and running.

Crystal balls owned by Sybil Leek and Raymond Buckland, respectively [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What can you tell me about the Buckland collection itself that you own?

Kat and Toni: It is as diverse of a collection as one could imagine. When we originally received the collection from New Orleans in July of 2015, the items were not carefully packed or labeled in any way. There were large foot lockers filled with what could only be described as chaos. We had no idea who (and in some cases, what) these items belonged to, or their relevance to the museum. Many of the items were in pieces (in separate foot lockers), broken, or missing. It was very disheartening. Thankfully, because of Ray’s extensive record-keeping (thank the gods!), we were able to identify, catalog, and restore many of the artifacts.

Ray began this collection in the 1960s. Having worked for British Airways, it allowed him the ability to travel around the world to collect various ritual artifacts. Ancient Egyptian, African, Meso-American, and Australian Aboriginal ceremonial artifacts are among the many items in the collection. As we all know, Ray has been a beacon for many on the Pagan path. Because of this, Ray has met many others that have also been instrumental on the Pagan front. Individuals such Gerald Gardner, Monique Wilson, Sybil Leek, Aiden Breac, Israel Regardie, Patricia Crowther, Scott Cunningham, and Eleanor Bone just to name a few. These individuals as well as many others have donated some amazing personal artifacts to the museum.

TWH: Have there been any recent donations?

Kat and Toni: For the past six months, we have been communicating with a number of Pagan elders and teachers. It was absolutely no surprise to us that a number of these individuals that we’ve spoken to were close friends with Ray, some as far back as the 1960s. It’s been amazing to discover that long before the internet, these pioneers all knew each other even though they were spread all over the globe. They have all been extremely helpful and more than willing to donate something to the collection. Some recollect having seen the collection in the 1970s, and many have wonderful stories of the early days!

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [provided]

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [Courtesy Photo]

Recently we made a trip down to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. They had just released their latest book, Lifting the Veil, and were doing a workshop at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore. After the workshop, Janet and Gavin presented the museum collection with a beautiful wooden chalice. This chalice had been used by Stewart, Janet, Gavin, and their coven for many years.

They told us a personal story behind the chalice that most have never heard of until now. When Stewart passed away and after the funeral services, he was cremated. His ashes were placed in many of his favorite places. However, some of them were set aside. Their coven went to one of Stewart’s favorite places, cast a circle and held a funerary ritual. Stewart’s ashes were placed in the chalice and filled with a good Irish whiskey. The chalice was then passed around the circle and everyone got a drink of Stewart! We were very pleased and honored to have received such a personal gift to the collection

The hospitality that we had received from everyone in Atlanta was overwhelming, and we’ll never forget the time that we spent with Janet and Gavin (haven’t laughed that much in a long time).

Since we have started reaching out to the community, we have received some wonderful donations. Among them are Christopher Penczak’s original athame, handmade spell cords from Laurie and Penny Cabot, a chalice from Sam Webster and his coven the Crescent Hellions, a gorgeous headdress that belonged to Morning Glory from Oberon Zell, and Ray has recently included his original manuscript of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. [Ed: We have previously covered Oberon Zell’s similar effort to start a Pagan museum.]

There are also a number [of people] that we have spoken to that are trying to decide what best represents themselves and their path. This is an important decision. We have had extensive conversations with Phaedra Bonewits about what she would like to donate. She says that she has an idea, but is still pondering on what would best represent Isaac.

We cannot stress enough how important this process is for the museum collection. Expansion of the museum collection from donations is imperative to the preservation of our history. Without them, the history would be lost.

Oberon Zell donated items to the museum [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What’s your vision for what the museum will look like once it’s open?

Kat and Toni: We actually have Ray’s original blueprints for a larger museum project that he had planned, and it would be wonderful to stay as close to his vision as possible. The exhibits will walk the viewer through the history of witchcraft and magick, to the present day practices and blending of traditions.

TWH: When do you hope you can open the doors?

Kat and Toni: We have not decided on an exact date as of yet. We are still in the process of restoring some of the items and building permanent display cases. We do have an idea of a location here in Ohio, but we are still working on the details.

TWH: How is the museum to be legally structured? Do you own the objects personally, or is there some kind of board or other organization officially in charge? Are the donations tax-deductible at this time?

Kat and Toni: Currently we own the museum and are legally registered with the State. However, our long term goal (much like the Valiente collection) is to establish a foundation. We feel that it is extremely important to protect and grow the assets, and establishing a foundation with a board of trustees will keep the museum intact for future generations.

Unfortunately, no, donations are not tax-deductible at this time. This, as well as a non-profit status are in the works for the future.

TWH: Please provide all the ways that people can support this project, including financially and non-financially, such as item donations.

Kat and Toni: We have just recently started a [crowdfunding campaign] to help with costs. The costs of restoration, utilities, rent, insurance, application fees, [and] display cases can be overwhelming, so anything donated to the fund is greatly appreciated. There is also a donation page on the Buckland Museum website. We have had some wonderful feedback and contributions from friends, family and fellow Pagans who would like to see this history preserved. People can help in many ways by making a small donation, a large donation, or even just forwarding the information to their family and friends!

We would also like if people could share any memories or stories that they may have of the museum over the years. Along with this, we love hearing stories, tales, and anecdotes of the people that have been instrumental in this cause.

TWH: Do you have any criteria that you could share about item donations, or is it really on a case-by-case basis?

Kat and Toni: We would still like to continue to have as diverse of a collection as possible. Certainly anything that pertains to Pagan religions and traditions. We would also like to try to continue to display items from prominent Pagan leaders who have been instrumental in making Paganism what it is today.

TWH: Who would you like to see attending the grand opening?

Well of course we would hope that Ray Buckland will be there to cut the ribbon!

PHILADELPHIA – A Wiccan High Priestess took part in an interfaith prayer circle today as part of the activities surrounding the Democratic National Convention this week. The DNC Prayer Circle is hosting this four day event, during which clergy and other faith leaders representing various communities lead attendees in a short prayer daily at 9:00 am. High Priestess Karen Bruhin with the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and Tenders of the Earth Temple joined Eileen Bowman with Soka Gakkai International: Nichiren Buddhism, and Dr. Jessica Russo with Falun Dafa for today’s prayers.


[Courtesy Image from Interfaith Prayer Circle Event]

The DNC Prayer Circle organizers said that they host these events because their members believe “… the work that the delegates will do inside for the DNC, and the work that the demonstrators will do on the streets of Philadelphia, are both worthy of spiritual support.”

They also said that they want to help the city and the world to come together and heal spiritually.

High Priestess Bruhin noted that she joined the effort because, “There is so much rancor and polarization surrounding our current political process. I want to do my part to try and add more balance and tolerance to the situation.”

The DNC Prayer Circle isn’t officially affiliated with the Democratic Party or the convention itself. It is a group lead by Vanette Jordan-Lumogo, a member on the DNC Action Committee, a Philadelphia-based coalition offering assistance to organizers and visitors taking actions around or protesting the DNC.

Bruhin said that she was talking with Ms. Jordan-Lumogo about the upcoming Prayer circle when the opportunity to participate arose. “When I found out why and that it was an interfaith event, I asked how interfaith it was and explained who I was, and blatantly asked to take part. They were absolutely ecstatic to have another faith involved.”


Wiccan High Priestess Karen Bruhin [Courtesy Photo]

Bruhin led one of the prayers Tuesday morning – the second day of the Prayer Circle event. She said that everyone held hands while standing in a circle. “People were there for a purpose and remained focused and present,” she noted.

Bruhin said that she didn’t write out the prayer in advance, but spoke from the heart. This is what she is reported to have prayed:

I call on Athena of the Polis, Lady protector of the city the state. Guide the Delegates and leaders here let them remember that their civic duty to us as a people and nation is to do what is best for the whole of the nation and not an elite few. Remind them that civil and respectful discourse is what we need most now. Let them know passionate speech needs to be tempered and honed until agreement can be reached.

I also call on Columbia, who was frequently invoked by the Founders. Remind those that represent us that the concepts of liberty and freedom are not achieved, by placing others at a disadvantage. Only by working together, towards our mutual good, can we all truly be free.

So mote it be.

In retrospect, Bruhin said that being part of the interfaith effort outside the DNC convention was a wonderful and powerful experience. “All the prayers revolved around the themes of unity, compassion and recognizing the inequalities that currently exist. I wish I could take more time from my day job to be there for the next two days. It was an honor and privilege to work with these individuals this morning.”