In recent months there have been many discussions and debates about infrastructure in the wider Pagan movement and our collective ability to see Pagan values manifested in the wider culture. In my many years covering our family of faiths I’ve seen many ambitious plans hatched regarding new institutions which have met with varying degrees of success and sustainability. It is easy, especially within a religious movement that often values decentralized grass-roots initiatives, to become skeptical about impressive-sounding plans and announcements. 

However, there’s one campaign I’m not skeptical about, that I think is a good idea. That project is the The New Alexandrian Library. It’s headed by a solid, stable, group of folks who know what they are doing, and are focused on a clear, definable, goal. I believe that initiatives like the New Alexandrian Library will be vital for preserving our past, as university and private collections won’t be sufficient to fully preserve or document our movement’s legacy. Wanting to explore what’s driving this project in a deeper fashion, I was lucky to conduct this interview with Ivo Dominguez Jr., an Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and one of the driving forces behind this library project.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

For those who haven’t heard about this project, what is the New Alexandrian Library project, and why should Pagans care about its construction?

The New Alexandrian Library, located in southern Delaware, is in its final stages of construction. The physical structure itself is a highly durable concrete dome. It will serve as a research library, a lending library, a museum, an archive, and as a hub for the preservation and the evolution of pagan culture. Books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, digital media, etc., will all be carefully cataloged and cross-referenced to ease the work of research and study. The Library will work to restore and to preserve rare and damaged documents. The history of our many interrelated spiritual communities will also be collected for the future.

The content of the library will also be made available via internet to the greatest extent possible (respecting copyrights, etc.) to be a resource for the entire esoteric community. The NAL will also serve as the library of record for formal esoteric religion studies at a variety of institutes of higher education including The Cherry Hill Seminary to assist them in meeting accreditation criteria. The New Alexandrian Library will be open to all, and will engage in inter-library loan with similar projects elsewhere. Some extremely rare materials will not leave the library, but will be scanned.

It is being built in a location that has the benefit of a beautiful woodland site while being a reasonable distance to many metropolitan population centers. It is about 2 1/2 hours away from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It is about 3 1/2 hours to New York City, 4 hours to Richmond, and 7 hours to Boston. There are also plans for on-site housing in the future.

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Why should Pagans care about the New Alexandrian Library? If you’re a student, a teacher, or researcher, then the NAL will be an amazing resource to further your efforts. If you want to be in the presence of art, ritual objects and books that belonged to notable figures in our history, then you will want to make a pilgrimage to the museum component of the NAL. If you care about trying to capture the memories of how our various emerging religions came into being over the last century, then you’ll be happy about all the ephemeral material that we are collecting and preserving. If you want some good news about the power of long-term commitment in our community, then the NAL could inspire you.

Can you talk a bit about the progress you’ve made so far, and how the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is managing to cover the costs of construction?

This project was announced at the Between The Worlds Conference of 2000. The 30 acres that the library sits upon was bought and paid for by members of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. There is no mortgage on the property. So far about 85% of the funds to date have been either donated by ASW members or raised through fundraising events such as workshops, conferences, the sale of chant CDs and books, etc. the rest has been through donations from individuals, organizations, and crowd-funding. We’re in phase one which is the building of the first part of the library which is a two-story concrete dome with about 3000 square feet of floor space. This is the first in a series of several buildings as it was more financially realistic to plan for adding buildings in the future rather than trying to collect enough money to build one huge structure from the outset.

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At the time of this interview the interior walls are being painted, and shortly the floors and the fixtures will be installed. Progress has been slower than we would have liked, but we have been paying as we go. Since there will be no debt to pay off, it will be easier for the project to continue in the future.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is a Wiccan organization. Will NAL focus primarily on Wicca, or will it have a broader focus? Will it include material from other Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal groups?

We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal paths in all their forms, but our mission is broader than that. We are also collecting the esoteric teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Once the NAL is open and running we will also be creating an Advisory Board of people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

I know NAL recently received books and papers from Judy Harrow’s estate. What are some other notable elements in NAL’s collection at this stage? How can individuals reach out to NAL if they feel they have important papers or publications to share with your institution?

In addition to Judy Harrow’s legacy, we have received donations from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Macha Nightmare, Katherine Kurtz, Shakmah Winddrum, and many other notables in the broader esoteric community. We also received the entire library of the Theosophical Society of Washington DC when they closed down their library. Not all of the donations are books. We have received original artwork, ritual robes, magical tools, old photographs, correspondence, newsletters, ancient Egyptian artifacts with proven provenance, jewelry, and much more.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

I am particularly delighted by Dolores & Michael Ashcroft-Nowicki’s donation of four paintings of the Archangels that were created by Dion Fortune, and that once hung in her temple space. We also have many other collections promised to us in people’s wills. In the case of a death, we will always take donations now, but we have so many things in storage right now that if you can hold off a bit longer we would be grateful. As soon as we are up and running we will be very interested in receiving further donations of books and materials. Please consider naming the new Alexandrian library in your will so that your collection can serve the community when you no longer need it. Also it is often hard to predict what will be important in the future, so the ephemera, newsletters, flyers, posters, photographs, and recordings from smaller groups or lesser known individuals also need to be preserved as all these things make up the culture of our many communities.

Many Pagans are skeptical about movement towards institutions and infrastructure, could you talk a little about why they shouldn’t be skeptical of NAL? What is it that makes NAL essential?

If you have no personal need for institutions and/or infrastructure, then don’t participate in their creation. If over time you find that you are deriving benefit from the resources provided by Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure, then consider giving to them to balance the exchange. If they have no appeal for you, live and let live.

You’ve probably seen some variation of the internet meme:

Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one. Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one. Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them. Don’t like sex? Don’t have it. Don’t like your rights taken away? Don’t take away anyone else’s.

I would add: Don’t want Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure? Don’t block the way of those that do.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the sponsor of this project, celebrated its 30th year as an organization in February 2014. This is a good long run for any kind of organization, and is quite exceptional for a Pagan organization. Community service is an important part of our group’s culture, and we fully expect and intend to be continuing our work 100 years from now. Many similar projects have failed, not for a lack of vision or need, but from a lack of organization and practicality. We were in existence as a group for 15 years before we decided to take on this project. If the skepticism about the NAL project is about continuing the funding once it’s open, then I’ll point out that we intend to continue fundraising in perpetuity, and that several individuals have already named the NAL as the beneficiary of their life insurance or their entire estates in some cases.

10156015_10152359299887410_458860695135604823_nWhat is your long term vision for this project?

Like the original Great Library of Alexandria, the schools of Qabala in medieval Spain, and the flourishing of esotericism that occurred in renaissance Italy, the diverse confluence of minds and resources would result in great leaps forward in theory and practice. There will be many conversations between people of different traditions that will result in greater intellectual vitality and new awarenesses for all. No doubt people will gather in the meditation garden, go out to lunch together, etc. The benefits of these face to face encounters are incredible. In a way, it is like an esoteric conference that never ends. The NAL will be one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance. We hope that many other similar sorts of Pagan infrastructure will be created by various groups across the globe. The benefits of this growing network of resources for future generations is incalculable.

One of the great triumphs of the original Alexandrian Library was the creation of the first card catalog (actually clay and wood tablets). I hope that one of the New Alexandrian Library’s great triumphs will be a systematization of esoteric knowledge in a comparable manner. It is now a clichéd complaint that most of the esoteric books available are basic and aimed at the mass-market. That is the nature of the publishing industry, and we should expect little more. More advanced materials are usually published by university presses and by publishing houses owned by charitable or religious institutions where profit is not the primary motive. I hope that The New Alexandrian Library will in time either directly publish such works or facilitate the bringing together of the people and groups to engage in such activities.

Finally, in a broader sense, what is your vision for Pagan institutions and infrastructure? Obviously you’d like to see NAL thrive, but in what kind of Pagan community? What are your hopes?

Self-determination and self-reliance require having your own resources. I would like to see more ritual space, workshop space, performance space, schools, gardens, and woodlands, etc. that are owned by us. There many times when it is convenient and appropriate to rent or to borrow space from friends such as the Unitarians, but it is always on their terms and within their comfort zones. I’ve also seen Pagan businesses and organizations that are doing well suddenly find themselves homeless because the owner of a facility raises the rent or simply tells them to leave. There have also been pagan library projects that have closed because they were unable to keep up with the rent, and in some cases valuable materials were pitched into the dumpster by landlord.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL's foundation.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL’s foundation.

I also think we have to get over the connotations that words like institution and infrastructure have developed in the Pagan community. A food co-op is an institution. A community garden is an institution. A campground for festivals and gatherings is infrastructure. Institutions and infrastructure need not call forth images of huge battleship gray buildings with people scurrying about like drones in a hive.

An institution is a resource designed to survive past the life or the commitment of a handful of people. When we speak of infrastructure, what we’re really talking about is solid, tangible, resources that enable and facilitate our dreams and endeavors. If fear of what something might become is reason enough to prevent its coming into being, then we might as well settle our affairs and exit planet. From my perspective, the challenge we have right now is to decide that we will take the challenge of becoming truly present in the world. Will there be corruption, abuses, errors, and failures? Yes, there will be, and that is part of the cost of the work of mending and evolving. Will there be reforms, progress, and new horizons? Yes, and we will get those by also cleaning out the inevitable muck that arises by doing the work.

Recently there were a flurry of blog posts and discussions about how successful or unsuccessful Pagans have been in having an impact on environmentalism. What I’d like to add to those discussions, is that our impact on the matters of the world are reduced if we do not have power that is grounded in tangible resources. Ideas, will, and passion can fuel individual activism, and this is a good thing. However if we do not have the resources to buy land to preserve it, to pay lobbyists, to have staffed organizations that monitor legislation, public opinion, etc., then we are missing part of what is needed to have power and presence in the world.

Let me give you another example. I was extremely involved with AIDS/HIV work in the 80s and 90s. I started as an activist, helped found an organization, and served for several years as the executive director of Delaware’s primary AIDS organization. Institutions and infrastructure were necessary to make progress, and to push back against circumstances that would take away the steps forward that had been made. There are probably a hundred and one worthy tasks and goals that can never progress past a certain point without our own institutions and infrastructure.

I hope the New Alexandrian Library will be one of the many solid institutions that encourage others to dream big and to work hard.

Contact and donation information for the New Alexandrian Library project can be found here. 

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[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

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The immigration of unaccompanied minors is not new to the U.S. border patrol or the country as a whole. However, as reported by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the number of these children has more than doubled over the past year from 31,491 to 62,998. According to reports, the recent wave is due to an increase in refugees from Central American countries. Many of these children are victims of domestic or civic violence, drug wars and other forms of extreme abuse. Obama has called the problem an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

Refugee Teenager [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

In recent months, the immigration story has been all over the news as the American political engine steams ahead in its attempts to grapple with the crisis at its southern borders. Although the number of incoming children has dropped significantly since June, officials expect the number to rise again once the heat of summer wanes. Even if that doesn’t happen, there are still many children living in U.S. or Mexican detention facilities and shelters waiting for something, anything.

Will these young refugees be deported back to the violence and strife of their homelands? Will they ever see their families again? Will they be allowed to stay in the U.S. and, if so, what will become of them once here?

In spite of the “urgent humanitarian situation” and any failings in the immigration system, hope does find some of these children. In recent months, the U.S. Government has sent a large number of unaccompanied minors into communities that already have large, thriving Central American immigrant populations. With the help of a sponsor, these children can start school and a whole new life.

In one such town in Georgia, a public school system is readying itself for another large influx of Central American refugees. The Dalton City Schools of northwest Georgia has created a special program to assist unaccompanied immigrant children adapt to their new life. The “Newcomer Academy,” established within the city’s Morris Innovative High School, was specifically created to cater to children who have fled Central America. School Official, Caroline Woodson told a local news station:

Really the big challenge for our students doesn’t even come with academics. It comes with feeling safe and feeling that they have adults they can trust.

Over the past year, Georgia alone has received over 1,100 immigrant children. Other states, such as Florida and Texas, have also received large groups of these children. With the help of state-funding, private advocacy groups, personal sponsors and extended-family members, the children are acclimated to the classrooms and given a new “lease on life.”

However, not every child can find a sponsor, can reconnect with family, or has the resources needed to open an entry point into U.S. system. For those children left behind or those yet to arrive, there are organizations advocating for their care, raising funds for legal fees, and performing community outreach to raise awareness.

Fence with prayer ribbons [Courtesy T. Thorn Coyle]

Fence with prayer ribbons [Courtesy T. Thorn Coyle]

For example, in Arizona, the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) provides “free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona.” Similarly, in Texas, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) “promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.” In California, an organization called Pangea strives to “stand with immigrant communities and to provide services through direct legal representation, especially in the area of deportation defense.”

To continue the work, these nonprofit advocacy organizations need money. Recently, several Pagan groups have come out in support of these organizations’ efforts to protect the rights of unaccompanied immigrant minors. Using their own voices, these Pagans are attempting to amplify a message of need.

On June 20, Come As You Are Coven (CAYA) launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for FIRRP in Arizona. Priestess Amata Maia writes:

We are looking to create a miracle for the many unaccompanied children who have been crossing the border into Arizona and Texas. These children are fleeing the gang violence in Central America and Mexico.  Many of them have lost their families to this violence and are trying desperately to escape the same fate. Currently there are so many children coming in that they are being warehoused like cattle. 

The fundraising goal was set at $500 and has raised, to date, $815.

T. Thorn Coyle leading prayer [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

T. Thorn Coyle leading prayer [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

On Thursday, T. Thorn Coyle participated in a vigil outside the San Francisco Federal Building with other community religious leaders. The group gathered together to ask Obama to expedite the immigration processes for unrepresented children and to draw attention to the crisis. Coyle read the vigil’s opening prayer. In retrospect, she said:

[I] called upon Demeter to give us strength. I called on she who knows what it is to grieve for a child, and she who perseveres. And I asked Tonantzin, Goddess of the Americas, to bless and protect the children. I then led a chant to these Goddesses and to the children at the border.    

In addition to a diversity of faith leaders, the vigil was attended by several children and adults who had survived the crossing. They also spoke out, sharing their lived horrors and tears of suffering. Thorn recalls:

A young man approached me to thank me for being there. I’d seen him singing along with my chant. He was the child of a deportee … I listened to the testimony of a family only recently escaped from El Salvador. They were all in tears. The father refused to work for the drug gangs and was killed. The women of the family were raped, and threatened. They are staying with a brother and may still be returned. 

Coyle was not the only Pagan at Thursday night’s vigil. Claire “Chuck” Bohman, an Interfaith minister and Reclaiming Witch, was also there to lend an ear and voice. She said:

The truth is that the vast majority of us are immigrants here. One side of my family were German immigrants who first migrated to Canada and walked across the border before they settled on a farm in Ohio. In a different time and place, the children of the border could have been my grandmother. I invite you to take a breath and connect with your ancestors. How is it that they came to live on this land? Who did they displace when they settled? 

Both Bohman and Coyle expressed compassion for the children but also a sense of civic duty. Bohman says:

The problems in these countries are connected with NAFTA and US foreign and economic policy. We have an obligation to these children and it’s time for the U.S. government to act … Obama has the power to intervene and we join together across our differences to call for justice for these children and justice for immigrants.

Coyle agrees, saying “This is our problem. We helped create this situation and we are honor bound to deal with the results. That is what adults do.”

Claire "Chuck" Bohman With Rev. Israel Alvaran [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

Claire “Chuck” Bohman With Rev. Israel Alvaran [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

Solar Cross Temple has begun raising money to help RAICES fund the mandated legal processes that enable unaccompanied minors to leave detention centers and enter U.S communities. Coyle also emphasizes that there are other ways to get involved. The California Endowment is digitally collecting letters of support for the “border children.” Vigils continued to be held across the country, like the one in San Francisco or the one held last night by Humanity is Borderless. Coyle also recommends contacting local governments about “offering homes to children locally” or finding ways of supporting those communities already open, such as Dalton, Georgia.

Coyle has hope saying, “In my heart, I know that we can learn to treat one another better. We can act from our true strength and offer one another compassion.”

 

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Buffalo-Skulls-1870

Collected Buffalo Skulls, 1870. The U.S. Government and private corporations encouraged the slaughter of Buffalo to starve First Nations peoples.

(this is for the dead)

Fighter jets are flying overhead; their screeching rage punctuating the rumbling roar of heavy-tread machines behind me. Particles of dust and exhaust cling to sweat-drenched skin in the searing sun. Everything feels dry, desiccated, as if all the shadowed life of this place has been swept over by a sudden desert.

My attention’s drawn to something unexpected–four red strokes against white, crimson vivid as blood, pasted against a steel pole. It’s a glyph, a sigil, with a power steeped in terror.  I need to leave this place to find a friend, but my attention is held. Something hardens in me as I stare, a sorrow awakening in veins constricted by anger.

I cannot believe what I am seeing. I look around myself to see if others note it. Women wearing head-scarfs are gathered nearby, speaking to each other quietly next to buildings which soon, too, will become rubble to be hauled away. It’s unlikely they’ve seen this mark.

I scrape it off the pole. No one seems to note my actions, neither the uniformed man who watches the gathering of Arabs a hundred feet from this pole, nor all the others passing by. It peels off easily, and I slip it into a pocket to show others, just as another aerial machine-of-death makes a second pass over where I stand.

“Indian Country”

I’m standing on a street corner in Seattle, not the Middle-East.

There’s a naval celebration going on–those jets are The Blue Angels a military performance troupe. I’m not in the middle of a declared war-zone, but I am in the middle of an occupation. And the sticker? It was three K’s, placed on a light pole in the middle of a traditionally black neighborhood undergoing massive gentrification. The bulldozers behind me are tearing down old homes and shops to make room for high-priced condominiums.

This was not far from the house I’m staying at. My host has been a First Nations man who was adopted out as a child to a white family who actively worked to keep him disconnected from his indigenous past. Neither of us have ancestral connections to Seattle, though he’s got closer claims to actually being on this land than I.

Also, he’s gay, like I am. Seattle’s a remarkably “tolerant” place for sexual minorities who play the middle-class games.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here so long, why I returned here after being gone for a year. I was elsewhere, searching for home, but this place called me back.

But by being here, I’m helping to displace the people who lived in this neighborhood before. In fact, this was one of the few places where blacks could live in Seattle due to redlining and other practices. I’ve met folks who still remember when it was called “coon town.”  They’re younger than you’d think.

White, mostly liberal folks, flooded this area after the recent housing-price collapse, buying up foreclosed homes. Many of those evicted were black. Many, from the stories I’d heard, had taken out equity loans on houses that their grandparents were born in and found the sudden inflation of rates meant they couldn’t pay it back. Real estate agents harassed the residents who hadn’t lost their homes; My neighbor and friend complained of still getting unsolicited offers from white realtors several times a week. The poor, mostly minorities were pushed out, and bourgeois entered.

Blacks were hauled over in slave ships to help white people make money in America. Immigrants were brought in to build the railroads and then vehemently oppressed when they were finished.  And all these groups helped displace the indigenous First Nations before them.

Did I just say displaced? I’m sorry. I meant slaughtered.

You used to be able to get money for “Indian” scalps. The U.S. government once encouraged people to shoot buffalo to help starve the First Nation resistance to westward expansion. Freed-slaves who joined the army were heavily involved in the Indian Wars and called Buffalo soldiers. And even today, “Indian Country” is U.S. Military slang for enemy territory.

But because of all that violence, the smallpox blankets and massacres and starvation, this open, tolerant, liberal city I live in has space for me. I’m “free” to practice my Pagan religion now, and the same military which killed natives now officially recognizes both my religion and my sexuality. This is all supposed to be “progress,” except I just saw a KKK sticker in a traditionally black, gentrifying neighborhood, and we’re all on stolen, conquered, and occupied land.

We Inhabit The Past

buffalo 4What we know and believe that the past and our histories greatly determine how we encounter the present. Without knowledge of slavery, for instance, I might be inclined to see the poverty of minorities in America as some sort of problem inherent within their cultures or, worst of all, intrinsic to their very nature.  And if I am ignorant of that past, I might encounter all the anger, rage, and despair of minority communities as unwarranted, unjustified, and dangerous.

Most everyone, though, knows about slavery and has at least a vague understanding of the slaughter of First Nations people on this continent, so the matter is less what is actually known than what is actually believed about those things.

As I’ve mentioned before, belief affects human actions, not just human perceptions. Our accepted histories are not mere narrative. They rise to the category of belief precisely because they determine the way we encounter the present.

One of the most difficult problems in our histories is the notion of “progress;” the Enlightenment notion that we have moved beyond the past into a better present. This Progress Narrative is a way of divorcing and disconnecting our present from all the atrocities of the past while justifying our actions now. Once, Americans held slaves and treated minorities as less-than-human, but now, we are equal. Once, Americans slaughtered indigenous peoples on this land, but now we’ve passed to a more progressive, enlightened state.

It’s a narrative of the past, certainly, but it defines what we think of ourselves now. Post-Colonial, Marxist, and Anarchist scholars have variously noted how Western civilization creates a conception of itself which poses all other present and former societies as primitive, existing in a less (politically, economically, and socially) evolved state. That is, it “others” all societies besides itself, positions itself as the most-evolved form of society humanity has yet attained, and then sees all societies (including itself) through this filter.

A particularly pernicious effect of this, though, is that parts of our own society that do not fit this narrative become ignored, made invisible by the story we tell about ourselves. We see moments of crime against sexual, religious, and racial minorities as aberrations to the liberal, tolerant society in which we live, as if all the past is behind us and all the blood of scalped and starved natives, of tortured slaves, of murdered immigrants do not, even now, fertilize the ground upon which we plant our organic gardens. And when we look at our past, we disconnect those events from the present in which we live. The displacement of peoples, slavery, First Nations genocide–those happened then, but we live in now.

But history is full of processes, not just events and presences, which continue to haunt and continue to not just shape but inhabit our modern interactions with each other.

The post-colonial historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty, writing about European mode of disenchantment and secularism, noted:

what allows historians to historicize the medieval or the ancient is the very fact that these worlds are never completely lost. We inhabit their fragments even as we classify ourselves as modern or secular (Provincializing Europe, p112).

This has a terrifying consequence. Our notion of being different and removed from the atrocities of the past is utterly false, even more so when those atrocities are unacknowledged and unrepaired. White Americans do not currently own African slaves, but the conditions of slavery continue to affect the descendants of those slaves and the wealth derived from slavery continues to benefit the descendants of those owners and American society. The land taken from indigenous peoples through violence is where we all now live. We’re not just the inheritors of atrocity–we are also the beneficiaries and the continuation of them.

We can look at our present through this lens and start to understand much of our current political, racial, and economic crises and how we, willingly or more often inadvertently, continue the atrocities of the past into the present. The United States of America was birthed in colonization with the oppression of peoples. Is it any wonder that our government supports other governments doing similar things?  It took a very long time for the U.S. Government to stop supporting Apartheid in South Africa precisely because “European settlers on non-European land” looked awfully familiar.  We can see the same thing in the Middle-East, as well. Regardless of what one thinks of that conflict, it should give us pause that the U.S. Government has given more military aid to the Israeli government since the second World War than to any other country in the world.

“Not in My Name”

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From the frontispiece of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Speaking of governments, one of the other legacies of The Enlightenment besides Capitalism, Nationalism and Democracy, is the notion of complicity. Like egregores, the modern state demands a shared identification of its people. That is, since sovereignty no longer derives from the land or the gods and now is said to derive from “the people,” it’s become difficult to separate the actions of a government from the people whom they are said to represent.

This is different in other countries though. I first noticed it with a German friend. She and I had been talking about American CIA involvement in the overthrow of socialist governments in the Middle East and South America. I’d said to her something regarding how “we claim to believe in Democracy, but will undermine it when the people vote for someone we don’t like.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?’” she asked me.

I didn’t understand the question.

“We?  Why ‘We’?  You weren’t there, and you didn’t do it. The government did. Americans often say ‘we,’ and I don’t understand why. Germans don’t do that.”

I’d noticed this, but had thought it was merely a linguistic difference. “You never say ‘we’ when talking about Germany?”

“That’d be silly,” she replied. “I’m not Germany. I’m German, but I’m not Germany. You’re not America, either.”

I still think on that matter. It was relieving to understand that I was not personally responsible for everything the U.S. government had ever done. It was also terrifying, because I began to understand the meaning of implicit consent; how people in power were bombing children in Afghanistan and Iraq as if they represented my interests, and I was helping to pay for it with taxes from my paltry wages.

Before I’d understood this, my reactions to the founding (and foundational) violence of America were most often ones of disbelief. Sometimes I’d accuse the historian of such horrors of lying, or twisting facts towards an agenda.  But I realized I was mostly just being defensive, because I couldn’t believe “we” had done such a thing.

Thing is, “we” didn’t. Others did, just as others do now. But they did it in “our” name, just as they do now.

I’m a vehemently anti-racist Pagan Anarchist. On what grounds could a government ever have thought I’d want them to kill indigenous people? Or buffalos? Or allow and encourage people to own slaves?  And how could they possibly think that they’d be accurately representing my will by dropping bombs on children in the Middle East?

The answer’s awfully obvious. No government such as that could ever speak on my behalf.

There’s another side to this idea of sovereignty and complicity. If the actions of a government are a reflection of the will of the people, then it makes perfect sense that our government was wrong to attack us directly.  For any government to attack the people for whom that government is a mere proxy. After all, governments just do what they’re elected to do, right?

Many Gods, No Masters

So here I am, a gay Pagan living on stolen land. I didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was stolen. Not having been directly responsible, I cannot personally make amends, nor can I, with all the magic of the gods and spirits, hope to resurrect the dead, to undo those crimes.

More difficult, I have little choice in this matter. I live where I can; where I can afford; where things are open to me; where I feel safe. And I’m bound by the citizenship conferred to me at birth. I cannot merely “go back to Europe,” to my ancestral lands, because I have no legal claim to do so.

I guess I could perhaps do what many people do, which is ignore the whole thing, tuck the horrors away into a neat little envelope called “past” and pretend like these things don’t still happen. The more I work with spirits, though, the more I realize the dead don’t just go away like that. Besides, the horrors continue.  Poor minorities are still shot dead on American soil by city militia. The descendants of slaves continue to live in deep poverty and are thrown in prisons now, instead of slave ships.  And the government which claims to represent me, which derives sovereignty from my “consent,” slaughters people in other countries, too.

Knowing all that, I cannot look away.

This, too, is why it’s impossible for me not to see conflicts elsewhere as part of the same legacy of which we, in America, still re-enact. Watching the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I cannot help but think both of the plight of the people in the occupied territories and their poverty as being similar to what the indigenous people around me suffer. Simultaneously, I cannot help but identify with people in Israel who did not themselves choose to steal land from others. Many of them are the descendants of people who moved elsewhere, some are also people who fled from violence and hatred elsewhere.

Besides thinking Capitalism is the worst thing we’ve ever come up with, this is why I’m an Anarchist. The foundational violence which haunts every “freedom” in America was perpetrated by people who were not me. The violence which America still enacts in the world is committed by people who falsely claim to be acting on my behalf. I did not consent to those horrors, nor do I consent to them now, nor will I allow them to do those things on my behalf.

Anarchism doesn’t stop at rejection of a government. Recognizing that the suffering of other people relies on my implicit consent, I cannot allow that violence to occur. Governments who claim to represent my interests and who extract money from me in order to commit atrocities must be toppled, and the conditions which have allowed them to thrive must be changed so that they no longer may do so.

My Anarchism, however, is also my Paganism. The gods and spirits we’ve pushed out of our present continue to exist, as do the dead. Just because I live in the present, I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy.  I cannot perform rituals on stolen land without working to have it returned, I cannot worship gods of place and people without fighting those who’d poison those places and sever those people from their gods.

There’s something really liberating about this knowledge, though. The notion that the past is dead is false, and this means we Pagans who are attempting to reconstruct ancient worship of ancient gods are still living among fragments of those religions. We don’t need to prefix what we’re doing with “neo-,” even if what we come up with, guided by our gods, is a different configuration from what our ancestors had.

That is, if the past is not ever truly gone, it can be rewoven, reshaped. It’s around us now. Processes which started centuries ago and continue to this day can be ended and amended. Fragments buried in plain sight under our illusion of being modern can be teased out from their hiding places.

We only need to stop claiming that the past is over, so we can own up to the past that is still with us.

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Njord

Eric O. Scott —  August 8, 2014 — 23 Comments
Njord

Idol of Njord in the assembly hall of Ásatrúarfélagið, Reykjavík, Iceland.
Photo by the author.

“Did you know that this idol once received a blood sacrifice?”

The Icelander and I were standing in the assembly hall of Ásatrúarfélagið1, the Icelandic Ásatrú church, waiting for our companion, Tandri, to finish putting some supplies away in the back room. We were standing in front of a carved wooden idol, six feet tall, made of pale, honey-colored wood. Dozens of runic inscriptions had been carved into the idol and marked with red paint; I might have been able to work out their meanings, assuming I had an Icelandic dictionary and about twelve hours of spare time. I only knew that the idol represented Njord2, the sea-god, because the Icelander told me so.

The Icelander looked to be around my father’s age, mid-fifties; he was short, gray, and scruffy, and his English had a heavy Nordic tinge. We had been at Ásatrúarfélagið´s blót in Thingvellir3 earlier that day, and on the car ride back to Reykjavík, the Icelander had only spoken Icelandic, of which I understood just a little. He seemed to be the only man in the country who didn’t understand English, which pleased me – it’s disheartening to hear everyone in the country speak your language flawlessly when you are incapable of even ordering coffee in theirs. But then he realized I was a foreigner and switched to English. (His advice for learning Icelandic? “Read comics.”)

I shook my head; obviously I had never heard about any “blood sacrifice,” since this was the first time I had ever visited the assembly hall.

“Would you like to hear the story?” he asked.

,” I said. Although I had only been studying Icelandic for a month, “” had completely overwritten my vocabulary; even in English, I never said “yes” or “yeah” anymore, but instead “,” with its curving diphthong like the sound in the English “hour.”

He smiled and started to tell a story I could tell he had told many times before. “Oh yes,” he said, “The god picked the sacrifice himself. She was a beautiful young girl. Only seven years old, too.” He grew wistful and turned away from the idol. “That is the short version of the story. Would you like to hear the long version?”

,” I replied.

“Bah,” said the Icelander, who grimaced and waved me off. “You just say to whatever anybody says to you.”

No other Icelander ever called me out for this, but he was absolutely right.

Tandri finally came out of the back room. I marveled at the clash of expectations when I saw him. Usually, when I tell people that I am a Heathen, and especially when I mention that I went to Iceland in large part to meet members of the Icelandic Heathen community, their minds rush to visions of viking raids and valkyries, blood-soaked battlefields and mead-drowned nights in some dank drinking hall. In reality, Ásatrúarfélagið´s offices are modest and clean, located in an unassuming part of Reykjavík. There are tables and chairs set up for meetings, along with a bookcase and a table with toys for children. In the back room, they store two iron firepits, some flagpoles, and a coffee pot. Hand-knit sweaters hang on the walls with prices marked next to them, with the proceeds going to support the church. The only obvious signs of Heathenry are the two large wooden statues, namely the idol of Njord and a seated Thor next to the entrance. The setup reminded me of nothing so much as a typical Lutheran Church basement.

And yet there was Tandri, standing just outside the men´s room in full viking drag. (He had missed the blót because he had a gig pretending to be a viking for the benefit of tourists.) His chainmail rustled in time to his footsteps. “I think we’re all good to go here,” he said – in English, for my benefit.

The Icelander nodded, and the three of us headed out to Tandri’s car, a brick-red Honda that I’m certain has been on Earth longer than Nirvana’s In Utero. My phone’s clock read midnight, but the summer sky was only a dusky indigo. I would not see true night again until I returned to Minnesota.

The Icelander climbed into the backseat. He and Tandri exchanged a few words in Icelandic – directions to the Icelander’s house, I suspected. Tandri started the Honda and began driving west, towards the part of Reykjavík I knew. As we drove, the Icelander spoke up again.

“So,” he said, “do you want really want to hear about the child sacrifice?”

“Yes,” I said, trying not to offend his sensibilities.

He chuckled. “The statue fell over on her. She broke her arm in the accident. But you see? There was a child! There was blood! And Njord did pick her – she was the one he fell on!” He leaned forward in his seat. “This was many years ago, you know. She is grown now. I love to tell people that story when she is in the room. I say that there had been a child sacrifice, and everyone – especially foreigners – their faces get so pale and they go quiet. Oh, how awful! How barbaric! The sacrifice of a child!” As though Heathens really were living up to all of the worst fantasies of Viking degeneracy – the stained altars and babes giving over to flesh-craving gods. “And all the while, she is sitting there, not saying a word!”

The Icelander continued to talk, uninterrupted by either Tandri or me, for the rest of the drive, mostly about his distaste for the American Heathens he had met online. (“I see this on Facebook – click ‘like’ if you want a visit from Odin. Odin! You might as well say, click ‘like’ if you want a visit from Satan!”) He talked about the expectations Americans seemed to have regarding Ásatrúarfélagið, and how frequently they were disappointed by the truth – that, as Tandri told me earlier in the day, the church was “basically a big hippie organization.” As the Icelander talked, I noticed that Tandri, who was closer to my age, seemed embarrassed; he had evidently not expected the Icelander to go on such an extended rant about American Heathens in the presence of, well, an American Heathen.

I hadn’t come to Iceland hoping for blood and viking glory, as I am by nature both a pacifist and a coward. But I understood the subtext in the Icelander’s words: that people like me came to Iceland in the same way that some people go to Bangladesh or Tibet, expecting to find some kind of “authentic” encounter with the divine that they can take home and brag about. Enlightenment tourism – as though enlightenment were something that could be advertised in a tourbook next to the Golden Circle and the National Gallery. Of course, that was exactly what I had been expecting myself. I called this trip as a pilgrimage; I had never considered what it might mean for the Icelanders themselves – for their practices, their landscape, and to some degree their entire lives to be viewed as a tourist attraction for the Heathen seeker. I could tell myself that my journey was different somehow – that I was genuine in my aspirations and had the academic and literary credentials to support my project – but everyone else could make similar arguments. I wasn’t special. I began to see my visit in an altogether less pleasant light.

We arrived at the Icelander’s home, which I recall as one of the innumerable concrete and tin structures that make up Reykjavík. He got out and said goodbye by reminding me about comic books. “Andrés Önd – Donald Duck,” he said. “Best way to learn.”

Once the Icelander had shut his door, Tandri turned to me. “He can talk, can’t he?”

“Já,” I said. Then I wondered if I should have said something else.

1. It’s spelled the way it sounds! And vice versa, I suppose.
2. The Old Icelandic name for the god is Njörðr, but Njord is such a common Anglicization that I have used it throughout this essay. Same for Thor and Þorr.
3. Þingvellir.

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Cara Schulz is a resident of Burnsville, Minnesota, and has decided to run for one of the two open seats on the Burnsville City Council. Like many small city councils across America, the election is non-partisan, meaning the primaries coming up later this month will simply winnow the field down to four candidates from the current seven, regardless of each candidate’s personal party affiliation. The public will then vote two candidates into office this November.

Oh, and did we mention that Cara Schulz is also a Hellenic Polytheist?

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Longtime readers of The Wild Hunt won’t be surprised at this news, after all, Cara is a staff reporter here now, and has been an active part of the larger Pagan community for several years. Here’s a brief excerpt from a piece she wrote about her faith for Patheos.com back in 2011.

“I ‘toss the barley’ and am humbly grateful to do so. I pour wine as a libation, the same as my ancestors did. I feel sacred Hestia in the flame that burns in my hearth and in my heart and I reap the benefits of my careful tending to the flame. I pray before my home altar, make offerings to the Agathos Diamons, and ask Hermes to guard me as I venture out of the protections of my home. There is a spiritual rhythm to my life that gives me great personal strength. My household worship practices, such as cleaning out the entire house and getting rid of all broken or wanted things each month on the Deipnon, improve the quality of life for all my family members. These ancient rituals have profound meaning that I would have missed if I had dismissed them as old and pointless.”

Schulz has also been active in politics for a long time, most notably, she was an active volunteer for Libertarian Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson in 2012. Like Gov. Johnson, Schulz is liberal on social issues, and conservative on fiscal policy, or as she puts it “Socially Accepting and Fiscally Responsible.”

“Although Cara wants citizens more involved in local government, she feels government has become too involved in peoples’ personal lives and businesses. Her general rule is, ‘If you aren’t hurting or cheating anyone, and you’re doing it on your property, it’s none of the government’s business.’”

In a local paper’s candidate questionnaire, Schulz expanded on her political philosophy, and how it would affect locals in Burnsville.

“The townhome I live in had a pool rule of No Food Allowed, which residents ignored. There are two possible approaches. What city councils normally do — assume the problem lays with you and force compliance. Or what our association did — realize there’s no damage or injury so the problem was with the rule and eliminate it. I’ll bring the second, common-sense approach to the City Council because residents aren’t the problem, but the solution.”

Not backed by the Democratic or Republican parties in this race, Schulz faces an uphill battle to get her message out to voters, though she has received an endorsement from the Liberty Minnesota PAC, a libertarian-minded group that hopes to steer the Republican party toward their ideals.

“Cara is a dedicated liberty activist involved with a variety of causes in and around her city. Cara is an Air Force veteran who does a wonderful job covering a variety of policy topics on Youtube videos [...] According to Cara’s responses on Liberty Minnesota’s candidate questionnaire, Cara is focused on removing or replacing: Building codes, nuisance laws and blue laws in Burnsville.”

As their endorsement points out, Schulz has been posting videos to Youtube where she discusses various issues as they relate to her political philosophy.

The primary election will be held on August 12th, and if she makes it to the final four, no doubt more endorsements, money, and scrutiny, will flow towards her campaign (such is the way with elections). We will keep you posted as things develop.

[Editorial note: The Wild Hunt is dedicated to documenting instances of Pagans, Polytheists, and other members of our broad religious movement engaging themselves in the political process. Coverage of a candidate should not be confused with endorsement, and The Wild Hunt will not make official endorsements in any political race. Here are some instances of us covering Pagan political candidates: Rev. Kathryn Jones, Lonnie MurrayDeirdre Wadding, Erin Lale, and Jessica Orsini, among others.]

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Before eating, do you stop and pray? If you do and you happen to be in Mary’s Gourmet Diner, you may be gifted a 15 percent discount on your total bill.

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Originally called, Breakfast, Of Course, Mary’s Gourmet Diner, a family-run operation, has always had the reputation of a warm, atmosphere with fresh, made-to-order, farm-to-table food. Its popularity eventually caused the restaurant to outgrow its small space. It moved to its current location in the “art district” of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2012, The Huffington Post described Mary’s as having a “A Bohemian cool atmosphere serving vegan/organic/locally sourced cuisine.”

Over the past week, Mary’s has received unprecedented attention due to a single Facebook post that went viral. On July 29, Jordan Smith dined at the Winston-Salem restaurant and was surprised when her bill included a “15 percent public prayer discount.” After snapping a photo of the bill, she posted it to her Facebook page and sent it to friends at an Orlando-based, Christian Radio Station. Z88.3FM posted the photo on its own Facebook timeline:

 

Since that initial posting, the story has gone viral, inciting both passionate praise and criticism. Opponents argue that the restaurant is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states in Title II:

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. 

Supporters are partially area-residents who have enjoyed the diner for years and know the owner and her family well. Additionally, support comes from advocates for public prayer, who are heralding the discount as a “win” in the battle for public displays of religion. As written by one Facebook commentor, “Thank you for keeping up the “good fight” against the liberals and democrats who have tried to undermine this great country by removing God from our lives!”

Due to this recent whirlwind of media hype, Owner Mary Haguland’s original intention has gotten completely lost or simply buried underneath the country’s on-going, very contentious, religious-freedom debate. The problem is illustrated by a Christian Post article entitled “Ring Up the Prayer Discount.” It reads:

Mary’s Gourmet Diner has an official policy of giving diners a special savings if they “pray publicly” before chowing down. The restaurant has reportedly offered patrons the holy discount for four years.

As Haguland has repeatedly said, the “prayer discount” is not an official policy; it is a gift given by the wait staff.  As quoted in the Huffington Post, Haguland says, “It’s [something] we only do when we’re moved to do it.”

Secondly, the restaurant has been granting the discount for four years, as noted by The Christian Post, but it is not a “holy” discount as suggested. In other words, the intent was never to encourage a specifically religious act. In an interview with The Blaze, Haguland says, “For me, every plate of food is a gift. And I never take that for granted and when I see someone in a restaurant honoring their gratefulness at my table … it touches my heart.”

Haguland was unavailable for an interview, but her daughter, Lily Pickett, spoke with us. Pickett reiterated that the intention of the discount is not at all religious. She says, “It is spiritual” and that they “honor everyone’s way of praying.” When creating the discount, her mother had hoped to encourage people to “take a break from their busy days and give thanks.” When asked if Pagans and Heathens could be gifted the 15 percent, Pickett said without hesitation, “Yes.”

In a recent Facebook post, Haguland reacts to the negative publicity by directly emphasizing all of these points:

 

Regardless of positive intent or the question of constitutional legality, the debates rage on with many other questions being asked. For example, one Facebook user posted: “How [does] she know when someone is simply having a moment of silence without bowing their heads? How can she claim to know when someone is meditating unless one looks like they are praying?” Others question the morality of rewarding the prayer act. Still others wonder: “What if I pray after the meal? Do I still get the discount?”

Due to recent legal battles over public prayer, it is not at all surprising that the restaurant’s actions have become the center of this media frenzy. The problem stems partly from the use of the word prayer itself, which has very specific cultural connotations. In addition, the bill reads, “15 percent discount for praying in public.” This is one of the phrases commonly used in that political debate.

Pickett acknowledged the issues with the word prayer but added, “We use the term to mean mindful meditation.” Despite the intent in meaning, public assumptions have been made. Compounding the problem is the diner’s location in a generally conservative southern state or the so-called “Bible Belt.”

In response to continued public comment, Haguland posted a second message on Facebook:

This says it all: ‘Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough & more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. IT CAN TURN A MEAL INTO A FEAST, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.’ -M. Beattie

While Haguland herself is Christian, she continues to stress, over and over, that the owners and staff support the diversity of life, including religion. They encourage anyone visiting, including Pagans, Heathens, Atheists, Hindus and whomever, to thank their Gods, the Earth or just take a moment to be grateful for the gifts of abundance.  If you’re caught, you just might get the discount.

UPDATE (Aug. 7 2014): Mary’s announced that it has completely eliminated the 15 percent prayer discount. As reported by a local paper, Owner Mary Haguland made this decision after being contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She fears a lawsuit. Although FFRF says that it did not threaten to sue the restaurant, the FFRF President did inform reporters that they have won similar legal cases in the past.

 

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[The following is a guest post from Josh Heath. Josh Heath is the Co-Director of The Open Halls Project, a military Heathen outreach and advocacy program, with his wife Cat. Both are world travelers and highly invested in the Heathen community at large. Josh is a few weeks away from beginning a Master's program in International Peace and Conflict resolution at American University in Washington, D.C.]

“He was a very moral man… but not what you’d call a spiritual person,” Master Sergeant (Msgt) Matt Walters said, referring to his father during our discussion about the additions of Asatru and Heathen to the religious preference list for the US Air Force. Msgt Walters and I talked for nearly an hour about his pathway to Heathenry, and the complex process he had to dredge through to update the Air Force system.

usaf-logo-2004According to Msgt Walters, the Air Force used to have an automated system to add new religious preferences through their Virtual Military Personnel File (the central online paperwork system for Airmen). However, at some point that system became defunct and no new system was put in place to make updates. Msgt Walters placement as a high ranking Non-Commissioned Officer in the Pacific Command for the Air Force meant he was perfectly located to help kickstart everything needed to recreate the system.

Msgt Walters grew up in a mixed Buddhist Vietnamese and German-American family. He joined the US Air Force 20 years ago this coming January. Describing himself, and his father as largely irreligious, Msgt Walters mentioned several key moments in their lives that helped bring him down the path toward Heathenry. On a trip traveling through Germany, his father looked over his shoulder to see the Black Forest at his side. His ancestors were standing there like a beacon letting him know that he would one day return to them, like a scene out of the Icelandic Sagas.

His father’s journey ended, or began depending on how you see it, with his death a few years ago. This former enlisted veteran from WWII and Vietnam was on his deathbed with his son by his side. Having waited for his son to arrive, Msgt Walter helped his father find his way to the halls of his ancestors. “I knew some day we’d share a glass of beer again,” he said. With that impetus, he began a journey to find a connection to his ancestors and found a faith that made sense to him, Heathenry.

open_halls_squareHis journey took him through several resources, including the Havamal, which he described as, “that’s my father, those are the kinds of things he would say.” He finally came upon the Norse Mythology blog written by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried. From there, he found an interview about The Open Halls Project and military Heathens between Seigfried and Cat . Msgt Walters quickly became a member of the OHP, and learned about the movement to have Asatru and Heathen added to the US Army’s Religious Preference list. As an aggressive and dedicated leader, he decided to see what he could do to add that preference to the Air Force lists as well.

Using the fact that Humanism was recently added to the combined list of DoD preferences via ACLU lawsuit, he focused on the hope that our request could be completed without needing such heavy handed tactics. He utilized allies throughout the Air Force command structure to recreate a process to have new preferences added. A graphic below describes the process.

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I don’t think it’s any surprise that this system is arcane. Even to the trained military eye it is hard to follow and elicits a quick response of, “Why is it this hard to do this;” especially considering that there are dozens, if not a few hundred individuals involved along the way for such a request to be completed. Msgt. Walters had to assist the Air Force in finding the applicable regulations to add religious preferences, which had been lost and forgotten. Once the system was in place once more, the request was made, and finally, approved on July 29th 2014.

“This is an awesome victory for us, and one that has required a lot of awareness raising and a lot of paperwork. We want to officially thank Msgt Walters for making this happen for the Air Force. Now all our Airmen need to go change their Religious Preference!!!”The Open Halls Project

The fight is not over, the Army still does not recognize Asatru or Heathen as religious preferences officially. Nor does the Navy, the Marines, or even the Coast Guard. However, requests are nearing completion in the Army as this is being written and a request will soon be prepared for the Navy and the Marines. The Open Halls Project was started to help military Heathens find community wherever they are. We have been committed to advocating for the needs of all military heathens or Asatruar wherever they are, regardless of service, regardless of any other issues. Our small faith community has a large amount of folks who have dedicated themselves to serving their country. It really is a small thing we can do to help support them, but it’s a small thing that means a lot!

Msgt Walters would like all Air Force Heathens to know they can access a portal to connect with others, here. More information about the Open Halls Project can be found, here, here, and here.

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Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

A new initiative to honor author and journalist Margot Adler, who passed away last week after a long battle against cancer, has been announced by NPR colleague Ken Barcus. Quote:  Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily. She bought a bench for her husband John, when he passed away, and one for her mother years earlier. Both are situated in the park, close to her condo. The cost of doing this through the Central Park Conservancy is $7,000. If we raise more than that, the excess will be put toward planting a tree in Central Park in her name. If anyone wants to donate toward this, I’ll be collecting the money and then forwarding it to the conservancy. Checks should be made out to: Margot Adler Memorial Fund and mailed to this address: Ken Barcus NPR 3109 Mayfield Rd. #207 Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118 Margot traveled in so many different circles, that I’m sure I’ve left many people off this email who would like to know about this effort. Please feel free to forward along this note to them.” You can also donate online, here.

book_shades_of_ritual_mainThe new anthology, “Shades of RItual: Minority Voices in Practice,” edited by Crystal Blanton, and a follow up to the 2012 anthology “Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism” was published at the end of June. In a short statement sent to The Wild Hunt, Blanton had this to say on the new collection: “This anthology contains over 30 pieces and a wide range of Pagan voices from people of color. I am very excited to be a part of a project that is focused on diversity in practice and how that intersects with ethnicity and culture. It is so important that we are moving in a direction in our community where all different types of people are able to share their knowledge and experiences, and open dialogs that include people of color. Our hope is that this book supports in that dialog and sharing within the Pagan community.” In a review at Patheos.com, Sara Amis calls the anthology “substantive,” and that it contributes “valuable perspectives to the wider Pagan conversation, a lively mix of sharp scholarly observation, artistic expression, ritual, and wisdom woven from lived experience by authors I hope to see more from.” A full list of contributors to “Shade of Ritual” can be found, here.

Pagan Leadership ConferencePolytheist Leadership Conference organizers Galina Krasskova and Sannion have proposed a Polytheist Community Outreach Month for August. Quote: Ancient polytheisms promoted civic virtues and involvement in one’s local community. We have a lot of tremendously talented people in polytheism today and I think we could really make a difference if we started reaching out. I know a lot of us do things already all the time and we don’t draw attention to it. Maybe we should, not to brag, but to inspire each other to go out and make a difference. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems we face as a community, as a human community and to feel that nothing we do, no effort will ever make any difference at all. That’s not true though and when we give in to those feelings of hopelessness, we’re denying ourselves a chance to make a good, solid change. [...] Here are some ideas of things you can do: volunteer at a food kitchen, donate time to a favorite charity, donate time to raise awareness about a favorite cause, clean up the park for an hour, get involved in interfaith stuff, join your local cemetery committee, make blankets for babies that have none, run a food drive, run a clothing drive — winter is coming. Let’s do this now because people need help all year long, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is something that everyone can do, it’s just a matter of finding the best outlet for your enthusiasm, your passion, your social commitment.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

  •  The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC is calling out to Pagans around the world to join them in New York on Sept. 21 as part of an interfaith group in the People’s Climate March. This march, timed with the UN Summit on Climate Change, is predicted to be the largest climate march in history–a movement urging government leaders to support an ambitious global agreement to address the causes of climate change. The march will be part of a weekend-long event including teach-ins, rituals, and fellowship. Please see their website for further information, including schedule, travel and housing resources as they are made available.
  • The radio show/podcast Interfaith Voices has an interview up with Phyllis Curott and Ronald Hutton, who share their remembrances of Margot Adler, and talk about her legacy. Quote: “Margot Adler opened modern paganism to new audiences, and lent it an intellectual credibility and respect that it had not seen before. In a movement that didn’t have elders, she became one, acting as a mentor and source of inspiration for many in the world of earth-based religion. Two guests, including a longtime friend, reflect on the mark she left.”
  • Air n-Aithesc, a Celtic Reconstructionist peer-reviewed magazine, has released its second issue. Quote: “This issue includes an article on Irish Witches, a discussion of the CRP methodology, an article on patron deities, and one on the Foster mothers of heroes, just to name a few. Of course, there are also book reviews, and poetry.” You can also check them out on Facebook.
  • I’m happy to announce that the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based metaphysical shop Eye of Horus has succeeded in raising enough money via crowdfunding to relocate and stay open. Quote: “Guess what? We hit our fundraising goal! We’ll be doing our happy dance at our staff meeting, and we will upload as soon as we can after they hook up our internet. Further contributions will go towards covering unforseen move expenses or much needed restock.”
  • The Pagan-folk band OMNIA have released a new video for the song “Earth Warrior,” the title track from their latest album. OMNIA recently headlined at the Faeireworlds festival, and will next be playing in the United States at FaerieCon East in November.

  • Witches & Pagans Magazine/PaganSquare posts an open letter from an Ugric and black Heathen. Quote: “As a woman who’s Ugric as well and black, I would love to incorporate my heritage and shamanism into my practice without being torn into for not being strictly western Scandinavian. To be fair I’m one of the few people who can actually say they’re native to northern Europe. Not that blood matters, though. On a personal level I find it very disheartening that because of imperialism I can’t find a solid language resource center with Uralic language families in it.”
  • Literary Magpie interviews Erynn Rowan Laurie about her poetry. Quote: “I see the role of a poet, of myself as a poet, as something multivalent and polymorphous. Certainly I write poems that explore my thoughts and feelings, but that’s rarely the entirety of what’s going on in a given poem. For me, the creation of a poem is a sacred act.”
  • The Lammas 2014 edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of AREN, is now out. Featured interviews include Sannion, Galina Krasskova, Celeste Jackson, Mike King, and more!
  • PNC-Minnesota interviews Yeshe Rabbit and Crystal Blanton in advance of their appearance at Sacred Harvest Festival. Quote: “Doing something like this together is a step at looking at some of the many layers that keep us stuck. It is opening up conversation and connection, extending the olive branch; not necessarily through each other but through our ancestors. It is connecting in a way we don’t normally get to in our normal walk of life. We will be acknowledging the many layers of societal hurt, community hurt, and how we impact one another. I am excited about it as a way to open another level of work, and acknowledging it in a way meant to be healing. Not just ripping the scab off, but acknowledging the fact the scabs and scars exist. Loving those scars and loving our past through one another as a result of that. I am really excited about it for those reasons.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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A Blessed Lughnasadh

Heather Greene —  August 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

This week, many modern Pagans are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas or Lughnassa. One of the yearly fire festivals, Lughnasadh marks the first of three harvest celebrations and, traditionally, honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu. The day is often celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits or grains of the season.

wheat

[Photo Credit: Sybarite48, Flickr/CC]

This Friday night when I break bread with my coven and give thanks to the Earth and the gods for Summer’s first fruits I won’t be dwelling on whether or not the celebration of Loaf-mass is a Christian or a Pagan one. I will be reflecting on the chain of beliefs that links me to my nominally Christian ancestors in the Middle Ages and my pagan ancestors before them. Over the last two thousand years some have tried to break that chain but the sabbats have always been far too strong for that. – Jason Mankey, “First Fruits: A Sorta Christian Feast,” From Raise the Horns.

In Druidry, Lughnasadh is a time for the community to come together in celebration and playful competition, to take a moment to rest from the labor of the summer’s work in the fields and enjoy the first fruits of that labor, to show off the skills and talents that we’ve been cultivating all year. The gods know, we spend enough time in this society with our noses to the grindstone! Even when that work is joyful and fulfilling… it’s still work. So this holy day is a time for playfulness and relaxation, a moment to pause during what is for many the peak of summer’s heat — to seek the relief of cool shade, sweet mead, strong beer and the cheer of good company. – Alison Leigh Lilly, “Lughnashadh, Honoring the Harvest Through Grief and Gratitude,” From her blog.

The long days of Summer are beginning to draw in as we make our way towards Autumn. The first harvest is being collected as the golden fields give up their gift of abundance and John Barcleycorn is cut down at the knee. I always have mixed emotions at Lughnasadh. On one hand this festival is really the culmination of what it’s all about. On the other hand for me this marks the height of Summer, between Lughnasadh and the Autumn Equinox the temperature drops, Autumn begins, and the nights start to get noticeably longer. I’m a child of Summer, and you won’t hear me complaining about the heat we’ve been enjoying, so lengthening nights are never something I look forward to. But let’s stay in the moment and honour the gifts of the Earth, honour the falling corn … -Damh, the Bard, “A Tale For Lughnasadh

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

In many ways what Lugnasadh marks is the start of harvest season – soft fruit will come in over the end of summer, apples and nuts come later in the year through to the final, bloody harvest of Samhain when livestock were traditionally slaughtered. The exact process of your harvesting will vary depending on landscape, climate, that year’s weather, traditions and so forth. It is in many ways the unpredictable nature of harvest that underpins the earth based religions. We do not know what we will get from one year to the next and can only hope the gods will be kind to us. – Nimue Brown, “The Grain Harvest,” Pagan Square.

The Waters and the Wild is the title of the night-time parade on Sunday 3rd August. Inspired by the famous Yeats poem The Stolen Child and the feast of Lughnasadh, the spectacle will see the ancient Celtic deity Lugh return to lure people away from their normal and structured present to a time and place of wild abandonment. To The Waters and The Wild will feature hundreds of costumed performers, nature-themed floats, special-effects and live music. The parade is expected to attract 30,000 spectators to Waterford’s medieval streets and is the result of three months of design and construction. – Waterford Today, “Tribute To Yeats At The Centre Of Ireland’s Biggest Street Parade” (The Waterford Spraoi International Street Arts Festival, 1st-3rd August)

It is harvest time. The fog has rolled in, a heavy blanket from the San Francisco Bay. It does this every year around this time. I give thanks for the harvest, for the fog, for Margot [Adler's] life. My heart and mind are quiet. Waiting. I feel curious about what things are yet to come. May your harvest match in sweetness whatever may feel bitter. The scythe cuts all things down. But new things grow. – T. Thorn Coyle, “Sickle: Harvesting Life” From her blog Know Thyself

Happy Lughnasadh to all those celebrating this season.  And, to all of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, a very happy Imbolc.

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