[Today we welcome guest writer Darcy Totten an activist and solitary practitioner living in Sacramento, CA. Totten holds an MA in Journalism and has worked in media and communications for over fifteen years. Her consulting group, Activism Articulated, serves the communications and strategy needs of non-profit organizations, activists and student groups across California. She is currently working in partnership with the Spirituality and Social Justice collective, led by her and her wife Jasper James, to codify and articulate ideas around social justice as a lived spiritual practice in the Pagan communityTo learn more about Totten’s work and the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops, contact her through ActivismArticulated or join Totten and James online at “Black Lives Matter: Allies Unite]

A few weeks ago, my fiancé Jasper and I gathered with our usual small but dedicated group at The Enchanted Tree in Sacramento, CA for a workshop on “Spirituality and Social Justice.” We run the workshop monthly, punctuated with frequent online discussions, phone calls and social gatherings. Based initially off of Tim Titus’ ‘Pentacle of Activism’ and expanded upon reworked into the following (click here for PDF) the workshops are organized around the elements, with the idea that the group will examine issues of social justice in the context of Pagan spiritual space and will share ideas about integrating our spiritual lives with our daily realities. We hope to present the fruits of this labor in the form of a loose framework that can be applied to any Pagan tradition – or even adapted outside of the Pagan community to address social justice and racial equity as an integral aspect of spirituality.

Somewhere, in the midst of a discussion on the element of fire and the often-unconscious systems of White supremacy, Jasper looked up and said simply, “Social justice is not just connected to my practice. Social justice IS my spiritual practice.” The whole room came to a full stop.

It really is that simple. And it’s that hard.

To be clear, White supremacy is defined here, and throughout, simply as a racial hierarchy in which Whiteness sits on top and from which White privilege flows. In this hierarchical system, the benefits bestowed upon White people can be found in the very organizing principles of many non-profit and collective spaces.

[Courtesy D. Totten]

[Courtesy D. Totten]

To date, our small collective has established a working definition of social justice, which has been adapted from other churches and collectives that have come before us. We feel it aligns perfectly with spiritual Pagan practice.

Social justice is defined by our coalition as a process, not an outcome, which challenges injustice and values diversity in all areas of life. It empowers all people to realize their full potential and exists when all people share a recognized common humanity and a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources.

Lately, our group has been struggling to prove its value both in its home space and in the wider community of Pagans who primarily seek out a Pagan practice as a way to heal from their own trauma. They struggle with the idea that not all trauma may be created equal; not all privilege is earned and not all responsibility is shouldered equitably. Many of our collective’s members have been subjected to a level of pushback that calls into question much of what our communities say they stand for. There is nothing loving or healing about backlash against Pagans of Color and their allies trying to make space to discuss these issues.

If we as Pagans continue to build our spiritual circles exclusively around the endless healing of life’s daily traumas with no room to examine those in a macro way, through the lens of systems, community and accountability, then we operate from a place of endless brokenness. In always focusing our collective energy toward healing one individualized issue or another, we never operate from a place of collective strength and power. Weakness, the very essence of White fragility and occasionally, manipulation, become the heart of the spiritual spaces in which many of us operate.

I reject that, wholeheartedly.

My spiritual practice rejects this notion that the only way to heal is through intense focus on my own life and issues. This is the very height of privilege; to have the time, the energy and the resources to dwell exclusively on one’s own individual needs. Every ritual circle spent holding a fellow White traveler’s hand through a break-up or personal crisis is one not spent holding the hand of a mother who has lost a son or daughter to police violence or the arms of fellow protestors demanding that he or she be the last.

One life is not more important than another, but one life, in the above scenario, has much more room to breathe. It is up to us, as spiritual creatures, to recognize that gulf between us and to bridge it; not with platitudes and ignorance or vaguely appropriating daily memes but with acceptance, true understanding, education and yes… responsibility.

[Courtesy D. Totten]

[Courtesy D. Totten]

I do not believe that a person’s credibility rests on their particular level of privilege in society, nor do I believe that a privilege analysis is the end of any conversation about social justice. Rather, it is often a beginning. My spiritual practice dictates that with great privilege comes great responsibility. And, part of being a responsible Pagan is to look to my role in the larger whole, in the systems that keep the world spinning and that maintain status quo. If, we have the time and resources for navel-gazing then we certainly have the resources to take more responsibility for our collective state as well. If we accept that what we put out in the world is magnified, then we must not accept apathy around social justice in our spiritual practice.

Respectability politics demands that most White Pagans actively oppose the idea that they might, in fact, harbor any racist tendencies; yet our spaces abound with entrenched White supremacist attitudes of hierarchy and institutionalized approaches that favor the privileged. Personally, I do not draw strength from endless healing circles and hand holding around my many (potentially victimized) identities. I draw strength from a spiritual practice that encompasses survival, solidarity with warriors on all fronts, and the strength to look deep within our own shadows to see and to conquer that which makes us most uncomfortable and afraid. I want a spiritual practice that makes me strong, but more than that, I want a spiritual practice that strengthens those around me. I want to exist in a community of fierce, resilient, spiritual people who do not feel compelled to hide their anger, forgive their abusers, or stuff down their sense of injustice while clutching their crystals and gasping out gratitude’s just to have a place to worship in.

My spiritual practice and my work for justice are both grassroots, living room efforts, happening in small groups with like-minded folks all across the country — right now. Spiritual leadership training is, at its heart, similar to the things that I learned in activist trainings, and political discussion groups can look an awful lot like Pagan community circles when we let them.

Room for testimony is vital in both spaces; as is emotional support, care for the community as a whole, deep connection to balance and respect for the divine. The practice of lived solidarity, of coalition building among disparate groups who come together to make a greater whole…these things are straight from an activist’s playbook but they ALSO describe spiritual space…a church if you will.

[Courtesy D. Totten]

[Courtesy D. Totten]

In the modern world, spiritual space is also digital. Online activism ensures that we know the names of those who have lost their lives to state-sanctioned police violence. It ensures that we know their names and can say them. That may be an activist call, a twitter hashtag campaign for awareness, but it is also the very root of my practice of spirituality. I call on those who are no longer of this earth as a direct and regular part of my practice. They speak to me and through me.

To speak the names of the dead is, on it’s own, a spiritual act as much as it is a political one. It is how we honor their spirits and assure them they are not forgotten. My spiritual practice doesn’t just look like social justice work … it IS social justice work. They are one and the same. Both have the hands of my ancestors deep within, guiding and calling. Both require wisdom and help from the divine. Both require stillness, self-examination, self-reflection and accountability at levels that do not allow the ego to do the driving. Both demand a safe space to heal and to grieve and both demand that action be taken.

The call-t- action is a process, just as the call to spirit is. It is developed over a lifetime. One cannot become an ally in the fight for justice in a week, a month or in the course of a yearlong degree-training program. It is much simpler than that. It is an approach to social justice that is a lived practice of daily struggle and solidarity. Much like meditation or tarot card reading, the divinity, the spirit, is in the PROCESS.

White allyship in and of itself is also not an identity. It too is a process; one based in trust, accountability and relationships with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. I call myself an ally. My allyship is based on a lot of complicated intersections and identities that include mixed-race heritage, white skin, class privilege, queerness, my status as a transracial adoptee and many more, and it is not up for group debate in circle or a matter of politics. It is part of my lived experience as a human being. It is a part of my spirit and how I speak with that which I consider divine.

Asking people not to speak about social justice in spiritual space isn’t about making the space safe and comfortable for everyone. Seating a Pagan of Color next to someone who, days earlier was spouting bigoted invectives online and telling them both not to talk politics within sacred space is not a way of making the space safe for everyone.  It is effectively silencing the person with less power in the situation, the Person of Color.

In addressing complicated issues around social justice and racial equity in this limiting and silencing way, many of our Pagan organizations, even those designed for solitary practice, are actually choosing a side while professing neutrality and love for all. They are choosing the side of the bigot. As nature path walkers we must reevaluate what we really mean when we ask everyone to just focus on the “light”.

In the Pagan community we rely a lot on ritual to engage with aspects of ourselves that we consider to be divine and to draw power from nature and each other. Many of us are experts in the art of ritual, the power of it and the pull. The idea that the emotionally taxing work we do as activists belongs in the same category as this ritual practice was initially a difficult one for many as we began these conversations, but we came to realize that the problem wasn’t about trying to fit two disparate ideas into one too-small space; the problem was in how we approached the puzzle.

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Darcy Totten [Courtesy Photo]

At the heart of both our ritual practice and our work in the social justice arena sit our values, our Pagan understanding of life as an interconnected web in which we all play a role, either as conscious co-creators or as subjects to plans not fully constructed by us. In the political arena, White allies often focus on education. We try to teach other allies, to further the social justice work of the world in many ways, including educating other White people about racism as a systemic force as opposed to a personal attribute or failing. In spiritual space, many Pagans for whom social justice is also a spiritual practice, find themselves in similar situations, trying to explain how spirituality is not and cannot be divorced from one’s lived experience, that the political is not only personal, but that our work to restore balance is the same divine work that called us to our path of spirit.

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In the African Traditional Religions, such as Lukumí, the social community and religious community are one in the same. There was and is no instance where the social space fails to overlap the religious space. Through Lukumí, I inherited that world-view. The sacred is immanent in the world and not in some distant place separated by complex spiritual mechanisms such as the concept of salvation. In a world that is whole, where spirit, matter and time are equally present, there is nothing to traverse, nor bargain to make, in order to access the divine. It also means that the divine is present in all things and all activities at all times. The sacred and secular and one in the same. It is only human limitations and confusion that assert a difference.

When Africans were forced into the West, they encountered rules that insisted the world be demarcated between the revered from the common. They encountered new religious thought that presented a vastly different view of nature and of being human. Yet, the new religious worldview also contained elements – such as saints and a Son of God – that made the religion of their oppressors somewhat familiar. But our African Ancestors also confronted the concept of sin and were forced to accept a world in which the divine is severed from both the present and the external. More importantly, they were compelled to accept that they and their bodies could not be divine nor – more blasphemously – host the divine. The new cosmology made them corruptible, and their masters treated them as such.

Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno

[Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Disconnected from their homeland while their community was under brutal attack; separated from their priests, their liturgical knowledge and condemned from their practices; having lost their tools for divination and with their nation and spirits facing unparalleled hostility, our African Ancestors appeared to their oppressors as having no resources to keep their dignity, let alone their faith and culture. But herein, we teach, the Orisha were at work. They had other plans. The Orisha had taught, and our Ancestors understood, that there was no separation between the sacred and secular. They had already sown a future spiritual harvest. Despite being stripped of everything – even clothes – our Ancestors could still do something where they would not just speak with Orisha, they would become Orisha. They could dance.

Dancing offered a connection to the divine that could not be suppressed. Clapping could offer rhythm while the dances were their own liturgy. Unlike today, dances were observed and not formally taught – they were part of existence. Dances celebrated all passages of life. They conveyed social expectations, morals and values, sexual ethics, expressed emotions and knitted the society together. They weren’t just a part of the culture, they were community.

More importantly, dancing could summon the divine. The dance movements had spiritual meaning. They were and are built around the characteristics of a particular Orisha. Each step and movement served as a reminder of the power, province and behavior of the devotional Orisha. Oya’s movements, for example, are often spinning with sudden bursts of tremendous energy in random directions. They are warlike and sorcerous. Oshún’s movements are sensual, graceful and gentle flowing seamlessly to represent her province over rivers. And Chango’s movements are virile, proud, rhythmic and authoritative filled with commanding energy. But the underscore here is that, while dance may be intimately physical, dance creates spiritual connection.

This is a crucial lesson. In modernity, and certainly in the West, our culture focuses on the physical aspects of dance. We know that dance has powerful benefits to our bodies. Dances is well-understood to improve balance and flexibility. Dancing can help with weight loss and improve cardiovascular function as well as strength and speed. And there’s more. A quick search on the internet, will familiarize us with the benefits of dance for improving the body for children and adults helping both young and mature reinforce our bodies. From Irish Céilí Dance to traditional Hula, we learn that dance is excellent at improving fitness and posture while strengthening connections to traditions and culture. And that truly is wonderful.

But, we must also remember and celebrate the spiritual strength of dance. Focusing only on muscle and skill, separates the physical and the spiritual. It is an artificial view of the benefits of dance. It fails to acknowledge the immanent is the spiritual. It reduces an art that feeds the soul to an act of exercise. It disconnects the holism that Orisha- and the messengers and teachers of many other cultures- desperately wanted us to remember: The body and spirit must be nourished together. And in that sense, our treatment of dance is a metaphor for how we segregate the sacred and the mundane.

Modern science is slowly affirming the psycho-spiritual side of dance. Recent findings have emphasized the benefits of dance that are beyond mere strength training and balance acquisition. The scope of effect from dance is stunningly broad. There is evidence that dance can protect against the onset of dementia, help stabilize cognitive functioning and language abilities in Alzheimer patients, improve body image and body image distress in persons managing obesity, improve self-awareness in clients with eating disorders, promote healing after brain trauma, enhance problem-solving skills, strengthen social bonds and improve friendships. Dance also appears to alleviate depression, reduce insomnia and improve our enjoyment of everyday life. These are psychological and spiritual fortifications. And all of that is a short list! (For a comprehensive review see Bräuninger, 2014)

Dance is also imbued with a tremendous set of social cues that inform the community about us. For example. researchers at the University of Göttingen in Germany conducted a study to determine what inferences women make about men’s skills at dancing. The researchers hypothesized mate quality could be inferred by women observing how well men dance. It’s a hypothesis derived from evolutionary psychology that body movement is an important communicator in courtship, and humans continue to be sensitive to physical signals about the quality of a prospective partner. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that women have cognitive adaptations that can assess physical characteristics that point to selecting better mates. What the researchers found was that the women in the study were able to determine men’s physical strength only by observing their dancing. Specifically women’s perception of the attractiveness and assertiveness of men’s dancing were correlated with the men’s grip strength that was measured independently and that women would have no practical way of knowing (Hugill, Fink, Neave and Seydel, 2009).

In a separate also at the University of Göttingen, the same researchers found that women could also infer from the men’s dancing skill some psychological traits. The researchers videotaped 50 young, non-professional heterosexual male dancers. Each male participant danced individually and were given white overalls to control for clothing style. Prior to the videotaping, the participants completed a scale to measure their risk-taking behavior on several factors ranging from travel to psychedelic drug us. The scale also measured susceptibility to boredom and patterns of drinking, partying and seeking a variety of sexual partners. The sample of 60 women – also young, heterosexual – then viewed the videotapes and rated the men on the perceived attractiveness of their dancing. Consistent with theory, the women’s perception of attractiveness correlated with the men’s strength. But in addition to those findings, the women’s subjective report of perceived attractiveness were correlated with the men’s reports of their own propensity for risk-taking.

Now, besides the obvious inferences about mate selection, what’s interesting about these findings is that they underscore the power of dance to tell stories about ourselves to the community. More importantly, the findings suggest that the community is listening. We watch and celebrate one another during dance. We also learn about one another. What is perhaps our most ancient art-form continues to serve us today by helping us listen as a community.

What the Orisha whispered and our Ancestors – across all cultures – knew is that dance is a restorative force for the spirit and the community. Dance helps us with the challenges of daily life and makes us resilient against the damages that accumulate from the less noble side of ourselves. It promotes our self-acceptance and fortifies our all the aspects of our being. It frees us from the traps we cautiously and often unwittingly lay to sabotage ourselves from accepting our own beauty to recognizing our own divinity.

Art Credit:  M. Tejeda-Moreno

[Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

In writing that last paragraph, I am reminded of a Pataki, a Yoruba story about Orisha that I had mostly forgotten. The legend that tells us how the divine twins, the Ibeji, were able to defeat Eleguá, the trickster Orisha that must always be propitiated during every ceremony as he is the opener of communication. Eleguá also loves to lay traps, and deadly ones at that. Over time, Eleguá had laid so many traps in one village that the inhabitants were unable to leave. All the paths out were fraught with perilous tricks. The villagers could not hunt, trade or even call for help without confronting one these traps and succumbing to it. Orishas tried to help but none could save the villagers.

One day, the Ibeji found a magical drum that made people dance as long as they were being played. The twins, Taewo and Kainde started down the most dangerous of paths out of the village. When Eleguá appeared Taewo started to play the drums and Kainde danced with Eleguá. But because they were twins and shared their spirit (as a community might), they could switch between dancer and drummer: one would rest while the other danced. Eleguá, however, was unable to stop dancing. When he became desperately tired, he begged the Ibeji to stop. They did. But first they made Eleguá promise to remove all the traps. He did. And through dance, the Ibeji saved the village. Dance is the tool that disables all the traps we lay for ourselves.

It is an important message. I think that it also interesting how much our Western culture has marginalized dance. For centuries, many of our Euro-centric institutions have sought to suppress dance. We have been taught that expression through dance is savage and unbecoming. We have tried to suppress it by calling it weak, instilling in many young men that dance is somehow castrating, while telling our young women that dance violates their dignity. We are taught that dancing creates shame. That it is laden with sin and serves only to seduce and corrupt. Dance – especially as simple free form self-expression – has been vilified by the hetero-normative and hetero-patriarchal institutions that try to subordinate us. Dancing unlocks those snares as well.

In that sense, the institutions that seek social control deeply fear the power of dance to liberate the individual. They fear every gesture that connects us to ourselves and each other. Dance is dangerous because it empowers. Whether we are able-bodied or need assistance, every movement that lifts our spirits is a rebellion against oppression. Like the Ibeji taught, dance breaks all the trappings from self-doubt to isolation. It helps us become us. And us, is very powerful.

Citations

Braüninger, I. (2014). “Specific dance movement therapy interventions- Which are successful? An intervention and correlation study.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41, 225-457.

Hugull, N., Fink, B., Veave, N. & Seydel, H. (2009). “Men’s physical strength is associated with women’s perceptions of their dancing ability.” Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 527-530.

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PENSACOLA, FLORIDA –  On Friday, July 31, three residents were found murdered in their home on Deerfield Drive in the coastal city of Pensacola. The victims were Richard Thomas Smith (age 49), his brother John William Smith (age 47) and their mother Voncile Smith (age 76). The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) found them at 9:30 a.m. during a welfare call, which was requested by Richard’s concerned employer.

During that morning check, officers found the three bodies. Their throats were slit, and Richard had a gun shot through his neck. As has been reported, the family was killed on Tues, July 28. and their deaths were caused by blunt force trauma by hammer. The police have ruled out robbery and are currently investigating.

This gruesome reality turned media frenzy after the department held an Aug. 4 news conference. During the opening speech, Sheriff David Morgan called the case “odd at best,” describing the family as reclusive. Then when he was asked about motive, he responded:

… initial research has led us to believe that there is a potential that it was a ritualistic killing … The method of the murder, blunt force traumas, slit throats, positions of bodies and then our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that.

When asked for more, Sheriff Morgan noted, “Well, again, the time of the blue moon every three years, the method of the murders and also our person of interest is known to practice this.” He was then asked directly “What religion?” Sheriff Morgan responded, “It is Witchcraft.” The full news conference was uploaded to You Tube.

That was all it took. Within minutes, the local, national and, eventually, international media were reporting on the triple murder. “Witchcraft suspected in savage murder of family” reported the local CBS affiliate WKRG. The Washington Post announced, “Florida triple murder tied to ‘witchcraft’ and blue moon, police say.” And NOLA.com asked,”Witchcraft’ and ‘blue moon’ behind Pensacola triple homicide?”

Shortly after, NBC quoted ECSO’s own Sgt. Andrew Hobbes saying, “It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon.” Witchcraft suddenly changed to Wicca. Several ABC and CBS affiliates around the country picked up the wording change. For example, one in Texas reported, “Wiccan ritual may be motive behind deaths of three family members in Fla.” And, the UK’s Daily Mail announced, “Florida family murdered with a hammer in ‘ritualistic Wiccan killing planned to coincide with the Blue Moon‘ ”

As the story continued to gain media traction throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, Pagans began to speak out publicly against both the sensationalist, and often false, coverage and the Sheriff’s premature speculation. Peg Aloi at “The Witching Hour” wrote, “I am fairly certain there is nothing in any book on Wicca that has ever been published on Planet Earth that describes body positions consistent with ritual murder.”

Lady Liberty League (LLL), who has been investigating the situation, published a statement, saying, “We are deeply concerned by the misrepresentations of Wicca, witchcraft and Paganism that have resulted, and are currently working to respond to the situation … We ask that all Wiccans, Pagans and those concerned send prayers and energy for healing to those affected by the murders, local law enforcement, the local community and the cause of religious understanding and Pagan civil liberties worldwide.”

LLL’s Rev. Selena Fox is one of two Pagans quoted in a Guardian article titled, “Wicca experts slam Florida sheriff for linking triple murder to ‘witchcraft.‘” Published Aug 5, the UK news outlet took a very different approach from others agencies by talking to actual Pagan practitioners. The Guardian quoted Fox as saying, “Ritual murder is not part of the Wiccan religion, it never has been, and it’s not now.” She also said added, “There are so many crime shows on TV and the Internet [that involve witchcraft], and I think that some story lines can complicate reporting on actual crimes.” Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, was also quoted and said, “If they had done even a modicum of research it would be clear this had nothing to do with Paganism.”

Riki Lee Para started a change.org petition titled “Stop the Witch Hunt!” It reads, in part, “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and families involved, however the Wiccan community will not stand for allegations from a high ranking office of justice that these murders were due to a ‘Blue Moon Ritual by a Wiccan Practitioner'” In less then 24 hours, it has earned over 817 signatures.

pensacola

[Courtesy Boston Public Library]

As is typical, the media storm caused some confusion on what had actually been reported by the sheriff’s department. In attempt to clarify, ECSO republished the portion of the news conference transcript that specifically mentioned Witchcraft. The second press release, titled “Statement Concerning Transcript of news conference,” read:

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has received numerous inquiries relative to the triple homicide in Escambia County, specifically as to its potential ties to a ritualistic murder. We encourage everyone concerned about the truth and facts to read the following transcript …

In the following abridged statements, ECSO noted that Sheriff Morgan said “While it doesn’t bother me to release it being their being [sic], most assuredly, you do not want to want to [sic] defame or demean any particular practices.” He also noted that “our country” allows for the belief in “anything.”

The Wild Hunt reached out to ECSO and spoke with its PIO Sena Maddison, who said, “The department by no means meant to imply that Wiccans are killers.” She offered apologies to the community for this confusion. When asked about Hobbes statements to NBC, she said that Hobbes was misquoted. He never said the word “Wicca.” She further explained that it was the media confusion that prompted ECSO to release that second statement and to also post the news conference on its You Tube channel and Facebook page.

ECSO may not have intended to create the media frenzy, but the department did cause it by using hot button, or so called click-bait, terms in its initial news conference, which included reference to the blue moon. Unfortunately, the repercussions of such acts are not always limited to news reports and sensational banter. They can also lead to the real-life bullying of modern Witches and Wiccans. The Wild Hunt has received reports over the last day indicating that several Pagans living in small conservative communities have been harassed. Unfortunately, none of these people would go on record.

However, in the online petition, Pensacola Wiccan Katharine Jones did refer directly to this danger. She angrily, wrote, “I am a minister with Fire Dance Church of Wicca, operating in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The slanderous statements made by Sheriff Morgan present a risk to the safety of the residents of this county. He is inciting hate crimes against anyone who appears to be non-Christian, including essentially everyone who is a member of any counter culture. He is personally responsible for any violence which results from his comments.”

At this point, there are many dots that do not connect within the publicly available story. When asked why ECSO had linked the crime to Witchcraft at all and who this practicing “person of interest” was, Maddison said that she could not reveal any more details on the case, because it is still an open investigation. And, that is standard practice. Additionally, we asked if any officers had contacted local Pagan organizations or individuals, she said, “not yet.”

There currently is just not enough publicly available data to know exactly what happened. Did anyone in the family or associated with the family actually practice Witchcraft or any religion for that matter? Why was the crime considered ritualistic? And, why was the act linked to the blue moon, which actually occurred three days after the reported murder? There are many questions yet to be answered.

As for the media, the local CBS affiliate WKRG has since spoken to the victims’ family members, who are quoted as saying “witchcraft” had nothing to do with the murders. They also added – as proof – “the Smith family were normal folks.” In addition, WKRG followed The Guardians’ lead and is now reporting that “Witches say they’re not linked to Triple Murder.”

The latest news release from ECSO states that samples from the scene are currently being analyzed, and that the department will not update the media until the lab reports are back. Maddion invited us to contact her directly with any future questions. We will continue to follow the case and update as we learn more. In the meantime, the mainstream media will most likely continue to speculate, sensationalize and feed.

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COTATI, CALIFORNIA –When the Morning Glory Zell Memorial Foundation was formed in December 2014, it had an ambitious goal: to purchase “property and financially [sustain] physical infrastructure and community services of the Church of All Worlds (CAW) and its affiliate schools and organizations,” according to the official charter letter. Advertisements at the time stated, “A major objective is creating a rural Pagan retirement village with a permanent home for Morning Glory and Oberon’s enormous library and museum collections of Goddess figures, magickal tools and artifacts, altar setups, liturgical and research materials, ritual regalia, seasonal decorations, etc.” It was to be located in northern California. A statement released by the foundation this past February set forth the minimum criteria for the land being sought, and established a price range of $400,000-800,000.

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Those plans are now being shelved for the immediate future, as that enormous collection — as well as Oberon Zell himself — must be relocated quickly due a pending eviction from RavenHaven, where he and others have lived for some time. The vast collection of magical memorabilia is being packed up, and Zell plans on staying with friends in another part of the state while his search for suitable land — and a critical mass of funding and people — continues.

The Church of All Worlds is one of the oldest legally-recognized Pagan religious organizations, having been incorporated in 1968 and recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a church in 1970. CAW spawned the influential Pagan magazine Green Egg, and Zell is credited with popularizing the terms “Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” to describe the religious movement of which he is part.

CAW itself is compared by its members to a phoenix, insofar as it has undergone several “resurrections” since its original conception in the 1960s. At that time, the eponymous church in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land inspired Zell and others to “share water” and pursue self-actualization. Those early, heady days saw Oberon and Morning Glory Zell undertake some grand adventures, including an eight-year stint homesteading in rural Greenfield, California.

“But as romantic as that was at the time,” Zell said, “at my age I just can’t do that again.”

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

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart [Courtesy Photo]

To fulfill CAW’s larger dreams, the MGZ Memorial Foundation was created to find and fund appropriate land. Because it will become the new center for CAW, the criteria were designed with an eye on maintaining and supporting its existing community. In addition to space for a museum and library, the foundation’s board is seeking land that is sufficiently private for festivals that are clothing-optional, but no more than two hours from a major metropolitan area.

To allow for the broader goals of creating an intentional community that would allow elders to retire surrounded by a support network, the land must have reliable cellular reception and internet access. The size of the parcel needed would depend in part upon its natural features. Flat areas are needed to ensure access for all, tree cover to shelter campers, open spaces for ritual work. But Zell did say that, at minimum, 20 acres would be needed. The search area, initially focused on three counties in the North Bay area, has been expanded to include the entire San Francisco bay area, down to Santa Cruz.

Zell earns what he describes as a “sufficient” income from his book royalties and other sources, and stresses that this project is not about finding him a place to live. Indeed, he and another individual have each committed to spending $20,000 to further this dream.  While Zell can afford to pay mortgage or rent for himself, he said, “I want to live in a supportive community, with my friends, lovers and partners.”

The late Morning Glory Zell, pictured with some of her many goddess figurines.

CAW’s membership is no stranger to intentional community, as evidenced by the application to join the “eco-village,” once that broader goal manifests. While plans are to include options both for renting and owning homes in the community, applicants are expected to know members of the church, provide references from the Pagan community, and write a detailed essay explaining how they might contribute. Since February, when the call for applications came out, only three have been received. That makes it all the more important that whatever land is ultimately selected be connected to the outside world through phone and computer. The location recently scouted was not, and Zell, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, is unenthusiastic about that prospect, saying, “So even if we were able to make the purchase and renovate one of the buildings sufficiently for me to move into with the museum and library within the next two months, I’d be out there all alone, with no internet or cell phone, and a half-hour drive to the nearest town.”

But the deadline is why plans must change in the short term, as Zell explained.

The two most promising properties we have looked at over the past 5 months turned out to be unsuitable for various reasons. And then a month ago I received an eviction notice. I have to pack up and get everything out of RavenHaven by Sept. 23, and so I simply have no more time to continue searching for a new home for myself and the Collections. While that remains a Dream I would dearly love to fulfill in the remainder of my life, it is out of reach for the present. I have bought an RV for travels, and I am moving into a cottage on the property of some dear friends in Bonny Doon, near Santa Cruz. We are planning to rent a large storefront place in Santa Cruz which will house the Museum, Library, and a store in which to sell our products. This will also be a community meeting space, and out of it we hope to build a larger community that will be able to revisit the land purchase and Village project at a later time.

The short-term Santa Cruz plan will likely suffice to continue supporting ongoing church projects, such as the Grey School of Wizardry, and the bigger dream of returning to the land as an intentional community will continue percolating. In addition to the $40,000 committed by Zell and another, there are other promises of about $100,000 which will take the form of “potential investments, loans, long-term leases, or 2nd mortgages.” The project has an ongoing GoFundMe campaign (actually the second, as the first was closed early due to “administrative difficulties.” Donations are also being accepted directly at the foundation’s web site, which is a channel that avoids the additional fees associated with crowdfunding. Because the MGZ Memorial Foundation is a subsidiary of the Church of All Worlds, all donations are tax-deductible.

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“Pagan” is most commonly used in our interconnected religious communities as an umbrella term for any of the religions that either seek to revive a pre-Christian religion, or belong in the New Religious Movement category, such as Wicca. The religions under this umbrella are often more varied than they are similar and Ōraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is no exception. ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī, which translates as “path of the ancients,” is in the Canaanite family of religions and seeks to revive the practice of the Israelites of the 15th through 9th centuries BCE.  Back then, it was primarily a tribal religion with centralized religious spaces and large festivals focused around a reconstructed lunisolar calendar. The practice also included a strong sense of household and familial tradition, including ancestor veneration, personal prayer, blessings over food, and family events.

ryan dial
The Wild Hunt
spoke to Ryan Dial, who is an ʼAlūp̄, or High Priest, for Ancient Path Assembly in Atlanta about this religion and how it is currently practiced.

The Wild Hunt: I realize it’s probably complex, but can you explain a bit about ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī?

Ryan Dial:  ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is a revivalist faith, which is similar to polytheistic reconstructions in many ways in that we utilize archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, etc. with academic conjecture to revive an ancient faith system, but unlike recons, we don’t necessarily shy away from unverified personal gnosis (UPG) and we seek to update and move forward beyond simple reconstruction. More specifically, we are a religion within the larger category of Canaanite Reconstructionism/Revivalism, which includes reconstructions of Phoenician, Moabite, Amonite, Judahite, Edomite, and Israelite religions, itself, genealogically speaking, a sub-category of the Northwestern Semitic religious family [Amorite and Ugaritic religions] which is, in turn, a sub-category of the Northern Semitic religious family [Akkadian and Eblaite religions]. All of that is in the modern nations of Israel, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Like many recons and revivalists, not all of our practitioners consider themselves “Pagan.” That tends to be a loaded term, unfortunately, and carries with it many connotations both from the outside world and from within the greater Pagan community. As such, I consider myself an ʼŌrēḥa, first and foremost, and depending on the audience, I may or may not also identify as a Pagan.

TWH: What part of the world did this religion originate from and is it similar to Judaism?

RD:  ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is a revival of ancient Israelite religion. This is not the religion of the Bible, which was Judahite, but the religion of the northern Kingdom of Israel and its citystate and tribal predecessors. The Israelites were a confederation of Canaanite tribes.

We reconstruct primarily from the 15th through the 9th centuries BCE. The Israelites were conquered by Assyria during the 720s BCE. Prior to this, Judahite religion had already diverged and begun to become monotheistic. With the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in the 720s, many Israelites fled south and added unique religious elements to the largely monotheistic Judahite national faith. Some of these survived in the Bible as Judahite religion slowly evolved into Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries CE, but by and large, Israelite religion had ended by that point. Some have shown survival of some elements of Israelite religion into the later religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Neoplatonism, thanks to the works of Iamblichus, who was himself of Canaanite stock.

We honor the Canaanite pantheon, which has roughly 150 deities of several “families,” much like the Aesir and Vanir in Germanic religions or the Asuras and Devas in Indo-Iranian religions. We’re monolatrous-panentheists with a emanationist slant. That is to say, while we believe in many gods, we believe that they, like all things in existence, including ourselves, are emanations of a singular divine force which we call Yǝhōwāh (lit. “Existence”). Additionally, while we support the idea that the gods of other peoples exist in some form, we believe that they, too, are emanations of Yǝhōwāh, though only our gods, the ʼĔlōhē͡ī-Kənaʻan, the “Godhead of Canaan,” should be worshiped by members of our faith. The theology is a bit more complicated than that, so think of this as a simplification.

9th Century BCE map showing the Kingdom of Israel [creative commons]

9th Century BCE map showing the Kingdom of Israel [Public Domain]

TWH:  What are the main ethics in your religion and how does it shape your daily life?

RD: Personally, I think the observance of Šeḇaʻ hāʼĪmărōṯ, “The Seven Teachings,” is by far the most important. They are seven philosophical teachings that form the core of our faith system, and as such, all practitioners, regardless of level, are expected to keep them. …

  1. Yəhōwāh is one and all things are unity.
    All that exists is part of the divine and, therefore, forms a singular existence. A human, an animal, a plant, and dirt are all part of a unity and there is no separation between them. We must recognize the divine in all things, in all people, and within ourselves.
  1. All actions will have consequences.
    We are all responsible for our actions, regardless of the circumstances, and nothing can absolve us of that responsibility. The choices we make are up to us, and every choice has consequences, many far-reaching and incapable of being predicted.
  1. Will governs actions.
    It is intent, the force of will, that governs our actions. Through proper intent, we can commit to a life of proper action. Approaching the world with selfish, individualist intent will most assuredly result in actions with negative consequences for all affected.
  1. Speak support, practice harmony, and in all things, be at peace.
    Our actions should always strive to create harmony, peace, and beauty in this world. We should strive to teach others through our example, not our words.
  1. Generosity, humility, calm, and joy are the path to wellbeing.
    Through generosity, we can aid our world. Through humility, we can be content with ourselves and with others. Through calm, we can maintain proper intent and see the world for its beauty. And through joy, we can spread wellbeing to those who need it most. Through these concepts, we can learn to love ourselves and others.We should be careful to guard ourselves against their opposites: greed, jealousy, anger, and self-loathing. It is through the concept of greed that the illusion of possession arises, and through the illusion of possession, we are prone to jealousy, anger, and self-loathing.
  1. One who is merciful, compassionate, and kind to the smallest creatures joins to Yəhōwāh.
    We should always seek mercy, compassion, and kindness, whenever possible. From the insect in our home to the poverty-stricken on the street, we should strive to honor the divine within all. We should always seek to aid those in need and prevent malevolence, cruelty, and hostility to all of creation.
  1. Love others freely and with deep passion.
    Without crass individualism and selfish concepts of ownership, we can freely love one another. We should seek to love others purely, with our whole soul, and love them for the unique expressions of the divine that they are. In all of our relationships, we should be devoted wholly and love them as the entirety of existence.

TWH: Could you explain what a religious observance might look like and why explain how it is still relevant today?

RD:  One of our more important holidays is Ḥaḡ haMaṣōṯ, a week-long festival celebrating the beginning of the barley harvest. It begins with the Pesaḥ ritual, a protection ceremony which originally secured the gods’ protection over the barley while it was being harvested and stored. During the ritual, we make an offering of barley into a sacred flame. This offering is followed by a week of feasting and merriment, with song and dance and firelit stories. We reenact these rituals with a modern twist, asking for protection over our livelihoods, our modern subsistence methods.

Ḥaḡ haMaṣōt ritual, observed by firelight [courtesy photo]

Ḥaḡ haMaṣōt ritual, observed by firelight [courtesy photo]

TWH: How did you learn of this religion? And how long have you been a part of it?

RD:  I began this path as an Orthodox Jew, actually. I wasn’t raised in a religious home, but I came to Orthodox Judaism on my own in college while looking for some of those “big question” answers. My pursuits began in Kabbalah and moved into Chasidism and eventually the religion of my more recent ancestors, Sephardi Judaism. I began a path that led to me seeking to join the rabbinate.

During this same time, I was studying cultural anthropology and anthropology of religion at Emory University, focusing on the early phases of Near Eastern religion. Over time, my intellectual pursuits and my religious pursuits came into conflict, and I found myself leaving the rabbinical path and, ultimately, Judaism altogether. My draw was always to the ancient Near East — it felt like home to me — so I said to myself, “There must be something to this, to the religion of the ancient Canaanites, that draws me in. If I am so in love with their faith, why not practice it in the modern era?” From there, I began seeking out groups that were doing what I was doing. I’ve now been on this path for almost 3 years. It’s an evolving religion, tied in so closely with academic research and archaeological discovery, but we’ve stabilized over those 3 years and have really come into our own as a living faith.

TWH:  Do you know how many people practice your faith and are there groups who meet in person?

RD: ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is a communal faith, a tribal religion formed from an intentional tribe bound not by blood but by choice. As such, meeting in person is rather necessary for our practice. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we have individuals with varying levels of interest and practice quite literally across the world, but our central home is Atlanta, GA [Ancient Path Assembly Atlanta], where our physical group currently meets. As with most Pagan groups, it’s hard to get a good number on just how many members and interested parties we actually have. Rituals tend to stay small, most likely due to their rapid frequency and non-western calendar, we don’t move rituals to the weekend. I know of two other extant groups that identify as somewhere within the Canaanite sphere — Natib Qadish and Am HaAretz, AMHA or the Primitive Hebrew Assembly, though, again, it is hard to get a definite number on the total size of the Canaanite polytheist community.

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If you’d like to learn more about ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī or the Ancient Path Assembly Atlanta you can check out their website or go to their Facebook discussion group.

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Feature-Sean-Trayner-Wicca-in-the-Real-World-1-720x405 (1)Samuel Wagar, a Wiccan Priest with the Congregationalist Wiccan Assembly of Alberta, begins his second year as a Wiccan Chaplain at the University of Alberta. He selection last summer marked the first time that the University has appointed a Pagan to serve its student population.

Wager, who is a Britsh Trad Wiccan and an active participant in the local Pagan community, said, “I had wanted to go back to school, because I love the academic environment, like to work with young adults, and I had thought that outreach for our Temple to the University would be a really good idea.” He prepared his CV with the support of his community and was then interviewed by the University’s interfaith chaplaincy group and was eventually selected.

In his first year, Wager’s presence was minimal and limited. However, he says that now that will be changing as the new school year begins. He plans to increase his visibility on campus; host sabbats and “weekly lunch-ritual-and-discussion meetings” and serve any counselling needs. Considered a visiting scholar, Wager said that the University as a whole supports the multifaith chaplaincy group by “recognizing the value of our work, particularly when crisis strikes – we are part of the first responders when suicides happen, and are generally recognized as a valuable component of the student support services.”

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haxanThe HÄXÄN Film Festival has announced the lineup for its August 2015 event in Oakland, California. The film festival will offer screenings from 22 different artists, including: “onyinye alheri, Ale Bachlechner and Olivia Platzer, Stephanie Barber, Gina Basso, Gina Basso, Flatsitter, Penny Van Hazelberg, Lyra Hill, Damian Lebiedzinski, Kayla Lenberg, Arnont Nongyao, Kathleen Quillian, Nowhere Mountain, Grace Nayoon Rhee, Iqrar Rizvi, Leyla Rodriguez, Sarah Rooney, Linda Scobie, Nazare Soares, Alexander Stewart, Natalie Tsui, and Julieta Triangular” 

In addition, HÄXÄN has scheduled several other related performances as well as Tarot readings and vendors. Haxan is in its second year and is billed as a “film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”  It will be held August 28-29 in two different locations in Oakland.

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Jeff Rosenbaum

Jeff Rosenbaum

It has been announced that Jeff Rosenbaum’s family will be holding a traditional tombstone unveiling ceremony on August 9. Rosenbaum died on August 31, 2014. He is “best known as the founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium.

On Sept 1 2014, writer and friend Ian Corrigan wrote a tribute to Rosenbaum’s life, detailing his many adventures. Corrigan said, “Jeff’s life can serve as a lesson that a devotion to ideas, to manifesting dreams, to serving a community can be fulfilling, and leave a lasting legacy. The Starwood Festival will continue, rolling on the solid chassis of Jeff’s old bus. The enchantment he helped to weave is only made the wilder by Jeff’s transition from at-the-desk manager to his new life in story and memory.”

It has now been nearly one year since that time. As is common in the Jewish tradition, something Rosenbaum never abandoned, his family will hold a tombstone unveiling ceremony. The Cleveland Jewish News reports,Rabbi Zachary Truboff of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue will conduct the informal headstone unveiling service on Aug 9, 2015 at 2 p.m. at Mount Olive Cemetery, 27855 Aurora Road, Solon, OH 44139, Section 300, Row A, Grave 32. Please bring stories and memories to share.”

In Other News:

  • The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans is preparing for its upcoming conference called Convocation with the theme “Awakening Our Tribe.” This will be the first Convocation in a decade. Special guests will include Jon Beckett, Rev. Shirley Ranck, Gypsy Ravish, Jerrie Hildebrand and music group Silver Branch. Organizers write, “It’s time to awaken the spirit of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.”  The three day conference will be held at the First Church Unitarian, in Salem, Massachusetts from Aug 26 – 28.
  • Several weeks ago we reported on the growing interest in Pop Culture Magick. In that article we mentioned the upcoming book by Taylor Ellwood, Pop Culture Magick 2.0. Ellwood is now reporting that this book will be available as early as September and can be pre-ordered. He writes that the new book “explores how pop culture magic has continued to evolve.”
  • In other publishing news, Heather Freysdottir published a new book that has been on the Amazon best seller list under the category of “mysticism.” Freysdottir’s book, Beyond Reason, is devoted to Loki and is described as “part memoir, part love song to the Divine within and without,” exploring Pagan mysticism and the Divine. Freysdottir is a blogger and “Polytheist nun who worships the Norse Gods in sunny Florida.” Of the book’s popularity, she said in a blog post, “When I wrote the book I tried really hard not to consider sales or reviews because once a book is done, I’ve written it the best that I could, and so it’s none of my business what people think of it. What I do hope that people get out of these sales stats is that the public seems more ready to learn about Polytheistic mysticism.
  • The World Goddess Day initiative has kicked off.  Scheduled this year for September 6, World Goddess Day was initially a project of Brazilian Priest and Author Claudiney Prieto. The goal is reportedly “to grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity.” Last year, the event attracted over 50 scheduled events worldwide. This year, organizers are hoping that number increases. Local events will be posted on the World Goddess Day website as they are registered.
  • In May, Pagan band Sentinel Grove released its first CD. The band has been making regular rounds on Pagan internet radio stations and at live events over the summer. Sentinel Grove describes itself as a “band with our own flare of Celtic, pop, traditional, blues, and drum filled goodness.” They are based in the Quad Cities and are made up of “two girls and a few drums.” You can find their music on You Tube, United Pagan Radio, and Facebook.
  • And lastly, Heathen authors have a new dedicated place to go to publish their works. Based in Canada, Saga Press is described as the “first fully dedicated heathen press for books by heathens for heathens.” Owner Larisa Hunter launched Saga’s independent site in the spring, and the Press has been churning out books ever since. It’s most recent release is Pagan Child by Warwick Hill Jr

That’s it for now. Have a nice day.

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[Today we welcome Luke Babb. They graduated from Truman State University with a degree in English, and briefly toured Saint Louis University in pursuit of a Masters. They currently live in Chicago with their fiance where they write, participate in the storytelling scene, and work two jobs. This is their first work with The Wild Hunt.]

I have come out as bisexual, trans and queer, but I cannot come out as Pagan. Which means that this is something else.

I started to identify as Pagan (or, at the time, ‘Agnostic leaning Pagan’) in my sophomore year of college, during the same semester that I kissed my boyfriend’s best friend’s girlfriend on a kitchen floor. Those two events are separate, but the feeling of them is similar in my memory; a sort of inherited shame giving way to, not wonder exactly, but an ache like the gum over a tooth that wants to come in.

It’s entirely possible that, in other circumstances, I would have come out that semester. Instead, I spent five years tamping down on these new parts of myself, until the relationship I was in eventually collapsed from stagnation. Which wasn’t terribly surprising — most people find it difficult to maintain a relationship while playing an outdated version of themselves. I put my first altar up less than a month after my boyfriend moved out, began to date again — and all of the potential energy built up through four years of college exploded outward.

[Credit: Mark Chadwick / Flickr]

[Credit: Mark Chadwick / Flickr]

I came out to my parents that fall. We were driving back from a week’s vacation in Ohio, one of the few times I knew I’d get to see my family when I was in grad school. I had chosen that vacation to come out because I wanted to be able to talk to them again about my girlfriends, my thoughts and the new self I was becoming, and I thought they deserved to hear about these things from me in person. I had meant to do it during the week; but as exhausted as I was with sitting, quietly, and keeping my secrets, I found that I was even more afraid of what would happen if I spoke up and destroyed the illusion of the good, obedient, (straight) Christian girl that I’d so carefully maintained. It wasn’t until we were almost home that I realized I was running out of time.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I know the outline of it. Mom, always concerned and just a little bit stubborn, asked me if I would start dating again soon. I had been single for almost six months, at that point, licking wounds I was only starting to recognize and dating casually, serially, exclusively women. So I said that yes, I would. Mom told me not to worry. I’d have plenty of time to find someone and settle down and get married.

With all the tact and clarity of someone who’s been stewing in their own juices for six hours, I explained that, since I was bisexual, there was a fifty-fifty chance I wouldn’t be able to marry them anyway. My father was silent. My mother was confused. And then, more quickly than I had expected, the conversation turned.

“Are you still a Christian?” Mom asked. She sounded scared.

I hesitated. “Well, Mom. I’m agnostic,” I said.

She remained confused. As I explained, I reminded myself that this was the easy option; nothing good or safe was going to come out of Actually, Mom, I’m Pagan.

We got to St. Louis eventually, but nobody enjoyed the ride.

I came out to my extended family a little more than a year later. It was a year in which I had built up enough momentum to realize it was going to be even harder for me to see the place I had come from, the place I was trying to speak to. Knowing this, I enlisted some help. I wrote up a Christmas letter and gave it to three or four straight friends to make sure that I wasn’t using too much jargon; wasn’t speaking in a way my family wouldn’t be able to hear. It wasn’t meant to be comprehensive—I talked about being genderqueer, about my new name and my relationship with my girlfriend, included a picture of us in black and white. It was meant to provoke questions, to start a conversation. It was meant to get them started in getting to know me as I actually am.

The people who read it beforehand thought it was great, with just one caveat. “Why,” asked Eric, who had helped me most in finding my own spirituality, “do you talk about going to church?”

“Because,” I told him. “I want them to listen to me.”

[Photo Credit: Nick Page /  Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Nick Page / Flickr]

It’s hard for me to talk about my queerness in a way that is divorced from my religion. They’re very different sorts of things that come from the same root and have woven themselves together in my life and my understanding. I am a follower of Hermes, of Loki, of Coyote and Prometheus, of those that break boundaries and laugh, of the storytellers, of the fire bringers, of the ones who slide between god and human, woman and man and neither, and show us how to use the divine’s gifts. Certainly my relationship with my gods has informed my understanding of my gender, given me strength as I grow through and into myself. Certainly being a Pagan is as much a part of who I am as my chosen name.

My family knows that name. They don’t know I’m Pagan. I’m all too aware of the need humanity has to pathologize people who are different, and I haven’t wanted my Paganism singled out as the damning source of my queerness. It would be such an easy leap. If I am Christian, they can’t say the reason I’m trans is because I gave up the church; instead I can be cast as the sinner, willful, prideful, lustful. Which is fine, in a way — it’s a story that, at its core, recognizes my agency. As long as I’m not “Satan’s mark,” easily confused and straying from the path, they cannot write me off when I tell them who I am. My family may not have liked what they heard when I came out as genderqueer, but I believe they did hear it.

I would like them to hear this too.

I would like them to hear any number of things, because even saying that I’m Pagan suggests a simpler set of beliefs, a simpler version of me than the true one. I would like to tell them that I haven’t abandoned the church where I grew up. When I leave, I find myself missing the study and the fight to be a better version of yourself that I find in the words of Christ. Solitary practice leaves me lonely, and there is some part of Pagan and Wiccan gatherings that still leaves me lost. I struggle to find a group where I fit; where I am not forced to choose between the God and the Goddess’ circle; where I hear the ceremony with my heart and my head and both are satisfied; where I am received with a welcome and seen in a way that I recognize. So I find myself going back to the church, where at least the ways it does not fit are familiar.

But all of that is complicated, and I have not trusted others to listen to it, and so I have stayed quiet. I have not explained my religion to my family, who still struggle with my name. I have not explained it to my queer friends, who have often been hurt badly by religion, or withdrawn from it for their own reasons. I have not explained it to my Christian friends, or my Pagan ones, for fear that each will see the existence of the other as a strike against me, as a reason for discounting me in other ways. Like all of us on the borders, I know how to be lonely—but that doesn’t mean I have to resign myself to it.

This is not a coming out story. There are certain things that cannot be divorced from their history and made contextless, and the phrase ‘coming out’ is one of them. Coming out is an explicitly queer action, one that carries with it the history of physical, emotional, and social danger that my elders have faced, that queer people still face every day. I have come out as bisexual and trans, but I do not feel like I can come out as Pagan. This is something else. This is flinging open the doors so that others can come in, and know me better.

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[This is a literary version of a presentation being presented at the Many Gods West conference on August 1st. Columnist Rhyd Wildermuth now has a Patreon support page.]

“I think I need to tell you something.”

I’m trying not to scowl at the man who’s interrupting me again. It’s a Lugnasadh, two years ago, a warm sun pouring through the willow branches onto my ruined circle.

I’m still grumpy with him. Today’s the first time I braved a public druid ritual to honor the wheel of the year, sitting in a park along Lake Washington in a small grove not far from the ruins of a highway on-ramp. I’m in an area not often frequented by most people except a certain sort of people, but I thought I was far enough away from their recreation to remain unbothered.

Image public domain

Image public domain

Besides I look dour, and I’m sitting with lit incense surrounded by feathers and stones, a grizzled man with a shaved head, doing bizarre druid-things in an obscure corner of a massive park. I figured no-one would approach me.

But this guy? He walked right through my circle, clutching a book, oblivious to everything except my sudden barking, “Hey!”

I’d yelled at him. I’m not really proud of that. He was elderly, perhaps in his early 60’s. And I rued my reaction even more when he returned.

In my defense, though, I was sitting not very far from a gay cruising area where men—often married and officially ‘straight’–would have quick, detached sex with strangers in bushes. I love the area itself—haunted, post-apocalyptic, a place where humanity’s failed attempts to conquer nature still linger in ruins.

I’d chosen the place because it was far enough away from ‘mundane’ folks that I’d be ignored, relying on its reputation as a sexual playground to drive middle-class white families away. But this meant I risked being interrupted by men suspecting I was on-display in their outdoor bazaar, and I’d occasionally notice some awkward man or other, still wearing his tie and wedding ring, tentatively approaching me before noting the lit candles and incense and steering back toward easier prey.

So when this man walked, utterly oblivious, through my circle? You can excuse my moment of rage. I figured he was trying to hit on me, ignoring all the signs I’d put out to ward them off.

I guess I should tell you something else, though. I’d just asked the gods for a guide for the mystery they were showing me. A dark bard in the underworld had shown me a vision of massive destruction, and I was a bit confused. What did any of that mean? I was a bit wrecked, really — I knew there was something I needed to understand, but I couldn’t, and I’m sitting at the gate of Lugnasadh begging for a guide and this f**ker just walks right through my circle.

Maybe you’re laughing. I am, now.

(CC BY-SA 3.0) Union Bay, by Joe Mabel

(CC BY-SA 3.0) Union Bay, by Joe Mabel

“I think I need to tell you something,” he said, returning to the edge of my re-cast circle after a few minutes of sitting by the water, reading. He was staring at me, or actually at the pile of crow feathers in front of me.”

I relaxed my scowl. “It’s okay, really,” I answered. My concentration was broken; this ritual wasn’t happening anyway. And then, not really knowing why, I invited him over to where I was sitting and handed him a crow feather.

I didn’t expect his awe when I did this. I felt I should give him something. He was eyeing them, and I had plenty. They fall from the sky, after all, but he then started tearing up.

“Feathers — she gives me feathers. I…”

I was getting confused, but fiercely intrigued.

When he’d gathered his thoughts, he continued. “I just need to tell someone this, and now because you gave me a feather I think I needed to tell you. My wife just told me she’s taking me back to an island where we first met 25 years ago. Can you believe it? I’ve been with her 25 years, and I didn’t know I could ever be in love like this.”

I wasn’t in love; I hadn’t been for awhile, actually, and was a bit bitter about this. Still, it was hard not to tremble in deep joy with him as he told me about her, staring at the feather in his hand.

And I don’t know why I tell him this, and I don’t know why he’s telling me any of this, but it’s all happening. And, anyway, I’d asked for a guide. “Leave that feather on the island,” I suggested.

He shook his head knowingly. “I will! Thank you. Thanks for hearing my story, and again, sorry I interrupted you.

“I’m not sure you did,” I said to myself, watching him walk away, dazed, happy.

What is Water?

I worship Brân, the Welsh Giant King, the Blessed Raven. With all the grand works both Odin and The Morrígan are up to, I sometimes like to remind people that there’s another Raven god, but he’s onto his own stuff, and it’s mostly all revolution anyway.

I met Brân on an island, and in some mountains, and one time just walking down the street. I had a vision of him standing thousands of feet above a valley wearing a rippling black cloak that later proved to be millions of ravens consuming his flesh. Then, a few months later, I saw that very valley in the same storm-lit skies from the side of a mountain in France with my physical eyes.

One time, I was with a dear friend exploring an island in the middle of the Willamette river. I remember thinking of Brân the entire time that we were there and laughing when our mutual companion, noting how much difficulty we were having fording the cold river back to the shore, said “you should lay down in the water and let her cross over you.”

Fording the Willamette (photo by Alley Valkyrie)

Fording the Willamette (Photo Cedit: Alley Valkyrie)

I could go on, filling pages and perhaps books with such meaningful occurrences, what Jung called ‘synchronicity.’ But more than likely, you get the point, because such things have probably happened for you, or maybe, reading this, are about to, because gods and meaning are both contagious (Sorry about that—I may have just given you a flu from the Otherworld.)

Importantly, though, these events which weave a tapestry of meaning for me run generally counter to the main thrust of meaning in Capitalist society.

In Capitalist society, Gods don’t exist; just like homeless people don’t really exist; just like stars are really just large balls of flaming gas. But to this I must answer, the stars are balls of flaming gas if animals are mere food and trees are mere fuel, humans mere workers and puddles mere bits of water.

That is, what something really is does not begin to describe what something means. Looking for the material being-ness of a thing, rather than its tapestry of meaning, is to destroy it. It is like disassembling a flower to know what a flower really-is, or like pulling out the veins, tendons, bones, and organs of your lover and arraying them before yourself on a table so you can learn why you love him.

That is, dissect a thing to know it and you’ve killed it, or at least made it no longer meaningful.

Take water. Water is made of the bonding of several atoms, atoms are tiny particles held together through poorly-understood adherence principles which can be split and reconfigured. That definitely doesn’t tell us what what water actually is, let alone what water means.

Water can be in several forms, gas, liquid, solid. It dissolves things, makes other things expand. It freezes at 0 degrees Celsius (which is a measurement of heat—which is agitated particles–calibrated to that transition point of liquid water into ice), and it boils at 100 degrees Celsius.

But what’s a glacier, then? What’s an ice-cube? What’s snow? And what’s a lake, and how is it different from a river, and different from rain, or from a tropical waterfall as against the cold torrent of a northern cascade? What’s a glass of water, or what’s a bath, or a shower, what’s the difference between steam rising from a tea-kettle or from a pot of soup or escaping from the pressure-release valve of a steam engine? What’s the mist that settles on your skin as your children play in sprinklers on a summer day, and what’s the mist that sprays your face on a cold day overlooking crashing waves? What’s the snow falling on your tongue as you laugh with a lover, what’s the snow falling on bleak streets as you wonder if you’re lover’s car is safe on the road?

The answer to “what is water?” cannot be answered without also answering “what does water mean?”

And what water means is rarely the same to each person. The same lake where two trembling lovers declare their love to each other can be the lake where a mother goes to mourn her drowned child. What does that lake mean, then? When we ask each other the meaning of that lake, how do we determine what it ‘really means’ past all the varied opinions and experiences and feelings of that lake?

We have two problems here. To know a thing enough to refer to it, we must have some idea of existence outside the realm of meaning, and some way to abstract (or extract) its ‘essence’ to speak about it. But by doing so, by speaking of a thing outside its meaning, we do great damage to it.

On the other hand, to know the full meaning of a thing would take more than an eternity.

Who am I, really? I’m a story, not just a human—I cannot be fully known by being dissected, and every attempt to do so results in some sort of brutality against my body or meaning. Any title, any name conjured to define (de-fine, to make finite, to give ends and boundaries to) me limits my existence, closes off my meaning. I am Rhyd; I’m a gay man; I’m 38; I’m a writer; I’m a poet. I’m an anarchist; I’m a lover; I’m a brother; I’m a social worker. I’m a bard and I’m a gods-worshipper. I would need an entire lifetime to define who I am with words, and this says nothing for all the meaning I have to others.

Llyn Dinas, Wales (photo by the author)

Llyn Dinas, Wales (photo by the author)

What’s Meaning Mean?

But what, then, is meaning? We create meaning. Meaning is a social-act, a kind of intercourse between us and the world, and us and each other.

Let’s look at Truth, briefly. What is the meaning of Truth? Truth is what something really-means or really-is, beyond all appearances or beyond all the socially-woven threads of meaning.

But what’s a tapestry, really, without all the threads which weave it? It’s no longer a tapestry.

What are you, really, when we get to your core existence? A dead and dis-membered pile of bloody muscle and gore.

If we try to get to the Truth of a thing by reducing it, we get inert material. But if we try to get to the full truth of the thing the other direction, we face an even more impossible task, because the Truth of who I am isn’t something I alone can determine. In fact, if I am the sole arbiter of the Truth of myself, that makes everything a lover has ever thought of me, or what an enemy has ever feared of me, an utter lie.

So, Truth and Meaning both exist on the same field and are mostly interchangeable, except that Truth has an opposite (falsehood), while Meaning has no opposite except its absence—Meaninglessness.

And if something is Meaningless, it means it’s something we reject, we throw out, or ignore. Meaningless people do not matter to us, meaningless events become excluded from our narratives, and the very feeling of meaninglessness is what we call despair.

What does Meaning mean? What’s the meaning of meaning?

These aren’t just the malicious mischievous questions of a mad bard, but the very crux of our problem. Meaning can’t be reduced, it only expands. Meaning has no cognate, and the only other word in the English language that comes close to functioning as its synonym is not Truth, but Love.

When I love someone, they have meaning for me. They are meaningful to me, I derive meaning from them, we mean something to each other. When I do not love someone, they hold no meaning for me; they are meaningless to me, or they mean no-thing to me.

When something means something else, or when someone means some thing, we are stating that there’s a correspondence between one thing and another thing. In translation, we might ask what amour or Liebe ‘means’ in English, which is to say ‘what word in my language corresponds to that word in yours?”

As I stated a little bit ago, “meaning” is a relational word, and there’s no co-incidence that something “meaningful” to us is often said to give us ‘reason to live.’

From the ancient philosophers, alchemists, astrologers, and magicians we have the search for the key to correspondence between one thing and another. From the modern science, we have the search for the reason for the relationship, the reckoning of something’s being and existence and its correspondence to natural laws.

That is, they both search for the same key—meaning. Not Truth as we think of it, but Meaning. What does it mean when an organism behaves in a certain way to certain stimulae, and why does it do that? What does it mean when planets conjunct or I cast a circle and something appears, and why does it do that?

Meaning is the very key we seek, the relationship between one thing and another, the foundational drive and ‘reasons’ things are what they are, and the very stuff which makes our lives livable—that is, full of meaning.

Meaning is what we actually mean when we speak of magic, and the very core of human existence. Trees don’t appear to seek meaning, nor do stars or crows. And while some animists might object to the inherent anthropocentricism of such a statement, I’ll say it anyway—humans are the only seekers of meaning we’ve yet encountered, and it’s perhaps the one identifiable social contract we have both with each other and the world.

We create meaning. That’s our magic, not just that of a poet or artist, but also that of a lover or a child or a friend, the sorcery both of warrior and bard, king and slave. We are meaning makers, and meaning is the thread which weaves us together.

The Jetztzeit

Walter Benjamin, a Marxist philosopher and theorist, suggested that before any revolution there’s a revolutionary-moment, a time-out-of-time—the Jetztzeit (now-time). Just before that moment, all the events which would lead people to desire a revolution had occurred and seemed to rush into a single moment. The time after the Jetztzeit is an entirely new thing, all the moments stretching out from that radical still-point. If you’ve seen Doctor Who, you might recognize this idea. In the series, there are certain immutable moments in time that cannot be changed by a time-traveler because all other moments spring from it.

Two cards from Tarot, The Fool and The World, explain this quite well. In many depictions, The Fool is about to step off into the great unknown with only what is carried in a small bag. And in many depictions, the World is a moment of completion, an eternal moment of unity, the culmination or ending of a cycle just before a new one begins. After the World? The Fool, and after the Fool?

The Magician.

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_01Benjamin’s idea was that there are certain moments in which everything can change, in which the course of history (that, of course, a narrative of meaning) can be altered, shattered, and a wholly new-thing can arise from the actions taken during that moment, the now time or Jetztzeit.

But how do you know you’re in the Jetztzeit, or the revolutionary moment? It takes a certain awareness within that moment to recognize the meaning contained within that moment, the ‘revolutionary potential.’ It’s the moment of the magician, the revolutionary, the poet, who acts not according to all the meaning that has existed before, but to create a new meaning in that now-time.

A man stumbles through an invisible ritual circle a moment after another man has asked for a guide. This is a Jetztzeit, a moment both meaningless yet pregnant with meaning, both the Fool and the World together. My first reaction was one of anger and frustration; I had not yet recognised the thread of meaning attached to his appearance and my request. The Jetztzeit almost disappeared, were it not for his return and my calming.

And in that moment when I recognize not what it means that the man had walked through but what it could mean, I performed a kind of magic, moving from The Fool to the Magician, finding a correspondence and a reckoning and a relationship between two otherwise disparate amounts.

And I use the word recognize here, not ‘understood.’ Because what was really The Truth of the man interrupting my ritual? There was no Truth, only potential meaning, and it was for he and I both to understand. I needed to recognize his meaning, not just what he might mean to me, just as he recognized my meaning, not just what I might mean to him. Meaning is never a solitary act.

But sometimes others try to create our meaning for us, and to take our meaning from us.

The Poet, the Priest, the Politician

On June 17, a man named Dylan Roof sat in a prayer service of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and as the people gathered, praying, he shot ten of them before escaping. Nine died.

Coming after so much recent, extreme violence against Black people in the United States, it was not hard to piece this meaningless event into the narrative of white-violence against the descendants of former slaves, particularly because the church he chose, and the victims whom he shot, were Black.

But we should remember this—the event is only itself, standing outside of meaning. It is a meaningless event until we thread meaning through it. That’s not to question that narrative at all—in fact, there’s an insidious war against Blackfolk in this country that has flared to new levels of horrific violence and daring.

I bring up the event as outside of meaning, however, because of one of the first narrations of the event to be broadcast by FOX news. In that segment, a conservative Black pastor is questioned regarding the event, and he states that, rather than being an attack against Blackfolk, the shooting was a clear attack on Christianity. From his viewpoint, the secular and anti-Christian sentiments in America have become so strong that people were shooting Christians in their own churches, and it was time for Christians to arm themselves to protect their religious beliefs against the infidels.

There’s a lot to be said about this interview, particularly regarding the source, as FOX news is hardly known for speaking on behalf of the oppressed, unless by ‘oppressed’ we mean white straight Christian males.

Return to the question of meaning and the Jetztzeit. There are certain events which stand outside the apparent ‘normal’ course of history, or rather outside our narratives of meaning. These events present threats to our way of understanding the world.

For a white, conservative pro-Capitalist Christian heterosexual male, whose comfort and power in society rests upon being told he is doing nothing wrong and the world is his (which is what we mostly mean by the word ‘privilege,’) a mass shooting of Blackfolk by a young white straight guy in a Christian church presents an almost violent threat to the meaning of his life and the society in which he lives.

To most of us, it’s unquestionable that this shooting was part of the long history of violence against Blacks in America, even before the murderer’s racist motives were revealed. But for the narrative of a ‘post-racial’ secular Capitalist American society, the massacre became a sort of tear in the tapestry-of-meaning that needed to be repaired—and quickly.

A much larger event from 14 years ago had a similar effect on the narratives of power. When two planes crashed into the financial center of New York City, it took days and weeks for that tear to be repaired.

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, did significant work tying together the psychological trauma that individuals and societies suffer and the political usefulness of those traumas. Natural disasters like the flooding of New Orleans or manufactured disasters such as the collapse of economies, such as what Greece is enduring now, are often sites of extreme political and economic violence, and seen by many of the powerful as a chance to re-assert a certain authority and political ideology upon people experiencing psychological, emotional, and physical ‘traumatic shock.’

What she’s referring to is similar to Waltar Benjamin’s Jetztzeit, as well. Disaster defies meaning, regardless of how many televangelists want to blame every hurricane and tornado on gay marriage. Breakdowns or gaps in the normal functioning of society create similar openings in our narratives of meaning.

In those moments, what I call ‘traumatic gaps,’ there is typically some struggle to attach meaning to an event, either to pull the thing back into the main narrative of the powerful (as in the case of 9/11, or the attempt to definite the Charleston shooting as an attack on Christianity), or by those who sense within gap the way out of one world into another.

Many Gods, No Masters

(Stealing our Meaning back)

What does it mean that gods are appearing to us? Really, what do they mean at all?

I’m afraid to say, and also delighted to say, it means nothing at all, or not yet.

Obviously (but I’ll re-iterate it anyway), I’m not saying gods don’t exist, otherwise attempting to rebuild the cult of Brân the Raven-King is a rather silly thing to do. Nor am I saying gods are meaningless. If anything, they are a fount of meaning itself, the patterns upon which we weave the rest of our threads of meaning.

Gods aren’t an ideology or a narrative. Rather, like us, they are meaning-makers. They create meaning with us, just as we create meaning with them.

But as you know, we’re not really supposed to believe that gods exist. Often, either we’re thought crazy, or assured that our experience of a goddess is actually part of some bigger Goddess, and this is a way others attempt to steal our ability to create meaning or claim the meaning of a thing.

But why try to claim the meaning of something? The answer is precisely also why I’m an Anarchist–authority and power.

We talk often of the Catholic Church and its destruction of ancient religions, but rarely do we look directly at the processes they used to do so. Beyond the sword of conquest, the pyres of the heretics, and the axes used to cut down sacred trees, there was a much more systematic theft of meaning enacted by Christians hoping to gain power over people–the Saints.

leon bonnat

The Martyrdom of Saint Denis, by Leon Bonnat

Take St. Denis, the patron saint of France.

“St. Denis” was beheaded along with two companions when he climbed a druid-hill to evangelize them. They sacrificed him, but when his head fell off, he caught it and walked with it in his hands down the hill 6 miles to a place where he finally dropped dead. From his neck sprung vines and wine, from his head sprung a fountain.

Denis (Dennis) is the Gaulish-Latinate derivative of Dionysos, and St. Denis’ martyred companion was Eleutherius. Diónysos Eleuthereús, you may know, is “Dionysos the Liberator.” And the place where he was martyred? It became named “Le mont des Martres” or Montmartre, the red-light district where sex and wine flow freely, popularized for Americans by the films Moulin Rouge and Amelie.

That’s right. The sex-and-wine district of Paris is an ancient Druid site.

It’s not hard to see why the Church might need to displace the worship of Dionysos (and the druids) in a city like Paris and claim him, embodied in a saint, as one of theirs. It helped secure their rule, especially since Dionysos The Liberator was worshiped by the underclasses and slaves.

Diónysos Eleuthereús “The Liberator” brings us back to Walter Benjamin’s Jetztzeit. An intervention or appearance of a god for us now is so unusual, so outside the apparent course of historical narrative, so ‘meaningless,’ that there is a rush in the moment of our experience of them to create meaning around it, to ‘close off’ the traumatic gap they break open, to slam shut that gate.

As with the Jetztzeit, the moment of a god is a potential moment of liberation, even revolution, a tear in the tapestry of power around us, and a traumatic gap that others will seek quickly to close. Like the shooting in Charleston on the one hand, or the many acts of rebellion against Capitalism by Blackfolk on the other, the narratives of the powerful always try to close their own meaning, their own sorcery, around the Other world that we glimpse in those moments.

The meaning of our gods is currently not allowed to disrupt the main narrative of our society. It’s possible one day it might, but we should also be wary of who shapes that meaning. There’s already a golden bull on Wall Street, a sea-goddess on a Starbucks logo, plastic replicas of shrines to ancient gods in Disneyland and Las Vegas, and mass-produced films shaping the imagery and narratives of gods like Thor and Loki.

Perhaps our gods are not yet quite a threat to the powerful, but what this really means is that we still do not claim our meaning as our own. As long as we’re happy to enjoy the safety and protection of systems-of-meaning which devalue forests and Black bodies, our gods will be our own personal secret story.

But if one day we seize the moment of the poet and the revolutionary, embrace the Jetztzeit of the gods, and seek to reclaim our own meaning, than we should certainly expect resistance.

*   *   *

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

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A Blessed Lughnasadh

Heather Greene —  July 31, 2015 — 2 Comments

This weekend, many modern Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, Lughnassa, and Harvest Home. Typically celebrated on August 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 Asatru 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]”

Tonight, Lammas Eve 2015, will bring the rare Blue Moon, or the second full moon in the month of July. According to sources, the last Blue Moon was in August 2012.

Here are a few quotes about the harvest celebration:

This is the traditional wheat harvest of England! Referenced several times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, its name comes from the word Hlaefmaest, which means literally the “loaf-feast” … Celebrating this holiday would traditionally involve wheat and the products of wheat: flour and bread! Baking and offering bread or cakes to your Gods, spirits, and community is a fantastic way to get in the spirit of the holiday. – Molly Khan, “Heathen Ways to Celebrate Fall”

Harvest festivals have a long history in a huge variety of cultures. Having enough food is a good thing to celebrate, and it’s downright fun. Having enough to get through the next season and be able to make both beer and bread is even better, and definitely deserves a party. But in this day and age few of us harvest any kind of food with our own hands, and although gardens are growing in popularity, only a tiny proportion of us harvest the kind of bounty that provides security through the cold months. I think one result is that we tend to focus on the mystical meanings of bread and life while ignoring the seemingly mundane but fundamentally necessary part of the harvest: work. – Literata, “Lunasa – Sacred Work”

Lughnasadh is the first of the three harvest festivals. It’s the grain harvest, which led to the name Lammas – “loaf mass.” But before we can bake the loaf, the grain must be cut down … We live only because we consume other life – everything we eat was alive only a short time before we eat it. This is what every animal on the Earth does.  Some eat plants, some eat other animals, some eat both. All of Nature is sacred. But sacred or not, life feeds on life. Sacrifice is necessary. No matter what we offer to the Gods, our ceremonial sacrifices stand as a reminder that real, tangible sacrifices are necessary. Something has to die so we can eat.  – John Beckett, “Lammas Night”

The exchange of energy is an underlying principle of magick; another is as above so below. We honor the invisible realm of the Gods and in the material realm we sacrifice something by giving to others or to the planet. Thus is the sacrifice of Lammas made. – Vivianne Crowley, “Lammas, Season of Sacrifice”

The ancient Irish Festival of the First Harvest [is] a remembrance of a time when people lived their lives in preparation for that first harvest. This holy day must seem like a relic, in a time when every crop is available, year round, in the local grocery, and the land has become this thing we live on but never speak to.

We need a better harvest. We need a generation of people who will listen to the voices in the earth. We need to discover our purpose in the land. I need to discover its purpose in me. – Shaun Paul, “First Harvest”

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

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Yes it is true. Instagram, the photo sharing social media site, has banned the searchable hashtag #goddess. As could have been predicted, there is now a growing, worldwide backlash against the move. The new rallying tag is #BringBacktheGoddess.

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In mid July, Instagram, a Facebook Inc. company, decided to ban the term #goddess to help curb policy violations. Although Instagram did not respond to The Wild Hunt, a spokesperson did tell ABC News:

In this case, #goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. We’ve taken similar action on dozens of hashtags because they were being used to share inappropriate content.

The spokesperson is referencing its recent ban on #curvy, #eggplant, #boobs, #scandalous and more. According to Instagram, these hashtags are disproportionately used to post pornography or photos that violate its nudity policy; a policy that in and of itself has elicited controversy.

The #curvy ban was the most recent and, after generating significant protests, the term was reinstated. In the meantime, hashtag activists took to their computers, switching to the term #curvee and posting body-positive images of themselves. The social media site was accused of censoring images of women’s bodies that did not fit an unrealistic media ideal. As with the explanation to the goddess ban, an Instragram spokesperson explained, “The tag was being used to share pornography, which is strictly forbidden on the site.”  #Curvy is now searchable again.

Instagram’s hashtag bans are nothing more than the site’s attempt to negotiate the fine line between freedom of expression and maintaining “common decency” within a public media forum. This dance is nothing new. Prior to 1930, the Film Industry was struggling with the exact same issue, with no industry standards in place. Facets of society were breathing down its neck for censorship of what was seen as sensationalism, gratuitous nudity and violence. Censorship arrived in the way of the Production Code and, then in 1968, gave way to the rating system, which we know today. TV, Magazines, Books and Video Games have also gone through a similar negotiation at one point or another. It is the difficult struggle to define the social standards of decency within a dynamic, diverse, and changing culture.

What is appropriate and when, within the public entertainment and media forum?

In the internet world, the problem becomes more complicated. There are nearly no limits or barriers to production of media, with millions of people online, from all around the world living within different cultural expectations and standards of social decency. At the same time, decisions and actions are instanteous, wide-sweeping and happening in real time.

Banning hashtags, like “goddess” or “curvy,” may help in one area, but only create instant collateral damage for others.

While there are those that do acknowledge that Instagram’s attempts are noble, there is still incongruity in its efforts. Linda Steiner, PhD, a University of Maryland, College Park media studies professor, told ThinkProgress, “I’m impressed with the attempts of Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter to try to come to grips with the problem rather than ignoring it altogether.” However, she goes on to say that the enforcement and methodologies used are inconsistent and problematic. Steiner said:

Instagram’s policy is not only weirdly enforced, I think they’re trying to have a simple policy that makes it easy for them …. Women are really bothered by the predatory invasion of their bodies … That includes posts of their body parts without their permission and the banning their own images because they don’t conform to an ideal physique.

As Steiner suggests, many of these bans, and related deleted photos, directly involve the display of female bodies and women’s sexuality. And, that has been the crux of the problem. While Instagram is trying to protect women and curb violations against women’s bodies, it is also censoring women and their positive expressions of female sexuality, spirituality, agency and body-positive imagery.

In a letter to Instagram published at Huffington Post, writer Christina Gutierrez writes, “I spend my life working with women who have experienced trauma and abuse of all kinds. I fuse modern therapy with ancient wisdom. This is how they heal. This is how we come to peace with the chaos of everyday life … The ancient wisdom texts that I work from are the stories of the GODDESS.”

Pagans and Heathens have joined the protests. Author and teacher Erick DuPree wrote:

This is not about Goddess, She doesn’t need a hashtag. This is about the sovereignty of women and their right to autonomy to hashtag something‪ #‎goddess‬ which for centuries has represented the divine feminine in many forms. That right to self expression and identity which might seem trivial has now been taken away. That is ‪#‎oppressive‬ and what it means to perpetuate‪ #‎rapeculture‬ ‪#‎patriarchy‬ and ‪#‎power‬. This isn’t about a ‪#‎hashtag‬ it’s about self determination and that is a sacred rite!

Priestess and teacher Crystal Starshine simply asked “why” and publicly shared a photo of herself and “other wild sisters at the Alternative Wombyn Retreats in Utah.”

crystal starshine

[Courtesy Crystal Starshine]

Some Pagans believe the ban is basic religious discrimination. In her Huffington Post article, Gutierrez asks, “How would the Christians and Catholics feel if their hashtag #GOD was taken away? Would the Instagram team even think to do that?” Others are pointing out that the Goddess plays a sacred role in many world religious traditions. The term is used throughout the world in many positive ways, beyond what is listed even here.

Since the ban was discovered, images of world Goddesses have been appearing all over social media in protest. And, with the new hashtag #bringbackthegoddess, women are posting images of themselves. Even on Instagram’s own site, the hashtag is being used in association with such images, as well as many others that depict female empowerment. It is now a rally cry.

#BringBacktheGoddess

Instagram’s spokeperson told The Daily Dot. “We’re also working on ways to better communicate our policies around hashtags.” The company suggested to ABC that it is always reevaluating banned hashtags. Just as it restored #curvy, it may restore #goddess. However, these decision on how to regulate decency within media, and ultimately how it is defined, are often left solely to a corporation, and are based on internal policies, the convictions of its owners, and ultimately, what it thinks will support and drive business.

[Posted on Instagram by Starsignstyle]

[Posted on Instagram with #bringbackthegoddess by Starsignstyle]

In recent months, it has been suggested that Instagram has, at times, shown a concern for the greater good. This summer, they banned #SandraBland for 24 hours and #CaitlynJenner during the Espy Awards. Instagram explained that it was receiving a disproportionate amount of hate posts using the tags during that period of time. Both tags were reinstated after the period was over. There is still debate on whether the bans themselves ultimately achieved any goal or had a positive affect.

What will happen to #goddess is still unknown at this point? However, the protests are on. Regardless of the outcome, the entire situation does bring to the forefront an important conversation about the depiction and presentation of the female body in public entertainment and media space. It presents the opportunity to question and discuss where these lines are drawn and why; what is acceptable and what is not. What photos are oppressive, which are a violations and which are a empowering celebrations.

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