Perspectives: Pagan Elders

Rynn Fox —  September 12, 2014 — 21 Comments

Perspectives is a monthly column dedicated toward presenting the wide variety of thought across the Pagan/Polytheist communities’ various Paganisms.

The Wild Hunt asked four members of the community their opinion on the subject of elders. These community members include Taylor Ellwood, managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press and author of Magical Experiments; Cara Freyaswoman, Freya priestess, co-founder of the Vanic Conspiracy and blogger; Glenwaerd, a Commissioned Army Officer, witch, current board member of The Gathering for Life on Earth and former member and leader of The Order of Scathach; and Shauna Aura Knight, author, teacher and activist.

Do you use the term ‘Pagan elder’? Why or why not? And if so, what’s your personal criteria for defining a Pagan elder? If not, what’s your alternative and why?

Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

“I have used the term Pagan elder before. I’ve used it because it is used by other people and is descriptive of certain people who might be considered “leaders” of the community. Though I also think the term is sometimes synonymous with “Big Name Pagans” as it seems that many of the Pagan elders are people who have published books or put together conventions. I’m not entirely convinced that this term should be connected to Big Name Pagans. For that I also don’t think the term should be applied to someone just because they have gray or white in their hair.

My personal criteria for defining a Pagan elder really comes down to service. How is this person serving their community? What activities is this person doing to actually help the community? How does this person balance their own self-interests with their desire to serve the community and what do they do to make sure they aren’t actually harming the community with their actions? I think of a Pagan elder as a leader, as someone who takes a service based approaches to leadership, recognizing that what they do is for the good the community as opposed to serving their own agenda.” — Taylor Ellwood, managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press and author at Magical Experiments

“Though I’m a Heathen polytheist, I still consider myself an integral part of the larger Pagan community. As such I have heard the term ‘Pagan elder’ used, and I myself have used it on occasion, often when interacting with people from other spiritual traditions. Personally, though, the term does not resonate with me nearly as much as the term ‘Pagan leader.’ What ‘Pagan elder’ conveys to me is that a person has been active in their specific tradition (or in a multiplicity of traditions) for a significant amount of time. Time spent, however, does not necessarily equate with level of service a person has given to their community/communities, nor does it equate to the leadership skill or teaching ability a person has to offer. I’d prefer the use of the term ‘Pagan leader.’ To me this term contains within it service, experience and a willingness and ability to lead, which the generic term ‘Pagan elder’ doesn’t encapsulate. I know that recently the term ‘Pagan leader’ has come under attack—and understandably so—as many high profile Pagans are often considered to be ‘Pagan leaders’ whether or not they have the skills, ethics and experience to go along with leadership. Though problematic, I still prefer this term over ‘Pagan elders.’ When I think of the Pagans/Heathens/Polytheists/Wiccans/spirit workers that I respect the most, not all of them are ‘elders’ and not all ‘Pagan elders’ have my respect.”— Cara Freyaswoman, Freya priestess, co-founder of the Vanic Conspiracy and blogger

Glenwaerd

Glenwaerd

“I define a Pagan elder as being a recognized and accomplished member of their Pagan community. They are a spiritually powerful person in their own right, for whom the connection with deity is strong and vivid and present. For me to personally accept someone as an Elder in something more than a passing sense, it’s a case of seeing is believing. So there needs to be clear homage paid to that Elder by the surrounding community or alternately, the elder themselves must be convincing in that first moment of contact, that moment of truth, that they are someone who has a store of wisdom or experience that I can respect. You might call it a spark that they are willing to share. In this sense, a Pagan elder can be a solitary mystic uncomfortable with the mantle of leadership as easily as they can be a populist leader of a larger group. The key aspect for me is that the elder’s actions must support the notion of who and what they are. Saying you are something is easy, but only through deeds and the recognition of them by others does one actually earn such the mantle of elder.

The word elder of course implies that one is of an advanced age, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that one must have white hair and be using a walker to be honored with the title of elder. That level of respect can also be given to a person who has accomplished much within a few decades, but who may not be the eldest within a particular community. Perhaps they are even middle aged. It’s about the experiences that they have had, the things they have learned along the path and how they pass them on to future generations, not their physical years.

Because the label of Pagan elder is most often bestowed upon respected members of the community rather than assumed, the most important aspect of their subsequent position within the community is that a Pagan elder acts with integrity and avoids becoming the center, intentionally or not, of a personality or hero cult. Not that elders are supposed to be make no errors at all, but they should be wise and experienced enough to have seen that particular trap before and be willing to take steps to avoid it.”Glenwaerd, a Commissioned Army Officer, witch, current board member of The Gathering for Life on Earth and former member and leader of The Order of Scathach

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

“Most of the time I hear the word “elder” referred to in Pagan communities, it’s someone rolling their eyes in reference to something horrible a Pagan leader has done (again.) Or it’s an egomaniacal Pagan leader trying to enforce their title. Thus, I typically don’t use the word because of its poor connotation. But here’s the thing. I really value the idea of Pagan elders—older, experienced community leaders who have the experience to guide younger group members and other leaders. I wouldn’t be leading and teaching without the benefit of the mentorship of wiser and more educated leaders who guided me.

My personal criteria for an elder starts with wisdom, experience and integrity. It’s about actually serving community. It’s not enough to be older. It’s not enough to lead a group for 30 years–some of the worst things I’ve ever heard about Pagan leaders and misconduct or abuse are from long time leaders. It’s not enough to have a high-ranking degree in a tradition or even a Master’s or Ph.D. Sometimes contrast is useful; an elder is not abusive, bigoted, or known throughout the community as a stubborn jerk. Pagan leaders and elders don’t need to be perfect, but they should set the bar to help the next generation.

Alsohere’s an anecdote. Once I was doing leadership mentoring and workshops for Pagans in Milwaukee. Some local folks had come to me with a problemsome of their long time local group leaders were really causing some problems. They told me about a leader with thirty-some years under his belt who would sometimes engage new local leaders in what was referred to as an “Eldering Ceremony.” Apparently when a local leader had been around for a bit and seemed to generally agree with this guy, he’d clap them on the shoulder and say, “It’s time for us to make you an elder.” There was a ritual for this (in his tradition, of course) wherein the new “elder” was asked to swear fealty and kiss his ring. No joke. Any local leader who did things in a way he didn’t like was ostracized as much as he and his group could manage. Nowthere’s tons of additional context in thisbut I think it goes to show how some of these things start to become a problem.”Shauna Aura Knight, author, teacher and activist

Do you use the term elder in your practice? How is it used?

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As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Economic analysis proves another theory of Delphi’s power:

The Oracle of Delphi was located between the powerful Greek city-states of Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and was extremely influential starting in the 8th century BCE. Once a month petitioners would gather at the site to ask the Oracle of Apollon, called the Pythia, questions about what they should do in any given situation. The answers were thought to come directly from Apollon to the Pythia but were often riddles that the petitioner must puzzle out for himself. The rich and powerful were no exception and they often gathered in advance and mingled and traded information.

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix,  440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix, 440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Prof. Colleen Haight, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, uses economic analysis as an analytic lens to help explain what she calls “seemingly irrational behavior such as relying upon the supernatural judgment of an oracle to make life-and-death decisions.”

The economic theory of how religion affects cultures have largely been split between monopolistic state religions and laissez faire religious competition. Religious monoplies mean that the secular ruler is also in control of the relious institutions. This allows them greater control over their population, but can breed distrust in the legiticmacy of both the religion and ruler. Laissez faire religious competition is a benefit to religious groups, which are often numerous in an area, but doesn’t grant any more power to secular rulers.

Prof. Haight posits a third theory that fits Delphi – the neutral nexus.

In this situation, secular leaders maintain control over their own cults within their own territory, but also rely upon an outside, third-party source of religious legitimation for their rule. This is the role that the Oracle of Delphi played. With several ancient Greek city-states essentially locked in a balance of power, the city of Delphi could assert its neutrality amidst the larger political players of the region (i.e, Sparta, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes). More importantly, the rulers of each of these city-states could use the Delphic Oracle as a source of information regarding future military campaigns or other major decisions.  It was in the interest of each of secular rulers both to provide the oracle with valid information and to rely upon its pronouncements as valid. In many ways, this helped to mitigate conflict between the different regional powers. It was only when one ruler (Philip II of Macedon) was able to consolidate territorial power over the bulk of ancient Greece that the Delphic Oracle lost its neutrality and, hence, its authoritative power.

You can listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Haight here.

Tomb of Alexander the Great’s mother found?

Greece is abuzz on the discovery of a tomb of a royal queen that dates back to the period immediately following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The tomb, located beneath the great mound at Amphipolis in Macedonia, is considered such a significant find it was unveiled in August, during a visit by Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Greek Reporter writer Andrew Chugg believe the tomb is that of Alexander’s mother, Olympias.

This tomb, if it is that of Olympias, would be of particular interest to those Pagans who worship Alexander as a deified Hero. In mythos, Olympias was impregnated by Zeus’ thunderbolt and Alexander was the result of that union. Olympias helped Alexander to become King after her husband, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated. Alexander went on to become on of the greatest military generals of all time, building one of the largest empires of the ancient world through conquest. It stretched from Greece, into Egypt, and into present-day Pakistan. When he died at age 30, his empire was divided up between his generals. After a brief revolt by his mother and his wife, Roxane, against the general who took control of Macedonia, both women were put to death along with Alexander’s son, Alexander IV.

The tomb is thought to be Olympias because of the size, the decorations that closely resemble the tombs of Alexander’s father and his son, the unusual presence of sphinxes, and its location.

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) - [Greek Reporter]

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) – [Greek Reporter]

On this evidence I consider Olympias to be the leading contender at the time of writing (6/9/2014) for the occupant of the magnificent tomb at Amphipolis currently being excavated with Roxane also a strong possibility. It should be recalled that the tomb mound has a diameter of 155m, larger even than the Great Tumulus at Aegae and posing the question of whom the Macedonians would conceivably have spent this much money and effort upon commemorating, Olympias is by far the most convincing answer at present. Although it is true that the ancient accounts say that she was unpopular at the time of her death, it is nevertheless clear that she was only really unpopular with Cassander’s faction, whereas Cassander himself was sufficiently worried about her popularity as to arrange her immediate death in order to prevent her addressing the Macedonian Assembly (Diodorus 19.51). Furthermore, her army under Aristonous stayed loyal to her cause long after she herself had surrendered. Ultimately, her cause was seen at the time as identical with the cause of Alexander himself, so it was in a sense Alexander whom they honoured by building his mother a spectacular tomb.

You can read more about the tomb here.

With Viking burials, a sword does not a man make:

A new study of Viking burial remains in England is challenging the previously widely held theory that Viking women stayed home. It’s also firming up a changing view of Vikings from violent thieves to marriage-minded colonists.

The Vikings invaded England in waves starting around 900 AD and founded a medieval kingdom called theDanelaw. Originally, archaeologists thought the Viking settlers consisted almost exclusively of men because of written Christian accounts and because most of the Vikings buried in England from that time were buried with swords and knives.

A new study of 14 Viking burials published in the Early Medieval Europe Journal by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia puts those assumptions in doubt.

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

McLeod reports that 6 of the 14 bodies are women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. This was determined by examining isotopes found in their bones and looking at the osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male.

For example, at one mass burial, three swords were found and yet all three bodies whose sex could be determined were female. This new study suggests that women made up roughly ½ to 1/3 of Viking settlers in England.

A nice look at the new evidence and what it means for the idea of Viking female warriors can be found in a comment on an article here.

Solomon’s mines worked by Magicians, not slaves:

In another theory that turns out to not be true, the Edomite’s who worked King Solomon’s copper mines in Timna were highly paid “quazi-magicians,” not slaves. Of course, they may not have been working for Solomon, either, but Egypt. Or themselves.

Archaeologists originally thought the workers were slaves because of the harsh desert conditions, how uncomfortable it would be to work the hot furnaces, and a massive stone wall that was thought to prevent escape. The Timna valley is located in present day Southern Israel.

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, say the workers were highly skilled, and highly pampered, artisans. They analyzed the remnants of food from 3,000 years ago, which were perfectly preserved by the arid conditions of the site. The workers who manned the highly sophisticated kilns were fed imported and expensive meats, fruits, and grains. The wall, once thought to keep slaves in, is now thought to be a protective barrier to keep workers safe. They also claim the advanced skills needed to work copper would place these artisans in a social class similar to that of “quasi-magicians” because the complex process, in which 30-40 different variables were managed by the smelter, would seem like magic to ordinary persons of that time. The mines themselves, however, may have used slaves or criminals for labor.

[Wikipedia Commons]

The Timna Valley mines are located in the southern edge of the Kingdom of Edom [Wikipedia Commons]

The kingdom of Edom was located in the Southern Levant south of Judea on the shores of the Dead Sea. Its people were Semetic and followed a Canaanite religion, although not much is known about their specific practices. Canaanite religions were typically polytheistic, with a strong focus on ancestral household deities. According to Jewish tradition, the Edomites were conquered by Israel in the late 11th century BCE, although archaeologists argue that the scale of 10th century BCE mining on Edom lands and signs of sporadic wars with neighbors over many centuries, are evidence of a strong and independent Edomite kingdom well into the 4th century BCE.

Stonehenge has a sibling (and then some):

Archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and other techniques, have found 50 massive stones buried just 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The sibling henge, along with 17 other Neolitihic and Bronze age religious monuments, were found during a four year investigation into Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. The finds indicate the monuments formed a processional walkway to the main sacred site and formed a cohesive religious complex.

xxx

[Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

The sibling henge, dubbed Superhenge, helped form a c-shaped enclosure and it faced the river Avon. Later it was fully enclosed to make a circle.

The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. As a religious complex, it would almost certainly have had a deeply spiritual and ritual connection with the river. But precisely why is a complete mystery, although it is possible that that particular stretch of water was regarded as a deity.

The sibling henge stones are roughly 10 ft long and 5 feet wide and are laying down horizontally, although they could have originally stood vertically in the ground. It’s estimated they were placed on site around 2500BC.

“This radically changes our view of Stonehenge,” said Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University. “In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”

You can see images and links to more information of the new discoveries at the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

A two-part special BBC Two documentary (Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath), being shown tonight and next Thursday, is set to reveal the details of many of the investigation’s new discoveries.

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

CPWR Logo.

CPWR Logo.

In a Tuesday news conference, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions announced the site for the long-awaited 2015 Parliament. The first U.S. Parliament in 22 years will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 15-19 2015. The announcement was delivered from the Salt Palace Convention Center where the event will take place.

Salt Lake City was chosen for a variety of reasons, one of which is its natural beauty. The organization’s press release describes the terrain as “stunning the eye and moving the heart of all to protect the only earth we have.”

The mountain town certainly provides a majestic backdrop to a world interfaith event. However natural beauty wasn’t the only reason for the selection. Board trustee Andras Corban-Arthen is the chair of the site-selection committee. He explains,

Our site-selection criteria had to be pretty flexible and, more than anything, pragmatic. Since we lost Brussels (our previously designated host city) as a result of the European economic downturn a couple of years ago, we’ve been searching for another city that would provide us with the opportunity to organize the next Parliament as quickly as possible  … while still enabling us to maintain the level of autonomy, as well as the quality of organization and programming … When Salt Lake City contacted us, we felt it was a good fit for us to meet a lot of our main objectives. While it’s very true that Utah is the Mormon stronghold, Salt Lake City itself has a much more diverse population.

That diversity includes interfaith groups as well as individual practitioners of a variety of minority religions. He adds, “Bringing the Parliament to Salt Lake City will encourage the further development of interreligious dialogue in the city. It should also provide a much more pluralistic outlook on important, controversial topics such as same-sex marriage and the ordination of women to the priesthood within a context that won’t be dominated by the dogma of any one religion.”

The Council has not yet decided on a main theme or focus for the 2015 Parliament. However, Corban-Arthen says, in general, the event will reflect contemporary concerns including “environmental destruction; poverty and economic disparity; violence; the erosion of human rights; racism; gender and sexual discrimination; the destruction of indigenous cultures.”

Tuesday’s announcement was made by a number of speakers, including Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid; Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson; Arun Ghandi, Parliament trustee and grandson of Ghandi; Andres Himes, Executive Director for the Charter for Compassion and Sande Hart, North American Chair for the United Religions Initiative. Present at the ceremony were two local Salt Lake Pagan religious leaders.

Corban-Arthen says, ” I would love to see a large pagan turnout in Salt Lake City. The Parliament has been very good to us: it was the first major interfaith organization to not only open its doors to us, but also to actually invite us to sit at the table.” He encourages Pagans and Heathens of any and all traditions to attend.

MotherTongque, EarthSpirit's Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

MotherTongque, EarthSpirit’s Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

CoG Interfaith Representative Aline “Macha NightMare” O’Brien is hoping to attend. After hearing the announcement she said, “Having been involved in the interfaith arena for some years, mostly locally and regionally, I’m thrilled that the Parliament will be convening on this continent…Until now, I’ve watch international interfaith mostly from afar, so I’m eager that there’s now a possibility for me to experience it up close and personal.”

Corban-Arthen encourages Pagans and Heathens to attend, not just those engaged in interfaith work, and he advises for all “to go with open hearts and minds, and to listen and to engage.” He says:

There’s an awful lot any of us can learn at a Parliament, not just about the teachings of other religions but, maybe more importantly, about living our spirituality and manifesting it in the world, about finding common ground, about confronting and transcending prejudices, theirs as well as ours. Many of us have found that the Parliament has been a life-changing experience; I certainly have.

Registration is now open and programming information will be available over the next year.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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  • The Toronto, Ontario Pagan community has been gripped with grief over the discovery of remains that may belong to a missing member of their community. Quote: “In an interview last week on CBC’s Metro Morning, Currie’s older sister, Jennifer, said she suspects her sister may be in a state of emotional distress. She also said her sisters suffers from paranoia. She is an avid cyclist and a member of Toronto’s Wiccan community.” A positive identification has yet to be made. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends, family, and community members of Kit Currie.
  • The Pantheon Foundation has undertaken the creation of a Pagan events calendar for the Bay Area of California (and beyond). Quote: “At the recent All Pagans Organizing meeting held August 16 in the East Bay (other locations coming soon!) the Pantheon Foundation volunteered to take on the responsibility for establishing and maintaining a calendar of events for Bay Area Pagans, and anyone else who wishes to have their Pagan (broadly construed) events listed. The primary maintainer of the Calendar is Molly Blue Dawn, who will be converting her regular event list email into this new tool and moderating the submissions so we are not flooded with spam.” You can find this new resource, here.
  • Covenant of the Unitarian Universalist Pagans have announced the launch of a revisioning process, which will include internal discussions, analysis, and public surveys. The organization says that its goal is to create a “mission and vision” for the next ten years. John Beckett is heading up the revisioning team and writes,”Our goal is to produce a mission and vision statement that will set the high-level direction for CUUPS and for building a shared sense of identity and purpose. We want to include all our stakeholders: CUUPS members, UU-friendly Pagans, and Pagan-friendly UUs – if you have an opinion on what CUUPS is and what it should be, we want to hear from you. The first public survey is online here.

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

[Correction: Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were not in attendance at the PWR ceremony on Tuesday. However, two local Pagans representatives were there among the other local religious leaders.]

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“It’s a damn fine time to be a Polytheist.”

That’s an unofficial tag line of polytheist.com, a web site launched on September 8, 2014 as “a safe online hub devoted exclusively to the topics, issues, discussions and news of the growing Polytheist movements.” With the official tag line of, “honoring many gods,” the site promises to give voice to the perspectives of a population that occasionally feels silenced by the wider Pagan community — or who bristle at the idea of being identified as Pagan at all. They most frequently are described as devotional or “hard” Polytheists, and are generally characterized as relating to their gods as external beings that were not created by human thought or deed.

Polytheist.com banner

Polytheist.com banner

The idea for creating a site dedicated to the Polytheist movement was the brainchild of Anomalous Thracian or, as he explained, “My gods made me do it.” Thracian’s vision was a site that not only provided a platform for those among his co-religionists who felt they weren’t being heard within broader Pagan sites, but also a place where lesser-known writers could share and discuss their experiences. “There are non-professional voices, but it will be a professional, quality product,” he said. “Someone taking a college course should be able to learn from our articles, even if they can’t cite them.”

The site launched with contributions from ten different columnists. In a press release, Thracian promises:

Over two-dozen talented writers, voices and visionaries from around the world, representing a diverse expression of religious traditions, lineages and communities brought together in solidarity around one basic, foundational principle: honoring many gods. In providing dedicated space for these important conversations, and fostering responsible dialogue and practice, the site brings together a group of priests, shamans, spirit-workers, theologians, philosophers, educators and prayerful dedicants from a varied set of backgrounds and walks-of-life, to share in this essential community undertaking.

The term “columnist” is not accidental. “This is not a blog site,” Thracian said. “It’s professional columns, and it’s content-driven, not personality-driven.” That’s why he’s opting not to contribute to the site himself, preferring to keep himself in the background as a means to ensure that a plurality of voices are what’s heard. “It’s not my vision which is reflected,” he said.”It’s vision reflected.”

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

Another way that the site avoids being a cult of personality is through its funding. “It’s entirely out of pocket, and I don’t have any pockets,” Thracian said. He quietly sought donations from a number of individuals to pay for everything from the domain name itself, which was bought at auction, to the server space that houses the WordPress multisite installation and powers the whole operation. “I didn’t want anyone to have such a stake in it that there was a sole controller,” he explained.

Polytheists are only just developing a group identity, and that has been in no small part due to feelings that their experiences are not being heard and sometimes not welcome in the broader Pagan community. Some Polytheists refuse the “Pagan” label entirely, seeing it as describing a religious approach which they scarcely recognize. While others, Thracian said, have felt torn between their Pagan community and their Polytheistic devotions.

One of the more visible attempts for this group to become a more cohesive community was this summer’s Polytheist Leadership Conference held in the Hudson Valley of New York State. Like the conference, polytheist.com is another step within that same process.

Nevertheless, Thracian was clear that the site does not represent “a war on Paganism.” Instead, it is intended to be a place where those who perform devotions to external gods can write and learn about those experiences. “If a Jungian comes here and says we’re doing it wrong, we can tell them that this isn’t the place for that,” he explained.

Unlike many who call themselves both Pagan and Polytheist, Anomalous Thracian wasn’t a Pagan first. “My Pagan identity is only about six months old,” he said, but he’s been a Polytheist for years. He credits Sam Webster with shifting his thinking to something he refers to as, “and, not or.” When compared to the dominant monotheistic religions, he sees more commonalities between Polytheists and Pagans than differences. “The line between them can be a lot blurrier” in some traditions than others, he pointed out.

Pagan Leadership ConferenceThe site’s launch date was originally set for September 2, not September 8. While there were some technical glitches, the reason for the delay was to avoid distracting from recent online controversies. Although drama is a notable characteristic of online communities, Thracian doesn’t expect that tendency to short-circuit polytheist.comInstead, he’s focusing on the fact that the internet has made it possible for Polytheists and Pagans alike to connect in ways that was not imaginable a generation ago, and to build upon that momentum. 

His sense of hope was echoed by Sannion, who remarked that the site may actually defuse such tensions:

“One of the reasons I think there has been so much flamewarring over the last couple years is because it’s an opportunity for us to come together across communal lines and talk about issues that impact all of us. Well, what if we did that without controversy fueling everything? Now with this new communal hub we have an opportunity to find out.”

The first set of columnists include writers who are decidedly laity and, even one, who is presently incarcerated in the penal system. The stable of writers come from at least four different countries and follow several different traditions, including Kemetic, Hellenic, and the Otherfaith, a Polytheist religion which has only recently emerged. There are plans to continue to build the diversity of the site. “I’d love to get someone from a middle-American Heathen group,” Thracian said with hope evident in his voice.

Just as polytheist.com is not intended for baiting members of the Pagan communities, it’s also not about converting readers to any particular Polytheistic path. Instead, it’s a safe space for dialog among those who honor many gods.

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Today has been declared World Goddess Day. As described by the organizers, it is a day for all Goddess-worshiping people worldwide to come together and openly celebrate or pay tribute to the Goddess in all her forms. The website says, “The purpose of the Project is [to] grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity.”

world goddess day logo

The World Goddess Day project was founded by Brazilian author Claudiney Prieto, who has written a number of popular books on Wicca and Witchcraft. Prieto is a priest of the Dianic Nemorensis tradition in Brazil and was recently acknowledged by Z. Budapest for his spiritual work within that tradition. As he writes on the project’s website:

Nowdays, in a staggered society impaired by centuries of patriarchy, heteronormativity and sexism, the Goddess is considered by many people the only way to reunite ourselves with the true Self, with our most inner Self. She is the only way to get rid of so many years of oppression that only brought differences, prejudices and wars So a World Goddess Day has never been such necessary as now!

The World Goddess Day project organizers chose September because it is the ninth month of the year. As Prieto explains, “The number nine is one of the most sacred to the Goddess.” In the future, World Goddess Day will always be celebrated on the first Sunday of the month. This year, the date is Sept. 7.

Through their Facebook page and website, organizers put out a call to people around the world to organize and come together on this day or for individuals to find private ways to honor the Divine Feminine. Currently, the project website lists 30 different registered World Goddess Day events happening around the world.

While most of these registered events are in Prieto’s home country of Brazil including his own event in Sao Paulo, enthusiasm did spread across borders. Wiccan Priestess Lady Majo is hosting a celebration in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Z.Budapest is sponsoring a Goddess Festival in California. There are three registered events taking place in Spain; three in the U.K.; three in the United States and one in Western Canada.

programaspIn addition, there are a number of unregistered events including one in Miami, one in Illinois, and one in Spitchwick Common in Dartmoor, England. The Reformed Druids of Gaia are gathering for a picnic in Singleton Park, in Swansea, Wales. In Toronto, Canada, people will be gathering at High Park for a “happy celebration” coordinated by Wiccan practitioner Cattarina Guanais.

The Triangle Area Pagan Alliance (TAPA), based in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the registered hosts of a World Goddess Day event in the United States. The local organization is sponsoring a public ritual in Thaumatury 777, a magic supply shop.  TAPA member Rev. Amanda Morris, a neo-Wiccan and Gnostic Witch, says:

When I found out that Claudiney Prieto was organizing an international event in honor of the Goddess, I was excited and brought the idea to my group, the Triangle Area Pagan Alliance.  We all shared personal stories of the power of the Goddess (in Her many names and faces!) in our lives, and we knew that honoring the Divine Feminine was important to us.  We really hope that others in our community would agree and join us for an open and public ritual … I’m thrilled and excited to be joining individuals and groups from literally around the world as we support World Goddess Day, and I hope we honor Her with our collective love and magick!

On the other side of the state in Hamlet, North Carolina, Deb Holmes-Roberts, a High Priestess of Hermetic Magic and a Reiki Master, is organizing a day long event that includes workshops, drumming and meditation. She says:

There are many reasons to celebrate this “World Goddess Day” but the most important to me is to be able to share the information with my daughters and other young women to embrace their femininity and flourish in the strength of it and all that it is.

From the Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor Event

From the Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor Event

To the south in Miami, Florida, Kimberly Moore, founder and Priestess of MotherHouse of the Goddess Temple, says that she is “hosting a Full Moon Goddess Feast Sunday and loving the synchronicity with World Goddess Day.” Moore has been actively working to encourage Goddess-based spirituality for years. Among her work, she helped to establish a Miami-based Dianic Women’s Temple and the Full Moon’s Women’s Circle. She says:

I am absolutely delighted to see an organized effort in establishing a World Goddess Day. Bringing the Divine Feminine in all forms to the forefront of alternative spirituality and traditional religions is absolutely vital for bringing balance to the planet and humanity. Bravo to Claudiney Prieto for lighting the torch! 

In West Yorkshire England, a group of Pagans will be celebrating in a different way. Attendees plan to meet at the Leeds City Museum in Millennium Square to view two stones that were dedicated to Brigantia, their local Goddess. Once there, organizer Gary Smith will read poetry inspired by the Divine Feminine. Smith says:

I’ve organised a small gathering of people from our Pagan Meet-up group to honour our local goddess Brigantia, as I recently came to the Goddess through my research of 30 years looking into the meaning of the Cretan Spiral Labyrinth. The Goddess is needed now to address the balance, and heal the world.

In Cornwall, the Priestesses of Kernow are hosting a celebration at Pengersick Castle, Praa Sands. Priestess Sue Edwards, founder of the Cornwall School of Mysteries, says:

The Goddess is associated with many things including earth, motherhood, fertility, love and vegetation, but also war, death, destruction as well as healing, compassion and life. As a Priestess of Kernow who follows the Goddess traditions, I feel it’s important to have one day granted to the Goddess in which we can remember her in all her forms. Women especially are looking for something which celebrates the feminine within and are turning to the way of the Goddess. She is re-entering into our modern life bringing back her vitality, power, wisdom and healing, through Pagan traditionsit is important to support the Project World Goddess day and to bring the divine feminine back into our lives , to adapt her stories for modern day and to bring balance back to our world.

In announcement after announcement, organizers are calling out to their communities to join them in dance, song, meditation, and ritual celebration of the Divine Feminine in whatever form or forms that she takes within one’s own religious tradition. On the event page for the Illinois event, organizer Ze Marie says, “The energy of this event is growing!!! Spread the word, it is going to be awesome! Everyone is welcome!!! It is time for the Goddess to be heard!!!”

While the day was launched by Prieto, a priest of the Dianic Nemorensis tradition, it was not imagined as a tradition-based or exclusive idea. Nor has its spirit be restrained in anyway.

Yemaya Temple in Cuba [Photo Credit: DominiqueMichel, WikiCommons CC lic]

Yemaya Temple in Cuba [Photo Credit: DominiqueMichel, WikiCommons CC lic]

Interestingly, however, this very first incarnation of World Goddess Day also happens to coincide with a very specific Goddess’ day. Today is Yemaya’s Feast day, a celebration with its own sacred traditions within the Lucumi (Santeria) religion. While World Goddess Day won’t always fall on Sept 7, this will happen again in the future. If the project continues to gain momentum, will the new universal honoring of the Divine Feminine detract or enhance this much older Lucumi tradition? Lilith Dorsey, a Voodoo Priestess, author and filmmaker, says:

The slippery issue here when we begin to discuss Sunday Sept. 7,2014 as World Goddess Day is that not all mother goddesses are the same. The same way not all mothers are the same. In La Regla Lucumi, also known as Santeria, Sept. 7 is the traditional feast day for Yemaya. People have already made the connection online, and since I am also a practitioner of Santeria as well, I would just like to caution that while anyone is welcome to leave an offering of pears or watermelon for Yemaya, the uninitiated must not make petitions or demands from this Orisha. The Santeria religion is a complex system that takes decades if not a lifetime of training to begin to understand.

As Dorsey suggests, not all Goddess’ are the same and their worship manifests in many ways that are often very specific to a tradition, culture and religious practice. As long as the details of the World Goddess Day celebration and its over-arching message remain respectfully fluid and open, the new day can co-exist with the Lucumi holiday. Dorsey adds, “The celebration of the Goddess is important each and every day, not only because it helps us better understand our collective cultural yesterdays and tomorrows, but also ourselves. I firmly believe this both as a Voodoo priestess and an anthropologist…. I hope everyone continues to respectfully salute the Goddess this Sunday, and every day.”

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Alchemical Capitalism

Rhyd Wildermuth —  September 6, 2014 — 116 Comments

There is a dark magic within Capitalism, rarely spoken of and often missed, by both Pagans and materialists alike. This is not mere fairy tale nor conspiracy, and I suspect we miss it because we’ve set up boundaries between the spiritual and the physical; between the observations of theorists and the wisdom of occultists. And I do not mean the pablum published as “wealth magic,” which is too often re-marketed prosperity magic.

Usury and Wyrd

493px-Die_Nornen_Urd,_Werdanda,_Skuld,_unter_der_Welteiche_Yggdrasil_by_Ludwig_Burger

“Die Nornen Urd, Werdanda, Skuld, unter der Welteiche Yggdrasil” by Ludwig Burger [Public Domain]

Most know the history of banking in Europe to some degree, that the Catholic Church forbade the taking of interest between Christians. However prohibitions against taking interest started earlier with the Greeks–both Plato and Aristotle were opposed to it, and it was likewise forbidden in the Torah. All three of the monotheisms have, at some point or another, forbidden charging interest on loans.

Several reasons existed for this prohibition. But one of the most intriguing for a Pagan who is familiar with magical theory is that of the Catholic Church because it mimicked an aspect of God. The God of the Christians was said to have created everything out of nothing (ex nihilo), rather than reformulating creation from stuff which already existed. That is, he was the founding principle of creation, existent before all things were created and therefore the creator of everything which exists.

The Council of Nicaea banned usury among clergy, and it did not take long for this to extend to all Christians. Those who lent money at interest were forbidden the sacraments (transubstantiated bread and wine, likewise, a power only belonging to God through his priests.)

Money was still lent at interest, mostly by the Jews. Several historians have convincingly shown that Jews did not become money-lenders out of pleasure or greed, but because it was one of the few roles allowed to them within Catholic kingdoms.(Jews in the Caliphates and other Muslim states had more economic freedom and thus didn’t follow the same paths as European Jewish communities). That is, it was all that was left them, a dark role too horrible to make one a good Christian.

Interest on debt does not just create an excess for the lender, it invokes a shadow upon the borrower, a vampiric drain upon her or his life. The lender now has power over the person, who must come up with more than what they had. Neither in alchemical theory nor in physics is such a thing actually possible: nothing is created from nothing, only transmuted from one thing or form into another.

This shadow, this debt, should be familiar to Heathens particularly. It is a manipulation of the borrower’s Wyrd, the shadow of Skuld. Fate is respun; the future diminished. But it is the same bargain of Faust, borrowing against a future that now cannot manifest, offering soul to the darkness in return for a little more life.

The borrower knows she will never have enough. After juggled debt and more borrowing, the time is due; the rent unpaid; the car repossessed.To survive debt, she must take from others, profit from others needs. Usury is a rip in the social fabric, breeding the darkness of desperation, a spiral of displaced misfortune.

Enchantment and Money

Magicians, witches, priests and alchemists imbue physical items with esoteric qualities. Candles, stones, wands, potions—we combine some degree of material (wax, stones, herbs) and measurable aspects (candles burn, potions contain herbal or other tinctures) with the immaterial (protection, healing, curses.)

But where does the magic in a talisman reside? For some, and for some things, perhaps the etheric quality is only in the mind, a soul-resonance between the enchanted item and the enchanter. For others, and for other things, the magic is within the item itself, overlaid, woven, sealed within stone, wax, or wood. Some dare only suspect intent and the symbolic, others think only of the external. Most, I suspect, think on both.

I craft a magic candle to warm the hearth. Wax, awakened Damiana and Vetiver. Blessing of Brighid, light of moon, focus of will. I imbue and invest, coax and request, and then gift it to the hands of another. The candle is enchanted. It is a pillar of forged wax and herbs and also something else. Magic inhabits the physical, woven from meaning.

The candle is a symbol of a warmed hearth, but is nothing until it is burned. The candle is also a physical thing imbued with meaning. Either way, and both ways, it burns the same, to the same effect. The enchantment may derive from the alignment of ambient celestial or earthly energies, sometimes from spiritual co-habitation or blessings, and sometimes from mere intent of the enchanter.

But in all cases, one might say that the enchanter is imbuing the item with some added or distilled quality. We can state that the item itself, at least on some level of understanding, has become something else, or is “also” something else. That is, the candle is not “just” a candle, but is an “enchanted” candle. It functions no longer just as a candle, but as a candle with added meaning. Or, to borrow from the Marxists, there is some added quality or value in the candle.

This foray into magical theory is necessary to understand something so profound and also yet apparently invisible about the most everyday sort of magic in which we engage; indeed, perhaps, the only magic most people ever encounter: money.

Money is a kind of magic. Faces printed on round pieces of metal and thick fabric paper are mere material. The metal composing them is hardly rare, the paper not particularly beautiful. But it’s enchanted, and it operates both on the symbolic and the physical. In both ways, it is said to have value. We can call a hundred-dollar bill mere paper, but we certainly still don’t throw it away. It is imbued with meaning and value, and not just to ourselves, but to others as well. That is, its value is not just in our head, it’s in all of our heads.

To some degree, this aspect of money mirrors what the Naturalists and Archetypalists believe. Magic is an aspect of psychological, unconscious processes. Money is imbued with value and apparent spirit but is mere matter overlayed with meaning.

We should remember, though, what money can do physically. It is no mere thought-form. I hand you five dollars; you give me something, an expensive coffee perhaps or two city-bus tickets. The money compels the actions—without it, you will not give me a coffee, unless you like me.

Commodity Fetishism and Symbolic Enchantment

Karl Marx described the process by which we imbue meaning into money as “commodity fetishism.” Noting the similarities between how Capitalists in Europe appeared to do the same thing with money as non-Capitalist peoples did with religious items, Marx suspected that we treat physical objects as more-than-physical, endowed with qualities, meaning, and “value” that are not intrinsic to the item itself.

I shall restate this. We treat money as if it were enchanted. Like Animists recognizing the spirit-in-nature, money functions for us on an unseen realm, embodied with a quality invisible but nonetheless quite powerful.

We sense this invisible quality, this enchanted value, both in its potential and its resolution. To accumulate a lot of money is to accumulate a corresponding amount of “wealth.” I am quite wealthy if I have a million dollars, though I cannot eat them and be nourished. Still, within that one million is the promise of more than I’d dare eat.

Money is a matter of faith. I believe that others will want my money, I trust that my money will compel them to give me what I want. Above us all are the governments who print the money, sustaining this faith, though they do not “create” it, nor enchant it. We enchant it. We collect and imbue the paper upon which money is printed with “value,” as also abstract ciphers which represent amounts of that money deposited in banks.

That value is not only intrinsic. We imbue the paper with meaning and value, and as long as we use it and respond to it, the enchantment holds. But it isn’t just our enchantment. We cannot imbue it with more value than the paper allows, and that value diminishes always, manipulated by the priesthoods of finance. Each year, the enchantment fades a bit, and we must have more. What sufficed before is now no longer enough. Each year we toil harder as its magic slips through our hands.

The Alchemy of Labor

Alchemist-small

“The Alchemist” by Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder [Public Domain]

Wheat is a sort of grass. It grows tall stalks with coarse and difficult-to-digest seedheads which are quite uncomfortable to eat raw. Unworked, without human intervention, wheat is just wheat and quite useless to us.

But separated from the rest of the plant and then ground, it becomes something. Flour, combined with water, salt, and yeast makes bread, something which is both edible and often times delicious. Each time the wheat is changed, transformed and combined, it becomes something else, something with more value. And it is by our hands that this happens, the alchemy of work.

A bag of flour requires work to be eaten, but a loaf of bread requires less work. That is, wheat flour contains less labor than a loaf of bread. Moreover, a sandwich made with bread and other things contains even more work and is thus “worth” more (that is, it costs more) than its component parts.

Why? Because a human worked it on your behalf.

Each time a human works an item, they imbue the item with their labor; they’ve transmuted the item, or enchanted it. It still bears the original ingredients (just as a potion contains all the original herbs and extracts), but it is no longer just those things. It is something altogether different, and rarely can be returned to its original state. Some items are more enchanted than others. Artisan bread contains more human labor than factory-produced white bread.

Human labor is an alchemical transformation of something into another thing. It imbues each transformation with its own qualities. Unlike money, the enchantment is intrinsic to the item itself, not merely on the symbolic realm. Wheat is barely edible off the stalk; it must be imbued with human labor to function as food.

The Enchainment of Work

Capitalism is this: a person with money compels others to transmute things on his behalf, always (if he is a good Capitalist) for less than the transmutation cost the worker. That is, the goal of a Capitalist is to accumulate as much money as possible through the use of other people’s labor, selling their magic for more than he pays them.

A Capitalist starts with money, builds a factory, a shop, or a restaurant, and employs people to work raw materials into more complicated things. We always get less than what others are willing to pay for the product of our work. We enchant things for him by changing one thing into another. We give not just our physical labor, but our very creative force to him (at a computer, at a cash register, in a kitchen, or on a factory floor), while he does not need to expend his own. He harnesses our will and intention and innate, human magic. And, we always get less in return, while he gets more from this magical system into which he never contributes.

Why do we settle for this?

We are always in debt. The shadow of usury plagues us. We have no land, no wealth. We sustain the enchantment of money, but it is not we who control the enchantment. Without us the Capitalist can only transmute as much as any other person. He needs us so that he can have more to avoid the shadow.

He and the usurer are in agreement. Together they hoard and own all the land, all the factories and shops, the restaurants and work-sites, and all the enchantment of our work.

He accumulates potential in the form of money with which he purchases the results of human labor. We are always in debt, always with less than we started, with less potential each day as we grow older, more tired, less attractive, and frail. What we can purchase in return for all our lifeblood will never equal how much of it we spilled out upon the altars of Work, frightened servants of dark would-be gods who cannot, nor would not, restore to us our shortening days.

 

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The Candle

Eric O. Scott —  September 5, 2014 — 27 Comments
Tjörnin at midnight. Photo by the author.

Tjörnin at midnight.
Photo by the author.

Part three of my columns on Iceland. Previously: Oxararfoss and Njord.

This candle has traveled further in its short life than I traveled in the first twenty-two years of mine. I bought it at my favorite metaphysical shoppe back home.1 It came with me from Missouri to Minneapolis, and from there, to Reykjavík, where it sat on the hard plastic desk bolted to the wall of my dorm room for the first week of my stay. Now we are sitting at a picnic table hidden in a copse of trees next to Tjörnin, a lake in downtown Reykjavík, my candle and I. I am looking at it in the half-light, running my fingers along its surface. It is ten inches tall, with a white wick. Anywhere else in the world, I would describe it as midnight blue, but “midnight” is such a variable color in Iceland.

This boot knife came from a dealer’s booth at the Heartland Pagan Festival near Kansas City, long enough ago that I do not remember the exact year it came into my life. Its handle and sheath might have been gold, once, but that color has faded, in parts to silver and in parts to rust. Its blade has never been sharp. The unsheathed knife now rests in my right hand; I press its dull blade into the blue wax of the candle, cutting deep, straight lines into its surface.

This cup came from a ceramics department sale held in 2006 at the university I attended then. Its bare clay is the color of wet sand, the glaze closer to brick. There is a runic message drawn around the stem of the cup in blue acrylic paint: ODRAIZ. I found the formula in an Edred Thorsson book years ago and copied it without bothering to take notes; I have no idea what it is actually supposed to mean. The cup sits before me on the picnic table, full of a pilsner named for Egill Skallagrimsson, the priciest beverage sold at the 1011 convenience store near the dormitory. I believe the sculptor intended for it to be used as a flower vase.

This hammer came from a hardware store in south St. Louis; it has no further story, and is clearly the least sentimental of the tools arrayed in front of me.

It is the middle of the shortest night of the year, and I am sitting in a public park with a lit candle, a dull knife, a cup, and a sledgehammer. Clearly, the time is right for magick2.

MIDSUMMER, I carve into the wax. If I were more clever, I would have thought to look up phrases in Icelandic for this purpose before I left for Tjörnin, but it was too late for that now. I had to settle for English words, in letters that predated either of the languages that currently make up my world, the language of my birth (the language of power, comfort, ignorance, colonialism) and the language of this land (the language of frustration, error, isolation, faith.) ICELAND, MIDSUMMER 2014 I carve, along with three other words, and I set the candle to burning, to release my spell into the night.

I lean back on my elbows and watch people – mostly young, mostly drunk – pass by on the sidewalk that rings the lake. If any of them noticed me, the large, bearded man in a cloak burning candles at midnight, none of them said anything. I feel invisible and safe in that invisibility. I go back to my ritual – eating bread I had consecrated earlier, along with another draught of Egil’s Gull – and see someone approaching, walking down the path into the woods. It is an old woman with white hair and a lavender tracksuit.

(Even as I write this memory, I remember it in darkness: a deeper night, denser trees, and no light except for my little candle. I remember the woman entering into the light cast by my candle. But that is absurd; the lack of true darkness was my impetus for doing my Midsummer ritual at midnight in the first place.)

The woman comes over to my table and says goða kvöldið, good evening. I respond: Gott kvöld. She sits down at the picnic table, not seeming to notice all of the ritual paraphernalia that I had laid out in front of me, except for the candle, which she warns me I need to be careful about. She had been afraid that I was vandalizing the picnic table; I am not sure where I could have done so, since carvings and words written in thick black Sharpie already covered the entire surface of the table.

We talk for an hour or more, about language (the declension of Icelandic numbers), travel (the years she spent abroad in France and the other Nordic countries), and tourists (they had completely ruined Gullfoss, she claimed.) After we had been talking for a while, she eyed the table, taking in the knife and the hammer and the cup. “Are you practicing Ásatrú?” she asks. I nod and explain that I had come here in part because of Ásatrú. “I think that it is very beautiful,” she says. English words came slowly to her; she had to consider every sentence before she spoke.3 But when she got the words put together, they came out in a pleasant, musical rhythm. “They have such respect for nature. It is very beautiful.”

We do not go to parks in the middle of the night where I come from; the only people to find there are drug users and drug pushers, and I would have been taking my life in my hands to do this. (Or so I had been told all my life, anyway – whether experience would bear that out is another question.) Here, old women in tracksuits were perfectly happy to go jogging at one AM and stop for long talks with cloaked Americans when the opportunity presented itself. While I had several moments where I encountered the sublime in Iceland, this might have been the most genuinely otherworldly point of my visit.

The old woman leaves eventually, with no more explanation than she gave when she sat down, and I am still bemused by the encounter. I begin the process of closing up my ritual. It is, by now, three AM; I had, at one point, considered going to a nightclub after the ritual with some of my twenty-year-old classmates, but the bars had long since closed by now. I gather up my tools and stuff them into my pack, ready to go home.

The candle is the last to go. I run my thumb across the grooves of the three words I had carved earlier in the night. I will return.

 

Notes:

1. Pathways New Age Books and Music, in lovely South County, St. Louis. Tell ‘em they owe me twenty bucks.
2. Yes, I use a k. Spell it however you want.
3. Though of course, her English was better than my Icelandic. In English, we had a long and engaging conversation about life, language, and religion; in Icelandic, I might have managed to ask her for directions to the post office.

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The Heathen band Norsewind was removed from the Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day (PPPD) schedule after being labeled a White Nationalist [Supremacist] band. In August, Antifa Philadelphia, a “collective of militant anti-fascists committed to opposing the rise of the far-right,” contacted the organizers of PPPD. They claimed that Norsewind, a band scheduled to play at the Aug. 30 event, had “strong ties to the Keystone State Skinheads” and labeled them a White Nationalist band. PPPD promptly dropped the band from its event and issued a statement saying that the organizers find “hate and intolerance in any form abhorrent.”

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [photo credit Norsewind facebook page]

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [Courtesy of Norsewind Facebook page]

The Claims
Antifa posted the information that it sent to PPPD on Tumblr. It is titled Norsewind and their ties to Neo-Nazi hate groups. Antifa lists known White Supremacists that are Facebook friends of the band members. It also documents that the band had played for the White Supremacist group Keystone United at a private event on at least two separate occasions. Keystone United describes itself as having the goal of “uniting all racially aware skinheads in the state of Pennsylvania.”

Lead singer Danjul Norse doesn’t dispute that the band played for Keystone United. He also says that, after Antifa posted the article, he looked up and confirmed that he is Facebook friends with the persons listed. However, he strongly disputes that the band has any racist ideology or personal ties with White Supremacists.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Danjul explains,”Our band is non-political, we don’t have any politics.” He goes on to say, ”I’m not a White Supremacist; I’m not for that at all. I don’t share those views. I don’t judge people on their politics. I don’t hate anyone. I have no hate in me. I have love for all people. Why can’t people just be people and love each other?”

ppdbannerDanjul adds that people like his band’s music and send him friend requests on Facebook. He then “friends” them back. He doesn’t personally know any of the people listed by Antifa. As for playing at a private Keystone United party, he says:

It was a job and we decided to do it. It’s a business for us and it was a festival dedicated to Leif Erikson and his voyage. There were no signs of White Supremacy or neo-Nazi or hate. It was just a BBQ and they treated me with respect and enjoyed our music. That was it. So when they asked us to play again last year, I thought, OK.

Danjul was surprised by the controversy and the threats of violence that he has received over the past two weeks. He adds that the PPPD board was also harassed with calls and emails by Antifa, even after the board removed Norsewind from the event schedule. He says:

[Antifa activists] said if we played, there would be skinheads in the crowd and they [Antifa activists] would start a riot. Who threatens violence? Why would they threaten a riot? PPPD told me to not even show up because they worried I’d be assaulted.

PPPD has not confirmed this allegation and was unavailable for further comment. Antifa, however, did say that there was no harassment adding:

The reality is that a brief e-mail exchange with some pictures made it perfectly clear that Norsewind and the people they were inviting to Pagan Pride Day were not in synch with their stated mission.

In its claims, Antifa notes that the band displayed a Nazi symbol, the black sun, on its album cover. While Antifa wasn’t able to show any specific racist statements or music by any single member of Norsewind the organization says:

Individually these issues might not seem like much, but when combined they appear to paint a fairly compelling picture of a man with many ties to white supremacy.

In response to these allegations, Danjul says that, although the band prefers to play for Pagans and Heathens, they will “play for anyone.” He adds:

Our message is for everyone. I don’t pick and choose. Not politics and not skin color. I just want people to hear my message of tradition and family. Perhaps it’ll influence them towards something positive. Or just make them laugh or be happy.

There is currently no word out yet on future events for the band or how this controversy will affect its future bookings.

 

[Update:The article was edited from its original form after new facts were brought to our attention. In addition, at the time of original publication, we were unable to reach anyone willing to go on record in counterpoint to the band's claims. However, we will now be following up this article with an op-ed piece from Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism.]

 

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For some, the phrase “tea party” conjures up images of little girls in pink taffeta dresses, or perhaps angry colonists on tall ships or, better yet, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. What it doesn’t conjure up is 380 witches convening on the historic grounds of Exeter Castle in the UK. But that is exactly what happened this past weekend at the “Grand Witches’ Tea Party.”

[Photo by J.Moore]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

On Aug. 31, over 300 witches and others supporters, wearing pointy hats, capes and carrying brooms, arrived at Exeter castle to honor the lives of three British women hanged for Witchcraft. The Bideford witches are largely considered to be the last three women actually executed for the crime of Witchcraft under the 1605 statute.

As history tells, the judges believed that these women were innocent of their accused crimes. However, the men yielded to angry local mobs who called for a hanging. On Aug. 25 1682, Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles were all sent to the gallows at Heavitree. Today there is a plaque on Exeter Castle commemorating their lives and marking the tragedy in their deaths.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

Now 332 years later, modern U.K. Witches and their supporters rally at the same sight to call attention to the women’s story with the goal of having them officially pardoned of the accused crimes. In August 2013, author Christine Nash and local official Ben Bradshaw launched an e-petition to make this happen. However, the campaign failed with only 426 signatures. Ben Bradshaw is quoted as calling the hangings “a stain in our history.”

This year’s campaign was organized by local witch Jackie Juno and a group of her friends. However, the Grand Witches Tea Party became more than just a simple petition event. It grew larger, incorporating more expansive contemporary ideas within a respectful, yet festive, environment.

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Not only was the Grand Tea a rally asking the government to pardon the Bideford Witches; the event also aimed at becoming the largest gathering of witches in the U.K. or the world. Juno’s official count stands at a total of 380 people in all the regalia. She adds, “We set a new southwesterly record but fell short of world or U.K. records. But the main important bit of the day was the ceremony.”

The event began with a commemorative ritual dedicated to the three accused “willow” women. The ceremony was recorded and posted on YouTube in three parts. In retrospect, Juno says:

[The event] went beautifully, thanks to all the helpers and supporters of the event. I feel we did the women proud with the commemorative ceremony which was deeply moving.

The outdoor ritual included poetry, shrine offerings, moments of silence and sacred song. One of the organizers stepped forward to read Erica Mann Jong’s poem, “For Those Who Died,” which is a somber tribute to the many women who were tortured and killed as witches.

In addition to the ceremony and the gathering of signatures, the organizers also collected donations for the international organization Womankind.org, a “women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Womankind.org partners with other organizations around the world to “tackle the day to day issues that affect women’s lives.” Womankind’s projects include education and outreach, ending violence, gaining independence and protecting women’s health.

The organizers of The Grand Witches’ Tea Party sought to create a connection between the persecution of the Bideford Witches and the difficult conditions under which many women live today. A local Wiccan practitioner told an Independent reporter, who was present at the event,“Misogyny is still a massive part of our culture. It’s symbolic to get together to remember how women were being persecuted.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

During the ceremony, Juno read the following poem:

I am your grandmother killed for celebrating All Hallows. I’m your mother dragged from my bed to the gallows. I am your sister, a conquest of war at gunpoint. I am your daughter, a victim online at some point. I need all women who hear me to speak up for those without voices. I need you, every man who loves me, to protect me to make the right choices. I am your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your daughter. I call from beyond the mystery to say no to the horror and betrayal and the slaughter. We must right the wrongs of history.

At various moments, attendees raised their brooms and besoms to show support and solidarity for the cause. Juno says, “After the solemnity of the ceremony people enjoyed a fun and very friendly picnic, meeting new friends and old.”

As the event’s title suggests, many witches were seen drinking tea and enjoying the sunshine. Several bands entertained the group including The Mysterious Freakshow. On its Facebook fan page, the band wrote, “Witches, witches everywhere! Fabulous day at The Grand Witches Tea Party! The magic in the air was tangible. A true inspiration.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Juno was pleased with the turnout at the 2014 Grand Witches’ Tea Party. She added, “Folks traveled from far and wide to attend and we hope to hold a similar gathering next year.” She and several of the organizers are working to set up an organization that will continue this work. Although now just in the planning stages, the new organization will be called, “The Merrivale Group.”  In the meantime, they are currently counting the donated funds and enjoying the incoming photographs, videos and stories being shared on the event’s Facebook page.

[Note: With the exception of the plaque, all photos included here were taken by professional Pagan photographer James Moore of Balmy & Zen photography. They were used with permission but remain under strict copyright. For more shots of the Grand Witches' Tea, go directly to Moore's FB page.]

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Among the many atrocities committed by members of the Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL) is the group’s attack on the Yezidis, a tribe in northern Iraq known mostly for its secretive religion and repeated persecutions by neighbors. The reports on the Yezidis hiding on mountainsides to escape conversion or death was a factor in President Obama’s decision to use airstrikes against ISIL.

Yezidi refugee girl with her family at Newroz camp [Photo Credit: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Dept of International Development]

Yezidi refugee girl with her family at Newroz camp [Photo Credit: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Dept of International Development]

The average westerner knows little about the Yezidi people and their religion, and media channels have struggled to learn more. The Yezidis are typically described as polytheists and have been branded as devil-worshipers many times over the centuries that their culture has endured.

However, neither label is a good fit. The Yezidis could be considered polytheistic in the same way that Roman Catholics might be. They do honor more than one entity. But the Yezidis don’t consider themselves polytheists. Many Pagans and polytheists will understand how one’s gods can become the devils of another.  That is the case with the Peacock Angel, the primary among seven angels worshiped in the Yezidi religion.

The sacred texts of the Yezidis and the religion itself are not intended for sharing with outsiders. The only translations into English come by way of The Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz, written by Isya Joseph in 1919. Joseph translated the sacred texts from an Arabic manuscript, which he was led to believe had been translated from an authentic original. Because the primary sources — the Yezidis themselves — are very secretive about their practice, any historical records of their treatment is left up to the interpretation of fragmentary knowledge within a context of political expedience.

Amin Tomeh, member of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, explained why Yezidi beliefs are sometimes interpreted as devil worship by followers of Abrahamic faiths. He said:

They view the Abrahamic traditional story (of God asking His angels to bow before Adam upon creating him) from a different perspective. According to what I read, they believe that there are seven archangels; chief among them is Malek Taous (with Malek translating to angel and Taous translating to Peacock or chief, i.e., Chief of all Angels). It was this Malek Taous that refused to bow before Adam while the other six forgot their pledge to God to not bow before anything or anyone other than to Him (i.e., God).

The similarity between this belief and what Muslims believe in that a creation of God (who dwelled with the angels, but was not an angel himself) called Iblis was the only one to refuse bowing before Adam. Iblis was cursed for refusing God’s command and was given a reprieve until the day of judgment before he would face his punishment. Iblis, Satan or the Devil are one in the same from a Muslim perspective. The intersection of these very similar stories is why – I would suppose – some may think that, in fact, it is Satan whom the Yezidis worship. But Yezidis themselves see the nature of Malek Taous as different from the whispering Satan who suggests evil deeds to humans.

Melek Tausi [Public Domain Image]

Melek Tausi [Public Domain Image]

Malek Taous, Melek Ta’us, Taus Melek, or Tawsi Melek is the being that the Yezidis primarily worship. Also called the Peacock Angel, Malek Taous is an intermediary between what they call “God” and the physical world. As described on yeziditruth.org:

The Yezidis do not believe that the Peacock Angel is the Supreme God. The Supreme God created him as an emanation at the beginning of time. He was brought into manifestation in order to give the invisible, transcendental Supreme God a vehicle with which to create and administer the universe. Tawsi Melek is thus a tangible, denser form of the infinite Supreme God. In order to assist Tawsi Melek in this important role, the Supreme Creator also created six other Great Angels, who were, like the Peacock Angel, emanations of the Supreme God and not separate from him.

The references to Adam and God are not coincidental according to Hatim Darwesh, a American-based Yezidis who maintains a Yezidi Facebook group. Darwesh served as translator to the U.S. military during the Iraq War, when Saddam Hussein was persecuting the Yezidis as part of his broader oppression of the Kurds. For his work, Darwesh was granted a visa to come to this country. He now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While quick to say that he is not a “religious expert,” Darwesh was clear on several points: God is the same being who is worshiped in Abrahamic faiths; the Peacock Angel is not any sort of devil and the Yezidi religion is definitely monotheistic. In addition, within Yezidi culture, he says that the term “pagan” is used as a pejorative and not a label they themselves would welcome. At the same time, he explains that the Yezidis “worship the sun” and are sometimes called “sons of the sun.” He did not elaborate on that point, nor did he respond to a question about whether his religion is an Abrahamic one or not.

While the nuances of the Yezidi faith continue to be elusive, what is certain is that these people have been oppressed many times in their history. Once, according to Amin Tomeh, they were considered valuable allies. He tells of the Yezidi Prince Hussein Bek Al Daseni, who supported Sulemain the Magnificent‘s bid to retake Baghdad from the Safavids, and was given the title of prince over Soran, Irbil and Dahouk.

logoTomeh says, “This story demonstrates amply that, when political expediency demanded it, the Caliph himself found no reservation in allying his empire with the Yezidis and rewarded them accordingly.” He adds:

But again that does not mute the fact that the Yezidis often fell victim to the wrath of the political power of the day under religious guise and sometimes nationalistic (as was the case in Saddam’s time) pretexts. I personally see that phenomenon as the quintessential xenophobic impulse of blaming the presumed weaklings in any society.

Followers of mainstream media may believe that the present crisis for the Yezidis is past, but Darwesh says that this is far from the case. He reports that 2-3,000 “women, kids, and virgin girls” were taken by ISIL forces, and that “their fate remains unknown.” He explains the extremist agenda as he understands it:

Men have two choices: to convert to [Islam] or they will be slaughtered. Women are assaulted sexually and sold into slavery, and our kids are taking [sic] to be trained on learning of Quran and teach them Islamic religion.

He describes the crisis as “severe,” with 2-3 families living in a house, if they are lucky enough, and many others living under bridges. “They need to be out of there very soon,” he says. He wants them to be given the opportunity to live in a western country, like the United States or Canada, but they lack the deep support that larger religions have.  He says:

Our situation is different from Christians and everyone else in Iraq; we don’t have anyone to help us. Christians have at least Vatican to support them and [the] Pope is behind them because the religion [has] linked them together and we as Yezidis don’t have anyone but God.

To date, Darwesh finds that he is able to practice his religion freely in the United States. But what hangs over him, and all the Yezidis fortunate enough to live in Lincoln, is the fate of their tribes people half a world away.

 

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