NEDERLAND, Col. – Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting at an elevation of 8,230 feet lies the small town of Nederland, Colorado. It was founded in 1874 by settlers who were attracted to the lowland valleys as a outpost for their trapping work. Eventually mining became the town’s sustaining business and, when that disappeared, tourism and farming took its place. But since the 1960s, the town has slowly attracted new types of residents, including artists, musicians, and those specifically interested in the great outdoors. Being only 17 miles southwest of Boulder, the town has thrived, while still retaining its unique small town feel.

[Courtesy H. Wendlhandt]

Rev. H. Wendlandt [Courtesy Photo]

Within this little town, there is a congregation called the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church (NCPC) led by Reverand Hansen Wendlandt. The congregation, like the town, has a long history beginning the with mining boom. The church building itself was erected in 1912 and is still being used today. Rev. Wendlandt, originally from Arkansas, describes how his religious beliefs are unmistakably merged with his love of the outdoors and the mountains of Colorado. In a bio, he writes, “Mountains have always made me feel small, but grand in the responsibility God gives us to steward all this creation. Whether it is through nature, or music, or arts, or gardening, or however you feel the Spirit alive …”

Rev. Wendlandt has served the NCPC community for only 2 and half years, but he is making quite an impact. Included in his personal devotion to service is a passion to help the community, both his congregation and the entire town of Nederland. With that in mind, he recently initiated a new program hosted by NCPC. He announced his concept in an article published in the Mountain-Ear, a local newspaper, Titled “Religiously Literate Citizens,” the article discusses the importance of religious literacy in an increasingly diverse world. He writes:

Religious illiteracy hurts our communities by creating distance; it hurts our political system when ignorance breeds fear; it hurts individuals who could otherwise explore on their own any spiritual ideas and practices for well-being. And to make matters worse, all of this has been magnified with each successive generation over the last century or so.

In that article, Rev. Wendlandt goes on to discuss the need to expose children to the religious beliefs of their neighbors, saying, “I believe it is time to do more for our young people, so that they can do more for our world.” He notes that there is remarkable religious diversity just in the small town of Nederland and added that, as children make their way into the bigger world, they will face even more difference. “We can help prepare them,” he writes.

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. [Courtesy Photo]

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Rev. Wendlandt further explained that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for kids to learn about different religions – to become religiously literate. He said that he himself comes from a background of pluralism, and sees this type of education as essential for life.

So Rev. Wendlandt set out to create his own religious literacy program with lessons to be held each month. The program is aimed primarily at teens and pre-teens, and is open to anyone in the surrounding communities, not just his congregation. One Sunday each month, a period of time is set aside to teach and learn about a different belief system. Rev. Wendlandt wrote:

The plan is to have food associated with each religion, make the learning interactive and fun, look at sacred objects and texts, and have plenty of room for questions and conversation. There will be no persuasion or argument, just a chance for young people to grow.

For the first session, held Oct. 18, the Community Church welcomed Naveen, a follower of Hinduism. He brought food to share from Kathmandu, a local Nepalese restaurant. Rev. Wendlandt explained that he chose to begin with this particular religion due to the October festival of Navarati. He believes that the lessons are all the more richer if they coincide with a specific holiday.

For the second installment, held Nov. 1, the Church welcomed Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane, two local Pagans, to talk about Wiccan traditions. As with the Oct session, Wicca was chosen for this date so that the lesson coincided with the festival of Samhain.

Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane are part of a Nederland-based Wiccan group called The Five Weird Sisters. Culver is a local chef and herbalist. She has been practicing Wicca since 1976, when she lived in the Bay Area of California. She remembers the early days when Covenant of the Goddess was still forming. Stefane is the owner of the Blue Owl Bookstore, which sells a mix of items from books, jewelry, local art and music and some metaphysical supplies. It also serves as the local ice cream parlor. Both women are well-known in Nederland.

Joining Culver and Stefane in the Five Weird Sisters are Janette Taylor, Nancy Moon and Gail Eddy, all locals. In an interview, Culver explained that they each were practicing solitaries.Then, five years ago, the women began to meet for social outings and discussions, which eventually led to the formation of a group practice. In the past, the Five Weird Sisters have sponsored a public, annual Witch’s Ball, hosted open rituals and even orchestrated an spiral dance.Their next ball will be in October 2016.

Five Weird Sisters

Five Weird Sisters: (left to right) Janette Taylor, Kim Culver, Nancy Moon, Gail Eddy, and Kimba Stefane. [Courtesy Photo]

Rev. Wendlandt knew both Culver and Stepfane, and contacted them about participating in his religious literacy program. The two women agreed. Culver said that they saw this as a fun community opportunity and a great way of fulfilling the “service aspect of Wicca.”

The Nov. 1 session was held at 11 a.m. at NCPC. The women set up a table containing a number of religious items, which are typically used in Wicca. Culver said, “We touched on history, tools, magic, and beliefs..nothing too in-depth.” The lesson also included some traditional harvest foods and a hands-on project. The group made Fire Cider.

Since the program is directed at children, there were very few adults in the room. Culver said that Rev. Wendlandt wanted “to create a safe space for the children to learn” without adult interruption. And, he agreed saying that children are “less likely to ask questions” when adults are in the room. He wanted them to have the comfort of freedom to engage.

Culver described the participating children as being both surprised and fascinated. Laughing, she recalled that their first surprise came when she and Stefane arrived not wearing pointed hats and long robes. The children didn’t expect the visiting witches to be dressed in “normal” clothing. Rev. Wendlandt also noted how intrigued and enthusiastic the children were. He said that one nine-year old boy asked, “When did you know you were a witch?”

Of all of the presented topics, Culver believes that the history lesson provoked the most curiosity. This was particularly true when the women touched on the oppression of folk healers, in general, as well as the practitioners of old religions by the Roman Catholic Church. After it was over, Culver said that an adult women, who happened to be a Deacon at the local Catholic Church, approached her saying that she was shocked and had no idea about witchcraft persecutions. She said, “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hold that against us.”

Additionally, Culver noticed that “the young girls and even the women” were particularly surprised by the presence and even dominance of a Priestess. Culver said, “They were surprised that they could be in charge.” Rev. Wenderlandt used this moment to open a dialog about a woman’s role in other faith traditions. He asked the children, “Why do you think some religions don’t treat women this way?” He noted that a similar discussion had come up during the Hindu presentation, saying that these sessions are creating opportunities for extended discussions, and it’s the kids asking the questions.

Table with Wiccan religious items at the NCPC Church religious literacy lesson [Courtesy K. Culver]

The entire Wiccan lesson lasted for about an hour and a half. Culver said that the event was beneficial to the community, but also to herself and Stefane. She said, “The event reaffirmed my personal beliefs and made me think about who I am and who I project out into the community … It also made me realize that there are people out there who want to know, even if they don’t want to follow.”

She added that being in that church to share her religious beliefs with people, who she had thought would be closed-minded, “opened her heart.” Culver said that, after class, she and Stefane immediately went into the forest for an impromptu ritual, during which they “dug into their roots.” .

When asked if they have received any backlash or complaints, Culver said, “nothing really.” Rev. Wendlandt said the same. He has received nothing but support. In fact, next month, a local alternative high school will be sending its World Cultures Class to the Sunday session. And, he has even been asked to run a similar program for adults, to which he currently answers maybe.

Going forward, Rev. Wendlandt has scheduled a Jewish speaker for December in conjunction with Chanukah, and a Buddhist speaker for January. Beyond that, he is working on scheduling the rest of the year through May. He said that there are already plans to feature Islam, Humanism, possibly Catholicism and Mormonism, Eastern traditions and various Native American religions. Rev. Wendlandt added that he prefers to welcome local residents as speakers, which has its limits. Why locals? He said, “I want the kids to see their neighbors as diverse, not just the religions.” He wants the children to see these practices and people as normal, real and in their lives; rather than just concepts floating in space.

As for Culver and Stefane, they have decided to continue this outreach work. After witnessing the need for and interest in Rev. Wendlandt’s program, the two are now planning an independent interfaith potluck women’s group, during which people can share their religious beliefs. Culver also said that they might be doing another session at NCPC around Imbolc. She added, “This is a really good thing. There is a quest for this kind knowledge.”

Rev. Wendlandt said that his “religious literacy” program is really not very unique and that many small churches across the U.S. are doing the same thing. And, while it may not be well publicized, the trend is growing and this delights him. As he expressed in both the article and in conversation, “We’re in this life thing together. I hope these events can help our young people be a little more ready to make their lives and their world a bit more connected, peaceful and meaningful.”

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“The Gates again open, the skies darken, the rain soaks through stone and skin.”


The rain poured through my skin. As I stood upon the pavement outside the tavern, soaked in the chill night, smoking a cigarette, the Gates opened around me.

Straddling the ford, wet up to the laces of my boots, water rushing past my feet along the river-bed: someone is laughing at me. Eddies swirl in the torrent unable to clear the leaf-clogged drains, and someone is laughing at me.

“Look at this guy,” he says, and his companions titter and jeer. “You’re being scary, dude. Is that your costume?”

It was Halloween, after all, though I hadn’t dressed up. I wore what I usually wear, thrift-store camouflage trousers, a printed shirt from my friend Alley, a maroon-and-blue flannel shirt. No more a disguise than any clothing is.

One of his companions, a gentrifying ‘woo-girl’ (anthropological note: they literally shout ‘woo’ and gentrify everything they touch), sneers at me. She turns to her friend and says, drunkenly:

“Oh my god he’s totally on drugs or something.”

Then she turns back toward me. “You think you’re being creepy standing in the rain like that?”

I shake my head. I cannot tell her about the forest we’re standing in, the elk crashing through the bramble, the endless dripping of the last-to-fall Maple leaves down upon our heads. I cannot tell her about the river in which I stand.

I smile. “Welcome to Seattle,” I say, laughing. “It rains here.

“We’re from California,” her friend says. I’m disappointed he’s such a jerk — he’s kinda attractive. “This weather’s stupid.”

I’m standing in a river. I’m standing in the road, just off the curb. A car passes; I’m surprised to see an auto in the river, the river in front of the gay bar, the gay bar on a night the gates of the dead were thrown wide open, the gates of the sky unhinged as rain soaks everything.

I am in the forest. I am in the city.


[Photo Credit: Aaron Shenewolf] (


Tip some out to the dead, to The Dead who linger forever just behind your eyes, walking alongside your step through puddles and streams over concrete.

Tip some to the dead and notice you’re not where you were. Everyone’s bumping into you, pushing against you, surprised for a moment you’re there, startled they had gotten so close.

They’re drunk, you tell yourself, but not just on vine and grain.

It made no sense to try to tell most people what I was doing for Halloween, so I shrugged when asked. I didn’t know myself, really, though I knew I’d walk with the dead.

With grave dirt and an elk tooth and crow feathers in my pocket, I biked to a bar after a shift at my part-time social work job. It was storming, rare for Seattle where the weather is, for 6 months, at least, a steady, relentless drip of rain, not a downpour. It had been dry, the earth too compacted to soak up all that water, so streets were flooded, blocked drains overflowed. For that night, at least, the streams and rivers of the Forest-That-Was could run again, un-culverted, upon the surface of the city built over them.

In many urban fantasy novels, there’s a spectral, magical city overlain upon the disenchanted mundane. Those writers know a thing or two about magic and a thing or two about cities. But Seattle’s not old enough to have a ghost-twin that looks like it, only stranger. Rather, what haunts Seattle in the Other is the Forest-That-Was, the dead forest, the waiting forest.

The dead are not always what has gone before, but also what could have been, what maybe will be. The forest-that-was haunts Seattle, but so too does a second forest; its roots slowly lifting the broken concrete of sidewalks. Plantain, horsetails and chamomile find purchase in the crevices, moss and lichen cover unattended stone. Ferns grow in gutters; aerial moss suspend from uneven brick.

Both the Forest-That-Was and the Forest-That-Will-Be are the same, and they both haunt the city. They co-exist; they merge in the frontage garden, the untended lawn, the volunteer tree. They dance; they collide; they collude in endless war against small-business owners, property developers and civil engineers.

One of my favorite writers, Octavia Butler, was said to be a casualty in this war. Newspapers reporting her death blamed a root-broken sidewalk for a fall that triggered a stroke. But this was propaganda. Later, it came out she had the stroke first and then fell, returning to the forest that seemed to inspire her. Seattle’s mayor was unpopular with the propertied classes for leaving sidewalks broken, potholes unfilled –Butler’s death was used against him.

Propaganda works like that, though. The first story is the one most remember: The forest killed a famous elderly Black fantasist. Perhaps the propagandists will do the same for Ursula K. Le Guin when she leaves us, perhaps they’ll do the same for me. Don’t believe their lies.


You weren’t from the forest, and now you are, the dark wet places, rain dripping from leaf, mud and rot slicking the paths beneath your feet, your exposed roots.

What are you doing walking when you can stand still, soak deep into the earth, reach like great pillars towards the sky?

The tension between civilisation, and nature is a bit obscured in Seattle. From my second-story balcony I see more trees than houses, Crow and Scrubjay, Racoon and Opossum eat the peanuts I leave for them just within arm’s reach, and it’s easy to forget I’m in a city at all. I’ve tolerated Seattle most of the last 16 years because of this. Gods know I can’t afford to live here, nor afford many of the things that make a city appealing to an artistic queer.

I’m the ‘degenerate’ sort against which Republicans and New-Right anti-civilisationists often complain, lifting a tired screed from the Nazis. “People like me” move to cities because we honestly like people; we like art; we like culture — all those things you can’t find in the suburbs or the rural. I live happiest when I’m among dreams and the people they inhabit.

But I’m also a Druid, a Pagan, an animist. Without raw, breathing Nature, I become parched and eventually wither. The ocean of concrete in strip malls, parking lots and massive highways that comprise the main architectural feature of suburbs, for instance, those feel like murder.

Seattle is unlike most other large American cities in that the forest was never fully obliterated. Though almost every ancient cedar, spruce, red alder and pine was killed to rebuild San Francisco after the fires or to fuel the furnaces of capitalist expansion, or to clear the way for internal migrants from other parts of the United States. Seattle is still a forest.

Though even manufacturing, then war-contracting (Boeing), then an onslaught of businesses completely reliant on near-slave labor and global coal-use (Microsoft, Amazon, Google) have joined the war against the forest here, none have ever conquered the forest.


You weren’t from the forest and now you are, the forest that was before, the ghost-trees and spectral ferns, Elk crashing through bramble, startled by a voice still echoing from the past.

You weren’t from the forest but now you will be, awaiting its birth through broken sidewalk and disused alley, hearing it growing through what will soon be your corpse.

You weren’t from the forest, but now you can’t return here. Wet pavement is river, and you wade through it, unseeing the cars unseeing you.

Pagans make much of the environment, as least romantically. We like the forests and the streams, we idealise the pre-industrial world, worship land-goddesses, divine with symbols from nature. Yet most live in cities or suburbs, drive cars, use computers, work in flourescent-lit offices or stores or restaurants. We like the idea of the forest, but live apart from it, in the urban and suburban–in civilisation.

Civilisation seems to stand against the forest, in the same way that the forest seems to stand against the city. In many critiques of civilisation, the city is the cause of the destruction of the natural world. Some anti-civilisationists, merging the bourgeois anthropology of David Abrams with the misanthropic primitivism of Deep Green Resistance, link almost all the problems of humanity to the birth of cities.

On the surface, this appears plausible. As people transitioned to agriculture and settled in one place, the fabric of human society changed. Work was divided, roles ensconced in tradition. Some say the Patriarchy arose first from the urban, men doing one sort of work, women doing another.

Abundance and settlement created surpluses, more than what people could carry with them. Surpluses meant less work, surpluses meant wealth. Surpluses could be stolen; surpluses could be hoarded; surpluses could be extracted. Some say this birthed hierarchy and class.

Gods and ancestors were worshiped in place, not in people. Shrines arose as did temples. Those who tended gods became priests rather than shamans, another division of labor in a settled civility, a class with purpose and power and economic interests. Some say that debt sprung from the need of priests (also skilled scribes) to track donations and the cost of temple labor.

Agriculture, dense living, the need to protect surplus–these, some say, led to population explosions. More people require more resources, need military classes (and conflicts stemming from that need), and need to destroy their environment to extract more resources.

If we extrapolate from what we know now of cities, this story is unassailable. The city seems an illness, a plague, the root of evil, the root of hatred.

This story’s eerily too easy, though.


[Photo Credit: Aaron Shenewolf] (


The city’s unreal, the forest gates unhinged, and you walk always along the edge, in both worlds and neither.

You are emissary.

You are saboteur.

Is the city then some den of horror, the abode of voracious monsters? Or is it just full of people?

I like people. No, I love them, gods-dammit, even when they jeer me in the rain.

People cluster together. We need each other. We want each other. We love each other. We build off each other, create with each other. What would we do otherwise?

Rugged individualism is a Capitalist lie and will get you killed. Families are great, unless you were born to a developmentally-disabled schizophrenic mother and a violent father. Tribalism is great, if you are in charge and get to choose who is in and who is out. Small villages are fine, if there’s at least one person there who you can fall in love with. Degenerates like me don’t fare so well in any of those alternatives.

If groups like Deep Green Resistance are correct, the only solution is to destroy the city and all who survive by community, rather than force.  And beside, cities are full of queers, trans people, immigrants, Jews, bohemians, libertines — independent folk who threaten those who need small worlds in which to rule.

But the city is undoubtedly sick. The destruction of the environment caused by the urban is undeniable, yet too often denied, even by us ‘degenerates.’ The ‘urban professional’ of today, working at a tech company, progressive of politics, in love with nature? Their organic and free-range foods are produced by immigrants working in near-slave (and sometimes full-slave) conditions. It takes a lot of forest to make toilet paper, a lot of coal to make electricity, a lot of oil to transport food from the farms to the city.

Both the prophets of progress and the prophets of anti-civilisation evoke the pre-historic past. It’s either nasty, brutish, and short for the one or Edenic for the other, but both groups are either awfully bad at history or betting that, because no records remain to challenge them, we’ll accept their stories without question.

Few dare mention the shorter history, a few hundred years ago. Something arose which turned the endless dance of forest and city into slaughter of one and misery of the other. A great forgetting, an archonic trick, the Demiurge’s conquest of Sophia.

Something changed in the world several hundred years ago, something so disastrous, that, like the Holocaust or the nuclear bombings of several Japanese cities, we seem incapable of approaching without shutting down or relying on Nationalist rhetoric.

The world was not always like this. The cities once could never win over the forest. And that wasn’t so long ago.


You are how the forest becomes the city you’ll betray.

You are unborn dreaming remembering the past.

You are the endless taking root in the now.

Historian Peter Linebaugh, who has written much about the intersections of 1800’s Paganism and anti-Capitalism, suggested that, because the Commons were destroyed by the Cities, the Cities must now become the Commons.

We must say the same thing of the Forests.

This must then be our rallying cry, those who have become ‘from the forest’ but refuse to accept the notion of mass urban slaughter, like Deep Green Resistance does. In fact, most anti-civilisation rhetoric has become a way of running from the true war, betraying the forest, just as the cult of progress huddles, slump-backed, over backlit screens in self-arousal and vain hope.

The forest-that-was still lives, if you bother to look through the gates on a rainy night in the city. You can be standing, soaked, in front of a gay bar and see the rivers we try to forget. You can even, like I do, chuckle when those who will never see it jeer you.

The forest-that-was lives in the forest-that-will-be, which are both a waiting now, Waltar Benjamin’s jetzt-zeit, the pregnant moment, the moment we hold in our hands.

The forest-that-was is also the forest-that-will-be, but only if we let it root through us. It is we who are the mages, the witches, the priests and bards. We are the rogues spreading seeds on the pristine lawns, the saboteurs helping trees lift concrete with their strong roots.

We were from the city. We are now from the forest. And only with our hands can the war finally end and the dance begin anew. The Cities destroy the Forests. The Cities must now become the Forests so that our lives may once again, in the end, nourish the roots of past and future, making the eternal now.

 *    *    *

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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“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.”-  G. Eliot

I’ve always felt that the dead have a complicated life in Latin America. Although the Day of the Dead enters modernity through Mexico, the conversations and intimacy with death are profoundly embedded in and throughout Latino/Hispanic culture.

Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz once commented ““The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it, it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.” And it is much the same throughout the Latin world. Haitian Vodou celebrates Baron Samedi and the Guédé, the family of Loá that embody fertility and death. Brazil venerates Los Finados, honoring the dead and drawing on Christians as well as Indigenous traditions: the celebrations run from Bolivia to Cuba.

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, San Juan.

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, San Juan. [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Bones of the Ancestors

As an undergraduate, I remember reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude in a class on the modern fantastic. It is a seminal literary work on magical realism, a post-modern literary genre intertwining the natural and supernatural in mundane situations deeply linked to contemporary Latin American fiction.

I remember discussing the book in college and wondering why my Anglo classmates were reacting to Rebeca as a bizarre character. They were aghast. I thought it was her habit of eating earth. But, no, they cleared it up: she was carrying around the bones of her dead parents in canvas bag. And that was just too much. My reaction was “So? We did that too.”


And I mean stares, the blank, horrified kind.

Lots of them. Hinting at grave digging is a conversation stopper. But, it was also true, at least as a family story.

My aunt – her name was Gladys but we called her YaYa, the term for “mother” in Palo, an African Traditional Religion – was much older than my father by almost twenty years. Because she lived to be 101, her memory spanned to a time before penicillin, running water, and even electricity. Every year in the first week of November, my aunt would instruct me that “the dead are respected but they are not feared. They will take advantage of you if they know you fear them.”

She would certainly know. When she was a child, one of her occasional tasks in November was to remove the bones of ancestors from mausoleums, then clean and place them in ossuaries. It was a practice that would die around World War I. But before that, burial of the dead was apparently a tricky challenge in tropical Cuba where the heat was a problem and space was a premium.

The practice at many cemeteries was simple: graves were rented, not owned. For about ten dollars (about 5% of annual household income), you would have a burial plot – usually above the ground in a mausoleum-  for five years. After that time, your family could pay another $10 (or dig up and transfer the bones to chest that would be kept in the house. If you had no money to pay or “abandoned” the deceased, the bones would be disinterred and placed in a boneyard. One such boneyard is of the Colon Cemetery in Havana. There is a famous photo in the Burn’s Archive of Spanish American War soldiers holding human skulls and bones while standing on top of a 30 foot deep pile of human skeletons.

Therefore, for me as a college student, Rebeca’s bag of parental bones sounded like a practical solution to a financial problem. Rebeca’s story was neither horrific, nor alien. The conversation around death in many Latin American households is nonchalant. Death is not a topic of morbidity; only violent or untimely deaths are considered vulgar topics. Death is a reminder to live life fully not only as an act of the moment but as a collective act of preparing for death.  But more importantly, perhaps it was that act that connected Rebeca to her forebearers in and intimate and immanent way.

Death in Tradition

Latin America is a fusion of traditions, and it just basically seems like the deceased can have a very difficult time not only navigating their own funerals, but also the complexities of the Afterlife. Native American, African and Christian faiths merged to create a culture where death is multifaceted: the rituals and the understanding of the nature of death are deeply rooted to ancient traditions that span millennia and are separated by oceans. Despite the number of professed Roman Catholics, Latin Americans are often raised in a space that sees and understands death in way that is neither fully Christian nor fully Pagan.

In the Yoruba tradition, Death is a purposeful celebration of the Balance. It is neither useless nor wasteful. In one pataki, death- called Ikú – was in Heaven and the world became overcrowded. The answer to the overcrowding was a cull of humans. So, Olofí – the spirit of God on Earth-  ordered Oyá – the Orisha of the winds and change – to fly to Heaven and return Ikú to the world . She refused. Death for the act of slaughter has no purpose. When Olofi made Ikú part of the Balance, she gladly obeyed.

Orisha teach that death is simply another form of life. The dead-  called Egungun –  are revered because they are our ancestors. We cannot be here without the work of the dead, and they are still there to guide the living. But they have all the virtues and vices of their former life. If an ancestor was a drunk in life, for example, they’ll still like to drink. If they were generous with their time and opinions in life, they might choose to spend a lot of time with you, especially offering their continuous advice. It can be good or bad; but again it is intimate and immanent.

Ancestors can always teach, and we can always learn from their whispers, wisdom, and mistakes. To do that, we would set up bóvedas – altars that had glasses of water and candles carefully placed to denote balance. Sprigs of basil would be placed on the altar for cleansing to ensure that our answers were from our ancestors and that not from elsewhere.  It is a ritual borrowed from Spiritism, and versions of it are found throughout the Latin World. Regardless of a professed faith – likely Catholicism- the practiced faith of many Latin Americans blends many traditions, reminding us to keep the dead close. And that is a practice, like Octavio Paz noted, that is far more alien in other parts of the world but deeply present in the Day of the Dead.

But then, a few weeks ago, I found myself surprised. When googling “Latin American Death Traditions,” I discovered  “Santa Muerte” consistently appearing at the top of my searches. It is not that I had never heard of this entity; she came up while researching a different story several months ago. However, given the breadth and complexity of traditions throughout Latin America, it seemed odd that she would rise to such importance when researching death rituals. Because, bluntly most of us had never heard of her 20 years ago. And there’s so much more to death in Latin America than this one “saint.”

Santa Muerte is Spanish for “Holy Death.” More correctly, she is called Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte (or Our Lady of the Holy Death). She is a non-canonizedm folk saint who is venerated in parts of Mexico and United States. She is depicted as a skeletal figure often carrying a globe and scythe, and is robed frequently, but not exclusively, in white, similar to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church in one of Her Apparitions.

Santa Muerte has several eponyms including La Flaquita (the Thin One), La Huesuda (The Bone Lady) and La Dama Poderosa (the Powerful Lady). She is venerated by many individuals who experience societal marginalization and alienation; and she even has a shrine on Alfarería Street in the barrio of Tepito, an underserved neighborhood of Mexico City. But her association with delinquency is significant. Santa Muerte is often referred to as the “narco-saint” having been associated with violent and high-profile criminality. She’s even had cameos in the television shows Breaking Bad and Dexter.

But Santa Muerte is not connected with antiquity like Day of the Dead celebrations. In fact, she is completely unrelated to the Day of the Dead. The holiday is a syncretism between Mesoamerican traditional faiths and the Catholic All Saints Day. There is even some documentary evidence linking to the celebrations of the Aztec nation.

Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Underworld

Public Domain

Mictecacihuatl [Public Domain]

The Codex Borgia is a divinatory manuscript in the Vatican Library believed to have been written and designed prior to the Spanish Invasion of Mexico. The manuscript is a series of very large accordion-folded sheets of stucco-covered deer skin, which ultimately creates almost eighty pages of illustrated text (Noguez, 2009). The codex contains astronomical and meteorological information detailing the seasonal variations that we would expect in the climate of modern-day central Mexico suggesting the manuscript was created in Oaxaca or Puebla.

The manuscript has a mysterious origin. It was essentially an unknown document until it surfaced in the 18th Century in Italy within the archives of Cardinal Stefano Borgia. Cardinal Borgia, by all accounts, was not only a minister and theologian, but he was also an antiquarian, publishing the first papyrus in the West documenting the maintenance and building of irrigation canals in Egypt. More importantly to our story though is his desires for acquisitions. His collecting of Pagan, Christian and Islamic papyri places him as one of the central figures of the preservation and archiving of such documents ultimately coalescing into the field of papyrology.

How Cardinal Borgia got his hands on this document is unknown. But his preservation of the document was a drastic contrast to that of his predecessors, the zealots who sought to abolish all traces of Pagan knowledge originating in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Beginning in the 15th Century, their nearly 400 years of sustained colonization and religious assimilation resulted in the destruction of many cultural cues and elements. But scholars have traced the veneration of Ancestors into pre-Columbian cultures (Miller, 2005).

The Codex itself helps the connections. It contains the elements of the Tonalpohualli, the 260-day calendar – and one of the two major calendars- used in Mesoamerica. This calendar breaks down into 20 thirteen-day periods. It is neither lunar nor solar and theories abound as to whether it aligns to a natural cycle or some abstraction within the Aztec mathematical system.  But, the 10th period begins the cycle of the Dog (apparently more towards August than November), and that cycle is marked under the Lord of Mictlan, Mictlantecuhtli, the most prominent of the gods and goddesses of the Underworld and one of the Thirteen Lords of the Night illustrated in the Codex Borgia.

What is relevant to Santa Muerte is that Mictlantecuhtli had a wife, Mictecacihuatl. She is the queen of the Underworld (Mictlan) and the Lady of the Dead. Her job is to guard the bones of the dead and preside over the Mesoamerican festivals of the dead that likely evolved into the modern tradition of the Days of the Dead. Mictecacihuatl is depicted in the Codex Borgia and prominent as far back 200 ce. Her connection to the modern Day of the Dead festivities remains speculative. But one thing is clear; despite the cursory association with death, she has nothing to do with Santa Muerte.

The Rise of Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte’s rise in popularity has taken her from a marginal cult in the 1960s to conspicuous veneration in the 2000s. Yet, at the same time, she still exists in relative obscurity to many Latinos. She remains a divisive and controversial figure. The Catholic Church condemns her as idolatrous and nothing less than blasphemy. Her adoration is considered perverse and satanic.

In 2013, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, pleaded with Mexicans to halt her adoration, describing it as a “celebration of devastation and of hell.”  In 2009, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon even launched military assaults on 40 or her shrines. But both of these were footnote events in Latin American news, which suggests that Santa Muerte’s fame may have one real catalyst: the media.

To explore that question, I spoke with Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, professor of Anthropology and Sociology at University of Texas- Brownsville. His area of research includes poverty, culture and economic activity along the US-Mexican border. This work has brought him to explore and publish works on ritual and folk-belief. He famously recorded the opening of magical work, which he disappointingly refers to as “Mexican Witchcraft,” and discusses ritual belief associated with statuary and intentional work.

While I understand his approach as an academic, the video is troubling to my personal sensibilities because I feel his objective of understanding the ritual work could have been accomplished without violating a piece of magical work. But the video does demonstrate the strength of devotion, ritual and will used to invoke Santa Muerte.

Dr. Zavaleta was generous with his time to describe how he had independently drawn similar conclusions about the rise of Santa Muerte. We talked about the complexity of the belief structure, and Santa Muerte’s rise in power and presence. His thoughts on the matter were the same: “faux-Catholicism fueled by the American media.” She may have some unlikely syncretism with Indigenous Mesoamerican and Catholic beliefs, but there is no “historical connection between Santa Muerte and the Day of the Dead,” he added. “The Day of the Dead is one thing. Santa Muerte is another thing” (Zavaleta, 2015).

 Public Domain Image

Santissima Muerte [Public Domain]

Dr. Zavaleta also links part of the obsession with Santa Muerte to the training of law enforcement in the American Southwest. Since the 2000s, many police officers have been instructed to look for the imagery of Santa Muerte as clues in connection with drug trafficking. The frenzy of the last decade in both United States and Mexico over the drug war has driven the media obsession with Santa Muerte, and that coverage has given her a vigor that was unknown in the early days of her cult. Even Time magazine has given her a full spread offering her the opportunity to reach new audiences.

But those audiences have one powerful thing in common: they are typically considered outcasts. She is said to be the protector of LGBTQ persons. She is venerated by the young, often women, and the working class. She is the protector of those people who must turn to work that is often deemed deviant, including sex work, begging and counterfeiting.  And while her association with criminal elements seems probable, Santa Muerte is not defined by criminality (Peña, et al. 2009). Instead, she seems better defined by her unfailing support of the beleaguered.

Entering Pagan Space

I wrote that last sentence very carefully. Because in writing that paragraph, Santa Muerte seemed to change from an academic subject to an entity with purpose. I approached learning more about Santa Muerte as social phenomenon. But in doing so, I walked into a Pagan space. Our own traditions range from the reconstructed to the ancient. We, and I would say uniquely, understand that new and magical spaces can open at any time. That we hold keys to summoning new spirits as well as learning about old ones. The ancient and the new cannot only mingle, but they also add to our understanding of spirit. They can be venerated because the cosmos is not a static construction but a continuing revelation.

Santa Muerte is a patron of the disenfranchised to rise against the powers of order and oppression. She is an emotional backlash against the experience of marginalization. Her veneration remains strong among the groups who have been obsessively subjugated by a powerful patriarchy bent on conversion, control and humiliation. And these groups have little power, but she has entered as their ally.

Santa Muerte may be new, but she is no less immanent or relevant than any other Spirit, Intelligence, God or Faculty. The desperation of her followers, their rage of exclusion, and their rebellion to oppression have opened a potent emotional well where you can hear her murmurs with little strain. Pagans know that well. It has brought forth magic before. And I cannot help but wonder if it has borne a new goddess.


Peña, A. Alejandra, S. et al. (2009). El culto a la Santa Muerte: un estudio descriptive [The cult of Santa Muerte: A descriptive study. Revista Psicologica.

Miller, Carlos (2005). “History: Indigenous people wouldn’t let ‘Day of the Dead’ die”The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2007-11-28.

Noguez, X. (2009). Códice Borgia. Arqueología Mexicana Edición Especial: Códices prehispánicas y coloniales tempranos.

Zavaleta, A. Personal communication.  September 23, 2015.

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SALEM, Mass — An October court hearing found Christian Day facing allegations of harassment by his former business associate Lori Sforza. Due to the timing, this brewing conflict must have felt like a golden opportunity to someone at the Associated Press (AP). Leading up to Halloween, the “Witch Sues Warlock” angle proved impossible to resist, and the story achieved viral status in short order. What Sforza, who goes by the business name of Lori Bruno, actually wanted was a simple restraining order, claiming that Day had been harassing her online and over the phone.

Downtown Salem [Photo Credit: MO Stevens]

Downtown Salem [Photo Credit: MO Stevens]

Some of Sforza’s more recent allegations surprised Day. After the Oct 28 hearing, “the world’s most famous warlock” told local reporters that he would give $10,000 to anyone who can prove that he made these particular harassing calls to Sforza from an anonymous number. It is this specific allegation that then led a judge to sign the restraining order against Day, forbidding him from any contact with Sforza over the next year.

The Wild Hunt spoke with both of the litigants, as well as a non-legal mediator, to understand how a falling out between former friends could lead to a court hearing.

What both parties agree on is that Sforza worked in one of Day’s shops, performing psychic readings, from 2009-2012. Day charged nothing to Sforza for the use of the space. However, they have quite different recollections as to why this was the case. “He begged me to work in his shop,” said Sforza, while Day maintains, “I was doing her a favor.”

No matter his motivations, their business relationship — which had included plans for a reality television show — ended, and Sforza opened a competing business. That’s apparently when the former close friends allegedly started going at it hammer and tongs, including (if the accusations they each level against the other are true) through proxies and on the internet.

The Complaint for Protection from Harassment, which Sforza signed on September 28, lists abuses she said had been heaped upon her by Day. These abuses included “cartoons depicting me in a vicious way,” ethnic and racial slurs, allegations of organized crime involvement, and “calling me the ‘c’ word.” Sforza is Italian, and identifies herself as an hereditary witch. She told The Wild Hunt that Day had also maligned one of her ancestors.

Day downplays — but does not deny — what he characterizes mostly as “snide comments” about Sforza, and said that the judge agreed that it fell under free speech. However, in an additional affidavit signed on October 13,  Sforza alleges that for the past three years, Day has been “calling my home phone up to 3 times a week from a private number” between 2 and 3 in the morning. The most recent of the calls, which were comprised of threats and obscenities, had occurred on September 29, Sforza wrote in the document.

[Twitter: @LoriBruno]

[Twitter: @LoriBruno]

Sforza’s attorney, Fiore Porreca, said that his client was more concerned with what she called disparaging “cartoons” — memes, really — that had been posted on Facebook. They used publicly-available pictures of her, with captions suggesting she is a liar or not a legitimate practitioner of the Craft. “They were out there for millions to view,” Porreca said.

He went on to explain that the phone calls only came up once he was retained by her, because he recognized that it was important. “My client has never been in court before . . . it’s not like she’s filed a million harassment orders.” Massachusetts law makes these proceedings informal, with no need for an attorney, so she didn’t use one to help her complete the initial paperwork. Once he learned of them, “I told her the calls were an important factor.”

According to Porreco, the judge directed them to file a supplemental affidavit on the day of the hearing, Oct 13. However, the actual hearing was then rescheduled to Oct 28, because Day could not be in Salem on that earlier date.  He now resides in New Orleans.

According to Day’s account of the proceedings, it was the phone calls that ultimately convinced the judge to sign the restraining order. That morning, the warlock’s attorney called in sick. As a result, he had to hire a new one right in the courthouse because no further adjournment would be granted. “All [this new lawyer] was able to do was rebut the plaintiff’s allegations, but not to prepare me to testify,” he said. “In retrospect, I wish I had taken a chance and done so, because the judge said he gave no weight to my side.”  However, he does not think the judge was in error. Day said, “He had 20 television cameras pointed at him, and a little old lady. What was he going to do?”

Regarding what befell Day’s original attorney, Sforza said pointedly, “I certainly did not cast a spell. He had the right to speak, as I did. He did not.”

Day said that he understands that his public persona may make it easier to presume him guilty, but that no evidence was presented. He freely admits to having made “saucy” remarks and said that he even drew an unflattering cartoon of Sforza once. But, Day said that the work shown in court was not his. More importantly, Day said, “Even my haters realize I am not the anonymous-phone-call type.” Calling himself “the Donald Trump of witchcraft,” he acknowledges that he’s “said a thing or two that people don’t like.” That includes an online spat last year that enraged many Pagan bloggers. “I never denied the mistake,” he said. “I own up to things.”

That’s how Witchdoctor Utu sees it. Utu is one of the “hundreds of mutual friends” Day said he and Sforza share. Utu once agreed to mediate between them, because their dispute was causing ripples in the community. He said that “they were inseparable” before the business disagreement. This can be seen in the many, varied public photos and media accounts of the two witches practicing together.

Christian Day

Christian Day [Courtesy Photo]

Over a period of time, Utu recalled speaking to each of them, hearing their specific grievances. He eventually secured an agreement from Day to stop posting about Sforza, which Utu said that Day has honored since July. However, Sforza “was less than cooperative, yelling and screaming” during phone calls which took place over a period of months. “All of these issues she had with him … from years ago.” And not once, Utu said, did Sforza ever mention the late night harassing phone calls. “If she had, I would have done my best to make it stop,” he said. Utu questions why she never mentioned them and never filed any police report about them.

But Sforza has remained steadfast in her position and claims.

Utu added that, he believes Sforza “doesn’t care about collateral damage,” including abuse heaped on people who appear at Day’s events. Utu understands that Day’s outrageous behavior causes him problems, but he said, additionally, “in the end people make [stuff] up about him. He’s the first to admit all his faults.”

There are many unanswered questions about this situation, but it is clear that its genesis is in a personal dispute between two people who, in Witchdoctor Utu’s words, “once loved each other very much.” Because the court action was seeking an order of protection, it was not a “trial” in the normal sense; the rules favor the alleged victim out a sense of caution.

As for how it may have impacted the lucrative Halloween business in Salem, Day himself expressed worry. But also said that his stores and books do better each year, whether the attention on him is negative or not. “Attempts like these never undermine my success,” he said. Nevertheless, he’s hoping to have a new hearing on that restraining order, and unless it comes around on the docket next October, it’s unlikely that his day in court will be picked up by the Associated Press.

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Pagan voters in two U.S. regions have the opportunity to do something unusual –  vote for a fellow Pagan. In Virginia, Lonnie Murray was successful in his bid for re-election as Director of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD). And, in Maine, Thaum Gordon is up for re-election as Supervisor for Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Wild Hunt spoke to both men about their experiences as elected officials and what advice they have for Pagans considering running for office.

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

Mr. Murray, who identifies as an Animist, was first elected as Director of TJSWCD in 2011. His bio lists his past experience serving on the Charlottesville Citizens Committee on Environmental Sustainability, the Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee, and the Biscuit Run State Park Master Plan Advisory Committee. He was also one of the founders of Charlottesville’s Earth Week. In this election, Murray faced Steven Meeks in the November 3 race and defeated Meeks 52% to 47%.

Mr. Gordon, who is an eclectic Druid, was also first elected in 2011 and faces an opponent in his re-election bid. Unlike most other states where supervisors are on the general election ballot, Maine requires voters to request absentee ballots to vote for board supervisor. All ballots are due by November 11.

Lonnie Murray [photo from Facebook]

Lonnie Murray [Facebook Photo]

Although some Pagans and Heathens running for office have faced very public, and sometimes harsh, scrutiny of their religion, both Murray and Gordon said that religion hasn’t come up in either election bid. Murray says he’s fortunate to live near Thomas Jefferson’s home town where he says religious freedom has always been a community value. Although Murray said it’s inappropriate for people to use religion in their campaigns, he believes it’s important for Pagans to know that there are other Pagans holding office. He added, ”When you are a minority of any kind, it helps to know that you do have a voice and that serving in a public office is an option for people like you too. All that said, I represent people of all faiths, and those of no faith.”     

In addition to his time holding elected office, Gordon has been involved with public service over 40 years. “Some folks know I’m Pagan, but I’ve never felt the need to announce myself as such in governmental work,” said Gordon. What he has done is share his experience and qualifications with the public. That won voters over in 2011.

In his election, Murray was able to point out his past accomplishments while serving on the TJSWCD. He said, “As promised, while in office I worked to bring more attention to urban areas, and how we can clean up streams by creating biofilters, and by planting more trees and native wildflowers. Generally people like trees and wildflowers way more than pavement and martian mudscapes.”

Murray said that his advice to Pagans considering running for office is to attend local public meetings and volunteer for public advisory groups. He noted the possible the impact in municipal and county offices.“Local government has way more importance to your life on a day to day basis than anything that happens in Washington. Schools, roads, water, sewer, fire departments, police, land use and many environmental issues are all decided locally.”  

Thaum Gordon [photo from Facebook]

Thaum Gordon [photo from Facebook]

Gordon suggested running for a Conservation District position is a good way to enter public office, “There are almost 3000 Conservation Districts in the US; it’s a great first step to get involved with public service. Likewise, there are thousands of water utility districts, sewer districts, parks commissions, and other special-purpose units of government that need board members. These can be stepping stones to more competitive county or municipal elections.”

Both men believe that Pagans and Heathens may have particular strengths that could prove success in politics. For example, Gordon stressed a certain openness to other people’s ideas and an interest in looking for common ground. Murray notes that there is common approach to working magic and working in politics. “While it takes lots of patience to see progress, there really is magic in how by applying effort and intention you can help solve important problems in your own community.”

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This article is part one of a new series, in which I will examine Pagan and Heathen ethical codes. While the Wiccan Rede is arguably the best known Pagan ethical code, it is not the only one followed. We’ll look at a particular code and then explore a specific example of striving to live by that code.

Although credit is often given to the 10 Commandments as the basis for Western culture and morality, that claim more appropriately belongs to Solon and his 10 Precepts. Solon was one of the Seven Sages of Greece and widely credited as the father of Western democracy, the creator of a jury of peers trial and appeals process, and the author of the first written civil constitution.


Bust of Solon [Public Domain]

Who was Solon and what are the 10 Precepts?
Solon was an Athenian who lived in the early years of the 6th century BCE. His most famous saying, “Everything in moderation,” was carved into the stone walls at the Oracle of Apollon at Delphi. He also wrote a code of ethics that children memorized and later philosophers examined and built on.

  1. Trust good character more than promises.
  2. Do not speak falsely.
  3. Do good things.
  4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
  5. Learn to obey before you command.
  6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful.
  7. Make reason your supreme commander.
  8. Do not associate with people who do bad things.
  9. Honor the gods.
  10. Have regard for your parents.

Doing Good Things
The 10 Precepts of Solon is one of the ethical codes followed by many Hellenic polytheistsIn these precepts, Solon tells us to be respectful toward our parents, even when we don’t obey them due to disagreements over morality. We are cautioned against prematurely setting ourselves up as an authority figure or blindly following others who don’t possess the wisdom and maturity to lead. He tells us to think things through carefully instead of allowing emotion to rule us. And, we should choose our friends and elect our politicians based on what they do, rather than by what they say.

He also tells us to Do Good Things.

Do – constantly, not only in the past or sometime (perhaps) in the future.
Good – something that has a positive impact on others.
Things – material, concrete actions, not just talking about it.  

For myself, Doing Good Things entailed bringing food and comfort to persons experiencing homelessness.

Ethics in Action
I’ve long dropped off donations to food-shelves, usually as part of my monthly Deipnon observance. Each time I drop off food, hygiene items, or cash donations the staff are extremely grateful. I also volunteer to serve meals and help clean up at soup kitchens. While there, I learned that persons experiencing homelessness need respectful human contact equally as much as the food. They need to be treated as a human being of worth and value. That is when I started to take an additional, and more direct approach, to Doing Good Things.

I make packets filled with items a person experiencing homelessness might need and keep a few of them in my car and in my backpack. Hand warming packets, socks, snacks, wet wipes, gift cards to fast food places or convenience stores, and hygiene items. When I see someone in need, I hand them a ziplock bag filled with these items along with a wish for good fortune. I look them in the eye. I shake their hand. One older lady held onto my hand and whispered in a choked voice, “Thank you for seeing me.”

Yes, I see them. Or I thought I was seeing them. Until my friends Aaron and Todd took me out to an encampment.

Last Friday I met up with Aaron and Todd in a St. Paul park. Both men have been going to encampments set up by homeless persons for quite some time. I knew the camps existed, but wasn’t sure where they could possibly be located in the heart of a major city. In an alley? That seemed unlikely. An underpass? Also unlikely. It turns out they are all around, just a few steps away from many major intersections. I just wasn’t seeing them.

We met at the park and pooled together what we had brought. I brought sandwiches, poptarts, apples, Sunny Delight, socks, pads, and fresh cheese snacks. Aaron brought gloves, hats, and various hygiene items. Todd had water, Halloween candy, ziplock bags, and 150 bags of chips. We assembled the items into ziplock bags and ended up with about 110 finished bags. We were set.

[Photo Credit: C. Schulz]

[Photo Credit: C. Schulz]

Todd led the way to the encampment. We walked down a dead end street and then I noticed a trail leading off into a slightly wooded area that sloped down to train tracks. A wooded path, in the heart of the city. I realized that I’ve seen these little scrub and wood breaks all over the Twin Cities, but I’ve never really looked at them. They had nothing to offer me, and they could be a dangerous place to venture. So my brain stopped registering them; just like how we stop seeing homeless persons themselves. But now I was seeing the wooded areas as a liminal place, where a person could exist as part of society, but not really accepted into it.

There was only one tent found in this normally popular encampment, and Todd was a bit worried. Had police cleared them out? This happens periodically. The idea is to clear them out and take away their tents to force them into shelters before winter sets in. Yet there are reasons why some people choose to face the harsh Minnesota winter rather than sleep in a shelter. Not all shelters allow men to stay with their families. Persons may be struggling with mental health issues and are fearful of being locked into a room with a large group of people they don’t know. They may fear catching some type of illness or having what little they own stolen. They may not be able to comply with shelter rules, such as “no pet” rules or limits on drug or alcohol use. Or they may not be willing to join in required religious activities.

Yet current government policy is to clear out these camps by destroying the tents and sleeping bags. This enforcement doesn’t push most campers into shelters; it forces them to relocate and try to survive with even less protection from the elements. When they get another tent, they’ll take it down each morning and set it back up each evening in an attempt to draw less attention to themselves.


[Photo Credit: C. Schulz]

We left a few packets at the family size tent and then walked to a nearby shelter. As we handed out the bags, more people came out of the shelter. They loved the bags, and some said “Trick or treat” as we handed them one.

“Socks! There’s socks in here!” I heard that more than once. Socks are like gold. They’re the most needed, but often the least donated item. Sunny Delight was also a hit, and I made a mental note to buy more. We chatted with them and joked around.

Todd asked where people were now camping out, and he noted the locations. One was a just a bit deeper back from where we looked. Todd said that is how he first found the camps; by asking people at the shelters where the camps are. It is as simple as that, once you gain their trust.

I was asked a few times what group or church I was with. Why I was doing this? My answers were some variation of, “I’m just a person, like you.”

Todd warned me that after I did this I’d be hooked, and he’s right. People need food. They need clothing and warmth. They need respect, and they need to be seen. So why not give it to them? It was so easy and so simple. 

This is one of the ways that I am trying to live by the Precepts of Solon. What are some of the things you do, big and small, to directly and positively impact others’ lives? What are the ways you Do Good Things?

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Over the next year, Cara Schulz will continue to explore the many different ethical codes present in modern Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. With help from others, she will highlight the codes themselves, their history and how they manifest in people’s daily lives.

Part Two Coming Soon … 

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wild hunt buttonToday we are starting off with a big thank you to everyone who supported the 2015 Wild Hunt Fall Fundraiser. Whether you donated, shared our link, told people about the service or any other effort, the Wild Hunt team is grateful to each of you.

It came down to the last few hours but we managed not only to reach the goal but to exceed it. While we do not have the final figures at this point, the total raised is pushing $20,000. That number is higher than previous years.Thank you deeply to everyone for making it possible for The Wild Hunt to continue its service with room for new growth.

What can you expect in the coming year? First…more of what you have come to expect. Our columnists will be returning on their regular days to explore and discuss the issues of the day. We currently have a full lineup of weekend writers including, Rhyd Wildermuth, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Eric Scott, Lisa Roling, Dodie Graham-McKay, Cosette Paneque, Christina Oakley-Harrington, Crystal Blanton, Alley Valkyrie and our newest columnist Heathen Chinese. Both Valkyrie’s and Wildermuth’s columns will continue to be sponsored by Hecate Demeter, who has been supporting their work for over a year. And, new this year, Blanton’s column will be sponsored by CAYA Coven, whose organizers wrote, “In celebration of the wisdom and achievements of Pagan Women of Color, CAYA Coven is proud to sponsor Crystal Blanton’s Wild Hunt column this year.”

Also returning will be our two hard-working weekly journalists: Cara Schulz and Terence P. Ward. They will continue to cover the news as it happens, as well as broader news topics. Additionally, we welcome Yeshe Matthews as our Strategic Planning Director. We are thankful to her for running our 2015 Funding Drive and look forward to her continued work as a member of the Wild Hunt team.

But what about the growth? As always, we welcome news voices and interesting stories for our guest columns. We will continue that tradition and invite writers to submit pitches and stories. We also welcome press releases, letters to the editor and news tips. Outside of that, we will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the year and will announce any exciting changes in that process as they happen.

For now, we are taking a moment to pause hold this space and simply say thank you.

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1272196_1504315986498225_3499266264717747598_o-e1417450132408-500x447In Sept, Niki Whiting announced that Many Gods West (MGW), the Polytheist conference held in Washington State, would be returning. This week Whiting announced the event dates would officially be August 5-7. Additionally, the key address will be delivered by Sarah Anne Lawless, a professional artist, writer, folk herbalist and sole owner of the new shop Fern and Fungi. Whiting said, “[Lawless] approaches polytheism through animism, herbalism, and witchcraft. It will be an interesting contrast to last year’s excellent keynote.” The well-received 2015 address was given by Morpheus Ravenna.

It was also clarified that the MGW conference will be held at a different hotel than last year. Organizers say that it is “bigger and better.” But the location will still be Olympia, Washington, which is located approximately 60 miles south of Seattle. As reported earlier, the opening and closing rituals will be hosted by Rynn Fox of Coru Cathubodua. Registration and tickets go on sale Tuesday of this week. Whiting also added that further details are coming soon. For those interested, follow the Many Gods West Facebook page.

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As reported in several mainstream news sources, psychic witch Lori Sforza, also known as Lori Bruno, was in court this week to request a “protective order” against Christian Day. According to the reports, Sforza has accused Day of repeatedly harassing her via the phone and in social media. Day denies these allegations calling the conflict a “business dispute” gone wrong. Outside of the courtroom, he told reporters that Sforza is lying and has repeatedly called him names in public spaces.

The judge, who was reportedly was “dismayed by the volume of late night calls,” granted Sforza the protective order. But Day has vowed to appeal the decision. And, as stated after the hearing, he offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove that he had made all of those calls. The local television news was at the hearing and posted a short clip. We are currently working on this story and will have more details in the coming week.

In Other News…

  • Starhawk will be doing a book tour February and March 2016. She will be working through a speakers’ agency called Aid and AbetThe tour will happen just a few weeks after the official release of her new novel City of Refuge. Starhawk said, “If you have connections with an institution that might want me to come, or if you think you might want to organize something in your area, please contact Jen Angel:” Starhawk added that she prefers small bookstores and university settings.
  • The Luna Press has released its 2016 Lunar Calendar “dedicated to the Goddessin her many guises.” This year marks the 40th anniversary of the calendar’s publication. The first one was produced in 1975 and has continued ever since. Today’s edition includes 23 artists, poets, and writers. Publisher Nancy Passmore said, “The art for this year’s 40th cover is about keeping ones’ moon boat afloat …” and was created by Jamie Hogan. Older covers and ordering information are on the publisher’s website.
1989 Cover Art of the Lunar Calendar

1989 Cover Art of the Lunar Calendar

  • Many people within our communities were interviewed by mainstream media during the October month. In article for Broadly Magazine, Ashley Mortimer, who is a Doreen Valiente Foundation Trustee and Director of the Centre for Pagan Studies was asked to comment on the work of Margaret Murray. The article, titled “The Forgotten Egyptologist and First Wave Feminist who Invented Wicca,” discusses Murray’s life, her influence on Gardner and the problematic place her work in Wicca’s history. Mortimer concludes, “It actually does not matter whether, or to what extent, Murray was right or wrong or that Gerald Gardner made it up or not … The system that was developed works for its purpose, which is religious and spiritual development. And that, in itself, is enough.”
  • Wild Hunt columnist Eric O. Scott authored an article for the religion news forum On Faith. This article, titled “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Wicca,” was published on Oct 30. Scott is a second generation Pagan, who was raised in a Wiccan family. He writes, “The Halloween season invites many questions from people outside of Wicca about the nature of our religion. Some of those questions are things that even I didn’t have a good answer for, despite having been involved with Wicca since the day I was born.” Scott goes on to detail ten points about Wicca and its religious culture. The piece is unique in that it not only presents an un-sensationalized view point on Wicca within a mainstream media forum, but it was written by someone who has practiced the religion, as he said, “since the day he was born.”
  • Are you having Halloween withdrawl already? Go to Timeout‘s website and look over the dramatic photography from “Edinburgh’s Celtic Halloween ritual Samhuinn.” The twenty images show the Beltane Fire Society’s re-enactment of traditional rituals. As the report says, “Samhuinn is a riot of tribal drumming, pyrotechnics, body paint and symbolic, often violent street theatre.” The Beltane Fire Society is a “a community arts performance charity that hosts the Beltane Fire Festival and Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.” In 2012, writer Rynn Fox looked at the society and how they create these community rituals.
  • Finally, Pagan singer Misha Penton published her most recent music video, titled “The Captured Goddess.” Penton’s voice is classically trained and, in this video, she is accompanied by a solo piano, a viola, and the music of Dominick DiOrio. The song is inspired by the 1914 Amy Lowell poem of the same name.

That’s it for now! Have a great day!

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[Unleash the Hounds is a monthly feature that highlights media stories of interest originating predominantly outside of our collective communities. If you like seeing this roundup every month, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. Only a few hours left in the 2015 campaign! Join the team of supporters. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt on track for another year. Thank You.]

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

According to a number of news sites, Facebook announced Friday that it is making changes to its infamous “real name policy.” Last year, this policy triggered a number of protests after it was used to target various communities, most visibly the LGBTQ and Indigenous populations. As we have previously reported, many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists have also been targets of “real name policy” enforcement.

The reported announcement came in the form of a letter written in response to the most recent protest. On October 5, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published its own open letter, speaking out against the policy and asking Facebook to respond by Oct 31. The open letter was signed by a number of organizations and individuals from around the world, including the ACLU, #MyNameIs Campaign, Transgender Law Center, Women, Action &  the Media and more. The EFF open letter reads in part, “Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in countries with low levels of internet penetration, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.

In response, Facebook’s Vice President of Growth Alex Schultz reportedly responded with his own letter announcing the changes. According to that document, the policy itself will remain intact; however, beginning in December, Facebook will allow people to submit descriptive reasoning for a name choice along with their non-government issued IDs. Similarly, anyone who flags a person’s name will be required to submit detailed reasoning and proof.

Schultz explains that “bullying, harassment or other abuse on Facebook is eight times more likely to be committed by people using names other than their own than by the rest of the Facebook community.” However, he acknowledged that the policy, as it stands, does not work for everyone. Along with other tweaks to the system, they hope to make the process easier and “more personal.”  This is good news for Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists who use their public Craft names on the social media site.

Schultz letter was posted online by BuzzFeed reporter and can be read in full there. Despite the news reports, no formal announcements seem to have been made via Facebook’s press sources or on its own social media.

   *   *   *

In Other News ….

  • As reported by the Huffington Post, the U.S. Military has refused to remove a sign reading “God Bless” from a base in Hawaii. The sign was originally erected on the Oahu base “in response to the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.” However, in recent months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has gotten involve in protesting the sign and has requested its removal. In response, Col. Sean C. Killeen said the sign will remain in place and will not be altered in anyway. He added, “This sign has the secular purpose of conveying a message of support, does not advance or inhibit religion or any particular faith, nor does it foster excessive government entanglement with religion.” MRFF, undaunted by the response, fired back requesting that, to remain within the parameters set by the Constitution, the base now needs to erect similar signs representing other beliefs, specifically including Judaism, Islam, Norse Religious Faiths, Wicca, Humanism/Atheism, and Hindu. Later the MRFF, calling the Killeen’s response “massively unconstitutional,” added three more belief systems: the Baha’i faith, the Jedi church and the Church of Satan.
  • In Colorado, one Pastor is attempting to combat religious bigotry with simple education. In an article for the local Mountain-Ear, Pastor Hansen Wendlandt explains the importance of religious literacy. He writes, “America is still a very religious country. By all measures, we are full of people who believe in God, gods and goddesses, or at least something sacred about the world. And by all accounts, very many of us behave and make civil decisions based on our religious commitments. And yet, according to the careful research, Americans are woefully ignorant of each other’s faith systems and traditions.” He is using his Community Church as a forum to teach young people, mostly teenagers, about different religions. Oct 18 marked the first session, in which he invited a Hindu speaker. In Nov, Pastor Wendlandt will welcome a Wiccan speaker; then in Dec, he will bring in a Jewish speaker, following in January, by a Buddhist. He writes, “Future dates for Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism and Humanism will be announced later.”
  • While the mainstream media continued its October quest to interview witches, a town in Italy is discussing the forgiving of one. In the town of Brentonico, Mayor Christian Perenzoni is seeking the pardon of a woman who was labeled a witch and killed 300 years ago. He told The Independent, “We wanted to render justice and historical truth, and give back the condemned woman her ethical, moral and civil dignity.” According to the report, Maria Bertoletti Toldini was accused of practicing Witchcraft since the age of 13. She was eventually tried, beheaded and burned. Her trial is considered to be one the last in a long line of Witchcraft executions in the area.
  • With everyone’s mind on Halloween, a local CBS affiliate in Minnesota reported on the “Witch Tree.” The report explains, “The solitary tree … has long been growing out of a rock on tribal land along the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior.” Local indigenous groups consider the tree sacred and leave offerings at its base. The article goes on to talk about the rituals and its honored place in that culture.
  • Contributing to the month’s trending religious discussions, The Week‘s Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry asks, “Could paganism make a comeback?” Note that in this article he is defining “paganism” as that which was practiced in the classical period, as he understands it.
  • In the art world, the Deitch Project presented an exhibition, “Cameron: Cinderella of the Wastelands,” which shared the Uncensored Story of LA Artist/Occultist Majorie Cameron.” According to an article in The Observer, “Close friends … gathered to share memories of the ‘Scarlet Woman’ who starred in Kenneth Anger films and was married to rocket scientist Jack Parsons, amid a small but historic first East Coast survey of her artwork.” Her religious beliefs were integrated into her work, and she was reportedly practicing at the convergence of three traditions: Wicca, Thelema, Scientology. According to the Deitch Project website, “The combination of Cameron’s precise line, her visionary imagery, occult practice, and charismatic personality created a singular aesthetic. Her distinctive vision and her strong feminist spirit are now inspiring a new generation of artists.” Examples of her work are on the Deitch website and in the Oberserver article.

That is it for now! Have a nice day.

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Blessed Samhain

The Wild Hunt —  October 31, 2015 — 1 Comment

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Tonight and tomorrow is when many modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. This holiday marks the start of winter and the new year according to the old Celtic calendar. It is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. Samhain is also recognized as the final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of all the modern Pagan holidays.

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

During this season, other celebrations and festivals are also being held such as Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Álfablót or the Scandanavian Sacrifice to the Elves, Winter Nights by Asatru, Foundation Night in Ekklesía Antínoou, Allelieweziel by the Urglaawe tradition, Fete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (Nov 11 this year) and the astrological Samhain on Nov 6 for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

This season is a gift for pop culture practitioners, as the trappings of magick are just about everywhere hidden in plain sight in friendly pop culture packages. Everywhere you look things are draped in spiders, bats, witches, cauldrons, and cobwebs. Every television show has a Halloween special and spooky movies play on every channel; at least one channel seems to be playing nothing but Tim Burton movies. – Emily Carlin, Exoteric Magick: Pop Culture Practices for All

As I reflect on my fourth Samhain, I notice how profoundly my relationship with my community and Witchcraft has changed. While I had hoped to find new friends and power, I received more than that. I found loved ones whom I trust with my very life and I found empowerment. Each year I have grown more deeply into who I am. When I look back upon the desperate, abused wife wanting to end her life seven years ago, I hardly recognize her as my younger self … This year I am allowing myself to fall in love with Samhain. – Annika Mongan, Born Again Witch

In the faces of old women, these days, I see a lot of unfinished business. And in a few such faces, I see the bliss of knowing everything that needs doing has been done. As I go about my days, I am blessed to see families engaged in the important, loving work of saying everything that needs to be said; of holding one another in times of great emotion; of allowing each person to manage change and challenge in their own way … It is good to give honor to what must be lost before we let it go. – Maggie Beaumont, Nature’s Path

This is a nature-based holiday that celebrates the passing of fall and the onset of winter, the lengthening nights, the dying earth at the end of fall, and the relating of this death to our own mortality and the honoring of those who came before. My thoughts are on the seasonal change and the veneration of nature the whole time. It’s a beautiful thing. – Mike Ryan, Humanistic Paganism

Samhain is also a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently. – M. Macha Nightmare

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler, Pete Pathfinder, and many others who have not been not named here but who have equally touched our lives and our communities.

And, finally, in the spirit of Alley Valkyrie’s 2014 article, we also take a moment to remember the forgotten dead.

Grief is work. If you don’t know that, then your experience of grieving has been very different from mine. Grief is hard work, as hard as lifting a thousand pounds of emptiness, over and over again, with every breath, every moment of every day … This led me to thinking about how we could make this a sacred kind of work instead of a bare necessity? – Literata, Works by Literata

To honor Samhain let us live for a day as though it is our last. Let us see dawn and sunset and the beauty of the sky as though we might not see them again. Let us listen to the song of the birds as though they might not sing for us again. Let us live for a day, focused intensely in the absolute reality of the present, as though past and future do not exist. And then let us step forward on our journey around the Wheel, hopefully, purposefully, and with the courage and strength to live, to embrace, and to change the world. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit

May you all have a blessed Samhain. May peace fall upon you and your beloved dead during this season. Let this be a new cycle of quiet joy and renewed blessings for all of you.

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The word “indigenous” is derived from “Late Latin indigenus ‘born in a country, native,’ from Latin indigena ‘sprung from the land.'” The United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the International Labor Organization and the World Bank all have official definitions of what constitutes an “indigenous” people or population. The UN definition includes several characteristics, the first of which is that indigenous populations are composed of the descendants of groups, which were in the territory at the time when other groups of different cultures or ethnic origin arrived there.” In 1986, a caveat was added that read “any individual who identified himself or herself as indigenous and was accepted by the group or the community as one of its members was to be regarded as an indigenous person.”

Map of Ohlone languages, exact boundaries questionable [Photo Credit: Bruce Hallman]

Map of Ohlone languages, boundaries questionable [Photo Credit: Bruce Hallman]

In an interview with Alt-X Berlin, Laguna Pueblo novelist Leslie Marmon Silko offers her own interpretation of the term: “When I say indigenous people I mean people that are connected to the land […] for at least some thousands of years. You can see similarities in some of the struggles of indigenous peoples in Africa, in the Americas, in Asia.”

In the same interview, Silko draws parallels with pre-Christian European traditions:

I am very interested in the pre-Christian traditions in Germany and the British Isles, very interested in what the people were like before the Christians came up here. Because, in a sense, there are many similarities. I am not trying to say it is the same but, perhaps, there are some similarities of what happened with the tribal people that were once here, the people that were so close to the earth and the trees. And then Christianity comes in the same way it came to us.

Silko implies that at some point after Christianization, many Europeans were severed from their connection to the land, from being “so close to the earth and the trees.” However, today, many indigenous people throughout the world are in fact Christian, and it is possible to be Christian and retain the sense of being “connected to the land.” Therefore, the UN definition of self-identification and acceptance by the group or community is important to keep in mind. What exactly constitutes indigeneity is not for non-indigenous groups to define.

The UN definition of “indigenous” does, however, emphasize that indigenous populations typically occupy a “non-dominant or colonial condition.” As noted in the first sentence:

Indigenous populations are composed of the existing descendants of the peoples who inhabited the present territory of a country wholly or partially at the time when persons of a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world, overcame them, by conquest, settlement or other means, reduced them to a non-dominant or colonial condition.

Christianity’s aggressive evangelization efforts in California certainly fit into this description, and have been a source of recent controversy due to the Roman Catholic Church’s canonization of the missionary Junipero Serra.

Canonization of Serra

Serra was a Spanish Franciscan friar who founded the first nine missions of the California mission system, which operated from 1769 to 1833. On Sept 23 2015, he was canonized by Pope Francis, despite the objections of indigenous tribal bands and other organizations that have criticized the Vatican’s decision to grant sainthood to a man seen as “ultimately responsible for the death of approximately 100,000 California Indians and the complete extermination of many Native tribes, cultures and languages.” Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, points out that “the brutality of Fr. Serra is documented in his own writings,” referring to Serra’s letters to Spanish colonial officials requesting and justifying the whipping of native converts, especially “runaways” from the Mission.

The Amah Mutsun, who are indigenous to the Monterey Bay Area, have been among the tribal bands vocally opposing Serra’s canonization. On their website, they have compiled a list of news articles, letters to the Pope, news reports of demonstrations, and academic research related to the topic. Other groups opposing Serra’s canonization include the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians (Acjachemen Nation), the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians (Pecháangayam Payómkawichum) and The Morning Star Institute.

In early October, several weeks after the canonization, a commemorative statue of Serra at the Presidio of Monterey was decapitated. A week before that occurred, the statue of Serra at the Carmel Mission was splashed with paint, and the words “Saint of Genocide” were painted on a headstone. The Los Angeles Times reports that the latter incident is “being investigated as a hate crime because the vandals targeted ‘specifically the headstones of people of European descent, and not Native American descent.'”

No one has claimed responsibility for either action.

Demonstration at Mission Dolores, San Francisco, May 2 2015 [Photo Credit: Alex Darocy]

Demonstration at Mission Dolores, San Francisco, May 2 2015 [Photo Credit: Alex Darocy]

Walk for the Ancestors

Another response to Serra’s canonization has been “a 650-mile pilgrimage to each of the 21 California Missions, to honor the Indigenous ancestors who suffered and perished in the Mission system and assert California Indian rejection of sainthood for Junipero Serra.” The Walk for the Ancestors is being led by Tataviam descendants Caroline Ward Holland and Kagen Holland. The walk began on September 7 at Mission Solano in Sonoma, California and is planned to end at Mission San Diego on November 7.

The walkers meet with local indigenous people and hold a moment of silence at each mission site:

At each Mission, the walkers will join with representatives of local tribes and all those who come to stand with them. Words, stories and prayers will be shared, and a moment of silence will be observed at the mass grave sites of the ancestors. The walk will then continue southward, and anyone present at the gathering will be welcomed to participate.

Caroline Ward Holland has described the context for the walk as one of cultural trauma:

To me, the disease brought here [by the Franciscans] was secondary, in comparison to the ways they tortured our people, mentally, and physically. The stories of the atrocities are passed down. Mothers were giving themselves abortions so their children wouldn’t face a life of abuse. And you know, even when they left the Mission [after secularization], they had nothing. They took their land, they took their culture, they took their spiritual practices…so the people didn’t know who they were.

That’s why we’re talking about cultural trauma. I didn’t realize it was going on, until I really thought about it. I mean, it’s still me, and it’s hundreds of years later, and I’m still feeling this. You can feel it all around you at the Missions, too.

As they visit different missions, the walkers hear many stories, some of which they have shared on their website. For example, in San Luis Obispo, the walkers learned that the history of indigenous resistance can be found in the very architecture of the missions across the entire state:

The missionaries, still under periodic attack from flaming arrows and remembering the tiled roofs of Spain, started to experiment with making roofing tiles to protect the structures against the arrows. Very quickly, all of the California missions adopted the tiles as part of their construction.

In conclusion, every time you see the Mission-style tile roofs that are so ubiquitous in California, don’t think of Spanish colonial glory. Think of flaming arrows!

Refinery Corridor Healing Walks

Earlier this year, four walks were held in the Northeast San Francisco Bay Area, each of which ended up at one of five oil refineries in the area. These Refinery Corridor Healing Walks were organized by Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC), a coalition between Idle No More SF Bay and local activists living along the corridor. Their website situates their walks within a longer history of healing walks:

There is a long history in Native America of these types of healing walks. The Refinery Corridor Healing Walks were inspired by the Tar Sands Healing Walks in Alberta, Canada, the Longest Walks, and the Peace & Dignity Journeys.

Prayers for the waters were conducted at the beginning and end of each walk, and throughout the walks:

We are walking as a commitment to Mother Earth and life on her beautiful belly. We walk as a commitment to clean air, soil and water. Members of Idle No More SF Bay conduct prayers at each refinery and toxic sites along the way. Prayers for the waters are conducted by Native American women at the beginning and end of each walk.


Annual walks and protests led by Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC) have also been held in Emeryville, an East Bay city which built a shopping mall over remnants of the Emeryville Shellmound in the early 2000s. The Sacred Land Film Project describes shellmounds as “gently rounded hills formed from accumulated layers of organic material deposited over generations by native coastal dwellers. Often the sites of burials and spiritual ceremonies, these shellmounds are still places for veneration.” IPOC writes that shellmounds are seen by the Muwekma Ohlone as “shellmounds as living cemeteries where their ancestors rest.”

The Emeryville Shellmound was “once the largest of the 425 mound sites around the Bay” and was included as a landmark on a U.S. Coast Survey map in the 1850s. Hundreds of people were buried within it. The Sacred Land Film Project reports on its history:

In 1876, the site was partially leveled for an amusement park; when the park closed in 1924, archaeologists excavated more than 700 indigenous graves. The site was then razed to build an industrial plant that occupied the site until the late 1990s, when the city demolished the buildings and started cleaning up the toxic soil left behind. During that process, hundreds of human remains were found, some of which were reburied while others were taken to landfills or incinerated as part of the cleanup.

Corrina Gould, a Chochenyo Ohlone who is one of the organizers of IPOC, told Indian Country Today that “nearly 12,000 of these remains are currently in the possession of the University of California, Berkeley, locked away and piled on shelves.” Gould is working on creating a “Native women-led land trust, where the ancestral remains stored at UC Berkeley and other museums can be re-interred.”

Emeryville Shellmound protest, November 28 2014 [Photo Credit: Wendy Kenin]

Emeryville Shellmound protest, November 28 2014 [Photo Credit: Wendy Kenin]

Unburied Bones

The University of California – Berkeley is required by law to repatriate native remains for burial, but has been slow to comply. According to a 2013 op-ed by Professor Tony Platt in the Los Angeles Times, “In 1990 Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Action, which required federally funded museums and universities to repatriate human remains to recognized tribes.” The Muwekma Ohlone are not recognized federally, but the rate of repatriation even to federally recognized tribes has been extremely slow: “UC Davis retains more than 90% of its collection (which caused one Native American activist to note that there are more dead Indians on the Davis campus than live ones). As of June 2013, Berkeley has repatriated only 315 of its 10,000 remains.”

Platt explains some of the reasons for this delay:

First, the process is slow and expensive, as claimants must make their ponderous way through faculty, campuses and university committees. Second, tribes unrecognized by the federal government have no legal right to make a direct claim. Third, and most significantly, because of unscientific work methods, most of the collection is unidentifiable as to provenance or tribal affiliation.

In the conclusion to his op-ed, Platt writes that in addition to “complying with the bureaucratic procedures spelled out in the repatriation law” UC Berkeley “should take responsibility for […] ‘a human ethical’ issue, namely, how so many well-educated, well-meaning professors and administrators eagerly violated the rights of the dead and tormented the living.” He suggests as possible courses of action “public apologies for decades of malpractice, accelerating the repatriation process and offering land or compensation for reburials.”

Indigenous Land Action Committee

Land has been at the root of recent conflict between UC Berkeley and the Indigenous Land Action Committee. A press release by the ILAC details a ceremony held at the Gill Tract, a UC-owned plot of land slated for development by the natural food chain Sprouts:

The multi-day ceremony began Sunday, October 11, led by the Indigenous Land Action Committee (ILAC), a group of indigenous people who organized the ceremonial observance to honor the land and the ancestors who lived on the land, to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and to protect the land from imminent development.

Around 5:00 am on October 14, UC police forcibly removed Ohlone Hank Herrera from the land. Herrera told the police officers, “This land is native land, it’s Ohlone Land. [Ohlone people] cannot trespass on our land… where we lived for 10,000 years.”


Indian People Organizing for Change writes, “This is the homeland of the Muwekma Ohlone Nation. As new residents and visitors to their country, we ought to show the same respect we would expect to our far distant homelands and cemeteries.” While these words are addressed to those living in the East San Francisco Bay, they apply equally to any non-indigenous person living on indigenous land anywhere across the world.

Author’s Note: This article is not intended to represent or speak for any indigenous people or group. The author is not indigenous. This article is intended to be a introductory overview. Any struggles not been mentioned here are welcome in the comments below. 


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