Today we continue our two part interview with renowned occultist, teacher and author Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Last week, journalist Zora Burden spoke with Ashcroft-Nowicki about her childhood and influences, as well as the journey that led to the creation of the Servants of the Light (SOL). In part 2, Ashcroft-Nowicki speaks more specifically about her writing, her beliefs and practice, and her teachings. She offers suggestions for those people just beginning their own personal spiritual journey, and she shares personal anecdotes from her many years working with students.

[Courtesy SOL]

[Courtesy SOL]

Zora Burden: You’ve written a prolific amount of books on many subjects in the magical arts and spiritual development. Will you talk about some of them and the motivation for writing them?

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki: Illuminations came about at a time when I thought my magical life and work was over. I tried to lift myself out of despair by writing a poem or prayer for each letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. In doing so, I discovered the beauty, magic, and power within them and the book grew from that. Thoughtforms was written with my dear friend Herbie Brennan. We were sitting in his front room one evening and talking about the power of thought forms and just for the hell of it began to put together a book synopsis. Halfway through Herbie said, “Ok we have a working plan here but I doubt if anyone will ever publish it.” Just for the hell of it we went upstairs to the office and sent it off to a publisher. Then laughed at what kind of dismissal we would get back. Twenty-four hours later we had an acceptance, which floored us. Herbie said, “Damn it, now we have to write the darned thing.” So we did. All the others come from ideas and questions I needed to find answers for!

ZB: Can you describe the symbolism and design of the SOL Tarot deck?

DA: That would take a book by itself. Just recently, going through the attic of my house, I found a box of the decks that I didn’t know I had but the booklet was not with them. They were, I think, sent when the Aquarian Press decided not to continue with them and sold me the remainders.

ZB: Will you talk about the creation of your Shakespearian Tarot and how you made correlations between the symbology of Shakespeare’s writing and Kabbalism? What other popular works of historical literature do you see referencing Kabbalism?

shakespearian tarotDA: I have always loved the theatre and trained for both drama and opera. But there came a time when I had to make a choice and a sacrifice. Shakespeare has always been a love on mine – the wording, the tone, the many shapes the words can be made to induce. I train students to use the voice as a magical tool.

The first card was the Lovers, a natural for Romeo and Juliet. It just grew from there. But it took a long time to match the quotations with the images. It was great fun and working with Jo Gill was a joy. She’s a very gifted artist. We have lost touch but I hope she is well and happy. The Tree of Life is within us all no matter who or what you are, so every book holds something of the Tree in its characters or its message.

ZB: Will you talk about the most important factors in studying and practicing Kabbalism?

DA: You either find the Qabbala within you or you don’t. It’s in everyone but only if you recognize it, can it work with power. Meditations and rituals used to be the way of teaching, now it is different. As I have already said, ritual and meditation is the way in, a beginning. After a while it becomes the way you exist and live your life. It creeps up on you. There is no eureka moment. You wake up one morning, and you and the Tree are one and the same thing. There is too much emphasis laid on ritual and ceremony. It’s great in its place; it brings people together with a single aim but it lives within the individual. Titles and degrees, and ostentation are not what it is about. Some of the most powerful people I know live quiet lives, teaching, training and living in their own Inner Light.

ZB: Will you explain for those who may not be familiar, how the major arcana of tarot is a guidebook to the Tree of Life and how the progression of the initiate through the paths is mapped out within the archetypes?

DA: No, I can’t explain because each person is different and that kind of teaching needs to be one on one to be good. I look on it as a book rather than pictures. [On] Archetypes: read Joseph Campbell, no one does it better than he.

ZB: What are the main topics you lectures on with regards to the occult? Where can people usually attend these classes or lectures?

DA: My workshops cover most traditions: basic magical training, angelic work, Pathworkings, subjects like The Hebrew Letters, The Elemental world, Qabbalah, tarot, fairy tales, magical psychology, Quantum Physics. You name it and I have probably done a workshop on it. I have, after all, been doing this since 1964. The SOL website always has my workshops and dates on it as well as those given by SOL supervisors. Between us, we probably give around 40 workshops a year.

ZB: In your international travels teaching the esoteric, which countries have you found to be the most interested and open to discussing and practicing this work? Have you traveled to any locations and felt geographic energies played an important role in enabling magical practices?

DA: My favorite places are Mexico and the USA. But Switzerland is also a favorite. Trinidad, Sweden, South America. Germany, and Greece are very special. I have actually been or worked in 28 countries. Each one has its own inner magic and special feel. Ley lines add power to a location if they go through it. These Inner Roads can be used in magical ways if one is trained to use them.

Between the Worlds 2015 [Photo Credit: C. Kenner]

Michael G. Smith and Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki at Between the Worlds 2015 [Photo Credit: C. Kenner]

ZB: What is your daily spiritual routine like, especially when you’re so busy with many speaking engagements and projects?

DA: I don’t have one. I don’t tie myself down to dates and times or specific tasks. My whole life, every day is part of what I do, just breathing is magic, thinking is magic. Ceremony is traditional and nice to do, but once you have the understanding of the Universe, you don’t really need it. It brings people together and that is good.

ZB: For those who are not members of Servants of the Light (SOL), what messages or advice can you give those seeking the truth and educating themselves in the magical arts?

DA: Find a school and take your time. Talk to those who have studied with them; don’t take the first one, not all schools suit everyone. Look at what their students are like. Do you want to be like them or not? I make a point of telling students: “What I’m telling you is from my own experience. That does not mean you have to agree with it. It doesn’t come written on two tablets of stone. It’s alright to disagree, I am still learning. I’ve just been around longer, which means I have had the time to make more mistakes!”

ZB: How does a mystery school function without validating one tradition over another and can it encompass all traditions? How does one find truth in a tradition or school and know it’s right for them?

DA: The Truth is in all traditions; they simply use it in different ways. I personally will not be labelled. I have worked with Wicca and Traditional English Craft, The Faerie Tradition, and QBL, Pure Hermetics, and Mysticism. I am also an ordained priest. Mr. Butler said, “It is only on earth, belief systems are divided, on the spiritual level they all lead to the Source.” We are basically QBL, this is used as a foundation for everything else.

ZB: What tools or external factors are most important for people working to cultivate spiritual progress and for magical potency?

DA: Cultivate curiosity, actively look around you and seek out information. You keep using that word spiritual; it comes in all sizes and colors. What is spiritual to me, may not be so to you, so how can I decide what is best for you. I work with anything and everything. Everything has a sense of self, small or large. Whatever comes to hand if it is useful, use, if it is not, then it may suit someone else

ZB: What are some typical questions you are asked during these lectures or lessons?

DA: Funny thing. I’m always complaining about this. You ask for questions and no one asks. Then, as soon as I get a cup of coffee in my hands or walk to the loo after three hours of sitting, they come up and ask questions. Examples:

Q) How long will it take me to be able to fight on the Astral? A) How long will it take you to get through that door and out of my workshop? Q) I’m being attacked astrally, how can I protect myself?  A) The only reason to be attacked is if you have something they want. At this stage, that is nothing. You don’t have a rare book, you don’t have a great secret, you are not an Ipsissmus, you are not worth attacking. It takes energy, power, time and know how to really attack people. Thinking you are being attacked is a cry for attention. Take a long hard look at yourself and find out why you want that attention. Q) Why do I have to write a diary? It’s boring. A) So you can remember and think back and learn from mistakes. We can only learn by two things: experience and making mistakes. By the way, if you get bored that easily don’t come to SOL. We don’t do boring.

Then there are the people who come in full regalia, sit in the front row and nod smugly at everything you say. I have a lot of fun with them! I always try to answer as honestly as I can.

ZB: Why do you feel some people are naturally drawn to this spiritual work? What advice can you give for those born gifted and have spiritual inclinations, to guide them on their path?

51L3YYwyywL._SX409_BO1,204,203,200_DA: Some people are born to paint, to sculpt, to create engines, to sing, to farm the land, others are born to think, wonder, invent, hope and strive for the unknown. Why should everyone be the same? There have always been those born to “see beyond” and who can bring back echoes of what they see. Not everyone has the ability to draw, paint, fix an engine write a novel. We need each other’s skills.

There have always been priests and priestesses, there always will be. If you are not one of them in this life, be the best you can be at what you do, and maybe next time round, who knows. If it is within you, it will show up sooner or later; no one can predict such a thing. If you are a novice, then wait. If your talent is true someone will turn up and guide you. Put out a wish for a guide and they will come. But if you want it for the wrong reasons, be prepared to pay a price. It’s not a cake walk, you will be expected to work hard and train your memory.

Read anything and everything. Learn night and day. Don’t do it for titles; do it for the love of the work. Advice? I still consider myself a student, there is always something to learn, so how can I advise. Someone came to me and showed me the way. If it is in you, someone will come.

ZB: For those who are born with clairsentience, is it possible to strengthen or heighten more than one of the clair senses in an individual?

DA: Yes. Some are more able and have multiple talents than others. Train until you reach your limit, then try and go further. If you have a talent for healing, teaching, writing, astrology, or tarot, then get a firm foundation on the basics of all the powers. Then find which is strongest and exercise it until it is as good as you can get it.

I came from a psychic family going back generations; I was born with a certain ability to contact, hold, and transcribe information. I also had a singing voice of some power, and an ability to use drama to convey emotion. I was allowed to train those gifts, then was told to give up using them in the way I had thought of doing and instead offer them to the Higher Levels for their use. I could have said no. My specialty is an ability to pass on information. I can use my voice as a tool to make things interesting without boring people to death. I also have the ability to hold a higher contact within myself for a period of time and learn from them what they need others to know. Basically I’m an old fashioned tape recorder; I play back to those I teach what the Higher Levels have given me.

ZB: Can you explain the importance of Pathworking? What are some of the basics of the lessons?

DA: Pathworking, or guided meditations, have been around for centuries, just not by that name. It encourages visualization and helps students to build their inner world. They are basic and grow in strength as the students grow. Without such exercises it would be much harder.

ZB: What are some of the ideal environments or tools needed for a student or practitioner to meditate in?

DA: A trained student should be able to meditate during a Rolling Stones concert! It’s not the place; it’s the skill used to go deep. Anyone at all can meditate in a quiet and beautiful area, it takes skill and dedication to do it at a railway station at rush hour. Listening to music can create images and thoughts; it is often chosen for that. But you should be able to meditate anywhere at all. If you need help, you are not trying!

ZB: What should an initiate expect in order to become skilled, or knowledgeable as an adept in regards to the amount of practice, work and years one puts into their learning?

DA: The same dedication you would put into becoming a doctor or an architect; it’s work, hard work and for a long time. Dedication is vital and I’m afraid I see very little of it around today. If it can’t be done or learned in a couple of weekend workshops, then it’s no good. There are those who rely on such people to give them a good living; those who will tell them how good they are and how powerful and change the earth.

You should give something. Ernest said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” So something should be offered in return. But always within their limited means. To some a teacher will give freely.

ZB: How important is the physicality of ritual in magical work in relation to internal work like introspection or meditation?

41gpsnjlAGL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_DA: Ritual is lovely; it lifts the spirit, the heart and the mind. It is a guide for those who as of yet, cannot do without its controlled power. Much later when you can control the power within and understand it, then you can dispense with ritual. But it is a tradition and will always be a useful and uplifting tool. Ritual has been part of human life for thousands of years. It has served us well, and still has a beauty, a power, and a meaning.

But, as once the chariot was the only means of transport, we now have cars and planes and we wouldn’t dream of going back to chariots. In the same way we are growing out of the use of ritual. It will go on for a long time yet because it does have a sense of fellowship and grace but that was when we were still somewhat within a hive mind. Now we are almost 98 % individuals and can do things for and by ourselves.

Know Thyself, we were told and it has taken 3,000 years to do it. Tradition has its place in history but we now have our eyes on the stars. As the stars are above, so we are their reflection below but slightly different.

ZB: Who do you feel are the ideal applicants to become an initiate of the SOL? What should they have in regards to approach, studies, skill levels etc.? How does one know they are ready to study within the SOL?

DA: Anyone with a desire to know more about themselves as a mind within a cleverly designed container (body). Anyone who doesn’t whine about having to do some work daily and write a diary. They should have self-discipline, dedication, and enough time to do the work. Don’t take it on unless you can give us 12 to 14 hours a week. This is not something to take up like a knitting group. It’s a university course in Life.

We ask less time than you would do at a college or university. We have an application form, fill it in and we will tell you if you are right for us. You would be surprised at what comes through the post.“When will I learn to call up demons?” or “How can I kill from a distance?” I am not joking. One gentleman wanted to know how to make a billion pounds so he could buy a football team and have it win every time.

ZB: What do you feel about those who attempt to conjure external ‘demonic’ forces as part of their magical practice?  Do you believe these exist literally as opposed to conducting shadow work?

DA: Yes, I believe evil can take a form. There is nothing in the universe that has only one side to it. Believe in good, you must believe in evil. Believe in angels, you must believe that evil can assume a form. The old Alchemists used to call them up. But what did they call? Usually some little vortex of power that found itself drawn into a triangle of manifestation looking like a bio-chemist’s nightmare. It must have looked down and thought: “What’s with this guy’s imagination!” No wonder these forces get mad and send them mad. I would have done the same!

It is always good to remember that ugliness and beastliness revolts, but evil housed in a beautiful form has a greater chance of entrapping you. Most of what was called up was elemental power and relatively harmless. It is stupidity rather than evil. They get what they deserve for misusing power.

ZB: What are the three most important tools a person must learn to acquire a full understanding of the esoteric? What would you say should be the real goal in the manifestations of higher consciousness, or self-realization?

DA: Discretion, Discrimination and Imagination. Also, the Practice of Inner Silence, without it you will not grow.  Anyone who enters this way of the mysteries, even for only a short time is enlightened by that brief time. We are all becoming enlightened little by little. Every new thing you learn is an enlightenment. Every time you pass on what you have learned, you enlighten that person. This makes ‘claiming enlightenment’ a bit silly. There is no prize for being enlightened and no shame in being simply an ordinary human being. Learn and pass it on, that is all we can do. Every time you get an idea you are enlightened; we are all and will remain students.

ZB: Aside from you own books, what other books do you recommend for study in the occult arts? How should students approach solitary practice before working within a group?

DA: There are thousands of books in print and only half of them will have something to offer. You can forget the ‘Nine ways to make a love potion’ or ‘You too can be a Channeler’, in actual fact you can’t. You have to have an inner audio talent. Shirley MacLaine notwithstanding, Joseph Campbell, Gareth Knight, Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan, John Michael Greer, Ivo Dominguez, Orion Foxwood. Anything by John and Caitlin Matthews. Remember that there are occult novels which contain teaching in a way that non-fiction books can’t reach, as with Katherine Kurtz’s, Lammas Night. There are many out there.

Read, read, and read.

ZB: Do you feel working within a group is necessary?

DA: A group has the advantage of someone to talk to and answer questions. The fellowship is a good way to concentrate. Solitary is sometimes the only way for those in isolated places. It’s harder but not impossible. I might think about a book on that.

ZB: How do you define real ‘magic’ and its purpose within the individual or within a group?

DA: Magic as I was taught, is the ability to change yourself from the inside to the outside. To create around and within you as much balance as is possible for you, at the stage you have reached. This change can happen suddenly and often shatters them when it does, then it rebuilds them. With a group, like a School or Order or Lodge, it usually begins to happen through the medium of the Group Mind. The power of change then begins to spread through the group, each one reacting according to their ability to perceive what is happening to them internally. Those who cannot or will not allow the change to happen, leave the group on one pretext or another.

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ZB: What are some of the important factors that a school such as SOL offers in regards to learning and becoming an adept in the magical arts that they cannot learn on their own?

DA: Not everyone becomes an adept; it’s the titles thing again. You can become proficient in the Art. We offer a safe, graduated training, designed to bring you into a state of mind where you can recognize yourself as being whole and balanced. On your own you can go so far but without someone to point out strengths and weakness, you will always be at a certain risk.

ZB: How do the various Lodges of SOL differ and how would a student choose which is right for them to join?

DA: Each Lodge is headed by an initiate who chooses a patron under whom they will work. We allow a certain percentage of non-SOL people in a Lodge to add to the variety. Some work with Egyptian, others Greek, some esoteric Christian, and Celtic Craft. The Supervisor chooses the patron, and they govern their Lodges. They send in reports twice a year and advise me who seems to be right for initiation and what degree. I visit as many as I can each year. This is getting more difficult as we are spreading over the globe. At the moment I think we have students in 18 different countries.

When a student is well into the course work and seems dedicated we try to get them into a Lodge as close to their home as possible. In the UK people do not travel long distance as do the American students. Europeans try to make it when they can. Australia is difficult. We have few students there. They are a people more in touch with the outdoors than the inner way. But we do have a few good people. We direct students to a Lodge that has room for them and people of their own type

ZB: For those who may become frustrated or overwhelmed or even frightened by what they experience during their work and exercises, how do you encourage them to remain on the path?

DA: You wait and watch. Sometimes with more knowledge, they settle down and get it together. If not, you have to bite the bullet and tell them it is not right for them. Be honest, otherwise you are taking money under false pretenses. This work is not for everyone.

ZB: What are some important facts that you would like people to know about the SOL and yourself?

DA: We care about the people we train. If they are ill, or need a kind word or to answer a question, we do the best we can. Every student is like a part of my family and like a parent, I’ll raise hell if I have to. I’m not a push over, do not get on the wrong side of my Natal Chart, the one with Scorpio rising! Do well and I’ll acknowledge that and encourage you to do even better. But, don’t mess with my ‘kids’. I’ll fight for them.

ZB: How has the school evolved or the years? Have any aspects of the tradition changed?

DA: Of course it has changed, if it didn’t we would not be here after 50 years. Change and adaption is how humanity has always worked and grown stronger. Our rituals, initiations, supervisors, and workshops have all changed. The new course is quite unlike Ernest’s. We now have an administration section, which takes a lot of the work off me. We have a trained and chosen successor who will take over the reins eventually. I’m still learning myself and I have changed a lot.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak out. There will always be some who will disagree with me and that’s ok but I have faults and admit to them. But when the time comes to move on, I will have few regrets. I will have done the best. I wish I had the chance to sing more. But it was the price asked and I gave it willingly. But in my next life’s round, please can I be the spoilt daughter of an indulgent millionaire. Call it a holiday life!

ZB: Lastly, when do you think that society will realize that the magical arts and occult are actually science based? In the middle ages much of what we know was science today was thought of as witchcraft, so do you see society as ever becoming enlightened to this fact and accepting magical work as a form of science or physics?

DA: It’s already happening. Quantum Physics is the new word for Magic. It has always been about understanding the Laws of the Universe. In Ancient times humanity tried the understand and use them by ceremony and sacrifice; sometimes it works but not always. Now we know so much more and what would have been magic then, we now use every day without thinking. Another decade or two and what we know now will be old.

Michio Kaku in his book Hyperspace points out that it is no longer professional death to talk, write or lecture about things like Time Travel and the relation of God to the String Theory. A magician (I wish I could find a better word for ourselves) must have a basic understanding of physics to cope with what is to be found in Inner Space. The internal universe is even bigger than the universe outside.

This work is a privilege – treat it as such!

[Dolores Ashcroft-Nowiki is currently touring on the East Coast of the United States and in the United Kingdom. Her appearances and class schedule are listed on the Servants of the Light website.]

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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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The message arrives in Uppland, news from Theodric’s lands far to the south: the Irminsul has been destroyed, burned to ashes by the demon Charlemagne. The implications become clear – this latest pillaging of one of the Heathen faith’s sacred sites foretells the fall of Saxony into King Karl’s burgeoning empire, and a crippling blow to the power and influence of the gods of the north. I look to to my own lands, to the grand temple at Uppsala within my capital; like the Irminsul, this temple represents one of the faith’s strongholds. Could Charlemagne’s armies strike so far into Scandinavia? Could Sviþjod withstand that which Saxony could not? Is there any way to forestall the coming of Charlemagne and his White Christ?

Charlemagne destroys the Irminsul in a special event from Crusader Kings 2.

Charlemagne destroys the Irminsul in a special event from Crusader Kings 2.

This scenario races through the mind of the Jarl of Sviþjod, Sigurðr “Ring,” otherwise known as, well, me. I am playing a computer game, Crusader Kings 2. Despite the name, the game is less about the Crusades themselves and more about simulating the history of medieval Europe (and, as time goes on, many other parts of the world) during the period from the late 8th century to the middle of the 15th century.

The game is not so much to look at – graphically, it consists of a map and some pop-up windows detailing character traits and geographic features – but despite this, I have logged more than 300 hours playing it in the past 14 months. Although it features no voice acting, no elaborate plot beyond the inevitable march of history towards the modern era, and one of the steepest learning curves I have ever encountered in a computer game, Crusader Kings remains a compelling, immersive experience for me.

In Crusader Kings, the player takes on the role of a ruler in the Middle Ages – anything from a count, in control of only one province, up to the rulers of the continent-spanning empires of Byzantium and the Abbasid Caliphate. These rulers are mostly the historical figures known to have been in place at the time; at the start of the game, the map reflects an attempt at mirroring the actual geopolitical makeup as well as it can mirrored. But as soon as the player unpauses the game, history begins to change, as the AI immediately starts to take its characters in directions never borne out by the record. The player, of course, shapes the course of events to an even greater extent, given that the player can pursue a more elaborate strategy than the AI.

In time, the player’s character will grow old and die (or die in any number of other ways – it is the Middle Ages, after all), and the player takes on the role of their heir. Over the course of the centuries, the player will experience many generations of their rulers’ family line, guiding them to fame or ruin. There is no “goal,” so to speak, beyond a perfunctory points counter; the game relies on the player to develop their own goals, whether that be conquest, dynastic prestige, or serving as a loyal vassal to a more powerful ruler.

Now, a confession that should not surprise many: I almost always play pagan characters. By the time periods found in the game, Christianity and Islam have entirely eclipsed the classical pagan religions of the former Roman Empire, but the Germanic, Malian, Sámi, and Slavic peoples, among others, retain their historical pagan religions. And for me as a modern Pagan player of Crusader Kings, the option to play as a historical pagan draws me deep into the game.

Mechanically, Crusader Kings 2 simulates religion in a fairly deep way, certainly in comparison to other strategy games like the Civilization series. Religions have unique characteristics that result in distinctive play styles – Catholics, for example, must deal with the Pope and the church hierarchy. Unfortunately, most of the pagan religions in the game are fairly generic and interchangeable, with the exception of the Germanic religion, which has a number of special features. (Vikings get to have all the fun, as usual.) Pagans are also more susceptible to conversion by other religions, with the intention that, ultimately, the game will follow history and see the domination of the map by Christian religions. The only way to forestall this fate is for the pagan religions to “reform” themselves, adopting some of the features of the revealed religions and setting up a centralized hierarchy. Reformation is not an easy task to accomplish: a single ruler has to control a number of holy sites, many of which may be in the hands of other religions, and the religion itself must have a certain amount of “moral authority,” representing how well it stacks up against the challenges presented by other, competing religions.

A ruler reforms the Germanic faith, installing himself as a Pope-like Fylkr, in Crusader Kings 2.

A ruler reforms the Germanic faith, installing himself as a Pope-like Fylkr, in Crusader Kings 2.

Obviously, there is much to critique about this game system from a historical perspective. In the example with which I began, the Germanic holy site of Paderborn, site of the Irminsul, was lost to Charlemagne, an event which causes the Germanic faith to lose a large amount of its moral authority, making Germanic pagans more liable to convert to Christianity and making it more difficult to reform the religion. But it’s hard to imagine that Sigurðr up in Sweden would have even known the Irminsul existed, much less that its destruction would have such colossal consequences for the Germanic religion as a whole. The mechanics for reforming the faith demand an empire that would have been logistically impossible in the 9th century, as well. The game can also be critiqued for its assumption that the only way for a religion to thrive is to have a hierarchy and a central text; all successful religions, in other words, must mimic the Abrahamic faiths just to survive.

But in playing, I happily adjust to these mechanical demands. I build my unreasonable Viking empires and declare myself the Fylkir, head of a paganism that will not succumb to Charlemagne or his successors. The beauty of Crusader Kings is less that it accurately models history and more that it allows us to reimagine history as it might have been. We can sublimate ourselves into other identities and build a world that is different to ours. Some of the features of that world irk me; the Germanic religion, for example, focuses too much on the warrior-cult image of Norse society, and the Great Blot event focuses far too much on human sacrifice for comfort. But still. Think of it. A world without Olaf Tryggvason or St. Olaf. A world without Thorgeir Thorkellson’s fateful decision at the Althing. A world where ancient paganism survives the demon Charlemagne and his progeny. Even being aware of its flaws -– and there are many -– it’s an appealing idea, and in the game, it’s a world the player can achieve.

As a teenager, I spent a lot of energy worrying about the question of history: why did they win? “They,” of course, being the non-Pagan world, the conquerors, the crusaders, the inquisition. It was not a very sophisticated way of thinking about history, looking back on it, but it still rattled around in my head for many years. The answer, in the end, is “lots of reasons, and maybe they didn’t ‘win’ at all.” Playing this computer game doesn’t answer that question, of course. But playing in the guise of a historical pagan and working to create a different world from the one we have is cathartic, in its way, and the allure of this world-that-could-have-been is enough to keep me staring at the map on my screen for many hours to come.

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There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. 

georgia sealATLANTA, Ga. – On Monday, March 28, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB 757, a notorious state RFRA legislative bill. Deal said that it “contained language [that] could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination.” He added, “I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith-based community.”

“Religious freedom” legislation in some form has been circulating within the Georgia legislature for several years. The subject attracted national attention in Spring 2015 after Aquarian Tabernacle priest Dusty Dionne spoke publicly about SB129, one of several RFRA incarnations. Dionne thanked the Georgia state legislature for its “forward thinking” on “religious freedom issues,” adding, “This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and LIVE their religion to its fullest.” While SB 129 stalled in the house, new legislation was eventually born. After HB 757 was adopted by both the house and senate, it was sent to the Governor, where it was promptly vetoed.

In his statement, Gov. Deal said, “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”

We asked Dionne for a reaction to the recent veto. He said, “Georgia’s veto of this dangerous bill shows that those that the people of GA elected to protect themselves and make them prosperous, have the hearts needed to serve the entirety of their constituents, not just a radical minority. They deserve all of the praise given to those that protect the free world.”

Other Religious Freedom News

    • Could the Christian Bible become the official state book of Tennessee? On Apr 6, the Tennessee state legislature approved the “Holy Bible” as its official state book. Within its various amendments, legislators further defined which texts were included in the term “Holy Bible.” The bill will now head to Governor Bill Haslam, where it is expected to meet some resistance. Gov. Haslam reportedly feels the legislation is “disrespectful” to what the Bible means and is. Additionally, the state attorney general has expressed concern over the unconstitutionality of the measure. Meanwhile, the ACLU of Tennessee has been watching closely and is reportedly “on ready” should the bill pass. The ACLU wrote, in part, “While the Bible is an important book to many state residents, Tennesseans come from a rich diversity of faiths. Privileging one religion over another not only tramples on the Constitution, it marginalizes the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who choose to practice other religions or not to practice religion at all.” If Gov. Haslam does not veto the bill within ten days of its approval, it will automatically become law.
    • In February, we reported on the Satanic Temple’s fight to offer an invocation before a city council meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after adopting a moment of silence in an effort to prevent the TST invocation, the city council brought back religious invocations. However, the new policy only allows police and fire chaplains to give those prayers. TST is reportedly planning to sue the city. In the meantime, the organization has been preparing to deliver an invocation at the July 6 meeting of the Scottsdale, Arizona city council. In an interview with AZCentral, TST spokesperson Stu de Haan discussed exactly what TST plans to say in its prayer. According to the article, TST will “ask the audience to reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things while standing firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens personal sovereignty.” However, TST may never be granted this opportunity. Scottsdale is reportedly looking for a legal way out, just as Phoenix did. This story is not yet over.
    • Further north, in the state of Colorado, The Satanic Temple is taking on an entirely different religious freedom issue. Together with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the two organizations are challenging the distribution of the Gideons Bibles to middle and high school students in Delta County. According to reports, the school district ignored complaints from local atheist organizations, who finally turned to these national groups. After being informed about a similar situation in Orange County Florida, the Delta County school board relented and allowed all informational material. On Apr 1, children in the Delta County district were offered TST’s The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, along with a number of atheist pamphlets from various organizations. While all of the pamphlets were permitted on campus, one particular one, entitled “The X-Rated Bible: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible,” was first censored with a sticker before it was allowed out for distribution. FRFF did say that it doesn’t believe schools should be a religious battle ground, but it will continue to challenge unconstitutional policies where they exist. The Delta County School District is reportedly rethinking their non-curricular information distribution policy.

[Courtesy Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers / Facebook]

[Courtesy Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers / Facebook]

In Other News

      • In a lengthy interview and full report, The Washington Post shares details about the infamous #Boneghazi story. The article is titled, “21st century ‘witch’ hunt: Tumblr sleuths lead authorities to person who took human bones from a La. cemetery.” In December, social media lit up with tales of human bones being stolen from a “poor man’s cemetery” in New Orleans. A dialog ensued, inciting rage and inviting controversy. In January, officials began a full investigation, while the discourse evolved into an serious and in-depth concern over local gentrification, race, class and religion.
      • In a recent feature, Broadly profiled “The White Witch of Los Angeles” As the article begins, Maja D’Aoust “uses her science background to examine the world through her lecture series, tarot readings, and insightful performances as the Oracle.”
      • In another article, Broadly featured a report on “The Real Witches of Salem Massachusetts.” While such a subject is not at all surprising for our readers, it may be surprising for a portion of the general mainstream population. Broadly interviewed a few local Witches from the famous “Witch City,” as well as discussing the economic aspects of the city’s unique tourist industry.
      • On the lighter side, Salem’s police ran into an all-too-common modern day problem; a digital fumble, if you will. That fumble, caused by autocorrect, was particular amusing considering Salem’s witchy reputation. The error made social media rounds and provided many people with a good laugh. In March, the city’s police tweeted the following:


Beyond the U.S.

    • According to The National, religious belief and affiliation is on the decline in Scotland. The article reads, “The Scottish Social Attitudes survey show 52 percent of people say they are not religious, compared with 40 percent of those who were asked in 1999 when the survey began.” Despite the overall decline, the article also notes that local Pagan organizations have reported an increase in those identifying as Pagan.
    • A similar article was recently published in The Reykjavik GrapevineAccording to this article, “Church membership has declined by about 10% since 2009” in Iceland. However, just as reported in Scotland, “registered Pagans [in Iceland] are on the rise.” The article reads, “Registered members of the Zuists have increased by over 3,000 over the past year. The faith professes worship of the ancient Sumerian gods, but also promises to refund government religious subsidies to its members. At the same time, members of the Ásatrú Society – which follows the rites and ethics of the Old Norse gods – have also increased, by over 500 members.”
    • According to the New York Times, the indigenous women of North Africa’s Amazigh, also called the “Berber” women, “have banded together to fight political Islamism, polygamy, child marriage, and impunity for perpetrators of domestic violence.” Their matriarchal traditions and language are currently being threatened. The article profiles their unique culture, as well as their fight against terrorism and other forms of oppression.
    • The Washington Post published an article titled, “Rare photos show the lives of Russia’s forgotten Mari Pagans.” The article reads, “The attempted suppression of the nature-worshiping Mari has a long and dark history.” The article details that history, as well as their struggle against oppression. In photos and words, the article also highlights the unique and vibrant, living culture of the Mari Pagans.
    • Lastly, Witches aren’t only for Halloween. According to The Daily Mail, “little Witches” come out to cast spells every Easter in Finland. “small colorful witches appear on Finnish doorsteps in a blend of eastern and western religious traditions related to spring. They hand over catkin branches, reciting healthy wishes in exchange for payment that is traditionally chocolate or other candies.”
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As the United States warms up — in fits and starts — the Pagan festival scene follows suit. As April turns to May, the number of outdoor events starts to noticeably climb. A number of these early festivals are just one- or two-day affairs, suitable for those people within driving distance, as well as those who are not fond of long periods of camping. Here is a small sampling of these shorter community events that are being held in the coming month.

BaelFire Card

Baelfire Gathering

In 2011, a solar eclipse followed by the dark of the moon was a sensational enough happening that a few people organized a viewing event at the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Word quickly spread on Facebook, and what was expected to bring together around 30 people ended up hosting at least 550.

Mark Bailey, who was part of that event, said that he is only sure of that figure because that’s how many pairs of eclipse glasses that were sold.

The overwhelming sentiment which emerged, Bailey recalled, was, “When can we do this again?” The answer was twice a year ever since. Under the name Phoenix Fire Gatherings. the two events, which were until recently run largely by three people, have now formally organized a board to facilitate the work. Bailey is currently the executive director.  Its January event, HearthFire Gathering, is historically themed, while the upcoming May BaelFire Gathering is steeped in mythology.

What makes this one-day event stand out is that organizers strive to make it accessible to Pagans of all traditions. The founders come from diverse backgrounds, which helps. Michelle West is a senior Druid in an ADF grove; Michael Erwin,who has since stepped down from the executive board, is a Heathen Goethi; and Bailey himself is a third-degree Wiccan and a Druid, with a public relations background.

“We want people to find the similarities, and leave the differences behind,” Bailey explained. To that end, three years ago they opted to stop hosting rituals entirely. “People were leaving,” Bailey said, because the inclusivity message wasn’t being heard. Rituals will make a return this year, after some careful discussions about how to make participants of different traditions feel welcome in each other’s corners of the “big tent” of Paganism.

“This is a night of fairies, a night of land wights,” Bailey said, but language matters. “Everybody wants to talk bad about each other. ‘Fairy’ and ‘wight’ are prickly words.” The focus is on weaving together elements of different traditions, such as having both a Celtic punk rock band and a native American fusion band playing at different times during the day.

Long term, organizers hope to make this a weekend event that eventually rivals Pantheacon. It’s currently attracting up to 750 people each year.

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[Courtesy Photo CMA]

A Magickal Beltane

The Council of Magickal Arts (CMA) also hosts two events annually, both at Samhain and Beltane. Its upcoming spring festival happens over four days on private land outside Cistern, Texas. Executive Director Carly McNamara provided some details about this month’s festivities, which usually attract about 400 attendees.

We will have your usual plethora of workshops, which can span from craft making to chanting and drumming workshops, and even path specific workshops on Druidry, Thelema, Voudou, and more. We have revel fires and main rituals each evening of the event, which runs Thursday through Sunday. Participants are also encouraged to perform their own smaller and even private rituals during the event.

We also have live music at each event, often using this as an opportunity to promote Pagan and Pagan-friendly music and musicians in Texas. Each event we bring in a guest speaker, usually a specialist on a specific tradition, to give workshops and often to hold rituals. We have had guest speakers from ADF, various Wiccan traditions, Heathen traditions, Sumerians, Vodou, as well as Pagan authors such as Kirk White and Phaedra Bonewits.

CMA owns the land, so the atmosphere can be developed year over year. Part of that development stems from a community-service requirement expected of all attendees. The site has a number of permanent shrines and circles, but it is a primitive camping environment. Non-potable water is available, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own portable showers.

This and all CMA events are family friendly, and while alcohol is permitted, a sober camping space is also available.

Grove of Gaia Fest

Outside of Pittsburgh is a day-long Beltane festival put on by members of the Grove of Gaia, a group affiliated with the Hills and Rivers Council of the Covenant of the Goddess.

“While Grove of Gaia is a Wicca coven,” said Lady Annabelle, “this is really an event for the whole of the Pagan community. It is sober and kid, tween and teen friendly, as well as friendly to persons with disabilities.”

This single-day event begins at 11 in the morning with a maypole dance, and includes half a dozen workshops before another group leads a closing ritual to finish up the day. Annabelle said that there are also “drum circles, and arts and craft vendors, psychic readers, and many healers, as well as food and sweets.” The workshops — all of which are included in the $5 admission price — include such topics as non-binary Paganism, sacred dance, and ritual preparation. Well over thirty vendors will be selling their wares.

Some 350-400 people usually attend from the Pittsburgh area as well as neighboring states. The day includes a food drive for the Food Bank of Pittsburgh, and this year there will be a raffle and plant sale to benefit the local council. This is the tenth annual Grove of Gaia Fest.

Grove of Gaia Fest 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Grove of Gaia Fest 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

A Symbolic Beltane

In the small town of Rosendale, in the Hudson Valley region of New York, members of the Center for Symbolic Studies will be holding their 26th annual one-day Beltane event. Situated on 240 rolling acres, the site includes a massive stone circle that was installed at the behest of landowners Stephen and Robin Larsen. The day’s events include a spring pageant put on by the children’s troupe of Vanaver Caravan, a local dance company. The pageant is embedded with Pagan themes and features gigantic puppets that Robin Larsen herself created for that purpose many years ago.

A maypole or two are danced (the children often do their own), and there is an after-hours ritual for center members and event staff only; all others must be off the grounds by 7 p.m. This is a strictly alcohol-free event.

Brendan Merritt, one of the organizers, said that this Beltane has muted Pagan themes. “It was originally a Pagan festival, and Robin [Larsen] wants to keep that,” he said, with the elements particularly used during the pageant, such as horses being driven between two fires for purification and representations of a god and goddess appearing throughout.

However, many attending members of the general public might not even be aware of those elements. Both of the Larsens were students of Joseph Campbell and wrote a biography of him called A Fire in the Mind, so it’s not surprising that another included theme is “the return of the child of promise.”

According to Brad Gorfein, another festival organizer, a new attraction for this year is a stockade, where imprisoned people may be subjected to a pie in the face. Exactly how someone will end up in stocks has not yet been determined; however, some ideas being batted around include putting bounties on attendees’ heads as a fund raiser, or imprisoning parents who lose their children.

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[Courtesy Photo]


These are only four of the many other local May and springtime events happening throughout the U.S. and beyond. In many ways, these local events are the backbone of our collective communities and are the manifestations of dedication, service and hard work. If your favorite was not highlighted this year, please feel free to include the details below in the comments.

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SASKATCHEWAN – Liberal Party candidate and long -me member of Canada’s Heathen community, Robert Rudachyk was unsuccessful in his bid for election to represent Saskatoon-Riverdale as a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). Mr. Rudachyk came in third with 340 votes, while incumbent and New Democratic Party candidate Danielle Chartier narrowly won re-election with 2645 votes. Saskatchewan Party candidate Marv Friesen placed second with 2417 votes.

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Rudachyk called the results “a disappointment,” adding that he “must accept the choices of the electorate.” A seat in the MLA of Saskatchewan is similar to holding office as a Representative in the House at the state level in the U.S. Rudachyk’s election would have made him the first openly Heathen candidate elected in Canada and the highest elected Pagan in North America.

In his post-election comment, Rudachyk also lamented the poor voter turnout. He said, “I only wish that we had been able to inspire more of the registered voters to come to the polls. In my riding less than 50% of the electorate chose to exercise their democratic right, and that was the disappointment. Many had heard that the Wall government was goint to win strongly, so they gave up on hte fight and chose to stay home. I have no doubt that had they all come to the polls, the outcome would have been much different.”

Although the loss was disappointing for Rudachyk and his supporters, the good news for Canadian Pagans and Heathens is that religion appears to not have played any role in the outcome of the race. Rudachyk’s campaign style was to knock on every door in the riding and speak personally with voters. He championed campaign funding reforms to limit corps and special interest donations to under 3000 CAD. He also promoted green energy farms to economically revitalize Saskatchewan, as well as the allowance of homeowners to set up personal solar and wind systems, from which they could sell excess energy to the power company.

Although the popular new Prime Minister of Canada is in the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau coattails weren’t long enough to help LP candidates win seats in the legislature. Neither the Green Party or the Liberal Party won a single seat in the Saskatchewan election. It was enough, however, for the Liberal Party to take back its historic third place spot in the Saskatchewan election, with the Greens once again falling back to fourth.

Rudachyk said, “We made great strides. From a low point of zero votes in 2011, I managed to get 6.2% of the vote last night. This was the highest vote percentage of any of the Liberal Candidates in the City of Saskatoon.” The Liberal Party is considered a centrist party in Canada, while the Saskatchewan Party is the provincial level right wing party and the New Democratic Party is to the left.

After announcing the loss, Rudachyck thanked the party leader Darin Lamoreux as well as all the other candidates “who bravely put their names forward to represent their party’s ideology in an election.” He also offered thanks to his wife and family, saying “The long hours and hard work takes a toll on any family.”

In retrospect, Rudachyk added, “I am walking away from this with my head held high. As the first openly Heathen/pagan person to become a cansisate for a major political party in Canada, I only hope that some day I will finally become successful in this goal and bring our worldview into the political arena so that we can one day have our voices heard.”

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Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

Over this past weekend, Circle Sanctuary co-sponsored a “Nature Spirituality & Healing event” along with several organizations belonging to the Iliff School of Theology, based in Denver, Colorado. Those organizations included ILIFF Student Senate, ILIFF Seminarians for Reproductive Justice, Wisdom Traditions Student Group at ILIFF, and the Unitarian Universalist Student Organization.

The free, public healing event, held at the First Universalist Church of Denver, included four hours of discussion and panels pertaining to the interrelationship between self-care and nature. The guest speakers were from various religious and spiritual backgrounds, and included: Rev. Selena Fox, Maeve Wiilde, Michelle Castle, Dr. Larry Graham, Dr. Jason Whitehead, Rev. Todd Strickland.

Rev. Fox also offered to the interfaith crowd a “Healing with Nature Workshop,” which “included ways of working with Nature imagery, Nature rituals, and natural areas for renewal, dispelling stress, and enchanting wellness.” This was the first time that Circle Sanctuary has collaborated with IlIFF.  Rev. Fox was pleased with the outcome, saying that there were about 85 attendees from “many Paths: Christians, Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Humanists, & other traditions.”

The event concluded with an outdoor healing ritual led by Rev. Fox. This week’s Circle Sanctuary podcast, called Circle Talk, will feature a report on this event, as well as focusing on “hospital chaplaincy as a career.” Joining Rev. Fox will be “Circle Sanctuary Minister Cern (Tim Staker), a full time Hospital chaplain, and Circle Sanctuary Ministers in Training Michelle Castle of Colorado and Tiffany Andes of Maryland, both Air Force veterans and hospital chaplain students at ILIFF School of Theology.”

The show will air live on Tuesday, Apr. 5 at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT.

Circle Sanctuary & Iliff Nature Healing Event, 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Circle Sanctuary & Iliff Nature Healing Event, 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

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Cherry Hill SeminaryThis weekend, over in South Carolina, another group of Pagans were attending an event to discuss the environment. But in this case, the event was a weekend-long academic symposium titled, The Greening of Religion, which featured talks, panels and lectures on the intersection of religion and the environment.

This symposium is once every three-year event sponsored by Cherry Hill Seminary in conjunction with the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Attending this year’s event was CHS Academic Dean Dr. Wendy Griffin, CHS Dean of Students Dr. Candace Kant, CHS Executive Director Holli Emore, CHS board member Marla Roberson, ADF’s Rev. Kirk Thomas, blogger and environmentalist John Halstead, Wild Hunt columnist Manny Tejeda-Moreno and others. The keynote speaker was Professor of Religion Bron Taylor.

Halstead said, “I appreciated the contrast of perspectives on the role tradition plays in the greening of religions.” He added, “I was inspired by the creativity and dedication of those who presented at the conference. At the same time, I was sobered by the realization of how much work remains to be done. Bron Taylor spoke about the ‘anemic’ response of religions to the ecological crisis—and he (rightfully, I think) included Paganism in that indictment.”

Thomas said, “How easily everyone meshed together, regardless of religious path, and how obvious it was that we are all on the same page as far as our ultimate goals are concerned.” He called the overall experience “fascinating.”  Agreeing with him was Roberson, who called the event positive and inspiring.

All three noted the good work done by the organizers, but also noted the low turnout. Halstead speculated that it “may have been reflective of a general despair or feeling of hopelessness at the futility of our individual actions in the face of the titanic forces of global industrial capitalism.” Thomas said, “Where was everyone? Why were so few Pagans there? Don’t they believe that there’s a problem in all of our futures?” Despite that disappoint, their overall impression was positive, and they believe there is room and need for this work to continue.

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downloadThe Pagan Pathways Temple, based in Michigan, has embarked on a new adventure to create a Wiccan-based fictional web series. Titled Unveiled, the show will “follow the story of a new Pagan as she explores the community, her faith, and experiences pitfalls both mundane & magickal.”

Located in Madison Heights, the Pagan Pathways Temple is a nonprofit organization with a dedicated temple space. Its “mission is to provide a place of worship and learning for all those who seek enlightenment and universal knowledge; to offer a haven for all faiths and paths which value love, tolerance, and community; and those who seek to empower and enrich our fellow humans. all who seek fellowship and spiritual growth.”

When speaking of the new web series project, temple president and Wiccan priest Stanley Nunn, also known as Nashan, said, “The reason for the show is because, we figured it would be best, since we have the talent and the people and the organization for us as the temple to tell the story of our community from our own perspective.”

The Pagan Pathways Temple has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed for production.

In Other News

  • The Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund is accepting applications for 2016. Once provided by the Tempest Smith Foundation, this unique scholarship is open to all Pagan high school seniors, undergraduate or graduate students who maintain a 2.85 or higher GPA and who live in Michigan. Founded in 2014, “The Pagan Scholarship Fund is a small pagan non-profit organization established by the Midwest Witches Ball and Witches of Michigan to help those who wish to further their education with a Technical College, Two Year Entry College, Four Year College, or other training with an established nationally accredited school.” The application and more information are available on its website.
  • Godless Paganism: A Journal for Non-Theistic Pagans is now available for purchase. The book is touted as the “first ever anthology of writing by and about non-theistic Pagans. The goal of the anthology is to educate others in the Pagan community about both the diversity and the depth of non-theistic Pagan practice.” Edited by John Halstead with a foreword by Marc Green, the journal contains 420 pages exploring the many forms on non-theistic Pagan practice, including “a variety of theological orientations” such as “humanists, naturalists, Atheopagans, animists, pantheists, Gaians, and more.” Godless Paganism is available in both eBook and paperback forms via Lulu.com and through the Humanstic Paganism blog.
  • Is the Prairie Land Music Festival and Campout cancelled? There has been a rumor going around that Prairie Land organizers have cancelled their June weekend Pagan festival. Summer 2016 will mark the Eastern Iowa festival’s debut and, according to the website, the scheduled festivities will include performances by Celia, Mama Gina, Cheshire Moon, Jonny Lipford, Wax Chaotic, Anji Kat, Brian Henke, Ryan O’Rien, and IrishJamBand. Organizer Lynn Williams has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help fund the event and is currently seeking more volunteers, but he did say that rumors are false and the event will be held.
  • Demeter Press has placed a call for submissions for a new “edited collection entitled Pagan, Goddess, Mother. Edited by Sarah Whedon and Nané Jordan, the collection’s purpose “is to call categories of Pagan and Goddess mothering into focus, to highlight philosophies and experiences of mothers in these various movements and traditions, and to generate new ways of imagining and enacting motherhood.” Abstracts are due Sept 1. More information and detailed requirements are available on the Demeter Press website, along with a number of other their calls for submissions.
  • The Temple of Witchcraft has opened registration for its 2016-2017 online class season, including all Witchcraft I–IV sessions. Classes are “offered in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft’s Sagittarius ministry” and include “workshops for the education of clergy and practitioners of all types.” The new sessions are given online only and will begin in fall 2016 and end fall 2017. All applicants must be 18 years or over.
  • And for something different, Polytheist.com writer Segomâros Widugeni shares an “outline for a possible reconstructed Gaulish ritual system, adapted to modern circumstances.” Widugeni is a leader in the Gaulish Polytheism community and has been sharing his experience and his practice regularly on the site.

That’s all for now. Have a great day!

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Artist and scholar Lydia Miller Ruyle died March 26, a month after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Lydia was best known for her banners dedicated to the celebration of the divine feminine. She was an activist, teacher, sculptor, illustrator, author, a respected voice in the goddess spirituality movement, and a champion for women’s rights.

Lydia was born in Denver, Colorado on Aug. 4 to Lydia Alles Miller and David J. Miller. In 1939, the family moved to Greeley, Colorado, which would become her lifetime home. During her pre-teen years, Lydia’s family temporarily moved to Germany so that her father could serve as a lawyer in the Nuremberg trials. But they returned to Greely by 1948 as Lydia began eighth grade. In 1953, she graduated valedictorian of Greeley Central High School.

Lydia went on to study political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder and, in 1957, graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Not long after, she married her high school sweetheart, Robert Arthur Ruyle (Bob), who she had met a long time before in kindergarten at Cameron Elementary school. When Bob finished law school, the couple and their young family moved from Boulder back to Greeley, where they made their home on land once owned by Lydia’s grandparents.

DSC_8468 -2With a political science and economics background, Lydia began her professional career as a research associate and paralegal. She only picked up art as a hobby or, as noted by her husband, in order “to have something a little bit different to do.” But Lydia was immediately hooked, and began taking classes locally. She eventually applied to the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO), located in her home town of Greely.

But, as she reported, the school would not admit her because she did not have a undergraduate degree in art. Over the next few years, she would take classes to “make up an undergraduate major,” and eventually enrolled in the masters program. She wrote, “After four years in the program, I was told I needed to graduate. I loved doing art at [UNCO] while our three children were in school all day.” She graduated in 1972.

In addition to mastering her craft, she also studied art history, which according to her husband led to her active promotion of the arts in education as well as her involvement in the goddess movement. Bob told local reporters, “I think she ultimately said that the art history books were all about men, and she was on a mission to identify women artists. And then it just started to gravitate into a quest to promote women artists, and women in general.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, Lydia became involved with the local school board, advocating for art education in public schools. She was a member of the Colorado Council Arts and Humanities; she served as chairperson for Art in Public Places and for the Community Arts Councils of Colorado. She was on the board directors for the Northern Colorado Foundation and the Colorado Foundation Arts. She also was part of the organizing committee for the Colorado Group National Museum Women.

DSC_8483 -2In addition, Lydia began teaching print making, art history, and women’s studies at UNCO, and through that teaching brought aspects of the goddess movement to the university. UNCO has since created a Lydia Ruyle Scholar fund for working students, as well as a Lydia Ruyle Room of Women’s Art, which displays both student work and her own.

By the 1990s, her career evolved further as she began to write and illustrate books, and travel extensively, sharing her passion for the arts and women’s spirituality. According to a local paper, “Traveling became a part of her goddess work decades ago, when she started visiting holy sites in England.” She and Bob were regular attendees at the annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference.

In 1994, she began running the Goddess Tours and YaYaJourneys, taking women with on discovery trips around the world to educate them about the divine feminine. According to her husband, “To date, more than 200 women have attended the spiritual journeys with her. They’ve played music, studied and congregated in Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Czech Republic, Russia, Mexico, Peru, the Himalayas, Hawaii and the southwestern United States.” A personal account of one of her more recent journeys is published at Goddess Alive!

As if that wasn’t enough, Lydia began participating in various political actions relating to national issues affecting women. In a post for Matrifocus.com, she describes her experience participating in a 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington. She begins, “YAYA always wanted to march. I participated in 60s protests a bit but wasn’t able to join a large march. When this year’s event finally got my attention, I knew I had to be there, and I invited my family to join me. Ten of us showed up!”

Over the years, Lydia evolved as an artist, beginning with “oil painting, sculpture, lithography, and papermaking.” However, she is best known for the Goddess Banners, which she called “her girls.” The collection includes “over 300 sacred female images from different cultures.” Attendees at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City had the privilege of viewing 100 of these banners lining the ballroom hall. “The girls” have been “exhibited in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the United Nations World Conference on Women, and throughout the world, including England, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Nepal, Peru, Russia and Turkey.”

In 2014, forty of her Goddess banners disappeared and reappeared during their journey to Seattle for the 22nd Annual Women of Wisdom Conference. Blogger Judith Laura published Lydia’s account of the harrowing experience. She begins, “The Goddess Banners have traveled millions of miles around the globe since their debut at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey in 1995. I’ve schlepped them in my luggage, sent them with friends, trusted chaperones, UPS, Royal Mail, US Postal Service, DHL, FEDEX, etc. But sometimes, the girls take detours much to my concern and dismay.”

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In February 2016, Lydia was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She requested that her family and friends hold a memorial for her while she was still alive. She wanted to be there for it. Per that request, on Feb. 20, her loved ones gathered at Zoe’s Cafe in Greeley. As reported by the local paper, “[She] sat on an armchair draped in deep red and shimmering silver fabrics….For more than an hour, she had watched women perform religious rituals, praise her impact on their lives and sing her songs they wrote….Her daughter took her hand, walked her off the chair and slowly guided her between circles of people.” As she walked by, people shared what “she meant to them…through tears and smiles.”

On Mar. 26, around 7:30 am, Lydia passed away peacefully in her sleep. Her husband, who had been providing round-the-clock care, “woke up [early Saturday morning], went to check on his wife and held her hand. When he returned a short while later, she had stopped breathing.”

Blogger Judith Laura wrote, “When I contacted Lydia several years ago to ask if I could use her banner art on the cover of the third edition of my book, She Lives! The Return of Our Great Mother, she did not hesitate to say yes, and gave me innumerable banners from which to make my selection. I will always be grateful for her generosity.”

Candace Kant, dean of students at Cherry Hill Seminary and professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said, “Lydia was such a lovely woman, and her work has enlightened people all over the world about the beauty of Goddess. Her banners embody all the love and wisdom of Goddess.”

Close friend Anne Key said, “Lydia Ruyle strived to bring images of the female divine to broader audiences. This was her life work–her heart’s work. Her beauty, love, and passion are greatly missed. But when I close my eyes, I can hear her laugh, see her smile, and feel her hand on my shoulder. ”

Lydia has touched a world of people, quite literally, through her personality and her work, and through her drive to uplift the place of women in society. Her acclaimed banners have inspired many, providing a doorway to both learn about and celebrate the divine feminine in its many forms. Lydia has left a powerful artistic legacy – one that transcends the practicality of art and emanates a spirit that can only speak through image. She will live on through both the personal memories of her loved ones and friends, as well as through the continued travels of “her girls.”

Services were held at 11:00 am, Thursday, March 31, at the First Congregational Church, 2101 10th Street, Greeley, CO. Memories and other tributes can be offered through Allnutt.com.

What is remembered, lives.

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All banner photos above were taken at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City and are © Greg Harder 2015.

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[Guest journalist Zora Burden joins us to share part one of a two part extensive interview with renowned occultist Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Burden is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. She also has five books of poetry on the themes of esoterica and surrealism available exclusively at City Lights Bookstore. In all her work, Burden focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, is a British occultist, author, third generation psychic and esoteric practitioner with focus on Hermetic Qabalism. Since 1978, she has been the Director of Studies for the Servants of the Light School of Occult Science in the Western Mysteries TraditionAs SOL’s director, Dolores acts as consultant for the school, teaching workshops, lectures and seminars internationally. She has worked as a Cosmic Mediator along with Walter Ernest Butler, and is a third degree adept.

Dolores teaches on many occult subjects, and she has written 17 books on occultism and the esoteric, along with designing the SOL Tarot Deck with Jo Gill and Anthony Clark, and the Shakespearean Tarot with Paul Hardy. Dolores is most known for her teaching of Pathworking in the study of Hermetic Qabalah. She is currently touring the UK and the US teaching many workshops and giving lectures during the spring and summer 2016. Her tour starts April 2 with a class called  Ritual Magic Three held in London and then continues on from there. She comes from a long line of trained occultists and psychics with both her parents being third degree initiates. Ashcroft-Nowicki currently lives in the Channel Island of Jersey with her husband Michael.

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki [Courtesy SOL]

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki [Courtesy SOL]

Zora Burden: What was your childhood and upbringing like? Who influenced you during your formative years in regards to your interest in the esoteric or magical arts and helped shape the person you are today?

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki: Wonderful childhood. My father had a fantastic mind and, although he never went to a university, he knew more than many who did. He kept up with science, spiritual, and modern inventions all the time and encouraged me to do so. He taught me to read long before I went to school. He was a materializing Medium, but it affected his health, and he withdrew from that area. But his seership was incredible. My mother was quiet and gentle and was a perfect match for him.

Her mother, however, was willful and self-indulgent, and I disliked her very much. My father’s mother had Romany blood and was as psychic as they come. She and I were much alike and often clashed, but I loved her. She had a lovely singing voice and could play many instruments. She was an extraordinary woman and had, shall we say, an interesting past. A witch to her fingertips. We left to avoid the German invasion of the Islands and went to live on the Wirral Peninsula in the UK. Within a week she had found the local ‘coven’ and was one of those who joined forces 2/3rds a week to make a circle and build the defenses around Britain.

My grandfather was a quiet man who let things happen around him. He just ambled through life. I was brought up to believe that everyone had the right to believe as they felt fit, and to never to dismiss another’s religion. My dad would say, “You never know, if it could be the right one,” and laugh. I asked questions all the time and most were answered. If he didn’t know, my dad would find out. My parents ran a weekly meeting with friends of similar interests, and I would creep out of bed and hide behind the curtains to listen.  After many times of finding me asleep there, they simply tucked me up on the sofa and let me listen. I was allowed to read whatever I wanted.

I was solitary and didn’t like other children; they were dull and uninteresting to me. I spent summer holidays searching the big atlas and planning world tours. I was always top in geography. I told my dad I would travel all over the world. He said it would take a lot of money. I made cruise cabins from shoe boxes and learned about other countries, their weather, what they made, their language and dressed my little dolls for their cruise. It took all summer, so we never set sail. I firmly believe I was creating a magic life in doing this.

I have since travelled to almost every country I planned as a child but I still don’t have any money!

I had a night visitor who used to come and talk to me, and sometimes he would take me with him and show me a lovely place with a very blue sea. It never dawned on me to ask him why he had goat feet and little horns. But he taught me a lot about Greece and showed me how beautiful his ancient world had been. It never occurred to me that others didn’t see him. I had one friend Dorothy Deakin, she had spina bifida and couldn’t walk. We used to talk about what we would like to be when we grew up. I wanted to be a singer; she wanted to be a teacher, but I told her she would be an angel. She died just before the war.

Of all the people in my childhood it was my father, my grandmother, a friend of my father’s named Robin, and one of my teachers Lester Robbillard, who influenced me most. I used to write stories for the children at school during the war. You couldn’t get new books, so I wrote stories for the younger ones and the teachers used them. Mr Robbillard told me then I would be a writer but then all I wanted was to be an actress.

ZB: When I had asked about your first childhood otherworldly experience that caused you to believe in these other realms, you had said there was a 600-year-old gnome living in an old granite wall that talked to you daily. Will you give more detail about this and mention any other magical beings you had encountered?

DA: On my way to school, I passed a beautiful old granite wall, and one day I saw a face in it and stopped to say hello. It disappeared but I saw it again, often. Finally, I stopped and spoke to it. It took a long time but eventually we became friends. I called him Christopher. We had a signal, I would clap my hand three times then place my open had on that stone and turn it. Then he would pop his head out. I was caught by a teacher who told my parents to take me to a special doctor. He was Welsh! … We had a long talk and shared lots of things, and he said [to the head teacher] I was an overly imaginative child and would grow out of it. To me, he explained that I had to be careful and not let others know about it. 

An old lady had lived in the cottage before we had it, her fiancé had died in the Boer War and she never married. She died just before we took on the cottage and her room was my bedroom. She came and told me stories some nights, right up to the war times.

© Copyright Martin Bodman

© Copyright Martin Bodman

ZB: What are your thoughts on the Faerie realm or other mystical creatures and dimensions? How would you define them to those unfamiliar?

DA: You must be psychic. I believe that the inner universe within each one of us is full of these entities that we create in order not to feel lonely, just sitting in our solitary universe. When Peter Pan says, “Do you believe in Fairies, if you don’t somewhere a Fairy will die.”  That is quite true. They and all such “life forms” live in our personal universe, and they look to us for their existence. I could be wrong but I rather like the idea that I have Fairyland within me. I love them and the Elementals, and to me they are very real. I hold long conversations with them.

ZB: What were some of your first experiences with ritual practices growing up?

DA: The first ritual was doing those travels with my dolls. I didn’t know what ritual was. My grandmother taught me simple spells, protection spells, simple healing spells for cuts and bruises, but most of the time she said I was to be young for as long as I could, there was plenty of time.

ZB: Will you talk about meeting your husband and how having a partner in regards to magical or spiritual work affected your own development?

DA: The only sport apart from swimming that I liked was fencing. I love knives and blades. I went to classes and became quite proficient. When I went to live in London, I joined a fencing club run by a man who was full of himself. He never asked me if I could fence, he just told this guy to teach me the rudiments and went off. For 30 minutes I was told how to hold a blade, how to stand, how to advance and retreat. Then my teacher said let’s try a few strikes. Now I’m left handed, but I actually can fight with both hands, and I was cross. We ended up having a full on bout, and I took him across the Planche. He ended up with a gash on his arm because he thought he didn’t need to wear a defense jacket! He sat there bleeding and said, “You are a dangerous woman, I think I’ll marry you.” He did.

We found out we both had a love of the spiritual side of things, and I firmly believe we were brought together for a purpose, that purpose was the [Servants of the Light] school. Mike is like a rock to me. He is always there, supporting and upholding. We have different kinds of psychism, but they match.

ZB: What interested you in the Fraternity of the Inner Light as compared to other esoteric mystery schools? What prompted you to leave this organization and found the Servants of the Light?

DA: I was married and had two children; we were back in (Bailiwick of) Jersey. My Mother wanted a set of tarot cards and gave me an address to go to when I was in London visiting my in-laws. It was The Aquarian Press. While she was getting the deck, I looked at some books for sale and was interested in a grimoire. The man took it off me and said, “That’s not the kind of book for you, have this one,” and gave me Magic, Its Ritual Power, and Purpose by W. E. Butler.

I read it on the way home and within two weeks, Mike and I had enrolled. It was as if I had been waiting for just that moment. I felt a link with the author. We asked if he could be our teacher but were told, “No, the link is too strong, only when you have completed the course can you meet.” Ernest was there when we were initiated; we became strong friends and visited with him very often. He asked us to be supervisors on his new course, and I asked permission from the IL Warden. I was told we had to leave. I asked why we couldn’t do both. He said, “Because that is where you need to be, besides if you stay here you will be after my job.” I thought he was joking.

ZB: Will you talk about what it was like working with Walter Ernest Butler?  

W.E. Butler [Courtesy SOL]

W.E. Butler [Courtesy SOL]

DA: Ernest was the nearest to a Hobbit I will ever see: small, light in build (I don’t know about the hairy toes) with twinkling eyes and an impish smile. Gentle, unless you really angered him, then you had a small Doberman on your tail. But [he was] one of the sincerest and genuine human beings I have ever known. It seemed we picked up a friendship of teacher and student from where it left off, lives ago. I would go over to Southampton with a list of questions that I never really asked but when I got back home, I had the answers.

Small he may have been in body, but his mind spanned time and space. A gifted psychic and auric mediator. Nobody was more surprised than I was when I developed the ability to mediate. It came suddenly and without warning. Ernest however seemed very excited and within a few hours of it happening told me I would be the next Director of Studies after him. Yeah, like that was going to happen! I said no for a couple of months. Then the contact took things into his own hands and made it clear I had no options. That was it, like it or not, I had been born for this and would I please stop arguing.

ZB: Will you explain what a Cosmic Mediator is for those who may not be familiar?

DA:There are levels in all occult training. The mediums prevalent in the ‘30s, ‘40s are now almost nonexistent. Humanity has grown out of that phase. Psychism is something most people have and don’t know it, or laugh it off. A trained psychic is someone who is able to sense the presence of other life forms who may or may not offer a physical form in order to communicate. They can receive and send like a two-way radio, but there are limits. They need to be trained to get the best results.

Automatic writers are similar but can allow another being to use their hands. Seers can see, can direct, but not always contact, though there are some gifted seers who can. Aural psychics can hear but not always see … Mediators are a combination of throwbacks and throw forwards. It was a skill well known 3 to 4,000 years ago, but now, with training and the new knowledge of quantum physics they can be more accurate. Some can and do go far beyond this solar system.

Mediators work on many levels. Basically they team up with spiritual beings and become their PAs between the inner world and ours. It is not something you can go out and buy like a new pair of shoes; it is not something you can train someone to be. You either have the ability to deal with an entity or you don’t. Nor do you get to choose. They choose you and make an approach if you agree and you must agree; they cannot force you. However, if you do not come up to scratch or if you are at fault, they will leave and it’s permanent.

A mediator can on occasion carry an entity (their essence) for another person and hand them over. It has happened. A Mediator, once chosen, becomes aware of their buddy or entity gradually and it takes time to get to know each other, like any relationship. Sometimes it is an occasional thing. If the Mediator is new, very young, unsure, then it may only contact at specific times and maybe only in times of danger or special need. The next level is when the entity asks to in-dwell. That means exist in, with, and by their host. This is not as bad as it sounds. They may favor certain areas in which to leave a particle of their beingness. Such particles are holographic. Cosmic mediators can get landed with multiples, though not all at once. But they can switch if another entity has need of them. I am at present in the middle of writing a book on Mediation and hope to have it completed by the end of the year. The working title, which almost certainly will change, is Cosmic Twins.

ZB: What were some of the most important contributions Walter Ernest Butler had in the formation of the SOL and what wisdom of his left the most impact on you personally?

DA: The SOL was Ernest’s baby. It began as The Helios course and was the first of its kind. The first six lessons of the course were written by Gareth Knight, for personal reasons he handed it over to Ernest who completed the course. In the early ‘70s the copyright was bought from Helios and within a few months it became The SOL. He was the instigator and the thrust behind it all. He poured himself and his knowledge into it. Mike, Olive Ashcroft (no relation) Tom Oloman, Mariton Geikie and myself hung on to his coattails and became supervisors.  

There comes a time when magical ritual, ceremony, and similar practices cease to be used, or even required. The work goes inward, upward, and outward. We did little in the way of ceremony with Ernest. Mostly it was done on the higher levels.


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ZB: Can you describe how the formation of the Servants of the Light came about, including your role?

DA: Ernest’s course was written for and as The Helios Course, but it became too much for John and Mary Hall to cope with. They still run the book service. So Ernest took it over and was inspired to create a course that stood on its own. In 1972, it was legalized as the SOL. Mike and I are the only ones left now. I am the Director of Studies, Ernest’s title, which he passed on to me when I made the contact with his [contact]. I have just completed a 50 lesson course, as Ernest predicted I would, and it is now online for applicants. It is different, more up to date, more into the psychological and scientific aspects of magic. Delving into Quantum Physics at my age was quite a task but it’s fascinating.

ZB: Will you talk about what the experience of being in contact as a Mediator was like for you the first time?

DA: I hold the contact for the SOL. I didn’t ask for it, when it came I spent several weeks trying to get rid of it! I pointed out that I had nothing to teach, being new. I was told that all I had to do was open my mouth. He would do the teaching until such time as I did have something to teach.

I have seen and interacted with beings from other levels most of my life. What was it like? There are three levels:  the Mind touch, which 90% of students experience at some time or another; the Overshadowing, which is stronger and generally stays in close proximity to its chosen contacts and affects around 40%; and the Indwelling, which is permanent until the death of the Host. Such a contact may indwell several human beings at the same time since every particle of their subtle body is holographic and contains the whole teacher. Some prefer polarity and seek a compatible host from the opposite sex. Not that they have a sex, it is a mental adherence to a male or female essence. This is not a good description, but then we do not have the terminology to explain certain aspects. Others have no preference. You give up your privacy entirely. You are not your own person, but one of two. It is a symbolic thing.

ZB: What are some of the more profound psychic experiences that you’ve had over your lifetime? How do you explain psychic awareness and abilities to those who don’t believe?

DA: When I was five and it was my birthday, I went to bed but could not sleep. Someone or something was calling my name. I got up and looked through the window, it was almost a full moon. I took off my nightdress and went into the garden and danced. I couldn’t quite see who or what I was dancing with but they were lovely. Then I went back to bed.

During the war I was very homesick for my island and one night decided to visit it. I was thirteen. I mind travelled across the sea and went to our cottage. I sat on the wide window ledge looking into the moonlit garden. I heard a scream and turned to see a woman running out of the room. I was whipped back into my body. When eventually we returned, we had a visit from the people who had lived there while we were away. The woman told me she had seen me sitting by the window and was badly frightened by it.

During an air-raid, bombing was bad that night. I was twelve, sitting with my head in the mother’s lap and very frightened as the bombs were getting close. Suddenly I was not there anymore. I was in a place with high snowy mountains with odd people sitting around a fire dressed in deep red robes. They made a place for me to sit with them in silence, no bombs. One of the mountains had a strange shape. I wanted to stay but it was explained to me that I had to go back, but if I was really scared I would be welcomed back. The man had a very calm face.

Ernest told me that mountain was sacred Kailas, and there was a special monastery there. Years later I attended a concert in London; a friend was making his debut as a conductor. When the lights went up, sitting next to me was the same man in the same robes. He had not aged. We talked for a long while after, and he told me many things that helped me later.

There was the time, standing at the Altar in the Inner Light temple as I made my unreserved dedication that I felt Dion Fortune beside me. Also, the day the Indweller made the first approach and then two months later when I accepted it. Now at 87, I can look back and see many occasions when such things happened, but I am now writing my biography and will deal with them more fully then.

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

Ashcroft-Nowicki donated Dion Fortune paintings to New Alexandrian Library 2011 [Courtesy Photo]

ZB: What do you feel were some of the most important teachings of Dion Fortune? What resonated most with you in regards to her teachings?

DA: I liked her no nonsense approach to ‘magic’. She did not suffer fools gladly. She gave credence to the ancient ways and what can still be used. We share the same ray: Green. It’s the Creative Power Ray and can run you ragged. We need Blue rays to keep our feet on the ground. Dion Fortune had Loveday; I have Michael. Ernest was mostly Violet or The Mystic Ray. The SOL was founded on the Violet, then taken into the outer world by the Green. The next Director of Studies, Dr. Steven Critchley, is Blue ray. But he was recently ordained in the Liberal Catholic Church and so, like Ernest, has the touch of Violet.

ZB: Of all those you’ve worked with in the circles of these esoteric schools, who else was influential on your work? What are some of the most memorable or significant teachings or words of wisdom people have imparted to you over the years?

DA: How much time do you have? I learn from every lecture and workshop I do. There is always someone, beginners and Initiates, who can stun me with something that has been lying in front of me, and I didn’t see it. You can learn from anyone if you are actively looking for wisdom. Individuals who do stand out: Ernest, of course; Gareth Knight, someone who taught very valuable lessons; and Herbie Brennan, Christine Campbell, Margaret Lumley Brown, Lord Orion, Ivo Dominguez, and Michael Smith (both of Seelie Court in Delaware).  And, Anna Branche (Shakmah Winddrum), with whom I went through a blood ceremony; I’m proud of that little drop of African blood running around my veins. And, Carrie Brenna in Denver; Peter Larkworthy, who guided me through my Wiccan levels; and the Elders of The Village who taught me what The Craft really was.

I am, if you like, a cauldron of knowledge bequeathed to me by every person I have ever known. Starting with my parents … Ernest taught us to pass on what we learned so it would be shared among many, not to keep it hidden and eventually forgotten. This is my chance to say to all those who have touched my life Thank you, you have given me more than you will ever know, and I will pass it on.

[Next Saturday we will feature part 2 of the interview with Ashcroft-Nowkicki, who will discuss, in depth, her work and travels, her writing, the teachings of SOL and her recommendations for the student.]

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I think we have a money problem. I’m not really sure. Yes, we’ve been through the Great Recession, and it did take a serious toll. And yes, I agree that the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthy, but I think it’s more serious than that. I keep witnessing a deep reluctance to understand wealth and money, and I think we — as a community and to our detriment — have anathematized wealth.

Many of us ruminate that money is about energy exchange. Others question whether we should have paid clergy or pay for services like spiritual consultations. We question the value of vendors, artists, and craftsmen when they charge for their wares and services.

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

Too many of us appear to be uncomfortable talking about money, categorizing it with other subjects to be avoided, like religion and politics. We treat it as a necessary evil as though a more perfect society can exist without it. But, the theme is certainly clear: money is ruinous, corrupt, and even shameful. And, I see evidence of this money issue in quite a few places.

First, I see a lot of attention to the idea of prosperity, while at the same time focusing on spiritual rather than material wealth. Don’t get me wrong, I think spiritual wealth is incredibly important. But I also think that few things stifle spiritual development more completely than worrying about being able to pay for your child’s medication, education, or clothes. We seem to categorize material prosperity as a flaw; even a weight on spiritual development. We describe material wealth as a counter-current to spiritual progress even invoking — as I have heard — Christian theology to gird the opinion.

Second, I notice a palpable Pagan avoidance about discussing money, let alone participating in financial systems that create material wealth. For example, at a recent Pagan event, a workshop focused on building a financial future attracted exactly one participant out of several hundred attendees. We don’t discuss income or saving, but we are quick to lament not having enough resources or financial security. We are open about not having any money; we will easily say that we cannot afford something. But we seem less open to discussing what to do about it or our responsibilities on a personal level.

Again to be clear, that’s not a criticism; it’s a concern. Because sometimes, I don’t understand what someone means when they can’t afford something. Is it just the thing they’re looking at buying? Is it more serious, like basic needs? Like food?

I raise that questions because, third, in my own research, I find evidence that Pagans do in fact struggle with money in both practical ways as well as actual incomes. In a set of random interviews, Pagans who participated in my investigation described the usual challenges with money including a lack of understanding about it, its use, and how to save. Their comments were no different than those made by members of other faiths.

But in one random sample (Tejeda, 2015), Pagans reported an annual household income of about US $51,000 –- a healthy sum. However, the paired sample of Christian households reported an average annual income of over 25% higher at about US $67,000. And that difference — over a period of 35 years — represents a deficit of almost US $3 million in retirement assets. So while the interviews pointed to similar concerns about money, as we might expect in the general population, the actual reporting of income made the context far more serious and sobering. The sample was random, and may not have been representative. But, it raises a possible and important concern.

Fourth, I notice how our frugality seems to suggest something more fiscally serious. We quadruple up on hotel rooms (but that’s also fun); we split meals (but that can also be healthy); we carpool (but that’s environmentally conscious). We look to the community for help with medical and funeral expenses; and we come through, because we’re a community. Yet, those requests, that frugality, that caution with money always hints at something more fiscally grave.

Many of us also often use language from the edge, the language of worry and sometimes of frustration and resignation as it relates to wealth. I’ve heard it before. I recognize it not as desperation but as an anxiety about money. A worry about our own capacity to care for ourselves and our families.

I wasn’t raised in poverty, but my parents did struggle. I never had to have sleep for dinner but we did have to make choices. Decades later, my appearance and behaviors still describe my socioeconomic status of childhood. And I did experience the excuses and embarrassment needed to decline invitations to social gatherings during high school and college. I went to a great university, but was also keenly aware that I was from a financial place that was very different than my colleagues. They had experienced more, had access to more, and simply had more. This plays out in subtle but very real ways with very real physical, emotional and social consequences.

And then, on a broader level, I notice that many of our Pagan institutions are struggling, failing or simply lacking. To be blunt, our community is embarrassingly weak in resources for those we serve. We have no real networks that parallel Catholic Charities or the Jewish Community Centers Association. And our apparent lack of wealth has resulted in having no real parochial system for education, no health systems, no elder resources nor retirement communities. We are abundant in community love and support, but we lack community infrastructure.

Those are all echoes of hardship with money at its core.

The Crown of Oyá [artwork credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The Crown of Oyá [artwork credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

I’m not sure why. Asceticism — or other forms or material avoidance — are not theologically prescribed in the Pagan movements with which I’m familiar. Moreover, there are gods of prosperity. Plutus is one of them. Our ancestor Aristophanes tells us that Plutus was blinded by Zeus so that the gifts of prosperity that he offers would be dispensed without prejudice and accessible to all. Mercury is the god of commerce and profit. Our ancestor, Lucan, describes the Celtic god Teutates as a dispenser of wealth and protector of the tribe. And Freyr and Freya are witnessed as gods of wealth. Lakshmi embodies both spiritual and material wealth. The list goes on.

And what they are saying is that it is okay to not have money. And it is also okay to have money. Just use it wisely and share your wealth.

Orisha Oyá — my mother Orisha — is the fiercest of warriors. Her crown is made of copper and holds nine tools which she uses as needed. She is swift against her enemies riding into battle with host of weapons that include winds, magic and money. While she is often recognized as the Orisha of storms and the gates of the dead, she is also the Orisha of the marketplace. And there, like in no other place, she means business.

As her story tells us, Oyá lived a solitary life in the forest and suffered tremendously. People called her ugly and shunned her. They detested her intelligence, especially because she was a woman. She lost her children, nine of them; each one dead. After, she dressed in nine different colors, each representing one of her stillborn.

Her life drove her to be a loner, a characteristic that she imparts to her spiritual children. While she remembers when her community humiliated her for being without children and treated her like an outcast because of her suffering, her intelligence and her power,  her experiences transformed her. She became independent and nurturing, and she rails that her spiritual children never endure such burdens.

Oyá teaches that we must build our own future, our own independence in recognition of the vast instability of the world. She is the Orisha of change and demands that we prepare for it and we submit to it. Without change the elegant process of the creation cannot unfold. But more importantly, there was a time when no children added poverty upon suffering. So she became shrewd in business and took command of the marketplace because of its chaotic nature.

But Oyá is also particularly concerned that her children have the needed resources so they will never suffer as she did, so she whispers to them her secrets of change, of magic and of markets. She wants her children skilled in business and insists that they — especially the women — become adept with money. She becomes enraged when others try to subordinate her children; so she wants them to have the resources to not fall to envy, to fortify them against the shocks of change and perhaps most importantly to have the financial stability to promote their self-determination and their community’s prosperity.

Like Orisha Oyá and the Gods of other peoples, our ancestral cultures didn’t appear to see wealth or money as a problem. It was only a problem when it failed the community.

[Courtesy In Guadalajara]

[Courtesy In Guadalajara]

And, possibly to some surprise, capitalism was conceived in exactly the same way; it was to be an ethical pillar against social ills from corruption to poverty. That capitalism was described by another ancestor: Adam Smith. He called it the “commercial society” and it was built upon liberal realism; the kind that requires a deep attention and commitment to freedom, equity and justice rather the pursuit of profits as a singular goal. The kind of capitalism Smith wanted promotes economic prosperity through rational self-interest and competition in the context of equality and economic justice.

For those unfamiliar his seminal work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776), Smith was obsessed with defending an economic system sternly rooted in a morality of social and economic justice. He keenly understood how his “commercial society” could be hijacked to become amoral and unrestrained. As he underscores over and again, that there must be fairness and justice always present for his system to produce amd ethical wealth.

He argued that when markets are free and fair, society will benefit from economic gains. He further argued that it is the poor that would be the marker of that benefit. “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath [sic] and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed [sic] and lodged.” (I. viii. 36)

Adams saw endemic poverty as the consequence of injustice and its remedy as the most urgent of issues on behalf of children “But poverty, though it does not prevent the generation, is extremely unfavourable to the rearing of children. The tender plant is produced, but in so cold a soil, and so severe a climate, soon withers and dies.” (I.viii.37). Smith saw taxation as a sign of freedom and necessary for effective societies. He called for taxes on luxuries, and he wanted the rich to pay their way proportionally.

Now, he did get other things wrong; the benefits of colonization being one of them. But, his economic system, on the whole, was free and fair commerce for the purpose of poverty elimination. He wanted the government to use those taxes and the power to make laws specifically on behalf of creating a just and fair environment to help the poor and the workers.

Returning to Oyá for another moment, she teaches us that the power of consent is also the power to withhold. She wants us to have resources to build our independence and equality because subservience will never be a path for her children. She insists we understand that we only have power when we can walk away, and that money is the path of voice, power, independence and protection: to serve the poor, to protect the workers and to promote personal and community freedom.

What she demands that her children understand is that money is a tool. Nothing more. It does not incite anything by itself. It does not create greed or war; nor does it save lives or stop poverty. Like the nine tools of her crown, money is simply another device. Sometimes you need a machete. Sometimes you need a sickle. But you fear neither, nor make them forbidden. They simply help you accomplish your task. In doing so, they also reveal who you are. The machete can open the coconut for a neighbor and it can murder them as well. That is what money does too, like any tool, it manifests the ethic of the user.

We, as a community still  have much to manifest. There is much work to do against poverty. There is much work to do against injustices. It’s perfectly fine to be wealthy and continue those struggles. In fact, I think, wealth will strengthen one’s resolve to see more of us out of hardship, hunger and worry.

Our community history has never shied from experimenting with tools: magical, spiritual, even pharmaceutical. We have always embraced the radical and celebrated the taboo, and money is no different. We can build the skills to master the tool, and we have the discipline of magical, traditional and spiritual practice to guide our use of money and learn to use it well. We study the most complicated and esoteric pieces of our existence. There is no tool we cannot master; no situation we cannot understand and prepare for. We can learn how to use it effectively and to manifest our ethics on behalf of our community to give us a stronger voice for equality, justice and equity. Like a hammer and chisel, we can use it to carve institutions and manifest the ideals demanded by our paths that we can call to benefit our society. We can begin to sculpt some very Pagan futures full of community resources — from elder care and justice to housing to environmental healing — all, I think, are ripe for manifesting.

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PRAQUE – On March 16, a Norwegian-based online news site, Local NO, published an article titled, “Norwegian ‘witch’ books stolen by Nazis found.” This story was quickly picked up by international media and expounded upon. The Local NO was covering a March 16 conference hosted by a project called “Books Discovered Once Again.” The conference topic was, in fact, the recovery of these confiscated books. However, according to one of the program organizers “no occult books” have been found.

[Courtesy of Books Discovered Once Again]

[Courtesy of Books Discovered Once Again]

Historian and project manager Marcela Strouhalová of the National Library of the Czech Republic called the news reports “Not only exaggeration, but nonsense.” She told The Wild Hunt, “We have small pieces of many masonic libraries […] but we haven´t found any occult literature in them.”

Strouhalová went on to explain that the majority of the books found are from Germany with “3 exceptions of which one of them is Norwegian lodge and includes 7 volumes.” She added that the current 12,000 found volumes had 2,000 different owners, most of whom resided in the Czech Republic. This substantial historical collection was not owned by Himmler or by any single member of the Nazi party.

When asked how the rumor got started, Strouhalová said that she was not entirely sure, but she believes it came out of a misunderstanding of the presentations given by academics during the final seminar held at Stiftelsen Arkivet in Kristiansand, Norway. The title of the seminar was, “The ideological background for confiscation of books in an European and Norwegian perspective.” The corresponding website includes summaries and data from the seminar itself, and some background behind the discovery of the books.

Strouhalová said, “For me the story starts in the moment when the books were found in four Czech castles in 1945.” According to historians and not surprising to most, the Nazis confiscated thousands of documents, art and books from around Europe as part of their attempts to control cultural ideology as well as to study their enemies. These confiscated items were considered dangerous to the Third Reich or, in the case of art, termed “degenerate.”

While the confiscated items were stored in a variety of places, more than a half-million were found in these “four North Bohemian castles – Houska, Mimoň, Nový Berštejn and Nový Falkenburg” in 1945, as noted earlier by Strouhalová. The Czech National Library, after being partially closed during Nazi occupation, was given the task of sorting through and processing these found documents. At the time, many items were returned to their owners, with the exception of those owned by “enemies of the [Czech] state.” This included all German or Hungarian-owned items, and those owned by “national unreliable persons.” National unreliable persons included “everyone who at any time after 1929 as a Czechoslovak citizen had claimed German or Hungarian nationality in the census or had become a member of a group, unit or political party associating persons of German or Hungarian origin.” The large number of held items were then placed in storage, and have remained there until recently.

American GI looks at Nazi storage of confiscated material [Public Domain]

American GI looks at Nazi storage of confiscated material [Public Domain]

The “Books Rediscovered Once Again” project, sponsored by the National Library of the Czech Republic, the Norwegian institution Stiftelsen Arkivet, the European Economic Area (EEA) funds and the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, launched a discovery project of those remaining confiscated and stored books. While many were German-owned, some were not. And part of the new project, along with cleaning and preserving documents, is the identification of ownership in consideration of all legalities.

As noted in the project’s legal report:

Given the course of confiscations on the spot (and given the rather disorganised activities of the National Committees and the Administration Councils in particular in 1945) and the condition of records and archive documents, it is not possible to positively identify the provenance (original owner) of all confiscated books and thus completely rule out individual, specific situations.

Due to this fact, many are being returned to museums, libraries and organizations, rather than specific people. As noted, “600 volumes of confiscated books were returned to the Jewish Museum in Prague.”

According to Strouhalová, they are processing over 12,000 books, many of which were taken from Masonic lodges across Europe. The Freemasons were considered an enemy of the Third Reich and, as such, needed to be studied. Helge Bjørn Horrisland, a researcher and member of the Norwegian Freemason society, has been working on various projects to help recover confiscated Masonic documents. He is closely involved with the “Books Discovered Once Again” project. Horissland said:

The Nazis confiscated whole collections from the different lodges, and sent these books, documents and other material, to Germany first to get them examined. The intention was to use these books for scientific research as the Nazis looked upon the Freemasons as a Jewish conspiracy, and had a plan to reveal what the freemasonry was about. To some extent this was done, but when the war intensified, these scholars had to participate in the warfare and could no longer be spared to do research on the Freemason societies. The confiscated Freemason books were therefore transported to various storages, also in what was then Czechoslovakia.

In our interview, Strouhalová agreed, saying that that the findings include “common philosophic literature, yearbooks of lodges, some Masonic poems collection and so on.” Again, she emphasized that there was nothing found in the collection, to date, that is considered occult or Witchcraft related.

But, once again, the question arises, how did the rumor begin?

It is very common to conflate all things Masonic with all things occult. The two are western cultural bedfellows as the term occult is used very broadly, and the two often overlap. Included in that broad definition of occult is ‘Witchcraft.’  And, the history of these practices, ideologies and beliefs have circled around each other for centuries, in fiction and in reality. The connection is not a stretch.

However, it is also commonly believed that the Nazi party and its leaders were interested in “the occult,” and that Heidrich Himmler was particularly fascinated with Witchcraft. Some speculate that Aleister Crowley and other well-known occultists had regular audiences with Hitler, and that Hitler’s suicide on Walpurgisnacht (April 30) was magically prophetic. There are speculations that Himmler was staging Witchcraft rituals in his famous Wewelsburg Castle, and that he believed that the “Burning Times” was really a strategic attempt to destroy German culture.

While modern historians have largely debunked most of these theories, the stories do remain, to one extent or another, in our western collective cultural imagination. They are not just limited to conspiracy theorists, Indiana Jones’ films and Dan Brown novels. Additionally, as the Third Reich and its leaders have become, ideologically-speaking, the western world’s symbol for ultimate evil, they have also been aligned with other cultural archetypes of evil – including Witchcraft.

Strouhalová added, “These libraries (masonic collections) were in the holdings of RSHA (Amt VII),” which she believes may have also initially caused the confusion, she said, “Because this organisation was created by Himmler in 1939.” The RSHA (Amt VII), or Reichssicherheitshauptamt, was the Nazi main security office, and Amt VII was the department in charge of “Ideological Research and Evaluation.” This included the confiscation of all “degenerate” works, and the monitoring and dissemination of propaganda. The entire security office, including Amt VII, was controlled by Himmler.

In summary, as explained by the historians, the 12,000 recently discovered documents and books, of which many were of Masonic origin, were originally confiscated by an ideological department found by Himmler.

[Photo Credit: Lin Kristensen / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Lin Kristensen / Wikimedia]

Whether any aspect of the Third Reich was derived from true occult practice and theory, of any kind, and whether or not Hitler and Himmler were interested in Witchcraft is irrelevant to this particular story. Will the researchers one day find Witchcraft books or other actual occult material? Perhaps. But it hasn’t happened yet. If there is a connection between the Nazi leaders and occult practice, it still remains shrouded in mystery. It is left to speculation, the imagination and a modern collective mythology that still rests heavily on medieval Catholic religiosity.

As for the “Books Discovered Once Again” project, the missions statement and explanation of the recent discoveries are described online. Researchers are currently working on providing digital access to many of the found historical documents, as that is one of the aims of the program. When asked how and if the public can view any of the materials, we did not get a response. However, we will update our readers when that information becomes available.

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