Today is Easter Sunday.

As is typical, the days prior are filled with conversations exploring the hidden meanings of the holiday’s commercialized symbols, such as fully bunnies and pastel eggs. In the past, The Wild Hunt has done its own contemplations on the subject. Are there really ancient Pagan origins nestled within the sacred Christian holiday?

As infinitely interesting as that discussion may be, I would like to focus on something entirely different; something often not discussed. This weekend also saw the celebration of another major religious holiday – Passover.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Growing up surrounded by a Jewish family and having mostly Jewish friends, I never marked the entrance of spring with rabbits and divine rebirth. I was never coerced into wearing pastel dresses adorned with satin and tulle. For myself and many others, spring was ushered in by matzo, moror and mishpocheh.

At some point in April, when the dark New Jersey winters began to yield their annual grip, Passover would arrive. My Jewish family would come together for the sacred Seder tradition. Gathered around an extended dining room table with adults at one end and us, children, at the other, we’d eat, drink and recount the story of Passover using the Haggadah. Admittedly, there was always a whole lot of nonsensical giggling during the plagues. Nothing is funnier than frogs, boils and locust when you’re are five.

For Jews, the world over, Passover does in a way mark the beginning of spring. While many children cheer when the Cadbury eggs arrive in supermarkets, I was always overjoyed upon seeing store shelves packed with macaroons, Gefilte fish and Manishewitz wine. Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover was my favorite. Matzoh, Matzoh brei, Matzoh balls, Matzoh farfel cupcakes.

To this day, the springtime holiday holds a space – a sacred space – within my life. Although I was never religiously Jewish and I am now Pagan, I have retained a deep connection to my Jewish heritage and the traditions that come with it.

And, as I have learned, I am not alone in that feeling. While the majority of first generation Pagans and Heathens do come from Christian backgrounds, there are those that do not. Of that small sector of the population, many are of Jewish heritage.

Ilan Weiler, an eclectic Israeli Pagan studying Hermetic Magic, said, “I still consider myself Jewish. I view my Judaism as being more of an ethnic/tribal and cultural nature, and I recognize the Jewish deity on two levels: as the tribal deity of my ancestors on a polytheistic level (recognizing an ancient practice of henotheism), and on the occult level of Kabbalistic-Mystical concept, which I incorporate into my magical practices.” Weiler added that he sometimes attends temple service and “[studies] Jewish history, lore and scripture as to learn my ancestors beliefs and traditions.”

American Hermeticist Jonathan Korman also acknowledged honoring the Jewish deity as a “personal tribal deity.” He said that, on his Pagan altar, he maintains “an empty space for that god.”

Deborah Bender, an American Pagan of Jewish heritage, explained, “Jewish identity isn’t strictly religious. Secular Jews identify themselves as Jews on the basis of culture or ethnicity, often without having had much exposure to the Jewish religion or much education about it.”

While some Pagans with Jewish roots embrace their heritage, as Bender suggested, others do not. Illy Ra, a Kemetic Pagan living in the small town of Kadima in central Israel, said, “I don’t consider myself Jewish, I define myself as a Hebrew Pagan,” adding that she incorporates nothing from Judaism into her own Pagan practice. Similarly, Moon Daughter, an eclectic Israeli Pagan from Moshav, said, “I personally do not consider myself a Jew from the religious point of view, but I am a Jew in my cultural heritage and ethnicity.”

It is true that not every Pagan of Jewish heritage clings deeply to their roots. Interestingly, in some cases, these differences are marked by nationality. Very generally speaking, it would appear that Israeli and American Pagans have a different relationship with Judaism and Jewish culture. Moon Daughter speculated, “I live in Israel and I think a lot of Pagans here, not all naturally, are quite angry at monotheistic religions and certainly Judaism … The attitudes toward [the religion] are more complicated [than in the United States] since Judaism is not just a religion, it is also a national identity.”

[Photo Credit: Yehuda Cohen / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Yehuda Cohen / Flickr]

When becoming Pagan, Israeli Jews may have a more difficult time negotiating through their own internal “identity politics” than American Jews. As Moon Daughter noted Judaism in Israel is a religious practice and a national identity, both of which are married to culture, ancestors and family. Illy Ra added, “Even if one chose to leave the Jewish religion, the community will still see them as part of the Jewish community and culture.”

That is also partly true in the United States. There is a sense of Jewish-ness that exists beyond the practice of the religion itself and beyond spiritual belief. I can still feel that “belonging.” After telling my Aunt, a Jewish Atheist herself, that I was Pagan, she reminded me, “It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God. If Hitler came today, you would still be sent to a camp with all the other Jews.” And that, in her eyes, was enough.

This sense of tribal belonging – that Jewish-ness – is something that can be and is carried into Pagan practice. Bender explained, “The Jewish religion has a very strong tradition of discussion and argument, and the Talmud records minority opinions. I take from this that it’s okay to arrive at a different conclusion than other people if it’s based on reason and evidence and you don’t make yourself an enemy of the Jews.” She added that the Jewish people are “used to being a religious and ethnic minority, and not basing our self-image on what the dominant culture think.”

In our conversation, Bender also noted the similarities that she personally finds within Judaism and her Pagan practice. She said, “Judaism shares with Wicca the outlook that what you do is more important than what you believe. Wiccan sacred time is cyclical. Jewish sacred time is both cyclical and historically linear. The calendars of both have a lunar month and a solar year. Judaism and Wicca both concentrate on living this life but recognizing something beyond. Both teach that the world is fundamentally good that physical pleasures are divine gifts that we are responsible for our own actions.” She went on to list more.

Because of the strong cultural aspects that thrive within Judaism, many Pagans, at least in America, do not reject their Jewish heritage with the same level of hostility and frustration as often expressed by Christian peers. However, as noted earlier, Moon Daughter clarified that this generalization does not necessarily apply to those in Israel where Jewish culture informs the dominant social structure. Moon Daughter said “I guess [American Pagans] still feel like a minority that needs to stick together and do not want their criticism of Judaism to revert to anti-Semitism.” And that may be partially true.

American Pagans of Jewish heritage are minorities within a minority, which complicates the building of a religious and personal identity, especially when you still embrace your Jewish-ness. I have attended Pagan gatherings where I have felt moderately alienated, simply because I had no context for something happening or being discussed. The very first time that my coven sang Pagan “Yule” carols, I was a bit lost. The Frosty and Rudolf parodies were no issue, but when they got to “Goddess Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” I just sat quietly dreaming up Pagan words to the Dreidel Song. “I have a little cauldron. I may it out of clay….

But getting back to spring and Passover, many Pagans of Jewish heritage still make their way to family or friends’ homes by sundown as tradition dictates. Once there, they relive an ancient story and participate in a sacred ritual and, more importantly, a family tradition. Moon Daughter said that she has attempted to find a Pagan interpretation for Passover Seder but “that is not always easy, since holidays are about family, and most of my larger family are of course non-Pagans.” Illy Ra said, “I do celebrate the holidays with my parents to respect their belief and culture, but I guess I would do the same if they belonged to any religion.”

Weiler also emphasized that the Seder is a time for family, describing his own tradition as being “secular” and “nothing more than a glorified family dinner.” However Weiler added that when he has his children, he would like to do a “real Seder, incorporating traditional, modern and Pagan notions.”

Bender, on the other hand, doesn’t like to mix her rituals. She said, “I try to stay within Jewish tradition when I’m doing Jewish rituals. If I want a fully Pagan ritual, it’s separate.” However, she did add that it is possible to “adapt” the Seder structure into a spring Pagan ritual, but she said, “You would have to do it carefully to avoid incoherence and cultural appropriation.”

As for me, this Jewish heritage has remained close by my side. I can still sing the four questions in Hebrew and make tasty kneidels, even though I no longer participate in a formal Seder. Should an emergency occur, I do own multiple Haggadahs, a matzo cover and a Seder plate. Each spring, as I prepare for Ostara, I also purchase a box of matzo and a few cans of macaroons. Like many others, this Jewish-ness colors who I am and, in many ways, the practice of my adopted Pagan religion.

Springtime cheers to all our readers who are enjoying this weekend’s religious festivities, whether it be for family, tradition, faith or simply matzo. L’Chiam and may you always find the afikomen!

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Incense_to_burn

“Incense to Burn” by Izzy Nguyen-Phuoc, (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0)

Thin pale hands clutch a wand bound with a crystal and bundled herbs. The fingers of the practitioner are delicate, lithe, adorned with pewter and silver rings; a thing gossamer fringe from her sleeves or her dress drapes down, and she lights cones of incense in spaces prepared for them upon a painted-stone.

Magic seems to stream through the soft-lighting of the image, and we are left to wonder: Is she casting a spell? Invoking long-quiet spirits? Divining the threads of wyrd woven around a supplicant?

No.

She’s selling a product on behalf of a corporation.

The images that I’m referencing appear on the marketing blog for Free People, which offers ‘curated’ products for sale within ‘The Spirituality Shop.’  For those unfamiliar with Free People, it’s the parent company of Urban Outfitters, a company renowned for their well-documented theft and appropriation of First Nations and individual-crafter art, as well unabashedly selling overtly racist products such as Ghettopoly and “Navajo” liquor flasks..

For 68 dollars, you can purchase their ‘cosmic stick,’ or for 28 dollars you can either purchase an assorted bundle of driftwood sticks or a ‘hand-tied’ smudge stick. To a serious spirit-worker, witch, or wizard, such products are laughable, and they would likely agree with the cynic or the atheist who’d ridicule the use of spirituality to sell a product.

But that presents a problem. Spirit-workers, witches, and other practioners often do sell things, spiritual services (readings, curse-breaking, channeling) and products (wands, enchanted candles, herbal tinctures) through which others find their needs met. The logic of the cynic or the atheist, then, is of no use to the Pagan engaging in such transactions, yet we’d still take issue with The Spirituality Shop.

I’m tempted to say, “Welcome to the Capitalist appropriation of Paganism,” but I’d be misleading you here. It’s quite common, as Pagans are also consumers, and, anyway, we have a horrible habit of appropriating others beliefs and systems, compiling them and selling them back to each other as our own.

But still, it seems…wrong, somehow, for a corporation to present items roughly associated with our beliefs, dressed up in spiritual language, for profit. Many of us sell our services to each other as readers and crafters, and Pagan festivals very often have large markets of items for sale. How is what “The Spirituality Shop” is doing any different?

It’s tempting to fall back upon a particularly modern analysis.  Free People is an impersonal corporation only out for profit, rather than a local seller, someone we know, someone ‘in the community.’  And while local trade is certainly something we should strive for, I currently live in a city where the largest on-line retailer of Pagan items (and pretty much every other sort of item), Amazon, resides. Corporations can be local, too.

Nor is it enough to say ‘corporations are bad.‘  As an anti-Capitalist who has worked in both small local-businesses and for corporations (as a cook, retail clerk, receptionist and a couple of professions I’d rather not talk about), I can vouch that working for Corporations was better every single time. They might rape the earth and exploit the poor, but at least their checks never bounce.

But there are several problems with The Spirituality Shop and other commercial outfits selling items with a sacred veneer, shrouded in mystical language and evoking the trappings of magic and the divine. The thing is, these problems are much larger than mere appropriation of an alternative religion and its activities and products. Rather, the problems are integral to Capitalism itself, or, rather, how Capitalism trains us to look at the world and everything in it as ‘objects,’ divorced from both spirit and social relationships.

To understand this, we need to look at the magical practices of Capitalism itself.

Commodification–or how nature becomes ‘things’

A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties…. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent.

Karl Marx, Capital

While many 18th and 19th century ‘Enlightenment’ writers were vociferous critics of religion and particularly those who made a living selling metaphysical objects and services to others (Voltaire was very scathing), one of them, Marx, specifically examined our relationship to products and services through a metaphysical lens.

Marx wrote extensively in alchemical terms about the way Capital and Labor crystallize into ‘value,’ much like chemicals and minerals ‘crystallize’ out of air or other materials in an alchemical apparatus.This value is an apparently magical property, added into the material realm through human activities (labor, mostly).

When a raw material like wool is still upon a sheep, it has no social value. This isn’t to say it isn’t valuable to the sheep, of course, but it has not yet entered into the abstraction of human social exchange except as a ‘potential’ to be used later.  The process of shearing it from the sheep adds an extra social dimension to the wool as a ‘raw material,’ an object, a ‘thing.’

Now, human labor can be applied to that wool to turn it into other things, each further away from the sheep it came from.  Carding, spinning and then weaving or knitting each add another layer of objective difference and distance from its original existence as a fuzzy covering on the skin of a sheep. Each of these abstractions adds ‘value’ (specifically, ‘use-value’) to the wool, which is why raw wool costs less than a woolen cloak.

If at any point along the way the wool is given to someone else in exchange for another thing (usually, money), it becomes a commodity, or an object of exchange between humans. This exchange transforms the item into something now alienated from all the other humans who worked it.

That alienation is essential to understanding pretty much everything about Capitalist society.

By removing any thing from the relations that formed it, the threads of community and meaning are severed in the very same way that a human traded as a ‘thing’ from Africa to the Americas was alienated from the world that she came from (and the communities and land which co-created her) and was now considered a commodity despite her very real existence as a human.

That is, in order to alienate or commodify someone or something, they must be made into objects, devoid of meaning.

Commodity Fetishism–the ‘religion of things’

Commodification occurs when an item is divorced from the social relation that produced it.

Turning something into a commodity strips it from relationship and meaning in order to be bought and sold. And there’s a second transformation, just as insidious, which occurs to the commodity. Its social value no longer matters to the seller or buyer, but a different sort of ‘value’ does–exchange-value.

The question is no longer ‘How much does this person mean to their family? or How useful is this table?’ but rather “How much can I earn from this slave? Or how much can I sell this antique for?

And on the other side, the buyers now ask themselves, “Is this a fair price for a kitchen table?’ or, horrifically, “How many slaves can I afford to buy?”

Those questions comprise “exchange-value,’ and there are several new social interactions creating that value. This is where “markets’ come in: the desire of a merchant to profit as highly as possible from an item and the desire of a buyer to pay as little as possible for it. “Supply and demand” comes into play, mostly on the seller’s side, because if there are a hundred people selling coats and only one person buying, each seller is limited on the profit they can make.

It’s in the best interest of a seller to create artificial scarcity, and we should note that many modern famines in Africa and India have actually been a result of sellers purposefully limiting their stock, rather than natural causes (see Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved, among others).

All these relationships are again divorced or alienated from the humans who created the items, except in the cases of individual crafters directly selling their crafts. Walmart is full of alienated objects. A Saturday market? Not as much.

From a tree which has value-in-itself to a table bought at a furniture store is a long chain of humans who have worked the wood in some way or another. But, in most cases, you can no longer meet them. In fact, not being able to meet the communities of people who created an item is how companies like Apple are able to sell you phones made by people in horrific conditions — You’ll never meet them; you’ll never see their misery. So you’re decision to buy a smartphone is cleansed of questions of morality and ethics.

There’s something uncomfortable about buying alienated products though. Consider the difference between a meal cooked by your family and a meal purchased at a fast-food restaurant. It’s unlikely you know the minimum-wage worker who assembled your meal in her grease-smeared uniform. You have no relationship with her and, more than likely, she’s not considered part of your community. The communal and social relations of a meal are stripped-out of a drive-through burger or a factory-processed microwave ‘dinner.’ Not only are we alienated from the people who created it, we are alienated from the meal itself.

But we (or, many of us, I guess) eat such things anyway–and pay money to do so–despite that alienation. Those items have ‘value’ (because we pay for them and consume them), but that value is a sort of chicanery. The thing-itself has value again, or at least we believe it to have value inherent in the thing itself.

How much is a coat ‘worth?” An iPhone? A house? We assign a number to that item; a number of dollars or pounds or pesos, abstracting the thing one final time before it’s finally in our possession. That final abstraction is translated into the ultimate fetishized commodity, money, a thing completely worthless except for the potential it signifies.

Marketing Enchantment

When a thing is severed from the community who created it (humans and non-humans), it loses its ‘meaning’ (that is, socially-constructed value) and is an abstract ‘thing’ alienated from the world. In order for it to have meaning again, another magical process must occur. We usually call this ‘advertising.’

I’m loathe to admit this, but there’s some incredible Bardic magic in Capitalism. The fact that every reader of this essay can immediately conjure in their head what the Coca Cola logo looks like is a pure act of sorcery. Delve a little deeper and you can also likely evoke the taste of the stuff and might find yourself getting a bit thirsty, even if you make a practice not to drink it.

This is created meaning attached to an alienated object.  It’s unlikely you’ve met many of the people who work in the factories where it’s created, and even its actual contents are hidden from public knowledge. What it’s even made of is a mystery.

Bards and witches can incite desire, fear, and bodily reactions in others, and enchanters can imbue material objects with abilities foreign to the item itself; so, too, does the advertiser.

In fact, someone must imbue commodities with new social meaning, otherwise Capitalism cannot exist. 

The alienation of an object from the social relations that created it–and the horrific state of those conditions–are both unbearable to the mind. Alienation from production allows us to ignore slave labor and oppressive working conditions that create the food we eat, and those ignored realities are replaced with pastoral scenes of rolling fields and smiling farmers.  Over enough time we stop questioning, but only as long as the charade is kept up and no one challenges us to think too much about who makes these things.

Therefore we don’t empathize with the poorly-paid workers who pick our coffee beans or sew our t-shirts.  Instead, at most, we interact with the barista who pours are drink or the salesperson who rings up our purchase. We don’t empathize with the workers because they’re obscured from us, both by alienation and by advertising. This is also how we ignore the destruction of the earth by Capitalism–we don’t see it.

In fact, a lot of advertizement now involves invoking feelings of community, of naturalism particularly to help ease the pain of that alienation from each other and the earth caused by Capitalism. Worse, Capitalist ventures directly harming the earth have become ‘greenwashed.’ BP (once called British Petroleum) uses a green sun-flower for a logo, and automobiles with higher gas efficiency are referred to as ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly,’ as if those cars were going around planting trees.

adams driftwood

Driftwood photo by Ansel Adams (Public Domain)

Belief as a Product

Let’s return now to The Spirituality Shop.

Besides the sheer audacity of selling pieces of driftwood (freely found at almost any body of water), the fine folks who will sell you racist board games are engaging in the same alienation and commodification of objects as any other Capitalist merchant. But for Pagans, the aesthetic they employ should give us serious pause.

The language and photography in the advertising blog for The Spirituality Shop invokes precisely the connection to more ancient, non-Capitalist forms that many of us cherish about Pagan belief and practice. A connection to trees, to stones, to things like driftwood and the moon are all vital aspects of the Animist, Naturalist, and Pantheist religions within modern Paganism, particularly in our efforts to re-connect with the earth and its inhabitants–including other humans.

That is, Paganism is, if anything, anti-thetical to Alienation and Commodification. The moment a part of the Natural world becomes a mere ‘thing’ or an ‘object,’ its spirit, its being, its inherent worth and magic is ignored or even profaned. Alienation from forests is what allow us to cut them down callously, alienation from others is what allows us to make them slaves or sexual objects.

And it’s the sorcery used to help maintain that alienation which we, as witches, druids, spirit-workers, mages and priests must learn to fight.

When something becomes a commodity, it is stripped of its meaning, its spirit. We must fight off cynical uses of our beliefs to sell products, both from outside Paganism and from within. Value and worth are social creations, formed through social relationships, and nothing destroys social relationships like alienation.

Capitalism thrives on both greed and gluttony, excesses which destroy small communities but are difficult to redress in large ones. Alienation between the producer and the buyer is easier to create when our commerce isn’t personal and embodied; when you don’t meet the person who made your food or the person who’ll eat it.

And most of all, we should be wary of go-betweens, the enterprising sorts who offer to help us make money from our spiritual activities. It’s precisely at that point which alienation occurs, when driftwood collected on a beach becomes an ‘object,’ and the belief which creates a wand becomes a mere marketing ploy.

Relationship–or how sticks become wands

“Value” is a form of meaning that we attach to an item according to social relationships to it, whether those be use-value or exchange-value.  But both of those meanings derive from relationship, both to the thing itself and to the beings involved in creating it.

Most magic is also relational. A spirit-worker, a channeler, a priest, a druid, and a witch all cultivate relationships with other beings (be they plants, rocks, spirits, or gods). To create a wand as a druid, for instance, I did not buy a stick from The Spirituality Shop or Amazon.com; I cultivated a relationship with trees (Alder, specifically) as well as gods and spirits related to Alder.

This isn’t to say I couldn’t have bought a wand, or had one created for me. In fact, my altar was created by someone else and gifted to me. I did not craft it, nor did I ever meet the people who’d cut down the trees to turn it into wood, nor those who made it into a bench. But the relationship of the person who made it an altar before I was given it remains; if anything, it’s her skill and her relationship to the god she made it for which imbued it with a rather profound magic in itself.

And here we have the final problem with The Spirituality Shop. We have no relationship with the creators of those items, nor likely did those creators have much relationship with the natural world. Only through the magic of advertising, the evocative chicanery and glamor of their imagery, might we imagine some ‘value’ in those items past their cost.

Thus, too, the problematic nature of even some Pagan ‘products’ such as Sabbat Box. We should be wary of attempts to sell us items evoking ‘Pagan Community’ and the imagery of magic, because this is the same ploy used to sell items devoid of meaning.

Magic might have a price, but relationship cannot be bought or sold. It’s the older truth behind the alienation between people and objects, the reason so many non-Capitalist peoples were communal and non-destructive to the environment in which they lived. Their connection to Nature and each other was relationship, which is the truest magic of all.

 

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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It’s been a hell of a winter here in the UK. The Pagan community has had to come to terms with the issue of child abuse within our community, as no fewer than four pedophiles, identifying as Pagan, were sent to prison.

Generally, there have been many child abuse court cases recently. The British police and justice system has had a change of culture in recent years, and is now proving itself committed to detecting and prosecuting child sex abusers. Well-known British television personalities and even government ministers have been investigated and some convicted. These are people who had been protected by their positions in the past.

Police in Glasgow [Photo Credit: Postdlf from W. / CC lic. via  Wikimedia]

Police in Glasgow [Photo Credit: Postdlf from W. / CC lic. via Wikimedia]

At the moment it feels as though the whole of British society has woken up to child vulnerability after a long and sorry history of looking the other way, of denial and of cover-ups. It is a society doing its best to right the wrongs of the past.

There’s no surprise that among the non-famous there will be people from every profession and from every religious path, including ours. It is hard, though, to watch. I think most of us Pagans want to be able to keep imagining that child abuse only happens elsewhere. “Our sort are not ‘that sort.’ ”  We might all wish to believe that a true Pagan (whatever that is) could never do such things and that a person who did commit such atrocities could only be masquerading as Pagan.

But wishing doesn’t make it so, as the old adage goes.

The most recent pedophile to be sent to prison was Redvers ‘Barney’ Barnard, a man from the North of England, who wore his pentagram necklace prominently visible in his court appearances. He was a regular at Pagan gatherings and was involved enough in the community to be known to event organisers. His Facebook profile included home snapshots that depict a  Pagan leading a “normal” home life.

When Barnard was charged, acquaintances in the Pagan community were deeply shocked, and remain so. Everyone who knew him has been keen to stress that Barnard had no official roles in any Pagan organisation. It appears that none of the children that he abused, and there were many, were victimised or groomed through Pagan events or Pagan social networks.

But was he a pretend pagan? No, it doesn’t look like he was.

Pagan event organisers have recently been in consultation and meetings to discuss the broader issue of child safeguarding. The Barnard case, and several other related ones, have been sobering. Most longstanding officers serving in Pagan organisations have been closely following the case involving Kenny Klein, the well-known American Wiccan priest and musician who was arrested on child pornography charges. After that news was made public, others came forward accusing Klein of predatory acts allegedly aimed at minors during the Pagan gatherings at which he performed.

Here, in Britain, some safeguards are in place already. Anyone working near young people must have a government child-background check; Pagan events are now requiring this check of their own volunteers. There is also a coordinated plan to roll out a ‘stay safe’ initiative which will be used at all UK Pagan events. Whether it be a midsummer camp, a weekend conference, or a family-friendly pub moot, the responsible adults will now have their eyes open and be listening carefully as never before.

The U.K. Pagan community is well-positioned to make real strides. We are diverse in many ways but, in many respects, we are tightly interwoven. The Pagan Federation is a national body that has been working across regions and denominations for 41 years. Thanks to that work, Paganism is taken seriously as a spiritual path by most of our national press and the government.

Pagan Police Assoc.
In addition, our ability to address this problem with the police is strengthened by the Pagan Police Association. When we are working with officers who may not know that abuse and sacrifice are anathema to our religion, we can call upon the Pagan Police Association to vouch for this fact. Acknowledged experts such as University of Bristol’s Professor Ronald Hutton have also spoken as court witnesses to this fact.

Because we are a small island, assistance is never more than a three-hour drive away. The U.K. is a concentrated population on an island the size of California, so even national bodies regularly have in-person meetings. We don’t have the challenges facing North Americans, who are spread across a great land mass and six time zones.

In addition, the British government is centralised, so when we work with one region’s legal authorities, the principles apply elsewhere. This is a significant difference from America’s federal system, where many policies, laws and statutes apply only within an individual state.

We have a long road ahead of us and we are learning every day about being more effective in the sobering, important task of protecting our children. The will is there. Stay tuned.

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Last month, Taylor Ellwood, managing non-fiction editor of Megalithica Books, was contacted by Getty Images due to a photograph published on one of his blogs. In a post, Ellwood explained that he didn’t know that the photograph was a Getty Image and wrote, “I read the email, responded, and took the picture down from my site. I spent the rest of Friday taking all the pictures down on my website that I hadn’t taken, because I realized that if it could happen with one picture, it could happen with another.” He also admits that, in the end, he had to pay a fee for use of the image.

[public domain]

[public domain]

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are problems that haunt writers, musicians and artists, and are violations that appear to be increasing due to developments in and access to digital technology. Now it is easier than ever to both purposefully or accidentally commit plagiarism or some form of copyright infringement.

This reality hit the nation hard back in 2001 when Napster, a peer-to-peer music sharing platform, was sued by A&M Records. As noted in a Washington University Law School case study, the courts ruled against Napster, holding them “liable for contributory and vicarious infringement of copyright.” It was at that point that many people awoke from a candy-coated Internet haze and realized that, with the ease of creating, also comes the ease of copying.

As bandwidth increases, hard drives grow, and tech prices decrease, users become more saavy. It takes very little time to wholesale copy someone else’s work. Photos and graphics can be cut and pasted with minimal key strokes. Art work can be downloaded, printed and copied. Videos and music can be emailed. And, text is as good as a ctrl-c, ctrl-v away.

Some websites, companies and people have found technological barriers or policies to make the process more difficult. The New York Times, for example, doesn’t allow a cut-paste of its text or photos. Many commercial cloud servers will shut down the accounts of people who share music or videos. When you paste direct text from a site like Patheos, you will also get an html link back to the site. These methods may act as deterrents but they certainly do not stem the tide of violations.

In his blog post on the topic, Ellwood said, “Copyright is an important issue. As a writer, I respect the effort that goes into a creative work and the desire to be compensated. In some ways, I wish there was a Getty images enforcing my rights as an author, especially when I find that one of my books has been uploaded on the Web to be shared everywhere with no compensation coming my way.”

Ellewood is not alone in sharing those concerns. Started in 2011, a Facebook group called, “Pagans against Plagiarism” has become a gathering site for “authors and artists” to discuss direct violations, prevention methods and related concerns. The group also acts as a unofficial watchdog organization of sorts. One member said that the group provides excellent support and information on the subject. Unfortunately, the founders were unavailable for comment.

As recent events have shown, the need for such an organization is very real. On March 29, a Tumblr user announced the free download of 100 esoteric books via dropbox. These books were allegedly part of her collection. As noted in the post, she had become an atheist and is offering her digital collection as a last “gift” to the Pagan community. Within two days, the woman’s Tumblr account was deactivated and the Dropbox link removed. Despite this deletion, there are still two more similar offerings on both Google and Dropbox. Whether or not the two live sites are related to the first is unclear.

Another example pertains to the use or misuse of artwork. In March, Pagan artist Brigid Ashwood publicly accused fantasy artist Nichole Peacock of copyright infringement. In talking to Ashwood, she said, “Nichole’s work was brought to my attention by an email tipster who saw my work in her booth, recognized it, and had the good sense to take that photographic evidence …” Ashwood details her findings, including those photographs, on her blog. In a recent update, Ashwood said:

In my own case Ms. Peacock signed the cease and desist from my attorney, paid restitution/royalties on prints of my work that she admitted she sold, and she offered up an apology. I did, at that time, consider my situation with her resolved. After recent statements made publicly by Ms. Peacock I no longer consider our issue resolved, and I am exploring taking further legal action.

Ashwood has not only accused Peacock of copying her own work, but that of other artists as well. One of those artists, Selina Fenech, responded in the blog’s comments saying that she “will be dealing with it through legal channels.”

Peacock has publicly denied any wrong doing, saying, “How does another person have the right to say what affiliations I have with other artists? The background for my Steampunk Owl with gears is legally licensed from the talented James Hill with full permission. My Shaman is a tribute to the life of Suzanne Sedon Boulet who died in 1997.” Peacock adds that she is a “prolific artist,” suggesting that there has been some confusion. She was unavailable for further comment.

While artists, musicians, photographers and novelists are dealing with copyright infringement, writers and editors must be concerned with cases of plagiarism, which can take many forms. Not only must they be conscious of their own words being stolen, but also of inadvertently committing the act themselves.

Circle Magazine Issues 2014 [Photo: H. Greene]

Florence Edwards-Miller, editor of Circle Magazine, said “Circle Magazine has a policy that attribution must be given for all work not original to the author. In my time as an editor, the only issue has been with chants, where they’re often passed on by word-of-mouth at festivals, but without the author’s attribution. A few times I’ve chosen not to run with a chant or a quote when the original source couldn’t be confirmed.”

Edwards-Miller added that the magazine has had the reverse problem. She said, “Selena Fox and Circle Sanctuary have occasionally had to deal with situations where people were distributing our published material unattributed, or more irregularly, claiming it as their own. This has included chants and rituals, in addition to articles from the magazine, or our website. In those situations we’ve generally been able to offer what Selena Fox calls ‘corrective feedback’ to the people involved and resolve the situation.”

With the evolution of blog culture and visual nature of social media, photographers, both professional and amateur, have been hit particularly hard by this problem. As Ellwood found out, if there is no copyright indicator, it doesn’t mean that the photo can be used. He also warned, “If you sell a product or service on your site, [the site] is considered commercial, even if it’s just one product … That can result in different rates of penalization [for using copyrighted material].”

There are work-arounds, including creative commons, pay-per image sites, and public domain options. The rules and regulations on the use of each type of image are typically marked. However, Ellwood has another suggestion: “Take your own pictures … You own the copyright, because you took the picture. And this isn’t hard to do in the age of camera phones.”

In 2013, Soli a contributing writer at the Pagan Activist blog, offered her own suggestion, writing, “stop stealing from your fellow Pagans …” She noted how important and easy it is to quote, cite, credit and attribute. She writes, “In short, stop stealing. Give credit where it is due. Ask permission … We’re still a minority. We still have to fight for rights because of our religious and spiritual practices. Breaking the law does not do a thing to help us.”

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DES MOINES, Iowa. — Wiccan priestess Deborah Maynard has been invited to give the opening invocation to the Iowa House of Representatives on April 9. Priestess Maynard is a Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagan (CUUPs) leader at the People’s Church Unitarian Universalist in Cedar Rapids.

This will be only the third time that a Pagan has been asked to give an invocation at a state legislature. The first time was when Cleda Dawson offered the opening prayer before the Oregon state senate on May 10, 1999. Text of the invocation can be found here.

Cleda Dawson leads an invocation at the Oregon State Senate, The Stateman Journal, May 10th, 1999 [credit Tigris, facebook]

Cleda Dawson in The Statesman Journal, May 10th, 1999 [Photo Credit Tigris Sky, Facebook]

The second time was on Oct 27, 2009, when Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary gave the opening invocation for a session of the Wisconsin State Assembly. In recent weeks, Rev. Fox has been assisting Maynard with rules and details associated with giving an invocation at a state legislative body, and Maynard said that she appreciates the assistance.

Rev. Selena Fox at Wisconsin Capitol 2009 [Courtesy of Circle Magazine]

Maynard was invited to give the invocation by Rep. Liz Bennett (D), her representative in the Iowa state legislature. Maynard said that she had previously met Rep. Bennett at a church fundraiser. Bennett remembered her and contacted her approximately a month ago to see if she was willing to provide a blessing.

When Rep. Bennett was reached for comment, she sent The Wild Hunt this statement:

Each morning, a local religious leader gives an inclusive prayer to the Iowa House. I believe that the Iowa House belongs to the people, and that all people should be welcome. As a State Representatives it is not our role to endorse one religion over another, rather to represent our constituents. Deborah is a constituent who is Wiccan, and an active member of a local Unitarian Universalist faith community. She is happy to join us and give an inclusive prayer from her faith tradition. Why should the House not be as open to her as it would be to anyone else?

Some people might ask why I would invite a non-Christian. I would ask them why we should exclude a non-Christian.

There is room for all Iowans under the dome of the Iowa House.

Maynard started out as an eclectic solitary Pagan, but then studied with a few teachers from Celtic traditions. Eleven years ago, she became the leader of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist PaganS (CUUPs) in Cedar Rapids. She now describes herself as a Cabot Witch, as she was initiated by Laurie Cabot’s coven a few years ago.

Priestess Deborah Maynard [photo from facebook profile]

Priestess Deborah Maynard [Photo facebook profile]

Maynard said that she’s excited about the opportunity, yet concerned about the response she’ll receive from the greater Pagan and Christian communities, “I know that I cannot please everyone, but in trying to represent our faith and be inclusive to the rules of the invocation, I know I will need to make compromises.”

She said that she hopes people understand that she’s not trying to make a political statement, but to promote tolerance and acceptance. “I’m hoping that the general public can learn tolerance, inclusion, and respect for other beliefs that are difference from their own. I want them to learn the UU principal of the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Another concern is for her children. She said that, while the reaction to her upcoming invocation at the capitol has largely been positive, she worries what other kids will say to her children and how their parents will react.

Along with Maynard’s 11 year-old child, some members of the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids CUUPS groups and friends from Iowa Pagan Pride will be joining her at the capitol to hear the invocation. She added that some of her non-Pagan friends are also planning on attending.

The Wild Hunt will post a video of the invocation, as one becomes available.

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The debate may be as old as the concept as money itself. Is it ethical to require payment for spiritual services? The question has emerged again in Pagan communities, thanks to a widely-shared article on the subject. Those who support payment for services such as divination, spell-casting, crafting and consecration of magical and/or sacred objects and the like often frame their arguments in terms of energy exchange. However, the underlying message appears to be, “I cannot afford to do this for free.” Opposed to the idea of accepting money for such services are people who believe these talents come from divine sources, and are intended to be shared freely; a common subtext to this position is, “Desire for money attracts greed, and greed attracts con artists.”

Public Domain

Public Domain

Jaya Saxena, a contributing writer to The Daily Dot, discovered this schism when she chronicled hiring a witch to cast a sex spell for her marriage. “Commenters called me an idiot for thinking it’d work, friends asked if I’d recommend the process, and at least one person told me I should find Jesus. But one angry response really caught my attention: the bubbling anger at capitalist witches,” she wrote.

While it’s not difficult to find people with esoteric businesses who are willing to defend the practice of charging money, it’s in the comments of articles like Saxena’s that the opposition tends to manifest. The Daily Dot piece inspired other sites to write about the subject, and when one of those articles was shared on the Facebook page of The Witches’ Voice, a lively debate ensued. One commenter remarked:

“Charging someone asking for our help negates what I stand for. I have never charged anyone in need of help ( especially when it comes to prayer) and never will. Of course I limit what I will do for them. . . . However, I would consider bartering in exchange. I helped a lady once and she gave me eggs from her own chickens.”

Another observed, “If I can pass on knowledge to some one who is sincere,and willing to learn, then that is payment.” A third suggested that money could dilute the motivation of the spiritual worker: “[I]t’s not unethical, however, it’s not powerful, either. Casting spells require[s] strong desire and [a] hired witch might lack the same!”

There was also an attempt at compromise present in some comments, such as this one: “If you charge, you should charge for the materials, we all know a lot of our stuff is hard to find and not easy to get depending on where you live. However, I myself would never charge for the actual spell or charm.”

Caterina Lejeune O’Sullivan crafts magical items and works spells for clients as part of her business, La Buona Vita. She sees things differently.

“Time, energy, and whatever ritual items that are used in a spell certainly have value. An exchange, be it a barter or some sort or money, creates a balance. You pay a lawyer for his knowledge and words. Advice based on knowledge is not a tangible item. Sometimes lawyers don’t win a case but you still have to pay them for their time spent counseling you. People pay for life coaching, therapists, counselors, all people with skill sets who encourage you and point you in the right direction to achieve your goals and keep you on track. Again, this not something you can hold in your hand and it doesn’t always work, but is at the very least minimally helpful, and more often than not quite successful.”

O’Sullivan said that she sometimes chooses not to charge for an item or service, but that a gift freely given fulfills the idea of an exchange quite nicely. That concept — that magic must have an exchange of energy in order to work — was echoed by Lisa and Anton Stewart, proprietors of the Awareness Shop. Anton put it in more mundane terms: “Should food stores be banned?” he asked. “Everything donated? Socialism is a wonderful ideal.”

“There has always been an exchange of energy, whether food or clothing or something else, for magical working,” said Lisa Stewart. “The universe is an abundant place, with plenty for everyone, and it doesn’t mean you’re taking from someone else. Believe and you shall receive. If there was no exchange, that would be bad karma. Don’t get hung up on the money thing.”

Like O’Sullivan, the Stewarts provide both completely intangible services — such as divination sessions — alongside physical products like the spell kits that they craft for each full moon and Wiccan sabbat throughout the year. In their case, the spell kits include all of the material components as well as detailed instructions on how to use them. They also recorded an album, Circle In A Box, which is a series of songs structured as a Wiccan ritual for groups and solitary practitioners who wish to work magic of that type without a facilitating priest or priestess.

Along a similar vein is the recently-unveiled Sabbat Box, a magic-in-the-mail subscription service. Where the spell kits from the Awareness Shop have a specific magical focus, a Sabbat Box will contain an assortment of items related to the next Wiccan sabbat, each crafted by artisans who participate in the program. Certainly a service like this would be supported by those Pagans who believe it’s okay to charge for physical materials, unless the expectation is that the product should be sold for cost only. Purely intangible services, such as removing curses and oracular work, tend to be more controversial in this regard.

The concern that intangible services and hard-to-quantify qualities are fraught with fraud results in laws and rules designed to protect consumers. Attorneys have bar associations which enforce codes of ethics; car dealers must operate in “lemon laws” in many states; and fortune-telling is either regulated or outright licensed in many jurisdictions.

One example of the latter is Salem, Massachusetts, where one local psychic is being investigated for possibly operating outside of that licensing by charging $16,800 “to have a shield placed over him to protect him,” according to published reports. While it will probably be easy to determine if a law has been broken, this extreme example simply raises questions about how magic works: was this bald-faced fleecing, or did the customer feel that a particularly strong spell required a great deal of energy in exchange, in the form of a high price?

While the current debate centers around Witches and Wicca, these questions manifest in all corners of Paganism and related faiths. No matter one’s personal religious practices, Saxena’s conclusion seems to frame the ongoing disagreement succinctly:

“. . . where you stand on charging for spells depends on whether or not you think it’s a scam. If you don’t believe in Witchcraft, you’re unlikely to seek out any magical services, whether you pay for them or not. If you do, you’re either convinced that you’ll get what you pay for . . . or that ‘energy is free’ and these services should be too. And if you’re in-between? Well, $25 on Etsy is a small price to pay to satisfy your curiosity.”

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Public Domain / via Pixabay

[Public Domain]

Over the past seven months, a large group of people came together to craft a “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” The idea was born after Covenant of the Goddess issued a similar statement in August 2014. John Halstead led the charge, coordinating the discussions within this “working group.” However, the statement itself was created wholly by the coalition of diverse voices from various communities, religious practices and regions.

Near the end, the statements reads, “We hold that living a fulfilling and meaningful life, and allowing the same for future generations, is only possible if the entire Earth is healthy. We will therefore strive as individuals, as groups, and as members of a global society to promote the current and future health of our entire Earth…”

Presented in draft form, the statement can be read at a newly launched website, where the public is invited to make comments and suggestions. Organizers add, “The Statement will be published in its final form on Earth Day, April 22, 2015, when it will be made available for electronic signature.”  They add, “The statement only represents you if you sign it.” 

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Nearly a year after news of his arrest rocked many Pagan communities, Kenny Klein has still yet to be heard in court. Charges were filed in June but the process has been stalled with hearings scheduled each month, but then postponed for a variety of reasons.

For Klein’s ex-wife, Tzipora Katz, and her children, the delays have been difficult  and increasingly frustrating, as they are all seeking closure. Katz recently said, “The arrest and the past year have, needless to say, dredged up many old wounds and reawoken our collective PTSD. This has manifest differently for each of us, but the common themes are: second guessing decisions (especially about interpersonal relationships), feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth, nightmares and inability to separate past from present emotions, and feelings that we are on trial again as we have had to defend our statements of what did happen to us. And of course, an utter disdain for the slowness of the judicial system.” The next scheduled hearing is for the end of April.

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Indiana-StateSeal.svgIndiana’s newly signed RFRA has taken center stage in the national spotlight, as well as in Pagan and Heathen communities. John Halstead published a blog post regarding the legislation. In “A Pagan Lawyer’s Take on Indiana’s “Religious Right to Discriminate Law,” Halstead writes, “The law allows Hoosiers who are sued for discrimination to cite their religious beliefs as a defense in a private discrimination suit.” Last week, thousands marched in protest and tweeted in outrage, including celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, George Takai, Ashton Kutcher, Ellen Degeneres, the NCAA organization and others.

Indiana will be joining the Federal Government and 19 other states, who all have similar “religious freedom” legislation. Over the past two years,The Wild Hunt has reported on a number of these laws or proposed bills, including those in Georgia and Arizona. Every state RFRA must be read carefully as they are all worded differently. As a result, each one raises different levels of concern and corresponding public reaction. For those interested in following the issue more closely, Americans United provides regular updates on the debates and actions specific to each state’s bill or legislation.

20 states with RFRAs as of March 27, 2015 [Graphic by: PiMaster3]

20 states with some form of RFRA, as of March 27, 2015 [Graphic by: PiMaster3]

In other news:

That is it for now. Have a nice day!

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[Join us in welcoming Manny Tejeda-Moreno, our new monthly columnist. Manny is a professor and social scientist. His scholarship has been focused in research methods, leadership and diversity, and he has a masters degree in psychotherapy. Manny was born in Cuba and and was raised as a child of Oyá. He is a witch and has been in the Pagan community for almost four decades.]

[Credit: Nicolas Raymond/Flickr]

[Credit: Nicolas Raymond/Flickr]

While attending a Pagan conference recently, I was reminded of a behavior that, while is second nature at Pagan gatherings, seems starkly odd in a modern hotel: the no photography rule. Of course people take pictures of one another often, though usually with the implied consent of the person being photographed. It is not uncommon for that implied consent to be present among friends with the assumption that the photographs will be shared with some discretion. But the reason for this rule among Pagans is that the group is collectively concerned about the disclosure of their religious identities.

A few months ago, I published an article on the discrimination of Pagans in the work environment based on my own observations and predictions from theory. Social Psychology, particularly one theory of stigma, tells us that when personal characteristics are not obvious- like eye or skin color for example- the act of disclosing is not only a matter choice but also a process of assessing the consequences of that disclosure. The theory suggests that each of us has an identity that fulfills the expectations of a social setting while possibly simultaneously having an actual identity that is different.

Religion is like that. Unless there is an outward sign of religious affiliation, such as a hijab, one has to look for clues about a person’s faith.  In North America and much of the West, society presumes that individuals are Christian, the most common mainstream religious affiliation. It is, of course, an inaccurate presumption; but the point is that most people generally assume that individuals are not different from those who are the most common. The ability to control disclosure combined with a lack of obvious clues permits an individual to “pass” as mainstream.

For me, this raised questions about the experiences of Pagans in the workplace. Pagans are, essentially a rarer find in the social fabric of faith where the most common thread is Christian. In other words, when an individual says “I’m Christian” in the United States, most people think some variant of “you and 260 million other Americans.”  With less common faiths, such as Judaism, individuals may be marked by stereotypes, but are also recognized as present in the mainline religious experiences.

However, if someone says “I’m a witch,” most people – almost exclusively those unfamiliar with Paganism — are just left with Halloween imagery or TV episodes as a way of understanding the statement. That left me with questions about the kind of discrimination potential that could occur when someone discloses their Pagan faith. In other words, what happens when someone’s actual identity collides with the identity society expects us to have?

The workplace is one area where there is a potential for such a collision to happen and a setting where many of us can experience vulnerabilities because it represents the source of our income. It is also a setting where individuals are trusted with authority and agency on behalf of a company or a profession. And finally, a place where we are forced to interact with many people who may have very different religious, political or cultural associations from our own. The workplace was of particular interest because it’s both a place where we have to go as well as a place where many of us manage our identities more carefully.

[Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr]

I set out to collect two kinds of data for two related studies. The first study focused on compiling stories from Pagans about work. The objective of this study was to compile evidence that many of us have anecdotally about workplace discrimination and, depending on the responses, to create categories from experiences of discrimination.

For this study, I asked for volunteers to be interviewed about these work-related experiences.  The careers of the participants varied from lawyers to store clerks; from park rangers to physicians. It was a fairly good cross-section of different ages and educational levels with a similar mix of backgrounds and Pagan identities, though the most common was, not surprisingly, Wiccan.

Despite being sampled from many backgrounds and essentially unconnected from one another, all participants reported a process of “coming out” as Pagan.

They reported that being Pagan must be a managed identity, one that could seriously affect them with work or clients. The majority of individuals reported being anxious about disclosure as well as reporting micro-aggressions from colleagues who knew about their beliefs. Micro-aggressions are form of interpersonal discrimination that forces an individual to confront how they are different from social norms or behaviors. These micro-aggressions ranged from the very subtle, such as being invited to join Christian-centered prayers before meals or making statements that a Pagan worker can “hex” the boss; to the more serious forms of overt interpersonal aggression like “praying” for the Pagan participant’s salvation.

The majority of participants also noted that they kept track of who knew what and often were very cautious about preventing disclosure to certain individuals, particularly supervisors. This is a behavioral strategy for controlling disclosure that we term hypervigilance.  Across all interviews, a consistent pattern emerged that many individuals were careful to manage their Pagan identity at work, especially among Pagans who had responsibilities over others such as teachers, physicians and psychologists, or were in fields demanding a “rational” persona like engineers and scientists.

As a follow-up to the interviews and for the second study, I gathered some quantitative data using surveys about backgrounds, experiences of discrimination, the amount of satisfaction with work and jobs and the amount of tension work causes for individuals. For this larger study, I invited individuals – both Pagans and non-Pagans from different faith lists – to complete the survey. About a thousand invitations were randomly sent and about one-third responded by completing all the questions on the survey.

The findings here were also fairly consistent. Pagans who kept their identity secret were more than twice as likely as members of Abrahamic faiths (Christians, Jews or Muslims) to experience direct verbal threats or other forms of verbal violence. Those Pagans were also twice as likely to experience other forms of indirect exclusion such as being offered emotional support from a colleague, socializing after work, or receiving advice or help colleagues with work and about 20% more likely to report being dissatisfied with their jobs.

The last two in particular, represent some real deviations from our expected findings in workplace settings. We know many people are dissatisfied with work for example, but we expect that dissatisfaction to be spread along a normal curve in the mainstream population and not be over-reported by one specific group. However, when the analyses were conducted with Pagans who were open at work about their faith, the numbers doubled. They were 4 times as likely to experience all forms of interpersonal violence and indirect exclusion. There was a significantly greater dissatisfaction at work, and significantly increased tension in the workplace. Finally, about a third of Pagans reported being outed at work; and also reported the most serious consequences.

The study also revealed one other interesting finding. In this sample, Pagans happened to be more educated than their Abrahamic counterparts. And yet, Pagans reported earning, on average, 25% less income than their Abrahamic colleagues. This finding is, regrettably, also consistent with theory: a minority group will still experience income challenges despite having equal or better levels of education.

So what does all this say? Well, the data are what the data are. As scientists, we’re trained never to go beyond our data. Having said that, the findings do open up questions about how discrimination is occurring in our community. It raises social justice questions about how we – as a collective, big umbrella group – promote our identity and manage prejudice against us. It also questions how we engage with the broader community in efforts to educate others about Pagan beliefs and identity with the explicit expectation that religious discrimination has no place in our society.

Conducting this research reminded me of a story Pagan Elder Margot Adler once told about her experiences at NPR when she applied for host positions. She spoke about coming out as a Pagan, and how managers were scared of her identity enough that they blocked parts of her career. This research, I hope, is an extension of her legacy. It should serve as a reminder and cautionary tale that the rules we have – such as the photography that I mentioned earlier – have a real purpose. They are there to safeguard the community, because it is still a misunderstood, minority religion and culture. But foremost that we understand ourselves within the social construct of a Pagan identity- which for all the commonness it may have to us- to the mainstream where we remain still deliciously radical.

 

Author’s Note: The reference and original article is “Skeletons in the Broom Closet: Exploring the Discrimination of Pagans in the Workplace”, Journal of Management and Spirituality, 2014, July 24, DOI: 10.1080/14766086.2014.933710. 

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There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans 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.

We begin with two updates on stories previously reported:

  • A Georgia State House Committee completely tabled the pending SB129 “Religious Freedom Restoration” bill. The unexpected action reportedly killed the bill’s chances of enactment for the foreseeable future. This was the bill that prompted a public response from the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and multiple reactions from the local Wiccan community. Before being tabled, one legislators offered an amendment to ensure that the bill would not be used for discriminatory purposes. The addition read, “…and protecting persons against discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state, or local law.” However, several committee members were opposed to the addition, causing the RFRA to be tabled.
  • The Associated Press has added Wicca and Wiccan to the religion section of its stylebook. Last year, changes were made to the religion section of the popular guide book, used by journalists throughout the world. However those additions did not incorporate Pagan terms. We reported on this story last summer. Now, almost a year later, AP has included Wicca. The guide advises capitalizing the term in all cases and offers a brief definition.

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In other news….

  • Last week, a conflict in Iceland finally ended when a road-building company was ordered to move an 87 ton rock considered to be an “Elf Church.” This particular rock was in the way of the road being constructed “between the Alftanes peninsula to Gardabaer.” According to several locals, who work closely with land spirits and the Icelandic elves, the rock is sacred and part of an “elf habitat.” In 2009, Hilmar Örn Hilmars­son, director of Ásatrúarfélagið, performed a rite at the site. After a year long battle beginning in 2014, the courts ordered the construction company to relocate the rock, which happened on March 18. Now, the road-building can continue and the rock is protected.
  • In February, Chicago’s Field Museum opened a new exhibit called “Vikings.” Organized by the Swedish History Museum and supported by Austria’s MuseumPartner, the exhibit seeks to take visitors beyond lore and Hollywood depictions to share real Viking history. Included in the showing are over 500 artifacts which serve as a window into Viking culture through craftmanship and mythology. ‘Vikings’ runs now through October. And, for those who have yet to see the Field Museum’s ‘Voudou: the Sacred Powers of Haiti,’ exhibit, it will be open until April 26.
  • In February, The Interfaith Observer, a “monthly electronic journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement” offered a strong message of unity and devotion to the sacred Earth written by Phil Lane, a member of the Yankton Dakota and Chickasaw First. In this article, titled “An Indigenous Call for Restoring the Sacred,” Lane writes, “As we move courageously and wisely forward, in greater and greater love, compassion, justice, and unity, we are reconnecting to our enduring and unbreakable spiritual and cultural foundation for healing and reconciliation. Together we can move in a unified action to restore and protect the Sacred everywhere on Mother Earth.” 
  • As reported in Religion Dispatches, writer Joseph Laycock has released a new book called Dangerous Games. In an article entitled “My Childhood Hobby was Satanic, or so they told me,” Laycock describes how his love for Dungeon & Dragons was rejected as harmful by many adults. He writes, “Much like religion, these [role-playing] games create a new mental space from which players can look back on the world and their lives from a new perspective.” The book is a exploration of this topic and why Christians, and others, largely rejected the game as occult and dangerous.
  • Photojournalist Rony Zakaria’s work in Indonesia was featured in The New York Times on March 16. Zakaria journeyed to the mountains of the country and found people whose lives were deeply tied to the land, and whose beliefs “tend more to animism or paganism.” The Times quotes Zakaria describing how the trip became a personal journey as he learned about the deep connection made between the people and the land. He captures this profound experience in striking black and white photographs.
  • The IndiaTimes published an article on March 14 that listed the “13 religions from around the world that are just to weird to be mainstream.” Coming in at number seven was The Church of All Worlds, which the writer describes as “the largest neo-pagan religion in the world.” He includes a striking photo of Oberon Zell-Ravenheart holding a skull. The entry is directly followed by Jediism and the Creativity Movement.
  • There is no dearth of feel-good stories about humans interacting with animals on the internet. A recent one that made the rounds is a BBC story involving a little girl who feeds the crows and the many gifts that they have brought to her in return.
By Linda Tanner [CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

By Linda Tanner [CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

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“The trees and the grass have spirits. Whatever one of such growth may be destroyed by some good Indian, his act is done in sadness and with a prayer for forgiveness because of his necessities…”Wooden Leg

We speak and write constantly about connecting to place: to the natural features of a place, the energies of place, the various gods and spirits that inhabit a place. Whether you approach it in a humanistic or archetypal fashion, or whether your relationships to spirits of place are literal and reciprocal, interactions with and concepts of ‘place’ hold a notable importance for the vast majority of us. Some connect by tuning into the seasons, taking nature-walks and learning plant identification, trying to incorporate local foods into their diets, or taking up gardening and otherwise tending to the land. Others interpret messages from the flights of birds, forge connections with the rivers, lakes, and mountains, and make offerings to the spirits of the land.

But what we generally regard as the ‘natural’ world does not encompass the entirety of place, and as valuable as that knowledge is, it only tells part of the story. Especially in developed or urbanized areas, inherent in the spirit and essence of place are the histories, events, structures, and people who have shaped and altered a place over time. While forming relationships to the gods, spirits, and energies of a place is important and critical work, that work is somewhat incomplete without an understanding of the relationships that the spirits have to that place itself, and the way that our species and our influence has altered, interfered with, and sometimes destroyed that relationship over time.

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Crumbling ruins on the Willamette River. [Photo by Alley Valkyrie.]

We tend to pay attention to how place affects us, and how gods and spirits affect us, and how development affects us, but we often overlook how human settlement has in itself affected place and the spirits that reside there. For those of us who live on recently colonized and/or conquered land, such an overlooking not only has implications for our relationship to place itself, but it also furthers our denial and dulls our recognition of the sustaining damages and consequences of war, colonialism, and industrialization, and how the land and its spirits have been affected by these forces.

Most would not question the importance of the mythologies, the histories, and the other various stories of the ancient gods as a crucial piece of our understanding of those gods. Yet the gods and spirits that surround us locally have similar histories, similar traumas, similar stories that are deeply intertwined with the history of American settlement and the colonization and removal of the indigenous people of this land. An integral part of knowing where we stand as settlers in relation to the land and its spirits is understanding the history and the trauma of the places in which we inhabit.

In the United States, our defined geographic places, whether they be neighborhoods, towns, or cities, are very recent framings placed around networks of spirit and matter that existed long before white settlers ever stepped foot on this continent. The typical American town is quite young compared to the world’s urban places as a whole, and the age of any given town often correlates to the patterns of westward expansion. One can find towns in New England and Virginia that date from the late 1600s and early 1700s, and yet there isn’t a single town in Oregon that dates prior to 1811. The era in which a town was founded greatly influences both its physical and industrial features, and cycles and trends in urban planning often impose the new upon the old in a myriad of ways that range from obvious to seamless.

The number of generations or years notwithstanding, in America we still remain as settlers on stolen land; land which was traumatized and accumulated through theft and violence. The scars and consequences of that violence remain, both seen and unseen, and little has been done to heal or even acknowledge the traumas that both the land and its creatures have withstood.

As someone who engages in deep interactions with place, the more I integrate that work the more I have come to understand the importance of cultivating a well-rounded understanding of what any given place has been through, so to speak. Over time, I’ve come to understand such work as part of my obligation; part of my duty as one who walks between the worlds. Only in engaging with the entirety of a place to the best of my ability do I reap the full benefit as the recipient of its lessons and stories.

This is not a direct appeal to action nor a homework assignment, but I offer the following questions and thoughts to ponder as they relate to the place beneath your feet or places that you frequent, especially if you frequent towns and urban areas. Obviously not all these questions are relevant to all places, and some are not relevant at all to those who do live on their ancestral lands.

Even if you don’t know the answers or care to search for them, the implications of the questions themselves will hopefully shift the way you perceive and experience your relationship with place, and create an awareness of how the histories of specific places and the impacts of capitalism and colonial settlements affect nature, spirit, and egregore in the present day.

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What is the name of your town?
What’s the history behind that name?

When was the town founded?
Who founded it?
What kind of life did that person lead? Where were they from?
What did they leave behind; what were they escaping; what did they hope to build?

Who were the original settlers; the original landowners? What were their names?
What brought them there? What was their history?
How are their names reflected in the modern landscape? Are there streets named after them?
If not the founders, who/what are the streets named after?

On which precise spot of land was the town founded?
What were the first buildings?
Where is the oldest building in town?
What was the significance of that location when the structure was built?
How does that location relate to the town today?

Where was the original center of town?
Is it in a different place from the current center of town?
If so, why? How and why did the layout develop and shift?

How was the land acquired over time? Whose land was it before the town was founded?
What laws or regulations governed the settling of that land?
Who was excluded from settling under those laws?

Which indigenous groups lived there before the area was settled?
Where did they live? Were they migratory or stationary?
What did they eat? What are the basic foods that are native to your area?
Do those plants still grow wild?
Is there anywhere where they are purposefully cultivated?

Who was driven off the land when the town was first settled? When?
Were they removed by force?
Where were they removed to?
Are their descendants still living nearby?
If so, what are their current living conditions like compared to yours?

Are there minority neighborhoods in your town?
If so, why?
If not, why not?
When did those neighborhoods spring up and/or disappear?
What is the local history behind those shifts?
What is the national history behind those shifts?

Who was historically excluded from your town?
Were their laws that targeted Asians, Blacks, or Native Americans?
Was your town a sundown town?
If so, how was that enforced? Who enforced it?

Why did the town initially grow? What attracted people to the area?
What were the primary industries?
Are the names of the streets connected to those industries?
Is there a ‘Mill Street’? Does it lead to the river?
If so, where exactly was the mill? Who owned that mill? Who worked there?
Is there a ‘Water Street’?
If so, is it actually next to the water?
If not, what does that tell you about the shaping of the landscape?

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Water Street in Lower Manhattan, three blocks from the actual water. [Photo by Andy C.]

What about the other streets? What stories do they tell?
Is there an ‘Indian Trail’? If so, what was it a trail to, and whose trail was it originally?

Do you live near a river? What is its name? What is the history of that name?
What did those who lived there before you call that river?
Where are the headwaters of that river? Where does it spill out?
What kind of industry exists along that journey?
How does that industry affect the health of the river?

Is there a bridge in your town?
When was it built? Who designed it? Who built it?
Did any of the workers die during the construction of that bridge?
Who were their families? Where were they buried?

Are there railroad tracks nearby? If so, when were they built?
What originally brought the railroad through?
Who was responsible for the building of that railroad?
What else were they responsible for?
Who lived on the land prior to the building of the railroad? How were they removed?
Is the railroad currently in operation?
If so, what kind of cargo is being carried on the rails?
If not, why did service shut down in the area?

Are there sidewalks under your feet? Roads?
Where did the gravel come from? Is there a quarry nearby?
If so, how has the mining affected the land and those of all species who live nearby?

Where does your tap water come from? How does it travel?
How old is that system, and who built it?
How reliable is your water supply? How safe is it?

Where are the dead?

Where are the first settler cemeteries, the pioneer cemeteries?
Are they still standing? What kind of condition are they in? Who are the caretakers?
Do they need caretakers? Don’t just look, listen.
If the early cemeteries are not currently standing, what stands there now?
Where are those early remains buried today?

Where and how did the indigenous of the area bury their dead?
Have those sites been respected or have they been developed?
If they have been developed, are they acknowledged as sacred ground?
Is there even a plaque, a marker?

If there isn’t, what can you do right now to change that?
And how would that immediately affect your connection with those who lie beneath?

 

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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