OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Priestess and activist T. Thorn Coyle and over 100 others made local news when they showed up at the inauguration of Oakland’s 50th Mayor, Libby Schaaf. The peaceful protest, organized by a coalition of area groups and individuals, is another example of the ongoing #blacklivesmatter grass roots campaign and actions demanding social reform.

[Photo Credit: Kim Beavers]

[Photo Credit: Kim Beavers]

“There is … a long history of corruption and misconduct in the [Oakland Police Department,] so much so that they’ve been threatened with federal receivership. Oakland has also played host to Urban Shield, a convention and training event that is a large part of the militarization of police in the U.S. By protesting at the inauguration, we wanted people to remember that as long as Black lives in our county are treated as if they aren’t sacred … there will be no business as usual,” explained Coyle.

In recent months, she has become actively involved in an organization called Anti Police-Terrorism Project (APTP). This organization is part of a larger group called the O.N.Y.X. Organizing Committee, which is “committed to raising the consciousness of Black people to facilitate the healing of our bodies’ minds and spirits in order to create sustainable, just, equitable and thriving Black communities.”

Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “I’ve been active in justice movements for most of my life, trying to find ways to best support building communities of love, equity, and justice. After my first APTP meeting, I felt lit up inside rather than drained. I thought, ‘Here is a group that has potential to actually do effective action!’ It is diverse coalition under Black leadership, which I really appreciate.”

Molly Costello being interviewed.  [Photo Credit: Alan Blueford Center for Justice]

Mollie Costello being interviewed. [Photo Credit: Alan Blueford Center for Justice]

In a Monday press release, APTP spokespersons Cat Brooks and Mollie Costello explained that their goal was to send a message to Mayor Libby Schaaf, reminding her that she will “be held accountable by communities demanding justice for victims of police violence.” During an interview, Costello explained the local context behind the protest. For those outside of Oakland, Brooks summarized the problem by simply stating, “Schaaf does not have the best record in dealing with police relations with the community.”

The scheduled protest was divided into two distinct parts. The initial event was a silent gathering outside the Paramount Theater. Protesters were asked to wear black and signs were passed out. Coyle was there along with a number of other Bay Area Pagan and Heathen activists, including Solar Cross Temple member Rhiannon Laakso; Coru Cathubodua members Patrick Garretson and Brennos Agrocunos, as well as Kim Beavers, who was documenting the entire event. Coyle said also she saw many others from the local Pagan community.

They all stood in solidarity with APTP and with the other organizations involved. At one point, a protester tweeted that there were in fact more protesters outside the theater than guests waiting to attend the inauguration.

When the theater doors opened, some of the protesters went inside for the second part of the scheduled action. During the silent presentation of the colors, Coyle began singing an old union song, “Which side are you on?” As she explained, “The song was adapted by a group in St. Louis who did this action that we modeled ours after.” APTP changed the words from “justice for Mike Brown” to “justice for Black lives.” There actions were video documented and posted on You Tube.

Coyle said, “The MC panicked and quickly called the national anthem singer onto the stage with his mic. So we ended up singing and doing a banner drop through the anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, which seemed fitting.” The banner, which was dropped from the mezzanine read, “End Police Terror.”

After the event, the APTP spokespersons called the event “beautiful,” saying that they welcomed the new mayor in “true Oakland style.” Mayor Schaaf had little reaction to the protesters except to tell an ABC reporter,”I embrace protest. Protest is part of Oakland’s DNA.”

After a few rounds of the song inside the theater, Coyle led the protesters outside still singing. In retrospect, she said that recent national and local events have changed her, adding “I had to find more ways to speak out and work against government harassment, profiling, imprisonment, and killings of Black and brown people. My writing is one way. Interfaith work is another. Organizing with APTP is rapidly becoming another.” She added, “We are in the midst of a new civil rights movement. The chance to say, loudly, that Black Lives Matter, is one that I, who preaches that all life is sacred, and that the Gods and Goddesses are reflected in our eyes, cannot pass up.”

 

Send to Kindle

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA — Harold Wilson and Gracy Sedlak want the same right that so many others are fighting for in the United States today, the right to marry whoever they choose. The reason they are not able to legally marry each other is because Sedlak is a transgender person in transition from male to female. Therefore, their union is legally considered a violation of Nebraska’s constitution, amended in 2000 to allow marriage only between a man and a woman.

marriage equality

After losing two of their own lawsuits challenging that amendment, Wilson and Sedlak have asked permission to be added as plaintiffs to a similar case being brought by the ACLU. For this particular couple, the stakes in this marriage equality fight go beyond the obvious. Wilson is serving a decades-long sentence for attempted murder and other crimes. Without marrying him, Sedlak is barred from visiting her partner because she was herself an inmate within the past three years.

Like many of the battles in the war over marriage equality, each of these cases has a history. Nebraska amended its constitution by ballot initiative to define marriage as between a man and a woman. That move prompted the ACLU and other groups to sue. The case made history in 2005 when U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon became the first to overturn a state marriage law. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit overruled Bataillon, handing same-sex marriage its only significant judicial defeat prior to the Supreme Court weakening the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Since that time, a growing consensus among courts has said denying lesbian and gay couples the freedom to marry has no legitimate basis. — ACLU Nebraska spokesman Tyler Richard

Only one federal circuit — the sixth, covering Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — has upheld such a ban since the Supreme Court’s ruling, setting the stage for revisiting the Nebraska measure. In preparation for this lawsuit, Nebraska’s ACLU carefully vetted a group of seven couples from among the many which volunteered to participate.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, “Six of the couples are legally married in other states. Four have children. One has been together for three decades; another nearly that long. They include a therapist, a lawyer, a CPA, a doctor, four consultants, a disabled veteran and an advocate for families with disabled children.” The group was selected to send a message that there is nothing dangerous to society about allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Wilson is in the midst of a 56 to 170 year sentence for attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in Dawson County. He’s been in prison since Sedlak, born John Jirovsky, was two years old. The only way to get around the state rule keeping former inmates from visiting prisons is through marriage, a route barred to the couple as long as they are both legally considered male.

Wilson and Sedlak sought to marry under the care of the Lincoln Monthly Meeting of conservative Quakers, where Sedlak, a Wiccan, attends worship. However, the prison blocked the attempt. They were further denied a marriage license twice, and then sought relief in both state and federal courts.In 2013, both cases were denied. The federal case was barred by a settlement in another matter, and the state case — which alternatively asked for Sedlak to be legally recognized as a woman — was denied because the couple failed to pay the necessary filling fees.

After the ACLU case was filed in November, Wilson and Sedlak made a motion to be added as plaintiffs. Attempts to reach Sedlak for comment were unsuccessful.

In their motion against the couple, ACLU lawyers have argued that adding additional plaintiffs now would create an unnecessary delay in the case. According to an AP report, Wilson and Sedlak “have not demonstrated or alleged that the seven Nebraska couples already in the suit do not adequately represent the couple’s interests.”

Judge Bataillon, who originally overturned Nebraska’s constitutional amendment in 2003, will be making the final decision on the ACLU case, including the current motion to include Wilson and Sedlack  No date has been publicly announced for a hearing on the motion to be added, which will be decided before the larger case moves forward.

Send to Kindle

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

harmoney tribe

On Jan. 2, Harmony Tribe announced that it has found a new location for its popular Sacred Harvest Festival. As we reported last August, the festival was forced to move from Harmony Park, which it had called home for 17 years, due to zoning restrictions. At the time, organizers still hadn’t found a new location for the beloved festival.

While Friday’s announcement did not give the name of the new location, it did say, “Plans are being finalized for the upper Midwest’s largest Pagan festival to land at a developing site about 90 minutes North of the Twin Cities Metro area.” Harmony Tribe is calling this year’s event a “rebirth” and promises that there will be plenty of camping and no noise restrictions at the new site. The dates are set for Aug. 3-9, 2015.

*   *   *

0fd2d7d924fe9e3e78cf59954b489f7b

Author and artist Lupa Greenwolf has announced the production of a new divination set titled “Tarot of Bones.” Greenwolf writes on her newly launched website, “Divination with cast or fire-cracked bones is an ancient art, stretching back thousands of years into our history; its younger cousin, the tarot, enjoys greater popularity than ever.The Tarot of Bones is an ambitious project combining the nature-inspired symbolism of animal bones with the tarot’s well-loved archetypes to create an unparalleled divination set for the 21st century”

Greenwolf has just begun creating the concept art for the new deck and will be updating her progress on her new blog. She believes that the deck will be finished by spring. When it is, Greenwolf has promised the The Wild Hunt an exclusive interview to discuss the nature and spirit behind the deck, as well as the journey of creating it.

*   *   *

download (2)

Rev. Dave Sassman was recently selected to be a board member of Indy Vet House, Inc. This charitable organization raises funds for the Indianapolis-based Veterans House, “a home away from home for veterans receiving extended medical care.” Although Sassman said that the decision “had been in the works for while,” it has just become official.

In his own announcement, Sassman enthusiastically proclaimed, “a Pagan on the Board of Directors.” When asked about the position, Sassman told The Wild Hunt,It is important for Pagans to get involved in their local (mundane) communities to shine a positive light on our faith and help to change the negative impression we as a community have experienced in the past.” Sassman is an openly Pagan, Air Force Veteran and a member of Circle Sanctuary’s Military Ministry.

In Other News:

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working

  • On the Earth Spirit Voices blog, Andras Corban-Arthen has published a report and commentary on his experiences being involved with the 2014 People’s Climate March and the “Religions for the Earth Conference, held at Union Theological Seminary.” Both events occurred in New York during the fall equinox weekend, and both had similar goals of raising the volume on climate change conversations.
  • Finally, January 4 marked Doreen Valiente’s birthday.

That is it for now! Have a great day.

Send to Kindle

The Republic of Costa Rica, nestled in Central America, is a small country home to approximately 4,300,000 people. According to the country’s tourism service, Costa Rica’s small landmass “shelters 5 percent of the existing biodiversity in the entire world.” As such it has become a prime tropical tourist destination for travelers wanting an exotic or natural vacation experience. Much of that may not surprise anyone. However, what is surprising is that Costa Rica is home to a burgeoning Heathen community.

Esteban Sevilla Quiros, Blót to Óðinn in the Pagan Alliance Festival in October [Courtesy Photo]

“I have always been interested in ancient cultures,” said Esteban Sevilla Quiros. “When I was little I was fascinated with Greek Mythology and many other ancient beliefs. But one day I found the Mjölnir in a Symbol Dictionary and started to investigate more about Norse Mythology. This led me to find the Asatru faith.”

Sevilla Quiros is the goði for Kindred Irminsul, the first organized Asatru group in Costa Rica. He shared with us his experience as a Heathen in Costa Rica. “Some of my friends already knew about [Asatru],” he explained. “One day someone in a sarcastic and challenging tone told us ‘If you guys are all asatruar why don’t you get organized…’This got me thinking and I immediately replied to the others ‘why not?'”

In September 2010, Sevilla Quiros and his friends officially formed Kindred Irminsul. Wanting help and community, they reached out beyond their borders to The Troth, who answered the call. The following spring, Idunna, the Troth’s official journal, featured an article about Kindred Irminsul. Then, as Sevilla Quiros recalled, “in October 2012 we had the visit [from] Victoria Clare, former Steerswoman of The Troth, she traveled to Costa Rica and helped us out in several subjects regarding Heathenry and held a Winter Night’s blot and a Seidr session for all of us.”

It wasn’t long after establishing itself that Kindred Irminsul was joined by new kindreds. Within a year, the country boasted a total of six Heathen groups. Unfortunately, due to differences in theological interpretations, the new kindreds generally kept to themselves.

At the same time, Kindred Irminsul began reaching out to Costa Rica’s Pagan organizations with the hope of developing public works and fostering a stronger community within the Catholic nation. Sevilla Quiros noted, “Costa Rica is a Catholic confessional state. Pagan or Heathen religions are not illegal, but people get scared and call the police on you if they see you practicing in public.”

According to recent statistics,”76.3 percent of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic.” An additional 15.7 percent practice other Christian religions. The remaining 8% of the population reported being atheist or practicing other montheistic religions. Sevilla Quiros said that most of his Kindred members came from a Catholic background but passed through Atheism before finding Asatru.

The 2014 winternights blót, which was attended by 3 kindreds. [Courtesy Photo]

The 2014 winternights blót, which was attended by 3 kindreds. [Courtesy Photo]

In 2012, Kindred Irminsul and other small Pagan groups joined together to form the Alianza Pagana de Costa Rica. This alliance includes Asatruar, Roman Reconstructionists, Wiccans and Druids. In 2013, the newly formed alliance organized its first Pagan Pride Day. Sevilla Quiros added enthusiastically, “The PPD led us to re-establish our relationship with one of the kindreds we were with previously, the Volsungr Hearth. And recently, two former members and their Kindreds have [also] rejoined our projects for a greater good.” The birth of the alliance not only brought together Pagan and Heathen groups, but it also helped reunite a portion of the Costa Rican Heathen community.

Together these united Kindred have applied for legal recognition as a religious association, that will be called the Asociación Ásatrú Yggdrasil de Costa Rica. While Costa Rica is a Catholic country by constitutional law, it does allow for the practice of minority religions. With this special legal designation, Sevilla Quiros explained, “We can’t be kicked out for making rituals in public; we can get some privileges for our holidays, like getting days off or vacations for that specific date, acquire land and a building free of taxes, tax exempt donations.” If all goes as planned, the new Asatru association will have its papers by April.

Unfortunately, legal recognition will not automatically end religious discrimination for Heathen practitioners, who still remain an overwhelmingly small minority in Costa Rica. Sevilla Quiros lamented, “We still get discriminated [against] in our workplaces, public spaces and within our families, just like everywhere else, but we are not extremely harassed.”

The Kindred has also faced problems originating from within the Pagan and Heathen world. Because Asatru is so uncommon in Costa Rica, many people mistake it for a New Age practice or Wicca. Sevilla Quiros said that seekers often think “Heathenry is a witches’ religion centered on tarot and rune readings, magic crystals.” He added, “I guess this happens everywhere. It is something we have to work with every time someone new comes in.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

In its work and public outreach, Kindred Irminsul always stresses it’s dedication to Norse traditions. For some people, this religion, based on a mythology and history originating in a land so distant and different from Costa Rica, may be a source of confusion. Even if it hasn’t, the cultural difference and regional distance has caused another, entirely different, problem.

In establishing themselves and reaching out to the greater Heathen world, they have run into bigotry. All of Kindred Irminsul’s members are native to Costa Rica. Sevilla Quiros said that its membership is “mostly a mix of Europeans and indigenous peoples, some are white, some are brown, it is a 50/50 ratio.” He added, “We received backlash from folkish and racist Heathens several times, especially at the beginning … We decided to continue anyway. That’s where the Troth helped us out. We still get some hateful comments on Facebook but that’s it.”

In a country and a land so rich in its own natural and native spirituality, it may seem odd to some that Sevilla Quiros and other Costa Ricans are not drawn to the spirit of their own land. Sevilla Quiros explained, “I was always curious about indigenous beliefs, such as the Bribri religion, it is an animistic religion but I didn’t really feel connected to it, though I am not sure if they would let me in into their tribes.” Instead, it was the Norse traditions that fed his spirit and that of others.

But Sevilla Quiros did say that their form of Heathenry does carry a flavor that comes from being Costa Rican. He explained, “As a Kindred we might have our unique things, but I think they are mostly about the Costa Rican culture itself, the “Tico” culture and our “Pura Vida” attitude.”

Together with the other members of the Pagan Alliance, Kindred Irminsul remains in the public eye with the aim of educating the local population and bringing change to religious laws. On Dec. 4, Costa Rican channel Canal Nueve interviewed the group on its national show Universos Desconocidos.

The producers have scheduled two more appearances for the Pagan Alliance, both of which will air in January.

Sevilla Quiros has also tried to maintain his own personal connection to the international community and to the Troth. As a small country with a tiny Heathen population, resources are limited so this has always been important to him. Unfortunately he has yet to have the funds or time to travel to any large international events. In the meantime, Sevilla Quiros does what he can to stay connected. Kindred Irminsul was one of the many Heathen groups that published a community support statement in response to Ferguson.

In addition, Sevilla Quiros has published a plea on Facebook to the international Heathen community. He asked that everyone help his community grow by publishing works in Spanish or allowing their works to be translated. On Dec. 9, he wrote, in part:

… I would like to kindly ask all the heathen writers to send your books and articles for translation, it will be good for your business and it will be good for us too, We will keep your work untouched and we will be well informed … Hispanic heathenry is growing way too fast, and you can’t think that they all will learn English just to buy your book. Let’s do it for the sake of knowledge, for the sake of heathenry around the world.

As is noted in this Facebook plea and is evident by the Kindred Irminsul’s story, the population of people practicing Heathenry, and even Paganism, is growing in Costa Rica, and other countries in the Americas. While each nation may add its own cultural flavor to its religious practice, the connection to a specific mythology and tradition, whether it be Norse or something else, can bring people together from around the globe who might otherwise never connect. Kindred Irminsul now joins that extended global Heathen world.

*   *   *

Click here for the Spanish version of the above article.

 

Correction: Kindred Irminsul has applied for legal recognition together with other local Asatru organizations. The original article suggested that they did so alone. That correction has been made in the body of the text above.

Send to Kindle

I’m standing, dazed, along the shores of Lake Michigan, staring into my distant reflection in the parabolic, ethereal polished glass of the Cloud Gate. The air’s chill, icy—a thin layer of rime had begun to form that morning along the edges of the sand.

I’d stopped in Chicago to visit a man I love deeply, a man to whom a god had introduced me. I’d just spent several weeks traveling in Ireland and Wales, speaking to gods and meeting the dead of Ireland, and this was the last stop of my pilgrimage before returning to Seattle.

The reflections in the Cloud Gate are fascinating, both distorted and yet hyper-realistic. It takes you awhile to pick yourself out of the throngs of others in the public square in which it sits, but once you do, it’s hard to lose yourself again. It seems as if you’re what the sky sees of you, rather than others. A strange perspective, but one you can get used to.

The man, who I’m waiting before the Cloud Gate for, appears with his partner. We don’t know each other very well, have never met before, but it seemed we ought to meet. And I’m never in Chicago.

He smiles and introduces himself. And then, he places a gift in my hand.

“The only thing I could think of to give another Druid was an Acorn,” he said.

I held it, smiling. Here, in a sea of concrete, in the deepness of winter, my future quite unclear to me, I stare at the promise of an oak in my hand. It warmed me against the chill, grounded me into the world below the concrete.

I stood there, considering the acorn in my hand, the reflection of myself in that strange glass, and began to realize who had just died in a tomb in Ireland a week before.

I.

On a grey and beautiful September morning I had woken, smiling, and kissed my lover before stumbling out of bed and making tea. He’d been visiting me all month, a long visit to determine whether we’d work out living with each other, as he lived several thousand miles away.

I made my morning tea and checked email as I sipped it, waiting for the morning to come to consciousness. And then I spilled my tea.

“You won’t believe this. I don’t myself, either. Check your email—I’ve forwarded it to you.”

My hand trembled, but not from excitement. Dread, perhaps. I knew what the email would say before I opened it. The friend who’d sent it would only have one reason to forward a message to me.

I opened it, scanned its words to confirm my terror, and then rolled several cigarettes, smoking each in turn until enough nicotine coursed through my brain to put me into that half-trance some smokers know quite well.

“Really?” I asked aloud, but no one answered, only a breathing, autumnal silence.

I waited to wake the beautiful man in my bed. The fur of his chest matted, his face peaceful, contentment radiating from his dreaming form. I wanted to watch him that way, perhaps keep him that way forever in my mind, stilled in the moment before I told him of my great fortune, fortune which we both probably knew, without saying, would make impossible many of our plans.

Even now, I see him sleeping there, before I nuzzled him awake, before I spoke the words which would change not just him and I, but everything else I knew.

II.

DSCN2426

Sunlight on Newgrange

“I’m going to Newgrange.”
The hiring manager looked at me. “What’s that?”

“Uh. An ancient burial mound. Aligned with the sun, sorta. Um, solstice. It’s in Ireland.”

Oh,” he said. “That sounds cool. When—Oh. You can’t start yet, then, huh?”

“Not unless you’d let me take a few weeks unpaid leave at the beginning of hire?”

“Uh—I think HR would say now. Maybe you can start when you return…”

That’d be nice, I thought. Though I’d been hoping to start sooner, returning to the full-time social work position I’d held before my…uh, last pilgrimage, the one that’d sent me away from Seattle for almost a year. I was back in Seattle, working per diem, happy to finally be sitting still, with a permanent address. Also, my lover planned to move in with me, and my writing was going well—I might finally get to do the sort of grown-up life that I’d had before gods started talking to me.

Returning to full-time social work would cut into my writing. To write well, and often, one requires unoccupied time, and lots of it. It’s never just sitting in front of a computer and touching fingers against keys. It’s about the walks to a forest in the middle of the night, the hours spent staring listlessly out of windows or watching incense smoke curl from the glowing ember-tip. Sometimes it means getting drunk when you shouldn’t or don’t even want to. Lots of listening, thinking, with relentless false starts and stops. It’s an awful lot of work, actually

But writing doesn’t pay rent, or buy food, so you have to also work elsewhere. This is the plight of any artist, finding work that doesn’t detract too much from art. Few ever find work which helps one’s art, though such does exist—photographers who work in camera shops, potters and painters who take jobs as art teachers for access to kilns and cheap canvases.

Social work doesn’t help writing, but it doesn’t hurt it too much, either. On the worst days, it’ll make you distrust humanity completely, but on the better days, one at least goes home with a vague sense of having done something less horrible than what one could have.

Full-time job, a lover to become a partner—this is what I’d been hoping for, working towards, ready to embrace. Enough money to survive in the brutal inflationary city of Seattle and perhaps a little to save. Maybe I’d join a gym, get my teeth fixed, purchase a third pair of pants and a second pair of shoes. Even, I’d hoped, I might start my medieval rock band again, the one I broke up when the gods came and…

Uh, yeah. I’ve been here before. Even the lover bit.

III.

The Druid who handed me the acorn before the Cloud Gate asked me a question I didn’t quite answer fully. He’d asked about the gods, stating he hadn’t done much with them and wasn’t sure he would. They seem to demand a lot, he’d suggested, but it was also a question.

My answer sounded pretty, anyway. “If land spirits, the dead, and ancestors are all like notes in a symphony, a god is the melody.”

Pretty, but untrue.

A god’s like all the music written upon the pages of your existence, all the songs you hear wherever you go, each melody and each refrain. You are their instruments and they are the reason you’re sitting in a chair before a conductor in front of thousands of silent strangers straining to hear your notes.

Gods re-order the world around you, shut fast doors and destroy keys as if to say, “you won’t need these anymore. We’ve other places for you to go.”  And then they hand you new keys and show you new doors to take you to different places that you’d never even considered visiting.

One of those places, apparently, was Newgrange.

The email from a friend that morning in late September was a forwarded message from the Brú na Bóinne visitor center, announcing I’d been selected by local schoolchildren for a chance to observe the Winter Solstice light from within the tomb. Access to Newgrange is relatively open the rest of the year—anyone can go and be part of the guided tours into the 5000-year old tomb. Lights are turned off during the guided tour, and artificial lights are shone into the chamber to mimic the effect which occurs the five mornings adjacent to and including the Winter Solstice.

The phenomena was rediscovered in 1967 by the archaeologists who’d taken it upon themselves to restore the ancient burial site. Though knowledge of the alignment of the entrance to the Winter Solstice sun persisted much longer, encoded in folk tales. Archeologists and anthropologists are unfortunately known for ignoring the oral accounts of the peoples they study. But time and again, letting the stories of peoples inform academia rather than the other way around restores truth to the world.

It’s said that the smallpox vaccine, for instance, was developed after a researcher heard and than observed the folk custom of rubbing the pus of cox-pox wounds into the skin of children. The researcher gets credit for the “discovery,” as this is how The Science works.

The Science can tell us lots about how things work or how they were done, but it begins to look quite ridiculous when it starts to try to tell us “why.” Why did the inhabitants of Ireland, some five millennia ago, build a massive (and enduring) tomb in the valley of the Boyne river and align it to the rising sun one day a year? Why Stonehenge? Why the pyramids, or ziggurats, or colossal statues along the Nile or on Easter Isle?

Theories abound, and The Science is faddish. The Science hasn’t quite stopped doing lobotomies yet, but that exciting trend is happily almost over, replaced with chemicals to “right” what’s wrong with the brain when people start talking to gods or the dead. What comes next is as unpredictable as next decade’s hair fashions, and as permanent. Perhaps Newgrange, too, was faddish, like Neuro-linguistics is now?

Another thing The Science cannot quite explain were the emails that my friend Joseph sent me from Dublin. “I saw you in Dublin today, at least five times.”

I’d read that email 8 months ago, after work in Eugene, Oregon. It was a curious thing. I wasn’t in Dublin, nor had I been before. It’s never been unusual for people to think they saw me, and even less unusual for others to recount vivid dreams involving me. My best friend dreamt of “Druid Rhyd” years before I decided to study Druidry; another friend told me where to find a god because he recalled me telling him later where I found him. I’m accustomed to such things and think little of them. One can only shrug when someone tells you that they taught you to shapechange in their dreams and remind them that you haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yourself yet.

The week after Joseph thought he saw me, he put my name in to the drawing for Sostice in Newgrange. He didn’t put his own name in, though he could have. He never quite explained to me why this was, nor why he did it in the first place.

DSCN2435It was to him they’d sent the selection email. 30 thousand others had put their names in hopes of attending, and only 50 are selected each year. Each selectee is allowed to bring a guest, and the 100 total attendees are divided up into three groups to be inside the tomb either December 20th, the 21st, or 22nd. I was invited to the first of the three days, not “Solstice” per se, but Druidry’s taught me enough about the precision to know we humans care a little too much for it.

So I was selected to go. I hadn’t put my name in. I’d never planned to go to Ireland, despite how many others had suggested I ought to, despite the voice of an Irishman met on my last pilgrimage, showing me his tattoos and insisting that I “must go” to Newgrange one day.

The selection was exciting, and also eerie. One can’t go attributing every bit of strange fortune to the gods, of course.

One also can’t go not attributing bizarre bits of fortune to the gods, either, at least if you’ve gone about worshiping them and telling them you’ll do what they’d like.

IV.

Going to Ireland would mean not taking the full-time job I’d been offered. I wouldn’t be able to get the approval for unpaid time off during the holidays, and they couldn’t start me early enough to have sufficient paid-time for the trip.

I’d also intended to help my lover with expenses for the move to Seattle. We’d planned on the first of December, but this would mean he’d be in a new city on his own during the week of Christmas while I traipsed about ancient holy sites without him. And I would already have to do a fundraiser to pay for the trip, as last-minute tickets to Ireland during the holidays aren’t something my income could ever hope to cover.

I’d asked a diviner about a different matter, a question I’d not been able to answer on my own. She hadn’t known about the Newgrange trip, but had mentioned Lugh had my attention for some reason.

“Huh,” I’d said. “So I just got selected to go to Newgrange in Ireland. I can’t afford to go, but maybe…”

“Oh, you’re going, she said, and her laughter almost scared me. “That much is very, very certain.”

The next day I started a fundraiser, an Indigogo “campaign” and asked for 500 dollars. I raised that in the first 4 days, and received another 500 the next week.

So I was going.

My employer suggested they might be able to hold the position open for me, though it’d be more likely I’d have to take a different and less desirable one if not. My lover seemed willing to move upon my return instead. All would be in place, then. I’d return poor and full of stories to a secure job and an end to the geographical distance of a man I’d loved for most of a year.

One likes the idea of the world being in order before doing something you know will otherwise send everything into upheaval. Before I do a ritual that I suspect will re-order my brain a bit and before I go to speak to gods that I do not know well, I clean my room, make my bed, do laundry. I check to make sure I’ve enough tea for afterwards, food waiting for me when it’s all over, or a safe and quiet evening awaiting me afterwards.The Other is disruptive; this I’ve learned quite well. Returning from the Other to this world is easier when there are no chores to do, no pressing concerns awaiting at the other end.

The night before I left, my lover told me he was not ready to move. The specifics were unimportant—underlying the reason was an unspoken statement, the unacknowledged hesitancy which makes easily-surmountable obstacles suddenly impossible to overcome.

Suddenly, going to Newgrange seemed the most unreasonable thing I could possibly have chosen to do, and it wasn’t even my idea in the first place.

V.

DSCN2345
I woke at 5am the morning of my flight, hefted a rucksack full of books and clothes, stones, an altar box, gifts for people along the way. I was ‘told’ I didn’t need to pack certain things, like my alder wand. “One will be provided for you,” I’d heard. I played with the words, waited to see if they changed. They repeated, the same tone and certainty as before. So I left it on my altar, perplexed.

“But bring the bee.”

I stared at the yellow and white patch in my hands. I’d meant to sew it on my coat months before, soon after it was given to me. I was never certain why I’d waited, put it off. I’ve many intentions like this, intentions I rarely find the time to manifest. But perhaps I’d find a needle and thread along the way? So I placed it, without much thought, in my wooden altar box before packing it into my giant rucksack.

I stayed a few days in Florida with family before leaving to Dublin. I’d visited them last year at the end of a pilgrimage; it seemed poetic to visit them again just before the next.

My sisters and I laughed and talked and ate, catching each other up on our lives and hopes. They’d been as perplexed and amazed as I was regarding the Newgrange selection. “It seems really weird, right?” I’d asked. “The probability of getting chosen without even putting in your name…”

They understood, agreed. Though I’d met no one who had shrugged off the serendipity of the trip, and even my more cynical friends had suggested it seemed “something wants you there,” without reference to other people’s conceptions of causation, the mystic becomes forced to rely on self-generated checks against magical thinking.

These artificial “devil’s advocates” can be ridiculous, a caricature of the angry and cynical voices of others. Mine has the arrogant certainty of Richard Dawkins, the drunken wit of Christopher Hitchens, and the pop-appeal of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a curmudgeon with a grudge always eager to tell me, “that’s not a god—you need psych meds. And oh, you’re poor because you’re lazy.”

But even that compound, inner atheist naysayer was having trouble convincing me this wasn’t all about what I’d suspected it was, and the perspective of my sisters demolished all my inner cynic’s attempts. They knew what we came from, the abject poverty and misery, all the heavy leaden weight of fate crushing every dream. When you’ve seen all the horrible things which can happen to a human, every nice thing already seems a miracle. Perhaps it’s why the poor, the homeless, the downtrodden and miserable are more likely to believe in gods and spirits than the middle-class lawyer or IT worker. Voltaire’s atheism was as elitist as Sam Harris’s, and both have enjoyed steady diets.

Still. I liked that atheist in my head. Unlike Harris and Dawkins, he didn’t justify the torture of Muslims and suggest we should eradicate Islam off the face of the planet. He mostly just told me I’m insane and should be more reasonable and stop believing in crazy stuff and go shopping for nicer clothes.

VI

Light on the Boyne River, Drogheda, Ireland

Light on the Boyne River, Drogheda, Ireland

The first thing I noticed about Dublin was the dead.

I didn’t always hear the dead and wasn’t always aware of their presence. I have the city of Eugene, Oregon, the grave of Demetria and Dionisia Palazios, and a Guédé that I met under an Elm tree to thank for that, as well as a drunken Thracian priest, who helped me stay on this side of the living after I met them.

The streets of Dublin breathe the dead. Signs point the way to famous graves of revolutionaries and poets, but there’s no clear marking for the Croppy Acre along the River Liffey. You hear them before you find out why, what the large field before you precisely is: a mass grave of Revolutionaries, Republican fighters, their bodies dumped together in pits by the British. When we think “mass grave,” we like to kid ourselves that such things happen in “other lands,” though, we in America are virtually living upon one.

The connection between starved and slaughtered ‘indian’ and starved and slaughtered Irish-folk isn’t hard to make; if anything, it’s awfully hard to ignore. The dead scream, too, in the signs and graffiti smeared across the city proclaiming more revolution, more resistance, this time directed against the very system which drives colonial occupations for the last 300 years.

Dublin isn’t far from Brú na Bóinne, a 45 minute bus ride away. I’d traveled already several thousand miles to get to Ireland, had just taken a several day detour to view Caer Arianrhod and speak to giants near the ancient Welsh town of Beddgelert, so the bus-ride from Dublin to the village of Donore wasn’t long at all.

Still. That dread that I had felt when I first learned of my selection returned, this time accompanied by a spiraling, physical terror upon stepping foot off the bus.

My inner Atheist had little to say about the matter. “Maybe you need a nap, that’s all. There’s no god here.”  He was always saying stuff like that.

I slept with my clothes on, clutching an Alder wand that washed up on shore by Caer Arianrhod in Wales.

“You know Brân attacked the Irish, right?” This was a priest talking, one I’d hoped might explain to me why the earth seemed to want to shake me off into the sky around Brú na Bóinne.

“Yeah,” I assented. “But it was their fault.”

“Still–” he replied, rather patiently. “Newgrange is the home of The Dagda, and, well…”

Another priest I asked confirmed my dread. “You have to buy passage. Dirt money, beer, spit.  Pay the same on the way out. Someone will help you–you know who, I don’t.”

And I checked a third oracle, just because my inner Atheist was having fits. “His mother’s body lies rotting in the summer ground.”

Neil Dawkins Harris was gritting his teeth. It was actually interesting to hear from him again, though, as he’d seemed to have gotten lost on the ferry ride to Wales and wasn’t with me when I climbed 100 feet up a cliff face to ask some giants for help rebuilding the Cult of the Blessed Raven. He wasn’t there when Bran showed up to me in a dream and told me he’d be waiting after this was all over. He’d been silent when a Druid pulled my beard and wouldn’t let go until I pulled his back.

I had three confirmations from others. Three other people didn’t think I was crazy. Druids like threes.

I bought a beer, put a coin in my mouth, swished the beer around and then spit it all out on the ground, asking the Dagda for passage, and reminded him that the god who’s mother lied rotting in the summer fields had called me there in the first place.

My inner atheist was awfully pissed at me, more than The Dagda had been.

VII.

Reason told me that I’d done an awfully silly thing–maybe even a crazy thing. One doesn’t just risk a relationship and one’s livelihood to go on a pilgrimage to try to resurrect a god’s cult. Nor does one beg strangers for the money to do so.

My friend and host, Joseph, in front of Newgrange

My friend and host, Joseph, in front of Newgrange

Joseph and I talked a lot about this sort of thing while he hosted me in Dublin. He was as shocked as I about the selection, and I relied heavily on his narrative to help place my own. He moved to Dublin last year to work in IT. He doesn’t like IT, didn’t know anyone in Dublin before taking the job. Didn’t quite even know why he put my name instead of his for the drawing.

His best friend had died recently, and it’s a strange new thing about what I’ve been on about lately that I’m aware of dead spirits clinging closely to the living. His beloved friend wasn’t far, and I accepted quietly how much she was present to him when I was near. She and I even shared a birthday, and were both social workers.

Joseph didn’t suffer the same animosity from The Dagda as I did. But he probably suffered overmuch from my panic at being there. Because I could take a guest into Newgrange with me, I took him. It seemed the gods wanted him there as much they wanted me there.

We walked that morning mostly in silence to the Brú na Bóinne visitor center, joining 20 other groggy but excited people awaiting something very few humans ever get the chance to try to see. mAnd it was a chance, of course–there’s never a guarantee the sun will shine into the tomb on solstice morning, on account of clouds. There’d recently been a 6-year stretch where none of the visitors saw what Joseph and I got to see that morning.

We ate cookies and drank tea and waited for the bus that would drive us to Newgrange. Others had gone on ahead; those who hadn’t won the drawing but still wanted a chance to watch the sun rise from outside.

The awkward anticipation of the others in our group was as exhilarating as my own excitement.  Listening to strangers speak of what may come, how they’d been chosen, how they’d never dreamt of such a chance filled me with such warmth that I almost didn’t care if the sun would rise that morning. Gods written on the faces and the lips of others are as present as those whispering in dreams, and more tangible.

When we arrived at the site of Newgrange, Joseph and I walked silently up the hill, both turning at once to stare at the hundreds of corvids, which had taken to a barren tree just at the base of the mound. I’d told him of Bran and what I’d been doing in Wales. He smiled, wordlessly, and I was glad of a witness even as my inner atheist stamped his feet angrily, reminding me I’d have a lot more money if I stopped buying peanuts to feed crows in Seattle.

Just outside the tomb was a man who drew my attention immediately. I noticed my hand rubbing the fabric of the bee patch in my pocket, the one that I ran back into our hotel room to grab because I heard a voice say I’d need it.

And then we entered.

VIII

It’s dark inside a tomb.

We were led in by a guide who kindly walked us through what we might see, her voice assuring us in the darkness once the lights had been extinguished. We were allowed no photography, since it would distract from the experience of others, but she encouraged us to speak to each other, adding that she’d kindly guide anyone out who experienced any sudden terror in the claustrophic blackness in which we huddled.

She spoke of the history of Newgrange; what The Science knows and particularly what The Science doesn’t know. She spoke fondly of the archeologist – the one who had confirmed that the folk stories about the chamber becoming illuminated in the Solstice sunrise, and then she reminded us that it was not certain we’d see it.

“There was no light yesterday. We keep solstice vigil for 6 days each year, and I’ve only seen it a handful of times since I started working here.”

And then her voice caught in her throat.  “Ah,” she said, all awe. “Here we are.”

Light within Newgrange, one of the few photos we were allowed to take

Light within Newgrange, one of the few photos we were allowed to take

Just at sunrise, the angle of the sun shines into a small window-box above the entrance to the tomb. From inside, one cannot quite see this window due to the angles of the construction, nor can one see the exit from within the inner chamber. We stood in complete darkness, and then suddenly, just as she spoke, the thinnest shaft of light, a spear of sun, shot through the window into the chamber.

I still feel that great, collective inhalation of the gathered crowd huddled in the tomb at that first thin needle of light. There was nothing to say, nothing to understand, nothing to be done except watch.

The light grew, and as it did a few people put out their hands to touch it, tentatively. They seemed so hesitant, unsure if it was appropriate, uncertain what it might do or mean. One could almost hear their inner atheists thumbing copies of Stephen Pinker’s latest drivel as mine was, but then, like a storm, the exuberance released, acceptance descended, and we basked in the sight.

It was difficult to see what others were doing, but I noticed, just to my right, a man put on a pair of glasses that were not his. I’d seen those glasses–they were on Joseph’s mantle, next to the picture of his deceased friend. They’d belonged to her, and he’d put them on to gaze upon the light with her eyes, to see the way she might have seen, and perhaps to help her see, too.

IX

I left my inner atheist impaled upon Lugh’s shining spear in that tomb.

Outside the tomb, the voices were raucous, full of joy and wonder. Those outside waited word from we who’d been within to hear what it was like. We who’d been inside tried to find the words to describe what we’d seen to faces full of as much wonder as we.

Behind the tomb, I found the man I was supposed to find. He was standing in front of a stone that a friend had asked me to say a prayer before, and so I waited until he moved, my hand clutching the fabric in my pocket.

There was no voice to tell me “no” any longer, no inner atheist to chide me for entertaining such ridiculous thoughts.

I said hello to him. “Hey–I…can I give this you? I’m supposed to, I think.”

Alley Valkyrie's bee patch within Newgrange

Alley Valkyrie’s bee patch within Newgrange

The man looked at the patch in his hand. “It’s a bee.”

I nodded. “Yeah. It’s from my friend Alley Valkyrie.”

“I keep bees,” he said, his face unreadable.

Of course he keeps bees, I thought to myself. That’s why it’s for him. “It’s definitely for you, then.  Happy Solstice.”

Joseph and I left Newgrange soon after. I had to, as The Dagda had made it clear I was to take the first bus out.

I got what I’d came for, though, saw what I needed to see. I’d recited the prayers I’d been asked to, delivered the bee I’d been directed to by unseen voices I’ve learned to trust much more than the suddenly silent, sadly deceased corpse of my inner atheist.

I figured The Dagda could use some overly-reasonable company for a little while.

*   *   *

You can find Rhyd Wildermuth’s full pilgrimage journals on his blog, Paganarch.com.

Send to Kindle

I found Paganism when I was about 14 years old, poking through the odd corners of the internet. At the time, I was living in Germany and isolated from any groups with whom I could communicate. My German was, and is, terrible. While there was a small bookstore on the local Army base, with an even smaller religion section, it had only a fraction of a shelf dedicated to alternative religions. So I never would have found out much about any form of Paganism without the digital world.

Desk

[Photo Credit: Caribb/Flickr]

I was eventually able to get my hands on a couple of books on the subject and a pocket-sized tarot deck, but the vast majority of my information came from the internet, both the good and the bad. Before I ever step foot on a campus, I was able to connect with Pagans And Students Together (PAST), the group that would eventually be known as Western Washington University Pagans (WWU).

Once back in the states, I continued to use the internet as a source of information and still do. Amazon provided a place to order books and ritual supplies since my town didn’t have a budget new age shop. Now, rather than driving the two hours one way to attend many rituals and classes as I go through my religious training, I can simply log into SecondLife and receive instruction through that site. I also use Facebook frequently to connect with various groups across Washington state and around the country to coordinate events and schedule meetings.

For me, and many of my peers, the internet has made Paganism much more accessible. Young seekers don’t necessarily have cars to drive to events or stores. We don’t have a place of our own, or the ability to squirrel away books and ritual gear from nosy guardians or overly-curious roommates. With the internet, we can fit the learning into our work or school schedule, and most importantly, it is all contained in one “box,” which can be shut down as needed.

WWU Pagan Logo

WWU Pagan Logo

It seems ironic that a religion focusing on a renewed connection to the earth and nature should benefit so strongly from the addition of the internet, but that’s where some of us are. Simone Mack, a 22 year old Hedge Witch and the current Public Liaison/Vice President of the campus group WWU Pagans, explained how the internet has helped her research different philosophies and paths, which she incorporates into her own form of eclectic Paganism. Mack added that when she started searching almost eight years ago, she had a hard time finding information that wasn’t Wiccan-centric. “I didn’t realize that there were paths other than Wicca … It may have been because I was using the wrong search terms, but whatever it was, I wasn’t able to find the information.”

Much has changed in the last eight years. Information about a multitude of paths is more readily available. Mack said that she use to find a lot of her information through e-commerce sites that also had informational pages. Now she’s finding more of her sources through sites that are exclusively dedicated to distributing information or offering a space to build community.

However, this increase in digital information isn’t always a good thing.”You see a lot of misinformation and appropriation,” Mack said of the drawbacks of the internet. A recent example of this misinformation was when a satire site posted a story about Pope Francis declaring that “All religions are true.” Quotes from that article are still circling the internet, attributing the quote to Pope Francis even though he never said it. Being new to the Paganism, or any religious community, Millennials might not know which sites are legitimate and which aren’t; which information is solid and which isn’t.

While Millennials do recognize these dangers, many of which go far beyond just misinformation, we don’t spend our time worrying about it. We know there’s a risk, just like walking down the road or crossing a busy street. Being able to communicate with other people and having access to a massive amount of information seems to outweigh any risks. According to Pew Forum data, 74% of American Millennials believe that technology “makes life easier;” which is higher than any other single generation and higher than the overall average of 64%.

Aside from individual risks, research data may also be proving that increased internet usage is a big negative for more traditional organized religions. Allan B. Downey, a professor of computer science at the Olin College of Engineering, found in his study entitled “Religious affiliation, education and Internet use” that there is a minor correlation between internet usage and the rise in people identifying as “unaffiliated.”

While correlation does not imply causation by any stretch, it is an interesting detail to note. Could the internet be one of the major driving forces behind the decrease in people identifying with organized religion? Is it contributing to the noticeable growth of Paganism by making minority practices more accessible to Millennials and even younger generations?

pewIn the article “Nones on the Rise,” Pew Research offers a few theories on why there is a decrease in self-identification with organized religion. With the availability of information, people are more free to learn about what’s out there. It’s no longer as simple as your parents or immediate community guiding you and pestering you to believe what they believe. You can learn about other things, ways of living, and find a community of like-minded people.

Unfortunately Downey didn’t break his religious research down by age or generation. However, in the Pew Forum study “Religion Among Millennials,” it was noted that this younger generation is less likely to be religiously affiliated than their older counterparts. According to the research, 26 percent of Millennials did not associate with a specific religion as opposed to 20 percent of Generation X at the same age and 13 percent of Boomers at the same age. Comparing this to a different Pew study, 93 percent of Millennials are regularly using the internet. That percentage drops considerably with age. The correlation between religious affiliation and internet use may be minor but it is notable.

The internet, in a sense, is serving as one giant interconnected community. There are good people and bad people; good information and bad information. It’s not much different than any small-town community, just much larger and far more diverse than any physical community could be. As a result, it has become easier for Millennials to find and learn about all sorts of different types of alternative religious paths from Wicca to Asatru and beyond.

“I feel like the online community aspect is really amazing, especially for those who don’t have a physical community available to them,” Mack said. The Pew Forum research supports her statement. It notes that 54% of Millennials believe that the internet brings people closer together. Again, that number is higher than any other generation or the average.

Even when there’s a physical community available, the internet can make things easier. We can plan out events, see who’s coming, coordinate potluck offerings. It was nice that our local Yule event had more substantial offerings than cookies and booze. Today, I am part of no fewer than a half dozen different Pagan groups that are all active weekly. This past Yule I received approximately the same number of Yule invites to different celebrations across the country – all politely declined in favor of the one I was hosting.

For myself and many other Millennials, the internet has brought me closer to people and helped strengthen my religious practice. I can be in Germany, some six thousand miles away, or holed up at 3 a.m. in my bedroom in Washington and my community is still no more than a click away.

Send to Kindle

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures in and around our collective communities. These voices may appear in Pagan media, personal blogs, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop us a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“At the winter solstice I can’t help but be aware that the earth is rushing inexorably towards its fatal crossing of the ecliptic on December 21. After that longest night, the sun will rise a tiny bit earlier, set a bit later. Before I know it, the year will have changed again, and life will have moved on as I sleep, whether I am ready for a new year or not … In the warm dark I try to release my busy mind, drift into the shallows of consciousness and hope to sail into the watery channel of dreaming wisdom. Somewhere inside me, I am convinced, waits a door welcoming me back to my full self. Through that door I’ve traveled back and forth countless times in this life. I hope to meet you there.” – Holli Emore, From “Winter Solstice Dreams”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Saturnalia is a time of reversals. so it is said. Those of us who make our livings at educational institutions usually enjoy a break–however long or short it may be–between our scholastic or collegiate terms at this time of year, when the last thing we might want to be doing is reading and studying. Enjoy the holiday parties and rituals, and hold some of your own, I’d advise those who are in a similar boat. And, for those who are not used to making friends with books and libraries and the spirits that haunt them? Make it a point to take a few moments when you’re indoors (from the dark and cold of winter in the Northern Hemisphere; or, a few moments out of the sun and in the shade in the Southern Hemisphere!) to pick up a book or a trusted and vetted internet source and find out more about the specifics of whatever holiday tradition you celebrate, whether of ancient provenance or of more modern vintage, and understand that holidays and the history of them happen in real time, with real people under real circumstances deciding to commemorate the turning of the seasons and the gods associated with them in particular ways.”- P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, “A Syncretistic Saturnalia”

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“The new year is upon us. This is the time of resolutions and promises to self often forgotten by February. But what if the commitment to self was more empowered, and leaned into the invitation of the wholeness that is holy, rather than being an obligation? For me, holiness and the sacred is found in Daily Practice … Daily Practice helps keep me from going crazy. No, seriously, in a world where so little is in our control, seemingly less filled with compassion and more filled with injustice, my daily practice allows me to sink into the safety of the only thing constant in my life, the breath.” – Erick DuPree, “Just Breathe, The Practice of Permission, Affirmation & Dedication”

robin fennelly

Robin Fennelly

“So it begins as the new year is just hours away and I enter it riding the waves of Saturn’s ordered time and the Dark Mother’s wisdom. This journey will leave me cracked and battered as a ship thrust upon the shores. But in that moment of splitting open and allowing the truth of my being to spill out freely, new flesh, new bone, new heart and new mind will be birthed from a womb that quickens, reshapes and reforms what lays within Her dark waters.” – Robin Fennelly, “Personal Reflection on the New Year”

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

“Whether you are an activist, a leader, a teacher, or just the average Pagan, taking time for yourself is important. You don’t have to be active on the front lines of a movement to need down time. You don’t have to lead a coven, grove, circle, what-have-you to need personal time. Despite evidence to the contrary, every single one of us needs “me time”, no matter our circumstances. Do what feels good, what helps you to relax, rest and recharge. No only is it healthy, it makes you feel good about yourself … It is Winter time in the North, a time for many of us to look inside ourselves. Unless we live in more temperate climes, we have fewer outdoor activities, fewer picket lines, fewer demonstrations. There is still plenty of work for us to do as activists, but less of it done outdoors and in person. Let’s take some of that time for ourselves and recharge our batteries. Our friend in the South are at the peak of the outdoor activities that may involve them as activists. They, too, need to remember to take some time and rest themselves.” – Rev Kess, “I’m not as Young as I Use to Be”

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“When I was in Winnipeg this fall on the book tour, my friend Dodie Graham McKay, who writes for the Wild Hunt, was speaking about how everyone talks about “creating Pagan community.” She argued that we have community; we have internet communities and tradition communities and communities that come together in pretty much every place that can call itself a city. She said that she thinks it’s time we start building a Pagan culture. We need art; we need music; we need shared songs; we need shared stories and shared experiences.” – Sable Aradia, “Creating Pagan Culture”

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

“This is the time of year when many look for new paths, beginnings or a fresh start. Apologies can be brief, with the saying “off with the old, on with the new” being the catch phrase to absolve our own conscience or those of others who might not want to reflect upon the pain or unresolved issues of 2014. Yet, this should be the very time that we consider apologies, those others gave to us, those we made to others, and most of all, those we wish we had made, but did not. Perhaps we ran out of time through the death of a loved one. Others could not turn back the clock due to a move to another locale, hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Some chose the “let sleeping dogs lie” rationale to counter the voice of one’s own conscience that reminds the heart of a needed apology … One lesson that I have learned through my visits to men, incarcerated for years, and sometimes decades, is that an apology is not just a saying or a brief “I’m sorry” hastily given … Instead, these men have reminded me how in Paganism, in the Craft, or in any tradition, self-reflection and self-accountability are key to a strong religious practice.” Clio Ajana – “Memories, Apologies and Veneration”

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“What I hope is that for 2015 – which is already looking to be another challenging yet fruitful year – we spark up our imaginations. That we wheel the creaky machinery out, dust it off, clean it, oil it, re-calibrate it, and set it running again….I want to make art and stories matter. I want to imagine a world of lightness, creativity, and truth. I want visionary dreams arising from the darkness. I want caring to matter. I want kindness to matter. I want fierce righteousness to matter. I want to make love and justice matter.” – T. Thorn Coyle, Imagination Matters: Toward 2015

 

Happy New Year to everyone! 

Send to Kindle

Opinion: Run, Pagan, Run

Cara Schulz —  December 31, 2014 — 5 Comments

Let me begin this column by saying I’m a loser. I lost the seat I was running for in the 2014 election. When all the votes were counted, I came up short. However, when I look back at my campaign and all that has happened since, our religious community won in many ways. You see, I didn’t lose because I’m Pagan, even though I was subjected to a smear campaign based on religion. I lost for very normal, boring reasons and that, in itself, is a victory we can celebrate. I’d like to challenge our religious community to do better, if you feel called to do so. To run and to win.

Cara Schulz, during a day or door knocking

Cara Schulz, during a day or door knocking

If you want to serve your gods, your local community, and protect our religious rights, run for local level political office. Yes, it’s daunting, expensive and time consuming. Running for office will exhaust you in body, mind, and spirit. It will take time away from your family, and you’ll miss out on fun social events. And yes, your opponents will use your religion against you and it will be brutal. Fair or unfair, people will judge every Pagan in the world by what they see you do and what they hear you say.

After going through all of that, if you’re running against an incumbent you’ll have about a 10% chance of winning. If this is your first time running for office, even if there isn’t an incumbent to run against, you have a less than a 25% chance of winning.

Run anyway.

Consider running for a school board seat or a city council position or some other similar office. Local politics affect your daily life far more than anything that happens in Washington D.C., and it’s where you can have the greatest impact in your community.

Think about all the stories of religious discrimination toward Pagans we’ve heard over the past few years and consider where that discrimination was taking place. In 2014, we saw a school board favoring Christian prayers to open meetings and refusing to allow a Pagan to give the invocation. City officials in Bebee, Arkansas tried to run a Pagan family and business out of town.  The town of Catskills, NY forced the Maetreum of Cybele into a lengthy court battle costing tens of thousands of dollars because local officials didn’t see the Maetreum as a “real” religious house.

Those are just a few cases where local politicians used their power and authority to discriminate against Pagans. How much more effective could you be sitting on one of those school boards or city councils, rather than being the person asking those in power to stop infringing on your rights? Being the person in power, rather than the supplicant?

The other benefit to running is in changing peoples’ perceptions on Pagans and Paganism. As more people come to know Pagans, or work with Pagans, or see them doing things such as run for office, the less they will be influenced by sensationalist or mocking narratives. The more of us who are “out” and achieve positions of respect and authority, the safer it is for all of us.

The amazing recent victories for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals have only come after decades of “coming out” because they understood that putting a human face on their communities was the only way forward. Likewise, modern Pagans, whatever their faith or practice, need to engage in the work of putting a human face on our religious movement. Thanks to some brave pioneers and visionaries we’ve already come a long way, but the next steps come only when it becomes apparent that we truly are everywhere, that we are indeed your brother, sister, parent, child, co-worker, partner, or friend. – Jason Pitzl-Waters

Should you run for office?

To judge if running for office is something you should consider, let me relate my experience running for a council seat for Burnsville, Minnesota as a very out of the closet Pagan. It goes without saying that you need to be very public in your religious affiliation. Even if you use a craft name or a pseudonym, if you aren’t already fully out, someone will out you. This happened to candidate Alice Richmond when she was outted on a live radio interview in 2009.

First, I did my research. Burnsville is a large city, the 9th largest city in Minnesota. There were two seats available and both incumbents were running for reelection. The city charter is set up so that all candidates run, and the top two vote getters win the seats. I looked at how much money each candidate spent on previous elections. I also looked at how many persons are in my area and how many of them are voters. This is important for calculating man hours needed to knock on each door. I calculated how many volunteers I would need and how many hours I needed from each volunteer. That’s the normal stuff every candidate does.

I finished my last few days of the campaign, door knocking with a stress fracture in one of my feet

I finished my last few days of the campaign, door knocking with a stress fracture in one of my feet

But remember, you will not be a normal candidate, and you will need to make preparations other candidates don’t have to devote time and resources toward. You will need to make a plan for what happens when, not if, your opponent uses your religion against you. This plan goes into effect on day one of your campaign.

I had a short discussion with each one of my volunteers, supporters, and donors about my religion, if they didn’t already know. It went something like, “I just want to let you know that I’m part of a minority religion and sooner or later my opponents will attempt to use it to smear me. My religion is Hellenismos, and it’s a modern version of what ancient Greeks such as Socrates practiced. It’s very family focused and encourages civic duty. If you have any questions feel free to ask me at any time. If you feel this is cause to withdraw your support, just say so and it will remain between you and me.”

I kept it simple and used cultural concepts most anyone could immediately understand. Although I had people ask me a few questions, I didn’t have a single person or organization withdraw support. As I was calm and treated it casually, the people that I talked to treated it the same way. Months later, when the expected #politricks hit, these were some of my strongest supporters.

I googled myself and viewed all the photos I could find of myself on the internet. I looked at each one with fresh eyes. If a section of this blog post was quoted in the paper or this photo was put on a flyer, how would I react? How do I put it into context for people entirely unfamiliar with Paganism, using only one sentence?

I spoke with trusted non-Pagans for quick, professional, and reasoned thinking, and asked them if they’d be willing to help me when my religion would be brought into the campaign. They would be prepared to comment on articles and social media, write Letters to the Editor, and call in to radio shows. Since I did this early in the campaign, these non-Pagan supporters were mentally prepared and were able to respond quickly when the situation arose months later.

I was also fortunate that other friends, whom I hadn’t approached, assisted me. I can’t stress how important it is to have diverse, non-Pagan support ready to respond to social and traditional media. A persuasive comment early on can change the entire direction of the conversation. Otherwise, the snowball of mockery and scaremongering starts rolling downhill and there’s no way of stopping it.

I spent some time, not as much as I should have, developing a working relationship with local media. If they’ve worked with you in the past and found you to be a reliable and sane person, they are less likely to run an article on you that is lurid or sensational. They may still write an article about your religion, but you have a better shot at it being fair and well researched if they know you as a person. During the campaign, I know of at least one reporter who passed on running an expose-style article about my religion before the election.

10881275_10203513092727745_761208615_nIt seemed a bit superficial, but I made sure that I looked like a city council member every time I left my house. While you want to stay true to who you are, this is not the time to play “Freak the Mundanes.” The entire campaign is a job interview and every person who you come into contact with is your potential boss. If you have a piece of religious jewelry, wear it with pride, but make sure your shoes are polished.

I wanted people to know that I am professional, approachable, and open to diverse points of views. I made sure my appearance and body language matched that message. While my religion is important to me, I had no intention of pushing it on others, so my appearance reflected that point as well.

Last of all, I wrote down several contingency plans. If X happens, I will do A, B, C, and D. If Y happens, I will do E, F, G, and H. By writing every portion of them down, I was able to act quickly, rather than being frozen.

I realized it’s a legitimate question for people or media to ask how my religious views would affect the way I perform in office. Or to ask me what my ethics are and how my religion shaped them. In my case, I could answer that my religion helped invent Western democracy and concepts like a jury trial. My ethics can be found in the 10 Precepts of Solon, examples of which are: Don’t associate with people who do bad things and When asked for advice, don’t say what’s most pleasing, but what’s most helpful. These are questions I was asked by people, and because I was able to answer them in a simple and direct way, people came away reassured that we had common ground. Because we do.

Despite all my preparations, when it finally happened, I was deeply hurt. I was surprised at how hurt and upset I was. It was three weeks before the election, and I knew this was the prime time for a hit piece. There had been behind the scenes whispers about my religion for a few weeks, but nothing I could openly address. The key to a successful hit piece is to the hit the other person and not leave them time to hit you back. You want a knock out punch, or at the very least, you want to create a situation that eats up all their time. Ideally, you have a supporter deliver the knockout punch so you can keep your hands clean.

In my case, a Letter to the Editor titled Intriguing information about Cara Schulz appeared in the local paper by an area resident. It was carefully crafted to not make any outright statements ridiculing me or my religion, but spent a great deal of time othering me and then noting that people should vote for “…Bill Coughlin and Dan Kealey, who are not pagans, but longtime Burnsville residents who understand all the responsibilities and duties as members of the City Council.”

The letter also inferred that I had been trying to hide my religion, which the writer had only discovered through research. This suggested that I could not be trusted, as opposed to my opponents, who were trustworthy, qualified and not Pagans. Vote for them, don’t vote for the Pagan.

While neither of my opponents submitted the letter to the paper, one of them did use it in their campaign. I discovered this when one of his supporters forwarded a campaign email to me saying he could no longer, in good conscientious, support someone who would stoop to that level.

Screen cap of the forwarded email

Screen cap of the forwarded email

I put one of my plan’s into action, with a few modifications. First, I issued an official statement asking my opponents and the newspaper to denounce the religious bigotry exemplified in the letter. I kept it polite, but firm, and appealed to peoples’ better natures. My supporters commented on the letter on the newspaper’s website and on social media. They, too, kept things positive.

comment

The groups and organizations who supported me, publicly restated their support for me and for religious freedom. They clearly denounced the letter as an appeal to fear and bigotry. I was interviewed by the main newspaper for the Twin Cities. I also went on a political talk radio program during a prime morning slot and had supporters ready to call in.

Part 1 of radio interview
Part 2 of radio interview

For months, I had prepared myself for this situation. When it happened, It went off smoothly and allowed me devote my time to speaking with voters rather than spinning my wheels in shock, pain, and confusion. But the real heroes of this tale are the voters.

I received countless emails and messages of support from local residents. They wanted me to know that religious bigotry was unacceptable. I was sent photos of people throwing away my opponent’s yard signs, saying they would no longer vote for him since bigotry was part of his campaign message. I was called by local clergy, letting me know they didn’t support the perspective outlined in the letter.

At the end of the day you have to trust your fellow residents. Trust them to be decent people. If you can’t do that, you have no business running for local office because you are not looking to be a servant to your community, you are looking to rule it from a position of ethical superiority. Aside from practical matters, this is the real deal breaker. Can you place your trust in your fellow residents?

I didn’t win my election. But I did everything I could to win, including knowing I had about a 5% chance of winning. I was running against two entrenched incumbents who were working together; who split costs and volunteers. They fundraised together and even dropped each other’s lit. (lit dropping is when they drive around and stick flyers in your mailbox) I can say, however, that I made them work for that reelection and I almost pulled off a win.

Yet I certainly didn’t lose.

From a selfish perspective I made many new and lasting friends – good, caring people who care passionately about their communities. I also have laid a solid foundation for the next time I run for city council. There’s a reason so few rookies win elections. You are building everything from scratch and making costly mistakes in time and resources. The second time you run, your starting point is much further ahead. Plus, you can save money by reusing your yard signs.

Tyra, a Burnsville high school student, on the campaign trail.

Tyra, a Burnsville high school student, on the campaign trail.

From a much less selfish perspective, my time campaigning helped change peoples’ perspectives about Paganism. I had people tell me they originally thought Pagans were teen girls who were going through a phase, but now they think of Pagans as just like anyone else.

Many of them saw me in the candidate forum. They may have met me at the community parade, or when I knocked on their door. It’s so much harder to negatively stereotype a group after you have had positive interactions with a member of that group. I have supporters from all different age groups, religious backgrounds, socio-economic levels, and political parties.

What gives me the most satisfaction is that I’ve had six Pagans from across the country contact me and tell me that they followed my campaign with interest and were considering running for office. They were hesitant, wondering if it was possible for a Pagan candidate to survive the campaign and to actually win. After following my process and seeing what happened, they are going ahead with their campaigns for the 2015 and 2016 election cycle. They now believe it is possible for Pagan candidates to be elected to political office. I’ve been working with them on how to prepare their campaign and to be ready for the inevitable #politricks.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, contact me. No matter your political beliefs, I’ll help you create your contingency plans so you’re ready when someone tries to make your religion the focus of your campaign.

With planning and good fortune, you can win, too.

Send to Kindle

Kari Tauring.

Kari Tauring [Courtesy Photo]

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA –The time around the winter solstice is, in the far northern parts of the northern hemisphere, a period of deep darkness. Many northern-based spiritual traditions, including forms of modern Heathenry and similar paths, have rich traditions, which involve dealing with this darkness in the physical world, as well as on emotional and spiritual levels.

Artist Kari Tauring, who has been exploring these concepts for some time, created a show called Winter Solstice in the Northlands, which she had been staging annually from 1999 to 2006. This December, after an eight year hiatus, she brought the show back to life.

We were able to catch up with Tauring in between her performances to ask her about the production and her background.

For the past twenty years I have worked as a musician and ritual artist, helping others create ceremony around transitional times. I don’t work with any one specific group. I was ordained through the Church of Spiritual Humanism in order to complete ceremonial paperwork [for weddings and other rites of passage]. Most people know me as a Nordic roots musician, story teller, and staff carrier or völva.

Since I grew up in an ethnic enclave of Norwegian Americans, it was natural to begin digging down the root of my folk tradition to find the sources in the very ancient material. I began studying the runes in 1989. Beginning in 2003, I began working with staff and stick (stav and tein) for rhythm, breath, alignment with the world tree, journey and rune song, a spiritual method called ‘volva stav.’ I served Heathenry in the Midwest formally as völva from 2010 until 2014, elected by the council at Midwest Thing held in Kansas. I also serve the Lutheran community as educator and spiritual facilitator. Everyone wants to know what their roots are and see how they connect.”

In December, Tauring told the MinnPost that unlike many solstice and holiday performances, this is not a “family-friendly” show. It is instead designed to be an intense exploration of the darkness. “We’re just told, ‘Everything’s going to be fine, and if you feel empty, just buy more stuff and if you don’t feel good after the holidays it’s because you have to shop better next year,’ ” said Tauring. “But this time of year is an opportunity to, from an ancient Nordic mindset, explore the origins of your own darkness.”

For this production, that means, “It’s not going to be all doom and gloom, but it also helps people to say, ‘It’s okay if you’re not happy at this time of year because this is the height of seasonal effective [sic] disorder; this is the height of not being in a happy place, and it’s okay and here are some tools.'”

Why resurrect the show now, after all this time? For years Tauring also produced family-friendly solstice shows with singing and puppets. She told the MinnPost that her kids are now grown and that she “wanted to shift … from the community-building to something more intense, because it’s been a really intense year with a lot of darkness in it.”

Not surprisingly, some of the tools Tauring uses in the show are runes. She explained a bit about how the tool is incorporated. “Ice and Fire are the first elements of creation in Norse mythology. One of the pieces in this production dealt primarily with the elements of creation and the process of creation and destruction. The runes for ice and fire play an obvious role here. One piece, Avalanche Runedance, was based on a rune stone from Hogganvik, Norway. The alphabet magic/prayers on this stone are really beautiful. I have been working at performing this stone for a few years and in this production I use my musical performance as a sound track for an interpretive dance.”

[Courtesy Photo]

Tauring teaching [Courtesy Photo]

In contrast to surrounding oneself with as much light as possible, as is typical in the United States for many cultural and religious paths, Tauring explained:

The Northern way of dealing with cold and dark is not to fight it. We embrace the sadness. We leave room to feel it. The juletide is a season, not a singular event. It lasted for twenty days in the not so olden times. In modern Scandinavia they still take at least two weeks off to ‘deal’ with the darkness. Another important thing is the lack of future tense . . . Old Norse and Finnish . . . don’t have a future tense, so the way the mind works is different. The names for the ‘fates’ are Is, Becoming, and Should. I am offering an ancient way of ‘embracing the void’ and being present in the ‘becoming’ and creating of the past. And a way to be in relationship with the darkness.

Central to the performance, as Taurig presents, is the Norse concept of öorlog, which she defines on her own website as, “the summation of an individual human inheritance (physical, spiritual, ancestral, environmental and cultural).” It carries the experiences, behaviors, traumas, and traditions of our ancestors, and is the basis for the importance of ancestor work in these northern traditions.

She is fond of using a spindle to explain öorlog, writing, “Each of us is born with a spindle of thread spun by parents, grandparents, great-grandparents ad infinitum. This thread is our öorlog. We can not un-spin it, but we can look into it, review it, learn about it, and have memories that surface to help explain why some of the spin is strong and some is thin, lumpy, or even broken and tied back in. We can also choose to spin our strand differently.”

51LV400IMDL._SS280As this year’s production of Winter Solstice in the Northlands has a more intense focus than in the past, Tauring was able to use it to premiere some of her newest work. For those unable to see the show live, she promised that portions will be available for viewing online in the coming weeks. In addition, her next project, a fourth Nordic roots recording, will include the soundtrack for “Avalanche Runedance.” A Kickstarter campaign to fund that album will be launched in March.

Send to Kindle

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

Gaia Gathering, a Canadian national Pagan conference, launched a new website to announce the opening of registration for its annual event. This coming year marks Gaia Gathering’s 10th anniversary, which will be celebrated in the city where “it all began,” Edmonton, Alberta.

Organizers are currently calling for academic papers saying, “We invite papers and proposals for our academic stream from all fields within the social sciences, arts, and humanities, which are relevant to the academic study of contemporary Paganism, New Religious Movements and related interests.”  In addition to academic paper presentations, the conference also hosts “workshops, panel discussions, and evening entertainment.” Gaia Gathering has been held every year for 10 years during Victoria Day Weekend, May 15-18.

*   *   *

witch school 2Last week Witch School International released a new book, The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca. The publication is available for free via download from the school’s website.

Written by Don Lewis, the book’s forward explains that the new book is “a compendium of copy-right free materials dealing with Wicca and Witchcraft. All the materials within it may be freely shared without the need for any further permission. These materials have been created for the world, and are explicitly intended to be shared. Why? Because we believe that sharing knowledge can create a better world.

In its nearly 400 pages, The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca includes articles, poetry, chants, artwork and a biography listing. As reported by Witch School’s website, the digital publication has already been downloaded by people in over 55 countries in the seven days that it has been available.

*   *   *

church of wiccaThe First Church of Wicca has reopened in Duxuby, Massachusetts after a five year hiatus. The announcement was made on Oct. 19, and the group celebrated its first Sabbat, Nov. 1.

The First Church of Wicca was founded and run by Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey. Many might remember her from the TLC reality show “My Unique Family: The Witches Next Door.” As we reported in 2009, Hovey announced that she was converting to Christianity. After a five hiatus, she has returned to Wicca and reopened her church. The Wild Hunt will have more on this story in the coming weeks.

*   *   *

Brigid-Color-HorizBurning Brigid Media, a newly established Pagan-run production company, is beginning production on its first film project, a web series called Sleep Study. Company founders Michael Coorlin and Kat O’Connor have extensive experience in Chicago’s film and theater world. They both became disillusioned with many of their mainstream projects and the common representations of marginalized populations.

Last spring, they came together to aim their extensive experience and talents in a new direction. Burning Brigid Media’s goal is to “contribute to a cultural shift through narratives that normalize stories about the traditionally marginalized: women, minority, and LGBT characters presented as people rather than genres.” Their first project, to be launched this summer 2015, is the web series titled Sleep Study. They describe it as a “transmedia atmospheric surreal horror” that will “question the very nature of reality.

In Other News:

  • While most of our readers have been celebrating the Winter Solstice and other early winter holidays, some readers, like those living in Tasmania, Australia, have been preparing for the harvest. Each year the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance hosts an annunal Harvest Fest in mid-January. This family-friendly event includes rituals, workshops, and vendors, and is held 25 minutes outside of Devonport.
  • For some Pagans, the Winter Solstice means a trip to a sacred site, such as Stonehenge and Newgrange. Our own columnist Rhyd Wildermuth was fortunate enough to be selected to enter Newgrange on the Winter Solstice. He will be sharing the experience and photos in his next column.
  • Registration has opened for a new Spring Equinox festival in Florida. The Equinox in the Oaks will take place 30 minutes west of Ormond Beach and Daytona, in the central part of the state. Organizers are excited about the new event, describing it as an “Earth-centered, ethically-focused, family-affirming Pagan festival.” Pre-registration is already underway and they have launched a Facebook fan page to allow future attendees to follow the event’s developments and additions.
  • Another festival that has opened its registration is the mid-winter Feast of Lights hosted by the Earth Spirit Community. The annual event is held in Nothhampton, Massachusetts from Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Organizers describe it “as a weekend of warmth at the coldest time of the year – a festival of of community and hope, of tradition and creativity, of Earth spirituality and the arts, of community and hope, of tradition and creativity.” This year’s special guest will be Viviane Crowley.
World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

  • In October, we reported that violinist Scarlet Rivera would be recording a special piece using Rev. Patrick McCollum’s sacred violin. The recording is now posted on YouTube and features Rivera playing a composition written by Yuval Ron specifically for McCollum’s violin. The piece is entitled “Voice of Peace.”
  • Last week Patheos Pagan Blog, A Sense of Place, welcomed a new contributor. James Lindenschmidt has been Pagan for more than 20 years and “feeds his spirit by bonding with his ecosystem.” Originally from the midwest, he now lives in “a small place in the woods” in Northern New England. His inaugural post, entitled “By Way of Introduction,” was published on Dec. 24.

That is it for now. Have a great day.

Send to Kindle