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With the landmark Supreme Court hearings this week on the issue of marriage equality, cases that could potentially make sweeping sweeping changes regarding the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, national Pagan organizations are stepping forward to reiterate their ongoing support. We’ve already seen the active involvement of Selena Fox, founder and co-executive director of Circle Sanctuary, and now two more organizations, Covenant of the Goddess and Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, have expressed their solidarity and wish for equal rights (and rites).

Covenant of the Goddess (COG), one of the oldest and largest Wiccan/Witchcraft advocacy organizations in the United States, posted a short media statement to their National Public Information Officer’s blog.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

“The Covenant of the Goddess, a 38-year old Witch and Wiccan advocacy organization, extends its support to the entire LGBT community in its struggle for marriage equality within our country. We respect the diversity of religious thought even when it’s divergent from our own. As such, we support the legalization of civil marriages with all the associated civil benefits. Religious ceremony and choice should remain a private matter. While this issue is debated in our country’s highest court, we will continue to hold space with our own LGBT members and their families.”

Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), the largest Pagan Druid organization in the United States, also released a statement yesterday noting their historical support for inclusiveness and equal rights.

Current and former ArchDruids of ADF at a Clergy Retreat.

Current and former ArchDruids of ADF at a Clergy Retreat.

“Since our founding, Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) has championed inclusiveness in our rituals and in our church. Our Constitution has long forbidden discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, color, physical disability, age, gender, or affectional orientation. And we all stand together in affirming this basic principle.

As such we support not only our LGBTQ members, but all of our members, in knowing that they stand equally before the Gods and Spirits, in fellowship with each other and in equal reciprocity with us all.

We pray that the  Justices of the US Supreme Court will be granted the wisdom and understanding that they will need to perform their duties.  ADF also calls upon all its members to live by our virtues in opposing discrimination, and to do what is right to effect positive change in our lives.”

In addition to those organization’s official statements, prominent Pagans within our community have been stepping forward to make their own views heard. Church of All Worlds (CAW) co-founder Oberon Zell in a statement sent out to supporters via email said that, quote, “I am a member of a religion (Pagan) which strongly feels that people should be able to love and marry whomsoever they choose.” Zell went on to say that “it should be evident to all (as it is to opponents of marriage equality) that laws governing the structure of marriage are in fact, RELIGIOUS laws intended to establish the predominance of a particular faith, and “prohibit the free exercise” of other faiths. And therefore any such laws are ipso facto unconstitutional.”

T. Thorn Coyle, author, teacher, and co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, at her personal blog, advocates for societal changes far more sweeping than same-sex marriage.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“I stand for love, yet haven’t joined in very active support of what some people call “gay marriage” or others call equal rights because the struggle feels much, much larger. Fighting for the rights of my gay and lesbian friends to marry is on one hand a wonderful thing. I am for people making commitments and sacred bonds to one another. I am for all citizens of a country actually having equal rights under the law. To give one set of citizens rights denied to another set is illegal and unjust. However, for me, allowing two men or two women to marry one another just isn’t enough. It isn’t the sort of equality I really want. I’m more queer than that, and more of an anarchist, of course.  I desire equity far more pluralistic than the simple replication of a state sanctioned nuclear family.

What right does government have to tell us what sorts of relationships are important to us, or what sorts of families we can build and grow together? We cannot build the society I want for us all – a society of comrades and friends, who care for one another’s children, who wipe away the tears of a friend we’ve had for 30 years, who share food and housing when times are tough or when times are very good – we cannot build this when we are intent upon saying that love is only important, and only has rights, when shared between two people.

Love is greater than that. We are greater than that. I firmly trust that we can work out how to love and whom to commit to on our own. If we want to write up contracts saying that the children of our best friend of 40 years can inherit our home when we die, we should have the right to do so. If we want our girlfriend at our bedside in ICU, that should also be allowed.”

This is, I anticipate, just the beginning of Pagan expressions on this issue as we await the rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8 in June. For my own views, and a wrap-up of coverage to date, see yesterday’s post. We here at The Wild Hunt will be highlighting special coverage and voices on this issue as we head towards the Summer.

Unsolitary

Eric O. Scott —  March 15, 2013 — 20 Comments
Picture taken in my parents' kitchen.

The banner of Coven Pleiades.

We are chanting, waiting for Lorelei to appear:

Full moon shining bright, midnight on the water
O! Aradia, Diana’s silver daughters

If Coven Pleiades, the Wiccan group I was born into, had only one song, it would be this one. We sing it, our voices growing loud enough to fill my parents’ house with the force of our love, loud enough to fill the dark space where Lorelei waits, her hands bound, her eyes covered, her body naked. This is her initiation ritual, the first we have held in several years – the first, I think, since my own second degree.

It’s also the first time I’ve seen an initiation from the other side of the blindfold. It’s a bit like being backstage at a play, or a magic show. I am part of a large cast, performing a show for an audience of one. When Lorelei appears, she will be set on a path beset by obstacles, a sharp and thorny forest filled with the howls of beasts. And of course, we are those beasts and brambles, both her path and the things that block her from it.

The priest, my father, goes to retrieve Lorelei from the underworld. She arrives at the edge of the circle, nervous, but ready.

“What is your name, child of the Goddess?” asks my mother, assuming the form of the White Goddess.

“Lorelei,” she says, formally adopting this as her Craft name.

“And what do you bring with you?” asks the Goddess.

“Perfect love and perfect trust,” says Lorelei.

Thus she brings the traditional wages of initiation, ready for us to offer her the bargain that they might buy.

***

Lorelei’s initiation happened the Saturday after Pantheacon. I had begun to recover by that point – returning to a soulless office job will do that for you – but still, I felt like a changed person. I had gone through a lot, been exposed to many things I had never seen within Pleiades.

Several people have told me that it was a brave act for me to come to a big event like Pantheacon alone. This was always said with the unspoken but obvious afterthought, “brave, and perhaps foolish.” I had nobody there to pull me back if I went too deep, nobody to ensure I, to use both a drug analogy and a play on words, didn’t have a bad trip. I can see how, had I been a slightly different person, or things have gone a slightly different way, I could have been overwhelmed by the experience, left broken by it. This is not to say that I made no friends at Pantheacon; the first thing I did when I got off the plane, in fact, was to meet the people who would become the dramatis personae of my weekend. But many of those folks were exactly the people luring me into new experiences, for which I might not have had the appropriate mental defenses.

This company of two thousand Pagans taught me much about solitude, and its value. I learned of my own need for loneliness in the times I had to withdraw to the quiet of my hotel room for an hour to escape the crowd. I learned more firmly about the things I could accept into my practice and the things that I couldn’t. And I learned that, sad to say, I’m really just not cut out for 1 AM hospitality suite parties. (Sorry, guys.)

On the last day of the convention, I went to Teo Bishop’s presentation on the Solitary Druid Fellowship. Compared to much of Pantheacon, it felt mellow and contemplative: just an audience, seated in the round, with Teo standing in the middle, spinning back and forth to face each of us in turn.

If I am being honest, I didn’t go to this workshop because I thought it would be particularly interesting to me. It was, after all, addressed to solitary members of the ADF, and I was neither of those. But I was more interested than I thought I would be. Teo knows how to tell a story.

In this one, he described the special needs of a solitary Pagan, reflecting the greater needs of that particular umbrella by describing what he needed in his own practice. He brought in his personal history – his past life as an Episcopalian, his current life within ADF, his love of liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer. He told us of the challenges of solitary practice – the feelings of loneliness, of personal motivation, of being disconnected from a greater religious practice. And he brought in the advantages of solitude – contemplation, personal direction, the opportunity for great work within the body of the individual practitioner.

I had never considered that being solitary could work out to one’s advantage, myself, so this last part came as a surprise – but I saw the possibilities as soon as Teo mentioned them. He had a point. Like many of the great ideas I have encountered in my life, I immediately recognized this one’s worth. Also like many of those great ideas, I recognized pretty quickly that it wasn’t meant for me.

Yet it made me think about my own practice, and how it related to the things Teo was talking about – the benefits and the consequences of being so ingrained into a group.

In my mind, the coven – or, to be more accurate, my coven, Pleiades – is the fundamental unit of religion. (Let me emphasize the words in my mind, lest you think I’m prescribing a course of action that I believe everyone must follow. You, as you have likely noticed by now, are not me.) The dynamic of the group is the basic energy which powers Wicca for me, and as our composition and focus changes, so does the religion. While I have explored and practiced several other forms of Paganism – Taoism, Kabbalism, a long courtship with Asatru – my mind always returns to Pleiades, which, to me, is Wicca itself.

This is a source of great strength, for within the group I find my teachers, who have guided me in my explorations of life and magick. Here I find my elders, who have watched me grow up, whose relationships with me have been a constant evolution. And here I find the people to whom my magick is directed, the people who assure me that my practice has a purpose beyond myself.

And this is a source of great trouble, too, because the relationships within a coven are not stable things. People move away, fall in love, break up, fall out. Even if those changes have nothing to do with our rituals, they still reverberate throughout our circle, like concentric waves in a pond once a rock has been thrown in. If those waves are violent enough, they can threaten the existence of the coven’s very existence; I suspect more covens have been destroyed by such forces than survived them.

To me, it’s worth the heartache. A good coven is a family, after all, and every family is a source of both sorrow and solace. That’s the bargain we make, and most of us, I think, find it a worthwhile one. For me, Pleiades isn’t even that old saw, a “family of choice” – I didn’t choose them. They’re simply family, as much as a family of blood or law.

***

The main business of the initiation has concluded. Lorelei has taken off her blindfold, had her hands released, slipped her robe back onto her body. She has been told the secrets, which I will not speak here. Now we sit, drinking wine and munching on cakes. We are talking – mostly about the ritual, giving Lorelei congratulations and presents. (I, in typical fashion, left my present in the car, so it will have to wait until later.) But we also talk about mundane things. We crack jokes. We talk about the present and the past. The name for the act is communion, after all. And here we are, a coven, communicating.

At one point, my dad clears his throat and speaks. “In a lot of groups, initiation means that you are a Witch. It’s a title you get by going through the ritual. Here, we don’t do that. Whether  you call yourself a Witch or not, that’s not for us to say – that’s between you and your gods.” He smiles at Lorelei. “For us, initiation means that now, you are our Witch. That you belong to us, and we belong to you.”

I have belonged to Pleiades since long before I was initiated, since I was in the womb. I am an unsolitary Pagan; I don’t really know any other way to do it. They are the the path and destination, the actors and the audience. While I stumble through the darkness of life, they are the ones stretching out their hands to mine. They guide me – and I guide them – on our eternal journey to our destination, our source, our home.

This is a follow-up piece to the two-part series on solidarity written by Heather Greene for The Wild Hunt. There is a great deal of conversation taking place around A Question of Pagan Solidarity: Part 1 and A Question of Pagan Solidarity: Part 2, and this post offers a practical example of how solidarity can be experienced by solitaries, and how that experience of “solitary solidarity” can inspire those in the broader community to approach solidarity as a meaningful practice.

Solitary Tree

Solitary tree at Sunset (CC)

Some have asked, “How can we have a conversation about solidarity if we can’t even agree on how we define ourselves?” I’d suggest that having a conversation about solidarity might help us have the conversation about identity, especially if we engage with one another with the intent to experience solidarity, rather than simply define it.

I’m going to offer up an example of solidarity in practice, particularly solidarity for solitaries. “Solitary solidarity” may technically be an oxymoron, but so is “deafening silence,” and who doesn’t love the poetry of that term? An oxymoron can be useful, beautiful, and relevant, and I think this example of “solitary solidarity” might even help us discern a new way of engaging with one another in community.

I’ve committed myself in service to the Solitary Druid Fellowship, which is built on the concept of solidarity for solitaries (or as I often call it, congregation in solitude). Our solidarity is not one of a strict agreement of identities, or even an agreement about an identical practice. Ours is a solidarity build around the awareness of each other’s existence, of each other’s mutual needs, and of our commonalities. Our differences are respected and supported, and they do not threaten the life of the Fellowship, because the Fellowship is not built to institute uniformity.

SDF LogoOur solidarity is the grounds of our shared spiritual practice. We join each other in a shared observance of the High Holidays, the Sabbats, using a shared liturgy. But even in that framework, there is room for individuation. Some will be observing Imbolc, and others Charming of the Plough. Some will make libations to Roman gods, and others to no gods at all. Some will take the liturgy and completely re-write it, using it only as an inspiration for their religious observance. And yet, though all of this, there is solidarity among us. We are aware of each other, we are holding each other in a state of respect, and we are, if in this way only, united.

Our consent to this solidarity allows for us to step into an experiential reality of interconnectedness. We are doing something together, even as we are apart. Our togetherness is not synchronous. We are not coordinating a “shared ritual” at a specific time on a specific day. Our asynchronous observance is more of an agreement we make to honor what is meaningful to us, to celebrating in the way that is most resonant for us, and to steering clear of the impulse to fence one other into specific ways of being, thinking, acting, or identifying.

From the outside, this solidarity we experience may seem trivial. It may appear insubstantial enough to constitute “solidarity.” But for those who consent to being part of this Fellowship, which is but one model of how “solitary solidarity” might be experienced, we open ourselves to a different understanding. Through the doing, there is a new experience of knowing.

If I were to attempt to make this solidarity into a “Pagan solidarity”, or an “ADF solidarity,” I would be missing the point, and I’d be shutting certain people out. There are ADF members who are participating in the shared practice and observance of the Solitary Druid Fellowship, of course. The Fellowship is a service extension of ADF, so this is only natural. But there are also non-ADF members who are taking part. There are people who don’t identify as Druids, polytheists or Pagans, and some who don’t have a clear take on what the gods are at all. There are theists, atheists, polytheists and agnostics taking part. They are approaching reverence, albeit for different things. They are sharing language, even as they’re engaging with it differently. They are suspending the need to be the same, and in doing so they are opening themselves up to something harmonious.

I would like to see other experiments in solidarity. I would like to see it on a micro and macro scale. I’d like individual traditions to see how they can foster solidarity among themselves, and then see if there are ways to extend that experience of solidarity outside their boundaries. Approaching solidarity with other solitaries is an opportunity to experience solidarity on the scale of the individual, and if we allow ourselves that, perhaps we might begin to allow if for larger groups who identify differently than we do.

We might experience solidarity with humans who don’t look, think, dress, love or act like us. We might begin to foster a deeper respect for one another, and come to honor the ways in which we are unique, and the same. In time, this newfound respect might extend to those non-human beings who share our land, our water, our food, our resources. In time, we might find more ways to experience solidarity than we do discord.

Solidarity can become a discipline, like meditation. Seeking to know the feeling and experience of solidarity, to understand how it can be felt among a seemingly disparate, disconnected people, makes possible new awarenesses, new understandings.

How do we have a conversation about solidarity when we aren’t in agreement about identity and terminology? We answer that question by devising new ways to experience solidarity. We find the new way by making a new practice.

Then, we come to understand solidarity.

This, at least, has been my experience.

So I ask you —

How have you sought to create an experience of solidarity? Or, could you conceive of a way to do it? 

Can you imagine a way to foster an experience of solidarity with those in your tradition? If so, what would that look like? Then, could you imagine a way of expanding that experience of solidarity to those outside your tradition?

How would you do that? Through liturgy? Through a shared calendar? Though a shared language? A common practice?

How can you make solidarity happen?

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. My 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!

The Maetreum of Cybele Launches Crowdfunding Initiative: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, has been in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, a battle centered on whether their building should be afforded a property tax exemption. The most recent round of this fight, before the New York State Supreme Court, did not go well for the Maetreum, though they feel their case for appeal is strong. However, to file that appeal, they need money, money they simply don’t have after years of legal challenges. So, the Maetreum has now launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $5000 to continue their fight.

“We are now in the process of filing an appeal and this matter will need to go up to the higher levels of New York’s court system.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a pro bono attorney to take the case and many of the legal advocacy organizations that we contacted were unable to help, either, thus forcing us to foot the legal bills ourselves.  These have now exceeded $30,000 over the years (and, mind you, we have never even taken in $30,000 in a year!).  According to our best estimates, the Town of Catskill has spent easily six figures of taxpayer money on our case:  more than they could ever get from either taxes on the property or proceed from a foreclosure sale!  The Town Supervisor even went on the record and told a reporter for the local paper, the Daily Mail, that the town considers us to be an “illegitimate religion”.  They have not done this to any other local religious group or church.”

In an exchange with Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum, she stressed that time and resources were running out, quote, “our attorney wants the entire fee by the filing date which is Feb 4. We have an excellent chance of winning and have raised half the needed fees ourselves but the winter expenses along with the balance is making it difficult. Viktoria and I are selling off our antiques acquired over a lifetime to raise additional money.” So, if this is a case you care about, if you’d like to see the Maetreum continue its work, or are worried about the precedents established if they cannot continue to fight this case, spread the word and donate to their campaign. The Wild Hunt will be keeping track of the Maetreum’s tax battle as things progress.

ADF Marks the Passing of Former Preceptor Rev. George Lee:  Druid organization Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) announced on their official Facebook page yesterday that Rev. George Lee (aka Raven Mann) a liturgist, ritual leader, and former preceptor within the ADF, had passed away at the age of 49.

Rev. George Lee (Raven Mann)

Rev. George Lee (Raven Mann)

“Raven Mann was an effective priest and ritual leader, and also an accomplished liturgist. He served as the ADF Preceptor during the latter half of Rev. Skip Ellison’s term as Archdruid and made many contributions to the deliberations of the ADF Clergy Council. His passing will be a great loss to ADF.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Rev. Kelly Kingston (Carrion Mann) and their daughter Morrighan at this sad time. We also pray that he may pass quickly to the Otherworlds in the company of his Ancestors.”

For any that wish to make donations to Reverend Raven Mann’s family to help with funeral costs and things, 6th Night Grove, ADF has started a Raven Mann Memorial Fund. We here at The Wild Hunt offer our sincerest condolences, may Raven Mann rest with his gods and return to us again.

A History of New York Paganism: The New York Pagan podcast has posted audio of the first of four Pagan Way 40th Anniversary Lectures that took place in November. Presented by the New York Pagan Alliance, the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York, and the New York pagan community, the first lecture features Margot Adler, author of “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America,” and Michael Lloyd, author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan.”

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

“New York Pagan History: How We Got to Where We Are Today, the first in the series, featured author Michael Lloyd, whose painstaking efforts to chronicle the historic and cultural forces that influenced the establishment, rise, fall, and rebirth of the New York Pagan community have produced a treasure trove of well-documented insights into the earliest beginnings of the Pagan movement. [...] Margot, who provides the foreword to Bull of Heaven, shares in this talk how her earliest encounters with the Craft were deeply influenced by Eddie Buczynski and the emerging New York City Pagan community of the early 1970s.”

For more on this lecture series, see Zan Fraser’s write-up at The Juggler. To download the audio of the lecture, head over to the New York Pagan podcast site. I look forward to hearing the rest of this series, and I encourage my readers to subscribe to this podcast. For some more background on what The Pagan Way is, check out Aidan Kelly’s recent post on the subject.

In Other Community News:

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

Why, in the name of all that is good and holy, is anyone still paying attention to Kirk Cameron? In what way is this former teen television star turned laughable Christian caricature relevant enough to our culture to get a primetime interview slot on CNN? Does anyone really care about his views on homosexuality or same-sex marriage? The stark truth is that his once familiar face, tied to his evangelical Christian views, are the only thing keeping him on the fame radar (albeit in a d-list reality-television manner). However, since there are still folks out there who seem to take Mr. Cameron seriously for some reason, here’s a gold-plated proof that no one, not even the most fervent Christian “Growing Pains” star, should give his “crocoduck” theology mainstream attention.

Crocoduck proves God exists!

Crocoduck proves God exists!

In 2006, Cameron used his “excellent acting talents” to “infiltrate” a Druid ritual. Specifically, a ritual put on by Ravens Cry Grove (part of Ár nDraíocht Féin) in Southern California. Cameron and Ray “Banana” Comfort secretly recorded the ritual, and lied about secretly recording the ritual when questioned about it (because it’s OK to lie to non-Christians apparently). You can download the show, here. You can also find an edited version of the segment, here.

Ravens Cry Grove (part of Ár nDraíocht Féin).

Ravens Cry Grove, the folks Kirk Cameron were concerned might sacrifice him.

Cameron says he thought he got out of there “by the skin of his teeth,” insinuating that he felt endangered by a group of California Druids singing, chanting, and sharing fellowship. This is the man who CNN wants to talk about religion with. This is the man Piers Morgan calls “brave” and “honest” for spouting the same old conservative Christian party line about marriage and homosexuality that has fallen increasingly out of favor in the United States. The bitter truth is that Cameron is a sad has-been who depends on someone, anyone, finding him offensive so he can feed his attention-starved ego for a few moments more. Even sadder, mainstream media outlets are obliging, when they could have picked from a thousand theologians, scholars, or religious leaders to opine about morality or marriage. Instead, we have the star of “Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force.”

In the future, when CNN or any other major news network decide to give Kirk Cameron precious airtime that could be used to discuss serious issues, or talk with actually important figures, just remember they are instead bolstering the limping career of a man who thought infiltrating a Druid grove in California was a dangerous and worthwhile activity. Cameron’s views on marriage and homosexuality are offensive to me, but I’m almost as offended by the media outlets who seem to think giving him a spotlight is a good idea.

ADDENDUM: When I wrote this post yesterday, I quoted a site called “Objective: Ministries.” It seems they are a hoax website that  specializes in blurring the line between parody and reality. Kirk Cameron really did “infiltrate” a Druid ritual, and really did a radio show where he bragged about his ability to fool the Druids, but the rhetoric I quoted from Objective: Ministries is not “real.” Though, it sounded so like Christian rhetoric I’ve heard elsewhere that I didn’t even think to double-check it. So, in short, I was punked. I’ve removed quotations from that site, leaving everything else intact. Mea Culpa.

In 2002 Nancy Willard, Executive Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, issued a report that warned of the troubling confluence between content-control software and conservative religious groups.

Willard voiced concerns that the relationships between companies providing web-filtering software to public institutions may be “inappropriately preventing students from accessing certain materials based on religious or other inappropriate bias.” She went on to note that terms like “occult” or “cult” are “frequently applied to any non-traditional religions” and that it would be “unacceptable for schools to block access to non-traditional religious sites.”

Five years earlier, the American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest library association, issued a resolution affirming that “the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights.”

However, today, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), passed in 2000 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003, mandates Internet filtering software on any library or K-12 school that receives federal funding. The mandate covers only obscene material, and content deemed “harmful to minors,” but the seeming intersection of religion and content-control software continues to haunt public institutions as web-filtering has become an everyday part of our virtual society.

On January 3rd, 2012, The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri announced the filing of a lawsuit charging the Salem Public Library with unconstitutionally blocking access to websites dealing with minority religions, and “improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal.'” It’s alleged that Salem Public Library officials refused to change their filtering policies when challenged, and that the library directory Glenda Wofford intimated that “she had an obligation” to alert the authorities to report those who were attempting to access blocked sites.

This new case not only raises the issue of web filtering in our public institutions, but why an “occult” category is even an option for secular and government-funded filtering clients where such control is unneeded or even illegal. The company that provides filtering services to the Salem Public Library, Netsweeper, currently categorizes several prominent Pagan organization sites as “occult,” including Covenant of the Goddess (COG), Circle Sanctuary, and Druid fellowship Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), while more mainstream faith sites are listed under “religion” or “general.”

Media critic and scholar Peg Aloi says she is troubled by the inclusion of Pagan sites in “occult” filters, “since this word is not even necessarily associated with Paganism, Wicca or earth-based spirituality.” Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, Ph.D., Director of Research, Teaching and Learning at American University Library notes that “whatever the initial intent of the law may have been, the software used to comply with CIPA censors numerous topics that have no bearing on protecting children and the way the software blocks access to information reflects a particular constellation of values. The real consequence is to undermine part of the necessary infrastructure in a democracy by denying citizens the requisite tools to inform themselves through free inquiry.”

The more one digs, the more it seems that the “occult” category was one created to cater to the “constellation of values” of conservative Christian religious groups in the United States. Phaedra Bonewits, whose site, Neopagan.net, is listed as “occult” by Netsweeper, claims that the initial target market for filtering software “was Christian households, thus all the ‘cultic’ keywords being included with the porn.” I tried to contact Netsweeper by phone and email for background on how a site comes to be labeled as “occult” in their system, but a representative never responded.

What is clear is that leaders and clergy within the modern Pagan movement believe that their sites should be readily available when accessing the Internet, and that blocking “occult” sites oversteps the mandate of CIPA and infringes on the Establishment Clause by favoring one religious expression over another.

In a statement, Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of the ADF, said that “only by free access to knowledge can everyone participate in the marketplace of ideas, guaranteeing true freedom for everyone,” while Selena Fox, speaking for Circle Sanctuary, said that they are disappointed in Salem Public Library’s “unwillingness to provide free and equal access to websites containing information on religions such as Wicca, Paganism, Native American traditional ways, and other paths that honor Nature.”

Rachael Watcher, one of the National Public Information Officers for Covenant of the Goddess, a 501c3 organization recognized as such by the United States government for 36 years, added that “the distinction between the labels ‘religious’ and ‘occult’ is an arbitrary one,” and that “one person’s religious group is another person’s occult group.”

It seems clear that no public library should be blocking access to minority religions, as Sylvia Linton, a librarian by profession and a Circle Sanctuary Community member said to me via email: “In this country, with our guarantees of freedom of religion and of speech, librarians respect the diversity of their patrons and allow them access to information without regard to the personal beliefs of the library staff.”

In addition, instances of “overblocking” by web filtering software here at home raise troubling inherent questions of how this technology is used by countries that don’t share our commitment to free speech or access to information. “Libraries should be bastions of free thought and information access; but, as the actions by the Salem public library demonstrate, Internet Freedom (and freedom of religion) aren’t just under attack overseas — the same censorship technologies used by oppressive regimes are finding their ways into our own back yards,” stated Sascha Meinrath, Director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative.

“As a growing compendium of evidence documents, technologies developed by U.S. companies and deployed throughout the country are the same ones being used in places like Syria, Iran, and North Korea — Salem would be wise to distance itself from practices that lump them in with some of the worst human rights violators around the globe.”

The option of an “occult” filter in content-control software should be of great concern to all who value religious liberty. The boundaries of what can be labeled “occult” or “cult” are so porous that it can include everything from information on Yoga to your daily horoscope.

The journalist and author Tom Wolfe once opined that “a cult is a religion with no political power,” an opinion that seems reinforced by the sites blocked by the Salem Public Library. Occult, when used as a term in the realm of Internet filtering, is a religious and cultural value judgment that in no way protects minors from obscene or indecent material within the context of CIPA.

There shouldn’t be an option to block the sites of minority religions for institutions receiving federal funds, and no library committed to free expression should enable such a filter if provided. One can only hope that this case goes beyond merely changing policy at Salem Public Library and instead institutes a precedent that changes the filtering industry, removing biased categories that have little purpose in a free society.

Links to full statements gathered for this story:

On this, the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C., I feel I have little that I can personally add to what has already been said, and what will no doubt be said today. I’ve mentioned before that 9/11 acted as a catalyst in my life, that it drove me towards what is now The Wild Hunt, urging me to stop sitting on the sidelines of my faith community and become an active participant. Over the years I have collected Pagan responses to 9/11, from the political, to the magical, to the deeply personal. This year, rather than explore or opine on a personal level, I will simply share some of the thoughts, remembrances, and initiatives generated this year from within the modern Pagan community.

9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York.

  • At PNC-Minnesota Cara Schulz shares some deeply personal thoughts on 9/11, telling of how she lost a friend that day, and asks others to share their thoughts, prayers, and stories from that time. Schulz says that 9/11 “is seared into our DNA.  Most of us, after ten years, are able to look past the events of that day and live normal lives.  Others are still crippled by grief.”
  • Circle Sanctuary has created a Facebook page called “Pagans Healing Remembering 9/11.” Its purpose: “Pagans of many paths sharing 9/11 healing & memorial rites, experiences, reflections, plus tributes to Pagans who were killed, wounded, impacted by the September 11, 2001 attacks, rescue, recovery on that date & in the time since. Also a place for Pagans to share visions of hope, strength, renewal, peace, & visions of working together with those of many paths for a better world.”
  • In addition, Circle Sanctuary will be holding a “Healing From September 11th” ritual on September 20th at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve near Barneveld, Wisconsin. This ritual is free and open to the public.
  • Outgoing COG First Officer Peter Dybing, who is also works as a firefighter and EMT, shares his perspective of 9/11. Dybing says he has “spent much time contemplating their sacrifice and am greatly concerned that the memory of their honorable actions is being distorted to support an American obsession with security that leans toward paranoia.”
  • The Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess has launched a special page for “13 Magickal Days of Remembrances” for 9/11.
  • At their Facebook page, ADF Archdruid Kirk Thomas shares a prayer for 9/11“Our hearts sing out to the Sacred Dead, who dwell within Your great halls. Grant us, we pray, the wisdom to look deep within ourselves, to see the truth of our lives, that every day we spend in the Midworld may be a blessing unto ourselves, each other, and to the Earth our Mother. Let us not live in blindness, but open our eyes to Your mysteries, that we may revel in every dancing moment. And when our time comes, as it will, let us take that last journey with the knowledge that we have lived full, generous, and pious lives. So be it!”
  • New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, one of two openly Pagan/Heathen elected officials in the United States, appears in the new documentary “9/11: Reflections Then and Now.” Halloran lost his cousin, Lt. Vincent Halloran, that day, and nearly lost his brother, Patrick. At a special screening of the film, Halloran said that “one of the most important things to remember is almost every New Yorker was touched by this tragedy, a 9/11 family in New York is not a unique thing.”
  • Patheos Pagan Portal manager Star Foster shares her own thoughts and remembrances of that day, exploring theodicy within the context of modern Paganism. “Grappling with why our Gods allowed 9/11 to happen, allow any tragedy to happen, is key to our understanding of the event.”
  • Also at Patheos, T. Thorn Coyle writes about reconciliation and 9/11. “We need to reconcile with one another. To do so requires a courage sometimes barely imaginable, and yet we see examples of it every day. We see it each time a firefighter runs toward a burning building. What will we do next time we are on fire?”

My thoughts and prayers are with you all. Please feel free to share your own remembrances, or links to other Pagan expressions on this day.

One positive outcome regarding the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision regarding Patrick McCollum’s case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is that it has focused our community’s attention on the plight of Pagans and Heathens serving time in prisons. Recently, the Druid fellowship Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) sponsored a Pagan festival at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA. Together with representatives from Druid, Asatru, and Wiccan organizations, a somewhat unprecedented moment of fellowship and outreach was able to take place.

druids

Druids and Druid chaplains in prison.

Here’s the press release sent to me by ADF Archdruid, Rev. Kirk Thomas:

In what may be a first, but at least was a very rare event, a Pagan/Heathen festival took place on Saturday, June 11, 2011 at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA. Since the men there cannot go to a festival, a festival was brought to them.

Organized by ADF Archdruid, Rev. Kirk Thomas, and Chaplain Eric Askren of Coyote Ridge, this festival, training, and resource event brought together experienced members of the Pagan/Heathen community along with chaplains from three other Washington State prisons for a fun and informative day with the men of Coyote Ridge. This was not only a great opportunity for the men, but it also gave the chaplains from other prisons the opportunity to learn first-hand about these fast-growing minority religions.

Rev. Thomas, a regular volunteer and the Sponsor for the Druids in the prison, brought together representatives from the Druid, Wiccan, and Asatru communities for this event.

Ashleen O’Gaea, from Arizona, attended to give workshops and run rituals for the Wiccans. A third degree priestess since 1990, Ashleen is a co-founder of Mother Earth Ministries, a Tucson based Neopagan prison ministry, as well as a well-known Wiccan author whose latest book, Enchantment Encumbered, deals specifically with prison outreach for Wiccans. Patricia Lafayllve, from Connecticut, attended to give workshops and run rituals for the Asatru. She is a past Steerswoman for The Troth and the founder of their Lore Program, and is a Troth-certified Godwoman. As an author, she has written on the goddess Freya, contributed to two books for the Troth, and has published many Heathen-themed articles to journals such as Idunna.

Rev. Ian Corrigan and Rev. Sue Parker, both from Ohio, attended for the Druids. Ian is a past ADF Archdruid and a frequent contributor to the ADF Journal, Oak Leaves, as well as an author of books on magic, liturgy and trance. Sue is an accomplished liturgist and gave a workshop on Indo-European goddesses. Together, Ian and Sue make up the musical group, Awen, and they gave a concert for the men on Saturday night.

Each faith group met separately for workshops indoors and for ritual in the prison’s outdoor stone circles, with everyone coming together in the evening for an ecumenical Unity Rite and a roundtable discussion on the subject of Magic led by the visiting Pagan/Heathen presenters.

Also attending were Joenne McGeer, head of the religious and family prison programs for the state, and Barbara Lauderdale, a sponsor for Wiccan and Asatru groups in prisons on the western (opposite) side of Washington.

Asatru prisoners and their chaplains.

Asatru prisoners and their chaplains.

For those who want to hear more about this festival, Rev. Kirk Thomas has also posted a more personal run-down regarding the event, how it came to be, and what his experiences were.

“All in all this festival day lasted 13 hours. It was intense, but fulfilling, and I hope that similar prison festivals can take place someday in other prisons and for other incarcerated people. The mere fact that five prominent Pagans were willing to come and celebrate for a day with the men gave them a sense of validation, an understanding that they truly aren’t forgotten, and that they, too, matter in the world. And this can only be a good thing!”

In the end it will take more than litigation to bring about a sea-change in how Pagan and Heathen prisoners are treated (though legal action is also an important tool at this time). It will entail a deeper engagement from our Pagan leaders, clergy, and communities to make outreach efforts stick, and overcome generations of institutional ignorance and prejudices regarding our faiths. I think this effort, and recent efforts by other high-profile Pagan leaders like Starhawk, working in concert with our often unsung volunteer chaplains, can start to turn things around. That in conjunction with the important work chaplains like Patrick McCollum and his legal team are currently engaged in provide hope that our institutional facilities will someday  offer the spiritual and religious guidance and support necessary for Pagan and Heathen prisoners to embrace personal reform and rehabilitation.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Isaac Bonewits Memorial DVD Controversy: Back in August of 2010 Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) held a special memorial service at the Summerland Gathering in Ohio for their founding Archdruid Isaac Bonewits who passed away on August 12th. The memorial service was captured on video, and placed on Youtube so those who couldn’t be there could see it. Since then, the ADF has made a DVD of that video footage available for purchase, a move that has upset Bonewit’s ex-wife Deborah Lipp and their child Arthur.

“You can say, Isaac wanted to give money to ADF and therefore it’s acceptable, or you can say, Isaac placed what was right and proper and honorable before profit, always, and therefore it’s utterly unacceptable. I knew him very well, and I can hear him saying “tacky” quite clearly in my ear, but I recognize the subjectivity of that. In the end, I can only speak to what I feel is right, and respectful, and kind. To commodify the death of a great man is not respectful. To do so at an event where he was being honored is not right. To do so when his only son was at that event was not kind.”

The ADF responded by saying that they are only charging for the DVD “to recoup a fraction of the costs associated with their creation,” and that the DVD was only made so that those without broadband Internet access could see the footage. Lipp responded by calling the production of a DVD “tasteless, disrespectful, undignified, and uncompassionate to those for whom this loss is personal.” Shortly after Lipp’s open letter started circulating Phaedra Bonewits, Isaac’s widow, posted her own thoughts on the matter, her opinions veered sharply from the idea that the ADF were “uncompassionate” in their move to sell a DVD.

“Bottom line, I do not want anyone to think that the opinions of Ms. Lipp, Isaac’s ex wife, represent my feelings, or the sentiments of any other member of Isaac’s family other than those of her son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. They are entitled to feel what they feel, but their feelings are not representative of the rest of us. I can’t presume to speak for Isaac, not really. But he did put his legacy in my hands because he loved and trusted me, as I loved and trusted him. Thus, I want to state unequivocally that I do not find the videotaping of the memorial, nor the distribution of the DVDs at nominal cost to be in any way disrespectful or exploitative of his memory. I completely support ADF in this situation, as do his siblings and his own mother.

This is obviously an emotionally intense subject, and I’m only reporting on this now because all parties involved have decided to make public their positions in the matter. I know from firsthand experience that the loss of a loved one is never easy, and the initial months, even years, after their passing can be fraught with unknown obstacles and a unique liminality brought on by grief. To lose someone who was a beloved public figure, who many people feel a sense of connection to, is no doubt even more complex and trying an experience. To paraphrase our nation’s president, I think it’s above my pay-grade to make a judgment call on this situation. It is what it is, a difference of opinion regarding what actions were proper and respectful. I wish all involved every blessing, and would guess that Isaac himself would relish engaging in the question at hand, though we are now all bereft of his direct insight in the matter.

Temple of the River in Minnesota Closes its Doors: Yesterday PNC-Minnesota reported that Temple of the River, an Irish Cottage Temple in NE Minneapolis, was closing its doors and that the religious community sponsoring it, The Old Belief Society, is disbanding. Temple of the River’s priest, Drew Jacob, made waves across the Pagan community recently with an article titled “Why I’m not Pagan.” Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota conducted an exclusive interview with Jacob about the move, and what the future holds for its priest.

“To put it simply, it’s not helping enough people change their lives. We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the impact I want to see it make. As a priest, I’ve witnessed a significant shift in people’s spiritual needs. The needs that Temple of the River was designed to fulfill—a place for community, and accurate knowledge about historic practices—simply aren’t as badly needed now as they were ten years ago.

Instead I see people searching for a way to take charge of their lives. That has to be the priority, because the world is changing, and people feel lost, or stuck. The economy, technology and culture are all shifting. 20th century strategies for life don’t work well anymore, so there are a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with their lives. What I want to teach people is how to change that. How to live boldly and lead a life of victory. I want to empower people.”

Jacob now says he’ll devote his time to the Heroic Life, “a new spirituality for the 21st century” that’s “based on bravery and adventure.” Temple of the River will hold one last event on Midsummer’s Eve, and a final meditation session the week before.

Hutton Responds to Whitmore, Explains His Process: Chas Clifton reports that the The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has posted a freely accessible article by British historian Ronald Hutton (author of “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft”) entitled “Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View.” In the piece Hutton discusses the course his work has taken, situates it within a larger body of scholarly work, and proposes three possible futures for the writing and reception of Pagan history by “practitioners outside the academy.” He also directly addresses the book-length critique of his work, “Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft,” written by Ben Whitmore.

“It [Trials of the Moon] is devoted entirely to my own work. Although he allows that I have some virtues, at the opening and the end, these concessions seem very hollow in view of everything in between. He sums up the message of Triumph as being that modern Pagan witch-craft is “entirely a new invention, cobbled together by a few eccentrics,” with no link to any earlier form of “Pagan spirituality.” This is of course a travesty of its intended message. The whole purpose of his own bookis to destroy my reputation as an authority upon the history of Paganism and witchcraft, at least among Pagans, and especially belief in the argu-ments of Triumph. He has carried out very little research into primary source material. What he employs instead is a number of secondary texts of varying quality and drawn from a wide span of time. Whenever he finds a passage in these which apparently contradicts me, he proclaims that I am proved wrong. He also examines some of the works from which I have quoted myself and claims that I have misrepresented them. Nobody who believes his assertions can be left with anything other than the impression that I am an unscrupulous and deceitful individual motivated by a concealed hostility to Paganism. Most of the use that I make of source material is passed over in silence: only the apparent faults are highlighted. Where I address properly in later publications matters that he accuses me of neglecting in Triumph, this is taken as confirmation of my earlier guilt rather than a negation of it. By the same tactic, aspects of earlier work of mine to which he takes exception, and which are differently handled in Triumph, are still made to stand as examples of my turpitude. He criticises me for not defining terms like “witchcraft” with absolute precision, but then makes no attempt to do so himself, keeping them as fluid as possible so that they can fit a range of different meanings. He likewise makes no attempt to construct an alternative history of witchcraft and Paganism to my own: his whole purpose is simply to undermine confidence in me, so that—presumably—Pagan witches can go back to believing whatever they did before I wrote. Most of the points on which he tries to fault me are of detail, often trivial, and his hope is clearly that if he can put enough small cuts into my reputation for reliability, then faith in it will leak away.”

There’s much more, so those interested in this debate should download and read the whole thing. I must say that I share Hutton’s dream of a consensual picture of Pagan history based on primary sources, made in conjunction with Pagan writers and outside scholars, rather than “a number of mutually hostile sects, with different versions of history centered on rival writers,” or generational-based “acrimonious division.” Here’s hoping that our future is one of cooperation and collaboration instead of deepening divisions or impassible generational shibboleths. For even more on this topic, The Pomegranate also features a formal review of Whitemore’s book by Peg Aloi, and  Chas Clifton tackles yet another “grandmother story.” For all of my coverage of Whitmore’s work, click here.

Other Community Notes:

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

Yesterday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals published their ruling upholding a California district court’s decision to deny Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum standing in his case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. McCollum’s case centers on the State of California’s “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. While the state of California and the judge’s rulings made so far argue that McCollum doesn’t have standing to bring this case to court, that assertion is challenged by a number of legal advocacy groups and faith organizations. One of those groups, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who filed a joint amicus brief in support of McCollum, sent me this statement regarding the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

“We are deeply disappointed by the court’s ruling.  Based on procedural technicalities, the court has allowed the California prison system to continue rank discrimination against Wiccan prisoners and chaplains.  The Constitution requires all persons to be treated equally regardless of what their religion is.  California’s practice of only paying chaplains of certain faiths, while requiring chaplains of other faiths to work for free, is religious discrimination that plainly violates the Constitution.” - Alex Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

In addition to Americans United, a number of prominent Pagan individuals and organizations have been weighing in on this latest development. Reclaiming co-founder, author, and activist Starhawk was one of the first to respond, making plain her deep disappointment in the ruling.

“I am deeply disappointed in the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling.  This is terrible setback for the rights of Pagans and of all prisoners to religious freedom.  I have personally experienced just a taste of the harrassment and obstacles placed in the way of those who would serve Pagans in the California prisons.  (See my account of a visit) Patrick McCollum has been tirelessly fighting for their rights for many years now, and I know he’ll continue, but more than ever he needs our support.  You can contribute at the Patrick McCollum Foundation web site.”

Patheos Pagan Portal Manager Star Foster said she was  “disheartened by the decision” but firmly believes “that the CA Dept. of Corrections policies are unconstitutional and will be changed.” Foster further noted that “this fight isn’t just about Wicca, and it doesn’t stop here.” Archdruid Kirk Thomas, speaking on behalf of Ár nDríaocht Féin, said they could “only express one reaction to this news – profound disappointment.” Thomas and the ADF say they “pray that equal treatment for all California prison inmates, regardless of religion, will eventually win the day.” California-based Pagan chaplain Joseph Nichter was “saddened and angered” by the news, and emphasized that Patrick McCollum “needs your help and support.”

Two groups that have worked very closely with Patrick McCollum over the yars, the Lady Liberty League and Cherry Hill Seminary also spoke out yesterday. Jerrie Hildebrand, Special Issues Coordinator and PR Coordinator for Lady Liberty League joined others in expressing disappointment in this ruling, and vowed that “the quest for religious freedom and equality will continue.” Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, released the following personal statement on the matter.

“In my tradition we hold sacred the balance of Ma’at, the principle which governed every aspect of ancient Egypt, and the goddess who stood by the scales at the weighing of each person’s heart after passing from this life. Patrick McCollum has spent so many years of his life seeking maat for all of us, including teaching for Cherry Hill Seminary, which supports Patrick’s fight for justice.  What does it take for the scales to return to a balance for Patrick and the Pagan inmates he has served these many years?  Only a week ago I wrote about my own decision to push back against those who would have marginalized my religion.  My situation is barely significant in comparison to Patrick’s long-running court case, but the lesson is clear: if we do not stand for our rights, with integrity, we will lose them.”

We still await word from Patrick McCollum on the matter, though he is outside the country right now and hard to access. I’m in contact with the Patrick McCollum Foundation and once I receive any formal statement, I will post it here. For now, what path McCollum and his lawyers might pursue remains an open question, though some think a Supreme Court appeal may happen. The Firefly House clergyperson David Salisbury, based in Washington DC, said his organization is ready to rally to McCollum’s side should a SCOTUS appeal go forward.

“Living in the nation’s capital, we are all too familiar with the legislative and political obsticles that have slowed the progress of equality for all. We were disappointed to learn of the 9th Circuit ruling and hope that McCollum’s legal team will press on. Should this matter be brought to the Supreme Court here in DC, our community will be ready to support this fight in the district.”

It’s clear that Patrick McCollum’s tireless work on behalf of Pagan rights has won him the support and admiration of a large cross-section of the Pagan community. The question now is how Pagans can best leverage that support towards ending California’s discriminatory policy, and fulfilling the constitutional promise of equal treatment under the law. As more reactions come in, you’ll be able to find them here at The Wild Hunt.

ADDENDUM: Statement from T. Thorn Coyle and Solar Cross on the ruling.