Archives For Alex Mar

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!

ll prep at NAL.The New Alexandrian Library, a project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which hopes to create an institution that will become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance,” has launched a new crowdfunding venture to help pay for the final phase of construction. Quote: We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Paganism in all its forms. We are also collecting artifacts, art, ritual objects, etc. for the museum component of the New Alexandrian Library. The first building is in progress and we need your help to finish construction […] We already have several important collections of books in storage including the entire library from the Theosophical Society of Washington, DC. Judy Harrow, of blessed memory, just left us her library as well.” It’s been a long journey, but this ambitious project is finally reaching the finish line on their first structure. You can read all of our coverage of NAL, here.

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

The special commemorative edition of Green Egg Magazine dedicated to the life and work of Morning Glory Zell, a Pagan elder and teacher who passed away this past May, is now available. Quote: “Contained herein is the official Green Egg Morning Glory Memorial issue. We are departing from our usual format in order to include all of the photographs, memories, biographies and videos that people have sent to us from all over the world to honor Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. It was put together with much blood, sweat, and tears and was the most difficult issue we’ve ever done. Morning Glory was our good friend and she considered my husband Tom to be her best friend. We cried and mourned her passing a lot as we wrote our articles, poured through photos of her and had too many memories of her stirred up to write about here; indeed if we had included all of our memories, we would still be writing and would have run into literally hundreds of pages.” A free PDF version is also available, here.  Contributors include LaSara Firefox Allen, Selena Fox, Oberon Zell, and many more.

Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

Ethan Doyle White continues his interview series at Albion Calling with Professor Ronald Hutton, author of “Pagan Britain,” “The Triumph of the Moon,” and other works.  Here’s Professor Hutton speaking about his future plans: “I have a big one on the go at present, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, of a comprehensive study of the concept of the witch, in a global, ancient and folkloric setting, to understand more fully the context of the early modern witch trials. This is of course inspired by the work of Continental historians and folklorists such as Carlo Ginzburg, Éva Pócs, Wolfgang Behringer and Gustav Henningsen, and as such is an approach which has been much less favoured by English-speaking counterparts. It will, however, inevitably have some differences from the work of these Continental colleagues, in making a more comprehensive survey of the evidence, emphasising regional differences much more heavily, and relying less on modern folklore collections to plug gaps in earlier evidence. I have six people on my team, the others consisting of a distinguished Classicist, Dr Genevieve Liveley, a medievalist, Dr Louise Wilson, and three research students, working respectively on Italy, male witches and the animal familiar. Together we should produce three books, mine being the largest and the broadest in its scope, and three doctoral theses with resulting spin-off publications, in three to four years.” 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess (COG) national interfaith representatives Don Frew and Rachael Watcher have been posting updates from the United Religions Initiative’s 2014 Global Council and the subsequent Global Indigenous Initiative. Quote: “We talked about how sacred items are treated as ‘art’. His people were part of the Nok civilization, which produced amazing terra cotta figures. Elisha said that when sacred images are recovered by the Nigerian government from foreign museums, they go into museums in Nigeria when they should go back to the people they came from, to take their proper, traditional place in religious ceremonies and sacred sites. Why does plundering a sacred site suddenly turn sacred images into ‘art’? We talked about how the same ideas I mentioned above could be applied to create collaboration between national museums and local stewards of sacred artifacts.” There’s a lot more at the link, including a line-up of who’s attending the indigenous initiative. Fascinating accounts from boots-on-the-ground interfaith work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

An album released by Lux Eterna Records.

An album released by Lux Eterna Records.

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

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's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele

The Maetreum of Cybele, which had just won an important legal victory in their property tax fight against the Town of Catskill in New York, has been the victim of another vandalism attack. The news was posted Sunday morning at the religious order’s official Facebook page. Quote: “The Maetreum was attacked again last night with four windows broken out, three in the cafe and on the second floor. The Circle W next door was also hit.. Cops taking it very seriously this time.” The reason police are taking the matter seriously is because the Maetreum was attacked by a rock-and-epithet-throwing individual back in September. Quote: “Last night while I was enjoying talking to Cathryn Platine at the Maetreum of Cybele, a teenager/young man started throwing rocks at the house. At first we thought it was just branches falling, but then the window in the kitchen broke from two rocks that were thrown through the window. It was just Cathy and I downstairs so I followed her outside. The young man ran from the bushes near the road across the road, and then began taunting us…” Are these events unconnected? Simple hooliganism? Or has the high-profile nature of the Maetreum’s tax fight brought out the haters? We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.

View from Ardantane.

View from Ardantane.

Ardantane Pagan Learning Center, located in north-central New Mexico, has launched an IndieGoGo Fundraiser to help develop land purchased adjacent to their current property into a space dedicated to the goddess Hekate, complete with stone circle. Quote: “Do you honor Hekate, the Lady of the Crossroads, Keeper of the Keys, Queen of the Witches, Goddess of Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld? Then help us honor Her with land and a ritual circle, dedicated to Her in perpetuity. Ardantane Pagan Learning Center is located in north-central New Mexico, at the edge of the Jemez Mountains, about an hour’s drive from Albuquerque. We have purchased over two acres of wild land adjacent to our campus, named it Spirit Hollow, and dedicated it to Hekate, who is one of the patron deities of our school. Here we have created a stone circle for Her, and hope to add a shrine and processional way from the main campus. We also plan to hold a Hekate Retreat on the weekend nearest one of Her holy days. But we need your help.” There are a number of Hekate-themed donation perks for those who give to this initiative. The fund drive runs through the next 30 days.

Amy Martin

Amy Martin

Over at Patheos, John Beckett reports on the announced retirement of journalist Amy Martin, who ran the Texas-centric service known at Moonlady News. Quote: “Moonlady was Moonlady News, a massive moderated e-mail list for Pagan, New Age, environmental and other progressive events and causes in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, run by Amy Martin, the Moonlady.  This week Amy announced her retirement – Moonlady News will make its last run on December 20.” In her farewell letter, Martin says that she wants to devote her life to personal writing. Quote: “With the completion of Moonlady News as we know it, Moonlady retires as well. I’ve been an activist since I was 12. Over 45 years, 20 of it with the Moonlady community, working every day for a better world. My passion, my core identity, is being a writer and I must devote myself to that. I’m not getting younger and there are a few major creative projects baying at the gate to be completed. That’s kind of scary, having no more excuses, but exciting. I am grateful for you all. Someday I’ll tell the full story, of how knowing you were out there, and being of service to you, kept me going through the worst time of my life.” My hats off to her, and I wish Amy Martin well with her writing. The work she is doing is important, and I hope her example inspires others. You can also donate to defray the operating costs of the site.

 In Other Pagan Community News:

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  • The recently debuted Australia-centered Other Magazine is already giving sneak peeks at the next issue, including an article on Australia’s oldest Pagan festival gathering. Quote: “When Michel Marold first visited Mt Franklin in 1978 he was awed by the ancient natural feature, and soon tapped in to the liminal ‘otherness’ and primal power of the place, connecting to an invisible current that had lit up the caldera of the extinct volcano for thousands of years.” You can subscribe here.
  • Alex Mar, director of the recent documentary film “American Mystic” (featuring Morpheus Ravenna), is currently researching contemporary American Pagan ideas about funerary rites. She is now specifically seeking thoughts on funeral pyres and excarnation (a.k.a. sky burial) as traditional practices that have yet to be introduced in this country. If you have a personal interest in either of these rites, whether for yourself or a loved one, and would like to share your thoughts and opinions, please contact her. She is seeking Pagan perspectives from all regions of the country. You can reach Alex Mar at:funeraryrites@gmail.com.
  • The Pagan Writers Press Blog is inviting you to a Winter Solstice Blog Hop. Quote: “Beginning 12/6/13, the authors at Pagan Writers Press are putting together a holiday blog hop and we want YOU to join us! If you are an author or a book blogger, sign to to join us for the fun. […] Your blog post can be about winter holidays, winter memories, the season of winter. What is your favorite memory of winter? Does the season inspire you to write? You can write about the solstice, about any winter holidays, about the snow or the season, about your characters experiences of the season, flash fiction or an excerpt dealing with winter or the holidays.”
  • I know it’s Winter, but registration for the 2014 Pagan Spirit Gathering this Summer has now officially opened. Quote: “Throughout the Gathering, there are hundreds of program activities including rituals, concerts, workshops, panels, meetings, intensives, revels, dancing, drumming, firespinning, and bonfires. There are also a variety of youth program activities including specific programming for children, tweens, and teens. In addition, there is leadership training for Pagan ministers and other leaders through the Pagan Leadership Institute.” Theme this year is “Heart and Harmony.”
  • Starhawk’s IndieGoGo campaign to fund diversity scholarships for Earth Activist Trainings is still ongoing. Quote: “One week into our fundraiser and we’ve already reached over 10% of our goal! So thankful to all who have supported this already!! Please help us reach 100% and help us spread the word.”
  • Ásatrúarfélagið in Iceland recently held their General Assembly, and the legendary Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson has been elected to another five-year term as Chief Goði for the Asatru organization. Congratulations to him!

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

Welcome to the latest installment of a new supplemental feature here at The Wild Hunt, The Wild Hunt Podcast (focus groups loved the name). This weekly podcast will take a deeper look at stories, links, and personalities that I feature in my daily updates. In this  third episode of The Wild Hunt Podcast we interview author, ritualist, and Wiccan Elder, Ivo Domi­nguez, Jr. about Pagan chants, and his revived Panpipes Pagan Chants Site (and yes, we also discuss the recent controversy concerning Z. Budapest’s statement on “We All Come From The Goddess”). Then, we speak with Alex Mar, director of the documentary film “American Mystic,” about Pagans, Pagan films, and making better Pagan documentaries.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

You can listen to, and download, the episode at Archive.org.

Segment Listing:

  1. Intro
  2. “Nica Anahuatl” by Soriah with Ashkelon Sain from their album “Eztica.”
  3. Talk with Ivo Domi­nguez, Jr. about Pagan chants.
  4. “The Divine Goddess” chant by Shakmah Winddrum, performed by Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.
  5. Chat with director Alex Mar about Pagan documentaries.
  6. “Awake!” by Sharon Knight and T. Thorn Coyle, from “Songs for the Waning Year.”
  7. Outro

Relevant Links:

I hope you enjoy the show, stay tuned for next time.

The documentary “American Mystic” (Facebook page), directed by Alex Mar, and featuring Morpheus Ravenna along with members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, is now available at Amazon.com, and will soon be accessible at Netflix. The film was screened at the 2011 PantheaCon, and had its premiere at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

“American Mystic is a documentary about three twenty-somethings, each a member of a fringe religious community, who have separated themselves from mainstream America in order to live immersed in their faiths. The film intertwines very intimate, apolitical portraits of individuals in depressed areas of the country trying to lead more extraordinary, mystical lives: Kublai, a Spiritualist in the former revivalist district of upstate New York; Chuck, a Lakota sundancer in the badlands of South Dakota; and Morpheus, a pagan priestess living off the grid in old mining country in southern California.”

At the very beginning of this year, I had the privilege to interview director Alex Mar on this blog about the film.

“I actually spent time with Pagans in Montana, Tennessee, and other areas of California (as opposed to where Morpheus lives) before I even connected with Morpheus. I also had plenty of phone and email chats with Pagans in other states along the way, and a lot of people were lovely, really forthcoming with tips and thoughts on how to be faithfully represent Pagan practice. You’ve talked about this yourself, Jason — the ways in which the Internet has made it easier for Pagans to interact and find each other. The Internet definitely made some aspects of my search easier. But at the end of the day, when someone is still in the “broom closet” in an area of the country that’s hostile to what locals think being a “witch” involves, you need to build a relationship in person. I met a wonderful witch who lived in the hills of Tennessee who initially had me meet her at a truck stop diner to make sure that I was who I claimed to be. Eventually, I spent time at her home, and she really wanted to tell her story — but the fear of being outted in such a hostile environment was too much for her. She was afraid of threats to her or her family, or of losing her job. And she had good reason to be cautious.

When I finally met with Morpheus, in her khakis (nothing like her ritual gear!) after her day job, we clicked pretty quickly. And when once my producer and I stayed with her and her husband Shannon at Stone City, we all had a hunch that this would be a great fit. There was also the plus of being able to tell the story of this Pagan sanctuary they were in the earlier stages of building up on their land.”

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of this documentary, I’ve said that “it may be the best documentary involving modern Pagans that this generation has seen,” and I stand by that description. I’m happy that this work will now be accessible to a larger audience, and I invite you to check it out.

Just a few quick news notes to start off your Monday.

American Mystic Director on Pagan Centered Podcast: The Pagan Centered Podcast has just posted its latest episode, featuring an hour-long discussion with Alex Mar, director of the new documentary “American Mystic”. You can download the program, here.

“The PCP Crew interviews Alex Mar of American Mystic, the first movie branded as a Pagan movie to be released to the general public in theaters! The crew discusses their thoughts about the movie with Alex and we all explore the movie at a greater depth. Don’t worry, even though we screened the full movie, we were able to negotiate the right to release the trailer to you as part of this episode so you will have some idea about what we are talking about. Special thanks again to Alex Mar and Empire 8 for making this happen on such short notice!”

Alex and “American Mystic” has been making the rounds of Pagan media lately, doing interviews with The Modern Witch Podcast (not to mention The Wild Hunt), and receiving positive reviews from a number of national Pagan outlets. The DVD will be available for sale at PantheaCon, and will be distributed exclusively to the Pagan community for a few months, before going “wide” this Summer on Netflix and iTunes. This year’s Pantheacon will feature a special screening of “American Mystic”, which will be followed by a Q&A led by me with the director, Morpheus Ravenna, and members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary.

Witch School Names New President: The Internet-based WitchSchool has named Rev. Anna Rowe, Head of School for Europe and the UK, as the learning institution’s new president.

“Towards the end of January Ed Hubbard CEO of Witchschool asked me to consider the position of President of Witchschool. Ed has said that he has faith and trust in me to do the job so therefore I accepted. I have an extensive knowledge of how Witchschool works from the bottom up as I have been a member of Witchschool since it was originally just the Daily Spell going out via email. […] I hope that every member of Witchschool will support me in our continued effort to provide anyone, anytime, anyplace with a Magical, Pagan and Wiccan Education. Witchschool is a valuable and growing aspect of the Pagan and Wiccan community and we are open to anyone who wishes to become a member and participate in our peer to peer learning.”

CEO Ed Hubbard commented that this move shows “that Witch School can develop global Pagan leadership.” While WitchSchool has drawn quite a bit of criticism and controversy during its existence, it has also developed a truly global network of students and practitioners, boasting ties from India to Brazil. Will the appointment of a president outside the United States denote a new focus on its international students? How will this affect their Salem campus? I’ll be paying attention as these issues develop.

A (Witchy) Romanian Valentine For You: The Canadian Press notes that a number of Romanian witches, led by Witch Queen Mihaela Minca, have performed a public ritual to help you find love on this Valentine’s Day.

“Joined by a handful of apprentice witches, queen witch Mihaela Minca led Monday’s outdoor ceremony, casting spells with peacock feathers and rose petals. The witches wore colorful, glittering robes in freezing temperatures to perform the ritual in the lakeside village of Mogosoaia.”

In addition to these amorous actions, Minca has been vocal lately in opposition to Romania’s new laws regulating witchcraft and fortune-telling. An issue I’ve covered quite a bit recently. Under proposed new regulations, could she be penalized if you fail in your romantic pursuits? It seems a silly thing to conceive of, but that’s exactly the road Romania’s been traveling down lately.

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

The new documentary “American Mystic”, which had its premiere at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, is a stunning directorial debut from filmmaker Alex Mar.  Languid and dreamlike in tone, it immerses you into the lives of three modern American mystics, a Spiritualist, a Lakota Sundancer, and Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna. It may be the best documentary involving modern Pagans that this generation has seen. The subjects are approached on their own terms, and they speak in their own voice. There is no omniscient narrator, or outside experts, all context is provided by the lush cinematography and candid glimpses into the lives of these individuals. Because of this, there is a engaging intimacy, a sense that you are truly getting to know these modern mystics, instead of merely studying them.

I’ve recently had the distinct pleasure to conduct a short interview with Alex Mar about the journey towards making this documentary, how she selected her subjects, and her feelings about modern Pagans.

“American Mystic” is your first feature film. What was the journey the brought you towards tackling this subject matter? Why a film about modern-day mystics?

I’m a bit of a diehard New Yorker — liberal, feminist, wary of any club that would have me — but at the same time I was raised by a Cuban mother whose beliefs are a dizzying mix I would call “liberated Catholic.” So from a young age I was taught to immerse myself in the mystery and ritual that you find in Catholic ceremonies while simultaneously questioning everything. As I got older, I began to see the mysteries and stories of Catholicism as very exotic, and wonder how it is that people come to subscribe to their belief systems. What makes one religion or spiritual practice more relatable than another? Clearly the culture you’re personally raised within has a lot to do with that.

As far as “mystics” — I was working within the media for a long time, and still do occasionally. And I was really tired of the way in which faith in America has been portrayed. It really seems as if there are two angles you can come from: we’re either talking about the evangelical Christian movement, in which case the story is all about politics; or we’re investigating some kind of cult, in which case it’s a freak show. I wanted to make a documentary that would say something else about spiritual practice in America, separate from the mainstream. Because there is obviously so much going on in this country, so many belief systems, that go beyond the Big Three religions. To write America off as a wall-to-wall Christian stronghold is simply wrong.


Alex Mar

In the film you follow the lives of a Pagan Witch priestess, a Spiritualist medium in training, and a Lakota Sioux Sundancer, why these three lives? Was it an organic process, or did you have some preconceived notions about who you’d like to profile?

I think all filmmakers who’ve worked in the doc genre will tell you that casting is critical, and very tricky. You want to find the right balance of subjects for a film, while at the same time having very little idea of how their lives will play out once you start filming. For me, the biggest challenge was inherent to the topic I’d chosen: I had to find people who were really dedicated to a non-mainstream spiritual practice, brave enough to talk about it publicly, articulate about experiences that are sometimes beyond words, and (on top of that!) great on camera. That’s not an easy combination to pull off. That’s why the casting process took about six months, all told, and took me all over the country, to some very hard-to-reach places.

As far as which traditions I wanted to include, I left that pretty loose. I knew I was very curious about Spiritualism, had been for a long time, so this was a good opportunity to explore that. And I also had a hunch that I wanted to develop a better understanding of what it means to be a “witch” today — the word is still so loaded. I remember the first few times I met Pagans, I really tiptoed around saying the word “witch” for fear that I might be committing some kind of faux pas! Of course, I learned very quickly that there are so many stripes of Pagan practice that there isn’t just one correct interpretation. That’s another thing — it was essential to me to stick with the stories from each individual’s perspective, and not get too much grander than that. So Morpheus, the priestess featured in the film, was sharing her own experiences — but neither she nor I would have claimed that we were speaking for all of Pagan-dom. That would have been impossible.

As a follow-up to the previous question, you’ve said in other interviews that you come from a Catholic-Cuban background. Did you consider including a Santeria practitioner, or a Catholic mystic in the documentary?

My mother’s family is originally from the north of Spain, so there wasn’t any Santeria practice in our background — that wouldn’t have been a personal angle, if that had been what I was searching for. And more importantly, as I said, I knew I wanted to steer clear of giving even more coverage to the mainstream. So, for me, that precluded any form of Christianity. In addition, I was trying to include traditions that were “made in America” to some degree. Most Native American practices have been around longer than everything else that’s practiced in this country; Spiritualism was founded in upstate New York in the 1840s; and perhaps you could say that Pagan practice in America involves a great deal of re-invention and room to shift your allegiances among specific traditions. In that sense, Paganism seems pretty all-American to me.

Was it easy getting your subjects to open their lives to you? The portraits are surprisingly intimiate, particularly of Chuck, the Lakota Sundancer. I suspect that building trust was a large part of your work on this project.

Building relationships is a big part of making a documentary, as any doc filmmaker can tell you. And it’s especially challenging when you’re asking people you barely know to open up to you, on-camera, about something as personal as their spiritual beliefs. It’s a topic that I think we’re trained to find embarrassing to talk about in this country — unless you’re an evangelical, on the one hand, or a resident of the states of California or New Mexico! (I’m exaggerating, but there’s some truth to that.) In the end, it was a combination of time spent with the subjects and a willingness on my part to open up in return — I did my best to open up to any questions about my own background.

Turning to Morpheus, and your work with Pagans, how did you two come into contact? Was she the first Pagan you approached for this documentary? What was the process there?

I actually spent time with Pagans in Montana, Tennessee, and other areas of California (as opposed to where Morpheus lives) before I even connected with Morpheus. I also had plenty of phone and email chats with Pagans in other states along the way, and a lot of people were lovely, really forthcoming with tips and thoughts on how to be faithfully represent Pagan practice. You’ve talked about this yourself, Jason — the ways in which the Internet has made it easier for Pagans to interact and find each other. The Internet definitely made some aspects of my search easier. But at the end of the day, when someone is still in the “broom closet” in an area of the country that’s hostile to what locals think being a “witch” involves, you need to build a relationship in person. I met a wonderful witch who lived in the hills of Tennessee who initially had me meet her at a truck stop diner to make sure that I was who I claimed to be. Eventually, I spent time at her home, and she really wanted to tell her story — but the fear of being outted in such a hostile environment was too much for her. She was afraid of threats to her or her family, or of losing her job. And she had good reason to be cautious.

When I finally met with Morpheus, in her khakis (nothing like her ritual gear!) after her day job, we clicked pretty quickly. And when once my producer and I stayed with her and her husband Shannon at Stone City, we all had a hunch that this would be a great fit. There was also the plus of being able to tell the story of this Pagan sanctuary they were in the earlier stages of building up on their land.

Could you tell us a little bit about your time working with Morpheus, Shannon, and their community? How would you describe the working relationship? Any interesting stories to share?

Morpheus and Shannon were great — real collaborators. I think that Morpheus performs, as a dancer, helped her to see this as a sort of art project she was taking on, and that gave our relationship an interesting angle. And once the two of them were on board, they helped me to make the other members of their community feel more comfortable when they visited and the cameras were rolling. We also never showed anyone’s face on-camera unless they had actively given their permission, so once people understood that, it was easier to decide to take part. And I think it also helped that I really did want to take part in ritual whenever it was possible, when I wouldn’t be ruining the shot! Samhain was a particularly moving experience at Stone City, and one I won’t forget. There was definitely some kind of powerful energy in the room, with maybe 60 people present calling on their loved ones who had passed.

Having spent some time working and socializing with modern Pagans, what is your perspective of our communities? Advantages? Drawbacks?

Maybe a downside would be something you find in all religious communities: the people who are more invested in their community for the lifestyle than anything much deeper. The Pagan equivalent of going to your megachurch for the X-Box and the Krispy Kreme donuts. But, of course, the Pagan version is racier than that!

Much more importantly, though, I loved the open attitude I found so many Pagans had. There was a lot of tolerance and genuine curiosity about people who practice differently. I really appreciated that. Also, the idea that you’re allowed to evolve and change aspects of your practice as you grow — that was something new for me.

___

There will be a special screening of “American Mystic” at the 2011 PantheaCon in San Jose, California, followed by a panel discussion moderated by me, and featuring Alex Mar, Morpheus, and members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary. There will also be an opportunity to purchase DVD copies of the film. A wider DVD release of the documentary will follow shortly after this event.

The new documentary film “American Mystic”, which focuses on the beliefs and practices of a Lakota sundancer, a Spiritualist, and Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, is going to be screening at the Albuquerque Film Festival in New Mexico on August 28th. Directed and co-produced by Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions, initial feedback I’ve heard has been extremely positive, and it could be one of the most thoughtful and positive depictions of modern Paganism that our community has seen in many years.

“When you’re making a film about faith, I think it’s only fair to put your own family beliefs and your own questions on the line when approaching your subjects. Most people would only share with me about their own practices once they had heard about my own hopes and doubts about what greater meaning might be out there. For the record, I don’t subscribe to any religious institution, but I do believe that we’re here for some mysterious, larger purpose.”Alex Mar

“American Mystic” had its world premiere back in April at The Tribeca Film Festival, where it was one of 12 selections in the  World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010. The Albuquerque Film Festival is the film’s second official showing. It next travels to the Bay Area of California for its West Cost premiere, and it will see DVD release not long after that. I’ve been communicating with Mar about the film, and there is talk of having a showing at the 2011 Pantheacon in February as well, though details are still being worked out. As we get closer to the official DVD release, I’ll not only be featuring an interview with Mar about the film, but will be reviewing the documentary itself.

I urge all Pagans and fellow travelers in the Albuquerque area to attend “American Mystic”, it even happens the day before the Albuquerque Pagan Pride Day, so the timing couldn’t be better! In addition, on the same day as “American Mystic”, the Albuquerque Film Festival is also featuring the documentary “The Shaman & Ayahuasca” by filmmaker  Michael Wiese, which sounds like a great double-feature. Lets spread the word, and show that there is a market for smart, respectful, films that feature modern Pagans.

The Cook County Crackdown: If you thought unconstitutional and redundant laws against fortune telling only happened down south, think again. The Cook County Illinois board of commissioners (that would be the county Chicago is located in) are proposing a new ordinance that would ban “fraud” under the guise of spiritual services for pay.

“The proposal, from Commissioners Edwin Reyes, Bridget Gainer and Gregg Goslin, includes a swath of spirituality. It would affect mediumship, palmistry, card reading, astrology, seership, “crafty science,” and fortune telling that might take place as gatherings, circles and seances. “This was something that was highlighted to say there is a variety of different things out there that could be covered by certain deceptive practices,” Gainer says. She says the measure was suggested by the sheriff’s department, and that more people dealing with a tough economy might be hoodwinked by frauds posing as spiritual leaders.”

First off, there are already laws against fraud and deceptive business practices in Illinois, and I can’t see how this new ordinance would have protected a recent high-profile Chicago-area victim of the old-as-the-hills “cursed money” scam. Further, how will this ordinance, if passed, be enforced, and who gets to decide what’s fraud? If you pay for a reading at a party, can you call the cops the next day? If you drop $20 when the local Pagan group passes the hat and you later have buyers remorse, can you press charges? The language is so broad (“circles”, “gatherings”), that it easily includes any Pagan ritual where any sort of money changes hands. Since this proposed ordinance doesn’t seem to ban charging for “spiritual services” per-se, how will it actually prevent the most outrageous instances of blatant grifting?

Another Interview with Alex Mar: “American Mystic” director Alex Mar is interviewed by MTV Tr3s about her documentary, which features Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, and discusses gaining the trust of her subjects, her own background, and resources for folks interested in modern Paganism.

“That’s an interesting question. First off, let me say that I’m not advocating any one spiritual path over another. But that said, I know WitchVox to be a useful site for pagans or people who are pagan-curious to connect locally. I was told over and over again how much easier it’s become for people who are curious about different forms of witchcraft to find mentors now that the Internet exists. The Wild Hunt is a widely read pagan blog about the latest politics and culture that’s relevant to the pagan community. And there are major conventions a few times a year where young witches, warlocks, Druids, you name it, get together and mix and network and learn new techniques and dance to gothic metal bands.”

I’d like to thank Alex for the plug, and note that the “gothic metal band” she’s most likely referring to is Pandemonaeon, who played at this year’s Pantheacon. “American Mystic” is currently playing at the The Tribeca Film Festival, and is one of twelve entries in the festival’s World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010.

Guess Who Else Didn’t Like That Episode of  Supernatural: It wasn’t just Pagans who were a bit annoyed by the Supernatural episode “Hammer of the Gods”, where various non-Christian deities were portrayed as shallow flesh-eaters getting worked over by Satan, Hindu activist Rajan Zed (you may remember him as the Hindu priest who got heckled by Christians on the Senate floor) blasts the show for its portrayal of Ganesha and Kali.

“Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Lord Ganesh and Goddess Kali were highly revered in Hinduism and such absurd depiction of them with no scriptural backing was hurtful to the devotees. Ganesh and Kali were meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be thrown around loosely in reimagined versions for dramatic effects in TV series.”

Even Annalee Newitz at io9, a fan of the show, slammed the episode, saying it should never have been made.

“My point is just that this episode, in attempting to answer that “what about other gods?” question, made things infinitely worse than if we’d just been left wondering. Now we’re left thinking that somehow Christian deities are more powerful than any other deities in the world. Dean goes so far as to call them “just monsters.” Which A) doesn’t really fit the show’s premise, which is that Christianity is one mythological system among many; and B) makes it seem that Supernatural buys into the idea that Christianity is somehow the “best” or “most powerful” mythological system out there. Thumbs down on that one.”

Many have defended Supernatural as an “equal opportunity offender”, but I’m not sure that’s true. While Christian themes are treated lightly and irreverently at times, it still acknowledges and reinforces the inherent supreme power of the Christian mythos. It has also been careful to steer clear of the third rail of secular pop-culture fantasy portrayals of Christianity by not making Jesus (or even God for that matter) a character. Supernatural, in other words, doesn’t mind being flip about Hinduism, Taoism, Vodou, or Paganism, but won’t court real controversy by having Jesus (or the Virgin Mary) show up and throw down.

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

Yesterday, The Tribeca Film Festival’s ‘Faces of the Festival’ interview series focused on Alex Mar, director of the new documentary “American Mystic”. The film, which features Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, looks at alternative forms of religion and spirituality in America from three different perspectives, and is one of twelve entries in the festival’s World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010. In the interview, Mar discusses the history of the project, her search for documentary subjects, and the difficulties in finding a modern Pagan practitioner to participate.

“I met with different covens in different parts of the country, and one of the challenges with the pagan element in the film is I needed to find someone brave enough to say, okay, not only am I a witch, and to say that on camera, but I have this coven, I have this group that I practice with, and everyone associated with her had to be brave enough to say, okay, we’re comfortable with this.

In California and maybe in New York, it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to say that you’re pagan, but obviously being a witch is a big deal in this country. I met with a woman who I thought was so wonderful in Tennessee, and she would have loved to have shared her story but she was terrified. You know, she had seen people lose their jobs, and actually had a friend whose children were taking away from her through child welfare… It was really, I think, all told, six months of going around the country.”


Alex Mar

Mar’s obvious sympathy for her subjects, and her willingness to view the world from their perspective, makes me very hopeful that this will be one of the best documentary treatments of modern Paganism by an outsider. I look forward to the opportunity to see this film, and I wish it every success at the Tribeca festival. I urge you to read the entire interview, and if you’re in New York, to go see the documentary.

The film “American Mystic”, one of twelve entries in The Tribeca Film Festival’s World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010, has released its official trailer and web site.

A still from the “American Mystic” trailer.

Directed and co-produced by Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions, the film features Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, who, along with her husband Shannon, operates the Stone City Pagan Sanctuary in California’s Diablo Range, just outside the San Francisco Bay Area. If this trailer is any indication of the overall quality, it may be one of the best documentaries featuring modern Paganism in recent memory.

Morpheus Ravenna is planning to be in New York for the premiere, so hopefully we’ll hear about her experiences regarding the film, and get a sense of how the audience reacted. I’ll try to keep you posted regarding screenings, the eventual DVD release, and hopefully an interview with director Alex Mar regarding the project.