Archives For Alison Shaffer

Just a few quick notes for you on this Saturday afternoon.

Bjork’s Biophilia: Way back in 2007 I covered the very Pagan inclinations of Iceland’s favorite musical export, Björk, as she released her then-new album “Volta.” Now Bjork’s back with an ambitious new interactive album project entitled “Biophilia,” and she talks to The Quietus about politics, the sacredness of nature, and why she’s against the “Christian idea” of how music should be constructed.

“So for me, how I hear music, is kind of more related to nature, it’s not related to some Christian idea, these German guys, Bach and Beethoven. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I totally respect Christians and Germans, it’s just monopoly is never a good idea, there should be versatility.”

You can read more about the app-based project, expansive tour plans, and the actual album, here. I’ve long been a fan of Bjork, and I’m very much looking forward to this new and ambitious project.

Why the San Francisco Peaks are Sacred: Censored News showcases a Dine’ youth film that explores why the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona are sacred to the Dine’ (Navajo) people.

It’s a short film that’s well worth watching, and gives a clear idea of why the peaks are so important. The issue of development on the peaks in defiance of protests from 13 different indigenous groups and Tribal Nations has seen renewed interest recently, including direct nonviolent action to stop construction of a water pipeline that would pump treated wastewater snow onto the mountain. You can find out more about activist efforts, here.

Pagan Podcast News: I wanted to quickly mention some news from the world of Pagan podcasting. First, Alison (of No Unsacred Place fame) and Jeff Lilly (a contributor to Pagan+Politics) have launched Dining With Druids, a podcast that’s actually pretty self-explanatory.

Dining with Druids is your opportunity to sit in once a week and eavesdrop on the wild and rambling dinner conversation of two Druids as they discuss the news of the day and other interesting tidbits, informed by their backgrounds in political philosophy, linguistics, religious studies, history, science and modern-day spirituality.

Don’t be fooled by the name — this is no cooking show! It’s a chance for you to unwind with some friendly table talk about the intersection of religion, politics, community and spirituality in an ever-changing, multicultural world. Enjoy conversation about diverse issues with hosts who know a little bit of everything, or at least enough to be curious, confused and endlessly amused. If there’s one thing you can say about dining with Druids, it’s that they always serve up plenty of food for thought!

Sounds interesting! There are already episodes up to check out. Meanwhile, there are some new episodes up from some of my favorite podcasts that you should check out: Thorn Coyle interviews Starhawk at Elemental Castings, The CUUPS Podcast interviews Rev. Christa Landon and Phaedra Bonewits about the founding of Panthea Pagan Temple, and Ravencast interviews Jon Cyr, the founder of the Young Vikings Club. Finally, I’ll soon be on The Modern Witch Podcast, details soon.

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

The Nonprofit Quarterly points to a recent Patheos.com piece I seemed to have overlooked. In it Alison Leigh Lilly, coordinator of the No Unsacred Place blog, looks at the challenges faced by religious nonprofits in Britain and the United States.

“The rights and freedoms granted to religious practitioners in the U.S. and the UK are not, however, necessarily guarantees that they will also have access to all of the same benefits available to more mainstream faiths—benefits such as nonprofit status, state-recognized holidays, prison and military chaplaincy, clergy who are legally empowered to perform marriages and burials, and so on. Although both British and American law provides freedom fromdiscrimination for practitioners of all religions, the freedom to participate fully and equally in civil society is something that rests on a foundation of legal precedent. For many religious minorities, securing the latter means buckling down to a long process of challenging numerous individual instances of oversight and exclusion in order to push past the tipping point from legal tolerance into social acceptance and support.”

The article finishes with a passionate call for Pagan engagement.

“…as modern Pagan communities continue to grow worldwide, it becomes increasingly important for Pagans to participate in the legal negotiations for increased recognition and acceptance within larger mainstream society. As Pagan religious organizations grow and expand the social conception of what qualifies as a “church,” our covens, groves, temples, and sacred centers will gain increasing freedom from federal regulation. As cultural acceptance for Pagan religions continues to increase, outdated and convoluted laws such as those in the IRS tax code will be ever more likely to be challenged and overturned. Yet such change depends largely on the legal precedents set by those willing to confront these laws through the legislative and judicial processes. To gain religious liberty, the law itself must be confronted, expanded, and re-imagined from the inside out.”

I highly recommend reading the entire article. You may also enjoy the guest-post Alison wrote for The Wild Hunt, “Being a Druid is Good for Society, Says UK Charity Commission”, which analyzes the The Druid Network (TDN) being granted charitable status by the Charity Commission of England and Wales.

[The following is a guest post by Alison Shaffer. Alison lives, moves and practices her Druidry in the lovely, thrice-rivered city of Pittsburgh, where she dwells on the edge of a wooded park with her fiancé, her cat, her pet frogs and her houseplants. A member of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, her spiritual studies revolve around a fascination with theology, peacemaking, ecology, Celtic mythology and ritual aesthetics, as well as a love of song and a great deal of poetry. She writes frequently on these themes at her blog, as well as contributing essays to publications such as Sky Earth SeaPatheos.comPagan+Politics and, of course, The Witches' Voice.]

Being a Druid is good for society, says UK Charity Commission. Or so the headlines should have read in the BBC, the Telegraph, the Times, the AFP, the Associated Press and CNN this past week, as each major media outlet reported on the [Charity Commission]‘s approval of The Druid Network‘s application for religious charity status. Instead the news, which has earned a surprising amount of attention (and not a bit of bile) since the decision was announced in a press release on 1 October, has run under headlines declaring, Druidry recognized as a religion in Britain.

Which is, strictly speaking, true. But it also isn’t news. In fact, modern Druidry has been a recognized religion in Britain for as long as there have been practicing Druids to call it one.

Religious Freedom in UK Law

Similar to the religious freedoms protected in the United States’ Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the freedom to believe and practice according to one’s personal conscience has long been protected in the legal systems of the United Kingdom. Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (based on the European Convention of Human Rights, in effect since 1953) states that a person’s right to freedom of religion includes: “…freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

In other words, under British law a system of belief or practice is “recognized as a ‘religion'” — and protected as one — if one or more adherents to that system say it is a religion. That goes for Druids, Pagans, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Scientologists, Jedi and Pastafarians alike.

So why all the fuss? Because the rights and freedoms granted to religious practitioners of Druidry and Paganism in the UK are, as in the US, not necessarily guarantees that they will also have access to all of the same benefits available to more mainstream faiths — benefits such as nonprofit status, state-recognized holidays, prison and military chaplaincy, clergy who are legally empowered to perform marriages and burials, and so on. In short, although British law provides freedom from discrimination for practitioners of all religions, the freedom to participate fully and equally in civil society is something that rests on a foundation of legal precedent. For many religious minorities, securing the latter means buckling down to a long process of challenging numerous individual instances of oversight and exclusion, in order to push past the tipping point from legal tolerance into social acceptance and support.

In the United States, the work of Patrick McCollum and the Lady Liberty League, among others, helps to establish just such a critical mass of legal precedent for Druids, Witches and Pagans within mainstream American society. Similar strides have been made in the UK, where Pagan chaplains already work in hospital and prison ministry and Druids have played prominent roles in public discourse about the protection and preservation of ancient monuments and other important aspects of British heritage and culture. In both countries, several Druid and Pagan organizations also already enjoy not-for-profit status, including The Pagan Federation, the Children of Artemis, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), the Henge of Keltria, and the Avalon Druid Order. Yet, despite the exaggerations and well-intentioned misrepresentations in much of the mainstream media coverage this past week, The Druid Network’s success in becoming the first Pagan organization to earn charity status under the new Charities Act 2006 is a momentous stride towards wider social acceptance of Druidry and Paganism in the UK.

TDN’s Journey to Charity Status

The Druid Network officially began the arduous, four-year-plus process of seeking charitable status under English Charity Law in February 2006, when they submitted their application to the Charity Commission of England and Wales (more briefly known as the Charity Commission or CC) just as the new Charities Act 2006 was passing through British Parliament. A great deal of research, reflection and discussion had already gone into the formulation of TDN’s constitution and by-laws before that point, however, as Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for TDN, explained to me recently in an interview.

Ryder said he became involved in the process early on: “I simply asked if we were registered and got the reply, ‘Should we be?’ So I investigated the options and found that we did indeed need to register.” As an unincorporated association that accepted membership fees and donations from contributors, The Druid Network was legally obligated to pursue one of two courses of action. “We could have registered with Companies House as a Limited Company,” Ryder explained, “or we could register with the Charity Commission. ‘TDN Ltd’ didn’t seem right, so the trustees decided to register with the Charity Commission.”

After that decision came the challenge of drafting a constitution in a way that, as Ryder put it, “reflected our vision of TDN as an organisation with no hierarchy based on pagan principles of honourable relationship.” Easier said than done. Harder still was the process of crafting a forward to that constitution that included a definition of religious Druidry describing, as simply and inclusively as possible, the basics of Druidic belief and practice that would be both acceptable to the CC and approved by as many of the major Druidic organizations as possible. As an article published to the TDN website clarifies:

Druids by nature (pun intended) don’t wish to be tied down or submit to definitions; however, they all relate to the term ‘Druid’ so it must mean something, or it would simply be a meaningless word. Great thought, mediation and spiritual guidance went into the drafting of the definition of Druidry adopted by TDN (Annex 1 to the decision [.pdf]). It was intended as a statement of common ground held by the majority of Druids who felt that Druidry was a religion or deep spirituality; it was not a full definition. [...] It is not, and was never intended to be, a creed or definition that all Druids must accept, but a legal explanation of common ground of those Druids who consider their path to be essentially religious.

The carefully-crafted religious focus of this definition was necessary, Ryder explained in our interview, because English Charity Law requires charities to register under what are called “Heads of Charity” (for instance, “the advancement of religion,” “the advancement of education” and “the relief of the poor”) which outline potential causes in the service of “public benefit.” Although the British government provides no formal, legal mechanism for defining “religion” — and indeed, the term remains ambiguous and problematic even among academics — English Charity Law has its own working definition for the purposes of determining charitable status.

At the time of TDN’s initial application, the CC’s understanding of religion was determined by the Charities Act 1993 and precedent set by several legal cases since, including the application and rejection of the Church of Scientology for charitable status in 1999. In fact, the CC originally rejected TDN’s application as a religious organization under the assumption that Druidry was esoteric or occult (that is, a mystic or mystery tradition intended for only a small number of initiated members) and therefore not beneficial to the public at large. This initial rejection led to a review procedure of TDN’s application, during the course of which the new Charities Act 2006 came into effect and began to change the rules of the game.

The Druid Network’s application for charitable status stalled as the CC scrambled to determine what the new Charities Act, which amended and expanded upon much of the previous Act, meant for their definitions of “religion” and “public benefit.”

An opportunity for change came with the implementation of the Charities Act 2006. It stated for the first time that a religion could involve a belief in more than one god or a belief in no god at all. After its implementation, the Charity Commission embarked on a lengthy process of consultation on how this Act affected charity law, which it followed by drafting various guidance documents that set down how it would interpret the law.

TDN remained deeply involved during the public consultation process that followed, submitting numerous documents and emails expanding upon their definition of Druidry and provoking detailed examination of how it compared to other non-Abrahamic faith traditions. “The CC just didn’t understand us,” Ryder said,

they are lawyers, not theologians, and have their own beliefs. It must have been hard for them to break down those barriers of monotheism. We simply provided information and answered any questions they raised. Of course, many times it served to confuse them even more and raised even more questions. At times we had to make comparisons with other world religions that the CC already had registered, and demonstrate that our understanding of deity and practice was not that far removed from those religions. It was hard, but on both sides, and full credit to the CC.

After four years of rigorous inquisition and debate, the Charity Commission finally informed TDN on 1 September of this year that its Board Members would be holding a meeting to determine its final decision on TDN’s pending application. The CC’s approval of The Druid Network’s status as a religious charity, ratified on 21 September 2010, was published in a 21-page document (available in .pdf) detailing the many areas in which TDN has demonstrated itself up to the task of “advancing a religion or belief system for the benefit of the public.”

Perhaps most interesting about this decision is the fact that the Charity Commission lists among TDN’s publicly beneficial activities not only those such as “promoting the preservation of heritage and culture” and “promoting conservation and preservation of the environment” but also “the provision of information on the practice of Druidry to the public” and “facilitating the practice of Druidry through conferences, camps, workshops, retreats and courses, and through its affiliated groups.” In other words, according to the CC, a non-ministerial department of the British government, greater access to information about Druidry and the practice of Druidry itself are both beneficial to the general public.

News Spreads, The Druid and Pagan Communities Respond

Given the impressive influence The Druid Network had on the Charity Commission’s evolving approach to definitions of religion and public benefit, and the implications of the CC’s decision to acknowledge TDN’s understanding and practice of Druidry as not only legitimately religious but also beneficial to the larger community — it’s no surprise that the mainstream media coverage of this story entirely missed the point.

News reports soon spread in several major media outlets (both in the UK and here in the US, where the story even made it on to a local nightly news program in California), announcing that Britain had “officially recognized” Druidry as a religion for the first time in thousands of years. Stock photographs of bearded men in white robes hoisting staves above the silhouettes of Stonehenge graced every page. CNN reporter Phil Gast even indulged in a bit of good ol’ tacit American competition with Merry Olde England about who was more tolerant of Pagans, when he quoted Professor Marty Laubach of Marshall University saying, “‘In some ways, Druidry in Britain is catching up to Druids and other neo-pagans in the United States, which already provides tax-exempt status for religious groups,'” completely overlooking the fact that, while Pagan non-profits already exist in the UK, there is no comparable process of earning charitable status in the U.S. Amidst the hubbub, one columnist for The Daily Mail produced an article of astounding prejudice, decrying Druidry as a bunch of “barking mumbo-jumbo” and demonstrating not only the writer’s gross ignorance of even the basics of Druidic belief and practice, but her fundamental misunderstanding of religious freedom under British law. Yet all in all, the coverage was positive and congratulatory in tone, if often far off-the-mark on the facts.

Meanwhile, Druids and Pagans in the UK and abroad had begun to weigh in with their own views. For many, The Druid Network’s success was cause for celebration and optimism. “It’s an awe inspiring thing to have seen happen,” wrote Brynneth at The Pagan & The Pen, one of the first public responses to the news. “One of the things that charitable status for the Druid Network shows is that we can engage and be heard, without having to become something other than we are. That gives me hope.”

“I, for one, am quite excited at the development,” said Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of Ár nDraíocht Féin, one of the most influential Neopagan Druidic organizations in the U.S. “We have an ADF Grove in Hampshire, and have long wondered what it would take to get ADF recognized in the UK. We suspect that TDN has ‘broken the ice’ as it were, and this might make it easier for other Druid groups to become recognized.”

Tony Everett, who has been a member of TDN for a number of years but has usually kept in the background of the organization’s activities, felt both pride and humility: “When the news came I was so humbled by all the work that must have gone into the application over the last couple of years and proud to call myself Druid. Once all the negative press has settled and the antagonists have had their fun, I am certain that this can only do great things to promote Druidry and inform the public of the truth behind our beliefs.”

“It’s a good first step, wonderful in fact.,” said Farrell McGovern, another member of ADF residing in Canada. “[W]e have to be responsible adults if we want to be recognized as a religion. We thus need to jump through all the hoops and pay our dues just like every other religion out there.”

However, amongst the congratulations was also a hint of ambivalence and caution among some Druid and Pagan voices. In a post titled “Is Druidry a Religion?” on his blog, Philip Carr-Gomm, head of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), one of the largest Druidic organizations in Britain, expressed mixed feelings about the news, saying:

I ‘and many other OBOD members’ have always liked the way Druidry has avoided being ‘boxed-in’ to one definition: a spiritual path to some people, a magical tradition to another, a religion to a third, a philosophy or cultural phenomenon to another, and so on. As soon as you start on the path of trying to define Druidry you run into problems. [...] Not all people who call themselves Druids would agree with all aspects of the definition of Druidry that The Druid Network have agreed with the Charity Commission. As with many things there are positives and negatives and it’s a question of weighing these up and looking more closely at the implications of the decision.

Carr-Gomm’s post prompted several other OBOD members to leave comments both on his blog and Facebook page expressing their concern, discomfort and even fear at the CC’s decision to approve TDN based on their definition of religious Druidry.

Graeme Talboys, Druid scholar and author of Way of the Druid: Renaissance of a Celtic Religion and its Relevance for Today, also had a few misgivings about the decision, although he emphasized that it was generally “a step forward”:

On the surface, all that has happened is that TDN has been granted legal permission to operate as a charity. At a deeper level this has been achieved by persuading the Charity Commission for England and Wales that Druidry (sic) is a bona fide religion. It is another recognition in law of Druids and what they believe. [... I]t is now just a little bit easier, in England and Wales, to be Druid.

Pointing to several statements contained within the The Druid Network’s definition and description of Druidry, however, Talboys expressed his qualms with some historical inaccuracies and conceptual inconsistencies, worrying that “any pedant” could use them as an excuse to pick apart or challenge the definition on purely factual grounds.

Whilst I am grateful to [TDN] for the work they have done in this respect (and it cannot be denied it is a big step in terms of recognition in England and Wales), it is only a single step for one particular group of Druids. Whether it brings benefit to the whole Druid community, including those of us in the Hedge, remains to be seen.

Members of The Druid Network have, in turn, attempted to respond to some of the concerns raised by other Druids in the larger community, particularly those who do not consider Druidry to be distinctly Pagan or explicitly religious in nature. A comment shared on TDN’s website by a writer under the name ‘Celtic Knight’ notes:

I have seen some criticism that this move makes Druidry part of the establishment. I don’t accept that. What it has done is to force the establishment to take Druidry seriously. Some fear that this will somehow define or box in Druidry. It will not. The Commission accepted the diversity of beliefs and practices that represent Druidry and that these are a reflection of the diversity inherent in nature. [...] Many dislike the label ‘religion’, with its associations of rigid dogma, archaic institutions and being told what to believe. However, the decision accepts that Druidry is an experiential religion: Druids’ beliefs come from their experience and not from what they are told. They change and adapt over time and in different environments, just as nature differs according to time and space. This is not a case of Druidry being forced into the straightjacket of religion, but of the very definition of religion as accepted in charity law being changed to accommodate beliefs such as ours.

In our interview, Phil Ryder replied to my questions on the matter by appealing to what is positive about the decision, rather than what might be divisive. He asked that others obtain facts before voicing uninformed opinions, but acknowledged that “even then there will be those who disagree with TDN’s approach. And I celebrate that! How can we learn and evolve if we all have the same beliefs? We all perceive this reality in different ways, and that is Nature.”

In some ways, it is precisely this aspect of Druidry and the greater Druidic philosophical tradition — with its ever-evolving, self-analytical understanding of how the specifics of landscape and local community give rise to a diversity of religious experience and belief without jeopardizing the bonds that unite us together in a dynamic, thriving community — that may transform religious and interfaith discourse and bring the most benefit the British society in the future.

Further Resources

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a new 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!

The Bonewits Papers: On their official Facebook page, Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits have announced that Isaac’s personal papers will be donated to the American Religions Collection at the library at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It’s been a rough week, but we’d like to share one piece of good news. Isaac’s personal papers will be going to the American Religions Collection at the library at University of California, Santa Barbara. So all you researchers will be able to rummage through his stuff :-)”

Bonewits has been, and continues to be, an influential author, ritualist, theologian and thinker within modern Paganism. It is heartening to know that as he continues to struggle with cancer, his rich legacy will live on for future generations to benefit from. For those who’d like to support Isaac and Phaedra during this trial, you can still donate to offset their mounting medical bills.

Pagan Pacifists Speak: A month ago I announced a new initiative, the Voices of Pagan Pacifism project, and now their first issue of interviews, essays and articles has been released.

“Part monthly newsletter, part educational archive, part resource directory, the VoPP project hopes to further the causes of peace, nonviolence, social justice, ecological balance and creative living. By providing a forum for conversation and connection, VoPP seeks to dispel misconceptions about the philosophy of pacifism and the spiritual traditions of modern Paganism. To encourage Pagans and non-Pagans, pacifists and non-pacifists alike in pursuing the challenging work of confronting and engaging authentically with that place in all of our lives where the political meets the spiritual, and both are transformed.”

Contributions include an interview with Dana Rose, an article on pacifism in ancient Greece by Jeff Lilly, a meditation from Alison Shaffer, and more. This looks like a strong start to the project, and I look forward to many more issues in the future.

Exploring Pagan Theology: The Pagan Portal at Patheos has posted three new essays exploring Pagan (poly)theology from different angles. First, portal manager Star Foster looks at the challenges of discussing and exploring theology in a pluralistic (and polytheistic) manner. Then, Alison Shaffer examines the problems of relating to the gods through an American capitalist framework. Finally, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (boy that name sounds familiar) discusses syncretism, Process Theology, and “polyamorotheism”.

“The insurmountable divide that people put between humans and gods in terms of our ability to understand them (e.g., “the Gods’ ways are not our ways” — a passage here paraphrased from the Hebrew Bible!), and of our abilities to communicate and negotiate with them, therefore, is not necessarily in operation. The gods may have a great deal more power, or knowledge, or freedom due to their position and their conditions of existence, but if they cannot be understood, communicated with, or related to, then the entire enterprise of religion and spirituality is useless entirely.”

All are well worth the reading, and should provide some food for thought (and discussion). Kudos to Star Foster and Patheos.com for working to bring us quality Pagan content at this multi-faith religion site.

AREN’s Action: The latest issue of the Alternative Religions Education Network’s (AREN) newsletter, ACTION, is now out, and features a wealth of interesting interviews. This includes Selena Fox, Brian Ewing of the Pagan Pride Project, and Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele.

“Throughout this mess the “reasons” for denial have been almost impossible to pin down. Apparently the Town attorney is under the mistaken impression that I am the religion and my not living on the property for a short time is significant. He also has argued in his legal opinion that the fact we have always done charitable work, even before formal incorporation, housing women in need is some sort of proof of not being an exclusive religious property which is absurd given that the New York tax law covering mandated exempt classes is quite clear that charitable work, education and other activities are all equal and any two or more activities on the property are still in the mandated exempt class.”

Christopher Blackwell at ACTION is like a Pagan interviewing machine! Seriously, his efforts really do deserve more attention, and I hope that the ACTION archives can be saved for posterity since they provide such a fascinating snapshot of modern Paganism in the last decade.

Finding Eleusis at Fringe: The Chicago-based Pagan/magical performance troupe Terra Mysterium will be performing their new Fall show “Finding Eleusis”, an urban and modern take on the Eleusianian Mysteries, at the Chicago Fringe Festival September 1-5th. Here’s a clip from their previous show, “Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon Symposium regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft”.

If you’re going to be in the Chicago area, you can buy tickets for the performances now. I wish I could afford to jet-set to the Midwest and catch this show!

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

As a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, I’m starting a new 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!

Patrick McCollum at the World Forum of Spiritual Culture: Cherry Hill Seminary has announced that Pagan chaplain, Circle minister, and CHS instructor Patrick McCollum will be presenting at the World Forum of Spiritual Culture in Kazakhstan this October. McCollum is the first Pagan invited to address the forum.

“The World Forum of Spiritual Culture is hosted by the Kazakh government, the International Association of Peace Through Culture, the Congress of Spiritual Concord, and other other Kazakhstan, European and Russian organizations. McCollum will become the first Pagan leader to address the World Forum of Spiritual Culture, his remarks becoming part of the international journal published following the event.

The World Forum hopes “to find a solution to the systemic crisis of the modern civilization by realizing the priority of spirituality and culture above all other public values.” The Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, will address the group during the conference.”

McCollum will be joining luminaries like Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter to search for solutions that will “cure our modern civilization from the virus of greediness.” McCollum, whose star is rising across the globe as an ambassador for modern Pagan faiths, is still fighting to get equal treatment for Pagan prisoners in the state of California and across the US.

The World of Witches Museum Opens in Salem: The Witch School-backed World of Witches Museum in Salem is having its official opening today (Friday). Salem’s Mayor Kim Driscoll will be cutting the official ribbon to the museum.

“In celebrating this Independence Day weekend we are reminded that our founding fathers fought for our freedom. In honoring this American tradition, on Friday, July 2nd, The World of Witches Museum will officially be opened in Salem, Massachusetts. This will be a unique museum as the focus will be on the history of Witchcraft from a positive point of view. As part of the opening the Mayor of Salem, The Honorable Kim Driscoll will officially cut the ribbon at a noontime ceremony along with members of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, Staff of the Museum, Bewitched in Salem, and many other friends and supporters. This will be a major milestone for the Wiccan and Pagan community as this will be the first time that their history will be shared with mainstream society in such a public way. It is a showcase for the community that is fighting for the right to practice their religion in modern America.”

Among the displays will be one focusing on Witch School’s travails in Hoopeston, Illinois, which eventually drove them to the more welcoming arms of Salem, Massachusetts. Rev. Don Lewis, Curator of the Museum, says that this project represents “a coming of age for the Witch movement, which allows us to recognize that we do have a history worthy of sharing”.

Voices of Pagan Pacifism: A new initiative from Alison Shaffer, the Voices of Pagan Pacifism project, is working to spotlight voices of pacifism and peace-making from within the Pagan community.

“We hope this website will become an archive of helpful resources, inspiring stories and challenging essays available to the Pagan pacifist community, as well as the larger community of Pagans, Witches, Druids, Heathens and others interested in pre-Christian and earth-centered spirituality. It’s important to know that we are not alone, and to showcase the work and lives of our fellow peace-makers and social activists!

We conceive of this project as providing a showcase and permanent archive for the many voices of Pagan peace-making in the modern world. For this reason, we gladly accept submissions that have already been published elsewhere, provided they are submitted by (or with prior permission from) the original author and are accompanied by appropriate references and credit to the original publication source (including a link, if available). We also welcome new and original work never published before, by aspiring and previously-published writers alike!”

I’ve long thought that pacifism within modern Paganism needed a clearing-house so that conscientious objectors could use it as a resource should the need arise. Kudos to Alison Shaffer for getting this started. They are looking for writers and interviewers now, I recommend checking it out.

Making Mischief With SJ Tucker: Pagan singer-songwriter SJ Tucker’s new album “Mischief” is due to be released on July 16th and is now available for pre-order from her web site. On her personal journal, Tucker has been talking about the process and meanings behind the songs on the new album.

“Love changes us all, makes us broken, makes us brave, makes us deny ourselves and our very breath, makes us refuse to listen when our hearts tell us that the time has come to move on, to break the surface. “Neptune” is the story of what can happen after you’ve drowned yourself willingly in someone else’s hopes and dreams, and you find that saltwater and shadows no longer sustain you. “Neptune” is the story of what can happen when you’ve lived in sin with a god for long enough that the respective piles of dirty laundry and broken promises have started to really get on your nerves.”

Tucker is currently planning a big Fall tour, but you can catch her this Summer in Oregon as part of Tricky Pixie at Faerieworlds.

A Fundraiser for Joe Credit: Musician Joe Credit, a member of the Pagan band SONA, is trying to raise money to remove a a grapefruit sized hernia in his groin area.

“Joe Credit has a grapefruit sized hernia in an especially uncomfortable location on his body. Imagine getting kicked in the groin several times a day. This is his life. He is having trouble finding a way to get the operation because he is currently without insurance. He is slipping through a very unfortunate loophole. Unable to really work because of the hernia, yet unable to get disability or medicaid. He is expected to live with this hernia until it is “life-threatening” at which time he will be able to get an operation with no problem. Joe’s family does not want him to have to wait until his hernia is life-threatening. I wish we could somehow come up with the money ourselves but times are tough. Hence this fund-raiser. Joe has a lot of friends. If we could all pitch in maybe we could raise enough to get him the operation. Or at least get him enough money to be evaluated by a real doctor, not the emergency room. Thanks!”

Living without health insurance, living in pain until a problem is “life-threatening”, is no way to live at all. If you have a few bucks to spare, why not help out one of our own to have a better life.

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

I haven’t discussed the massive, mind-shattering, and ongoing eco-disaster that is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill/leak, a disaster that we still can’t full quantify because the gusher of oil has yet to be successfully stopped (and could gush for years, if not plugged). Just about everyone agrees that it will end up being the worst oil spill in recorded history, and guesses about the long-term ecological impact have been grim, with some saying the Gulf of Mexico could become a giant “dead zone”. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the scale of this, and the heartbreakingly futile efforts to control it so far, that I haven’t had a chance to develop my own response, let alone a “Pagan” response to this crisis.

That said, some tentative forays into grasping the enormity of this have surfaced within the Pagan community, the most elegant and apt of them may be T. Thorn Coyle’s simple poem “A Prayer for My Beloved”. Here’s an excerpt.

Your oceans saline quick, flow in our blood.
Lover, forever we can say, “I’m sorry,”
But actions speak far louder than strong words,
And we, though brave and brash, are also feeble.

Lover, I fall now to my knees before you.
I will not beg forgiveness, not just yet.
My good friends shall be gathered all around me,
Holding hands, we will make better still, amends.

Alison Shaffer at Pagan+Politics, looks at our tendency to see nature as a luxury instead of a necessity, and that we need to recommit now more than ever to changing our relationship with the Earth.

“Yet it is my conviction that in order to remedy our abusive, exploitative relationship with the very earth that sustains us, we must learn again how to live as part of the natural world with awe, with reverence, and with love. It is easy to feel a tug of pity as I watch the pathetically struggling gull gasping in slime, or to feel sentimental regret over the thought that my partner and I might never be able to follow in my parents’ footsteps and see the Everglades as they once were. But there is real sorrow, and rage, when I think on the human species as an animal of nature in its own right, capable of selfishness, ignorance and destruction on such a scale. Confronted with this reality, and the reality of the natural world as itself bloated with strife and death, I swing between despair, and the ugly wish that Mama Earth rid herself of us once and for all and get on with her life. The only thing that can resolve this for me — the only way I can make peace with this reality of the natural world — is through love.

To seek the beauty and balance in the cycles of creation and destruction, life and death, to acknowledge a joy that permeates and lifts up these moments of desperation and depression — this is not a simple task. There is something disingenuous, even dishonest, about those who would criticize a view of the natural world as beautiful and awe-inspiring because it is “superficial” or naïve. Without a capacity to see the beauty within destruction, to seek the spirit and meaning by which we might better live our lives, it becomes all too easy for us to shrug our shoulders at our own acts of violence and dismiss them as “only natural.” But we do not love the natural world because it is lovable. We love the world because we have a bone-deep need of it, a longing to be whole.”

Others, like Sia Vogel, are throwing themselves into clean-up and rescue efforts for a disaster that we may not see the end of (here’s a list of ten things you can do to help), while Wes Isley at The Huffington Post wants to “seize this opportunity” to turn the disaster into a “moment of triumph”.

“But the major religions tell us that the Earth is not our home and that we are to subdue it for our use. The Neo-Pagan community, in contrast, celebrates nature as a great teacher and encourages us to nourish our connections to the Earth, of which we are only a small part. Other religions teach that nature, like humanity, is broken and damaged. Neo-Pagans, conversely, see nature — and humanity — as perfect just as it is, warts and all. So if you view the Earth as family and home, then you’re less likely to trash your front yard and kill off all your resources.

From this perspective, a Neo-Pagan might say that Mother Earth is using this oil spill to test us. What will be our response? Will we simply continue to pursue cheap oil for as long as it lasts regardless of the costs? Or will we make alternative energy a true priority? All faiths often use natural disasters — “acts of God,” they’re called — to teach important lessons. I say this oil spill can be used in the same way.”

While I tend to take a sacral and pantheistic view towards nature, I’m personally uncomfortable with the notion that this man-made disaster is Mother Earth “testing” us, since such a view diminishes the culpability of those truly responsible, and takes us into the murky territory of the Earth punishing us for our environmental trespasses. Such thoughts, in my mind, are only a degree or two away from the mindset that blamed the Haitian earthquake on Vodou, or that it’s an “opportunity” to religiously remake their society. I think re-examining our relationship to nature in the wake of this ongoing tragedy is only natural, and something that should happen, but I think we should be careful to avoid ascribing any supernatural will or motive to this situation.

I think prayers and workings at this time are appropriate, and I think involving yourself in clean-up and rescue efforts is even more appropriate, and I hope that we can stop this “leak” (hardly an apt term, under the circumstance) before things get even worse. We should reject any re-casting of this as a “natural” disaster, and make sure those responsible are held to account.  We can carry on in doing the small things we can do at this stage and hope that life can eventually return to the Gulf of Mexico, that our oceans will be spared an even larger eco-crisis due to these events. We can work and hope for a saner policy of tapping the Earth’s natural resources emerging from this event, and commit ourselves to a better future. To, as Thorn writes, better love this world.

Lover, I fall now to my knees before you.
I will not beg forgiveness, not just yet.
My good friends shall be gathered all around me,
Holding hands, we will make better still, amends.

Together, we will clean, slow down, and listen.
Together, we will sow and reap, and kiss.
We will arc around combusting star in season.
And learn to better love you.

So I pray.