Archives For American Mystic

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.

I was somewhat shocked to discover that the 1985 Australian documentary about Pagan and occult religions, “The Occult Experience,” had been posted to Vimeo (Last year!) by one of the co-producers. Up till now, if you wanted a copy, you either had to track down the out-of-print VHS, watch it in low-quality VHS-ripped pirate copy excerpts on Youtube, or obtain it (illegally) through torrent sites. But now, here it is, a very nice (legal) digital rip from a VHS copy of the master print.

In it you’ll see vintage clips of still-active Pagan elders like Selena Fox, Margot Adler, and Janet Farrar, in addition to some classic footage of now-passed figures within our community. Because it’s not an American documentary, Skyclad ritual, a Satanic human “altar,” and Alex Sanders accidentally lighting his crotch on fire are on unembarrassed display (though it may not be safe for work, depending on where you work). This being the 1980s, Satanists and Pagans are included together, as is a sequence featuring the surrealistic world of “Aliens” concept artist HR Giger.

While Chas Clifton is rightfully peeved at the film’s many flaws, it is an important historical document. Not necessarily for the footage of our elders when they were young, though that’s interesting, but to transmit how people viewed “the occult” back in the 1980s. The work veers between the sensationalistic and lurid, to more prosaic hands-off documentation. The narration is somewhat diabolical, constantly hinting that we’re entering forbidden, hidden, worlds. Despite its many flaws, it does give a rather international picture of the Pagan and esoteric underground during that era, and should be essential viewing for any scholar or student of modern Paganism’s past.

If the atmosphere in “The Occult Experience” was slightly sinister, and sometimes voyeuristic, a counter-point would be the “Women and Spirituality” series directed by Donna Read. Here we had a woman-directed film series that encapsulated the Goddess/feminine spirituality movement of that era. The first volume, 1989′s “Goddess Remembered,” followed by “The Burning Times,” and 1993′s “Full Circle,” featured several notable movement figures like Starhawk, Carol Christ, and Merlin Stone.

That trilogy of films were highly sympathetic to modern Goddess worshipers, and avoided the sins of more exploitational works from that period, but also encapsulated some of the disputed and debunked history that arose from that culture. These films are an important landmark in documenting Pagan voices, and are an important historical record of how we thought about issues of history and identity during that era.

Today, we might be entering into a truly exciting period for documentaries made by, about, and for, modern Pagans. There’s the upcoming television documentary about Gerald Gardner, which features Ronald Hutton, author of “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,”and Philip Heselton, author of “Gerald Gardner And the Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft,” in addition to the excellent 2011 documentary “American Mystic” (Facebook page), directed Alex Mar (read my interview with Alex Mar here), which featured Morpheus Ravenna along with members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary. As a whole, Pagans today are more media-savvy, willing to get behind the camera (Jo Carson’s “Dancing With Gaia,” for example), and more proactive in making sure the finished product isn’t a mere side-show for curious onlookers.

Pagan and esoteric practitioners are also creating feature films, and that mini-movement may also greatly influence how future documentaries are made and approached. Taken together, you can see how far we’ve come since 1985, how Pagans have moved from being a curiosity (or figure of fear) to a movement that has far more agency and direction over how we are portrayed.

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.

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

A Call for Solidarity to Save a Sacred Altar: Greek Hellenic group Thyrsos Hellenes Ethnikoi has issued a call for solidarity to stop what they consider a “cultural crime” underway in Athens. It seems that the famous Altar of the Twelve Gods was finally uncovered on February 17th during railway construction, however, turf battles over jurisdiction have endangered the site, and there’s a chance it could be buried once more by Athens Piraeus Electric Railways (ISAP)Protests have already broken out, and Thyrsos Hellenes Ethnikoi are asking for “all civilized people from all over the world” to call for the altar’s preservation.

“Very recently during constructions on the railway network of Athens, a magnificent Treasure of the Hellenic History was discovered, a masterpiece of the Hellenic Culture, the Sacred Altar of the 12 Gods. Now this Treasure is in immediate danger because of the lack of interest of the Hellenic State, because of the decision of the railway company to bury it as quick as possible. And also know that the Altar and its very site were the center of Athens in Ancient Years. The holiest spot of Athens. Where Hiketes (suppliants) would ask for Mercy! As archaeologists say, it is as important as the golden-elephantine statue of Goddess Athena! This Altar is not only an archaeological remain. It is also Sacred, especially to us, the followers of the Hellenic Ancient Religion. The total devastation of it, means that the Hellenic Culture has been mutilated by the ignorant and dangerous people who rule and they do not respect who they are, where they come from, and especially where they want to lead us, the Hellenes…”

If you’d like to make your voice heard in this matter, you can e-mail the railway, and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, to make your concerns known. You can find out more here (in Greek), and here (also in Greek, though they say a translation is forthcoming). This call for solidarity is currently spreading through the Hellenic community, and it could be a wonderful opportunity for Pagans outside of Greece to stand with their brothers and sisters in Athens. Also, if you do decide to write in support of saving the altar, remember to be polite and to-the-point in your messages. I’ll update you on this issue as things develop and I learn more.

Selena Fox Joins Wisconsin Protesters: Fresh from her time at PantheaCon, Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox returned to her home in Wisconsin where she immediately joined the throngs of pro-union protesters currently congregating in Madison in a standoff centering on the issue of collective bargaining rights.

“Democracy in Action in Wisconsin! Joined the round the clock Public Workers’ Rights rally inside the Wisconsin State Capitol. Amazing energy! [...] The energy inside was amazing! And multi-partisan – those protesting included Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and others. I went there to give support, but also to learn first hand for myself what the scene was like.”

Fox noted that part of the reason she’s there is “to carry the energy from workings I had led in California right to the center of the Wisconsin actions in support of workers rights.” In response to a query from The Wild Hunt, Fox spoke of the “exuberant energy” on display.

“I am continuing to hear from a variety of people concerned about upholding public workers’ rights, including from the interfaith community.  Today two dozen clergy of different traditions joined together with others in the Capitol rotunda and then were part of a press conference afterwards. [...] In the center of the ground floor was the hub of the indoor rally.  Various demonstrators were taking turns leading chants and expressing perspectives in a microphone within a circle of drummers.  In addition to the ground floor, there were people circled around the rotunda on the second and third floors all joining in chanting.  As I walked around each floor, I talked with some of those who had gathered as well as some of the media covering the rally, which has been going round the clock for more than a week.  The energy inside the Capitol was exhuberant.  The passion to stand up for public workers and their collective bargaining rights there was and continues to be strong.”

Selena has promised further updates as she receives word. If there are any other Pagans on the ground at the protests, please feel free to contact me with your experiences and insights. For background on this protest and political standoff, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start. From there, it’s fairly easy to find various political takes on the issue.

Getting Hold of American Mystic: For those who’ve been unable to catch a screening of the documentary “American Mystic”, directed by Alex Mar, and featuring Morpheus Ravenna along with members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, you can now order a copy before the film goes into wide distribution this June. You can e-mail the academic distributor Kino Lorber to obtain copies for you or your store, or order online and use the special “PANTHEACON” offer code during check-out.

The DVD will be going “wide” this Summer, which will mean availability on Netflix and iTunes, among other outlets. But if you’d like to get it now, here’s your chance.

PantheaCon Reflections: There’s no doubt going to be plenty of stories from PantheaCon trickling out in the near future, including some from The Wild Hunt, but for now I wanted to quickly note some round-ups that have already appeared. There’s a report from Donald Michael Craig at Llewellyn, Robert from the Doing Magick blog has a round-up, Peter Dybing describes the experience of “divine exhaustion”, Staff of Asclepius has an interview with con organizaer Glenn Turner, and  Star Foster at Patheos talks about three rituals she attended while there.

“It was interesting to be in a building where there is almost always a ritual in progress. The energy resembled a thunderstorm and even though my room was quiet I found it hard to sleep. When I did sleep I dreamt of rituals, and once I dreamed I scrubbed Erynn Rowan Laurie’s bathtub. I don’t know what that means beyond that there was a bunch of weird energy bouncing around this hotel, but if she’s reading maybe it means something to her!”

While you’re there, you can also spy a picture from the Pagan Newswire Collective meet-and-greet, which features some familiar faces, and a whole host of PNC members.

Sabbat Classic Available for the Kindle: In a final note, Acorn Guild Press is proud to announce that Mike Nichols’ classic work “The Witches’ Sabbats” is finally available for the Amazon Kindle.

“From the award-winning author of The Witches’ Sabbats Web site, Nichols discusses the historical and mythological customs, lore, and traditions associated with the eight Pagan holidays. This illustrated volume includes: A new, never-before published essay, ‘Marking the Sabbats’; a new preface, ‘Counting the Days’; a new bibliography; plus six additional thought-provoking essays!”

I don’t normally plug books like this, but considering the history of this work, and the effort Acorn Guild went to in order to have an e-version made available on Amazon, I thought it worth a quick mention.  For more on the book and Mike Nichols, check out my interview with him.

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

PantheaCon Day Two

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 20, 2011 — 8 Comments

My second day at PantheaCon in San Jose was a blur of activity. I’ve got a lot to write about and share with you, and some of it will have to wait until I’ve conducted some follow-up interviews, but I did wanted to briefly share with you some brief impressions of my Saturday. First off, the Pagan Newswire Collective meet-and-greet was a splendid success, and I think Erynn Laurie’s impressions closely mirror my own. I think our young organization made some good first impressions at this event, and I’m hopeful that we can continue to build a robust Pagan journalism for our collective future.

The Pagans in the media/21st century leadership panel led by journalist and podcaster Devin Hunter, had a packed room, and resulted in some excellent questions and responses. Devin recorded the entire event on video, and once he’s posted them to Youtube, I’ll share them here with you. The final event I was directly involved with on Saturday, the special screening of “American Mystic”, was also well received, with a responsive and appreciative audience. DVD copies of the film sold fast, and I think the buzz about this documentary will continue to increase.

Amidst the event that I was directly involved with, I also had the pleasure of attending an excellent panel on Hindu-Pagan dialog featuring Thorn Coyle, Selena Fox, and members of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). Our commonalities were explored, and joint political and social agendas were touched on for the future. That entire panel was recorded, and will soon be featured on Thorn’s podcast, so stay tuned for that! I’m very excited on the progress on dialog and cooperation between Hindus and Pagans that have been made this year, and looks to be something that may bear fruit for years to come.

Finally, tired, but determined, I attended the concert by the always-excellent Pagan band Pandemonaeon, who, as always, had the audience in the palm of their hand. If you haven’t already, do check out their latest album “Dangerous Beauty”.

That’s all I have time for at the moment, now I’m off to prepare for my introduction to the Pagan Newswire Collective talk, and my Pagans in the New Media Panel later this afternoon (which will be recorded). I hope all of you have a great day, I’ll have more for all of you soon.

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!

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

International Pagan Coming Out Day: May 2nd has been announced as the first International Pagan Coming Out Day, an initiative “to achieve greater acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community.” Cara Schulz, executive chair of the sponsoring organization, has a post up at Pagan+Politics explaining the event’s purpose and rationale, while Diana Rajchel at PNC-Minnesota interviews her about the new annual event.

Our website offers resources (like the IPCOD’s Guide to Coming Out authored by Drake Spaeth, PsyD) and encouragement for Pagans who choose to come out. We give Pagans a place to make their voice heard as they recount their personal stories of coming out or as they relate the experience that caused them to decide that they were not able or willing to come out yet. Through these stories, by more Pagans coming out and being visible, and by showing Pagan allies how they can stand with us, we hope to reduce stigma by putting a human face on Paganism. Some of the ‘out’ stories featured on our site are: A Pagan mother faces a home visit by her child’s teachers. Telling your parents. And my story, coming out in a police station.

The IPCOD site has listed ways in which individuals can participate, or if you’d like to become an IPCOD organizer. In addition to Schulz, the IPCOD executive committee is comprised of CUUPS Board Member Emeritus Dave Burwasser, licensed clinical psychologist, and Earth Traditions co-founder, Drake Spaeth, Anne Newkirk Niven, editor of three magazines for Pagans and their allies: SageWoman, Witches&Pagans, and Crone, writer and blogger Laura M. LaVoie, webmaster David Dashifen Kees, Nick Ritter, a Theodsman, and old Frisian and archaic Anglo-Saxon language specialist, and your’s truly. I have joined with Cara on this project because I think a unified effort towards ‘coming out’ is a needed one, a complimentary movement to our already vibrant Pagan Pride days. I hope you’ll support IPCOD, and help spread the word.

PantheaCon 2011 is Coming! PantheaCon, the largest indoor gathering of modern Pagans in the United States, held every President’s day weekend in San Jose, California, has posted their official schedule of events. A veritable ”who’s who” of modern Paganism, Pantheacon features a large number of prominent authors, teachers, ritualists, and scholars giving talks, making presentations, participating in panels, and holding rituals. In addition, PantheaCon also hosts musical entertainment, including this year, Lasher Keen, Pandemonaeon, Wendy Rule, Land of the Blind, Celia, and Ruth Barrett. As I’ve mentioned previously, this year’s Pantheacon will feature a special screening of Alex Mar’s documentary “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.

Finally, on a personal front, I will be presenting an introductory talk on the Pagan Newswire Collective, followed later that evening by a special PNC meet-and-greet a the COG/NROOGD/NWC Suite. In addition I’ll be leading a panel discussion entitled  ”Exploring New Media: A Pagan Perspective” featuring Thorn Coyle (Did you know she has a Twitter feed now?), Brandi Palechek from Llewellyn, Star Foster of Patheos, and Christine Hoff Kraemer from Cherry Hill Seminary. I’ll also be participating in a panel led by Devin Hunter entitled “Pagans in the Media: A Panel on 21st Century Pagan Leadership”. So it should be a busy time! Representatives from several PNC bureaus will be there, and I expect this may be covered PantheaCon yet! If you’re going, drop by and say hi!

After Datura, Mandragora: After the success of their anthology Datura (discussed here at TWH), Scarlet Imprint is planning a second collection of esoteric poetry, to be titled Mandragora.

“We are currently fielding poetry submissions from the global occult, magical and pagan communities for this work. Continuing in the same luminous, bejeweled tradition of excellence found in Datura, this new anthology will likewise combine a sampling of the best poetic work available from contemporary practitioners, as well as additional essays about the practice/performance of poetry, the role of poetry in devotional and ritual work, and the artistic culture of magic.”

Deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011. To submit work to this project, please send 3-5 pieces of your best work along with a cover letter via email to collection editor Ruby Sara. For more information, check out the full announcement.

Pagans at the United Religions Initiative: Over at the COG Interfaith Reports blog, Don Frew reports from the in-progress first meeting of the Regional Leadership Team (RLT) of the Multiregion of the United Religions Initiative (URI) in Tepoztlan, Mexico. A Covenant of the Goddess National Interfaith Representative, Frew was recently voted in for another term as an At-Large Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative.

“One of the CCs I coordinate – Spirituality & the Earth – is a Multiregion CC and was one of the founding CCs of the URI.  I had also served two previous terms on the Global Council.  Apparently they felt this gave me sufficient experience and ongoing connection to be able to jump right in and get to work.  (And boy did they have work for me to do!  In addition to helping revitalize the Multiregion, I was also asked to serve in the creation of and on the new External Affairs Committee, which will be responsible for crafting the URI’s official response to world events like what’s going on right now in Tunis and Egypt.  But that’s another story…)

While in many ways the Multiregion embodies the highest aspirations of the URI – people of all religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions working together around the world “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” – it has always been sort-of the odd-man-out.  It’s been a lot easier to organize CCs who all live in one geographic area than it has been to organize something as far-flung as the Multiregion.  We have been VERY reliant on modern technology to create and maintain our network.  We had our very first face-to-face Regional Assembly only last March.  (See the reports in this blog in March 2010.)  That meeting generated a LOT of enthusiasm in the Multiregion and we really didn’t want to see this dissipate.”

You can read part one, here, and part two, here. COG as an organization has long been one of the trailblazers for Pagan involvement in the interfaith community. This work, while seemingly unexciting to the outside observer, creates huge dividends of good will and new networks with indigenous communities. To keep track of this meeting’s progress, be sure to subscribe to the COG Interfaith Reports blog.

Reporting on the Pagan Studies Conference: I’d like to close with a quick plug for the work of LA Pagan Examiner Joanne Elliott, who recently posted a two-part run-down of the recent Pagan Studies Conference at Claremont Graduate University.

“Pagan scholars discussed “Building Community” on Jan. 22 and 23 at the 7th Annual Conference of Current Pagan Studies in Claremont.  More than 70 Pagans gathered to hear the ideas and results of research by the 27 Pagan scholars, researchers and leaders who came from greater LA as well as from other areas of the country.

They gathered to discuss issues that relate to the Pagan community at large. It is important to that community’s health and growth to meet and learn from one another. It’s also important for all Pagans to be involved in the public arena and have their voices heard. With an estimate of over a million Americans now self-identified as Pagan, the Pagan religion is coming of age. And it is feeling, now more than ever, the need for trained leaders and clergy to build stronger Pagan communities that also see themselves as a part of a larger community.”

This event, sadly, wasn’t much covered, so I’m very happy that Joanne was there to keep us informed. Be sure and check it out!

That’s all I have for now, have a great 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.

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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.

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!

American Mystic West Coast Premiere: 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 set to have its West Coast premiere in San Francisco on October 23rd.

“Save the date for the long-awaited West Coast premiere of American Mystic! The film will be coming to us on the weekend before Samhain, with a one-night special screening Saturday October 23, 9:30 pm at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.  After-party to follow. More details will be coming on that, so mark your calendars for this not-to-be-missed event, and we’ll post the details here!”

The Wild Hunt will have an interview with director Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions, a full review of the documentary, and more details about the DVD release in the near future. What I can say at this point is that this is a powerful film, and if you’re in the San Francisco area you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see it on the big screen.

Patrick McCollum at the UN: Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum,who just received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism, and was honored at the 25th anniversary of the Lady Liberty League, was invited to participate in the 2010 International Day of Peace at the United Nations in New York on September 21st. Rev. McCollum began the morning by blessing the Peace Altar at the center of the UN compound, and then later participated in the opening flag ceremony during the ringing of the Peace Bell, which marked a world-wide cease fire for one day.

“It was a powerful day,” said McCollum, “a time signifying hope and equality for all people, World Peace, and a reverence for our planet.” Following the International Day of Peace, Rev. McCollum participated in 4 additional days of meetings as a member of the Executive Board of Directors of the United Nations NGO, Children of the Earth.

Rachel Bevilacqua/Rev. Magdalen Custody Case: Long-time readers may remember my previous reporting on Rachel Bevilacqua (aka Rev. Magdalen) a member of the Church of the Subgenius who has been fighting a long and bitter custody battle with her former boyfriend. Now, it seem like the fight is finally over according to a comment sent to me by Modemac at The High Weirdness Project.

“The final deadline of September 22, 2010 came and went without any last-minute attempts by Rachel Bevilacqua’s former boyfriend to appeal the custody decision. This means that the custody case is now officially CLOSED IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK. Any further attempts to disrupt Rachel’s relationship with her son would have to be filed in the state of Georgia. This means that he would most likely have to SPEND MONEY to do so. In other words: After four years of hell, IT’S OVER.”

Keep in mind that this “victory” came at the cost of thousands of dollars, personal bankruptcy, and a still-standing ban on exposing her son to any Subgenius materials. I recommend reading the exhaustive run-down of this case at Modemac’s The High Weirdness ProjectPart 1Part 2Part 3. Cases like this are indicative of the struggles faced by parents who are adherents to minority religions. As more parents use religion as a “wedge” in custody battles, Reverend Magdalen’s case threatens to become a mere statistic in a larger trend of parents having to defend their faith in court.

RDNA on Bonewits: The latest issue of Reformed Druids of North America’s (RDNA) newsletter, the Druid Inquirer, features lengthy remembrances of Isaac Bonewits, who recently passed away after a struggle with cancer.

“As leaves fall, so do Druids. This issue is focused on the life and career of Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010) who died on August 12. You can separate his life into period into four quarters. First growing up a disgruntled but curious Catholic 1949-1965. Then he was most active in the RDNA from 1968-1983 and then became the founder and first Archdruid of ADF from 1983-1996. The last quarter of his Druid career was a focus on his family, the internet growth of Druidry, dealing with health problems, publishing books and the nurturing of the various projects from his youth. As with his mentor Robert Larson’s passing in 2005 and Norman Nelson in 2009, we are devoting this issue to providing you more resources in understanding the scope of Isaac’s Druidical influence.”

You can download part one, here, and part two, here. This is vital reading for anyone wanting to understand the evolution of Druidry in America, and Isaac Bonewit’s place in that history.

Welcoming PNC-Heartland: In a final note, I’d like a welcome another new addition to the Pagan Newswire Collective’s bureau’s project, PNC-Heartland, serving Kansas, Western Missouri, and surrounding areas.

“The PNC-Heartland Bureau was launched on 23 September 2010 by two Kansas City and one Wichita Pagan who are committed to gathering Pagan news in the Kansas and western Missouri region.  They have established a blog at http://pncheartland.wordpress.com.  If you have questions, news or would like to be part of this effort, please contact us at pncheartland@gmail.com.”

Yet another forward movement in creating a news infrastructure for the Pagan community, I wish them the best of luck. Stay tuned for announcements regarding the launch of PNC-Main’s web site and our official “coming out” at Pantheacon.

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

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.