Archives For Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Fundraising Pagan Style

Terence P Ward —  November 18, 2014 — 9 Comments

Despite the strong countercultural thread that runs through many Pagan religions, there has long been a concurrent drive to develop the infrastructure and tools of the overculture, and turn them to our own ends. Arguments over owning land, creating seminaries, forming churches and other not-for-profits have been hashed out for decades, and this will likely be the cause of lively discourse for many years to come.

At the same time, those in the community who do forge ahead with these projects continue to speculate why one idea might flourish and another fail. For example, some posit that Pagans are too poor to support these works or perhaps too cheap. Others claim that Pagans want all the nice things but don’t wish to pay for them. Still others assert that Pagans are scarred by the experiences of their birth religions and, therefore, will not donate to any cause which promises to lift up religious hierarchies.

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

None of these arguments hold much water, because no meaningful research has be done that focuses on financial attitudes and security within Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or any similar communities that fall under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella. However, even without that research, it is evident that anything from feeding the homeless to building a library requires money to succeed.

Online communication makes it easier to connect with donors. As a result, the internet has made older donation platforms more accessible, and allowed new ones to emerge. In recent years, crowdfunding platforms have become the method of choice to raise funds from the dispersed Pagan communities. Sites such as IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter have not only helped individuals secure funding for everything from burial expenses to pilgrimages, but they have also become invaluable to organizations such as The Wild Hunt, which is bankrolled by its annual online fund drive. Indeed, the egalitarian nature of crowdfunding makes it a popular way to promote a cause or rally community members to support one of their own.

Crowdfunding sites provide tools for social engagement and promotion, making them the media darlings that garner a lot of visibility. One aspect of these platform’s popularity is that, for the most part, they do not discriminate about the worthiness or the motivation for a campaign. If someone can successfully promote making potato salad, it does not matter if that someone is an individual or a corporation; or whether that someone is seeking profit or not. This is particularly beneficial to the individual, because many other sources of money are closed to all but non-profits, which have the blessings of the national government. Here in the United States that means the approval under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dusty Dionne marketing director for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church said that when it comes to raising money “we as Pagans can’t hold your immortal soul up against your wallet — we have to give you something in return.” To that end, ATC’s founder Pete Pathfinder was always seeking things that could be given in return for donations, such as cookbooks and The Other People, which took the text of an Oberon Zell article and transformed it into a parody of a Chick tract. Dionne said, “My job is to find something to give you, the Pagan,” in return for a donation.

During the last two years of his life, Pathfinder “grew increasingly concerned with the financial stability of the church,” Dionne recalled, and he spent considerable time “finding ways to raise money without badgering the community and trying to make them feel that it was their responsibility only.” Aware that many organizations don’t successfully transition beyond the founder’s death, Dionne is now focused on finding as many revenue streams as possible for the ATC.

Those include passive revenue streams, such as Kroger Community Rewards and Amazon Smile. The latter is a portal set up by Amazon.com that allows shoppers to direct 5% of their sales to a not-for-profit. and the former is a similar program for customers of Kroger’s and Fred Myers, which are regional grocery stores. Corporations benefit from such programs by creating goodwill in the community, providing tax write-offs, and increasing brand loyalty. Often the store’s presumed support of a particular cause alters shopping habits to match.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Another church which avails itself of the Amazon Smile program is the Maetreum of Cybele, which has long been raising money for an interminable court battle over the tax-exempt status of its property in the town of Catskill, New York. Neither the Maetreum nor the ATC has seen a lot of money streaming in from this source. Dionne said that ATC’s first check was for thirteen dollars and, according to Reverend Catherine Platine, “It yields a small amount of donations but also allows us to purchase for the Maetreum items from Amazon with a cash back. We haven’t really promoted them outside occasional reminders on our FB page.”

PayPal’s Giving Fund (formerly eBay’s Mission Fish) is an independent 501c3 organization that helps for-profit businesses set-up and maintain similar giving programs. Non-profits can register with the program in order to be listed as a potential recipient of donations. Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) has been a registered recipient with this program for several years and has received small donations through eBay purchases.

Corporations do other kinds of giving as well, such as those listed in the Whole Foods community giving program, which isn’t restricted to non-profits. In-kind donations of products and services can often be obtained through a conversation with a local store manager, or by completing a simple application, but typically some amount of advance notice is required. CoG took advantage of this program for its 2014 Merry Meet event in Atlanta. Whole Foods donated $50.00 worth of groceries, which were used to help feed attendees at its day-long leadership workshop.

A pattern for much of this corporate largesse is that it doesn’t fully hit the company’s bottom line. In-kind donations cost less than the retail value that’s declared, and anything that can be written-off softens the fiscal blow, and is frequently encouraged by bean-counters in the back office. Passive programs, such as Amazon Smile, only generate donations based on customer sales, which may not have ever happened without those fundraising programs. Many of the largest companies may match donations made to certain charities, or have employee giving programs, which provide a convenient mechanism for those donations (in the form of payroll deduction) to translate into regular checks sent to a chosen charity.

SEFA logo

SEFA logo.

Perhaps the most alluring employee giving campaigns are those set up by the government itself, because there are a lot of people employed in public service. Mistakenly called “United Way campaigns,” because that charity was once the only administrator of such programs, these campaigns are generally created under the auspices of a governing body, but operate independently of it.

For example, in New York, a program called the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) is run by a council of state employees and retirees, who divide the state into a number of regions, which are then managed by local volunteer committees. Each of those regions hires a fiscal manager – a non-profit organization – to work with the local committee in order to promote the campaign and ensure that the donations end up where they’re intended.

These programs have certain advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it’s easy to receive a donation from employees of that government. But on the down side, if that government makes decisions which are unpopular with its employees,such as pay freezes and layoffs, it could impact what given. Donations can also dry up if employees feel that the charity is reflecting well upon an undeserving boss. In other words, these programs can be terribly political.

There are many local governments with campaigns, and about twenty states have them. However, the biggest one is the combined Federal campaign due to the large number of people who can potentially be reached. However, these campaigns all have different application standards and reporting requirements, which may not be worth the effort if there aren’t employees standing by ready to donate to a cause. The first step that any organization should take, with regards to government programs, is to find out how many members or supporters actually work for the body in question.

Even if all the necessary hoops are jumped through, donations are rarely received from anyone who isn’t actually asked to give one. No matter the size or structure of the organization, regardless of what tools are available for raising money, and whether or not that money is going to a non-profit or just someone trying to deepen a personal spiritual practice, there’s never going to be anything that replaces the need to ask.

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On Oct 31 at 6:00pm PST, Pierre Claveloux Davis, also known as Pete Pathfinder, passed away. The announcement was made by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church:

[Pete] was surrounded by loved ones, and went peacefully in his bed. Today, on our most holy day, when the barrier between the Worlds was at its thinnest, and on the 35th anniversary of the founding of his life’s work, The Aquarian Tabernacle Church; our Grandmother Hekate, Patron Goddess of our Order came across and brought home with her one of her most devoted sons. Founder of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Panegyria Magazine, Spiral Scouts, The Pagan Information Network, and Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, Pete’s contribution to Wicca, and Pagan rights can never be overstated. From prison ministries, to Veterans rights, and his ability to standardize our faith through the Government, Pete’s legacy, and the freedoms enjoyed from his actions will be felt throughout the duration of Wicca on Earth.

Pete Pathfinder was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1937 to a Catholic father and Pagan mother. However it wasn’t until he was 37 years old that he himself fully entered into the Pagan world as a Wiccan initiate. Then in 1976, he relocated to Index, Washington — the place he would call home for the rest of his life.

Once established in Washington, Pete began to realize his dream of creating an oasis for local Pagans. On Samhain 1979, Pete established the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC). In 1983, he himself initiated into the New Wiccan Church (Kingstone) tradition. Then, in the winter 1984, ATC members performed a ritual dedicating their own newly built MoonStone ritual circle, located on Pete’s property. From that point on, ATC began to grow and Pete’s dream evolved into something new; something bigger. He wanted to establish a legally-recognized Wiccan church.

10403568_997567973602608_1527945895591883617_nOver the next two decades, Pete worked tirelessly to legitimize and formalize his organization. ATC received tax-exempt status and, eventually, a special designation as an umbrella organization with affiliates. By the mid 1990s, ATC was expanding beyond state boundaries and even beyond national boundaries. Today ATC is a legally-recognized Wiccan religious organization in 5 countries with affiliate organizations in several more.

While ATC was growing, Pete dedicated himself to public outreach and to the quest for religious equality. Locally, for example, he worked with law enforcement and in the courts as a expert in cases involving the occult. Those relationships led to ATC facilitating the establishment of a worship ring of stones at the Washington Twin Rivers Correctional Center. He participated in the Washington State Interfaith Council and acted as its President for two terms. During that time, he met the Dalai Lama, which he marked as one of the highlights of his life. And nationally, Pete was directly involved with the successful Pentacle Quest.

But the story doesn’t end there. Pete believed in the importance of internally strengthening his community. ATC established a scouting program for Pagan children in the Seattle-area. The response was overwhelming positive. By 2001, the program expanded nationally, becoming its own organization known as Spiral Scouts. In 1998, he founded the Woolston-Steen Wiccan Theological Seminary, or the Wiccan Seminary, which has since received authorization from the Washington State Department of Higher Education to issue academic degrees.

From the moment he took his initiation to his death, Pete dedicated his life to raising awareness, educating the public and building bridges that would help bring legitimacy to his own religion and to the community of its followers. In an interview in the Spring 2014, ATC’s current Archpriestess BellaDonna Leveau said, “He’s no-nonsense when it comes to protecting our faith and making it safe for us to worship Goddess.” In that interview, she also remarked on Pete’s failing health, saying that “he was on oxygen all the time now … This world will sorely miss him when he makes his final assay to the summerlands.”

Those words now ring true. The Circle of the Ancient Sisters posted this:

We offer condolences and much sadness this great loss to the Pagan Community.. we shall place a sacred candle on our alters around the world for yet another blessed elder.

Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie wrote:

Like me, I am sure there are many Elders who have gone on to help seekers on their life’s pathway to spiritual enlightenment because Rt. Rev. Pete Pathfinder Davis was their Elder’s guide. The gifts that this teacher gave to me can neither be explained or even named on this plane. May his work be forever remembered in the hearts and minds of his students. May ATC continue to grow under those who he trusted to carry on n his physical absence regardless of what the future holds.

After the announcement was made, Archpriestess Belladonna herself said :

Pete Pathfinder has crossed over. Mother came for him, and his spirit flew away. We sang as his body stopped working. We sat with him and held sacred space as he took his leave. He was my mentor. In many ways, he gave me new life, and birthed me into the person I am today. I loved him. I will miss him. Goodbye Pete Daddy

ATC has asked that everyone hold all phone calls until after Nov. 2nd to give Pete’s family and the church the time needed to grieve. All condolences should be posted on Pete’s Facebook page. In addition, ATC will be holding a public candlelight vigil for Pete on Sunday Nov. 2 at 7pm PST at the Tab. Organizers added, “Bring your drums to play, food to share, and spirits to toast and we will sing Pete across the veil.”

What is remembered, lives

Never forget that life is a journey, not a destination. You will never build a reputation on what you are going to do, and unfortunately, it’s never too late to do nothing. Only those who can see the invisible can accomplish the impossible, so go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have, right now! If you can dream it, you can do it, so do the things you think you cannot do. Luck is nothing more than good planning, carefully executed. Wisdom is knowing what comes next, and knowing just when to jump off the swing. You are only young once, but if you don’t pay attention to life’s lessons, you will be immature forever. - Pete Pathfinder Davis, ATC founder & Archpriest

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

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Yesterday, I shared the sad news that author and magician Donald Michael Kraig had passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Today, I wanted to showcase a tribute to Kraig by his longtime employer and publisher Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote: “Don has been an important part of Llewellyn for over 40 years, and has been a tremendous colleague, teacher, mentor, and inspiration to many. Don first started his journey with Llewellyn as an author, when he submitted Modern Magick with encouragement from his then roommate Scott Cunningham. Shortly after he was hired as a writer and moved to St. Paul to work at Llewellyn headquarters.  He eventually became the editor of FATE magazine as well.  Later, he moved back to California but continued on as a writer and editor of New Worlds magazine and as an acquiring editor, where he continued using and sharing his extensive subject-matter knowledge. Don has touched so many lives and will be dearly missed. We are grateful to his life lived, and for his teachings and words that will continue to live on through his many books. Our thoughts go out to Holly and their friends and families.” Updates on a memorial service, and a place to leave donations to help with expenses, can be found here.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

Modern Druid group The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids turns 50 this year, and a special golden anniversary grove is being planned to honor the occasion. Quote: “2014 is the 50th year of The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. We have asked ‘Trees for Life’ in Scotland to plant a sacred grove to commemorate this anniversary, and have started the project with a donation of 98 trees. We’re calling it ‘Nuinn’s Grove’ after the Druid name of our founder, Ross Nichols. Have a look at the special web-page for this grove here. You’ll see that you can donate a tree for just £5 and ask for a dedication to be read out at its planting. The Order has 17,000 members, a mailing list of 10,000 newsletter susbscribers, and 16,000 listeners to our podcast every month – if every one donated a tree we could plant a whole forest with many sacred groves in it! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!  Do help make this vision a reality, if you can, by gifting at least one tree now and spreading the news! Trees for Life have made the process incredibly simple!” 

logo-bsfGede Parma, author of “Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft,” will be presenting this week at BaliSpirit Festival on the Indonesian archipelago of Bali. According to Parma, ze is the first Witch to present at this high-profile yoga/dance/music festival. You can see Parma’s listing on the official web site, here. Quote: “Gede spends his time actively promoting conscious engagement with Place and the Planet, teaching and writing about Witchcraft and Magic, and deepening connection with the Many Bright and Cunning Spirits that people this Cosmos. Ze is also a Reclaiming Witch, a modern tradition of the Craft co-founded by several individuals in California, most famously Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance. Reclaiming does the work of (re)uniting politics with spirituality and is an activist and ecofeminist expression of Witchcraft and Paganism.” Parma recently relocated to Bali, and is half Balinese. The festival runs from March 19th through the 23rd.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The always-interesting Norse Mythology Blog, run by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried, is once again up for a religion-category Bloggie in the fourteenth annual Weblog Awards. If the blog wins this year it will, according to Seigfried, “be the first religion blog (on any religion) to be installed in the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame.” Voting is open through Sunday.
  • The 2014 Ostara issue of ACTION, the official newsletter of AREN, is now available. As always, it is chock-full of interesting interviews (plain text version). Featured interviews this time out include Cairril Adaire, Laura Perry, Rufus Brock Maychild, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (who talks about Wiccanate privilege, and if it’s a problem). ACTION, as I’ve said many times before, is a quiet gem of a resource, don’t miss out on reading it.
  • Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC, which recently announced that it would be closing its community center space, has made announcements regarding plans for new initiatives moving forward, and the election of new officers to guide the foundation. Quote: “The Open Hearth Foundation Board of Governors has decided to focus the organization’s efforts on building community support and funding for its mission, with the goal of reopening a Pagan lending library within the next two years.”
  • The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire will be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Quote: “On Sunday, April 6, 2014, The Temple of Witchcraft will be opening its doors to the public for our Spring Open House in Salem, New Hampshire. Join us in sharing the magick with coffee, tea, refreshments, and lively company. Curious? Have your questions answered by our knowledgable ministers and learn the facts and fantasy about modern Witches and Witchcraft. Come learn about our various ministries, including our work in Healing, Art, Women’s Spirituality, Grief Support, Prison Ministry, and Rites of Passage.”
  • A Pennsylvania coven fighting to perform legal handfastings, whom I’ve mention before here, has won their struggle to navigate the red tape. I’m glad this has been resolved for them.
  • Cosette writes about an unrepentant Australian Pagan predator in the community. Quote: “In my quest to discover the movers and shakers of the Pagan community in Australia, it was bound to happen that I would eventually stumble upon him. He is a man that everyone talks about through cautious whispers and shameful glances. Nobody says his name. I didn’t know his name until the internet magically revealed it. He’s the Voldemort of Victoria, but worse because he is real. His name is Robin Fletcher.”
  • Challenges for Pagan youth, in their own words. Quote: “I don’t think there is a catch-all solution for providing youth with more resources. Everyone has a different need, style of communication, and a learning pace that we just can’t issue a panacea for. I think the first step is acknowledging that young people are still coming to Paganism and polytheism in droves and that it’s up to us to help meet that demand in whatever ways we can.”
  • Panegyria, the newsletter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, turns 30 this month. Quote: “For thirty years, Panegyria has aimed at connecting the Pagan communities and individuals in the greater Seattle area. During the early 80’s the scene was filled with a disjointed community consisting of small groups, and scantily published newsletters. Pete “Pathfinder” Davis saw a need for a more comprehensive publication to showcase and bring together the voice of the Seattle-area Pagan community.”

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

PPR SeekingtheMystery draft2 187x300

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Over at Llewellyn Wordlwide’s official blogElysia Gallo, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Witchcraft, Wicca, Pagan, and magickal books, lists seven ways in which you can support Pagan community. I heartily agree with all her recommendations.

“So now, as we pull into the harvest season, let’s start thinking about ways to give back to our vibrant and wide-reaching community. I have a few brilliant ideas (as usual!), some of which will hit you up for cash, others of which only take some time and mindfulness.”

Among her suggestions, Elysia lists supporting the New Alexandrian Library’s fundraising effort (more on that here), helping to send Patrick McCollum to the Awakened World Conference in Italy, and supporting a brand new Pagan Living TV initiative.

Almost all of her suggestions, including volunteering at Pagan Pride, throwing a party for Cherry Hill Seminary, and shopping at Pagan-owned businesses, are about building Pagan infrastructure. It’s about putting our resources back into that which we say we value. Too often our responses to needs within modern Paganism are ad hoc and reactive. This is not to say there aren’t visionaries among us who envision a different way of doing things, but these efforts aren’t well-funded, and are often overwhelmed by the needs they encounter. We are still at a point where simply having physical locations is somewhat novel.

“A Memphis Wiccan group now has a building for worship, becoming one of the first Wiccan groups in the country to do so. The Temple of the Sacred Gift is a local chapter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based out of the state of Washington. They have official non-profit status with the IRS, making them just like any church in Memphis. […] The temple holds worship every other week and often puts on festivals. About 40 people attend each worship, while hundreds can show up at some of the festivals. Participants include local policemen, lawyers, and business owners.”

Infrastructure, physical spaces, institutions, social services, it’s all about taking care of our own. If we are to be able to cross the threshold into being a movement that can support itself, grow into having the land, temples, libraries, and advocacy organizations many of us dream about, we need to re-think how our interconnected communities work. A problem that the late, great, Isaac Bonewits wrestled with in the years before his death.

“Establishing Pagan charities, or even just creating a culture of generosity inside Pagandom, requires us to face all our individual and group attitudes towards money and fund-raising. Being a Pagan shouldn’t be about just taking the goodies that others have to give, but also about returning our gifts to others, thus passing the good karma along. Among the ancient tribal peoples so many of us seek to emulate, “hosting” and “guesting” involved giving and receiving in complex systems of reciprocal relationships. In fact, those words come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, ghosti, which is also the root of the word “ghost,” referring to a family spirit who must be shown proper respect and be fed with offerings.

Yet the Christian Dualism that saturates our mainstream culture, combined with left-over anti-money ideals of the 1960s counterculture, leads many to assume that money is “profane,” that spiritual people “don’t need” money, and that anyone asking for money in a religious context is “just like” the televangelists (whom we view as dishonest and greedy) or whatever mainstream religion we were brought up in. In an “us vs. them” worldview, remember, anyone who has something about them that resembles anything about someone else we consider evil, is of course, just as evil–or at least comfortably ignorable. These attitudes, of course, justify hanging on to our money rather than sharing it with those in need. Indeed, it usually takes a major disaster to shake us out of our complacency.”

These issues seem more present to me now because I believe we are at the threshold of a great shift. I think we are ready to do things differently, to move in directions we didn’t think were possible. I think we are capable of claiming the very things we say we long for, to shed our sub-cultural cocoon and emerge as a religious movement to be reckoned with. Until then, our activists, clergy, and leaders continue to do the work. For example, while Patrick McCollum is trying to raise money to take part in a global interfaith initiative, he’s also meeting with local politicians to end religious discrimination against minority faiths in the California prison system.

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

“Rev. Patrick McCollum met this week with California State Senator, Mark DeSaulnier to discuss religious discrimination issues and policies directed toward minority faiths within California’s state institutions.  The institutions discussed included the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The meeting went well and Senator DeSaulnier, who is known for government reform, has agreed to investigate further into the policies and issues affecting our community and others.  Reverend McCollum will have follow up meetings with the Senator, and has agreed to provide additional documentation.”

Every day, in ways we don’t see or notice, there are Pagans working to build our future. If we want to see that future become a reality we need to support them in their work, and show that we’re collectively ready to build the movement many of us say we want.  That support doesn’t have to break your bank, but it can mean working to make sure your local community is thriving, to make sure your elders aren’t in danger, to make sure the people who serve you can do so without the wolf at their door. Support is simple, and it allows visionaries the room to help collectively build our Pagan future.

Yesterday the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

First, we find out that around 1.7% of the national prison population are adherents to a Pagan or earth-based/nature religion. If you extrapolate that to the currently incarcerated population of the United States (around 2.3 – 2.4 million people) it means there’s close to 40 thousand incarcerated Pagans (Native American spirituality averages around 2.7%, or  over 62 thousand incarcerated adherents).  In addition, 34% percent of prison chaplains say that their Pagan populations are growing, with another 49% saying the population has remained stable. Only 8% of chaplains noted a decline in Pagan inmates.

Which brings us to the most contentious section on the religious lives of inmates, extremism. A sizable minority of chaplains (39%) say that extremism is “very” or “somewhat” common within Pagan religions.

No one is going to deny that some Pagan groups in prison are extremist in nature, but I want to push back a bit and contextualize this finding. First, we need to note that the vast majority of prison chaplains are Christian. Of that number, an impressive 44% of prison chaplains are Evangelical Christians. I’m not saying that Evangelical Christians can’t be impartial in making judgments about what is and isn’t extremism in non-Christian religions, but I do think that most of them start out with a severe deficit in practical, unbiased, knowledge of our faiths and traditions. Also, as the Christian Post points out, “extremism” isn’t just about race or intolerance towards other groups, it’s also about “exclusivity” and “unreasonable” requests for accommodation. Both of those factors are highly subjective, and could be skewing the number higher than it may actually be. Still, even without those caveats, it should be noted that most chaplains (61%) don’t think there’s a major Pagan extremism problem.

“I agree that there can be extremism, depending upon your definition. Very, very few offenders were raised Pagan; almost all converted while inside. Now, converts in general are more fervent than cradle raised believers, but there is an extra issue for Pagans; many converted to a Pagan faith because they felt the church of their childhood failed them. This can result in some rigid attitudes. But extremism does not automatically mean a security threat. A hard nosed, rigid member of a pacifist faith is only a threat as a speed bump, for example. Yes, there have been problems in some places, some times- but a lot of that is caused by two factors: first, we ARE talking not only about fallible humans, but fallen ones as well; prisons aren’t the place to go for demonstrations of wise decision making.”Joel Monka, volunteer with Indianapolis Pagan Prison Ministry

For Pagan clergy, volunteers, and organizations trying to provide chaplaincy services to incarcerated Pagans, these statistics simply underscore the many challenges inherent in providing guidance to an often misunderstood religious movement. In 2008, Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights, saying he “found discrimination against minority faiths everywhere” and that the problem was “endemic.” Noted Pagan leaders like Starhawk have personally experienced the poor treatment and lack of respect our religions often receive from prison officials. However, when Pagan clergy are allowed in, and Pagan inmates are given the same consideration as other inmates, truly healing moments of fellowship can happen.

“The Pew Center study on the opinions of prison chaplains was a fascinating read. I found it interesting that Earth-based religions were listed by some of them as being extremist. I volunteer with the Druids in a minimum/medium security prison in Washington State, and I can state categorically that none of my men have ever expressed extremist views in my hearing. I can’t speak for the Wiccan or Asatru inmates, but based on discussions with my fellow volunteers from the Paganfest we held in the prison last summer, these other groups in this prison aren’t particularly extremist, either.” – Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of Ár nDríaocht Féin (ADF)

Robert Keefer, High Priest of Crossroads Tabernacle Church – ATC, who’s on the Advisory Council for the State of Michigan’s corrections department, noted that relations with the local prison chaplain have been “friendly and helpful,” though he points out that ritual meetings are “limited to the 8 Sabbats currently,” and that expanding that to include Full Moon rituals and educational services have been “slow going.” Aside from bureaucratic hassles, and dealing with hostile or simply misinformed chaplains, the biggest problem we face is finding enough volunteers to deal with the large and growing number of incarcerated Pagans who want or need religious services. Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of Ár nDríaocht Féin (ADF), pointed out that “in the prison I volunteer at, if there is no volunteer, the men of that religion are not allowed to meet. This can truly be a hardship.” Thomas says that he “can only pray that our Gods will inspire the hearts of my Pagan brothers and sisters to step up and volunteer to help our incarcerated men and women lead valid and fulfilling spiritual lives.”

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

This report is a first foray into the many issues and concerns raised by this data, and I’m committed to continuing this conversation for as long as it needs to happen. I’m already in communication with several other voices from within the Pagan community on the issue of prison chaplaincy and the topics raised by this survey, and hope to spotlight them in the coming weeks and months.

[REMINDER: I am currently raising funds so I can go on assignment to the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Chicago this November. Three days into the campaign and I’m less than $150 dollars from reaching my goal! To everyone who has donated so far, THANK YOU, you are making robust and responsive Pagan journalism possible. If you haven’t pledged yet, please consider doing so today, the quicker we reach the goal, the faster we can move forward on building new funding models for Pagan media.]

It’s been an oft-repeated assertion that during tough economic times the church pews fill up. In a recent Newsweek article economist Daniel Hungerman suggested this phenomenon is more due to a yearning for “interconnectedness” than with the popular “no atheists in foxholes” theory. Economics writer Ryan Avent thinks it all comes down to cheap entertainment. But does this pervasive truism of increased religious attendance during hard times apply to modern Pagan faiths? What happens when there is no “pew” to casually fill when times are tough? I’ve asked a number of Pagan leaders, clergy, organizers, and adherents about attendance levels, and anecdotal evidence from across the country seems to point towards the rising tide of economic hardship lifting all religious boats.

Near the San Francisco Bay, Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, recently featured in a new documentary, and  co-founder of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, said that there’s been a steady increase in attendance for the last few years, though she can’t say for certain if the economy has been a driving factor.

“…it’s hard to separate the influence of the economy from other factors. We’re just passing our first half decade in existence, and we’ve been in a rapid growth phase of our development in terms of infrastructure building and also in terms of exposure, so we might have had just as much growth in attendance regardless of the economy. There’s not enough history to know what our ‘baseline’ really is.”

Ravenna’s experiences though are mirrored in Montana, where author and local leader Raven Digitalis has noted an up-tick in attendance, noting that  “people seem to feel a greater need for community support — understandably!” In Georgia, Lady Charissa of the North Georgia Solitaries says that “we’ve gone from an average attendance of 12-15 to an average attendance of 30-35 at small Sabbats.” Others, like the Correllian Nativist Tradition (founders of the popular Witch School) and Aquarian Tabernacle Church-affiliated Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca note spectacular increases in membership and attendance.

“Our numbers have more than tripled in the past 12 months. We have even had to expand operations to encompass our over seas members. I think there is a reaching out that occurs during a recession. If there is a decline in numbers at Christian Venues, I would attribute it to feeling like you NEED to tithe to attend. Money is tight. We as pagans offer services that accept donations, but we don’t expect them. We honor them, but we don’t demand them. It is more important today, and tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future that we provide a place for people to connect with the Divine then it has been in 90 years.” - Dusty Dionne, Church Summoner, Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca

But while there’s been a seeming overall trend of increased attendance in recent years, it hasn’t always brought with it increased donations. Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Archpriest, Pete Pathfinder Davis, noted to me that while attendance at his Washington state congregation has increased, donations this year have fallen sharply. Raven Digitalis remarked that his group “have had to put our feet down” concerning event fees “a bit more than usual”. A respondent from Illinois noted that he feels there’s been a decrease in attendance lately as the cost of  transportation rises. In addition, many of the groups that have experienced success also mentioned that they have worked hard to provide community services while keeping costs low.

North Georgia Solitaries recently held a successful festival drawing nearly 300 people in a fund-raiser for their newly-launched Pagan Assistance Fund to help their community members in times of financial crisis, while Stone City Pagan Sanctuary has worked hard to keep things affordable for the organizations that depend on their land for events.

“One thing we have done is try to keep costs low, both for gatherings that we organize ourselves, and also what we charge to host other groups’ events. For example, we don’t charge anything for kids, ever, because we know even half-price can still make it hard on families. I think that keeping costs low has helped us stay viable as the economy has gotten worse.”Morpheus Ravenna

While there has certainly been challenges for our communities during this ongoing recession, it seems that hard times haven’t equaled diminished numbers or attendance in many groups across the United States. I think this points to Pagan faiths being deeply rooted and mature enough to provide the sense of fellowship and “interconnectedness” that Hungerman describes in the Newsweek article.

“…maybe people’s desire for spiritual guidance is influenced by their perception of how the world’s doing outside of themselves. Church attendance may not reflect our own circumstances but our own idea of how the world is doing beyond us.”

So maybe the booming circles, groves, and events reflect that we are checking in with our own loose-knit communities, finding fellowship so we can weather this storm together.

Top Story: The company Serpentine Music & Media, founded by author and dream expert Anne Hill back in 1992, has officially ceased its role as distributor of Pagan-created and Pagan-themed music. Originally created as a way to help Starhawk and Reclaiming distribute a collection of songs and chants that Hill had helped produce, it grew into an essential resource boasting a catalog of 350 items at its peak, while establishing the ever-nebulous “pagan music” genre tag. In a letter to customers, Hill describes recent changes in the music industry as a prime motivator for her decision.

“It is no secret that the music industry has been suffering for several years now. During that time, I have changed the business model for Serpentine Music to adjust for reduced sales due to MP3 downloads, pirated music, and other factors. This year, however, sales have dropped yet again, while I have had new and exciting opportunities opening up in different areas.”

Serpentine Music & Media will continue to distribute albums the company had a direct hand in producing, most notably “Circle Round and Sing,” “The Best of Pagan Song,” and “The Music of Gwydion.” The company will also continue on a venue for Hill’s self-published books like “What To Do When Dreams Go Bad: A Practical Guide to Nightmares”. Serpentine is now in the process of liquidating its remaining stock.

As someone with a deep interest in Pagan music, I think it’s safe to say that this shift represents the end of an era. Serpentine was one of the last active (explicitly) Pagan music distributors surviving from the 1990s, and its contributions towards building a modern audience for, and general awareness of, music made by and for modern Pagans can’t be understated. Serpentine was also one of the few distributors that were adventurous enough to dip its toes into goth and non-folk/circle-chant genres at a time when the generational gulf of musical taste within our community seemed pretty vast. Today there are dozens, if not hundreds of Pagan and Pagan-friendly musical artists operating around the globe, many of whom use the Internet to market directly to their fans. While this situation has created a wealth of riches for the adventurous music fan, it hasn’t created a atmosphere where such a specialized niche distribution company could thrive as it once did. I salute Anne Hill for her contributions to Pagan music, and wish her the best on her future endeavors.

Some Scandinavians Not Overly Fond of Wicca: Helsingin Sanomat reports that plans to republish the young-adult “Sweep” series of books by Cate Tiernan in Finland, Sweden, and Norway have been derailed after it was discovered that Wicca plays a central role in the novels.

“Christian Democratic Party MP Leena Rauhala submitted a written question to the government on Friday, stating the view that the books should not be published in Finland. Rauhala mentioned content of the book, including drug use, nudity, smoking, alcohol, and strong language.  The publisher had removed references to tobacco and alcohol, as well as the strongest language from the translation. As for drug use, the publisher said that the books portrayed illegal drugs in a negative light. The Wicca religion proved to be the deciding factor in the matter. “We do not want to promote any individual religion or political ideology in the books that we target toward children”, says the publisher’s CEO Jens Otto Hansen. He said that the publisher was not familiar with Wicca. “I only learned on Monday morning that such a thing as Wicca exists.”  Hansen sees the case as an “industrial accident” for the publisher.”

Interestingly the publisher has no problem promoting Twilight-related events in Sweden, so Mormon vampires are OK, but witches are beyond the pale. Guess a little unwelcome political controversy can make all the difference. Whether tweens and teens in Finland, Sweden, and Norway will someday get to join America, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and France in following the adventures of “blood witch” Morgan Rowlands remains to be seen.

The (Legal) Poly Marriage Debate Begins In Earnest: Way back in 2006, and then again in 2007, I said that our community would have to seriously confront the reality of Pagan polyamorous families (30% of poly families identify as Pagan according to one survey) coming into the spotlight and eventually seeking legal recognition. Now a case in Canada might be the one to break this issue wide open, and yes, Pagan religion is mentioned.

“Maridas explained all of this [her poly lifestyle] in an affidavit filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court. It was one of six filed by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which is intervening in the case to determine whether the anti-polygamy law is valid. While others — such as Surreybased Wiccan priest Sam Wagar, who also filed an affidavit Tuesday — contend that they have a religious right to practise polygamy, the polyamorists say that for them it’s a matter of freedom of expression. And what they have to say in their affidavits about how they live offers a glimpse of just how far some Canadian families diverge from the tradition of Mom-Dad-kids or the more recent “traditional” families of two Moms or two Dads and kids. And this peek behind normally closed bedroom doors is a hint of what’s to come in November, when Chief Justice Robert Bauman begins hearing the case.”

If polygamy becomes legal in Canada, will we see a repeat of the early steps of the Gay Marriage movement, with groups crossing the border to find some semblance of legal recognition? How will Pagan groups established or operating in Canada react to such a legal reality? Even if this challenge to polygamy laws fails, Pagan groups in Canada and America need to be ready for the culture-war blow-back  and to decide where they stand on the issue. The time where we could just not mention it for the sake of political expediency is quickly fading.

Prison Ministry in Michigan: Crossroads Tabernacle Church, an affiliate of the ATC located in Southeast Michigan, has announced that Founding High Priest Robert Keefer has been appointed to serve on the Michigan Department of Corrections Chaplain’s Advisory Council.  The first time that Wiccan clergy has been appointed to this position in the state.

“For his two-year term,  Robert will meet with clergy from other faiths and lend his expertise in Wiccan spirituality to advise the Department of Corrections on requests made by inmates and staff, work to ensure equal access to materials and worship space as appropriate for all Pagan and other Earth-Based religions, as well as make it possible for other Pagans to volunteer as faith group leaders in Michigan’s correctional facilities.”

This is an important positive breakthrough, and I congratulate Robert Keefer on his appointment. May it lead to similar advances throughout our country, and cast a light on how needed such clergy are in our prisons.

Witch-Child Protectors Launch Their Own Propaganda Campaign: I’ve mentioned before about how Nigerian witch-hunters like Helen Ukpabio have created a media industry with propagandistic “expository”  horror films featuring witchcraft possessed children, while selling non-fiction religious titles like “Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft” that make assertions about the reality of child witches. Now Stepping Stones Nigeria, one of the few groups working to protect children accused of witchcraft, is fighting back. They’ve partnered with acclaimed Nollywood director Teco Benson to create their own film entitled “The Fake Prophet”.

Stepping Stones hopes the film will be a corrective to the spate of Nollywood films that peddle in the myth of child witches, and create a public debate over the prevailing belief that such “witches” exist. The premiere of the film is taking place at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London on July 24th. For more information about the event and the film, you can contact Justine Atkinson with Stepping Stones Nigeria. Will fighting propaganda with propaganda work? I suppose we’ll have to see.

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

The murder trial in the death of Sherry Harlin is beginning, and prosecutors are going to be making killer Eric Christensen’s religion “exhibit A” in proving that it was premeditated. Both Christensen and Harlin were involved in the Everett, Washington-area Pagan community, which included attending gatherings organized by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church.

“Prosecutors believe modern witchcraft drove a Gold Bar man to kill his girlfriend, dismember her body and scatter her remains around Snohomish County … Christensen met Harlan through the Internet, and the two later moved in together. “And we know this is a significant relationship, because Eric introduced her to his friends. He introduced her to his church,” said defense attorney Kathleen Kyle. Christensen told detectives the woman took a “blood oath” to break-off a relationship with another man. But when Christensen found text messages from an ex-boyfriend, he admits he flew into a jealous rage. “In ancient times, people who broke blood oaths were sometimes killed,” Christensen told investigators.”KOMO 4, Seattle

“Sherry Harlan’s sin was breaking a promise. Her punishment was death, mutilation and dismemberment. That’s the theory prosecutors began laying out in front of jurors on Tuesday in the first day of testimony in the trial of a Gold Bar man accused of planning and carrying out the brutal murder of his girlfriend.  Eric James Christensen is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors allege that Christensen, 40, became enraged after learning that Harlan broke what he called a “blood oath” and continued communicating with another man … Jurors are expected to hear from the man who allegedly helped Christensen hide Harlan’s remains. That same man, who Christensen met while attending a Wiccan church in Index, is expected to testify that he witnessed the blood oath between Harlan and Christensen.”The Daily Herald, Everett, Washington

It is not known if the prosecution or defense will call local Pagan leaders to testify. ATC Archpriest Pete Pathfinder Davis has already told prosecutors that Christensen’s death-invoking “blood oath” wasn’t a part of his church’s teachings, or of Wicca in general.

“As the Archpriest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Wicca tradition, I supplied the prosecutor with many references about the Wiccan belief system, and the absence of any such “blood oath” tradition or violence of any kind. It was refreshing to see that the Ms. Polly Keary, editor of the Monroe Monitor, a local small-town newspaper, pointed out that violence to another was against Wiccan beliefs and not part of the religion.” – Pete “Pathfinder” Davis, in a letter to The Wild Hunt

In addition both Davis, and other locals who knew him from Pagan events, have expressed shock at Christensen’s sudden outburst of violence. They were not initially aware of his violent past, or conviction for first-degree sexual abuse.

“Christensen initially was arrested and booked Jan. 7 into the Snohomish County Jail for failure to register as a sex offender. He has a 1990 conviction in Oregon for first-degree sexual abuse and is classified as a Level 1 sex offender. He was later charged with second-degree murder, which was upgraded to first-degree murder.”

Whether the jury finds the murder premeditated or not, Christensen is going to prison for a very long time, most likely for the rest of his life. I will be keeping an eye on this trial, how the prosecution team invokes modern Paganism in order to prove premeditation, and what this might mean for local Pagans in the Everett, Washington area, and beyond.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (a Wiccan tradition/church) has sent out a press release concerning new developments regarding the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. The online school is getting a makeover, and gaining a new vice-president and administrator.

“The Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, given degree granting authority by Washington state in 1999, is having a face lift this spring … In addition, WSTS proudly announces the appointment of Kirk White as interim Vice President and Administrator of the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. White, a well known Wiccan author and respected High Priest, is co-founder of the National Association of Pagan Schools and Seminaries, a past co-National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, North America’s oldest and largest association of Witches and Wiccans. White also founded and served for 10 years as President of Cherry Hill Seminary. In 2006, Wildhunt.org named him one of the “25 most influential modern living Pagans today”. Since 2007 he has served as a consultant to new and established Pagan seminaries across the United States and we are pleased to have him working with us.”

Bringing Kirk White onboard seems like a move for WSTS to gain some more credibility as a Pagan seminary, though that might be hampered by the fact that the school’s dean is Belladonna “Wife Swap” Thompson. It should also be noted that “degree granting authority” isn’t the same thing as accreditation. So always check to see who exactly your teachers are, and what qualifications they have to be teaching you the subject at hand. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am on the BOD of Cherry Hill Seminary, but I have no particular animus or rivalry with WSTS.

When is “witchcraft” our “Witchcraft”? By that I mean, what do journalists and authors like Bob Morgan mean when they say a young woman was kidnapped and initiated by a “a coven of witches”? A South Alabama paper reports on the e-publication of a book by one of their reporters concerning a young woman who claims to have been held hostage for years by a Californian “coven” called “The Brotherhood”.

“At the age of 15, Nikki Russo checked into a California hospital for treatment of an eating disorder. It was in this hospital that she was eventually abducted by a nurse, initiated into a coven of witches and thrown into a dark world filled with drugs, alcohol, abuse and intimidation. Nikki Russo hopes The Pomegranate Seed will be a warning to readers not to take anything for granted where cherished institutions are concerned. Today, Russo’s story and struggle to recovery is chronicled in the new book The Pomegranate Seed — Nikki Russo’s Sojourn Through Institutional Failure and the World of the Occult.”

Morgan is apparently sensitive to accusations of “Satanic Panic” since he first reported on Nikki Russo, and claims that the book is filled with legal documents and depositions. However, neither the initial 2007 report by Morgan, or the 2009 piece on his subsequent book, goes into any detail as to what exactly this “Brotherhood” was practicing, and how they are linked with California’s occult community. This lack of detail is all explained as a way to honor the victim, but it also denies us any clear notion as to what this group was. I have no doubt that Russo was abused if she says she was, I’m just skeptical concerning how “witchy” these “witches” were.

World of Wonder shares with us some “homo history” in the form of ancient examples of same-sex marriage.

As Africa was the birthplace of civilization it should come as no surprise to find that the earliest known reference to same-sex marriage in history can also be found there. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were royal manicurists in the court of Pharaoh Niuserre during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. The artwork in their tomb leaves no doubt that they were viewed as a couple. The men are depicted in near constant embrace. They are shown with their noses touching (the most intimate embrace permitted in Egyptian art of the time, a form of kissing). Even their names speak to the intensity of their bond. When the names Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are put together, it translates into “joined in life and joined in death.”

Just goes to show you that there is nothing new under the sun, and that different cultures and times had different reactions to same-sex relations. To claim a singular constant for legal and social public bonds is myopic at best and revisionist at worst.

I understand that some people don’t like Barack Obama, but the intense white-hot loony anger he invokes in some people is just plain amusing (when it isn’t frightening). A recent letter published in a Virginia newspaper now compares our “Marxist” president with Pagan hero Julian the Apostate!

“God has given America her very own 21st century ‘Julian the Apostate’, better known as the Marxist, Barack Obama. Now before any of Obama’s supporters hastily come to his defense, consider the fact that his ideologies are blatantly Marxist, yet, he is not alone in his Marxist tendencies … If the reports of Obama’s Marxist passion were not enough to wake up the Christian community to the fearful danger of a ‘Julian Administration’, the issues of abortion and homosexuality should have made it crystal clear that professing Christians should not accept such an individual as the leader of America. The community of Christendom should have rejected such a blasphemer out of hand. Yet, for the sake of party, race, historical precedence or simply a hatred for the prior administration, those Christians professing allegiance to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe have grossly erred in their judgment, and along with hypocrites, heathens and traitors are responsible for destroying the roots of traditional American Christianity … At the outset of the Obama administration, a vicious war was declared against both Christ and all those that call themselves by His Name. Even now many of those Christians who supported him initially are finding themselves the target of his wrath. His goal is, and always was, the eradication of Christianity through government policies aimed at solidifying a Marxist, Totalitarian, immoral Statist order. This is nothing short of fascism.”

Ah! I love the smell of paranoid conspiracy theories in the morning, it smells like victory. Somehow I doubt Obama is going to “eradicate” Christianity, but if paranoid pastors keep invoking Flavius Claudius Julianus, they may not like what his spirit (once called) will do. This is the fellow who wrote “Against the Gallileans” after all.

In a final note, since yesterday was Earth Day plenty of reporters were out looking for a religious angle. These ranged from those who interviewed Pagans about their connection to the Earth, to snarky bloggers mocking right-wing hysteria that Earth Day was a conspiracy to get red-blooded Christian Americans to start worshipping Gaia.

“Earth Day, Green Week, Global Warming, Cap and Trade, Radical Environmentalism, Gaiaism. These and similar beliefs are rapidly becoming a state sponsored religion. This is a worldwide religion, not just an American movement. The end goal of this religion is to halt the industrial and economic advance of man, and to make man subserviant to Gaia, the earth as a living super-organism: Earth as God.”

I can’t believe our super-secret conspiracy to slowly re-paganize the Earth has been discovered! Curses! Foiled again! How will we ever spread our plans for a worldwide religion based on a living super-organism now!

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