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TWH – Pagans across the country continue to join protests organized against the Dakota Access Pipeline and in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Water Protectors in North Dakota.

Tuesday, Nov. 15 was a nationally coordinated day of action against the pipeline. The protests went ahead despite the Army Corps’ postponement of any decision on whether or not to let the pipeline construction proceed – an act which many viewed as a partial success.

In San Francisco, there was a march and protest held outside of the Army Corps of Engineers office. It was organized by local indigenous people, Idle No More Bay Area, and interfaith leaders, including representatives from Reclaiming and the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood.

Claire “Chuck” Bohman of Reclaiming and The Temple of the Waters said that there were several thousand people who gathered for a successful day of action.

Indigenous leaders from Tohono O'odham nation and other tribes leading the march.

Indigenous leaders from Tohono O’odham nation and other tribes leading the march in San Francisco. [Courtesy C. Bohman]

“The prayers and action was powerful and effective, and the US Army Corps of Engineers was forced to close their offices for the day,” she said.

Bohman added that, as people who have a deep spiritual connection with the earth, Pagans need to take action and join in indigenous-led efforts.

“Simply doing magic and praying is not enough. Magic is the food that will sustain our spirits. We must push ourselves out of comfort zones and join together with people of different beliefs who also care about the earth and are committed to stopping this pipeline and moving towards sustainable energy,” Bohman said.

In the nation’s capital, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd, defending the sovereign rights of Native Americans, water quality for the nation’s citizens and affirming the reality of climate change.

“The idea that at this moment in history, when the scientific community is crystal clear that we need to transform our energy system, that at this moment we have the fossil fuel industry pushing for more pipelines, for more dependency on fossil fuel, is totally insane,” Sanders said.

Among the crowd was Gwendolyn Reece, who said she was happy to see Sanders at the rally but she was just as happy to read about the 300-plus cities that took part in the action and the thousands of people who came out.

The issue of protecting the environment seems to be intrinsically tied to the pipeline fight.

“This issue, the environment, should be non-partisan, and most Pagans, the vast majority of Pagans believe in the sacredness of the planet and we believe in the sacredness of water,” Reece said, who heads the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, Sacred Space Foundation, and is a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.

With an incoming White House administration who has reportedly received more than $100,000 of support since June from chairman and CEO Kelcy Warren of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access, the issue seems to be anything but bi-partisan.

For Reece, the results of the election are a setback, but she said that it has only forced her to change focus and tactics.

“To me the pipeline in addition to being something that is a social justice concern, because it’s of the incredible continuing exploitation of native people, it is also one of the clearest demarcated battle grounds for the environment and the environmental activism including for climate change right now,” she said.

Reece added that she sees the battle at Standing Rock as a part of our nation’s miasma, tied to humans’ treatment of the environment, First Nations, and African American people.

The goal, she said, “is trying to heal the miasma, which is when we’re out of right relationship with the gods, ourselves, the planet. As far as our national consciousness, this exists from the beginning of this nation. ”

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

MaryAnn Somervill, a CUUPs member in Asheville, North Carolina, said that she organized a rolling thunder ritual to coincide with the supermoon. The ritual allows people to remotely lend their aid and is so-called because participants join in at a fixed time, regardless of their timezone. If it occurs at 8 pm in the eastern time zone, an hour later it will occur at 8 pm in the central time zone, and so on.

A few hundred people joined in to cast a cone of protection on the camps near Cannon Ball, ND, the water defenders, and their supporters. Somervill said that this event really moved her to take action.

“This is something that made me step up in a way that I hadn’t before. I haven’t been on the front lines of any protests or anything like that,” she said.

At Standing Rock, Linda Black Elk has been there since the beginning. Black Elk, of the Catawba Nation and teacher of ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, has two children enrolled with the Standing Rock Sioux, recently stated on Facebook that she sees a paradigm shift at work with Standing Rock right at the epicenter. She sees the presidential election as a reaction to that shift.

“(People are) scared out of their minds because change is uncomfortable, and shifting away from fossil fuels, a culture of consumption, and ultra convenience is annoyingly uncomfortable,” Black Elk said.

“We just have to be gentle, loving, patient, and understanding …but we must also be strong, powerful, brave and unshakable. Walk with power. Respect eachother (sic). Listen to the women in your lives.”

The camps, meanwhile, are growing in size and scope, and their needs are changing with the seasons. As snow and cold fronts move into the northern plains, protestors and water protectors are preparing for a long winter.

Dusty Dionne and Belladonna Laveau of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church are among the countless number of allies who have made the trip to North Dakota to show their support. From their home in Index, Washington, Dionne and Laveau received enough donations to buy a cord of wood, which they transporter by trailer from Washington to North Dakota.

Wood is one of the many supplies that are hard to find and very expensive. That might be unexpected, until you take into account that in the grasslands of North Dakota there aren’t very many trees to be found.

Dionne describes a very militarized, intimidating scene as you approach the camps. Countless numbers of police line the perimeter, with vehicles that are outfitted with satellite dishes and radio towers, and “Volkswagen-sized halogen lamps” lining the country side.

Standing in opposition to that is a makeshift barrier made of scrap wood and metal and barbed wire. But once you get inside, the atmosphere completely changes.

[Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr]

“I was really moved with how many people were showing up to help and just the sheer energetic power. It was very inviting, not intimidating,” Laveau said.

“They’ve got a big circle of flags and you pull up to Oceti (the camp set up by the Native American water defenders) and it’s just teepees and teepees and teepees and you’ve got buses creating walled off areas for mini-camps and corrals with horses,” Dionne added.

They both describe being overwhelmed by how many people were there.

“I was really afraid that when I showed up there was just going to be a couple of people, not a lot of supplies. (But) this is organized,” said Laveau.

She says that seeing the size and organization of the camps gave her hope that they might win the fight.

“It is a huge area that they’ve made their encampment, it’s the size of a small town,” Dionne said.

In fact, a small town is exactly what the goal is at the Sacred Stone camp, where supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux have begun setting up the infrastructure to support a community, including building a root cellar and a school.

“They need building supplies, they need firewood, they need subzero sleeping bags, canvas tents. They’re building a town, so they need builders. They need people to swing hammers,” said Laveau.

Corey Moore, a Pagan from Kansas City, MO, also brought a trailer full of supplies collected by friends and family to Standing Rock this week.

“We brought lumber left over from a family’s deck project, a few coats, blankets, medical supplies including bandages, milk of magnesia, eye wash kit, and hand warmers. There were also food stuffs and even a few guitars specifically requested by the Rosebud youth camp. In addition we brought nearly $1000 in cash and gift cards to Lowe’s and Menard’s,” he said.

Moore also reported that they helped build the covered root cellar at the Rosebud camp for winter food storage.

“The indigenous people at Standing Rock are sacrificing themselves, their health, their bodies, their livelihood, to protect the planet and the water that feeds us all. The waters they are protecting serve the entire center of this country,” he said.

Moore said everyone who goes to the camp learns to stay oriented toward “prayerful respect.”

He said that, in the face of infuriating actions, it is very important to maintain that approach.

In spite of the forward momentum of the movement and growing awareness of the issue, Dakota Access and the police protecting the pipeline construction are not backing down. As recently as Sunday night, an action to open a bridge that has been blocked by police for month resulted in authorities firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and a water canon on protesters despite below-freezing temperatures.

Democracy Now reported that a team of legal observers noted 20 mace canisters launched into a confined area within 5 minutes, causing those targeted to vomit and lose bowel control. Angel Bibens, a laywer with the Red Owl Legal Collective, said that the water canon had been mixed with mace, so that even medics and observers were impacted. Medics also reportedly revived an elder who suffered a heart attack. On Monday it was also reported that at least 17 people had been hospitalized, a majority for hypothermia after the actions of police and security personnel.

Actions like these have made some Pagan community members question what our future will look like, and what the role of the Pagan community will be.

“We’re all worried about robots rising up and taking over the world in some kind of distant future but right now corporations have taken over the world and they’re not people. The only thing that they value is profit and that is a real fight right now to take the world back from soulless, mindless companies that do not value human life,” Laveau said.

“What kind of ancestors will we be for the descendants? Will there even be descendants of humanity? All of this is at stake and each of us is needed to turn the tides,” Bohman said.

For those interested in contacting local authorities in the area Yes Magazine has put together a comprehensive list with phone numbers, addresses and more.

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[UPDATE 11/23/ 11:22am: The embedded video showing protesters being sprayed with water was removed or blocked at its original source and can no longer be viewed. We removed the embedded bad link. However, the video can still be seen at various online sources, including The Guardian. ]

13900162_1171081342964773_254502616375191286_nGLENWOOD, Mass. — EarthSpirit Community announced that co-director Andras Corban-Arthen and member Donovan Arthen have traveled to North Dakota in an effort to help the protesters at Standing Rock camps. According to a press release, EarthSpirit “sent its delegation in response to a call to religious leaders from Chief Arvol Looking Horse.” While at the camps, the delegation “met with some of the organizers of the camps and [performed a] ceremony with some of the indigenous Elders.”

Additionally, they carried EarthSpirit’s own statement of support as well as documents of support from the Parliament of the World’s Religions and the European Congress of Ethnic Religions. Corban-Arthen gave all of these solidarity statements to the elders personally. EarthSpirit’s own statement reads, in part, “The EarthSpirit Community expresses its solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation as its people who defend and protect their sacred lands and water. […] We ask for a halt to construction, for the demilitarization of the police force in the area and for a peaceful solution that respects both the Sioux Nation and our mother the Earth.”

Corban-Arthen serves on both the council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions and the board of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions. The PWR statement reads, in part, “The desecration of sacred sites, for profit or otherwise, is both an unjustifiable practice and a violation of the basic human right of religious freedom. This desecration is especially unacceptable when, as in this case, it is perpetrated against peoples who have weathered a long history of abuse for the sake of material wealth, land, and resources in both the recent and distant history of the United States.” The ECER statement begins, “The Dakota Access Pipeline is an environmental disaster waiting to occur.”

EarthSpirit is the most recent in a long line of Pagan organizations to publicly respond to the Standing Rock call for assistance. Corban-Arthen told The Wild Hunt that he is currently en route back home, and that he will share his reports publicly in the coming days.

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14963255_1300630256648495_2912948511722442464_nPENSACOLA, Fla. — Rev. Katharine A. Luck, an ordained minister at Fire Dance Church of Wicca, published a post-election article at the Huffington Post.  Luck is not only a Wiccan minister, but also the president of STRIVE, a local transgender advocacy organization. In her article, Luck begins, “Listen up, y’all. Not a damn thing that matters has changed,” and then she goes on to say that the problems showing themselves now through the election, existed prior.

On Saturday, Luck organized and spoke at local rally. She told The Wild Hunt that, immediately following the election, she spent much of her time counseling people who were frightened. “There’s a great deal of fear in the trans community in the wake of the election,” Luck said. “There has already been an increase in violence against various minority groups. We will remain strong in the face of adversity and support one another as we always have. We will overcome.” This was her weekend message.

The Huffington Post article ends on a similar positive note, saying, “I call upon my fellow healers, protectors, and advocates. You are hurting, but I know you are strong, and you are needed more than ever. Uplift those around you, especially those who for so long have done the same for others. Support one another, and we will thrive as we always have. I’m not sitting down, I’m not hiding, and I am not leaving. I intend to fight for as long as I’m able.”

Luck is now preparing for a local vigil to be held Sunday, Nov. 20, Transgender Remembrance Day.

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map_of_killeen_txKILLEEN, Texas — It was reported that,on Nov. 2, a member of the local Killeen Pagan community had been the victim of vandalism. After coming home from a Wed. evening class, she found the words “Exodus 22:18” scrawled in marker on her front door. The Pagan woman, who asked to remain anonymous at this point in the investigation, lives alone in her duplex apartment and was surprised by the vandalism. She immediately contacted the local police to report what she considers a “hate crime.” However, the incident was recorded as “criminal mischief,” despite the implied message in this particular scripture. Exodus 22:18 is the verse expressing the infamous phrase: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Prior to the Nov. 2, she had experienced only one other similar incident. On Oct 29, while the woman was attending a Pagan retreat, someone slung mud on her front door and covered it with boot prints. Neither she nor the police know if the two acts of vandalism are connected. Local officials told The Wild Hunt that there are currently no suspects and no one is in custody.  We are following this story and will have more as it becomes available.

In Other News:

  • Aquarian Tabernacle Church archpriestess Belladonna Laveau and high priest Dusty Dionne reported that they made a successful supply run to Standing Rock. The two delivered a trailer filled with firewood to the camps on their way to Ohio. Laveau and Dionne reported on the experience over Facebook live as they drove out of the area. The video report is available to the public.
  • Since the election, mainstream news reports have been filled with post-election demonstrations and rallies. Adding to that story, Salem Witch and elder Laurie Cabot reportedly published a post-election call to action. Through social media, Cabot allegedly asked all Witches to use magic to help “neutralize” the incoming administration. According to the now popular Facebook post, she said, “We as a group need to neutralize Donald Trump and Mike Pence immediately! Especially before the full moon…”  Cabot then goes on to provide a spell with complete directions. Near the bottom, she added, “I am reminding everyone, we do not wish/do harm to anyone.”
  • Cró Dreoilín and the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans at Jefferson Unitarian Church announced that they will be hosting their annual Paths and Traditions Fair Jan. 14, 2017. The fair is a “day-long open house for those who are new or seeking info on Pagan and Polytheist paths to come and meet representatives of various traditions.”  The organizers are currently looking for “Pagan and Polytheist groups or individuals who are interested in making connections with new people or who would like others to know more about their traditions.” This includes the leaders of  “covens, kindreds, groves, or other groups, teachers of classes or workshops, organizers or managers of Pagan or polytheist groups or anyone starting a new Pagan or polytheist group, path, or tradition. The event will be held at the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado.
  • Canadian Pagan and Wiccan Chaplain Samuel Wagar has recently been appointed as “scheduler for the new Multifaith Prayer and Meditation space” at the University of Alberta. He said that this new expanded role will benefit Pagan students studying on campus. Along with this position, Wagar said that he will be hosting a “Tarot Table […] as a way of reaching out and meeting new Pagans on campus, and will be supporting the continuation of interfaith discussions on campus.
  • The New York Times published a video report Nov. 8 called the Historic & Emotional Vote for Women.  A familiar Pagan face leads the Times report. As it opens, Rev. Selena Fox stands at an altar, holding a wand. She says to the viewers, “Be informed. Be empowered. Vote.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

INDEX, Wash. — The Aquarian Tabernacle Church is joining the ranks of Pagans and Heathens who are actively participating in supporting the protesters at the Standing Rock camps. Archpriestess Belladonna Laveau and high priest Dusty Dionne will be leaving their home this week to make the journey to North Dakota.

Laveau said, “The Aquarian Tabernacle #NoDAPL group has been put together to show solidarity with those at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and to help collect needed physical resources in the Seattle Area to be taken to North Dakota. The ATC believes in protecting the Earth and keeping the balance. We believe standing next to those who are protecting the Great Mother that is our Earth, falls in line with that mission.”

Before leaving, Laveau and Dionne are calling on their community to offer donations, monetary or otherwise, to assist the effort. Prior to launching this call to action, the two said that they spent weeks listening, doing research, and talking to others about what is most needed at the camps, especially as the winter months arrive. Their list is based on that research. When they have enough supplies to fill their car, they will leave their Washington home and head east.

“The plan is to take everything we have gathered and take it to Standing Rock,” explained Dionne. “We will also be taking pictures and video of what is going on on the ground, and if it would please the elders and they approve, we will have an energetic working to do.” Laveau added that the supply gathering has been slow, but their hopes are high and plan to leave Wednesday with a full car.

ATC is not the only Pagan or Polytheist organization that is assisting in some fashion. To name a few, it has been reported that Rev. Patrick McCollum is in the Standing Rock area, several of Covenant of the Goddess’ local councils have made public statements in support of the Great Sioux Nation, and smaller local groups, such as New York-based Coven of the Star and Crescent Moon, are following suit. Additionally, as previously reported, Solar Cross Temple continues to collect supplies for shipping from their local community.

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d35a202ddf71b5cba728c83ffe93a7beGASTONIA, N.C. —  The board of Piedmont Pagan Pride Day, an organization based in Belmont, N.C., has issued a public statement regarding the arrest of co-organizer Scott Holbrook. The organization said, “The Pagan Pride Project is an inclusive organization. However, in light of recent events, we feel compelled to address the arrest of Scott Holbrook. Although the case is in its initial stage and Mr. Holbrook has not been convicted, our events are family events and safety is our primary concern. Scott Holbrook has been removed as a local coordinator for Piedmont Pagan Pride Day in light of his arrest earlier this week.”

Piedmont Pagan Pride Day takes place in September and is held at Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park in Belmont. This year Holbrook and his protogrove hosted the opening ceremonies.

While the board members did choose to remove Holbrook from his leadership position, they added, “We do not presume or mean to imply that we believe Mr. Holbrook is guilty, but we are taking this step as a precaution. Along with the rest of the community, we will watch the progress of the case against Mr. Holbrook.”

Since the news made public, TWH has also learned that the family and close associates are unable to respond to our questions at this time. We have also learned that many in his immediate community, including the other Druid groups, were “shaken to the core” by the recent news. We will continue to follow this story.

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John Beckett

John Beckett

MCKINNEY, Texas — Popular Patheos Pagan blogger John Beckett announced that his very first book will be available May 2017. Published by Llewellyn, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice will reportedly “provide practical advice and support for living an authentic Pagan life in our mainstream Western culture.”

Beckett told TWH that his new book was written for advanced beginners and intermediate practitioners. “We often complain about a glut of 101 level books – this is a 201 level book. It’s a book for people who want to build a vibrant Pagan practice on a strong foundation of experience,” he explained.

Why did he move from blogging to book writing? Beckett said, “I wrote it because there are very few books like this, and nothing exactly like it. And because a certain Goddess of Poetry and Inspiration insisted that I write it.”

The Path of Paganism can currently be pre-ordered, but will not be available until spring. Until then, Beckett’s writing can be found at his Patheos blog, Under the Ancient Oaks. Beckett is a “Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin. Locally, he serves as the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and is a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental.”

In other news

  • A new polytheist community dedicated to Antinous was born Oct. 30. “Naos Antinoou [was] founded by Sister Krissy Fiction, Merri-Todd Webster, and Duffi McDermott, the 3 former Magistrates of the Ekklesía Antinoou, as well as Otter and Jay Logan, who had been appointed by the Magistrates of the Ekklesía to function as Mystagogues.” The new organization welcomes all who are devoted “to Antinous to join [them] in creating an inclusive community that honors the Beautiful Boy from Bithynia.” They also noted that the organization Ekklesía Antínoou, founded in 2007 by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, is no longer in operation. The group said, “As Foundation Day [Oct. 30] is an appropriate day for fresh starts and transformations, the 3 Magistrates and 2 Mystagogues of the Ekklesía Antinoou decided to re-establish ourselves and move forward with a completely new start as Naos Antinoou.”
  • The new Atlanta-based Pagan conference Mystic South is seeking proposals for its academic track: PAPERS. The acronym stands for Polytheist and Pagan Educational Research Symposium and was coined by board member Ryan Denison. While the conference is not solely geared toward academic presentations, it will have a dedicated lecture room for this type of work and discussion. The deadline for submissions to PAPERS is Jan. 15. The submission deadline for non-academic presentations submissions is March 1. The conference itself is scheduled for July 2017 and will be held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta, Ga.
  • Popular Pagan Celtic folk band Tuatha Dea is back in the studio recording their next album titled Kilts and Corsets. As noted on its site, “It’s been 2 years since this little Appalachian Steampunk Family released the defining Tufa Tales but now we’re ready! This full length project is scheduled to cover the bands evolution including revised revamped versions of requested songs from the past and [new] music developed specifically for this album.” In order to finish the project, the group has launched an IndieGoGo campaign with a goal of $8,000.
  • The Feminism and Religion Blog project has an opening for an unpaid internship position. According to the website,”Feminism and Religion is seeking a creative, industrious, responsible, and highly-organized intern interested in working for a community-oriented collaborative online feminist project.” Applications are due Dec. 15.
  • Lastly, The Wild Hunt is happy to report that we met our fundraising goal once again! We would like to thank all the people who donated, shared our campaign, and spoke out in support of the work we do here every day. We would not be here without you. Going forward, The Wild Hunt will continue to be the same news-focused online journal that strives to capture the opinions and happenings within our collective communities. Sunday through Thursday are news days. Friday and Saturday we publish opinion columns and stories. We hope, as the years go by, our growth allows us to build on that model, delivering more news and sharing more voices and special features from around the world. Remember, if you have a news tip, a press release, or want to submit an article, contact us. We want to hear from you. The Wild Hunt is your community news journal. Thank you!

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tex.– On Feb 9, a grand jury indicted David Brown Jr., the man arrested for the murder of Wiccan Marc Pourner. As we reported in November, Pourner went missing for three days, after which police found his strangled body deep in the woods inside his burned-out truck. He was known as Axel within Pagan circles, and helped run the now-defunct Wiccan World Social Network. Pourner was also instrumental in creating and moderating the popular Facebook group, “The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” When news broke of his death, that group lit up with stories and memorials coming from users who live all over the world.

As  was recently reported in the local news and by the Montgomery County Police reporter, court records have now revealed more about what actually happened to Pourner. Brown, a longtime friend of Pourner’s boyfriend Daniel Kirksey, called Pourner from Kirksey’s home to tell him that someone was “following him and wanted to kill him.” When Pourner arrived at the home, he and Brown had “a heated argument […] It was there that Brown punched Pourner several times and then bound and gagged [him].”  Using Pourner’s truck, Brown then took Pourner to a remote location, where he strangled him and torched the truck. The court records also indicate that Kirksey witnessed the entire act.

Brown remains in jail with a $1 million dollar bond for the murder. His indictment lists his charges as capital murder with a felony, which includes his alleged kidnapping of Pourner. Kirksey has not been charged with anything.

Pourner’s mother, Jolena Pourner, told The Wild Hunt, “My husband and I were simply elated when the grand jury indicted Brown, and that further indictments could be forthcoming.” She also expressed concern over the new information revealed concerning Pourner’s boyfriend: “We knew from the beginning that Daniel was possibly involved because his explanations didn’t add up. We’d been concerned because we felt Daniel was using Marc.” Despite this new information, the exact motivation behind the murder is not clear. However, it does appear that the motivation was not related to Pourner’s Pagan religious beliefs.

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ccs-twitter-logo_400x400CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. —  On Feb. 8, the Cleveland County School Board welcomed Wiccan Priest Tony Brown to give an invocation before its regularly scheduled meeting. The board recently adopted a prayer policy that adheres to the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in The Town of Greece v. Galloway case. As quoted in the local news, Cleveland County Schools director of communications Greg Shull said, “We’re just carrying out marching orders of the board. They responded to what the community asked for. People are aware that there could be folks from all walks of life, but that’s really the nature of public education.”

One of the components of the new policy is to remove any children under the age of 11 from the room until the invocation is over. Shull said, “The board decided to start this with the introduction of the prayer, no matter what religion. At that age, we could put out permission slips, but it’s hard to obtain permission when you don’t know [what’s going to be said.] We don’t know the religion of each child or what their background is at home.”

Rev. Tony Brown told The Wild Hunt that there were no problems during his invocation. He said, “At the meeting itself, I think it’s fair to say that I got a neutral reception. Which I believe is perfectly appropriate. It was quiet and uneventful, just like the reception the two Christian ministers got at the previous meetings since the policy was adopted.” Brown believes that his laying important groundwork prior to the Feb. 8 meeting helped ease any tensions.  He said that he built a “rapport with the board members” and has been an active voice in the community.  He added, “I think part of the reason this went better than the similar policy in a neighboring county is that I was active in the meetings leading up to the policy change. I was there, speaking out and making sure everyone knew that if they started having prayers from local clergy, that our Wiccan church would expect to be included.”

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POM-1528-0268-largeScholar and editor Chas Clifton announced the release of the newest edition of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. The Pomegranate is a peer-reviewed journal, providing “a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”

As Clifton noted on his own blog, “The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Douglas Ezzy.”  Ezzy is a sociology professor at the University of Tasmania and editor of The Journal for the Academic Study of Religion and was president of The Australian Association for the Study of Religion.

The two long essays were written by Russian scholar Dmitry Galtsin and Indian professor Archana Barua. The featured autobiographical reflections were written by Wendy Griffin, Douglas Ezzy, Michael York, Fritz Muntean, Helen A. Berger, Graham Harvey, Kathryn Rountree, Susan Greenwood, Sarah Pike, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Melissa Jane Harrington.

Clifton also noted that, by special arrangement with the publisher Equinox, his own editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is available for free via download.

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pagan federation

The Pagan Federation (PF) has announced the launch of a media site: Pagan Dawn online. PF has been producing a print version of Pagan Dawn, in various forms, since 1968. The magazine is published “four times a year, at Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas.” Now the editorial team is taking a step forward into the digital world. PF’s announcement said that the new site will “feature news and reviews for the Pagan community, as well as showcasing some of the best feature content from the magazine.” 

Editors noted that the magazine will still remain the “main focus” of their work and is not being retired. However, the new site will be updated regularly to “reflect the current diversity and sheer fecundity of the Pagan movement.” Editor-in-Chief Kate Large said, “The 2011 census showed over 80,000 people identifying as Pagan in England and Wales, while in other major countries of the world, Paganism and Earth-centred spirituality is growing at a fantastic rate. Pagan Dawn seeks to inform, educate and entertain seekers of all paths, both in the magazine and now, online as well.”

In Other News:

  • Inspired by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local Indiana community has been successfully holding its own interfaith events. Last weekend marked the third such event sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus. The four-hour session included “representatives from 20 different beliefs highlighting how they interpret the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Rev. Dave Sassman of the Pagan Educational Network (PEN) was there and said, “What a multi-faceted experience.” Sassman, who also attended the Parliament, is founder of PEN and a member of Circle Sanctuary. When asked about the Golden Rule, Sassman said, “Harming anybody is harming the divine and yourself.”
  • The South African Pagan Council has announced the 10th annual Pagan Freedom Day. To be held on Apr. 27, the event’s theme is “Freedom and Unity through Diversity.”  The Council produced and uploaded a video advertisement, which can be seen on Penton Independent Alternative Media’s site or directly on YouTube.  The video contains photos from past events, and reads, “All Over South Africa, Pagan folk with gather again.”  It lists the cities where events will be held and the contact person for each one.
  • A new conference is arriving this summer in Nashville, Tennessee. ODDCon, as it is called, was born last spring when Tesea Dawson helped facilitate a smaller festival in the same region. Dawson believed that event could have been bigger and better. ODDCon was born. The conference site reads, “We believe that it doesn’t matter what color you are, how old you are, what religion you follow, what country your from or even who you love… we can all get along.  Let’s give it shot… we challenge all of you who read this to open your heart for one weekend and come be a part of the freakshow!” Special guests include many: Tuatha Dea, Alex Bledsoe, Selena Fox, Celia Farran, Byron Ballard, M.R. Sellars and more. ODDCon will take place at the Hotel Preston in Nashville from Aug. 5-7. Tickets are now on sale and more information is available on the website.
  • Dusty Dionne, High Priest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) has launched a new podcast called “Pagan Jack.” It is accessible from the ATC Pagan Information Network website and “comes out on Tuesdays at 6am EST.” Dionne describes the podcast as featuring “news and notes from the Internet and abroad that may be of interest to children of the Earth.” On its new Facebook page, Dionne reported that he was recording a show at PantheaCon.
  • Speaking of PantheaCon, the colossal Pagan event ends today. In the coming weeks, there will be many posts and articles from attending Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists. Look for them across the blogosphere and in social media. In the coming days, Heathen Chinese will be reviewing the event for The Wild Hunt.
  • And, lastly, for those in the upper midwest, ConVocation kicks off this Thursday in Detroit, Michigan with the theme “Rebirth in the Sea of Divine Knowledge.” The guests of honor include Dragon Ritual Drummers, Selena Fox, Richard Kaczynski, and Raven Kaldera. The conference is held at the Dearborn DoubleTree, and runs from Feb. 18 – 21.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Schoenfeld [Courtesy Photo]

It has been reported that the Air Force Equal Employment Opportunity office at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, has dismissed Deborah Schoenfeld’s religious discrimination complaint. In a story we brought to you in October, Schoenfeld had allegedly been subjected to verbal harassment by co-workers, and after lodging a formal complaint, was fired from her position. In response, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) stepped in as her advocate and filed its own complaint with the EEO.

Military.com is now reporting that this “witch” complaint has been rejected. According to the article, the office said that “she filed too late and … the individuals she claimed discriminated against her are not Air Force employees.

However, the MRFF disagrees. Spokesperson Mikey Weinstein called the dismissal “specious, outrageous and scandalous.” He is quoted as saying, “This is gross malfeasance … We will help her find a litigator for this.”  They have 90 days to file a lawsuit.

We have reached out to Schoenfeld and will update this story as it develops.

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Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Cemetery is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this month. The “green” cemetery was established in 1995 on the Circle Sanctuary nature preserve in Barneveld, Wisconsin. As explained by Circle organizers, “The 20 acres of Circle Cemetery include a Restored Prairie & Ridgetop for cremated remains, plus a Wooded natural burial ground, plus our Stone Circle.”

Initially, the original cemetery was small and only had space for cremains burials. But soon it expanded to the 20 acres it now holds. In 2006, Veterans Ridge was opened, which is specifically reserved for military burials. U.S. Army Veteran Jerome Birnbaum became the first person honored there. In 2010, the cemetery was recognized as the first green cemetery in Wisconsin, and in 2011, it saw its first full body natural burial. Additionally, in 2014, it became the first green cemetery to be part of the “Wreaths Across America project” that honors the country’s fallen heroes.

This Samhain, philanthropist and Priestess Deborah Ann Light became the 40th person interred at Circle Cemetery. As noted on the Cemetery’s facebook page, “Her ashes interment rite including Dennis & Selena offering Chardonnay Wine she give us in 1982 from her Quail Hill Estate Vineyards on Long Island, New York.”

To celebrate the Cemetery’s anniversary and to discuss Green burials, Rev. Selena Fox did a Tuesday podcast on Nov. 3. You can find that recording on Pagan Talk Radio Network. 

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Oberon Zell recently announced that the Academy of Arcana project is now moving forward. On Oct. 14, organizers were granted “approval for a lease on the storefront.” The Academy will be located at 428-A Front St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. The spaces 2,080 square feet will hold a gift shop as well as an “enormous library of myth, magick, science, history, sci-fi, fantasy and lore … a vast museum collection of more than 350 Goddess figurines, magickal tools and artifacts, Books of Shadows, devotional items, altar setups, theatrical and costumes and regalia, seasonal decorations, etc.”

On Nov 4, organizers and volunteers began moving the entire collection from its former location at RavenHaven to the Front Street store. The move has continued as others begin the renovations and unpacking of the new space.

The Academy is a joint project of the Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart Foundation, The Grey School of Wizardry and the Church of All Worlds. As such the Front Street store will also “house the international headquarters and business offices for the Foundation, the School and the Church,” and will serve as a “physical campus for the Grey School,” bringing in teachers for workshops.

The grand opening date has not yet been announced. Updates on the progress can be found on the Academy’s website and Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Many Gods West has made its second big announcement for its 2016 event. The Polytheist conference will be held at the Red Lion in downtown Olympia, Washington. The room code is MANY0805. Starting today, organizers will begin accepting presentation proposals with a March 1 deadline. Tickets and registration are now open as well.
  • Paganicon has announced more of its upcoming lineup for the 2016 event. As previously shared, the guests of honor will be T. Thorn Coyle, Ivo Dominquez and Tamara L. Siuda (Mambo Chita Tann). Additionally, it was announced that additional speakers include activist and author Crystal Blanton, educator Nsasi Vence Guerra, author Jane Meredith from Australia, and Wild Hunt editor Heather Greene. As a side note, the Wild Hunt will be at Paganicon in force this year, hosting both a panel and social. Joining Blanton and Greene will be writers Cara Schulz, Terence P. Ward, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and Dodie Graham-McKay. Paganicon 2016 will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota from March 18-20.
  • For fans of Peter Dybing’s blog Pagan in Paradise, it will be moving to Patheos. Scheduled to launch in December, Dybing is currently working with Patheos technicians to finish up the move. Why is he making this digital leap? Dybing said, “[Patheos] provides a platform that allows an inter-religious dialogue among well meaning people of many faiths. The Parliament of the Worlds religions was a graphic lesson for me in how people of faith coming together have the potential to make a global impact in spreading compassion and justice around the world.” The blog will still be called “Pagan in Paradise” and, Dybing added, “People can expect the blog to have a radical Social Justice agenda that pulls few punches!” Look for the launch next month.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church is also undergoing some change. Organizers have a launched a new website that is part of a project to bring “the ATC together as a whole. From [its] legally recognized Wiccan Seminary, to [its] work helping pioneer Pagan prison ministries, and access to [its] catalog of churches across the country and globe alike.” At this time, the old site is currently still accessible. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church was founded by Pete Pathfinder Davis in 1979, and is currently led by ArchPriestess Lady Bella and High Priest Dusty Dionne.
  • Nature’s Path, a Patheos Blog devoted to UU Paganism, has published an article that may interest many readers who conduct rituals for people of different Pagan and Heathen traditions. Erica Baron writes, “One of the things I find most challenging in preparing ritual for UU Pagans is the wide variety of Paganisms that UUs bring to these rituals. In the rituals in UU contexts that I’ve either led or attended, participants have included devotees of a wide variety of pantheons and specific deities, people with a strong grounding in Wicca, Heathenism, Asatru, and other specific traditions, and people with no prior experience of any kind of Paganism.” Baron goes on to discuss the challenges and offer tips.

2000px-Seal_of_Oregon.svg As news of Deborah Maynard’s upcoming invocation at the Iowa State Legislature spread, so did the fact that Maynard will be the third Pagan Priestess to offer such a prayer before a state body. As we noted on Wednesday, Cleda Dawson was the first in 1999 and Selena Fox was second.in 2009,

At the time of our report, neither the video recording of Dawson’s or Fox’ invocation was available online. While Circle Sanctuary is still working on acquiring a copy of the 2009 Wisconsin invocation, a clip of Dawson’s invocation has since been uploaded to YouTube. On April 2, a local Pagan, who works in the “legislative media,” was able to track down a VHS copy and transfer it into a digital format. .

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HUAR LogoOn April 1, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) issued a declaration stating that the “Confesión Odinista Española (C.O.E.) has been covertly engaged in” racism. HUAR said that this declaration is “based on an extensive investigation submitted to us by an independent source.” The statement and background data are provided on HUARs public Facebook page.

Several hours after the declaration was released, C.O.E. fired back, denouncing HUAR as a “farce.” They challenged HUAR and its independent sources to prove the accusations, saying that C.O.E. is against all forms of “fundamentalism” including the “politicized HUAR.” HUAR has not yet responded.

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Heather Carr [Courtesy S. Carr]

On Tuesday, several British Columbia news sources reported that a woman had been killed in a “ritual gone horrifically wrong.” Several added words like “Pagan ritual.” After further investigation, it turns out that the woman was Shamanic Witch Heather Carr, and she was, in fact, doing a ritual when she or her clothing caught on fire.

Carr was well-known and loved by the locally Pagan community. Openly practicing Witchcraft, she ran the “Being Out of the Broom Closet” Facebook group and taught at local events. Blogger Sable Aradia was one of Carr’s friends and has written more about the Carr’s life and death on her blog. We will have more on this story in the coming days.

In Other News:

  • Conjure-Craft, a partnership between Orion Foxwood and Susan Diamond, will be hosting its first annual weekend event. Billed as a “meeting of magical minds,” the new seaside forum will be filled with “workshops and immersion experiences in the many modes of magic through education, sacred ceremony and skills development in shamanism, spiritual healing, seership, root-work and witchery.” Special guests include Lou Florez and Sharon Knight. Conjure-Craft will be held April 11-13 in Santa Cruz, California.
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has released its new art work to celebrate the festival’s 35th anniversary. Since 1980, PSG has been welcoming Pagans and people of many paths for a week-long event to celebrate Summer Solstice. The new artwork, created by Colleen Koziara of Mystical Willow Productions, pulls from the festival’s history. PSG organizers said, “Every Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has had a unique theme that helps focus the energy of participants …All thirty five of those themes are represented in the image, as chambers of the nautilus shell.” This year, PSG will be held from June 12-21, at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois.

PSG 2015 - Small

  • In the wake of the RFRA legislation and subsequent protests in Indiana, writer David Freedlander of the The Daily Beast interviewed Wiccan Priest Dusty Dionne of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Washington. Freedlander reached out to Dionne after learning about his very vocal position on Georgia’s proposed religious freedom legislation.The article, titled “Mike Pence’s New Fan Club: Wiccans.” was published March 31. The story was picked up by Raw Story and Jezebel.
  • Sacred Space organizers have put out a call for proposals and workshops for the 2016 event.The newly published form explains that they “use a peer review process for selection based on methods used in academic scholarly communication.” Sacred Space 2016 will be held from March 10-13 in Maryland. All proposals are due by June 21, 2015.

ATLANTA, Ga – It has been a year since we looked at the current debates over RFRAs or Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. In 2013, we reported on a Kentucky bill that had been prompted by concerns over the safety of Amish Buggies. In March 2014, Arizona’s infamous “anti-gay” bill was making news, and eventually vetoed. This past summer SCOTUS ruled in the Hobby Lobby case, raising awareness of the application of RFRA laws within society.

These are only three examples of a far reaching legislative battle over the boundaries and practical exercise of religious freedom. Basically, the debate comes down to whether we need more precise legislation to protect religious freedom or whether the state and federal constitutions are enough.

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In the past month, the debate has flared up in the deep south. Up until February, there were two proposed “religious freedom” bills before Georgia’s state legislature. Representative Sam Teasley’s (R-Marietta) HB218 called “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act,” and State Senator Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) SB129 called “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

When SB129 was approved by the Georgia State Senate on March 5, Teasley abandoned HB218 and joined in supporting McKoon’s bill as it moved into the House. Opponents are calling this bill the harshest state RFRA yet, because the bill is very open-ended in defining burden and religious exercise. For example, the bill reads:

‘Exercise of religion’ means any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief, including but not limited to the practice or observance of religion under Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, Article I of the 74 Constitution of this state or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, or the use, building, or conversion of real property for the purpose of religious exercise. [71-76]

The recent Senate approval raised the volume on the conversation, bringing out some new players, including Atlanta-resident Elton John. He said, “[SB129] claims to protect religious freedom and encourage tolerance. In reality, it encourages the same discrimination that’s haunted the South for too long.” John goes on to explain how the bill will target Atlanta’s LGBT community, calling it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” that will only “institutionalize the hate some people hold in their hearts.”

On March 11, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, published its own response to the Georgia bill. High Priest Dusty Dionne wrote:

We thank the state of Georgia for its forward thinking and dedication to religious freedom. It has been a reality long-held by Wiccans that the laws did not extend far enough toward our own exercise of religion [50-15A-2. line 71] to be truly encompassing of our freedom to worship. The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as passed by our illustrious president Bill Clinton, was a landmark move that opened the door for minority religions, and small local churches to have more safety to worship within their communities than ever before. This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and LIVE their religion to its fullest.

Dionne goes on to list a number of ways in which the Georgia RFRA will support Wiccan religious practice and lifestyles, including the growing of sacred plants and “multi-partner relationships.” Dionne told The Wild Hunt that in no way is that list of potential protections exhaustive.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dionne’s sent his article to all Georgia state senators as well as the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC). On March 13, AJC writer Jim Galloway responded in a post titled “An Unusual Voice enters the religious liberty debate.” Another local news site picked up on the story in a post titled, “Georgia’s Religious Freedom Act is Opposed by Elton John, But Supported by the Wiccans.”

It wasn’t long before ATC’s article began to pick up momentum in cyberspace. One writer said that the statement “will go down in the Annals of the History of Bluff-Calling,” and that he hopes “the Aquarian Tabernacle Church pushes this as far as they can.” A Heathen blogger simply said, “Honor to the Wiccans who came up with this one” and then contemplated whether Heathens should “try some humorous responses to discrimination as well.”

As Dionne’s article cycled around, Georgia Wiccans began to speak out, and many questioned Dionne’s approached. Atlanta-resident and blogger Sara Amis responded saying, “We can fight for our own,” pointing out the number of Wiccans present in the state. In “Pray Naked Re-Dux,” Amis wrote, “Dusty Dionne … greets this news with less hostility than I, also with a list of new freedoms the law could grant to Wiccans. (But he left out naked rituals in public! an oversight I’m sure.)” Having followed this debate since its beginnings, Amis goes on to say:

The Georgia state constitution already offers very robust protections to religious expression, even more than the First Amendment. Unnecessary laws are generally a pack of trouble on principle, and many people feel…I am one of them…that the only “protection” this will actually offer is for bigots in mainstream faiths.

Other Wiccans voiced direct frustration with ATC’s efforts. Like Amis, blogger and Wiccan Priestess Lydia M. Crabtree is opposed to RFRA legislation, but she expressed real concerns over the strategies used by the Washington-based ATC. She said that they “are confusing the issue.”

Agreeing with Crabtree is local Wiccan Priest Matthaios Theadoros. He said that he believes the article is “well-intended” but that he “uncomfortable” with the methodologies. Theodorus said, “Instead of working to undermine RFRA, I think it is only going to cast suspicion on Wicca.” He explained:

They are seeming to set up Wicca as one that participates in polyamory and insinuates some sort of questionable herb use. Though some Wiccans may be polyamorous, it is disingenuous to suggest that it is an inherent part of the religion. To suggest Wiccans should be exempt from urine or blood tests on the basis that Wiccans do not want others having our essence is going to come off as foolish at best and suspicious at worst considering that part comes after a section on allowing the use of certain herbs that cannot be locally grown

As Amis pointed out, the AJC reporter seemed to be “confused about whether [the ATC article was] a hoax.” And that was the overriding sentiment present in local reactions. Was ATC serious? Was it a hoax? Was it bluff? When asked, Dionne confirmed that he was indeed serious and explained:

If the bill goes through, this will be part of what we will be coaching Wiccans to accept as part of their rights, and then we will start dealing with winning the court cases, and that will cement our rights. Change can be made, and if they give us a framework of law that they think is going to give them exclusive religious rights, then what we are going to do is set our beliefs into that framework, and we legally should have the same expansion of our rights.

Dionne pointed out that this type of work is part of the ATC legacy. Peter Pathfinder was instrumental in past religious freedom battles. Dionne, now as the High Priest of the Keepers of the Gate ATC Mother Church, High Summoner of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church Intl. and Consort to the Arch Priestess Belladonna LaVeau, is compelled to pick up that baton. When asked why the Georgia bill and not the many others being proposed in other states, he said, “I am new in my position. Give me some time.”

And, there are many other RFRAs being debated currently. Americans United (AU) recently published an report on the various bills that have either “picked up steam” or “stalled out,” including the Federal RFRA.

As for Georgia’s bill, the debate rages on. Proponents continue to defend SB129’s non-discriminatory basis, and that it’s only purpose is to protect “people of faith” and their right to practice.

Opponents argue that the RFRA has nothing to do with religious freedom. Just yesterday, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination held a rally on the steps of the capitol to protest this point. Like many others, the group stresses that the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution are more than enough to ensure religious freedom in Georgia.

[Photo Credit: Ken Lund /Flickr]

State Capitol [Photo Credit: Ken Lund /Flickr]

However, there is one detail being overlooked in this entire conversation – one that may be of particular interest to Georgia’s Pagans and others practicing minority religions. The proposed bill references “Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, 19 Article I” of the Georgia constitution as the marker of the state’s religious freedom laws.This portion of the constitution reads, “Each person has the natural and inalienable right to worship God…”

Because of its open-ended language, SB129 actually nullifies that particular criteria. It defines the “Exercise of Religion” as “including but not limited to the practice or observance of religion under Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, Article I of the Constitution…” In other words, while the new bill may open doors to discriminatory behavior, abuse and similar stated issues, it also appears to be serving to undermine a section of Georgia’s state constitution that is, in the end, problematic itself.

The Georgia House is scheduled to vote on SB129 on April 2.

open_halls_squareAs first reported on the Norse Mythology Blog, the U.S. Army has not yet added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. Dr. Karl Siegfried writes,”Over two months after being notified of approval, Army Heathens are now in a state of limbo.”

We spoke with Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project, who said, “The Chaplain backed away from his initial statement that the addition was approved,” and “he misread the speed in which the addition was going to be processed.” Heath said that the Open Halls Project will continue pressing for this recognition. He added, “The Army Corp of Chaplains has largely been helpful to us during this process. We particularly want to officially thank Chaplain Bryan Walker for his assistance. However, we also are growing increasingly frustrated that it has taken so long for this process to reach its finale. The Open Halls Project will continue to advocate for this addition, and will do everything in our power to ensure every soldier knows when it finally has been approved. Our soldiers deserve this recognition of their right to claim their faith. Heathenry is about a commitment to one’s community, a gift of service. The US Army has the duty now to return that gift as is our custom.”

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Judy_Harrow_Award_Photo_CleanAs we reported last week, Judy Harrow was “honored by The Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) division of the American Counseling Association (ACA).” She had been nominated in January by Michael Reeder, LCPC. At a special award luncheon Friday, a member of the Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) faculty accepted the Ohana award on Harrow’s behalf. CHS Director Holli Emore said, “Ms. Harrow was crucial to the development of Cherry Hill Seminary early on, building our pastoral counseling department into a program which would meet professional standards as well as the needs of the growing Pagan community.”

The award itself will be housed for viewing at the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) in Delaware. Board member Michael G. Smith said, “Ms. Harrow was an avid supporter of the New Alexandrian Library. She recognized the need for the Contemporary Paganism to preserve its history and cultural artifacts for future generations so they would be able to have a greater appreciation and understand their roots, their beginnings. She felt so passionately that she left her personal library in her last will and testament to the NAL. It is a great pleasure for us to see her work celebrated by her colleagues and we are honored to house her award, along with her collection, at the Library.”

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downloadThe Dragon Hills Retreat and Right Time, Right Place Productions will be hosting a spring Pagan Music Festival in 2016. Over Memorial Day weekend, musicians from around the world will come together in Bowdon, Georgia to perform at this private 30-acre campground and event center. According to the most recent updates, the festival will host over 20 bands, as well as100 vendors and more.

Currently booked to perform are: SJ Tucker, Sharon Knight, Celia, Tuatha Dea, Wendy Rule, Damh the Bard, Witch’s Mark, Murphy’s Midnight Rounders, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, Spiral Rhythm, Dragon Ritual Drummers, Elaine Silver, Mama Gina, Beltana Spellsinger, and Robin Renée. Organizers say that more performers will be added and tickets are already on sale. They added that “a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Katie’s Krops.”

In Other News

  • This Friday will be the soft launch of the new site Gods & Radicalsborn out of a PantheaCon presentation made by Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie. On Friday, they will publish their first essay by Jason Thomas Pitzl. Other essays will follow periodically until the site is in full operation. Writers currently scheduled include Asa West, Lorna Smithers, and Sean Donahue. Gods & Radicals has been garnering much buzz in the community. When its facilitators made a call for submissions, the response was overwhelming. The site will publish works that focus on anti-capitalism, environmentalism and social change. They write, “We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes.” 
  • Manannan mac Lir was back in the news again when the Limavady Council decided that the original statue was far too damaged to repair and that they would be erecting a replacement. According to the Derry Journal, the Council said that “a new sculpture should be made by John Darren Sutton at a cost of £9,950 and erected on Binevenagh.” The old statue will be on display as tourist attraction. However, as the decision was made, there was some outcry. According to the Belfast Telegraph, one local councilor believes that the “plan to use the damaged sculpture of a Celtic sea god as a tourist attraction would promote paganism and false gods.”
  • In another part of the world, ancient statues, relics and other historic sites are being pillaged and destroyed by ISIL. The destruction of these treasured artifacts has upset many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. One California Pagan, Jack Prewett has called for a Global Day of Mourning on April 18. Prewett calls the destruction a “tragedy for humankind” and says,“Let us mourn the loss of our history, our heritage. Cry for those that will come after us and know that once we had our history in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.” Why did Prewett choose April 18?  That is the U.N.’s World Heritage Day.
  • Last fall, in the heart of Arkansas, a group organized to host the first ever Pagan Pride event in Conway. According to reports, they had over 300 attendees, which far exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the city of Conway has since passed an ordinance prohibiting all vendor sales on park property. Organizers said, “This means that we wouldn’t be able to have vendors, our singers and presenters wouldn’t be able to sell their merchandise, and there wouldn’t be any concessions! The only option that the city has given us is to rent out the Conway Expo Center.” If the organizers follow through, the event will cost significantly more money. The organization is now reaching out to the community for help through a GoFundMe campaign.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, has recently released several statements responding to the most recent attempts to enact a religious freedom restoration act (RFRAs), specifically in the state of Georgia. The ATC’s statements have created buzz in the mainstream media, the Pagan blogosphere and local Georgia Wiccan community. We are currently working on this developing story and will bring you the details of the debate on Wed.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

I first heard of the Eleusinian Mysteries in late 2009. Western Washington University (WWU) Pagans, I was told, always went to Spring Mysteries Festival and Hekate’s Sickle Festival, carpooling to the state parks where they would take place. This is also known as “camping with friends” to any parents with lots of questions.

The field where ATCs Spring Mysteries are held.

The field where ATCs Spring Mysteries are held.

The experienced WWU Pagans assured me that my interest in Greek mythology was a perfect fit for the Spring Mysteries Festival that was held over Easter weekend every year. Work tends not to ask too many questions when you request time-off for Easter weekend and cite a religious event. This makes attendance more feasible for people still deep in the broom closet.

My first year at the Spring Mysteries Festival was in 2010, the twenty-fourth consecutive year that the event had been celebrated by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC). That first year, being at the festival was a profound and magical experience, and only the second one of its type that I had been to. Spring Mysteries participants are bound by an oath to never reveal what they see; therefore, I cannot say exactly what happened. But, I will say that spending a weekend in ritual space and speaking with the gods is a life-changing experience. I went back again in 2011.

The Spring Mysteries Festival (SMF) is broken into two parts: the lesser mysteries and the greater mysteries.The lesser mysteries are attended by both the mystai (“those who have not seen” i.e. first year attendees) and epoptai (“those who have seen” i.e. second year attendees and beyond). The greater mysteries are only attended by the epoptai. Separating the rites into two distinct parts is reminiscent of how they may have been celebrated in Ancient Greece.

In late 2012, I was asked to be a ritual presenter at Hekate’s Sickle, ATC’s fall festival. Not long after that, Belladonna Laveau, the new archpriestess of ATC, asked me to be a priestess of Artemis at the 2013 Spring Mysteries. I was shocked, at first. Artemis? Really? Me? Really? But then I remembered how easily I had connected with Her when I was much younger and so I decided it would be a great experience.

Helping run the festival and carrying a godform was a profoundly different experience, particularly since I was only 21 at the time. My counterpart, the priest of Apollo, was also young. Together we were the youngest priest and priestess pair in Spring Mysteries history. Or so I was told. I played it up quite a bit – Artemis as a youthful rebel – and dyed significant parts of my brown hair a brilliant green.

That year, there were a lot of young faces. There were many more millennials – if there had ever been any before. That was a huge change from when I had been just a participant. When Belladonna Laveau became archpriestess, many doors opened for people who weren’t regularly near the ATC property in Index, Washington. She encouraged people to audition via video, and the roles were no longer limited to known clergy. They were opened to students and other interested parties.

Gabriel Matson as Pan [Courtesy Photo]

Gabriel Matson as Pan for SMF 2014 [Courtesy Photo]

Being the priestess of Artemis also changed my perspective on what was happening. It’s one thing to go to Fort Flagler for a weekend, enjoy the festival and then go back home. It’s another whole thing to start preparing in January and to drive the 160 miles to Seattle and back nearly weekly to go to rehearsals, memorize a script and adapt it to fit our interpretations. The level of work and dedication it takes – especially for those not local – is daunting. 

This year, the Spring Mysteries Festival XXX takes place on the first weekend of April, and the cast has already been rehearsing together since January. Gabriel Matson, age 28, is one of the cast. He has been a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) since 2012 and a practicing Druid for 10 years. Matson was surprised when he was asked to be the priest of the Dark Lord for Spring Mysteries XXX.

“I had to think about it for a few days before giving an answer,” he said. “My only hesitations and reservations had to do with the fact that I’m in this intensive Herbal science program at Bastyr.” This is his third year as a ritual presenter, having been the priest of Hermes and Pan in past years. This will be his sixth year at the mysteries.

Another cast member Brenna Grace, age 24, is in her third year on staff. For the upcoming festival, she is the priestess of Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred poetry and hymns. In the past, she was the priestess of Urania, the Muse of astronomy, and Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry. Brenna is a dedicant in the WISE Tradition and a student of Belladonna Laveau.

“I was so excited. I really wanted to be a part of the Mysteries, and I felt like this was a great entry point,” she said about being asked to be a Muse that first year.

Brenna Grace [Courtesy Photo]

Brenna Grace [Courtesy Photo]

Both Matson and Grace talked about the shift to a younger cast. They believe that it is a great chance for millennials and even younger generations to be involved.

“It’s a great opportunity for [young people] to learn a lot and to grow. I know that our directors wouldn’t cast anyone they did not think was ready. It might be hard for some people to look past their age when trying to speak to deity though, and I totally understand that,” Grace said.

“It is great that younger folk are allowed on cast for one,” Matson said. “It is also rather amazing that I’m not in the ATC or Wiccan. A few short years ago any and all of that would have been unfathomable,” he added, referencing the changes made by Belladonna Laveau that have made it possible for him, as a young Druid, to hold an important role in the mysteries.

On shifting from simple participant to staff, Grace said, “Well, since I started going when I was new to the craft, I didn’t recognize all the magic behind everything. Being on the cast really helped me understand how big of a thing SMF and the Eleusinian Mysteries were.”

On the same subject, Matson said, “As a participant, you are wowed by the cast, and subject to their interpretation. As [a cast member], you are the interpretation. It’s a lot of pressure coming up to it, but always seems to work out in the end.”

Matson added that he intends to take a year off from carrying a godform so he can focus on his final year of schooling at Bastyr and then will see where life takes him after that. Brenna hopes to be on staff for many years to come, though says she’s “Mused” out for now.

As for me, I definitely plan on continuing to attend the rites for as long as they are celebrated. Though, at some point, I may take a step back from invoked roles in order to give others a chance.