In this modern, transient, and digitally-driven world, we find ourselves frequently discussing the meaning, development, make-up or even the apparent death of “community.” For Pagans, this can be a particularly profound discussion due to the incredible diversity in our faith and practice. How do we develop and nurture a positive and lasting Pagan solidarity across differences in belief and tradition?
In Atlanta, the answer has come in the form of a wreath. In the spring of 2012, Lady Charissa, senior priestess of North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), began a community wreath project that has now been going for over nine months. She explains:
The idea behind [the wreath] is for people, groups, or covens to add a ribbon to the wreath symbolizing how connected we all are. We are connected to the people we like and work with; connected to the people we’ve never met, connected to the people that we don’t care for. All of these people, friends… make a community. By connecting to this wreath we are bringing …[manifesting] cohesiveness for the Pagan community. (From the NGS Website)
Several years ago, Lady Charissa and a fellow Atlanta Pagan, Kieran Nightstar successfully incorporated a unity wreath into an NGS Samhain ritual. The work proved beneficial and inspirational to all attending. In 2012, Lady Charissa decided to resurrect this idea when she was asked to lead an Ostara ritual at the Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas, an annual festival celebrating Pagan life. Lady Charissa remarked:
I had not considered making the wreath a long term project. But, when I was leading the ritual and passing the wreath around, the words just came to me. “We will pass the wreath around the community during the coming year.”
Lady Charissa North Georgia Solitaries
She started getting calls the very next week. Pagans from all over the Atlanta-area wanted to participate in her community wreath project. A few short months later, that simple grapevine circular form was covered with a menagerie of ribbons representing both solitary Pagans and covens throughout the north Georgia community.
Over the past 9 months, the wreath has been passed around the local community attending private sabbat rituals and open festivals. In September, the wreath traveled to Alabama to attend the first annual Auburn Pagan Pride Day. As leader of the open ritual, Lady Charissa incorporated the wreath project into the evening’s work. Then, late in October, the wreath was displayed at both Atlanta’s and Savannah’s Pagan Pride events.
To date, more than eight covens and organizations, representing different Pagan traditions and faiths, as well as countless solitaries have participated in building Pagan solidarity through this community wreath.
I have been pleasantly surprised at how many people have wanted to bring the wreath into their circles and to be a part of this project. It has grown far past my original idea.
On Yule, my own group had the wreath. We tied our ribbons into its tapestry. It was indeed transformative as we looked over the rainbow of interwoven ribbons – some from friends and others from strangers, but all a part of the community. Through our shared experience, we were immediately connected.
In the upcoming months, the community wreath will continue to makes its way through Georgia’s Pagan world. Lady Charissa hasn’t firmly decided on its final destination. She said, “At this point, I will just see where [the project] wants to go, doing my best to facilitate the journey.” Right now, she plans to circle the project back to its starting place at the 2013 Ostara ritual for Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas. From there, the wreath will grow in new ways, as Lady Charissa notes, just as “the community energy grows.”
Wreath building is one symbolic way that we can nurture Pagan solidarity within our diverse world. Have your local communities used any methods, magickal or otherwise, to bridge gaps, to build and maintain community in an effort to foster Pagan solidarity? What ways have you used?
In the growing darkness of November, the sacred fires are lit by the wisdom keepers of our age!
It’s Sunday again. Last week, I wrote about the growing popularity of one U.S. holiday – Halloween. Now, a week has passed and, collectively speaking, America has turned its attention to yet another holiday – Thanksgiving. With that shift come new decorations, sacred family traditions, and most importantly, a squeaky-clean mythos involving a big ship, a bunch of Pilgrims, and of course, the “Indians.”
With that in mind let’s consider reversing the thread from last week’s post in which I examined a spiritual holiday going secular. What if we ushered in a secular holiday, Thanksgiving, with a definitively spiritual experience? What if we could reach into that modern American mythos to find a deeper meaning through a connection to the very spirit that resides within these lands? What if we could celebrate that spirit in a traditional way with the elders of the indigenous populations?
Sam Proctor Muskogee (Creek)
This past weekend, the Sacred Fire Foundation made this a real possibility. In Atlanta, Georgia, the Foundation hosted its annual Ancient Wisdom Rising retreat. The annual event is a gathering of community elders from a across the globe who guard that ancient spirit – the one that emanates from deep within the Earth. Each year, these wisdom keepers come together to share their stories, offer counsel, and demonstrate the ancient traditions that have survived for centuries.
Over the years the retreat has been held in a variety of locations including California, Washington State and New York. This year the event was back on the East Coast. Coming to Georgia, specifically, was a powerful choice for the Foundation because it paved the way for a spiritual and ancestral reunion for one of the visiting elders: Sam Proctor. As written by their Board of directors:
“Almost two centuries since the removal of his People from Georgia, Mr. Sam Proctor, respected Muscogee (Creek) spiritual leader from Oklahoma, returns to the shores of the Chattahoochee River to share his message of peace and time-tested wisdom about a heart-centered way of living.” (From Ancient Wisdom Rising, September Newsletter)
Marie Junaluska Cherokee Elder
After visiting the retreat site near the banks of the Chattahoochee, Mr. Proctor said, “The Ancestors are still here.” During the weekend, he shared Muskogee traditions and, with other members of the Muskogee Nation, led a traditional Social Fire Dance welcoming the attendees to the land of his ancestors.
Joining him was Marie Junaluska, a Cherokee elder living in Western North Carolina and Kevin Welch, Cherokee Master Gardener. Their people’s ancestral heritage can be traced to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, Western North Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee. Like the Creek, the Cherokee were forcibly removed from Georgia and made to walk the infamous, “Trail of Tears.” Despite this painful history, the Cherokee spirit lives on. Ms. Junaluska has been sharing, teaching and passing on the Cherokee culture and traditions for over thirty years. And, Kevin Welch speaks out for the preservation of heirloom plants and growing techniques native to this Southern landscape and the Cherokee people.
Grandma Walking Thunder Navajo Medicine Woman
In addition, Ancient Wisdom Rising welcomed two other elders from North American indigenous cultures. Grandmother Walking Thunder, a healer and sand painter, shared the spirit of the Dine’ Medicine People (Navajo) and her experiences as a medicine woman. Coming from Alaska, Larry Merculieff of the Aleut Peoples shared the Aleutian teachings on the Oneness with Nature and the Great Womb of life. He is a one of the last Aleuts to be fully raised in the traditional way.
From Southern Asian traditions, Marcy Vaughn, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, led a visualization and a talk on compassion. And, Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami, a Sufi from Pakistan and a 17th generation musician, shared the healing powers of sound and music.
Marcy Vaughn Tibetan Buddhism and Bon
Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a comprehensive inter-spiritual event like this. However, in reading the stories and watching the videos, it is possible to understand why these elders are reaching out to help humanity through their ancient traditions. More importantly, it is possible to understand how their teachings can help us rediscover our own connection to the Earth and benefit our journey, no matter what the path.
Once again, my thoughts return to the secular Thanksgiving – a holiday that focuses on community, compassion, tradition, and natural abundance. Can we re-sculpt the mythos to breathe a new spiritual life into that holiday? The story centers on an indigenous population, the “Indians,” teaching the new inhabitants, the Pilgrims, about the land and its creatures. It ends in a peaceful shared community feast that we now replicate every November.
Can we bring the spiritual into the secular? Can we transform this myth to focus on the teachings of the wisdom keepers who strive to bring humanity back into balance with Nature? Can we rededicate Thanksgiving to that ever sacred and shared wisdom that passes effortlessly from hand-to-hand, from drum beat to drum beat, from the heart to the heart through the eternal spirit fires of this wonderful Earth? And what if we did….
Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
An Aside: I realize that there may be some readers who are not well-versed in Native American history, specifically that of the South East, or know much about Thanksgiving. Click on the following links for quick background reads:
However, by 2002, the Greenwood deck was out-of-print. Over the next few years, unopened copies were being sold online for upwards of $2-3,000. Would Mark re-publish the deck? Or, was his Tarot journey over?
Part 2: A Conversation with Mark Ryan, October 4, 2012
Mark: I [was] approached to re-publish the [Greenwood Tarot] by several people including the original publishers. Chesca, I believe, changed her spiritual belief path and decided her artwork was not viable. So, I said [to the publishers], “Well, I don’t even know where Chesca is and don’t know how we would sit down and think about it.” John Matthews, later, approached me and said, “Have you thought about redoing [Greenwood]?” And I said, “Yes, I’ve been approached. But Chesca’s artwork is in copyright and nobody knows where she is. So we’d have to get a new artist.”
If we could get an artist that was going to bring an extra dimension to this [project], it was definitely worth looking at. Because John had been involved in the development of Greenwood and has written over 100 books on mythological things and because we’d been friends for a long time, I said, “Let’s do it together.”
We got Will Worthington as an artist. As soon as I saw his stuff, I said, “This is going to be a different dimension.” Chesca’s artwork, while being very esoteric and primal, wasn’t easily accessible. I make no apologies for saying, “I like stuff to be accessible.” Once Will started turning out the artwork, I knew we had something quite special.
H: That’s true. The Wildwood Tarot has been just as popular. It’s changing people’s lives.
M: That’s the point. When you talk about “celebrity,” [it’s] just a vehicle to pull out those ideas that affect people’s lives. If [I am] going to leave anything behind in this world, and we all will, then I want to leave something where people say, “That affected my life.” [Like] Robin of Sherwood, I’ve had more people around the world who have said, “That show changed my life.”
H: It’s very impressive how you’ve managed to balance your career with such a diverse set of projects from authoring Tarot books, performing on stage and screen as well as being as a master swordsman.
Mark Ryan as Nasir
M: Yes, and, I was also in the Military. That’s the other side of all of this: finding the balance between the discipline and the spirituality of the sword, the relationship to that symbol and the concept of being a warrior. Then, bringing that into your psyche and applying it.
I’ve got my dog tags here. They’ve got Atheist on them because they didn’t want to put Pagan. If I had been caught anywhere, in a strange place, it would have been quite disastrous. I did try to explain quantum physics, human psychology and the concept of talking to mountain streams or the ocean. But soldiers don’t tend to have those conversations with their senior officers, so I just put Atheist on there.
H: Today, you don’t hide the fact that you Pagan. You talk about it publicly on L.A.’s Combat Radio. Do you every worry about being harassed by fans or industry people?
M: No. [laugh] This is California. L.A. stands for lunatic asylum. I fit in. I’m a member of the loony bin. [laugh] People are much more open and forgiving about any belief systems [here.] They have a go at me more about my interest in Unidentified Flying Objects than they do about the esoteric.
Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone that I know to have an alternative religious view be persecuted. When we did First Knight, Richard Gere used to chant every morning. And, he was very calm, very focused, very nice, and a very generous person.
Only once in my life, I can honestly say, have I actually had my interest in the esoteric used negatively. It was a family matter. It was brought up that I had been writing books about Tarot and that I had written something for DC comics. It was an attempt to blacken my character. Even the judge, who was a staunch Christian, threw the whole thing out and said, “This is crazy. We are talking about DC Comics. We are talking about Tarot cards. This is not devil worshiping lunacy. The guy is quite erudite about it and can explain the symbolism, the functionality and the science of it.” Desperate people do desperate things.
H: It seems that your spiritual path has helped your career, integrating into your life’s journey.
50th Anniversary Edition of The Green Arrow: The Black Alchemist
M: It’s about being able to articulate a belief system. I come at it from a scientific standpoint – sub-atomic particle physics. Every time they find something new, like the Higgs boson, it opens up a new area of spiritual discussion. I believe that we can, consciously and sub-consciously, communicate with that universe. We don’t need a person or a belief structure. We can do it directly – whether you see it as the “old guy in the sky with the beard” or the Goddess. Somehow we have an intrinsic and instinctive connection on a subatomic particle level to our reality. We can affect our reality by the way we think.
The real magic is in taking that elusive idea, that concept that comes out of the back of your head, and changing it into a material thing. That’s magic – manifesting that idea and turning it into reality.
And, [then there’s] synchronicity. I believe that the way you view the particle, changes the particle [Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.] I try, on a daily basis, to practice changing the particles around me by putting them the way that I want them to go; instead of feeling that I’m a victim being dragged along some path. I don’t believe in fate.
H: Is that what you attribute your success to? Not waiting around. You are changing the particles.
H: That’s a great story. Very inspiring. Was it pure luck or synchronicity?
M: I [sometimes] think to myself, “Well, you’ve been lucky.” Ray Winstone, a good friend of mine, said, “It’s not luck. You make your luck. You are willing to go that far on the journey to find it. Consider all the barriers that are in people’s way. We didn’t see the barriers, because we didn’t know they were there. So for us, the barriers didn’t exist.”
When I look back at my career and life, I think, “That’s true.” I don’t know whether the universe helps the ignorant. But I’ve never been afraid of the unknown, of saying, “let’s push it and see how far we can go with this.” I’m not a particularly talented person. But every bit of talent I’ve got, I’ve pushed as far as I can make it go.
H: That’s a very positive message – both a spiritual and philosophical one.
M: I believe if you walk forward positively and creatively, you attract positive, creative. If you’re negative, destructive, selfish, and closed, that’s what you get.
H: That sounds like magick to me. Before we end, would you like to leave the readers with any other message from your own journey? Something you might share in your Tarot workshops.
M: Yes. My father’s advice to me, when he wanted me to go into the construction business but knew I was destined for some theatrical career, was, “Son, I don’t care what you do as long as whatever you try, you give 110% effort. That way you’ll never lose.” You can’t fail even if something doesn’t work out. You can’t fail if you take something away that you can apply somewhere else. So when I’ve done things that haven’t worked out, I take some experience from that and apply it to the next project. Yes, there are negative elements in life, of course. But you can’t get bogged down by them so you don’t evolve.
Life is a learning process.
H: Thank you very much, Mark.
While there may not be many mainstream entertainment celebrities that we can definitively pinpoint as being practicing Pagans, they do, in fact, exist. As for Mark Ryan, his journey still continues. In November, Mark will be hosting two Wildwood Tarot Workshops with long-time friend John Matthews. The first is in Atlanta and the second in Seattle. Beyond that, Mark continues his work on the Transformers Movie franchise as the voice of “Bumblebee.” And, he is currently in the process of writing several books. You can listen to Mark weekly on Combat Radio and or follow him on Twitter @markryan243.
[Note: This was Part 2 of a two part series. Part 1 can be found here.]
For many people today, the woodlands are the last vestiges of the mystical world in which we had our beginning. Such places are full of classic archetypes from Robin Hood to the shadowy figures of the Green Man and Woman. To walk in the wild wood is to take a journey back in time to a place where we, ourselves, are different; a place where deep ancestral wisdom still resides; a place where a partnership with the denizens of the wild wood is as natural as breathing.
Based on the seasonal rhythms and festivals of the ancient year, The Wildwood Tarot is filled with the rich mythology and shamanic mysteries of the ancient Celts. Deep within the Wildwood system lies the mystical archetypes of The Green Man, The Blasted Oak, the Archer and the Hooded Man and many others of forest lore.
The archetypal forces of the pack act as both guides and interpreters, taking the user on a spiritual, mystical and psychological journey deep into the labyrinth of primal Earth mysteries. Used as a meditation system, divinatory Oracle, or as a reference work for the seeker of profound knowledge, The Wildwood Tarot will draw you into the heart of the ancient forest and allow you to open up to its mysteries.
Will Worthington, Mark Ryan, and John Matthews (Wildwood Tarot launch party)
Virginia Chandler: What was your personal inspiration for creating The Wildwood Tarot?
John Matthews: I think the inspiration is really Mark Ryan, because he was the only begetter of The Greenwood Tarot, on which Wildwood is very firmly based. I came along 10 years later. I’d hoped that the original deck would be reprinted, but when it became evident that the original artist, Chesca Potter, was not around to do this, I suggested that Mark should look for another artist and redo it that way. As we talked about this I made a few suggestions of ways that the original concept seemed incomplete and Mark responded by suggesting that he and I collaborate on a new version. The result was The Wildwood Tarot, but I find Mark a very inspiring person to work with. We’ve been friends for 20 odd years and share a lot of interests in common. And of course we were fortunate to secure the services of one of the premier artists of our time, Will Worthington, who understands the nature of the Wildwood and the Robin Hood mythos which is part of it, better than almost anyone else I know of.
VC: What can we find within the Wildwood?
JM: All kinds of wildness and wonder. The medieval ideas of the “wild wood” was like a cupboard into which they stuffed everything they were afraid of – Wodwose, Green Men, demons, strange creatures – and of course the most fearful thing of all- wild women and their sexuality!
VC: As journeymen, what would be the one item that we must take with us into the Wildwood?
VC: Where should we seek the Wildwood?
JM: The wildwood is everywhere. It’s inside us. It’s outside us. And, of course, if you happen to be near any of the more ancient forests, not just in Europe; then, you are in touch with the source itself. But for me, it’s about journeying into an inner landscape that is deeply embedded within us. We have a wild nature that most of us have forgotten, but it’s there. And it’s both light and dark. There are ancient atavistic things that need to be approached with care. But even these, if faced up to, can bring blessings.
VC: What is the archetype that you most closely identity with from the Wildwood Tarot?
JM: I have to say I think it’s the Archer. There is something about this powerful image and the sense of direction, of one pointedness and determination. Although we portray the Archer as female in the pock, it can be of either gender.
VC: The Wildwood Tarot is in its third printing; why do you think that this deck resonates with so many people?
JM: Precisely because it touches into a very deep level to the primal energy that still drives us. We may think of ourselves as civilized, but there is always a wildness within.
VC: Why “Wildwood “? What’ so “wild” about it?
JM: I think it’s the freedom, the undisciplined energy that’s within us all – exactly what you feel when you enter the wild anywhere, or if you let your garden grow wild. Even if most of us don’t want to admit it, there’s a memory latent that grabs people in a profound way.
VC: What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
JM: (laugh) Twice what you think it is.
VC: Do you have a favorite card or piece of artwork from the deck?
JM: Either The Archer or The Great Bear. Both, it seems to me, really captures the energy of the Wildwood. But to be honest I love them all.
VC: Other than your upcoming visit to Atlanta in November, what other Wild events do you have planned for 2012?
JM: Well, we hope to continue circling the globe with as many workshops and seminars and book signings as possible – until our global empire is greater than any other and we can take over the world. At the moment, Caitlín and I are contemplating a special event here, in the UK, around Christmas next year at the amazing and legendary Hawkwood College. This will bring together all the many decks we have worked on over the years – one of which will, of course, be The Wildwood Tarot.
Turner Family Support Team (from left to right): Rev. Charissa Iskiwitch, Stephanie Turner, Rev. Ginger Wages, Lisa Palmer, and Rev. Michelle Boshears
“… some argue that not all religions are met with hostility in the classroom, only those far outside the mainstream. That complaint was made this month via an Internet campaign on behalf of a pagan family in Carroll County. Stephanie Turner said her 11-year-old son was singled out and punished after he took off the neopagan holiday of Samhain. Once the boy returned to class, his teacher allegedly questioned him and said, ’Paganism is not a religion.’”
While this issue has been resolved since December 14th, I’m certainly not going to begrudge the AJC for jumping on this story so late, any mainstream press attention to victories for the equal rights and treatment of Pagans is welcome. I keenly understand how hard it is to cover everything of note when you’re a solo news-blogger covering a wide and complex beat, so I’m glad this story is reaching more people, even after the fact. That said, I think Downey’s blog post provides a perfect example of how Pagan stories eventually get noticed by the upper echelons of our news media. Simply put, how does Pagan news get wider attention?
“In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.”
So what, exactly, led AJC blogger Maureen Downey to the story? It seems likely that she was tipped off by a local reader to the Facebook page and by the time she was ready to write about it, the issue was resolved. Her narrative was certainly influenced by direct contact with Selena Fox, and its clear she read “websites and pagan organizations that took up the Turner family cause,” though she oddly links to a petition that was shut down on December 9th at the request of the Turner family support coalition as an example of those “websites and organizations”. Perhaps if the matter was still unresolved, this might have led to more ongoing and serious coverage from the mainstream media. Which leaves us with a perfect example of how the Pagan news ecosystem works.
The Pagan News Ecosystem
Far from a hierarchical top-down or bottom-up system, today news builds momentum by generating more and more discussion and reporting until it is noticed at a national or international level. In the Turner family story, almost all the “spokes” of this ecosystem came into play. Locally-focused grassroots news sites, social media, national Pagan media, Pagan blogs and podcasts, information and coordination from Pagan organizations, and finally, reporting from mainstream news outlets. The more the various elements of the ecosystem coordinate and communicate, the faster news disseminates and goes “viral”. Not every element is necessary every time, but usually most “big” stories about modern Pagans involved many of the players seen in my graphic above.
The point? The point is that media coordination works to not only spread awareness, but also motivates for change and, in the case of the Turner family, produces results. This is why a healthy and robust Pagan media is important, and why Pagan organizations need to take their PR and media outreach seriously. Because we were all paying attention when a local Indymedia bureau wrote about this story, some measure of justice was achieved. Without social networking or a growing Pagan media, this issue might have incubated for months, or even years, before in maintained enough momentum to gain the attention needed. Now, it can be achieved in less than two weeks. That’s good for the Turners, and good for modern Paganism.
“Oh, Great Spirit of the Forest, hear this prayer.Among us, the mortals, walk lonesome souls whose devotion to thee must be hidden. Centuries ago, they faced gruesome deaths at the burning stake that came with an audience. Today, their cubicle mates snicker. Alas, the persecution!”
Ow! Ow! My sides hurt from all the laughing! Man, I don’t know about you, but lame jokes from three years ago always age very well, don’t you think? Couldn’t they have sprung for a newer article about Pagans? Were the fans of Charles Yoo so longing for his particular form of “wit” that they ran an October piece about Pagans at the beginning of July? If this is the fruits of print journalism, no wonder its in trouble.