Archives For Atlanta

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, two Pagans were inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. International College of Ministries and Laity at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were given this honorary designation for their ongoing efforts in the interfaith movement namely for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion. The special ceremony was one part of a much larger event celebrating Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion.

downloadIn 2008 Karen Armstrong, author and fellow at the Society of Literature, received a $100,000 TED prize for her global messages of peace and compassion. Dr. Armstrong took that money and launched a campaign called the “Charter for Compassion” which would embody her message and grow a movement. The Charter is described as:

a cooperative effort to restore no only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.

In February 2014 the city council of Atlanta joined the movement by unanimously voting to become a “Compassionate City.” The declaration was the result of a grassroots effort by a group called Compassionate Atlanta. The local movement garnered a number of supporters including The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel at Morehouse College.

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter, the dean of the Chapel at Morehouse, happens to also be a Parliament trustee. As Andras explains:

Through his involvement on our Board, Dr. Carter, who has been Dean of the MLK Chapel since its inception, felt that it would be significant for the Chapel to recognize the longstanding interfaith efforts of the Parliament, so he proposed that the current trustees be inducted as honorary ministers. 

Dr. Carter scheduled the “investiture ceremony” to coincide with Atlanta’s “Celebration of Compassion” and the honoring of Dr. Karen Armstrong. All events were held on Morehouse College’s campus in downtown Atlanta.

Prior to Thursday’s ceremonies, Andras and Phyllis met with local Pagans and Interfaith representatives to discuss “Pagans in the Parliament.” This talk was held north of the city in Sandy Springs at The Phoenix and Dragon, a local metaphysical bookstore and Charter for Compassion Partner.

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

After a digital slide-show highlighting the 20 years of Pagan involvement in the Parliament, the elders discussed the positive effects that global interfaith work has had on Paganism in general.  Lydia M. N. Crabtree, author with Immanion Press was one of those in attendance. She said:

It was interesting to see where much of interreligious tolerance for Paganism has come from. Without Phyllis Curott, Andras Corban-Arthen and many other, often unnamed and unrecognized leaders, working on a global level, interreligious work done by Pagans at the local level would be a pothole-riddled road to try and travel upon.

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Then on Thursday morning, Andras and Phyllis gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel for their induction ceremony. Andras says:

I feel deeply honored and also overwhelmed, since MLK was my childhood hero, someone I’ve looked to for inspiration all of my life. It’s truly a humbling experience to walk down the photo-lined halls of the Martin Luther King Memorial Chapel, seeing all the faces of the remarkable women and men who put their lives on the line in the struggle for civil rights.

As part of its interfaith programming the Chapel has been “conferring honorary inductions” to those people whose work is “congruent with the principles set forth by Gandhi, King and Ikeda,” as Andras explains.  He and Phyllis became the first two Pagans, of any tradition, to receive this honor. Andras adds:

To have two of us welcomed into the ranks of a storied Southern Baptist institution; to sit on a stage along with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Catholics, Indigenous, Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahá’ís while the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta stirred up the audience with all the zeal of an old-time black preacher; to be treated not just with openness and respect, but with actual deference by everyone at Morehouse — it really brought home just how far we’ve come. That scene would not have taken place as recently as 20 years ago, when the Parliament, much to its credit, first let us in the door.

Later that evening at the same Chapel, Compassionate Atlanta held its own reception and ceremony to honor Karen Armstrong and her work. Mr. Ajit Jumar of the consul General of India, Mr. Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mr. Shigeo Hasegawa, Vice President of Soko Gakkai International presented Dr. Armstrong with three different peace awards and an honorary degree. In addition, they unveiled a commissioned painting of her which will hang in the King Center Hall of Fame Gallery.

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Sitting on the stage during the evening ceremonies were both Andras and Phyllis as trustees of the Parliament. Andras says:

It’s not every day that I get to share a stage with both the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi — a fascinating, educational, inspirational and productive visit to Morehouse College in Atlanta! 

Several local pagans attended the event including Eibhlean, Priestess and member of the Interfaith Community Initiative in Atlanta. She says:

Dr. Armstrong was engaging and thought provoking as she cited example after example of the existence of Compassion as a core tenet in religious faiths around the world. She ended her presentation with a statement that we could move closer to God by opening ourselves to seeing the Divine in everyone’s eyes – most especially in those who have caused us the most heartache. Compassion is not comfortable – it is standing in integrity and strength to embrace the world in its entirety. It was an honor and a joy to feel that embrace include me as a Witch and Druid.

Compassionate Atlanta has a complete overview of the entire event including photos, music samples and prayers read.  Want to know if your city is Compassionate? Go to the Charter for Compassion to see which cities have signed up for Dr. Armstrong’s “Compassionate City Initiative” and which local venues are Compassion Partners.  

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

Several weeks ago I was contacted by Audrey Galex, an Atlanta-based freelance producer, asking if I could help with some of her upcoming programming. She currently produces and hosts a news program called AIB Metro for the cable station Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters. In her recent episodes Audrey has included a short piece on faith and food. This October she planned to feature harvest foods and felt it was a great opportunity to incorporate a Pagan voice into the show.

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For Audrey, the interfaith experience has been more than just a career path. She was raised Jewish in a predominantly Christian town.  She remembers celebrating traditional religious holidays with friends of many different faiths. As an adult she lived in Egypt, attending American University in Cairo, and traveled extensively throughout the Middle East as both a student and as a journalist for CNN. She comments, ‘Interfaith has been part of my life, like the air I breathe.’

565025_10151625816027057_459023840_nHer freelance work at Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters (AIB) is an extension of that personal experience.

I feel obligated to engage in interfaith dialogue and initiatives because we all live on one planet. The well-being of Mother Earth is our shared destiny. We must learn to live together, to celebrate our very lives together, to survive.  We need to understand each other so that we will not fear each other, because fear leads to mistrust and mistrust leads to hatred and violence.  

Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters (AIB) is an excellent outlet for her work. The forty-four year old non-profit television station produces “programming that promotes interfaith and community dialogue.” The station’s history, from one man’s outlandish idea to the producers of Emmy winning programming, is explained on the AIB web site:

Determined to accommodate the ever-growing and diverse religious communities of Atlanta, [Presbyterian Minister] Rev. John H. Allen had a progressive idea to unite people from ALL communities and faiths to share their thoughts with the public.  Although this idea was seen as controversial by many, three clergy members joined forces and Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters was born… [In May 1969,] Rev. Allen’s vision to promote dialogue between those of different faith, socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures was up and running.

Today Pagans are being included in that dialogue. Over the past several years Audrey has invited various Pagans to appear on her program AIB Metro as well as other shows.  She recalls:

I … had a chance to interview a Pagan leader for a program I did for AIB a number of years ago on “The Mysterious Roots of Easter.”  I’ll never forget that interview. “Easter bunny… ours. Easter Egg .. ours.”  I believe that’s what really opened my eyes to Paganism. Plus, I always knew there had to be some meaning for the items on the Passover seder plate that pre-dated Judaism.

Since then she’s been calling on the Atlanta Pagan community to participate when appropriate. Audrey remarked:

I feel that, if someone is working for an interfaith media entity, the pagan community must be included as one among many faith traditions and spiritual paths in every project, to the extent that is possible. It is a religion. Its teachings and theology are part of the rainbow of traditions in our pluralistic culture and world.  

While she openly admits to often forgetting to include a Pagan voice, she is striving to make that correction. She has done just that with her new spotlight on food and faith through which she seeks to explore how traditional foods are prepared and used within a spiritual setting.

Holli S. Emore during the shooting of AIB Metro's Faith and Food feature

Holli S. Emore during the shooting of AIB Metro’s Faith and Food feature

For the October edition, she invited Holli S. Emore, the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, to be the on-camera talent. As an active member of Interfaith Partners of South Carolina and a strong proponent of such work, Holli jumped at the opportunity to become involved with interfaith television programming, specifically in the South. Holli says:

Pagan spirituality is a beautiful path; it’s high time we let people in on the secret.  No, I don’t mean recruiting; I just mean being open about who we are.  Fresh air and sunlight are essential to growing a healthy garden.  Why not share with others when they ask, as I was?  What I have found, in the course of my interfaith work the past few years, is that all kinds of people are curious and very supportive.  In the spirit of interfaith, we accept that we simply want to get to know each other.  Shows like AIB Metro help us do that.  …  This is how we build a peaceful world, one person at a time. 

AIB Metro Producer Audrey Galex with Cameraman Nick Bach

AIB Metro Producer Audrey Galex with Cameraman Nick Bach

When Holli arrived in Atlanta, she joined Audrey and cameraman, Nick Bach for an on-location shoot in Audrey’s own kitchen. During the first portion of the filming, Holli shared a family recipe for Pumpkin Pudding. While preparing the dish for the camera, she interjected information about the meaning of the harvest within her own Pagan Tradition, Osireion.

After placing the pudding in the oven, the shoot and the conversation moved outdoors.  With the camera rolling and the smell of cinnamon wafting from the kitchen, Holli and Audrey discussed Paganism, Wicca, Witchcraft and all things in between.  Audrey remarked:

[Holli] is deeply committed to the spirit and scholarship of Paganism. She is knowledgeable about a variety of traditions beyond Paganism, personally and professionally, and expresses thoughtfully and engagingly.

Holli was a natural in front of the camera showing a graceful ability to answer complex questions with sensitivity and openness. Her experience in interfaith circles has given her the language to communicate the beauty of Paganism within a framework understood by people of any faith. Holli noted:

Many Pagans mistakenly think that the purpose of interfaith work is to educate others about Paganism to dispel the ugly myths about us.  That certainly happens, but there is so much more!  There are other religions who feel the same way – they want us to understand and accept them.… Pagans are not the only minority religion in America.  My Muslim friends want me to know that they have fun and are not offended by my liberal attitudes even if they don’t share them.  My Sikh friends empathize with Pagan fears of bias and discrimination.  My Christian friends are glad for me to see that not everyone is a literalist or evangelical.  The Unitarian Universalists and I just high-five each other!  There is a rich world out there and Pagans are part of it.  We have just as much to learn from those on different paths as we do from each other.

After a few laughs during the shoot, Audrey echoed her own passionate commitment to interfaith work by adding: “I love miniature golf and would like, someday, to create a miniature golf course in which each hole represents a different faith tradition. At the end, the ball goes to the same place …” She hopes to continue weaving Pagan voices “as a regular part of programming” at AIB.

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October’s edition of AIB Metro is now in post-production. Audrey confirmed that Holli’s segment will be one of the “featured” pieces for the upcoming show. It will debut Thursday, Oct. 3 at 6:30p and then re-air over the entire month on Tuesdays at 10:00am, Thursday at 6:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 12:00pm. The show can be watched on local Atlanta cable channels. For those outside the Atlanta Metro area, the show will be available via internet streaming directly from AIB’s website.

IMG_0570This past weekend I traveled to the historic town of Salem, Massachusetts for Covenant of the Goddess’ (CoG) yearly Merry Meet Convention. This multi-faceted four-day event includes rituals, leadership training, social activities, shopping and the ever important annual business meeting called Grand Council. This year’s Merry Meet was artfully hosted by CoG’s New England-based local council – the Weavers.

Before I recount the experience, I want to make one thing very clear. I am a proud CoG member and have been for years. Currently, I am serving as its National Public Information Officer and will continue to do so for the upcoming year 2013-14. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity. What I share below is my own personal reflections from Salem.

This year’s Merry Meet contained a unique and symbolic presence. Salem alone is an interesting city without us even being there. The city is marinating in all things “witchy.” There are pentacles in shop windows and metaphysical shops on every block.  If a store clerk notices your pentagram necklace, he or she kindly adds “Blessed Be” while handing you change.

Being a Witch in Salem offers an interesting dichotomy of experience. It allows for a certain freedom of practice while simultaneously putting you in a spotlight. I recall an earlier summer trip to Pennsylvania’s Amish country.  While there I wondered how the Amish people felt about being a tourist attraction. How did it feel to live like a Disneyland character?  While I was in Salem, I very briefly experienced what that might be like.

With all of those oddities, Salem serves as an excellent backdrop for a Witch convention. Even the producers of Bewitched thought so. In the 1970s Salem Saga episodes, Samantha, Darrin and Endora arrive in the city for their own annual witch convention called Convocation. In the show, the characters actually stay at the Hawthorne Hotel – the very same hotel that CoG used.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Throughout those four days, I found a deep sense of connectivity through the coming together of all things “witch.” Before us lay the rich history of Salem and the tragic deaths of those who were accused of Witchcraft. Layered upon that was the popular culture image of the witch, Samantha, who is now immortalized in a bronze statue on Essex Street.  As one tour guide said, the show saved the town. Then there is the presence of real Witchcraft, real Witches and real magic as seen in some of the shops and local practitioners who make Salem their home.

Priestess Sandra Wright

Priestess Sandra Wright

One of these local Witches is Sandra Mariah Wright, the High Priestess of Elphame Coven and CoG’s Merry Meet event coordinator. Standing outside in the Salem Commons, she spoke these opening words:

It is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to Salem. It’s my hometown, and I suspect like every hometown it looks much different from the outside looking in. For so many people who visit Salem, it is a pilgrimage that ends up feeling more like a homecoming. I hope it will be that way for all of you….We are standing on Salem Common, the site of the militia’s first muster and the birthplace of the National Guard, and it seems only right – because we are warriors for change. … That is the energy we are tapping into here, weaving this web of unity.

There in the Commons stood more than 70 Witches and Wiccans from across the country representing many generations and traditions all weaving a web of unity. This added yet another layer of meaning to the experience of Merry Meet.

As the work of the Covenant progressed through Friday and Saturday, there was a decidedly clear consensus that the organization needed to modify its processes and adapt to a rapidly evolving world. Much of the work was centered on the notion of looking towards tomorrow. How does CoG, as an organization, successfully implement new technology and what are the best practices for social media?  How do we adjust our long standing policies to accommodate or reflect any new trends in Wiccan practice? How do we stay relevant for younger generations whose needs and expectations are different than those of the CoG founders?

Accommodating new technology, such as virtual meeting access, blogs and social media marketing, is the easy part. In fact, today CoG has a very successful Facebook page with well over 15,000 likes. However, negotiating social trends is far more complicated whether that be the increase in solitary practitioners, an aging population or something else entirely.

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Priestess Kathy Lezon

The incoming First Officer, High Priestess Kathy Lezon of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, is excited to explore the possibilities of moving CoG forward into the evolved future as a strong and relevant organization. She says:

We need to do a whole lot more talking [publicly] about us as an organization…demonstrate what we already do. How nationally can we talk more about what is happening locally with the CoG face on it. [We also need to ] think about the needs of the younger population…solitaries who want some sort of affiliation or people who don’t see the value in a connection with a local organization. There’s a shift happening.

Over the past year, Kasha and members of CoG’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) have dedicated themselves to experimenting with new ways of increasing CoG’s visibility in Florida. In doing so, they hope to demonstrate its relevancy within contemporary Wiccan life. One of their most progressive projects was their podcast series.

Northern Dawn Local Council's Gary Lingen and Lorelei

Northern Dawn Local Council’s Gary Lingen and Lorelei

However, the Covenant of the Goddess is not entirely about revolutionary change. While locating its position in this post-Christian world, the organization is also very interested in preserving its own history and that of all Witches. During the meeting, many of its older members provided a much needed grounding point. Anna Korn and Don Frew of Northern California Local Council, often acted as a needed reference point on the history of policies and actions. Several evenings, I had pleasure of talking to another longtime member, Gary Linden of Northern Dawn Local Council, who shared some wonderful stories of Merry Meets gone-by.

Even more profound was the connectivity that we all had to a darker and older history. On Friday morning, the membership unanimously agreed to participate in a service in honor of those colonists who suffered at the hands of Salem Witch Trials in 1692. On Saturday at 1pm, the entire group of 70 plus witches walked to Salem’s Witch Memorial for the tribute. Rayna of EMLC and Jennifer Bennett of Weavers led the observance.  I was honored to be able to read aloud a specially written prayer.  It stated:

We, the Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Wiccans and Witches, in honor of the innocents in Salem who were accused and those who died in 1692, wish to express our sympathy and sorrow over the pain and suffering they experienced. It is our wish that all people will be free to worship the divine presence in their own way in peace. To that end, we have laid a white rose on the marker of each of the aforementioned innocents where that place is known, or here, with these flowers to honor all the rest who suffered alongside them.

IMG_0577While we spoke the words, sang a ritual song and laid the flowers, many tourists stopped to listen and take photos.  Some even joined in. Laura Spellweaver, one of the Weavers event planners, stated “It was a lovely and moving moment.”

After this, we got back to business and back to the consensus process. As always this unusual process is simultaneously frustrating and awe-inspiring.  A visitor in our midsts, Patheos Pagan Portal’s Managing Editor, Christine Hoff-Kraemer commented:

I was impressed and excited to see an organization where consensus process appears to be working. The meeting was skillfully facilitated, with the moderator working to keep the group’s attention on the specific proposal in front of them. Contentious issues that could be resolved in a relatively short time were sent back to committee for revision and then re-presented after a break and approved. Issues that were more powerfully contentious were tabled for additional discussion and re-consideration in the next year.

Consensus worked its own magic and the business got done. Along with everything else, the Covenant elected its new 2013-14 Board which includes from Left to Right:  myself, Garth Garrett, Kathy Lezon, Jack Prewett, Lady Emrys, Lady Mehurt, Jennifer Bennett, and Lady Bridget.

Covenant of the Goddess' National Board 2013-14

Covenant of the Goddess’ National Board 2013-14

The Weavers ended the weekend with another outdoor ritual. Priestess Sandra Wright spoke these words:

In thirty years, COG has never held a Grand Council in Salem….We have accomplished much here together, and will continue to carry this energy through the coming year as we look to more growth and prosperity for COG. Weavers Local Council has enjoyed hosting you so much, we don’t want to let you leave! And so we say stay if you will, go if you must, return when you wish, hail and farewell! Safe journey, and blessed be!

As always the experience of Merry Meet is invigorating and inspiring. This particular Merry Meet held a unique significance as it brought together a slice of Witchcraft history together with a slice of Witchcraft modernity and, beneath that umbrella let us, the members of CoG, examine our own role in Witchcraft’s future.

Next year’s Merry Meet will be hosted by Dogwood Local Council in Atlanta, Georgia, August 21-24.

 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

 

 

In June the Associated Press reported that Barnes & Noble’s future may be bleak. Its stock dropped 17.1% from the previous quarter. It reported a loss of $118.6 million with a 7% drop in overall revenue. William Lynch resigned as CEO and the company announced the end of Nook production.  Will Barnes & Noble, the last remaining large scale book store, survive the current retail climate?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Grilled Cheese

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Grilled Cheese

Far beneath the surface, in the tunnels underneath the Wild Hunt, we contemplated the fate of Barnes & Noble. There was more at stake here than just another superstore filing for chapter 13. Personally speaking, I bought my first witchcraft book from a Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue in New York City. For many people, book stores are access keys to the world. Sometimes that key is even accompanied by a cappuccino and good conversation.

So, here we are discussing the possible end of Barnes & Noble, the last of the large scale book sellers. What would a future without the bookseller look like? Would our access to metaphysical and holistic literature become limited? Would the publishers of such texts disappear without large scale distribution?

In order to get a clearer glimpse at the situation, I took the question directly to industry professionals working within the metaphysical book market. I spoke with Bill Krause at Llewellyn, one of the oldest metaphysical, holistic and spiritual book publishers in the industry. Based in Minnesota, Llewellyn has been successfully operating since 1901. Then I contacted Candace Apple, the owner and operator of Phoenix & Dragon, the largest metaphysical book store in the Atlanta metro area.

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I asked publisher Bill Krause the question at hand, “would the loss of Barnes & Noble affect Llewellyn and, if so, how?”  He responded:

Barnes and Noble is an important trading partner and we are happy for the relationship we have with the people there. They are certainly feeling the changes and challenges of the publishing business but despite the prognostications of the “doomsdayers” we don’t see them going away any time soon.  

He continued on to say that:

We already have experience with the demise of a major trading partner. Borders and particularly Walden [were] big customers for Llewellyn. There is no denying it was a blow but the reality is the market for the kinds of information we provide does not die with the bookstore chain. It moves to where people are most comfortable shopping. It can be on-line at Amazon or Llewellyn.com or a host of other websites.

If Barnes & Noble did falter, Llewellyn would certainly feel a lull or a dip in its revenue stream but over the long haul, it would be able to compensate, as it did with the loss of Borders.  Krause explained that Llewellyn is more adaptable than any of the big six publishing houses. Why? Llewellyn serves a niche market with a focused output. As such it can readily, “move to where people are more comfortable shopping.”

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Photo Courtesy of Elysia Gallo, Llewellyn

Krause also explained that Llewellyn’s ability to thrive for over 100 years has been rooted in its “history with the small stores.” He notes:

Llewellyn is fortunate to have long-standing relationships with the many fine metaphysical and independent stores across the country. Many of these relationships predate the advent of the superstore. We have seen this business grow by double-digits since Borders was shuttered. 

The publisher prides itself on these relationships. Not only does it keep in close contact with the stores, it also offers mutually-beneficial marketing programs such as Llewellyn Week. This particular program, for example, brings renowned Llewellyn authors to the stores for various events. This serves the author and publisher while also driving traffic into the store. It’s a win-win-win situation. The most recent Llewellyn Week was held at Namaste in New York City and the next will be held at Mystic Journey Bookstore in Venice, CA.

After speaking to Krause, I turned to Candace Apple, one of these local shop owners.  Phoenix & Dragon has been in business since 1987, supported by Apple’s hard work, time, heart and money. I asked her the same question:  How would the loss of Barnes & Noble affect your business?

Candace Apple

Candace Apple

Her answer was unexpected. Apple explained that brick-and-mortar superstores, like Barnes & Noble, are not competitors. Where those type stores are generalists, she is a specialist. When a reader can’t find a specific metaphysical book in a Barnes & Noble, the store clerks send them to Phoenix & Dragon. The superstore’s local presence benefits her and other independent, specialized book merchants.

Like Krause, Apple lamented the loss of Borders in 2011. The superstore played home to many Pagan meet-up groups who would then shop Phoenix & Dragon for their needed reading material. Now those groups don’t exist and Barnes & Noble hasn’t picked up the slack.  Despite the loss, Phoenix & Dragon only suffered a small dip in revenue.

Apple emphasized the need for versatility in the changing market. She saw the “writing on the wall” years ago.  She said:

Some 20 years ago at the American Booksellers’ Convention…I attended one of the early discussion panels on online sales. As the floor opened for questions, a publisher got up and stated, “With the internet, we won’t need bookstores anymore because we will be able to sell our books directly to the consumer.”  Then an author raised his hand, “Well, with the internet, we will be able to sell our books directly and we won’t need you publishers or bookstores anymore.” I [as a store owner] raised my hand and said, “My customers come into my store to experience that serenity and energy they receive there.  They want to take that energy home with them.  Perhaps I will be selling them rose quartz hearts to take home to hold that energy and will not need either of you.”

She added:

As it came to pass around 2009, many [independent] bookstores around the country experienced a 50% decrease in book sales. Online discounted sales were going strong. By that time Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore had expanded into numerous categories of transformational tools and when my book sales dropped by 50%, I only lost 15% of my overall sales.

That 15% loss was to Amazon, Apple’s biggest competitor, even to this day. Consumers visit her bookstore, use her bathrooms, enjoy her air-conditioning and then leave to purchase a book online for a discounted price. As Apple said, when they do that “they [are making] a choice of what they want their community to become.”

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore

Krause also lamented this popular consumer behavior. Llewellyn values its small retailers which it sees as its backbone. He noted that many of the metaphysical shops like Isis in Denver have actually turned to online sales as a result.

Apple and Krause both recognize the continued instability in the publishing industry. But they are lucky. Their companies are flexible due to the almost grass-roots nature of their business models.  Both will continue to thrive with or without Barnes & Noble.

However, there are other complications and difficulties that plague the publishing world. One of these is the increasing popularity of self-publishing. For Llewellyn, it’s a brand new type of competition and for the independent retailer it presents a marketing challenge. Tomorrow, I will return to this discussion to look closer at self-publishing with comments from Bill Krause, Candace Apple and several published Pagan authors.

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?

Community Wreath

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

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!

Thanksgiving TurkeyIt’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?

Creek Elder Sam Proctor

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

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.

Grandmother Walking Thunder

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.

Larry Merculieff Speaks:

The Sacred Fire Foundation also invited wisdom keepers from cultures originating outside of the U.S. Sobonfu Some’ of the Dagara Peoples of West Africa’s Brukina Faso shared the traditions of her people.

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

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….

 

Earth

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:

About Thanksgiving from The History Channel
Native Americans in Georgia: Link Page with lots of Information. Or, go directly to the Cherokee‘s or Muscogee‘s site.

Mark RyanWhen we left off yesterdayMark Ryan was discussing his experience creating the Greenwood Tarot.  This wildly popular deck was published in 1996 after five long years of work by himself and artist Chesca Potter. Eventually, Mark moved on to other projects. He made guest appearances on a number of American T.V. shows and movies such as: Frasier, AliasJ.A.G., and Charlie’s Angels (film).  He was hired as a sword coach for Richard Gere during the filming of First Night.  And, he toured with Eric Idle in a British comedy theatrical special entitled, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python.”  The list seems endless.

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

Heather: How did you go from The Greenwood to The Wildwood?

Wildwood TarotMark:  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. 

Nasir

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.

 T2eC16FHJF8E9nnC6MRnBQGLYpPGfQ 60 35

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.

Mark RyanH: 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.]

 

[The following is a guest interview with John Matthews, author of "The Sidhe: Wisdom from the Celtic Otherworld" and 90 other books, co-creator of The Wildwood Tarot.  Matthews and fellow Wildwood Tarot co-creator Mark Ryan, who played "Nasir" on Robin of Sherwood, will be appearing in Atlanta, Georgia this November to conduct a workshop. The interview was conducted by Virginia Chandler, with an introduction written by John Matthews.]

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

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?

JM: Courage.

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.

More Information on The Wild Wood Tarot.

More Information on the The Atlanta Wildwood Weekend and Signing.

Today the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s education blogger, Maureen Downey, took notice of the now-resolved difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

Turner Family Support Team

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?

The saga of the Turner family was first covered, so far as I can tell, by the Atlanta Independent Media Center (IMC), who wrote about the story on December 3rd. Indymedia/IMC is a progressive grassroots journalism organization that rose up during the WTO “Battle of Seattle” protests of 1999. Their focus is on social and economic justice, and the network can be a rich source of local news. Once this story was written, people started sharing it on social media networks like Facebook, where it was brought to my attention. My first mention of the story was in a link roundup on December 5th. That same day, a representative from Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, which covers Georgia, was also responding the social media buzz and reached out to the Turner family. By December 8th a coalition of local and national Pagan groups was formed, were working with the Turner family, and had released their first joint statement.

“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.”

A Facebook page was created by this coalition to focus and coordinate support, which was spread far and wide. Now there was a centralized coalition that was sending out regular updates to press and supporters. This combination of coordination, social media buzz, and Pagan media outlets reporting on the story culminated on December 14th with the successful settlement of the matter, which I reported (and thus it appeared on Google News searches), and it was crowned by an interview with the mother, Stephanie Turner, by Coalition member Selena Fox of the Lady Liberty League on her Pagan Warrior Radio show. After that I did one follow-up link to a coalition statement, and moved on to other stories.

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

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.

I know Pagans are usually pretty pro recycling, but this is ridiculous. The Atalanta Journal Constitution re-runs a not-very-funny article by Charles Yoo about Pagans from October, no, not October 2008, October 2006.

“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.