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ATLANTA, Ga. – Over the past 30 years during Labor Day weekend, fans from around the world descend on Atlanta for the pop culture convention DragonCon. The sprawling event, which began in 1987, offers its thousands of enthusiastic attendees four days of programming exploring a wide-range of pop culture fandom. From lectures and workshops to cosplay, gaming, and the famous parade, Dragon Con has become one of the largest fan-based conventions of its kind. This year, Dragon Con reported a record 77,000 attendees over a four-day period, and its parade was broadcast for the first time on local television.

DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography ©]

DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Since its inception DragonCon has been regularly attended by celebrities, artists, writers, gamers, cosplay experts, and an incredible diversity of pop culture fans from all over the world. Within that crowd, at any given point, one can easily find a group of Pagans, Heathens or polytheists. Although there are no official statistics on just how many such people attend, it is safe to assume from casual observation that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens and polytheists attending DragonCon is higher than the same measure in the general population.

In an attempt to roughly gauge that number, The Wild Hunt queried groups of random people throughout the weekend at various points. From that highly non-scientific method, we have extrapolated that the percent population of Pagans, Heathens, polytheists and the like stands at 9% of the total population of attendees at DragonCon.

Regardless of any data, the DragonCon fandom world does seem to intersect comfortably with Pagan, Heathen and polytheist cultures. In fact, DragonCon featured three openly Pagan musicians and groups, including Tuatha Dea, S.J. Tucker and Emerald Rose. In addition, author Kathryn Hinds, occultist Michelle Belanger, and artist Laura Tempest Zakroff offered presentations in their fields of expertise. Beyond that, in the extensive vendor spaces, it was easy to find jewelry and other products decorated with pentacles, Thor’s hammers, and other common symbols found within Pagan, Heathen and polytheist practices.

“There is a large overlap between Pagandom and geekdom,” explains singer and song writer Arthur Hinds. “It has to do with the power of imagination, the building of thought forms.”

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Emerald Rose in daytime performance, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography ]

Hinds has been attending DragonCon for years, performing with the band Emerald Rose. The oddness commonly associated with what he called “geekdom” doesn’t matter as much to Pagans because, as he explained, “There is a willingness to accept that you are already on the fringe of normal society.”

This particular DragonCon was bittersweet for Hinds and the other members of the Atlanta-based band. This year marks their final appearance at the con as a group. Band member Logan said, “We’ve had a blast. This is one of the most significant [crowds] we have ever played for, because there is such a wealth of creativity and camaraderie.”

Logan added that performing at DragonCon has been a “great ride” and one of the “most fun things [he’s] done in [his] life.”

Members of Tennessee-based band Tuatha Dea agreed with Hinds and Logan, saying that there wasn’t much difference in playing to DragonCon or Pagan crowds. Contrary to Emerald Rose, Tuatha Dea was making its debut appearance at the con, and their excitement was infectious. Not only did the group perform several shows, one of which was on the main stage, but they also offered a “Facilitated Rhythm Event,” and could be found sharing their drumming energy with the dense crowds passing by their table in Marriott hotel.

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Members of Tuatha Dea, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Another Pagan musician found at DragonCon was singer/songwriter S.J. Tucker. She said, “My first crowd is the Pagan crowd obviously, so I’m use to people being able to groove to whatever you bring to the table. The Pagan crowd is extremely good at that. They know how to listen. They know how to respond … I am spoiled.”

Tucker equated that comfort level to performing within the filk community, which is represented at DragonCon with its very own track. She said, “It is the only other thing that comes close” to what she experiences with performing for Pagans.

“[The filk programing] is where you can bring your song, no matter what it’s about, if it’s your song that you wrote, or someone else’s song that you really want to sing, everyone will listen and everyone will applaud when you are finished, no matter what happens.”

S.J. Tucker between DragonCon workshops, 2016 [© Desosil Photography]

S.J. Tucker, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Tucker is a regular at Pagan and non-Pagan conferences, including big festivals like Burning Man. This was not her first time at DragonCon and, along with her performances, she offered a singing workshop where she told the small group of singers to be themselves. “There is only one you. Don’t worry about sounding like someone else,” she encouraged.

It is this very spirit that Tucker finds expressed at DragonCon as a whole. She said there “is call to come and be welcome. No matter who you are.”

Tucker added that the only real difference in performing at DragonCon and Pagan events is the size of the convention itself and the competition for the attendee attention. She stressed that this point is not necessarily a negative, just a reality.  However, over time, she has learned to keeps things in perspective, focusing on the people that do make the effort to show up at her classes or shows, and not on those seats left empty by people who decided to attend something different.

Outside of the music world, artist and performer Laura Tempest Zakroff traveled from Seattle to present and display her work in the Dragon Con art show. She has been attending the con since 2012, first performing with her partner Nathaniel and the Nathaniel Johnstone Band, or performing with other friends’ bands (e.g. Ego Likeness, Frenchy and The Punk, The Cog Is Dead, Voltaire, The Ghosts Project). Then, in 2014, she began showing in the con’s extensive art gallery.

Zakroff said, “The fandom crowd tends to be more free-thinking, and open to new ideas than most people, which makes sense when you think about what the sci-fi/fantasy genres represent in terms of imagination and society. So much of science fiction and fantasy is about re-imagining our culture and challenging ideas, couched in a veil of fiction. Some of the most popular films and books are about overcoming the issues that plague our society, and envisioning a future/world that is more respectful, healthy, balanced, fair, and communicative.” She believe that the overlap between “Pagandom” and fandom makes perfect sense.

Laura Tempest Zakroff at DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Laura Tempest Zakroff, DragonCon 2016 [© Deosil Photography]

Along with showcasing her art and performing, Tempest offered two classes that touched on occult topics, including “The Power of Line and Symbol: The Art of Sigil Magick” and “Visual Alchemy: Where Art & Magick Meet.”

When asked about the difference in presenting or teaching to the Pagan crowd versus the DragonCon crowd, Zakroff said, “At Pagan events, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of the attendees have a basic understanding in metaphysics and P-word paths, but I never really know what to expect when I present at other kinds of events. I tend to brace myself for getting some static, but (knock on wood), it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s self-selection; that if you’re interested or intrigued by the topic, then you’re probably going to be somewhat familiar with it, or at least respectful in finding out more.”

Zakroff said the feedback is mostly positive, and people are often “pleasantly surprised, comforted, and excited” about her workshop topics. She added, “They’re finding out that ideas they’ve had [or] thought aren’t crazy, and that there are more avenues for them to explore in terms of art, religion, and spirituality.”

While some attendees engage, perform, or present openly as Pagan or Heathen, such as Zakroff or Tucker, others are there strictly for learning, fun, and for the “epic” fandom experience provided by the highly creative, secular DragonCon environment.

Author, poet and English professor Kathryn Hinds enjoys the many aspects of the con, and presents on various non-Pagan specific writing topics on various tracks. She said, “Both of [the Pagan and geekdom] realms allow people to explore parts of themselves that they cannot explore very often or actualize in their everyday lives, which is why people will spend a year planning their costumes for DragonCon. Like they spend all year looking forward to [Pagan Spirit Gathering].”

This year, Hinds participated on two panels, “Gender Roles in Young Adult Literature” and “Author Roundtable: Avoiding Historical Mistakes.” One was on the Young Adult Fiction track, and the other on the Alternative History track.

One her favorite aspects of the con is the cosplay, and she is not alone. People-watching is an activity in and of itself, and it is what fuels the popularity of its famous parade.

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

Kathryn Hinds and Meghan Harker, DragonCon 2016 [© H. Greene]

In consideration of the overlap of religious practice and fandom, Hinds said that for those people working in a “tradition where you invoke deity, draw down the Goddess or the God, [you are] opening yourself up to other identities.”

“I think in cosplay people do that a lot that,” she continued, adding that she often likes to speculate why someone chose a particular costume: was it just fun, or does it draw out a part of their spirit that is otherwise unexpressed in their daily lives?

When asked how comfortable she is as a Pagan at DragonCon, she said very comfortable, adding, “You have so many flavors of geek here […] and Pagan is just one more. You are not singling yourself out.” Hinds said that there are very few public, secular conventions where she feels open about being Pagan. DragonCon is one of them.

Meghan Harker, a Victorian spiritualist, agreed, saying “People are more open-minded here. I have never been accosted for being a spiritualist or dressing like this.” Harker enjoys the Victorian Gothic aesthetic. However, Harker did add that she would like to see a better representation of this niche genre in panel discussions at the con.

For those of any particular religion, Pagan or not, the interest in fandom might speak directly to their religious beliefs, and even support them. Yet, for those people without religious affiliations, such as atheists, secularists, or “nones,” fandom and the mythologies resident in their worlds might provide a place to connect to deeper meanings, philosophy, and one’s own spirit. In that way, the con itself becomes an important personal pilgrimage, bringing together people of like minds and allowing for the expression of spirit in a safe space.

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [Photo Credit: Deosil Photography © ]

Stormtroopers, Mario, Jake mix with attendees as they move around the hotel [© Deosil Photography ]

DragonCon is certainly not the only pop culture convention of its kind. But not all “geek conventions” are multi-genre-based, like DragonCon. Some focus on a particular medium, such as comics, manga or gaming (e.g. ComicCon or MomoCon). Others are devoted to a particular pop culture product, such as Star Trek or BronyCon. Others still are focused on the demographics of the attendees, such as Seattle’s GeekGirlCon or the new BlerDCon.

As for Atlanta’s DragonCon, the convention remains one of the biggest in the U.S. and continues to grow each year. In 1987, it was held in one hotel and attracted 1,200 fans. Today, it needs five hotels and three of Atlanta’s AmericasMart buildings in order to contain its vast programming. Aside from this year’s record crowds, DragonCon also reportedly had to enlarge its gaming space by 60% just to accommodate demand. In addition, over the four days, most of the convention hotels are completely off-limits to non-DragonCon attendees, and the downtown Atlanta area is completely transformed.

Whether the experience provided is secular or spiritual, DragonCon appears to be successfully feeding a deeper need in its attendees, and that alone keeps them coming back year after year.

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Looking up, DragonCon Hotel [© Deosil Photography]

SALEM, Mass. — Wiccan Priest and Salem resident Richard Watson was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail for the “possession of heroin with intent to distribute.” Watson was arrested Aug. 7, 2015, after a sting operation led police to his home where they found, reportedly, a total of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of heroin and “indications that the drugs were being distributed, including packaging materials, cash and cell phones.” Watson cooperated with police, and eventually pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking.

When news of his arrest broke, Watson’s religious community was divided in its reactions. Some people offered support and other didn’t. Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, the Wiccan organization in which he was involved, immediately revoked his clergy credentials. High priestess Lori Bruno said, “I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.”

As noted by the Salem News, Watson’s attorney and prosecutor Christina Ronan reached a “plea agreement” which resulted in the lower charge of “possession with intent to distribute.” He then pleaded guilty to that charge and, on May 31, was sentenced to serve 2 1/2 years in jail; “two of which he must serve, with the balance suspended for three years, during which he will be on supervised probation.”

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13102776_1590795894545776_7938724097986206565_nBALTIMORE — In April, the birth of a new day-long convention was announced. The event, titled Dawtas of the Moon: Black Witch Convention will be hosted in Baltimore, Maryland in October 29, 2016. In a Facebook post, organizer Omitola Y. Ogunsina writes, “This will be a gathering of sisterhood, opportunities to expand knowledge through the many workshop and to enjoy the company of like minds and spirit.”

According to the Eventbrite page, this unique convention will tentatively run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET and host speakers, workshops, rituals and vendors. Ogunsina wrote, “We are calling all Shamans, Healers, Priestess, Witches, of color […] The time has come to make sure our voices are heard. The time has come to step out of the back room. The time has come for us to connect, grow, learn, heal, and share our knowledge and sisterhood energy. Sisters across the globe are reconnecting to nature and indigenous healing and are looking to reach out to other sisters of like minds and like energy.”

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20160602_120947_1464891060787DENVER — As we previously reported, Circle Sanctuary members Michelle Castle and Tiffany Andes have previously dedicated themselves and their careers to working with patients as hospital chaplains. When we spoke to them in April, both women were also finishing up their work toward a Masters of Divinity degree (MDiv) from the Iliff School of Theology. And, this past weekend, they graduated. We were able to reach them to ask how it all went.

Andes said, “There is a tremendous sense of completion you get from setting a goal and achieving it. When I started the MDiv program at Iliff four years ago I had so many reasons why it was important. Those reasons haven’t changed, but now I also realize how I have grown from the experience. In the academic study of theology, the Master of Divinity degree is the first professional degree of the pastoral profession in North America. It is important for me now to carry on the work of spiritual care, but also educating and being in dialogue with others about what Paganism means as a faith system and how we as Pagans integrate into the professional field.”

Castle said, “I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had over the last three years at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. I completed the Master of Divinity degree in a space that was welcoming and open to my path and challenged me to bring my most authentic self. I thank those individuals who have supported me on this journey and to
Circle Sanctuary for the continued support as I continue on my path as a hospital chaplain.”

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Cara Schulz, during a day or door knocking

Wild Hunt Journalist Cara Schulz has announced that she will be running for office again in Burnsville, Minnesota. In 2014, Schulz ran for city council and lost to the incumbent by a small margin. During the 2014 campaign, she did not hide that her religion is Hellenismos. In a follow-up opinion piece for The Wild Hunt, Schulz said that, even though she lost the election, “our religious community won in many ways.”  She went on to encourage other Pagans and Heathens to run for local political office.

Now, Schulz is taking her own advice and running again. On May 31, she announced that she would again be running for a position on Burnsville’s city council. In a Facebook post, she said, “Eight candidates are running for 2 open seats (no incumbent) which means there will be a primary on August 9th.” She is optimistic about her chances.

In Other News

  • Can’t find a copy of the new Witches Almanac Coloring book? Publisher and distributor Red Wheel/Weiser sold out of the book faster than expected. On May 29, it was announced that they were already in the second printing after three short months. The new book takes images from the popular and long-lived Witches Almanac and re-fashions them as coloring pages aimed at adults, who are enjoying this new popular and therapeutic hobby. In light of the book’s popularity, author Theitic asked fans to share “their favorite page to color.” He said that his vote was for the first woodcut because it “brings back memories of the old Almanac.”
  • In March 2017, the Pagan Educational Network, Inc. will present the Earth-Centered Clergy ConferenceDave Sassman writes, “Join us in strengthening your skills to minister to your communities.” The conference is focused on clergy training and related topics, but is open to anyone. As an example of the event’s mission, Sassman explained, “Part of the focus […] will be to teach those in the Pagan/Earth Based Faith Community who are ordained or on a path to ordination or are in the role of High Priest/ess, to serve their ageing community members at life’s transition and assisting those left behind.” The event is scheduled to be held at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Indianapolis, Indiana from March 9-12, 2017. Additional information can be found on its Facebook page
  • Another new event has just been announced. The first annual Mystic South conference is scheduled for July 2017 and will be held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta, Georgia. Lead organizer Star Bustamonte explained, “Last spring, a few of us Southern Pagans were gathered at a local festival discussing the various conferences and festival goings-on. During that discussion, it became very clear that we all wished for a Southern-based conference. Since there is no such event to meet that need, we decided to create it.”  According to the site, the event will include rituals, music, workshops, lectures, vendors and will also host the Pagan and Polytheist Educational Research Symposium (PAPERS), an academic-focused lecture tract. More information will be available on the website as it is made public.
  • Rev. Elena Rose isn’t letting grass grow under her feet after graduating and being ordained. She is now preparing to hit the road this fall for the “Queer & Trans Artists of Color Launch Party & Tour.” She and Nia King are working on volume 2 of a book series that “documents and shares the important artistic and cultural work being done by living queer and trans artists of color.” They have opened a GoFundMe campaign to help sponsor the project and the book tour.
  • The opening of Pagan Spirit Gathering 2016 is drawing closer every day. Organizers have extended the registration deadline to June 10 for anyone who may have missed the opportunity to buy their passes.

[Only 7 days left in the Fall Fund Drive! Be part of the team that keeps The Wild Hunt going for the next year. We are a completely reader-funded, nonprofit independent news journal. We are your source of commentary and news. Share our link and donate today! Thanks.]

fc2015Although it may be difficult for many to look past the upcoming holiday weekend, there are other exciting events occurring in early November. One of these is FaerieCon East 2015. As is advertised, “For nine years, FaerieCon has been a global destination for three days of workshops, panels and presentations and the Mythic Marketplace, called ‘the finest fantasy lifestyle shopping experience on the East Coast.”  The event is packed with fantasy and mythic arts, crafts & costumes, ancient wisdom teachings, best-selling authors, and tribal music.

Some of the presenters are well-known to many Pagan and Heathen communities, including David Salisbury, Raven and Stephanie Grimassi, Byron Ballard, Michael Smith, Chris Orapello, and others. Ballard said, “It’s a treat to travel up the Shenandoah Valley in the autumn and then arrive at FaerieCon. Last year was my first time there and I was warmly received and had a great time with old friends and new ones. After the intensity of the Samhain season, it feels like a real getaway to the forest and the wild. Now, if I can only score an 18th century wig for my Good Faery costume...”

This year’s musical guests include composer Einar Selvik of Wardruna, Faun, Martine Kraft, Adam Hurst and more. FaerieCon will be held from Nov. 6-8 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore, Maryland.

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12047146_937974169611247_4627421155008959104_nLast week, Religion News Service (RNS) reported on the opening of a new hof in California. Located in the “foothills of the Sierra mountains,” the land and structure were purchased by the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) for the organization’s personal religious use. AFA reportedly raised $50,000 over a 3 year time span to fund the enormous project. The grounds include both indoor and outdoor ritual space. As noted by RNS, the hof “was inaugurated in early October with a blot … that included candles and prayers, fires and blessings, banners and sacred mead. About 80 people attended, some from as far away as Florida.” The RNS article quotes various AFA members about their Asatru traditions, the use of hof and other various aspects of modern Heathenry.

Since its publication, the RNS article has been picked up by a large number of news sites across the country. While it may be exciting to see Asatru and similar minority religions featured in mainstream news articles, not everyone was thrilled with this recent press. Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, whose 2013 survey is cited in the article, described the RNS article an “ethically problematical piece.”

In response, Dr. Seigfried published his own very detailed article, in which he describes his interactions with the RNS writer before and after the article was published. With the help of a number of voices from the Heathen community, he challenges many of the writer’s claims including, for example, that this building is the first hof on American soil. Additionally, Dr. Seigfried demonstrates that, through the writer’s own admission, she did little research into both the backgrounds of modern Asatru and the AFA, showing a flippant disregard for any of the controversies surrounding its leadership.

Dr. Seigfried writes, “Editors of mainstream media outlets continue to assign articles on Heathenry to writers with no prior knowledge of the tradition or contacts in the various communities. This usually leads to questionable stories with some variation on “religion of Thor” in the title.” Dr. Seigfried is a vocal proponent of independent Pagan and Heathen journalism, and regularly watches mainstream media for its treatment of Heathenry and other minority religious practices.

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Jeanine De Oya, Selena Fox, Don Lewis, Linda Isles [Courtesy Photo]

Directly after the Parliament of the World’s Religions was over, the Correllians held their Lustration of the Living ritual in Salt Lake City, Utah. As noted by Chancellor and First Priest Rev. Donald Lewis, “This had been envisioned as a small private ritual for the Correllians at the Parliament, but we ended up being joined by many friends!”

During the ritual, the Correllians presented a number of awards. The Order of Tchalv was given to Rev. Selena Fox for her devotion and life’s work. Rev. Lewis writes, “What words can you use to honor someone who has done so much to benefit the spiritual community and the world at large?” The Order of the Round Table was presented to Rev. Jeanine DeOya with the African American Wiccan Society, and to Arch Priestess Linda Isles with the Isian Triad Union. Both women were honored for the work that they do within their traditions, organizations and communities.

Rev. Lewis also said that more Correllian announcements are to come with the upcoming publication of his full report. Congratulations to Fox, DeOya and Isles!

In Other News:

  • The American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting will be held in Atlanta, Georgia from Nov. 21-24. As noted on AAR’s website, the meeting brings together “thousands of professors and students, authors and publishers, religious leaders and interested laypersons… the Annual Meetings are the largest events of the year in the fields of religious studies and theology.” According to AAR, 10,000 people attended last year’s meeting, which hosted over 900 sessions. Many Pagans attend the AAR meeting. Read past articles for details on that experience. For those interested in attending, all registration information is currently the AAR website.
  • While Samhain is still in the air, some Pagans are already preparing for Solstice. A Canadian group has just launched the “Solstice Dispatch Service.” Organizers say, “Write a letter to the Oak King and tell him of your hopes and dreams for the coming year!” The group has a Facebook page as well as a website. Children (and adults) can send their letters to the Oak King and have them answered. This is similar to the traditional Christmas Dear Santa services.
  • In the most recent issue of Pagan Dawn, there is an article reviewing a new book that will be available in 2016. This unique book is titled Of Shadows: 100 objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Written and produced by Simon Costin and Sara Hannant, the book provides a vivid overview of the contents of the famous Boscastle museum. Its introduction was written by scholar and author Ronald Hutton. According to the Museum, the book with run for “£20 paperback and £30 hardback.” Want to read the review and see a preview? Pagan Dawn is the official magazine of the Pagan Federation and can be ordered online through the PF’s website.
  • As noted on the Bad Witch’s Blog, the speakers for the “Seriously Bewitched” symposium have been officially announced. As noted previously, this one-day symposium is sponsored by the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP). It seeks to “examine the subject of witchcraft, both ancient and modern, from a range of perspectives.” The newly announced speakers include: Dr. Helen Cornish, Mark Norman, Bekie Bird, Charmaine Sonnex, Ethan Doyle White, and Deborah Hyde. Seriously Bewitched will be held at Goldsmith’s College, in New Cross, South London, on 28 November. More details are available on the event’s website.
  • Blogger Sannion of The House of Vines has just announced the upcoming publication of a brand new book of Dionysian poetry titled End to End. Sannion writes, “If you’ve enjoyed the poems I’ve been sharing here at the House of Vines I hope you’ll check out my forthcoming book … of which they are a selection.” The book’s description reads: “In this collection of inspired Dionysian poetry, H. Jeremiah Lewis blurs the boundaries of the mythic and mundane, the personal and the divine, the familiar and the unheimlich. Narratively flowing in and out of time, and roaming from dark urban alleys to the ancient shores of Greece and Italy, End to End explores the ever-changing concepts of memory and identity, serving as a guide to those who might seek this strangest of gods, Dionysos, and how he walks among us.”  End to End will be released through Sannion’s Nysa Press, and will join his growing list of published works. However, at this point, no release date has been provided. Stay tuned to his blog for further updates.

That is it for now. Have a great day!

Only 7 days left! Support The Wild Hunt. Donate to the Fall Fund Drive.

This week, in the city of Atlanta, Auburn Theological Seminary is hosting its biennial “convening of faith and moral leaders.” The event is called “MountainTop” and is described as a summit that “advances a multifaith movement for justice.” In 2013, we reported on the last summit, held in Nashville. In that article, we featured a conversation with Aline (Macha) O’Brien, who was one of the four Pagan participants at that year’s event.For the 2015 conference, I was able to sit down live with a group of six women, during their lunch hour, to talk about the process of MountainTop. The event began Monday morning, June 8, and will continue through Wednesday. I caught the women halfway through the entire experience. And, after that conversation, I can safely say that is exactly what it is: an experience.

Activist and Priestess Courtney Weber, who works for Auburn, explained, “MountainTop is not like typical conventions. We don’t have an agenda and program to choose from different workshops and presentations. We are coming together for one very specific reason.”

This year, that reason is racial justice.

In 2013, Auburn focused widely on social justice in general, which is part of the organization’s overall mission. However, after the event was over, organizers felt that the convention needed to focus on a single aspect of social justice. Weber noted that “it felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen.” Therefore, in 2014, the organization chose a single directive. Reverend Doctor Katharine Rhodes Henderson, Auburn Seminary’s president explained:

We have witnessed the most recent acts of brutality unleashed on the bodies of black and brown men, women and children … Now is the time for leaders of faith and moral courage to work together to hold ourselves and our nation accountable to healing this oldest and still festering wound within our national body. What this healing looks like, and the particular work we are called to do is what will engage us over the next three days.

Weber added that, when Ferguson happened, the 2015 event was already being planned. However, those events and others only confirmed the need for this specific work. Because the seminary is based in New York, Weber said that the “Eric Garner story was a particularly painful moment for Auburn.” When news broke, they “sat in silence” for a long time.

Andrea Weston, Courtney Weber, Caitlin Breedlove, Luna Pantera, T. Thorn Coyle, Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani [Courtesy Photos]

Andrea Weston, Courtney Weber, Caitlin Breedlove, Luna Pantera, T. Thorn Coyle, Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani [Courtesy Photos]

When I arrived, the excitement in the room was very obvious. Despite having already worked through a 12 hour day and, then, a full morning, the participants seemed uplifted and energized. As the six women got their lunches, they joined me at a table for an hourlong conversation about why they got involved with MountainTop and what it is; how the experience is changing their thinking, and how it will inform their work in the future.

The six women activists included: Radio Host and Rootworker Andrea Weston, Priestess Courtney Weber, Author T. Thorn Coyle, Priestess Luna Pantera, Art and Ritual Specialist Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani and Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground, Caitlin Breedlove.

The first question I asked them is why they got involved with this particular conference. There are many interfaith opportunities all over the country, and many organizations through which to work on social justice causes. Why this one?

Since Weber and Hayeem-Ladani work for Auburn, both were there as employees and participants. Weber specifically said that she had wanted to attend the 2013 MountainTop, but was unable to take the time off from her previous job. However, shortly after that event, Weber accepted a position with Auburn. Now she is not only a participant, but also one of the organizers.

Of this particular conference, Weber said, “After PantheaCon, I was lost and asking ‘How can I help this work?’ ” She was referring to the many very public conversations addressing racial justice during the February Pagan conference. Weber believes that by working on MountainTop and by helping to bring Pagan social justice activists to the table, she is doing her part for the bigger picture.

Pagan attendees include Luna Pantera, Caitlin Breedlove and T. Thorn Coyle. When asked why she accepted the invitation, Pantera said, “I was activist but got burned out. [But] my daughter lives near where Tony Robinson was shot and killed. For me, I needed to get back into the movement and to get over my biases, which I do have, against Christianity.” Pantera added that MountainTop has provided “good fuel to get back” into the process.

Coyle simply said, “Something inside me pulled me.” She had to come. Longtime activist, Coyle has become increasingly active in various racial justice movements in her home state of California. She said, “I’m moving more and more in that direction.” Like Coyle, Weston, also simply said, “I need to be here.”

Breedlove, who attended the 2013 event, was back for more. She described the difference between this convention environment and others, saying “MountainTop isn’t brittle and tight.” Even when discussions become tense and there is disagreement, the space is safe, because it is “built on principles.” She added that “its grounded and has soul.” Weston agreed, calling the space “sacred.”

This sense of grounding is evident as I sat there talking to the group. Despite being surrounded by the typical markers of a stale business conference, such as white boards and offices chairs, everyone seemed comfortable and the energy was flowing. The entire participating crowd seemed eager to engage with each other.

T. Thorn Coyle leading a worship session.

T. Thorn Coyle leading a worship session.

Coyle noted that one way Auburn promotes this fluid environment is through the engagement of the body and voice. Song and movement are encouraged in both daily problem solving and conversation. For example, when Coyle was asked to host one of the daily worship sessions, she was given two directions: make the session no more than 10 minutes long and engage the body.

While I was there, artist Yara Allen stood up and led the entire group in an inspirational song. This was followed by another song led by a different person. This marked the end of lunch, and help transitioned the group back into the work sessions.

Coyle said Auburn’s purpose is to “lead us toward creative problem-solving and creative visioning.” She added that the coordinators periodically remind the group of these goals throughout the day.

The methodologies used in creating this unique framework were developed by ImaginalLabs. I was able to briefly speak with co-founder Rob Evans, who explained that they are “applying the principle of design thinking to social justice.” This work is based on the company’s “DesignShop” process and includes a 3-tier trajectory. In this case, the 3 tiers are defined as vision, strategy and action. Each tier becomes the focus of one day’s work.

Evans added that this process provides a group of people with a “revolutionary approach to old issues” in hopes of finding new solution. It also allows for effective collaboration within diverse groups of “people who don’t typically work together or work creatively.”

Each day is structured around small groups, or containers, who are given a specific task. Those small groups change throughout the conference in order that everyone gets to work with a variety of a people. Within those “container” session, the members confront fictional situations, discuss the problems that led to the situation, and look for solutions. Then, each small group presents the outcome to the entire conference.

Coyle relayed one of her experiences from a Tuesday morning session. She said, “The non Pagans invoked a Witch’s cauldron into our sketch on justice – brewing up a cauldron filled with visions of justice, in order to feed one another with love … By our final session on Tuesday, we sat in concentric circles, weeping, because the Truth in the room was so strong.”

Caitlin Breedlove [Courtesy Auburn Seminary]

Caitlin Breedlove [Courtesy Auburn Theological Seminary]

Breedlove said that this collaborative system provides a unique opportunity to not only be in a space with people with similar political values, but also a space with people of similar religious values. She said that, in her experience, it is usually one or the other. Here there is support for both. Pantera agreed. She said that this isn’t a “political summit” or a “religious summit.” It is something entirely unique.

The group continued on to say that everyone at MountainTop either leaves their baggage at the door, or is ready to confront it. Each person enters with an open heart and mind, and is ready to listen and work. Pantera added that here she can safely say, “Thank you for allowing me to have my process.”

Tomorrow we continue this discussion as the women reflect on those personal challenges faced while in this setting, as well as their goals for taking this work back to their own communities.

[To be continued…]

The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Chas Clifton

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

[Articles like the one below take time, travel resources, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories about Pagan involvement in global peace efforts and other news like it, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our IndieGoGo link. Your contributions and support are what make our work possible. Thank you very much.]

On Saturday, Sept. 27, a gala was held in Atlanta to kick off the year leading up to the 2015 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Next year’s event is scheduled to be the largest meeting of Nobel Laureates in history and will be held at Phillips Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta Nov. 15-19, 2015. Saturday’s pre-event gala, sponsored by the local Summit planning committee, attracted politicians, world dignitaries and Nobel Laureates such as Jimmy Carter and Muhammad Yunus. Among the crowd of 500 sitting under the courtyard tent of the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead was Rev. Patrick McCollum and his World Peace Violin.

World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

Over this past year, the violin has reached a new level of prominence in Rev. McCollum’s international peace efforts. Just in the last month, the violin was played at the World Peace Concert in Tahoe, and then in New York City’s Central Park on International Peace Day. It has traveled the world from the Himalayas to the streets of Manhattan.

A few hours before Saturday’s Atlanta gala, we caught up with Rev. McCollum as well as Nell Rose Phillips, executive director of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, and world-renowned violinist Scarlet Rivera. While relaxing together at the hotel, they shared their story and their plans for the violin’s future.

The violin itself was created by Rev. McCollum without the aid of instrument artisans or instructions. As the story goes, McCollum wanted a physical symbol of world peace to carry around with him while doing his work. He had no idea what that symbol could possibly be, so he performed a ritual asking for spiritual guidance. McCollum knew that he wanted it to represent the “diversity of culture and ideas” in the world, while still maintaining a connection “to the sacred universal voice.” The very next day, he received the magazine Scientific American and, on its cover, was the answer – a Stradivarius violin.

Rev. McCollum immediately went to work on making what would become the world peace violin. As he says, it’s spirit was born from “Goddess magic.” But the actual instrument was physically constructed from a variety of ethically-attained, sacred woods from around the world. For example, the front piece was carved from wood native to Africa. The back was created out of sacred woods given to him by a California-based Coalition of Native American tribes. On its base, there is an inlaid carving made from an Irish Willow Tree that grew out of a sacred well. And, the list goes on.

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

The violin’s varnish was also developed in the same manner, through the combining of elements from around the world. Rev. McCollum says that varnish mix includes dust from Hiroshima taken just after the bombs went off in 1945 and shell fragments from the battle of Iwo Jima. The varnish also contains sands from Israel “collected from the baptism site of Jesus during Arab-Israeli peace talks in Jordan;” the ashes of a white buffalo “gifted to him by an Anaswabi Chief;” and sacred oil from Rev. McCollum’s own magical tradition. He says, “This is all symbolism.” He wants the instrument to be the world’s violin, created by the world of the world.

As the story continues, when the violin was was finished, McCollum gave it to someone to play. It sounded awful. Therefore he went back to the drawing board; took it completely apart and put it back together. He did this nine times. When the sound still wasn’t right, McCollum turned back to meditation. In doing so, he says that the Goddess instructed him to dunk the violin in the Ganges River. His friends thought he was crazy, but he did it anyway. The violin soaked in the river for 3-4 minutes. When it finally dried out, the instrument had found its voice.

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlett Rivera, a world-renowned violinist, first played McCollum’s violin in Tahoe at the World Peace Concert in September. A few months earlier, a mutual friend had connected Rivera with McCollum. When she heard about what he had done, she says that she was not at all concerned about the homegrown instrument’s sound quality. She called the connection “destiny.” Rivera believes that she was “directed to” the violin as it has become a symbol and agent of global efforts for peace.

Rivera described the world peace violin as “a conduit – a special voice – that reaches the higher realms” as it spreads its sound through a room. Having always “followed a path of human rights, spirituality and peace,” she said that playing the world peace violin is one of the “greatest gifts in her life.” In doing so, she blends her beliefs and activism with her music, a possibility that she called “deeply meaningful.”

Rivera added, “This was not coincidence. I move with the hand of fate and I am open to it.” With the passion of both a musician and peace advocate, Rivera describes how the violin’s sound has changed over time. She called it nothing short of spectacular, saying, “As each person blesses the violin, the sound dramatically changes. It sings now in a way it didn’t just three weeks ago.”

Both Nell Rose Phillips and Rev. McCollum agree. They take the violin to every event, whether it is to be played or not. Wherever they go, even at meals between events, they will ask people to bless the violin. To date, many hands have touched the instrument from, as McCollum adds, “the poor and homeless to dignitaries and kings. This is the instrument of the world.”

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

On the Thursday evening prior to the Atlanta gala, Rivera, McCollum and Phillips spoke with a small local crowd at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore, a metaphysical shop in the northern suburb of Sandy Springs. McCollum gave a talk on peace efforts and the purpose of the violin. Rivera played the instrument, and all attendees were asked to bless it. Owner Candace Apple said:

We were honored at Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore to have Rev. Patrick McCullom, Scarlet Rivera and the World Peace Violin share the “Journey to Peace” and its beautiful healing energy. May all the hearts of the world be touched by its song.

During the gala itself, Rivera performed a piece that she composed specifically for that night called “Journey to Peace.”  As has become a tradition, McCollum also welcomed the attending dignitaries to bless the instrument; thereby adding their own individual energy into its voice.

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

With this increase in visibility, Phillips is building a new website dedicated specifically to the world peace violin. It will contain an appearance schedule, its story as well as photos of people blessing the instrument from around the world. They already have had a number of new requests for violin performances at various, upcoming international peace events. This includes next year’s November World Nobel Peace Laureate Summit in Atlanta.

In the meantime, this coming November the instrument will be heading to Los Angeles for its first-ever, professional recording session. Rivera will be playing a composition written by Yuval Ron specifically for this purpose. The composition is called “Voices of Peace,” composed for a solo violin. While they do not know exactly how the recording will be used in their work, McCollum, Phillips and Rivera do promise that it will be made available to the public in some way to inspire others in the nurturing of world peace.

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.

green-faiths-3atrans

Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.

 

*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

When people think of anthropological museums, they might recall the famous British Museum in London, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Smithsonian in WDC, or New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Very few people would consider Atlanta, Georgia home to a place that cradles any of the treasures of ancient civilizations. But it is. Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum is one of the country’s top small anthropological museums. Its area of focus has captivated local Pagans and Heathens for years.

[Photo Credit: Monika&Jim/Flickr]

Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University [Photo Credit: Monika&Jim/Flickr]

Founded in 1919, the Carlos Museum has been growing its collection of art and cultural artifacts for nearly a century. Its beginnings can be found with a collection of Asian works brought back by Methodist missionaries in the 1870s. Over time, Emory University grew and along with it, the museum. Today it houses over 16,000 art objects from “ancient Egypt, Nubia, Near East, Greece, Rome, ancient Americas, Africa, and Asia as well as a collection of works on paper from the Renaissance to the present.”

In displaying these pieces, the museum says, “[We show] meticulous care for the legacy of ancient civilizations and the learning opportunities innate in each artifact.” In its Greek and Roman exhibit, you might see a marble “Statue of Venus” (Roman, fourth century B.C.E.) In its Asian exhibit, you might find the red sandstone “Figure of Ganesh” (India, eighth or ninth century).

Over the last 15 years, the Carlos Museum has become known particularly for its impressive and sizable ancient Egyptian collection. Originally, the exhibit centered on artifacts acquired in the 1920s, including the oldest Egyptian mummy in the Americas. Then, in 1999, its collection grew substantially after the purchase of 145 artifacts from the now-closed Niagara Falls Museum.

Most of new pieces were funerary in nature including, in part, 10 mummies and 9 coffins. The items had originally been acquired by a collector in the 1850’s and placed on display with what, National Geographic called, a “tacky, freaks of nature”  exhibit at the old museum. After examining the pieces, Emory professors discovered that one of the artifacts was the lost mummy of Ramses I. Emory returned the mummy to Egypt “as an act of goodwill.” An Canadian Egyptologist told National Geographic:

Ramses was from northern Egypt, and the family’s god was Seth, the god of storms. The night of the reception [to open the new exhibit] there was a powerful storm, with thunder and lightning and hail; a tornado just missed us. It was a very unusual storm for Atlanta. I think it was Rameses, letting us know that he’s happy to be going home.

In addition to its remarkable permanent collection of ancient cultural artifacts, the Carlos Museum also sponsors exhibits that celebrate contemporary cultures through art. For example, in 2012, the museum sponsored an exhibit on Tibetan Sand Mandalas created by Buddhist monks. A talk was given called, “Reflections on Artistry, Spirituality and Community.”

In a similar exploration of spirit and expression, this year’s visiting exhibition is called “Grandfather Sun; Grandmother Moon: Wixárika Arts of Modern Western Mexico.” In a press release, the museum says:

[The Wixárika’s] stunning beaded objects and pressed-yarn “paintings” span the sacred to the secular, from prayer bowls used on their pilgrimage ceremonies to masks made expressly for collectors. Brightly colored, precise, dynamic and detailed, these works depict their sacred sacrament, the peyote cactus, the deer, the sun and the moon, shamans, maize plants, jaguars and scorpions.

 

Prayer Bowl [Courtesy of the Carlos Museum]

Prayer Bowl [Courtesy of the Carlos Museum]

This new exhibit celebrates the Wixárika people, “often known as the Huichol, the indigenous people of modern western Mexico.” The museum explains that local artisans often sell copies of their sacred objects in order to maintain their lifestyle and culture, and to remain on their lands. The museum goes on to explain:

The Wixárika strive toward balance in themselves, between humans and nature, and in the spirit world. Their ritual life is oriented toward maintaining harmony. All phenomena are considered interrelated– particularly humans, maize, deer and peyote– and interchange forms. For instance, in mythic times deer became the peyote cactus, which now is “hunted” on the annual pilgrimage to the northern deserts. Shamans (mara’akame) mediate the natural balancing of the cosmic realms and the transformations that occur in other realities. Art is used in rituals, its bright colors meant to attract the attention of the spirits that are believed to control all natural phenomena including rains, the crops, time, and the sun and moon.

As the literature and its employees will remind you often, the museum’s primary purpose is one of education and conservation. With the help of Emory University faculty, museum curators work to provide a public resource and learning center, as well as a student research and teaching facility. The museum offers regular lectures, symposia and brings in special exhibits, like “Grandfather Sun; Grandmother Moon.” For children, they offer camps and classes. This fall’s lineup includes subjects like reading Egyptian hieroglyphics, an introduction to the sacred heroes of Mayan culture, or the Manifestations of Vishnu.

For those not in Atlanta or those not able to attend events, the museum sponsors blogs managed by archaeologists in the field. Currently the museum’s website is hosting “iSamothrace: Framing the Mysteries in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.” In June, several archaeologists blogged from Israel on “iTell Halif.” Last winter, the Senior Curator of the Egyptian collection and the assistant curator of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, both blogged from a dig “iMalqata.”  In addition, the museum maintains an online in its digital gallery.

Pre-Columbian incense burner, Costa Rica [Photo Credit: Madman2001/Flickr]

Pre-Columbian incense burner, Costa Rica [Photo Credit: Madman2001/Flickr]

It doesn’t stop there. The Carlos Museum also sponsors podcasts that “use works of art in [its] collection to spark conversations between distinguished members of Emory’s faculty … Each podcast brings together experts from different disciplines to look at museum objects in new and unusual ways.” Past podcast topics include: “The Shock of the New: Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and the Religious Imagination,”  “The Power of the Goddess,” “Seeing Shamans,” and “Drinking with a Siren.” These interdisciplinary podcasts have won local awards. For the younger set, the museum has created Odyssey – an interactive journey into the ancient worlds.

Not everyone has the means or ability to visit the sacred sites of the ancient worlds in order to enhance religious practice, or to experience the beauty of distant cultures. Not everyone can witness first-hand the lands that were once, and still are, attributed to their own Gods, or experience the powerful rituals and cultural expressions of indigenous societies. Fortunately for those living in the American southeast, the Carlos Museum attempts to bring a taste of those wonders to Atlanta. Through the the cultivation of ideas, conversation and research, the museum gives locals and visitors the opportunity to explore and to be inspired by the spirit and culture of ancient worlds and modern cultures through its art.

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.