Archives For Byron Ballard

RobertRudachukHeathen Robert Rudachyk has announced his candidacy for Canada’s Liberal Party of Saskatchewon. Rudachyk ran in 2014 and, in an interview with The Wild Hunt, talked about his goals and his work as an openly Heathen candidate.

He said,If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.”

This year, Rudachyk is running “to be elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly ( MLA) for this seat or district as you might call it. It is for the provincial government of Saskatchewan It is essentially the provincial parliament.” The campaign was just announced, and we will have more from Rudachyk in the weeks to come. The election itself will be held in April 2016.

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Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

(Photo: T. Mierzwicki)

On July 17, Professor Sabina Magliocco created a new survey for an independent study on fairy legends in the Pagan community. Magliocco is a professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge. Her online survey was titled “Fairies in Contemporary Paganism.” She wrote, “I’m interested in your legends, experiences and beliefs surrounding the fairies, fae, sidhe, Fair Folk, pixies, trolls, and similar creatures from any cultural tradition. What are they? Do you work with them in your spiritual practice? What is their role in the world today?”

Within one week, Prof. Magliocco received over 500 responses, far exceeding the allowances of the technology used. She announced the survey’s closing and began compiling the data. Although the work has only begun, she offered this quick assessment: “a majority of respondents believe fairies are real and associate them with the natural world. Nonetheless, fairies are not central to the majority of respondents’ religious practice — but a substantial number of respondents do interact with them, mostly by making offerings.” The full results will be presented at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, held in Claremont, California in January 23-24, 2016

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Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Coming up this weekend is the brand new conference, Many Gods West. As noted on the event website, it is “meant to be a celebration of [many] traditions, those newly-reconstructed and those continuously-practiced. There are many gods in the world, and many peoples worshiping them.”

Held at The Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington, Many Gods West will feature three days of workshops, lectures, rituals and more. The keynote address will be delivered by Priest and Author Morpheus Ravenna on Friday at 7:00pm. Rituals include the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον)’s “Filled with Frenzy,” Coru Cathubodua’s “Devotional to Cathobodua,” and Viducus Brigantici, Filius’ “Kalends Ritual” and more. Many Gods West opens for the very first time on Friday, July 31 and runs to Sunday, Aug 2.

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HUAR Logo

Over the past few months, there have been some changes to the group Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR). According to various sources, the group experienced internal conflict in June, which led to a split between the various moderators, organizers and facilitators. The disagreements were centered around internal operations and structure.

HUAR is currently still in operation and slowly re-building. In a recent post, The HUAR Team wrote, “We have undergone some recent internal reorganization to be more effective in accomplishing our goals of opposing racism and co-optation of Heathenry by racialist groups and organizations. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons from the mistakes of the past few years and are working to be more effective now and going forward.” *

In addition, a new group has formed called Heathens For Social Justice (HFSJ), which was created after the June events. HFSJ is run by nine democratically-elected board members. They describe the group as a “safe space” and as being “committed to fighting all oppressions, wherever [they] find them, in service to both [the] heathen community and [their] local, regional and national communities.” Organizers added, “We are about action, not platitudes.”

While the two groups do have some crossover in purpose and goals, their focuses do appear to be slightly different. We will continue to report on both groups as they continue or begin their advocacy and work.

In Other News

  • The Sacred Harvest Festival is about to kick-off its eighteenth year at its brand new location in Northern Minnesota. The festival will be held at Atchingtan in Finlayson,MN, which is 90 minutes north of St. Paul. As always, the scheduled is packed with rituals, drumming, workshops and other events. The guest speaker will be Shaman Joy Wedmedyk. PNC-Minnesota has recently published an interview with Wedmedyk, in which she says, “I want the people who attend to know the reason I teach is because I want people to have as much information as possible to be able to move forward spiritually and to know prosperity and abundance in all levels of their life. I love to encourage people to develop their own skill set, and perhaps offer them a different perspective about a practice they may already be doing.” Sacred Harvest Festival begins on Monday, August 3 and runs through Aug. 9.
  • Mills College Student and co-founder of the Pagan Alliance Kristen Oliver has been selected as a Chapel Programs Assistant. Oliver said, “I will be working for the interim Multifaith Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL). I will be doing things like managing SRL’s Facebook page, helping to organize and lead activities and events like the school’s multifaith Festival of Light and Dark which happens in December, and being available to students who have spiritual/religious queries.” Oliver added that she “continues to be impressed” by the school’s support of the Pagan Alliance and Pagan students.
  • As we reported last week, Starhawk has ventured into self-publishing for The City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. To accomplish this task, she will be opening a Kick Starter Campaign to pay for various aspects of the process. The campaign will begin on July 31, as suggested by Starhawk’s favorite astrologer. As she writes, “It’s also the eve of Lammas or Lughnasad, August 1, one of the eight great festivals of the Celtic and Pagan year.” 
  • EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen was invited to sit on a panel called the “Indigenous Leadership Talk Issues and Innovation” at the Nexus Global Youth Summit, held at The United Nations. The other panel participants included “Abhayam Kalu Ugwuomo, Chief Kalu Ugwuomo, Tonatiuh Cervantes, Aina Olomo, Ricardo Cervantes, Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk.”
[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

  • Ivo Dominguez, Jr will be hosting a new workshop in Delaware to be taught by Byron Ballard. Held on Aug. 29, the workshop, called “Old Wild Magic of the Motherlands,” will be based Ballard’s new research on Appalachian traditions. Ballard’s work is focused on the magical traditions and cultures of her home in the mountains of the Appalachian region. For her next book, she has been studying the various customs that came over from the British Isles. Ballard notes, “The charms, spells and talismans that crossed with those ragged immigrants from Scotland, Northumberland, Cornwall and Cumbria are little known and very interesting. Weather workings, healing charms, curses and blessings–all handed down to us from a by-gone age.” The new workshop will present her findings and will be held in Georgetown, Delaware on Aug. 29.

That is it for now! Have a great day.

Summerland

Another damaging summer storm has a hit major Pagan festival. This time it is Summerland Spirit Festival held in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The intense winds and rain arrived Sunday night around 10 p.m. on the festival’s first full day. According to reports, tents were damaged or completely lost, and parts of merchant row have been destroyed. During a race to get into the permanent shelters, several people sustained minor injuries such as scrapes and twisted ankles.

Fortunately, the intense storm was over in thirty minutes, and did not cause the local creek to rise. Those who did lose tents were able to find sleeping space within the lodge or in neighbors’ tents. While there has been property loss, the festival will continue on. As today’s sun dries out the campground, attendees and the organizing committee will spend the day cleaning up, looking for lost items and assessing damages. Beyond that, the organizers plan to continue on with Summerland programming as scheduled. While the weather reports do call for another possible summer thunderstorm today, the rest of the week looks promising.

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pomegranate

Equinox Publishing will be launching a new peer reviewed journal in 2016. It is titled Body and Religion and will “provide a forum for the study of all manner of ancient and contemporary practices, concerns, ideals, and connections or disconnections between body and religion.” The editors are Shawn Arthur of Wake Forest University and Nikki Bado of Iowa State University. The book reviewer will be Kevin Schilbrack of Appalachian State University.

Body and Religion will be published twice annually and is currently seeking submissions. The editors write, “We welcome English-language submissions from scholars who use diverse methodologies and approaches, ranging from traditional to innovative, to explore issues of’“body’ as a fundamental analytical category in the study of religion.” They will “consider submissions from both established scholars and research students.” Equinox is also the publisher of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

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Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

In the past, we have reported on the New Year divinatory tradition held by Cuba’s Santeria Priests. For more than 30 years, these Priests have offered recommendations and predictions for the coming year. Traditionally, these readings have been performed independently from each other. Last week, however, The Havana Times reported that this will change in 2016. The article reads, “The two main currents of Cuban Santeria that announce different “Letter of the Year” prophecies at the beginning of each January have finally decided to come together and make public a single version of the predictions by the popular oracle Ifa.”

The partnership between the two leading “currents,” led by Lazaro Cuesta and Jose Manuel Perez, is reportedly being seen as a “means of consolidating the community of Afro-Cuban religion practitioners” Rather than offering competing recommendations, the groups will offer a joint “Letter of the Year” for the first time in history.

The Havana Times article goes on to discuss the relationship between the Cuban practice and that of Miami’s Santeria Priests, who also offer their own Letter of the Year. As is written, “Perhaps the new winds of change blowing between Washington and Havana will end up bringing Ifa priests on both shores together in their dictates and recommendations for the year.”

In Other News:

  • Author Marla Hardee Milling, a native of Asheville, has published a new book called Only in Asheville: An Eclectic History. The book examines why Asheville, North Carolina is often labeled “America’s quirkiest town.” In it she explores aspects of the bohemian character of her home town, interviewing a number of local residents. One of the interviews is with local Priestess Byron Ballard, who has the distinguished title of local Village Witch.
  • Llewellyn has published a guest blog post written by Aaron Leitch, which examines whether the Bible outlaws magick. He writes, “The question of magick among these traditions arises every so often. Usually, it is asked by newcomers who feel a calling to practice the arts of magick, but have been raised with the belief that it is directly proscribed by their religion.Their fear is very real—they worry if delving into the arts will result in the loss of their immortal soul.” Leitch then goes on to examine various references to magick, Witchcraft and sorcery.
  • Circle Magazine is currently seeking submissions for its upcoming fall issue, which will be titled “Life’s End & Beyond.”  Editor Florence Edwards-Miller said that she is “hoping to cover a wide range of topics … including end-of-life planning and care, Pagan funerals, coping with loss of a human or animal companion, honoring ancestors, deities associated with the dead or dying, myths or beliefs about what comes after death, reincarnation, or other related subjects.” The issue will also cover the rituals, crafts and food associated with Samhain. Due to the PSG flooding, the submission deadline is now Aug. 7.
  • Over the past week, Patheos Pagan Channel writers have been debating the somewhat controversial subject of deity popularity. Channel manager Jason Mankey kicked off the conversation at Raise the Horns, which was then followed by several other reaction pieces.The latest post was written by John Beckett at Under the Ancient Oaks.
  • Another Pagan programming announcement has been made for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Andras Corban-Arthen put together a proposal for a panel entitled “We Are the Earth: Pagans Respond to Pope Francis on the Environment.” It was accepted by the Council. The new panel, moderated by Sylvia Linton, will include Corban-Arthen, John Halstead and myself. Other Wild Hunt writers will also be in attendance at the Parliament, and we will be reporting directly from the October event.

That is it for now. Have a nice day!

The journey to report on the Sacred Space/Between the Worlds conference was difficult. What would have taken four hours on the road on a clear day was seven through a late-winter snowstorm on the Eastern seaboard, driving forty miles an hour past at least a dozen vehicles which hadn’t fared very well in those conditions. Journey’s end, however, included welcomes from familiar faces, introductions to local luminaries, and an invitation to lunch with a group of Southern witches who simply wanted to show some hospitality. Those warm gestures led to this question: what role does hospitality play in your tradition? Those who were able to respond created a rich tapestry of perspectives.

[Photo Credit: Fernando Gonzaga, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Fernando Gonzaga, Flickr]

Byron Ballard, Mother Grove Goddess Temple:

I always cringe in interfaith circles when we try so hard to find That One Thing that we all do. There’s a poster that made the rounds a few years ago that had variations on the Golden Rule. I don’t hold with the “Law of Return” but that fits for rather a lot of Pagan folk. Yeah, I had nothing.

In the wild world of interfaith, I actually think it’s more helpful to dive fully into all the stuff we don’t have in common because it affords us an opportunity on one hand to explain our position and on the other to work at understanding someone else’s. But I have given it a lot of thought and I’ve come up with what I think is the most ancient and sacred act that we do have in common — hospitality. The offering of bread or water, or even clean feet, to someone who is not like us. It shows a largeness of spirit as well as a generous nature. It is an act of courage. It should be offered without grudging, as a duty and obligation that we owe the Earth, our Divines and our ancestors. To accept hospitality is also an act of courage — are you then indebted to the host in some meaningful way? Will your return of hospitality when it’s your turn compromise you in some way?

And there is obviously something biologically driven in the act of hospitality. By welcoming the “stranger” or the “enemy” into your camp, your village, your home, you are potentially improving the gene pool for your family and tribe, resulting in some hybrid vigor (if we’re lucky) and a political alliance, too.

So, yes, I practice it as both a Pagan and a Southerner. And there have been times when I’ve not broken bread with those who wish me ill because I believe the duty of hospitality — the giving and the receiving — is holy.

Lilith Dorsey, Voodoo Universe blogger:

All the African traditional religions (Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, Lucumi/Santeria, and others) place hospitality at the top of the list of necessary ways of conduct for devotees. This is an outcropping of respect… respect for all living beings, the ancestors, and the Lwa or Orisha (thought of as divinities by some). Everyone and everything contains a divine repository of Ashe, the sacred energy forces of the universe. When individuals honor this energy by offering food, drink, prayers or kindness to those on this plane and the next they serve both themselves and the religion.

Rev. Edward Livingston, Fire Dance Church:

As we are a legal 501(c)3 church and a not-for-profit in the state of Florida, our rituals are open to the general public, so we are always have hospitality for those who come and attend our services. Outside of that we owe nothing more. I do hear people out about their personal ideas, but hospitality ends when you harm my space, or are rude, or don’t follow directions.

Archdruid Kirk Thomas of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF):

Hospitality is key in ADF Druidry. It is one of our Nine Virtues (the others being Wisdom, Piety, Vision, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Moderation, and Fertility). And it embodies one of the basic traits of our religion, reciprocity.

Hospitality is governed by the obligations of the guest-host relationship.These obligations are a two-way street, where each party owes something to the other. In its simplest form, the host offers a place to stay for a certain amount of time, perhaps food and drink, and entertainment of some kind, even if only good conversation. In return, the guest agrees not to overstay his or her welcome, to respect the inhabitants of the house or office, and to be congenial.

In the ancient world, the giving of hospitality was required by the Gods. In the literature of many ancient cultures there are tales of what might happen if hospitality were to be refused — examples include Odysseus and the Cyclops in the Odyssey, the Roman tale of Baucis and Philemon in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and even the Irish tale of Bres and the Tuatha Dé in the Cath Maige Tuired. In all cases those folks who refused to give good hospitality came to a sticky end.

Hospitality is a form of reciprocity, which underlies most human interactions. The Roman ritual phrase, do ut des (I give so that you may give) sums it up nicely. It’s all about give and take, which is also part of what hospitality is all about. In ritual, we are, in essence, hosting the Gods and Spirits at our rites, giving offerings to them that they might give us blessings in return, just as the ancients did. Reciprocity through hospitality — a great way to commune with the Gods.

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Druids of Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Solitary practitioner Star Bustamonte:

I’m not really a part of any Pagan or other religious tradition, at least not formally. I do, however, believe that being hospitable is behavior that is important both inside and outside of spiritual practices. While personally I tend to lean heavily towards sarcasm and humour in my interactions with the many people I encounter daily, I also would not hesitate to offer whatever comforts I have available.

I have 3 different types of magical work I engage in:

1) The Mother Grove Goddess Temple: I serve the Temple as Head of The Green Circle (fundraising) and as member of The Circle of Council (administrative). Part of my duties involve greeting participants who arrive and making them feel welcome and at ease. While this is mostly a mundane activity, it sets the stage for how freely and easily participants respond once in ritual space.

2) I do a lot of personal work with the Fae, and working with the Fae requires a great deal of hospitality. I have always offered to them a comfortable space to operate as they see fit in general harmony with my own efforts. Negotiation plays a big role and hospitality is very important to that aspect.

3) Much of the magical work I do is more of a thaumaturgical variety. In this regard, I would say hospitality is more akin to respect for the energies you are working with, but isn’t that the very root of hospitality, anyway? Respect?

In short, any energy I work with is treated with respect. In all magical work, be it working with deity or the pure mechanics of thaumaturgy, I try to be conscious of what I am asking of the energies I am working with and providing whatever might be helpful and or kind in furthering the work.

Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project:

Hospitality is grossly misunderstood in heathenry, I think. Hospitality is the expected behavior we show those who have explicitly been invited and it also includes the behavior of those who have themselves accepted an invitation. Hospitality requires a level of respect and service to the people you are opening your home or space to. That respect, like all gifts, must be reciprocated. As it stands, hospitality is often seen in heathen circles as an onus only on the individuals hosting, those who are guests are not always held to a standard of behavior. If we view hospitality as the basic structure of gift giving it is, then it makes the process a bit more stable. I open my home to others, they respect my home and family, perhaps they bring gifts which then create deeper bonds with other gifts returned. It’s one of the core aspects of the reciprocal agreement culture that is central to the heathen worldview.

Yeshe Rabbit, presiding high priestess of Come As You Are Coven:

For a dharma pagan, hospitality is a dearly-held and widely-practiced virtue. It is considered one of the key perfections of wisdom, or paramitas, and is known as “dana-paramita.” When we practice dana, especially toward those who have given their lives to the dharma, we give of ourselves in a special, spiritual way, not simply because it’s polite, or expected as part of our social code. Rather, it is an enlightened generosity that comes from the purest part of ourselves. When we do this, whatever we provide for a guest is not merely food, shelter, or another resource; it is a sacred offering to the divine nature of the other being with whom we share it. Interestingly, dana cuts through a lot of our own preferential ego trips because we learn to give in a holy manner, regardless of what we might receive in return or what’s expected of us or how we feel about the person to whom we are giving. It doesn’t mean we have to like the person, but we still honor that some part of them is divine and deserving of our hospitality (unless that person is seeking to harm us in some way, in which case it’s appropriate to move away from that person and decline to offer hospitality.)

The best way for me to explain the everyday concept of generosity according to the dharma view is to describe something I saw in Tibet when I was there: the thermos of tea. Everywhere we went, Tibetan people were carrying a big thermos of tea with them. In their pockets or bags, they might also carry a cup or two, so that they are always ready to sit down with someone and share a cup of butter tea. It did not matter if they knew you or not, it did not matter if you gave them anything in return (we always did), there was always tea anyway. That generosity, particularly expressed toward pilgrims they did not know, was really so much more than just a hot beverage when we were road-weary.

By Alpha [CC lic.  via Wikimedia]

“Butter Tea” By Alpha [CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Author T Thorn Coyle submitted this portion of her previous blog post on the subject:

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Who is a stranger? What is the unknown? Whom do we choose to welcome? Whom do we choose to spurn?

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

We gather with our families. We hold each other close. We sit out in the cold, feeling desperate and alone. We feel sorrow in the midst of others. We are the gay kid who fears to come out. We are the chronic user afraid of judgement. We are the Pagan in the midst of Christians. We are mobility impaired and looking up a flight of stairs. We’ve just lost our job. We’re secret dancers. We are ashamed to tell our friends we can’t go out because we need all our money to pay rent. We have dark skin in a culture that privileges the pale. We go without food so our kid can have shoes. We are in love. Our father just died. Our child was killed. Our partner left us. We have big dreams.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

While scrubbing pots at the soup kitchen, I realized this truth: we are all strangers to one another. Then I realized: we can all welcome one another home.

I welcome you, stranger, Athena, Goddess in disguise. May you find warmth and light, good food, a place to sleep, and someone who will listen. What is the tale you have to share?

Ritual facilitator and author, Shauna Aura Knight:

I can’t really speak to any one tradition, but I can speak to the work I do facilitating workshops and rituals for the broader Pagan community. Hospitality is one of my core values as a facilitator. Sometimes it’s just in the form of what you might call “customer service.” This is often an element that is lacking in public rituals and events. Have you ever arrived to a public ritual and found that there’s no one around to greet you or let you know what’s going on, the ritual leaders are bustling around getting ready, snapping at people, and then the ritual starts and you’re not sure what to do? After, people break out into cliques to socialize and you’re left out. Or worse, have you ever tried to attend a ritual but the directions provided were so poor that they had you spiraling around a forest preserve trying to find the right park shelter? When you finally arrive, people say, “Oh, we do ritual here all the time, everyone knows where it was.”

For me, hospitality is clear communication as an organizer about what’s going to happen at the event and ensuring there are good directions if that’s needed. It’s greeting people when they arrive. It’s working to ensure that everyone has enough information to proceed in the ritual. It’s also ensuring that new folks aren’t shut out of cliques of friends after a ritual. When I’m facilitating a workshop, I work hard to make everyone feel welcome and respected. Hospitality for me is also reflected in how I work to make my workshops and rituals participatory and inclusive. I work hard to make my rituals and workshops accessible, open to all genders, and welcoming. Hospitality isn’t always easy; I’ve made mistakes and I’ll make more in the future, but it’s work that I feel is important.

“Now that’s what I call magic—seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ ‘em safely on their way…and then cleanin’ ‘em up, layin’ ‘em out, making ‘em neat for the funeral, and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets—which is, let me tell you, no errand for the fainthearted—and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door ‘cuz his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again…We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better’n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft, that is. The soul and center!”Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)

Modern culture has done its best to separate humans from the cycles of life. Once inside our homes we can’t tell if it is January or July, night or day. Our meat comes in tidy packages and we buy asparagus year round. Birth and death happen elsewhere, out of sight.

[Art by Xiaomei23 / Deviant Art / cc. lic]

[Art by Xiaomei23 / Deviant Art / cc. lic]

Pagan culture often seeks to do the opposite, to reconnect humans with the cycles of life. To understand and explore the seasons, the cycles of the moon, and life and death. This isn’t a repudiation of science or comfort, it’s not a step backwards or romanticizing the past. It’s about bringing the best of our ancestors’ cultural values into the modern age to live a more connected and fulfilling life.

The Wild Hunt spoke with several Pagans and Polytheists about the work they do in helping others, Pagan or not, reconnect with the cycles of life.

Birth
While birth is now much safer for American women, they have also lost more of their personal agency. Hospitals can be a birthing factory where women lay on their backs in unfamiliar surroundings. The birth process itself is no longer a Mystery where women experience a deep and profound power. It’s a medical process. While many hospitals are trying to improve the experience and involve the entire family by creating birthing suites, they are unequipped to add back in the power.

Which is why women are once again turning to midwives and giving birth at home, surrounded by family or friends.

A midwife is a person who is trained to give care and advice to women during pregnancy, labor, and the post-birth period. Melanie Moore is an atheist witch and a Certified Professional Midwife in the state of Iowa. She wants to help women regain the mysteries that are experienced during childbirth while also ensuring the health and safety of both mother and child.

“I always loved pregnancy and birth. When I was five and my mother was pregnant with my brother, I wrote and illustrated a pregnancy exercise book. In school reproduction and birth was always fascinating to me,” said Moore.

She said reading Ariadne’s Thread by Shekhinah Mountainwater as a teen also had an impact on wanting to become a midwife. The book uses the Goddess Ariadne as a basis for a women-centered spirituality.

It was during her own second pregnancy when Moore met a midwife and discovered the Traditional Homebirth Midwives of Iowa. After that, she committed to becoming a midwife and giving women birth alternatives.

Hospital births take place in a sterile environment and the birthing mother is given an IV while fetal monitors are attached. The mother is usually confined to bed and isn’t allowed to take in anything other than ice chips. There’s also a limit to the number of family or friends surrounding, usually 2 or three adults. Drugs can also be administered, either for pain or to speed up contractions.

Melanie Moore, background, looks on at a new mother, baby, and family after a birth.

Melanie Moore, background, looks on at a new mother, baby, and family after a birth.

A home birth with a midwife is very different. It can a private and quiet experience or it can be a noisy celebration in a house filled with family and friends. The midwife focuses on helping the mother tolerate the contractions and keeping her comfortable. The mother can walk around, eat or drink. Time isn’t a factor, the birth unfolds on the time schedule nature dictates.

Moore said that birth isn’t a scary mystery you need to pay someone else to do, but if you do pay someone, remember they are working for you. “I know it seems scary to accept that kind of responsibility,” said Moore, but she added that, “You are descended from millions of women that gave birth successfully. You are powerful and strong.” She also said that women should not allow themselves to be talked into an induction, the baby comes when it and the mother’s body is ready.

In Iowa, only Certified Nurse Midwives are licensed to attend births and the majority of them work in hospitals. Moore’s certification, while a accepted in surrounding states, isn’t accepted in Iowa. She, and a group of midwives and other supporters, are working to change that. Women in the group have registered as lobbyists and have worked with Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R) to introduce legislation to define “the terms “midwife” and “midwifery” and states that anyone acting or holding oneself out as a midwife or practicing midwifery shall not have committed a public offense by doing so.”

Moore has been working for 15 years to make midwifery more accessible to women in Iowa and to help women reclaim their power. She said, “I believe in women. I believe women’s strength. I know that midwifery is its own type of magick. Maybe not in a supernatural way, but magick just the same.”

Death
“I have always believed that the moment someone passes over is a sacred moment. A doorway between two worlds and a time of magic and possibility. To be present and help to facilitate that time with beauty and dignity is a sacred trust and an honor.” – Michele Morris

Advertisements for products that claim to help you keep a more youthful appearance are everywhere. Life insurance salespersons take seminars on how to break through clients’ denial that they will eventually die. Older persons are no longer cared for by family and die in their own beds surrounded by loved ones. We send them to facilities and visit occasionally. Then when they die, we send their body off to professionals who stuff them, dress them, and paint them to more closely resemble a living person. Current culture leaves us ill prepared for death and the process of dying. Not for our own and not for our loved ones.

Kris Bradley, who recently completed a course on for death midwives and home funeral guides, said, “We, as a whole, are a very death denying culture. Death is almost a taboo subject – like if we speak about it, we might catch it.”

Similar to birthing midwifes, death midwifes help persons through this transition. They may come to a hospital or assisted care setting or they may come to the home. Death midwifes aren’t new, but the resurgence of death midwifes as a career is.

Rev. H. Byron Ballard is a Priestess of Mother Grove Goddess Temple and has helped the dying and their families for just over 20 years. She said “Just like a midwife at the other portal of life, someone not in the family can do things the family might feel too close to do.” She said that she helps families understand that this process is another rite of passage, and can be natural, participatory, and beautiful.

Michelle Morris started working with the dying while she was a nursing student. She was one of the few students who didn’t mind holding someone’s hand while they took their last breath. Now that she’s also a minister and a counselor, her work with the dying continues at a local hospice with both Pagan and non-Pagan families.

Morris said that Western society in general has no specific death rituals, other than an unofficial but deep seated tradition of avoidance. “People with a terminal diagnosis are often treated as though they are already gone by everyone around them, often including their own family. Because we have no traditions, people often are at a loss as to what they should be doing when they truly want to help,” said Morris. She noted that people will often do nothing rather than possibly do something wrong. She helps provide a framework the dying person and their family can use to say goodbye.

Morris said that, while she doesn’t share her beliefs with the families she’s working with, the fact that, as a Pagan, she’s has a comfortable relationship with death helps create safe place for them to find their comfort, in whatever form that may be.

Rev. Selena Fox presides over a green burial at Circle Sanctuary

Rev. Selena Fox presides over a green burial at Circle Sanctuary

Bradley is following a different path and is working to become a death midwife. After volunteering Reiki sessions at a senior center she said that she was touched by how much the seniors enjoyed the sessions. She found out many of the seniors lived alone and the Reiki sessions were probably the only physical contact they had. “This got me thinking about what it would be like for them when their time came. Would they be alone?” wondered Bradley.

Bradley decided she wanted to be a death midwife and created a Kickstarter campaign to fund half the costs for an 88-hour training program for death midwives and home funeral guides. Within just a few days, the campaign was funded and Bradley completed her training in August of 2014.

Bradley said that one of the greatest contributions a death midwife can offer is information and support before the active dying process starts. Bradley added that people can make the process easier on everyone if they get all of their important papers in order, such as living wills, advance directives and medical power of attorneys. They should also create a plan for how they want their death to play out as far as how their spiritual needs should be addressed, and even pre-plan their memorial service and/or funeral.

While many Americans say they wish to die at home, few actually do. The reasons can range from not having someone at home who can care for them, not having family nearby, or confusion about what is the best possible care, or relatives not knowing the person’s wishes and defaulting to hospital care.  Having a death midwife helps simplify these challenges. “Being a person who can take a shift being in the room, giving the dying’s caregiver a much needed respite so they can continue to care for their loved one. [A death midwife] can act as a coordinator to get family and friends involved in care, and at the same time keep a calm, spiritual space for the dying. It’s much easier for a death midwife to tell loud Uncle John he needs to leave the room for a while then it is a family member,” said Bradley.

Bradley said that even Pagans, with their focus on connecting to cycles and their positive view of what happens after death, still fear death when the time comes. “As much as our faith might mean to us and as much as we hold our beliefs to be true, death is still the great unknown.”

She said her biggest comforts on dying is knowing that she has made plans to be buried in a green cemetery in a simple shroud, “I will literally go back to the earth and help the wheel keep turning.”

Her advice to others is that there is no right or wrong way to die, only what’s right for you. She stresses the importance of putting your wishes in writing and making those wishes known to family and friends, “If you aren’t sure where to start, contact a death midwife or a home funeral guide and ask them for advice where to start.”

Rebirth
“The themes of life and death and rebirth are deep in the human psyche. They have been played out in the mythic poetry, pageantry, ritual theater, music, and dance of deep human culture across the globe. So how has modern humanity lost touch with these myths and the important rites of passage that surround them?” – Kari Tauring

The ideas of rebirth, reincarnation, or even an afterlife where you retain your sense of self are no longer as accepted as they appear to have been in the past. Kari Tauring, an author, performer, and Völva, noted that even the dominant religious rebirth story in the US, the rebirth of Jesus, is starting to be being rejected in modern times. Since Christianity supplanted and replaced all other previous rebirth stories and now that tale has also started to lose its appeal, the wider U.S. culture is left with no stories to help us make sense of our own mortality and hopes for rebirth.

“Perhaps that explains the modern fascination with zombies and television vampires,” said Tauring. She added, “I think it is psychologically dangerous to live without a mythic connection to nature and to our ancestors and to the cycles of life. It’s a human need.”

 Lynette Reini-Grandell (left) and Kari Tauring (right)

Lynette Reini-Grandell (left) and Kari Tauring (right)

Tauring is using song and dance to bring stories of birth, marriage, death, and rebirth back into modern culture. She, along with Lynette Reini-Grandell, have been performing “Waking the Bear” at a theatre in Minnesota for the public. Those in attendance include those of all, or no, religion.

In the performance Tauring and Reini-Grandell explore the folk songs and stories of Finno-Ugric, Scandinavian, German and American bear lore. Through song, poetry, and dance they first tell the the Finnish story of how the forest goddess created a bear from wool fluff tossed into the waters of the world by the spinner in the sky. Tauring said, “In a way, this is how all life is created, from the dust of the stars. This section of Runo 46 from the Kalevala is so beautiful that I could not help setting it to music and dance.”

In the show, the bear goes into hibernation which is like a little death, and in spring, emerges with a cub. Tauring and Reini-Grandell then present three stories of shape shifting with the bear form, one from the Norwegian people, one from the Mansi people (Tyumen Oblast area of Russia) and one from the Ute people (Colorado into Utah, USA). In the third part of the performance they kill the bear and ritualize its death not as a funeral but as a wedding, which comes from a Finnic tradition. By marrying what they killed, the bear transcends death. Tauring explained, “In some way, we agree to become that which we kill, that which we eat, in the deepest of ways. This is the deepest sense of shape shifting and marriage. We make an agreement with the bear to let it wear our shape as we have worn its shape.”

During the performance, the audience often appears moved while a few appear disturbed or uncomfortable. Talking to one attendee named Angela, she said the experience, “…shook me to my core. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not sure if I feel more comforted or less [about death] but I feel like it’s something I’ve avoided.” Her friend Melissa added that she felt this was something she’s been missing, “This filled in a profound hole I didn’t know I was missing. There has to be something, I don’t know, something more after you die. That can’t be the end.” Both women said they were raised Christian, but now consider themselves atheist or agnostic.

Tauring agrees that her performance may stir up a deep ancestral memory in modern humans. “That’s why it is intense and might make many people uncomfortable. It takes us to a place at once universal and deeply personal, an ancient place where we must experience the emotions of life and death and rebirth and shows us a way to transcend our fears around the inevitable. The new modern society seems to be looking for this, hungering and longing for this. It is my intention to continue providing workshops and performances that feed this deep need.”

Author’s note: This article was written in honor of a very young Heathen child in my local community who has been battling cancer for several years. Sadly, all treatments have failed to halt the spread, and this bright and brave 7 year old boy has only a matter of weeks before he joins his forefathers on the other side.

 

Addendum 3/16/15 10:00 am: We are very sad to hear of the passing of author Terry Pratchett, who was quoted at the beginning of the article. Pratchett was much beloved in the Pagan community because he understood the “root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft.”  We extend our condolences to his family and friends. 

What is remembered, lives.

btw2015logo-tshirt-3_med-2HUNT VALLEY, MARYLAND –When at any single Pagan conference with a robust lineup of workshops, panels, and rituals, a participant might find it difficult to choose what to attend and what to pass on. When two conferences join forces, those decisions become, at very least, four times as difficult to make. Such was the experience for 3-400 people who attended the combined Sacred Space and Between the Worlds conference in Maryland this past weekend.

These two events became one this year through a combination of cooperation and astrology. Sacred Space is an annual conference which is held around this time. Between the Worlds — not to be confused with an identically-named Midwest spiritual event — is scheduled astrologically, and like Sacred Space, takes place on the mid-Atlantic seaboard. This year, the stars aligned so that the two conferences would be in competition for attendees, speakers, and even organizers, as they have long had at least one board member in common. Instead of cannibalizing resources, the decision was made to combine the two into one whopper of an experience.

Between the Worlds won’t happen again until 2020, and it’s unlikely to ever overlap with Sacred Space again. The events have some common elements, which made the mashup manageable. Both have highly selective processes for choosing teachers, and require the content to be intermediate to advanced. Between the Worlds has handpicked teachers, while Sacred Space combines invited headliners with a proposal process designed to highlight local talent for a wider audience.

A harsh winter storm delayed many arrivals on Thursday. However, with only a few minor scheduling adjustments, the conference kept humming along. Friday and Saturday, the two full days, started with a plenary session during which a panel discussed a single topic before the bulk of the attendees. Friday’s topic was “alliances with the spirit world.” On Saturday a different panel discussed the nurturing spiritual communities.

Each panel was nearly two hours long, with a combination of debate, insight, and wit that highlighted the different perspectives of the panelists. Listening to Archdruid Kirk Thomas and respected author Diana Paxson debate why Odin seems intent on recruiting followers captured the Friday audience’s attention. Is he gathering fighters for Ragnarok, or trying to forestall it?

Ivo Dominguez, Jr, Michael Smith, and James Welch at the gala

The next morning’s discussion on community was equally as engaging. Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki explained that for all the dysfunction in American Pagan communities, they are far more evolved than what she is familiar with in England, where, “we Brits keep a stiff upper lip,” and don’t see much value in community at all. After identifying herself as the oldest person there, Ashcroft-Nowicki said, “I’m here to learn.”

Just as the days began with a single big session, they ended with the same, but those endings couldn’t have been more different. According to Sacred Space organizer Gwendolyn Reece, both Friday’s main ritual and Saturday’s gala were largely Between the Worlds in origin. Sacred Space does not have a large, main ritual at all, and of the gala, she remarked, “Between the Worlds does that better,” in part, because it costs extra to attend, allowing for live entertainment and plenty of food.

The entertainment came in the form of Tuatha Dea, a band that set the tone by musically calling the quarters and raising the energy in the room to a pitch that was joyous, but not so intense as to be overwhelming. In addition to a deep book of original and lively tunes, this band was able to perform everything from “Whiskey in the Jar” to “White Rabbit” with panache and flair. Their work complemented a silent auction to benefit the New Alexandrian Library, which included an astounding variety of items ranging from original art to gift baskets themed around popular Pagan holidays to ritual jewelry of exquisite beauty.

The main ritual, held Friday night, was a very different kind of energy; one that highlighted the strengths of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. Attendees were encouraged to participate in a preparatory class, during which chants were taught and the layout of the ritual was explained through guided meditation.

The ritual itself began on time, characteristic of an organizational decision to reject “Pagan standard time” out of hand, with the doors being sealed against latecomers. The theme was one of personal transformation as expressed by the “Witch’s Pyramid.” It was built on the astrological significance of the event, which was scheduled during the seventh of a rare series of Pluto-Uranus squares that represent the deep transformation of Pluto coming together with the explosive change represented by Uranus. While much time was spent laying those foundations, when the energy did start flowing, the call to move beyond one’s comfort zone and act for change in the world was unmistakable. By the time the seals upon the ritual gates were opened, this energy could be seen burning in many an eye.

Altars at Sacred Space.

Altars at Sacred Space.

But the choices beyond those big sessions are always difficult. Preparing for possession or oracular work with Diana Paxson? The sorcerer’s tongue or journeying to the phosphorous grove with Christopher Penczak? Deepening understanding of the witch’s pyramid with Ashcroft-Nowicki, or Ivo Dominguez, Jr?

Monika Lonely Coyote tackled the difficult question of differentiating mental illness and spiritual experience in one session, and how to act as a psychopomp for a dying individual in another. There were classes on hexes, breaking curses, alchemy of breath and alchemy of sex. Kirk Thomas offered a class on sacred gifts, which discussed reciprocity with the gods and its relationship to hospitality in ancient cultures ranging from the Greek to the Irish. Byron Ballard’s “Hillfolks Hoodoo” couldn’t have been more different than T. Thorn Coyle’s idea of “Practical Magic.”  However, each teacher brought deep wisdom and displayed a mastery of the craft. Dorothy Morrison offered a class on money magic that was both practical and earthy. In short, when all the choices are beyond “Grounding 101,” every decision is a difficult one to make, an opportunity cost by which one piece of knowledge is gained, and another left behind.

In that way, this idea is similar to a point that Morrison made about magic, and why she does not include “an it harm none” in her spells. She noted that all magic comes at a price.

“If you work a spell to get a job interview, someone else’s resume fell into the trash,” Morrison said. Requiring that a spell harm no one takes away its power, she observed; better to understand that no magic is without consequence. Or, as Coyle put it at one point, “You have to own it.” That’s the kind of lesson taught at this conference: very little in the world is black and white, and the burden of the adept who walks in sacred space is to take responsibility for the many gradations between the worlds.

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA –At the beginning of this month, when the darkness and cold of winter seemed to be at their darkest and coldest, a group visited a shrine to the goddess Brigid, clearing away blockages to a spring and making offerings of flowers and milk. While that isn’t particularly remarkably in the Pagan community — many northern hemisphere practices include devotional acts at midwinter — it’s a bit more unusual when the practitioners are Christian.

Header_ImgMembers of the Jubilee! Community Church take “interfaith” to a level that is not commonly seen within an Abrahamic faith. Rather than seeking to understand basic tenets of other religions, they incorporate practices that are seen to tie into their interpretation of Christian faith, including celebrations of quarter and cross-quarter days. The church is based on a concept called Creation Spirituality, and led by Howard Hanger, a former Methodist minister who has turned a few heads, and attracted a fair number of congregants with his theology.

“When we first got started, we were definitely suspect,” Hanger said, and considered a cult by some. “There was a street preacher outside saying that we were sending people to hell.”

Now that the church is more established, “people mostly just leave [them] alone.” And, since they are no longer being actively condemned, they have joined Asheville’s vibrant interfaith community. “We find out commonalities with Baptists, Catholics, Jews . . . we all believe in making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, all that sort of stuff. We’ve tried to connect with local Muslims.” he added, but without much success as yet.

Area Pagans, however, have been more than welcoming. “Pagans have been very wonderful,” Hanger said. “We’re pretty closely aligned with Pagan celebrations of nature, celebrating creation is our big banner, a big connection with the earth-worshipping community.”

Asheville Author and Village Witch Byron Ballard agreed with that assessment. “Jubilee began here as a funky Sunday evening service at one of the largest Methodist churches in town. They borrow from all sorts of places,” she said, and the children’s educational program “goes to a lot of sources for inspiration.”

Even with all of this “borrowing,” there have been no accusations of cultural appropriation. Ballard noted, “Pagans don’t own the agricultural year, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the stake over the Wheel of the Year.” Rather, she said, “it feels interfaith rather than appropriative, as [the church’s Nurture Coordinator, Vicki Garlock] gives plenty of credit and doesn’t try to pretend it’s an old Christian concept. [She] often attends Mother Grove events, and I have spoken in her classes several times.”

Garlock wrote this about the program:

Some may wonder why a Christian congregation would focus so much attention on Pagan resources, so let me share our educational perspective. We’ve developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum that we use with kids from preschool through 8th grade. They learn the basic Bible stories and then use these themes and narratives to connect with other faith traditions. For example, when they learn about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about prayer mats, prayer flags, prayer wheels, and prayer beads. We want the kids in our program to be grounded in our Judeo-Christian culture, but we also want to provide them with the tools they need to follow their own faith path.

In addition, we actively foster relationship with the Earth. We want youngsters to find the sacred in nature, to understand their connection to the environment, and to celebrate all of creation. These values are found throughout the world’s faith traditions, and many religious holidays coincide with seasonal changes. Kids understand seasons. They feel the changes in temperature, see the changes in plants, and associate certain events with certain seasons. Pagan wheel-of-the-year festivals offer us another opportunity to highlight the shared principles that all faith practices glean from the Earth’s wisdom.

In short, Jubilee’s philosophy, while grounded in Christianity, honors the similarities among traditions. Its credo encourages children to “follow their own faith path,” recognizing the divine in everything. A spiritual journey that begins at the Jubilee! Community Church could well take many directions. As Hanger pointed out, “We don’t worship Jesus. He never wanted that. We follow him. He was into that.”

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

hydraulic fracturingOn Dec. 17, New York state officials announced that they would not allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state. According to local news reports, Gov. Cuomo let his experts make the final call on the issue. Based on six years of study, state commissioners from both the Department of Heath and the Department of Environmental Conservation advised against proceeding at this time. DOH commissioner Dr. Zucker said, “I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered … I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

The announcement was a significant win for the newly formed Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City, whose original mission was to convince officials to ban fracking in the state. Since its inception, PEC-NYC has attended rallies, lobbied at book signings and sent petitions to the Governor. The organization’s work was highlighted in a Wild Hunt article called “Pagans Join the Fight against Fracking.”

When the news was announced, the group celebrated, saying:

It has been an extremely exciting week for PEC-NYC. Between submitting hundreds of Pagan signatures to Governor Cuomo in support of wind power and the announcement of a state-wide ban on fracking, we are ecstatic. Today, we celebrate but tomorrow, we go back to work. There are pipelines to fight, an LNG port to stop, and a wind farm to build. We would like to thank all who signed, marched, rallied, and all who donated money, goods, and time to these causes. We look forward to further solidarity.  We are far from finished.

*   *   *

Presentation1In Jan. 2015, a new organization will be launching called The Koinon. Its purpose will be to serve the greater Hellenic community, regardless of practice. As noted on its website, whether “you are a reconstructionist who holds rituals in ancient Greek or an Eclectic whose rituals include the Watchtowers, you have a place at our table.”

Organizer Conor Davis told The Wild Hunt that the group would have its 501c3 status by the summer 2015. In the meantime, organizers are building the plan, structure and other specifics. Davis said that anyone interested in joining the group or helping can either watch the website for updated information. or contact the organizers directly at thekoinon@gmail.com. Although not yet published, Davis sent us the group’s mission statement:

We the Koinon exist to serve the Theoi and the Hellenic community by providing Hellenists of all walks of life, worship methods, and personal practices a network of support and a place to belong as a people.

We believe in engaging our local communities through service, interfaith outreach and education, and through charity.

We believe in serving the larger Hellenic community through ongoing education and by providing a place of belonging.

We respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person and therefore reject all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other forms of discrimination.

*   *   *

pete pathfinderThe Aquariuan Tabernacle Church will be hosting a public memorial for Pete Pathfinder Davis on Dec. 27 in Seattle Washington. The group said that this will be the second of three memorial services. The first was held on the ATC property in the group’s own sacred space on Nov. 8.

The third “will be held at their annual Spring Mysteries Festival over Easter weekend” in Fort Flagler, Washington. This upcoming memorial will be held at Seattle Unity Church, located at 200 Eighth Avenue North in downtown Seattle. All are welcome to attend.

In Other News:

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  • For those who have enjoyed reading Phaedra Bonewits’ blog, she has returned. After a long two-year hiatus, Bonewits has published an entry entited “On Gifts, Friendship and Love.” In this timely and particularly moving story, she recalls her days celebrating the many happy holiday seasons with Isaac and the little touches that made it special. She shares memories from their last Yule together and the friendships that made that difficult season more magical. It is personal story of joy, friendship, loss, darkness and re-emergence.
  • In another entirely different blog post, Tim Titus reacts to news of potential changes in U.S.- Cuban relations. His personal experience with the Cuban culture have given him a deep appreciation for the country, its culture and people, which he pours into this article. Near the end, he writes, “Silence is just as damaging as violence. It tears apart a family it its own quiet, seemingly innocent way. It accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive to any relationship.The U.S. and Cuba have been sitting at the Table of Silence together for far too long.” Titus’ article is an excellent glimpse into a world most Americans have not been able to see.
  • Local Asheville, North Carolina news outlet Mountain Xpress ran a story about resident village witch Byron Ballard. In the article, Ballard talks about her own practice and beliefs, calling herself a “forensic folklorist.” She “excavates folk practices from older generations.” Ballard discusses her beloved mountain culture and laments the loss or “thinning” of the region’s traditions.
  • ACTION Yule 2014 is now available complete with a new array of interviews.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

[Remember our Fall Fund Drive is still going on. Your support and your donation is what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles and commentary daily, please consider donating today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected the appeal of Ohio science teacher John Freshwater, who was fired for teaching Creationism in the public school system. The case, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, first made its way through the Ohio courts, where it was ultimately ruled that “the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education had ‘good and just cause’ to terminate John Freshwater’s teaching contract.” When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, the justices rejected it, thereby, allowing the Ohio court’s opinion to stand.

vernon_logoThis case is a recent example of a public school system becoming the playing field for a tug of war match between secularism and religion. According to Americans United (AU), the teacher not only taught Creationism in the classroom, but he displayed and handed-out religious material, and also performed surveys of students’ religious beliefs. AU also notes that the teacher was “accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm.”

Although the Ohio courts ruled that it was legal for Freshwater to place his personal Bible on the desk, his actions were otherwise out of line. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said, “Freshwater was using his position to foist his religious beliefs onto impressionable students. The courts rightfully put a stop to that.”

For Pagan and Heathen parents or others practicing minority religions, there may come a time when religion is “foisted” upon their children within the public school environment. In most cases, the situation is likely an unthinking act, and indicative of a changing culture or shift in demographics. Minor missteps do happen and can often be remedied through conversations, education and awareness. Unfortunately, in some instances, such as the Ohio case above, the acts are blatant attempts at promoting a single religion.

The Satanic Temple's Children's Activity Book

Created by The Satanic Temple

Last year, Florida’s Orange County School Board allowed The World Changers of Florida to distribute Bibles to their students. After being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Central Florida Freethought Community, the school board approved the distribution of other religious material, which now includes pamphlets on Atheism and the Satanic Temple’s coloring book called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

Similarly, the Madison County School Board in Georgia allowed a privately funded religious monument to be erected outside a high school football team’s field house. According to local news, the statue reads, “Romans 8:31: ‘If God be for us who can be against us?’ and Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ ” Last month, the school board was contacted by both the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and is now facing a potential lawsuit.

In all three of these cases, the intention and, therefore the violation, is very clear. However, not all cases are quite as “cut and dry.” Over the past fifteen years, a national organization called “The Good News Club,” has been establishing after-school enrichment programs within public school buildings. With the growing number of working parents, these in-school extracurricular programs have become increasingly popular, serving a very needed purpose for modern families.

However, The Good News Club is a division of The Child Evangelism Fellowship and has a clear and direct religious initiative. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the club, and others like it, can legally hold after-school meetings within public school buildings. (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School)  Despite that ruling, the club’s presence continues to spark controversy.

In Portland, Oregon, a large coalition has recently formed with the aim of stopping the Good News Club’s in-school activities. According to The Oregonian, its formation was sparked when Katherine Stewart published her book called The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children.

Due to the SCOTUS ruling, that situation is not easy to legally negotiate. In an interview with The Oregonian, ACLU David Fidanque said, “I don’t know that there is a bright line anymore.” While acknowledging the club’s legal right to be in the school, he expressed real concern saying:

Keeping the government out of religious affairs is the single most important thing we can do to protect religious freedom in this country. If we allow our government institutions to endorse particular religious viewpoints, or even to promote religion in general over non-religion that is a threat to every form of religion.

1969339_231559560385952_2907068694561940975_nEven if The Good News Club is staying within its constitutional rights, Fidanque’s concerns are justified when looking at other similar situations. Growing in popularity in Georgia is another after-school religious club called Rise UP. The organizers make no effort to mask their affiliation with area schools. The website advertises, “Several other local elementary schools expressed interest in starting a similar program. We were excited about the possibility of partnering with these other parents and schools… there are new schools joining the RISE UP! Team as each school year starts – RISE UP! has a total of 9 elementary schools participating!” Did the schools ask to join or did the club ask to use the space?  Does that distinction matter?

Another way school systems intentionally or unintentionally allow religious speak into their public space is through visiting authors. Schools often hold assemblies during which a writer might speak, entertain, and read from his or her latest book. It is a very common occurrence and, in most cases, quite innocuous.

However, when that author writes with a strong religious directive, like popular Christian author Bryan Davis, the assembly could become problematic. Davis’ books reflect a deep connection to his own personal theology. While his work is certainly fitting for church assemblies, is it appropriate for public school children? Is it constitutionally legal for Davis to be speaking about and selling books that openly promote the celebration of one’s “God-given talents” and overtly discuss “faith, prayer and redemption” within the public school system? Interestingly, two of the participating middle schools are in Orange County, Florida, where the Bibles are being distributed.

These are only a few recent examples of cases in which an uncomfortable situation could arise for Pagan, Heathen or other families practicing a minority religion. There are many others situations from the minor missteps by a well-meaning teacher to the blatant promotion of a single religion. On Polytheist.com, parent Niki Whiting described her own encounter:

For a few brief weeks when we sent my son to the neighborhood kindergarten we had to deal with his confusion around the Pledge of Allegiance. I was surprised that this was still said in schools. He came home and asked why the school was trying to make him Christian. Already, in his (then) 5 short years of life, he knew that when people say ‘God’ they are mostly referring to Yahweh. “Don’t they know that the world is full of gods?” he asked. No, no, my son, they do not.

pagans_and_the_law_mainWhile every situation doesn’t need a lawyer, there may be times when a friendly email is just not enough. What should a parent do in such situations?  In her book Pagans and the Law, lawyer Dana Eilers suggests, “A basic understanding of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and their history is essential to grasping the enormity of religious freedom.” Her book lays out the basics as they pertain specifically to Pagans. She writes, “It is highly recommended that everyone read this document, boring as it appears. It is what stands between you and 10 thousand years of discrimination, persecution, and darkness.”

Another resource is Lady Liberty League. Co-founder Rev. Selena Fox has this recommendation:

Documentation is essential. Keep a log with dates and details of what has happened and what has been done to express concerns and get positive resolution. Check into the school’s policies and processes for filing complaints and voicing concerns. Keep a copy of every written communication you make and receive regarding the situation. Share this information with individuals and organizations you contact for help.

While fighting these battles may be difficult, costly and time consuming, not every situation leads to a lengthy court battle. Byron Ballard, who has worked extensively and very successfully with North Carolina’s Buncombe County School Board, found herself in the middle of such a situation in 2011. As reported by The Wild Hunt, the school board allowed Bibles to be distributed to students and a Pagan mother protested. Ballard was an integral part of resolving the tensions and finding workable solutions. Ballard advises looking for allies, adding that some may “come from surprising places.” Some of her allies  have been leaders from mainstream religious institutions. She says:

My best advice is to stay grounded, be persistent and try to really listen to all sides of the issue at hand. This work is about rights and responsibility, about shifting cultures. But it’s actually about making public schools safe places for all children to learn and to grow into caring, compassionate adults.

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

[Photo Credit: Flickr’s Liz cc-lic]

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

The cultural negotiations concerning religious freedom in the public sphere are continuously peppering America’s daily socio-political dialog. As our country becomes more diverse, or more open about its diversity, with respect to religion, the violations or perceived violations of the “separation of church and state” become more numerous and more of a burden on any given population. Most recently legislative prayers were the focus of this debate. SCOTUS ruled and the dialog shifted.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

However legislative prayer hasn’t been the only point of contention in the past month. While town meetings stole the spotlight for a time, the debate over religious expression within public schools has recently flared up in several states. Here are two issues brought to the forefront this summer.

Student Religious Liberty Act

In June, both North Carolina and Missouri adopted a student religious liberty act, similar to one already in place in Mississippi. According to the North Carolina legislature, its Senate Bill 370 is:

An act to clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights, and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.

Missouri House Bill 1303, known as the Missouri “Student Religious Liberty Act,” has the similar aim. It states in part:

A public school district shall not discriminate against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression. A school district shall treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and shall not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.

The two bills were hotly debated over a period of months. Regardless of any complaints, they were eventually passed and signed into law. On June 19, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrary signed SB 370 after a landslide victory in both the state House and Senate. Similarly, on June 30, the Missouri bill was passed with overwhelming legislative support and then signed by Governor Jay Nixon.

In both cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made the same protest statement:

Students’ rights to voluntarily express and practice their faith in the public schools are already well-protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Students already have the ability to pray and express religious viewpoints and attempts to statutorily protect those rights is unnecessary. (Press Statement May 6, 2014, ACLU – NC)

The ACLU contends that the additional law will only add confusion and potentially lead to “the excessive entanglement of school personnel in religious activity while ostracizing students of different beliefs.”

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

[Photo Credit: Flickr’s Liz cc-lic]

Byron Ballard, a North Carolina resident who has worked very closely with her local school districts on issues of religious freedom, agrees adding:

It will change things because it will embolden people to be even more belligerent than they already are. It will make the school day more difficult for teachers … This is an “open carry” prayer law. Certainly it applies to anyone who wants to pray, so there are Pagans in the state who are pleased to see it. But we are such a minority that this law will continue to serve the majority Protestant Christians in the way they have always been catered to in NC and elsewhere. It codifies the Protestant Christian privilege that is endemic in the public square.

Credits For Religious Education

On June 12, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 171, an act that “permit[s] public school students to attend and receive credit for released time courses in religious instruction conducted off school property during regular school hours.” In a guest post on Cleveland.com, State Rep. Jeff McClain – R applauded the passage of the bill saying:

The Ohio legislature made great gains last week when it comes to protecting the moral and educational rights of our students … these types of programs have a positive impact on children. They help to create a constructive outlet where students can learn morals and manners in an educational environment. I would argue that it makes one a better student and certainly a more respectful one.

The ACLU of Ohio disagrees. In December 2013, they testified against the legislation, calling HB 171 “misguided.” They clarify that the law allows credit for “purely religious instruction, whether done via a private school, place of worship or other non-entity.” The complaint goes on to say, “A public school providing credit for purely religious teaching unquestionably violates [the First Amendment government neutrality] mandate … House Bill 171 is replete with practical and constitutional problems.”

In 2012, a similar statue brought legal action in South Carolina. In the case Moss v. Spartanburg Cty School District, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged the City of Spartanburg’s issuing of credit for religious education during “released time.” The case worked its way through the courts to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the city issuing credits for religious instruction. In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case leaving the lower court’s ruling as final.

Ohio is now the second state behind South Carolina that will issue educational credits for religious classes attended off-campus during “released-time.”  While no-school funds can be used to support the religious instruction, the schools do have say on which external classes quality for credit. Could a Pagan or Heathen organization offer such education to its own children for school credit? As pointed out by the ACLU of Ohio, the potential for legal entanglements is very high.