Archives For Byron Ballard

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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.

Eight North Carolina clergy, an entire Protestant denomination and several same sex couples seeking to be married filed the country’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans claiming North Carolina’s laws blocks them from practicing their religion. In 2012 North Carolina voters approved an amendment to their constitution defining marriage and civil unions as limited to one man and one woman. The lawsuit alleges previous state marriage statutes, when combined with the amendment, impose fines on clergy who bless the wedding of any couple who doesn’t have a valid marriage license issued by state. They further claim this unconstitutionally restricts religious freedom by barring clergy from free exercise of their religion.

Pagan handfasting, photo credit Cara Schulz

Pagan handfastings include gay or straight couples, or groups. photo credit Cara Schulz

Amendment 1 and North Carolina Marriage Laws

North Carolina already had a state law on the books restricting marriage to one man and one woman since 2006. General Statute § 51-1.2 specifically provides: “Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina.” Since that law went into effect on June 1, 2006, it has not been challenged in any North Carolina appellate court.

In 2011, after legal challenges in other states overturned similar state laws, the North Carolina House and Senate passed a measure that put an amendment regarding same sex marriage and civil unions on the ballot in the 2012 election.

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts. – Text of Amendment 1

North Carolina voters approved the amendment to their state constitution by 61% in favor to 39% opposed. The amendment went into effect January 1, 2013.

Lawsuit is Filed on Religious Grounds

On Monday, April 28, a federal lawsuit was filed claiming North Carolina laws and Amendment 1 violate North Carolinian’s free exercise of religion which is protected by the United States Constitution. The General Synod of the United Church of Christ, along with a Lutheran priest, a rabbi, two Unitarian Universalist ministers, a Baptist pastor and several same-sex couples have joined together to file the suit.

In the complaint they claim, “…ministers and others who are authorized to conduct marriages in North Carolina are expressly precluded by State law from performing any ceremony of marriage between same-sex couples, even if their faith and religious beliefs allow them to conduct such ceremonies and recognize those marriages. . . If a minister conducts any marriage ceremony between same-sex couples, he or she is guilty of a crime.”

Violation of Free Exercise of Religion?

Looking at only a very narrow part of the lawsuit, does North Carolina law say what the lawsuit claims? Does North Carolina state law penalize clergy for performing religious ceremonies for same sex couples and is North Carolina state law violating the free exercise of religion by clergy? The short answer appears to be no.

The longer answer requires looking at three sections of the North Carolina General Statutes regarding marriage and how they interact with Amendment 1. It also requires separating out the requirements of a “civil” marriage from a “religious” marriage or ceremony.

North Carolina General Statute  § 51-1 is key. It outlines what is needed for something to be considered a marriage or to marry and it requires three parts.

1. A freely consenting male and female person;
2. An ordained minister or other person authorized to perform civil marriages;
3. A declaration statement that the male and female are now are husband and wife.

If all three of those conditions are not met, it is not considered a marriage and the officiant has not married anyone. A religious marriage or ceremony is not defined.

North Carolina General Statute § 51-6 says it is unlawful for a minister to solemnize a marriage between a man and a woman unless they have a valid marriage license: “…No minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State shall perform a ceremony of marriage between a man and woman, or shall declare them to be husband and wife, until there is delivered to that person a license for the marriage of the said persons…”

North Carolina General Statute § 51-7 lays out a possible penalty for any person authorized to solemnize a marriage who does so without a valid marriage license: “… shall forfeit and pay two hundred dollars ($200.00) to any person who sues therefore, and shall also be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” Some confusion arises because statute 51-7 uses the term “couple” in place of “male and female.” The court will look at the surrounding statutes, and Amendment 1, to determine what couple means in this context.

Amendment 1 limits marriage to one male and one female just as state laws continues the clear and consistent language that define a marriage couple as one male and one female. If there is not one male and one female seeking marriage, according to North Carolina state law, there is no marriage taking place. Period. No need to look further. Which means if clergy were performing a religious ceremony for two males, legally this is not a civil marriage taking place. If there is no “civil” marriage taking place, there is no prohibition limiting what religious ceremony clergy can perform. So there is no fine to impose nor is there any prohibition on the exercising of religion by the clergy or participants involved in the religious ceremony. As of this date, there is no pending prosecution of any clergyman in North Carolina for performing a same sex religious ceremony.

This is, remember, only a look at one narrow aspect of the lawsuit and doesn’t address any of the other civil rights and equal protection arguments made in the complaint. If we are to judge by how federal courts are trending, North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage will be struck down by the courts on those wider, civil rights arguments.

Unitarian Universalist Ministers involved in lawsuit

Two of the clergy members signed onto the lawsuit are Rev. Robin Tanner with the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church and Rev. Mark Ward with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. UU churches are where many Pagans find a spiritual home. Asheville area Pagan, Laura LaVoie, has been an intermittent Unitarian for many years and has attended services by Rev. Ward, “Rev. Ward is an intelligent, dynamic individual who is dedicated to his congregation. I was delighted to hear that he added his voice to this challenge. I might have to start going back to church just to support him.”

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. photo credit, Laura LaVoie

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. photo credit, Laura LaVoie

Ms. LaVoie says the Asheville area is very different form the rest of Carolina and was called the “Cesspool of Sin” by state senator and Republican Jim Forrester while Amendment 1 was being debated. “We’ve since embraced that title and all that it implies. It is heartening to see clergy members from my very liberal city as well as the more conservative areas of Charlotte and Raleigh come together to challenge the issues brought up by Amendment 1. No one can deny that Amendment 1 was fueled by religious belief so why should it be just one religious point of view that sets the moral standards for an entire state?”

Pagans are such an integral part of Unitarian Univeralist churches, there’s even an organization dedicated to networking Pagan-identified Unitarian Universalists and developing Pagan liturgies and theologies. This organization is called The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPs). Rev. Amy Beltaine, President of CUUPs said she applauds the action of the UCC and UU Ministers in North Carolina, “As a Unitarian Universalist, I am called to affirm and promote all loving, stable families. I believe marriage is about loving couples who want to make a commitment to each other, to be committed to working together to create a shared life that will benefit and bless their families, neighborhoods, communities, and faith communities.

Faith communities should have the freedom to choose who they will marry. I am looking forward to having the freedom to marry same-sex couples. Allowing the freedom to marry for all Americans will give our congregations the freedom to live our beliefs by solemnizing marriages for all couples who love each other and want to take on the responsibilities and commitment of marriage. I was born in North Carolina and would hope that when I am there my freedom to solemnize marriages is not penalized.”  Here is a link to Rev. Beltaine’s full statement.

North Carolina Pagan clergy respond

Other North Carolina Pagan clergy agree with Rev. Beltaine. Blake Octavian Blair, a Pagan minister, author, and North Carolina resident, says,North Carolina’s Amendment 1 made state law the denial of equal marriage rights, protections, and recognition and relegates our relationships and marriages to less than equal status. Many push off or downplay the issue by saying, “Give it time, things will change, it is happening…,” while GLBT residents remain in a state of inequality. I have always rejected this complacent approach and feel that the time for equality is always now. I feel we need to support our progressive allies who wish to come together in an interfaith effort, as humanitarians, to fight discrimination in these arenas of Civil and Human Rights. For in these arenas, we are practitioners of different faiths but we have common goals.”

While North Carolina native Rev. Byron Ballard of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, has a slightly different view of what marriage equality looks like from a Pagan perspective, “The default setting for most things in this country is Christian, or perhaps “Abrahamic.” Marriage is no exception. As we work to broaden its definition to include couples of the same gender, it’s important to remember that we are tinkering around the edges of the same property laws that “traditional marriage” is based on. We aren’t talking about the year-and-a-day commitment called “handfasting” and we aren’t talking about bonding contracts that recognize more than two people. The notion that “marriage equality” will ultimately lead to a more generous view of human bonding arrangements–one that includes a more Pagan worldview–is a long shot, at best. This is certainly a First Amendment/religious freedom issue and I hope the Pagan community is paying attention, getting involved and thinking about its own needs in the pluralism that marks the American spiritual scene.”

This lawsuit is one of three on North Carolina marriage law currently winding its way through the federal courts. Its not clear if any of the three will ever have their day in court. In two weeks a case out of Virginia is scheduled to go before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case concerns Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban and if it is struck down, that would affect bans in West Virginia and North and South Carolina.

If there was a dominant theme to the 2014 Sacred Space Conference in Laurel, Maryland, it would be Appalachian folk magic, and the teachers from that culture who have emerged within our community. Featured presenter Orion Foxwood, author of “The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work” spoke to packed rooms that seemed reluctant for their experience with the charismatic teacher to end. Likewise, Byron Ballard, author of “Staubs and Ditchwater: a Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo” gave a rollicking overview of “the joy of hex” to a standing-room only crowd.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard with presentation materials.

So, it stands to reason that a panel featuring Foxwood, Ballard, and Linda Ours Rago, author of “Blackberry Cove Herbal: Healing With Common Herbs in the Appalachian Wise-Woman Tradition” (among other works) would come to seem like the capstone of the entire weekend. Moderated by Michael G. Smith, an Elder in The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the resulting experience was one filled to the brim with stories, laughter, more stories, explanations of differences in geographic terminology for similar folk-magic practices, even more stories, and emotional evocations of their land and culture.

The Appalachian Folk Traditions panel participants combining their powers for the camera.

The Appalachian Folk Traditions panel participants combining their powers for the camera.

There’s no way I could accurately capture the experience of this panel, so with permission, I recorded the proceedings and now share them with you here. 

Within modern Paganism, and certainly within the many religious movements that overlap with ours, authenticity is important. I think that these practitioners so inspire students and observers because they bring with them a cultural authenticity born of their own experiences. Naturally, when spiritual technologies seated within a specific cultural context are taught in these events, the issue of cultural appropriation comes up (as it did in the Q&A section of this panel). The goal, I think, is to hold onto values of honesty and transparency when given the opportunity to learn from circumstances like these. Their experience is rooted in the land from which they came, and nothing can replicate that. We may learn new spiritual technologies and viewpoints for which to encounter our own day-to-day practices, but we can never become “Appalachian” in the way they manifest, no matter how fervently someone might wish.

Moments like these are opportunities to enrich our understanding of the vital tapestry of magical traditions, and how similar roots can produce very different flowers depending on where they grow. All of these teachers are here to teach, and we should learn from them, while also remembering that we can never become them. So long as we hold that truth, we will be able to become mutually enriched, and events like the Sacred Space Conference can continue to organize unique moments in time like this from a place of curiosity and respect.

I’m currently at the 2014 Sacred Space Conference in Laurel, Maryland. I’ve been to a lot of Pagan events over the years, big and small, but I’ve never immersed myself into a truly East Coast event, and it has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My Pagan life started in the Midwest, and then, I gravitated to the West Coast, and while I’ve met many fine East Coast folks, I knew that things were a bit different there. Thanks to a generous offer from the organizers of the conference, I was finally able to find out first hand.

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First off, the hospitality has been top-notch, and it’s clear that the board take their responsibilities seriously. As one of the largest indoor Pagan conferences in this region, one that will get even larger when it shares space with Between The Worlds in 2015, it’s clear they have a vision for growing into something unique. Secondly, everyone has been remarkably friendly, and I’ve been able to finally engage in-person with friends I’ve only known on the Internet. People like Byron Ballard, Beth Owl’s Daughter, Katrina Messenger, and Debbie Chapnick from Datura Press.

Yesterday (Friday), I gave both of my scheduled talks, so I didn’t get to see too much from other folks, but I did sit in on a very interesting talk on Neo-Platonism from Gwendolyn Reece, and I got to see the beginning of the Conjure Dance, featuring an amazing array of altars, drummers, and a number of people ready to trance. 

A detail from one of the Conjure Dance altars.

A detail from one of the Conjure Dance altars.

Today, I’m hoping to see and do more, including a much-anticipated panel of Appalachian Magick Workers featuring Orion Foxwood, Byron Ballard, and Linda Ours Rago. We’ll see what I can share with you here.

What have I learned from this East Coast event? Well, I think there’s a special focus on spiritual work. People here are looking for new technologies, though that isn’t to imply they aren’t interested in other things. Both of my talks were well-attended, and many have been concerned with issues concerning infrastructure, money, and the state of the Pagan umbrella. That said, I sense a keen desire to do The Work of spirit in the air, and there’s a palpable environment of ritual, even in the sanitized environs of a Holiday Inn.

There’s a lot more to come before I return home, but I hope that this short update will give you a taste of my experience so far.

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

“There was a definite tension between our views on death, a tension I didn’t understand until after he died. I realize now it’s a tension that also exists in many of the most interesting vampire novels. My husband had what I would call the ‘high tech view of death’; it was to be avoided at all costs. He was a runner; he was in perfect health; he took various supplements and anti-oxidants. He drank a glass of wine for resveratrol, never smoked, was fit, and, unlike me, he never did any drugs in his youth. He thought he would live to be 100, preferably even older. A science journalist, he followed all the discoveries and advances of aging research. And he thought that when he did die, he might have his ashes flown up in space. His attitude was definitely, ‘rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ I, at that same moment, had more of an Earth-centered Pagan perspective. ‘We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout; we grow, mature and decay, making room for future generations who, like seedlings are reborn through us.’ As for the persistence of consciousness, deep down, I thought, ‘How can we know?’ Perhaps we simply return to the elements; we become earth and air and fire and water. That seemed alright to me.” – Margot Adler, discussing views on death at Judson Memorial Church. You can see a video of her entire talk/sermon, embedded below.

Laura Perry

Laura Perry

“The goddess in her major forms (Ariadne and Rhea) definitely dominated the pantheon and the culture in ancient Crete, but not in the same way that a male god dominates many other, later pantheons. For me, the distinction is that of authoritarian vs. authoritative. An authoritarian figure dominates through aggression and putting others down. An authoritative leader draws on his or her own inner strength to bring out the strength in others and lead them. It’s that second energy that I encounter when I work with the Minoan pantheon, a certain amount of respect for all the members of the pantheon and their necessary place in the scheme of things that I don’t find in, say, the later classical Greek pantheon with its authoritarian leader, Zeus. Ultimately, all human cultures are flawed because human beings aren’t perfect. No matter how flawless the underlying energies of deity may be, when they manifest through a human society they will reflect the foibles of humanity as well as our potential. We organize the world according to what filters through our psyches, and that includes our experience of deity. Flaws aside, however, I think the Minoan pantheon and Minoan society in general offer an excellent example of how the balance of energies can work, with an emphasis on respect for the divine feminine that that modern world so sadly lacks.” – Laura Perry author of Ariadne’s Thread: Awakening the Wonders of the Ancient Minoans in our Modern Lives, discussing Minoan religion and culture.

Annie Sprinkle

Annie Sprinkle

“I think there are a handful of people in the sex industry that are very, very spiritual. There’s a lot of atheists, a lot of people who aren’t interested in anything woo-woo or tantric or magical, that’s for sure. But when you’re doing sex work, you’re so stigmatized and marginalized and prosecuted that anything that can help you cope with the stigma and the stupid laws… we need that. We need those archetypes and images to hold on to, to be able to cope with society’s prejudices and hatred and fear. […] I think that our society is basically phobic about birth, death, and sex. America is puritanical. On the other hand, millions of people use the services of prostitutes and sex workers and porn. […] I got spiritual when AIDS hit. I was raised humanist and agnostic, but when AIDS happened I just needed to be able to cope with all the death, and I started to explore really kind of New Age stuff, and spiritual stuff from all different cultures, and it really helped. For me, being around sex and being around gospel singing is the same ecstasy. Ecstasy is ecstasy.” – Annie Sprinkle, performance artist and sexologist, discussing occult, New Age, and Pagan beliefs within the adult entertainment/sex work industry (link might be NSFW, depending on where you work).

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“I do not see a revival of American civil religion until new moral and spiritual underpinnings support it. I think these underpinnings exist, and one of the most perceptive early observers of our country intuited what they are, though he did not approve. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Pantheism was a natural outgrowth of Democracy. I think he was correct. Spiritual traditions in harmony with a Pantheistic sensibility are in greater accord with the new society America’s principles helped bring into being than are the spiritual traditions of our Founders’ time. Those traditions have atrophied, undermined by the society they helped to create. Hope rests with a new spiritual sensibility that is not necessarily a new religion, but rather can shape the way in which many spiritual traditions are practiced. This sensibility emphasizes divine immanence and the importance of the Sacred Feminine as well as the Masculine. It is within this context that the best of America’s civil religion can be renewed and given life again […] Hope for us lies in those Christian and other long-established religions opening themselves up to immanentist and feminine insights, as well as new religious movements, NeoPaganism in particular, which explicitly emphasize those values as central. It is for these reasons that I think Pagan insights carry far more weight than our rather modest numbers might suggest.” – Gus diZerega, on the future of America’s civil religion. 

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Teo has indicated that what may result from all of this is a kind of blended religious practice, a Christo-Paganism as many have called it previously. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as it doesn’t end up being monotheistic or monistic, and subordinating all other deities to the “One God” of Christianity. There is nothing which says that the Christo-Paganism of any given person needs to accept a monotheistic theology, or to prioritize Christian views on any given subject. (Indeed, the prevailing Christian thoughts on queerness of various sorts are nothing to emulate or admire, for starters.) Thank all the gods that there is no such thing as the Christo-Pagan pope, and that people can take that particular path as experientially as they wish to, and can avoid the worst excesses of creedalism in doing so. Getting to a religious viewpoint that has Jesus as an important part of its practice from the viewpoint of paganism or polytheism is a good thing, I think, because even knowing that there is as much diversity amongst divinity as there is before evaluating Jesus within such frameworks gives a lot more options and a great deal more freedom to those theological viewpoints than has been the case with almost all of modern Christianity, and that has to be construed as a positive step, I think. Thus, I wish Teo, with all sincerity, the very best of luck with whatever comes in the future on his path. You shall always be welcome under my roof and at my table, wherever it may be!” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on the recent spiritual changes within Teo Bishop’s life.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

“As you get older and dig into these vibrant spiritual traditions that dangle from the vaguely “Pagan/Heathen” umbrella, I am here to tell you it gets easier. And it gets better. Decades of practice give you a handle on how to deal with honest seekers, scary bullies, dizzily pompous Self-Proclaimed BNPs. It gets easier as you find your footing.  You may find your practice itself getting simpler…and deeper.  You may even stop asking all those angst-and fear-ridden philosophical questions that seem to make up so much of online Pagan discourse.  You may find that you don’t care so much what other people believe or don’t believe, but you care more that they are kind and sensible and helpful when help is needed. You can hit the month that contains Samhain without a lot of sturm und drang, and may even find yourself enjoying speaking to different kinds of people about the spiritual path you love and follow.  It gets easier…unless what you love about this path is the sense of drama you can evoke and your ability to stir the proverbial pot. If your every mood must be reflected in your online outrage, and your ability to ground and focus is not highly developed, you may not find it getting either easier or deeper. You may begin to feel that you don’t quite have a handle on this “Pagan” thing–it all seems too complex, too ephemeral, more Air and Fire and not nearly enough Earth.” – Byron Ballard, on how it gets easier.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter

“Prison is not exactly a safe environment to express sentiment, to show emotion is often interpreted as a weakness and weakness not something you want to display while sharing a cage with predators. Therefore, many of those emotional and communal needs to grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one go unfulfilled. In addition, there is also an element of guilt involved. Guilt for their absence in the lives of their friends and family, guilt for not being there in their last moments and guilt for not being able to pay them their proper respect. Over time, the combined weight and pressure of their withheld emotions, lack of closure and incarcerated guilt can be very damaging and diminishes the very concept of rehabilitation.  Over these past six years I have seen the power of Samhain change lives; relieving the pressure of unexpressed emotions and lifting the burdens of incarcerated guilt. Giving inmates an opportunity to share the leaves that have fallen from the trees of their lives. The circle gives them a safe space, a sanctuary, to finally release what they’ve been withholding for so long. It’s never a dry ceremony, emotions so powerful don’t just exit the body through words from the mouth alone, they are always found streaming from the heart and bursting forth through the eyes. On several occasions over these past six years, the leaf, the life that an inmate had chosen to honor was the very life they had been imprisoned for taking. And to that, even I lack the words.” – Joseph Merlin Nichter, on Samhain seasons spent in a cell.

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Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“The first classes I taught at the shop nearby were four-weeks long. Later, it extended to eight weeks. The people in the area were very much into the subject and they would do homework assignments and share their work for comments in class. One of the first practical magick techniques I shared involved creative visualization. Most teachers and practitioners don’t get into the Kabalistic secrets of the technique in the way that I do, and both I and many of my students have had a great deal of success using it. Being able to have longer series of classes was a wonderful luxury. I’d get to know more about the students and we had chances to build up relationships. They’d get to see what others are doing and we’re able to share. But in the third week of a four-week class the shop informed me that one of my students had to drop out. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘For over a year he’d been trying to sell the mobile home where he lived,’ I was told. ‘He put your ideas for creative visualization into practice and he sold it within a couple of weeks. Now he has to spend his time moving out.’ I understood, but I wished he’d remained in class. Still, telling the class that he’d followed directions and his magick worked was an effective inducement for the others to stay in class.” – Donald Michael Kraig, on the unintended consequences of your class being successful.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“And so I sit here, reconciling my fear of the reality that they are living today…. And acknowledging the guilt that I feel for this. I struggle to hold faith and hope for change in a world that invests in technology before human lives, and I wonder the plan of the Gods in a world that is so broken. So I take this primal rage inside of me, and I send that energy to the universe for the Martin family and for our collective grieving communities; for a mother without her child, a father grieving the loss of his legacy, and an entire community without justice. What I have come to truly understand is that there is no separation between my spiritual self, my ancestral culture and the path the Gods have put me on. My spirituality is deeply embedded within a framework that includes the divine sacredness of all beings, equally as important as the others. And so this type of injustice is sacrilegious to my belief system, and irreversibly detrimental to the Black community. Tonight I offer prayers and hold energy for a deeply wounded family, and a hurting community.” – Crystal Blanton, sharing her thoughts regarding the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“We are tearing ourselves asunder. The cost is high. Systemic racism means that every 36 hours an African American is killed by police or private security forces. Systemic racism means that when a black woman fires a warning shot into the air in an attempt to scare off her violent husband, she gets 20 years, despite the same Stand Your Ground Laws at play in the Zimmerman trial. Systemic racism means that every black and brown man in New York City has been stopped and frisked multiple times for no cause. Systemic racism means that African Americans are four times as likely to be arrested and jailed for marijuana possession than whites. Systemic racism means that more African Americans are in prison than were ever held as slaves. […] This is a spiritual issue. This is all a spiritual issue. Matter is not fallen. The material world is sacred. That includes all of us. And yet we forget. We say that this portion does not deserve the light of the sun. We forget that even things that live in darkness can be beautiful and true. We say we have no power. We say it’s not our problem. We forget: we too are sacred. We are touched with divine fire. We forget that we co-create the cosmos with the Gods. We forget that every moment of every day, we get to choose: this magic, or that magic? We forget the flow of love. We forget that for love to flow freely, becoming the great connector, we must be open to it. We must open to love. In opening to it, love flows through us. Love flows on. This is a time for prayer. This is also a time for action. This is a time to open the floodgates of love. This is a time to act for justice.” – T. Thorn Coyle, asserting that “confronting racism is spiritual work.”

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“I know, some people reading this will say, “But I can’t find a group” or “I can’t afford the travel, the costs, the time off from work, etc.” These are all good, legitimate reasons for choosing the easier, AI-2 type of initiation. I would like to point out, however, that there is another word that means “reasons.” It’s “excuses.” You can come up with all the reasons/excuses you want. But let me ask you this: If I were to say to you, “If you will travel across the country and come to my home, I’ll give you ten million dollars. It will change your life forever,” would you be willing to figure at a way to earn or borrow some extra money and get some time off in order to reach my house? I would say 999 out of 1,000 people would absolutely do this. Suddenly, those reasons/excuses given in the previous paragraph just vanish—if you really want the experience that will change your life. Similarly, you are more likely to receive a life-altering AI-1 experience by taking part in a physical initiation. I would say it’s worth it, wouldn’t you?” – Donald Michael Kraig, opining on the types and efficacy of astral initiations at the Llewellyn Worldwide blog.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

“Thought I’d check in and let you all know we’re grounding, centering, focusing our wills down here in the sinking ship that is North Carolina. We know the country is watching us, wondering how much farther we can fall. Much farther, I’m afraid.  Some of you are aware of my conceit called “Tower Time.” It is my theory and experience that we are living in the time of the fall of empire (ours), in fact, I see it as the crash of several ancient toxic systems that are coming to the end of their time. Death to the patriarchy! Down with Oppression! Sic semper tyrannis! What that means in our Pagan communities is that we have some handy tools that can help us in the chaos of our General Assembly and its general assholery. The tools and techniques that many of us use in our daily practice are admirably suited to help us during this Tower Time. We have grounding and shielding and setting wards. We have Divines for healing and vengeance, and justice.” – Byron Ballard, a North Carolina resident, discussing “Tower Time” and recent political happenings in her state, at the PaganSquare.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

Sam Webster

“The only point in saying that a person has had a UPG, an Unsubstantiated (sometimes Unverified) Personal Gnosis, is to be dismissive and demeaning to them, and on examination the claim or criticism of UPG has no worthy intellectual basis. […] Experience is the center of all spiritual and religious life. Text is at best derivative. By creating and using such a term as UPG, “Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis” we privilege text over experience. (This is a rather Christian move, and those who have been following my writing know how I feel about that. . .) Even more damagingly, by framing someone’s experience as a UPG we dissociate ourselves from the primary data of spirituality. We can then bracket and set aside the immediate real, and go back to our books. In the process we may have damaged both the knowledge we could have shared in, but also possibly the recipient of that knowledge, who could have been another culture bringer, but instead was told their experience was of diminished value, or of no value at all, simply because we can’t substantiate their insight in a book.” – Sam Webster, on why he doesn’t like the term “UPG” (Unverified Personal Gnosis).

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“Within the academy — and here I speak mainly of the American Academy of Religion, the largest body for such study on this continent (it includes many Canadians too) — even the study of new religious movements was way off to the side. Those scholars themselves were relative newcomers to the AAR, which had its origins in the study of Christianity and which devoted most of its program sessions to textual matters. York not only situated Paganism  as “a religion, a behavior, and a theology,” he argued that Pagan elements were found in other “world religions” too — not just “Pagan survivals” but behaviors, primarily. I don’t mean to suggest cause and effect — one book did not do that  — but it was at about the same time that the AAR’s leadership, which had rejected a proposed Pagan Studies program unit — a permanent slot, in other words — in 1997,  relented in 2004 and granted it. So York helped to forge a sort of non-sectarian (not Wiccan, not Asatru, not Roman reconstructionist, etc.) definition that would change people’s minds to where they no longer thought that the P-word meant “having no religion” or “follower of an obsolete religion from long ago.” Instead, it would be a type of religion or a way of being religious. Paganism (academic definition) was everywhere.” – Chas Clifton, on the the influence and importance of Michael York’s definition of Paganism.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

“We know that it was a common practice among the warrior traditions of the Gaulish Celts to offer dedications to their war Gods prior to a battle, and we know that human and animal sacrifices were among those offerings. It stands to reason, and I think has been shown, that these Gods (or at the very least our Goddess) still expect some kind of blood sacrifice. Modern Pagans love to talk about how the Gods evolve with us, and how forms of offerings can be different in modern times. I agree – but I think the important thing that has shifted isn’t whether or not living sacrifice is needed or useful. What has shifted is the importance of the individual soul and the idea of consent, the willing sacrifice. Everyone whose blood went into that cup offered it of their own volition. Similarly, when we organized the blood donation drive at PantheaCon last year, that was a form of sacrifice which was purely volitional. That focus on volition with regard to human offerings is reflective of how sacrifice can evolve in a modern context – a religious practice now shaped by modern values on individual liberty, but still preserving the core function of the act, which is the offering of vital life.” – Morpheus Ravenna, on blood sacrifice, and whether certain gods still want/need/desire it.

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“Refuge in the Goddess however meant that I had to cast aside that I might be seen as less than magical, less than “witch” or less than what media labels “Pagan author” simply because I do not follow the traditional year in a day to initiation mold. I had to give myself permission to dare, because the one thing I am not ashamed about or worried about the world knowing is this… I was raped. I was raped over and over again and the only reason I am alive is because of Goddess.  Goddess from above and Goddess from within. That is not a feeling, or a belief, that is a documented clinical fact. On more than one occasion, trauma therapists have noted that ‘something’ kept me from a darkness. They call it “inner light” and my mother might call it Jesus, but we witches know it is Goddess […] Many people who have been Sexually Assaulted ask themselves, “Why me?” I too, asked that very question. I too, asked, will another man ever touch me? I too, asked why Goddess?” – Erick DuPree, Dharma Pagan, on why, as a survivor of sexual abuse, he contributed to the forthcoming anthology “Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul: Magic Practitioners Living with Disabilities, Addiction, and Illness.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“It has been pointed out that these references do not refer to us “big P Pagans” but rather to the march towards a post Christian society. This line of reasoning urges us not to perceive these statements as a direct confrontation of our collective religious identity. Meanwhile the public is being bombarded with the demonization of the word Pagan with out any information to dispel these statements. Our community cannot afford to jeopardize the progress we have made by choosing to not confront those whose intent is perceived as “not talking about us”.  Such a course of action will only result in more misplaced distrust and discrimination. This attempt by the religious right to frame the conversation in a way that replicates the “satanic panic” of past decades provides a perilous framework for future discourse. […] To the general public, the intellectual exercise of differentiating between big P and little p Pagans does not exist. In defense of all we have collectively accomplished we must respond if we wish to avoid being marginalized by a reframing of the debate that has the potential to diminish our community’s voice.” – Peter Dybing, on why Pagans need to formulate a response to the increasing use of the term “pagan” as a slur by conservative Christians towards their cultural and political opponents.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“The entirety, however, is billed (both in the book and in the beginning of the film) as “a story that will make you believe in God.” Let’s read that sentence again: a story that will make you believe in God. That’s sort of a bold statement for any religion, and for any story. So, did it succeed? Well, for me, no, and not just because I already have particular religious commitments. Without entirely ruining the film, the end of it comes down to a choice: “which story do you prefer?” Does one prefer horrific humanistic (in the sense of “strictly human,” not “friendly atheist” or “Italian intellectual rediscovery of Greek culture”) realism and Darwinian disaster, or religion and myth and allegory that is ultimately escapist fantasy? It doesn’t really amount to “making” one “believe in God,” then: it means “does one accept the world as it is,” or “does one retreat to imagination?” And, the latter option, which seems to be the preferred one of the characters in the film, is essentially to “believe in God,” according to this film. Can you see how problematic this is, even on the surface, for anyone who actually has a religion that puts them in touch with how things actually are, even independent of the presence of the gods in such a world?” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on why he was not overly fond of the film “Life of Pi” and its “slippery” theology.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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. My 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!

 Solar Cross Temple Organizes For Oklahoma: In the wake of the massive and deadly tornado that struck Oklahoma on Monday, the pan-Pagan/Magickal organization Solar Cross Temple is partnering with a local Pagan and a consortium of activist organizations to raise money for those affected.

Debris covers the ground in Moore, Oklahoma. Photograph by Brett Deering/Getty.

Debris covers the ground in Moore, Oklahoma. Photograph by Brett Deering/Getty.

“Solar Cross Temple is organizing to help Oklahoma. We are working with Marcia Carter Tillison, a Pagan in Norman OK, and with OpOK, a consortium of Occupy, Food Not Bombs and other activist groups working together to get supplies and help with on the ground clean up efforts in Moore. Marcia has on the ground experience in disaster relief from her work in Haiti and is someone I trust.

OpOK needs supplies to help people keep the rains that have followed the tornado off of what goods they have. They need supplies to help with clean up and salvage. To this end, Solar Cross is now taking donations for this project.”

You can find more information about donating, and what the needs are, at T. Thorn Coyle’s blog. If you know of other Pagan-initiated efforts to help Oklahoma, please let us know in the comments. May all those affected find safety, shelter, and the means to rebuild.

Looking for Pagan Responses to the UK Census: Vivianne Crowley, a Jungian psychologist, and faculty at Cherry Hill Seminary, has been invited to present a paper on Pagan responses to the 2011 UK census, which released religious data on modern Pagans in December of last year. Crowley is hoping to get collect as many UK Pagan responses via an online survey form in order to look at why there is a disparity between actual census counts and educated estimates that are often far larger.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“I’ve been invited by the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion group to give a paper next month on Pagan responses to the UK Census 2011. There is a big difference of course between the survey numbers and those quote for number of Pagans in the UK and I’m trying to tease out some of the reasons. One might be that numbers have been inflated of course. The other might be that Pagans for various reasons were under-reported. I wonder if you’d be kind enough, if you completed the Census, to answer the survey.”

You can find the survey link, here. A responses are anonymous. This could be important work, as many people have guessed the number of Pagans in the UK to be in the hundreds of thousands, while the 2011 census data placed modern Pagans at around 80,000 (which is a large increase from 2001, but not near the estimates). So if you’ve taken the UK census in 2011 and you’re a Pagan, please help out.

Mythic Pagan Band Hits Fundraising Goal: The American mythic-Pagan band Woodland announced yesterday that they successfully raised their $10,000 dollar Kickstarter goal to fund the completion of the band’s upcoming 3rd album “Secrets Told.”

Woodland Co-Founders, Emilio and Kelly Miller-Lopez

Woodland Co-Founders, Emilio and Kelly Miller-Lopez

“Our first CD since SEASONS IN ELFLAND: SHADOWS in 2010, SECRETS TOLD delves deep into new regions of inspiration and ancient landscapes of legend. Rich with romantic Mediterranean and classical themes and imbued with the mythos and folklore of Southern Europe, our music and lyrical poetry have incarnated within new songs and new instrumentation. The music of SECRETS TOLD is exotic and evocative, rhythmic and romantic, sensual and mysterious.”

The new album is due out on July 26th, and a new incarnation of the lineup featuring acclaimed ethereal cellist Adam Hurst and former Cirque du Soleil drummer, Jarrod Kaplan will be a headlining performer at the 2013 Faerieworlds Festival this Summer. There’s still about a week left in the fundraising drive, and the band says they’ll introduce stretch funding goals for those who donate, so don’t miss out! Check out the promo trailer for the fundraiser/new album, here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!