Archives For California

[Cara Schulz is another one of our talented weekly staff writers. She brings you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. If you like her work and that of our other writers, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories is what we love to do. Your continued support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

This year’s Antelope Valley Pagan Pride Day (AVPPD) had some unwelcome guests, a small group of loud protesters yelling Christian prayers and slogans. AVPPD organizers asked police to disperse the protesters, but the Lancaster Sheriff’s deputies refused to assist.

The AVPPD event took place September 27 at George Lane Park in Los Angeles County. The organization had rented a portion of the park, and was just getting ready for its first ritual of the day, a Heathen Blot scheduled at 10:30 am, when four protesters arrived. They carried signs with bible verses on them. The protesters did not attempt to enter the park, but stood on the sidewalk as one of them yelled prayers and admonishments about going to Hell.

Lisa Morgenstern, president of the First Pantheistic Center of the Antelope Valley which is the sponsoring organization for AVPPD, approached the group and asked them to not enter the park or disrupt the worship service with its yelling. Ms. Morgenstern captured the encounter on video.

Morgenstern says the protesters interfered with their religious service. “It delayed the beginning of our opening blot, because we were trying to get police response. And there were some children that he frightened because he was shouting.”

Lisa Morgenstern [AVPPD fb page]

Lisa Morgenstern [Photo from the AVPPD Facebook page]

Morgenstern called the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station to ask for assistance. In California, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally interfere with a public meeting or assembly, such as a public prayer vigil, and carries a possible 6 month jail sentence. There is a similar law, with a higher penalty, which makes it illegal to disturb a religious meeting, but this only covers worship services held in a tax-exempt place of worship. Morgenstern says:

I called the station directly instead of 911 since it was not an emergency per se. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the Sheriff’s Deputy with whom I spoke. He did tell me, however, that despite the fact that we had a religious event going on, that he could not take action because the picketers were not on the park property but on the public sidewalk. I walked towards Wayne to notify him of this information and he pointed out the Deputy parked on the lawn, and I spoke further and walked over to him. As I walked the Deputy on the phone was apologetic but did say that they would make a point to slow down their drive-bys when they came by the park to make their presence known. Deputy Goldman told me the same thing after speaking with the Deputy at the station on my cell phone at the request of the station Deputy, that he could take no action without them stepping into the park. At this point I was in tears because I know that it is illegal to disturb a religious worship service in California intentionally, and this was definitely intentional. I asked Deputy Goldman, who was still sitting in his vehicle by the way, if he could walk over to where they were and maybe just observe them and cross his arms and let them know he was there, or look threatening? Please? He responded, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ 

Morgenstern says the group went ahead with the blot and tried to drown out the protesters, who continued to yell until they left, sometime in the afternoon. “The things that he was yelling bothered me enough that I actually turned on some music and tried to drown him out,” says Morgenstern.

Ritual held at the September AVPPD event. {Photo from AVPPD fb page]

Ritual held at the September AVPPD event. [Photo from the public AVPPD Facebook page]

This is not the first time an Antelope Valley Pagan event has been disturbed by protesters, nor is it the first time the Lancaster Sheriff’s department has refused to help.

On March 16th, 2002, a Spring Equinox ritual was held in the parking lot of a Lancaster Pagan shop when a group of Christians arrived to protest. According to news site Unknown Country:

At first the Christian guests remained mostly seated along the edge of the Pagan ceremony, praying quietly. Among them was a volunteer chaplain from the Lancaster Sheriff’s Office who sat in an SUV with its motor running. But as the ceremony got rolling, the Rev. John Canavello [of Life Changers Christian Center ], who has since been suspended from the Sheriff’s office, allegedly pumped up the volume on his car stereo, drowning out the Pagan songs with a loud blast of Christian music, according to High Priestess Cyndia Riker, owner of the Witches Grove gift shop, which hosted the event. Rikker says the protesters then circled the Pagans and began praying loudly.

This time, too, the Lancaster Sheriff’s department, located 3 blocks from the store, was called but didn’t arrive until 4 ½ hours later, long after the Equinox service had ended and the protesters were gone. Lancaster Sheriff’s Capt. Tom Pigott said California law only places limits on protests taking place in tax-exempt buildings that disturb a group, not events held in parking lots.

The AVPPD doesn’t know to what organization or church the protesters from the September 2014 event belong. But organizers say they feel unsafe knowing local law enforcement won’t assist them if they have problems. “Our Pagan Pride event is considering whether or not we need to move back to Palmdale,” says Morgenstern. She added, “We had moved to a county park to save money, but I can say with great confidence that if I call the police in Palmdale, we get response there. The mayor of Palmdale, James Ledford, in grave contrast to the standing Mayor of Lancaster, is open minded, and attends almost every Antelope Valley Interfaith Council event.”

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!

150318_285637801541688_2098495770_nJust as we were going to press, the passing of Jeff Rosenbaum was announced. The cause of death was a brain tumor. Rosenbaum is perhaps best known as the conceiver and a founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Starwood Festival was arguably one of the most popular (and populous) outdoor festivals of its type, thanks to organizers cross-pollinating Pagan communities with other religious and visionary movements, featuring guests like Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. Rosenbaum talked a bit about this organizing vision when he was interviewed in the book “Modern Pagans.”

“Starwood is a big college of alternative thinking and alternative spirituality that suddenly appears like a carnival or circus. The tents go up, it stays there for a week, and then BOOM it’s gone, til next year. We have 140 or more classes from 9:30 in the morning till 6:15 in the evening–sometimes as many as 12 at a time. You can learn about Druidism, Ceremonial Magic, Wicca, Tibetan Buddhism, and Native American Practices. We have classes on psychedelia and psychology, and different “movement systems” like tai chi, yoga and aikido. Past speakers have included Timothy Leary, quantum physicist Fred Allen Wolf, Paul Krassner, and Steven Gaskin, who created the Farm, the biggest hippie commune in America. It’s all included in the cost of admission.”

As Rosenbaum puts it, he was “a student of an eclectic array of spiritual paths, philosophies, and illuminating pursuits,” and it was that wide-ranging desire to experience and know that drove his life. In addition to his work with ACE and Starwood, he was Robert Anton Wilson’s lecture agent for six years during the 1980s, played guitar & percussion with Ian Corrigan and Victoria Ganger in the bands Chameleon and Starwood Sizzlers, and was published (and interviewed) in a number of Pagan-themed publications. Tributes to Rosenbaum are already flooding his Facebook profile, but I think the most apt was a posthumous status update from Jeff Rosenbaum himself, which I think does a good job of capturing his spirit. Quote: “At 6:23 pm EST tonight I crossed over and left my body behind. My friends were by my side, the Firesign Clones were playing on the TV. It was calm and peaceful. Thank you all for your good wishes and support. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” What is remembered, lives. ADDENDUM: Here’s an obituary written by close friend Ian Corrigan.

dwsLWG1w_400x400The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC has sent out a call for help. The People’s Climate March is less than a month away and the number of Pagans pledging to march as part of the Interfaith contingent is “exploding,” according to organizers. PEC-NYC has started an Indigogo campaign with the goal of $3,000 by Sept. 18th. The monies will cover supplies for the weekend and hopefully, fund the transportation for Pagans from far-away to get to NYC for the weekend.  “$10 is breakfast for ten people. $100 is a bus ticket for a marcher from the midwest, $250 is a train ticket for a west coast based Marcher.” said Courtney Weber, an organizer with PEC-NYC. “We are at a pivotal point in history, and history has shown that boots in the streets truly can change the world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show world leaders that the people want serious action to address climate change, now. Marching alongside other faiths is the perfect opportunity to increase our knowledge and understanding of one another, and cross belief-barriers to fight for a common cause.” The link to the campaign can be found, here. If you are interested in attending the march with a Pagan contingent, please see their blog

pic01Pagan organizations and individuals have endorsed a campaign to urge California Governor Jerry Brown to sign California Senate Bill (SB) 1057 into law. The measure, which overwhelmingly passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, would mandate the reform of history and social science materials used in California schools. Supporters of 1057 claim it will “prevent bullying and promote a positive self-image for children” of different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. This will be done by requiring “an expert advisory group to create new History-Social Science Content Standards in a fair, open, and transparent manner. The advisory groups will be composed of scholars and educators, and must make a good faith effort to seek the input of representatives from diverse communities.” Pagan organizations that have signed on to this effort include the American Vinland Association/Freya’s Folk, Our Lady of the Wells Church, and The Patrick McCollum Foundation. In addition, Sabina Magliocco, author of “Witching Culture,” has signed on as a supporting academic. SB 1057 has also garnered the support of several religious minorities in California, including Hindu, Jain, and Jewish organizations.

10513320_1519749801581160_4666587913269014328_nThe new resource/website Polytheist.com will be launching this week! In an update to the forthcoming site’s Facebook page, posted last night, the official launch’s imminent arrival was heralded. Quote: “Coming this week, the official launch of Polytheist.com! Please stay tuned for this exciting set of columns, from a talented team of writers, voices, and visionaries from our Polytheist communities!” Polytheist.com, once launched, will be a “an online hub of columnists, contributors and content creators who are dedicated to many gods across many traditions.” The site is spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax), who recently explained why this site is important. Quote: “For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” Stay tuned, as we will be talking more about this project very soon. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark that link!

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

Earlier last month I reported on an initiative to raise money for a memorial bench in Central Park honoring Margot Adler, author of the landmark book “Drawing Down the Moon,” who passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Quote: “Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily.” I’m happy to report that the month-long fundraiser has managed to raise over $11,000 dollars, enough to pay for the memorial bench, and to also endow a tree in the park. A large number of Pagans and Pagan organizations donated money towards this initiative, including The Sisterhood of Avalon, the Michigan Council of Covens and Solitaries, and The Witches’ Voice. This is a fitting tribute, one that will no doubt become a place of pilgrimage for all who honored her and her work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

Local papers in Geyserville, California are reporting that Lady Lorean Vigne, founder of Isis Oasis Sanctuary, passed away on July 15th at the age of 82.

Photo: Geyserville Press Democrat.

Photo: Geyserville Press Democrat.

“Lady Loreon Vigne was a successful business woman who brought an animal sanctuary, Egyptian Temple and retreat center to the agricultural town of Geyserville.  She brought new ideas and welcomed all to be a part of her journey by opening Isis Oasis one Sunday a month to visitors. A local Geyserville personality, Vigne opened her Isis Oasis home to the community for many years.”

Lady Lorean Vigne founded the Isis Oasis Sanctuary in 1978, and it was officially recognized as a church in the state of California in 1996. Dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, they followed the principles of the Fellowship of Isis, as stated at their website.

“We generally follow the principles of the Fellowship of Isis, out of which our temple was born. The FOI was established by Lady Olivia Robertson and her brother at Clonegal Castle, Enniscorthy, Ireland, which has thousands of members in over 80 countries. Those who are members of the FOI are connected only by their love for the Goddess as each practices in whatever way they wish. The idea is to create balance by incorporating the feminine in deity. We all need the nurturing, forgiveness, and compassion that the Great Mother provides, as we seek to integrate and strengthen both our lunar and solar qualities. Those who become Priestesses and Priests of Isis, within this Temple, pledge to honor all life and commit to help the earth and her people’s not only for her preservation but to bring to our lives and the lives of future generations more light and wisdom.”

286087_10150352604262317_4806791_oLady Lorean Vigne, in addition to overseeing the temple, was an artist and craftsperson, and was married to the Beat-era experimental filmmaker Dion Vigne. A larger than life personality, she was known for her famous pet ocelots, and patronage of the arts in Geyserville. The Temple of Isis at Isis Oasis Sanctuary released the following statement on her passing.

“It is with sad tidings that we announce today the passing of Lady Loreon Vigne into her journey beyond the veil on July 15th. As she enters the care of Anubis, on her journey to the land of Osiris, we have been holding her noon ceremonies and vigils here at Isis Oasis HQ. She has taught and touched many, and continues to do so with her spirit, within the Temple of Isis and beyond. As co-hostess of this Symposium, Loreon had a hand in creating each and every aspect of it, and we will continue her work throughout the event, being true to her spirit and zest for knowledge, and the sharing of that knowledge. In addition, we will have a special High Holy Ceremony honoring the life and work of our Great Lady, celebrating her life and artistry. This formal ceremony will be a precursor to a second honoring at our Annual Convocation, where new Priestesses and Priests are ordained into the Temple of Isis and Fellowship of Isis.”

A formal ceremony honoring Lady Lorean Vigne will be held at the Temple’s annual Inner Sanctum Symposium at the end of August.

“I am sad to hear the news of the passing of another Great Soul, but I know that Loreon knows the way home. Her life was such a blessing to so many others. I met Loreon at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago so many years ago now, yet it feels just like yesterday and though we never had the opportunity to meet again, her work and achievement remain an outstanding inspiration. Thank you Loreon, for blazing the trail that others might follow in your footsteps.” – Naomi Ozaniec

For more on the life of Lady Lorean Vigne, she wrote an autobiography entitled “The Goddess Bade Me Do It” that’s available for purchase through the temple. May she rest in the arms of her goddess. What is remembered, lives.

Here are some updates on stories previously mentioned or reported on at The Wild Hunt.

Hollicrop-589x1024At Patheos, Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, writes about her meeting with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, as part of an interfaith proclamation that was issued for the month of January. Quote: “I don’t support Haley politically. But that is not the point; politics is not what brought us together on this occasion. Once elected, Haley became my governor, and I am deeply grateful for her support of interfaith work. To our knowledge, South Carolina is the only state in the U.S. to acknowledge the importance of religious plurality and issue a formal proclamation. Haley may understand, better than any other governor in the nation, that nurturing diversity will strengthen us, not just spiritually, but also economically and in the public sector.” Last month, Wild Hunt staff writer Heather Greene wrote about Gov. Haley’s proclamation, and the role Emore (as a Pagan) has played in South Carolina’s interfaith community.

marianne-williamson-smilingBack in December I noted the Congressional candidacy of New Age superstar Marianne Williamson, author of the immensely popular self-help book “A Return to Love.” Now, the Religion News Service has a piece up about her “prayerful” bid for political office. Quote: “With about four months before primary elections, Williamson is seeking to tap into widespread discontent and disillusionment and apply her own brand of well-packaged, transformational wisdom to stoke ‘a people’s movement. It’s the people who have to intervene, because the political status quo is part of what has taken us to where we are,’ Williamson said in an interview this week, highlighting corporate money as a primary cause for the present state of affairs. ‘It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment.’ Williamson launched her campaign in October. She wants to end the status quo of capitulation to corporate money in politics and encourage an engaged, loving electorate.” With the recent retirement announcement of Democrat Henry Waxman, who currently holds the contested California seat, what was once a long-shot now seems somewhat more likely.

religion-50-year-change-Figure2We talk a lot about the “nones” here at The Wild Hunt, those folks who refuse to be pinned with a religious label, and who have experienced rapid growth in recent years. The ongoing question is: what will their ascent mean for our society and how we conceive religion’s role in it? Americans United points to some new data from Baylor University researchers, which shows the United States becoming more religiously diverse, including the rise of “nones” and “others.” Quote: “The proportion of Americans who identify with “Other” religious traditions has doubled, an increase that is closely tied to the increased immigration of Asian populations who brought non-western religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) with them. While still a small proportion of the overall population, they contribute greatly to the increased religious diversity of the American religious landscape. In 20 states, scattered in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian religion. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, and Buddhism is the largest religion in 13 western states. In Delaware and Arizona, Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion, while in South Carolina it is the Baha’i.”

blog-jesusinschool-500x280_1At the end of January, I profiled how a Buddhist student was harassed by the Christian majority at a public school district in Louisiana, prompting litigation from the ACLU. Since then, the story has exploded across the Internet. Now, prominent culture blog Boing Boing points to an ACLU-penned petition to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for a federal investigation. Quote: “No child should be subjected to the type of humiliation that our son has endured. The Department of Justice has the power to end this unlawful religious discrimination at schools in Sabine Parish and set an example for the rest of Louisiana— but we have to make sure they take the case. Please join us in calling on the Department of Justice to launch an immediate investigation into this unlawful religious discrimination so that no other child has to go through the harassment that our son has endured.” We will keep you updated as this story develops.

President Obama at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.This past Thursday was the National Prayer Breakfast, for those who missed it (that would include me). You can read President Obama’s full remarks, here. Quote: “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.  And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.  Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights.” As I’ve pointed out in the past, despite the bipartisan good-naturedness and calls for religious freedom, the National Prayer Breakfast has deeply problematic elements for anyone who isn’t a Christian. Activist groups have called on politicians, to seemingly no avail, to boycott this event. At least the existence of gays and non-believers was invoked this year. Maybe we’ll actually get to a point where it’s robustly interfaith too.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Will Marianne Williamson become the first New Age guru elected to Congress? Williamson, who rocketed to fame with the publication of “A Return to Love” in 1992, is challenging Democrat Henry Waxman in California’s 33rd Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives. Quote: “In these first days of her unlikely campaign, Ms. Williamson is making the case that an injection of her brand of spirituality is what American politics needs. ‘America has swerved from its ethical center,’ she said. ‘Most of us want to feel that we can have a progressive conversation and contextualize it morally. To me, drone use is a moral issue.'” Unseating the popular Waxman may be difficult, and Democratic operatives are skeptical that she’ll succeed. Still, Williamson’s candidacy does introduce an interesting dynamic of spiritual progressive “Left-Coast” superstars deciding to take an active interest in political matters.
  • The Hopi Tribe has filed suit against a Paris auction house, hoping to stop the sale of sacred Katsinam masks. French laws are far more permissive about such sales, and doesn’t have the regulations that the United States has regarding indigenous sacred items. Quote: “Advocates for the Hopis argue that selling the sacred Katsinam masks as commercial art is illegal because the masks are like tombs and represent their ancestors’ spirits. The tribe nurtures and feed the masks as if they are the living dead. The objects are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange.” This is not the first time such a sale has transpired, and the Hopis hope this new round of court battles will provide a different outcome.
  • The Guardian reports that the Vatican and Bodleian libraries have launched an online archive of ancient religious texts. Included in those texts will be several works of interest to my readers. Quote: “The works to be digitised include the small but staggering collection of Greek manuscripts in the Vatican, including ancient texts of works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hippocrates.” 
  • I maybe be downright chilly towards the antics of New Age gurus, but early New Age music? That’s another thing entirely. Quote: “Forget everything you think you hate about New Age music. I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1999 is a stunning compilation of beautiful, chill, complex, psychedelic, trancy, spacey, and surprisingly deep music that was self-published and self-distributed, mostly on cassette tapes in a 1970s and early-1980s heyday of experimentalism.” Like Disco, commercial plunder ruined the genre, but both are having their proper place in history restored.
  • Televangelist Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died on November 30th. During his life Crouch was dogged by accusations of fiscal impropriety and plagiarism, among other things. The Los Angeles Times has a thorough obituary for the curious.
Lance Reddick

Lance Reddick

  • Actor Lance Reddick, famous for his work with the show Fringe, is joining the cast of American Horror Story: Coven as the loa Papa Legba, who oversees communication, and acts as the intermediary between our world and the word of spirits and powers (as such he is uniquely honored within Haitian Vodou). There’s just one problem, he’s being decribed as, quote, “voodoo Satan” by the producers. Quote: “The character, described as Coven‘s version of ‘voodoo Satan,’ plays a pivotal role in the life of Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) and will be an important figure in the series’ remaining four episodes. Show co-creator Ryan Murphy teased Legba’s involvement in our recent EW AHS: Coven cover story: ‘You find out that’s how come Marie Laveau looks so good — because she sold her soul!'” So, that’s problematic, to put it nicely. I imagine practitioners of Vodou who are already unhappy with how their faith is being portrayed won’t be especially pleased by this new turn of events. I will be following up on this story soon.
  • Brooke McGowan of the Tea Party News Network is apparently concerned that Wiccans are making God, like, really, really, angry. Quote: “In this nation we have turned away from the God of the Bible and we’ve told him he’s simply not welcome here,” McGowan said. “We have welcomed pluralism, atheism, secular humanism, Wicca and even Islam.” What a charmer! I bet she’s fun at parties.
  • The Fayette County jail in Pennsylvania will now allow Wiccan services for inmates thanks to the efforts of Kathryn Jones. Quote: “Kathryn Jones of Uniontown told the board Wednesday she has ’15 years’ leadership as a Wiccan.’ [...] Jones said she had been permitted to conduct services in the prison chapel in the past, but recent requests have been denied. ‘I’ve asked for months for a visit in the chapel,’ Jones said. [...] Angela Zimmerlink and Vincent Zapotosky, county commissioners who serve on the prison board, said Jones’ requests are to be granted, provided her requested times do not interfere with previously scheduled uses of the room.” Sometimes, activism can be a simple as not going away.
  • Here’s the first official trailer for Pompeii, out in February. Quote: “The film stars Kit Harington as an enslaved Celtic gladiator named Milo who falls in love with a noblewoman (Emily Browning) on the eve of a massive volcanic eruption that destroys Pompeii, an event that also brings him face-to-face with the man who slaughtered his family years earlier.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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!

James L. Bianchi

James L. Bianchi

Earlier this year, I reported on an emergency Pagan conclave in California to discuss proposed regulations by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) relating to religious items allowed by incarcerated Pagans. This “Religious Property Matrix” would significantly change the way religious materials were handled, and Pagan prison chaplains wrote impassioned editorials both for and against the new guidelines. Now, James L. Bianchi of the House of Danu’s chaplaincy program, who called the initial conclave, has issued a press release on proposed revisions to the property matrix that address many (but not all) concerns voiced by Pagans. Quote: “Though the revisions in the proposed Matrix represent substantial progress, we need to remain vigilant to ensure that the spiritual needs of our people are accommodated as required by federal law, and that Pagans enjoy the same religious freedoms as other religious traditions as required by the 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.” You can see the proposed revisions, here. Public comments on these changes are open until July 16th at 5pm, and can be sent to Timothy M. Lockwood, Chief, Regulation and Policy Management Branch, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Chalice & Blade

Chalice & Blade

From our “better late than never” department: Pagan band Chalice & Blade, which features songwriter and podcaster Mojo of The Wigglian Way, had one of their most popular songs, “I Hear You Calling,” featured on the US television show “Being Human” earlier this year. The episode “One is Silver and The Other Pagan” aired in February of this year, and is available for rental at Amazon.com for those who’d like to see it. As one might expect, the episode features a Wiccan coven: “In order to begin reconstructing a new life for herself, Sally seeks out Bridget, her old best friend. Bridget is unusually calm about Sally’s sudden reappearance as a flesh and blood human, which prompts Sally to ask a few questions. Bridget, it seems, has taken up with a local Wiccan group.” Due to the renewed interest in their music, Mojo, along with singer Wendy, have re-formed the band as a duo and are now playing gigs again. Chalice & Blade’s last album was 2006’s “Wild Hunt,” available at CD Baby. Congratulations to Chalice & Blade!

Glenn Turner (Photo: OaklandNorth)

Glenn Turner

The 2013 TheurgiCon, is coming up this Weekend, July 13th, at the Bay Area Thelemic Temple in Oakland. TheurgiCon was founded in 2010 by Glenn Turner, who also founded PantheaCon, and features discussions on Neo-Platonism and theurgy. This year, featured speakers include Don Frew (who provides a look at the non-Greek Hermetic texts), Richard Reidy (speaking on Iamblichus and divine possession) and T. Thorn Coyle, who will be talking about theurgy in practice. Quote: “Theurgists such as Iamblichus instructed us to work from gross to fine in our operations. But what does this mean? How can we best approach this? There is a simple formulation: Thought. Energy. Emotion. Matter. The contemporary magic worker can use these levels to gauge what is missing from her magic, uncovering how best to approach the Gods and any theurgic operation. This session will include discussion and a diagnostic meditative working.” This one-day intensive costs $40, and includes meals. You can read previous Wild Hunt coverage of this event, here.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 10.19.50 AMOn June 21st, a new book entitled “Cults and Criminals: Unraveling the Myths” was published, co-authored by Dr. David Oringderff, co-founder of Sacred Well Congregation, and “occult crimes expert” Don Rimer, who passed away at the beginning of 2012. The book claims to take you “beyond the hype” of occult crime. Quote: “There is likely no term that strikes holy terror in the western mind more than “Satanic Cult!” Most cults are not “Satanic.” Most criminals who commit horrific crimes, leaving satanic symbols, often in the victim’s blood, at the crime scene are not “Satanists.” This book takes you beyond the hype, hyperbole, misinformation, disinformation and urban legends of pop culture and mass media that suggest that all cults, cultic and occultic activities are inextricably intertwined with criminal activity. That is a fatally-flawed assumption. The truth is that most criminals are criminal and most cults are cults, and sometimes their paths cross.” The book makes it sound like it debunks the majority of “occult crime,” which would be a welcome narrative within law enforcement. Don Rimer was quoted in 2011 saying that “occult crime happens all over the world and it’s growing,”  so perhaps Mr. Rimer had a change of heart in the last years of his life? Anything is possible, and I certainly respect the work of Dr. Oringderff highly, so I’ll approach the book with an open mind.

 In Other Pagan Community News:

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

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down rulings on United States v. Windsor, which challenged the constitutionality of DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which centered on California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that banned legal same-sex marriages. In short, both rulings are seen as victories for proponents of marriage equality, and for clergy who perform same-sex marriages. The first ruling this morning from the Supreme Court was on the matter of DOMA, and it was ruled unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote. Here’s SCOTUSblog’s “Plain English” take on the ruling.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March of this year.

“The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

The California Proposition 8 ruling was more complex, and hinges on issues of standing, but it is widely seen as clearing the way for legal same-sex marriages in the state.

“The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.”

As I’ve reported several times before at this site, this issue is both about the basic human rights of same sex couples, and the rights of clergy who officiate their unions. The banning of legal same-sex unions was seen by many as privileging the religious views of those opposed to legal recognition over those who supported it. Now, with this latest hurdle crossed, same sex unions performed in states where it is legal (soon to include California) will be federally recognized, and those couples will receive all the benefits currently granted to married couples by the government. Washington DC Pagan, and Human Rights Campaign employee David Salisbury, in reacting to the SCOTUS decisions, celebrated today as a “watershed moment.”

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“Although we were hoping for a broader decision, this is still an incredible day to be working for equality and a watershed moment for this movement. I am so proud of my colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign for all the work we’ve done to encourage nationwide support and excitement around this issue. We still have a lot of work to do in this area and many others in the future, but we here in Washington DC will celebrate this momentous day at the Supreme Court with cheers from the rest of the nation behind us. It is also a proud time to be an American Pagan, which is a movement of people who have largely always supported equality for all.”

Kathryn Robinson Kyair, a Gythja in the Asatru faith who was legally married to her partner in California before Prop. 8 won passage in 2008, was initially in a state of shock over the news, but eventually realized the ramifications: “We are equal.”

“How long have we fought, tooth and nail, for this?  Every step along the way has been a fight.  And suddenly, this one makes our marriage equal.  WOW. Prop H8:  thrown back to CA.  Judge Walker’s ruling stands.  Prop H8 is unconstitutional…his words…and now marriage in CA can resume!  Wow! It all slowly sinks in.  It’s all good.  Yes, there are still details to fight, but, it’s good! Holy S***!  My wife, Jeani, and I are married!  REALLY married.  It DOES feel different.  It finally feels REAL!”

For decades, many within the modern Pagan movement have performed marriage rites for same sex couples, and welcomed them into their religious groups and communities. Ivo Dominguez, Jr., an Elder of the Assembly of The Sacred Wheel, noted the irony of being able to officiate federally recognized wedding without be able to obtain one himself.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“In the decades that I’ve been a Wiccan priest, I have officiated many federally recognized weddings. My lover and I will have been together 35 years next February. I have always noted the irony of being able to perform such a service without ever being able to be the recipient of the same. Today’s Supreme Court decision finally makes this possible, and we will soon be married. However I will remain vigilant because every step forward also brings out those who wish to drag us backwards. My religion views all love as sacred, but some other religions have different perspectives on this matter. Neither my religious views nor their religious views should matter in the eyes of the law. However my beliefs as a Wiccan will encourage me to make choices to defend my rights and the rights of others. I am overjoyed, and I am also prepared for this to be the beginning of yet more decades of work towards a nation that sees the intrinsic value of all love and all beings.”

Michael Lloyd, co-founder of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering and author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan,” who has performed same-sex marriages as a Gay Pagan priest, noted the historic inequality between different religious views of same-sex relationships as this debate has evolved.

“As I look back on the debate that has surrounded the struggle for marriage equality in this country, I am struck by how much deference has been paid to the beliefs of religious institutions which have a long history of antipathy toward the gay community, while for the most part ignoring the beliefs – and the rights – of those institutions which have recognized the innate humanity of LGBT people who wish to form loving, supportive families. [...] Leaders of these religious organizations certainly bear a responsibility for their own dogma and how they manipulate it to maintain control over their own followers. However, they have no right to impose those beliefs upon society as a whole. In matters of faith, we are each the master of our own soul. And for that reason, I am joyful that the SCOTUS has seen fit to allow those who have lawfully taken this most public of private steps to be recognized by their government. May we all be so free within my lifetime. So mote it be.”

This is just a sample of the flood of positive reactions from Pagan leaders, clergy, and activists on these rulings. Covenant of the Goddess (COG), released a statement saying that “today we celebrate with all of our LGBT members, their friends, families and communities as they take a huge step forward in their struggle for acceptance and freedom under the law.” Author and Priestess Crystal Blanton said that today’s decision “brought us all one step closer to true spirituality,” while Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary exclaimed: “May our society continue to work toward having Equality, Liberty, and Justice for All!” David Shorey, GLBT Liaison for the House of Danu, looked to the future saying that he celebrates the rulings today but knows “that Love knows no borders. I know that one day Gay and Lesbian couples will be able to declare their commitment and love in all 50 states.” For many Pagan clergy, the sentiments of Lisa Morgenstern seem to hold true.

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

“As the former Public Information Officer for COG, back when the first CA court decision was rendered legalizing gay marriage,I am thrilled to see DOMA struck down, and Prop 8’s suit dismissed. COG clergy have been performing same gender marriages since the inception of the organization, in 1976, as their consciences permit.  As a member of The Troth who also performs Heathen weddings as well as Wiccan and Pagan ones, I believe that this step of legal recognition was long overdue. Right of survivorship is an important one, as well as the federal income tax benefit of filing jointly as a married couple. These benefits will apply to members of our military as well. The Troth does not discriminate against our gay members and never has. I have performed many same gender marriages and I look forward to resuming that joy in a legal capacity.”

Michele Morris, Distinctive Faith Group Leader for Fort Hood Open Circle, US Army Fort Hood, TX, noted how these decision will also affect same sex couples in a military setting, saying that for “most of the people that I work with it’s about the things that so many of us take for granted, like the right to be notified if your spouse is injured. To be able to be married in the faith and community of your choosing is something everyone should have access to and this decision will give pagan clergy the opportunity to grant that access to even more people.”

“Today’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, while not as decisive and far-reaching as they could have been, are an important step in the decades-old movement to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples. Paganism has been at the forefront of that movement – many of us have performed religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples long before other religions started following suit. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but as of today, the writing on the wall is sharper and bolder than ever.”Andras Corban Arthen, The EarthSpirit Community

In the long run, what this is about, and why so many Pagans support marriage equality is simple. As Mage and Chiromancer Jim Barker puts it, “by allowing marriage between two people of the same gender, I can actually call my domestic partner “husband.”  When people ask if we are married, I can simply say, YES.  I don’t need all kinds of funny explanations.  And neither do my loved ones.  They can just say we’re married.” Our community embraces multiplicity, it embraces difference and all manifestations of love. “Our diversity is our wealth,” says Chris Moore, and he’s not wrong. 

There’s so much more to say here, and we’ll be doing follow-up posts. For now, I want to leave you with the words of Pagan author and activist Lydia M. N. Crabtree.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree

“I am struck at how yesterday the idea that there is discrimination against minority voters was scoffed at by the Supreme Court and today that same Court embraced the idea that the United States is discriminating against same sex marriage. It is almost as if we as a society do not have an ability to hold in our minds the prejudice of two groups at the same time. In both cases, these fights have been sent back to the state level – upholding the view that state rights is paramount. As a Southerner this disturbs me. I am all too familiar with what happens when States have control of making and governing minority groups. Things here in Georgia are unlikely to change for my friends who wish to marry whom they love regardless of gender. Just as I suspect that more voting laws will be attempted making voting more difficult for minority groups and redrawing district lines to keep Georgia a red state for as long as possible, given the fact that these practices of voter suppression have been on going. I do not think the United States people should breathe a sigh of relief. This Court clearly shows the great imbalance between the will of the people and the people who hold power. A clear reflection of the disparity of power between the will of the people and the Senate and Congress. Now isn’t the time to celebrate, it is the time to recognize two important thing. 1. Any minority discrimination is too much discrimination, whether the issue is around same-sex marriage or voting rights. 2. If the states retain the right to restrict minority groups indirectly, we should understand the dangerous precedent and remember the historic cost of state rights throughout history.”

Today we have a victory, but our collective work for justice continues. Let’s all keep standing for love.

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!

Patrick McCollum and members of HAF with the resolution.

Patrick McCollum and members of HAF with the resolution.

On Monday in California a resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett was unanimously adopted by the State Senate. SCR-32 designates October as Hindu American Awareness and Appreciation Month, and was backed by the Hindu American Foundation. Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum, who was honored by HAF in 2009 due to his work on behalf of minority religions, was invited to be a part of this moment, one that he called “historic.” McCollum added that “Pagans and Hindus have supported one another for equal rights and recognition and we stand together for a better world.” This is the first such resolution to honor American Hindus, and one of very few resolutions to honor a non-Christian minority faith in the United States. As State Senator Corbett says in her official statement, quote, “I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans, California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature.” You can see a picture of Rev. Patrick McCollum with Senate Majority Leader Corbett, here. Congratulations to our Hindu cousins!

COVR Award

COVR Award

The International New Age Trade Show (INATS) was held this past weekend, and the annual COVR (Coalition of Visionary Retailers) awards were handed out. Pagan and metaphysical publisher Llewellyn Worldwide took home four COVR awards, including a First Runner Up award (Wicca/Paganism category) for Rev. Mark Townsend’s “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes” (reviewed here). The big Pagan winner of the weekend was author Christopher Penczak, who took home First Place awards for “Buddha, Christ, Merlin: Three Wise Men for Our Age” and “The Gates of Witchcraft,” a Runner Up prize for “Feast of the Morrighan,” and two awards for his spell coins. Penczak said he was “humbled and grateful” for the recognition he received. You can read more about this year’s COVR nominees and winners here, here, and here. For an insiders perspective of INATS, and the future of the occult/metaphysical market, I found this blog post very interesting.  Congratulations to all the winners!

Adocentyn Research Library

Adocentyn Research Library

The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US,” have reached a new milestone. According to Adocentyn board member and co-founder Donald H. Frew, their online catalogue has surpassed 4,500 volumes, with far more volumes on-site and in the process of being catalogued. Quote: “There are over 6000 volumes currently on-site (plus hundreds of periodicals) with another 5000+ coming (plus ephemera such as correspondence, notebooks, etc.). Cataloguing takes time, but we have 19 volunteers helping us move things along. We will be opening soon.” This is exciting progress for the library, and you can keep up with the latest announcements at their official Facebook page. As I’ve reported previously, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (currently under construction) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans.

Blue plaque ceremony.

Blue plaque ceremony.

Last week’s Summer Solstice saw the dedication of a commemorative blue plaque at the Brighton, UK home of Dorren Valiente, called by many the mother of modern religious Witchcraft (you can read my previous coverage of the plaque here). Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm, who attended the ceremony, said that this was a historic moment for more than one reason. Quote: “This is a first for Wicca and Paganism but this was also a historic moment for another reason – it is apparently the first blue plaque to appear on a council block.” The Centre for Pagan Studies has posted a video of the unveiling which I’ve embedded below. You can see additional coverage of the event at The Argus, which has also posted a video from the ceremony. John Belham-Payne, who inherited the bulk of Valiente’s Pagan-oriented estate, says he plans to open a museum in Brighton. Quote: “I’ve been contacted by museum owners in Salem but Brighton is the only place for the collection.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

[On May 13th I ran a guest editorial from Joseph Merlin Nichter on a proposed Religious Property Matrix (RPM) for California prisons. Knowing that Joseph's views only represented one perspective within the Pagan community, I reached out to the Rev. Patrick McCollum for his own thoughts on the issue. Patrick has been working as a Pagan chaplain and activist for well over twenty years. He was one of the founding members of the Lady Liberty League, and has been involved inumerous legal struggles involving modern Pagans. In 2008, he testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights, saying he “found discrimination against minority faiths everywhere”and that the problem was “endemic.”]

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

As a longtime activist for both Pagan and minority faith religious rights, a recent post by volunteer chaplain Joseph Nichter about the so called “Religious Property Matrix” created by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has raised serious concerns for me and prompts me to respond in detail to his thoughts and comments.

I’d like to begin first by laying a framework for the discussion by sharing a little history regarding the fight for equal religious accommodation for Pagans in the California prison system and also express why I feel I am qualified to speak to this issue.

First let me provide a little background on my own qualifications and experiences with both the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and religious accommodation in corrections in general nationwide.

In 1981, after several years working in the California prison system, I became the Statewide Wiccan Chaplain for the California Department of Corrections for all 33 California correctional facilities. This was a position that was designated by the Director of the California Department of Corrections, Cal Terhune. At that time, there were no other Pagan chaplains at any correctional institution in the United States, and so I was breaking new ground. In California alone, I facilitated multiple religious prison programs, created dozens of Pagan prison libraries, traveled from institution to institution, and interacted with as many as 1,800 Pagan inmates. I also interacted with Wardens and senior administrators at the highest level at the CDCR headquarters. Later, I was drafted by the Colorado Department of Corrections to establish a Pagan religion program for that state. Over the years, I gradually became the Pagan religious advisor or helped establish Pagan religion programs for over twenty different correctional systems nationwide, and also became a volunteer Pagan Chaplain and Pagan religious advisor for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Over the last 15 years, I have served in multiple capacities in national correctional activities, including holding prominent positions

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

in several of the foremost national correctional organizations. I currently serve as the Director of the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association, one of the foremost training agencies on religious accommodation in US Prisons. The NCCDA is comprised of the highest level directors and administrators who oversee all correctional religious activities for their respective states. We currently have over 22 state’s systems represented. I am also a member of the Executive Council for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, the oldest and largest chaplain’s organization in the world with roughly 2,000 chaplain members. In addition to being on the Executive Council, I am also the Chair of the Minority Faiths Issues Committee for the ACCA. On another front, I serve as the Chaplaincy Liaison for the American Academy of Religion, the world’s largest academic body for religious studies, with over 10,000 members. I have also advised correctional administrators or been involved in correctional programs in three other countries. In 2009 I was selected by the United States Commission on Civil Rights as both an advisor and a panelist, to prepare a report for Congress and the President of the United States on religious discrimination in US prisons. Lastly, I was selected last year to author a special edition for the American Jails Magazine on religious accommodation in US jails, and am currently contracted to write the chapter on accommodating minority faiths in prisons for the American Correctional Association which represents all correctional facilities in 50 states. With all of that said, here are my thoughts and comments on the Religious Property Matrix for the California Department of Corrections.

Mr. Nichter addresses the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (the CDCR’s) actions as though they are acting in good faith and making reasonable attempts to “standardize” religious practices to improve access to religious items for inmates. Nothing could be farther from the truth! In order to see what is really going on, one must step back and take a look at the history of the CDCR’s accommodation of minority faiths over the years, and the strategy that they have consistently used to thwart Pagan religious practices and minority faith practices in general.

In roughly 1979, over thirty years ago, Pagan inmates in the California Department of Corrections began asking to be treated equally and to have equal religious accommodation in California prisons as required by law. You see, while people who are incarcerated in the United States loose many of their constitutional rights when they go into prison, the law is very clear regarding their religious rights. All incarcerated persons no matter what their faiths, retain their religious rights in prison! That is … they retain the right to both practice their religion without coercion or discrimination from prison custody staff, prison administrators, prison chaplains, and the California government in general. Included in these constitutional protections, is the right for religious practices of all faiths to be treated and accommodated equally. Then on top of that, the federal court long ago added an additional twist to religious accommodation in prisons. The courts ruled that while in all other instances the government is constitutionally required to stay out of the business of religion, in prisons, they have a special duty to actually help facilitate religious practices for inmates, because inmates are institutionalized wards of the state and as such do not have free access to be able to facilitate their own practices or to obtain their own religious items or access to clergy. This gives the CDCR a special mandate to actually advocate for inmate’s religious needs.

Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

Instead of doing so when Pagans came forward and asked the CDCR for equal accommodations in California prisons, the CDCR took the official position that Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenism, and related beliefs, were evil and “against God and the Bible” and would not only not be accommodated in California prisons, but would be actively quashed. All Pagan books were officially labeled as pornographic or as security threats and our religious items were openly referred to as instruments of satanic practice or devil worship.

Around this time, a Wiccan inmate named William Rouser challenged the state’s position and took them to court in the Ninth Circuit federal court case Rouser vs White. Rouser asked the court to order the CDCR to comply with the Constitution and to make them provide him with at least basic services including a Wiccan Chaplain, scheduled Wiccan religious services, and access to his religious items. The CDCR fought Rouser tenaciously for years using the full power of the State to both intimidate and discourage him. They put him in solitary confinement and took many other actions to try to stop the practice of Paganism in California prisons. After around twelve years of litigation with the state denying Pagan religious services at every turn, the Martin Luther King Civil Rights Clinic at the University of California at Davis took Rouser’s case. When it became obvious that Rouser was going to win, the CDCR utilized a tactic that they have now become famous for … they offered to settle the case.

In the settlement, the CDCR agreed to allow Rouser several very basic religious artifacts, and to provide him with both access to a Wiccan Chaplain and at a minimum, access to participate in the eight Wiccan Sabbats. The court added to the settlement agreement that other inmates could also attend the Wiccan services, and that the services must be posted as a part of the regular chapel schedule.

I was recommended to serve as Rouser’s chaplain, and thus began my career in Pagan chaplaincy and as an advocate for Pagan prisoner’s rights.

Immediately and from the very beginning after the settlement, the CDCR proceeded to break every aspect of the settlement agreement. On one occasion where I reminded administrators from the California Department of Corrections that they were under a court order to provide these services, they responded, “You don’t see any federal judges here now, do you!” It was then that I first learned that the CDCR uses the tactic of settling minority religion cases in order to get them out of the direct overview of the courts, and then proceeds to violate the settlements knowing that it takes years for the inmate to get back into court. In Rouser’s case after he won the settlement, it took 15 years for him to actually get back into court to get the judge to make the CDCR comply, and they are already violating that second order! Rouser’s is not the only Pagan prisoner’s religion case with a similar story, there are many!

During the years that Rouser battled, many other inmates also litigated their rights with exactly the same results. During that time, in addition to helping CDCR administrators develop policies more in line with Federal mandates, I also went to work to fight for equal religious accommodation for all of our Pagan traditions, both in California and in many other states. I successfully won the rights for inmates to both practice and for them to possess many religious items. Each item in California was a battle with total opposition by the CDCR. In every case, there was no legal justification for the state’s position. There was no security threat or penalogical interests involved, just arbitrary denial with lots of conversations about how allowing Pagan religious items and practices in prisons was evil or immoral. Even so, we made progress, and over time we gained a number of rights already guaranteed by our Constitution.

Throughout this long process, the CDCR also utilized another tactic to minimize minority faith rights. This tact involved two fronts. First, they formed Religious Review Committees, both at the institutional and at the state level to review and approve or disapprove religious items. This was to give them legal cover in court so that they could say that they had not arbitrarily made the decision to deny religious items, but instead, that a qualified body of diverse religious experts had made the decision. The only problem was that the CDCR wouldn’t allow any representatives from the minority faiths to participate on the committees. In other words, they stacked the committees with members of the very faiths who had been fighting the advance of Pagan practice in prison to begin with. They had Rabbis and Protestant ministers, and Catholic Priests deciding what was appropriate and allowable for Pagans to have access to. The other and considerably more ominous tactic the CDCR used was to search for Pagans who would be willing to support the CDCR’s position, in exchange for money, recognition, or position. This has happened several times over the years, and when stepping back, was quite obvious to any informed onlooker. The CDCR has always had access to members of our community who are well known to be experts on Pagan practices to consult, but instead, the CDCR always searches out individuals who they can manipulate instead. They have also drafted so called experts on Paganism who are Christian ministers, to both testify against us and to determine what appropriate practices are for our community.

The CDCR has not stepped up in good conscience as Mr. Nichter has indicated; instead, they have actively and intentionally blocked all minority faith advances as much as possible for many years. They have neither conducted themselves with integrity or moral fortitude in the past, and they have done little to give us reason to believe that they can be trusted now!

In recent public documents and court testimony it has come to light that the CDCR has actively destroyed thousands of court ordered documents relating to discrimination toward Pagans, used coercion, committed perjury, and spent millions of taxpayer dollars fighting a religious war to quash Pagan faith practices.

In examining the Religious Property Matrix and its development, it is clear that no credible experts on Pagan practices were consulted, and the end result is the removal of many already established and approved religious items from Pagan inmates. Under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act, inmates are allowed any religious items that are not a safety and security risk to the institution. Since most of the items being taken away in the new Religious Matrix have been allowed for years without any safety or security issues, there is no credible argument that they have now all of the sudden become a problem. The Matrix also changed the term “Religious Artifacts” to “Religious Items”, a seemingly small and inconsequential distinction. But again, being educated as to the facts reveals that the devil is in the details. Religious Artifacts are protected items under law, requiring that staff handle them with respect and that a specific procedure must be followed to insure their safety. For example, they can only be inspected in the presence of the inmate, and a supervisor must be informed and sign off before they can be removed or destroyed. Religious Items on the other hand, can be summarily handled, removed or destroyed at any time by any staff member without consequence and with no recourse on the part of the inmate. This is a huge change in policy and definitely not designed to forward religious tolerance or accommodation.

druids

Druids and Druid chaplains in prison.

There is a long history of California correctional staff disrespecting Pagan religious items. For years they have regularly destroyed them without reason, made jokes about them, or called them devil worship. The designation of Religious Artifact was instigated to protect against such actions. Now it is being taken away. No small act!

We as a community must take great care in publically supporting CDCR policy that takes away our rights as it makes it appear as though there is a justification for their actions. Also, if we do choose to speak up on behalf of our community, we must first have in hand documents authorizing us to do so. When I fought for the items that already have been approved in the CDCR, I received official letters of authorization and support from many Pagan traditions, leaders, and individual solitary practitioners nationwide. As a result, I have been able to speak on their behalf.

I closing I’d like to say that I respect Mr. Nichter’s work to help serve our prison community and I fully support his efforts to continue in that direction. I was his mentor in that regard. His efforts at Pantheacon this February to establish the new National Pagan Chaplains Association is commendable, and as soon as we get some members and time under our belt I believe we can become a credible organization. I also believe that Mr. Nichter’s family ties to the CDCR administration may help open doorways in the future that may have been more difficult in the past. We need more people like Joseph to step forward and learn the ropes in the prisons and we need more people to educate themselves more widely both about inmate’s religious rights and also the history of religion in corrections so we can make good decisions as a community going forward.

While it’s true that the Religious Property Matrix provides inmates with a list of items that they are supposed to be allowed access to, they already had legal access to those items before the Matrix came out and so it hasn’t changed anything in that regard. But in publishing the Matrix, the CDCR has cleverly taken away access to many other items that were also already approved, and that is the change that the Matrix is truly designed to make!

[The following is a guest-post from Joseph Merlin Nichter. Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.]

The odds are quite favorable that the average Wild Hunt reader has experienced religious discrimination which has manifested in either social, legal, or vocational arenas. We must consider the impact this type of discrimination can have on our spirituality and self-esteem. I would argue that this form of discrimination which occurs on a daily basis within a correctional-rehabilitative environment, is in direct conflict with their goals and purpose. Nonetheless, that has in fact been the unfortunate state of affairs for quite some time.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

In October of 2012 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued an internal memorandum containing new directives pertaining to inmate personal religious property and religious grounds. Attached was a newly drafted list of proposed religious items that would be universally approved at every prison within the state of California. Referred to as the Religious Property Matrix (RPM), the list was developed on an effort to improve the current policy which the department itself recognized as “vague and inconsistent.”

Earlier this year the CDCR released its second draft of the property matrix which contained at least 24 alterations. Some of those changes involved simple terms, but important context; for example many of the items which were limited to a small list of allowable colors had been changed to “multicolored, excluding red or blue.” This has been viewed by many as an understandable change considering that Security Threat Groups (gangs) have proven to be an enduring epidemic and colors, such as red and blue, continue to be employed as a primary mode of recognition.

By March the department felt comfortable and confident with the new property matrix and released a notification of change to regulations. These changes will ratify and implement the new religious property matrix and will also include a change in verbiage. All religious objects previously referred to as “artifacts” is being changed to “items.” Perhaps more significant is the removal of the word “Bible” from list of examples included in the states definition of the term “Religious Artifact Item” located in the 3000 block of Title 15, Crime Prevention and Corrections.

The Pagan Alliance and the House of Danu called for an Emergency Pagan Conclave to address and discuss these new changes. The conclave convened on Sunday of this past Beltane weekend in Oakland, California with several Pagan community leaders in attendance; including M. Mach Nightmare, Pantheacon organizer Glenn Turner, Sam Webster, Diana Paxson, and T. Thorn Coyle of the Solar Cross. The conclave commenced with an hour long presentation by Barbara McGraw, which was followed by narrative commentary on the religious property matrix by event organizer James Bianchi. The remainder of the event was dedicated to an open discussion forum which included a panel of experienced Pagan religious volunteers, including two primary officers from the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association.

Referred to as an “Orwellian list” (that which is not permitted is absolutely forbidden), the primary concern being expressed is that the list will place an unfair restriction on religious accommodations and related practices. But based on my own direct personal experiences, I’m inclined to embrace a more optimistic view. There has never been a consistent statewide policy or single unified list of universally approved items.

The fact is that the CDCR policies regarding personal religious items have been vague (no list) and inconsistent (no collective standard). So whenever an inmate, (for the purpose of this article, a Pagan inmate) wants a religious item such as a pentacle pendant, it must be approved by a state employed chaplain. While it may not be hard to imagine how difficult it might be to obtain such an item in such an environment, the challenge doesn’t end there. Most of the time such an item is not approved, but in the rare instances that it get approved, there is no guarantee that said inmate will be able to maintain possession of the item. If the inmate is transferred to another prison or just moved from one yard to another within the same prison, a difference in policy or social climate often results in the confiscation of such items.

The purpose of the Religious Property Matrix is to establish statewide standardization, resolve the inconsistency and facilitate the rights of inmates to practice their religion within the parameters of the correctional environment. The list will ensure all individuals, regardless of religion, will be guaranteed personal possession of fundamental items. At least eighteen of the twenty-four items listed are applicable to Pagan practices and several of the items listed are explicitly Pagan in nature such as the Wand, Tarot/Divination/Runecards, and Rune tiles. I personally view these items in particular as a significant improvement as they have been among the most difficult for me to get approved in the past.

The other concern that’s been expressed is that items which have been approved in the past, yet are not on the new property matrix will be seized. Although there will be a one year wear out period for all items not included on the new matrix, what this does mean is, yes, there are inmates that will lose some of the items they have been fortunate enough to obtain in the past. But this also means that there will be many inmates that will finally acquire items that they were never able or allowed to possess previously. There will be a loss for some and a gain for many others, but there will be state wide continuity and religious equality. Everyone everywhere will finally be granted and guaranteed basic religious items, without equivocation or discrimination. I for one consider that to be progress, for our incarcerated Pagan brothers and sisters, and for pluralism movement as a whole.

In speaking with department staff regarding the matter, they felt it is important to note that several suggestions received during the public comment period are already in the process of review and are expected to be added to the property matrix. In addition, the property matrix is not a static document. There is a process in place to continuously receive and review suggestions for improvement and the inclusion of additional items into the matrix on a regular basis. It is also important to make a clear distinction here between personal religious items and congregant items, which remain subject to approval at a facility level.

Perhaps it’s due to my own military background that I am sympathetic to the logistical, political, financial and social challenges the CDCR faces in the pursuit of its goals. But it is also due to that same background, having been discriminated against as a Pagan myself, that I am sympathetic to the religious rights and needs of the inmates. And while the department is not without its incarnations of ignorance and apathy, I have seen an encouraging trend of equality and acceptance emerging from a previously inhospitable atmosphere. Finally I’d like to take this rare opportunity to challenge the Pagan community to lend their attention and concern to an equally critical need within our circles and groves by previously incarcerated Pagans; reentry acceptance, assistance and support.

[This editorial from Joseph Merlin Nichter is part of a response to the new CDCR rule changes regarding items allowed to Pagan prisoners. I will also be reaching out to Pagan opponents of the proposed changes for their viewpoint. I'd like to thank Mr. Nichter for submitting his thoughts. As always, opinions expressed in guest editorials are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent The Wild Hunt, its editors, or staff.]