Archives For California

ANTELOPE VALLEY, Calif.– Steve Hill, the first open Satanic Temple (TST) member to run for office, was defeated in the June 7 California State Senate primary for the 21st district. Mr. Hill faced off against fellow Democrat Scott Wilk.

Hill received 12% of the vote, amounting to just over 13,000 voters who supported his bid for State Senate.

Steve Hill [Courtesy Photo]

Steve Hill [Courtesy Photo]

Although Hill did not win the primary and was, according to him, shunned by Democratic Party officials, the Los Angeles Chapter of TST saw his campaign as a positive step:

Our very own Steve Hill ran as a Democrat for California State Senate in the 21st district/Antelope Valley. He is the first openly Satanic, black political candidate in U.S. history. According to the 2015 census, Antelope Valley is largely white and Hispanic with roughly 20% of the populace being African American, it also boasts the largest concentration of churches per capita in California. The mayor of the City of Lancaster, Rex Parris has decreed Lancaster to be a ‘Christian City,’ a statement from a public official, that is in direct violation of the first amendment.

On election day, Steve secured 12% of the vote. Over 13,000 people in this small community went to the polls to support his campaign. Not only was this a huge victory for Steve, but it clearly shows that a substantial cross section of this community has, until now, been without a voice. The city officials in Antelope Valley have now heard that voice loud and clear. Steve’s campaign and our recent actions in Lancaster are a pretext to a series of legal and political actions in the valley. They are a reflection of the greater vision of The Satanic Temple which is nothing short of a revolution. A SATANIC REVOLUTION!

Hill may be the first open TST member to run for office, but others may soon join him. TST spokesman Lucien Greaves said that although he doesn’t know of any members who are elected officials in the US, “…every day, we’re being told of new plans for credible people within our membership to make a run for various public offices.”

According to Hill’s bio, he is an atheist and is currently helping to organize an L.A. chapter for TST. In his career, he has served in the United States Marine Corps, then worked as a civilian in the aerospace industry. After that he worked for the California Department of Corrections and is now a business owner and comedian. The focus of his campaign was alleviating poverty and protecting civil liberties.

The Satanic Temple is often at the forefront of First Amendment, civil rights, and anti-child abuse issues, using a combination of savvy public relations, humor, and lawsuits. TST is known nationally for challenging organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church, which regularly holds anti-gay protests at military funerals, and for creating a large statue of Baphomet specifically to sit alongside the large Ten Commandments sculpture at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

More recently, TST is reportedly making waves in Pensacola, Florida, where member David Suhor is listed on the city council’s July invocation schedule. In 2014, Suhor made headlines when he delivered a Pagan invocation at an Escambia County Board of Commissioners meeting. As noted in the RNS article, the Pensacola city council is now rethinking its inclusive invocation policy in order to allegedly “stop [Suhor] from delivering his message.” In early 2016, TST members forced a similar action in Phoenix, Arizona.

Although the Satanists say they do not worship the devil, they do claim status as a religious group and do have a clearly defined mission. That mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people.” In addition, they “embrace practical common sense and justice.”

Despite Hill’s loss in California, the Satanic Temple has said that more temple members are planning future campaigns for public office.

Hill was unavailable for comment.

The land has its own magic. The whispers of the rolling hills of Northern California speak in a different tongue than that of the long flat lands of lower Alabama. The spirit of place can greatly contribute to the culture, presence and practice of magic in any one regional area.

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

There are different terms, traditions and beliefs that encompass concepts of regional magic or spirit of place. Different cultures relate to it in unique ways; yet there is continued historical significance to the practices of cultures and of people who have a reverence for the specific magic of local lands and regional areas. The spirit of place often refers to physical characteristics of a location, and can also reference attributes that have to do with myths, history, ancestors, spirits, art, stories, communities, superstitions or even collective memories. The energy and associations changes from one regional area to another.

Today, many modern magic practitioners work with regional magic as a part of their normal practice.

The pulse of the land tells many stories. People of many different Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen and earth worshiping traditions tap into the mysteries of place, looking for the soul of the space in which they work. The regional stories of particular areas can be a significant link between spirituality, home, worship, and belonging. These regional differences often contribute to rituals, observances, practices, and cultures all of which, as a result, are very personal to the specific area or a specific group of people.

I became increasingly fascinated with what I refer to as “regional magic” after my own trip down south to the birthplace of my mother. The magic I felt there was unlike anything I experienced at home in California; the magic of the land in Alabama was vastly different. when I touched and worked with the soil in my mother’s hometown, I was able to connect to such a sense of survival, history, culture and intense historical significance. The magic in the land moved me immensely, and I made a point to touch and collect a piece of it throughout the city while I was there. This brought up a lot of questions about my relationship to the land, the way that regional connections impact practice, and how the spirit of a place can connect to us in ways that we cannot always anticipate.

Photo by Crystal Blanton

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

How does the spirit of place influence magical practice? I reached out to a few others who have varied traditions and are from different places in order to see what they thought.

Many polytheists of revived religions honor spirits, gods, and other divine beings tied to particular places. I, and many other polytheists, worship Old Man Mississippi, the nymph of Cold Water Springs, and the good spirits of our particular neighborhood. – Cara Schulz

I’m blessed to live in Michigan, home of the Great Lakes. These are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, containing more than a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. The inland of Michigan contains about 11,000 lakes, 300 rivers and more than 12,000 miles if fresh water trout streams. Michigan is water, and water is a primary sacred medicine in my magical path.

Protecting water is an essential part of the magic I do. There are many threats to Michigan’s fresh water. This sacred resource is threatened by agricultural runoff, large scale factory farming, hydraulic fracturing (fracking)/injection wells and privatized water companies to name a few. I chant songs about the water, offer up prayers with a Pipe, offer my thirst and sweat in the Lodge and put my boots on the ground when it’s time to stand up and be heard. I do all this practical and esoteric magic in the name of water.

I am also blessed to live on the Chippewa River, where the sounds of water and the life it sustains are abundant. Next to the river, a large patch of sweetgrass grows each summer.  Sweetgrass is another sacred medicine to me and it is heavily dependent upon water. Harvesting it to give-away and sell at spiritual gatherings is a yearly ritual that ties me to the people, land and water. Michigan’s bountiful waters have guided my path much like the banks of the river guide the flow of sacred water to the sea. Water connects us all! – Jim Esralian

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

We celebrate the Pachamama in Argentina and we do offerings to her such as fruits, grains etc. I think this is one of the reasons why I love connecting with Mother Nature and a great part of my practice has that orientation. For me is important because it connects me with my roots and my ancestors by continuing connecting with the land. When I go back, I usually bring back soil and water to use in my magical work here in USA. The Spirit of the place is very powerful and very different from the spirit of the place I live here. My magic does not seem impacted but the support and the vibrations are different. There is more than one way to lead you to rome so the destination may be the same but the way you get there is different. – Carolina A. Amor

Outside of First Nation’s Spirituality there is not really any kind of regional based magick in my local area, although Canada is quite vast and depending on where one lives, experiences can be quite diverse. Seeing as Manitoba is located in the bible belt of Canada and Winnipeg is primarily land locked (Minneapolis is the closest major centre), magickal practices are slow moving in coming to the area, which is one of the major reasons why serious local magickal practitioners tend to travel.

In my local community you have two choices for regional based magic: First Nation’s Spirituality or the surrounding land itself becomes the source of magick and spiritual inspiration. Being acutely conscious of not wanting to contribute to colonization and mis-appropriation of First Nation’s Spirituality, the land becomes hugely important in my personal practice and in the practice of my working group. Last year, I spent the entire summer building an outdoor temple space with a cairn that acts as a permanent altar and shrine for the local land spirits. While I do have an indoor temple space, the outdoor space allows for a connection to the land and spirits while still being located in a heavily populated core area of Winnipeg. It truly becomes a world between worlds.

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Winnipeg is located where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River (called The Forks) and for centuries was a major trade centre and Aboriginal meeting place. The land has seen much; is rich with history and energetic presence, in the end, most of the magickal practices here are imports that are superimposed or assimilated into the landscape that creates a patchwork quilt of experiences for the individual practitioner.

The influences of the land  and the events that have occurred in the area have affected everything about my personal magickal practice. It has created a strong need for environmental and anti-racist activism. It has also allowed room for much healing work, which extends to myself personally, to others and to the land. The Winnipeg magickal community is still quite young and still trying to find itself. This unfortunately means that my explanation on regional magick doesn’t come in a nice neat bow. – Dominique Smith

For lack of a better explanation, I am a city priestess. I connect to the energies of land, human history, and geologic/meterological history in densely populated places and use it to weave connective tissue between city and citizens. To me magic happens in several different spheres. But to truly prosper you must do your best to become symbiotic to your environs. This can take a long time and is an imperfect process.

As the connection to a city deepens, it reveals more of its secrets and mysteries. San Francisco is bombastic – wants to show you everything all at once. Minneapolis has trust issues and offers a little bit more at every gesture of curiosity. It isn’t quite the same as land magic as we usually know it because to some degree you accept the environmental damage and try to make it into a greater good rather than trying to heal it into its original form. A little more repurpose and recycle, though reduce still has its place. It also involves seeing all politics as a system of illusions – even my own. To part the veil of the city is to see through its history, to understand its fights, and thus to see its heart. – Diana Rajchel

As an activist, my regional magic is focused on creating societal change. As a nexus point of change for this country, working magic like that allows me to tap right into the core of decision-making in this country. Most witches in DC take our role as stewards of positive change, activism, and healing very seriously because of that.

DC’s spirit of place is very complex and working with it is challenging. Historically, there is much misery connected with this place. All around me I see land that for so long was poisoned with slavery, systemic economic depression, and unfair labor conditions. But it also holds a spirit of hope, opportunity, and democracy. This requires magic-workers here to both hold space for the injustices that continue to occur here while also doing what we can to push the needle towards fairness. This land requires an acknowledgement of history if one is to work with it with any success. – David Salisbury

Photo of Alabama land by Crystal Blanton

Lands of Alabama [Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

People all over the world have different associations with the land, and the interpretations of the spirit of place is vast. The spiritual implications of a particular place, how it contributes to practice, and people’s association with regional spirituality is complex and often layered. Working within the elements and needs tied to a region can bring forth a myriad of specific magic and connection that only make sense within the context of its location. Working with the magic of the land to heal from the drought makes a lot of sense in California, where it does not make sense in Minnesota.

Whether in the politics of Washington D.C., the dry lands of California, or the waters of the Great Lakes, the land talks and has many stories to tell. Our connections to where we are planted will help to dictate our response to our communities and how we see our responsibility to local needs. It also helps us to shape who we are, and where we are in our spiritual practice and our personal sense of self.

How does your physical location impact or influence your magic or practice? Thinking about our relationship to regional magic and the spirit of place within our own regional communities can give us critical information about culture, spirits and what influences mold our personal practices.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif — On Dec 2, Jack Prewett, Co-First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, was at his job for the county of San Bernardino not far from the Inland Regional Center (IRC) complex. Around 11 am, two persons reportedly entered an IRC conference room and opened fire, killing 14 and wounding 12.

Jack’s wife, Stachia Ravensdottir, heard about the shooting on the news and tried to call him.  Jack immediately answered the phone. And, like hundreds of others who work at the IRC complex or at nearby government offices, he was able to tell his wife that he was fine. But, as they both were to find out later, one of their close friends wasn’t so lucky.

In an email interview, Jack told The Wild Hunt that had first heard about the shooting on the radio while sitting in his car eating lunch. He then saw a mass exodus of people leaving his building and security guards stopping guests from entering. He was able to go inside and was in lock down for two hours. After finally returning home and fielding calls from anxious friends and relatives, Jack decided to post on Facebook that he was OK.

It was at this point when he that noticed that Daniel Kaufman, a close-friend, fellow Wiccan and Renaissance Faire participant, was still missing.


The next bit of news that Jack received was that Daniel had been shot, but was expected to recover. However, by 1 am the next morning, Daniel’s friends and loved ones were informed that he actually may have been one of the 14 killed. Official confirmation came at 1 pm Dec 3. Larry Daniel E. Kaufman, age 42, was dead.

However, a few days later, Daniel’s friends and family would learn that he had died a hero.

[Photo Credit: E. Towne]

Larry Daniel E. Kaufman (1973 2015)  [Photo Credit: E. Towne]

Daniel has been described as a a very joyful person who was full of life and who loved making others laugh.

He was raised by his aunt and uncle in Rialto, California and graduated from Eisenhower High School. Jack and his wife Stachia first met Daniel 15 years ago through Southern California’s Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Daniel was a Master in the Guild of St. Cuthbert, to which Jack also belonged, and was their Banner Captain. His sense of humor came through when he founded the Peasant Militia, who were armed with spoons and carrots, and pledged to right the wrongs of the world.

Stachia described Daniel as “One of those people who exuded energy and happiness. You felt better by his mere presence; his smile and hugs were pure magick.” And, Jack remembered Daniel as, “One of those rare individuals that when your spirit was low, a hug from him was like a double shot of espresso.  He was life itself and we’ll both miss him.” Prewett was interviewed by USAToday shortly after learning the news:

On Dec 2, Daniel was working as a barista and trainer for the disabled at Coffee N More located in the IRC. He had worked there for about 5 years.

As reported by The Pride LA, “[Daniel] was in the hallway of the facility as the shooting began. Daniel, always more concerned about everyone around him than himself, began screaming “Get out! Go!  Get out now! Hurry!” He began pushing people out of harm’s way, urging them to the safety of the door before he was shot and killed.” He is credited with saving 4 people’s lives. Ryan Reyes, Daniel’s surviving partner, discovered Daniel’s heroic act through a message on Facebook and, then, posted the following:


Reyes was unavailable to talk to The Wild Hunt this week. But he will be detailing more of what he heard of Daniel’s heroic actions on the Dr. Phil show Wednesday, Dec. 9

Stachia said that the San Bernardino community is still shocked and numb, but united. She said, “We’re still trying to process everything. Jack received an email of support from a member of the Sandy Hook community saying, ‘When we are scarred by the same vicious claw, we recognize the pain in others.’  I wish we weren’t members of that brotherhood!”

A memorial vigial was held for Daniel on Dec. 5.  The local newspaper was there to record the ceremony.  People lit candles, shared stories and sang in the background. What is remembered, lives.


From vigil for Daniel Kaufman [Courtesy J. Prewett]

OAKLAND, Calif — Last evening, Pagan spiritual leaders T. Thorn Coyle and Marissa Evans, along with 12 other interfaith leaders, were arrested for trespassing at the Alameda County Court House. The spiritual leaders were part of an interfaith service and a rally, demanding District Attorney Nancy O’Malley drop all charges against a group that has come to be known at the Black Friday 14.

The faith leaders arrested are from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Deacon of First Congregation Church of Oakland, Bend the Arc: Jewish Partnership for Justice, United Church of Christ, and the Starr King School of Religion. Also included was T. Thorn Coyle, Pagan author, spiritual leader, and President of Solar Cross Temple, and Marissa Evans, co-founder of Light Hands Healing and a Pagan seminarian at Pacific School of Religion.

Police arrest T. Thorn Coyle (center) and other faith leaders.

Police arrest T. Thorn Coyle (center) and other faith leaders. [Photo Credit: Michelle Puckett]

In a statement to The Wild Hunt after she was released, Ms. Thorn Coyle said:

We are in a state of emergency in the U.S. Something must be done to counter the corrosive effects of white supremacy and racist systems that are killing Black, brown, and trans people on a daily basis. Bearing witness to this, as a reminder that we are all part of the sacred web of connection feels important to me. It is part of my religious and spiritual practice to invoke justice whenever I can, in as many ways as are possible.

The charges the Black Friday 14 are facing must be dropped. They chained themselves together and stopped the wheels of commerce for a few hours in order to tell us: Wake up! Remember what connects us! What connects us does not have to be greed and consumption. What connects us is breath, and life, and all that we call holy.

I was willing to get arrested to stand in solidarity with such a powerful wake up call. It is my job to invoke the sacred and to call on justice. And as I said in my statement [on Facebook]: I must fight for what I love. What I love are these people, struggling for life and freedom.

Being arrested is a small price to pay. And in the scheme of things, I’m a middle class white person who spent only a few hours in jail. That is nothing compared to the suffering of Black, brown, immigrant, indigenous, poor, or trans people who get shuttled through these inequitable systems built to protect the interests of a tiny portion of our society. All of this suffering feeds the .001%. If I can highlight that at all, by placing myself in the hands of that system for a few hours, I consider that community service.

I feel blessed and grateful to the Interfaith 14, the Black Friday 14, the people in the streets of Oakland, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York City, Ferguson, and everywhere that voices are raised for the call of love and justice.

The Black Friday 14 are a group of protesters, affiliated with the Black Lives Matter, who blocked access to the BART trains in West Oakland Black Friday 2014. The West Oakland stop is in the heart of the Bay Area and one of the busiest sections. Four of the system’s five trains pass through that station, and Black Friday is when the trains are running at full capacity. The protestors successfully shut down the station for several hours.

Similar shut downs took place at stations in other parts of California, such as in Los Angeles.

Black Lives Matter activists have alleged that white protesters in other transit shut downs are normally cited and released, while the fourteen black activists in West Oakland were arrested and initially threatened with $70,000 fines. The fines were later dropped, but the Black Friday 14 are still facing misdemeanor charges of interfering with train operation and trespassing. These charges carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

Marissa Evans, who identifies as a Witch, agreed that justice appeared to be applied unequally based on race. She said, “Last year [a few weeks after Black Friday] I joined a group of faith leaders protesting in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement: we engaged in a nonviolent direct action of obstructing a freeway. All charges against my mostly white group were dropped. The harsh penalty that the Black Friday 14 are facing for their action reveals systemic racism.”

Those charges are what the interfaith group were protesting last night by staging a sit in at the Alameda County Court House. The sit in, led by a group called the Interfaith Committee In Support of the Black Friday 14, is the latest in a string of actions that began last week when labor leaders also occupied O’Malley’s office, demanding the charges be dropped.

The interfaith service started at 1:30 pm outside the courthouse. Lou Florez, Awo Ifadunsi [Orisha Priest], was asked to attend the interfaith service to bless three of the Black Friday 14, pour libations, and evoke the ancestors in the ritual space. He also helped construct the altar that was used during the service.

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, a Dedicant of Umbanda, decided to attend because Thorn had said that a Pagan presence was requested at the rally. Odinsdottir said, “At this time, more than any other, we need to use as many of our tools as possible to fight the systems that are creating more dead black bodies in our streets.” She also said that as a nonwhite Person of Color she couldn’t stand by when oppression is being masqueraded as law.

Florez and Odinsdottir at the interfaith service outside the courthouse. Altar is in the background. [Photo from Florez]

Florez and Odinsdottir at the interfaith service outside the courthouse. Altar is in the background. [Courtesy Photo]

Lou Florez, invokes the ancestors, during the interfaith service. [photo credit Clark Sullivan]

Lou Florez, invokes the ancestors, during the interfaith service. [Photo Credit: Clark Sullivan]

When asked why he agreed to participate in the protest, Awo Ifadunsi said, “As a man of color, I don’t have the privilege of turning a blind eye to the lived experiences of racial inequity and injustices. As an Orisha priest and practitioner, who works with African deities, how can I say they are sacred and holy if I’m not willing to fight for their people? I was there because Black Lives Matter.”

While the interfaith service was happening outside, the 14 faith leaders were staging their rally inside the courthouse. Beginning around 1:20 pm, they joined hands in a circle, read statements, and sang. When the service was over, several of those outside entered the building to join in solidarity. Then, shortly before 4:30 pm as the courthouse was scheduled to close, police issued their first warning to the protesters. At 4:55 pm, they arrested all fourteen faith leaders including Thorn and Evans.

Thorn describes the experience:

We were handcuffed and led to a holding space in the courthouse and told to face the wall. The whole time we were singing: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes!” and “Which side are you on, friends?” We were asked a list of questions and had IDs taken. Searched. In custody, I was reminded of the story of Inanna, because, hands cuffed behind me, the arresting officer started stripping my things from me, one by one. Necklace. Earrings. Rings. Belt. Sign around my neck. Shoelaces. Black Lives Matter buttons… and then, still singing, we were taken in a caged elevator down, descending like Inanna. We then walked a long circuitous warren of cement hallways, following a red line, singing all the while.

We were then placed in holding cells. Then moved. Then moved again. Then we had to take shoes and socks off. Then put them back on. Spread our legs and stand against the wall. Get searched a second time. Back in a holding cell. Then another holding cell.

Finally, we were cited and released. As usual, they had trouble taking my fingerprints. This always amuses me.

As I was being searched the second time, I kept thinking of people for whom this is a regular occurrence. People who are not white. Not middle class. Without the stamp that clergy offers. Nine out the 14 of us were white, and several wore clerical collars. It was clear we were religious leaders. What if we hadn’t been? Our experience would have been vastly different.

All fourteen faith leaders peacefully submitted to the arrests, were cited for trespass, and released later that evening.

CORRECTION 11/26 4 p.m.: The original article stated that the interfaith rally and protest happened one after the other. However, the protest inside the building began as the rally was happening outside. We have corrected that timeline.

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The word “indigenous” is derived from “Late Latin indigenus ‘born in a country, native,’ from Latin indigena ‘sprung from the land.'” The United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the International Labor Organization and the World Bank all have official definitions of what constitutes an “indigenous” people or population. The UN definition includes several characteristics, the first of which is that indigenous populations are composed of the descendants of groups, which were in the territory at the time when other groups of different cultures or ethnic origin arrived there.” In 1986, a caveat was added that read “any individual who identified himself or herself as indigenous and was accepted by the group or the community as one of its members was to be regarded as an indigenous person.”

Map of Ohlone languages, exact boundaries questionable [Photo Credit: Bruce Hallman]

Map of Ohlone languages, boundaries questionable [Photo Credit: Bruce Hallman]

In an interview with Alt-X Berlin, Laguna Pueblo novelist Leslie Marmon Silko offers her own interpretation of the term: “When I say indigenous people I mean people that are connected to the land […] for at least some thousands of years. You can see similarities in some of the struggles of indigenous peoples in Africa, in the Americas, in Asia.”

In the same interview, Silko draws parallels with pre-Christian European traditions:

I am very interested in the pre-Christian traditions in Germany and the British Isles, very interested in what the people were like before the Christians came up here. Because, in a sense, there are many similarities. I am not trying to say it is the same but, perhaps, there are some similarities of what happened with the tribal people that were once here, the people that were so close to the earth and the trees. And then Christianity comes in the same way it came to us.

Silko implies that at some point after Christianization, many Europeans were severed from their connection to the land, from being “so close to the earth and the trees.” However, today, many indigenous people throughout the world are in fact Christian, and it is possible to be Christian and retain the sense of being “connected to the land.” Therefore, the UN definition of self-identification and acceptance by the group or community is important to keep in mind. What exactly constitutes indigeneity is not for non-indigenous groups to define.

The UN definition of “indigenous” does, however, emphasize that indigenous populations typically occupy a “non-dominant or colonial condition.” As noted in the first sentence:

Indigenous populations are composed of the existing descendants of the peoples who inhabited the present territory of a country wholly or partially at the time when persons of a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world, overcame them, by conquest, settlement or other means, reduced them to a non-dominant or colonial condition.

Christianity’s aggressive evangelization efforts in California certainly fit into this description, and have been a source of recent controversy due to the Roman Catholic Church’s canonization of the missionary Junipero Serra.

Canonization of Serra

Serra was a Spanish Franciscan friar who founded the first nine missions of the California mission system, which operated from 1769 to 1833. On Sept 23 2015, he was canonized by Pope Francis, despite the objections of indigenous tribal bands and other organizations that have criticized the Vatican’s decision to grant sainthood to a man seen as “ultimately responsible for the death of approximately 100,000 California Indians and the complete extermination of many Native tribes, cultures and languages.” Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, points out that “the brutality of Fr. Serra is documented in his own writings,” referring to Serra’s letters to Spanish colonial officials requesting and justifying the whipping of native converts, especially “runaways” from the Mission.

The Amah Mutsun, who are indigenous to the Monterey Bay Area, have been among the tribal bands vocally opposing Serra’s canonization. On their website, they have compiled a list of news articles, letters to the Pope, news reports of demonstrations, and academic research related to the topic. Other groups opposing Serra’s canonization include the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians (Acjachemen Nation), the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians (Pecháangayam Payómkawichum) and The Morning Star Institute.

In early October, several weeks after the canonization, a commemorative statue of Serra at the Presidio of Monterey was decapitated. A week before that occurred, the statue of Serra at the Carmel Mission was splashed with paint, and the words “Saint of Genocide” were painted on a headstone. The Los Angeles Times reports that the latter incident is “being investigated as a hate crime because the vandals targeted ‘specifically the headstones of people of European descent, and not Native American descent.'”

No one has claimed responsibility for either action.

Demonstration at Mission Dolores, San Francisco, May 2 2015 [Photo Credit: Alex Darocy]

Demonstration at Mission Dolores, San Francisco, May 2 2015 [Photo Credit: Alex Darocy]

Walk for the Ancestors

Another response to Serra’s canonization has been “a 650-mile pilgrimage to each of the 21 California Missions, to honor the Indigenous ancestors who suffered and perished in the Mission system and assert California Indian rejection of sainthood for Junipero Serra.” The Walk for the Ancestors is being led by Tataviam descendants Caroline Ward Holland and Kagen Holland. The walk began on September 7 at Mission Solano in Sonoma, California and is planned to end at Mission San Diego on November 7.

The walkers meet with local indigenous people and hold a moment of silence at each mission site:

At each Mission, the walkers will join with representatives of local tribes and all those who come to stand with them. Words, stories and prayers will be shared, and a moment of silence will be observed at the mass grave sites of the ancestors. The walk will then continue southward, and anyone present at the gathering will be welcomed to participate.

Caroline Ward Holland has described the context for the walk as one of cultural trauma:

To me, the disease brought here [by the Franciscans] was secondary, in comparison to the ways they tortured our people, mentally, and physically. The stories of the atrocities are passed down. Mothers were giving themselves abortions so their children wouldn’t face a life of abuse. And you know, even when they left the Mission [after secularization], they had nothing. They took their land, they took their culture, they took their spiritual practices…so the people didn’t know who they were.

That’s why we’re talking about cultural trauma. I didn’t realize it was going on, until I really thought about it. I mean, it’s still me, and it’s hundreds of years later, and I’m still feeling this. You can feel it all around you at the Missions, too.

As they visit different missions, the walkers hear many stories, some of which they have shared on their website. For example, in San Luis Obispo, the walkers learned that the history of indigenous resistance can be found in the very architecture of the missions across the entire state:

The missionaries, still under periodic attack from flaming arrows and remembering the tiled roofs of Spain, started to experiment with making roofing tiles to protect the structures against the arrows. Very quickly, all of the California missions adopted the tiles as part of their construction.

In conclusion, every time you see the Mission-style tile roofs that are so ubiquitous in California, don’t think of Spanish colonial glory. Think of flaming arrows!

Refinery Corridor Healing Walks

Earlier this year, four walks were held in the Northeast San Francisco Bay Area, each of which ended up at one of five oil refineries in the area. These Refinery Corridor Healing Walks were organized by Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC), a coalition between Idle No More SF Bay and local activists living along the corridor. Their website situates their walks within a longer history of healing walks:

There is a long history in Native America of these types of healing walks. The Refinery Corridor Healing Walks were inspired by the Tar Sands Healing Walks in Alberta, Canada, the Longest Walks, and the Peace & Dignity Journeys.

Prayers for the waters were conducted at the beginning and end of each walk, and throughout the walks:

We are walking as a commitment to Mother Earth and life on her beautiful belly. We walk as a commitment to clean air, soil and water. Members of Idle No More SF Bay conduct prayers at each refinery and toxic sites along the way. Prayers for the waters are conducted by Native American women at the beginning and end of each walk.


Annual walks and protests led by Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC) have also been held in Emeryville, an East Bay city which built a shopping mall over remnants of the Emeryville Shellmound in the early 2000s. The Sacred Land Film Project describes shellmounds as “gently rounded hills formed from accumulated layers of organic material deposited over generations by native coastal dwellers. Often the sites of burials and spiritual ceremonies, these shellmounds are still places for veneration.” IPOC writes that shellmounds are seen by the Muwekma Ohlone as “shellmounds as living cemeteries where their ancestors rest.”

The Emeryville Shellmound was “once the largest of the 425 mound sites around the Bay” and was included as a landmark on a U.S. Coast Survey map in the 1850s. Hundreds of people were buried within it. The Sacred Land Film Project reports on its history:

In 1876, the site was partially leveled for an amusement park; when the park closed in 1924, archaeologists excavated more than 700 indigenous graves. The site was then razed to build an industrial plant that occupied the site until the late 1990s, when the city demolished the buildings and started cleaning up the toxic soil left behind. During that process, hundreds of human remains were found, some of which were reburied while others were taken to landfills or incinerated as part of the cleanup.

Corrina Gould, a Chochenyo Ohlone who is one of the organizers of IPOC, told Indian Country Today that “nearly 12,000 of these remains are currently in the possession of the University of California, Berkeley, locked away and piled on shelves.” Gould is working on creating a “Native women-led land trust, where the ancestral remains stored at UC Berkeley and other museums can be re-interred.”

Emeryville Shellmound protest, November 28 2014 [Photo Credit: Wendy Kenin]

Emeryville Shellmound protest, November 28 2014 [Photo Credit: Wendy Kenin]

Unburied Bones

The University of California – Berkeley is required by law to repatriate native remains for burial, but has been slow to comply. According to a 2013 op-ed by Professor Tony Platt in the Los Angeles Times, “In 1990 Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Action, which required federally funded museums and universities to repatriate human remains to recognized tribes.” The Muwekma Ohlone are not recognized federally, but the rate of repatriation even to federally recognized tribes has been extremely slow: “UC Davis retains more than 90% of its collection (which caused one Native American activist to note that there are more dead Indians on the Davis campus than live ones). As of June 2013, Berkeley has repatriated only 315 of its 10,000 remains.”

Platt explains some of the reasons for this delay:

First, the process is slow and expensive, as claimants must make their ponderous way through faculty, campuses and university committees. Second, tribes unrecognized by the federal government have no legal right to make a direct claim. Third, and most significantly, because of unscientific work methods, most of the collection is unidentifiable as to provenance or tribal affiliation.

In the conclusion to his op-ed, Platt writes that in addition to “complying with the bureaucratic procedures spelled out in the repatriation law” UC Berkeley “should take responsibility for […] ‘a human ethical’ issue, namely, how so many well-educated, well-meaning professors and administrators eagerly violated the rights of the dead and tormented the living.” He suggests as possible courses of action “public apologies for decades of malpractice, accelerating the repatriation process and offering land or compensation for reburials.”

Indigenous Land Action Committee

Land has been at the root of recent conflict between UC Berkeley and the Indigenous Land Action Committee. A press release by the ILAC details a ceremony held at the Gill Tract, a UC-owned plot of land slated for development by the natural food chain Sprouts:

The multi-day ceremony began Sunday, October 11, led by the Indigenous Land Action Committee (ILAC), a group of indigenous people who organized the ceremonial observance to honor the land and the ancestors who lived on the land, to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and to protect the land from imminent development.

Around 5:00 am on October 14, UC police forcibly removed Ohlone Hank Herrera from the land. Herrera told the police officers, “This land is native land, it’s Ohlone Land. [Ohlone people] cannot trespass on our land… where we lived for 10,000 years.”


Indian People Organizing for Change writes, “This is the homeland of the Muwekma Ohlone Nation. As new residents and visitors to their country, we ought to show the same respect we would expect to our far distant homelands and cemeteries.” While these words are addressed to those living in the East San Francisco Bay, they apply equally to any non-indigenous person living on indigenous land anywhere across the world.

Author’s Note: This article is not intended to represent or speak for any indigenous people or group. The author is not indigenous. This article is intended to be a introductory overview. Any struggles not been mentioned here are welcome in the comments below. 


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MIDDLETOWN, Calif —  Lake County, California has been on fire since September 12, 2015. This fast moving and powerful fire has swept the county at remarkable and horrifying speed, burning over 67,000 acres in the first three days. According to the Cal Fire website, in those first three days, there were 585 houses lost, 9,000 structures threatened, and only 30% of the fire was contained. As of September 17, 2015, three deaths have been confirmed and the fire is only at 35% containment.

Courtesy of Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions

Courtesy of Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions

The devastation has become insurmountable. Many people are now struggling to come to terms with the loss of a whole community, and the new context of survival under these circumstances.

One particular location, nestled in Lake County, has a long history with the Pagan and alternative spirituality communities in the Bay Area. It is known as Harbin Hot Springs.Tragically, Harbin Hot Springs is one of the many places that have succumbed to the horrible fate of ashes and ruin. It began to circle around social media sites Sunday that Harbin was now gone, burned to an almost unrecognizable state. Almost.

Harbin Hot Springs was a retreat center nestled on 5,000 acres of land and surrounded by the beauty of California. The website states that it was, “One of the oldest and most beautiful hot springs in California, Harbin is hidden in the hills above the wine country north of the San Francisco Bay area.” Harbin offered a host of services, hot and cold spring water pools, and a clothing optional space that offered a chance to be in the natural setting of the Bay Area.

Photo courtesy of Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions

Photo courtesy of Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions

The operation of Harbin was large and the loss immediately impacted those employed or living on the grounds. Its website has a series of updates on the front page, one of which says “285 residents, practitioners and local staff worked at Harbin – from phone operators and yoga instructors, to cooks, carpenters, housekeepers, gardeners and water system operators.” It is unclear at this point what is to happen now.

By the end of the weekend there were numerous social media threads, posted by individuals within Pagan and alternative spiritual communities, that expressed feelings of loss and grief for this space. From personal stories of living on the grounds to memories of the long running Ancient Ways Festival, many Pagans are sharing feelings of sadness and cherished memories about Harbin Hot Springs.

In honor of the many memories that this center has manifested over the years, I asked several people to share their thoughts, stories and feelings about Harbin Hot Springs in light of this tragedy.

Harbin was home to many people in the pagan community, be they current residents, former residents, or folks who felt more at home there than any other four walls they’ve surrounded themselves with. Many lifelong friendships were forged at the Ancient Ways festival. For many, it was a place of life-defining experiences. It was a place that lived inside of us, part of the inner landscape of who we are. So we feel its desolation as a desolation of the heart.

Obviously those who were currently living on Harbin property, as well as the surrounding areas, have lost far more than those of us not. However, the grief that touches us most personally is the grief that is ours to bear. Grieving, from whatever angle it hits us, always opens the heart to greater compassion. I’d like to see us as a community make space for folks to grieve whatever feels like loss to them, and allow them to open to the wider grief in their own time Sharon Knight

My wife, Sarah, and I have gone to Harbin many many times, including our honeymoon in 2010. But the most important part Harbin played in our lives was a time just after we had decided to really give the coven thing a go. It was about mid-day, and we were laying out on the lawn in front of the Walnut/Azalea buildings reading and writing after a full morning of soaking and meditating in the warm pool. One of the things that we were trying to figure out was how to explain polarity in a way other than in terms of “masculine and feminine.” After a while, Sarah, who had been getting poked by spirits all morning (specifically Kali who is particularly present at Harbin), asked me for a pen and paper. I gave her my notebook and she started writing furiously. I continued to read my book while she was writing and when she was finished she handed me the notebook. What was written on it was a poem called “The Sword,”, which became the cornerstone of our coven’s teachings and the basis for our 3rd Degree ritual. What we are now was born there on that lawn. It is sad to see the pictures of Harbin right now, but I know that Harbin will come back to help more people birth big ideas. – Rev. Gina Pond


Ancient Ways at Harbor was the first place Joi Wolfwoman, Amelia Hogan and I sang the infamous “hot lesbian sex” song. I had made up the first couple verses of the song, filled to the tune of Food Glorious Food. Then outside the Meadow Bldg while passing a bottle of rum Joi helped finish the final verse and we then performed it publicly in the Meadow Bldg. It became an annual tradition. But the fun part is how that song was used in the final blessing ritual in the warm pool at 2 am on the last day of the last ancient ways at Harbin– Gwen Templeton

Harbin Hot Springs wasn’t much to look when I first stepped out of the car. I hate to camp and the piles of scrub grass didn’t much call to me. Personally, I’m more of a spa weekend kind of girl. Still… I had signed on for a weekend of serenity with a friend and my wife and was determined to get naked, get sun, do some yoga and find some peace- even if it killed me.

More than anything what I found at Harbin turned out to be community. In two days I met people from all over the world that were friendly, spiritual, wanted to discuss their own paths and didn’t much mind the ways mine differed. As a person with an imperfect shape my nudity never made me self-conscious. As a woman surrounded by men I never felt ogled. As a meat eater in a sea of vegan lunches no one judged me. The pools were warm and delicious but the people were what actually brought me the peace I craved. For two solid days I was somewhere that I could just…Be.

My heart goes out to the community and all that has been lost, but I, and others who have benefited from our time there will be there when it is safe to help rebuild. – Darcy Totten

The last time I was at Harbin Hot Springs, CAYA Coven’s group stayed in the ranch house that is on a separate piece of land from the main resort. The administrator at the desk was telling me how the previous guests of the ranch house were a group of Tibetan monks, and that while they were there, snow fell over the ranch house…in July. The monks worked a miracle together with their brilliant practice to cause that to happen. Miracles are possible when we all pull together with heart. May there be the most wonderful rebuilding parties that show the truly magical nature of humanity. – Yeshe Mathews


Photo courtesy of Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions

I had the pleasure of speaking with a longtime Pagan practitioner who relayed a magnificent story of a spiritual experience that she had at Harbin during one of the Ancient Ways Festivals about 25 years ago. She spoke of rituals inside of the hot tub and an intense moment she shared with Brigit, during which she was given the message that she was pregnant. She described this ritual as very “Harbin like” and explored the moment Brigit touch her stomach to claim the forthcoming birth of a child. And indeed she was pregnant.

I wanted to include this story because it was one of the many examples of the deeply spiritual memories and experiences that so many people are sharing about their time there. The longevity and use of Harbin Hot Springs by festivals, groups and individuals in the Pagan community hold a lot of significance for the Bay Area scene.

In addition, there have been responses referring to the natives who once inhabited the land. These comments stress that the land should be returned. And, there have been other comments about the lack of focus on the people who have lost their homes. Such comments argue that the media and our community continue to grieve the loss of Harbin, thereby focusing the damage of the Valley Fire on one place when many people are in pain. While all of these comments may hold merit, there is also a clear understanding that the loss of Harbin has greatly impacted the local Bay Area Pagans, New Age spiritual communities, and those within the surrounding areas.


Photo courtesy of Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions

In the recent blog post, titled Ode to Harbin, there is a quote that I feel is a fitting close to this piece. The author wrote, “The sacred site was used for centuries by native peoples then became a resort in 1870. The resort’s hotel burned to the ground. That hotel was replaced, and its replacement later burned down as well. Renewal is in its blood; fitting, as the one quintessential Harbin experience was to go back and forth from the scalding hot pool to the ice cold pool, sending your body into a very heightened kinesthetic state.” We do not know what the future of Harbin Hot Springs will hold as its recovery unfolds, but rebuilding might be the outcome. 

Concepts of renewal are the very things we can hope for in the process of recovery after the fire is done, and to give support to those who have been harmed so that they may have the opportunity for renewal and rebuilding. May those in Middletown and the surrounding areas of Lake County find peace in these horribly trying times.

All photos were used with permission courtesy of Posterity Productions and under strict copyright. You can see more incredible photos and video on their facebook page.

COTATI, CALIFORNIA –When the Morning Glory Zell Memorial Foundation was formed in December 2014, it had an ambitious goal: to purchase “property and financially [sustain] physical infrastructure and community services of the Church of All Worlds (CAW) and its affiliate schools and organizations,” according to the official charter letter. Advertisements at the time stated, “A major objective is creating a rural Pagan retirement village with a permanent home for Morning Glory and Oberon’s enormous library and museum collections of Goddess figures, magickal tools and artifacts, altar setups, liturgical and research materials, ritual regalia, seasonal decorations, etc.” It was to be located in northern California. A statement released by the foundation this past February set forth the minimum criteria for the land being sought, and established a price range of $400,000-800,000.

Those plans are now being shelved for the immediate future, as that enormous collection — as well as Oberon Zell himself — must be relocated quickly due a pending eviction from RavenHaven, where he and others have lived for some time. The vast collection of magical memorabilia is being packed up, and Zell plans on staying with friends in another part of the state while his search for suitable land — and a critical mass of funding and people — continues.

The Church of All Worlds is one of the oldest legally-recognized Pagan religious organizations, having been incorporated in 1968 and recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a church in 1970. CAW spawned the influential Pagan magazine Green Egg, and Zell is credited with popularizing the terms “Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” to describe the religious movement of which he is part.

CAW itself is compared by its members to a phoenix, insofar as it has undergone several “resurrections” since its original conception in the 1960s. At that time, the eponymous church in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land inspired Zell and others to “share water” and pursue self-actualization. Those early, heady days saw Oberon and Morning Glory Zell undertake some grand adventures, including an eight-year stint homesteading in rural Greenfield, California.

“But as romantic as that was at the time,” Zell said, “at my age I just can’t do that again.”

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart [Courtesy Photo]

To fulfill CAW’s larger dreams, the MGZ Memorial Foundation was created to find and fund appropriate land. Because it will become the new center for CAW, the criteria were designed with an eye on maintaining and supporting its existing community. In addition to space for a museum and library, the foundation’s board is seeking land that is sufficiently private for festivals that are clothing-optional, but no more than two hours from a major metropolitan area.

To allow for the broader goals of creating an intentional community that would allow elders to retire surrounded by a support network, the land must have reliable cellular reception and internet access. The size of the parcel needed would depend in part upon its natural features. Flat areas are needed to ensure access for all, tree cover to shelter campers, open spaces for ritual work. But Zell did say that, at minimum, 20 acres would be needed. The search area, initially focused on three counties in the North Bay area, has been expanded to include the entire San Francisco bay area, down to Santa Cruz.

Zell earns what he describes as a “sufficient” income from his book royalties and other sources, and stresses that this project is not about finding him a place to live. Indeed, he and another individual have each committed to spending $20,000 to further this dream.  While Zell can afford to pay mortgage or rent for himself, he said, “I want to live in a supportive community, with my friends, lovers and partners.”

The late Morning Glory Zell, pictured with some of her many goddess figurines.

CAW’s membership is no stranger to intentional community, as evidenced by the application to join the “eco-village,” once that broader goal manifests. While plans are to include options both for renting and owning homes in the community, applicants are expected to know members of the church, provide references from the Pagan community, and write a detailed essay explaining how they might contribute. Since February, when the call for applications came out, only three have been received. That makes it all the more important that whatever land is ultimately selected be connected to the outside world through phone and computer. The location recently scouted was not, and Zell, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, is unenthusiastic about that prospect, saying, “So even if we were able to make the purchase and renovate one of the buildings sufficiently for me to move into with the museum and library within the next two months, I’d be out there all alone, with no internet or cell phone, and a half-hour drive to the nearest town.”

But the deadline is why plans must change in the short term, as Zell explained.

The two most promising properties we have looked at over the past 5 months turned out to be unsuitable for various reasons. And then a month ago I received an eviction notice. I have to pack up and get everything out of RavenHaven by Sept. 23, and so I simply have no more time to continue searching for a new home for myself and the Collections. While that remains a Dream I would dearly love to fulfill in the remainder of my life, it is out of reach for the present. I have bought an RV for travels, and I am moving into a cottage on the property of some dear friends in Bonny Doon, near Santa Cruz. We are planning to rent a large storefront place in Santa Cruz which will house the Museum, Library, and a store in which to sell our products. This will also be a community meeting space, and out of it we hope to build a larger community that will be able to revisit the land purchase and Village project at a later time.

The short-term Santa Cruz plan will likely suffice to continue supporting ongoing church projects, such as the Grey School of Wizardry, and the bigger dream of returning to the land as an intentional community will continue percolating. In addition to the $40,000 committed by Zell and another, there are other promises of about $100,000 which will take the form of “potential investments, loans, long-term leases, or 2nd mortgages.” The project has an ongoing GoFundMe campaign (actually the second, as the first was closed early due to “administrative difficulties.” Donations are also being accepted directly at the foundation’s web site, which is a channel that avoids the additional fees associated with crowdfunding. Because the MGZ Memorial Foundation is a subsidiary of the Church of All Worlds, all donations are tax-deductible.

It is a challenging time in many parts of the world today. Many within society are having discussions and trying to understand the complexities of our problems and the needs of the most vulnerable people. These growing discussions have been happening within Pagan and magical communities as well, empowering opportunities to further explore the issues within our circles and groups that are often underrepresented.

We are seeing an increase in focus and community support for many topics related to issues of equity, marginalization and justice. Projects, rituals, healing work, and groups have been forming in an attempt to address some of these very needs, and support solutions for the increasing number of headlines involving issues faced by minority populations today. While some of these issues in society are not new, the increased attention gained in mainstream America has brought them to the forefront.

As society seeks change and healing, we are seeing some of that manifest in our local communities, and within the Pagan community as a whole. In looking at some the work that has come forward within the community, I found amazing motivation showing that people have to be present for the needs of others. While I am sure there are many projects working to address concerns of racial injustice, police brutality, LGTBQ rights, and issues of equity, there are several new ones that stuck out.

The United Pagans of Color is a new support group forming in Southern California for people who self identify as People of Color. It is gearing up for their inaugural in-person gathering scheduled for August 1 in Long Beach, CA. Co-Founder Yvonne Conway-Williams spoke about the purpose of this forthcoming group as a way to bring support and healing within POC Pagan communities. She said, “The gatherings will allow attendees to share their personal experiences with racism, particularly within our own Pagan communities, but not exclusively. The hope is that this will bring greater awareness to each person’s plight, but also perhaps allow one another to recognize they’re not alone. From there we will work on moving toward healing ourselves as individuals as well as a community. We’d like to then take that energy out into the greater community with the hopes of healing and helping to create harmony.”

When I asked Conway about her motivations in forming this group, she spoke about her experience at PantheaCon 2015.

Back in February I attended my 10th year at Pantheacon … Sunday evening was the Pagans of Color Caucus. That event was a huge shift for me. As I rolled on up I saw a line of people out front and assumed they were waiting. When I asked if the room was still getting cleared out for the next event I was informed the line of people were there to protect the event and was immediately invited to go inside. This was a PoC only event. My husband was allowed to help me into the event, but once I was set up he had to leave. The door closed behind him and for the first time in my life I was in a room with only Pagan PoCs. I was used to being one of very few in a sea of white faces and here was a large circle of us.

One by one people shared their experiences with racism within the community. I was shocked by some of the stories, but mostly I was saddened to hear all the hurt expressed by many. When it came my turn to speak I professed disappointment about certain events in December with a large Pagan organization … and that I would be interested in putting my energy toward a project that would be helpful to the PoC community.

The next morning was a last minute gathering to allow people to convey any issues they felt about a parody schedule … At the end of this gathering those who were PoC were asked to stand in a circle with our allies circled around us as we built up energy and prepared to release the frustration, anger, hurt, and grief with a continuous collective scream. The tremendous pain in the voices from my friends circled around was so overwhelming … All I could do was cry.

My eyes were pinned open from that weekend on. The shaded veil of acceptance I had been wearing as a means to get through life was removed and every memory of racism from my childhood through to adulthood was flooding my mind. I was forced to acknowledge the impact of racism on my life and I wanted to write it out, but I wasn’t able. Instead I shut down.

Once I was ready to talk I called my friend … I told her about my experience that weekend, how I had been feeling since, and learned she’d been going through a similar intense emotional transition. I mentioned I wanted to facilitate a support group for Pagan PoCs so the two of us began working together to flesh out what would become the United Pagans of Color…


Among some of the incredible efforts of people working toward addressing the harm in our society, Trans Lifeline is one of the most needed. It was shortly before the Pagan Alliance Festival in Berkeley that I heard of the organization and the work that they were doing. I was very pleased to see them with a booth at the Pagan festival, bringing their work to the attention of local Pagan organizations.Christina A. DiEdoardo, Chairwoman of the Board for Trans Lifeline, answered some questions about the 2014 launch of this new organization.

According to the best statistics we have available–from the 2011 report “Injustice at Every Turn” by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality— 41 percent of Trans people will attempt suicide at least once in their lives, compared with 1.6 percent of the overall American population.

Our co-founders Greta Martela and Nina Chaubal wanted to do something about this. The genius of Greta and Nina’s concept is that it accomplishes two goals at once.Trans Lifeline trains Trans and gender-noncongruent volunteer operators … who are then empowered to serve their community by listening and supporting Trans people during the darkest hours of their lives. Callers know that they are talking to an operator who is one of their kindred and don’t need to waste time explaining what being Trans or GNC means in a situation where every second can count.

In practical terms ideally, two things happen with each successful call. First and foremost, we want the caller to be out of crisis and in a better place emotionally at the end of the call than at the beginning. Second, we hope both the caller and the operator reflect on the fact that the only reason the call is taking place is because (a) Trans people banded together to create the lifeline and (b) a Trans or GNC person gave of their time to take the call. These are examples of members of a community taking their power back for the benefit of all of their members, rather than reflections of abject powerlessness. As Trans people begin to recognize how much power we do have when we act in coalition with each other, our community’s ability to address other issues like violence against Trans Women of Color (TWOCs) will only grow.

In Sacramento, local activists Jasper James and Darcy Totten have been facilitating two new projects that are quite inspiring and community-minded. The first is a project called #altarsforjustice and the second is the facilitation of a series of “Spirituality and Social Justice” Workshops.

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Darcy Totten and Jasper James

My partner Jasper and I are currently working with a dedicated group of Pagan activists to define and codify an approach to social justice activism, based in part off of Tim Titus’ Pentacle of Activism. We wanted a way to speak truth in multiple voices and disparate spaces in order to shed a light on the injustice, fear, grief, anger and the shadow work around race and racism that has been left undone for so long in this country and in many of our pagan communities.

We are holding six workshops, the end result of which we hope will be a loose framework of structured group ritual and practice that actively seeks to shift culturally embedded white supremacist ideology out of our spiritual spaces. This model creates a new way of organizing within our communities around issues of social justice using the elements as cornerstones to provide an overarching framework adaptable to any Pagan tradition.

Additionally, we have an ongoing public art project going on. Inspired by photos of [the] large Justice Altar at a recent Pagan Festival, #AltarsforJustice is a series of small shadow box altars that are, by and large, memorials to those killed by police violence and hate crimes. Initially, this project was conceived as a local one. We wanted to make space for those experiencing grief over the brutal deaths that we have been collectively experiencing in the news but had no real outlet to express our sorrow and our solidarity. Art is a powerful method of communication and I realized quickly that these altars could start to connect people around social justice issues.

For anyone looking to participate … The altars should be made and then left in a public space. They can be left in coffee shops, bus stops, on newsstands or street corners. I would characterize the work as being conceptual in nature.The idea and the execution of it are more powerful than the technique, we make them out of shoeboxes and basic arts and crafts supplies. [They] should include the name, photo, and a snippet of information of the person killed. We often include a candle and dried flowers along with a hashtag link, and information for those who might see it to find out more about the project. Once placed, we ask that you upload a photo to the Facebook page … and tweet it with the hashtag #altarsforjustice. In addition to the hashtag, we ask that you name the place you left the altar … and revisit occasionally.

It is a new project but our goal is for everyone to get involved … from different traditions, cities, towns, levels of activism and intersecting interests to make one and leave it somewhere in their own community. Our hope is to create a powerful form of group communication and community around the issues of police violence and racism in America while providing space for grief and healing in places that are accessible.


Altar for Rekia Boyd. #altarsforjustice

In June of this year four people of different magical paths came together to collaborate and facilitate a ritual for “Healing Racist Violence in our Communities.” Courtney Weber, Queen Mother Imakhu MuNeferet, Khi Armand, and Langston Kahn led this working in Brooklyn’s Catland Books. The store donated the space for the healing work, and community members joined together to bring the energy and focus. The Facebook event page described the working by immediately calling out the Charleston tragedy and the violence against Black people. It reads, “The act of terror in Charleston has injured our hearts, but it’s tragically far from an isolated act of ongoing racist violence against Black people. Please join us in the Spirit of healing this horrific epidemic in our world.” According to Weber, the rite started with adding dirt from Ferguson to the sacred bonfire “as a way to feed the Cleansing Fires.” Weber said:

We talked about the impact the violence has had on our collective psyches as of late, how we received the news of the shooting. The persons of color who attended shared their stories of experiencing racism from strangers, neighbors, classmates, even partners.

For me, there had been such pain in our community since Eric Garner’s death, but no Pagan outlet to process or release it. After Sandy and after the Boston bombing, we had success in creating space for healing. I wish it hadn’t taken the shooting to incite us to come together specifically to acknowledge the pain of racist violence on our Pagan and broader community. We hoped it would not only provide healing and stir conversation, but encourage action. It did feel as though we need more actions like this one–spaces of healing to raise energy and enact action in a Pagan context.

Kahn shared some of his experiences and reflections of the ritual:

The elements simplify things. With issues as complex as racism, the elements can be a great solace. During the ritual, Fire and Water and the stories that came up for me to share, showed me how I had silenced myself in various ways. The elements made it clear that silence was not an option. That there would never be perfect words to discuss the unspeakable.There would never be a perfect time to discuss what should never happen. I simply had to do my best to talk about my experiences and the changes I wanted to see in the world, and in myself in public ways. To find the best words I could in each moment. To not use power is also an abuse of it. I left the ritual feeling recharged. Still in pain, aware of a lot more work I had to do, but at least no longer numb. I needed the container of community ritual to truly be able to access the emotions arising in response to the madness. It was too big and overwhelming to feel alone.

The Black Witch Chronicles, a collective of three Black women practitioners, have made a strong appearance in 2015 with their Youtube video channel, blogging and magical photos. This collective of women includes Keesha Harris, Zoe Flowers and Dr. G. Love, who are all “practicing Reiki Master healer, Teachers, Diviners, and Spirit guided artists”. In speaking about this work, Dr. G. Love said, “Overall, I feel that Black Witch Chronicles is carrying a universal message of holistic integration and balance that can and does resonate across belief systems.”

Eye Candy from AfroPunk quoted the group in a May 2015 Photo Essay, saying, “In a society where the images and voices of Black womyn over the age of 40 are rarely seen or heard, we are here to reflect the wisdom, joy, and vision that our community embodies. We communicate from our collective wisdom as mothers, healers, artists, visionaries, and change makers connected to the ongoing story that sings to us from our ancestral roots.” The powerful pictures of these women in the AfroPunk piece show the incredible spark of magic, empowerment, and strong community togetherness that they present.

These women speak openly and candidly about their desire to promote healing within their communities and across spiritual paths. In asking them what they felt was their motivation to do this work, each one of them gave answers that spoke to the complexity of healing, empowerment and magic.

Courtesy of photographer Fabiola Jean-Louis

Black Witch Chronicles [Courtesy of photographer Fabiola Jean-Louis]

I believe what motivates me to do this work collectively is that I know that I can’t do this by myself. Magic is meant to be collective work. Through the human eye I may see one star shining brightly in the sky, it doesn’t mean that that star is all by itself in the cosmos. Technology has made it so that even the most solitary witch can access her people. This is, I believe, the work of Black Witch Chronicles — to make visible that  which has had to be hidden for survival. To fearlessly proclaim our Black Prizmatic voice within the community of magic and within our own communities. – Keesha Harris

I’m a poet playwright and am the program mgr for the Women of Color Network a national organization dedicated to securing economic security and leadership for advocates working in the domestic violence movement. What attracted me to the group initially was the opportunity to share time, space and conversation with Dr. G. and Keesha. And now I am interested in sharing our insights with our audience and to inspire other spiritual minded individuals to step out of the shadows and embrace their true selves and to love the magickal part of themselves. – Zoe Flowers

I feel guided as a Spirit, Artist, Healer, and Black Prizmatic being to participate in the re-membering of ourselves as Whole multidimensional cosmic entities. Black Witch Chronicles is a platform for us to reflect our complexity to the larger global community that is reclaiming our birthrights as interconnected, power points in the universal grid. We are illuminating the innate power of the Divine Feminine as it expresses itself across all gender and species on Planet Earth. We believe that our reflection is a catalyst for empowerment and cultural evolution towards harmony.Dr. G. Love

These three women continue to work as healers in their own individual practice, while also bringing work to wider audiences and sharing their power with others.

We are not only seeing this type of work with individuals and organizations, but we are also seeing some of the equity work within our communities at conventions like PantheaCon and Paganicon. The board members of Paganicon facilitated a Black Lives Matter and Cultural Appropriation panel in this year, and PantheaCon continues to support a host of programming on issues of race, equity, gender and justice related issues. The groundbreaking POC suite continues to create safe space and support at Pantheacon every year, and other supports are continuing to surface.

As greater society is faced with these grave injustices and heartbreaking realities, our modern Pagan community is learning how to come together and set intention for issues related to this specific kind of pain.  As our collective spaces are continuing to work out how to address the myriad needs, emotions and layers of grief, some people are reaching out to create change through magic and by empowering others. So often people talk about wanting to do something but not knowing what to do. The magic of these new projects, and the many others not mentioned, is that they show people ways to get involved.

Change continues to happen all around us, and how we respond to these unfolding events will support us in growing into a more present, empathetic, and supportive community that promotes healing and equity. As these injustices continue to happen, it is empowering to see some of the incredible momentum of those who are rising above the pain of a grieving society to enact change.

Thank you to the organizations and individuals who’s work is highlighted in this piece, and to all those doing the similar work. This must continue.

[As climate change and extreme weather are at the forefront of people’s minds, many are asking how and where religion fits into the conversation. Today, we welcome guest writer Heathen Chinese. He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes at Gods and Radicals and at]

California has been in a State of Emergency due to drought since January 2014. As the map below shows, the U.S. Drought Monitor calculates that as of June 9th, 98.71% of the state is in a condition of “severe drought,” 71.08% is in a condition of “extreme drought,” and 46.73% is in a condition of “exceptional drought.”

[Public Domain]

From U.S. Drought Monitor [Public Domain]

When it comes to definitions of drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) notes that “research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought.” The NDMC draws upon the work of researchers Wilhite and Glantz to categorize “the definitions in terms of four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic.”

Though supply-and-demand or “socioeconomic” aspects of drought can be analyzed through economic and political lenses, droughts that are triggered by a lack of precipitation have historically been interpreted through the framework of another powerful and widespread social force: religion. In History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen writes that in China during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “where it had been widely believed for centuries that there was a link between human behavior and the actions of Heaven, as expressed through nature, it was not at all uncommon to blame droughts and other natural calamities on official misconduct and to seek to alleviate the crisis by changing either the conduct or the official.”

Cohen provides several examples of drought being attributed to the upsetting of cosmic balance by governmental actions:

‘I have heard,’ one censor commented in response to the drought of 1876-1879, ‘that if one woman suffers an injustice, for three years there will be no rain.’ Another censor, citing the precedent of a three-year drought during the Han dynasty following the unjust execution of a filial wife, connected the 1870s drought to the disruption of heavenly harmony caused by excessive judicial torture.”

As these examples show, drought could be linked to widespread policies such as torture, but also to singular harmful acts against individuals like the execution of an innocent. They also show that two different individuals, even if they both share the basic belief that human actions can lead to drought as a divine repercussion, can reach different conclusions as to which particular action is responsible for the current drought.

Cohen rejects the idea that religious interpretations of drought are “supracultural or intrinsically human,” noting that in the modern era many people speak of drought purely in secular terms. He concedes, however, that “supernatural agency is […] a very widely encountered cultural construction.”

Cohen observes that there are two major categories of attempts to mitigate drought through religious behavior: the “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” and “prayer and other rain-inducing ceremonial practices.” These two approaches can, of course, be utilized either in conjunction or independently of one another. A prayer or ceremony for rain does not necessarily imply a belief in human causation of the state of drought, though it certainly could also be perceived as the right course of action to offset whatever offenses may have been committed. No specific narrative regarding the cause of drought, for example, was included in the description (36) for the “Bring on the Rain! Mojo for Parched CA” ritual that was held at Pantheacon 2014 in San Jose, California.

Cohen suggests that prayer or ritual is common as an initial response to lack of rain, but that if results are not forthcoming, the other category of response may become more prominent: “The first recourse for people faced with drought is, as we have seen, to offer up prayers and perform a range of rain-inducing rituals. But when such conventional means fail to produce relief, and the anxiety occasioned by the drought deepens, people often resort to more heroic measures. The generic element here is scapegoatism, the identification of a human agency deemed responsible for the crisis and the punishment of that agency.”

During the severe drought in Northern China in 1899-1900, participants in the Boxer Rebellion circulated notices explicitly blaming Christian missionaries and converts for angering the gods and thereby causing the drought. One notice, for example, contained the doggerel lines:

They proselytize their sect,/And believe in only one God,/The spirits and their own ancestors/Are not even given a nod/ […] No rain comes from Heaven./The earth is parched and dry./And all because the churches/Have bottled up the sky./The god[s] are very angry./The spirits seek revenge./En masse they come from Heaven/To teach the Way to men. – (translation by Joseph Esherick)

One Boxer placard directly addressed Chinese converts to Christianity, saying that they had abandoned the gods and their ancestors, angering the gods to the point that they withheld rain.

China was not the only traditional society to blame Christianization for drought. Nineteenth-century Botswana blamed a prolonged drought on Christianity, especially when a well-known rainmaker was baptized and summarily abandoned his previous practices. When the local missionary left after several years of disaster, the rain did indeed come back.

Cohen argues that the growing presence of foreigners in 1899-1900 was not a common experience to most Chinese living in the North China plain in the same way that drought was. A villager who had never seen a missionary could be convinced to join the Boxer movement in the hopes of propitiating the gods and bringing back the rain. The drought, of course, also caused widespread unemployment among peasants, giving them both the time and additional motivation—either hunger or fear of hunger—to join the Boxers. Cohen concludes that “it was this factor, more than any other, in my judgment, that accounted for the explosive growth both of the Boxer movement and of popular support for it in the spring and summer months of 1900.”

Scapegoating, of course, is a dangerous phenomenon, especially when one is a member of a minority religion. However, it can be secular as well as religious. California has already seen television commercials by a group that believes that “California’s drought could have been prevented” with anti-immigrant policies. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out that blaming the drought on immigrants is illogical. It isn’t caused by immigrants drinking too much water or showering too often, he says, but rather it is due to meager snowpack and poor planning.

Though most people are not so quick to attribute causation of the drought itself to any demographic, the drought has highlighted awareness and criticism of individuals and institutions perceived to be using more than their fair share of water. One group that has been criticized is almond farmers, who grow a popular perennial cash crop that requires watering every year and cannot be left fallow. Another group that has been criticized is Southern California residents, who astoundingly “used more water than ever this February,” according to Amy Westervelt of The Guardian.

Public outrage has also been directed at companies bottling water in California to sell elsewhere, such as Walmart and Nestlé. Nestlé’s CEO recently stated that Nestlé would “absolutely not” stop bottling its water in California and added that “if I could increase [the amount being bottled], I would.” An online trend known as “drought-shaming” has also targeted members of the upper class who still maintain their lawns and swimming pools.

Percentage-wise, agriculture accounts for “roughly 80% of all human water use” in California. Bottled water companies and urban residents have been quick to point out this fact, disclaiming the overall significance of their own water usage. Even among farmers, though, “water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily,” writes Matt Richtel  in the New York Times. “Buckling land” is a consequence the practice of groundwater pumping, which drains aquifers and can cause the ground to sink, an effect known as subsidence. In areas “where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

The heightened awareness around water usage and its consequences has led to an increase in water’s value as a commodity. However, this has not necessarily led to an increased respect for the sacred—certainly not at the level of public policy. The drought has also drawn attention to California’s system of water rights seniority, in which claims “staked more than a century ago” are the last to be subjected to mandatory cuts in water usage. However, this policy ignores the fact that indigenous people have the greatest seniority when it comes to a relationship to the land and watersheds, and instead privileges the heirs of the first colonizers.

One proposed “solution” to water scarcity is a raising of the Shasta Dam. However, this proposal is a reiterated existential threat to the Winnemem Wintu, an indigenous tribe inhabiting “ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed.” The Winnemem Wintu website states:

The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.

The proposed raising of the dam would have additional disastrous effects. The Winnemem Wintu explain, “A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.” The website poses the question as an issue of religious freedom: “If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple? That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.”

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

The initial construction of the Shasta Dam also “blocked the salmon runs,” and the Winnemem “advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds.” The Winnemem Wintu website promotes salmon restoration as “a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits,” and points out that the proposed dam raise would ultimately “yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.”

The Winnemem Wintu clearly know what they are fighting for. What stance will other minority religious traditions, especially those that see water as sacred or honor spirits related to water, take on the drought and issues surrounding water usage?

Paul Cohen states the obvious when he writes that “while the basic premise that natural disasters are to be accounted for by some supernatural agency acting in response to human wrongdoing appears with great frequency, the particularities of a society’s response to such disasters…will be shaped by the special cultural forms and historical experience of that society.” In other words, given religious diversity, such as one finds across the spectrums of Neo-paganism or polytheism, one can only expect a diverse array of religious interpretations of and responses to drought. The previously cited example of government officials attempting to ascertain the cause of drought during the Late Qing Dynasty shows that divergence of interpretation can reach even the individual level. Nonetheless, some general ideas about the relationship between religion and drought in the modern day can be considered and discussed.

The idea of “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” does not inherently require the targeting of a specific demographic for punishment. At its core, this idea relies upon the religious concept that there is such a thing as “cosmic harmony” in the first place. Second, a quick look at current events is likely to lead many to reach the conclusion that if such a thing as “cosmic harmony” exists, it has been disrupted, and that drought is a symptom of that disruption. Finally, though definitions of what constitutes “human misconduct” may vary widely, the essential principle behind the idea is that human actions matter; they have unseen consequences.

Based upon these three principles, a great number of religious interpretations and responses are possible. The “correction of human misconduct” could entail changing one’s own behavior, seeking to convince or coerce others to change theirs, direct action to stop specific acts of “misconduct,” or a combination of any of the above. The Boxer placard addressed to Chinese Christian converts advocated both change of personal behavior and joining the larger social movement: “It is a matter of great urgency that you quickly join the Boxers and sincerely mend your ways.”

One recent interpretation of the California drought can be found in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s short story “Robigalia 2015,” which marked the annual sacrifice to the ancient Roman deity Robigo or Robigus. Robigo was once propitiated to avert blights on grain. Lupus notes that grain blight is less of a concern in the modern day than it was in antiquity, but proceeds to explore the possibility that “the water shortages of California–an event as much due to human causes as to the waning portion in the cycles of nature–became the outlet via which Robigo was able to come to the fore again.” In a comment below the story, Lupus writes, “I don’t think by any means this is ‘the answer’ or anything of the sort; but, I think given the state of the world, if we thought more in these terms as polytheists, people might want to do something about these matters (insofar as they can) more than they do otherwise.”

In his essay “Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward,” Brennos writes about the ancient Irish concept of divinely-granted sovereignty:

The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship. In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

The quotes by Qing government officials are related to similar ideas in China about the link between political legitimacy and cosmic harmony. Even more explicitly, in Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Suzanne Cahill writes that drought and rebellions and heterodox religious movements were all seen equally as signs “of the imminent fall of the Han rulers.” Or in other words, these events were seen as symptoms of the ruling dynasty’s loss of the Mandate of Heaven.

What does any of this have to do with people who don’t live in California? As Brennos writes, “At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.” This interconnectedness is both natural and divine. It has a social aspect as well.

Everything is Connected

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis links the worldwide droughts of 1876-79, 1888-91 and 1896-1902 to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, the rise of the global capitalist economy, and the expansionist land-grabs of the New Imperialism.

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

According to the NDMC, El Niño is a phenomenon involving increased water temperatures off the western coast of South America, while the Southern Oscillation is a “seesaw of atmospheric pressure between the eastern equatorial Pacific and Indo–Australian areas.” The acronym ENSO is used to describe the two phenomena in conjunction. “Atmospheric interactions between widely separated regions,” such as those seen during ENSO events, are termed “teleconnections.” Though not all variations in weather patterns during ENSO years are attributable to ENSO, the NDMC reports that “researchers have found the strongest connections between ENSO and intense drought in Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, parts of east and south Africa, the western Pacific basin islands (including Hawaii), Central America, and various parts of the United States.”

Davis notes that all of these areas, plus China, were severely affected by worldwide droughts during the late Victorian era, though “the instrumental record before 1957 is generally too poor to support” attaching the El Niño label to specific years. He further observes that colonial policy and capitalist economics contributed to many of the resulting famines. During the 1877-78 drought and famine in British-ruled India, for example, “grain merchants […] preferred to export a record 6.4 million cwt. of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.” The British Viceroy, Lytton, further imposed an increase in taxation on salt and on “petty traders (professionals were exempt),” which he claimed would serve the purpose of “insuring this Empire against the worst calamities of a future famine.”

In fact, however, “the whole accumulated fund was used either to reduce cotton goods tariff or for the Afghan war.” Lytton’s increase in taxation demonstrated not merely a policy of laissez-faire, but of deliberate imperial expansion at the direct expense of the starving poor. Thus, Davis concludes, the deaths attributed to the “natural” causes of disease and El Niño-exacerbated drought cannot actually be separated from economics and politics. Davis’s analysis of the Indian famine of the 1877-78 can be applied to the present day as well.

2015 is an El Niño year. American scientists initially described this year’s El Niño as “weak” in March, but Australian scientists disputed this forecast in May. “‘This is a proper El Niño effect, it’s not a weak one,’ David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.” El Niño has been linked to increased rain in California in the past, but Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pointed out in March that “this El Niño is likely too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California, as California’s rainy season is winding down.” However, as always, El Niño is predicted “to increase prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa” around the world.

Mike Davis calls famines “wars over the right to existence.” He notes that the Late Victorian era saw explicitly religious revolts in conjunction with droughts in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil. And, as the export of wheat from India in the 1870s and Nestlé’s bottling of California’s spring water both demonstrate, famine and drought are inextricably linked with economics as well as with military campaigns and politics. Any religious interpretation of current events, therefore, must necessarily take a global perspective as well; ENSO’s “teleconnections” are not merely meteorological. From a religious point of view, unseen “teleconnections” can be said to underlie the very fabric of reality. As the drought in California continues to intensify, both Californians and non-Californians will be affected by more and more drastic changes. The need for more prayers and rituals—or a perhaps even a fundamental “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony”—will intensify as well.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – On the morning Feb. 10, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court heard arguments in the case of Dennis Walker v. Matthew Cates. Walker is an inmate at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. His claim, which was originally filed in 2011, is that prison administrators violated his religious rights by forcing him to have a “non-Aryan” cellmate.

As noted in the case text from a 2011 court document, Walker “is an Aryan Christian/Odinist, ethnically white without gang affiliation.” In 2008, he was assigned a “non-Aryan Muslim” cellmate. When he resisted, Walker was disciplined. After further complaints in 2009, the administration reclassified him to be celled with only his own race. But that action was later “rescinded” per the 2008 California Integrated House Program, which prohibits segregation.

As a result, Walker, together with prisoner Robert Glover, filed a complaint against the state. The court asked the men to file their complaints separately. They did, and in July 2011, Glover’s case was dismissed. However, according to one source, it is still hung up in the system somewhere. However, Walker continued on with new arguments being heard yesterday in a motion from the defendants to dismiss the case.

According to Walker’s assigned attorney Elliot Wong, he claims that he was “denied the setting under which he performs a quintessential religious exercise, namely a solitary religious ritual, in which he prays to his gods, and subsequently being punished for refusing to yield to his religious beliefs. The religious ritual in this case is referred to as a spiritual circle of Odinist Warding, which is a ritual in which he prays to his gods and communicates with his gods. According to his sincerely held religious beliefs, he draws and activates this circle within his cell and he believes that this circle may be open or breached, by what he believes is spiritual pollution that emanates from individuals of another race.”

Almost immediately, the judges move to the heart of the issue. Is Walker’s request to be celled with only white inmates based on a “sincerely held religious belief” or simply based on racism? As the judge notes, the original filings did not include any mention of this ritual or other specific religious requirements. Wong did admit that these details were left out, but could be included in a new amendment.

The original filing states in part:

the application of the IHP violates plaintiff’s right to the free exercise of his religion protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (FAC at 5-6).Plaintiff seeks damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

As the attending judges note, there was no mention of the ritual. In these original documents, Walker did not address, in concrete terms, the “substantial burden” placed on his free exercise of religion by the presence of “alien spiritual pollution,” as noted in yesterday’s hearing.

After some discussion, Judge Sidney Thomas said, “I gather from the answers to the questions that [Walker] is not willing to amend his complaint to say that he can perform the ritual outside his cell and perform be housed with a non-white inmate.” Wong answered, “I believe that would be correct.”

Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has worked closely with the California prison system for years, said, “In this case, the inmate can still practice his religion in a number of venues besides his cell even if he had an inmate of color in his cell, so his religious rights are not being violated, at least not under the spirit of the law. Also, there is a long history of non-white participation in Nordic religions which has a been around for over a thousand years, and there are Odinist groups in a number of prisons that already welcome people of color, so the racial argument is shaky to begin with. That is not to say that the inmate’s beliefs are not sincere, it’s just that they don’t meet the standard required by law.”

Judge Thomas said, “We are not going to segregate our prisons.” However, this was only a hearing; no final decision was made and no further dates given.

While the specifics of the Walker v. Cates case are focused on race, the situation goes to the heart of a very recent dialog on the boundaries of religious freedom within a defined social structure. It is struggle that is currently plaguing courts and lawmakers. At what point does society substantially burden religious freedom? And, at what point does religious freedom substantially burden society?

In Georgia, Rep. Sam Teasley just proposed to a new RFRA to protect the “rights of people of faith.” In opposition to this bill, a county commissioner  was quoted as saying, “If, for example, a Wiccan believes their religion does not allow them to render any payment to any entity but God, do they have to pay their taxes?” While the tax comment is outlandish, there are many related issues, such as the recent debate over the allowing inmates to have facial hair, when required by their religion.

In terms of Walker v. Cates case, Ryan Smith, co-Founder of Heathens United Against Racism, noted, “The real key point made in this case by the defendant is that the plaintiff has to show these desires are motivated by genuine religious belief and not some other motive.” The plaintiff does have the burden of proof. As noted by the judges in the hearing, Walker has not provided any such proof. In addition, as detailed in the 2011 case text, “[Walker] failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing the instant action recommdations [sic] noted.” In other words, if his concerns were purely based on the practice of religious rites, he had other options.”

McCollum explained, “In current practice in correctional facilities, only a small amount of time is allocated to religious practices for all faiths. This is based on past court rulings that religion must be accommodated by the least restrictive means, while at the same time balancing the manageable operation of the institution. If the Odinist is given a short period of worship time of equal duration to that of other faiths that would be meeting the standard set by law and not violating his rights.”

But Smith doesn’t believe that Walker’s claims are religious at all. He said,”[It is] definitely something but it isn’t religion from where I sit and its history is not religious in nature. I don’t think this case being dismissed would be a problem for the vast majority of Pagan inmates as what the plaintiff is asking for here is not justified by religion but by bigotry and based on what I understand of the issue is seeking an exemption that has never been applied in a religious context.”

McCollum added that he doesn’t believe that the Odinist can win this case. He said, “If the court were to rule in the inmate’s favor to segregate him from other races or faiths for religious reasons, they would also have to segregate the Jews, some Christian traditions, and a number of other faith groups under the same arguments, as many teach in their doctrines or practices, separation by faith or ethnicity also.”

As Judge Thomas said, “We can’t do that.”

Conversations are on-going; for this particular situation and others. Politicians and individuals are continually challenging the boundaries of our rights to practice religion or not. At the same time, the courts wrestle with the test used to determine a “sincerely held” religious belief and how it should be upheld, ignored or negotiated within the established laws and regulations of society.