Archives For Canada

SASKATCHEWAN – Liberal Party candidate and long -me member of Canada’s Heathen community, Robert Rudachyk was unsuccessful in his bid for election to represent Saskatoon-Riverdale as a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). Mr. Rudachyk came in third with 340 votes, while incumbent and New Democratic Party candidate Danielle Chartier narrowly won re-election with 2645 votes. Saskatchewan Party candidate Marv Friesen placed second with 2417 votes.

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Rudachyk called the results “a disappointment,” adding that he “must accept the choices of the electorate.” A seat in the MLA of Saskatchewan is similar to holding office as a Representative in the House at the state level in the U.S. Rudachyk’s election would have made him the first openly Heathen candidate elected in Canada and the highest elected Pagan in North America.

In his post-election comment, Rudachyk also lamented the poor voter turnout. He said, “I only wish that we had been able to inspire more of the registered voters to come to the polls. In my riding less than 50% of the electorate chose to exercise their democratic right, and that was the disappointment. Many had heard that the Wall government was goint to win strongly, so they gave up on hte fight and chose to stay home. I have no doubt that had they all come to the polls, the outcome would have been much different.”

Although the loss was disappointing for Rudachyk and his supporters, the good news for Canadian Pagans and Heathens is that religion appears to not have played any role in the outcome of the race. Rudachyk’s campaign style was to knock on every door in the riding and speak personally with voters. He championed campaign funding reforms to limit corps and special interest donations to under 3000 CAD. He also promoted green energy farms to economically revitalize Saskatchewan, as well as the allowance of homeowners to set up personal solar and wind systems, from which they could sell excess energy to the power company.

Although the popular new Prime Minister of Canada is in the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau coattails weren’t long enough to help LP candidates win seats in the legislature. Neither the Green Party or the Liberal Party won a single seat in the Saskatchewan election. It was enough, however, for the Liberal Party to take back its historic third place spot in the Saskatchewan election, with the Greens once again falling back to fourth.

Rudachyk said, “We made great strides. From a low point of zero votes in 2011, I managed to get 6.2% of the vote last night. This was the highest vote percentage of any of the Liberal Candidates in the City of Saskatoon.” The Liberal Party is considered a centrist party in Canada, while the Saskatchewan Party is the provincial level right wing party and the New Democratic Party is to the left.

After announcing the loss, Rudachyck thanked the party leader Darin Lamoreux as well as all the other candidates “who bravely put their names forward to represent their party’s ideology in an election.” He also offered thanks to his wife and family, saying “The long hours and hard work takes a toll on any family.”

In retrospect, Rudachyk added, “I am walking away from this with my head held high. As the first openly Heathen/pagan person to become a cansisate for a major political party in Canada, I only hope that some day I will finally become successful in this goal and bring our worldview into the political arena so that we can one day have our voices heard.”

EGANVILLE, Ont. – For the fourth year in a row, Witches’ Sabbat (WS), a three-day intensive weekend dedicated to the learning and practice of Witchcraft, will be held at Raven’s Knoll campground near Eganville, Ontario, during the last weekend in May. WS is a unique event in Canada, because it fills a void in the usual Pagan festival and conference circuit. It has a mandate to serve seekers and practitioners of non-Wiccan Witchcraft and associated practices such as hearthwitchery, traditional, folkloric and shamanic Witchcraft. Event organizer Juniper Jeni Birch, was moved to create this event for very personal reasons “When it comes to my service to the Pagan and Witchcraft community, I follow a personal goal: Be the person I needed when I was young.”

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Altar at Witches’ Sabbat [Photo Credit: Juniper Jeni Birch]

Raven’s Knoll, the campground that provides the location for the Sabbat, is also unique. It is situated near Eganville, Ontario, approximately 265 miles (425 KM) north of Syracuse, NY or 82 miles (142 KM) from Ottawa, the nearest large Canadian city. The Knoll is a Pagan-owned and operated facility, established to provide a home for Kaleidoscope Gathering, Canada’s largest Pagan festival. The land is dotted with sacred spaces and features, catering to many Pagan paths. Honouring the spirits of this land is incorporated into the programming for Witches’ Sabbat, with offerings being made to them at the very beginning and right at the end of each year’s event.

Event organizers are currently planning the WS 2016 program, and a call for workshop submissions is open until Mar. 31. The type of workshops that they are looking for are beyond the “Pagan 101” level. Birch explains:

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Juniper Jeni Birch [Courtesy Photo]

We strive to bring, at a public event, practices that are at the 201 and 301 level. This is achieved in part by performing rituals and working. As well as by discussion, story telling, and teaching each other. To give you an example; for the second year we worked together to clean a buck’s skull, brand new Witches who have never left the city before rolled up their sleeves and cut off skin and flesh, scooped out brains and tolerated the smell as we simmered it in a pot all day. That isn’t exactly the typical workshop found at events! We discussed the ethics of using animal parts. How, why and when you might use them. And spoke at length about the use of skull in the practice of Witchcraft and as spirit houses. The following year, the skull returned and together we blessed it, painted it and incorporated it into our stang and ritual. The main ritual, centered around this stang, was an ecstatic shapeshifting ritual. Held at night, in the woods, and lasted for a little over two hours.

The standard for the quality and content of WS is very specific, just like the mandate for the event itself. On its website, attendees are informed that participation is strongly recommended. If you are looking for a party, or a place to just hang out, attending a different event is suggested. It is made very clear that this weekend is for serious practice and the process for submitting a workshop is handled with deep consideration. In the spirit of creating the type of event she wishes could have been there for her when she was starting out, Birch said:

We carefully vet our teachers and ritual leaders, and choose a couple or few of the very best offerings for our event. Our main criteria is that they take the event with seriousness, and offer what our participants seek to learn, do, and discuss with fellow practitioners. We’ve had a few New Age-y celestial energy healing type submissions before, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s simply not what we offer at WS. We do our best to offer a mix of very hands on work (such a cleaning a deer skull or creating ritual masks), theory and academics (such as an in depth study of the Nine Herbs Charm), and the practical (such as round table discussions on the care and feeding of familiar spirits).

Unlike many Pagan festivals and events, Witches’ Sabbat is expressly not a family-friendly event. The website has a whole page dedicated to explaining this, and includes some suggestions and options for making attendance accessible to as many people as possible:

We would never turn a child away, however we do not suggest bringing children to the workshops and they are not permitted at the rituals. The event has very adult programming, including working with skulls and animal bones, the discussion of and usage of entheogens, there is a non-childproof outdoor temple and so forth. People who need to bring children can arrange supervision for them either by taking turns with other parents who are attending or by bringing a friend or family member to care for the kids.

The weekend does not shy away from frank discussions about the controversial aspects of Witchcraft. These conversations are followed by the hands-on practice of some of these techniques. This is supervised and managed by experienced practitioners, and a trained first aid provider is on-site. The event organizers make every effort to ensure safety. Attendees are required to sign a waiver at registration, and have the option to disclose any health conditions on a strictly confidential registration form. Birch recognizes that sharing the Craft lore and practices honestly and openly helps practitioners to learn safely. She said:

With the upsurge in interest among Witches, spirit workers and pagans in entheogens, hallucinogens, flying ointments, ecstatic ritual, and traditions that utilize them, many practitioners are seeking to include such practices into their own work. Utilizing our own experience and the resources available to us within the community, WS is carefully tailored to provide a safe and controlled introduction to such practices. Although sometimes, we do not allow participants to ingest the herbs, for safety and insurance reasons. We do our best to make sure that if they choose to utilize these practices at home, they have some base knowledge to build upon. It also provides an opportunity for folks experienced in such things to talk to each other and swap stories.

An intensive weekend.(photo by Juniper Jeni Birch)

An intensive weekend. [Photo Credit: Juniper Jeni Birch]

Witches’ Sabbat is growing along with the demand for events and learning opportunities beyond the “beginners’ level. Last year, organizers noticed an increase in the number of new folk, from farther away making the trek to Raven’s Knoll to participate. Given the accessibility of the location, and proximity to the Canada/USA border, Ottawa’s airport and several large Canadian cities, it is clear that this growth will continue. The vision for the future of WS is managed and directed by the people who participate, as Birch explains:

The vision does not belong to myself, or the WS staff. It belongs to the people who attend this event. Every year, at the end of the weekend, we hold a planning meeting. There the participants can vote on the theme and focus for the next year. As well as share ideas, opinions, constructive criticism and dreams for the future. As we continue to grow in size and scope, we make adjustments based on this vital feedback and what we learned as organizers. Last year we officially reached numbers large enough that having everyone attend the same workshop became unwieldy. So, taking some advice from our participants, we are breaking this year’s workshops into two streams. These streams still work towards the same goal: the main rituals of the event, and will converge there, in sacred space and magickal practice.

SASKATCHEWAN – Liberal Party candidate and long time member of Canada’s Heathen community, Robert Rudachyk officially kicks off his campaign today in his bid to represent Saskatoon-Riverdale as a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). This is a seat in the Province of Saskatchewan and is similar to holding office at the state level in the U.S.

In 2014, Mr. Rudachyk sought the nomination to become the Liberal Party of Canada‘s candidate for the federal riding of Saskatoon West, a federal level position. However, he wasn’t nominated by his party. For this current election, Rudachyk has not only received nomination by his party, but he also feels that he has an excellent shot at winning the election. This would make Rudachyk the first openly elected Heathen in Canada.

Although today is when the writ for the election officially drops, Rudachyk has been knocking on doors in his riding (an area similar to an electoral district) since January. He said that he’s knocked on about 60% of the estimated 5000 single family homes and a smaller portion of the 5000 to 8000 apartments and townhomes.

Rudachyk has 60 volunteers signed up to help him campaign. His two opponents haven’t been as active and he said that they’re in for a surprise today, “I have 168 sign locations already and my team is going out [this morning ] to put up the signs. When my opponents go out today to start their campaigns, my signs will be up all over. They’ll be locked out of entire neighborhoods.”

FB_IMG_1457390033963Rudachyk, who champions campaign funding reforms to limit corps and special interest donations to under $3000 CAD, said individual donations are critical to a successful campaign. “I need to pay for literature, signs, and food for volunteers. If you don’t feed them, they won’t come back and help again,” Rudachyk joked. Canadian law prevents non-Canadians from donating to his campaign.

After Rudachyk’s failed attempt to gain the Liberal Party’s nomination at the federal level in 2014, Darrin Lamoureux approached him to run at the Provincial level. Since Rudachyk had already made it through the challenging process of being green lit for office, which includes background checks and other campaign critera, it was smooth sailing to get the nomination to run for the MLA. “Darrin Lamoureux and I talked early on. He said he was impressed with me and wanted to work with me.”

Rudachyk has already made his mark on the Liberal Party at the provincial level. He proposed a plank for the party’s platform that was accepted and adopted. His idea involves green energy to revitalize Saskatchewan. He proposes mandating Saskatchewan Power to purchase green energy from local independent producers at a fair market rate. In heavily agricultural Saskatchewan, this would mean farmers could have a second crop, wind and solar. It would also allow homeowners to set up solar and wind systems for their home and sell excess energy to the power company. Additionally, homeowners would be credited back up to 25% of the costs of initial set up through income tax reductions spread out over 2 years.

What do people think of these ideas? “They love it! Especially the homeowners,” said Rudachyk. Doorknocking gives him the chance to interact with voters and to gauge their support for him and his policy positions. He said that he’s seeing support from 25% to 60% of the people with whom he’s talked. It doesn’t hurt that the Liberal Party, headed nationally by popular Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is experiencing an upswing.

The Liberal Party is considered a centrist party in Canada, while the Saskatchewan Party is the provincial level right wing party and the New Democratic Party is to the left. Rudachyk said the Liberal Party “looks at both sides to find the best solutions to service the majority of people.”

The LP is also very religiously diverse in candidates and supporters. The LP has many Muslim, Christian, athiest, and Hindu candidates. Rudachyk said that so far he hasn’t encountered any resistance, either from his party or out on the campaign trail, about his religion. “I’m on public record about my religion, but I dont shove it down peoples’ throats.”

He believes Canadian acceptance of diversity comes from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, put into place by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s father, back in the 1980’s. “This clearly spells out the individual rights and liberties we have. It’s focused on individual liberties and I think that helps make us want to build a better place to live.” said Rudachyk.

Wanting to build a better place to live is why Rudachyk is running for office and, although he’s not shoving his religion down peoples’ throats, Heathenry does shape his approach to life and politics, “My view is that we are our deeds, and the name we have is only borrowed from our ancestors. It is not returned to them, but rather is passed on to our children. I wish to gain honour for my family name by doing everything I can to make this world a better place in any way I can.”

The election is slated to take place Apr. 4. The Wild Hunt will follow Rudachyk’s campaign and update as events unfold.

TORONTO, Ont. – For the past twenty years, the Pagan community in Toronto has gathered together on the third Monday of each calendar month to relax, socialize and network at the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot (TPPM). To celebrate the landmark 20th anniversary as the longest running pub moot in Canada, organizers Karen and Evan Dales pulled out all the stops to host a memorable event for the Feb. 15. moot.

Toronto Pagan Pub Moot organizers Evan and Karen Dales (courtesy photo)

Toronto Pagan Pub Moot organizers Evan and Karen Dales [Courtesy Photo]

Toronto is a large city, with a population of more than six million people in the metro area. It is the fourth largest city in North America, and stretches across the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, directly north of New York State. The Toronto Pagan Pub Moot serves the local Pagan community and also draws attendees from the nearby city of Hamilton, which is 59 kilometers ( 37 mi.) away, as well as others from small communities in the region.

The TPPM venue has changed over the years, but its most recent home has been the Midtown Gastro Hub, located at 1535 Yonge Street in the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood. One of the attractions of this venue is its private event room on the second floor.  The room is an all-ages venue, providing Pagan parents with the opportunity to bring their children along to the moot. This creates a community event for Pagan folk of all ages.

Usually the TPPM is a purely social event. But in honour of this special anniversary, Monday’s moot featured some special extras. Musician Andrea Hatala and award winning composer and healing musician Michael Moon entertained the crowd. There was a free raffle featuring jewelry by Salome Cordeiro and other fun prizes donated by community members. And, card games, organized by Karen and Even Dales’ 12-year-old son “The Bug,” proved to be another source of fun. Prizes were awarded to winners.

Performer Andrea Hatala with Evan Dales on percussion (photo by Karen Dales)

Performer Andrea Hatala with Evan Dales on percussion [Photo Credit: Karen Dales]

Despite the temperature hovering near the freezing point and snow falling outside, the TPPM bash filled the private room to capacity with standing room only. Latecomers were accommodated in the downstairs bar as they waited for space upstairs in the moot-proper to free up. Volunteers, who were comprised of moot regulars, were on hand to make sure guests were greeted and newcomers were made to feel at home. One such new face at the moot was Charles Gregory, a visitor from Hamilton, who observed:

I don’t think I have ever been to a Pagan gathering where the atmosphere was anything other than warm and welcoming. The people in Toronto go a bit farther, and actually have volunteers acting as “Welcomers” (that’s what it says on their name tags) so if a solitary Pagan arrives, they are greeted warmly, like an old friend, and introduced to people. Even though I really didn’t need this, I very much appreciated the effort to help newcomers alleviate that mild discomfort of meeting a large new group of people.

Gregory attends the popular HammerTown Pagan Pub Moot, in Hamilton, and appreciated the similarities between the two moots. He said:

In terms of “feel” the two moots were very much the same. Good people. Good conversations. A nice relaxed atmosphere. I was slightly surprised that the number of people in attendance was actually about the same in Toronto as I have seen at past Hamilton moots.

With the kind of people I see at both moots, I often wonder why these events don’t grow into massively popular community events. I can only guess that there are still many pagans who are concerned about being too open about their beliefs. But really, if you didn’t know who those friendly chattering people were on the upstairs level of the Midtown, you would never know they were pagans. As much as anything it’s good to come to these moots and just be “regular folk.

The Wild Hunt caught up with event organizer Karen Dales on the morning after the moot. Although she was recovering from losing her voice to the anniversary fun, she granted an interview.

The Wild Hunt: How long have you personally been involved in the moot?

Karen Dales: Evan and I are the founders of the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot, so 20 years. Before that time, there were no purely social events for Pagans in the Greater Toronto Area. We imported the idea from the UK where they multitudes of moots all over the countries.

TWH: How has the Toronto community benefited from this event?

KD: I hope that the moot has given Pagans and Pagan-friendly folks a place to connect with others of like mind and spirit in a safe environment. It’s also been a great stepping-stone for folks looking for groups to work and learn with, even networking to find out about what’s going on in the greater Pagan community. I’ve also seen many relationships blossom from folks meeting at the moot.

TWH: Do you have any favourite stories from past moots?

KD: Oh my goodness! There are so many stories over the years, but I think the best story is when my son was born. During my pregnancy, each month at the moot people would jokingly say that I would end up going into labour during a moot. I was horrified at that thought, but as my due date drew nearer I realized that it could happen so I had a couple of friends on-call to host the moot, just in case. One week after my due date, Evan and I were considering going to host the moot that night, but something said for us not to go. Good thing, too. That night I DID go into labour. If we would have hosted that moot, the prophesy of so many Pagans would have come true. The next moot, an anniversary moot, was my son’s first moot and he’s been coming to them ever since.

Michael Moon live at TPPM (photo by Karen Dales)

Michael Moon live at TPPM [Photo Credit: Karen Dales]

TWH: What has changed about the Toronto Pagan community since the moot began?

KD: It has definitely grown, and other moots and coffee socials have popped up and then disappeared, also helping with the expansion of connection. When Evan and I started the moot, the only other Pagan related event folks could attend in Toronto was the Wiccan Church of Canada. Since then we’ve seen other groups form and take up the mantle of running public rituals, Pagan Pride Days, etc. I’ve seen the enthusiasm wax and wan over the years, but through it all the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot has always been there.

TWH: What does the future of the moot look like to you?

KD: Honestly, I have no idea. Sometimes I’m surprised that Evan and I have done this for so long. We’ll keep going as long as we can.

TWH: What was the highlight of the 20th anniversary celebration?

KD: I would have to say two things: Michael Moon’s performance and the wonderful folks who came out and had a great time. We are blessed with an amazing group of people who come out.

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For many Pagans around the world, the tradition of the pub moot has become a staple event for their community. There are few moots that can claim the longevity and success that Toronto can boast. As TPPM attendee Brian Walsh explains, “I think that moots are vital to the health of the community. While there may be a workshops, rituals, and other activity that bring us together; it’s only during unstructured time, like moots, that we really get to know who is in your community. It’s also a place where ideas get shared and new plan can be creatively explored.”

Canada is a country known worldwide as a snowy and cold winter wonderland. Our national identity is forever marked by images of hockey players, snowmobiles, dogsleds and toques (a French Canadian word for a wool hat). By the time we reach Winter Solstice, the dark of winter is upon us. Sub-zero temperatures and cruel wind chill drives people indoors to keep warm. In the depth of winter, average temperatures vary from zero degrees Celsius on the West Coast and minus ten degrees Celsius on the East Coast, with the deep freeze of minus 22 degrees on the prairies in the middle of the country. Even with the mild temperatures provided by this year’s El Nino weather pattern, ice and snow abound. The short daylight hours contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and other mental health issues. What is a Canadian Pagan to do?

Snowstorm, Montreal [Photo Credit: Mourial / Wikipedia]

Snowstorm, Montreal [Photo Credit: Mourial / Wikipedia]

For many Pagan folk, embracing the local landscape and climate becomes a deeply spiritual act. For Montreal, Quebec based Bard and storyteller, JD “Hobbes” Hickey, winter is a time to reflect and contemplate:

I think it’s important to build a healthy relationship with the realities of winter by immersing ourselves in the winter reality of cold, snow, and ice. If there’s one thing that unites Canadians, it’s complaining about winter. But in a spiritual setting, I would rather focus on the beauty of winter and building a healthy relationship with it. If you don’t respect the reality of winter, it can quite literally kill you. But if you prepare for winter, there are many beautiful aspects of it that people can appreciate if they make the time to notice it.

As the long dark nights and deep cold drive us indoors, solitary practice can be enhanced by the opportunities of winter, and devotional practice can go deep. Angela Grey, a Witch from Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city that made headlines in 2013 for being colder than planet Mars,  takes advantage of the dark half of the year to perform deeply personal work:

As a Canadian Pagan, my ritual year is divided into two distinct halves. The warm part of the year is about community: the cold half of the year is for me. That’s the time I set aside to do research, catch up on my reading, and focus on the private rituals that make up my personal path.  And my annual rituals to the Cailleach are the line that separates the two.

All through the summer, her candle sits veiled in grey and undisturbed in a little niche on my wall altar. But as soon as the first snow falls, I know that her half of the year has begun. That night, I take down her simple blue candle, and carefully unwrap it from its silver veil. I set it in front of the beautiful tapestry a friend made for me, and open my craft room window so the cold can come flooding in. I light the candle, and recite the invocation I wrote just for Her. “I call to the Bringer of Storms; I call to the Frost Bearer, the Blue Faced Hag; To She who stirs the cauldron at Corryvrekan; I call to the Grey Veiled Walker in the Night . . . ”

I don’t call too loud, or too long; I’m not sure I want the full attention of the fearsome power that is stirring to walk the land. When I think I have called Her just enough, I offer Her a simple meal of scotch and welsh cakes. It’s a small thing, but I hope that She’ll remember this token of respect in the coming months; that She’ll step around me when I’m caught out in the weather, and refrain from pushing my car off an icy road at night.

This ritual isn’t tied to a particular calendar date. Rather, it is done on the day of the first significant snowfall of the season.  This can have some odd consequences. I traveled [sic] a lot this fall, so over the course of a couple of weeks, I was present for the first snowfall in three different provinces. Rather than picking one of the days as the “true” arrival of the Cailleach, I ended up doing the ritual on three separate occasions. All through the winter, Her candle sits unveiled in its niche, available for me to take down an use in ritual. When the last of the snow melts in the spring, I give her one last offering, and veil it again for the summer months.

Ritual for The Cailleach. Photo by Angela Grey

Ritual for The Cailleach. [Photo Credit: Angela Grey]

In the darkest days of the long winter, some Pagans are still enjoying festival season. Tribal Hearth, a polytheistic group of volunteers and like-minded individuals, host Northern Lights Gathering, an intensive winter weekend each February at the Mansfield Activity Centre, in the rolling countryside an hour and a half north of Toronto, Ontario. The 2016 edition of this event sold out in ten hours, proving that the prospect of spending a weekend at a forest retreat in the cold has appeal to the local Pagan folk, and the landscape of winter appeals to all ages. According to event organizer Jessica Kelly:

Tribal Hearth uses the landscape to help shape sacred space. We’ve sent the children out to “paint” the snow or make ice lanterns that we use in ritual. We’ve even used snowballs in ritual. Watching elders spontaneously hop on a sled and hit the hills or a snow ball fight breaking out on the way back in from ritual reminds us that winter is not only a time for reflection but fun as well. Our participants are reminded to bring warm winter gear, some gleefully buy snow pants for the first time since they were children!

After outdoor activities our amazing caterers offer hot chocolate and discussions happen around the hearth fire in the main room.  A lot of planning goes into accommodating the unpredictable weather. This past year it was so cold that we could only have people outside for 10 minutes tops before the threat of frostbite was a real thing, so it became the biggest pagan pajama party going. This atmosphere inspires conversation. It’s a great opportunity to get to know people better, and it helps bridge the gap between generations.

The Frost Giant arrives at Northern Lights Gathering. Courtesy photo

The Frost Giant arrives at Northern Lights Gathering. [Courtesy Photo]

Yule is the big celebration of the season for many of us, and gathering together outside feels like the natural thing to do – even if it means facing ice and snow. Stephen Hergest, High Priest of the Evergreen Tradition in Calgary, Alberta, braves the elements to watch the sun rise every Winter Solstice morning, and has for the last twenty winters, at a local stone circle known as the Strathcona Stones:

Calgary weather is notoriously unpredictable. Sometimes the sky is too overcast for the Sun to make an appearance. Sometimes there’s a clear gap at the horizon where the Sun makes a brief appearance and vanishes again.  I’ve had to trudge around the circle through small drifts of snow, or over hard-packed ice. Sometimes the temperatures are bitterly cold, with brisk winds, and I’ve had to huddle against the tallest stone to keep out of the wind. I’ve occasionally been the only one up there. We always recommend to dress warmly because of the wind. I usually wear insulated snow boots, long underwear, layers of clothing, gloves, and a heavy parka with a toque and hood. Sometimes we’ll delay the start time to make the wait as short as possible.

There is perhaps a certain sense of irony, even ridiculousness, that the mysterious figures performing the solstice ritual are hooded with insulated parkas, their faces barely visible not only for effect or privacy, but merely to keep out the cold and to prevent frostbite. The ceremonial staff the leader carries is there to provide support while walking through the snow, and to have something to hold on to as he waits for the Sun to rise.

The Strathcona Stones, in Calgary, AB

The Strathcona Stones, in Calgary, AB. Photo by Stephen Hergest

Back in Montreal, JD “Hobbes” Hickey is putting a Pagan spin on the idea of seasonal letter writing. He has created the Solstice Dispatch Service, inviting Pagan children of all ages to write to the Oak and Holly Kings:

The idea stems around one of my favorite Yuletide myths: the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Being servants to their people, I saw a link between their regal countenances and the gentle generosity of Santa Claus and I decided to start my own Yuletide tradition: writing letters to the Oak King. The rules are that the letters must be hand-written and sent by post (no email!). Once received, they will be read and responded to with another hand-written letter, signed by the Solstice Kings themselves.

Since we announced the service on Social Media, we have been receiving many inquiries about how this would work. Can we write to the Oak King? Can we write to Odin instead? What about the Yule Fairies? We accept all forms of correspondence. And it’s not just children writing to the Oak Kings. We’ve received a dozen letters so far and only a third of them are from children or teens! It seems that everyone has a reason to write down their hopes and dreams for a brighter new year and send it off into the universe to hope for a reply.

Hickey adds that if this service proves to be a success, he may expand it to the Summer Solstice. If the demand exceeds his budget, he is considering exploring crowd funding to cover his operating costs.

JD "Hobbes" Hickey, Bard, storyteller and Solstice Dispatch Service operator. Courtesy photo..

JD “Hobbes” Hickey, Bard, storyteller and Solstice Dispatch Service operator. [Courtesy Photo]

Winter has offered Pagans in Canada an opportunity develop our own Pagan cultural traditions and practices. How we embrace the environment and its challenges informs not only how and where we worship and celebrate, but sometimes even who our Gods are. For part of the year the ceremonial garb includes long underwear and a toque, and the ritual cup holds hot chocolate instead of wine.

ELORA, Ont — After a recent move by corporate giant Nestle to extract and bottle the water from an aquifer supplying the idyllic small town of Elora, Pagan writer Dr. Brendan Myers has been prompted to put his money where his mouth is. Elora is both Myers hometown and the inspiration for Fellwater, the setting in his fantasy novel series “The Hidden Houses.” Myers has pledged to donate the profits from the November sales of these books to a community group called Save Our Water. The money will be used to help cover the costs involved in fighting Nestle’s extraction plan.

Elora Gorge [Photo Credit: Lone Primate / Flickr]

Elora Gorge [Photo Credit: Lone Primate / Flickr]

Nestlé Waters Canada, a subsidiary of the transnational Nestlé Company, has conditionally purchased a well, which is located on the Grand River across from the Elora Gorge Park. To begin operations, the company needs approval from the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment.

In a recent interview, The Wild Hunt spoke to Dr. Myers about his pledge to donate to Save Our Water and about his hometown of Elora:

The Wild Hunt: What is the most beautiful thing about the town of Elora?

Dr. Brendan Myers: The gorge. It’s a two-kilometer, 20-meter deep riverbed of limestone, topped with a cedar forest. There are always trees and cliffs to climb, little holes and blind caves to explore, and stories to tell. In the spring the oil from the cedar trees was thick in the air, so much that after a few hours you would feel like you bathed in it. In my novels I described it as “a place you could go wandering, and never care if you became lost.”

In a recent blog post, Myers wrote:

Elora’s rich, diverse, delightful, and bountiful watershed, the very flowing heart of the real-world fairyland that I still love, is clearly threatened by industrial water extraction. The company plans to take 1.6 million litres of water every day. That’s almost as much water from the aquifer as the village itself takes; effectively doubling the demand on the ecosystem. Yet where Elora residents pay $2140 per million litres, Nestlé will pay only $3.71 for the same volume.

Local residents are concerned that the aquifer will not be able to sustain the drain on the water supply, or the increased traffic on the roads that the water trucks will create, as they haul water as much as 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water will be moved to the neighbouring town of Aberfoyle, where it will be bottled in plastic bottles and sold to the Canadian market.

The residents of Elora have banded together as the group Save Our Water and have made three demands:

  1. Require Nestle to monitor local wells for two weeks prior to the Middlebrook pumping test in order to provide better groundwater baseline data, plus a commitment from Nestle to assure transparent data collection and independent, third party assessment of the test results.
  1. Impose a three-year moratorium on consumptive water-taking permits for commercial bottling in the Grand River Watershed.
  1. Provide municipalities in the Grand River Watershed time to complete their Water Supply Master Plans and Tier Three Risk Assessments as required.
The Hidden Houses series, by Brendan Myers

The Hidden Houses series by Brendan Myers

As a writer and high profile member of the Canadian Pagan community, Myers has decided to use his influence to help spread the word and publicize Save Our Water’s work. In his most recent blog post, he expressed his own rage and despair at what he perceives as an injustice and offers his books as a way for others to experience the magic Elora has to offer. By pledging his November book profits to the campaign, Myers is also offering an incentive for book buyers to help the cause.

TWH: What message are you trying to send out to other Pagans by making this pledge?

BM: I suppose I’m saying that each of us can do more than think we can do, and perhaps more than we presently do, to protect the earth. Modern paganism is not only about spells and rituals and honouring the gods. It’s also about social and political justice. This has been the case since the 1700’s, when the first modern pantheists published tracts against mercantilism and monarchy. It remains true today with the activism work of Reclaiming, The Pagan Federation, and so on. Squabbles about which lineage of British Wicca is “authentic”, or about the relative merits of hard versus soft theism, are in my view red-herring distractions. More important than what you believe, is what you do.  So this month I’m donating my royalties to a noble cause. So let’s all drop the hair-splitting and fight the real enemy.

TWH: What has the response to your pledge so far?

BM: The response in social media has been excellent. My blog post has been “liked” and “shared” by hundreds of people; it’s my second-best social media response since I wrote Clear and Present Thinking. My blog post was retweeted by no less a luminary than Neil Gaiman— I’m especially proud and thankful for that! In terms of book sales, however, I’ve sold no more than usual this month. Publishing is certainly not a path to wealth and fame (unless you have a million-dollar budget for marketing, which I don’t). But there’s still more month to go.

Dr. Brendan Myers (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Brendan Myers [Courtesy photo]

TWH: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

BM: Yes, I do. I’m convinced that climate change and global warming is the most important problem of our age— socially, politically, economically, philosophically, and spiritually. I wrote my doctorate on environmental ethics and future generations; I regularly discuss it with my students; I vote with my money and my feet for economic change; in fact I sometimes lobby my government.

TWH: Are there any other causes that you are particularly concerned about?

BM: I’m deeply concerned about income inequality, the “dumbing down” of culture, the apparent rise of “men’s rights activists” (translation: anti-feminist activists), whether my books will be still be read after I die, and when Bethesda will release the next Skyrim game. (Although I’d rather create my own such game.) But mostly I want to live a good life, as a writer, as a friend to those I care about, and as a human being on this good earth and at this interesting historical time. To paraphrase Cornell West: I’m not promoting any particular political ideology, I’m just trying to live a life of integrity.

  *    *    *

This decision from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment is expected by mid-November.

Image: public domain

Image: public domain

OTTAWA, Ont. — Monday, October 19, 2015 was a day for the history books, as Canadians went to the polls to vote for who would lead the country for the next four years. This campaign was the longest and also the most expensive that Canada has ever seen.

Canada has three major political parties. On the right is the Conservative Party of Canada, the current ruling party, led by Stephen Harper. They came to power in 2006, and Harper served as Prime Minister for 10 years, winning three consecutive elections before being defeated this week.

The most recent opposition party is the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) led by Thomas Mulcair. It is the left-of-centre option, and rose rose to the position of official opposition for the first time in 2011. Somewhere down the middle is the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Justin Trudeau. The Liberals fell hard from grace after the 2011 election, finishing with only 19% of the popular vote, an all time low for the party. As a result, they left the official opposition position to the NDP.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper Photo: Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper [Photo Credit: Canadian Press]

When the writ was dropped on August 4, and the election officially called, nobody could have guessed how things would have turned out. The press was at first speculating that it would be a tight race between the Conservative Party’s Stephen Harper and the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair. Not much was thought of liberal Justin Trudeau at the time. He was written off as being too young, inexperienced and just a pretty boy with great hair, attempting to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Pierre Trudeau.

The elder Trudeau is remembered as Canada’s most charismatic and revolutionary leaders. He led the Liberal Party and served as Prime Minister, from 1968 – 1979 and again from 1980-84. He was an outspoken leader who dated high profile women, loved to canoe and caused media frenzies. He was photographed doing pirouettes at important events and giving the one-fingered salute to protesters. He married the beautiful and much younger Margaret Sinclair, and had three sons. Justin is the oldest, born December 25, 1971.

A young Justin Trudeau canoes with his Father, the late Pierre Trudeau Photo: public domain

A young Justin Trudeau canoes with his Father, the late Pierre Trudeau [Public Domain]

The changes brought about by the last ten years of Conservative government were vast and sweeping. Many Canadians felt that the ruling party jeopardized Canadian culture and institutions. Many federally-funded organizations saw their budgets cut or eliminated. such as those for veterans, low-income citizens, environmental protection, senior citizens, immigrants, women, indigenous peoples, healthcare and the arts. Not even the high profile Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was safe as this institution and voice of Canadian culture saw massive layoffs and programming cuts.

Twice Harper prorogued Parliament, in 2008 and then again in 2009, holding up proceedings that he felt threatened and criticized his government. These were the only two times that this had ever happened in Canadian history. In March 2011, Harper refused to disclose the costs of big-ticket programs and, subsequently, became the first Canadian Prime Minister to be found in contempt of Parliament.

Harper will be remembered internationally for muzzling scientists and shutting down world-class scientific studies, such as the Experimental Lakes Project (ELA). He will also be remembered for losing Canada’s seat on the UN Security Council; for his insistence in pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline; for his failure to rise to the Syrian refugee crisis and the list goes on.

A Canadian polling staion on Election Day, October 19, 2015 Photo: Elections Canada

A Canadian polling station on Election Day, October 19, 2015 [Photo Credit: Elections Canada]

And so, last Monday, Canadians went to the polls to vote for a new Prime Minister, or as some pundits predicted, to re-elect Harper. As the polls closed on the east coast, and the first returns came in, one thing was clear – the Liberal Party was making a comeback. As more and more counts were confirmed, the electoral map of the country was slowly being marked with Liberal red. Even before returns were in from half the country, the numbers in favour of the Liberal Party were so high that the CBC was already declaring Trudeau would be the next Prime Minister.

In the end, the liberals won a majority government with 184 seats.The NDP was crushed, only taking 44 seats and losing the title of opposition party to the outgoing Conservatives, who took 99 seats. Ten seats went to the Quebec based Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party took one lone seat, which is held by its national leader Elizabeth May.

But the drama did not end there. Before the night was over, Stephen Harper resigned as leader of the party, choosing to stay on as a member of Parliament, representing his home riding of Calgary Heritage in Alberta. This news was sent out as a press release by Conservative Party president John Walsh, just as Harper took the stage to make his concession speech. The news spread like wildfire across social media.

So who is this new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Do Canadians like him? Do Canadian Pagans like him? Popular horror writer and Toronto Pagan Pub Moot organizer Karen Dales, from Toronto, Ontario, had this to say:

I find it interesting that when referring to our new PM we are calling him Justin, not Trudeau. We never called Harper by his first name, we never called Paul Martin, Paul. We never called any of our PM’s by their first name. Now we are doing so with Justin. When one calls another by their first name, it breeds familiarity and friendship–connection. I think this in itself marks a change in how the people of Canada relate/connect with our PM.

Maybe it is because Justin Trudeau grew up in the public eye, we know him. When his younger brother, Michel died tragically in a skiing accident, we mourned with the family. When Pierre Trudeau died, political divisions were set aside and the entire country grieved.

Justin Trudeau [Photo Credit: Alex Guibord / Flickr]

Justin Trudeau [Photo Credit: Alex Guibord / Flickr]

Social media was abuzz with comments from Pagans and Heathens from coast to coast. They were chiming in to the national conversation with thoughts and hopes for change. One Heathen with great hope is Robert Rudachyk, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In 2016, Rudachyk will be running for the Liberal Party as a candidate in the provincial election. He said:

I feel that this change will bring a new openness and inclusiveness to the government. Now the issues that they need to focus on are rebuilding our economy, getting rid of many of the repressive and xenophobic laws supported by the old government, and keeping their promises.

Across the country in Prince George, British Columbia, Pagan Andrew Burton is also feeling reflective about change. Burton, who runs a youth theatre group called Street Spirits, campaigned to be elected to his local school board last October. Despite not being elected, Burton remains active in his community. He said:

I am optimistic about the change in government. A friend of mine (an MLA in Manitoba) once said: “Change is a good thing. After you’ve been in power for a while you start to think you own it.” We need a fresh approach and a thoughtful agenda. At the same time It troubles me that people seemed to be voting against Harper rather than for a particular candidate in their riding. We need to be voting for a capable voice in parliament and a positive vision rather than to kick the scoundrels to the curb.

In Burnaby, British Columbia, Pagan podcaster, Sparrow, of The Wigglian Way, got to work ensuring that things ran smoothly at her local polling station. She shared:

I volunteered as a “candidate representative” for Lynne Quarmby, Green Candidate for Burnaby North-Seymour. I arrived at the polling station at 6:30 am so that I could observe that the ballot boxes were empty and sealed correctly. Next, I looked at all the ballots to be sure that they were not marked on the front in any way shape, or form and to be sure they were initialed by the Deputy Returning Officer at each station.

It was my job to observe the area for any shenanigans. Every hour I checked behind all the voting screens to be sure there were no markings on the instructions or screens themselves. As each voter’s name was announced I would cross it off a voter list to be sure that no one was voting again. At the end of the voting day, representatives of each candidate witnessed the counting of the votes at each poll. We stayed until all the ballots were counted. The rejected or “spoiled” ballots were also counted and all were logged. We did not leave the locked room until everything was sorted and accounted for.

I was surprised that there were not more volunteers throughout the day. I was the only candidate representative that was present all day. At the end of the day, I went for a very well earned Chili Stout. Cheers Canada! We Heaved Steve!

Photo: Elections Canada

[Photo Credit: Elections Canada]

Canada now has a great deal of work to do at home. It is notable that the country will now have more indigenous members of parliament than ever before, and that Trudeau has pledged to ensure that his new cabinet will have equal representation from across the country and gender balance for the first time in history. He has also promised to “move quickly” on a long overdue national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

Many Canadian Pagans and Heathens have been concerned that the Harper government’s “Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” could be used to persecute various forms of Pagan ritual and practice and could be a gateway to a modern Witch hunt. Dales expressed relief that the election results may change this:

Canada spoke true and with hope on October 19th. No longer will we Pagans be worried that a neighbour is calling to report our practices–which are protected in the Charter of Rights–as barbaric. We Canadians said that we will not tolerate bigotry, fear-mongering, and divisiveness.

Harper may have been what Canada needed when he was first in office, but power went to his head. Canada has hope in Justin, because we see in him many aspects of ourselves. As Pagans we can look to his wife, Sophie Gregoire, as someone who may be part of our ‘tribe’ if not in religion, but in spirituality.

Witch and poet, Katherine Bitney, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, also sees the need for the new government to be held accountable to campaign promises made, and to restoring Canada to its former glory:

This morning I woke up to a Harperless Canada. Such a freeing, smile-inducing thought, such a breathing in and out of such immense relief. Long road ahead cleaning up the ugly mess, repairing the years of damage, but oh, oh, science is unmuzzled, journalists can ask questions, the Prime Minister will meet with the Premiers, and he will dang well go to Paris to deal with climate change, environmental issues.

We shall see, then, once the honeymoon is over and the new government gets itself in order, and down to the work of running the country, whether this mandate is justified in the long run. We, the citizens of Canada, will be holding their feet to the fire on promises made, and accountable for the restoration and protection of democracy, and the health of the land itself. Let’s see if this government proves a worthy steward.

[Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington is our talented columnist based in London. She is one of the team members who has assisted in expanding our coverage beyond U.S. borders. If you enjoy reading her work, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. We are completely reader-funded, so it is you that makes it all possible! So, donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

Among UK Pagans, everyone has heard of the Pagan Federation. It’s been with us forever: a bit staid and not always terribly exciting or visible. It’s the body that deals with officialdom; gives information on paganism to civil servants in government bodies; and provides balanced quotes when news stories come up. Most university chaplains, registrars and news journalists know the basics nowadays.

This is unexciting work, but it is worthy beyond measure. When a dramatic event occurs associated with a pagan, such as a crime, the Pagan Federation helps the news media separate the crime from the religion, and lets them know that our community will not tolerate otherwise.

But the Pagan Federation’s work is invaluable, too, in times when pagans meet officialdom in the daily business of life. My experience of the past week has shown that more clearly than I ever imagined.

[unknown origin]

[creator unknown]

I live in London, but nine days ago I raced to Heathrow airport to catch the first flight to Toronto. My father, a Canadian, was in the hospital; his health failing him. On arrival I learned quickly that he was dying. And I, his eldest child, faced the unimaginably painful task of asking for his extra oxygen to be removed, as Dad had wanted. It was the equivalent of switching off the life support.

It felt too much for me at that moment, so I asked for the nurse to send for the chaplain. I knew the chaplain would not be Pagan, but I had to have someone. To the hospital bedside came a loving and experienced man named Jason. He was a Christian of course, but we met as human beings. He did not bring any agenda; he brought his insight and care. Our two hours together at my father’s bedside helped me greatly, and I did what I needed to do.

Hours later, dad died. Almost immediately my relatives took me to the funeral home where we had to plan the funeral. With no sleep and still in shock, we had to negotiate religious differences. Dad was atheist, but came from a committed Presbyterian family. He had in me a pagan daughter and two spiritual, but not religious, other adult children.

A minister we’d never met would take us through the ceremony. In he walked to my aunt’s formal living room. His name was Darrow. Dad’s atheism was acknowledged with kindness, and he fit these facts into the way he guided us to choosing readings for a service which was framed in the Christian structure so important to my father’s sister. He noticed and understood my tiny silver pentagram pendant with a gentle smile, and we agreed on a reading about nature.

Somewhere, somehow, both the chaplain and this minister had learned a bit about paganism. They didn’t know much, but it was enough. They were neither confused nor disturbed by me, and I could be open with them. It was clear that pagans had been part of their interfaith education. To those nameless Canadian pagans who showed up to a seminary, a meeting, or a conference years ago, I say ‘thank you.’ Because of those pagan, at a time of great vulnerability, a bereaved pagan daughter thousands of miles from home could speak from her heart and hear words of consolation.

[Credit: Jessica Rossi]

[Credit: Jessica Rossi]

Pagans often express a healthy disregard for the bounds of convention. We pride ourselves on being on the edges and challenging restrictive norms. I love this about us, but there are times when we simply need our faith to be understood; so we can get through, without fuss or fight, those difficult times of death, suffering or despair.

*    *    *

In the UK, when a person dies, the funeral normally takes place a week or two afterward. This gap allows time to plan a personalised ceremony. Most pagans are situated in a wider family who are not of their own faith, so they will have a balancing act similar to that of my own family. Some of us, however, do leave a majority of family and friends of our own faith.

Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente (1922-1999) asked to have a pagan funeral and her friends accorded her one in the crematorium’s non-denominational chapel, with friends she had chosen in advance standing in the four quarters. Priestess Madge Worthington (d. 2004) of the Whitecroft line of Wicca had the Charge of the Goddess read at her funeral. Here in Britain, crematoria chapels are where most non-religious funerals take place and the staff are beginning to be less surprised when pagan rites are done in them.

When I opened the newspaper this summer to read of ‘Britain’s First Pagan Funeral’ I knew it was not true. The event for the death of Cornwall’s ‘Eron the Wizard’ was colourful, hippy, gothic pagan, with the press invited. Everyone who reads the papers in the UK now knows that pagans die too, and that we can have outlandish funerals. This is to be welcomed.

Some prefer a more sober style of funeral. But at the end of life, we need our spirituality there with us, just as do all people of faith. When we can receive an understanding smile from a crematorium porter, a funeral director, or a chaplain at this time, it means the world. The unglamourous work of interfaith education pays all of its dividends at those very moments.

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[Cara Schulz is one of our talented weekly staff writers. She brings you the news and issues that most affect the Pagan and Heathen worlds. If you like her work and that of our other weekly reporters, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories, like the one below, is what we love to do. It is your continued support that makes it possible for us to continue. Support independent journalism! Donate today.Thank you very much.]

SASKATOON, Canada – It was just another night door knocking and campaigning for Robert Rudachyk – no different from the 49 previous nights. After he finished, he headed home and, as he was about to enter his front door, he witnessed an unfamiliar car occupied by two men slam into his neighbor’s car and then try to drive off. Rudachyk didn’t hesitate. He chased the car down on foot as it tried to get away.

Rudachyk, a Heathen living in Saskatoon-Riverdale, Canada, has been campaigning on behalf of the Liberal Party candidates for the upcoming Canadian federal elections scheduled for October. He’s also running to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly himself in April’s regional elections.

Robert Rudachyk

Robert Rudachyk

On the evening of September 23, Rudachyk saw the unfamiliar car hit his neighbor’s car while attempting a three point turn. When the two men sped off into the dark, Rudachyk ran after them. “It was obvious they were trying to get on the main road about a block and a half away. I ran after them hoping I could catch them at the intersection. Luckily, there were pedestrians crossing in front of them and heavy traffic,” said Rudachyk. The vehicle was forced to stop long enough for him to catch up.

His cell phone dead, Rudachyk decided to bluff and yelled at the two men in the car that he had snapped a photo of their plate number. The car turned into a 7-11 parking lot, and that’s when Rudachyk was able to confront them. He told them if they didn’t come back to the scene of the hit-and-run, he would call the police. He also told them that he would physically restrain them from leaving the area. “They agreed to come back and I stayed close until [my neighbor] came out,” said Rudachyk.

The young men and his neighbor exchanged insurance information and, for Rudachyk at least, the matter was over.

Rudachyk said that this isn’t the first time there’s been a hit-and-run in the neighborhood. He said, “It has happened to me and all my neighbours at one time or another, and it has cost us all a lot of money from insurance deductibles.”

That history, combined with the ethics of his religion, Heathenry, spurred him to run after the car. He believes everyone is accountable for their own actions and, “To run from your actions and hide from it is a huge dishonour. It is also dishonourable to stand by and do nothing if you can help.” He added that he’s happy to have been in the right place and time to stop someone from getting away with another hit-and-run.  

As for Rudachyk’s relationship with his neighbors, they have engaged in a bit of humor over the entire situation. “It just happened that the owner of the car is a supporter of the Conservative party and I am a Liberal. It allowed for a little political humour afterwards when his wife was expressing amazement that I was able to run them down. I smiled and said, ‘After almost 50 days of running hard to get our Liberal candidate elected in the riding, it was a piece of cake.’”

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“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” — Vincent van Gogh

There once was a time when earlier generations could look up at the night sky and they were able to observe the cosmos in its entire splendor. The depth and range of the stars were obvious, far beyond what we can see today. Our ancestors created art, philosophy, religion and culture based on how they perceived themselves in the universe. This was inspired by what they could witness in the night sky. Somewhere along the way we lost this vision, our perspective was blurred and diminished. This change was brought about by the constant presence of artificial light, generously and carelessly spilled upwards, into the heavens, drowning out the beacons of light that once guided us.

Over exposure to artificial light has been linked to various health issues, from sleep disorders to depression. Human beings tend to have a natural inclination to soft, warm light, such as the cozy glow of candles, or crackling campfires, yet we overwhelm our communities with the blaring glare of spotlights, electronic billboards and flashing marquees.

Author & astronomer, Kerr Cuhulain. Photo courtesy of Kerr Cuhulain

Author & astronomer, Kerr Cuhulain. [Courtesy Photo]

How can we reclaim the night sky and our primal connection to it? Canadian Pagan author and teacher, Kerr Cuhulain, explored this question. Cuhulain has been a high profile and active member of the Canadian Pagan movement for more than 40 years.

Also known as Detective Constable Charles Ennis, he retired from a long career in law enforcement in 2013. He served as a police officer for the Vancouver Police Department and as a police dispatcher. Often, his commitment to the Pagan community blended with his professional career. He was actively involved in anti-defamation activism and hate crime investigations on behalf of the Pagan community since 1986.

When Cuhulain retired from his career, all of his newly discovered free time had to be re-applied to something. He soon discovered that this freedom provided him with an opportunity to devote more time to one of his passions – astronomy. So he chose to become involved in the creation of something special – the building of an observatory.

Cuhulain said, “I joined the Sunshine Coast Centre (SCC) in 2013. The observatory construction had commenced in 2012. I participated in the building of the observatory, and when I became president of the SCC in December 2014 I presided over the completion of the observatory, the grand opening, and the subsequent training of Qualified Operators and the start of public viewing sessions.”

The Sunshine Coast Centre Observatory. Photo by Kerr Cuhulain

The Sunshine Coast Centre Observatory. Photo by Kerr Cuhulain

The Sunshine Coast Centre is a community group located at the Sunshine Coast Regional Airport near Wilson Creek on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada. It has been recognized by the acclaimed Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, a national astronomy organization consisting of thousands of members, offering programs and events from coast to coast. When the observatory opened June 27, 2015, people came from far and wide for a look through the telescope. Cuhulain saw the effect that this experience had on the curious visitors.

He said, “On the day of our grand opening we had a ‘First Light’ ceremony where the public came to see the night skies. Some foreign students were brought to the SCC Observatory by one of our members who is a grade 9 science teacher. One of the young men, an Iraqi, came to me just as we were about to close up for the night and put his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘This has been the most amazing night of my life. I will never forget this night.’ And I smiled and thought: That’s why we built this observatory.”

Astronauts who have viewed our planet from space report a phenomenon known as “The Overview Effect”. This euphoric sensation is a cognitive shift in awareness caused by actually seeing the Earth for what it is, in space. This revelation creates a spiritual awakening, and the space traveler comes to realize that the borders and conflicts that separate us are just not worth it. Our small blue planet is just a dot in an unimaginably vast sea of stars, and that we must protect and preserve it. According to Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.”

For those of us who won’t be traveling into outer space anytime soon, visiting an observatory will be as close as we can get to experience this effect. Cuhulain agreed and has similar ideas about how the experience can enrich our lives. He said, “It helps you get yourself back into synchronization with the natural cycles of the days, seasons, and years, back into connection with the universal energy around you. A lot of modern illnesses arise from disruption of circadian rhythms and this connection helps you get back into a healthier lifestyle. It teaches you to respect what we got here on this Earth because you can see the vast forces at work around us and how fragile a balance we have here.”

The Milky Way. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Milky Way. [Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

The Sunshine Coast Centre promotes the concept that appreciation and wonder of the night sky is a natural human heritage. As a species, human beings are drawn to stare up at the stars, so how disconnected are we from the night sky? Are we living in an age when we just don’t know what is up there?

Cuhulain fields all kinds of questions from visitors to the observatory. To the above question, he said: “One of the most common questions I get asked when people contact me to set up observatory sessions is: ‘What nights of the year can you see things?’ They ask this because 2/3 of the world’s population can no longer see the night sky due to light pollution caused by artificial light at night. They can no longer see the night sky that was a glory to our ancestors and thus have no idea how much there is to see up there any clear night. People come to these sessions and ask: ‘What is that glowing cloud in the sky?’ I tell them it is their home, the Milky Way galaxy. Seeing the sky gives you a completely different perspective regarding your place in this universe and the importance of respecting this tiny world we live on.”

The problem of alienation from the stars may be worse than we are even aware, because most of us are used to seeing the night sky washed out by light pollution. This has become normal to our urban eyes. Luckily, this form of pollution is reversible, all we need to do is turn off the lights. The International Dark-Sky Association recommends that we all take initiative to reduce light pollution, by only using artificial light when absolutely necessary, using energy efficient bulbs, shielding outdoor lights, using motion detector lights and timers and keeping blinds down at night so that interior light doesn’t spill outside. The benefit of this, as Cuhulain describes, is a new perspective:

He said, “If your perspective of the universe around you is the glare of street lights and billboards, revealing landscapes imprisoned in steel, glass, and concrete, your perspective of the world is confined and your universe a small one. If your perspective of the universe is a clear view right out to the edge of the observable universe, your perspective is unconfined and open to endless possibilities. Our SCC Observatory opens people’s eyes to the size and splendor of their universe and gives people back that perspective”

Visitors to the observatory get up close to the telescope. Photo courtesy of Kerr Cuhulain

Visitors to the observatory get up close to the telescope. [Photo courtesy of K. Cuhulain]

How far can we see into space from Earth? What access to the stars and planets can an average person get without use of a space ship? If you can get your hands on a decent telescope, make your way to an observatory like the one at the Sunshine Coast Centre, and take in a presentation like the one Cuhulain hosts, you may be amazed.

Cuhulain said, “When I do public presentations I ask for a show of hands for the question: ‘How many of you have taken the time to watch the moon rise?’ Typically less than half of the people put their hand up. I then ask them: ‘How many of you have taken the time to watch the moon rise on another planet?’ This typically results in a lot of puzzled stares. And I tell them: “I’m the guy with the telescope, remember? I’ve watched the moons rise on Jupiter and Saturn, and you can too.”

If you would like to see how serious light pollution is in your area, check out NASA’s Blue Marble Navigator.  And remember to give yourself a break from artificial light, and remember to look up and seek the stars.