Archives For Canada

CANADA — On Nov. 8, the results of the U.S. presidential election affected more than just the American population. Millions of people around the world sat on the edge of their seats as the polls came in, electing Donald Trump as the leader of one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world.

North of the border, the anticipation of the incoming regime is now bringing concern and rising tension. Daily news reports include details of how the Trump administration could affect everything from the price of food to the security of the Canadian economy.

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For many Canadian Pagans, the topic of discussion and great concern is the reported increase in hate crimes against minority religions, people of colour, and LGBTQ communities. According to the mainstream media, President-elect Trump’s campaign rhetoric may have given the needed confidence to extremist groups, which has resulted in the increase in incidents of violence against various minorities across Canada.

This trend is reportedly catching on. Between November 13 – 19, the city of Ottawa was the scene of six hate-filled incidents. A Jewish community centre, two synagogues and a rabbi’s home were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, a mosque was defaced with anti-Muslim messages and swastikas, and a United Church with a large African-Canadian congregation and black pastor were tagged with racist slurs.

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Graffiti found on Canadian Rabbi Anna Marantas door. [via Facebook]

On December 7, in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Islamic Association reported that a member of the community found what appeared to be a large portion of raw pork, left on the windshield of his car. A few weeks earlier the same organization received a strip of bacon in the mail.

As a response to these and many other recorded incidents of similar crimes, an initiative spearheaded by Jade Pichette, an active member of the Heathen community is southern Ontario, has been launched. In consultation with other community members, she took on the daunting task of drafting the document now known as the Canadian Pagan Declaration on Intolerance.

Speaking to The Wild Hunt Pichette explained: “Prejudice has always existed in Canada. It has always been a serious issue. However, as a society, we have mostly been going uphill, in terms of progression of rights, tolerance and even in some cases, acceptance. When I saw, in the wake of the US election, an increase in the rise of hate crimes, especially against marginalized faith communities it concerned me greatly.”

Pichette has been involved in this type of work before, having written a similar document on behalf of her own kindred, denouncing racism, homophobia, and transphobia. This was noted by Xan Folmer of Huginn’s Heathen Hof, who reached out to Pichette for assistance in connecting with Canadian Heathen groups for support of Declaration 127. In addition to this activism, Pichette works professionally at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and serves as an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

The Canadian Pagan Declaration on Intolerance is intended to bring the voices of as many different Pagan and Heathen groups across the country together to stand against intolerance and to support other marginalized groups. It states, in part:

In this political climate, we wish to specifically state that we stand in solidarity and in support of marginalized religious and spiritual communities which include, but are not limited to, Muslims, Jews, and those practicing Indigenous spirituality. We also look to not just tolerate, but to welcome LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in our own communities, and the communities in which we live. This statement acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to do but today, we wish to reiterate that we stand united with the most affected by these hateful actions.

“The reality is that as Pagans and Heathens, we are very diverse within our groups. We are not one group, kind of like the LGBTQ communities, we are communities, that sometimes work together, and sometimes not,” explained Pichette. “In the wake of this type of thing, I know how important it is for marginalized faith communities, spiritual communities and religious communities to work together. And so, I wanted to do that from a Canadian perspective.”

Canadian activist Jade Pichette (courtesy photo)

Canadian activist Jade Pichette [Courtesy Photo]

Pichette went on to stress that the Declaration was a team effort, and she has received input and support in its creation from more than a dozen contributors, from across the country, representing many different Pagan paths. “Quite a number of Pagan and Heathen leaders were supportive, and it went from there.”

In order to best represent the Canadian Pagan movement, a translation of the Declaration will also be available in French, reflecting the bilingual status of the country. Morrigane Feu and Marie-Claude Dufour live in Montreal, and both have volunteered to provide translating services.

“It’s important that the declaration is also in French, because French, like English, is an official language in Canada. Each province has francophone communities, and in the province of Quebec, it is the language of the majority. Making the declaration available in both French and English is to be inclusive of all provinces, to show that the whole of Canada is united in this declaration,” Dufour explained.

Pichette hopes that the Canadian Pagan Declaration on Intolerance will also serve as a networking tool for like-minded groups and individuals to connect to each other. “One of the things that has happened out of Declaration 127 is that if a more marginalized Heathen is looking into engaging with the community, they look to that list, they look to the groups that have explicitly said that they are inclusive, that they condemn discrimination and I really hope that is the same for our community as well. I hope that (the Canadian Pagan Declaration on Intolerance) becomes a source, internally within Canada, for people to find spaces that are safer for them.”

As one of the participants behind the creation of the declaration, Marie-Claude Dufour also sees the value of having a statement for the Pagan movement in Canada to stand behind. “Racism and intolerance are becoming scary, not only in the US, also here in Canada. In our country, our provinces, our towns,” Dufor said.

“As leaders in our community, we believe it’s important to stand up and declare that we are strongly against any form of intolerance towards minorities. Especially in Quebec, where religions in general are regarded with suspicion, and religious people often seen as intolerant and bigoted. It’s important to publicly show that we are not only tolerant, but welcoming of any minority in our community.”

[Pixabay]

[Pixabay]

Pichette and the team of contributors are working to have the finalized version of the declaration ready for its launch on Saturday, Dec. 10, which also happens to be Human Rights Day, an international celebration of the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Canadian Pagan Declaration on Intolerance will be hosted on a dedicated website. Group, as well as individuals, will be encouraged to sign to show their support.

[Today journalist and Canadian correspondent Dodie Graham McKay shares an interview with a Alma Kakikepinace, a woman who was protesting living conditions on Sagkeeng First Nation.  If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now in the home stretch. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that supports your spiritual community. Donate to The Wild Hunt today.]

SAGKEENG FIRST NATION First Nation, MB – On Sept. 21, Alma Kakikepinace embarked on a hunger strike to protest the lack of safe and healthy housing in her community. In addition to not eating any solid food, she has set up a protest camp and moved into a tent on the land adjacent to the trailer that she once called home.

Alma Kakikepinace (photo by D.G. McKay)

Alma Kakikepinace [Photo by D.G. McKay]

Four years ago, her trailer was damaged by a storm, in which a sheer wind knocked it off of its foundation. Since that point, the trailer has not had electricity or running water. It has also become infested with black mold, which has been making her sick. For years, her band council has repeatedly promised to assist and to find a new home, but nothing has been delivered.

Kakikepinace is now waiting at her camp for Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson to deliver the promised help. Delays and politics are long and complicated with any First Nations issues. Various levels of government and bureaucracy, from the federal Canadian government to the band chief and council, are involved.

These conditions are commonplace on many of Canada’s First Nations reservations, and the province of Manitoba has some of the worst conditions in the country. Government documents, obtained by The Canadian Press through Access-to-Information legislation show Manitoba has the second-highest percentage of First Nations people living in dilapidated housing in the country. According to a 2014 United Nations Human Development Index report, quality of life on Manitoba First Nations ranks the lowest in Canada.

The black mold in Kakikepinace’s trailer is a common problem in Sagkeeng. These shelters were not designed to withstand the climate. But they are cheap for the government to supply, and commonly used on First Nations land across the country. Kakikepinace explained how federal health inspectors visited her:

“My house was studied three times. And when the federal health representative came up, I said you know you have done this three times, why are you doing this, what’s the point, nothing has changed in four administrations. He told me ‘Every time we study your home, Sagkeeng gets a shot in the arm for mold repairs.’ So if I’ve been studied three times, why haven’t I been repaired at least once? This is typical of reservations all across Turtle Island. I can say whatever I want, it’s not a black eye to the chief and council; It’s a black eye in the way the government is held over the First Nation people.”

Kakikepinace lives on her ancestral land at Sagkeeng First Nation, located 125 KM (78 miles) north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1871, her great-great grandfather was one of the chiefs who signed Treaty #1, the agreement between the First Nations people and the white settlers for the land of southern Manitoba. By 1968 the housing crisis was already out of control.

Kakiepinace’s father was speaking out publicly about the deplorable conditions at Sagkeeng and was featured on the national news program “W5,” describing how the government bought and then gave to his family a condemned 20’ X 16’ house. The newsreel shows Kakikepinace as a smiling six-year-old child in a white dress,with her parents and eight siblings, all crammed into the tiny house.

Sam Mann, father of Alma Kakikepinace, and six-year-old Alma (screen grab from W5 expose, 1968)

Sam Mann, father of Alma Kakikepinace, and six-year-old Alma [Screen shot from W5 expose, 1968]

Not much has changed since then. In an interview at her camp with The Wild Hunt,  Kakikepinace spoke of how her home community was just one example of the failure of the system around her: “Sagkeeng is representative of many, many First Nations in what we know as Canada. But in truth, Sagkeeng is representative of the housing and the politics and the conditions across what I prefer to call, in the elder legends, Turtle Island.”

She also has this special message for the leader of Canada: “Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, Justin Trudeau – I need to speak to you, face to face. I have a message about the First Nation housing crisis. I need to speak it to your face. I trust in Justin Trudeau to receive this message, which was cut off by the mainstream media.”

Many people have come to her aid, offering moral, financial, and spiritual support. One such helper is Michelle McNeill, a Witch and activist from Winnipeg. “I first met Alma in June of 2013 at a Womyn’s Gathering of All Nations, spear-headed by the indigenous women who got the direction through a shake tent ceremony, with bones that were unearthed from an ancient ancestor on sacred land in the Whiteshell (a provincial park and heritage site). Alma officially became a clan mother at the end of that first retreat in 2013. In 2014, she returned to the 2nd Womyn’s Gathering of All Nations to continue to share her teachings and spiritual service. We bonded deeply at these gatherings as spiritual allies.”

In addition to being in regular contact with Kakikepinace for moral support, McNeill has been making the drive from Winnipeg to transport supplies and visitors to Sagkeeng. She also set up a funding campaign to raise money for additional supplies, such as firewood, tarps, and equipment to keep the camp running. She stresses that all of the money raised goes directly to this cause.

Kakikepinace's camp, with mold-infested trailer in background (photo by Dodie McKay)

Kakikepinace’s camp, with mold-infested trailer in background [Photo by D. G. McKay]

Chief Derrick Henderson did communicate with Kakikepinace on several occasions via phone and text. He also made some visits to the camp promising that the funds, which had been earmarked for mold repair, would be signed over to her. With those funds, he reportedly said, she could purchase a new trailer, and get out of the elements for the winter until a more permanent home could be arranged.

The days of her hunger strike stretched into weeks, and no settlement was forthcoming.

As her protest progressed, Kakikepinace found herself moving into a softer, more spiritual, trance-like place. She was able to receive guidance and teachings from the Creator. It was then that she began referring to her protest as a spiritual fast to reflect this transition.

Other visitors to the camp included two provincial politicians, Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Judy Klassen, MLA for Kewatinook, along with Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights and former Manitoba Liberal Party Leader. They promised to help carry her message to Ottawa, the capitol of Canada, and to Parliament.

By Oct. 5, and day 15 of her spiritual fast, Kakikepinace came to the conclusion that her beloved cat, Pootie, would need to find a new home. She could no longer care for him properly at the camp. She had rescued him from the local dump as a tiny kitten, but with the uncertainties she was facing, Kakikepinace felt that he deserved better. A post was made to the Facebook page for the camp on Pootie’s behalf. He now has a new home in Winnipeg.

Visitors from Standing Rock with Kakikepinace (centre) Courtesy photo

Visitors from Standing Rock with Kakikepinace (centre) [Courtesy photo]

On Oct 14, visitors from Standing Rock, North Dakota and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) came to lend their support to Kakikepinace. They brought with them two charred logs from the sacred fire at Standing Rock. They pitched in to help with chores and held a ceremony, joining Kakikepinace’s sacred fire to the one at Standing Rock.

On Oct. 19 and Day 29 of her spiritual fast, Kakikepinace was midway through her interview with us when she received a text from Chief Derrick Henderson. He was offering to give her a cheque, to settle her claim for mold damage. This would enable her to purchase a shelter to get through the imminent winter. With temperatures going down to freezing at night, this could not have happened soon enough. Through an exchange of texts, witnessed by TWH, an understanding was made that the cheque would be forthcoming by early the following week, Oct 23 – 29.

Based on this information and in good faith, Kakikepinace broke her fast that evening. After 29 days without consuming anything except lemon water and tiny amounts of bone broth, an exhausted, cold, and drained Alma Kakikepinace was able to eat food again. She was determined to maintain the camp and sacred fire until the funds were transferred, and the new winter shelter arrived.

The following day, her spokesperson, helper and adopted brother, Robert Peters, posted the following to Facebook:

Alma’s health has taken a turn for the worse, with issues around ending her month-long fast. An ambulance was sent to the campsite two hours ago, but she has refused medical care. She is determined to hear from Chief Henderson the words “Your cheque is ready.” He has been promising this for over a week now (when he last visited her at the camp), and still only sends her text messages saying “I am working on it.

Things became very touch and go over the next few days. A nurse who had frequently visited her in the camp throughout the spiritual fast went to check on her and assess her physical state. Kakikepinace accepted traditional medicine. This worked to balance out her medical problems that appear to have been a cardiac episode.

As of Oct. 26, Kakikepinace has accepted delivery of an 18-foot trailer, which is being winterized with help from her friends. She will not leave her ancestral land and is committed to staying for the winter in the trailer, which is now located beside the protest camp. Her fight is not just to secure her own housing; her fight is to draw attention to the unacceptable housing that First Nations people across the country are forced to accept.

How far will she go? How long will she fight? In her own words, Kakikepinace said:

‘Until I die’ – it was not flippantly said. I am willing to give my life. Tired of the status quo, tired of a dark world where indifference has become the norm, tired of my tribe being left out and imprisoned in a world of imbalance. Harsh words? Harsh world, from my perspective. My truth, many people’s truth. I’m sure there are many people who could say this in the world and be there, living it. So not to be using all the baser emotions, fear based, you name it – but if all the nations rise together at this time, and topple the lie that became truth, and put it back into perspective, this change that needs to happen, is not on a physical plane, and I’m not afraid to sound like a nutty case when I say that, there are many, many people who can relate to what I’m saying

The protest camp has been open to visitors from all paths and cultures. Kakikepinace has served as an elder and mentor for many people, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, who want to learn and understand the traditional ways of the First People of Turtle Island. Her thoughts are quoted in the introduction to the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission’s final report that was published last year:

The healing is happening – the reconciliation…I feel that there’s some hope for us not just as Canadians, but for the world, because I know I’m not the only one. I know that Anishinaabe people across Canada, First Nations, are not the only ones. My brothers and sisters in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland – there’s different areas of the world where this type of stuff happened…I don’t see it happening in a year, but we can start making changes to laws and to education systems…so that we can move forward.

Michelle McNeill sees this as an opportunity for Witches, Pagans and practitioners of earth-based spirituality to stand together. She said: “We are stronger when we are able to rise up together united as people of the earth who are here to honor and protect the earth. We all practice earth-based spirituality and are united in our mutual reverence for the earth, elements, and cycles. I honestly believe we all hold pieces of a much larger puzzle and when we are open to healing and sharing with each other the puzzle pieces start to come other and the teaching of our ancestors become more potent and powerful.”

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Michelle McNeill and Alma Kakikepinace [Courtesy photo]

At long last, on the anniversary of the fifth week of her protest at 5:00 pm, the moment Kakikepinace has struggled to achieve finally happened. Chief Henderson drove up the muddy driveway to the trailer. He delivered the long-overdue settlement cheque to Kakikepinace personally. It is not enough to purchase or build a new permanent home, but it is a start.

As per the agreement, Kakikepinace took down the “Housing Needed” sign that had marked the gateway to her camp. The tents will be taken down by a volunteer work party on Saturday. However, this is just the end of the first chapter in the long road of advocacy on which Kakikepinace has embarked. She will not back down in her fight to make sure the others in her community in need of clean, safe, and healthy housing get help. She refers to these neighbours as “The 500,” as she estimates there are at least 500 homes in need of repair or replacement. Many of The 500 visited her camp to offer support when she needed it, and now she will return the favour.

Funds are still being accepted by McNeill at the GoFundMe page, and updates on the protest can be found on the Facebook page.

 

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SAINT ALBERT, Alberta – When a fire nearly engulfed a Canadian polytheist’s cabin, not only was the structure spared, but so was an altar and shrine to his ancestors and Brighid, both of which were, and still are, tucked in the woods.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]


Mhaoillain and his wife were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon on the deck of their cabin, located in the woods near Saint Albert when they heard a voice call out for help with a fire.

“At first, I thought it was some stupid joke, as the whole of Alberta has been under a strict fire ban for weeks, and considering the recent devastation in Fort MacMurray, in northern Alberta, why would anyone purposefully start a fire?” said Mhaoillain in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

Then he heard the voice call out again saying that there was a fire. Mhaoillain said that he ran through the wooded area to the end of his property and was met with a growing brush fire. It was quickly spreading onto his property and up his very dry trees.

Mhaoillain said his first reaction was to attempt to stamp the fire out, “Here I was, alone in the trees, doing a little dance as the flames grew and began to move past me.”

When he realized the fire was too large and serious to be put out this way, Mhaoillain went back to the cabin. His wife was holding a garden hose. He explained, “She had seen the flames, and was obviously thinking much clearer than I was. I began spraying at the approaching flames, trying to chase the circumference with my pathetic garden hose, when I heard more and more voices all around me.”

The voices belonged to neighbors who were carrying shovels, hoes, and buckets of water. The neighbors helped him battle the blaze for almost an hour, until the Barrhead County Fire Department arrived and took over.
[Courtesy Photo][Courtesy Photo]
When the fire department had finally put out the blaze and was satisfied the danger was over, one fireman approached Mhaoillain and asked ‘Is that your set-up out there, with the candles and such?’ He was referring to an altar, which Mhaoillain had created in a secluded area tucked back in the trees.

“I replied ‘Yes sir,’ expecting him to begin accusing me of starting the fire,” Mhaoillain recalled. ‘[The fireman] said ‘Come with me,’ and so I followed him through the blackened trees. He stopped just before my altar, and motioned with his hand, ‘It didn’t burn. I thought you should see that,’ he said, then turned and walked off.”

To Mhaoillain’s surprise, while the fire had burned the area around the altar on three sides, the altar, the two upright tamarack poles holding deer antlers, as well as all the items on the altar were untouched by the fire.

“I stood there alone, just looking at it all. I didn’t know what to think at all.” said Mhaoillain.

Mhaoillain said that the cabin is a creative oasis for him and his wife to write and paint. He added that he may do a ritual of thanksgiving at the altar, “…but I haven’t thought about it enough to come up with something appropriate.  Maybe something with water!”

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta – On Sunday, May 1, a wildfire was reported 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) outside of the town of Fort McMurray, Alberta. This fire, encouraged by unusually dry conditions, hot temperatures and high winds, spread quickly. By the evening of May 3, officials declared a mandatory evacuation of the entire city of 88,000 inhabitants.

Fort McMurray, or “Fort Mac” as it is often referred to, is an oil industry boomtown located near the Athabasca Oil Sands in northern Alberta, Canada. Edmonton, the capitol city of the province, is Fort Mac’s nearest significant neighbor. The city lies 435 kilometres (270 mi) to the southwest of Fort Mac on Highway 63, the main route between the two communities.

The Fort McMurray fire is just one of the 41 wildfires burning across the province of Alberta. Five of those fires, including the Fort Mac fire, are considered to be out of control. As of nightfall on May 11, more than 1,715 firefighters, 101 helicopters and 26 air tankers were battling the blazes.

Wildfire blazing along Highway 63 (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Wildfire blazing along Highway 63 [Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS]

Among the displaced residents of Fort Mac are a few members of Alberta’s Pagan community.  Naomi, a Pagan working for Suncor Energy as a boilermaker, had very little time to make her escape from the fire zone.  The Wild Hunt was able to reach her via email, which she sent from her mobile phone during the evacuation. Here is Naomi’s account:

I got a little more warning than most people. I received a text from a peace officer friend who told me we were going to be placed under a mandatory evacuation in 30 minutes. I had about 10 minutes to grab the necessities and flee in my car with my dog.

When I received the text, I went to all my neighbours and told them to pack and leave. After my car was loaded I went to my friend’s house to help her pack for her, her partner and their dog. We had 10 minutes to get their stuff. The time between when I arrived at their home and when we left their home, the air went from being slightly smoky to difficult to breathe. We then left and went down the hill from where we all lived in Abasand (a suburb of Fort Mac) via a bike path through the trees. I needed to get gas, so we went to a gas station it was closed, the fuel was emergency locked out.

We then were directed north … It took 8 hours to get to a safe place. We watched the area where our houses were burning, while we were stuck in traffic. We found lodging at a camp for oil workers with my partner and spent the night without sleeping.

In the morning I was able to secure a flight for my partner and my dog from CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited). I dropped them off and then I went to my work at Suncor as I was told I was an essential worker and had to report for work. There was no room at that camp so we were waiting for a room when my peace officer friend told me we had a 30 minute window to make it south through town until the fires would close off highway 63 south again. So I called my work and informed them I was leaving and left.

The devastation surrounding us as we sped south was gut wrenching. We made it though town safely. We then ran out of gas twice on the way to Fort Saskatchewan. People were, and continue to be, so generous and kind. Random strangers gave us enough gas to get to a gas station and buy a sandwich. Now we are all staying at a friend’s house. Safe and sound.Together.

Many evacuees, like Naomi, fled north on Highway 63 to the promised safety of the oil worker’s camps, only to be told they had to head back south through the burned and burning areas around Fort Mac. This journey took most of them to the city of Edmonton, where they were received by friends, relatives and strangers. Edmonton’s local Pagan community opened its doors to ensure that evacuees had the needed shelter, food and hospitality. Kate Lomnes, a Pagan mother of four, was packing to move house when the evacuees began arriving in town. Like many other Edmonton residents, she did not hesitate to open her door to strangers. Lomnes said:

I posted on Facebook that my husband Cory and I would accept a family into our home. Our home was half-packed to move and [we have] four children, three of which are four years old. Aldeady crammed into a narrow town house, I didn’t know how we would do it. However, we have a home, walls, a roof, and means to survive. Our resources are limited, but they are meant to be shared. After all, I am Pagan and this is what we do, right? We love, we care, we share.

Not long after my initial Facebook post, a very close coven member said she had a friend that needed somewhere to house his cat. I found out after speaking to him that him and his girlfriend would not separate from their beloved meow baby, and needed a place too. There was no question; there was no pause. An airbed was dug from the abyss, as were end tables and blankets that had been previously packed. But I still felt we could do more. After a frantic $200.00 Dollarama spree, we dropped and dispersed toiletries at the relief centre and brought some home for our Fort McMurray refugees.

University of Alberta Wiccan Chaplin Samuel Wagar (photo by Ed Kaiser)

University of Alberta Wiccan Chaplin Samuel Wagar [Photo Credit: Ed Kaiser]

Evacuees are also staying on the University of Alberta campus, where they can seek the care and counseling of the on-site Wiccan Chaplain, Samuel Wagar, who said:

As a chaplain, I am part of the counseling and support team for the refugees. The University has mobilized its student services and mental health support, along with city and provincial emergency response.

My specific responsibility is to provide spiritual care – meditation, prayer, a quiet place to reflect. We’ve set up an interfaith chapel space as a headquarters for that.

I’m also a resource person to direct people to other things they may need. I’m getting a crash course in social services and emergency resources. Luckily, the provincial and federal responses have been exceptional (especially considering the scope of the evacuation).

The organizing team of PanFest, a weekend long camping festival that happens just south of Edmonton every August at Lughnasadh, have announced that all funds raised during the their recent used book sale will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross fund for evacuees.  PanFest chose the Red Cross due to the recent announcement that money donated to aid evacuees will be matched by the Government of Canada.

 

2016-DRAFT-poster3-3Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze, and human carelessness is suspected. What is known is that the extremely dry conditions that made this fire get out of control can be attributed to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions cause higher overall temperatures and decreased precipitation, leaving forests drier and more prone to ignition. The influence the oil industry has on these factors is a topic of fierce debate among Pagans. Wagar said:

Climate change is real. There was much less snow this winter, the spring came earlier and much hotter than it was used to. The boreal forest is tinder dry. This is likely to be the new normal, just like drought in most of the United States, the sea level rise, and rendering uninhabitable of many tropical areas. The moral imperative on Pagans to do something to stop climate change is beyond theoretical now. Mother Earth with adjust, this current great extinction may proceed along, but humanity will not survive.

I keep hoping that humanity at large, or at least our Pagan community, will be shocked out of complacency as the ecological disaster of global warming unfolds.

But too many of us are complicit. Here in Alberta, so much of our economy is presently tied into carbon pollution, so many jobs. It is very difficult to ask people to stop working in oil and gas, when capitalism does not provide other options.

Lomnes added, “I know many Pagans are viewing this climate disaster as Gaia on a furious cleansing spree. Others see it as a result in human’s carelessness contributing to Global Warming. I will leave those opinions to the scientfically educated more experienced Pagans. It may be one or the other, or none it all, but we all know we should be doing our part in saving The Earth.”

The most recent on the ground reports state that 85% of Fort Mac is still standing, but the damage to the community goes beyond the immediate destruction from the flames. The power grid is down and the water in the area is not safe to drink. There is an air quality warning in effect because of the heavy smoke hanging over the area. It is not yet known when it will be safe for residents to return to their homes, or if they even still have homes. The government of Alberta website warns that residents of Fort McMurray should not expect that homecoming for an extended period of time.

After their dramatic escape from the flames, Naomi, her partner and their dog are safe. They made their way to Calgary, another large city in Alberta, 655 km (407 miles) south of Fort Mac. For now, the future for them is uncertain, and their house and its contents are gone. Naomi wrote:

My family and I have lost everything. We have left with a little bit more than the clothes on our backs. I am so blessed and thankful that we are together and safe. Everything is extremely surreal right now. I’m still in shock. To my fellow Pagan community I would just want people to know that this disaster is horrible, terrifying, and heart breaking. Everyone got out safe and that is a miracle. Please don’t blanket judge people who live and work up here. Just see us as a community that has been decimated, is strong and will persevere. Thank you for all your concern and support. It is much needed and appreciated.

As of press time, there have been no reported human casualties of this fire. Sadly, two teenagers died when their vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer just outside of Lac La Biche, Alberta during the evacuation. It is predicted by Alberta’s fire authorities i that these fires will be burning for some time to come, and that the best help they can hope for would be for a substantial amount of rain to help put out the flames.

SASKATCHEWAN – On April 27, Robert Rudachyk had an opportunity few in Canada have enjoyed; to attend a meetup with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even more remarkable about the invitation is that, in a time when many politicians run from associating with those in minority religions, attendees were unconcerned about Rudachyk’s Heathen religion. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, he said that it is a non-issue. 

[Courtesy Photo]

Robert Rudachyk and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau [Courtesy Photo]

The meet-and-greet was held at the Sheraton Cavalier Saskatoon Hotel to thank the Saskatchewan-based Liberal Party volunteers, who had worked on the federal election in October. The event was limited to 450 guests, all members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party. 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, a long-time member of Canada’s Heathen community, volunteered as Deputy Campaign Manager for Lisa Abbott’s 2015 federal run. He is also currently the vice president for the Saskatoon-West Riding Association for the Liberal Party. He said that he’s always actively looking at how he can help “serve, guide and build the Liberal Party” in preparation for the next provincial or federal election.

Along with that work, Rudachyk ran himself as the Liberal Party candidate in the April 4 elections. He was running to represent Saskatoon-Riverdale as a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). 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. Although he was unsuccessful in his bid, the good news for Canadian Pagans and Heathens is that religion appears to not have played any role in the outcome of the race.

He said that the Liberal Party is very inclusive, and it has active and dedicated members of many different religions and backgrounds. Rudachyk said, “It’s nothing. It’s just your faith.”

Religion also appears to not have played any role in the invitation to the appreciation event. The meetup began with a chance for all volunteers to network with each other. He said that everyone knows that he’s Heathen. He has no reason to hide it.  

Then, after some time, Prime Minister Trudeau visited the reception hall. After giving a short speech, Trudeau walked around, greeting as many people as he could. Rudachyk said that he was fortunate. He not only had a photo opportunity with Trudeau but also was able to spend a few minutes chatting with the Prime Minister.  While some politicians may have snubbed a Heathen or Pagan candidate, Trudeau figuratively and literally embraced Rudachyk. 

Rudachyk said that being invited was a huge honor and a positive step forward. He added, “[This] shows what is possible when Heathens […] work to be part of the larger community.” In our interview, Rudachyk added, “This is why we need to work within the systems. The more we isolate ourselves; the more people will not want to trust us. They will only see the bad press about our religions. We need to be part of our communities, and work with them as a whole.” He said that, in doing so, “we bring our world view to the table. We protect ourselves and the future of our faiths.”

And that is just what Rudachyk is aiming to do in his own work. He said, “I’m not in this for me, for glory, or for the money.” He said that he doesn’t care whether everyone agrees with him on all issues or on his approach. He said that he just wants to make things better for his community, his province, his country and his co-religionsists. He added that he aims to do his part now so that his kids can one day say “I’m Heathen” and not have to worry about backlash.

The volunteer event provided the necessary inspiration and incentive for Rudachyk to keep going. He will continue his volunteer work, and he also is researching a possible run for city council. However, there are a number of considerations before he commits. He said, “As the first openly Heathen/Pagan person to become a candidate for a major political party in Canada, I only hope that someday 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.”

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.