Archives For Canada

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

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. […] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. […] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

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

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

Captions from Young Avengers #2.

Captions from Young Avengers #2.

  • Last week, the comic book Young Avengers #2 had the conversation that many Pagan comic-book fans were awaiting: What’s up with Wiccan calling himself “Wiccan”? Here’s hoping it leads to a new code-name that isn’t also the name for a, well, Wiccan. The issue was written by Kieron Gillen with art by Jamie Mckelvie, the same team who did the criminally under-appreciated Phonogram miniseries (which should be required reading for anyone who loves the intersection of music and magic).
  • Some Charismatic Christians are worried that the practice of prophetic ministry might be crossing the line into “witchcraft” for some.  Quote: “When he released the words over me, it came with a spiritual force that made me feel as if I had been covered with goo. My eyes began burning. I felt like I was in a daze. It was spiritual witchcraft.” What’s interesting is that this piece gets close to admitting that a lot of charismatic practice is like magical energy work, and that it’s too easy to blur the boundaries. Now, if they’ll address spiritual warfare…
  • Are rooster heads found at a North Carolina cemetery “Voodoo”? No one knows for certain, but let’s wildly speculate anyway. Quote: “Brandy Nunn told Fox Charlotte, ‘God only knows what they’re really doing with cutting heads off. What are they really messing with over there?'” I’m sure that no one will jump to conclusions over this.
  • Bleeding Cool covers a new witchcraft-themed comic book, “The Westwood Witches,” complete with human sacrifice and appearance by Baphomet. It’s a “horror” book, so take that as you will. Quote: “It’s not just about witchcraft but about beliefs, too. What seems real to us sounds like nonsense to others, and that’s the power of literature… and quackery. But overall, The Westwood Witches is a tale about neighborhood and neighbors. In this book, they’re beautiful, they’re kind, and they’re demon worshippers. You could say it’s like Desperate Housewives with macabre murderings”.
  • Indie art-rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a new album coming out in April, and their lead single “Sacrilege” is influenced by “the New Orleans vibe. Just the juju in the air.”
  • It’s the collapse of mainline Protestent political power, and I feel fine. 
  • Religion in American Historyponders the reactions to Hinduism by U.S. President John Adams. Quote: “Adams consistently compares Hindu religion to Roman Catholicism in the margins, writing ‘Oh Priestcraft!’ and labeling Hindu practices as ‘ridiculous observances.’ When Priestley writes, “But the Hindoos go far beyond the rest of mankind in voluntary restrictions and mortifications,” Adams asks ‘Far beyond the Romish Christians?’ in the margin.”

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

I’d like to start off this Friday with some news items from Native and indigenous communities that may be of interest to readers of The Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt has always urged respectful solidarity with Native and indigenous causes, seeing many of their struggles and interests as overlapping with our own. I’m hoping that Indigenous Updates can become a semi-regular round-up feature here, much as Pagan Community Notes and Unleash the Hounds has.

Pagans and Solidarity with Idle No More: The Wild Hunt has reported before on Pagan involvement in the Idle No More movement, which largely centers on issues of treaty rights and sustainable development for First Nations peoples in Canada, but has also broadened into other areas and issues as well. Claire “Chuck” Bohman, a seminarian and Reclaiming Witch who has spent time and practiced solidarity with the Idle No More movement, has written a helpful guide for Pagans interested in participating with Idle No More.

idle-no-more

“We must learn to follow the leadership of first nations people. This is a movement led by First Nations people. Those who are most directly impacted by decisions made by people in power must be leading this movement. Part of how colonization and white supremacy works is by instilling in white people the belief that their opinions and voices are more important than others. Too often, I have seen white people get involved with justice struggles led by people of color and quickly begin speaking loudly and often in meetings and decision making processes. Part of being an ally is learning how to be a follower. This is not our movement to lead, this is a movement in which we are to follow. This is not to say that our voices are not important or that we should be silent. Just check yourself as you get involved and keep checking yourself. We must be humble, connect with the earth, and listen to our brothers and sisters.” 

I recommend reading the whole thing. There’s also a more general version written by Bohman at Tikkun Daily. Updates on Idle No More can be found at their official site.

The Ongoing Fight To Protect Sacred Sites: This site has chronicled several fights over the preservation of sacred sites, an ongoing issue in Indian country, where encroachments and construction on sacred lands are often done in the arbitrary name of economic development, or sometimes just for simple convenience (to non-Native folks of course). As such it can be a highly-charged political issue, with the latest flashpoint being protests from American Indian activists and tribal leaders over President Barack Obama’s nomination of Lynne Sebastian to serve on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). Sebastian has worked with mining companies to give paid testimony that would allow them to mine on contested lands, something that understandably makes activists nervous about her placement on a government preservation council.

Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona.

Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona.

Suzan Shown Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute, has paid attention to Sebastian’s Quechan and Pechanga dealings, telling Indian Country Today Media Network that tribal consultation was sorely lacking in this nomination process. “If anyone in ACHP or the White House had consulted even a tiny bit, they would have learned of Native experiences with Lynne Sebastian,” she said. “Now they will have to assure her recusal from all deliberations and decisions on Native issues and we will have to monitor microscopically future ACHP vacancies and consultation on them.”

 Meanwhile, Native activists are trying to stop mining development in the Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona, saying that “the destruction and desecration of Apache lands” needs to stop.  The National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution opposing the land transfer for mining. All part of the ongoing, often unseen, struggles to protect the last pieces of sacred Native lands, often controlled by our government rather than tribal nations. 

40th Anniversary of Wounded Knee: February 27th of this year saw the beginning of the 40th anniversary of the Wounded Knee occupation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A 73-day standoff that pushed AIM (American Indian Movement) and Native issues to the forefront, part of a larger movement advocating greater sovereignty for American Indian tribes, an end to government-backed corruption in tribal governments, and demands that existing treaty agreements be respected.  National newswires like the Associated Press paint a mixed picture for how far things have progressed for the Pine Ridge Reservation and American Indian rights in general in the last 40 years.

[Faith] White Dress and others gathered Wednesday to remember the fatal 71-day standoff. During gunfire to mark the anniversary of the start of the occupation, she said the Oglala Sioux Tribe is still struggling. “Unemployment is so high and the oppression is still so bad,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to take violence. It’s going to take a gathering to determine how to bring jobs here. We need libraries. We need more of our children to have a better future.”

For those who want to learn more about the Wounded Knee stand-off the PBS documentary “We Shall Remain” has a good run-down of the events. For Native perspectives 40 years later, see this round-up at Indianz, this post from Last Real Indians, this video of the anniversary, photos from Censored News, and more. As seen by Idle No More, and ongoing activism, the struggle continues.

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

Two weeks ago, I reported on the production and release of the film The WinniPagans by Dodie Graham McKay.  Shortly after that article was posted, Covenant of the Goddess’ North California Local Council (NCLC) offered to host a screening at PantheaCon.  The screening will be held in presidential suite 1054 on Sunday, February 17 at 10am.  Dodie will be on hand to field questions and take comments.

Last week I was fortunate enough to receive my very own copy for review. It wasn’t long after my trip to the mailbox that I was comfortably settled into to my seat, popcorn in hand, to watch the film.  In anticipation of the U.S. premiere of The WinniPagans, here is my review:

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Film Review: The WinniPagans

The twenty-five minute documentary is a gentle examination of Pagan life through the eyes of the WinniPagans.  Dodie takes us on a journey into their personal lives, their homes, their workplaces, and their social spaces.  On camera, the WinniPagans share stories, reflect on experiences and discuss the unique regional challenges that they face in Winnipeg.  The film feels like a sampling or an appetizer, if you will, to something much greater.  It gives us a peak behind a curtain into something that seems foreign but, yet, at the same time very familiar.

Two highlights of Dodie’s film are the lyrical pipe music of Glen Hoban and the poetry of Kate Bitney.   Hoban’s original pipe music decorates the entire film and fits neatly with the central soundtrack.  Because Hoban is member of the WinniPagan community, the use of his music gives the film a fuller authenticity.  I also enjoyed seeing Hoban circling the maypole while playing the pipes. The image is suggestive of Pan and lends a festive, lightheartedness to the scene.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban, and sound editor Norm Dugas

kate_photo

Kate Bitney

Similarly, poet Kate Bitney makes an appearance reading her poem “The Forest Hag” while standing on a snow-covered hill. The composition and the progression of this sequence are quietly beautiful offering a welcomed pause in the film’s narrative.  The winter landscape imagery complements Bitney’s poetry creating a deep feeling of stillness. It is like a contemplation, which Dodie enforces by superimposing a Goddess image on the sun. Visually speaking, Bitney, herself, fits perfectly into the sequence with her white beret and her flowing hair.  Her her own natural grace glows as she shares her poetry.  It’s an entrancing moment.      

Overall, I enjoyed the film.  I only had two minor concerns.  First, there were times when I wanted classic voice-over narration. Dodie uses the progression of interviews to move the narrative along. This is a common documentary device, one that keeps the audience very present in the film.  However, there were times that I longed for more detail that could have been provided by a narrator.

Secondly, I was very eager to learn about the WinniPagans’ unique world.  Unfortunately, the first third of the film focuses more on personal spiritual journeys.  The stories themselves were indeed interesting but I wanted more Winnipeg.  When Dodie does finally get to the community, she paints a very satisfying picture.

With that said, both of my complaints are a matter of viewer perspective.  The film was not intended for me – an American Pagan.  Dodie created a story for general Manitoba audiences.  The intended viewers most likely understood many of the visual cues that I missed.  They saw things that I didn’t, simply because of their perspective. Narration wasn’t necessary for them.

Winnipeg in Winter Courtesy of Flickr's noricum

Winnipeg in Winter
Courtesy of Flickr’s noricum

In the same vein, Dodie had to contextualize the film for her non-Pagan audiences through some basic explanations of Wicca and Witchcraft.  As a Pagan, I didn’t need these explanations so I wanted to move on.  But, Dodie did what good filmmakers do.  She sculpted her story to fit her audience and she did so effectively as proven by the positive viewer responses in Winnipeg.

The WinniPagans ends with Dodie, the crew, and the volunteers celebrating a traditional Winnipeg Beltane.  Despite the overcast skies and chill in the air, the festivities go on.  The shots vary from interviews, to children, to dancing and to the erecting of the maypole.  Surprisingly, Dodie cut in some behind-the-scenes footage of her crew rigging, quite possibly, the first ever “MayPole Cam.”

The Beltane sequence is comprised of a very honest series of moments that juxtapose the structured interviews and landscape photography.  This festive ending is a real tribute to the camaraderie and good-natured fun present in this community.  Dodie continues the fun well into the credits.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's ComeIlMare

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s ComeIlMare

The Beltane ending really brought the film home for me.  As the WinniPagans danced a familiar dance and used familiar words, I joined them in celebration.  As American viewers, we expect this film to take us on a journey somewhere truly unique.  And it does, but at the same time, we find commonalities that allow us to strongly identify with the WinniPagans despite regional differences.  “Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.”

The WinniPagans is an insightful and entertaining documentary with well-spoken interviews and beautiful imagery.  I urge everyone to see this film whether at PantheaCon, next weekend, or at future screenings.  Bravo to Dodie for demonstrating how we can make professional-quality and meaningful indie films about ourselves.  Through films like this, we can introduce new visual definitions of words like “Witch” to general film language. We can also use such films in interfaith work and intrafaith education. The possibilities are endless.  I hope to see more from Dodie in the future.

For those who missed it, here’s the trailer:

 

Correction: Dodie just informed me that her crew was not fashioning the “Maypole Cam” to the pole in the Beltane sequence.  They were tying the ribbons.  However, the video equipment is visible on top so I thought that is what was going on.  Ribbons or Camera… it all worked.

 

Winnipeg is a city of 691,800 people nestled in the Southern portion of Manitoba, Canada.  It is the capital of this central providence and the 8th largest metropolis in the country. On the map, Winnipeg is about 90 miles north of the U.S. border and 650 miles NW of Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the tourism industry, Winnipeg calls itself a “little big city” and the “cultural cradle of Canada.”

Winnipeg

City of Winnipeg
Photo Credit: donnieslarue, Flickr

Within all its hustle and bustle, Winnipeg is home to a group of people who call themselves the WinniPagans. It’s a catchy term; the origins of which are unknown. However, it is used endearingly to refer to a small, tightly-knit community of approximately 600 Pagans who live in and around Winnipeg. In 2012, these WinniPagans became the subject of a short documentary that was written, produced and directed by one of their own, Dodie Graham McKay.

Dodie, a native of Winnipeg, is an indie filmmaker who found a love of filmmaking through unexpected circumstance. In 2005, after returning from living in England, Dodie needed a job – any job.  With a friend’s help, she was hired as a production coordinator in a local documentary film office. From there she learned filmmaking skills which eventually led to her co-directing the documentary-short, “West Central: A View From Here” with her husband, Jeff McKay.

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

“WinniPagans” is Dodie’s first solo “flight.”  She recalls:

My high school English teacher used to say “Write about something you love”. When I wanted to make my first film I had to think about what I love that would be the subject for my project. My pagan community was the first and foremost thing I could think of.  

The 25-minute documentary explores this thriving Pagan community that resides in Canada’s cultural cradle. Dodie remarks:

“I really felt quite strongly that this community was due for some sort of document to mark the progress we have made. Many of the folks in the film have been active since our community went public in the mid to late 1980s and I wanted to capture some of these stories before they are forgotten.”

In late 2011 Dodie took her idea to MTS, a local telecom company that finances and airs indie films about Manitoba that are produced by local filmmakers. As explained by Craig Lawrence of MTS’ communication department:

MTS TV (Manitoba Telecom Service) supports community producers through Local Expression funding as a condition of our license as a broadcast distribution undertaking (BDU) in Canada… “Stories from Home” programming is quite varied and often represents a personal connection between the filmmaker and the subject, resulting in programming that – like The WinniPagans – can offer glimpses into different ways of life. 

Because of her experience, Dodie had a golden opportunity to pitch “WinniPagans” to Cam Bennett, executive director of “Stories from Home.”  He readily accepted the project and production began on January 21, 2012.

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The film’s small budget consisted of a crew of four with other on-and-off camera volunteers from within the Pagan community.  Production lasted through April 29th with three months of post-production.  In September of 2012, Dodie delivered the final edited product to MTS.  She recalls:

I was so excited that MTS liked the show and accepted it as it was. They even gave us some cash to rent the local art house cinema for a premiere screening. The executive producer, Cam Bennett, asked me if there was a special Pagan holiday coming up. At that point Samhain was the next big date so he offered to make that the broadcast premiere.”

winnipeg cinemathequeOn Monday October 29th, the film premiered at the Cinematheque Art House. Before the actual screening, musician Glen Hoban performed and Kate Bitney read from her book of poetry entitled “Firewalk.”  Then, Cam Bennett stood up to offer some words about the film and to introduce Dodie.

“I was a bundle of nerves the night of the premiere. Just before the doors opened I went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and then the magnitude of what I had done hit me full force – who did I think I was making a film about my own community? I live here and these are my own people, the people I care about, my friends and fellow pagans. My heart was in my mouth as I went out to make my speech and introduce the film, I was so nervous! As the film was playing I sat in the back of the cinema and listened to the 80 or so viewers as they laughed at the funny parts and clapped when they saw familiar faces, it was great! Nobody chucked rotten fruit or stormed out! The response was terrific. Folks seem to be appreciating the spirit of the thing and enjoy the way we are portrayed.”

After the screening, many of the viewers thanked Cam Bennett for his support and in doing so caught him completely off-guard.  Like so many Pagan communities, the WinniPagans rarely have the opportunity to see themselves, or any Pagan, visually portrayed without sensationalized imagery or stereotypes. Even when such a documentary is made, it is rarely funded and openly supported by a mainstream corporation. Cam Bennett didn’t expect the profound level of appreciation that he and MTS would receive.

Since November 3, 2012, “WinniPagans” has been airing on the MTS’ “Stories from Home” series. The film has also been screened in Southern Ontario and in Montreal.  Dodie’s visual story documenting the lives of “her people” has now touched Pagans across Canada’s wide expanse.   She said, “It was exciting to see that you didn’t have to be from Winnipeg to really get something out of the story.”

Why has the story been warmly received?  She attributes its success to some of the intangibles inherent in film production. When a Pagan filmmaker creates a film about his or her own Pagan community, the main production elements (visuals, narrative emphasis and pacing) will be different than when a non-Pagan (or Hollywood) produces the same film. The goal is different.  The perspective is different.  The entire feeling left in the viewers lap will, as a result, be different.

Dodie made a film about what she sees everyday; not what people want to see.  The film is a slice of life documentary – a true “reality show,” if you will.  In this way, it provides a unique opportunity for Pagan viewers to hypothetically cross the threshold of the silver screen and be themselves.  And, it offers the world a chance to see real Witches – minus the glamour of a Hollywood back lot.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban,
and sound editor Norm Dugas

What’s next for Dodie?  She is currently working on her second film for MTS about a long-time local social activist.  After that, she hopes to expand the “WinniPagan” project into a longer piece about Canadian Pagans, in general.  She has already been offered support from a number of Pagan communities across the country.

Want to see the film?  At this time, “WinniPagans” is only available to MTS’ customers through the on-demand service. However, she will be holding screenings at Paganicon in Minneapolis in March and at Gaia Gathering in Gatineau Quebec in May.  Not attending either event? Dodie will be selling the film online starting in April. All profits from the sale will be donated to a scholarship fund that offsets travel expenses to Gaia Gathering. To keep up with Dodie and the film’s happenings, you can follow the “WinniPagans” FaceBook fan page.

NOTE:  I was not able to view the film in its entirety before this post. Due to an unexpected blizzard in Winnipeg, mail has been delayed. However, after I receive a copy, I will post a complete film review and update.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Living TV Launches: Pagan Living TV, a non-profit media organization that seeks to create a world “where Pagan spirituality and philosophy is an influential voice in mainstream culture,” has launched their weekly video news program “The Pagan Voice.”

“Pagan Living TV is a charitable non-profit organization that produces a weekly news program that discusses the issues of today from a Pagan perspective.  This is the first professionally produced broadcast program that is produced in a multi-camera television studio, and is distributed on both the internet and on local cable channels in some major cities.”

As you can tell from watching the video, the production values are considerably higher than previous Pagan video-news efforts (no insult to those worthy efforts, merely an observation) showcasing Pagan Living TV’s ambition in raising the bar. As Pagan scholar Chas Clifton notes: “Although it’s still just talking heads in the studio at this point. At least there is a studio, not a sheet tacked to the wall.” I’ll be watching the growth of Pagan Living TV, The Pagan Voice, and future shows with interest.

Pagan Involvement With ‘Idle No More': Last month I posed the question of whether modern Pagans should involve themselves with the growing indigenous/Native activist movement known as Idle No More. Since then, some high-profile figures within modern Paganism have visited the camp where where Chief Theresa Spence, of the Attawapiskat First Nation, is holding a hunger strike, or gotten involved with Idle No More actions. First, Pagan philosopher Brendan Myers, who lives near Victoria Island in Canada visits Chief Theresa Spence’s camp and share’s his observations.

Chief Theresa Spence's Camp

Chief Theresa Spence’s Camp

“Of all the many social groups which comprise Canada’s social fabric, the First Nations, the Metis and the Inuit have a special place in our identity.They gave to “us”, the visitors on this land and their descendants, a gift so precious and so valuable it’s likely that nothing we could give them in return could possibly compensate them. That gift was the land on which this country was built. Without one or two other ethnic groups in our history, we would have a different country, for better or worse; without the First Nations, we would have no country at all. Therefore, Canada has special responsibility, it seems to me, partly arising from the various treaties which the Crown signed with the First Nations, but also arising from the ‘economy of honour’ that surrounds gifts of that magnitude. Canada’s moral obligation, at minimum, to ensure that the living standards of First Nations people are at least as good as that of the average middle-class non-native Canadian person – and that’s not impossible, and that’s perhaps only the least of what Canada should do.”

In addition to Brendan Myer’s impressions, Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch, co-author of “An’ Ye Harm None: Magical Morality And Modern Ethics,” and co-editor of the “Encyclopedia Of Modern Witchcraft And Neo-Paganism,” has also been visiting Chief Spence’s camp and attending Idle No More actions urging Pagan solidarity with this movement: “I feel wonderful. And I will do it again. And again. AND UNTIL STEPHEN HARPER HEARS that he cannot sell out this country.” Also of note, author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle attended an Idle No More solidarity action in Oakland, California and shares her thoughts:

“On Saturday, I joined a couple hundred people in solidarity with Idle No More. Chief Theresa Spence has been on hunger strike for more than 25 days now, challenging the Prime Minister of Canada to a meeting regarding the sanctity of the earth and indigenous sovereignty. Idle No More is standing up – singing, drumming, dancing, and blockading – for the rights of free waterways, and land unpolluted by dangerous fracking. I want to support this challenge, this attempt to afflict the closely held privilege of the short sighted governments and corporations that are only seeing the immediate need for profit or even more insidious: an upholding of a level of comfort that we’ve come to think of as a need. We don’t need to use as much fossil fuel or natural gas as we currently do. We could instead adjust our lives to use less, or more wisely. But most often we don’t, because we – as a society – like our comforts. Idle No More has the ability to challenge, not only the governments and corporations, but to challenge our own assumptions about what it is we need. They are doing the job of comforting the afflicted of the land and the people and creatures on the land, and afflicting the comfortable – the prime minister and those of us who want to consume all the things we are used to.”

For the latest updates on Idle No More, check out their website. I will continue to monitor Pagan responses to, and solidarity actions with, this movement.

In Other Community News:

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

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

 05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture. – Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

Eventually Buncombe County Schools passed a new religion policy that stressed neutrality, and will allow distribution of religious materials, but only once a year, along with non-religious community groups, and after regular school hours. All of these changes came about because one Pagan mom decided to speak up, and her bravery inspired a community to hold true to the secular and pluralistic principles our country was founded on.

04. Pew Forum’s Landmark Prison Religion Survey (and How That Affects Pagans): In March of this year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights in 2008, was deeply involved in this survey and helped shape some of the survey’s questions, and helped shift “the perspective of the main researcher’s goals in ways that I feel benefited our community and minority faiths in general.”

 

chaplains chp4 5

“The inclusion of Pagan & Earth Based religions as a category in the survey carries several huge benefits for us as a community. First, for many years, correctional systems, courts, and other governmental agencies have been able to deny us our rights, by simply making the argument that we either don’t really exist, or that if we do, we are so insignificant in numbers that there is no need to legislate or accommodate in our favor. Now with the survey, that argument is irrefutably null and void.”Patrick McCollum

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

03. Chaplaincy for Pagans in Canadian Prisons: The controversial move this Fall by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. In October the CBC reported that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. […] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters.

02. Census Data From Australia and the UK Show Paganism’s Growth:  In 2011 I reported on efforts in Australia and Britain to encourage more accurate census counts of Pagans by asking respondents to use a uniform Pagan-[tradition/faith] format. This year we got to see the fruits, if any, of these efforts. First, Australia’s numbers came in, with over 32,000 modern Pagans (up from around 29,000 in 2006), then, we got to see the number of England and Wales where over 80,000 individuals identified with some form of modern Paganism (depending on how forgiving you want to be with labels). In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000. This is about double the numbers from the last British census.

sctrfigure1 tcm77 290493

“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

These figures point to some success for the Pagan Dash campaign, though they were not the far larger estimates many were hoping for. Still, this shows encouraging growth for modern Paganism, particularly in England and Wales. The growth of Pagan and minority faiths, along with the rapid increase of those who claim no particular religion point toward an imminent re-alignment of the status quo when it comes to matters of faith and belief in the Western world. The new census data will provide a lot of new information for Pagan activists, and for Pagan scholars, and may have repercussions we haven’t anticipated yet.

01. The Rise of Post-Christian Elections in the United States: After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). […] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President. For all the analysis focused on race or gender during this election, it’s become clear that it is also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from November can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House. Washington state approved gay marriage by referendum, an initiative that I paid particular attention to because it would be decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority there. In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” 

I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

That wraps up our top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2012. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join us for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2013!

Earlier this December a new movement began when a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous women in Canada came together out of concern for bills put forward by the Canadian government (specifically Bill C-45) that they feel are attacks on the environment and sovereignty rights of First Nations peoples. Dubbed “Idle No More” the movement has gained high profile attention thanks in part to an ongoing hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who wants Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and representatives of the crown to sit down with First Nations leaders.

“Conceived in November by four Saskatchewan women frustrated with the Tories’ latest omnibus budget bill, Idle No More is a First Nations protest movement looking to obtain renewed government guarantees for treaty agreements and halt what organizers see as a legislative erosion of First Nations rights. The movement’s most visible spokeswoman is Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, the Northern Ontario reserve struck by an emergency housing crisis last year. Since Dec. 11, Ms. Spence has been on a hunger strike while camped on an Ottawa River island only a few hundred metres from Parliament Hill, vowing not to eat until she has secured a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Since early December, protests spurred by Idle No More have included a 1,000-person demonstration on Parliament Hill last week, a blockade of a CN rail spur near Sarnia that continued for a sixth day on Wednesday and a variety of brief demonstrations and blockades across Canada and parts of the United States.”

In the wake of these events Idle No More and Chief Spence’s actions have gained worldwide attention, sparking a wider call towards respecting the sovereignty rights of all indigenous peoples alongside greater attention to environmental and sustainability concerns.

idle no more image aaron paquette

“Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.”

Given the themes of responsible environmental stewardship and respect for indigenous rights this is a movement that seems custom-made for Pagans to support and get involved in. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, solidarity with native and indigenous peoples is a natural stance for those trying to revive, reconstruct, and re-imagine pre-Christian faiths (so long as we do so with integrity). Of course not all Pagans will want to involve themselves for a variety of reasons, but it’s rare for a global movement to emerge that is so in line with our stated values. So in the months ahead I plan to look for, and document, Pagan reactions and involvement with Idle No More, and hopefully chart how this movement changes the narrative of indigenous sovereignty rights, a topic often ignored in global politics.

For those interested in learning more, and getting involved, here’s a link to a resource page. If you are a Pagan already involved, please contact me with your thoughts, and how you see your Pagan values lining up with Idle No More’s values. For my readership, what do you think? Should Pagans Idle No More?

Canadian papers are paying a lot of attention to newspaper owner Gustavo Valencia Gomez, who is charged with using all of the old tricks to convince a client that she was under supernatural attack, and that a large influx of money was necessary to remove the danger.

Gustavo Valencia Gomez

Gustavo Valencia Gomez

“The most frightening point, she alleged, was when she was told to bring pictures of her two children to an appointment. When eggs were cracked over them, there was blood in the yolks, she recalled, adding she was told this meant her children were marked for death. […] Another ritual involved putting lemon oil on her body. The oil turned black another sign of a curse, she said she was told. […] On another occasion, worms were used to scare her…”

This isn’t unique, it is, in fact, a pretty common con. Usually, when someone is caught running such a con they are charged with fraud, but Gomez’s case is garnering additional attention for an additional charge under Canadian law: Pretending to practice witchcraft.

“Early Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Gomez was arrested and charged with fraud over $5,000, false pretences, possession of the proceeds of crime and pretending to practice witchcraft, a summary (less serious) offence that carries no minimum or maximum penalties under the Criminal Code.”

Pretending to practice witchcraft? Yep. Here’s what the criminal code says about that.

365. Every one who fraudulently

  • (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
  • (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
  • (c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

In recent years, some Canadian law enforcement agencies have taken a liking to this law, reviving it when dealing with fraud cases involving fortune telling and related services. However, its recent revival has been controversial, with some Pagans worried that these charges could be abused in the future.

“Brendan Myers, a pagan and philosophy professor at the Cégep Heritage College, worries that the law could be used against law-abiding pagans. “It may put people in my community at risk of not being able to practice their faith,” he said, adding that although the law has not been abused in the past, but he worried it could be in the future. The law only targets people who purport to practice witchcraft, but there are no equivalent laws for charlatans that abuse other faiths, he said.”

When I first reported on this relatively obscure statute, Myers explained why he found the law deeply problematic.

“The key word in the legislation is the word “pretending” (in subsections (a) and (c).) As pointed out to me by my friend in London via private correspondence: the word “pretending” here suggests that the State does not believe that witchcraft could be real: anyone who says they are practicing witchcraft is only pretending. That can potentially include those who say that they are practicing the religion. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine a religiously conservative or puritan judge ruling that anyone who practices the religion of Wicca is “pretending” to practice witchcraft.

Our religious practices are already protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution and thus trumps the Criminal Code. But a lot will depend on the eye of the beholder here. It is not difficult to imagine a future government much more conservative than our present one, declaring that witchcraft and wicca is not a religion, and that anyone who practices it is “pretending”. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a religion: it matters if the law thinks so. I do not know if any judicial precedents have established wicca and witchcraft as a religion in the eyes of the law. So I’ve written to a lawyer that I know, and I await his response.”


Of course, not all Pagans are opposed to fraudsters being charged with pretending to be a witch, Ariana L’Heureux told Metro Toronto that she feels the law helps separate genuine Witchcraft from the con-artists.

Police will often lay fraud charges, but L’Heureux said the witch law aids them in their investigation by helping them narrow in on that specific kind of fraud from the beginning. The law separates witches, like herself, who use the power of the nature and universe and offer spiritual advice, from charlatans who “pretend to be something they’re not for monetary gain, exploiting people’s weaknesses.”

Perhaps, but I’m troubled that the open-ended nature of the law’s language could invite abuse. Also, do we really want to open the door into deciding who is and isn’t a “real” Witch? Back in 2010 I made clear my reservations with this law’s revival. 

“It should be stressed that all the accused perpetrators were caught and charged with existing laws against fraud, so why has this little-used witchcraft charge been dug up again? What real purpose does it serve other than to sensationalize, muddy the waters of religious freedom, and create potential problems for ethical practitioners of magic and witchcraft who happen to charge for various services? How long before an otherwise ethical magic-worker gets charged due to a vindictive former client? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched a scenario considering the recent frequency this law is getting invoked.”

Fraud needs to be punished, but in a Canada where the rights of Witches and Pagans aren’t always treated with respect and dignity, do we really want to simply trust that this law will always be used fairly? Laws that create blurry boundaries can be problematic even in the best of times, and I’m uncomfortable with any government body deciding when someone is really a Witch, or if they’re merely pretending.

Though I’ve written thousands of posts for The Wild Hunt, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of excitement writing today’s. Not just because I’ve been away for over a week, but because this is the first post of a newly independent Wild Hunt. A Wild Hunt that, while maintaining many of the things you’ve grown to love about our site, will also see a number of changes. The first will be that The Wild Hunt is no longer a solo venture. I am proud to welcome two new writer/reporters who will be making regular contributions each month here at this site: Rynn Fox and Heather Greene (Miraselena). Both have excellent resumes and backgrounds, and I’m excited about not only for what they’ll bring to you as readers, but also what they’ll allow me to do: spend more time writing and researching original journalism for the Pagan community.

In addition, The Wild Hunt is standing on principle, and will not only be paying our two new reporters, but will also be paying all contributors to the site from this point forward. I’ve seen a troubling trend within our culture to expect content and excellent reporting to happen without support from the community the writers are serving. While there is amazing free content out there, and many, many, talented writers who are doing this for the love of it, I feel there needs to be a space where this work is nurtured, supported, and paid for. From guest posts by top-notch writers like Eric Scott, a contributing editor at Killing The Buddha, to the contemplative writings of Teo Bishop, or the latest breaking story from a Pagan Newswire Collective bureau. So with my first post of the newly independent Wild Hunt, let me announce our annual Fall Funding Drive.

Fall fund large

http://www.indiegogo.com/the-wild-hunt-fall-funding

Over the next month I’m hoping to raise $6000 to not only cover costs here, but to use that money to turn The Wild Hunt into an enterprise that pushes this site to a different level, one that sustains, trains, and propagates excellence in Pagan journalism, analysis, and commentary. Head over to the official IndieGoGo site for a full explanation of what the money will be used for, the various perks of becoming a Wild Hunt funder, and why your donation is so important. So spread the word, and if can, please contribute!

Now, having said all that, it’s been a while since we’ve unleashed those hounds, hasn’t it? Let’s take a look at some stories that have been percolating while I’ve been away.

That’s all I have for now, but expect much more in the days and weeks (and hopefully years) to come! Thanks to all of you for your support, and I hope you’ll spread the word about our Fall Funding Drive and consider donating to help us achieve our goals!

Thanks to Valerie Herron for allowing me the use of her lovely “Cernunnos” illustration for The Wild Hunt.