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.

Vic Toews

Vic Toews

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

  • Back in April, the sale of sacred Hopi objects in France went ahead despite protests from the Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona, Survival International, and the actor Robert Redford, who called the sale “a sacrilege, a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions.”  Now, Survival International reports that at least one sacred katsina was returned by a buyer who participated in the auction to retrieve it for the Hopi. Quote: “M. Servan-Schreiber then bought one katsina at the auction to return it to the Hopi. He said, ‘It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war. I am convinced that in the future, those who believe that not everything should be up for sale will prevail. In the meantime, the Hopi will not have lost everything since two of these sacred objects have been saved from being sold.’” A second katsina acquired at the auction by another buyer will be returned to the Hopi later this year.
  • Are prisoners in the UK claiming to be Pagan to get extra benefits? Possibly! Though, this is a tabloid so no real data is given other than that self-described Pagans behind bars has nearly doubled to 602 since 2009. Quote: “The surge in paganism behind bars has sparked fears some may be converting for an easier life.” A Prison Service spokesperson noted that Pagan prisoners receive 4 days off per year, and no more.
  • The New York Times profiles the Living Interfaith Church in Washington, a religion that embraces all religions, even Pagans. Quote: “Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.” One wonders if the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation wasn’t theologically inclusive enough? Religion scholar Stephen Prothero notes that “one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.”
  • Is 2013 the year of the Witch? Pam Grossman at the Huffington Post seems to think so. Quote: “As the year progresses I predict we will all more fully channel the spirit of the witch. Honoring the earth and our bodies; shifting away from mass-market medicines and agri-business toward natural healing and whole foods; sharing our resources rather than focusing on mere accumulation of goods; collaborating and communicating more openly; helping to elevate women and girls to equality all over the world: these are all grand workings of feminine magic that we are manifesting together.” Pardon me while I pick up every stitch.
  • Lisa Derrick at La Figa isn’t fond of Rick Perry voodoo dolls, saying “they perpetuate dangerous, off-base stereotypes and do nothing to help either pro-choice factions or non-Christians.”

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking […] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s […]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

On May 8th data from Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey was released, including data on religion. The big headline from this data is that people claiming no specific religion, often called “nones,” now make up around 24% of the Canadian population.

“Observers noted that among the survey’s most striking findings is that one in four Canadians, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation at all. That was up sharply from 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991. The Canadian trend seems to mirror but even exceed levels of non-affiliation in the United States. A 2012 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life pegged the ratio of religiously unaffiliated Americans at just under 20 percent.”

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada.

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Vancouver Pagan Pride)

The National Household Survey recently replaced the compulsory census, so the results will be statistically less reliable, but this is the best new data on religion in Canada we can access. This includes information on modern Paganism. According to the new data, there are around 25,495 Pagans, of which 10,225 are Wiccans, making them the largest sub-grouping.  This is a slight bump up from 2001, where the combined number of Pagans was estimated at 21,085. So it seems the Pagan population is growing slowly, or even remaining largely static (which mirrors results in Australia). Related belief system numbers include 1,000 Pantheists, 2,230 New Age practitioners, and 15,125 Unitarians. There were also a whopping 40,195 “others” who didn’t fit any of the religious categories given, so we have no idea how many of them might be nominally Pagan in identity.

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

In addition to these numbers, a number of non-Christian faiths experienced growth over the past decade in Canada. There were 64,940 practitioners of a traditional Aboriginal spirituality in 2011, way up from 29,820 in 2001 (more on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples here). Hindus grew from around 300,000 in 2001 to around 500,00 in 2011, and Buddhists gained around 70 thousand adherents in the past decade, approaching 400,000. For more numbers, see the Statistics Canada website. On the whole, Canada is becoming less Christian, more diverse, and more individual in its religious choices. The Province of British Columbia could be a bellwether for the country’s future, a pluralistic society where its people are “travelling in several religious directions at once.”

“New data released Wednesday suggests pluralistic B.C. is travelling in several religious directions at once. Many residents are becoming more devout following a great variety of world faiths. But other residents are endorsing secular world views and drifting into private spirituality. […] Only 41 per cent of Metro residents are Christian, compared to a national average of 67 per cent. B.C. has the fewest Christians on average of any province or territory.”

So, taken as a whole, these are very encouraging trends. But are there really only 25,495 Pagans in Canada? There’s plenty of room to argue that there are more. First, the National Household Survey is “subject to potentially higher non-response error than those derived from the census long form,” so Pagans could be undercounted. Secondly, we don’t know how many individuals who claimed “no religion” or “other religion” may well be “one of us.” It’s conceivable that thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of individual Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists are “hiding” in other categories. Still, it’s good to have some new data on Paganism from our neighbors to the north, and to know that our numbers continue to climb.

Last year, Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair. This came after he retracted a paid part-time position for a Wiccan prison chaplain. The result, as you may have guessed, was litigation.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“The suit was triggered by Ottawa’s announcement last October that it was canceling the contracts of all part-time prison chaplains to save an estimated $1.3 million. The non-Christian chaplains ministered to Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Buddhist inmates, and those who follow aboriginal spirituality. The legal action, brought against Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, charges that Christian prisoners continue to have access to Christian religious services, Bible study sessions and other faith-based activities.”

Then, one week ago, the federal government announced that it was restoring some of the minority-faith part-time chaplaincy positions, while stressing that this wasn’t a change in course regarding policy.

“CBC News has learned at least four of the part-time chaplains are being offered a chance to return to work. All four provided service to non-Christian inmates.  Buddhist chaplain Charmaine Mak says she’s eager to resume working with prisoners. “They’ve been cut off from spiritual development and education, so I think that’s a really good step for them,” Mak said.”

Patrick McCollum, an advocate for Pagan prisoners in the United States who famously testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights regarding prisoners’ religious rights, has now revealed to The Wild Hunt that he was going to be involved in the litigation against the Canadian government and implies that it was this pending litigation that created movement on this issue.

Patrick McCollum

Patrick McCollum

“The Prisoners’ Legal Services just confirmed that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has agreed to reinstate chaplaincy services to minority faith prisoners!

‘We are very pleased that, once faced with court action, the government has acquiesced and has voluntarily reinstated services by tendering contracts to all five minority faith chaplains in British Columbia. As this is precisely the remedy we were seeking by way of injunction, we have consented to withdraw our application for injunction as it is no longer necessary.’

The letter goes on to say that this restoration of contracts is an interim service model meant to ensure that the immediate spiritual needs of the prisoners are met while CSC develops a new service delivery model for federal prisons in BC and across Canada. Prisoners’ Legal Services will monitor and evaluate this new model as it develops and is implemented to ensure it meets appropriate and professional standards.”

In addition, I was privately shown the letter from Prisoners’ Legal Services, confirming what Patrick attests (you can read the entirety of Patrick’s letter to me here). So at least one lawsuit has been avoided, but this is, as a government spokesperson termed it, an “interim measure,” so what of the future? It appears that the government is looking for a private company to shift all chaplaincy services to.

“Going forward, CSC will consolidate this contractual process under one national contractor,” Sara Parkes wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “In conjunction with CSC, the national contractor will ensure the provision of chaplains who are qualified, official representatives of their faith traditions and capable of ministry in the correctional environment.”

So far, most commenters seems to be staying on the fence regarding this move, with some expressing some cautious optimism. I suspect that the company the federal government contracts with will have a lot of bearing on how advocates of minority faiths in Canada react. Until then, it seems like a resolution of sorts has been reached, albeit not one that will fully address the problem of serving the spiritual needs of all prisoners. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted on further developments in this story.

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:

Logo

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.

Logo

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!