Archives For Cat Chapin-Bishop

ENGLEWOOD, Co. — Last week came the announcement that religion site Beliefnet has acquired Patheos, the far more popular home of a wide variety of religious blogs, include a vibrant Pagan channel. While Beliefnet also once hosted Pagan bloggers, since being acquired by the Christian-focused BN Media company, those writers all eventually moved on. With the new purchase, it has been stated that plans thus far are to keep the two sites independent of each other.

beliefnet-logo-6-25-10 A Wild Hunt investigation into BN Media buying Beliefnet in June, 2016, disclosed the company’s focus:

BN Media seems to be a different sort of owner, if their two largest initiatives, Affinity4 and Cross Bridge, are any indication. In short, it seems they are a conservative “family friendly” Christian group. All you have to do is pay attention to all the subtle buzz-words. . . . It doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of future interfaith interactions and diverse viewpoints on Beliefnet.

It’s true that, while Beliefnet no longer hosts Pagan blogs, Patheos Pagan channel editor Jason Mankey isn’t expecting any purges at Patheos. Mankey told The Wild Hunt:

There are currently no plans to change anything at Patheos and at Patheos Pagan. Patheos will continue to maintain its own brand and the sites will be run as a separate entities. As in all acquisitions, there will be some changes but we believe these changes will be in the background and focused on the technology and supporting infrastructure, and we anticipate that these changes will be about improving the experience of the reader.

I’ve spoken to many of the folks coming in from Beliefnet and genuinely believe they are excited about both Patheos in general and more specifically the Pagan Channel. Change is a part of life, and I’m looking forward to this one.

Mankey has earned the respect of people in the Pagan blogosphere since he took over as channel editor, including that of Anne Newkirk Niven, who runs one of the largest independent Pagan blog sites,, who called him an “excellent administrator.”

patheospagan-300x300Niven’s sentiments were echoed by those Patheos Pagan bloggers who agreed to comment for this story as well as Star Foster, who was the channel’s first editor. In her statement, she also touched upon the value of purely Pagan alternatives.

Like many people, I was sad to watch Beliefnet lose its initial luster, particularly after it was bought by Fox and then by an Evangelical organization. The purchase of Patheos by the same Evangelical organization is momentous. An acquisition means merger and all that comes with it. Resources are allocated to the segments of a company that make money, and cuts are made to increase profitability. It will be interesting to see how this acquisition affects Patheos, particularly those writers who left other platforms with whom they had become disenchanted.

For minority faiths, who cannot easily compete for resources with larger faith demographics, it may prove more fruitful to invest talent and resources in quality, homegrown religious journalism, columnists, devotional writers, and cultural analysts. Since the dawn of Beliefnet the religious internet has undergone dramatic changes, and it will be fascinating to see how it continues to evolve.

Support your Pagan media, wherever you find it to be doing good work. In anticipation of The Wild Hunt’ drive, I have already made my contribution.

Editing the Agora for Patheos Pagan is David Dashifen Kees, who agreed with Mankey’s assessment. “I’m cautiously optimistic. My understanding is that, after the purchase, Patheos will be operating essentially as it always has been. We’ll keep writing what we write and the readers will hopefully continue to visit.”

Gus DiZerega has been a presence at many major Pagan blogging sites, including Pagan Square and Patheos. He also wrote for Beliefnet, and he’s more suspicious. “The people who controlled Beliefnet acted unethically in my experience, and cannot be trusted,” he said.

After he wrote a post criticizing management, “they removed comments and when [he] objected.”  He said, “They told me it was their site and they could do what they wanted, I also left. I see no reason to legitimize anything controlled by Evangelicals such as that. Perhaps the Parliament of World’s Religions could someday host a genuine interfaith site free from the imperialistic ambitions of Evangelicals.”

Druidic blogger John Beckett doesn’t think it’s the end of the world. He said:

Nothing is constant in life, much less on the internet. While I had no idea this merger was coming, I’m not the least bit surprised it happened. We’ve been told the merger will have no effect on bloggers – Patheos will remain a unique site and all the changes will be on the technical and business side. That could be helpful.

As long as Patheos stays within its mission of being a multifaith religious site, as long as Pagans continue to be treated with the same respect as everyone else, and as long as I continue to have full control over what I write, I plan to stay.

If any of that changes, I own all my content and can move at any time.

Others also see two sides to this coin. “It seems that the merger is a pretty mixed bag,” said David Pollard, who edits the UU-centric Nature’s Path group blog at Patheos Pagan. “While a lot has been made in the Pagan blogosphere about Beliefnet’s incivility towards Paganism in recent years, when they started they were able to get some very high profile Pagans like Margot Adler and Starhawk to write for them.

“The problem was, that’s where they stopped,” Pollard continued. “They never really developed a second tier of writers, which is something that Patheos through its Pagan Channel editors has really excelled at.”

Pollard said he very much hopes that Patheos bloggers will be left alone, “given how many times Beliefnet has changed owners over the past decade, who knows what their next owner will want?”

One thing that any owner of Patheos is likely to want is a profitable venture, and the main way to achieve that with a content site is through advertising sales. The ads on the site now have been the subject of criticism by Pagans over the years, including from The Wild Hunt founding editor Jason Pitzl, who entered into a partnership in 2011-12.

In announcing the relaunch of an independent Wild Hunt, he promised “zero ads endorsing Mormonism or Liberty University.” Those result from buying into pools such as ones offered by Google, which serve up ads based on a variety of factors, including one’s behavior generally on the internet and search terms used.

Quaker Pagan Reflections blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop has also been concerned about the push for profit. “It has sometimes seemed that there’s been an increasing stress on monetizing our writing, and I have wondered whether the finances were really working out: the ads have always been off-putting, not always relevant to Paganism, and so slow to load some of my friends tell me they can’t read my blog at all. I’ve wondered if we Pagans have been a good investment for the owners, and whether the site is a good fit for us, to be honest. I guess my questions have only grown with this news.

“Patheos has been good to my blog, in that I’ve seen a big increase in readership, and I’ve been part of a conversation with other writers I really admire,” Chapin Bishop said. “Still, I’ve often wondered if it would make more sense to go it alone, or at a Pagan-owned, Pagan-run site.”

“They’re not going for direct-place ads,” agreed Newkirk Niven, who runs such a Pagan site. When she recently looked into advertising at Patheos, she was told that “they don’t even talk to people who aren’t able to spend a grand a month. I think we’re operating in a different universe.”

For most Pagan advertisers, she said, $12,000 is impossible; even $100 a month can be a challenge from owners of businesses the size she works with, she said.

For now, Patheos remains independent, but it’s likely that the new owners will seek to find ways to use this property to improve Beliefnet and other sites. As of this writing, Patheos is ranked 1,922 by site-ranking service Alexa, while Beliefnet stands at 12,451. It’s a question of when and how, rather than if or why the Patheos traffic will be captured. The Wild Hunt will cover developments as those changes unfold.

TWH –The Satanic Temple (TST) is once again in the news. This time they are working to establish After School Satan Clubs in schools that already have student groups which are organized by Christian ministries. TST’s mission is largely considered a push  to more thoroughly separate the functions of church and state. However, the efforts of this group has implications for members of minority religions, including Pagans, Heathens and associated traditions. To learn more about the religious clubs in the school systems, The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagans who are also teachers to find out about how religion is approached in their schools.

Ryan Denison currently teaches high school students in Georgia and has always taught at large, suburban schools. While there has never been any faith-based clubs in any of the locations in which he has worked, Denison was also once a coach and is quite familiar with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is widespread in the South.

Those of Denison’s students who are aware of his religion — he identifies as “Celtic/Norse Pagan/Heathen,” and is a member of both the Troth and ADF — didn’t find out until after they graduated. “I do wear my Mjolnir and raven pendant, and occasionally I’ll wear my torc,” he said. “But in 17 years I’ve maybe had like two kids ask about it.”

Denison has been public about his faith for the last year, but still considers it inappropriate to bring it into the classroom. “I’m a U.S. history teacher, so I strive to be neutral religiously and politically in class,” he explained.

He is a strong believer in separating church from state, but at the same time, he recognizes that children have the need to learn about alternatives. “I think there should be multiple outlets for our kids to explore, but I’m not an authoritarian parent. Our overculture still has that Puritan-esque authoritarian parent style, although it is fading.”

The notion of someone establishing a Pagan student club would not be well-received in his district, Denison believes. “The mere mention that a mosque may be built here has thrown the community into an Islamophobia frenzy,” he added.

“There would have to be a lot of relationship-building and communication before a club like that could be proposed, especially in the current psychological climate our country is in.”

Rahne, a secondary school teacher in the state of New York, also can’t imagine there ever being a Pagan club at her school. “I absolutely have had Pagan students,” she said, “but a club needs an advisor. I don’t think many teachers would want to put their job at risk that way.”

While tenure does protect the jobs of many teachers, administrators can take steps to make life uncomfortable, such as transferring to a different school or denying a teacher their own classroom.

Cat Chapin-Bishop has seen a Pagan club in her western Massachusetts school. It was called Earth’s Religions Alliance, but it only lasted for a couple of years until the interested students graduated. There was a bible study group at the same time, and that club continues to this day. The difference, she feels, is that the Pagan students “played by the rules,” while the Evangelical Christians had more help than they should have had.

“All religious clubs have to have the same access as any other, but there are also limitations,” Chapin-Bishop explained. “They need to be student-run. Teachers cannot be involved in worship or religious activity.” The adviser to the Earth’s Religions Alliance “provided space and supervision, but could not participate.” On the other hand, “The Bible study has had active participation from staff at the school, and brought in outside preachers: it is not student-led. It’s associated with one denomination, and really run by that church.”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

While Denison has “heard horror stories” about school administrators using their authority to bring in religious influences, he finds that tolerance is the watch word in his own district.

Such a story of religious inclusion was witnessed firsthand by Rahne in her district. A fellow teacher at her urban school had suggested that bringing in members of the local clergy might be helpful in changing student behavior for the better. “All of a sudden, dozens of clergy were in the school,” she recalled. They were dressed in vestments or robes, walked the halls, dropped in unannounced to classes, and sat in the cafeteria.

“I had kids who expressed that they didn’t feel comforted, that they were more intimidated by these clergy than they were by police,” explained Rahne. While local papers heralded the idea, representatives of the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter expressing how problematic that practice could be.

Chapin-Bishop said she felt “irked” when she realized that Bible study group advisers weren’t playing by the rules. However, at the same, she recognized that the members were largely already attending the Evangelical church that supported the club.

Still, she thinks that active involvement by adults would result in a vibrant Pagan club of some kind. Her district is where the Pagan supply company AzureGreen is located, and she’s aware she has Pagan students who obtain books from that company or whose parents work there. “I hear them talk, I see them wearing pentacles, and I know it from their writing,” she said, although she also won’t intrude her own religion into the classroom.

As in Chapin-Bishop’s experience, the schools in which Rahne has taught have had a Christian group associated with a local church, in this case a Baptist one. “There are fliers all over the place with crosses on them, and I sometimes wonder what the reaction would be if I did some with pentagrams?” As with the other teachers interviewed, Rahne does not mention her beliefs in class, and if asked she “tells them it’s not appropriate for me to share my religion or politics with them.”

Denison thinks that fostering a climate in which young people can explore aspects of identity is central to being an educator. “My goal is to create critically thinking self-responsible adults. That would be hard to do if questions were met with an authoritarian ‘no,'” he said.

“If kept within bounds of legality, they’re are not a bad idea,” Chapin-Bishop said of religious clubs. “Even with the outside advisers, kids who are already interested tend to join the Bible club,” she observed, suggesting that it’s not a platform for proselytizing. “Earth’s Religions Alliance ran their own study group. It’s important to have mutual support.”

While Chapin-Bishop supports the idea of equal access to religion in principle, Rahne is cautious that it could become a competition of a sort.  There are some parents who she’s observed try “to out-religion each other” through open expressions of faith, such as bringing the family to lengthy Sunday services. People she’s encountered appear to consider Islam only barely a religion, she added, and anything not Abrahamic is considered mythical at best, or entirely extinct.

That experience is in contrast to what Chapin-Bishop observed when there was a Pagan club in her school. What she described as a “postering war” between members of two religious clubs included fliers that were “mildly disrespectful” of Pagans. The principal eventually responded by requiring all posters receive her approval before being displayed.

All told, Pagan teachers feel that they can only be supportive of Pagan clubs in the most hands-off way, making it difficult to help foster the supportive environment that they believe all students, including Pagans, should have available in their schools.

BETHEL, Vt. –Whether or not there is such as thing as “Pagan community” is as slippery a concept as the definition of “Pagan” itself. The core question is whether or not people who follow vastly different traditions have enough in common to share a common label, or a common table. Some festivals are positioned to reinforce a feeling of community. For example, at the end of Pagan Spirit Gathering participants don’t just leave; they head out on a “year-long supply run.” This week, participants at CWPN’s Harvest Gathering are told, “Welcome home,” as they arrive at the camp.

This begs the question: can community exist if its members gather only once a year?

Lunch at Laurelin is a colorful affair [Terence P Ward]

Lunch at Laurelin is a colorful affair [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

One group of Pagans, who gathered in rural Vermont at the end of last month, certainly think so. They were attending the annual Lughnasad festival at Laurelin Retreat, where notions of community were reinforced by this year’s theme: “The Journey Home.”

For some, Laurelin is considered one of the most beautiful Pagan places that no one has ever heard of. It is located on over 50 acres of land that was once farmed a generation ago. It slopes gently upward from ritual fields into verdant forest. Earlier in the summer the site was descended upon by well over a thousand people who disappeared into the woods for the Firefly Arts Collective, a Burning Man regional feeder festival.  But the aggressive leave-no-trace ethic makes that hard to believe.

The Lughnasad festival is a much smaller event with some 70 in attendance this year.

That number of people together for meals, rituals, workshops, and discussions for five days is small enough to form personal connections, but large enough that this bounding won’t happen widely without some effort. Attendees were randomly assigned to “houses,” color-themed groups responsible for aspects of the main ritual. Encouraged to wear their house color, they were also asked to sit together for lunch, whether or not they were on the meal plan. It’s not a new idea, but it encouraged people to forge connections they might have otherwise overlooked.

Laurelin's community shrine

Laurelin’s community shrine

This is a far cry from the halls of Pantheacon, where people juggle massive schedules and often meet each other waiting for elevators. Only one or two workshops were held at a time, under the dining fly or the shade of the box elder tree. There were also daily guided discussions, and one of those was focused specifically on community. Since blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop — who wrote a love letter to the Pagan community — was in attendance, Laurelin host Kirk White tapped her to facilitate.

Chapin-Bishop is a teacher, she explained, and “during the school year, online is the only community [she] can find.” It was in that space that she has seen Pagans debate whether there is a community among these religions, and if it’s even important to strive for one.

“Some say we don’t share enough theology” to make that viable, she went on, but “that’s not at all my impression.”

White has been hosting events at Laurelin for at least 30 years, and said a loose definition of membership had been adopted: “If you’ve been here at least once, and identify yourself as part of the Laurelin community, then you are.”

People from many different Pagan traditions have crossed through the gate, he said, in part because of how he differentiates community from tribe in his thinking. “Tribalism is us against them,” he said, but he models community more on the annual town meeting tradition in Vermont. “People disagree with me on a lot of things, but we work together for the common good of the community.” It’s a broader concept than tradition or tribe, he explained.

Shrine to Aphrodite [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

Shrine to Aphrodite [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

Walking the land and meeting the attendees reinforces that notion of community. Shrines to several deities, which were erected by a Hellenic reconstructionist group, dot the landscape in among old ritual circles used by White’s family in days gone by and sites which once held more temporary shrines to local spirits or foreign gods. The most prominent shrine is a standing stone on the cusp of the woods; this is the community shrine, where news of the year is shared as offerings are made.

High magicians and Witches alike participated in a Heathen sumbel, drinking to the many gods worshiped and honored by those around the fire. Some of the same people joined the five Quaker Pagans in silent worship. Conversations during meals or over a shared drink helped forge connections among people who traveled from as far as Texas and Michigan to be in attendance.

A common aspect of community, agreed those at Lughnasad, is the coming together over death and grief. One community member was even buried on Laurelin lands.

Not all aspects of community are tied to place, observed one traveler. “I feel a sense of community in Pagan gatherings all over the country,” she said. Chapin-Bishop characterized that as the cross-pollination which makes the next generation stronger as a result.

A herm stands at a crossroads [Terence P Ward]

A herm stands at a crossroads [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

“I don’t feel woven into a community until I return a third time,” Chapin-Bishop said, but even that depends in part on the nature of the event. She drew a distinction between what she called “consumer Paganism” — paying to be entertained at a festival — and the notion of “duocracy,” in which people who want to improve the experience simply do something to make that happen. The difference is partly cultural, and partly pragmatic. The more people in attendance, the more likely a festival will take on a consumer feel.

Another way White has tried to avoid the consumer feel is by employing something he has borrowed shamelessly from the Rites of Spring.  Prior to the event, a group of village builders transform the site and make it ready for everyone else. By doing so, they create bonds which they attempt to infuse into the entire site. Then these builders are broken into different houses, so that they don’t just talk only to the people that they know for the rest of the week.

“It’s easy for the locals to hang out together,” White said, but he’s mindful that many Pagans are introverts. The goal is that it “doesn’t feel like you’re going to someone else’s family reunion.”

White’s daughter Killian has watched this community shift and change over 25 years. She likened the way people step into a central role for a time before backing away to “part of a tree breaking off.” That can happen for any number of reasons, including when it arises out of conflict.

“Are conflicts a bug or a feature of community?” Chapin-Bishop pondered.

Conflict can arise over theological differences, leadership styles, or personal relationships. One goal of community might be to find ways for people to experience conflict without one member feeling that they must leave, and never return. As one attendee said, “Real communities have ragged edges,” both as a result of conflict, and because the definition of who belongs can often get fuzzy.

Impromptu Buddha shrine erected by an attendee [Terence P Ward]

Impromptu Buddha shrine erected by an attendee [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

The community feel at Laurelin was palpable during Lughnasad. The site is more primitive than some with only porta-potties and limited running water available. But, this fact also may be considered a feature rather than a bug. It meant that worshipers of Caffeina tended to gather around the great central percolator each morning, and that dish washing after meals was also a communal experience.

That’s only possible because of the small number of people.  However, White is confident that triple the number wouldn’t change that vibe or tax the facilities.

What a small festival doesn’t mean is a lack of options. A half-dozen or more vendors opened up shop for the week, and their number swelled Saturday afternoon to accommodate a psychic fair that’s open to the public. Lughnasad also has a history of attracting talented musical guests; this year Jenna Greene and Willowfire graced the stage for a concert that brought the energy levels up. Many later used that juice to climb the road leading to the fire circle in the deep woods, where drums and dancing continued until light returned.

One particularly poignant observation about community was made by Sybelle Silverphoenix. “I was one of the last 250 finalists for the Mars One project,” she told people at the community shrine.  During the first round, 4,227 people applied, and she was ultimately not selected as part of the “Mars 100” finalists. Nevertheless, “It made me think long and hard about what home is,” and by extension, community as well. Silverphoenix is planning on applying to future rounds, and if she’s successful, she’ll become the most distant member of the Laurelin community to date.

This idea of community remains a moving target, particularly among Pagans who attempt to create it largely through the internet or annual gatherings. While this group of Vermont Pagans probably don’t have a universal key to the idea, they have at least found a sweet spot for creating community with Yankee flair.

Indiana-StateSeal.svgWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two members of Indiana’s Heathen community were arrested last week on child molestation charges. David Hindsley and Nicole Leffert are being held “on felony charges including child molesting and conspiracy to commit child molesting.” Local news reports state that neighbors overheard the couple talking about “sex acts with children” and contacted the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. After an investigation, the arrests were made on the evening of May 10.

Hindsley and Leffert are both known within the local Heathen community as artisans and the makers of specialty kilts. Hindsley owns the Etsy shop and Facebook page Heathen Spirit. In a 2014 article published in Purdue University’s student newspaper The Exponent, Hindsley was interviewed about the health benefits of wearing kilts. Both Leffert and Hindsley are listed on Odin’s Children, attend local Pagan events and participate in online Pagan and Heathen communities. The Wild Hunt has also learned that the Hindsley and Leffert were trying to start a new kindred in the Lafayette area. We reached out to several local Heathens, all of whom were declined to comment at this time.

According to reports, “prosecutors are not yet identifying the victims in the case.”  The bond amount is listed at $500,000 for each arrest, and both have court dates set for May 19. We will bring you more on the story as it develops.

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[Courtesy Photo]

STOCKON, Calif. — It was announced this weekend that Scott Symonds, a regular and well-known vendor at PantheaCon, had died. Scott was originally diagnosed with cancer in January 2015.  As he wrote himself, “I was rushed to the hospital, bent over, all day, in pain.”  The doctor’s assumed that he had diverticulitis and pancreatitis, but after a colonoscopy, they found tumors. He endured many months of difficult treatments. Then, in November 2015, Scott was diagnosed as terminal.

Several weeks ago, Scott asked friend Eleina Ridolfi to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help his wife Amber after he was gone. He said, “I would like to build a fund that Amber can pull from as needed for the first so many years on a monthly basis to help cover costs that I am no longer able to cover.”  To date, the campaign has raised nearly $20,000 over a short nine-day period of time.

Along with donations, people from Scott’s various communities have been reaching out to post words of support for his family, express love, and share memories on his Facebook page. Chris Sanchez wrote, “Scott Symonds you will be forever in our hearts and thoughts. You will missed my friend. Thank you so much for your courage, your strength, and your inspiration to make us all better human beings. I wish I could find the words…..”  What is remembered, lives.

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11141331_129118137493653_3811564180993915340_nTWH – A new anthology, edited by author Dr. Mary Canty Merrill, is due to be released in June. The book, entitled Why Black Lives Matter too, is a multi-author work that includes a diversity of voices from around the country. One of the voices chosen for this work was Pagan blogger and activist Cat Chapin-Bishop. She said, “The writing I’ve done against racism, for the book and at my blog, has been from a spiritual root. It’s not an intellectual drive, the drive to speak out on racism–it’s coming from spiritual leadings (of the sort Quakers talk about, but which Paganism first taught me to follow).”

On her website, Dr. Merrill writes that the book is due to be released on what is known as Juneteenth—a holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.  She added that all proceeds will “benefit the Sentencing Project, a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system through the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns and strategic advocacy for policy reform.” Chapin-Bishop is passionate about the effort and the book’s launch, saying, “I really, really want this project to do well. The Sentencing Project is [an] important tool in the fight against systemic racism.”

In other news:

  • On Friday, May 13, Leigha LaFleur, a Wiccan practitioner based in Portland, led a public ritual to offer support to the Bernie Sanders campaign. The story caught the attention of mainstream media, who expressed both curiosity and skepticism. The L.A. Times wrote, “There are lots of ways to support a political candidate, from making phone calls to donating money. Some turn to prayer, Christian or otherwise. Add Wiccan rituals to the list.”  According to the article, there were as many observers as their were participants. LaFleur, not deterred by the media’s attention, has planned a second ritual event, scheduled for Monday, May 16 at 5:30. As with the first one, the Ritual for Bernie Sanders 2 will be held in Woodstock Park in Portland, Oregon.
  • “Heathen at the Helm.” Wild Hunt writer and Norse Mythology blogger Karl E. H. Seigfried was elected to be the new president of Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago. Seigfried said, “I’m not sure how many interfaith organizations at major institutions are headed by a practitioner of Asatru, but I’m guessing not many.” As noted on the website, “Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago is an organization that hosts discussions on religion and spirituality, presents guest speakers, visits local places of worship, studies different religious traditions, and produces an interfaith journal.”
  • Normal People Productions has launched the trailer for the upcoming theatrical production Doreen Valiente: An English Witch. Based on the recently published biography, the play will run Nov. 21-27 at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton. Tickets are now on sale.

  • Three Drops from the Cauldron, a U.K.-based publisher, is putting together an anthology on, as it says, the “best writing we receive on Witches, rituals, and spells.”  The deadline for submission is coming up May 29.  The anthology will be called Full Moon & Foxglove (An Anthology of Witches & Witchcraft), and will be published in paperback. Not a practicing Witch? Three Drops has several other calls for submissions with deadline and requirements posted on its website.
  • And, from the blogosphere, Alison Leigh Lilly discusses the Shaman & Priest: How America’s Cultural Landscape Shapes Its Religious InstitutionsOn Nature’s Path, the Patheos blog dedicated to Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Lilly writes, “In a culture that still clings to the social traditions of agricultural society and dismisses hunter-gatherer lifestyle as inherently “primitive” even while adopting some of its characteristics, Druidry can find a place of balance and harmony, acknowledging everything priesthood and shamanism have to offer.”
  • The Wild Hunt is currently accepting submissions from Pagan, Heathen and polytheist writers from outside of the United States for its Around the World monthly column. For more details, contact editor at wildhunt [dot] org.

Send us your news tips and story ideas.

In part one of this series, The Wild Hunt looked at several successful infrastructure projects in order to see what they have in common. Today, in part two, we examine a Celtic temple and a Pagan community center to see what went wrong and what we can learn, along with a few other examples of infrastructure that appear to be doing well, but may face challenges in the future.

“I’ve been running a ‘pagan’ organization complete with a paid clergy and a permanent temple building for 15 years. Is it because I don’t identify as Pagan or go to this ‘pagan community’ for membership and support? Or is it something else?  I dunno.” – Rev. Tamara Siuda

Temple of the River
Temple of the River (TOR) was the first official temple of the Old Belief Society, a community intended to train Celtic priests by combining academic and spiritual teachings. Founded by Drew Jacob. the group originally occupied a space in Minneapolis before moving to Jacob’s home. In 2006 the group decided they wanted to build their own temple.

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Constructed to look like a traditional Irish cottage, the temple was built in Jacob’s backyard. Contractors laid the foundation, roofing, and stucco of the temple, while members of the Old Belief Society pounded the earth floor, lime washed the exterior, and painted the trim. Funds to build the temple came from Jacob and from members of the group. Setbacks, ranging from inspections to funding, challenged the building process over the course of three years. The opening purification ritual was celebrated September 2010.

The temple was open to the public for monthly scheduled events, holiday feasts, and classes. The group appeared stable, as did its finances. In June 2011, Jacob wrote, “In less than six months we shifted from a small clique-like organization with no public presence to a bustling, dynamic community … It was because of this surge of enthusiasm and interest—from a primarily non-Pagan crowd—that we were able to finally realize a dream of seeing ancient Irish religion alive and practiced as closely as possible to its original form.”

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Less than a week later after writing that, Jacob announced he was closing the Temple of the River, disbanding the Old Belief Society, and leaving on a spiritual quest. In a press release Jacob said, “We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the [spiritual] impact I want to see it make.”

A lack of  improving enough lives and changing spiritual needs are the reasons Jacob gave for Temple of the River disbanding and the Temple closing its doors. He sold his home and the temple’s property in January of 2011 and was living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Minneapolis at the time of the announcement.

The temple closed in June only nine months after opening. Members of the temple were surprised by the announcement and, as far as is known, have not formed another group.

Takeaways from the Temple of the River:

  • The building of the temple followed all local zoning and building codes. If you don’t, you run the risk of having your building shut down or incurring fines.
  • The group was formed around a capable and knowledgeable leader, but there was no succession plan in place to continue if he left, had a profound change of heart, or died.
  • While the group contributed to the creation of the temple, both financially and in sweat equity, the main financial burden were borne by Jacob, and the temple was located on his privately owned property. Therefore, the property and its temple were legally solely his. This meant Jacob was solely responsible for all costs and legal obligations, but it also meant he could sell it or close it at any time.

The Celtic Temple was beautiful sacred space to which members felt very connected and for which they were willing to contribute time and money. The Old Belief Society was an organized group with clear goals and regular meetings. Yet, when a shared piece of infrastructure is owned entirely by one person, the group can lose it at any moment. The person owning it can hit hard financial times, could die, there could be personality conflicts, or they could change their spirituality – which is what happened in this case.

It’s often difficult for group members, or any potential donors, to decide if a project such as this one, owned by one person, is something in which to get involved. On the other hand, that’s usually the only way projects, such as this one, get started. One person is willing to take the risk and has the resources to accomplish the task.

Tawy House Kemetic Temple
In 1994, Rev. Tamara Siuda filed paperwork to make her religious group, the Kemetic Orthodox House of Netjer, a legal non-profit in the state of Michigan. By 2000, the group had achieved federal 501(c)(3) status.

Also in 2000, the Tawy House,  Kemetic Orthodox retreat, was created out of the childhood home of the group’s founder, Rev. Siuda. The house sat on 2.5 acres of woods in Michigan and was mostly open during the summer months. That same year Suida began drawing a modest salary as the group’s spiritual leader.

By 2003 the group had grown larger and started looking for a larger space that they could use year round. In October of that year, they had raised enough funds to purchase a former convent in Illinois. The 100-year-old three-story brick building was converted for their use and now contains a full-size temple chapel, a library, a dedicated kitchen and dining area, the permanent residence and offices for Rev. Siuda, and short- and long-term guestrooms for visiting clergy and temple members.

A core group of around 50 members donate on a regular basis, and these donations add up to between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Last fall, when the temple’s boiler broke and a ceiling, damaged by leaking water, needed to be repaired, a special appeal for funds was pitched to members. They were able to raise over $3000 for the repairs and also buy a new refrigerator.

The temple got its start by using property owned by its founder. However, it was able to grow past that point within a fairly short time and buy property specifically for use as a temple. The group is still formed around the founder, who lives in the Tawy House temple, and doesn’t appear to have a succession plan.

While it’s generally commonly known that groups are likely to collapse after the loss of the founder, its equally uncommon for groups or organizations to put a succession plan in place to not only preserve the group but also preserve whatever infrastructure they have built.

The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt (TWH), although different from a temple or community center, is one such organization with infrastructure that has survived (so far) intact.

Jason Pitzl-Waters started The Wild Hunt back in 2004. He had been looking for a reliable blog that would link to news stories that were either about modern Paganism or would be of interest to Pagans. He noticed there wasn’t much out there. At first he didn’t post every day, but as the readership grew, so did the frequency of his posts.

In 2011, he held his first fundraiser for the site to gauge if readers valued his work enough to donate. In the summer of 2011, still looking for a modest funding model, The Wild Hunt moved to Patheos. The popular religion site was attracted to The Wild Hunt due to its readership numbers and high quality of reliable, daily content. This continued for almost exactly one year. Then, in the summer of 2012, The Wild Hunt became an independent entity again.

Since that time, TWH has used a yearly Fall Funding Drive hosted on Indiegogo as a way to finance its operating costs, which include robust hosting, an editor, and modestly paid contributors. In the 2012 funding drive, 161 people donated for a total of $9,483. In 2013, 305 people donated to TWH for a total of $12,984. In 2014, the number of people donating dropped to 285, but the total amount raised rose to just over $15,000. In each of the funding drives, TWH clearly lays out its proposed budget for the next year.

None of this happened overnight. Jason Pitzl-Waters wrote almost daily articles for seven years before he engaged in his first funding effort. He slowly added other writers to prevent burnout and then created a succession plan so he could pursue other interests. In spring 2014, Pitzl-Waters handed TWH over to its editor Heather Greene, demonstrating a successful succession plan.

Will TWH continue to survive and thrive without its founder? Will Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists continue to find value in and support the content TWH puts out each day? Only time will tell.

“I wonder if the data shows that Pagans really only fund projects with a clear deliverable they can consume?” Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Northridge

Dr. Kirner notes that The Wild Hunt has a clear, consistent deliverable which contrasts with organizations that need regular funding to operate programs. “Everyone loves funding something new with a clear timeline. It is much harder to get people to fund things that happen more or less the same, month after month, year after year. People tend to take this for granted and not find it very exciting. I think many Western religious organizations get around this through a concept of tithing, which then integrates this not-so-exciting ongoing giving with spiritual values,” says Dr. Kirner. She wonders if, in the absence of an acceptance of tithing as a concept, if Pagans are only going to support projects with a short-term deliverable that they can use.

In the case of a community center in Minneapolis, the answer was yes, Pagans were willing to contribute regular funding to a longer term operation. Yet it still failed.

 “In Paganistan we need meeting space. It was easier when the Eye [of Horus store] had a room but now groups are meeting at the library or a members house or renting occasional church space. Only one group I know has a permanent rented dedicated space and they do that by charging membership dues.”  – Larissa Bedazzler

Sacred Paths Center
After three rocky years, in May 2012, the Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota, announced it was closing. Shortly after the announcement, I spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor.  I looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Director Teisha Magee to find out what happened.

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional. The finances were in disarray; the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income, from two years of road construction right outside their door, didn’t help matters. Despite all of that, they were are united in saying that the center almost made it due to the efforts of the Director, Board, volunteers and the most importantly, community support.

To find out why the center closed, you have to examine how the center was created. In January 2009, after a few weeks discussing the idea of a community center with family and friends, Teisha Magee signed the lease for what would be the Sacred Paths Center. The $1500 raised in a personal Paypal account allowed her to cover moving expenses and open the doors February 13.

Most of the flaws in SPC were formed at its birth, and contributed to its cycle of funding crises.

It was set up as a private business, and the financial accounts of Magee, the owner, and the center were mingled. Magee was unskilled in bookkeeping, and there was little to no documentation of the center’s finances. According to the person who audited SPC in 2011, this was routine and it caused difficulties that plagued the center for the course of its existence.

The center never converted to a 501c3 and was instead registered as a corporate non-profit in the state of Minnesota.  This meant Magee owned the center and the center’s board was more of an advisory council rather than a governing board with fiduciary authority.

The start-up funding of SPC consisted of the private funds from Magee and $1500 raised from supporters after a few weeks. With fixed expenses coming in at around $4000 a month, that was insufficient cash reserves. Small business experts suggest a new business have between six months to two years operating expenses saved and in the bank before they open their doors. SPC started out, almost from the beginning, behind in its bills and without a cash reserve built up. The center experienced repeated financial crises.

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In summer 2009, just six months after SPC opened, the community was told that SPC was holding an emergency fundraiser to help pay its outstanding bills. The funds were raised. During the next year, the center was barely financially stable, and ans August 2010 fund raiser was held to build up cash reserves. But only a modest $3000 was raised.

To make matters worse, a two-year construction project began on the road leading to SPC.  As a result, revenue from the front store dropped. In July 2011, the center said it needed $12,000 within a month to pay past due bills or the center would close. Pagans from across the country donated and the amount was raised. But the center could not get ahead of the bills or create the needed reserve.

In July 2011, when the center had its second financial crisis, the SPC underwent an independent audit. The auditor recommended education on financial best practices for Magee and the board, stronger financial oversight by the board, and that two persons approve all expenses. The director and the board didn’t act on the audit’s recommendations. The auditor believes a lack of financial knowledge and skills prevented them from implementing the recommendation.

Volunteers are one of the reasons the center stayed viable for as long as it did. Every person who staffed the center was a volunteer, even the owner and Executive Director Teisha Magee, who worked all day, on most days without drawing a salary. This is a considerable savings as the average community center director in Minneapolis brings home $78,000 a year.

The location seemed like the ideal place for a Pagan shop and community center, but it wasn’t sustainable from the start and would only grow worse. The neighborhood was welcoming and eclectic, and the landlord was friendly. It was on a bus line, had ample parking, and was very spacious. It was also expensive and only grew more expensive. The rent, set at $1500 when Magee signed the lease, rose to just over $2000 in 2011, and was negotiated back down to $1500 for 2012. Utilities averaged barely under $1000 a month.

The center adjusted to the expenses during the last part of 2009 and seemed to hit a stride in 2010. The store was bringing in the lion’s share of income, but memberships and room rentals were also up. They learned the business cycle and knew how to plan for slower summers and busier winters.

Then construction for a light rail track started. It was a very large straw that broke the camel’s back. Getting to the center became increasingly difficult. Parking was harder to find. In 2011 memberships started to drop as did store revenues. What little cash reserves they built up in 2010 were quickly used. Other businesses around the center struggled and a few of them failed.

By late 2011, the center considered moving and, in early 2012, it became more of a priority. Which brings us to May 2012, with three months unpaid rent,  the phones shut off, and Magee facing up to $25,000 in debt when all accounts were finally settled. SPC had to close, so it did.

Takeaways from Sacred Paths Center:

  • The community gave significant monetary and volunteer support to the center. In 2011 the center brought in approximately $50,000 in revenue. In February 2012 they generated $4000 in revenue and in March, the center received $440 in membership dues alone. 
  • The center was heavily and consistently used, hosting between 45-50 scheduled events per month. There were weekly gatherings, such as the Monday night potluck and the Thursday night Mentoring Elders program. Witch wars were laid to rest at SPC; the most notable being the rift healed between the Minnesota Church of Wicca and the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Photos and ashes rest on the memorial ancestor shrine. Fundraisers were held for community members facing costly illnesses. 
  • The center diversified revenue streams. The store brought in the lion’s share of income, but there were also memberships with perks and room rental income. 
  • Almost every person involved, from the Director/Owner down to many of the board members didn’t have basic business skills. And didn’t take classes to learn basic business skills. 
  • The center was launched quickly, without enough start up funds. SPC was behind on its bills from almost the very first day. 
  • The center’s expenses were too high. 
  • It depended too heavily on volunteers, which lead to burnout and mistakes. 
  • It hoped for the best, but was unprepared for obstacles, such as the road leading to the center being torn up.

It’s clear that the community center quickly became the center of the Pagan community in the Twin Cities area and that it was heavily utilized and supported by the community. With better management, upfront cash reserves, and more modest expenses a community center could once again open in the Twin cities because local Pagans saw a need. The question now is, will area Pagans be willing to support another community center after the ups and downs of Sacred Paths Center?

 My area DESPERATELY needs meeting space. My group is always at the mercy of library spaces. And now that we’ve gotten so big recently, 200+ active members, we are the largest pagan org in DC, it’s getting harder and harder to find spaces that can accommodate all of us. Now we can only rent out one library’s auditorium because its the only space we know of indoors that can fit more than 50 people at a time. – David Salisbury

Star and Stone Druid Fellowship
Many groups are experiencing similar growing pains as David Salisbury’s group. One such group is Star and Stone Druid Fellowship, an OBOD Seed Group. They are still too small to build much infrastructure, but too large to keep operating in a casual, pass-the-hat way. Too big for the living room, but too small to regularly rent a venue.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, who’s part of the grove, says that the group funds its operations in three ways. The 12 initiates pay annual dues of $40 per person, passing the hat at each gathering brings in another $10 to $20 per person per gathering, and a few members routinely pay out of pocket to host rituals or provide the necessary supplies. The funds go to pay website hosting, reservations or the annual Lughnasadh camping trip, and food for regular gatherings.

The group is growing. In addition to their twelve members, they also have two other persons who regularly attend festivals plus friends and family of initiates. With 20 or more persons now attending events, they need a regular space to meet.

They’d also like to host larger public rituals and rent cabins or park space more than one time a year, but they are limited by money. They’re also limited by time. Most members work full time jobs, which means the time they can devote to volunteering for the group or for the wider Pagan community is in short supply. 

Often, I see Pagan communities having to compromise, and to center themselves around who has a resource, like a large plot of land, that they are willing to share, whether the person with the land and resources is good at being in community or not. With time, hopefully we’ll be in a position where stronger, more cohesive Pagan communities will begin to attract some of the resources to themselves, rather than having to center around a few folks with the money or land to be able to subsidize us–because even though such people can be great, that does get in the way of that feeling like our communities belong equally to us all.”–  Cat Chapin-Bishop

Mt. Toby Meeting House
Better known as Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends has infrastructure lessons that emerging Pagan communities and groups can learn from. Yet there are challenges Pagans face that Quakers do not. Quakers place great value in coming together for regular, mostly silent, worship. Pagans may come together in worship, but the differences in types of Pagans means most Pagans only come together in very small groups and do so fewer times a year.

The 120 acres of land and the meeting house Cat Chapin-Bishop attends was donated as a gift, as was the financing to build the actual structure back 1964. Additional gifts over the years helped expand the meeting house and maintain a burial ground. The fact that Quakers have been around for over 500 years makes gifts of these sorts more likely than a religion that has been actively practiced for only a few decades.

There are around 60 to 70 Friends who attend meetings each week at Mt. Toby and this particular meeting house has about 200 to 300 people who regularly support it. They donate about $58,000 per year. Funds are not raised by passing a collection plate, attendees are simply reminded what an average family contributes and what the financial needs are.

Every member or attender of the meeting is responsible for a week of cleaning during the year. While some volunteer up to 20 hours a week to help out, others primarily just attend the meetings. Everything that can be done by volunteers, is done by volunteers.

The major expenses are maintaining the meeting house, utilities, and monetary support for members to attend workshops and conferences. There is no paid clergy among the Friends.

Members have a feeling of ownership toward the meeting house; a feeling that the Society of Friends encourages through their actions. Once you volunteer to clean the meeting house, you have access to the building’s keys. Members care for the property. There is no leader in charge, no one person owns anything. And since worship is held each week, a feeling of community develops. The meeting house starts to feel like a second home.

Takeaways from the Mt Toby Meeting House:

  • This type of self-sustaining infrastructure takes generations to build up, but a gift of land or money for land happens first. The group is able to keep expenses low through the devotion of its members.
  • The Society of Friends is known for having a culture of openness and trust. If you show up, you’ll be welcomed in. If you clean the meeting house, you’re given a key. Want to see the finances? Attend a business meeting.
  • No one is pressured to donate. They list out their needs and trust that people who can afford it will donate funds to take care of one another. Cat Chapin-Bishop says it simply feels natural to give.

Mt. Toby is luckier than many Quaker meeting houses. For instance, they have a larger membership. Some older meeting houses can no longer afford to maintain the space, and the property is becoming more of a liability than an asset. It’s important to constantly evaluate if your infrastructure is helping you or hurting you.

Every group and community has to decide if an potential infrastructure, of any kind, addresses an actual need, or is just something they want. They need to plan carefully, have a detailed business plan in place, and have competent and trustworthy people in charge.

Having the physical assets owned by the entire group or a whole community can protect not just the organization, but the founder, as well.  And none of this happens quickly. It takes years, decades, and generations to build something that will last well-past the original founders.

Covenant of the GoddessSAN BERNARDINO –In the forty years since Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) was formed, its members have been on the front lines of battles for equal rights as prison chaplains, as veterans, as parents, and as people. The organization has helped to define the Wiccan and wider Pagan communities, has weathered the Satanic panics and the infamous Helms amendment, which threatened to remove tax-exempt status from “occult” churches, and endured the more recent attacks launched by such luminaries as George W. Bush and Bob Barr.

However, in recent months, this venerable collective of covens and solitary practitioners has faced an internal upheaval, which has since become quite public, and could be one of its most difficult struggles to date. The spark which ignited the firestorm was the very current ignition point: race.

Early in December, Pagan and polytheist individuals and groups issued statements of support and calls to action in response to the treatment of people of color in American society. As the Wild Hunt coverage at the time noted, its own columnist Crystal Blanton was the catalyst of this show of solidarity. CoG was among the organizations that released a statement, which began with this paragraph:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

To say the statement fell flat is an understatement. Critics quickly noted that it avoided any reference to specific events, such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or Eric Garner in New York City. The statement replaced the viral phrase “black lives matter” with the more inclusive “all lives matter,” which was interpreted by a number of Facebook observers to be code for white privilege.

In that social media venue, comments ranged from people decrying the “whitewashing” of systemic racism to others who took great umbrage at the idea that broadening the scope was inappropriate. A similar debate was also taking place, out of public eye, on one of the Covenant’s internal email lists. These lists were not made available for review due to the expectation of privacy by members.

Tiffani Thomas Parker

Tiffani Thomas Parker [Courtesy Photo]

In reaction to that first statement, several members resigned from the organization in protest. CoG Member Tiffany Thomas Parker, who was not one of those to leave, offered her own perspective. She provided further insight into what led to such a strong pushback:

First of all, I will say that I am happy of some of the things that CoG has done for Pagans as a whole. But with that said, I was very disappointed with them with the statement they originally gave.

My first initial reaction was to reread what I read. Then came disappointment and anger. I was thinking to myself “Of all people, Pagans as a whole should know what it is like to be stereotyped and singled out. They should be behind the movement to ensure that ANYONE doesn’t get targeted like this.”

They should have consulted, asked, or even suggested to get opinions from those of color (regardless of race) to get a better understanding of what was going on to get a better perspective. It may not have happened to those who are the head of the organization, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. To simply ignore an issue such as this was a slap in the face.

Furthermore, I do think that if they had acknowledged the issue, it would have shown the Pagans of Color that they have our back and it would have given them a light of hope that they felt supported and could have joined CoG. CoG isn’t as diverse as I would have liked it to be, and it would have been a HUGE opportunity and they blew it.

Yvonne C. Conway-Williams, an assistant to CoG’s National Board, also felt the statement came up short, and said so on the internal CoG list. However, Conway-Williams understands the limitations of the organization’s consensus-driven process, saying that “. . . there was a sense of urgency, which is why I think they did not send it to a committee and instead chose to deal with it as a national board.”  She added, “My stance has long been that we are not truly hearing from a vast majority of CoG members on the private elists. One person is required to be on our announcements list per member coven. Other members of a coven might wish to subscribe… Even fewer people are signed up for our discussion and debate elist. What this means is there’s only a select few who are having say and input on these issues. By doing so, I personally do not feel all members are being heard. I think it would be great if more members were involved at a deeper level with national activities such as this statement.”

Public Information Officer Gordon Stone echoed Conway-Williams’ concerns about how representative an e-list can be, saying, “I think it is also important to mention that not every member of CoG is on the e-lists. This is why CoG does not set organizational policy through email discussion.”

Outside of the organization, the board’s statement was also attacked as generic and meaningless. Devotional polytheist Caer said:

The only way we can win this fight is to actively engage in it. We must commit. As above, so below. As without, so within. We can’t just say the words and make the gestures and leave them both hanging there, unsupported. That won’t accomplish anything, brings us no closer to our goals. We have to acknowledge the problem, clearly state our intent, and we have to move from problem to goal by actively doing something.

Longtime CoG member Marybeth Pythia Witt, also known as Lady Pythia, commented more recently about that initial statement, saying in part, “We also learned too late that the all lives matter hashtag is used by a conservative anti-abortion group, ergo, the original post was incorrect for more than one reason.”

Lady Pythia during an event doing outreach for CoG in 1987 [Photo Provided by Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

Lady Pythia during a Wiccan event in which she did media outreach for CoG [Photo Provided by Lady Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

The discussion appears to have continued on, largely unabated on the Covenant’s internal debate & discussion e-list. Members of the national board recognized that a different approach was needed to address these widespread concerns. According to First Officer Kasha, after the initial statement was published,

We immediately received feedback from individuals inside and outside of the organization and began to reconsider the content of the statement and its impact on our members. On December 11, we issued an apology, published on our internal announcement list, to those members who were hurt by this statement, explaining that the original statement was created in an effort to express the opinion of our diverse membership, and we realized we had missed the mark.

At that time we solicited members for a committee to draft a new statement to be released internally and then potentially approved at our National Meeting in August. In the following weeks, Gordon Stone, our Public Information Officer, and a committee of volunteers developed the new statement.

That revised statement was released in draft form on Jan. 20 with a note of explanation about the process for formal adoption. It stated, “In order to allow the membership of CoG a chance to have input on this new statement, it was released internally on our organization’s e-mail list last week. The membership will have the opportunity to review, revise, and adopt it as a statement made by the entire organization at the annual meeting in August 2015.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

However, any fanfare that might have accompanied this new draft was deafened by a blog post written by former First Officer Peter Dybing and published the day before. Writing under the title An Indictment of Covenant of the Goddess, Racism Exposed, Dybing lambasted his fellow members, asserting that his comments on the private list had been censored as part of a wider effort to silence dissent over these issues. He further claims that one of the individuals guiding the discussion was known to use racist epithets in casual conversation.

Let me be clear, there are many great people in CoG that I have worked with over the years. What this post represents is an indictment of the power structures that at all costs will engage in ensuring that the organization does not change. When truth is spoken to power the result is oppression. It is evident that those engaging in these behaviors have little insight into their actions, yet it remains that their actions are sheltering racism within the organization.

Not surprisingly, considerable outcry resulted with some taking to social media to applaud Dybing’s words, and others claiming he had breached CoG’s code of ethics. The two points of that code which appear to speak most closely to that questions are, “All persons associated with this Covenant shall respect the traditional secrecy of our religion” and “Members of this Covenant should ever keep in mind the underlying unity of our religion as well as the diversity of its manifestations.” Dybing maintains he has not violated ethical standards because he has not named anyone.

Whether Dybing was “censored” or “moderated” is also a matter of internal debate. The organization does have a policy covering e-list discussions, and Kasha said, “We did apply our policy uniformly. Many Members were warned about inappropriate posts and, rather than removing members from the list, those not complying with the Net Coordinator’s (Netco’s) requests for civility were placed on moderated status. Posts that continued to violate the Netco’s request for civility were not put through to the list. After 2 or 3 days, when calmer conversation and cooler heads prevailed, the moderation of all subscribers was lifted and the discussion list was reopened to courteous discussion of all topics.” The policy actually allows the Netco to remove offenders from the list entirely, pending an appeal to the national board, but that allegedly did not occur.

CoG member Daryl Fuller, a participant in those e-discussions, publicly published a point-by-point refutation of Dybing’s post, calling much of it “half-truth and rumor-mongering.” In that response, Fuller took particular exception to the allegations being tossed around about another unnamed member. He also admits to being moderated himself, adding “No one is currently being censored on any COG email list.”

When asked about this controversy, NPIO Stone said, “I would respectfully request that your readers bear in mind that these two CoG Members were speaking as individuals rather than as official representatives of the organization. CoG also has ethical standards outlined in our bylaws, and all members are expected to know and adhere to these standards.  I encourage your readers to make a decision about what CoG stands for by speaking with several of our Members, or contacting the nearest local council for more information.”

The second statement, a draft, has also received considerable Facebook attention, and again, reactions were mixed. Comments range from gratitude to expressions that it doesn’t go far enough to complaints that saying that black lives matter discounts the struggles of other groups.

As part of a lengthier commentary, Cat Chapin-Bishop observed, “I am in no way surprised to hear statements from CoG members that seem to deny and minimize the reality of racism today. From the ‘Irish people were discriminated against, too,’ to ‘I don’t see color,’ the whole range of well-meaning white cluelessness is on display. But I’m not surprised or shocked by that, because I have come to understand, since the events in Ferguson this past summer, just how out of touch I, and other white people, truly have become on this subject.”

Penny Novak, a former Second Officer of CoG, acknowledged that there is surely racism within the ranks.  She said that “any organization without a political filter on it has racists in it.” However, she characterized Dybing’s behavior on the e-list as “really off the wall” and “very obnoxious.” What he failed to understand, Novak thought, was that many older people with racially-biased world views are unaware of that fact. “Give them a break, Peter, they don’t even know!” she said. While some of her contemporaries haven’t exactly kept up with the times, she didn’t believe that his “kicking and screaming” approach was likely to change hearts and minds. She explained further:

I’ve been thinking about the many ways in which language around the issue of race has changed during my lifetime. You may feel it’s obvious but it really isn’t. It isn’t even obvious between the generations of the Black Community.  Believe me, when I was young calling a person Black was disrespectful …  Those of us who were white and didn’t want to further the blot of what had been done to those of African-descent in our communities were very particular about the language we used…  

I’m not excusing the use of disrespectful language but when social use of language changes rapidly from generation to generation there will be bleed-over and sometimes what was socially acceptable positions become anathema. If you’re not keeping up, if you don’t keep an eye on the young folks you’ll miss when things start switching …You need to be very careful and you need to step lightly. 

More significantly, Novak thinks that, while questions over race caused this controversy, the issues run far deeper, saying that CoG “has basically been ruined by a few people who want power, and it’s ridiculous because CoG is an organization without power.” The decisions lie with local councils and member covens, she explained, and the national board has little sway. “Look what happens when they try to make a statement like big organizations do,” she said, “complete wimpdom.”

It still remains to be seen what kind of statement this organization will finally release on the subject and how it will move forward with tackling the accusations of racial inequality and systemic racism within the organization. Consensus must be achieved, and that won’t happen until the national meeting in August. That’s what Novak means when she says that CoG has no power.

This is a thread picked up by Kirk White, a former co-first officer who wonders about the covenant’s future. He said:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

Part of the underlying problem is that CoG is adrift in its purpose and seeking to regain its relevance. Its foundational purpose was “to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions.” Back in 1975 it was hard to connect with other Witches, get ordained, and we were still establishing our rights as a valid, legal religion. It was easy to rally the members around clearly Witch issues but now these battles are mostly won, ordination is laughably easy and we have the internet. So there is a struggle in CoG over how to restore relevance and attract younger members. The few younger members we do have and the more liberal members want CoG to be more activist to regain relevance.

But without clear Witch issues, the political polarization of our secular world is invading CoG’s inner processes over which causes to support. Environmental issues, women’s rights, gun rights, and racial inequality have all been split into “liberal” or “conservative” views by today’s media and CoG’s membership, being politically diverse finds itself unable to find consensus — which is how CoG operates — on just about anything. Thus, issues like #blacklivesmatter — originally seen as a “liberal” cause — are almost impossible to agree on quickly, if ever. This is frustrating to those more activist members, and combined with some bad blood left over from previous conflicts, has led to the recent resignations and bitter fighting within some of the more vocal parts of CoG.

Others see hope for the organization’s future. NPIO Stone said:

CoG as an organization is strengthened by the dialogue of our diverse membership. Sometimes that dialogue is easy and sometimes it is challenging; however, in my view, it is always educational. All Board members maintain an open door policy, and members are welcome to email the Board directly when they have concerns or questions. The appropriate Board Member will reply, usually in a relatively short time frame. Keeping that dialogue going is one of the best ways for CoG to insure that the organization will continue for many years to come.

While describing the process of examining issues such as social justice and the path to membership, First Officer Kasha said, “Clearly, the needs of CoG’s membership have evolved over the past 40 years, and our go forward plan is to continue to assess our needs, and ultimately, potentially revise our mission …In a consensus driven organization like CoG, this can take a long time, but our committed membership has been through several tides of change and will weather this one as well, being stronger for the work.”

“CoG is ready to evolve,” said Lady Pythia. “We’re not Witches for nothing.”

On Monday, police in Bluefield, West Virginia arrested James Irvin on multiple charges of sexual abuse and sexual assault against children. Local West Virginia media say that according to the police report, Irvin allegedly promised magical feats of healing and even resurrection of the dead so long as the children complied with his requests.

James Irvin. Screenshot taken from WVVA coverage.

James Irvin. Screenshot taken from WVVA coverage.

“According to the criminal complaint, two of the victims lived with their mother and stepfather in Irvin’s home on Giles Street when the alleged offenses occurred in 2007. The complaint states the alleged sex acts were performed under the guise of Pagan/Wiccan rituals, of which Irvin was a follower. One victim testified that Irvin forced her to perform the sexual acts, described as ‘magic’ to ‘make mommy well,’ the complaint states. […] A third victim — a friend of the family — has also come forward to report that she was sexually abused by Irvin on four occasions at his home. She told police, according to the criminal complaint, that Irvin told her the ‘magic’ acts could ‘make her recently deceased father come back.'”

As news of this arrest spread through the Pagan community, anger at Irvin’s alleged crimes were evident, with some asking how anyone could distort Wicca, which places an emphasis on not harming others, into something that could encompass the sexual abuse of children. Cat Chapin-Bishop, former Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, with over 20 years of experience as a counselor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, says that in some cases religion or claims to supernatural powers are merely a means to an end for perpetrators of abuse.

“For some perpetrators the lies and deceptions they use to manipulate children are something they enjoy, in and of themselves. For others, they’re just a means to an end: controlling child victims. Whatever is the case here, as terrible as it is that our religious beliefs have been distorted in such an ugly way as part of this abuse, the real horror is the crime itself: children betrayed by adults they should have been able to trust. This is the real tragedy here.”

Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization that works to network and empower Wiccan and religious Witchcraft traditions in the United States, issued a statement on this arrest from its Hills & Rivers Local Council, which serves the Pennslyvania, western New York State, and West Virginia area.

“Our faith depends on strict ethics that ask us to harm no one. The Wiccan religion does not tolerate acts that abuse children in any way. It is against our code of ethics to do anything of this nature. We are disheartened to learn that anyone would use our religion to harm children.” – Lady Annabelle, First Officer of Hills & Rivers Local Council, Covenant of the Goddess and High Priestess of Grove of Gaia.

Lady Annabelle went on to add that Hills & Rivers Local Council has reached out to local media in Bluefield to, quote, “offer any information or assistance in the reporting of this story and future stories that involve Wicca and Paganism.” 

Chapin-Bishop, who recently wrote a guest post for The Wild Hunt on how to best respond to abuse within the Pagan community, adds that whatever Irvin’s beliefs may or may not have been, “it’s a good reminder to our community of the wisdom of doing background checks on anyone who is working directly with children. We may not detect every offender this way, but it will be worth it to detect those we can.” As for Irvin, he is currently being held on $100,000 bond, and may face additional charges according to WVVA’s Lindsay Oliver. We will keep you posted as this story develops.

[The following is a guest post from Cat Chapin-Bishop. Cat Chapin-Bishop became a psychotherapist in 1986, and she has had over 20 years of experience as a counselor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She served as the first Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, and designed the earliest version of CHS’s Boundaries and Ethics course, which is still central to the program there. Cat has been a Pagan since 1987, and a Quaker as well as a Pagan since 2001. Her writings can be found online at Quaker Pagan Reflections.]

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an discusses sexual abuse and suicide, and may be triggering to some people.

The first perpetrator of child sexual abuse I ever reported committed suicide.

I’m aware that there are those who, on hearing that, will say, “Well, good!  One less pervert in the world.”  Unfortunately, the world is not so simple as that.

This was back in the mid-eighties, and I was still an intern in psychotherapy.  My client was a single parent, the mother of two young boys, barely scraping by, in part with the help of a boarder… who, it turned out, had sexually abused both the boys.

“But it was only once!” the mother said.  “And I watch them all the time now.  It has never happened again!”  But, of course, it had happened again, and more than once.  We found that out after I did what the law required and made the phone call to child protective services.  Later that day, CPS called at the family’s home to interview the room-mate.  And later that night, he went into the garage and hung himself.

It was one of the boys who found his body.

To him, this man was not “a perpetrator.”  To him, this was the man who had taken him fishing and helped him with his homework.  Because while the abuse had been awful, it had not been all there was to this man’s presence in the boy’s life.  His feelings, like life itself, were complicated.


So the mandated counseling to help the boys recover from sexual abuse became counseling to help them cope with sexual abuse and the suicide of a member of their household.  And for a time, everyone in that small family had to struggle with the added burdens of guilt and financial hardship caused by this death.

I do not in any way regret making that report.  I do not believe that taking a young boy fishing wipes out the harm of abusing him, nor that paying part of a family’s living expenses erases the guilt of sexually abusing a child.

But the story points out the trouble with making sweeping generalizations about perpetrators.  Those who prey on children are also friends, family members, wage-earners… And sometimes they are artists, musicians, teachers, or members of a spiritual community whose work is missed when they are removed from those communities.

It is dangerous to caricature offenders as all alike, easily spotted, or wholly monstrous.

The trouble is, if we begin to believe that all perpetrators of child sexual abuse are like comic-book villains, we risk becoming blind to the cases that don’t fit that simple picture.  Our communities may begin to make excuses, to minimize, rationalize, and deny the abuse.  We say to ourselves, “But she was a teenager—she could have stopped it,” or “He’s not like those other perpetrators—it was only because he was drunk (had just lost his job/ had been divorced/ was depressed.)”

And then we may not pick up the phone and make the report—or we may not enforce a community statement that says we have a “zero tolerance policy” around sexual abuse.  Or we may try to “fix” an abuser through compassion and good intentions, without understanding that those are not the tools needed for this particular job.  To prevent that, we need to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, and understand the real world of perpetrators and their victims.

So what we do know about perpetrators?

They are, overwhelmingly, male.  Women can and do sexually abuse children, but it is far less common.

They are no more likely to be gay than straight, despite years of right wing propaganda to the contrary.  However, being gay does not mean that someone is not a perpetrator; there is no relationship between those two things.

They may well be minors themselves; the problem of sexual abuse of children by older children and teens is probably under-reported, and can be difficult to tell from “sexually reactive behavior” in which children act out abuse they may themselves have experienced.  (Effects on the victim may be very similar, though the prognosis for the perpetrator may be very different.  This is one case where seeking help, and not turning away from a perpetrator because he is not what we have been led to expect, can make an enormous difference for everyone.)

Some perpetrators will largely confine their abuse to members of their own family; others will offend primarily against unrelated children.  Some will have only a handful of victims, but many will abuse hundreds of children over the course of their lives.


Perpetrators are almost always survivors of childhood sexual abuse themselves.  Often, they are sexual offenders in multiple ways.  They may well have ongoing sexual relationships with adult women (or men) at the same time that they are abusing children.  They often (though not always) abuse drugs or alcohol, sometimes as a way of lowering their own inhibitions against committing a crime.

Often they will have a habit of objectifying the targets of their sexual interest; this is associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending.  Generally, they lack empathy for others, and particularly for children, but this is not always obvious.

It can be hard to get good information on recidivism among perpetrators of sexual abuse, because most studies rely on criminal convictions, which self-reports of convicted perpetrators reveal to be far fewer than the number of victims offended against.  What is clear is that sexual abusers of children have a high rate of repeating their crimes.

Treatment does lower that risk… but only if it is specialized offender treatment.  Counseling from sources other than specialists in this field seems to have no effect in lowering the risk of reoffending, and this is one area where no ethical pastoral counselor should even think of offering their “help” as a substitute for reporting abuse officially and having an offender complete a specialized offender treatment program.  Unless you have been trained in this specific area of practice, this one really is over your pay grade.

So who are the victims of child sexual abuse, and what are some of the effects of that abuse?

They’re a lot of different people, it turns out.

About 20% of adult women and 5—10% of adult men recall having been sexually abused as children.  Boys are more at risk of abuse by non-family members, possibly because boy children tend to be more mobile and independent of their parents’ supervision in our society.

Some research shows risk is evenly distributed across age groups, but other studies find that teenagers are especially at risk—an important thing to keep in mind, as there can be a tendency to blame the victim where teens are concerned; it’s important to remember that, though teenagers can engage in consensual sex with other teens, they still lack the knowledge and resources of adults, and there is always a power imbalance between an adult and a child.  Perpetrators take advantage of that power imbalance to manipulate victims of any age.  And there are other vulnerabilities perpetrators look for, to exploit among their victims.  We know that children who have been victimized in other ways, or whose families are affected by poverty, substance abuse, or violence are at higher risk for sexual abuse.

Whatever makes a child more vulnerable, in other words, makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The lingering effects of having been abused as children can include depression, PTSD, and a higher risk of substance abuse, suicide or self-injuring behaviors into adulthood.  Children who have been sexually abused may show prematurely sexualized behavior, and there is an elevated risk of being re-abused or sexually assaulted among children who have experienced sexual abuse.

It is worth mentioning that even when there is clear evidence that penetration has been part of sexual abuse, in only a small fraction of cases will there be genital injuries of that penetration.  This is important to understand, so that we do not refuse to accept the testimony of victims that is not corroborated by physical injury.


Sexual abuse is definitely harmful—but it may not be harmful in the ways we’ve been taught to expect.  And while children are in no way responsible for their own abuse, some responses to having been sexually exploited, such as early sexualization, may be misunderstood by adults in a way that allows us to dismiss their testimony.  We need to be careful to remember that victims of sexual abuse are complicated human beings, and no more likely to fit one mold than any of us.

What do we know about helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse to heal? 

There are a number of things we as a community can do to support survivors in their recovery after sexual abuse.

Research shows that some very simple things can make an enormous difference to how well survivors heal from the most horrific abuse: things like, when a victim reports their abuse to an adult in authority, that adult takes them seriously and acts on the report.

Counseling can be important, of course, but there is definitely a place for just standing by survivors and showing empathy.  Research suggests that other important factors in healing include having at least one non-abusive adult a child can confide in, and having a community that responds with what might be called moral clarity, making it clear immediately that, no matter what, children and teens are not to blame for their own abuse, and that sexual abuse is always the responsibility of the adult.  It turns out that simply being clear that the sexual abuse of children is wrong is of enormous benefit to survivors. We do not need to burn perpetrators in effigy to support survivors.

That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons: threats of violence against perpetrators, for example, may not be reassuring to a victim, but instead, can stir up feelings of guilt or fear—fear for themselves, as survivors of another form of violence, or for other adults in the child’s life, who may have been threatened by the abuser as a way to secure the victim’s silence.

Instead, reporting suspected abuse to the authorities, if that is still possible, and firm, consistent limit setting with those we reasonably believe to have sexually exploited children—regardless of the age of the victim, regardless of whether force was used, or whether the victim confided the abuse in an adult at the time or much later—is likely to be more helpful then vengeful rhetoric or acts of violence.

What else can we, the Pagan community, do to make our gatherings and groups safer for the children and teens who attend them?

In this area, there is a lot that we can do.

  • 1.  We should structure programs for children and teens to minimize the risk of abuse at gatherings.

This one is pretty straightforward.  Many gatherings are now large enough to have children’s programming, and that’s great.  However, we need to think about these programs as potential risks.  Perpetrators are often drawn to positions where they can interact with kids, because access allows opportunities to abuse.

To limit that, we need to do what other religious organizations and reputable child care programs do: make sure that children are never left in the company of just one adult.  All children’s programs need to have more than one adult staff member with kids at all times.  In addition, we need to make sure that kids’ programs happen in locations with lots of visibility and easy access for the parents.  For instance, one of my favorite gatherings features a large rec hall just off the main dining hall.  Both rooms are a hub of constant activity during the event, and the children’s programming happens mainly in that rec room, with parents and other community members constantly passing through.  It adds a note of cheerfulness to everyone’s experience… and it means that the whole community is aware of what is happening with the kids all the time.  Not conducive to abuse!

  • 2.   We should institute mandated reporter training for all gathering staff, along with education on perpetrator behavior and warning signs.

Many Pagan religions feature initiatory oaths of secrecy, and Pagan leaders often need to observe confidentiality around the identities of participants in community events in light of the religious discrimination which many of us still face.

However, there is a difference between protecting initiatory secrets and maintaining the confidence of Pagans in sensitive positions and preserving secrecy around suspected child abuse. Mandated reporter laws in every state require clergy, counselors, and child care workers to report all suspected incidents of child abuse—physical or sexual—and neglect.  Notice, the standard here is suspected abuse—not proven, not confirmed, but suspected abuse.

Staff at a Pagan gathering, Pagan clergy in the performance of their duties, and staff who provide programming for children and teens at community events are required as a matter of law to report when they suspect abuse has occurred to any underaged person.  Everyone whose work will put them in contact with the community’s children needs to be aware of their duty to report suspected abuse and neglect to that state’s child protective services… and the organization’s procedure for doing so.

Not only is this the law, but I believe there’s a moral case for following this law without exception.  I can’t tell you how painful it has been for me, as a counselor, to hear over and over again from adult survivors of child abuse that they had told a trusted adult what was happening to them… only to have that adult ignore their confidence.  The sense of betrayal caused by abuse is only deepened when an entire community seems willing to look the other way.

I understand that we may be tempted to short-circuit the legal channels for abuse.  We may not want to trust them.  However, we are not trained investigators in this field; we are not in a position to truly protect kids from abuse without help.  We are in no position to evaluate even the most sincere-sounding promises by an abuser that they will seek help.  No matter how counter-cultural our values may be, in this one area, I firmly believe we need to follow the legal process for signaling the state that a child may be in danger.

  • 3.     We should create trained community ombudsmen, to reach out to children and families affected by sexual abuse or sexual violence.

It’s great to have mandated reporter training for staff at events, but Pagan events are large, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes bewildering things.  There can be hundreds of strangers all around, and very few of us, surrounded by strangers, feel comfortable asking for help in a time of crisis.  Newcomers to a community may not even know where to turn for help.

The time has come for all large Pagan events to have clearly identified contact people who make it their job to be welcoming and accessible, and to serve as the first contacts for incidents or individuals that cause concern, whether or not they rise to the level of sexual assault or sexual abuse.

Needless to say, these people should have additional training, probably including in some form of counseling.  They will need to be calm, grounded, and very familiar with the resources of the area where any events are being held, and they will need to have the ear of the gathering’s coordinators and the community’s leaders. Finally, and most importantly, their job will not be to act as finders of fact—no individual is in any position to do that.  Instead, their job is to make sure that problems get noticed, victims get supported, reports get made, and records are kept—confidentially between the gathering’s leaders and any official investigators.

  • 4.     We should not attempt to create a secondary court system to determine the ultimate guilt or innocence of accused perpetrators.

This is a difficult thing.  We need at one and the same time to take seriously allegations by children and teens who report their abuse, and we need not to attempt to act as finders of fact. While false reports of abuse are exceedingly rare—at least as rare as false reports of other serious crimes, according to the FBI—they do occur.  Moreover, it is one thing to believe the testimony of victims themselves, and another to allow rumors and friend-of-a-friend accounts to rush us to judgement.

This is not only for the sake of the accused.  Not only are we, as a community, unable to provide the system of checks and balances that allow defendants their rights to fair trial, we are also unable to provide the level of expertise that properly trained investigators bring to their work with abused children.  Ironically, if we rush to create a parallel system to mete out justice, we may endanger the rights of both victims and the accused at the same time: we can both deprive the accused of a fair process within our communities, and also contaminate the evidence so that even solid grounds for a conviction will be inadmissible in a court of law.

Fact finding just isn’t our role.  When there is reason to suspect child sexual abuse, we need to hand the ultimate finding of fact over to those who have the resources to do the job properly.

  • 5.     We should empower local organizations to respond to suspicion and to concerns, through mandated reporting, banning, and/or watchful waiting for persons of concern. 

While it’s not the role of our communities to be substitutes for the legal system in determining guilt or innocence, neither do we have no role to play in judging what actions we need to make on a local level to protect our kids, and also to be sure that our leaders and teachers are held to a high standard of ethical conduct.  We need to establish clear guidelines in our local communities for removing persons of concern from positions of trust within the community, with or without a criminal conviction, when there have been credible, specific allegations of misconduct made.

I’m not talking about banning individuals based on vague rumors or the notion of guilt by association.  But I am talking about times when there have been repeated reports of troubling behavior made against a person, as reported by the people who were directly involved.

This may seem like a contradiction to my recommendation not to attempt to adjudicate questions of guilt or innocence on our own, but in fact, it is not.  Because, while we really need the standard of innocent until proven guilty where someone has been accused of a crime, whether we grant or refuse the privileges within our own communities is a different matter.

There, our standards will be different from those of a criminal court.  Not only will a different level of proof apply to our own hearings, but a different standard of behavior may be needed, too.  I would suggest that the higher the position of trust granted someone, the higher the standard of behavior we will hold them to.

Among our leaders and teachers, despite the fact that we have no means of our own of establishing guilt or innocence, credible reports of child sexual abuse at a minimum create an appearance that is at odds with our community’s ethics.  And in the case of a leader or a teacher, allowing them the privilege of holding themselves out as representatives of our religious traditions while they are under investigation for sexual abuse is simply inappropriate.

Likewise, given the high rates of recidivism among perpetrators, we may want to think twice about allowing anyone access to gatherings where children will be present, who has either a past conviction of any form of sexual exploitation of children, or who has been the subject of repeated, specific allegations from within the community, with or without any criminal convictions.

  • 6.     On an national and international level, we should encourage full, open disclosure of objective indicators of risk, like arrests for charges related to pedophilia.

We should report allegations as allegations where legal processes have been initiated, but not in the absence of legal action.  On some levels, this is very unsatisfying: how can past victims hope to warn future victims when a perpetrator who has never been arrested or convicted moves from one place to another?

On another, it is a way of recognizing the reality that we will never know every potential source of harm within our communities… while allowing our budding news services to function as they function best—as news services, reporting only what is subject to confirmation, only what is objective.  Trading in rumor may serve justice one day, but it will thwart it the next.  Without the greater knowledge of one another we can only have within local communities, we will have no way to prevent the kinds of abuses that many of the critics of the current wave of coverage fear: vague accusations that make polarize us, without actually making our communities any safer.


We live in a world of complexity, and as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are not separate from even the most dysfunctional aspects of our society as a whole.  Child sexual abuse is a part of our modern world, and sadly, it will remain part of the Pagan community as long as that continues to be true.

The good news is that we are not helpless.  We can do more to protect victims, and to keep perpetrators from using our communities to find and access victims.  It’s not enough; surely, we all wish we could do more.  But it is a good deal more than nothing.

As we work together to heal the world as a whole, may our efforts within our own communities take root and flourish.

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“I am pro-abortion. I am pro-abortion early term. I am pro-abortion in the middle of a pregnancy. I am pro-abortion late term. Those people who think a woman in late term pregnancy wants to terminate for any but the most serious reasons? They have to be deluded. Abortion is not a walk in the park, even early term. It costs. For many of us, it just costs less than carrying a pregnancy full term. I am pro-abortion because a parent’s life is worth more to me than the life of a zygote or a fetus. I am pro-abortion because, in my religion, death and life walk hand in hand, as part of one great cycle. Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself. Fostering life comes in many forms. We are not chattel. We are not property. We are humans who are willing to face the hard choices of adulthood. Rites of passage. Sometimes the patch of carrots must be thinned for other things to grow strong and healthy. Sometimes the fire moves through the forest, so the pines can release seeds.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on why she isn’t just “pro-choice.”

Sarah Veale

Sarah Veale

“Even Greek gods and Goddesses aren’t immune to physical passions. Duh. We all know about Zeus’ exploits with mortal women. As a god. As a swan. As a bull. Dude gets around. (And has a funny way of luring the ladies, but let’s not get into that. Keep it consensual, people!). But today I want to talk about Aphrodite, the queen bee of love. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, the goddess is a bit of a trickster who compels the gods to mingle with mortals. To get even, Zeus gives her a taste of her own medicine, making her fall for the carefree, guitar-playing Anchises, a cattle herder in Troy. To make a long story short, there’s lust, and subterfuge, and an awkward day after. So what’s so interesting about all this? Two things: One, in order to snag Anchises, Aphrodite has to hide her goddess-ness. Two: Sleeping with a goddess can get you into some real trouble.” – Sarah Veale, on the misfortunes that befall men who sleep with goddesses.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“I’m going to call myself a “devotional polytheist” from now on. I hate the term “hard polytheist,” and have never really liked it nor adopted it for myself; there’s all kinds of sexist and phallocentric aspects of the terminology that I find resentful and distasteful. I’ve preferred “polytheist” all on its own, because I think it is simple and relatively easy-to-understand and does exactly what it says on the tin, i.e. indicates the acknowledgement of many gods, which is the best understanding of my own theological position that I have ever come up with for the last twenty years of my practice. (“Polytheanimist” is also not bad, to highlight the animist aspects of my practice…but anyway.) However, I am willing to concede at this point that because there is so much misunderstanding about “polytheism” generally, and that some who have polytheistic aspects of their theology may not weight it as heavily as I do, that a more specific term that is qualified by another term would be more useful to future discussion. I have never resented or been put off by the term “devotional polytheist,” and I do use it from time to time; now I’m going to have to be more assiduous about using it all the time. I still think that “polytheist” should be able to carry the weight of my entire theological and practical outlook, but apparently it can’t, because some people who use the term don’t think that the recognition of the reality of multiple deities is either the most important descriptor of their outlook, or that devotion to the deities is important and essential. I concede that on the latter point in particular, “polytheism” alone has probably never been sufficient to indicate that such a focus for one’s practices is as high a priority as it is for those of us in the modern world who identify in this fashion.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on polytheism, devotional polytheism, definitions, and labels.

Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer

“The subject of interfaith dialog and interaction is both massive and complicated. My every day life is an exercise in cross cultural communication, and living in that kind of environment will force you to learn not only about your peer’s belief’s, but your own as well. Being the only member of the house from a Non-Abrahamic tradition has its difficulties; being solitary doesn’t help either. As Heathens/Pagans we often don’t have an organized collective to cite, or definitive texts to fall back on. If we want to participate in religious conversations with those outside of our community, we have to leave that “Pagan Bubble” and stand on our own. Many interfaith organizations tend to focus on the religious “Common Ground”, treating their differences as the unspoken elephant in the room. Even in overwhelmingly Abrahamic interfaith organizations, it’s difficult enough to coordinate between paths with a common origin, how then are we ever supposed to integrate traditions which are founded on fundamentally opposing worldviews? The more inclusive you try to make the conversation, the smaller that common ground is going to get, and the less you’re going to accomplish without stumbling into that elephant.” – Alyxander Folmer, on the Pagan elephant.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“The natural world is essential for human well-being – physical, psychological and spiritual. Newer sciences such as ecopsychology recognize what Paganism has long accepted – that our psyches are deeply connected to and affected by the world of nature. This is true in many obvious ways. Our moods are affected by the amount of daylight. In winter, we can succumb to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When it is sunny and our muscles are warm and relaxed, we feel happier. But the psychological impact of the environment is important in other ways too. Our minds, hearts and spirits crave the beauty of the natural world. We thirst for it and feel consciously or unconsciously deprived when we are separated from it.  When we are hemmed in by concrete and buildings, we react by feeling alienated, depressed, unhappy. Human alienation is strongest when we are furthest away from the natural environment in which our species developed. […] Few of us can turn our backs on urban life to live off the land, but we can all find ways to engage with the natural world, through gardening, conservation work, or hiking. Most urban areas will have projects and groups that work to green the city, plant trees, create gardens and parks, and clean up rivers. Trees and greenery make an enormous impact on the human psyche; as well as providing clean air that enables us to breathe better, to have greater energy and improved thinking capacity.  Tree planting and other environmental work enable us to green the city and green our spirits at the same time. We can all engage with the earth, even if we are house-bound and not fully mobile. Bees can be kept in urban settings and food can be grown indoors – tomato plants, for example, will grow on a window ledge. Growing something to eat for the sabbat is a simple way of engaging with nature.” – Vivianne Crowley, on the importance of nature, and our connection to it. 

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Religion is a set of practices shown to be useful in facilitatingreligious experiences.  Religion is a set of rituals and customs shown to be meaningful to individuals and communities.  Religion is a set of values shown to be helpful in living a good life in a good community. Religion is the collective experience of our ancestors.  We don’t have to reinvent the proverbial wheel – we can use the wheels our ancestors left us to travel further down the paths to which we’ve been called, build on what they left us, and leave better wheels for those who come after us. Our pre-Christian ancestors didn’t put much emphasis on faith.  What was important was living virtuously and honoring the gods.  Your beliefs about the gods were far less important, and the idea of blindly assenting to a creed, to a formal “this I believe” would have been meaningless.  Rejecting the primacy of faith is part of the Pagan restoration. But there is a place for faith in modern Paganism.” – John Beckett, on faith and Paganism.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“It turns out that a lot of what we humans “know” about bears is not true of black bears, the species that I share my woods (and my lettuce) with.  A black bear mother, for instance, is much more likely to flee from a human than defend her cubs.  All black bears are more likely to flee from humans than confront us; their evolutionary history is entirely different from that of the grizzly bear, the source of many of the things we falsely believe to be true.  And while I am not actually fool enough to want to enter a confrontation with a bear of any size, in point of fact, the black bears of New England don’t want a piece of this action, either. Even when I’m not enraged and waving a kitchen knife. I know this because I finally got motivated to research black bears.  My initial response had been fear, and anger, but it turns out that if you follow the science and not the legend, there’s no more reason for the one than the other.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, on bears, lettuce, and what humans think they know.

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

“I wear a pentacle every day, it is a ring on my left hand. I wear two rainbow wrist bands every day, one on each wrist. When people meet me, if they see the bling, they might know that I am Pagan and that I am gay. These are two very simple ways that I go about my daily routine as an open Pagan and an open gay man. Not everyone can do this. Those who can in some small way show their Paganness and non-heteroness are champions for both communities. When I am asked about either the ring or the wrist bands I always answer openly and honestly. Sometimes that leads to an uncomfortable silence. More often it leads to a smile and a nod or a “good for you!” comment from those who ask. Rarely, but it does happen, does my response lead to an adverse reaction. When it does, I move along (when at work) or I try to counter their reaction with rational and compassionate thought. More to the point of this discussion, how do we deal with homophobia, biphobia, transphobia within the Pagan community? Some traditions are going to be more conservative. Some paths are apparently opposed to non-heterosexuality. We cannot change the minds and hearts of those who strongly believe that being gay or bi or trans is against their religious or spiritual beliefs. We can show them, however, that gays, bis, trans people are not all that different from them. We are all children of the Gods (or the Goddess, or the One, or whatever Divine title). Many Pagans profess to worship or work with Gods of ancient cultures, from different pantheons. Almost without exception these ancient cultures acknowledged, even embraced, their non-straight members. As LesBiCris reminded me the other night, most aboriginal cultures paid special honor to their “two-spirit” members. Sometimes elevating them to a higher or spiritual status above those who were ‘normal’.” – Rev. Philipp J. Kessler, on homophobia in Paganism.

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

“In 2012, I suggested that there was one law for minority faith groups like the Native American Church and another for large, monied religious organizations like the Catholic Church. In 2014, business owners with ties to Evangelical Christianity are brazenly asserting that their personal religious beliefs trump federal law and that the decision against the Native American Church doesn’t apply to them. I hope that the Supreme Court will remain consistent and give the same answer to Evangelical Christians that it gave to members of the Native American Church. If it finds in favor of Hobby Lobby, it will be broadcasting a clear confirmation that majority faiths have more rights and privileges than minority religions. That would be a dark day for everyone, but especially for those of us who belong to minority faiths.” – Karl E. H. Seigfried, on Thor, the Pope, and Hobby Lobby.

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

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

“Here and there I’ve been part of an ongoing conversation about ritual theory for Pagans. It’s got me thinking about some patterns I observe in many Pagan rituals, and I ended up coming back around to another conversation thread, the one about polytheism and humanism and whether or not we think the Gods are objectively real, or archetypal constructs, or whatever. Here’s the question that keeps coming up in my mind when I’m following these discussions: How would you do ritual if the Gods were real to you? Because I am a polytheist, and the Gods are quite real to me. And as a result it becomes jarring to me when I’m seeing a ritual that is obviously built around the people in the room rather than the Gods that were named, and where things were clearly proceeding without reference to whether or not the Gods actually showed up. Some of them are mistakes I’ve made myself in my learning process. So here are my thoughts and observations about this.” – Morpheus Ravenna, on gods with agency.

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“What do we do, those of us who do believe the earth is sacred, who do believe that we have a responsibility to care for the living systems that sustain us, and who do believe that we have a responsibility to take care of each other? The role of religion and spirituality [in environmental activism] is to hold up the values that go beyond the value of profit and the value of somebody winning and somebody losing, to say…there are things that are more important than money or gain. The value of generosity, the value of putting the good of the community and the good of the whole before your own personal gain — those are things that every religion at its core has always stood for. […] I’m hoping the event will provide people with some inspiration, with a place we can come together as a community, and maybe do some mourning and grieving for what has been lost and some raging, perhaps, about how we feel about it and come out of that with a sense of rejuvenation and renewal. The solstice is the time when we go into the maximum darkness, but that begins to turn around. The light begins to be born out of that dark.” – Starhawk, on environmental activism, the responsibility of those who see the earth as sacred, and the upcoming Winter Solstice.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Temperatures have hovered around and below freezing for days in a row in a place where the thermometer usually ranges between 40 and 80 degrees fahrenheit. The bay cradles the land, keeping us both warm and cool. But sometimes the unusual happens. I layered silk long johns under my jeans before hopping on my bike. The bustle of the kitchen had slowed down by the time I arrived. Everyone who had someplace to go, had gone. Those that remained had nothing. No tent under an overpass, no tiny room in an SRO, no couch, no bed, no money to camp out on the train or in a warm cafe. They huddled under coats and donated military blankets. Several gathered in the one tiny patch of sunlight near the women’s bathroom. The patch was shrinking. Come closing time, I noticed that none of the volunteers were saying our usual chipper, “We’re closing folks, thanks for coming!” A few people lingered as long as possible, slowly gathering belongings and putting on layers. I bent my head back toward the table I was scrubbing down and paused. A wave of sadness washed through me. One moment of despair. There was nothing I could do for these people. Nothing except turn them back out into the cold. “This isn’t a personal failure,” I said to myself, though it felt like it. “This isn’t a failure of the kitchen. It is a failure of our culture.” And in the 10 billion year scheme of things, it likely is no failure at all. The six members of the Walton family have one hundred fifty billion dollars. Six members of our local bay community have died from exposure in the last two weeks. I tell this story because it is important. I tell this story also because it connects to you. To my students. Clients. Friends. Too many of us are always putting other’s needs ahead of our own, while other’s aren’t doing that nearly enough. In either direction lies injustice.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on giving and receiving an invitation in.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“I don’t mean that those leaders who are financially valuable and therefore famous are not also, often, wise and good leaders.  I am indebted to many of them.  But I am aware that we are losing voices that we need to hear, and leaving unexplored whole regions of Pagan thought, because they’re not likely to draw in a paying crowd.  And institutions that promote deepening and continuing growth among our leaders or teachers–famous and not–are not very marketable, because they are not of use to our enormous base of newcomers and seekers.  I see us willing to promote institutions that echo mainstream culture (as Cherry Hill Seminary does, with it’s willingness to confer degrees and its focus on academic training analogous to mainstream seminaries).  These institutions are marketable, because they offer status and legitimacy to members of a religious movement starved for that. But they do not necessarily build on our own unique strengths and insights as a spiritual community.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, hosting a conversation on Pagan markets, and a Pagan Commons.

Sarah Veale

Sarah Veale

“I’m currently reading a book on mystery cults in Magna Graecia, aka the parts of Italy that were actually Greek for, well, quite a long time. For geographical reference, Magna Graecia is mostly Southern Italy. Think Naples, Pompeii, and Sicily. If you were there around 500 BCE, you’d be pretty much Greek. (With the amazing charm and fiendish good looks of a Southern Italian.*) One author in this collection, Giovanni Casadio, has done some research on the cult of Dionysus in Cumae, in the Campania region. Many of you will know Dionysus as the God of wine, and maybe are a bit familiar with his wild side from Euripides’s play The Bacchae. When it comes to the cult of Dionysus, scholars tend to believe that its practices involved ritual wine consumption and activities that led to ecstatic experiences. Casadio lets us in on some of the practices of more notable followers of Dionysus: The king of Scythia, Skyles, liked to wear his cultic garments while taking drunken walks in public. It is suggested that Aristodemus, the tyrant of Cumae, also enjoyed such inspired moments. But Aristodemus took cultural transgression a bit further: He settled for no less than an entire restructuring of socialized behaviour. He reversed gender roles.” – Sarah Veale, on Dionysian transgression of gender norms.

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth

“I’ve been discussing the disenchantment of the world in these posts but have thus far only touched upon something integral to the concept, There’s a the looming spectre haunting the process of disenchantment. Very few writers confront it, and I’ll be honest—I’m a bit reluctant myself. This won’t make me popular. Something happened in the 1700’s, some great disconnection between us humans and the earth around us. Somehow, our relationship to place, to nature, and to each other shifted. […] This shift was the birth of Capitalism […] our relationship to the places we lived, the places we grew food and hunted animals and gathered herbs and raised animals suddenly changed. Worse than being merely something to trade, it became something to improve. Suddenly divorced (some would say “liberated”) from older conceptions of nature, societies changed. People who’d rented land at prices previously fixed by tradition, law, and religious notions of fairness suddenly couldn’t afford to do so without constantly producing more from the land they worked. Those who figured out how to “improve” their “production” could keep renting land, possibly renting more and even purchasing their own once the ancient practice of the commons (land open to anyone to use) ended.” – Rhyd Wildermuth, on capitalism and the logic of disenchantment.

King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur Pendragon

“This Story is set to lay the foundations for an International debate on how we as Humans respect and Honour our Dead.  On the 18th of this month The Long awaited new visitors centre is due to open amid new controversy. King Arthur Pendragon, a senior Druid is calling for a day of action and Protest at English Heretics refusal to display replicas of the Ancient Human remains (The collective ancestors) excavated from the environs of Stonehenge . Instead EH plan to put the genuine human remains on display at their new visitor’s centre. Likened by Arthur to a Victorian ‘Peep show’ He, and his supporters believe that it dishonours the dead by putting them on display and that English Heritage are out of step with World opinion that prefers repatriation and re-interment rather than the display of the Dead. The protest billed as KLASP the MOON, The Kings Loyal Arthurian Stonehenge Protest to coincide with the full moon is due to take place at the new visitor’s centre and is sure to be a ‘colourful’ affair, with Robed Druids and Pagans, Knights and Ladies, Celtic Warriors and Drummers in attendance.” – The Loyal Arthurian Warband of Druid leader Arthur Pendragon, announcing via press release a protest against the display of human remains at the new Stonehenge visitors center, which opened on the 18th.

blue_plaque_gbg“On Midsummer’s Day 2013 Doreen Valiente made posthumous history by becoming the first Witch to be awarded a blue plaque for her life and achievements. Tyson Place, a council block in Brighton, made history too as the first building of its kind to have a blue plaque on its walls. History was made on a day which say an open public celebration of Midsummer at Brighton’s Steine Gardens followed by the plaque unveiling ceremony at Tyson Place where the historic plaque was unvelied by Julie Belham-payne and the Mayor of Brighton and Hove. We have to raise funds for each blue plaque which costs over £1200 just to manufacture and install.  Time is short so please donate to this great cause. There will be 2 other plaques in the future that we have negotiated for. One for Gerald Gardner in 2014 and another for Alex Sanders in 2015. Gerald Gardner’s Blue Plaque We are very pleased to be able to say that we plan to unveil Gerald Gardner’s blue plaque at the house he lived in near Christchurch on Friday 13th (!) June 2014, which would have been Gerald’s 130th birthday. More information will follow.” – The Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation, announcing the forthcoming placement of a commemorative blue plaque for Wiccan founder Gerald Gardner, and asking for funds to help in that endeavor.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“I think it is important to remember that religion is not a substitute for, nor should it be confused with, psychology; religious and spiritual activities can have an impact on our psychological functioning and development, but that’s not the reason that we do it. However, religion and spirituality should most definitely challenge one personally, not just in terms of it being “hard” to do, but actually providing a corrective and even a directive in how one lives one’s life. Too many people look to their spirituality for solace and refuge, which a good spiritual practice can (and should!) provide, but that’s also not all that it is for. (This is one of the reasons why I think the “coming out spirituality” of so many modern supposedly queer and/or LGBTQIA-positive or friendly groups these days falls short, because they do nothing other than say “It’s okay to be who you are,” and then offer nothing on how to develop further personally nor in one’s devotions.) Even phrasing things in these terms is a challenge to a person who reads them and thinks of religion as being of psychological utility and as a solace from the difficulties of the world. I think the Ekklesía Antínoou can offer that challenge, if it is approached seriously and engaged with fully.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on the generation gap, what to do about it, and why religion should not be a substitute for psychology.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Boosting our signal requires growth in numbers as well as in spiritual depth.  I want the Humanistic Pagans in our tent and not in the atheist tent ridiculing all religion.  I want the Nature lovers in our tent recognizing the inherent worth of Nature and not in the Christian tent talking about the value of Nature coming from the god they think made it.  I want the polytheists (and I count myself among them) in the big Pagan tent and not in their own tent that’s so small it can’t be found. Ultimately, what tent you choose is up to you.  But just because “Pagan” isn’t your primary identity doesn’t mean there’s not a place for you in the Big Tent of Paganism. Pagan unity isn’t about forgetting our philosophical and theological differences and doing the same Wicca Lite ritual on the Solstice.  Pagan unity is about working together respectfully to advance our common interests and boost our common signal while we explore our individual traditions in depth.” – John Beckett, on Pagan unity. 

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