Archives For Cat Chapin-Bishop

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

starhawk 5 19 04

Starhawk

“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!

Pagan Voices is a regular feature here at The Wild Hunt, one that seeks to highlight our voices, wisdom, debates, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. If you enjoy this regular round-up, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the over 200 supporters who have already donated). Now, onward…

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“Why does consciousness awareness bring such pain? As a species we have become god-like in our ability to create the world in which we live and to be aware of our own existence. We have become as the gods; but we do not become gods. Unlike gods, we have frail physical bodies. We have the self-awareness of the divine, but the fragility of a beautiful flower that blooms for only a short time before it is blown away on the wind. We may incarnate again but the ‘I’ that exists now, formed by genetic inheritance and the experiences of this current lifetime, is transitory. Our consciousness and sense of self are dependent on the physical brain and one day that brain will no longer function. This knowledge can cause us anguish and despair – it is difficult to let go of the self that we have always known – or we can acknowledge and accept our destiny and value this incarnation all the more because it is so short. Time passes, youth fades, illness and ageing come. This is the fate of all us, a shared human ending. Even the richest of us like Steve Jobs cannot escape the inevitability of death.” – Vivianne Crowley, on death, and beyond, from a Pagan context.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“Many individuals in our community seek to expand their practice and network of contacts by sticking exclusively to theological pursuits ignoring the connections our beliefs have with the environmental, political and social issues of the day. Such an approach, while minimizing the potential for discord, leads to a ‘Pagan light’ approach to daily practice. For an activist, the spiritual is political, personal and weaved fully into our understanding of our path. If this is so, how do we avoid the many conflicts that arise from our activities? The simple answer is we don’t. If our beliefs and actions lead to strife among our co-religionists, it is a reflection of our effectiveness in pursuing our deity inspired concepts of social justice. At the center of this divergence is the ability to hold those within our circles with whom we disagree in what I term ‘Sacred Regard’ as teachers, clarifiers of our path and respected seekers on their own journey.” – Peter Dybing, on activism, acceptance, and approval within the Pagan community.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“Most people do not fight over theology anyway. Theology is often just a group marker, “us versus them.” The theological claims themselves are secondary. People fight for their group more than “for the gods,” perhaps. People will change religion for a variety of reasons—to get along with a spouse’s family, to gain or to retain their social status (the Roman senatorial class), or to avoid having their heads chopped off… An “organic” Pagan society is the dream of many, but as Things Fall Apart illustrates, such a society can be transformed within one generation.  I do, of course, consider both the traditional Igbo and the fourth-century Romans to be Pagan, using the term as we now define it. There is no other choice when “traditional religion goes global” either, as the recent New York Times piece about a West African traditional priest working in New York City described. When geographical and cultural boundaries are crossed, we need a “global” descriptor. Can we construct a theology — or is it part of Pagan theology today — to say that the gods fight their own battles?” – Chas Clifton, on why the Pagans did not fight for their gods, and some reflections on that idea.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“I read the part describing the admission fee–$30 per person–and I thought, No.  This is just not right. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why that is.  It feels important to me to find words for this. It’s not disrespect for Penczak.  It’s not that I think it’s an unreasonable fee–there are travel costs, and the guy deserves to earn money for his time. It’s not an objection to teachers being paid–heaven knows, as a public school teacher, I’m in favor paychecks going to those who skillfully communicate knowledge.  I think it’s that what I would be looking for, in meeting Penczak, would not be knowledge, but rather, that deeper thing: an exchange of wisdom.  It is my experience that there are kinds of spiritual wisdom that cannot be had in any way other than an exchange, and an exchange between equals between peers.  And not only is is potentially charged for me to assert that I am the peer of someone whose work is widely known, I think it’s also true that the relationship of one peer to another, outside of the closed and narrow world of individual covens or traditions, is one that nothing in the Pagan world is set up to foster. […] My point is something about the Pagan movement as a whole: we don’t do peer relationships well.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, on peer relationships, and the lack thereof, within the Pagan community.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

Sam Webster

“It is vitally important that we rebuild the cults of the Gods. These become the pillars supporting all we build thereafter. (Re-)Establishing and cultivating our connections to the Gods with regular offerings and feasts brings Their powers and presences deeply into our lives. This is what was taken away from our forebears by Christianity and Islam, and with the same urgency as they were destroyed, we need to restore the ancient practice. Places consecrated to the Gods and activated through offerings radiate Their blessings into the world about about them and into the lives of those who worship. Our culture’s lack of alignment with the Gods is a fundamental dimension to our self-destruction. Without cultivating pluralism, without honoring the Many and the Particular, we will continue our descent into barbarity. Mostly I would expect Pagans to come and worship in the restored cults, although if open enough others—not Pagan, or not yet Pagan—will come join us to eat and drink with the Gods. But we need a more outward-facing strategy: we need to rebuild the Mysteries.” – Sam Webster, on how a Pagan restoration can save the world.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“When the paramedics came, they asked her a few questions. She requested that she be able to take her food to go. I quickly packed up some bread and salad, but couldn’t find an extra jar for soup. Some other guests at her table helped. When I returned with the food, the paramedics were getting her up, one on each side. This next part is what killed me, and is the reason I’m writing this down: She immediately put her hands behind her back, wrist over wrist, awaiting handcuffs. One of the paramedics said, “You don’t have to do that. We’re not the cops. We’re paramedics.” I followed behind, with her food bag, talking with one of the women holding a clipboard. I explained about the HIV and meds. I gave her name. The entire time I walked behind her, she held her hands in that handcuffed position. She had asked for help the only way she knew how – by laying across the food counter. She had wanted the paramedics to come. Yet part of her knew, just knew, she was being arrested. Hands behind her back. Wrist over wrist. It felt like a tragedy to me. What sort of life has she lived so far that even in asking for and receiving help, she expected punishment? And how do we do this to ourselves? What boxes are we living in? What shadows? What do our bodies know that we can’t even speak of? What punishment, or rejection, or pain waits coiled inside? How can we help ourselves heal?” – T. Thorn Coyle, on tragedy and healing.

Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ

“According to retired anthropological archaeologist Dean Snow, the handprints made by Paleolithic ancestors 40,000-20,000 years ago may have been made primarily by women. Snow spent a decade gathering and analyzing photographs of the handprints left in caves. The scientific fact that women’s first and ring fingers are generally of the same length, while men’s ring fingers are generally longer their index fingers, led him to the conclusion that ¾ of the handprints in the caves were made by women! If women were painting their hands on the caves in larger numbers than men, then isn’t likely that they were also painting the images of the great beasts on the walls of the caves? This is Snow’s conclusion.  The article states that Snow’s findings contradict the widely held theory that male hunters were the sole creators of the cave paintings of the Paleolithic caves such as Lascaux and Chauvet. Feminist interpreters of the cave paintings have long noted that pregnant animals which no hunter would ever kill are also portrayed on the walls of the caves. This suggests a wider purpose for cave rituals than hunting magic. Still, comfortable assumptions that support widely held gender stereotypes are not easily dislodged. ‘Man the hunter’ remains the popular image of ‘cave man,’ while the image of ‘cave woman’ being pulled by her hair by ‘cave man’ sticks in the mind. Despite decades of feminist theorizing about caves as the womb of the Great Mother, Snow refused to speculate about the meanings ‘cave women’ might have given to the images within the caves. Could it be that he had never even encountered the idea that the cave symbolizes the womb of Mother Earth? Did this idea simply not ‘make sense’ to him? Is the idea of expressing gratitude to the Source of Life alien to him?  Or did he have difficulty imagining that the Source of Life is located in the earth–not in heaven?” – Carol P. Christ, on women artists and ritualists in great caves.

Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer

“I find the practice of Apologetic argument execrable. Apologetics don’t lead to conversation, and they don’t facilitate respectful exchange. Instead, they make a declaration and then reject anything that may contradict that statement. This is the opposite of everything modern logical thought and scientific practice has taught us. The scientific method teaches us to observe, gather as much relevant information as possible, and form a conclusion based on that evidence. In the case of the debate in question, this means finding a common definition of the term “Christian” and then speaking with Mormons to determine if they do or do not fit that definition. In the method of Apologetics, one chooses a conclusion and then finds sources that support it. In this case, the predetermined conclusion was “NO!”, which the writer supported by quoting authors and ideologues that agreed with them, while also refusing to listen to any details that might disprove their preferred answer.” – Alyxander Folmer, making his feelings plain on apologetic arguments.

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to spotlight intriguing, provocative, and informative voices from our interconnected communities!

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

“Monotheists were pointing to a truth in speaking of the unity of love, but they did not yet have the number zero, the cipher, the void. By naming something one, they were trying to get at its unity. What they were not able to realize at the time, is that naming something one, instead of all, is a first separation out, it is a distancing that makes the All the Other. And therein lies trouble. Therein lies alienation. One, rather than remaining a unifying force, becomes a separate being. And that separation opens a deep wound. Mystics of all religions and cultures have experienced the truth of the wholeness of God Hirself as zero and all, regardless of the name their religion assigns to this concept of deity. Those that are not mystics have not always felt this unity, and have waged many bloody wars over the separation and disconnection they have felt. We sometimes fight these wars inside of ourselves, whether we believe in many Gods, no Gods, one God or a limitless Divinity that is all. We can feel separate from God Hirself. We can disconnect from the pattern of love. We can enter back into connection and the flow of the Limitless. In that flow we can become the center to her circumference and we can learn to include all. The limitless is beyond duality, beyond black and white, dark and light, anger and hope, though she is within all of these and expressed through all of these. The limitless is zero and many, nothing and all.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on God Hirself.

Teo Bishop

Teo Bishop

I write songs. It’s my gig. For about 1/3 of every month I’m in Los Angeles writing, doing work in the ever-evolving Music Industry, and I really enjoy it. When I started this blog I was of the mindset that there needed to be a separate space for me to do my spiritual work. I couldn’t allow overlap with the promotional work I was doing around the release of my album. That could get messy. Too many people were invested in the success of the project for me to put that in jeopardy by being transparent, I though. But what I’m coming to discover is that there is really is no way to avoid overlap. You don’t have your “spiritual life” in a vacuum. You are all of the things that you are, pretty much all the time. At least, that’s my experience. For me, my creative process opens up spiritual understanding. And many times my spiritual explorations lead to creative inspiration. It’s interesting to me that I was so desperate to compartmentalize my life when I started this blog considering that many of my songs are directly influenced by different periods of my religious life. You can’t extract my spirituality from my music. Just ain’t gunna happen. So why keep the music apart from my spiritual work?” – Teo Bishop, on integration, identity, creativity, and the question of if his readers will follow the journey.

Sarah Veale

Sarah Veale

“We’ve discussed some constructions of women in antiquity previously on the blog. Specifically, we looked at how PlatonicHermeticGnostic, and even Kabbalistic texts painted a picture of womanhood that was far from complementary. Given this dicey outlook on femininity, it would be fair to consider if there was anything at all that the ancients found valuable in a woman. There is. It’s her butt. To be specific, it appears that ancient writers prized a large, round derrière. The converse, not so much. Now, I take no issue with this. In fact, as someone who has been endowed with a rather ample backside, the only way it could get better is if the perfect woman also had a lazy eye and spoke with a Chicago accent. Obviously, these fellows had their priorities in order. Hesiod, for one, knew the appeal of a lady with a big butt, connecting it directly to one’s sexual allure. However, even a plump booty couldn’t save a woman from her most basic problem: That she was a woman and full of lies.” – Sarah Veale, on big butts, and the ideal woman in antiquity.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“Why do owls call out in the autumn?  Their season of mating is over, the owlets have grown up and flown away… and in the small hours of the night, there are no daytime birds to mob them.  Are they responding to the coming winter, the season of death, and calling out for it?  Or are they calling out to one another still, pair of owls protecting their territory, making their presence known to ward off invaders who would threaten that pair and their life together? Autumn and winter are the season of the owl, at least at night, and when I cannot sleep.  And I am middle-aged, with the aches and pains of my oncoming menopause to keep me awake at night.  I cannot hide from my mortality, and I cannot hide from my fears, because the Season of the Owl is coming, and my voice may not be enough, when I call out in the night, to protect what I love most, and keep it with me, warm and safe in the time of cold. The stars are lovely overhead.  And if the owls are harbingers of death, they are also measures of the overwhelming nature of love.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, on the season of the owl.

John Halstead

John Halstead

“It’s no coincidence that when I identified as Mormon (my primary religious identity), I took my Christianity for granted.  And when I left Mormonism, and “Christian” was all I had to identify myself with, then I was more skeptical of Mormonism’s Christianity.  Now that I am on the outside looking in, I see that the question of whether or not Mormons are Christians has less to do with Mormons than it has to do with the person asking the question. Because we have religious freedom and the right to self-determination, no one is going to keep anyone from calling themselves whatever they want to.  So what are we doing when we try to draw these lines to exclude one group or another from Christianity or from Paganism?  These lines don’t exist in the real world.  But they do exist within us.  When we define what “Christian” or “Pagan” means, we are really trying to define who we are.  I for one don’t believe this is avoidable.  Boundary drawing is an essential part of the process of identity formation.  But it behooves us to be conscious of what we are doing.  When we say that so-and-so is or is not Christian or Pagan, we are not really talking about them.  We are talking about ourselves.” – John Halstead, on Mormonism, Christianity, Paganism, and drawing boundaries.

Drew Jacob

Drew Jacob

“The Hero Round Table is a conference dedicated to creating more heroes in our world. That means at all levels: from workers who blow the whistle on illegal activity, to passersby who help accident victims, to simply speaking up when you believe something is wrong. As Matt would say, the opposite of a hero is not a villain—it’s a bystander. In Paganism, heroes are our bridge to the gods. The heroes of legend combine otherworldly traits with a very human set of weaknesses and faults. For all their imperfections, they show us that mortals can embody the highest ideals. All of us have the spark of heroism within us. For many Pagans, our entire ethics is evolved from the heroic ideal: individuals who follow their ideals, who do not recognize false authority, and who put the quest for truth first. While these ideas are rooted in ancient myth, today’s psychology suggests that they are quite real: there are ways to help people be more ready to act heroically when needed, ways to increase the level of heroic action in our society. Some of the people who pioneered that research will be speaking at the Round Table.” – Drew Jacob, on a summit for creating heroism, one that Pagans are invited to.

Dr. Robert Mathiesen

Dr. Robert Mathiesen

“While I was an active professor at a research university, I felt myself constrained not to take any oath of secrecy or confidentiality that would keep me from shedding light on the sources for my research, so I worked with the history of this Tradition exclusively from material that Gwen Thompson herself had published, or that was otherwise not oath-bound. As for future work on Thompson’s family and their esoteric interests, we shall see. Theitic has recently published an article about our collaboration in the latest issue of Michael Howard’s The Cauldron (no. 148), which might be of interest to your readers. I certainly plan to continue my research on the various kinds of pre-Gardnerian (or non-Gardnerian) Witchcraft in the United States. I am particularly interested in how women devised or invented Witchcrafts of their own, usually as a way to empower themselves, between the years 1860 and 1960. This happened more commonly than one might think. (Something similar was probably happening in the United Kingdom during the same decades.) In general, these women relied on popular books on the history of magic and witchcraft, on fiction about Witches and magicians, and on folklore (both in published form and in living oral tradition), as they invented Witchcrafts for themselves.” – Dr. Robert Mathiesen, on his work researching Gwen Thompson, and pre/non-Gardnerian Witchcraft.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Perhaps I should state, first of all, that despite the fact that I’m of a non-typical gender identity, and I think that the boundaries of gender as currently defined by the overculture are problematic and needlessly narrow, nonetheless I’m not at all for the idea of the elimination of gender and gender identities altogether, and never have been. I think men are great; I think women are great; I think trans men and trans women are great; I think metagender and pangender and gender fluid and non-gendered people are great; I think that any and every potential gender is great. Just because I think there should be more options, and likewise I think that there should be more options within each gender option, does not mean that I am against the notion of there being “men” as classically defined or understood, or “women” as traditionally understood and defined. I think those are perfectly fine and valid choices to make within those genders, and as long as they do not exclude the possibility of other people making other choices, nor fall into the trap of thinking that their own gender identity is the only “real” type of woman or man, I don’t think there’s a problem. So, that’s that. However, I think there is a problem when certain conceptual categorizations within common notions of gender–whether they are those of the overculture or are those of a subculture like modern paganism most definitely happens to be–start to assume things that are not as true as they might like them to be, or are perhaps more wishful thinking than actual truth that is caused by flawed understandings.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on gender, and in response to Peter Dybing’s recent post about men and the Goddess.

Donald Michael Kraig's ring.

Donald Michael Kraig’s ring.

“When my friend gave me the finished ring, I initially looked at it in utter disappointment. As I looked at it she told me that all of the silver in it was recovered from melted rings that featured Masonic and other spiritual symbolism. She had made it spending many hours of work, and only worked on it during appropriate magickal hours. As I continued to look at the ring, I felt disheartened. It wasn’t what I would call “perfect.” The circles weren’t perfectly round. The lines weren’t perfectly straight. And then, I had a revelation; an epiphany. No other ring in the history of the Earth had ever been made like this one. No other ring in the history of the Earth had ever had all of the loving energy put into it in a magickal way as this artist had done. No other ring in the history of the Earth had ever been composed of the silver from those particular sources. No other ring in the history of the Earth had this particular design. Even if someone took the design and copied it, even if they made molds from this very ring, no other ring will ever be exactly like it. My epiphany was that this ring, with all of what I had previously seen as imperfections, was uniquely and absolutely perfect. This also changed my concept that items which were manufactured, stamped out, and one of 1,000 or more identical copies were “perfect.” I no longer consider them so. Even if they’re expensive I don’t care. I’ve come to value uniqueness and individuality over the conformity of of what others might call perfection.” – Donald Michael Kraig, on his magickal ring (pictured).

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.

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

Learn from rituals, but don’t nit-pick them. Trust me, my Coven of media specialists, writers, musicians, and copy-editors is wont to pull our shit apart and play the “pick out the not-perfect” bits. But we’ve finally learned that rituals should not be discussed for at least a few weeks after something is done. We file away moment of imperfections, suggestions for improvements, other ways to get to be even better at rituals into our mental rolodexes and take them back out when the time to plan our next ritual arises. We give respect to the experiences of those in the space, and the Spirit for attending. All other quirks can be worked out at another time. I can’t lie…I’ve been to some rituals that made me cringe. But I have to respect the fact that other people might be affected negatively by my piss-poor perfectionist attitude. I have to respect the fact that the energy of the ritual is still going after the fact. I can learn from the mistakes of others–and the mistakes I myself make–but if it’s a serious mistake that I will want to avoid next time, I’ll remember it.” – Courtney Weber, a Wiccan High Priestess, on learning to not “wine and cheese your rites.”

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“The biggest and most divisive ethical issues of our time involve abortion and the environment. Does a zygote or fetus have sufficient moral standing to put its interests above those of the pregnant woman carrying it? If so, how much? Does the other-than-human world have any moral standing able to override human interests? If so, how much? Significantly, of those most opposing abortion, few have interest in or recognition of the other-than-human world’s moral standing.  On the other hand, most supporting a woman’s right to choose will be sympathetic to and sometimes deeply committed to environmental concerns. Individuals in both camps are usually ethically motivated, but they live in different ethical worlds. These contrasting moral visions reflect a schism going to the center of contemporary America, a genuine clash of cultures capable of tearing the country apart. One is ultimately rooted in an agricultural order, the other in our industrial one.” – Gus DiZerega, on how conflict over abortion and environmentalism are related, and what modern Paganism’s role is in these struggles.

Literata

Literata

“My religion encourages oral sex. Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it. Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty? Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private. […]  quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess: ‘All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.’ The idea of ‘acts of love and pleasure’ is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.” – Literata Hurley, a Wiccan and resident of Virginia, on Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign to reinstate Virginia’s unconstitutional Crimes Against Nature law.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

“One of the things that Evangelicals don’t seem to understand is that people are tired of obstacles separating them from other faith communities. I’m not a Buddhist, but I want to walk a religious path that validates the choices of my Buddhist friends. I don’t walk with Jesus, but I’m fine with those that walk hand in hand with the hippy from the Galilee. People are tired of hearing how their friends are wrong, Paganism takes that antiquated rhetoric away. I’m not saying that everyone should roll the religion dice each morning (today I’m an Atheist Hellenic Thelemite!), but Paganism has never shut out wisdom, no matter where it comes from. […]  like every generation we long to touch the sacred. For centuries touching the sacred was limited to Jesus and his Dad, but those days are over with, and people are waking up to the many and varied sacred currents that are around us all. Some find that connection to the sacred within the Earth and the change of the seasons. Some of us find it in more personal deities, gods and goddesses that come to us without centuries of misguided close mindedness. (Give me Pan rutting around in the woods over a god that would kill an entire country’s firstborn.) There will always be people who long for Jesus, and many good things (and some very bad) have been done in his name, but it’s getting harder and harder to lock out the Divine Feminine. Jesus might be calling, but I think She is too.” – Jason Mankey, on why Millennials love Paganism, and in answer to Christian writer Rachel Held Evan’s piece about why Millennials are leaving Christian churches.

Lupa

Lupa

“So many of our decisions have been made in ignorance of the effects of our actions. While the internet, antibiotics, and central heating have their definite uses, the most popular technologies used to create them have been developed with only our benefit–and the profit margin–in mind. It is plausible that many of the things we’ve created that have improved our species’ average quality of life could have been made in such a way that they didn’t negatively affect the lives of other beings (and some humans). Instead, we stand at a point in time where we’re watching thousands of species of animal, plant, and fungus die out every year, accelerated by our activities, and we still refuse as a whole to explore the depth of the connections we’ve been severing with each local, regional or complete extinction. Why don’t we emphasize to our children that the mycelial mat is at least as important as Thomas Edison’s inventions? In part, it’s due to selfishness. We don’t want to think about anything other than our own advancement and comfort. We want that plastic grocery bag to carry three small items in, dammit, and who cares about the oil it was made from, or the fact that it won’t break down for thousands of years? This doesn’t mean we should feel guilty for the things that have made our lives longer and healthier as a whole. We can explore whether a particular item is necessary, and whether its manufacture is as sustainable as it could be, without sacrificing our quality of life. It just means that we need to make more effort on the behalf of beings besides ourselves.” – Lupa, on recognizing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“If I have no business turning you into a scapegoat for all the generations past who have ever harmed anyone in the name of Jesus, I also think you have no business turning me into a mascot for your tolerance and good intentions. I don’t want to be a symbol of your goodness; I don’t want to be anything more or less than what you probably want to be: a human being among other human beings. Along those lines, I ask you not to abuse your newfound (or longstanding) empathy for me and mine by rushing to speak for me. Specifically, I would ask that, as an advocate, you not speak to my concerns before you allow me a chance to speak them for myself. This is harder than it sounds, I know. Quakers love to set injustices right. We work hard to empathize with oppressed peoples. We want to be advocates. We want to be the good guys, and we want to speak out for people who have been marginalized, because it feels so good to be the voice of righteousness. However, it is tiresome to the person whose cause you’re espousing, to be spoken for when we’d rather speak for ourselves.  Certainly, we’d rather not be shut out of discussions of our needs by the voices of eager advocates.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, from the second part of a letter sent to her Quaker Christian Friends (part one is here), on owning Christian privilege, and how to act once you have.

King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur Pendragon

“As Druids, we believe that the Ancestors should be left to Rest in Peace and that the Sacredness of the site should not be desecrated in such a way, especially when there are many alternatives to this desecration. We have never been against Science or Education. We are however against the removal and display of our ancestors in such a manner. Whilst ‘Picketing’ at Stonehenge we gained support from peoples from each and every continent of many and of no faiths with the simple message “ Let those we Lay to Rest-Stay to Rest” and we challenged the Ministry of Justice’s decision to extend the ‘licence’ for study. That challenge will continue if ‘The Guardians’ are not returned and re-interred by August 2015. In the meanwhile we will ‘oppose’ English Heritage’s plans to display ‘our’ collective Ancestors, once buried at our most Sacred Site. This opposition will take many forms and we will call on the assistance of other like-minded Groups throughout the World if necessary, for let us not forget Stonehenge is designated as a World Heritage site. Like the ‘Guardians’ campaign, we will call for support from Any, All, and No faiths, who like us believe that the Dead should be left in peace. If English Heritage believe that they can ‘open’ their new visitors centre to a ‘fan-fare’ of common assent and complementary reports on the World stage, whilst planning to display our Guardians in such a macabre manner, they had better think again.”  – Activist and Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon, who is currently in a struggle to stop the display of human remains at Stonehenge’s new visitor’s center, calling it a desecration.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Monday [August 5th] is the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin.  I was contacted for comment this morning by a reporter from our local news station.  Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist and founder of Groundswell, notes that a full year later, everyone knows about Aurora and other tragedies, but most never understood what happened at Oak Creek and have already forgotten.  The anniversary is a good reminder to those of us in another misunderstood minority religion of the importance of interfaith relations. The reporter who contacted me at first said she was doing a story about religious tolerance.  The first thing I said to her was that I look forward to the day we can stop thinking about tolerance and begin appreciating our religious differences.  This includes Pagan appreciation of the religions whose members have often persecuted or despised us, whether we like the idea or not. […] While organizations like Groundswell and interfaith groups all over have done much to make our communities safer, the work is hardly begun, the weeping probably not over. Our heartfelt prayers and intentions go to our Sikh friends and to all in this world who suffer because their spirituality is misunderstood.” – Holli Emore, Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, on interfaith work, tolerance, and the anniversary of the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“That’s right, I strongly disagree with your interpretation of divinity, the Gods, worship or piety. So what am I going to do about it? Maybe un-friend you on Face Book, write a post tearing you a metaphorical ‘new one’ or demonstrate my need to be right by encouraging others to give no credibility to your views? Instead I think I will choose to celebrate our differences. Harvest. if you will, what has value in our discourse, demonstrate that respect for others views of divinity is a basic value of my Pagan beliefs.  Your actions and views help me to clarify my own beliefs about my path. It is in discussion and debate that we grow, are challenged to develop new insights into both self and the nature of the Divine. Each of us has a unique perception of divinity and spiritual practice. In learning about your perceptions I grow, consider what is new or uncomfortable, stretch my mind and heart to embrace the bountiful tapestry that is the diverse cloth of Pagan belief. Today I hold you, with your heretical beliefs, in Sacred Regard, as some of my most insightful teachers. Our discussions have planted the seeds of new insight, growth and compassion.  Today I celebrate the harvest of these efforts. Tending this garden of dissention is an honorable and meaningful investment of my time.” – Peter Dybing, on what he plans to do with people he disagrees with theologically.

Trey Capnerhurst / Treasach

Trey Capnerhurst / Treasach

“I used to have repeated arguments with others in the pagan community on this topic, though in the past few years, curiosity and hope are beginning to replace the sneering. “Why should WE need an abbey?”, some said with a snort. “There are plenty of Buddhist and Taoist monasteries around..” Well, we are neither Buddhist nor Taoist, although most of us get along quite nicely with them, of course. For a religion to be more formalized, to grow and permeate more areas of a culture or a group, it needs full time members who are dedicated to practising, refining, writing, recording, studying and teaching. Though we do have quite a few of those, they usually have day jobs, rather than being a full time professional community. We have a great many of what could be termed lay sisters and brothers; those who are devoted and dedicated to living their lives in the Way, but we have no priest ‘class’, as it were. So, though we do have a professional priesthood of sorts, we have not yet created spaces to support them full time, or train and hone them, or even facilitate professional community environments of librarians, educators and other academics. It is vital to our religion to establish these communities, and not just as teaching venues, but as places where we can totally immerse ourselves in our religion, and not only for short retreats. But for years. They are already becoming a reality. I was in contact with an abbess of the Cybeline abbey in New York for some time. They already have a large community of nuns with hospitality, retreat centres and libraries. Though there is room for dedicating to one Goddess in particular, like mine, because that’s just for me, a similar kind of non-deity specific community can appeal to far more people under the auspices of Pagan Humanism, where everyone can hear the call in their own way, yet we can work under one banner. Conserves resources and coalesces talent, doncha know.” – Treasach (aka Trey Capnerhurst), a Pagan Abbess, on why establishing Pagan abbeys are a practical solution to several ongoing problems within our communities.

Damh the Bard

Damh the Bard

“Yesterday was a glorious day to hold a Lughnasadh ceremony. Although not in full flow the grain harvest has begun, and John Barleycorn is falling in the fields. I started the ceremony by asking if there were any News of the World reporters at the ceremony, and then remembered that there were no such things any more… So changing that to The Daily Mail I pointed out that this ceremony might reinforce the odd stereotype, with its theme of sacrifice. A falling Corn King, sickles and scythes, all good sensationaistic fodder for the ignorant. But this is a festival of thanksgiving, a spiritual honouring that within its very language understands that for some things to continue to live, other things have to die. It’s all around on our supermarket shelves, we just don’t have to see the blood any more, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot honour the life that has been given, and this thanksgiving also includes the grain harvest, and the falling of the Corn King.” – Damh the Bard, on celebrating Lughnasadh at the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex.

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

Pagans and Obamacare

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2012 — 18 Comments

[The following is a post from The Wild Hunt archivesThe Wild Hunt is on hiatus through Labor Day weekend and will return with new posts on Tuesday, September 4th.]

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

 

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

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