Archives For Chas Clifton

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tex.– On Feb 9, a grand jury indicted David Brown Jr., the man arrested for the murder of Wiccan Marc Pourner. As we reported in November, Pourner went missing for three days, after which police found his strangled body deep in the woods inside his burned-out truck. He was known as Axel within Pagan circles, and helped run the now-defunct Wiccan World Social Network. Pourner was also instrumental in creating and moderating the popular Facebook group, “The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” When news broke of his death, that group lit up with stories and memorials coming from users who live all over the world.

As  was recently reported in the local news and by the Montgomery County Police reporter, court records have now revealed more about what actually happened to Pourner. Brown, a longtime friend of Pourner’s boyfriend Daniel Kirksey, called Pourner from Kirksey’s home to tell him that someone was “following him and wanted to kill him.” When Pourner arrived at the home, he and Brown had “a heated argument […] It was there that Brown punched Pourner several times and then bound and gagged [him].”  Using Pourner’s truck, Brown then took Pourner to a remote location, where he strangled him and torched the truck. The court records also indicate that Kirksey witnessed the entire act.

Brown remains in jail with a $1 million dollar bond for the murder. His indictment lists his charges as capital murder with a felony, which includes his alleged kidnapping of Pourner. Kirksey has not been charged with anything.

Pourner’s mother, Jolena Pourner, told The Wild Hunt, “My husband and I were simply elated when the grand jury indicted Brown, and that further indictments could be forthcoming.” She also expressed concern over the new information revealed concerning Pourner’s boyfriend: “We knew from the beginning that Daniel was possibly involved because his explanations didn’t add up. We’d been concerned because we felt Daniel was using Marc.” Despite this new information, the exact motivation behind the murder is not clear. However, it does appear that the motivation was not related to Pourner’s Pagan religious beliefs.

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ccs-twitter-logo_400x400CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. —  On Feb. 8, the Cleveland County School Board welcomed Wiccan Priest Tony Brown to give an invocation before its regularly scheduled meeting. The board recently adopted a prayer policy that adheres to the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in The Town of Greece v. Galloway case. As quoted in the local news, Cleveland County Schools director of communications Greg Shull said, “We’re just carrying out marching orders of the board. They responded to what the community asked for. People are aware that there could be folks from all walks of life, but that’s really the nature of public education.”

One of the components of the new policy is to remove any children under the age of 11 from the room until the invocation is over. Shull said, “The board decided to start this with the introduction of the prayer, no matter what religion. At that age, we could put out permission slips, but it’s hard to obtain permission when you don’t know [what’s going to be said.] We don’t know the religion of each child or what their background is at home.”

Rev. Tony Brown told The Wild Hunt that there were no problems during his invocation. He said, “At the meeting itself, I think it’s fair to say that I got a neutral reception. Which I believe is perfectly appropriate. It was quiet and uneventful, just like the reception the two Christian ministers got at the previous meetings since the policy was adopted.” Brown believes that his laying important groundwork prior to the Feb. 8 meeting helped ease any tensions.  He said that he built a “rapport with the board members” and has been an active voice in the community.  He added, “I think part of the reason this went better than the similar policy in a neighboring county is that I was active in the meetings leading up to the policy change. I was there, speaking out and making sure everyone knew that if they started having prayers from local clergy, that our Wiccan church would expect to be included.”

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POM-1528-0268-largeScholar and editor Chas Clifton announced the release of the newest edition of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. The Pomegranate is a peer-reviewed journal, providing “a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”

As Clifton noted on his own blog, “The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Douglas Ezzy.”  Ezzy is a sociology professor at the University of Tasmania and editor of The Journal for the Academic Study of Religion and was president of The Australian Association for the Study of Religion.

The two long essays were written by Russian scholar Dmitry Galtsin and Indian professor Archana Barua. The featured autobiographical reflections were written by Wendy Griffin, Douglas Ezzy, Michael York, Fritz Muntean, Helen A. Berger, Graham Harvey, Kathryn Rountree, Susan Greenwood, Sarah Pike, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Melissa Jane Harrington.

Clifton also noted that, by special arrangement with the publisher Equinox, his own editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is available for free via download.

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pagan federation

The Pagan Federation (PF) has announced the launch of a media site: Pagan Dawn online. PF has been producing a print version of Pagan Dawn, in various forms, since 1968. The magazine is published “four times a year, at Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas.” Now the editorial team is taking a step forward into the digital world. PF’s announcement said that the new site will “feature news and reviews for the Pagan community, as well as showcasing some of the best feature content from the magazine.” 

Editors noted that the magazine will still remain the “main focus” of their work and is not being retired. However, the new site will be updated regularly to “reflect the current diversity and sheer fecundity of the Pagan movement.” Editor-in-Chief Kate Large said, “The 2011 census showed over 80,000 people identifying as Pagan in England and Wales, while in other major countries of the world, Paganism and Earth-centred spirituality is growing at a fantastic rate. Pagan Dawn seeks to inform, educate and entertain seekers of all paths, both in the magazine and now, online as well.”

In Other News:

  • Inspired by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local Indiana community has been successfully holding its own interfaith events. Last weekend marked the third such event sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus. The four-hour session included “representatives from 20 different beliefs highlighting how they interpret the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Rev. Dave Sassman of the Pagan Educational Network (PEN) was there and said, “What a multi-faceted experience.” Sassman, who also attended the Parliament, is founder of PEN and a member of Circle Sanctuary. When asked about the Golden Rule, Sassman said, “Harming anybody is harming the divine and yourself.”
  • The South African Pagan Council has announced the 10th annual Pagan Freedom Day. To be held on Apr. 27, the event’s theme is “Freedom and Unity through Diversity.”  The Council produced and uploaded a video advertisement, which can be seen on Penton Independent Alternative Media’s site or directly on YouTube.  The video contains photos from past events, and reads, “All Over South Africa, Pagan folk with gather again.”  It lists the cities where events will be held and the contact person for each one.
  • A new conference is arriving this summer in Nashville, Tennessee. ODDCon, as it is called, was born last spring when Tesea Dawson helped facilitate a smaller festival in the same region. Dawson believed that event could have been bigger and better. ODDCon was born. The conference site reads, “We believe that it doesn’t matter what color you are, how old you are, what religion you follow, what country your from or even who you love… we can all get along.  Let’s give it shot… we challenge all of you who read this to open your heart for one weekend and come be a part of the freakshow!” Special guests include many: Tuatha Dea, Alex Bledsoe, Selena Fox, Celia Farran, Byron Ballard, M.R. Sellars and more. ODDCon will take place at the Hotel Preston in Nashville from Aug. 5-7. Tickets are now on sale and more information is available on the website.
  • Dusty Dionne, High Priest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) has launched a new podcast called “Pagan Jack.” It is accessible from the ATC Pagan Information Network website and “comes out on Tuesdays at 6am EST.” Dionne describes the podcast as featuring “news and notes from the Internet and abroad that may be of interest to children of the Earth.” On its new Facebook page, Dionne reported that he was recording a show at PantheaCon.
  • Speaking of PantheaCon, the colossal Pagan event ends today. In the coming weeks, there will be many posts and articles from attending Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists. Look for them across the blogosphere and in social media. In the coming days, Heathen Chinese will be reviewing the event for The Wild Hunt.
  • And, lastly, for those in the upper midwest, ConVocation kicks off this Thursday in Detroit, Michigan with the theme “Rebirth in the Sea of Divine Knowledge.” The guests of honor include Dragon Ritual Drummers, Selena Fox, Richard Kaczynski, and Raven Kaldera. The conference is held at the Dearborn DoubleTree, and runs from Feb. 18 – 21.

CHICAGO, Ill. — On Feb. 6, a performance collective named WITCH will be hosting a ritual protest in Logan Square in support of local housing rights.The organizers describe the event as a “hexing and protective spell action,” which will include recognizable elements of Witchcraft practice. Due to this design, the protest has been attracting both mainstream media attention and social media backlash. We spoke with the group’s founders to find out more.

W.I.T.C.H. action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

WITCH protest action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

“Gentrification has been affecting Logan Square for the last 15+ years. Our action is concentrating on the increasing lack of affordable housing, which is certainly affected by gentrification, but far from the only issue surrounding it. We have all been impacted by housing speculation and insecurity, though our personal experiences vary,” explained Jessica Caponigro, Amaranta Isyemille Lara, and Chiara Galimberti, the three women who make up WITCH.

Jessica Caponigro is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and activist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she is currently working as an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago. Amaranta Isyemille Lara is a student, poet, and single mother. She is working toward a master’s in linguistics and has lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood since 2004. And, Chiara Galimberti is an artist, activist, parent, and educator. She is currently working toward becoming a herbalist and acupuncturist.

Galimberti said, “My relationship to Chicago has been very difficult as housing insecurity has deeply affected me and my daughters. I have been working multiple jobs since moving to Chicago and I have never been able to afford rent without public assistance. I know that my situation is by no means unique and that the vast majority of people in the city is negatively impacted by housing speculation, especially as that reality combines with endemic racism and sexism.”

This is the type of personal experience that inspired the three women to come together and form the performance collective. Their first organizational meeting was in October 2015 and, at that time, they chose to name the group WITCH. The acronym stands for Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and was used by a number of affiliated but separate women’s groups within the broader feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The original WITCH organization was formed in New York City on Halloween 1968. Its members created a manifesto that began:

WITCH is an all-woman Everything. It’s theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It’s an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression – particularly the oppression of women – down through the ages. Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary … [From the WITCH Manifesto, 1969]

This group of feminists chose to adopt the image and concept of the Witch to represent female empowerment in a way that was antithetical to socially-constructed, traditional gender roles and that flew, pun intended, in face of the patriarchal expectations. Several Pagan writers and historians, such as Chas Clifton, Margo Adler and Ethan Doyle White, have mentioned the 1960s WITCH organization in their writings, highlighting the similarities between that movement and the early modern Pagan movement in the U.S. In his book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America,Clifton wrote, “WITCH was not religious, yet as Eller, and before her, Margot Adler note, it was a small step from the intense, intimate feminist consciousness-raising discussion group of the early 1970s to the Witches’ coven.”(Clifton, p 120)

witch manifesto

Forty-seven years later, Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara decided to resurrect the name, capturing that energy, history and legacy for their own work. While their Chicago protests are not embedded in any specific organized feminist movement, the three modern women have found empowerment and purpose within the original group’s message. They explained, “We think of Witches as historically being women (and some men) who were at the forefront of resistance against oppressive systems, and we strongly believe that there is not one way to be a Witch. We are interested in looking at the connection between social justice, feminism, and the figure of the Witch.”

In November, the women staged their first protest action. It was held in front of Chicago’s Thompson Center on Randolph Street. Similar to the upcoming event, the November action was staged to “protest disparities caused by inequality, chanting to hex those who cause it and protect those who suffer as a result.”

Then, on Jan 3, WITCH announced its second action and created a corresponding Facebook event page. Unlike the November action, the new Feb 6 protest would be held in conjunction with a local art festival called 2nd Floor Rear 2016, a “DIY” event that features art in “experimental contexts.” The protest is listed on the festival site as one of the featured happenings.

Since that Jan. 3 announcement, the group has received media attention from various mainstream outlets, as well as backlash from the online Pagan community. Jezebel and the Chicagoist each published an article titled, “Chicago Witches Will Exorcise ‘Gentrification’ Demons.” The online site Dazed titled its article,”Chicago Witches Hoping to Cast Out Gentrification.” As is often the case for mainstream Witch articles, all three included flashy stills from the The Craft (1996)

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara expressed disappointment in the treatment of their story within these news articles, calling them “unfortunate and misleading.” And, it may have been this misrepresentation that is at least partially responsible for the subsequent social media backlash predominantly found on Facebook. One user wrote, “So you fight colonialism by using cultural appropriation … For many this is a way of life, and you mock it as merely a public art spectacle.” Comments like this one continued on with accusations that the women were disingenuously appropriating Witchcraft or Pagan traditions to serve their own artistic or political objectives. Another user posted, “YOU are not WITCH! You have no concept. I and many like me are witches. The real deal. How about you mock some other group inappropriately.”

But are they? The issue of their own religious or spiritual identity, or practice, was not publicly addressed. So we asked them, “Do you identify as Witches in a religious or spiritual sense? Are you Pagan?”

Caponigro said, “I most certainly identify as a Witch. I come from a long line of independent Sicilian women who strongly believed in holistic medicine and the powers of the earth and intuition, and passed down their spirit and knowledge to me and my sibling. Though I’m not currently practicing, there are parts of my life when I have identified as Wiccan.”

To this question, Isyemille Lara said, “I identify as a Witch. To me, being a Witch has to do most with using an honest and balanced voice to impart support, empathy, protection and power whenever necessary. Witchcraft is personal and adaptive. My family is from the northern deserts of Mexico. I carry this stoic intuition in my veins.”

And, Galimberti said, “I grew up in Italy, where the tradition of Witchcraft is different than in the United States. The memory of Witch hunts and persecution is still present, mixed with a classism that sees Witchcraft and Paganism as part of working class practices, and thus not taken seriously. I was raised largely by my grandmother who practices Malocchio, which mostly included a healthy skepticism for authority (whether of the state or the church), and a rich knowledge of herbs for healing and daily practices that allowed a connection with the spiritual world. I am studying Herbology and Acupuncture and I think of myself as a healer-in-training, with spirituality being a component of that identity.”

The three members of WITCH added that they are not in anyway mocking anyone’s system of belief. “We are empathetic to those who are angry because they mistakenly think we are appropriating their beliefs,” they said. “Those accusing us of being disingenuous or culturally appropriating Witchcraft are working under the assumption that because we do not practice in their particular way, our sincere connection to Witchcraft is somehow less valid.”

They added that Witchcraft has long and varied history, saying, “Witches were and are healers, spiritual workers, subversive independent thinkers, in addition to the definition of “witch” in the Pagan religious sense. The figure of the Witch is present in most cultures around the world, and can come to signify many different practices and beliefs.”

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

As for the group’s mission, the women explained that the Feb. 6 action will hopefully attract the attention of “politicians and companies that are profiting from housing development at the expense of most Chicagoans and especially working class people.” They were quick to add that they are no experts and can’t speak for everyone who has been “impacted by predatory housing” practices. However, they do hope to give voice to those who have such stories.

“During the action people will be invited to speak out about their experience with housing insecurity, the impact of high rents, and speculative development on their lives,” they explained. “We will then perform a protective charm that acknowledges the people and organizations that have been working on these issues for decades, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Grassroots Illinois Action.”

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara described the upcoming protest action as a “combination of both magical ritual and performative gesture” that will be based on their collective “experiences and knowledge.” They welcome anyone to come and join them, Pagan or not. It is not a private or restricted event. They said, “We take our relationship with spirituality, Witchcraft, and social justice very seriously,” adding “Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a non-conformist, sexually liberated, independent thinker. Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a WITCH.”

218px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skiesOn Saturday, Ireland voted “yes” to legalize same sex marriage, making it the first country to do so by popular vote. Susan Large, moderator of the Irish Pagan Movement Facebook page, said, “As Pagans we are delighted as our small community welcomes many Gay couples and we view this vote as a wonderful vote for Love and for freedom. Ireland has shown the way for others to follow and this vote is a remarkable demonstration of how enlightened a nation can be. We hope and pray that other countries will help this small flame to burn even brighter.”

11193216_1426113094372944_669836385512419440_nTurnout was reportedly very high at 60% of the 3.2 million eligible to vote. For some, the win was a surprise in a country that is considered to be conservative and traditionally Catholic. However, the vote proves that a cultural shift has happened. In response, the Pagan Federation Ireland changed its logo and said, “A happy day for everyone, not just the LGBT community, as Ireland votes Yes to marriage equality. The Yes vote for equality benefits us all, even those who voted No. But once the euphoria of victory and the celebrations are over, we must remember that many remain to be convinced, and that will take time and patience. The fight for equality continues.”

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Last week we reported on the start of festival season and the various upcoming events. Another one that is on the horizon is The Morrigan’s Call. Although many festivals and conferences have themes, only a few focus on a specific deity. In this case, it’s The Morrigan. Organizers say, “Do you hear her voice whispering to you on the wind? Do you feel her presence in the shadows calling to you? Can you feel her warrior spirit stir within you? The Morrigan is calling to us once again …Join us for a weekend of ritual work, devotional practices, kinship and workshops dedicated to the Morrigan, the Irish goddess of sovereignty and battle.”

Similar to Reclaiming’s Witchcamp, The Morrigan’s Call is a retreat intensive to learn about this “dynamic goddess” and “how to embrace her transformation in your life.” Organized by Morrigu’s Daughters, the retreat is open to both men and women. After the 2014 event, Morgan Daimler wrote in a blog post, “We came together to honor Her, and we did; in word, and song, in ritual, and prayer, in communion with each other and by sharing our experiences and insights with each other. And it was an awesome and amazing thing to experience.”  This year’s retreat will be held at Camp Cedarcrest in Orange, Connecticut and runs from June 12 – 14. Tickets and information can be found on Facebook or at Brown Paper Tickets.

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Lapd seal

Last week’s meet and greet, held at the West Valley Area Los Angeles Police Department, was reportedly a huge success. Co-organizer Wendilyn Emrys, a Pagan Priestess and activist, said that more than thirty Pagans showed up and filled the community room at the station. From the LAPD, co-organizer Captain John Egan was joined by both a former and a current Hate Crime Detective, and a Deputy City’s Attorney. Emrys said, “Frankly, the really surprising thing about the event was how many Pagan Officers showed up.” Although she added that more didn’t come for fear of being “outed” as Pagan.

The various officers spoke on different topics of concern, such as the difference between hate crimes and hate incidents. For example, Emrys said, “The City Attorney explained how he/they handle misdemeanor Hate Incidents, and also will arbitrate neighbors disputes. That was a resource none of us were aware of.” There were many questions and Emrys described Capt. Egan as open and willing to answer each and every question. Afterward, he spoke directly to a number of people and offered assistance to those experiencing problems in other areas. Pagan Jill Weiss asked if a similar meeting could take place in the North Hollywood area. Capt. Egan said that he would try to help make that happen.

Last year, the West Valley Area LAPD was implicated in a court case in which a Pagan officer allegedly experienced religious and gender discrimination. The officer involved, Victoria DeBellis, and her husband were not in attendance at the last week’s meeting; nor did DeBellis respond to the invitation. Emrys did asked Captain Egan about the case, and he simply said that “he could not talk about it because it is still in play, but he was hopeful that the decision would be a fair one.”

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It was announced this week that fantasy author Tanith Lee (1947-2015) had passed away at the age of 67 after a long illness. Born in London, Lee was raised by two dancers. She was unable to read until the age of eight due to dyslexia. But that didn’t hold her back.

Lee published her first novel The Dragon Hoard in 1971, and became a freelance writer shortly after. Over the following 44 years, she wrote and published more than 90 novels and 300 short stories, earning her many accolades. In 1980, Lee became the first woman to receive the British Fantasy Award for best novel with her book Death’s Master.

Known for her highly imaginative work and feminist themes, Lee’s stories are very popular in many Pagans circle. Some of her more recent books were published by Immanion Press, including A Different City, which was just released March 2015. When Lee’s passing was made public, her official website simply displayed this quote: “Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.”

In Other News

  • The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment is now over 5300 and counting. The goal is 10,000 by mid June.
  • In support of Gaia Gathering, the national Canadian Pagan conference, thirteen artists came together to record “an anthology of some of the best of Canadian Pagan music and spoken word.” The collection of works spans thirty years, including “out-of-print classics” as well as new works. The artists include: Vanessa Cardui, Tara Rice, the Ancient Gods, JD Hobbes, Brendan Myers, Dano Hammer, the Dragon Ritual Drummers, Gallows Hill, Heather Dale, Tamarra James, Raven’s Call, Sable Aradia,and Parnassus (Chalice & Blade). The album, titled Songs of the Northern Tribes, can only be purchased online, and all proceeds go to support the conference.
  • A group of women in Venice, Italy have launched a project that will potentially result in a brand new Goddess Temple. The Dee Oltre Le Nebbie (Goddesses Beyond the Mists) is a local study group made up of women representing various Pagan traditions. President Anna Bordin said, “We are going to open a permanent Goddess Temple to give the Pagan community a place where [we can] meet each other and where we can celebrate the Goddess of many names, in every aspect.” The group is now raising money to purchase a space and looking for volunteers to assist in the construction, upkeep and maintenance of that space.
  • Pagans Radio Tonight announced that Pam Kelly has taken over as station manager. Rev. Don Lewis said, “All of our familiar shows will continue … but there are also many new shows either recently premiered or soon to come!” As an example, he pointed out two new programs: “Voces Paganas” with Rev. Nube Lazzo and Rev. Eblis, and “Soapbox Witch” with Rev. Chuck Chapman. He also added that the Friday lineup has changed completely.
  • The new summer conference, Many Gods West, is on the horizon for many. The initial programme is available online. One of the scheduled presenters is the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον), a group of Dionysian devotees, who will perform a ritual called “Filled with Frenzy.” One its members is blogger Sannion of the House of Vines. He described the event as a “celebration of the god Dionysos through wine, masks, drumming, dancing and altered states of consciousness.” It is also being touted as one of his first live events. To offset the cost of the trip to the conference, Bakcheion members have launched an Indiegogo campaign. The money raised will also be used for the purchase of ritual supplies, and anything left over will be “distributed back into supporting the polytheist community.”
Bakcheion Ritual Logo

Bakcheion Ritual Logo

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

sexuality and NRMReview: Sexuality and New Religious Movements. (Part of the Palgrave Studies in New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities series) Edited by Henrik Bogdan and James R. Lewis. (Palgrave Macmillan, 252 Pages)

Few topics can stir us as quickly as sex or sexuality, particularly when it is different from what is assumed to be “right.” Perhaps this is one reason that Sexuality and New Religious Movements is such an engaging read. According to the editors, Henrik Bogdan and James R. Lewis:

Sexuality is intimately connected to questions of identity: who we are as individuals and also our role in society. Human sexuality is thus inextricably linked to cultural, political, and philosophical aspects of life, which are regulated through legal systems based on morality and ethics. Morality and ethics, even in our secularized and late-modern society, are to a large extent based on traditional religious doctrines and teachings (which of course differ in time and place), and it is thus perhaps only natural that new forms of religion often challenge the moral codes and deeply rooted views on sexuality prevalent in the dominant forms of religion and, by extension, in society at large.

Anyone familiar with the marriage equality movement understands the strong role that religion plays in the arguments against gay marriage. In fact, it is difficult to make a case against gay marriage that does not involve religious beliefs that condemn same-sex intimacy. One such slippery slope argument is often framed as a “non-religious” position for “traditional marriage,” though it still takes us back to taboos rooted in religious beliefs. When it comes to our thoughts, our customs, and our laws regarding sexuality and sexual practice, religious beliefs often takes center stage. Not that they have to, but they often do.

Bogdan and Lewis take on the topics of sex and gender in this anthology to give us a peek into beliefs and practices that are less common than the standard-issue Abrahamic ideals. Specifically, they introduce us to sex and gender within western New Religious Movements (NRMs), some of which have received more attention than others.

The editors point out that, often, NRMs are considered nothing more than cults that provide leaders the opportunity to sexually abuse members. They write:

What these critics often fail to take into account, however, is the way that sexuality is actually understood and used by the groups themselves, and to place these teachings and practices within the broader context of the history of religions. As this anthology aims to show, sexual practices that, at face value, seem bizarre or even dangerous might be understood differently when placed in their proper context.

The book continues on with the goal to provide a better understanding of NRMs and to challenge the misconceptions that exist regarding their beliefs and practices where sexuality is concerned.

The anthology presents a series of chapters that each cover one NRM, including one on contemporary Wicca written by writer and historian Chas Clifton. The Branch Davidians, Communes of Osho, and Satanists are all represented in the volume in addition to the views and teachings of Gurdjieff, Adi Da, and Raël. As with any anthology, each chapter varies in depth and breadth since they have different authors. However, the quality of writing is consistently good and, as an academic book, the information goes beyond the simple rehashing of facts, delving into conversation and analysis.

Of all the chapters, the one that I had the strongest reaction to was “Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Empowerment in Mormon Fundamentalist Communities.” After reading the entire book, I was surprised that this was the chapter that generated the most notes, considering all I learned about the fiancées of super-sensitive extraterrestrials within the International Raelian Movement, the ultimate receptivity of the Satanic female altar, and the denunciation of masturbation and same-sex coupling within the writings of Gurdjieff. No, it was the polygamy talk that caught my full attention.

Written by Jennifer Lara Fagen and Stuart A. Wright, this chapter addresses some of the criticisms that have been made against plural marriage and the often-assumed powerlessness of women within Mormon polygamous communities. The writers assert that critics see these women as victims of a patriarchal system, and that this view is “based on the contemporary devaluation of motherhood and conflation of domesticity with oppression that resulted from the deinstitutionalization of marriage and destabilization of gender roles.” They introduce the work of cultural anthropologist Janet Bennion, who argues that Mormon fundamentalist women have alternate ways to achieve power in their communities and that their solidarity is stronger because of the alienating patriarchal control.

They also offer an examination of ideas such as “subservience,” gender roles, and the feminist critique of the “cult of domesticity.” The primary argument presented is that, although these women “do not have the same access to religious or political power as their male counterparts,” it should not be assumed that  they “as a group, are without agency and without voice…”  There are many other problems associated with polygamy within these communities that were not addressed in the chapter, such as the victimization of “lower status males,” the increase in crime due to male competition, and the increase in child abuse and neglect.

The chapter that I was most interested in reading was Clifton’s “Sex Magic or Sacred Marriage: Sexuality in Contemporary Wicca.” His chapter starts with a description of a Beltane ritual then moves into a discussion of the historical roots of Wicca, an exploration of The Great Rite, then the influence of the southern Californian subculture on Paganism. It was all a very interesting read, but what stood out to me the most was the description of the Beltane ritual, where “both lesbian and gay onlookers cheered as the maypole entered the earth.” Clifton touches on the idea of LGBT individuals within Wicca, but I wish this was considered further.

Being a lesbian from the Deep South, I do not harbor any naïve beliefs about Wicca and views on same-sex coupling. Not that I have ever been told that being gay was wrong, but, at times, it has been made clear that I had no place at a Maypole or that I had no right to jump a fire because I did not have a male partner. In my experience, Wiccan metaphors easily lend themselves to heterosexism and this is something I find gets glossed over far too easily.

One of the most difficult tasks when reviewing books about religion is to separate my own religious beliefs from writing about it. There were times when, in reading this book, my jaw dropped in horror, and other times when my MacBook was in danger of becoming airborne. Some of the beliefs and practices described within the pages of this book are off-putting. That being said, editors Bogdan and Lewis set out to put into context views on sex and gender within various new religious movements. They, together with the other authors, succeed in doing just that.

As an academic publication, it is well-written and edited with plenty of footnotes to offer the reader more background material. Sexuality and New Religious Movements is part of Palgrave’s Studies in New Religious and Alternative Spiritualities series. Released in November 2014, it is available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.

The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Chas Clifton

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

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

Doreen Valiente Foundation

On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) made a statement regarding the local showing of a horror film called The Wicca Man.” The Liverpool Echo described the film, directed by Jacqueline Kirkham, as being “inspired by notorious Blundellsands-born satanist Gerald Gardner” and, as reported, is about a filmmaker who “[infiltrates] a witches’ coven with disastrous consequences.”

After the article was published, the Foundation became inundated with requests to respond to the film and subsequent media coverage. However, DVF opted to issue a statement to its community and supporters instead. The message read, in part, “We don’t encourage public displays of outrage on behalf of Witches or Pagans in relation to this movie specifically. We believe that a low-budget, local movie  for which even the local paper story could only attract 3 comments, mostly criticising the film for being poorly made, doesn’t deserve such attention and is best left to be ignored … That’s NOT to say that we don’t believe in standing up for the rights of Witches and Pagans not to be defamed! We just think that it is a long war to fight and picking the battlefields is the strategic key to success.” To read the full statement and reasoning, go to the Foundation’s site.

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michigan_council_of_covens_solitaires_gift_box-re9f68ce3c3b84d1fabcf66bb8b6f8a0c_aglbn_8byvr_324The Michigan Council of Covens & Solitaires (MCCS) has launched its Yuletide/Christmas “Adopt A Family” program. Organizers explain, “Every year there are children in the U.S. that go without presents for Christmas. There are children right here in Michigan that wonder where their next meal is coming from. DHS doesn’t cover everything, that’s where other organizations like MCCS step in.”

MCCS is holding a food and toy drive through Dec. 13 at The Smokey Crystal in Woodhaven, Michigan. Monetary gifts are also being accepted and will be used to purchase needed items that were not donated directly. The website also contains a link to the form used to nominate a family that may be in need of help this holiday season.

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{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}Over the past weekend, the American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in San Diego. There were many Pagans in attendance including Sabina Magliocco Ph.D., M. Macha Nightmare, Jeffrey Albaugh, Chas Clifton, Amy Hale, Wendy Griffin, Rev. Patrick McCollum and others. The organization itself, as well as attendees, live tweeted with the hashtag #sblaar14 and #aar.

This year’s AAR meeting included discussions on climate change. During the event, AAR, in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute, released a report titled: “Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.” The report was compiled from the “findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey.” We will be reporting more on the AAR Pagan experience in the near future.


In Other News:

  • Yvonne Aburrow announced the release of her book All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca. Published by Avalonia Press, the book “is a companion guide to inclusive Wicca, which includes all participants regardless of sexual orientation, disability, age, or other differences, not by erasing or ignoring the distinctions, but by working with them creatively within initiatory Craft.” It is currently available for pre-order.
  • Photographer Daragh McDonagh left his adopted city of New York to return to his Irish homeland and “reconnect with the natural world.” After some time, he turned parts of his experience into a series of photographs that explore Irish Shamanism. The resulting collection is called: Daragh McDonagh: The Modern Pagan. McConagh told The British Journal of Photography that, in the photographs, he attempted to capture “a compelling presence that in some way reflects the inner spirituality of each sitter.” Some of his striking photos can be seen on the magazine’s website.
  • “Lithuania Romuva elected a new guide, Inija Trinkūnienė,” as announced by ECER. Trinkūnienė has the distinction of being the first woman ever elected to this position of Kriva (supreme priestess). According to ECER, her election was part of broader discussions on “looking forward” into the religion’s future.
  • Chas Clifton announced the release of a new anthology called Sexuality and New Religious Movements published by Palgrave Macmillan. According to a blurb on Amazon, “Issues relating to sexuality, eroticism and gender are often connected to religious beliefs and practices, but also to prejudices against and fear of religious groups that adopt alternative approaches to sexuality.” The book explores the subject through a number of different religions. Clifton is one of the essayists, and the co-editor is Henry Bogdan of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism.
  • On Nov. 20, Mythicworlds announced that “Einar Selvik, founder of the acclaimed Nordic band, WARDRUNA and a composer for the hit series, VIKINGS, on the History Channel will make his premiere appearance at Mythicworlds in Seattle on February 20-22.” He will be doing three workshops and talking about his involvement on Vikings.

That is all for now. Enjoy your day.

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”John Muir

Today is Earth Day, a moment when we as a people take notice of our interconnected relationship with the planet we inhabit, when, in theory, we take stock of our responsibilities towards good stewardship of the fragile ecosystems that allow the flourishing of life. A moment where we realize that the resources that we depend on for life are not inexhaustible or incorruptible. Originally a teach-in on environmental issues, Earth Day has since become a global point of focus for issues relating to environmentalism, ecology, and the preservation of natural resources. With climate change becoming an increasingly dire issue, it remains to be seen if we can escape the fog of politics and actually work to mitigate some of the worst effects while we still can.

Pioneer trail, Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Pioneer trail, Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

While many contemporary Pagans today feel a deep connection with these issues, to the point where many now describe themselves as following an “Earth Religion,” that was not always the case. Nascent Pagan religious culture in the 1950s and 1960s  was more focused on what scholar Chas Clifton, in his book “Her Hidden Children,” calls “cosmic” and “embodied” forms of nature. This former dominant paradigm is underscored by a recent editorial by Fritz Muntean, who argues that hedonism, not high-minded environmental concerns, were the driving force in the community he joined in the 1960s.

 “The people who rallied, with me, around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Many of us, it’s true, were interested in ecology and environmentalism. But all were there, I believe, to fuel the fires of a religiosity that claimed ‘all acts of love and pleasure’ as its sacraments.”

I think that Muntean’s assertions as to how the shift in emphasis from ‘cosmic’ and ’embodied’ ideas to ‘Gaian’ ones happened suffers from a selective and biased reading of our community’s history, and largely ignores how Pagans of that time were influenced by a much larger groundswell in the West around issues of environmentalism. As Clifton puts it, this cultural shift within Paganism largely happened without premeditation.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“I would stress that Wicca and other forms of new American Paganism stepped right into the opening created, without, so far as I can tell, any premeditation. In more than a quarter century of involvement in the movement, I have not uncovered any instance of any American Pagan’s saying, in effect, ‘Let’s position ourselves as the environmental religion.’ Risking an argument from absence, I think that the unconscious ease with which American Pagans embraced the terms nature religion or earth religion testifies to the strength of Catherine Albanese’s argument that nature religion does exist in the American worldview, whether as a scholarly construct, a way of organizing reality (her first description), or as the ‘spiritual source of secular passion.'”

It should be noted that within the larger Pagan movement, some individuals and groups have, in recent years, rejected labels like “earth religion” or “nature religion,” finding them not accurate descriptors of what they practice or believe. That said, support for environmental causes, a willingness to embrace modern scientific data on issues like climate change, and a general belief that preserving natural resources is a good idea, are still pervasive throughout our interconnected communities. A shift did happen in 1970, one that has changed our religious movement in a deep manner, to the point where environmentalism is often slurred with the epithet of “pagan” by some political conservatives.

“With the demise of the biblical religions that have provided the American people with their core values since the country’s inception, we are reverting to the pagan worldview. Trees and animals are venerated, while man is simply one more animal in the ecosystem. And he is largely a hindrance, not an asset.”

This slur, meant to shock Christians of a certain stripe, is increasingly losing its power in the face of greater ecological catastrophes. The main question now is, will outrage over local disasters, over poisoned resources, over under-regulated oil, chemical, and gas industries, gel into a national movement powerful enough to shift the political will as it did in the 1970s? Back then it took acid rain, rivers on fire, toxic smog, and widespread chemical poisoning of both people and our ecosystem before enough push-back solidified. How much damage, or more accurately, how much irreversible damage, will we as a culture tolerate? It’s clear we will need more than Pagans espousing nature religion, we will need a larger change in how we all encounter and experience the natural world and our place within it.

View from Spencer Butte. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

View from Spencer Butte. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

While I think that documentaries like “A Fierce Green Fire” (debuting tonight on PBS), “Monumental,” “Earth Days,” or Ken Burns’ love letter to the National Parks, can help raise both awareness and a longing for reconnection with nature, nothing replaces experience. Living in Oregon, surrounded by ocean, forest, high plains desert, mountain, and butte, one has only to pick a direction and walk to it. Since moving here some years ago, I have seen my own spiritual framework shift and change as I adapted to my new home. Here, people regularly climb to the summit of local buttes to break through the clouds that are our reality for several months of the year, where almost everyone owns hiking gear, where both REI and Cabela’s thrive in providing equipment for a number of outdoor excursions. As a result, “nature religion” is almost our default setting in a land where religious “nones” are a force to be reckoned with.

Not everyone has access to the lush splendor of the Pacific Northwest, but nature, and our desire to preserve its ability to support us, need not depend on forest or mountain. Pagans can oppose fracking in urban New York City, they can get involved in environmental law, fighting for nature in our courtrooms, they can call awareness to poisoned water supplies, they can stand on the front lines as activists, and perhaps most importantly, they can dig into the history of the land they are on, no matter where that is.

“Many of us look to the land to teach us various internal and external lessons. And most of us look to what has been built before us in order to better understand who we were and are. But we sometimes overlook the idea that the objects and structures that we have built can also serve as powerful lessons about the land itself. Lessons that our ancestors knew but in the present-day we have forgotten, lessons that the land may not be able to tell us quite so clearly, especially when man-made alterations have transformed the historic layout of a landscape.”Alley Valkyrie

I know that there will be many who will say that there is little they can do, that they already recycle, or conserve, or donate, as best that they can. That the problems we face are too immense, that we can simply face forward with stoic composure, or engage in “collapse” scenario preparations, and hope for the best. However, I don’t think that’s true, there is something we all can do, rich or poor, connected or isolated, and that is to stop being polite about the devastation. When the AIDS crisis hit, there were those who were more than ready to consign all who were hit by the disease with death, who readily villainized the sick. However, a group of people decided that they weren’t going to die quietly, and that they weren’t going to give up hope. They forced awareness, they pushed for new drugs, and they pushed for policy changes. As a result, there are thousands alive today who may not have been had they accepted their fate.

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

The way forward, especially for those of us who think terms like “nature religion” or “earth religion” matter, is to keep pushing towards a culture that cares about these issues. Where it is reported on in the news every day, where all politicians are forced to have a position, where every new statistic, every new disaster, every new setback, is discussed openly, even if it annoys some of your connected social network. If nature is sacred, if we are connected to that sacred nature, then “likes” are immaterial in the face of crisis. If we want global change, we must become that change. We must role model what we expect from our leadership, be that spiritual or political. Making every day “Earth Day” has become a cliche rejoinder, but we must instead make it a call to action that promotes a radical shift in our spirit.

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.

Peter J. Carroll

Peter J. Carroll

“At the risk of causing uproar I’d classify most British Neo-Pagans as basically atheists or pantheists, they believe in their gods in a mytho-centric rather than a logo-centric way. By this I mean that they believe in them as archetypes which exist primarily in our own heads but which grow stronger and more useful and which can have real effects upon the world and on us if we choose to believe in them. They do not in the main believe that such gods and goddesses have some sort of objective existence as ‘gaseous vertebrates’, or that their myths have literal truth as historical events. Rather the myths represent teaching stories about the human condition. I feel at home with most Neo- Pagan traditions in the UK and have participated at many varied rituals and meetings. I currently attend a Druid Grove regularly. Of course they all know that Druidry consists of an almost entirely modern synthetic and syncretic ‘tradition’, but that doesn’t inhibit them at all.” – Peter J. Carroll, on his relationship with Modern Paganism.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Many of us in the Pagan community are heavily influenced by Campbell, even if we’ve never read or seen his work.  If you aren’t a devotional polytheist or if you haven’t had experiences of individual deities, his ideas of monomyth and of “God as Force” are intuitively attractive.  The reverence in which Campbell is held within liberal religious circles only adds to his authority.  That makes it very easy for intelligent and well-meaning Pagans to interpret polytheistic experiences (of others or even their own) through monotheistic and non-theistic lenses. Is that wrong?  I’m not going to tell anyone how to interpret their religious experiences.  If Joseph Campbell’s ideas are meaningful and helpful to you, so be it – you could do far worse.  But if you tell me my experience of Danu can only be seen as an aspect of a universal Goddess or as an archetype or that it must be an expression of a universal myth, we’re going to have issues.” – John Beckett, taking issue with the effect(s) Joseph Campbell has had on the Pagan community.

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth

“I am still traveling. I am not where I came from, nor where I am going. I am in-between, a third place betwixt here and there. When I went on pilgrimage last year, I was for five weeks in each place but also not in those places, nor where I had belonged, nor where I was going. Something about this liminality, though, is quite familiar and even comforting. Ungrounded from place, unrooted from the worlds of meaning, the families and friendships, the beds and teacups–I’m reminded that I carry my hearth with me, even as I yet have no hearth to call mine. A tent in France pulled from an over-stuffed rucksack, a crossroads in a cornfield on a druid mountain, a couch in a 500 year-old Alsatian apartment, a loft in a 200 year old Berlin commune, a room between the rooms of my nephews in Florida, a warm corner in the attic of some friends in Seattle, a shared bed with another in Portland—these are the spaces in-between where I dwell. They are places that are not mine but in which I have inhabited, where the hearth I carry with me settles for a time amongst others. I am myself when I am in-between, more so now that I have understood what else inhabits such places.” – Rhyd Wildermuth, on liminality and gods in-between.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“I am very happy to be friends with nearly anyone (as long as they’re, at the very least, not racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic, or anti-Pagan, and they’re working or willing to work on improving in whatever other areas they might lack awareness or sensitivity), and it’s great to have friends of a diverse variety. However, if I am to be colleagues with someone in my religious community, or they are considered colleagues within my greater religious umbrella, then more is required. No matter how well I get along with someone and how much I value them as a friend, if I have not been in ritual with them and cannot work with them, there’s less of a draw to get closer to them. I’ll still try to be as friendly and respectful toward them as I can be and as is appropriate to our contexts, but there will be a distancing on some matters that will inevitably occur. If it isn’t an important enough subject to talk about with someone, then likely the variety of relationship involved won’t be as important to either of us as well.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on small-talk, religious community, and what’s required to become religious community. 

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

“Yes, I’m prone to exaggeration. But I’m *not* exaggerating here. It was the worst ritual ever and I wanted to go home and throw my Craft books out the window onto 10th street for the cabs to run over and the drunks to puke upon. The most soulful moment I had that night was explaining the concept of a doughnut hole to a British tourist in attendance, who blushed because he thought I was talking kinky. What a waste of time! Except for that British guy, nothing moving whatsoever. But did that ritual warrant my critique? No. Yes, I’m entitled to an opinion. But the High Priestess didn’t ask me what I thought. Even though I thought her ritual was lousy, she was still the one who donated her time to put it together. It would have been rude and unkind of me to run my mouth all over it. It’s even possible that someone in that room got something out of flicking their fingers in the air and if so, the ritual was worth it. I was right then, and I am right now–the ritual was not effective by any means in comparison to the incredible rites I’ve attended since then. But it was not my place to criticize.” – Courtney Weber, on ritual critique, and when to engage in it.

Donald Tyson

Donald Tyson

“If you consider these symbols, you will see that they fall into two categories: symbols of general use in magic, and symbols considered to be chaotic or Satanic. There is no attempt by entertainers to differentiate between these two categories. Many people regard any symbol connected with the occult to be inherently evil. Those of us who study magic know that this is incorrect. Just the opposite is true: no symbol is inherently evil—but the general audience for these entertainers does not know it. To them, occult symbols are mysterious, intriguing, powerful, and dangerous—everything likely to fascinate the mind of a teenager. Popular singers have turned to occult symbols for shock value because they have exhausted the possibilities of sex. They can go no further with sexual suggestiveness unless they have actual sex on stage. They most look elsewhere for something that will spark controversy, and they find it in the occult. This is unfortunate, since that occult symbols have a more profound meaning that is debased by their exploitation. But no one should assume that the entertainers who abuse these symbols know what they are doing, or that these individuals belong to the Illuminati or any other serious occult current.” – Donald Tyson, on occult symbols being used in pop music.

Steven Posch

Steven Posch

“Firstly, a word of thanks and appreciation for your work over the years, and in particular for Did God Have A Wife? To speak only for myself, the book has shaped my own thought and understanding of my ancestral traditions, and for this you have my deep and lasting gratitude. Anent Wife, though, I would like to point out to you an irony which I suspect has heretofore escaped your attention. To this not-altogether-objective reader, it is striking how closely your denunciations of the excesses of contemporary Goddess worship and feminist spirituality—which is, in fact, modern folk religion—resemble the Deuteronomic and Priestly hostility toward the folk religion of their own time. I find it curious that, from the position of your own academic orthodoxy, your sympathy for folk—and in particular, women’s—religion apparently extends to ancient women, but not to your contemporaries. Plus ça change….” – Steven Posch, penning an open letter to William G. Dever.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“Now John C.. Sulak, who co-wrote Modern Pagans (2001) for RE/Search Press, has brought us  The Wizard and the Witch: An Oral History of Oberon Zell & Morning Glory. It is not just the history of a significant slice of  American Paganism from the 1960s until now, but also the love story of a couple married for forty years. Yet Morning Glory, priestess of Aphrodite, invented the term “polyamory” (but not the concept)  and they embraced it. Paradoxes abound. Sulak tells the story of Otter and MG through multiple voices, more like a radio documentary — there is even a voice labeled “Narrator.” I thought that was a little weird at first, but I got used to it. Sometimes the Zells may seem like Pagan rock stars, but then you see them in screaming fights, or admitting that they made mistakes in who they trusted or dealt with their families of birth or how they raised their kids  (Those children, now grown, are also heard from.) Highs and lows, gains and losses, feasts and famines — it’s all here. Reading it, you can see how the Church of All Worlds, founded by Tim Zell and his close friend Lance Christie, started out as what we now would call “spiritual but not religious,” and changed as it encountered other overly Pagan groups (such as Feraferia) as well as various Witchcraft groups.” – Chas Clifton, reviewing “The Wizard and the Witch.”

Mambo Chita Tann

Mambo Chita Tann

“Lent, from an early Germanic word for “spring” itself, is a liturgical observation. In the Catholic Church, it is an obligation for all adults, and begins with Mass on “Ash Wednesday,” so named for the practice of having one’s forehead marked with the sign of the Cross in the ashes of palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. For Orthodox Christians, Lent begins on “Clean Monday,” with ritual baths to wash the body and home, in addition to special rituals to offer and gain forgiveness for wrongs done in the previous year. Regardless of which day is designated as its beginning, Lent includes forty days of practices, including fasting or abstaining from certain foods or actions, church attendance, charitable service, and prayer and meditation. Officially, Lent ends on Holy Thursday, the night of Holy Week when, according to tradition, Jesus Christ spent His last supper with His disciples. According to, “The goal of every Christian is to leave Lent a stronger and more vital person of faith than when we entered.” Sounds like something any person of any faith could get behind! In Haitian Vodou (as the vast majority of Vodouisants are Catholic by birth and tradition) we observe Lent. It may seem strange that we honor a liturgical observation from the religion of conquerors and slave owners, especially since the Roman Catholic Church was expelled from Haiti shortly after its independence in 1804, and did not return for a generation. But Lent is a special, quiet time in ourperistyles (Vodou temples). It is a time we use for spiritual rest and relaxation, and the techniques Vodouisants use to celebrate Lent can be adapted to any religious practice; after all, Vodou is as much Catholicism as it is indigenous African, Caribbean, and European traditions.” – Mambo Chita Tann, on Lent and Vodou.

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

On Jan. 1 Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize the open sale of recreational marijuana and the first state to regulate the plant from seed to sale. In November 2012 residents voted to legalize cannabis and the state’s legislature added Amendment 64 to its constitution. Over a year later, the stage was set for 36 retail outlets to open for business with 160 more waiting in the wings.

Photo courtesy of Flickr's Coleen Danger

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Coleen Danger

Today we take a look at Colorado’s landmark decision. Did Colorado make the right choice? Have there been any unforeseen consequences? Will other states follow? With differing voices from around the country and from different minority faiths, we’ll consider the standing issues facing Colorado and the nation.


T. Thorn Coyle

According to a 2011 FBI Report, “The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs in the United States create an enormous drain on the economic, physical, and social health of American society. In 2007 alone, the estimated cost of illicit drug use to society was $193 billion.” Of all drug-arrests, 50% are for the possession or sale marijuana alone. The media calls the war on drugs “a trillion dollar failure.”

Pagan author and teacher, T. Thorn Coyle, remarked:

I was raised by an alcoholic and saw firsthand the scourge of out of control drug use. Yet prohibition is not the answer. Treatment is the answer. I see my local communities ripped apart by the prison industrial complex and the increased militarization of police. I see more money poured into incarceration than education. This is not the society I wish to uphold…Decriminalizing or legalizing drugs will go a long way toward solving many of our social ills. 

Tata Christopher Bradford

Tata Christopher Bradford

Agreeing, Tata Christopher Bradford said, “For too long these sort of drug laws have been used to press and terrorize minority populations. Any law that takes away one of those tools is fine by me.”

Colorado native, Peter Dybing adds, “In my work at a local Detox unit we no longer accept admissions based on THC intoxication. This policy is a direct reflection of the fact that marijuana use in itself poses no significant safety risks.”

While those arguments alone maybe compelling, the pros of legalization extend well-beyond recreational usage – most notably, its medicinal benefits. Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use of medicinal marijuana. Denver Asatru resident Kristen Sherman began using medical marijuana after surgery when traditional medications weren’t possible. She says, “The green medicine has helped me a great deal. It’s not perfect, but I do have increased mobility and am able to sleep better at night as I am not in as much pain.”


Chas Clifton

There is also a lesser-known ecological benefit to cannabis legalization. Colorado Native Chas Clifton explains marijuana’s low-THC cousin, Hemp, is “a low-pesticide, lower-water-use crop with many uses.” In March, Colorado will begin registering Hemp producers as part of the new laws. Last October a Colorado farmer became the first to harvest Hemp in the United States in 57 years.

Despite all these positives, implementation has not quite been as simple as waving a magic wand. The reversal of such long-standing legislation, rife with cultural baggage and bias, comes with many hurdles. Chas stated it best when he wrote on his blog, “There is a lot to sort out here.”

The biggest obstacle stems from the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently called Colorado laws “reckless and irresponsible.” Due to this legal discrepancy, many banks refuse to work with the retail shops for fear of federal prosecution. These legally registered Colorado retail stores are currently forced to operate as cash-only businesses with all the associated stigmas and dangers. To assist, the state allows store and dispensary owners to store firearms in their facilities.

Kristen Sherman, owner of Denver's Belle Memorie

Kristen Sherman

Another major concern is the underground market which is not projected to go away anytime soon. A dealer told the Pueblo Chieftan, “When the novelty wears off, people will be tired of having to go to the stores and paying much higher prices for the same weed. Street dealers will charge less, and we deliver, just like (pizza joints).”

Another byproduct of Colorado’s changing legislation has been the discovery of large-scale illegal marijuana cultivation operations in its national forests. The Forestry Service has been fighting this particular battle since 2009. Chas Clifton explains, “Illegal growers on public lands…pollute streams with fertilizer and pesticide, leave a mess, and threaten other users of that land with physical violence, sometimes resulting in death.” The illegally grown product is reportedly being shipped east and sold in states where use is still criminalized.

Finally Wild Hunt Columnist Crystal Blanton, who is professional social worker and registered addiction specialist in California, remarks, “Professionals in the field are very concerned about the impact of legalization on addiction. There are a lot of new studies addressing the [effects] of marijuana on the body and correlations with addictive patterns.”  She points out that all cannabis cannot be treated equally.  There are differences.

These are only a few of the obstacles that need addressing. Is all of this worth it? Kristen Sherman believes it is. She said, “[Legalization] has a bit of a struggle from the anti-drug lobby, and has quite a way to go before acceptance is the norm… Those who use marijuana are often vilified or portrayed as lazy stoners who sit on their couches all day munching on Doritos… We have over 60 years of prohibition and misinformation to chip away at.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Tata Christopher Bradford agrees saying, “The potential marijuana has as a medicine makes it very important that we legalize it throughout the country. Let’s hope this move is just the beginning.”

After recently moving back to his home state, Peter Dybing was “surprised to see open cultivation and usage among friends.” He adds, “These new laws reflect what professionals in the field have been saying for years. The former THC laws waist money, time, legal and mental health resources and represent a poor prioritization of community efforts.

T. Thorn Coyle adds, “Prohibitionists cling to Calvinist morality, which leads us to a deeper question: why is our pluralist society being run by Puritan morals? I ask that as a person who sees direct evidence of the harm the War on Drugs has done. I ask that as a Pagan.” She adds, “I am very heartened by the ruling in Colorado. I hope it spreads.”



Link, a Witch living in Miami Beach, Florida, said:

We tend to look at changes in laws … as isolated events. But those [events] work together to become … parts of a larger story.This story tells of a society waking up and sorting through all the outdated laws it has inherited from past generations, some dating back to biblical times. Civil rights, women’s rights, legal divorce, immigration reform, legal abortion, birth control, religious freedoms, reformed marriage laws and – most recently – the legalization of marijuana all recognize that personal freedoms outweighs the archaic repression of the past.  Hopefully this trend will continue, and we will examine what other laws criminalize very normal parts of life.

Suretha Thacker

Suretha Thacker

Suretha Thacker, solitary Wiccan from Georgia, believes the growing interest in full legalization will continue. She says, “I do feel that other states will adapt similar laws after seeing how Colorado and Washington handle any issues that arise. Especially if the high taxes raised from the purchase of marijuana products contribute equitably to the state.”

Where does your state stand?  Here are just a few state policy changes being made or considered since Jan. 1 2014.

  • For more information on Colorado’s new laws, see NORML’s list of Doobie-Dos.
  • In Washington, recreational pot is legal and retail stores are set to open later this year.
  • Alaska residents submitted a petition to put “recreational marijuana” on this year’s ballot.
  • Michigan is moving slowly toward legalization and protecting the hemp industry.
  • In Florida, signatures are being gathered to put a “medicinal marijuana” referendum on the ballot this year. The legislature may introduce a bill sooner.
  • The District of Columbia will be considering a measure to decriminalize recreational marijuana.
  • Pennsylvania Senate introduced a medicinal marijuana bill last week.
  • New Hampshire’s House “passes recreational marijuana” legislation.
  • Missouri’s governor approved the “legalization initiatives for signature-gathering.”
  • Maryland legislators will simultaneously face a bill to legalize marijuana and a bill to decriminalize it.
  • West Virginia and Georgia law makers have reportedly begun investigating the possibility of introducing medicinal marijuana.
  • New York Governor Cuomo has allowed limited medical marijuana in designated hospitals.

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

S.J. Tucker

S.J. Tucker

Early this morning Pagan singer-songwriter S.J. Tucker posted a public note on Facebook announcing that she would no longer use the word “Gypsy” in songs, or in reference to her lifestyle, due to growing awareness of the word’s misuse, and history as a racial pejorative. Quote: “I am breaking up with the word Gypsy. It does not mean what I and many other poor fools wish it did. I am so very sorry.  I have done wrong, and I repent of my ignorance. […] I want you all to know that I am not doing this to get attention.  I am not doing this to gain any increase in public opinion, number of likes/subscribers/followers/what-have-you.  I am doing this because I feel that it’s right, and I should have done it years ago.” Tucker will be re-recording four songs that use the term, using different lyrics, and has suspended sales of those songs until that process is done. Here’s a recent NPR piece on why the term is hurtful to the Romani people. Quote: “The word “gypsy” itself is an “exonym” — a term imposed upon an ethnic group by outsiders. When the Roma people moved westward from India towards the European continent, they were mistaken to be Egyptian because of their features and dark skin. […] The effort to substitute the word “Roma” for the far better-known term “Gypsy” may strike some as futile, but few other groups carry the burden of such heavy stereotypes with so little reprieve.”

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, yesterday posted a response on what a Druid’s response to ecological calamity should be. It was in reply to someone who is concerned about the Fukashima Daiichi Nuclear power plant disaster, but the message is universal in scope. Quote: “We, as devout Pagans, are not helpless. Our everyday actions can either help or hurt the Earth. It’s up to us. The Clergy Council discussed this issue recently, and agreed that we feel the Earth Mother’s pain and that additional steps should be taken to remedy it, as best we can. Druidry is a religion of ‘doing’. As such, it’s not enough to sit and wring our hands when the Earth Herself is at stake.” Rev. Thomas goes on to suggest a two-pronged response to environmental concerns, involving living in a religious “reciprocity with the Earth,” and involving yourself in activism. Quote: “As Druids it behooves us to join and support environmental organizations, to volunteer in the field, and to give of our time and money. Many of these folks work at the front lines of the movement, and know the ins and outs of the situation. By supporting them we support the Mother.” Thomas also pointed back to the ADF’s founding vision document, written by founder Isaac Bonewits.

Patrick speaking at the International Conference on Spiritual Paradigm for Surmounting Global Management Crisis.

Patrick McCollum

Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum recently had the honor to spend the holidays at the Royal Windsor estate on the Welsh-English border, and posts an update to his foundation’s web site detailing his time there, and how it intersects with his work towards social justice. Quote: “During my stay with the Windsors, I had the delightful opportunity to attend several special holiday parties filled with English nobility, and made several important contacts and partnerships for projects going forward.  One such partnership was with a Member of Parliament, the Honorable MP Bill Cash. Raising the status and rights of women, especially in third world countries, is one of the key goals of the Patrick McCollum Foundation and it is my firm belief that we shall never achieve world peace until all women have full equality and equal opportunity worldwide. In any case, MP Cash has proposed a revolutionary bill to the English Parliament to elevate the status of women, and I am joining him going forward in that effort.” McCollum also references and upcoming trip to India, where he says he’ll “meet with officials and world spiritual leaders to address the issues surrounding child marriage worldwide, and the status of widows in India, to lay the groundwork for several programs that I am putting together.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • Tomorrow (January 3rd) is the last day to apply for a scholarship to Cherry Hill Seminary. Quote: “Thanks to the generosity of donors who gave nearly $4,300 during a fall drive, the “Bow Tie Campaign,” Cherry Hill Seminary will award: 1 master’s class to each of 2 different students, 1 certificate class to each of 2 different students, 1 Rhizomes package of 5 classes to 1 student or group (plus, 1 full Pagan Life Academy series to a previously-selected recipient.)”
  • Be sure to check out the Yule 2013 edition of ACTION, the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN). Featuring interviews with publisher Anne Newkirk Niven, Heathen elder Diana Paxson, CUUPs co-president David Pollard, and more!
  • Goddess-centered news site Medusa Coils is changing they way it conducts coverage. Quote: “I will attempt to give you notice of larger events related to Goddess and other spiritual feminisms–no matter where in the world they are being held. […] I would like to have more coverage on this blog of what is going on at the increasing number of Goddess temples, “houses,” etc., worldwide that meet in specific physical/geographical places.”
  • Chas Clifton notes that Denver’s Isis Books got some local press coverage, and gives a bit of background. Quote: “‘Makeshift Egyptian temple’ is not quite right, though. The building used to be a mortuary with columns out front (where the limos used to pull up) that lent themselves to an Egyptian-inspired paint scheme. The store started in Denver on East Colfax Avenue, not far from Hubcap Annie’s, the used hubcap store, which gives you a sense of the neighborhood.”
  • In honor of their Facebook page reaching 100,000 ‘likes,’ Witches & Pagans Magazine is giving away a free download of issue #21 of the periodical. The offer is good through January 6th. It’s the “garden” issue of that sways you in any particular direction.

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