Archives For Christopher Penczak

In honor of Labor Day Weekend, The Wild Hunt is taking off until Tuesday. Expect some “best of The Wild Hunt” reprints on Sunday and Monday. For today, here are some posts from across the Pagan blogosphere that you should check out.

  • “Mantras, Malas and the Witch’s Ladder” by Christopher Penczak. Quote: “If you keep any kind of regular spiritual practice over a long period of time, you’ll find that you can hit a wall. The tried and true technique just doesn’t do it for you like it once did. In my experience its not so much that the technique is at fault, or that you are at fault, as you’ve been sincerely using it as a part of your practice with regular frequency, but that you’ve hit a plateau or even made a permanent shift.”
  • “Where are the Missing Gods?” by Drew Jacob. Quote: “Even if you believe all the gods are totally individual beings – not faces of a single force – it still makes sense that, for example, the soul of the sun is going to appear quite different to people in the Sahara than to people in the Yukon. Much of divine personage is human trappings, or trappings used to communicate with humans. If a tribe never once has to worry about lack of rainfall, it makes sense that they won’t make a big deal out of the rain spirit. But I usually think of the plurality of gods (and their cultural adornment) as different perspectives on an essentially equivalent set of beings.”
  • “Pagans Among Wild Geese” by Teo Bishop. Quote: “Progressive Christian and Pagan communities have very different identities, and very different positions in relationship to mainstream culture. That said, I think it is useful for us to make note that these conversations are taking place at Wild Goose.”
  • Rites of Community” by Ivo Dominguez Jr. Quote: “To return to my statement that rites of passage are an important part of the maintenance of lasting organizations and communities, well conducted rites of passage create weighty collective emotional memory. By definition, rites of passage are held to celebrate and to anchor pivotal times in the lives of individuals. And though Pagans are prone to emphasizing the individual at all costs, rites of passage are as much about the community as they are about the individual.”
  • “Stirring the Cauldron” by M. Macha NightMare. Quote: “I think the stirrer of the cauldron performs an important, even vital, role.  Someone, preferably more than one, in every community should step up to the cauldron and stir it now and then, especially when the fire beneath the cauldron gets too hot.”
  • “Book review: Lord of Mountains” by Cara Schulz. Quote: “Every time I introduce a Pagan to the Emberverse series by SM Stirling, they curse my name. This is not an unusual reaction and it’s one shared by non-Pagans, too.  I’ve lost seven copies of the first book in the series, Dies the Fire, because the persons who borrowed them from me lent them out to others.  And so on.  Then they all curse my name for turning them on to such an addictive series.  The series is addictive to Pagans because it spells out one of our fantasies – what would it be like if our religions were dominate in the community we live in?  Or at least one of the dominate religions? If our rituals, our ethics, our Gods were unabashedly the norm and seen as positive and vibrant and diverse.”

That’s it for now, have a great weekend everyone!

Yesterday a neo-Nazi by the name of Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire, killing six, and wounding at least three others, before being shot and killed by police at the scene. The shocking incident brought up past trauma for the American Sikh community, which has faced over 700 reported bias attacks since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. To the ignorant, Sikhs, with their beards and turbans, fit the stereotype of “Arab-ness” in the post-9/11 era and found themselves literally caught in the crossfire as American extremists decided to “retaliate” against Islam. The World Sikh Council – America Region, released a statement yesterday urging everyone to pray for the victims and their families, and thanking the first responders. The organization called this “a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but also for all Americans,” and promised to launch an investigation into understanding how this terrible incident happened.

Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

“In the coming days, along with Sikh advocacy organizations, we will be working with public officials, and law enforcement authorities, to understand the events of today and to help the community in whatever way we can. The Council will also be providing support mediums for our interreligious partners and the public as we sort out this situation. This shooting comes on the heels of another tragedy, as our country continues to recover from the senseless shootings in Aurora, Colorado.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, expressed “that this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,” calling the shooting “dastardly.” Also weighing in was Jathedar Singh Sahib Giani Gurbachan Singh, the current religious head of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib, the supreme religious authority of the Sikhs, who opined that “this is a security lapse on the part of the U.S. government,” and called on American Sikhs to enact stricter security measures at their temples.

Meanwhile, American Dharmic and Pagan organizations have been issuing statements of prayer, condolence, and support in this time of tragedy. The Hindu American Foundation issued a statement saying they “join all Americans in shared shock, disbelief, and outrage” at the killings.

“Dharma traditions–the Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Hindus–hold non-violence and peaceful co-existence as paramount values. It is a cruel irony that Sikhs, donning the turban as among proud symbols of a spiritual mandate to serve humanity as defenders of dharma against all onslaughts, find themselves sought out and victimized by ignorant assailants on too many occasions. We call on all Americans today to join Sikhs in mourning a senseless attack and to take this opportunity to not only learn about the sublime teachings of Sikh gurus, the Sikh faith, and the meanings of its external symbols, but also join hands to ensure that the gurudwaras remain sanctuaries of joyous worship and celebrated sharing of langar, or community meals, for generations to come.”

Another prominent American Hindu, Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed, pointed out that that “Sikhs had made lot of contributions to America and the world. Various faith and inter-faith groups nationwide should join hands to express support to the Sikh community and to spread the message of peace, love and harmony at grassroots level.” He is calling on all Hindus to say prayers for the victims and their families.

Within the Pagan community, learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary issued a statement calling for reflection and silence within their community to mark this tragic and senseless eruption of violence.

“As Pagans, we are particularly sensitive to the violation of sacred space and disregard for human life which occurred.  Furthermore, we cherish the pursuit of ongoing education as an antidote to the violence bred in ignorance and misunderstanding.  We call on each member of our seminary community as well as our supporters and friends to set aside a moment of contemplative silence today in memory of those who lost their lives, and in support of all who are suffering because of this tragedy.  In addition, we recommend that you seek ways to express support for Sikhs in your own community.”

Phyllis Curott a noted Pagan who serves as a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.”

“There is so much hatred and fear in this country, in this world – and so much work for us to do to heal and transform it. Today, prayers and offerings of peace to my Sikh brothers and sisters, especially those whom I know and work with at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and to all in their community who suffer and grieve. Please join me in these offerings.”

Other Pagans who have made public statements include author of Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who sent “magick and love and prayers to the victims and mourners of the Sikh Temple attack,” noting that  “at one time I almost joined a Sikh group,” and T. Thorn Coyle, who posted: “May Guru Har Krishan dispel your sorrow. We stand by your side.”  Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, which is also based in Wisconsin, offered “healing, protection, peace, condolences, [and] other support to all those impacted by the shootings today at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.” 

As fellow Patheos contributor Star Foster said earlier this morning, I want us to be better than this. That such hate and fear runs rampant can wound the very soul with its meaninglessness. I also want to echo Teo Bishop,  who hopes that “our collective response to the temple shooting tragedy be one of compassion.” At this moment of crisis and tragedy, we should stand together, firm in the notion that religious minorities in this country are, in the words of our President, “a part of our broader American family.” The Dharmic and Pagan family of faiths have deep and interweaving ties, and this moment should be a catalyst for greater outreach, interaction, and mutual support. Today we stand in unity with the Sikh community, you have our prayers, and our support.

ADDENDUM: Thorn Coyle adds: “Solar Cross Temple gave $100 to help the Sikhs of Milwaukee with medical bills incurred by the temple shooting. The officer wounded will also get some assistance. Can you help?” 

The campaign has already raised over 46 thousand dollars, and are now trying to hit a new goal of 75 thousand.

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.

Source material used for this article:

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 lets get started!

Pagan Spirit Gathering Breaks Registration Records: Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), one of America’s oldest and largest Pagan festivals, begins in less than a week. On Saturday, Selena Fox, senior minister and high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, the organization that sponsors PSG,  announced that they will set a new record for attendance at the event.

Selena Fox holding 1000+ "spirit bundles" for PSG attendees.

Selena Fox holding 1000+ "spirit bundles" for PSG attendees.

“Breaking News! Pagan Spirit Gathering 2012 is going to be the most attended PSG yet! Just learned that we now have over 1000 people (all ages) registered. [...] This is the first time we have had more than 1000 people at a PSG!”

This is a remarkable achievement for the event, which has been held since 1980, and in several different locations over the years. A testament to the sense of community built during the 10-day-long festival. This year’s featured presenters include Margot Adler, author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap,” and chaplain/activist Patrick McCollum. There will also be musical performances by Damh the Bard and Arthur Hinds, among others. Representatives from the Pagan Newswire Collective will be there, and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing much, much more about the event in the weeks to come.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride: June is LGBT Pride month in the United States, and Pride parades and marches are happening across the country. This past Saturday was the 2012 Boston Pride Parade, and in addition to local politicians and local celebrities, several religious groups also took part.  One Pagan religious group marching in the parade was the Temple of Witchcraft, an organization that was co-founded by author Christopher Penczak.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride.

“Many thanks to all those who came out to march behind the Temple of Witchcraft banner in the Boston Pride March — our largest group of Pagans ever! — and thanks to those who supported us (and continue to do so) from afar!”Steve, Gemini minister

The Temple, founded by gay men, marched to proclaim that “All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are Our Rituals.” You can find more pictures and commentary on their participation at the Temple of Witchcraft Facebook page. Later this month the Temple will be holding their own TempleFest gathering in in South Hampton, NH.

Witches & Pagans Magazine Adds Bloggers: In recent months Witches & Pagans Magazine, a publication that emerged from the merger of PanGaia and NewWitch, has been stepping up their web presence. The Pagan periodical has been reprinting older articles to their website, hiring new columnists (like Raven Grimassi), and now adding a fleet of Pagan bloggers to their site.

Screenshot of W&P's "PaganSquare" blogs.

Screenshot of W&P's "PaganSquare" blogs.

“I’m pumped up by our new bloggers at WitchesandPagans.com. My DH Alan had to drag me kicking and screaming (sometimes literally — the screaming, I mean) into doing this for our magazines, but now I’m as jazzed as he is. There’s been a lot of ego-stripping going on around here, but I believe it’s all to the good.”Anne Newkirk Niven, Executive Editor, Witches & Pagans Magazine

Active bloggers at Witches and Pagans Magazine include Cat TreadwellDiotima Mantineia, Kenaz Filan, Selina Rifkin, Tess Dawson, and WitchDoctor Joe. In addition, if you look at their contributors page, it seems like they have more bloggers coming soon. I’m happy to see W&P take this step into providing exclusive, regularly updated, content for their site. A healthy Pagan media is one where several outlets thrive, interact, and yes, compete. As such, I wish Anne and the W&P team every success, and look forward to following their output.

In Other Community News:

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

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 lets get started!

Teo Bishop’s Sacred Electric Grove: Pagan blogger Teo Bishop of Bishop In The Grove fame has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money so he can record an EP of original songs entitled “Sacred Electric Grove”. According to Bishop, this is a chance to “offer up another voice of mine; a voice used in ritual to invoke, to inspire, to conjure up emotion and passion.”

“This is the voice I used before I had language, or before I was fascinated by religion. This is the voice that preceded my Pagan identity (or any identity for that matter), and this is the voice which has come to inform so much of who I am. This is the voice of my soul, and I share it with you when the Moon is most full.”

Bishop is hoping to raise $10,000 dollars in one month, and says that “this is not a time to throw our money away, clearly, but it can still be a time to invest in something that stirs our heart.” For those interested in donating, Bishop has arranged a number of nice “perks” for those who donate, even if only a dollar. I certainly hope that Teo succeeds in his goal, not just for his sake, but as a model for other Pagan musicians to use, creating a community of support for our bards and artists. Teo Bishop is one of our rising leaders and thinkers, someone who I’m proud to call a friend. This addition to his writing at Patheos, and newly-launched contributions to HuffPo’s Religion section, should be one that enriches us all.

Starhawk on the Wisconsin Recall Elections: At her Dirt Worship blog, activist and author Starhawk weighs in on the Wisconsin recall elections being held today, and the upcoming elections cycle, stressing the need to remove the “toxic thought-blanket the political fabricators are laying over us.” The author of 2012′s “The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature” calls on Pagans to send energy towards Wisconsin to counteract the “massive amounts of money” being spent to influence the results.

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

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

“Today, June 5, I and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary invite our allies to focus on Wisconsin, using the Goddess atop the State Capitol as a beacon to rouse the forces of truth and justice. For today is vote on the recall of Scott Walker, the union-busting governor who was the focus of protests and a sit-in in the Capitol in January of 2011, at the same time as the Arab Spring. Republicans are spending millions to defend him. Democrats—not so much. But this election isn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, it’s a test of whether or not massive amounts of money can determine who gets into office or who stays. Generally the answer to that is ‘yes’—whoever spends the most wins the race. Money is one form of energy, and most of us don’t have a lot of it. But we have other forms of energy—let’s see what we can do!”

In addition to Starhawk, Selena Fox of the Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary sent out a blessing that “the voting process be fair & honest” and “may there be progressive change for the better.” She has also sent out a picture of herself with her “I Voted” sticker.

Sharon Knight of Pandemonaeon at Faerieworlds: Yesterday the Faerieworlds festival in Eugene, Oregon announced that they had added Pagan musician Sharon Knight to their main-stage lineup. Knight is a member of the gothic-tribal fusion band Pandemonaeon, and has recording two albums of seasonal chants with T. Thorn Coyle, in addition to her solo career as a Celtic-influenced singer-songwriter. This is the first time Knight has played the main stage of this event.

Sharon Knight

Sharon Knight

“Just when you thought our stellar line up was complete, we are happy to announce that Sharon Knight of the gothic tribal rock band Pandemonaeon will be performing on the Faerieworlds main stage. Based in San Francisco, Sharon’s musical foundations are solidly based in her Celtic heritage from which she has evolved her uniquely rich and powerful personal style. The music of Sharon Knight combines a love of antiquity and romance with an affinity for the haunting and melancholy, adds a hearty dash of feistiness, reminding us that we can all see the world through the eyes of enchantment.”

Knight joins an amazing lineup this year, including the Persian tribal-fusion band Niyaz, long-time Pagan favorite SJ Tucker, shamanic throat-singing from Soriah with Ashkelon Sain, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Donovan. So if you’re in the Pacific Northwest this July, don’t miss out on what should be a legendary year for this faerie festival! [In the interests of full disclosure, I work for the company that produces Faerieworlds, though I do not decide who's booked on their main stage, so I'm just as pleased as anyone to see Sharon Knight joining the lineup.]

In Other Community News:

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

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

- T. Thorn Coyle has issued an appeal to help raise money for the American Magic Umbanda House of Oakland, to help rebuild their sacred Lubisha, destroyed last year in a devastating fire. Thanks to generous donations, including one from Thorn’s Solar Cross Temple, they’ve already reached their modest goal of $450. However, I think they could use a cushion, don’t you? Any money above the goal will be used towards House related expenses, including their famous Pomba Gira ritual at PantheaCon, so let’s help out. “May the sound of drumming rise.”


- In other fundraising news, Datura Press, a small esoteric publisher that publishes the work of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Gareth Knight,  Alan Richardson, and W.E. Butler, is in the midst of a campaign to buy advertising and discounted copies of their own titles so they can expand and make a better profit. Owner-editor Debbie Chapnick says that, quote, “the company is at a crossroads. People want these books. I have been contacted by distributors and bookshops from all over the world. All I need to really get this going is to have enough books in stock to fill the need.” The goal is $10,000, with 12 days left to go.  Any money raised over the goal will be donated to the New Alexandrian Library Project.

- Humanist-officiated weddings are on-track to receive full legal status in Ireland, a classification that only Health Service Executive registrars and members of religious bodies previously received. While Pagan Federation Ireland has permission to legally marry couples in Ireland under the Civil Registration Act of 2004, the new changes could allow any “philosophical and nonconfessional body” to also perform legally binding ceremonies. Starting in 2007, Ireland allowed State-recognized weddings in the venue of the couple’s choice, instead of having to hold two ceremonies.

- A teenager in Britain was convicted of religiously harassing a McDonald’s employee who is Pagan. The youth repeatedly returned over a period of two months to engage in verbal abuse, despite being told to stop by the employee and management. Barrister Laura Austin, who mitigated on behalf of the teen, said he “did not realise paganism was a recognised religion,” and that this was “this is the first case of its kind,” so far as she knew. The teen was sentenced to community service, and a restraining order was issued.

- The 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released this week by the Association of Religion Data Archives, has some interesting data for those who are following the shape of (non-Christian) religion in America. While the data is skewed towards congregational models, it did show that “Buddhist congregations were reported in all 50 states, and Hindu houses of worship in 49 states.” All together, “the number of non-Christian congregations – synagogues, mosques, temples and other religious centers – increased by nearly a third, from 8,795 in the 2000 study to 11,572 in the 2010 census.” Meanwhile, Mainline Protestants “cratered,” Catholic numbers decreased overall (with a growing disconnect between “active” and non-active adherents), and non-denominational Christian houses of worship exploded.

- Oh, did I miss the National Day of Prayer this year? Maybe because it’s almost exclusively focused on “Judeo-Christian” modes of worship and conceptions of deity. As CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero put it, “how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?”

- Out & About Newspaper in Tennessee profiles author Christopher Penczak in advance of his visit to the fifteenth annual Pagan Unity Festival. Quote: “I think of witchcraft, rather than just Wicca, as a vocation and tradition that springs up all around the world, not in any one culture, there is a mystical, healing, cunning tradition in most cultures. The inner experience of the mysteries is the same, and I like the hunt for all wisdom around those mysteries.”

- SF Weekly looks at David Talbot’s upcoming book “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love,” which charts the shifts in San Francisco’s culture and politics between 1967 – 1982. Author, actor activist, and former Digger Peter Coyote is quoted as saying “I blame Mick Jagger for f***ing with black magic,” when asked about the disaster that was Altamont. Sounds like an interesting read.

- It looks like the recent attention paid to infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio may have had an effect. It seems the witch-hunter canceled her March trip to Texas, and a scheduled May visit as well. Ukpabio claims the the cancellations were due to death threats from Stepping Stones Nigeria, a charity that aids children accused of witchcraft, and is highly critical of her. Blogger Richard Bartholomew is highly skeptical of these claims, pointing out that Ukpabio’s church has been slandering that organization for some time now.

- In a final note, I’d like to recognize Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who passed away yesterday after a years-long battle with cancer. Yauch was an adherent of Tibetan Buddhism, famously commemorated in the song “Bodhisattva Vow,” and worked for the Tibetan independence movement. However, for most members of Generation X, the Beastie Boys were a game-changing Hip Hop group that shook off their earlier party-boy lunk-headed image to release amazing albums like “Paul’s Boutique,” “Check Your Head,” and “Ill Communication.” Praised as “revolutionary MCs” by Chuck D, the Beasties helped define what Hip Hop would become, and oversaw its entrance into the mainstream. My consolation in this tragedy is that MCA has left behind a lot of awesome music, and that he’s now a Hip Hop Bodhisattva watching over all those who suffer.

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

Happy May Day everyone! 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 lets get started!

Sacred Paths Center Announces Closure: Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out an email today announcing their imminent closure. Executive Director Teisha Magee cited a lack of money, resources, and volunteers as reasons for this decision.

“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”

This decision comes in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. It seems that Sacred Paths Center wasn’t able to overcome the many obstacles towards long-term sustainability, and it raises serious questions for other communities looking to follow in their footsteps. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for further follow-ups on this story.

Maetreum of Cybele Denied Tax Exemption for 2012: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has been denied religious property tax exemption yet again, even though they meet all federal and state qualifications. In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

SAPRA’s Annual Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts Comes to a Close: With the issue of witch-hunts, witch-killings, and dangerous exorcisms very much in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the work of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), under the banner of ‘Touchstone Advocacy,’ has been doing since 2008 to raise awareness with their “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts” campaign, this year held from March 29th – April 27th. In 2011, the campaign won support from a government commission, and they continue to work to protect victims of witch-hunts while combating laws that seek to criminalize “witchcraft” as a solution.

“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”

You can receive year-round updates on their campaign at their Facebook group page.

In other community news:

- At Lewelllyn, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig (“Modern Magick”“The Resurrection Murders”) has announced that he’s writing a book about his long friendship with Scott Cunningham, the seminal Wiccan writer who authored the paradigm-shifting “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” Quote: “I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

- San Jose State University will be running a Pagan Studies conference semi-concurrently with the 2013 PantheaCon. Organized by Lee Gilmore (SJSU), author “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man,” and Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College), “Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium” seeks to, quote, “focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.” You can read the full announcement and call for papers at Chas Clifton’s blog.

- PNC-Washington DC covers the recently held 2012 Ecumenicon, an interfaith conference that was founded in 1987, and features significant Pagan and esoteric involvement. Quote: “The group that would ultimately found Ecumenicon realized that there was a hunger for actual religious education as it applied across all religions and particularly to alternative religions.  Ecumenicon comprises an ecumenical conference and ecumenical ministry, for those who seek such a path.”

- Is Pagan Spirit Gathering’s current home in Illinois in danger? PNC-Minnesota reports that a group of local citizens are petitioning to have Stonehouse Park rezoned back to agricultural use only (more on this here), complaining of noise and drug-use (none of the complaints are about PSG, but to other, non-Pagan events). PSG/Circle organizer Sharon Stewart is working with local officials, and hopes to obtain a special permit if the worst should happen. We’ll keep you posted on this as news develops.

- PNC culture blog The Juggler has an interview up with Pagan author Christopher Penczak (“The Inner Temple of Witchcraft”“The Outer Temple of Witchcraft”), talking to him about his career and teachings. Quote: “I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy May Day!

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

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

On Wednesday the Salem News reported that Laurie Cabot, Salem, Massachusetts’ official Witch, would be closing the doors of The Official Witch Shoppe at the end of January, bringing to an end Cabot’s 42-year run of owning and operating Witch-related stores in Salem. The Salem News piece quotes a message sent out by Cabot on January 6th, detailing the reasons why Cabot is stepping back from personally running a retail establishment.

Laurie Cabot

Laurie Cabot

“Here I sit now, reflecting on my life as a Witch, my goals, challenges and successes both in the past and what will be in the future. My goals have changed, my focus must now change to meet those goals and it is to that end that I have decided to gear my focus to our temple, the first ever temple of Witchcraft in Salem, the Cabot Kent Hermetic Temple, what an event! In 1692 people in Salem township were killed in the name of Witchcraft, murdered when there is no evidence to support they were even Witches or knew what Witches were, and now today we have founded our temple in its place! We are working to replace fear and hate with hope, love and majick. My goal is to is to see this temple flourish, I want to see us have a building, a real place where anyone can come and learn about Witchcraft, the science, the art and the religion. A place where you can learn about your Celtic ancestors, our Gods and Goddesses, where we can use majick and cast spells to heal the world.”

Over the years Cabot has run and operated four separate stores:  The Witch Shoppe, opened in 1971, Crow Haven Corner (now under different ownership), The Cat, The Crow and The Crown, and finally,  The Official Witch Shoppe. Cabot and her growing family of initiates and students oversaw Salem’s transformation from sleepy New England city with an infamous history of killing accused witches, to a massive Halloween tourist draw that now boasts a number of occult, Pagan, and Witchcraft-related businesses. During that time, Cabot emerged as a prominent voice for an emerging Pagan movement in the United States, was profiled in National Geographic, appeared in documentaries, on talk-shows (including Oprah!), and wrote a number of popular books on Witchcraft and occult practices.

At news of this shift in focus for Cabot, hundreds of Pagans and Wiccans have expressed their thanks for her work, and wished her well on the planned temple project. Noted author and Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who was a former student of Cabot’s, says that “there was always a special magick to learning magick in her shop.”

“I’ll treasure the time I spent in this shop in the reading room chatting with her and teaching there after hours. I’m sad to see it go, but know it’s part of her evolving work to manifest a physical temple in Salem for the Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple. With about forty years involved in a shop in Salem, it’s time for a change and I”m glad to see her making that change.”

Green Witch Amy Blackthorn, a frequent visitor to Salem, added “you can always tell what the ‘temperature’ in the Pagan community nationwide” by entering her shop.

“I’ve been following Ms Cabot’s work for 19 years. My husband and I vacation in Salem every quarter, and though I don’t go to Laurie for readings, she is always a dear to talk to. You can always tell what the ‘temperature’ in the Pagan community nationwide by going into ‘The Cat The Crow and the Crown’ because it’ll feature in the shop. No matter what Laurie sets her mind to do, especially with her new Temple, I’m sure she’ll do it in her signature way. Pickering Wharf will be a bit darker for her absence. I’ll raise a Wharf Rat in her name on our next visit.”

While Cabot has been a polarizing figure for some in the Pagan community due to her flamboyance and willingness to embrace publicity, it was also these characteristics that helped slowly mainstream religious Witchcraft, Wicca, and modern Paganism.  For all the black capes, conical hats, and impressive eye makeup, we shouldn’t forget that Laurie Cabot was named Salem’s “Official Witch” by then-Governor Michael Dukakis for her work with special needs children. At Cabot’s root is a willingness to be healer and a teacher, to endure years of scorn and ridicule so that today’s Witches in Salem can largely party with impunity.  As for the future, the 78-year-old has no plans to slow down.

“I will continue to teach; my classes on Witchcraft and Tarot are still very much available as are my physic readings and workshops. The shops phone number will remain the same and continue to operate for more information on classes, workshops and readings as well as online at the shops website which will continue to operate, more information will be provided should the fate of that site change.”

You can follow the progress of the Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple, here. You can also keep track of Cabot’s work at her official web site. We here at The Wild Hunt wish Ms. Cabot all the best in her future endeavors, and thank her for her ongoing service to our community.

Last year at this time the popular HBO cable television series “True Blood,” a show loosely based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, announced that 2011 would be the “year of the witch.” The cast of (generally sexy) vampires, werewolves, and the humans they interact with would be joined by an array of spellcasters of various inclinations. The previous season had already introduced a Wiccan character, Holly Cleary (played by Lauren Bowles), and this season they’ve introduced a small coven lead by Marnie Stonebrook (played by Fiona Shaw), a local palm-reader and shop owner, the spirit of a dead Witch that inhabits her, and a family of Catemaco Brujos. This being “True Blood” there’s plenty of violence, sex, and mayhem mixed in. With all this witchy-ness about it was only a matter of time before news outlets started tracking down some real Witches and Wiccans to get their opinion. It looks like the news agency Reuters is first out of the gate.

A Witches' Coven in "True Blood"

“I’m absolutely disappointed with the portrayal of Marnie,” said one witch — and professor of biology at a college in New England — who goes by the magickal name Taarna RavenHawk. [...] Elaanie Stormbender, a witch and mother of five who lives in Jackson, Mississippi, said all the members of the small community of witches to which she belongs are displeased with Marnie’s behavior.”

In addition to the opinions of Taarna and Elaanie, Reuters also asks two prominent Pagan authors/teachers, Christopher Penczak and Ellen Dugan, for their take on the “year of the witch.”

“Marnie does communicate with the dead but she comes into witchcraft lacking groundedness,” said Penczak [...]  “A witch who gets good training usually learns to balance that with discipline, strength and focus. I would have liked to see a witch who was more competent and had a clearer sense of will and purpose.” [...]  “My witch friends are rabid fans of ‘True Blood,’ and watch it every week,” said Ellen Dugan, a witch and priestess of a six-member coven she co-founded in St. Louis, Missouri. Dugan [...] conceded that Marnie’s portrayal contains a sensational element, but noted that her witch friends laughed during a recent levitation scene. “Most witches have a good enough sense of humor,” she said.

Since I don’t have cable, and probably won’t be able to watch this latest season until it comes out on DVD, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the opinions given in this piece. So I turned to my Pagan Newswire Collective colleague Laura LaVoie, who writes for our culture blog “The Juggler,” and has been covering this season of “True Blood,” for her take.

“I think as soon as you add vampires and werewolves to a story, all bets are off. Sure, Wicca is real but it now exists in this fictional world created by Charlaine Harris and the writers and producers of the television series. I want to see Pagans portrayed in a positive light in the media as well, but I’m not sure we have the full story on the Bon Temps witches yet. I have also read the series of books, and while the portrayal there is by no means perfect either, there is a sense that Harris tried to research the real Wiccan community to write about her witches. If the producers stay close to the story line, there might be more to the witches than meets the eye. However, I do not want to spoil anything.”

LaVoie also points out that attitudes concerning the portrayal of Witches and Wiccans in “True Blood” may come down to how you’re watching the show, summing up one recent episode as “we just want to be left alone to practice our religion.” In the end LaVoie believes “there are bigger things to worry about,” and “if we spend all of our time raging against a fantasy television series that has yet to even prove whether it is pro- or anti- Wicca, we lose a lot of our power when we try to defend our religious choices against real threats.” As for the Reuters article, I think this is only the first of its kind. We can surely expect more opinions from “real” Witches as this season progresses. Possibly some examining what was only briefly mentioned in the Reuters article, that “True Blood” is creating more interest in Witchcraft among younger viewers. A narrative that was in full bloom for many years during the height of the Harry Potter craze.

When a newspaper, newswire, or tabloid calls us up looking for a “real Witch” to give an opinion on “True Blood” we need to decide which narrative we are going to feed. Whether we feel positively, negatively, or don’t really care, we should always emphasize that we realize this is simply fiction, and that we are engaging with it on that level. That we are dealing with a show that places a priority on melodrama, blood, and sex. We should reference the Harry Potter years and point out that it never turned out to be a significant recruiting tool for Witchcraft traditions, and that we don’t expect “True Blood” to be either. If “True Blood,” when the season closes, ends up being a largely positive portrayal of Wicca or Witchcraft then all better, but even if it isn’t we have bigger things to worry about than a television show that mainly exists to show off attractive people in various states of undress.