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“I didn’t really set out to be a priestess for a living . . . that’s what happened.”  — Selena Fox

Indeed, that’s what happened. Selena Fox is the High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, a legally recognized Shamanic Wiccan church that will be marking its 40th year this Samhain, October 31 and is celebrating with events and online reflections all month. The Wild Hunt spoke with Reverend Fox and several longtime members of Circle, as it is alternatively known, to get a sense of what Paganism looked like in 1974, and how Circle Sanctuary has participated in its evolution.

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle is aptly named, as circles are particularly significant in Wiccan theology, serving as both the border of sacred space and a metaphor for the repeating cycles of life. Over the past four decades, the group has focused a lot of its energy on the beginnings and endings of life. Its Lady Liberty League was instrumental in efforts to get the pentacle approved as a religious symbol on military headstones; the group’s retreat center now includes a Pagan cemetery; and Reverend Fox has performed dozens of baby blessings, including one for this reporter’s long-since-grown stepson. The church’s calendar begins each year at Samhain, around which time some of the most significant milestones in its history tend to congregate.

In late October 1974, Fox “had a vision of starting Circle Sanctuary, the name and logo came to me, as well as the concept of having a rurally-based center that would help humans of different nature religion paths connect with each other, as well as the circle of nature of which we are all a part.”

Before the explosion of online social media, Paganism was a very different group of religions. How diverse the religions were under the Pagan umbrella is difficult to say. Solitary practitioners were very isolated, while some people practiced together in circles, covens, and groves. In the days before Drawing Down the Moon and The Spiral Dance, books were rare and publications, such as Green Egg, were the best source of knowledge. Fox had been traveling and working with Pagans around the country, “but it was not very public,” she recalled.

CIRCLE Magazine's incarnations over time

CIRCLE Magazine’s incarnations over time

With a vision clear in her mind, Fox put an ad in the Witches’ Almanac, inviting like-minded individuals to write to her at a Madison, Wisconsin post office box. From those early responses she formed a core group that rented some land and lived together. Networking locally wasn’t quite enough to satisfy her desire to connect across traditions.

So Circle began publishing a two-sided, typewritten newsletter and, together with her partner at the time Jim Alan, Fox became one of the earliest traveling Pagan musicians in the United States. She said:

Now it’s common for Pagan musicians to travel, and for there to be festivals, but in the 70s there was not much in the way of face-to-face communication across traditions. We felt called to do that.

There were other calls, as well, and other things for which Circle found itself at the forefront. Fox’s chants became a songbook, for which there was an incredible demand. They experimented with radio and television before most other Pagan groups, and still produce podcasts today.

First edition of Circle Guide

First edition of Circle Guide

But 1979 was the year that Paganism in general — and Fox in particular — got pulled into the public spotlight. It was the year that Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was published on the east coast, and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was released in the west. Circle began putting out the Circle Guide to Wicca & Pagan Resources to help Pagans find each other. It was also the year that Time magazine set out to write about Paganism for its religion page, which was a significant departure for the staid publication. To that end, Time staffers went to the Pan Pagan Festival in Indiana to learn more.

“I happened to be doing a handfasting, and that got their attention,” Fox said. “Maybe it was the broom.” A picture of Fox, holding the broom aloft, accompanied the Time piece on Paganism, and led to her being “bombarded with media requests,” including an interview in People magazine. The coverage was largely positive, and “really positive things came out of it.”

While the seventies were a time of change, no change comes easy. After four years in the same place “with no problems,” Circle’s landlord decided to evict the group due to the media interest. The eviction came from the sheriff right after Samhain, and they were faced with finding a new place with the Wisconsin winter looming before them.

With her typical optimism, Fox explained what went through their minds when dealing with the big pile of lemons that life had dealt them. She said, “Sometimes, you really just have to make lemonade. We found an opportunity to rent month-to-month, and we moved up the timetable to buy our own land.”

CSNP Prairie, Barn, House overviewAcquiring land for Pagan use was also a new idea. But in 1980 Circle Network News evolved from a two-page newsletter to a newspaper, and carried in it the announcement of the ambitious project. The network of Pagans, who had been corresponding through Circle’s network and meeting at the occasional festival, responded with half-throated support. “There were a lot of different opinions about that,” Fox said. A vocal portion of the Pagan community raised concerns about adopting an institutional model. Circle had incorporated as a church just two years earlier, and acquiring land raised a red flag for some. But several years later, in time for Samhain 1983, those who supported the idea had their way, and the land, destined to be the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, was bought by the organization.

Circle Sanctuary bought their land in 1983, and by doing that Circle transformed the community and their organization: people put down roots here, and some portion of the organizational energy flow shifted toward maintenance and stewardship of the land. That exerted a powerful stabilizing influence.– Bob Paxton, a 20+ year Circle member

That stabilizing influence allowed the organization to start focusing on helping people whose problems stemmed from being Pagan. “It does help to have some kind of institution when you’re fighting for Pagan rights,” Fox explained. The land allowed Circle to ramp up holding festivals of its own, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, and use those events to fund other activities, which included public education and assistance for those being discriminated against.

That work was increasingly needed as this was the time when the United States was gripped by a “Satanic panic.” In Fox’s mind, it also led to what happened next. But the events she described are complex, so it’s not easy to draw clear lines of cause and effect.

  • 1983:  Circle members began remodeling buildings on their new property, including the conversion of a barn into the church’s headquarters. “In the 1980s, people were running businesses and non-profits out of barns . . . it seemed to be common practice,” Fox said.
  • 1984: A zoning administrator from the county came by to inquire into the work being done. “He starts asking questions, So I ask him some back,” Fox recalled, such as, “Are you asking people having boy scout meetings in their homes?” She adds, “I was polite, but it was really clear somebody was opposed to us having a Pagan center on that land. The administator couldn’t find anything to charge us with, so we did not hear for awhile.”
  • 1985: Circle applied for — and received — the necessary permits to do additional work, to remodel part of an old, historic barn into offices. “We had no building inspectors in that rural area back then, and started remodeling,” Fox said.
  • 1985: In September, three amendments were circulating through Congress with the aim of stripping tax-exempt status from organizations that “promote witchcraft.” One of these was attached to a tax-reform bill by unanimous voice vote of the Senate. Originally introduced by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to an appropriations bill for the postal service, the bill got the attention of many Pagans including those in Circle. “We got very involved in battling that,” Fox said. “We sent out thousands of fliers, urging people to contact their congress people about this.”
  • 1985: Just in time for Samhain, the amendment was laid aside in joint conference, having been deemed “not germane” to the bill.
  • 1986Local zoning officials sent Circle a notice of violations that could result in fines of a hundred dollars a day. In Fox’s words, “The zoning wars began. We got an attorney, went to the first meeting, which should have been a discussion of traffic patterns and sound, but it wasn’t — it was about religion. Government officials were attacking our religion in a government meeting. The room was packed with people riled up and concerned.” She later learned that much of that concern came from an earlier meeting, held without notice in violation of open meeting laws. In that meeting, attendees were shown a Geraldo Rivera special about Satanic crime in America, spliced in with some footage of Fox on the Phil Donahue and Today shows.
  • 1987 An “intense religious battle” continued to be waged with the press reporting on discrimination, while Circle Sanctuary was subjected to trespassing and threats of violence and death. Reverend Fox called this: “close encounters of a problematic kind.”
  • 1988:  The “zoning wars” ended when Circle Sanctuary received the church zoning designation that local officials had said it needed. Fox attributes the success in large part to the network of Pagans and others who rallied to support the church. But, in the end, the ACLU attorney working on the church’s behalf was able to secure a settlement without going to court, “when [local officials] realized we knew they were doing illegal things.”

Whether the “zoning wars” were directly connected to the fight against the Helms amendment can’t be corroborated either way, but it felt that way to Fox. That time was also a test for the nascent Lady Liberty League, which Circle had formed in the wake of that federal fight to defend Pagan rights. “In its earliest days, it was involved in our own Pagan rights cause,” Fox said.

The reason the land purchase was, and still is, so important to Circle’s success, is because it established a place where shared activities could occur and collaborative activities could occur. Over the many years I have been involved with Circle, it has become plain to me that people working together on projects, helps people form bonds. The more passionate people are about the work and the results of the work, the stronger the bonds. Wherever I go now, that is one of my primary mantras; collaborate together on projects that deliver real consequences in our own lives and to the benefit of the many outside of our own selves. — Nicholas Sea, Circle member since the 1970s

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The years since have been perhaps less turbulent, but no less active for Circle Sanctuary. Its cemetery project began in 1995, after the land was paid off, and now has about 25 people interred on the grounds. Lady Liberty League led the charge to get pentacles onto military headstones to honor the Wiccan fallen. Although Fox’s role is enshrined in the by-laws, the organization includes its members in decision making. It recently completed developing a strategic plan that sought input from all community members, and is now surveying users of its lands for their input into the nature preserve’s future.

And Circle is active in interfaith dialogue, including that which takes place within Paganism. “Our world is not a monoculture,” Fox said, “and neither is Paganism. It’s a beautiful diversity. Everyone can be enriched by being part of a larger community. We do have to problem solve around issues having to do with language in different traditions, there are some challenges  but it’s still a really exciting thing.”

Rev. Selena Fox may not have set out to be a full-time priestess, but as High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, Selena Fox has had close encounters of the historic kind. For four decades, Paganism has unfolded around this organization, much of which is not included in this remembrance. On Oct 22, Circle Sanctuary will have a call-in radio show celebrating its anniversary, providing another opportunity for interested readers to hear more of Circle’s story.

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.

green-faiths-3atrans

Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.

 

*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

On Saturday, May 10, Military Pagans will be honored at the yearly Beltania Festival in Colorado’s Florence Mountain Park nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary will be leading a Military Service Ceremony that honors “Pagans who are serving or who have served in the US Military.”

Beltania 2010 [Photo Credit: fairybooger/Flickr]

Beltania 2010 [Photo Credit: fairybooger/Flickr]

In 2011 Rev. Fox, Pagan Air Force veteran Rev. Dave Sassman and others on Circle’s Military Ministry team developed a special tribute ritual. They also designed and produced a symbolic ribbon to be awarded to each individual during the ceremony. At the ribbon’s center is an acorn sitting in a blue field surrounded by six red and white stripes. Circle Sanctuary explains the symbolism:

  • The Golden Acorn represents Paganism and the enduring power, strength, protection and magic of the Oak, held sacred by many Wiccan, Druidic, Heathen and other Pagan traditions.
  • The Blue field and the Red and White stripes represent the USA, its Flag and Great Seal.
  • The color Gold represents Generosity and Honor.
  • The color White represents Purity and Dedication.
  • The color Red represents Courage and Valor.
  • The color Blue represents Loyalty and Steadfastness.

Circle's Military Ribbon Design [Courtesy of Circle Sanctuary]

Circle’s Military Ribbon Design [Courtesy of Circle Sanctuary]

The first ribbon ceremony was held on Samhain 2011 followed by a second one on Veteran’s Day of that same year. Since that time Rev. Fox has been honoring Military Pagans at festivals and conferences around the country. She says:

Military service can be stressful in many ways, and ceremonies of spiritual support and appreciation can be healing as well as strengthening. Feedback from Pagan veterans and those currently serving in the military … has been very positive. After the ceremonies, veterans have told me that being thanked by the Pagan community has been very powerful. Some have said this has been very transformative, being the first time they have been visible about their service within a Pagan setting. Others, with tears of joy in their eyes, have told me that the ceremony has been the first time anyone has really thanked them for their service.

Rev. Selena Fox

Rev. Selena Fox

Rev. Fox expressed her enthusiasm for the inclusion of the ribbon ceremony at Beltania 2014. She is “thankful for [the] opportunity” to honor the very large population of Military Pagans in the Denver area. Rev. Joy Burton of The Living Earth Church, the festival’s sponsoring organization, says:

Our community is filled with veterans as well as those on active duty and in the reserves. Perhaps it is our proximity to several military facilities and I’d also like to think it’s because our church and festival both focus so much on inclusivity and welcoming people from all walks of life. Our staff volunteers, I am sure, are made up of a higher than average number of military folks compared to our membership and festival attendees. 

Rev. Joy Burton

Rev. Joy Burton

Held on the second weekend in May, Beltania is a four day camping retreat and music festival. This year will mark the first time that Beltania has included Circle’s military ribbon ceremony. The operation’s committee is looking forward to setting this important precedent. They already have “involvement from the US Air Force Academy.” Rev Burton explains:

Rev. Fox and I are visiting the US Air Force Academy just prior to the festival for a tour of their outdoor temple and a meeting with Ch. Franke  (the Chaplain Wing Commander) and Rochelle Richards-Burks, who is the spiritual education volunteer for Falcon Circle. Falcon Circle is the pagan cadet circle at the Air Force Academy (USAFA). Two representatives of Falcon Circle will be in attendance at Beltania.

The ceremony will take place on Saturday at 4:30 pm. Beltania’s operations committee and Circle Sanctuary invite all qualifying Military Pagans to participate. Rev. Burton adds:

To be openly Pagan in the military or in any other profession means facing a whole host of challenges far greater than what I experienced. The least we can do is to stand together and honor those whose openness and integrity continue to pave the way for future generations to worship without discrimination.

For those unable to attend Beltania or similar events, Rev. Fox periodically performs the ribbon ceremony over internet radio.  She says the “next [time] will be on [their] Circle Talk podcast, Wednesday, July 2, from 9-10 pm eastern, 8-9 pm central.”

For the second time in five years, Ft Hood, Texas is the site of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. For the second time in five years, military members, dependents, and area residents must deal with the emotional aftermath. Among them are members of the military’s first officially recognized Pagan congregation, the Ft. Hood Open Circle.

“We still have to go to work here every day. How do I help my congregation do that?” asks Ft. Hood Open Circle Designated Faith Group Leader, Michele Morris.

The Ft. Hood Open Circle is comprised of up to 100 active duty soldiers, dependents, and military retirees. They, like other military communities, have endured repeated overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, coming back to Ft Hood isn’t just coming back to a job. It’s coming home.

sidebar ft hood historyDesignated Faith Group Leader (DFGL) Michele Morris understands how challenging recovering from this incident will be. “The most difficult aspect of this is that many soldiers have deployed, some several times. This is supposed to be home, where they’re safe, and can recover from the emotional stress of deployment. When something like this happens, you lose that feeling of being safe at home.”

Emotional, spiritual, and mental assistance for area Pagans dealing with the effects of April 2nd’s shooting, in which 4 soldiers were killed and 16 were injured, comes from several quarters. The military, DFGL Morris, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and a team of volunteer Pagan counselors are working to provide assistance for Ft. Hood Pagan community members.

DFGL Morris, ‘boots on the ground’ assistance
DFGL Morris, a civilian, describes herself as a “full time minister, a full time student, and a full time mother.” She’s been leading the Open Circle since February of 2009, just months before the earlier mass shooting where 13 people were killed and 30 injured. Her background is in mental health and she’s currently in college working toward a degree in social work. Normally her role at Ft. Hood primarily uses her skills as a High Priestess and ordained minister, but with last week’s shooting she’s using every tool she has to help her Circle.

DFGL Michele Morris

DFGL Michele Morris

Upon hearing the news last Wednesday that there was an active shooter, Morris got word out to those in the Open Circle to not come onto the post as Ft. Hood was in lock down. Then, using her phone and social media, she tracked down her congregation to make sure they were accounted for and safe. She quickly assessed her community’s immediate needs and offered her support. Thankfully no one in Ft. Hood’s Open Circle was physically injured. Her next move was to ensure that the planned Pagan retreat, scheduled to start on Friday, and last through the weekend, was still a go. It was.

DFGL Morris said the retreat allowed Open Circle members the chance to come together in privacy and begin to heal. The retreat was held in tents adjoining the grassy, outdoor worship area set aside for the Open Circle at Ft. Hood. They physically and spiritually rebuilt the stone circle surrounding their worship area. They purged themselves of grief and strengthened community bonds. “Through ritual, Ft Hood Pagans have a way to process grief that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” says Morris.

ft hood open circle

Morris was able to make something else available, a way to connect to Pagan counselors, organized by Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. While the military offers extensive and caring counseling services, “The military resources are soldier specific. What Circle Sanctuary offers is Pagan specific,” says Morris.

Circle Sanctuary offers assistance

Rev. Selena Fox

Rev. Selena Fox

Just as she had five years ago, Rev. Selena Fox, immediately reached out to DFGL Morris and offered Circle Sanctuary’s help. Rev.Fox assembled a team of seven Circle Sanctuary ministers and ministers-in-training to be available to Ft. Hood Pagans through phone consultations. Confidentiality and anonymity is of paramount concern and Rev. Fox says all the counselors understand this.

Due to Rev. Fox and Circle Sanctuary’s long association with Ft. Hood Pagans in particular and military Pagans in general, Fox knows the complex dynamic specific to counseling military members, “Most people don’t understand the constant stress military deployments cause, then you add a trauma like this, and they still have to do their jobs. They do it without complaint and they don’t normally ask for help.”

Rev. Fox says providing support early is crucial, as it creates a solid framework for healing. Feeling alone and not connected complicates trauma.

In addition to standing ready to counsel Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, Rev. Fox has been offering support to Pagans who have family members stationed at FT. Hood or who formerly were stationed there.

How other Pagans can help
Rev. Fox says it’s important for Pagans to pray for the soldiers and their families. Another thing she stressed was the need for Pagan groups to discuss how they honor military Pagans, “Warriors in Native American cultures are both honored and visible. Pagans can look at their religious ancestors and find out how warriors were honored and bring those traditions and practices back.”  She says too often Pagan warriors are invisible or feel they need to keep that part of their life private. Having community support, when honored or acknowledged, is what sticks in their minds and helps them heal from any trauma they may have experienced while serving their country.

A long road to recovery
Although the counselors haven’t yet received a call from Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, DFGL Morris says this isn’t unusual, “Some experience the stress right away, for others it takes a while for the shock to subside.”

Rev. Fox agrees, “Sometimes people need to talk in the first 24 to 48 hours, sometimes they don’t feel the need to talk for weeks after the event. Whenever they are ready to talk, we will be here for them.”

[Cara Schulz has joined The Wild Hunt team as a weekly staff writer.]
Note: An earlier version of the article said the retreat was held in cabins. This was incorrect. The retreat was held in tents.

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!

Fort HoodYesterday, a shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas killed 3 people, and injured 16, before the shooter took his own life. This tragedy comes after the 2009 base shooting that claimed 13 lives. I mention this here because Modern Pagans in the military and Fort Hood have a long history, and that history became controversy back in 1999 when several politicians made an issue of Wiccans and Pagans having religious gatherings on-base. Today, Pagans are an accepted part of military life at Fort Hood, and there is a regular open circle held there, with military spouse Michelle Morris serving as Distinctive Faith Group Leader. Circle Sanctuary, which has supported the Pagan circle since its inception in 1997 and is currently its sponsor, released a short statement calling for prayers of healing and support. Quote: “I, along with others with Circle Sanctuary, are networking support for the Fort Hood Open Circle as well as all in the Fort Hood community & beyond who have been impacted by today’s shootings.  We are encouraging Pagans and those of many paths to send prayers, rituals, meditations of healing, strength, and support.” We will be following up on this story next week, and speaking with Pagans on-base. For now, our prayers go out to them.

Florida_Pagan_Gathering_58705The Florida Pagan Gathering’s Beltaine festival is coming up at the end of April, and concerns are being raised over the event allowing Gavin and Yvonne Frost to present there. The Frosts, founders of The Church and School of Wicca, have had controversy follow them for decades over material published in their “Witch’s Bible” that included instructions on ritually deflowering underage youth. While a disclaimer was added in a later edition of said book, their sexual politics have often seemed very out of step with the rest of the Pagan community. I think it would be fair to say that their reluctance to remove or recant the material first published in 1972 have kept these controversies alive over the years. Now, a joint resolution signed by a number of Florida Pagans, plus supporters outside of Florida, has called for the festival to not let the Frosts teach at FPG. Quote: “We stand together, as modern Pagans, to urge the FPG Board to listen to our concerns and to help host and foster discussion about this critical issue. We call for a removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials.” Meanwhile, the board of FPG seems to be, for now, standing by their decision to allow the Frosts to present. Quote: “Over the last 24 hours there has been several emails sent to the Board and many messages on Facebook in protest of the attendance of Gavin and Yvonne Frost as guests and workshop presenters at our upcoming FPG. At the same time we have gotten a flood of emails supporting FPG and its staff and guests. Our attendance numbers have not been affected and we are confident that this Beltaine will be well attended by the people who were truly meant to be there.” We will have more on this story on Sunday.

unnamedpathsquaresAfter the unexpected passing of Eddy Gutiérrez (aka Hyperion) back in January, there were questions as to what would happen with The Unnamed Path, a shamanic path for men-who-love-men that he had founded. Now, with the blessings of Hyperion’s family, the Brotherhood of the Unnamed Path has pledged to carry on the work of their tradition. Quote: “Hyperion has left a legacy and although nobody can replace him, we The Brotherhood recognize that we have a calling to continue this legacy and reach out to other Men-Who-Love-Men through the teachings of the Unnamed Path. His vision has become our vision and will continue to flourish despite his recent transition. This path WILL continue for Hyperion and for our selves. Classes are continuously forming for Men-Who-Love-Men seeking apprenticeships that lead to initiation by wonderful teachers who have gone through teacher training under his loving and knowledgeable guidance.” The Unnamed Path has an open group on Facebook, and you can also keep an eye on the official Unnamed Path website for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

The Sigilic Tarot

Draft from The Sigilic Tarot

  • Hey tarot lovers! There’s a new tarot Kickstarter, this time it’s The Sigilic Tarot by Olivia Cox. Cox, who runs the popular The Living Wiccan Tumblr, says the deck emerged from extensive craft work using sigils. Quote: “The Sigilic Tarot is unique in its design, with 50 cards made up of 5 suits of 10 instead of the traditional 78 of major and minor arcana. Each suit represents a different aspect of our lives.” Do check it out, the designs seem very inventive!
  • Pagan elder, and avid Second Life user, Circe (also known on Second Life as Nepherses Amat), is terminally ill and raising money for home hospice care. Quote: “Circe has no money to pay for professional care. Over the last two and a half months wonderful friends and family from around the country have come to spend a week or more with her as she cannot live alone and needs assistance.”
  • For the third year in a row, The Norse Mythology Blog has won the Best Religion Weblog category in the Weblog Awards (aka “The Bloggies”). Quote: “THANK YOU to everyone who voted & asked others to vote! I hope that this groundbreaking win will send a message that the Old Way still lives in the modern world. However people approach the myths – as simple stories, as exciting adventures, as ancient truths, or as sacred writ – there is something for all of us in this wonderful tradition.” The blog now enters the hall of fame of this contest, and will no longer be eligible to run.
  • Immanion Press has issued a call for papers to be collected in an anthology on Pagan leadership, group dynamics, community activism, and healthy boundaries. Quote: “This anthology will explore leadership for real Pagans and real groups. We’re looking for essays and articles that detail leadership success stories, best practices, and ways you have worked through challenges and obstacles. Our specific focus is on techniques to help Pagans build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable groups and communities. We’d like to see a combination of hands-on how-to, personally-inspired, and academic pieces that will offer readers tools they can use in their own groups.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be participating in a Peace Ambassador Training lead by James O’Dea. At this gathering once can, quote, “learn from the world’s top peace visionaries, and become an impassioned ambassador for inner and outer peace.”
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering has announced its featured presenters for this year’s festival. They include Byron Ballard, T. Thorn Coyle, musician Arthur Hinds, and several others.

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

In 1983 something different happened within the world that we call modern Paganism. The organization Circle Sanctuary, which had been involved in activism, publishing, and throwing events since the 1970s, began the process of purchasing a plot of land after four years of fundraising in the (still nascent) community.

Circle Sanctuary. Photo: Paula Jean West

Circle Sanctuary. Photo: Paula Jean West

“Circle Sanctuary land manifests. After four years of fund raising and land hunting, land is found in southwestern Wisconsin and purchase begins. Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve becomes the first Pagan land project to be supported by Pagans from many traditions and from Paganism as a whole. Its creation inspires other centers to begin their own land projects. Circle moves its headquarters from its rented farm in Black Earth and rented offices in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin to Circle Sanctuary land. Circle changes its full legal name from Church of Circle Wicca to Circle Sanctuary. At Yule, a Stone Circle is established in an oak and birch grove atop a majestic mound on Circle Sanctuary land.”

This was not the first time Pagans owned land, but it was unique for that way it raised money from the wider community, with the idea that the land would be used for Pagan events and functions. Even today, almost all outdoor Pagan events in the United States take place on rented land, at parks, or at land owned by fellow travelers sympathetic to modern Pagans. But I’m not here to talk about land per se, but what the purchase of Circle Sanctuary represented: a move towards infrastructure and institutions. If you read any history/overview of modern Paganism, “Drawing Down the Moon,”  “Her Hidden Children,” or “The Triumph of The Moon,” you’ll see us operating as a religious subculture, or more accurately, a religious counterculture. Explicitly holding values at odds with the dominant institutional faiths in the West (namely Christianity, but also Judaism).

“A culture with values and customs are very different from and usually opposed to those accepted by most of society; also : the people who make up a counterculture.”Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Now, many countercultural currents in America, the UK, and other Western countries eventually try to collectively own land. But this is usually done in the context of creating a completely separate space from mainstream life and values. Modern Paganism’s moves in this direction, I’d argue, may have started out this way, but became something else in the last 30 years. Modern Paganism’s leaders (self-appointed or otherwise) have, quite openly, and usually with enthusiastic support, been moving our religions towards mainstream institutional participation and acceptance. We’re not only trying to buy land, but build seminaries, and libraries. We’re demanding equal treatment within the military, and in how Pagans are treated in prison, we mobilize when slandered by talking heads in the mainstream media, and have worked very hard to be seen as faiths to be respected within the context of the global interfaith movement.

There is nothing wrong at all with any of this, and indeed, I have been an active cheerleader for many of these developments here at The Wild Hunt. However, these are not the actions of countercultural faiths, and I think there’s a growing undercurrent of tension within our interconnected communities over just how integrated and accepted we want to be. For example, the publisher Scarlet Imprint recently published a book entitled “Apocalyptic Witchcraft” that was, essentially, a manifesto for embracing Witchcraft’s outsider, countercultural, and wild, elements as a way forward.

“Witchcraft is the recourse of the dispossessed, the powerless, the hungry and the abused.  It gives heart and tongue to stones and trees.  It wears the rough skin of beasts.  It turns on a civilization that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” – Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft

We are a religious movement that embraces plurality, and most often, polytheism, so we tend to reject easy binary dualisms, but there does seem to be an often unasked question hanging over many of our debates lately: what do we collectively want? Do we want to be part of the West’s religious institutional structure with churches, libraries, and schools, or do we want to be unpredictable, wild, and outside of traditional society’s norms? This is a spectrum, to be sure, there are Catholic anarchists, after all, existing side-by-side with the rules and expectations of Mother Church, but they largely exist on the fringes, tolerated, mainly as a steam valve for the pressures of maintaining a global institution hundreds of millions strong. Likewise, the organized center of modern Paganism fully embracing mainstream aspirations won’t suddenly erase the Witches, Pagans, and polytheists who live vagabond, bohemian, or radical lifestyles on the fringes of our culture. But a choice is being made, and we should be making it with open eyes.

As I see the ongoing debates over theology, I often ask myself why some of us are so concerned with what other people in our movement really believe. Certainly there are events and functions that call for a modicum of theological comity, but for the most part, these questions normally get hashed out on a small-group level. Individuals deciding if they are in tune enough to work together, to be religiously, spiritually, intimate. If concerns about theology are seen as pressing on a meta-level, that is, as being pertinent on a intrafaith, intra-community, model, then it seems to me that it ties into the larger question of what our movement wants in terms of its future. If we are countercultural, then questions of theology and belief are decided locally, by groups actually working together, larger cooperation is saved for a political crisis that demands a more unified voice (or for big parties). But if we are moving towards permanent infrastructure and Pagan institutions, then questions of theology become very, very, important indeed. Then it’s about who’s inside, and who is outside.

When I became a Pagan in 1990, we still operated largely as a counterculture. But in the last 20-plus years, I’ve heard the conversations, the debates, and the yearnings, and I know that many want the respect, and the power, that comes from being part of the institution. We want leaders to acknowledge us, we want to be respected, we want our credentials to be accepted as valid, and our pronouncements taken seriously. We want to have a say, and our elders want fiscal support, and our clergy want to be paid, and we want nice buildings, with a parking lot, conveniently located near our schools and work. These are the same people throwing the events, buying the land, and winning legal battles in our names. At the same time, there are still plenty of Pagans who have almost no connection to the “Pagan Community” as such. Who attend transformational festivals, who’d rather be at a music festival than at an indoor convention. Who live lifestyles dedicated to being radical outsiders, who participate in tree-sits and reject the very idea of “clergy” or “leaders.”

Again, I’m making no value judgements here. I’m not arguing for institution or counterculture, I’m arguing for conscious decision making. Many of us believe in magic, in Will, in shaping our own futures. As such, if we are going to be a part of this religious movement, then we should be clear-eyed about what we ultimately want to become. We are at a point in our growth and success where we’ve allowed ourselves a moment’s reflection on the future. I believe this is why we are having so many fundamental debates over who we are, and if we want to be a part of this movement. This question isn’t even necessarily an either-or, but the way in which we “lean” will shape our collective future. Eventually, some part of us will be seen as the fringe, as not representing the heart of our culture, and I want to make sure we are comfortable with the direction of our forward lean.

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!

AncestorsCoverThe Temple of Witchcraft and Copper Cauldron Publishing have announced the publication of a new anthology title: Ancestors of the Craft: The Lives and Lessons of Our Magickal Elders. First copies of the book were made available at the Temple’s annual Yule ritual, and will soon be made available at Amazon.com. Retailers can order copies through Copper Cauldron Publishing. Quote: “Modern pagans are heirs to a rich confluence of traditions from numerous pioneers in the realms of Spirit who have passed beyond the Veil. Ancestors of the Craft honors these ancestors, some widely known, others obscure, but no less deserving. A wide range of authors have contributed looks at important figures and elders in the history of the modern Witchcraft and Neo-pagan movements, some four dozen in all [...] Authors include Jimahl di Fiosa (Talk to Me), Storm Faerywolf (The Stars Within the Earth), Elizabeth Guerra (Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick), Raven Grimassi (The Cauldron of Memory, Old World Witchcraft), Galina Krasskova (Exploring the Northern Tradition), Deborah Lipp (The Elements of Ritual), Shani Oates (Tubelo’s Green Fire), Gede Parma (Spirited), Christopher Penczak (The Temple of Witchcraft, The Mighty Dead), Matthew Sawicki (Witch and Famous), Kala Trobe (The Witch’s Guide to Life), and many more.” Should be an interesting read!

Grey_School_of_Wizardry_-_crestThe Grey School of Wizardry has opened a virtual world campus incorporating the Second Life platform as a part of its online magickal education program. “The implementation of a virtual campus was driven by student feedback and demonstrates our commitment to provide an engaging, inspiring learning environment for the magickally-minded. It provides us with new ways to share our knowledge, and offers a more personal, interactive, and magical setting for our students,” said Stacey Aaran Sherwood, Campus Director at the Grey School of Wizardry. “This new program is supplementary and purely voluntary, and does not in any way alter the web-based system of instruction that our faculty and students are accustomed to using.” Students who elect to enroll in the optional program benefit from real-time interaction with participating teachers and fellow students.  The Grey School of Wizardry is a tax exempt organization, and was founded in 2004 by Oberon Zell, a founder of the Church of All Worlds. You can read the entire press release, here.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

I’ve mentioned Stonehenge’s new visitors center a couple times now, looking at what it wants to transmit to visitors of the famous stone circle, and the pushback from some UK Pagans over their decision to display human remains. Now, Pagan musician Corwen Broch has visited the new center, and shares some reflections at his blog. Quote: “I personally am not opposed to the display and retention of human remains providing they are displayed sensitively. In fact I’d go so far as to say I am in favour of the display of human remains as I feel they can be a tangible link to the lives of our ancestors in a way nothing else can. All that said however the remains at Stonehenge are not displayed sensitively. They are in the same cases as antler picks and reconstructed arrows which seems to symbolically reduce them to the status of inanimate objects rather than what was once the remains of a thinking feeling human being. One person’s bones in particular are wired together and displayed upright fixed to a board in a way that made me viscerally uncomfortable. It is extremely saddening to me that English Heritage did not take a middle way with these remains and at least abide by HAD’s best practice guidelines. The current lack of sensitivity seems almost calculated to prolong the controversy and the protestations and plays into the hands of those most opposed to the display of human remains whilst making it difficult for those of us in favour of display to defend English Heritage.” Despite these concerns, Broch says the structure has “vastly improved” from its previous iteration, and has no concerns apart from the manner in which human remains are presented.

In Other Pagan Community News:

The Circle Sanctuary Winter Solstice Pageant

The Circle Sanctuary Winter Solstice Pageant

  • Solstice songs! T. Thorn Coyle has uploaded a new (free) song for the season, called “Invictus (Solstice)” to her Bandcamp page. Quote: “This is once again my Solstice gift to you. It started out a poem, but wanted to simplify into a song. Just me and GarageBand, baby. Pay what you will. All money supports Solar Cross temple and our justice work.” In other Solstice song news, Damh the Bard has a song up for you too!
  • Performer Lyra Hill, daughter of Anne Hill (you may know her through her work with Reclaiming), has been featured in the People 2013 issue of the Chicago Reader. Anne Hill says of her daughter that “Lyra’s exploration of dreams through art challenges me to keep looking for new ways to bring the power of dreams into waking life. I hope she inspires you, too.” 
  • Cherry Hill Seminary is seeking an artist in residence. Quote: “Cherry Hill Seminary, provider of distance education for Pagan ministry, seeks candidates for an Artist in Residence. Candidates working in any medium and who wish to be directly engaged for a period of two years in support of the CHS mission of distance education for leadership, ministry and personal growth in Pagan and other Nature-Based spiritualities may obtain full details or apply at this link.” Compensation? “Visibility,” promotion from CHS, and a quarterly feature in the official newsletter.

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 let’s get started!

Chris Keith

Chris Keith

Last week Lansing, Michigan resident Chris Keith, and her son, Isaac, were murdered by Keith’s estranged husband, who then killed himself. This tragedy has sent shockwaves through the Michigan Pagan community, where Keith was active and had many friends, including Elayne Glantzberg, who writes of the intense grief and sense of loss. Quote: “She will never come to church with me.  She will never come help teach me how to work my own urban homestead garden. Kender will never dance in her Zumba class.  No more movie nights, no more nights out, no more dancing, no more.  Isaac will never finish growing up.  Oakley may not remember his mother when he grows up.  No more. Gone. It’s not right.  It’s not fair.” The Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, of which Chris Keith was a member, has set up a memorial fund to help support her surviving children. The member of the Michigan Pagan community who sent me the link to the memorial fund added that, quote, “Chris was active not only in the Pagan community but also was an environmentalist, a home-schooler, a naturopath, and a crusader for LGBTQ rights. She was an amazing person.” What is remembered, lives. My thoughts go out to her family, and friends, during this time.

Book-Fault-Lines-Gus-DizeregaWiccan author Gus diZerega’s new book, “Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine,” is now out through Quest Books. At Witches & Pagans Magazine, diZerega talks about new book. Quote: “Faultlines argues that this alternative Pagan perspective is particularly appropriate for modern men and women. Further, American Christianity as well as Judaism and Buddhism is moving closer to views in harmony with these.  From this perspective we Pagans are in the forefront of a spiritual transformation taking place across many religions to the degree they have not been polluted by the demonic spirituality of the religious right and equivalent movements elsewhere.  We are in the midst of a struggle between a new spiritual sensibility in harmony with the needs of the modern world and an old one rooted in the hierarchy and domination and spiritual isolation that long characterized agricultural civilizations, a position that has lost what truth it once had and so focuses solely on issues of power. This struggle defines the spiritual crisis of our time, and underlies the more visible secular political and cultural struggles we are living through.” You can read endorsements of the new work at the publisher’s website.

1487255_10151888593279285_1684773642_nFor the first time, Circle Cemetery will be taking part in Wreaths Across America, a nationwide program that lays wreaths at gravesites honoring deceased veterans. On Saturday, December 14, 2013, Wreaths Across America ceremonies will be held at Arlington National Cemetery and at more than 900 public and private cemeteries across the nation. A multicultural and interfaith Wreaths Across America ceremony will be held at Circle Cemetery, located at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in the forested hills of southwestern Wisconsin near Barneveld, at Noon central time that day. “I am glad that Circle Cemetery is taking part in this program this year,” says Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary. “Thanks to Circle Sanctuary Community member Roberta Stewart for her work with this program and her help in making Circle Cemetery participation possible.” Roberta, who lives in Nevada, is the widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, the first Wiccan soldier killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. His grave is among those at Circle Cemetery that will be decorated with a wreath.

249444_113766545446334_287218438_nBay Area Heathen Holidays, a non-aligned Heathen organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, presents the third annual Bay Area Heathen Yule Dinner on Saturday 14 December. Steven T Abell, group founder, says “This is an annual opportunity for the local Heathen community to get together beyond the boundaries of kindred or faction. All who come in peace and honor are welcome here.” Along with dinner, the event will formally recognize and welcome the local land spirits and gods of the Heathen Pantheon. Hosts Abell, Hilary Ayer, Gail DeCamp, and Robert Russell provide the major meats for this dinner: ham, lamb, goat, goose, and turkey. Attendees are asked to bring a side dish, salad, or dessert to share. Heathen events are noted for excellent fare in more-than-adequate amounts. This year’s BAHY Dinner will be no exception. Beer, wine, and mead are also welcome. BAHY is held in a civic facility rented from the City of Fremont. Heathen artisans are encouraged to bring and show their wares, but city regulations do not permit sales or the exchange of money at the event. Visit Bay Area Heathen Holidays on Facebook for more details and to RSVP. Bay Area Heathen Yule Dinner 7:00 – 10:00pm Saturday 14 December Olive Hyde Art Center 123 Washington Blvd. Fremont CA 94539.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • The anthology “Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul,” edited by Tara “Masery* Miller, has been published. Quote: “One purpose of this anthology is to help people find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Some of the authors turned to a magical practice as a way to find healing and the anthology includes rituals and stories about healing. Covens, circles, temples or any other type of magical group can use it as a resource toward understanding members or potential members with disabilities.”
  • Another new anthology my readership may be interested in: “Essays in Contemporary Paganism.” Quote: “In this absorbing anthology twelve Pagan writers from across the globe offer a unique perspective on Paganism today in both its theoretical and practical aspects. Each writer began with a blank canvas, other than their essay must reflect a contemporary theme. In turn the essays are philosophical, practical, personal and reflective, with issues ranging from parenting to polytheism, from being a Pagan in London to the sacred landscapes of Australia, from mysticism to the World Wide Web. In their breadth these essays reflect a concern with living in a modern world, with modern technology and with understanding oneself within a tradition that is evolving and adapting to meet the needs of its adherents whilst staying true to its fundamental principles.”
  • Sex blog Slutist (probably NSFW) recently named Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile one of their “favorite feminist Witches.” Congratulations! While I’m on the subject of Ms. Grossman, the Occult Humanities Conference, which she co-organized, was written up in ArtForum. Not too shabby.
  • Remember the Warrior’s Call anti-fracking ritual at Glastonbury Tor, with solidarity actions in other locations, that was held this past September? Well, Warrior’s Call now has a website up and running, with resources for Pagan who want to fight the practice of “fracking.” Quote: “On the 28th of September, 2013, one of the largest pagan rituals in history was held to weave protection around Albion and all areas currently under attack. Thousands of people on four different continents gathered on that day to stand as one against the blight of fracking. From this global event, the Warrior’s Call pagan anti-fracking movement was born.”
  • Hellenion’s Musings Magazine has released issue 3! Quote: “Welcome to the third issue of Musings, Hellenion’s E-Newsletter. As we move further into December, a month traditionally seen as a time of giving, I encourage you to turn your eyes towards the less fortunate. In the state of Texas alone there are 3.4 million people living in impoverished or homeless conditions.  I encourage you to seek out organizations that help the homeless and needy in your area.”
  • Back in August, Friends of the Gualala River started a public action campaign to convince a winery to spare 154 acres of Gualala River’s redwood forest in California. Pagan author and activist Starhawk was on hand to do a ritual to turn “wine back into water.” Now, Starhawk notes that Friends of the Gualala River have won a favorable ruling in their court case against the winery. Quote: “The issue isn’t done yet, but the case is a victory for the people and the trees! Thank you, all who have worked on this!” More on this here.

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

As the wheel turns, the merry month of December is now upon us. ‘Tis the season for many things – one of which is a swell in public religious discourse.  Is the Christmas tree really a Pagan tradition?  Have the holidays become overly commercialized?  News outlets and blog sites are brimming with articles discussing and dissecting the traditional American holiday hullaballoo.

Chicago Daley Square 2013

Chicago Daley Square 2013

One of these media side-shows is the negotiation of the Christian nativity scene.  When located on private property, the crèche causes no alarm.  However nativity scenes are often found in public spaces such as parks, squares, and government buildings.  As one might expect, these particular displays find themselves at the center of “first amendment” debates.

At the forefront of this particular issue is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national Atheist organization.  This year for the first time, FFRF has erected a “free thought display” in Chicago’s Daley Square. Standing near a menorah and life-size crèche is an enormous “A” denoting “Atheism.”  In addition, FFRF has posted a sign defining the term and a banner that reads:

adsolistica

Bill of Rights Nativity Banner

Dan Barker, FFRF’s co-president wrote, “If the government is going to open up a public forum to religion, then it has to permit the nonreligious… to express our point of view as well.”

Faced with increasing religious diversity, many local governments have chosen to enact a policy of inclusiveness with regards to holiday displays.  That is exactly what happened six years ago in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  After receiving complaints about the crèche on City Hall, officials invited other faiths to erect their own displays.  Circle Sanctuary responded with a Wiccan Pentacle Wreath.  Shortly after its placement, the local news reported that a “witchcraft symbol had been placed above City Hall.”  The wreath was eventually vandalized and taken down.  Since that incident, Green Bay officials have chosen not to put any religious holiday symbols on their building.

Green Bay City Hall with creche and Pentacle Wreath

Green Bay City Hall with creche and Pentacle Wreath

In this particular case the holiday commotion ultimately resulted in the complete “separation of church and state.” According to co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, that is FFRF’s primary goal – to “protect the Constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.”

If such a forum is created, FFRF won’t be left out of the conversation.  In the Florida State Capitol, its “Bill of Rights Nativity” banner is hanging.  In the Illinois State Capitol, FFRF has posted its “Winter Solstice” sign.  In the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol, FFRF placed a “natural nativity.” The traditional Christian figures are replaced with symbolic figures and recognizable icons of science, nature, human advancement, and freedom.  This includes a sign that reads “Heathen Greetings,” information about the Winter Solstice and an image of Botticelli’s Venus –  all of which may evoke religious meaning for Pagans.

Solstice "natural nativity" by FFRF

Solstice “natural nativity” by FFRF

Has FFRF received any complaints from the Pagan community? Gaylor remembers receiving one phone call but could not recall the details.  That one call was from Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League. Selena says:

Last Yuletide, I called and talked with administrative staff of Freedom from Religion about Pagan holiday diversity concerns.  I told them that we were hearing from a variety of Pagans who objected to their appropriation of a Pagan Goddess in their mock “nativity” scene in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda.  I suggested that instead of using a Pagan Goddess for the Mary figure, they use a representation of Susan B. Anthony or some motherly Freethinker which would keep their display consistent with their name “Freedom from Religion.”

Gaylor stressed that FFRF’s intention is not to “outright offend.” The “Venus was chosen in a hurry” as a substitute fertility image for Mary. However, Gaylor also admits that “even if we had known there would be a problem, nothing would have changed.” FFRF’s primary message is that “public religious displays are offensive.  If someone was offended, it only proves our point.”

FFRF’s targets are not limited to mangers.  Last week the Sacramento branch created a “billboard blitz” called the “out of the closet” campaign which encourages Atheists to speak out without fear. Later this week FFRF will formally announce its newest public display located in Pitman New Jersey. Over the past few years, the Knights of Columbus have been allowed to hang a street banner that reads “Keep Christ in Christmas.”   Because city officials have denied FFRF the permit to hang a “counter” banner, they had to find a workaround. This year FFRF is sponsoring a seasonal billboard bearing its latest holiday slogan: “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.”

12050033-large

Once again the Atheist organization is using terminology to which Pagans ascribe religious meaning.  Does the use of this religious terminology cause confusion in the general populous?  One Chicago news site reporting on the “free thought display” wrote: “Signs explaining the display say it’s to celebrate the pagan holiday of the winter solstice.”  A text link sends the reader to a BBC explanation of Paganism.  The same language is used across news sources including the Huffington Post and Kansas City Star.  In response, Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League says,

We cannot support Freedom From Religion’s use of “Pagan” as part of what sometimes has been called [the] “War on Christmas.”  We object to their tactic of waging political war with “Solstice,” Pagan Divine forms, and the word Pagan, which is a term thousands of Pagans use to refer to themselves and their practice of old and new Nature religion.

Is Paganism now caught in a cross-fire between Christian conservatives and Atheists?  Some crèches, such as Green Bay one, were originally erected in direct response to Atheist activism. When the manger goes up, FFRF responds back with its own banners and displays. And the battle wages on.

Currently FFRF has a ready supply of banners to be used by any local chapter as needed. In Hancock Maryland, for example, FFRF has complained about a new Christian manger in the public park.  According to the Associated Press, government officials have declared the area a safe space for people to “exercise their First Amendment rights.”  Will we be seeing a new banner or “natural nativity” display?  If so, will that display refer to Saturn, Odin, magic, Heathens, the Goddess or any other terminology that holds religious meaning for Pagans?

The organization’s end game of “Separation of Church and State” is very much in-line with many other freedom-based organizations, including Pagan ones.  As Rev. Selena Fox says, “Lady Liberty League has supported a variety of separation of church and state efforts over the years as part of its work for Pagan civil rights and religious freedom.” However, do FFRF’s ends justify its means?  And what affects, if any, do those means have in the positioning of Paganism within greater socio-religious politics?  Should Pagans even be concerned?

Interfaith Awareness Celebration in Capitol Rotunda, Madison WI

Interfaith Awareness Celebration in Capitol Rotunda, Madison WI

Rev. Selena Fox adds, “Let’s keep with the ancient traditions of making peace at Winter Solstice time and work together for a better world.”  In that spirit, Circle Sanctuary will be contributing its own religious “Winter Solstice” display in very same rotunda as FFRF’s “natural nativity.”  Circle’s Pagan informational display is part of Wisconsin’s yearly World Religion’s “Interfaith Awareness Week” – an entirely different way of negotiating the very tumultuous holiday season.

“May the road rise up to meet you in blessing, Grand-Father of our nation.”Damon Leff, South African Pagan, Penton Independent Pagan Media.

On Thursday, news agencies reported that former South African President, and legendary anti-Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, had passed away at the age of 95 after a prolonged illness. Immediately tributes to, and reflections on, Mandela’s life and work emerged.

In his lifetime, Mandela had already passed into a place of history, though he spent his post-Apartheid years working towards peace, reconciliation, and human rights at home, and across the world. Few were left untouched by his work and legacy, including groups and individuals within the modern Pagan movement. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, saw Mandela speak in 1999 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in South Africa, and participated in a ritual for peace at the island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Fox says she has “powerful memories of an amazing person.”

“Remembering Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ‘Madiba.’  Thankful to have been among those at his inspiring talk at the 1999 Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, South Africa which received a rousing standing ovation.  Celebrating him, his life, his work with peace and reconciliation, freedom and human rights, environmental preservation and interfaith cooperation.  May he continue to inspire humans everywhere now and in generations to come to continue these endeavors.” – Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Members of the EarthSpirit Community, who were also at that peace ritual in South Africa, describe the experience.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Pagans processing in South Africa, 1999

Pagans in South Africa, 1999

“Many religious leaders had prepared blessings for the pole, but, due to time restraints, a bishop from Johannesburg gave the official blessing for all. He blessed the pole with incense and water and asked that everyone there go forward to the pole before they left, place their hand — or even better their two hands — on the pole and fill it with their light, to bring it to life, so that it would not be a dead piece of wood, but a living beacon of light, of hope and of peace for all who come to that place. It was a beautiful blessing and, even though he was strongly based in his own tradition, he was very inclusive in his language – not only blessing in the name of Jesus, but in the name of all of the “great ones” of every tradition.

He was followed by a traditional African priest who made an offering and blessed the pole in the name of his ancestors and in the name of all of those who suffered and died on the Island. The pole was then officially given to the Island by Africa Msimang, the South African director of the Parliament. At the end, before we returned to the boats, all of the pagans there went to the pole and made our own blessing together.”

Andras Corban-Arthen of EarthSpirit, on learning of Mandela’s death, said that he was feeling “sadness, gratitude and admiration toward this truly great man, whose life will continue to be a source of strength and inspiration for a very long time.” The Covenant of the Goddess, another organization represented at the 1999 Parliament where Mandela spoke, released this short statement on the news of his passing.

Covenant of the Goddess joins the world’s tribute to honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). We are humbly thankful for Mandela’s humanitarian vision, his perseverance in the face of adversity and his personal sacrifice in the name of freedom for all.  Although his initial efforts were aimed at atrocities found in his own country, Mandela’s message knew no boundaries and inspired millions across the globe. May his spirit live forever in the memory of his life and the legacy that he has left.”

Crystal Blanton, a member of COG, left a more personal tribute at the Daughters of Eve blog.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“Today Nelson Mandela passed away and moved on to rest in the land of the ancestors, in the arms of the divine. And as I am sad today, it is hard to be sad when his life reminds me of the incredible sacrifices others have made for me to be able to be who I am today. It is on the shoulders of the ancestors that I stand, and I am so very honored to live in a world that cultivated the incredible spirits of people like Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michelle Alexander, Little Bobby Hutton, Bobby Seal, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Malcolm, Martin, and so many more that are known to us and unknown; the slaves with no name, the activists, and the revolutionaries. What a beautiful thing to look back upon the faces of the brave, and know that I have been gifted this chance at life because of those who’ve been willing to lay their lives in front of the bullet for justice. A celebration of life is the gift that Mandela left, a gift he often was not able to enjoy for himself because he was too busy changing the world.”

Another tribute came from author, teacher, and activist T. Thorn Coyle, who shared a memory of how Mandela’s imprisonment inspired her to stand up against collaboration with the apartheid South African government.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“One day, the floor was going crazy. Paper was flying. Men were shouting. Blood pressure was rising. One of my Market Makers called me over to his trading pit and shouted an order for me to buy Krugerrands – the South African currency minted from gold. I looked at him and said, “No.” He stared at me. I stared back. His face flushed red, then purple, color rising from his neck up to his forehead. His mouth pinched. He threw his trading cards down and stormed out the of pit to buy the gold himself. Word spread around the floor like wildfire. At the end of the day, after the last bell had rung, I was collecting reams of paper for recycling – this was in the days before recycling was commonplace, I and another woman gathered the paper and carted it away. The lone African American trader crossed the floor, held out his hand, and said, simply, “Thank you.” Today, I say to Nelson Mandela: you were a giant in our minds. You were an inspiration. Your life was a clarion call goading us toward freedom and justice. Mr. Mandela, today, I hold out my hand in thanks.”

Pagan activist and first responder Peter Dybing said of Mandela that he “stood as the ultimate example of the struggle for human dignity in the face of oppression, confinement and political intrigue.”

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing

“For those of us in the U.S. his struggle represented an ideal.  In our deepest thoughts and desires we aspired to emulate this great man who was able to engage his oppressors with dignity, honor and true courage. Many of us believed by his example that a new world ethic of mutual respect, peace and cultural understanding was not only possible but also achievable. If Nelson could defeat the abomination that was Apartheid with love and compassion then all things were possible. For activists world wide, his example lead to a well spring of young idealists willing to engage in the great struggle for universal human dignity. It may be decades before the world realizes how profound his influence has been on international events. [...] Today we can imagine him being welcomed to tea by Gandhi, seated next to Dr. King, and engaged in conversation with Mother Teresa. It is a portrait that needs to be painted,; a legacy that will not be diminished.”

Quaker and Witch Stasa Morgan-Appel, notes that Mandela’s life was a gift, and that his death does not diminish what he gave to the world through his work.

“How many of us are sad to learn of Nelson Mandela’s death is likely not countable. We all die. Death is part of life. Mandela died at the end of a long and amazing life. He gave South Africa and the rest of the world the gift of his life and his service, and we are tremendously enriched by that. His death in the fullness of time is sad, yes — but it is not tragic. His death cannot make us poorer, cannot take away all he has done for his people and many peoples, cannot take away what he has given us. His legacy goes on. Who is remembered, lives; may his memory be a blessing. And a goad to work for justice.”

 I have no doubt that across different faiths, cultures, and nations, Mandela’s legacy is being honored. He has shown that peace can emerge from chaos, that reconciliation can emerge from hate, and that no system of oppression is inevitable or unchangeable. His memory, his legacy, will continue to watch over those who he worked to free. Our deepest respects go out to him.