Archives For Covenant of the Goddess

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!

ll prep at NAL.The New Alexandrian Library, a project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which hopes to create an institution that will become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance,” has launched a new crowdfunding venture to help pay for the final phase of construction. Quote: We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Paganism in all its forms. We are also collecting artifacts, art, ritual objects, etc. for the museum component of the New Alexandrian Library. The first building is in progress and we need your help to finish construction [...] We already have several important collections of books in storage including the entire library from the Theosophical Society of Washington, DC. Judy Harrow, of blessed memory, just left us her library as well.” It’s been a long journey, but this ambitious project is finally reaching the finish line on their first structure. You can read all of our coverage of NAL, here.

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

The special commemorative edition of Green Egg Magazine dedicated to the life and work of Morning Glory Zell, a Pagan elder and teacher who passed away this past May, is now available. Quote: “Contained herein is the official Green Egg Morning Glory Memorial issue. We are departing from our usual format in order to include all of the photographs, memories, biographies and videos that people have sent to us from all over the world to honor Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. It was put together with much blood, sweat, and tears and was the most difficult issue we’ve ever done. Morning Glory was our good friend and she considered my husband Tom to be her best friend. We cried and mourned her passing a lot as we wrote our articles, poured through photos of her and had too many memories of her stirred up to write about here; indeed if we had included all of our memories, we would still be writing and would have run into literally hundreds of pages.” A free PDF version is also available, here.  Contributors include LaSara Firefox Allen, Selena Fox, Oberon Zell, and many more.

Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

Ethan Doyle White continues his interview series at Albion Calling with Professor Ronald Hutton, author of “Pagan Britain,” “The Triumph of the Moon,” and other works.  Here’s Professor Hutton speaking about his future plans: “I have a big one on the go at present, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, of a comprehensive study of the concept of the witch, in a global, ancient and folkloric setting, to understand more fully the context of the early modern witch trials. This is of course inspired by the work of Continental historians and folklorists such as Carlo Ginzburg, Éva Pócs, Wolfgang Behringer and Gustav Henningsen, and as such is an approach which has been much less favoured by English-speaking counterparts. It will, however, inevitably have some differences from the work of these Continental colleagues, in making a more comprehensive survey of the evidence, emphasising regional differences much more heavily, and relying less on modern folklore collections to plug gaps in earlier evidence. I have six people on my team, the others consisting of a distinguished Classicist, Dr Genevieve Liveley, a medievalist, Dr Louise Wilson, and three research students, working respectively on Italy, male witches and the animal familiar. Together we should produce three books, mine being the largest and the broadest in its scope, and three doctoral theses with resulting spin-off publications, in three to four years.” 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess (COG) national interfaith representatives Don Frew and Rachael Watcher have been posting updates from the United Religions Initiative’s 2014 Global Council and the subsequent Global Indigenous Initiative. Quote: “We talked about how sacred items are treated as ‘art’. His people were part of the Nok civilization, which produced amazing terra cotta figures. Elisha said that when sacred images are recovered by the Nigerian government from foreign museums, they go into museums in Nigeria when they should go back to the people they came from, to take their proper, traditional place in religious ceremonies and sacred sites. Why does plundering a sacred site suddenly turn sacred images into ‘art’? We talked about how the same ideas I mentioned above could be applied to create collaboration between national museums and local stewards of sacred artifacts.” There’s a lot more at the link, including a line-up of who’s attending the indigenous initiative. Fascinating accounts from boots-on-the-ground interfaith work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

An album released by Lux Eterna Records.

An album released by Lux Eterna Records.

9780415674195

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!

Seekers TempleThis past week we reported extensively on the case of the Seekers Temple in Beebe, Arkansas, where allegations of a religiously biased local government exercising its power against a Pagan family have reverberated through our interconnected community. Now, it seems that a City Council meeting scheduled today in Beebe might mark the next flashpoint in this increasingly tense situation. Quote: We have been notified by a brave young Pagan girl that her mom is involved with a group of Christians who feel they must save Beebe, AR. from the Devil.  This group is planning to be at City Hall on Monday, June 23 at 6:30pm to combat us with our attempt to be recognized by the City Counsel. We would like to invite everyone to attend this meeting in the hopes that such a presents will keep things from getting out of hand.  We pray that the Christians AND Pagans will be Civil and polite and that our numbers alone will encourage the Mayor to rethink his position against Pagans.” We will keep you updated on this story as it continues to develop. 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

Wiccan/Witchcraft credentialing and advocacy organization Covenant of the Goddess (COG) has launched a national survey to get feedback for a revisitation of their mission. Quote: “We are including a link to our national survey addressing our current Covenant of the Goddess Mission.  The Covenant of the Goddess(CoG) was founded in 1975.  Almost 40 years later, we would like to revisit our mission. To that end, we are surveying our membership and the Pagan/Wiccan community at large to determine whether these goals have been achieved, or should remain and/or whether others should be added. The survey is completely anonymous and should only take a few moments of your time.  Your input is really needed!  We will provide a report of the outcome (summary) data at the next CoG annual meeting in August 2014. Deadline for submission of this survey is July 20thPlease feel free to share the link to this survey to others in the Pagan/Wiccan community at large. We need feedback from all of you!!” The link for the survey is right here.

[Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

[Photo: Damh the Bard]

On June 14th we reported on the installation of a commemorative Blue Plaque for “father of modern Witchcraft” Gerald Gardner. That article ended with a questions, which English figure would next receive that honor? Well Asheley Mortimer, trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, does have some ideas on that front. Quote: “A Blue Plaque is a marker for an historic moment, at the Centre For Pagan Studies we see it as a duty to ensure that as individuals like Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner pass, inevitably, from persons of living memory to figures of history the place they take in history is their rightful one, the blue plaques add to the positive wider public perception of Pagans and demonstrate that their achievements are every bit as life-changing and important to the world as historic figures from the mainstream [...] As for who is next . . . it doesn’t have to be a witch at all, we are thinking about other figures from the Pagan community such as the druid Ross Nichols, and the like . . . , Alex Sanders and Aliester Crowley have also been mentioned as has Stewart Farrar . . . . basically we’re very open to suggestions . . . “ Do you have a suggestion? You can contact the Centre For Pagan Studies here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

  • I hope everyone had a good Summer Solstice (or Winter Solstice if you live ’round Australia), here’s how the Patheos Pagan Channel marked the holiday.
  • Hungarian Pagan band The Moon and The Nightspirit have a new album coming out! Quote: “We are happy to announce that our new album, “Holdrejtek” will be released on August 15th on Auerbach Tontraeger/Prophecy Productions. In tandem with “Holdrejtek”, our early albums, “Of Dreams Forgotten and Fables Untold” (2005), “Regő Rejtem” (2007), and “Mohalepte” (2011) will be re-issued in digipack format with revised layouts.” Here’s the label website.
  • The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions have announced the open bidding process for the next parliament. Quote: “We are pleased to announce the opening of the bid process for a city to host the 2017 Parliament of the World’s Religions. A Parliament event showcases ways in which religions shape positive action to address the challenges of our times, and seeks to develop new tools for implementing those actions in the years to come.” As The Wild Hunt has noted on several occasions, modern Pagans are deeply involved with the council and the parliament, and we will be keeping an eye on this process as it moves forward.
  • So, after your crowdfunding project gets everything it has asked for, what do you do next (aside from fulfill the funded project itself)? Morpheus Ravenna ponders the question. Quote: “I’m contemplating other ways to give back to the community out of the funds that are continuing to come in. I would love to hear from you. What else would you like to see as a next stretch project?”
  • Struggles between the Town of Catskill in New York and the Maetreum of Cybele continue. Quote: “This time the Town of Catskill is bringing suit against us for refusing a fire and safety inspection. (To clarify: this is actually a separate – though related – issue from the ongoing property tax case). Cathryn represented us and she did an excellent job. There was a different attorney representing the town this time (NOT Daniel Vincelette), this one was just as much of an obnoxious bully, though. He was accusing us of running an illegal Inn, pointing his finger at Cathryn and making aggressive gestures.” You can read our full coverage of the Maetreum’s tax battles with the town, here.

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

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

James Irvin. Screenshot taken from WVVA coverage.

James Irvin. Screenshot taken from WVVA coverage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

This past weekend a celebration of the life of Pagan elder Morning Glory Zell, who has been seriously ill recently, took place. Now, a new initiative has been launched to preserve her wisdom in the time that she has remaining.  Quote: “Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart is dancing with the veil. Her final wish is to preserve the knowledge and wisdom she carries of her incredible Goddess Collection for the generations. THIS INFORMATION is currently stored ONLY IN HER BRAIN. The only way to capture it is by voice recordings which need to happen NOW. Time is of the essence. Funds will go to recording her knowledge of her collection of over 300 votive Goddess figurines from around the world as the opportunity arises (she is in great pain) and to photograph and catalog the figurines in a database so that they will carry her wisdom along with them after she passes.” So far a little over $2000 dollars has been raised towards a $6000 dollar goal. That money will ensure that her archivist can stay by her side to make the recordings, plus do photography, database entry, and transcription. You can see a promotional video for the campaign embedded below.

Sekhmet TempleThe Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada, which is dedicated to the goddess Sekhmet, has been had its statue of Sekhmet stolen on Friday. Quote: “Sekhmet stolen! Sometime during the night, the statue of Sekhmet was removed by unknown persons. The necklace someone had placed around Her neck is lying in the dirt just outside the Temple entrance indicating She was tilted up and placed in a car trunk or more likely the back of a truck. I am in shock, saddened that anyone would do this. Was it someone who coveted the statue? or retribution for the peace work done here? I don’ know.” At this time a $500 dollar reward is being offered for any information that may lead to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible. You can see a photo of the statue, here.

Tuatha DeaThe Pagan band Tuatha Dea, who recently held a fundraiser to create a new album, has been chosen to compete for a slot in the Hard Rock Rising Competition. Quote: “Send Tuatha Dea to Rome!!!! Tuatha Dea in Rome! You can make that happen! Tuatha Dea has been chosen to compete for a slot in the Hard Rock Rising Competition, The Global Battle for the Bands! All you have to do is vote! Follow the link below and download our song “Bagabi” and your vote will have been cast! Only 25 bands with the highest number of votes will be chosen to showcase their talent and those lucky 25 will be flown to Rome, Italy to compete on stage. So cast your votes now and let’s show the world how to do it Tribal!” As mentioned, if they make it into the top 25, they will be sent to Rome to compete. So far, they have won the first round, being one of five American bands that get to advance to a global round of online voting. They are the only Pagan band to do so. Good luck to them!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Pagan-friendly tribal band Arcane Dimension (they’ve played Hexenfest) had a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce band merch for fans. Quote: “Friends, you have been asking ‘when are you gonna get t-shirts/hoodies/merchandise?’ Well, you asked and we listened! The goal for this campaign is to raise enough funds to get all our band merchandise done and open our web store.”
  • Interfaith organization United Religions Initiative has named Pagan interfaith activist Rachael Watcher as their new Regional Coordinator for  the Multiregion. Quote: “Rachael brings seasoned experience with the URI community, commitment and passion to help the Multiregion fulfill its potential. As Interim RC, Rachael provided steady leadership in developing the Regional Leadership Team and strengthening existing services provided by the Multiregion. She is a practicing Wiccan for 30 years and lives in the Bay Area with her husband.” You can read a 2012 guest post she wrote for The Wild Hunt, here. Congratulations!
  • The Sacred Crossroads Association in Pennsylvania, is expanding their schedule of festivals this year with the addition of “Mythmusica: The Festival,” scheduled for the last weekend of July, 2014. The event will be held at Mountain View Park in Wind Gap, PA. Multiple performers have already been booked, according to a press release sent to The Wild Hunt. It looks like they are running a fundraising campaign to fund this new initiative.

hexenfest

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

As the immediate shock regarding the arrest of Pagan author and musician Kenny Klein on possession of child pornography wears off, a wider conversation in the Pagan community on event safety and sexual predators begins. Festival and convention organizers consider possible changes in policies while attendees ask for greater protection. Yet it’s unclear if this focus is a lasting trend or a short lived reaction. MerryMeet, a yearly convention hosted by different Covenant of the Goddess Chapters, and CONvergence, a science fiction and fantasy convention lauded internationally for their anti-harassment policies, offer best practices which aim to protect attendees while still allowing an open, diverse event.

Evolving conversation
Kenny Klein’s arrest on March 25th affected the Pagan community deeply due to his decades of traveling the Pagan convention and festival circuit, bringing him into contact with thousands of children and teens. Almost immediately conversations on social media sites and blogs moved from focusing on Klein to looking at how the Pagan community deals with sexual violence and harassment. “I’m far more concerned with, can we look at this as a wake up call for how to deal with sexual abuse, and other abuse, within the Pagan community? Can we call someone out for bad behavior without it turning into a witch war? Can we make it safer for victims to come forward? And at the same time, can we find ways so that Pagans are not wrongfully convicted in the court of public opinion by people who have made untrue allegations?” Shauna Aura Knight in a March 27th post on Facebook.

By April 1st the Pagan community had its first opportunity to deal with conflict between a festival and attendee over scheduled guests. Florida Pagan Gathering had, as they had done in the past, invited controversial Pagan elders Gavin and Yvonne Frost to speak at their festival. Attendees and Florida Pagans, once again, objected to the Frosts due to their book, “The Witches Bible”, which appears to advocate ritual sexual initiation of minors just entering puberty. An organized protest developed and called for the “removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials. It’s past time that our beloved community take a stand against those who advocate abuse. Silence = complicity.” Also as in the past, the festival initially stood firm in keeping the Frosts as presenters, noting they expected to maintain high attendance numbers in spite of the controversy. All that changed and the FPG felt compelled to remove the Frosts from the line up after the venue was made aware of the situation and became involved.

Culture change or fleeting interest
Was the stronger, more organized and successful stance by Florida Pagans an outlier or a glimpse at a future trend?

That’s it! If a convention or a festival doesn’t have clear policies, that they actually follow, which protect women and men from creepers, I’m not going. They won’t get another dollar from me.” – Brenna Summer, a Midwest Pagan who says she attends at least one festival or convention per year.

Pagan festival and convention attendees have now spent weeks online discussing past instances where event organizers failed or succeeded in addressing attendee concerns about sexual predators. They’re talking about what worked, what didn’t, and suggestions for event organizers. “I’d like to see confidential feedback about predators made public. Festival goers have a right to know what has happened with other attendees and personnel as delivered in feedback from people who were witness to or on the receiving end,” says Tasha Rose, who attends events in Minnesota.

Other attendees have been on both sides of sexual predator allegations. OtterDancing said she witnessed a man harassing women at a local festival and the man was quietly asked to leave. Yet she’s also seen allegations handled poorly at the same festival. “Six men stormed into our campsite and accused my husband of harassing a 13 year old and verbally assaulted him with out proof. This greatly traumatized my husband and probably lead to his subsequent physical downward spiral. My husband was innocent. It turned out that it was another bald middle-aged fat man that had done this. Of course there were no apologies and I refused to ever go back to that particular gather again.”

As many cases of sexual harassment or sexual abuse happen without witnesses, how are organizers to balance keeping attendees safe without destroying the reputation of persons’ wrongly accused? What steps should workshop presenters take? They can look at best practices both within the Pagan community and outside of it.

Best practices for presenters
David Salisbury, whose books and workshops are often geared towards teens and young adults, says he is rethinking everything in relation to how he presents to minors. Although he feels he has a good system in place, he is making one important change, “I will not teach youth without one or more other adults present.” He also plans to spend more time explaining to adults why he does this so it becomes a more commonplace practice.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Salisbury says Pagans need to stop trusting anyone with a book or CD out and encourages parents to ask questions about who is spending time with their children. “If I’m giving a talk to teens, I hope that the adults of that event will ask me who I am, what material will be covered, and the extent of any communication, if any, that will happen beyond the event. Although I don’t want to see our youth cut off from resources out of a sense of paranoia, I think open communication is a must.”

In the world of science fiction and fantasy, over 500 presenters, artists, attendees, and vendors have joined best selling author John Scalzi in announcing they will not attend, present, or vend at conferences that do not have, or will not enforce, written harassment policies.

They require
1.  That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.
2.  That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.
3.   In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

Best practices at CONvergence
Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) conventions have many of the same challenges as Pagan events face. They have a sex positive culture. Attendees may be naked or wearing very little clothing. Pagans may have sex magic, but SF/F conventions have Furries, Vampire: The Masquerade, and other sexual subcultures. Add in alcohol and the carnival like atmosphere of a convention and problems can arise.

CONvergence, a SF/F convention held in Minnesota, is considered something of a gold standard when it comes to safe space conventions. Unlike some other SF/F conventions, CONvergence has never had the reputation of a creeper’s paradise, where attendees are regularly groped and verbally harassed. Yet, while rare, there have been instances where attendees haven’t felt safe or were sexually harassed. When that happens, CONvergence attendees and staff know exactly what to do.

If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. – from CONvergence policy on harassment

The policy not only outlines what is unacceptable behavior in clear and simple terms, it outlines what attendees should do to report the behavior and what steps are taken if an individual “stalks, harasses, or attempts to assault you at the convention itself, you may report that individual to a member of Operations (they will report it to the hotel’s security staff who will get the police involved if necessary) or you may report it to hotel security directly, and the appropriate action will be taken. Conversely, any attempt to have an innocent person removed from the convention by falsely accusing him or her of threats will be itself treated as an act of harassment and will be dealt with appropriately.”

Brian Etchieson, a SubHead in Operations for CONvergence, says the con also has a constant patrol of Wandering Hosts throughout the hotel. These volunteers assist the con goers with questions, problems, and troubleshooting. They also have a team of First Advisers on hand who can assess any potential medical emergency and the con has an excellent relationship with the local police department.

Etchieson says they deal with allegations of harassment on a case by case basis. “If it is a case of that guy is looking at me funny, said guy may just get a ‘hey, what gives?’ talk from a Wandering Host. He won’t stop taking my picture is going to get him a walk to The Bridge and he’ll be asked to cease said behavior. Small infractions like this usually get The Talk. Repeat offenders, or Mr. He’s Clearly Hammered may have their badge taken away for the night, effectively banning them from the convention. Said badge only gets returned in the morning at the discretion of an Ops Head. In cases of physical assault, the perp will have their badge pulled immediately. The police will be summoned if necessary or if requested by the member who has been assaulted. The perp may be placed on the Permanent Ban list.”

costumes-are-not-consent-750x1024Along with a clear policy, CONvergence instituted a public awareness campaign, called “Costumes Are Not Consent.” Etchieson says,”The idea of putting on an ‘anti-creeper’ campaign has been bandied about for some time. Ishmael Williams, Director of [CONvergence] HOME Division, threw out the idea of putting out posters. The Ops crew held a brainstorming session and came up with the designs.” It was Etchieson who came up with the “Costumes Are Not Consent” concept.

Christin LeXi Davis, Communications Director for CONvergence, said the the reaction by con goers has been enormously positive. “They love it. We are blessed to have so many talented and creative individuals to help create catchy ways to get sensitive messages out that is positive and fun.”

It was so catchy and fun it went viral. Charmaine Parnell, CoHead of Hotel for CONvergence, said, “The reaction to the campaign has been stunning. When it went viral, we just couldn’t believe how fandom reacted to it. Exceeded all of our expectations. You don’t expect to see your work trending on Twitter or being mentioned at a convention in London during their closing ceremonies.” Parnell said she was also surprised at how it opened up a conversation about women harassing men at conventions by performing ‘kilt checks.’

The Costumes Are Not Consent campaign was targeted to three main groups, which Etchieson labeled as Socially Awkward Fans, Your Actual Scumbags, and I’m Creeped Out. The convention used posters, buttons, video, live performances, and word of mouth to get the campaign’s message out. Etchieson says the Socially Awkward Fans may not understand they are causing anyone discomfort. They need clear rules and a reminder to think about their social approach. Your Actual Scumbags are predators who think a convention is easy pickings. Etchieson says the convention is watching for them and they will take strong action against them.The third group, I’m Creeped Out, is the group that most concerns Etchieson. “We want to make sure our membership knows that it is not OK to let someone creeper on you and, if they do, the Con staff and the rest of the membership have your back. We will listen to you and fix the problem. Because it’s not your fault, and you shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

Best practices at Covenant of the Goddess’s MerryMeet 2014
So how does a Pagan conference compare to CONvergence’s example of best practices? Although the weekend conference MerryMeet is held in different locations and hosted by different Covenant of the Goddess chapters, they rely heavily on CoG’s bylaws for standards of conduct at events. While CoG‘s bylaws may not specifically address sexual abuse, the Merry Meet 2014 committee is considering adding such language to its own convention agreement.

For MerryMeet 2014, the convention committee is requiring each participant to sign an acknowledgement of the rules and regulations for both the event and the hotel. Similar to CONvergence, they are working to have clear and accessible rules of conduct.

Green-Faiths-3ALady Mehurt, Second Officer of Covenant of the Goddess and Registrar for MerryMeet 2014, says they also have a clear way to address onsite complaints. “The Merry Meet 2014 Committee has its own security team led by a professional law enforcement officer. In addition the hotel has its own security force. If any guest has concerns or complaints of any kind, our security team with the help of hotel security will address the situation immediately.”  Lady Mehurt also says they would not allow a speaker or attendee “…who has been formally accused, convicted or arrested of sexual abuse at our Merry Meet Atlanta event. The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance.”

Yet dealing with claims of sexual harassment or violence are very difficult for organizers because the acts are often committed in a private area, without witnesses. Lady Mehurt says there are additional difficulties. “The violations can bring shame to the abused or fear of retaliation. In addition, people have different expectations and definitions of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ Those boundaries can change in altered states – either by alcohol, drugs or even spiritual practice.” She says that organizers need to address all accusations and situations carefully, slowly, and compassionately, “for all parties involved until the truth can be ascertained and the best course of action, legal or otherwise, be taken.”

 

During last year’s holiday season, “Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master of Florida’s Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons issued a ruling stating that Paganism, Wicca, Odinism and Gnosticism were not compatible with Freemasonry,” as Jason Pitzl-Waters reported here at the Wild Hunt. Several months later, word spread of the violence directed at Pagan childrens’ author Kyrja Withers  in Port Richey, Florida. Just as that issue was resolved, Florida was back in the news again when a group of conservative Christian ministers from Pahokee Florida spoke out against a new Pagan Summer Solstice Festival at Lake Okeechobee.  What was going on in Florida this year?

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69590

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69590

Fortunately all three of these news-making stories ended positively in support of religious diversity and freedom. The Florida Masons overturned their ruling. Kyrja Withers received consultation and protection. The Pahokee Summer Solstice Festival went on without any further incident. None of this could have happened without the help of the local Florida Pagan community.

Looking back on this tumultuous year, I turned to Kathy Lezon, long-time Florida-resident, Wiccan High Priestess and the newly elected First Officer for Covenant of the Goddess (CoG).  As well as being the High Priestess of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, Kathy spent this past year serving as First Officer of Florida’s Everglades Moon Local Council of CoG and attending many events around the state.  As such she was intimately involved in the outreach needed to resolve all three of these situations.

Heather:  Before we talk about the dynamics of the year, please share with us your personal spiritual path.

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Kathy: I was raised Roman Catholic and religion was very much a part of our family, from the holidays we celebrated to where we went to school.  As I grew older, I began to feel like I didn’t really belong there. In middle school I wrote to the Cardinal asking to be considered for an altar boy position and wasn’t satisfied with his description of the limited roles of women within the church.  As a young critical care nurse, I frequently dealt with disability and death. I began to search for answers outside of the paradigm I was familiar with and spent some years thinking of myself as spiritual rather than religious. I discovered Wicca through reading a book and shortly after that began to study with a coven not far from home… I see my path as an opportunity and a responsibility to have a reciprocal relationship with Spirit, in the form of deity, ancestor, place, nature- that web in which we live.

H: You’ve lived in Florida for nearly 30 years. Where does Florida generally fall in the socio-political spectrum?

K:  Florida is full of paradox.  We have south Florida with its diversity, arts, tourism, and hip international flair. We have north Florida which is very much a part of the Southern US and all of its [conservative] values.  And we have a whole lot of space and variety in between.

H:   Let’s talk about the year’s headlines.  Florida was in the Pagan news quite a bit.  In June, I can recall thinking, “Not Florida again.”  What happened? What has changed?

K: It’s funny that you ask this. Last year was certainly quite a ride and I’ve been thinking lately about what is so different now, compared to five years ago.  In a [short] period of time, we had several tense situations, most rooted in intolerance or misinformation that basically involved Pagans just doing what we do.  What’s different may be people’s comfort level with showing who they are.  What we saw was the public reaction to it.

There have been Pagan Masons, Witches doing [community] work, and Pagan festivals for years now. What happened last year? A Mason didn’t keep his religion secret.  A Witch on Florida’s west coast publicly asked for help when she [became the] victim of a crime.  A group of people decided to gather Pagans for a Summer Solstice celebration in a part of the state that is dense with fundamentalist Christian values. These folks were just a little more open than others previously had been….This openness got a reaction and shined a light on the amount of fear that still exists, and also created space for dialogue that will perhaps make it easier for the next one who wants to be public about his or her path.

H: You worked on some of these cases personally.  What was your role?

K:  As First Officer for Florida’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) of CoG, I was the contact person for the Council.  When the Kyrja Withers incidents were occurring, EMLC wanted to reach out to Kyrja to offer encouragement and support.] I contacted Kyrja…  After that things went from 0-100 mph in an instant! The next day I was on the phone with Selena Fox from Lady Liberty League, and learned what kind of networking help was needed on the local level.  I was able to contact EMLC members in order to have resources with special skills on standby. We also helped advertise her crowd funding campaign to obtain [security] equipment.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

I was stunned at how quickly things happened, how organized the response seemed to be, and I was so impressed at how many people wanted to help.  I was also involved in a similar way when the ministers of Pahokee wanted to protest the Summer Solstice Festival. EMLC assisted by providing volunteers and support before and at the festival.  In both instances, my most striking impressions were the power of fear, how dangerous intolerance can be, and the power of people when they come together to work for a common goal.  I also learned that there is no hotter place in Florida than in the center of the state on the longest day of the year! Boy that was a sweaty festival!

H: During any of this time, did you personally get attacked?

K: I didn’t experience any kind of personal attack. However one thought kept crossing my mind as I dealt with the Kyrja Withers issue: “This could be me.”  First the thought frightened me, then it angered me. When someone else’s struggle could be yours, you sort of own it. I live in a small, conservative town.  It wouldn’t take much for someone who noticed a piece of jewelry or overheard a conversation to follow me home and vandalize the place that I feel safest.  So despite the fact that I haven’t been personally touched by religious discrimination and intolerance in a significant way, I feel like it’s a responsibility to work so that I-and anybody else-never have to.

H: Has there been any new concerns crop up since June?

Nothing has happened since Pahokee. The Florida Pagan gathering moved to a new site further south in conservative central Florida at Samhain. There were no problems, except one inebriated local man who stumbled onto site, found the fire circle on Saturday evening and yelled at the drummers for all of the noise. He didn’t stay long.

H: What has this year of adversity done for the Florida Pagan community in general?

K:  For a long time, Florida’s Pagan community has lived in regional pockets. We have those acres of cow pasture and orange grove between our coasts, big cities and towns! Over the past year, I’ve seen friendships forged across those acres – people who, prior to the conflict, wouldn’t have been in the same room. It’s my hope that more connections continue to be made as we realize that all that separates us is a few miles.

Kathy Lezon, NFO Covenant of the Goddess at Pahokee Festival June 2013

Kathy Lezon, NFO Covenant of the Goddess at Pahokee Festival June 2013

H:  Adding to the Florida Pagan news, you were elected as First Officer of CoG for 2013-2014. In fact there are now two Florida Pagans serving on CoG’s national Board. What perspective do you bring to this National organization?

K: We are blessed with an amazing National Board this year, and I’m thrilled to have another Floridian there with me.  I think [our presence] is representative of the culture of [EMLC], of how willing we are to be involved..  EMLC is full of people that have been CoG members for a long time and with that comes the wisdom of how organizations like this work.  More than that it’s a group that is able to define a value, set a goal, and get something done. EMLC demonstrates that much can be accomplished through collaboration, creativity, and mutual respect, and that you can successfully combine deep Spirituality, love for each other, and lots of fun. This is what I would like to bring with me in all of my work with CoG.

H:  With that said, what are your goals for CoG at a National level this year?

K: This year, I want as many people as possible to see CoG as the living, vibrant organization that it is. I want them to hear what our Local Councils are doing and about the talented people that are doing this work. I’d like to help make and strengthen relationships, connections, within our organization and between CoG and our communities. I want us to be sure that the work that we are doing is what our communities need from us, and I want those that want to join us in these endeavors to jump aboard.

Yoga Class at EMLC Turning of the Tides Festival

Yoga Class at EMLC Turning of the Tides Festival

H:  Moving into the future, where do you see Paganism, in general, ten years from now?  What do we need to get there?

K: Ten years from now, it would be nice if being a Pagan, of any kind, was not any bigger deal to society than any other path and that we could focus our energies from being understood and dispelling fears to the work that we really are here to do. Whether that work is caring for our environment, collaborating with other people of faith for social change, healing and teaching, or just celebrating our connectedness to all things, doing that without fear of harm or discrimination or the barrier of intolerance would be just fabulous.

To get there, we need to just keep taking baby steps, keep having conversations with those that don’t understand us and keep joining hands with those that do. We need to continue our inter- and intra-faith work, speak up about who we are, correct misconceptions whenever we find them, and realize that someone’s negative response to us is probably based in fear.

We also need to support each other in our own diversity and not be afraid of our differences. We need to listen to our elders and our youngsters and realize that the right way is often a blending of the two points of view.  And we need to remember that we are connected; all of us, to everything. It really simplifies a lot of situations when you look at them that way.

H: You mention Intra-faith and supporting “our own diversity.” How do you see that as beneficial to your work either with CoG or your Florida Community?

K: By intrafaith work I mean dialogue, collaboration, bridge building between the diverse groups within Paganism locally. Competition and judgment do not serve us well.  I find it ironic that we expect tolerance and acceptance in society when we are not always so tolerant and accepting of each other. If we don’t have some kind of unity among our local Pagan population, we don’t have a foundation to ground us in the difficult times and we don’t even begin to develop the skills to have the interfaith conversations.

In Miami this is easier than in other parts of the states.  At one of our EMLC Turning the Tide festivals, we had workshops by clergy from Lucumi, Druid, Wiccan, Hellenic reconstructionist paths. It’s a small sample, but it was a small gathering and everyone could sit around to appreciate others’ point of view. We saw something similar in Pahokee as we gathered on the banks of Lake Okeechobee to celebrate Summer Solstice in a ceremony led by Druids and attended by Heathens, Native Americans, Wiccans, eclectic Pagans and folks following a variety of other paths. The point of being together was not to celebrate a particular path, but to celebrate that we had come together to make this event happen on this very special day.

I’m hoping to be involved in more of of this kind of happening – one sparked by the mere desire to know each other rather than rallying against a common “enemy”. I’ll bet we have a lot to learn from each other.

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H:  Your hopes may come true sooner rather than later.  You are in the middle of creating a new festival – one that is pan-Pagan and part of the Pagan Pride circuit.  Before we say goodbye, tell us about that venture.

K: I’m finishing up the approval to become the Pagan Pride Day Local Coordinator for Florida’s Treasure and Space Coast. Although there are 5 or 6 Pagan Pride events in Florida each year, we are a big state and the closest Pagan Pride event is about two hours in either direction from here.  There’s a void.

The objective of these events is to encourage interaction between Pagans and non Pagans in local communities as well as being inclusive pan-Pagan events. This is an opportunity to combine the kinds of activities you and I have been talking about- let our neighbors see and know who Pagans are and get a feel for what we’re all about.  And get local Pagan groups and solitary folks together, talking to each other and working on something together. I’ve put an informal call out to the people that I know to see who wants to be involved, and I’m really excited about the level of interest.  We will start planning in January for a Fall 2014 event.

H: Thank you very much Kathy for you insight and retrospective.  On a personal note, I look forward to working with you on the CoG Board and watching all of your other work develop in Florida.

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“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.

For many Pagans autumn is a time for endings and beginnings. The seasonal energies influence not only our spiritual work but they also bleed into our mundane experience both consciously and unconsciously. Now is the time to say goodbye to old projects, bask in the revelry of accomplishments and look towards the possibilities in tomorrow.

Ginger Wood

Virginia Chandler

For Ginger Wood, this particular Samhain has been all of these things and more. As fantasy fiction writer Virginia Chandler, she has reached another exciting apex as she celebrates the release of her latest book, The Devil’s Treasure. From that point, Ginger can see the tops of many other mountains, some she’s climbed and others she has yet to summit. In addition, Ginger finds herself sitting at a proverbial base camp saying goodbye to an incredible two-year adventure as the National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess (CoG).

Due to her busy schedule, it has been very difficult to catch up with her. This week I finally had that opportunity and we talked about her writing, her spiritual path, Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and her future.

Heather:  Thanks for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to talk to me.  First, tell me about this new book called The Devil’s Treasure. Can you give us idea of what it’s about?  

Ginger:  I spent most of my childhood in Charleston, South Carolina where I heard many tales about Blackbeard and the East Coast pirates. Blackbeard’s lost treasure and his blockade of Charleston Harbor in 1718 is the kernels of this tale.

H: What does the title mean?

G: There’s a famous quote by Blackbeard wherein he answers the question of where is his treasure?  He allegedly responded, “Only the devil and I know the whereabouts of my treasure, and the one of us who lives the longest should take it all.”  So, I took that quote and built the tale around the “devil” being a metaphor for someone that he actually knew.

H: Your first two books focused on land-based, medieval mythology.  The Last Dragon of the North, co-written with your brother, was a fictional tale about dragon hunting.  The Green Knight’s Apprentice was based on Arthurian myths.  Why did you move away from that world?  

bookcoverG: I love a good mystery and I’m sort of a geek when it comes to focusing in on something. So when I was having a conversation with my friend John Matthews…about Blackbeard’s blockade of Charleston Harbor in 1718, my theory of what Blackbeard’s real motivation was for that event birthed the idea of a new book. So I started really digging into Blackbeard’s legend and his lost treasure with the goal of … finding out what happened to his treasure and why he blockaded Charleston Harbor for just the delivery of a medicine chest. 

I had originally really wanted to write a Pirate novel about the infamous “Money Pit” of Oak Island on Nova Scotia, but I could not formulate a decent tale with the facts that I kept getting from my research on that topic. Yet the more that I researched Blackbeard and the “Golden Age of Pirates”, the more clearly I saw a tale unfolding.

Heather:  Why Part 1 and Part 2? 

G:  This is not a quick tale and since it’s more like a puzzle….I’ve had to write it with much patience, making sure that the pieces all fit… The reader will need patience as well to follow the clues so to speak. This first volume is about 130 pages and has Parts I and II which are “The Devil’s Triangle” and “The Devil’s Box.”  Part I is an introduction to the two main characters and sets up the why of quite a few of the later plot elements that act as catalysts for the characters to do what they do later in their lives.  Part II tosses a few twists and wrenches into the tale and opens the door for the devil to begin influencing not only the Blackbeard character but others as well.

Remember the “devil” in my tale is not the Christian Satan, but a metaphor as I see it used by Blackbeard in his famous quote.

H: How much do you incorporate your Pagan spirituality into your novels?  

G: The Green Knight’s Apprentice is 100% Pagan-influenced with the tale traveling the 8 Sabbats that most Pagans celebrate throughout the year, me making prayers and offerings to the Arthurian archetypes as I wrote it and formal meditations asking my Arthurian Guides how They wanted the tale to be told.  The Last Dragon of the North is simply an adventure tale with no spiritual overtones at all; in fact, it was purposely written devoid of any magic or wizards as we … wanted to tell a gritty, “how would you really kill a dragon” story. For this Pirate series, The Devil’s Treasure, it may not be Pagan-focused, but I have certainly added a few occult, as in mystery, elements to the plot. A new personal Muse has come to me in the form of a Mermaid as I write it. She… keeps me on-track and every now and again taps me on the shoulder to put in her two pence worth.

GreenKnight Cover GraphicH: Muses? So your spirituality directly affects your writing process?

G: Indeed, I have Muses that … bring potential stories to my attention, offer advice and direction as I create, and critique, in their own manner, the words that I write. My spirituality affects everything that I do to some degree and when it comes to expressing a vision or image with words on a page, I often rely very heavily upon my Guides to lend me a helping hand.

H: Let’s talk Paganism. You are a High Priestess of GryphonSong Clan in Atlanta.  What is your specific path?  

G: Wow, okay I’m going to try and be succinct here without seeming to be intentionally aloof and mysterious. My path is very much that of a modern Gnostic or modern Mystic – I seek Knowledge and Enlightenment. My personal path is very heavily influenced by the metaphorical Grail Quest, and I most closely follow the Arthurian mythos for that Journey. When it comes to formal worship, GryphonSong Clan celebrates both Esbats and the 8 Sabbats; our Esbats are very Witchy wherein we cast a circle and do groovy Witch things while our Sabbats are Druidic and are based on the Keltrian Tradition. I’m a member of the Henge of Keltria, a Druidic Tradition, and I have studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD)

I am an Arthurian Priestess at heart, a Seeker of the Grail, and I hope to one day see the fabled city of Sarras.

H: You mentioned earlier that you are a born-and-raised Southerner. In your experience, what is the reality for Pagans in the so-called Bible Belt?  

G: The reality is that we have a gajillion Christian churches.  But based on conversations that I’ve had with witches from around the country, the prejudices that Southern witches experience are not unique.  I do think that perhaps Southern Pagans might feel a bit more persecuted, and the Southern Christians seem to be very bold and vocal with their disapproval of anything that’s not mainstream Christianity… but at least in Atlanta, the spiritual community has become very diverse…

H: Do you feel the Southern Pagan community here is different from others around the country? Are their regional difference in Pagan practice?

G: Based on my experiences, we’re not that different from other Pagan communities around the country. We come together when necessary…we love a good festival….I’ve attended rituals with Pagans from many US regions and the chants, songs and holidays are all fairly synonymous and cohesive. The biggest differences in worship and practice that I’ve encountered have been when I’ve had the opportunity to attend rituals with my Pagan kin from across the Pond (UK).  Those rituals have been very much like Mystery Plays and more Druidic in nature. The Brits don’t really go for the “Lord” and “Lady” titles and the Witchy bling such as robes, necklaces, rings.

Turner Family Support Team

2011 LLL/CoG Turner Family Support Team (from left to right): Rev. Charissa Iskiwitch, Stephanie Turner, Rev. Ginger Wood, Lisa Palmer, and Rev. Michelle Boshears

H: Many of those observations have come through your work with the national organization Covenant of the Goddess.  Were these past two years the first time you served on its National Board?

G: [Previously] I had only served as an assistant to the National First Officer in the capacity of NetCo or email list manager. This was my first officer position on the national level. I’ve served in every office on the local level for Dogwood Local Council.

H: Looking back at the two years, what are some of the highlights?  What were some of the more difficult parts of the jobs?

G: Serving such a large, diverse, and consensus-based organization has been extremely rewarding and, at times, incredibly frustrating. The high points were finding the common ground where we could all as a membership come to consensus on matters of import to CoG including formulating official statements from CoG in support of the Parliament of World Religions, Indigenous Peoples, and the Doctrine of Discovery; and partnering with Selena Fox and Circle Sanctuary on numerous issues …Keeping tabs on slippery issues such as the inmate in Massachusetts who claims to be a Wiccan and asked for a legal name change was both nerve wracking and intense. All in all my tenure was a Journey of Service to Coventina and my CoGKin that was a huge learning experience for me and, I believe, helped me to grow as a Priestess and Witch.

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

H: While it helped you grow, the demanding job can also take a personal toll.  Why bother?

G: Serving CoG, or any formal organization of Pagans …is going to be and is HARD work. But it is Service to the Goddess, hopefully given in perfect love and perfect trust, and for me, was an essential part of my Service as a 3rd Degree Priestess. Personally it was a goal of mine to do this for the Goddess, in CoG’s case, the face of Coventina. I had and still have a shrine to Coventina in my house, and I offered many prayers to Her during these two years. On a larger scale, I do think it’s important for the formal organizations to not only continue what they started 20 or 30 years ago, but to keep moving forward and address the old and new issues that Pagans face as a whole.

H: In your opinion, where should CoG, as a Pagan organization, being moving to? What do you see as CoG’s future, purpose and direction?  

G: CoG is a ship, so to speak, for its members and friends / allies to use when a ship is needed. There are times when Pagans or Goddess Worshippers need a joining of the tribes to weather, face, and sometimes even defeat issues that inhibit our right to worship. Those are hard battles, painful ones that are really tough to fight on your own. CoG and other organizations such as Circle Sanctuary have fought many of those battles for Pagans … will continue to address these types of issues. It is my hope that CoG will continue to be a grass roots driven entity that works from the bottom up; that we will continue to support the positive and very important Interfaith and Intrafaith work that we do worldwide, and that when the battles come at us, we will rally and stand shoulder-to-shoulder for our right to worship.

H: Pagan ships and Pirate ships.  I am sensing a theme. [laugh] Now that you are done as National First Officer and your current book is nearing its release, What is your next big project?

9781554048953_p0_v1_s260x420G: CoG’s 2014 annual meeting, known as Grand Council and Merry Meet, will be held in Atlanta. I am very involved in that business. That project will keep me busy until next August 2014 for sure.

I am working on Parts III and IV of The Devil’s Treasure series right now, which are called “Devil’s Island” and “The Devil and Edward Teach” to be released in March 2014. Part V, “The Devil’s Treasure”, is the finale of the series and will be released in the summer of 2014.

I am very blessed to have several projects that have me collaborating with some of my very favorite people and very favorite artists.  I’ve got a graphic novel coming out in late 2014 called Ristro that is a science fiction tale I wrote.  The artist is my longtime friend and very talented artist, Garret Izumi…. The prequel to Dragon is in the works, The Northern Band, set for late 2014, and the sequel, A Nest of Greens, will come after that.  The cover for The Northern Band is being created by another good friend and talented artist, David Harper. I’m working with John Matthews on a project that will be an Oracle based on the Anglo Saxon concept of Fate… and we hope to get that released in 2015… I’m most excited about the collaborations with Garret, David, and John, as I consider those partnerships to be gifts from the Gods that I will cherish on a very deep and personal level.

H:  Thank you for your sharing your time and thoughts with The Wild Hunt readers. More importantly  thank you for devoting your energy and expertise to CoG and greater Pagan community.  On a personal note, it was an honor to serve with you on the CoG National Board and a phenomenal learning experience. One last thing, where can readers find your books?

G: All Virginia Chandler novels are available through Amazon in paperback and digital formats. Thank You. 

While Ginger Wood’s tenure as CoG’s First Officer will end on October 31st,  Kathy Lezon will take office the following day. In the near future, I will be publishing a personal interview with Kathy, CoG’s new First Officer.  We’ll hear about her own hopes for the future of CoG as well as Pagan life in the Sunshine State and her experiences working with Lady Liberty League on Florida’s many Civil Rights cases this past year.

 

This past week we witnessed a crescendo of frustration and fury fly from the global Pagan community in the direction of a Facebook Fan Page called “Witches Must Die by Fire” and a Facebook Group called “Those Witches nd Wizzards [sic] should die by Fire by Force.”  The rally cries came by way of social media, blogs and email.  At this point, I would include the links but the “pages” were removed by Facebook around 4pm EST on Thursday, August 23 2013.

FB PageThese offending Facebook “pages” advocated for the extrication and burning of alleged witches and wizards throughout the world. Using a Christian fundamentalist context, the moderators repeatedly preached their gospel on the evils of witchcraft while celebrating all attempts to defeat it.  As proof of witchcraft’s existence, the Fan Page displayed a photo of a South African-Zimbabwe sensationalist rag called H Metro Zim with a headline that read something like “Woman gives birth to frogs…daily.”

Let’s first examine the pages themselves and who owned them? The answer is important because it contextualizes the accusations and religious zealotry. The Facebook Group, “Those Witches nd Wizzards [sic] should die by Fire by Force” appears to have been launched in February of 2013.  It was moderated solely or in part by a Botswanan Pastor named Anthony Matildah, whose own personal Facebook page seems to have also disappeared. The 247 member group communicated in both broken-English and native African dialects including Setswana.  Most of its members were from the sub-Saharan countries of Africa.

The Facebook Fan Page called “Witches Must Die by Fire” was launched on April 3, 2013 by someone of sub-Saharan African-descent. However, this person confessed to “not [having] been back to Africa in 20 years.” He or she communicated in perfect British English and in at least one other African dialect. Based on my own research, I believe the owner resides in the U.K. as did the majority of the users making up the Page’s 340 likes. In recent years, Scotland Yard has in fact noticed an increase in the number of Witch Hunt cases in the UK and a noticeable growth in popularity of U.K.-based African Christian Churches. It is entirely possible that the page owner was a Pastor or, at the very least, a devout follower.

sapralogoAt first everyone assumed that the two pages had the same owner(s); however, they in fact may have no connection.  Regardless, they were certainly aligned through intent and discourse.  Both advocated for faith-based violence and, in doing so, perpetuated a culture of fear rampant in sub-Saharan Africa. Damon Leff, Director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), coordinator of the Petition to Stop WItch Hunts in South Africa and Founder of Touchstone Advocacy said:

[Witchcraft] accusations occur not only in small impoverished villages…. Accusations occur across economic and social status lines.  Accusations are frequently made by ordinary people, not necessarily Christians, and not necessarily as a result of Christian influence. Traditional African beliefs often drive accusations, where traditional healers do play their role by divining suspects of suspected witchcraft activity…No single African country has been immune to its fair share of witch-hunts. Many of these countries already have legislation that forbids accusations of witchcraft… However [this] legislation does not address or seek to correct the beliefs which motivate accusations.

As suggested by Leff and noted in a BBC article on the subject, witchcraft in these cases is defined by a supernatural practice with clear malicious intent. The beliefs are a fusion of fundamentalist Christianity and traditional African folk beliefs. Some pastors use the fear of witchcraft to extort money out of their congregation and have even convinced parents to abuse their own children. This witchcraft is a distorted product of theological extremism gone very, very wrong.

accusation

As such the witchcraft in these cases is not the same as the Witchcraft practiced within the spiritual or ethical framework of a Pagan or Nature-based religion or any other similar positive folk or healing practice. The verbal attacks made on these two Facebook pages were not anti-Pagan.  As best clarified by Circle Magazine Editor Florence Edwards-Miller, this distinction is not at all dissimilar to the Anti-Defamation League’s differentiation between anti-Semitism (a people) and anti-Judaism (a theology.) The Facebook pages attacked a people, not a theology.

However, as pointed out by Damon Leff:

Witch-hunters will never first ask if their victims are Pagan Witches before attacking, as they are unlikely to draw any distinction between one kind of witch or another, and so it is understandable that Witches everywhere should feel personally offended and threatened.

cog-joint-logoAnd, offended we were. Sometime in April “Witches and Wizzards” and “Witches Must Die By Fire,” began receiving counter posts and complaints from concerned Pagans.  However, the Fan Page went private from April to August during which interest waned.  When the Fan Page reappeared on the scene, an avalanche of protests began which included abuse complaints to Facebook, calls to media affiliates, petitions on Change.org, You Tube Videos and blog posts. Babette Petiot of “News & Liens Paienne” even contacted Interpol which is based in her home town of Lyon, France.

As word spread, Pagan organizations became involved. On August 20, Lady Liberty League issued an open letter to Facebook asking it to “revise [its] decision and disable these and all future pages calling for violent witch hunts anywhere.” On the same day, the Covenant of the Goddess responded by saying, it “cannot condone a public call for the death of any one person or group regardless of religious affiliation or lifestyle choice.”

Pagan FederationIn Russia, Pagan Federation co-coordinator Gwiddon said, “What is surprising to me is the reaction of Facebook staff that seems to be completely ignoring this issue, despite the repeated notifications from witches and pagans.” In the U.K., The Pagan Federation’s Mike Stygal agreed asking “why [should] Facebook allow pages that are clearly aimed at inciting hatred, violence and murder to continue to grace their social network?”

With 100s of complaints being turned away or ignored entirely, there was nothing to explain Facebook’s decision. On Tuesday I was able to reach Facebook’s Public Policy and Communication Department. After several exchanges, they promised to be in touch with an explanation. But the pages went down before I ever got a response. So I contacted Facebook again.  They confirmed that the pages were removed by them.  Then they offered this short explanation when I asked “What happened?”

With over one billion users worldwide, we always encourage our users to report content that they believe violates our policies here and it looks like we didn’t receive any violations [on these pages]…. It could be possible that users may have reported that they violated under different terms…”   

As the moderator of an international free-speech forum, Facebook handles two million abuse reports per week. As Emily Brazelton explains in her book Sticks and Stones, the Facebook system is mostly automated leaving reviewers only seconds to handle each complaint.  If two identical complaints are rejected, any future similar complaints are ignored. (Brazelton, Sticks and Stones, pg 268-269)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

It may be that our voices were, at first, lost in that automated shuffle. However, in the end our mounting pressure broke through and Facebook took corrective actions to uphold its own policies. In reaction, the Covenant of the Goddess together with the Lady Liberty League responded with gratitude urging “the Pagan community to join [them] in expressing [their] thanks to Facebook for listening and making this positive change.” They added:

We hope Facebook will to continue to be a leader in the effort to address violence and hate wherever it festers.

This felt like a win for many of us who celebrated from behind our computer screens.  But was it really?  Should we even be celebrating? What are we celebrating? The notoriety of these pages took us, first world Pagans, to a place labeled “witchcraft” where our nature- spirituality, our ethics, our mythology and our beliefs intersect with something far more horrifying.  While these Facebook pages may not have been directed toward us, in viewing them we reached a point of liminality where distinctions between Witchcraft and witchcraft were no longer made.  That is scary.

Now that the pages are down, we can move beyond that surreal point back into the security of our own world. Unfortunately, the removal of these two Facebook pages created no comfort for those living in the affected regions of Africa or elsewhere. Should this week’s events be a wake-up call for Pagans and Witches worldwide to reconsider our relationship with the accused? Now that the “fire” is put out, should we re-evaluate our responsibility, as a People who claim the word Witch, to those people who are dying because of the word witch?

Never Again the Burning Times??

Courtesy of Flickr's emilydickinsonridesabmx

Courtesy of Flickr’s emilydickinsonridesabmx

IMG_0570This past weekend I traveled to the historic town of Salem, Massachusetts for Covenant of the Goddess’ (CoG) yearly Merry Meet Convention. This multi-faceted four-day event includes rituals, leadership training, social activities, shopping and the ever important annual business meeting called Grand Council. This year’s Merry Meet was artfully hosted by CoG’s New England-based local council – the Weavers.

Before I recount the experience, I want to make one thing very clear. I am a proud CoG member and have been for years. Currently, I am serving as its National Public Information Officer and will continue to do so for the upcoming year 2013-14. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity. What I share below is my own personal reflections from Salem.

This year’s Merry Meet contained a unique and symbolic presence. Salem alone is an interesting city without us even being there. The city is marinating in all things “witchy.” There are pentacles in shop windows and metaphysical shops on every block.  If a store clerk notices your pentagram necklace, he or she kindly adds “Blessed Be” while handing you change.

Being a Witch in Salem offers an interesting dichotomy of experience. It allows for a certain freedom of practice while simultaneously putting you in a spotlight. I recall an earlier summer trip to Pennsylvania’s Amish country.  While there I wondered how the Amish people felt about being a tourist attraction. How did it feel to live like a Disneyland character?  While I was in Salem, I very briefly experienced what that might be like.

With all of those oddities, Salem serves as an excellent backdrop for a Witch convention. Even the producers of Bewitched thought so. In the 1970s Salem Saga episodes, Samantha, Darrin and Endora arrive in the city for their own annual witch convention called Convocation. In the show, the characters actually stay at the Hawthorne Hotel – the very same hotel that CoG used.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Throughout those four days, I found a deep sense of connectivity through the coming together of all things “witch.” Before us lay the rich history of Salem and the tragic deaths of those who were accused of Witchcraft. Layered upon that was the popular culture image of the witch, Samantha, who is now immortalized in a bronze statue on Essex Street.  As one tour guide said, the show saved the town. Then there is the presence of real Witchcraft, real Witches and real magic as seen in some of the shops and local practitioners who make Salem their home.

Priestess Sandra Wright

Priestess Sandra Wright

One of these local Witches is Sandra Mariah Wright, the High Priestess of Elphame Coven and CoG’s Merry Meet event coordinator. Standing outside in the Salem Commons, she spoke these opening words:

It is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to Salem. It’s my hometown, and I suspect like every hometown it looks much different from the outside looking in. For so many people who visit Salem, it is a pilgrimage that ends up feeling more like a homecoming. I hope it will be that way for all of you….We are standing on Salem Common, the site of the militia’s first muster and the birthplace of the National Guard, and it seems only right – because we are warriors for change. … That is the energy we are tapping into here, weaving this web of unity.

There in the Commons stood more than 70 Witches and Wiccans from across the country representing many generations and traditions all weaving a web of unity. This added yet another layer of meaning to the experience of Merry Meet.

As the work of the Covenant progressed through Friday and Saturday, there was a decidedly clear consensus that the organization needed to modify its processes and adapt to a rapidly evolving world. Much of the work was centered on the notion of looking towards tomorrow. How does CoG, as an organization, successfully implement new technology and what are the best practices for social media?  How do we adjust our long standing policies to accommodate or reflect any new trends in Wiccan practice? How do we stay relevant for younger generations whose needs and expectations are different than those of the CoG founders?

Accommodating new technology, such as virtual meeting access, blogs and social media marketing, is the easy part. In fact, today CoG has a very successful Facebook page with well over 15,000 likes. However, negotiating social trends is far more complicated whether that be the increase in solitary practitioners, an aging population or something else entirely.

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Priestess Kathy Lezon

The incoming First Officer, High Priestess Kathy Lezon of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, is excited to explore the possibilities of moving CoG forward into the evolved future as a strong and relevant organization. She says:

We need to do a whole lot more talking [publicly] about us as an organization…demonstrate what we already do. How nationally can we talk more about what is happening locally with the CoG face on it. [We also need to ] think about the needs of the younger population…solitaries who want some sort of affiliation or people who don’t see the value in a connection with a local organization. There’s a shift happening.

Over the past year, Kasha and members of CoG’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) have dedicated themselves to experimenting with new ways of increasing CoG’s visibility in Florida. In doing so, they hope to demonstrate its relevancy within contemporary Wiccan life. One of their most progressive projects was their podcast series.

Northern Dawn Local Council's Gary Lingen and Lorelei

Northern Dawn Local Council’s Gary Lingen and Lorelei

However, the Covenant of the Goddess is not entirely about revolutionary change. While locating its position in this post-Christian world, the organization is also very interested in preserving its own history and that of all Witches. During the meeting, many of its older members provided a much needed grounding point. Anna Korn and Don Frew of Northern California Local Council, often acted as a needed reference point on the history of policies and actions. Several evenings, I had pleasure of talking to another longtime member, Gary Linden of Northern Dawn Local Council, who shared some wonderful stories of Merry Meets gone-by.

Even more profound was the connectivity that we all had to a darker and older history. On Friday morning, the membership unanimously agreed to participate in a service in honor of those colonists who suffered at the hands of Salem Witch Trials in 1692. On Saturday at 1pm, the entire group of 70 plus witches walked to Salem’s Witch Memorial for the tribute. Rayna of EMLC and Jennifer Bennett of Weavers led the observance.  I was honored to be able to read aloud a specially written prayer.  It stated:

We, the Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Wiccans and Witches, in honor of the innocents in Salem who were accused and those who died in 1692, wish to express our sympathy and sorrow over the pain and suffering they experienced. It is our wish that all people will be free to worship the divine presence in their own way in peace. To that end, we have laid a white rose on the marker of each of the aforementioned innocents where that place is known, or here, with these flowers to honor all the rest who suffered alongside them.

IMG_0577While we spoke the words, sang a ritual song and laid the flowers, many tourists stopped to listen and take photos.  Some even joined in. Laura Spellweaver, one of the Weavers event planners, stated “It was a lovely and moving moment.”

After this, we got back to business and back to the consensus process. As always this unusual process is simultaneously frustrating and awe-inspiring.  A visitor in our midsts, Patheos Pagan Portal’s Managing Editor, Christine Hoff-Kraemer commented:

I was impressed and excited to see an organization where consensus process appears to be working. The meeting was skillfully facilitated, with the moderator working to keep the group’s attention on the specific proposal in front of them. Contentious issues that could be resolved in a relatively short time were sent back to committee for revision and then re-presented after a break and approved. Issues that were more powerfully contentious were tabled for additional discussion and re-consideration in the next year.

Consensus worked its own magic and the business got done. Along with everything else, the Covenant elected its new 2013-14 Board which includes from Left to Right:  myself, Garth Garrett, Kathy Lezon, Jack Prewett, Lady Emrys, Lady Mehurt, Jennifer Bennett, and Lady Bridget.

Covenant of the Goddess' National Board 2013-14

Covenant of the Goddess’ National Board 2013-14

The Weavers ended the weekend with another outdoor ritual. Priestess Sandra Wright spoke these words:

In thirty years, COG has never held a Grand Council in Salem….We have accomplished much here together, and will continue to carry this energy through the coming year as we look to more growth and prosperity for COG. Weavers Local Council has enjoyed hosting you so much, we don’t want to let you leave! And so we say stay if you will, go if you must, return when you wish, hail and farewell! Safe journey, and blessed be!

As always the experience of Merry Meet is invigorating and inspiring. This particular Merry Meet held a unique significance as it brought together a slice of Witchcraft history together with a slice of Witchcraft modernity and, beneath that umbrella let us, the members of CoG, examine our own role in Witchcraft’s future.

Next year’s Merry Meet will be hosted by Dogwood Local Council in Atlanta, Georgia, August 21-24.

 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess