Archives For Covenant of the Goddess

MargarianCALGARY, Alb. — Members of Pagan and Wiccan communities across Canada were saddened to hear of the passing of elder Margarian Bridger (1957-2016). Born in the prairie city of Regina, Saskatchewan February 7, 1957, Margarian was raised in Toronto where she attended the University of Toronto, Victoria College. She graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Geology.

In 1991, Margarian began the study of Witchcraft with the Calgary-based Covenant of Gaia Church of Alberta (COGCOA). A year later she was initiated into the Black Ring lineage of Branwen Stonecipher. She was elevated to the third degree seven years later, and went on to co-found the Evergreen Tradition, a blend of traditional and progressive Wicca, along with her husband, Stephen Hergest.

In their travels across Canada, Margarian and Stephen visited with other Pagan folk, forming connections, leading rituals and teaching workshops in ritual leadership in Calgary, Red Deer, Winnipeg Toronto ad Ottawa. Margarian served on the board of COGCOA from the 1990s through to the early 2000s, and also on the Calgary inter-aith Community Action Association board in the early 2000s.

She first became sick in 2008, and was then diagnosed with kidney failure in 2011. After that point, she lived in a nursing home, where she was able to receive regular dialysis and specialized care. Then, on Aug. 6, she died suddenly from heart failure.

Margarian loved to sing, read and write science fiction, and was talented in a number of handicrafts. She will be missed by her many loving family members and many friends around the country. What is remembered, lives.

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Covenant of the GoddessSAN JOSE, Calif. — Covenant of the Goddess held its annual business meeting this past weekend, during which it elected the incoming 2016-2017 board. New officers include Oberon, Tabitha Pousson, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and Morgana Raventree. Greg Harder, Zenah Smith, and Stachia Ravensdottir will remain on the board in varying capacities, along with Jack Prewett as First Officer.

It was also announced that next year’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be held in Southern California, and the 2018 meeting will be held in Florida. The specific locations have not yet been decided.

Along with discussing the operations of the 41-year-old Witch and Wiccan organization, attending members also announced the CoG Award of Honor recipients. This award, established in 2014, is given annually at the meeting and recognizes “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.” This year’s recipients included Rachel Watcher, Greg Harder, Starhawk, Zenah Smith, Fritz Jung, Wren Walker, Wild Hunt founder Jason Pitzl and current managing editor Heather Greene.

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13932872_1216133978407555_191847176209308355_nTWH — The Warrior’s Call: Pagans United Against Fracking has announced its fifth worldwide anti-fracking event titled “Voices on the Wind.” This new international action is scheduled for Oct. 15, 2016 and includes a “blessing and healing” ritual for the Earth. Organizers write, “We have heard the Voices on the Wind…from across the world, we have heard the people crying for the hurt done to their sacred Land by fracking, and we have heard their voices raised in resistance. Now we call on you to respond.”

Fracking has generated much press over the past few years, generating vocal protests from many diverse communities, which include Pagans, Heathen and polytheists organizations and individuals. As we reported in the past, the UK-based Warrior’s Call was born in 2013 after a group of Pagans staged a local ritual at Glastonbury Tor. Their attempt to raise awareness about fracking went global and, in retrospect, organizers said, “We felt it a shame to let the energy go to waste and so consolidated ourselves into a pagan anti-fracking pressure group; thus was the Warrior’s Call born.”

As with past actions, the upcoming “Voices on the Wind” ritual is not scheduled for a specific time. However, there are some suggested actions and workings. “Go to a windy place and create ritual space according to your own tradition,” organizers explain. “Make a sound of blessing and healing with your own voice or the voice of your musical instrument. Let the wind carry it across the Land and the World.” More details can be found on The Warrior’s Call website.

In Other News

  • The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has released its most recent issue (vol. 18. No. 1). The new edition includes three articles by Christopher Josiffe, Ethan Doyle White, and Gwendolyn Reece, and seven book reviews by various writers. The three full articles are accessible by subscription only. However, the reviews are open access and can be read online or downloaded in PDF form. “The Pomegranate is the first international, peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies. It provides a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”
  • Mystic South 2017 has opened its registration and application processes. The new conference is now preparing for its inaugural year, to be hosted in Atlanta, Georgia at the Crowne Plaza Ravnia July 21-23, 2017. Mystic South organizers are planning a three-day indoor conference with the theme: “theory, practice, play.” There will be vendors, entertainment, workshops, and presentations. Additionally, the organizers are hosting PAPERS (a Polytheist and Pagan Educational Research Symposium), which focuses specifically on academic studies. They are currently accepting proposals for this track along with non-academic presentations.

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  • The Occidental Temple of the Wise Lord, “a Western Zoroastrian organization made up of Zoroastrian converts to the Mazdan Way,” has just launched its website. The new site details the group’s mission, practice, history, and writings for all those interested in its work.
  • For New Hampshire residences, a new metaphysical store has opened in Nashua.The store, called Tangled Roots Herbal, is the seven-year dream of owner Sheryl Burns, who has been a longtime student of herbology. This dream became reality when the store opened this summer on West Pearl Street. Burns sells both metaphysical products and services, including drumming circles, healing sessions, and a variety of workshops.
  • Dragon Con, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary, will be opening its doors Sept. 2, 2016. Over that weekend, three familiar Pagan performers will be playing at the world’s largest pop culture convention. Emerald Rose, who has been included on the DragonCon Walk of Fame, will be reportedly be performing its last concert as a group. Tuatha Dea and S.J. Tucker will also be performing live on one of the many stages throughout Dragon Con’s sprawling venue. The official schedule of performance times has not yet been announced.

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BUTLER, Mo. —  The Sacred Well Congregation, an “independent, non-evangelical Wiccan Church,” announced Thursday that it has become an “Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the Department of Veterans Affairs.” The announcement reads, “We will now be able to endorse qualified clergy from Wicca and Earth-Centered Spiritualities who wish to apply for chaplaincy positions with the VA.”

The Sacred Well Congregation needed to meet a number of very specific criteria to qualify for this designation. These requirements included things such as functioning exclusively as religious ministry, being a tax-exempt religious organization, and agreeing to abide by “all federal, VA, and VHA laws, regulations, policies, and issuances on the qualification and endorsement of persons for service as VA chaplains, federal employment, and veterans health care.”

The requirements also ask that the group “Acknowledge that acceptance of an ecclesiastical endorsement by VA does not imply any approval by VA of the theology or practices of a religious organization.” There are many different religions represented on the current VA list; however, none are Wiccan or Pagan. Sacred Well’s Board of Deacons wrote, “This is a tremendous breakthrough, and will enhance our standing with professional chaplains organizations such as COMISS and APC, as well as strengthen our position as we move forward in our endeavors to secure status as an EEO for military chaplains.”  We will have more on this story in the coming weeks. 

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Charlie MurphyLANGLEY, Wash. — It was announced this weekend that songwriter and musician Charlie Murphy (1943-2016) has died. In spring 2015, Charlie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). At the time, a group of close friends called The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team wrote, “[The diagnosis] was a heavy blow for him and his husband Eric. They are fortunate to have loving families and to live in a supportive community with people who are doing so much to help them cope with the reality of this disease.”

The team set up a YouCaring funding campaign to support Murphy’s husband with the mounting medical bills. Along with traditional medicine, Charlie was working with “doctors of traditional Chinese medicine using acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements.” The funding campaign has raised $109,400 USD since its creation.

Charlie is best known in the Pagan world for his song, ” The Burning Times,” that, as we reported last year, “weaves a captivating story of the end of matriarchal, earth-based religions in Europe.” That popular song was first recorded in 1981 on Charlie’s solo album Catch the Fire. BOver the following decades, it was rerecorded many times by Charlie and others.

Aside from his musical career, Charlie was also known for his work as co-founder for Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE) an organization which trains people to empower children through art and the creative process. This group has set up a dedicated fund to assist his organization continue in its community service work.

Charlie died Aug. 6 at home with his loved ones present. His legacy will live on through his music, the PYE organization, and the many fond memories left with friends and family. A memorial celebration will be held September 1 at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island. What is remembered, lives.

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12958923_1468587901.5275HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — The Grove of Nova Scotia Druids is looking to buy land for Pagan worship. Founded in 2002, the Grove is an ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship)-affiliated organization located in eastern Canada. Its website explains, “Our core beliefs are in honouring the Kindreds, serving the Family, Grove and Community, living a more naturally-balanced lifestyle, and above all that the Grove should be an extension of family.”

Since its founding, Grove members have been involved in an number of public works, including rituals, meet and greets, and interfaith efforts, as we reported in June. The group is now looking to purchase and maintain land specifically for the Pagan population in the province.

On the GoFundMe campaign site, the group explains, “The Grove of Nova Scotia Druids hopes in the long term to build and facilitate a place of worship for the maritime Pagan community. We wish this place of worship to be all inclusive to all peaceful paths in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes inclusive. From either an outdoor location or a sheltered location to even a permanent structure we hope to provide all pagans of all paths a open and welcoming space.” Their current goal is set at $50,000 CAD, and they are looking into multiple forms of fundraising to earn that figure.

In Other News

  • Tuesday is voting day, and our own TWH journalist Cara Schulz is running for a city council seat in Burnsville, Minnesota. Over the past few months, Schulz has been out in the community speaking with journalists and residents about her platform. If she wins Tuesday’s primary, she will move on to the general election. There are currently two open seats with no incumbents running. This is Cara’s second run for public office. TWH will report the results in coming week.
  • Covenant of the Goddess will begin their annual business meeting, Grand Council, and the corresponding conference, Merry Meet, on Thursday. The four-day event is held in a different location around the country each year. San Jose, California is the host city this year, with CoG’s Northern California Local Council sponsoring the event. Nonmembers are welcome to attend.
  • Another upcoming weekend event is Witches in the Woods held in Ben Lomond, California. The annual camping festival begins Friday and runs through Monday. It includes guest speakers, rituals, workshops and “witchery.” This year’s theme is “Engaging the Invisibles: Calling Forth the Helpful Spirits, Ancestors and Allies.” Registration closes on Tuesday.
  • Pagan Pride Day (PPD) season is upon us once again, and people around the world will be coming out to celebrate, educate and enjoy a community of like minds. It is impossible to acknowledge the many Pride events that occur throughout the season. These festive events, only some of which are connected to the sponsoring organization the Pagan Pride Project, begin in early August and run through November. Pagan Pride UK, one of the first such independently organized Pride days, kicked off its 2016 festival Sunday morning. Held in Nottingham, the well-attended festival was captured in the video embedded below. PPD events will continue to pop up around world on weekends throughout the late summer and early fall, with the majority scheduled around the equinox. These festivities attract a large diversity of Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist guests and vendors, as well as many other locals curious about the unique community, its culture and beliefs.

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last month saw the second annual memorial to people who had died homeless in this city, located 42mi southeast of San Francisco. Among the participants in this interfaith event was Rowan Fairgrove from Covenant of the Goddess. She agreed to share more about the event and her work in this area with The Wild Hunt.

homeless memorial

[Image credit: Steve Herrera]

According to the 2015 Point-in-Time Count for Santa Clara County, there were 6,556 people without homes there in January of that year, which is the month that these counts are performed throughout the Unites States. Of that total figure, 4,063 people are located in the city of San Jose. Since 2013, the numbers have dropped by 14% in the county, and by 15% in the city. That marks a 10 year low.

While those numbers are high, the trends do show a decline in the total number of unhoused, which is the term Fairgrove prefers. However, Fairgrove said that the official figure “leaves off people doubling up or couch surfing and thus undercounts families by a lot.” Her own work to support the unhoused comes both from her religious beliefs and her own experience. She said:

I believe, deeply, in the interconnectedness of all life. And in our ability to make the world a better place, for humans and for all living things and the earth. But my specific desire to help the unhoused came from having a woman decide that my porch, sheltered by a wisteria, was a safe place to sleep occasionally. I had many conversations with her and tried to work with the city to get her help without much success.

The impacts of homelessness, and the impacts of how the problem is addressed, can be complicated. Fairgrove recounted how she supported the closure of a homeless camp in San Jose, because its presence put a local watershed — one she’d worked to protect — at risk. In November, she attended a screening of a movie about that closure called Exodus from the Jungle (2015), and this led to her re-ordering her priorities.

“I hadn’t realized how much impact the closing of the Jungle had on the ability of service providers (such as the medical bus from a local hospital) to reach the unhoused population,” she explained, “nor had I realized that our city and county have been spending thousands of dollars a month to ‘move along’ any groups that start to camp together. This makes it even harder for service providers to find people who need help. With the coming El Nino conditions in Northern California we are expecting unusual amounts of rain and cold and the situation for the unhoused is predicted to be quite dire.”

Those without shelter are subject to exposure to these harsh elements, but there are some among the unhoused who prefer that risk to the rules and dangers associated with homeless shelters. According to the 2015 survey, there are 4,627 people living without shelter, which is over 70% of the total unhoused population of Santa Clara County.

For 61 of them, “quite dire” meant death this year. Their names were read during the service. Several religious leaders offered thoughts and prayers, including this from Fairgrove:

Prayer of Remembrance for the Homeless Who Died this Year

Your life has flown, all care is gone,
Yet still we wish the best for you
Though you left this world without a home
You are going home now to the Isle of Apples.
To the restful haven of the waveless sea.
You are finally home this night,
To your lasting home, your eternal home

Deep peace of seven lights to you
Deep peace of seven joys to you
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the silver moon to you

Now is your time of rest, of parting
Rest now on the breast of the Mother of Blessings,
Rest now in the arms of the Father of Life.
We hold you in memory
We hold you in mourning
We hold you in honour

Deep peace of seven graces to you
Deep peace of seven loves to you
Deep peace of the red wind of the east to you
Deep peace of the grey wind of the west to you
Deep peace of the dark wind of the north to you
Deep peace of the blue wind of the south to you

We will remember the tragedy of homelessness
We will not forget your Life
We will not cease our work
Until all are finally home in this Life
Until all have warmth and plenty
Until all have comfort and protection

Let us join together to send healing for the hurts of homelessness
Let us send hope and growth, to replace cold and fear.
Let us send respect and inspiration, to replace despair and sorrow
Let us create a circle of protection.
Let us create a circle of healing.
Let us create a circle of justice.
Let us create a circle of renewal.
And let us envision these circles as a spiral, see them repeat, spreading out until through all the world may peace prevail and all be home
In the Names of the Mighty Ones and the Beloved Dead
Biodh sé mar sin — So Mote It Be!

Beyond participating in this memorial, Fairgrove serves breakfast at a local church shelter, and has encouraged the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, a local interfaith group, to hold a leadership forum on the topic. “From various showings of Exodus from the Jungle, a group came together which is now called The Winter Faith Collaborative. Over the past two months we have gathered together about 40 congregations who plan to shelter, warm, feed or otherwise help the homeless,” she explained.

This is not the only memorial for the homeless dead in the region; the Marin Interfaith Council also conducts such a service in July.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

Honoring Our Veterans

Cara Schulz —  November 11, 2015 — 10 Comments

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It is a time set aside in the United States to honor those who serve in the five branches of the Armed Forces. On that date in 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany during the First World War. After that, the day became known as Armistice Day and was unofficially observed. Then in 1938, it was declared a federal holiday specifically set aside to honor WWI veterans. Shortly after the Korean War, the name was changed to Veterans Day and included all American veterans of all wars.

While in the past there was resistance by some prominent Pagan leaders to the idea that a person could serve in the military and be a Pagan, that sentiment has changed. Now, instead of Pagan groups barring entry to active duty military Pagans, they are honoring military Pagans during community rituals.

Warrior Blessing Remembrances HH

Warrior Blessing ritual at Hallowed Homecoming. Participants wrote down the names those who have served & are serving in the US Military. [Photo Courtesy Circle Sanctuary]

Circle Sanctuary has hosted a full schedule of events honoring Pagan veterans. Tuesday evening, Circle Sanctuary hosted two special live podcasts. One focused on Circle’s Military Ministries work, while the second podcast featured a ceremony awarding Pagan Military Service Ribbons.

Today, the group is hosting a visiting day for guests to pay their respects at Circle Cemetery located in Veterans Ridge. This is followed by a 3 pm Veterans Day ceremony during which group will award Pagans who have served, or are currently serving in the military, a Pagan Military Service Ribbon.

Circle Sanctuary Military Ministries team at Hallowed Homecoming, left to right: David Ewing, Jeanet Ewing, Selena Fox, Tiffany Andes, and Tristan. [photo Circle Sanctuary]

Circle Sanctuary Military Ministries team at Hallowed Homecoming, left to right: David Ewing, Jeanet Ewing, Selena Fox, Tiffany Andes, and Tristan. [Photo Courtesy Circle Sanctuary]

A Pagan Warrior Blessing Ritual was also hosted on Sunday at Hallowed Homecoming at Prince William Forest in northern Virginia as part of their Veterans Day activities. Several Circle Sanctuary ministers took part, including Revs. David & Jeanet Ewing of Virginia, Rev. Tristan of Maryland, and Rev. Selena Fox. During the blessing, Circle Sanctuary Minister in Training Tiffany Andes was singled out for her role in working for equal rights for Pagans serving in the US Military.  

The Wild Hunt asked several Pagan, Heathen, and Polythiest veterans and family members of veterans to share what Veterans Day means to them.

Josh Heath is the co-director of The Open Halls Project, an Army Veteran, and a graduate student at American University in its International Peace and Conflict Resolution program.

There is a sense of separation from civilian society that happens when you join the military. Veteran’s Day is one day for us to specifically acknowledge the commitment and oaths our military service members swore. It should also be a day for our service members to be welcomed back fully into their communities, for their worth to be acknowledged, and to begin to peel back that sense of separation. It is a day to acknowledge that oath has been completed by the veteran and to acknowledge their service and empower them to make an impact in the civilian world.

Rev. Dave Sassman is is an openly Pagan Air Force Veteran, member of Circle Sanctuary’s Military Ministry, and board member of Indy Vet House, Inc.

As a minority faith it is important to honor those who choose to serve in the uniformed services. Many of those who have served have become or will become community leaders who bring a wealth of experience that will guide the Earth Based Faith Community into the future.

Chuck Hudson is a Heathen, former host of Raven Radio, and a Former Combat Medic in the U.S. Army.

We are the ones that signed a blank check for the total sum of our lives and handed the check to this country. We were the ones that were lucky enough to get the check back and were able to tear it up. Some of us bear the wounds of combat, some the struggles of keeping a unit going. Being a vet isn’t about how many drops you made. Nor how many pallets you loaded. Or privates you trained, trays served or papers filed. It’s about setting aside your life and putting the country’s life ahead of yours. Being Heathen makes the task even more satisfying. Some call us a “warrior religion”  No not really. We have the gods and goddesses that teach us HOW to use violence and where and when. So we are for the most part not opposed to using violence to protect our family friends and country. Maybe that is one of the reasons so many of us serve.

Veterans Day is a day of mixed emotions for me. I am glad I made it home nor more screwed up than I am. And I am also melancholy thinking about those that didn’t come home. And furious that 22 of my brothers and sister end their lives by their own hands each day.

But Veterans Day is for us that made it back to the world. And still stand ready to rally to our nation’s side. To raise the horn to with our brothers and sisters. To have the privilege to call our brothers and sisters of the different armed forces by their nicknames. Flyboy, Dog Face, Jarhead. Puddle Pirate and Squid. We earned the right to call each other those names and their right to stomp a mudhole in someone’s chest who didn’t earn that right.

Hagl berjast menn okkar og konur. Þeir sem þjóna landið okkar og þjóð. Hagl til vopnahlésdagurinn okkar. Hail our fighting men and women. Those that serve our country and people. Hail to our veterans.

cogmedal1

Like Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess issues service medals to its members who are or have served in the military.

Galina Krasskova is a Northern Tradition shaman, author, and vitki [wise woman].

Every year, I give the entire month of November over to honoring our Veterans. For me, this day is about remembrance and not just of those men and women who fought in our wars.

Veterans day is about remembering all the wars  that have defined and devastated us as a people. Keeping this day is a way of saying to the veterans (and all warriors living and dead):  You are remembered. Your sacrifices mean something. You are part of something so much bigger than yourselves. I wish that as a nation, as a species, we could look to you and question the devastation of war before we throw ourselves gaily forward into another one. I wish that we could see the price that our Veterans pay and allow that to inform our decisions of how much life we’re willing to expend for our nation’s dubious glory. In the meantime to every man and woman serving: respect.

Julia Ergane is a Hellenic Reconstructionist and served in the United States Air Force.

As a veteran and the daughter and niece of veterans it is an important day to me. I feel pride in completing a duty I feel that I owe to my country. Even though the mid-1970s was fairly peaceful, I was still stationed in South Korea when we very nearly did lose our cessation of hostilities. During this time, I did feel the strength of Athena and Ares come to my aid. Both of my uncles received the Purple Heart during WWII, one at the Anzio Beach head in Italy. This was an invasion like the invasion at D-Day in France. When I was twenty I visited the site. My Father attended the USCGA during WWII and was active duty during the Korean War as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I have special relationships with Poseidon, the Nereids, Ares, and Athena all in regard to military matters.

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Author’s Note: As a military veteran myself, who proudly served in the United States Air Force, I’d like to thank all my fellow veterans for their service.

[Our Fall Fund Drive is on-going. Your support is what makes independent Pagan journalism possible. If you like reading daily news and commentary with a Pagan focus, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. We can’t do it without you. Donate today and share the link. Thank You.]

ROSEBURG, Ore — On Thursday Oct. 1, a 26-year old man entered several buildings on the Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon and opened fire killing a total of ten people and injuring 9 others. Among those ten victims was 59-year old Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, a local Pagan woman, who was attending classes with her daughter.

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Kim Saltmarsh Dietz

When the shooting happened, family members immediately began to worry. There had been no word from Kim since the shots had been fired. Almost immediately, prayers and blessings were being expressed via Facebook from friends and family. “Kim, please be alive. Please be safe. Please call home!,” read one post.

However, hope turned to sorrow when friends and family learned that she was one of the ten victims. The Douglas County Sheriff’s office sent two officers to each home to inform the family and offer any assistance. After learning the news, Kim’s husband, Eric Dietz, confirmed the worst via Facebook, saying “It is with deep grief in my heart that I must announce that Kim Saltmarsh Dietz was one of the people killed yesterday at UCC.”  Later that day, the Sheriff’s office publicly released the names of all the victims.

Douglas County Sheriff’s office Lt. Rich Chatman told The Wild Hunt that they have a huge number officers currently working on this case because of the immense amount of data involved. When asked if officers were currently pursuing or considering pursuing any of the suggested connections to Paganism or Wicca, as publicized by various media outlets, Lt. Chatman said, “not at the moment.” He was very open about the reality of the investigation’s complexity and, at this point, the office has no idea what direction the case will take. Lt. Chatman added that, at this point, their focus is on the immediate crisis, gathering data, and talking to the victims’ families.

He did confirm that the shooter owned 14 guns, of which 13 have been recovered. Only 6 were found at the college, and the others were found in his home. All of the guns were purchased legally from licensed federal firearms dealers.

While the Sheriff’s department moves forward with its investigative work, the victims’ families must now face the process of mourning. Kim’s husband has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for funeral and memorial expenses. According to one of the donors, Kim was a hero. On the site, Jescah Keene wrote, “She stood in front of a door to block the shooter & unfortunately lost her life.”  And, in a Facebook post, another local resident said that nursing student and friend Sharon Kirkham “was by her side trying to save her until the end.”

Graphic turning up on Facebook after the tragedy.

Since the news became public, there has been an outpouring of support from family, friends and the extended Pagan community. Originally from Mission Viejo California, Kim was closely connected to Covenant of the Goddess, whose members have been reaching out across various platforms to offer support. She was involved with the Society of Creative Anachronism, Shire of Briaroak and she worked as a caretaker at Pyrenees Vineyard and Wine Cellars.

No memorial services are currently scheduled. We are currently in touch with the family and will bring you updates as they come in.

Until that time, we simply say … What is remembered, lives!

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Covenant of the GoddessOver the past weekend, Covenant of the Goddess held its 40 year anniversary MerryMeet event in Ontario, California. The weekend included its annual two-day Grand Council, during which the consensus-based organization conducted its internal business including the election of officers.

After a tumultuous and uncomfortable beginning to 2015, the organization did come back to internally address what had happened. A break-out group was asked to review and present the organization’s revised social justice statement and make further recommendations. The result of the meeting was the creation of a permanent internal Social Justice committee to address the problems of racial inequity and systemic racism. Of this news, incoming First Officer Yvonne Conway-Williams said, “I think CoG is taking earnest effort at looking towards the future and drawing a line in the sand about who we are and what we stand for.” Conway-Williams is also a member of the new committee and was instrumental in the revising of the statement. More information on these developments will eventually be posted on CoG’s media sites.

The 40 year old organization is one of the oldest Pagan organizations in the country, and that was the theme of this year’s event. Looking toward the future, long-time member Amber K said, “I am fairly hopeful because representatives here seem to embrace change. They are cautious and careful but not stuck in methods of the past which would allow us to evolve and stay relevant.” Covenant of the Goddess will begin its 41st year on Samhain with new officers:  Co First Officers Yvonne Conway-Williams and Jack Prewett, Second Officer Glenn Turner, Co-Publication Officers Stachia Ravensdottir and Zenah Smith, Public Information Officer Greg Harder, Membership Officer Rachael Watcher, Communications Officer Rev. Peter Hertzberg.

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Cherry Hill Seminary

In April 2016, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) will be hosting a new three day conference in conjunction with The University of South Carolina. The symposium and environmental leadership training will be centered around the theme and title, “Greening of Religions: Hope in the Eye of the Storms.” The keynote speaker is University of Florida Professor Bron Taylor.

CHS Academic Dean Wendy Griffin said, “Laurie Zoloth, bioethicist and president of the American Academy of Religion, has called climate change the greatest moral issue of our time.  Increasingly, voices from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions are bringing the link between religion and climate change to national and international notice, from the Green Seminary Movement, to the expected Papal encyclical, to conferences ranging from the purely academic to those like the World Parliament of Religions, and to the growing emphasis on environmental justice.”

CHS is now calling for “proposals from a broad understanding of religion, including the Abrahamic, the Dharmic, the contemporary Pagan and the Earth-based, as well as from diverse methodologies: theoretical and practical, qualitative and quantitative, normative and descriptive.” The due date for abstract submission is September 30, 2015. The three day event runs from April 1-4, 2016 and will be held on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia.

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Rhodes-1-500x308The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece. was dealt a blow in its quest to gain state recognition as a religious community. On Aug. 1, a spokesperson said, “Once again, the Greek State has shown that it has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and, being unable to respect with dignity its own laws (in this case Act no. 4301/2014). It has rejected by the intermediation of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity Hellenic Ethnic Religion.”

Founded in 1997, YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition. Such a recognition would allow them to do things like buy property for the community to use. Its work has included “14 years of activity in the (modern) Greek reality with more than 230 interventions (letters and press releases) and many protests for the protection of the Hellenic tradition, human rights and religious tolerance, 300 seminars, tactical celebration of the ancient festivals, public rituals and educational events.”

In Other News:

  • We are pleased to announced that Polytheist blogger Heathen Chinese will be joining The Wild Hunt as a monthly columnist starting this Saturday. His first work will be a review of the Many Gods West conference that wrapped up two weeks ago. In the meantime, he has posted a link list that includes a number of other reviews and discussions sparked by the new Polytheist conference. As for Heathen Chinese’s new Wild Hunt column, it is scheduled to be published regularly on the 3rd Saturday of each month.
  • The upcoming Haxan film festival has added another day to its roster. Organizers will be hosting a “ritual blessing of the birth of the HÄXÄN Festival” Thursday, Aug. 27 at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore. Along with film screenings, the festival also includes a Friday night costume dance party.  As noted on its site, “HÄXÄN Festival is a Bay Area film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”
  • Pagan writer and blogger Laura LaVoie was just voted “Childfree Woman of the Year” and featured on the website “International Child Free Day.” As described on the site, LaVoie has been a leading advocate for a woman’s right to NOT have children. She is one of the organizers for The NotMom Summit, and blogs regularly at NotMom.com. The write-up offers more details on LaVoie’s work with the NotMom movement, as well as featuring her efforts advocating for Tiny Houses. Congratulations to Laura LaVoie!

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  • A new Heathen podcast is now fully off the ground. Beginning in July, “Heathen Talk” has been airing “live every Wednesday at 7pm Pacific/10 Eastern and post new podcasts every Sunday!” The hosts said, “Heathen Talk was launched by four diverse Heathens who met on Reddit’s /r/Asatru community. This live podcast hosts weekly discussions on topics that are important to modern heathenry, focusing on representing the diverse points of view in the community. [Hosts] Josh, Lauren and Thorin, and producer Marc have a combined fifty years of experience within heathenry.” You can catch the new show through Heathen Talk’s website or its Facebook page.
  • A recent article in Vice.com describes how Witchcraft is an empowering life choice for many “queer and trans people.” The article reads, “Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.” Those witches interviewed include Colby Gaudet, Jared Russell, Dakota Hendrix, and Mey Rude. In the article, Rude was quoted as saying, “There is no one way to be a witch … It’s a really freeing identity.”
  • Nathalie Andrews, owner and operator of Girl and Cat Publishing, is looking for author submissions. As noted on the Bad Witch’s Blog, Andrews is a Pagan, whose “aim is to change the way authors look at non-traditional publishing.” She offers workshops and classes on the subject. Based in the U.K., Andrews describes Girl and Cat Publishing as “not a vanity press but more a self-publishing service.” She can be contacted through her website.

That’s it for now! Have a great day.

bucklandIt was announced on Aug. 4 that author Raymond Buckland had suffered a “large heart attack” and was battling pneumonia.The brief announcement explained, “[Buckland] was life-flighted to a main hospital [where] he was in incubation for three days.” He also developed a case of pneumonia.

After a week long stay in the hospital, Buckland was able to return to his home and is reportedly getting stronger every day. His spirits are up and his strength is returning as he fights off the illness. Buckland’s family and close friends expressed their thanks for the healing energy, well wishes and prayers being sent his way.

Raymond Buckland is the author of over fifty published books and is the founder of the Seax Wicca Tradition. He arrived in the United States in 1962, and published his first book A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural, in 1969. His most well-known work is arguably the big blue Buckland’s Complete Guide to Witchcraft, originally published in 1986. More recently, Buckland has been working on fiction. His most recent novel, Dead for a Spell, is the second in a series called “A Bram Stoker Mystery.”

Buckland is expected to make full recovery, and his family has said that he will be returning personal messages when he is able. They will be posting health updates on his Facebook page.

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Covenant of the GoddessCovenant of the Goddess (CoG) will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend in sunny Ontario, California. CoG was founded in 1975 by “a number of Wiccan elders from diverse traditions, all sharing the idea of forming a religious organization for all practitioners of Witchcraft.” The bylaws were ratified in the summer of that year, and the organization was registered as a nonprofit in California by October 31. CoG has been continuously operating ever since, making it one of the oldest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations in the United States.

Today, CoG has expanded its reach outside of California, with local councils and members living in all regions of the country. First Officer Kasha said, “40 years is an exciting-and daunting-landmark … So much has changed since 1975, but part of the struggle remains. I honor those who founded this organization, some of whom remain active members, for their vision and tenacity. I’m excited to see where the next few decades will take us.”

The 40th anniversary MerryMeet celebration is being hosted by Touchstone Local Council based out of San Bernardino. MerryMeet is the organization’s annual conference, and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Our Voices.” As is typical, the event includes workshops, vendors, and the official business meeting called Grand Council. But this year’s conference is special, as it marks the anniversary. Part of that celebration will include a “History” panel, where various elders and longtime members sharing stories from the organization’s early days and beyond. Touchstone Local Council has the full schedule of events posted on its website.

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mythopoeticIn June we reported that author Sarah Avery was selected to be finalist for the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in the category of adult fiction. The award is administered by the Mythopoeic Society, and given to “the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies ‘the spirit of the Inklings.‘ ”

During the recent MythCon46 held in Colorado, it was announced that Avery had won the 2015 award. The winning book, Tales from the Rugosa Coven, consists of a collection of novellas and is published by Dark Quest Books. In a blog post written just after receiving the honor, Avery said, “Every time I tried to write acceptance remarks just in case, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails to the finalists who aren’t here … Fortunately, Dora insisted that I should prepare some remarks, because you never know.” As it turned out, she needed those words. During MythCon, Avery was presented with the Aslan Trophy by author and former winner Jo Walton. Congratulations to Sarah Avery!

In Other News:

  • Activist and Witch David Salisbury will be making an appearance on ABC’s evening news magazine 20/20. Salisbury was interviewed last week concerning the death of Cecil the Lion. Salisbury said, “When I got the call asking for the interview, everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to be nervous about it. I knew I had to immediately go into extra research mode to make sure everything I wanted to say was accurate and up to date. On the day of the interview, I found the correspondent Deborah Roberts to be warm and friendly, which helped put me at ease and act naturally.” Producers said that the report will most likely air this coming week. However, at that time, they were still waiting to capture more footage and interviews in Africa, and could not confirm the exact air date. They said that the decision to air would be made last minute, and advised interested viewers to look for updates on the 20/20 website.
  • Deepta Roy Chakraverti has written and published her first book called Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters. As noted by the Hindustan Times, the non-fiction work describes Chakraverti’s “experiences in the realm of the supernatural and the practice of Wicca.” She is the daughter of India’s well-known Wiccan Priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, and was raised with and around her mother’s practice. Ipsita, herself, wrote the book’s introduction, while the rest of the content is from Deepta’s own experiences with the “spirit realm” over the years.
  • As we reported last fall, money was raised to honor Margot Adler with a bench in New York City’s Central Park. Over $11,000 was donated; enough to dedicate both a bench and a tree through the Park’s Women’s Committee. The location of Margot’s bench was specifically selected to be near the two that she had previously dedicated to her husband and mother in law. Due to construction in that area, the dedication didn’t officially happen until spring 2015. If you are in Central Park, you can visit Margot’s bench (#09067) and her tree, a Kwanzaan Cherry growing alongside the reservoir next to light post #9323. Both are just inside the 93rd Street entrance on the west side of the park. Now, if you happen to be in Washington D.C., you can also visit a Margot Adler memorial bench and tree. This site, shown in the photo below, is located in front of NPR’s D.C. headquarters at 1111 North Capitol St NE.
margot bench

[Courtesy Sylvia Poggioli, NPR]

  • Pagans are helping to raise money for Raul Mamani’s trip to the upcoming Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City. According to the fundraising page, Mamani “is a native Jujuy of Argentina. He lives in the far northwest, where Argentina borders Chile and Bolivia. He has been at the heart of indigenous organizing.” Over the years, Mamani has been working with interfaith representatives of CoG and with the United Religions Initiative. As the campaign page explains, in 2009 the Spirituality & the Earth Cooperation Circle raised money to help Mamani attend the Melbourne Parliament. As it turned out, “he was the only indigenous representative from South America …his voice was crucial to the sharing that took place in that gathering.” The 2015 fundraising campaign will help allow Mamani to return to the Paraliament again.
  • Amaranth, a new “eclectic” marketplace, is now up and running after Etsy’s policy changes negatively affected metaphysical shops and the sale of magical items. The site went live on June 26 with the intention on serving “displaced members of Etsy.” As described by the owners, “The site supports international selling, multiple payment gateways and several familiar to Etsy user functions for listing and creating markets. Policies and categories are still being made on an as need basis.” Dedicated to metaphysical, magical, spiritual, Pagan, Occult and similar communities, Amaranth is crafting a marketplace model that will allow it to be owned and operated by the sellers and buyers. Owners say, “It is not about us.” At this point, Amaranth Marketplace is still growing and tweaking its systems. But they hope, in the end, to simply provide “a stable, honest, environment with a staff that can understand needs and not judge.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

2002 [Photo Credit:  Christopher Werby]

2002 [Photo Credit: Christopher Werby]

Priestess, ritualist and elder Deborah Ann Light passed away the morning of July 21, 2015. On Wednesday, her family announced:

Philanthropist Deborah Ann Light, a key figure in establishing Eastern Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust and pioneering Wiccan priestess, died Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida, at age 80 after a long illness.

Deborah was born in London to American parents Dr. Rudolph Alvin Light and Ann Bonner Jones, while they were both attending Oxford University. She was raised on a farm in Nashville, Tennessee, while her father taught surgery at Vanderbilt University. As she grew up, she lived in a variety of places, including Virginia, Italy, and New York. In 1961, she graduated with a B.F.A. in textile design from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. With her first husband, she gave birth to her son, Michael, in 1963.

Four years later, Deborah settled in the small hamlet of Amagansett, Long Island, where she quickly became involved in local politics and community service. As noted by her family, Deborah engaged in every activity with “dedicated professionalism” and, at the same time, indulged in many eccentricities. At one point, for example, she cared for over 36 cats.

In addition, Deborah became increasingly dedicated to women’s issues and earth stewardship. With a love of the land, she continued to acquire more property around her home, and became involved with a local land trust.

Then, in 1980, Deborah attended a Reclaiming-sponsored trip to Ireland, and had, what her family calls, “a spiritual epiphany” that led Deborah on a brand new journey. In 1982, she started attending EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring. Through that connection, she also became an active member of the newly formed North East Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess. And, during the same period, she began attending Circle Sanctuary’s new festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering. As a result, Deborah became an active member of all three organizations.

While building relationships within the growing Pagan world, Deborah began working on a masters degree in religious studies at Norwich University in Vermont. Her thesis, titled “Contemporary Goddess Worship: The Old Religion as Currently Practiced in the United States” reflected her new spiritual direction. In 1985, she received her degree, and also met her life-partner, Jeri Baldwin.

But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Deborah’s philanthropic and active dedication to her new path became very public. In 1989, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. As a result, she endowed nearly 200 acres of land, part of her Suffolk County estate, to Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust. Her goal was to keep the land from being over-developed. The Trust established Quail Hill Farm. Honoring Deborah a hero, Alec Hirschfield created a film about the farm called Out Here in the Fields: Quail Hill Farm (2008).

Then, in 1992, Deborah created the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which “encouraged individual mature women to achieve goals that would enrich the lives of other adult women.” Named after Deborah’s Grandmother Rachel Winifred Upjohn Light, the foundation supported 321 projects over its nine year history. In 1996, photographer Robert Giard was commissioned to capture the faces of the many women recipients. These photos are archived at Radcliffe College, Harvard University.

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Fortunately, Deborah beat the odds of her diagnosis and began taking on a far more active role in interfaith work. In 1993, she became one of the first Pagans to sit on the assembly at the Parliament for the World’s Religions as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit and Circle Sanctuary. At the start of the event, it was announced that there was only one open assembly slot for Wiccans. The three attending organizations chose Deborah, who happen to be a member of all three and who had proven her dedication by quickly securing the required insurance for their open full moon ritual. As their representative, Deborah signed the Global Ethics Charter as a “neo-pagan” along with Lady Olivia Robertson and Rev. Baroness Cara-Margurite Drusilla.

Deborah’s interfaith work continued over the next seven years. She traveled the country representing Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) as one of its first Interfaith Representatives. She became a member of Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) and wrote for the newsletter Pagan NUUS. In 1998, she attended the United Religions Initiative (URI) Global Summit. In 1999, she once again represented Wiccans at the Parliament.

By the turn of the millennium, Deborah cut back on her public interfaith work. CoG interfaith representative and longtime member Don Frew remembers that, after she stopped attending URI summits, attendees always asked how Deborah was doing and added, “give her my love.” Frew said:

Everyone always wanted to give Deborah their love. She called forth the love in everyone she met. We could never have asked for a better ambassador to the religions of the world. I could never have asked for a more loving and caring friend.

In 2001, Ellen Evert Hopman published a book called Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today containing a 1994 interview with Deborah. Starting on page 291, the interview discusses Deborah’s practice as a witch, performance artist and ritualist. It notes that her work “honors the earth as she presents alternative creation myths.”

After retiring from public interfaith service, Deborah continued the loyal support of friends and community. She attended memorials, weddings, and Pagan events around the country; she continued to donate money to EarthSpirit, Circle Sanctuary and other Pagan organizations. In 2010, she and Jeri formed the Crone’s Cradle Conserve Foundation with 756 acres of land in Florida’s Marion County. The land, which had been obtained over 25 years, was established as an ecological preserve and education center located in Marion County.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s health slowly started to decline. In 2007, she began having blood pressure problems and moved permanently to Florida, where she regularly practiced yoga and continued to spend time with family and friends. Her condition worsened in 2012, and she was placed in hospice. A Facebook group was created in order to share daily blessings and news with her. In 2014, the Covenant of the Goddess honored her with its brand new Award of Honor “for outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities.” Frew accepted on her behalf as she was not able to attend.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

In recent months, Deborah’s health only continued to decline, and on July 21, she passed away in the presence of her partner and family.

Andras Corban-Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit and a close friend, said:

Deirdre and I are saddened to let our community know that, early this morning … our beloved Deborah had died … Deborah’s diverse contributions have been instrumental in shaping who we are as a community today: as she now becomes one of our venerable ancestors, we will continue to keep her legacy alive.

Circle Sanctuary posted its own tribute. Rev. Selena Fox said:

Along with others in the Circle Sanctuary Community, I am thankful for [Deborah’s] friendship, wisdom, intelligence, grace, strength, and dedication to helping others. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in the lives and endeavors of many individuals and groups that she inspired and supported. 

Pagan author Byron Ballard said:

It’s a joyful moment to think of her free and dancing and creating and…she has been dear to me since she befriended me at a URI North America Summit in Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anyone and she took me under her wing, gave me projects to do and introduced me around. A good good heart.

It is clear from the trails left behind that Deborah’s life was one of service, compassion and outreach. Pushing well beyond the boundaries of the Pagan community, Deborah used her influence, her spirit, her passion and her love to empower and protect. She did this through philanthropic means as well as through setting a living example. According to Frew, not only did she bravely “come out” as Pagan at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993 in order to protect religious rights, but she also came out as a lesbian before URI’s international attendees in order to stand up for LGBTQ rights.

Deborah was brave; she was bold; and she was gracious. As Frew said, her “charm won people over.” But Deborah was more than a philanthropist, a ritualist, Pagan witch, an organization member, mother, partner and friend. Deborah was a inspiration. Not only will her spirit live on in the memories of all those who knew her; but it will also continue to live in those many paths that she forged and the projects that she built, which have allowed so many others to thrive.

What is remembered, lives.

 

Covenant of the GoddessSAN BERNARDINO –In the forty years since Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) was formed, its members have been on the front lines of battles for equal rights as prison chaplains, as veterans, as parents, and as people. The organization has helped to define the Wiccan and wider Pagan communities, has weathered the Satanic panics and the infamous Helms amendment, which threatened to remove tax-exempt status from “occult” churches, and endured the more recent attacks launched by such luminaries as George W. Bush and Bob Barr.

However, in recent months, this venerable collective of covens and solitary practitioners has faced an internal upheaval, which has since become quite public, and could be one of its most difficult struggles to date. The spark which ignited the firestorm was the very current ignition point: race.

Early in December, Pagan and polytheist individuals and groups issued statements of support and calls to action in response to the treatment of people of color in American society. As the Wild Hunt coverage at the time noted, its own columnist Crystal Blanton was the catalyst of this show of solidarity. CoG was among the organizations that released a statement, which began with this paragraph:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

To say the statement fell flat is an understatement. Critics quickly noted that it avoided any reference to specific events, such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or Eric Garner in New York City. The statement replaced the viral phrase “black lives matter” with the more inclusive “all lives matter,” which was interpreted by a number of Facebook observers to be code for white privilege.

In that social media venue, comments ranged from people decrying the “whitewashing” of systemic racism to others who took great umbrage at the idea that broadening the scope was inappropriate. A similar debate was also taking place, out of public eye, on one of the Covenant’s internal email lists. These lists were not made available for review due to the expectation of privacy by members.

Tiffani Thomas Parker

Tiffani Thomas Parker [Courtesy Photo]

In reaction to that first statement, several members resigned from the organization in protest. CoG Member Tiffany Thomas Parker, who was not one of those to leave, offered her own perspective. She provided further insight into what led to such a strong pushback:

First of all, I will say that I am happy of some of the things that CoG has done for Pagans as a whole. But with that said, I was very disappointed with them with the statement they originally gave.

My first initial reaction was to reread what I read. Then came disappointment and anger. I was thinking to myself “Of all people, Pagans as a whole should know what it is like to be stereotyped and singled out. They should be behind the movement to ensure that ANYONE doesn’t get targeted like this.”

They should have consulted, asked, or even suggested to get opinions from those of color (regardless of race) to get a better understanding of what was going on to get a better perspective. It may not have happened to those who are the head of the organization, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. To simply ignore an issue such as this was a slap in the face.

Furthermore, I do think that if they had acknowledged the issue, it would have shown the Pagans of Color that they have our back and it would have given them a light of hope that they felt supported and could have joined CoG. CoG isn’t as diverse as I would have liked it to be, and it would have been a HUGE opportunity and they blew it.

Yvonne C. Conway-Williams, an assistant to CoG’s National Board, also felt the statement came up short, and said so on the internal CoG list. However, Conway-Williams understands the limitations of the organization’s consensus-driven process, saying that “. . . there was a sense of urgency, which is why I think they did not send it to a committee and instead chose to deal with it as a national board.”  She added, “My stance has long been that we are not truly hearing from a vast majority of CoG members on the private elists. One person is required to be on our announcements list per member coven. Other members of a coven might wish to subscribe… Even fewer people are signed up for our discussion and debate elist. What this means is there’s only a select few who are having say and input on these issues. By doing so, I personally do not feel all members are being heard. I think it would be great if more members were involved at a deeper level with national activities such as this statement.”

Public Information Officer Gordon Stone echoed Conway-Williams’ concerns about how representative an e-list can be, saying, “I think it is also important to mention that not every member of CoG is on the e-lists. This is why CoG does not set organizational policy through email discussion.”

Outside of the organization, the board’s statement was also attacked as generic and meaningless. Devotional polytheist Caer said:

The only way we can win this fight is to actively engage in it. We must commit. As above, so below. As without, so within. We can’t just say the words and make the gestures and leave them both hanging there, unsupported. That won’t accomplish anything, brings us no closer to our goals. We have to acknowledge the problem, clearly state our intent, and we have to move from problem to goal by actively doing something.

Longtime CoG member Marybeth Pythia Witt, also known as Lady Pythia, commented more recently about that initial statement, saying in part, “We also learned too late that the all lives matter hashtag is used by a conservative anti-abortion group, ergo, the original post was incorrect for more than one reason.”

Lady Pythia during an event doing outreach for CoG in 1987 [Photo Provided by Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

Lady Pythia during a Wiccan event in which she did media outreach for CoG [Photo Provided by Lady Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

The discussion appears to have continued on, largely unabated on the Covenant’s internal debate & discussion e-list. Members of the national board recognized that a different approach was needed to address these widespread concerns. According to First Officer Kasha, after the initial statement was published,

We immediately received feedback from individuals inside and outside of the organization and began to reconsider the content of the statement and its impact on our members. On December 11, we issued an apology, published on our internal announcement list, to those members who were hurt by this statement, explaining that the original statement was created in an effort to express the opinion of our diverse membership, and we realized we had missed the mark.

At that time we solicited members for a committee to draft a new statement to be released internally and then potentially approved at our National Meeting in August. In the following weeks, Gordon Stone, our Public Information Officer, and a committee of volunteers developed the new statement.

That revised statement was released in draft form on Jan. 20 with a note of explanation about the process for formal adoption. It stated, “In order to allow the membership of CoG a chance to have input on this new statement, it was released internally on our organization’s e-mail list last week. The membership will have the opportunity to review, revise, and adopt it as a statement made by the entire organization at the annual meeting in August 2015.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

However, any fanfare that might have accompanied this new draft was deafened by a blog post written by former First Officer Peter Dybing and published the day before. Writing under the title An Indictment of Covenant of the Goddess, Racism Exposed, Dybing lambasted his fellow members, asserting that his comments on the private list had been censored as part of a wider effort to silence dissent over these issues. He further claims that one of the individuals guiding the discussion was known to use racist epithets in casual conversation.

Let me be clear, there are many great people in CoG that I have worked with over the years. What this post represents is an indictment of the power structures that at all costs will engage in ensuring that the organization does not change. When truth is spoken to power the result is oppression. It is evident that those engaging in these behaviors have little insight into their actions, yet it remains that their actions are sheltering racism within the organization.

Not surprisingly, considerable outcry resulted with some taking to social media to applaud Dybing’s words, and others claiming he had breached CoG’s code of ethics. The two points of that code which appear to speak most closely to that questions are, “All persons associated with this Covenant shall respect the traditional secrecy of our religion” and “Members of this Covenant should ever keep in mind the underlying unity of our religion as well as the diversity of its manifestations.” Dybing maintains he has not violated ethical standards because he has not named anyone.

Whether Dybing was “censored” or “moderated” is also a matter of internal debate. The organization does have a policy covering e-list discussions, and Kasha said, “We did apply our policy uniformly. Many Members were warned about inappropriate posts and, rather than removing members from the list, those not complying with the Net Coordinator’s (Netco’s) requests for civility were placed on moderated status. Posts that continued to violate the Netco’s request for civility were not put through to the list. After 2 or 3 days, when calmer conversation and cooler heads prevailed, the moderation of all subscribers was lifted and the discussion list was reopened to courteous discussion of all topics.” The policy actually allows the Netco to remove offenders from the list entirely, pending an appeal to the national board, but that allegedly did not occur.

CoG member Daryl Fuller, a participant in those e-discussions, publicly published a point-by-point refutation of Dybing’s post, calling much of it “half-truth and rumor-mongering.” In that response, Fuller took particular exception to the allegations being tossed around about another unnamed member. He also admits to being moderated himself, adding “No one is currently being censored on any COG email list.”

When asked about this controversy, NPIO Stone said, “I would respectfully request that your readers bear in mind that these two CoG Members were speaking as individuals rather than as official representatives of the organization. CoG also has ethical standards outlined in our bylaws, and all members are expected to know and adhere to these standards.  I encourage your readers to make a decision about what CoG stands for by speaking with several of our Members, or contacting the nearest local council for more information.”

The second statement, a draft, has also received considerable Facebook attention, and again, reactions were mixed. Comments range from gratitude to expressions that it doesn’t go far enough to complaints that saying that black lives matter discounts the struggles of other groups.

As part of a lengthier commentary, Cat Chapin-Bishop observed, “I am in no way surprised to hear statements from CoG members that seem to deny and minimize the reality of racism today. From the ‘Irish people were discriminated against, too,’ to ‘I don’t see color,’ the whole range of well-meaning white cluelessness is on display. But I’m not surprised or shocked by that, because I have come to understand, since the events in Ferguson this past summer, just how out of touch I, and other white people, truly have become on this subject.”

Penny Novak, a former Second Officer of CoG, acknowledged that there is surely racism within the ranks.  She said that “any organization without a political filter on it has racists in it.” However, she characterized Dybing’s behavior on the e-list as “really off the wall” and “very obnoxious.” What he failed to understand, Novak thought, was that many older people with racially-biased world views are unaware of that fact. “Give them a break, Peter, they don’t even know!” she said. While some of her contemporaries haven’t exactly kept up with the times, she didn’t believe that his “kicking and screaming” approach was likely to change hearts and minds. She explained further:

I’ve been thinking about the many ways in which language around the issue of race has changed during my lifetime. You may feel it’s obvious but it really isn’t. It isn’t even obvious between the generations of the Black Community.  Believe me, when I was young calling a person Black was disrespectful …  Those of us who were white and didn’t want to further the blot of what had been done to those of African-descent in our communities were very particular about the language we used…  

I’m not excusing the use of disrespectful language but when social use of language changes rapidly from generation to generation there will be bleed-over and sometimes what was socially acceptable positions become anathema. If you’re not keeping up, if you don’t keep an eye on the young folks you’ll miss when things start switching …You need to be very careful and you need to step lightly. 

More significantly, Novak thinks that, while questions over race caused this controversy, the issues run far deeper, saying that CoG “has basically been ruined by a few people who want power, and it’s ridiculous because CoG is an organization without power.” The decisions lie with local councils and member covens, she explained, and the national board has little sway. “Look what happens when they try to make a statement like big organizations do,” she said, “complete wimpdom.”

It still remains to be seen what kind of statement this organization will finally release on the subject and how it will move forward with tackling the accusations of racial inequality and systemic racism within the organization. Consensus must be achieved, and that won’t happen until the national meeting in August. That’s what Novak means when she says that CoG has no power.

This is a thread picked up by Kirk White, a former co-first officer who wonders about the covenant’s future. He said:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

Part of the underlying problem is that CoG is adrift in its purpose and seeking to regain its relevance. Its foundational purpose was “to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions.” Back in 1975 it was hard to connect with other Witches, get ordained, and we were still establishing our rights as a valid, legal religion. It was easy to rally the members around clearly Witch issues but now these battles are mostly won, ordination is laughably easy and we have the internet. So there is a struggle in CoG over how to restore relevance and attract younger members. The few younger members we do have and the more liberal members want CoG to be more activist to regain relevance.

But without clear Witch issues, the political polarization of our secular world is invading CoG’s inner processes over which causes to support. Environmental issues, women’s rights, gun rights, and racial inequality have all been split into “liberal” or “conservative” views by today’s media and CoG’s membership, being politically diverse finds itself unable to find consensus — which is how CoG operates — on just about anything. Thus, issues like #blacklivesmatter — originally seen as a “liberal” cause — are almost impossible to agree on quickly, if ever. This is frustrating to those more activist members, and combined with some bad blood left over from previous conflicts, has led to the recent resignations and bitter fighting within some of the more vocal parts of CoG.

Others see hope for the organization’s future. NPIO Stone said:

CoG as an organization is strengthened by the dialogue of our diverse membership. Sometimes that dialogue is easy and sometimes it is challenging; however, in my view, it is always educational. All Board members maintain an open door policy, and members are welcome to email the Board directly when they have concerns or questions. The appropriate Board Member will reply, usually in a relatively short time frame. Keeping that dialogue going is one of the best ways for CoG to insure that the organization will continue for many years to come.

While describing the process of examining issues such as social justice and the path to membership, First Officer Kasha said, “Clearly, the needs of CoG’s membership have evolved over the past 40 years, and our go forward plan is to continue to assess our needs, and ultimately, potentially revise our mission …In a consensus driven organization like CoG, this can take a long time, but our committed membership has been through several tides of change and will weather this one as well, being stronger for the work.”

“CoG is ready to evolve,” said Lady Pythia. “We’re not Witches for nothing.”