Archives For Crystal Blanton

Last month The Wild Hunt asked five members of the community — Thracian polytheanimist Anomalous Thracian of the blog Thracian Exodus; Mambo Chita Tann of Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We; priestess, author, blogger, and Solar Cross Temple board member Crystal Blanton; OBOD Druid and Under the Ancient Oaks blogger John Beckett; and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) Druid Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh — for their thoughts on sacrifice. The following continues the conversation with part two of that interview.

How is sacrifice separate from blood sacrifice? Does blood sacrifice include personal blood offerings or is it limited to animal sacrifice?

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“Blood sacrifice is not a term that I use and I would argue it as vague and somewhat useless. Ritual bloodletting would be more appropriate in this context, if I am reading the question correctly, as it is general enough to include many things, such as: ritual cutting of one’s own flesh to create a bond or pact with a spirit; ritual cutting of a sexual partner’s flesh in a ritual or ceremony; ritual cutting of an animal (not for the purpose of killing, but for producing the essence of a specific animal’s life force); “marking” a person with your own essence under certain ritual circumstances, whether for positive (protective, warding) or negative (hostile, magically infectious) reasons. Similarly cutting one’s self to feed one’s own blood to a specific deity — exactly as you might use, say, a goat, but without an immediate death — could be considered a sacrifice, and is still generally categorizable as “bloodletting.” I would hesitate to call anything that does not involve intentional death a sacrifice, in personal use of the term, but I would consider “the feeding or offering of blood, without death, to a deity or spirit” to be a form of sacrifice when circumstances call for it. Note: In many traditions, there are HEAVY restrictions upon forms of bloodletting of this sort, as the spirits and deities in question will take this as indication that the person being bled is “food,” and they will be regarded as such.” — Anomalous Thracian, Thracian Exodus

Mambo Chita Tann

Mambo Chita Tann

“We do not ever offer human blood in Haitian Vodou, despite stereotypes to the contrary. Blood can be offered in the rituals around making animal offerings, which almost always become food for ritual participants, once the spirits have taken their share. It is possible to consider sacrifice in the sense of other offerings of great worth that are given to the spirits, such as the great amount of effort, money, resources, and time an entire Vodou sosyete will dedicate to initiation ceremonies or annual observances of special ritual, but we still do not place these offerings as being more precious or higher than the ultimate sacrifice of an animal’s life to provide protection, blessing, and sustenance for that sosyete and its members.” — Mambo Chita Tann, Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We, Haitian Vodou

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“There are many different types of sacrifice, and it is not limited to blood sacrifice. Different traditions access this differently. I personally do not practice blood sacrifice, but I have made personal blood offerings. I honor the life force of the individual, and the power of the divine within me, adding magic in the process.” — Crystal Blanton, Daughters of Eve

 

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Blood sacrifice is a subset of sacrifice, a particular form of sacrifice. It can include personal blood offerings or it can include animal sacrifice.” — John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

“Sacrifice often is confused with “blood offerings.” Blood sacrifice really doesn’t have a place in a modern Neopagan context, yet there are established cultures that still perform blood sacrifices. In a modern Druid context, sacrifices are often things such as whiskey, grains, flowers, prayers, poems, songs, and anything else that is a tangible item used to give to the gods. There are instances where Neopagans will sacrifice some of their own blood as a form of blood oath, but that is a rare instance. Killing of a live animal is another form of archaic sacrifice or offering that really is not something that is all that common in a Neopagan context. Most of us purchase our meat already slaughtered for consumption, but there are ways to offer a portion of that meat as a sacrifice in the form of the shared meal.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Druid, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)

Do modern Paganisms stand to gain anything positive from giving offerings and sacrifice to the Gods? What about blood sacrifice?

“As a Polytheist who does not really identify as a Pagan, I can’t speak for “modern Pagans.” I believe that authentic religious traditions — rather than psychological models drawing from religious terms or structures, or social movements similarly using the aesthetic of religion for artistic, activist, or community-centered reasons, etcetera — should have trained specialists who handle the navigation of sacrifices to the respective gods of said group, assuming that said gods request, require, or even accept sacrifices. Not all gods like bloodshed or death. As for “blood sacrifice,” I will take this to mean “ritual bloodletting” (as indicated above), and again say, that while I cannot speak for Modern Paganisms, I can state that magically and religiously there is great potency in these technologies which can be certainly used for ‘gaining something positive.’” — Anomalous Thracian

“Giving offerings to the gods cannot possibly be a bad thing. Like prayer and interaction with one’s religious community, I tend toward the belief that you can’t get enough of it. Giving special offerings that take effort, non-blood sacrifices, are just more of the same. I do not believe that Pagans need to give blood sacrifice unless and until they understand the context of that act, have trained personnel who can perform it for them, and have a distinct need to do it: either because they need to share ritual food, they are in a place where they need to butcher their own meat and they choose to sacralize that act by offering their food animals to the gods, or their gods demand it of them and no other options are satisfactory. Even in the last case, I still believe it is imperative and necessary for context and training to occur first. As I stated in the PantheaCon panel, I expect that most modern Pagans, living in countries where they do not have to butcher their own meat and practicing religions that have lost their connection to customs where blood sacrifice was practiced, will never need to do this, and their deities would not ask it of them as a result.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Our relationships with the Gods dictate the value of sacrifice within a particular context. Much of what we would gain would be within the relationship itself, and that would depend on the practitioner and the God(s) in question. To make a broad, sweeping statement here about gain or loss would be devaluing to the individual and cultural relationships of varying practitioners of the craft.” — Crystal Blanton

“I have mixed feelings about blood sacrifice. On one hand, it would do us all good to get a first-hand understanding of where our food comes from and a first-hand understanding that what we are eating was itself alive only a short time ago. On the other hand, butchering animals requires skills you just don’t learn unless you grow up on a working farm and the only thing worse than not sacrificing is sacrificing clumsily – the animal should not suffer needlessly. Beyond that, I look at the community and legal problems blood sacrifice brings to some of the Afro-Caribbean religions – that’s not a battle I care to fight. But when you move beyond the issue of blood sacrifice, there is unquestionable benefit from sacrificing to the Gods. It brings us into closer relationships with Them, and it forces us to consider our relationships with food and with the non-food offerings we may be asked to give.” — John Beckett

“Absolutely, yes. We gain their blessings and we build our relationships with them through sacrifice. As far as blood sacrifice goes, in my years as a pagan and decade plus in ADF I have rarely heard it mentioned. I think we as Neopagans should focus on how we can use practical items to sacrifice in ritual, rather than trying to focus on something that is uncommon.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Where does volition and willingness come into sacrifice?

“Pretty much everywhere. Consent is sacred at every step; consent of the person performing or contemplating the sacrifice, consent of the sacrifice itself, consent of the one who raised or produced the sacrifice, consent also of the spirit or deity in question.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Constantly. If a thing is done against one’s will, it cannot be a sacrifice, period. If a person is forced to make an offering, that is no sacrifice, it is compulsion, and no good spirit or deity accepts that as sacrifice. In Haitian Vodou and in all the other traditions I know of where animal sacrifices are performed, no one would ever offer an animal without that animal’s permission; again, to do so without it would be compulsion and would not be a proper sacrifice. Even in halal and kosher ritual, from Islam and Judaism respectively, the animal must be awake and willing to be sacrificed; it cannot be knocked out before the knife is used. This is causing some issues with animal rights activists, most recently in Denmark, for example; but the alternative, to knock an animal unconscious and then kill it, would be completely wrong in that sacrificial tradition — while it may appear to the untrained eye of an animal lover looking at a video to be “kinder” to do this, an unconscious animal is unable to give consent and thus it is both cruel and, from a sacrificial standpoint, unholy/wrong. Those who understand butchery know that there are techniques to kill an animal without pain, and all who perform halal and kosher rituals must be certified as trained.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Volition means the act of making a decision, and willingness simply means being prepared to do something. As in all rituals, we have to properly prepare ourselves. In many traditions it means putting on special ritual clothing, setting up an altar, smudging ourselves, ritual bathing, and other things to prepare us for the act of ritual. In ritual, we decide who we are going to sacrifice to and why. We always need to enter ritual with a purpose, and we should always have a reason for sacrifice—even if it is just to build a better relationship with our gods. A ritual without a purpose is a waste of everybody’s time.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Does volition come into play in animal sacrifice, does it matter, and if so, how is it obtained?

“Yes. There are various methods for this, from speaking with the animal directly and observing its behavior (or hearing back, if the asker can communicate with animals directly), and so forth. The ritual structure being employed should provide the structures for ascertaining this. If they do not, they should maybe be reevaluated in order to ensure that they are completely understood and trained.” — Anomalous Thracian

“In terms of how we obtain it: In Haitian Vodou, animals are raised explicitly for the purpose of food and for ritual-related food or ritual purposes where the animal cannot be eaten afterward. These animals are raised by hand, by the community that will sacrifice them. Before they are sacrificed, they are washed, decorated, and prepared by the community. They will be led into the peristyle (the Vodou temple), and presented with a number of various foods. One of these foods is chosen ahead of time as being the official sacrificial food. The animal is told what will happen, and that if it is willing to be sacrificed, that it should eat the official food to signify this. Only if the animal eats the special food will it be presented to the spirits for sacrifice. If it eats anything else first, it must be let free because it is not willing to do the work. It has been my experience that the willing animals not only go immediately to the official food, they will eat all of it, and not even touch the other food (which will be the same: for example, three identical piles of corn for a chicken). They also act like they know what is happening, and they do not fight when they are picked up by the butcher, etcetera. It is a profound experience that is observed with the greatest amount of kindness and dignity. The animal has one life, and is being willing to give it up for us — how could we be less than respectful of that?” — Mambo Chita Tann

“It would have to come into play. A person has to choose to sacrifice an animal, and that is the very definition of volition. In a Neopagan context, I find the notion of animal sacrifice not necessary except for rare exceptions.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Should animal sacrifice have a place in modern Paganisms, reconstructionisms, and Witchcraft?

“As I am none of these things, I do not feel that it is my place to answer for them. That said I believe that animal sacrifice should have a place in any authentically lived religious tradition which has spirits or gods which request or traditionally receive such things.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Until and unless those practices have a stated need for animal sacrifice – and I believe that most of them never will – I would say no. Should that become necessary, for logistical reasons (i.e., not living in a land with easy access to food animals, refrigeration, etc.), or should the gods require it, then I would believe that those same gods would provide access to the proper context, training, and ability to do so. Vodouisants themselves have this situation. Very, very few individual Vodouisants perform animal sacrifices, and even those who do, do not do it on a daily or regular basis. In the cases where that is a necessary event, there are trained personnel that one can go to, who will perform it on your behalf. I rarely perform that act in the United States; it is simply less necessary here, given our modern conveniences when it comes to food. Even in Haiti, I do not perform it often, and in all cases, I have access to trained personnel who can help me with the sacrifices I am not trained to perform myself. Everything is community-based. Modern Paganisms would have to define the same sorts of communities before they would even know if that was something they were going to need to do. If it ever happens, I believe it would be a long time in the future.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“In general, it could have a very important place, but unless it can be done right it shouldn’t be done at all.” — John Beckett

“In most instances I do not think animal sacrifice really has a place in modern Neopaganism. I do know of a heathen farmer who raises his own pigs and ritually sacrifices one, but this is a rare situation. In a modern context, there simply are alternatives to sacrifice that are every bit as effective.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What is the nature of sacrifice in terms of transactions between spirits, Gods, and other entities?

“Sometimes sacrifices are a form of payment. Other times they are a form of celebration. Sometimes it is a transaction, sometimes it is praise; always it is reverent.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Depending on the context and the nature of the sacrifice, the sacrifice can reinforce connections by being a thanksgiving for help that has been given; it can be made as a promise for future action; it can be given as a substitute for someone else’s life (as I mentioned above). Sacrifice can represent a total offering of the self to the deities or spirits, or it can be a payment for an expected reciprocal benefit. There is no general meaning that applies to all sacrifices from all people to all spirits or gods – each one, like its nature as a unique and special thing, has a unique and special meaning.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“The nature of sacrifice is that which defines our relationship with the gods (and Kindreds). There are many reasons for sacrifice, and that defines what exactly is being asked or expected in the transaction. Here are few types of sacrifices as our Arch Druid Kirk Thomas has discussed in his various works:

1. Transactional sacrifice is the most common form of sacrifice where the sacred object is offered, and in the nature of hospitality, a gift is given in return. The basis of ADF’s Return Flow portion of ritual is “a gift calls for a gift.” The best one can offer is given, and the blessing and gratitude from the gods is given in return. 2. Piacular Sacrifice was a common Roman offering given during ritual to ask for recompense in case the offerings given weren’t enough or good enough. It is based on the fact that humans are inherently flawed, and the offering is given to acknowledge that. This type of sacrifice is still seen in the Roman Catholic Church. 3. The appeasement sacrifice is a type of offering given to a being or god to leave you alone. It is literally the “take this and leave” offering. Generally, this type of offering is given to beings not aligned with the ritual being worked, and they are given an offering out of respect to acknowledge they exist, but they are not part of the work being performed. 4. The shared meal is a type of sacrifice where a portion of the cooked food is offered to the gods. This is a very common ancient and Neopagan practice. 5. Chaos mitigates cosmos is a type of sacrifice that uses a series of offerings to recreate the cosmos in a ritual setting. This type of sacrifice goes back into the pan Indo-European creation story of Man and Twin. Man kills Twin and Twin is dismembered to create the world and cosmos. The chaos is the unknown or Otherworld, and Man takes his place as king of the Otherworld. This type of offering is meant to recreate this, but without any actual bloodshed.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What about relationship; how does it play into the idea of sacrifice?

“I cannot imagine giving a sacrifice without having a relationship both with the being receiving the sacrifice and the community that would benefit from it; either in the form of food/reversion of the offerings, in the benefits gained from the sacrifice, or both. One might give a random gift to a stranger, for example, but it would be unlikely that one would give a random stranger the most expensive, most wonderful thing one owned. Sacrifice is a special event in the already-existing relationship between beings.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Sacrifice strengthens relationships: between worshipers and their Gods, and among members of a religious community.” — John Beckett

“Sacrifice is as much about building relationships with the gods as any other reason. It is an act of hospitality. When we open sacred space, we invite the Kindreds into the ritual as family and kin. That relationship is built on sharing and trust. We sacrifice to solidify our relationships and make them stronger. Sacrifice allows the gods to give us their blessings and strengthens their bond with us.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

We start this week with a special video entry to Pagan Voices, a lecture by author and publisher Peter Grey on Apocalyptic Witchcraft, from Sitting Now TV. Quote: “Peter Grey, head honcho of esoteric publishers Scarlet Imprint, returns to SittingNow TV with a lecture on Apocalyptic Witchcraft!”

Enjoy! Don’t forget to check out the book from which the talk is based.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“This community is not the same as the one I entered a little over 11 years ago. This community is not the same as the one I was a part of even five years ago, or two years ago. The Pagan community is growing to include some of the very intricate differences among its practitioners. This makes me hopeful, hopeful in ways that I never really thought I would be able to see for the future of this community. It is not just about the acceptance of Black people that is on my mind when I talk about acceptance. It is the very beautiful rainbow of differences that we as a society represent, it is the colors of our skin to the context of our love. It is the plethora of ethnicities, genders, sizes, disabilities, capabilities, expressions of love, and hair types that I am talking about. The inclusivity of children and family specific programming, and a Pagans of color hospitality suite, show a measure of growth in our ability to acknowledge the specific needs of some of our more marginalized groups under the Pagan umbrella.” – Crystal Blanton, on the journey to redefine the Pagan umbrella.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

“A worshiper comes in, genuflects, turns to the largest shrine, catches her breath, reaches her knees. Her friend stops and stands, hand pulled to his heart. I sit in stillness, eyes half-lidded, one heartbeat here in this Temple, one heartbeat in its counterpart in the Otherworld, watching in both. Visitors come and go. A woman whispers urgently on her knees before the Great Queen. Another worshiper stands with the gaze of rapture, smiles, pours out whiskey. Another weeps achingly. I begin to sing. This was the Coru Temple at PantheaCon last weekend. On Friday afternoon, we began building the Temple as soon as we arrived at the convention, first purifications in a nearly-empty room before building the altars. All afternoon and into the evening the priests gathered, swirling about the space, raising the shrines, laying out the regalia, preparing the offerings. That night with a room full of worshipers, we consecrated the Temple of the Morrígan and the Tuatha. We invoked the Gods, heroes, ancestors. Opened the Gates to the cities of the Otherworld. Poured out offerings, chanted, prayed.” – Morpheus Ravenna, on the foundations of the Coru Temple at PantheaCon 2014.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“The Temple of the Morrigan was an experience that couldn’t be found anywhere else at Pantheacon – not in rituals, not in workshops, not even next door talking with the Coru priests. Several participants said something along the lines of “I wish other groups would do this.”  Some traditions already have guidelines and rubrics for temples – it would be good to see and experience them.  Other traditions – particularly the newer Pagan traditions – have grown up in living rooms and back yards and public parks.  For those traditions, a temple at a gathering would be a chance to experiment with both structures and liturgies, to see what works well and what sounds good but really isn’t. Because some day we will have permanent temples. My gratitude to the Coru Cathubodua for their hard work in setting up the Temple of the Morrigan and for their hospitality.  Keeping the temple open meant someone had to be there all day (and not off playing at the con): answering questions, emptying offering bowls (there’s a tree beside the Doubletree hotel that should be feeling really really good for quite some time!) and making sure fresh bottles were available when needed. And my highest gratitude to the Gods, heroes and ancestors who filled the temple with their presence and who were there for me and for so many others. Thank you all.” – John Beckett, on his experiences of the Coru Temple.

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“I don’t know what the conversations between the Coru priests and members were, as they planned for their Temple. I don’t know what their intentions were, from the start, nor if what they wound up with at the conference was indeed what they had set out to call into being. What I do know, however, is that every single fucking person who stepped into that space — shoes removed, body washed in sacred waters, knees bent in reverence as they entered — was graced with something entirely fucking different than the rest of the weekend could offer, and in most cases I would wager entirely fucking different than what could be brought into being in their own homes and shrine-rooms. There is a difference between a Temple and a shrine-room, between a “dedicated space” and a living, sentient and responsive Temple, which was big enough to contain all of the gods named and a thousand thousand left unnamed and all of the blessed and elevated dead and not a few wandering, misplaced souls (both of the corporeal variety and otherwise), which reverberated from inside with fucking majesty and authentic, lived and experienced divine grace. Others have described the Temple in more detail than I will, here, because I don’t really do descriptions. What I can do, however, is a humble, completely unworthy acknowledgement: what was done with that Temple, by the priests whose care and crafting brought it from possibility to awesome reality and by the gods and spirits who guided and guarded the process, was important.” – Anomalous Thracian, on the Coru Temple at PantheaCon 2014 (it seemed fitting to give three perspectives).

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth

“One of the more common definitions of Paganism includes the notion that it is an “earth-based” or “nature-derived” spirituality.  Though this definition is sometimes problematic, it fits many of the traditions within Paganism quite well, particularly the one to which I’m most aligned: Druidry.  And as such, any arrangement of human activity which damages the earth should be critiqued by Paganism (I’d actually say “opposed”), and this leads to one of the reasons why I’d be writing it specifically from a Pagan perspective.  Paganism, whether or not it intends to be, functions as a political critique of society in the same way many indigenous religions do.  And that critique is largely anti-Capitalist, even when unstated or acknowledged. As such, we’ve got more in common with Queer- and Liberation- theologians, First Nations resistance movements, Anarchists, Socialists, and many other “leftist” movements than we’re always aware of, even if any particular person within Paganism might identify instead with pro-Capitalist economic stances (I’ve noted that a visible minority of ADF-aligned Druids, CR folks and Heathens identify as Libertarians, or “Anarcho-Capitalists,” at least on-line).” – Rhyd Wildermuth, on his intention to write a book about Capitalism (for Pagans).

Dr. Carole M. Cusack

Dr. Carole M. Cusack

“I first heard about Discordianism, for example, through students. Guy McCulloch did a presentation in an undergraduate unit on religious experience on the Principia Discordia, which I immediately purchased a copy of. After my marriage ended in 1992 I was involved for some time with Michael Usher, who had studied Crowleyan occultism for a time and presented me with a House of the Apostles of Eris ‘Pope’ card (that was the first direct contact I had with Australian Discordians). The interest I felt would have gone nowhere except for the help and support I received from Alex Norman (then a research assistant and PhD student). He and I have worked together for so long it’s hard to imagine that our two brains weren’t forever conjoined, and he convinced me to keep at it, to make it happen, to find methodological models that would enable sense to be made of such anarchic and irreverent materials, and I did. His impressive collective of Flying Spaghetti Monster t-shirts may have assisted, though that’s not certain! I’m proud and happy that Invented Religions has received eighteen published reviews, all of which are positive. I understand that some people, both ‘insiders’ of certain of the traditions examined (mostly Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius) but also some esoterically-inclined scholars, have objected to my etic, outsider approach to these groups, but I can only riposte that a scholarly conversation can only occur when the preliminary documentation of the phenomena has been accomplished, and that’s what I was doing. I still love the book; it’s been the easiest thing I’ve ever written. And the funnest (and yes, I know that’s not a word).” - Dr. Carole M. Cusack, on Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and other “invented” religions (which she wrote a scholarly examination of).

Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

“I recently attended Convocation for the first time. I was having dinner one night at the restaurant and I talked with my waiter for a bit about the convention. She asked me if I thought that she and her co-worker would be accepted if they visited the vendor room to look around and I told her that I thought it would be fine (The vendor room was open to the public as far as I knew). I thought about that conversation later on and how in that moment I was a public face for Paganism. And how at any convention that is hosted in a space such as a hotel, all of us are public faces of Paganism, even if we don’t realize we are. The public space we are in is not solely a Pagan space. It is shared space and the impressions we make on the hotel staff and other guests matter. When I’m at an event or anywhere really, I behave the way I’d want other people to behave toward me. I’m courteous to the staff, acknowledge the work they are doing and do my best to be mindful of my behavior and how others might perceive it. Now it’s true that I’m at a convention to have fun, but  I also want to make a good impression because the staff and guests will come away from those experiences with their own perceptions about Pagans. And likely they’ll already have some assumptions and beliefs about us based on their own spiritual beliefs, etc. However I think that how we act in public is important.” – Taylor Ellwood, on how you are the public face of Paganism at conventions and public events.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“Beginning in 1979, over the next twenty years many books were written by a third generation that broadened the Craft in new directions. Starhawk’s feminist and earth-centered vision in The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess inspired eco-activists and feminist witches. Scott Cunningham’sWicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner was an inspiration for those who could not or did not want to belong to a group. My book Wicca drew on my background in Jungian psychology to show how initiatory Wicca could be a path of spiritual growth and personal transformation. Phyllis Currot’s Book of Shadows, A Modern Woman’s Journey into the Wisdom of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess inspired thousands of women to find spiritual fulfillment in contemporary witchcraft. Each generation has built on the next, evolving from the contributions of our predecessors on the path. When I wrote Wicca, I had been in Wicca for 15 years. What I had seen in that time was how Wicca had the potential to transform people. Many of the processes that I had seen occurring as people worked their way through the initiatory systems were those that manifest through the inner journey of growth that Carl Gustav Jung called ‘individuation’. By exposing our inner world to the Gods and to those who share the spiritual journey with us, we are transformed. This is not the matter of a few years, but a lifelong process, which initiatory Wicca at its best can nurture, support and foster. The purpose of such a journey is that of the Great Work – the transformation of self as a starting point for the transformation of humankind; for if individuals do not change, then societies cannot evolve. Our aim is to grow nearer the Gods, to move from our egocentric engagement with the world for our own ends, to a re-centering that detaches us from our own preoccupations and allows us the see the world from a wider, deeper, and longer-term perspective.” – Vivianne Crowley, on the “third generation” of books on Wicca, and her book, “Wicca: A Comprehensive Guide to the Old Religion in the Modern World” (now 25 years old).

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

[The following report was written by Joanne Young Elliott, and was originally published at PNC-Southern California. It is being republished here with the permission of the author.]

The tenth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies this past weekend in Claremont brought to bear the research of two dozen scholars and alternative religious activists to consider issues including Pagan identity, racism and homophobia within the community and the environmental impact of what has often been referred to as an “earth-based religion.”

Friday night celebration with cake. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Friday night celebration with cake. Photo by Charles Elliott.

The Feb. 8-9 conference at Claremont Graduate University, an official event of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont, focused upon the theme “Relationships with the World.” It fittingly began with a video from Patrick McCollum, a Wiccan Priest who has been invited to represent American paganism the UN and to large religious gatherings around the world. The video was a hello to us from India as he made his way to the Mahayaga in Kerala. Patrick was invited to co-facilitate this multi-million person spiritually-based event. He stated in his video that, “We need a new narrative that includes everyone.” He believes that within Paganism we have an inclusive story.

There were twenty-three conference presenters including the two keynote speakers, Lon Milo DuQuette and Crystal Blanton. Everyone had something interesting to say, but I will only give an overview of important highlights for the Pagan community. You can see the full list of presenters here along with the titles of their papers. If you want a detailed account of all the speakers you can check out Tony Mierzwicki’s blog, The Emerald Tablet. (To be up within the next couple of days.)

Joseph Futerman in his paper “The Burning Times Bugaboo—Using Fear to Create Insiders in Contemporary Paganism” asked us: “Why do we keep this myth of destruction, sadness and loss alive?” It hasn’t stopped genocides. He later went on to say that he was using the word “myth” to mean story or narrative and not an untruth, but a greater truth. What is that greater truth we think we are telling ourselves and what does the myth of the Burning Times give us? He suggested that it gives us our identity, the Insider versus the Outsider. He then asked a few more questions:

  • What is the effect of interacting from fear, suspicion and anger?
  • What is the effect of claiming that we are the disempowered few?
  • Is this what we seek to teach?

Joseph likes to ask questions, at some point later in the conference he said, “I only ask questions, I don’t have the answers.” This is what this conference is all about. And his provocative questions sparked some interesting comments during the Q&A. Sabina Magliocco talked about the trope of the disempowered and identity and how that has helped create some important movements like Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. Joseph suggested that working from this identity ultimately leads to war in terms of things like the war on poverty. He also mentioned that embracing this role means we’re agreeing with those who think we shouldn’t be here. There was a lot to contemplate.

So what else do Pagans have in common? Pagan therapist Scott Gilliam presented “The Reemergence of the Pagan Soul and Its Voice in the World.” In his research he discovered twelve shared themes amongst Pagans who became Pagan and were not brought up Pagan. One of them was that feeling of coming home once they discovered there was such a thing as Paganism. The most important theme in terms of the conference topic was a feeling of purpose in the world. He said Pagans see themselves as active, not passive participants in the unfolding of history. Patrick McCollum is a perfect example of this shared theme. Scott also speculated that there is a pagan dimension to the soul that has long been neglected in our society and is now reemerging for a reason.

Paganism seems to be going through an identity crisis with much discussion going on around the Internet about whether or not we should be using Pagan as an umbrella term. What kind of relationship can we have with the rest of the world while breaking up if that’s what is happening?

One relationship that has been going on a long time is that between Pagans and Christians. Sam Webster addressed this in his paper: “The Relationship of Christianity with Paganism.” This paper came about when he got an intense response to his blog post on Patheos: “Beginning the Pagan Restoration” in which he stated “And, no, you can’t worship Jesus Christ and be a Pagan.” And the subsequent post: “Why You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan.”  The flurry of over 300 comments gave Sam some data to work with regarding the Pagan community. Here are a couple of things that he came up with:

  • There is a need for better identity formation and education in history and theology in the Pagan community.
  • A deeper discussion about authority is needed because we are framing things in a Christian way.

Although recently more people report that they are “Christian Pagans,” Sam sees Christianity as a threat. Christianity is a challenge to anyone or culture that is not it and he said he doesn’t want to see the dilution of Paganism.

Margaret Froelich: “The Maiden, the Mother and the Other One: Testing the Triple Goddess for a Feminist World” and Amy Hale: “Cell Block Arcadia: “Nature Religion” and the Politics of Being Pagan” both brought up ideas about how the frameworks and names we use may not fit us and what we actually practice. Margaret said that we should make sure our symbols reflect our values and that the triple goddess model doesn’t fit our modern life, it’s not inclusive enough. Amy argued that calling Paganism a “Nature Religion” may replicate an antimodernist view and perpetuate “noble savage” ideology. By using this as a claimed characteristic of Paganism, Amy states that it may impact the potential ability of Pagan groups to develop.

In terms of Pagan history which is often thought of in terms of our ancient ancestors several presenters in this conference have been investigating our more recent past as a way to help us build our identity and relate to the world we live in today.

Jacqueline Rochelle in “Psycho-Magickal Analysis of the Industrial Revolution and the Rise of Contemporary Paganism” suggests that modern Paganism emerged in the tension between industrialization and the agnostic counter culture.

Armando D “Murtagh An Doile” Marini in “Proto-Pagans: Precursors of the Modern Pagan Movement – Seeking the Themes of Myth and Magic in the American Experience (1850 to 1975)” also sees the Industrial Era as the place where modern Paganism begins. He states three great awakenings:

  • 1731-1755 – Great religious tolerance reigned.
  • 1790-1840 – Period of the Transcendentalists, Mesmerism, Spiritualists and Theosophists.
  • 1850-1900 – The social gospels emerge.

Murtagh’s wife Elizabeth Rose-Marini in “Mythic Landscapes: California and the West Coast – 19th Century Utopias, Cultural Creatives, Health Pioneers and Proto-Pagans” looks at a particular group to give us a sense of what the “Proto-Pagans” were doing and how what they did is connected to what we do now. The Temple branch of the Theosophical Movement used the four quarters in their rites, wanted spirituality to be useful, and empowered women.

There is so much more to their research than I can give here. Please follow them and the Pagan History Project here.

The work of Kimberly Kirner: “Relating to Nature: Spiritual Practice and Sustainable Behavior” and Sabina Magliocco’s “Animal Afterlives” brought out some interesting and somewhat surprising information about Pagans.

Kimberly discovered through her research that the practice of Paganism does not lead to environmentally sustainable behavior. There are non-Pagans who live a sustainable life. Though many Pagans practice small acts of recycling and reusing, this behavior does not reduce overall consumption. Kimberly did find that Pagans that practice in groups did more outdoor ritual and connecting to place. The non-solitary was more likely to be an activist, according to her data. She ended her presentation with a question: “What is our relationship with the earth and its creatures with whom we claim connection?”

Sabina’s work centered on how Pagans confer spiritual personhood on their pets. She noted that this wasn’t something special to Pagans. She discovered that 81% of her survey respondents believed animals have souls regardless of religious affiliation. Like Kimberly’s findings, Sabina noted that Pagans are not as likely to make the personal and political sacrifices for animals that animal workers, who are often atheists, do. Pagans tend to work with animals spiritually.

During the Q&A Sabina mentioned that anthropomorphizing animals began in the mid-1800s with the rise of industrialization. The distance from animals due to the move to urban centers allowed this to take place. Kimberly noted that farm workers don’t see animals as having souls. She noticed a difference between the rural and urban Pagan in this matter. Sam Webster joined the discussion saying that our culture needs to change at the systems level. All the little things we do are not making a difference, he maintained. He believes that religion might be the way to change enough hearts and minds to have a major impact. Kimberly and Sabina pondered how Paganism can be that religion when there is a major dissonance between ideals and action. They did remind us that Pagans are more likely to take action if they belong to groups. Sam thought that it was not just actions, but the act of living a meaningful life that was the key.

Some disturbing information was provided by Tony Mierzwicki: “Ancient Greek Racism, Homophobia and Misogyny?” and Kat Robb: “A Study of Lesbiphobia in the Pagan Community”. This discrimination isn’t just in the past as shared by Marie Cartier – who read from her new book: Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall. Both Tony and Kat brought up specific examples of current racism and homophobia within the Pagan community.

Tony shared an online discussion filled with hate speech by a Greek Reconstructionist. He went on to describe how Ancient Greece was filled with racism, homophobia and misogyny. There is a need to be careful when recreating these various Paganisms. As mentioned earlier by Amy Hale and Margaret Froelich, we need to question whether or not what we do has relevance in our modern world.

Kat Robb’s survey showed that even in what she thought of as an inclusive, sexually open religion there are exclusionary tendencies in some individuals and groups. She shared a personal experience of exclusion that left her in tears.

Crystal Blanton. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Crystal Blanton. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Keynote speaker Crystal Blanton gave a powerful and moving presentation, “Cultural Empathy, Collective Understanding and Healing within the Pagan Community.” She said that Paganism has grown beyond the bounds we have set for ourselves so this healing is important. Paganism needs to include more than just Euro-centric cultures now, she suggested. In the past Crystal said she felt she had to leave a part of herself – her black culture – outside the circle, but she no longer chooses to do so. She asks: Can we have a relationship with the world if we can’t be authentic with each other?

She goes on to talk about how we can heal this in such a diverse community. We need to truly listen to one another and not assume to know another’s cultural story. All of us need to be able to feel safe to be fully who we are in all of our communities. She let us know that “It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about understanding. In order to learn, you must unlearn what you think you know about diversity, cultures and people.” She provided us with so much more information shared with much love for this community. If you’d like to know more about the resources she shared you can contact her via her website.Lon Milo DuQuette’s talk was called “Good and Evil? Get Over It!” and as always he entertained us while enlightening us. He shared his music and wisdom. Through his story of a personal experience of awakening he realized at more than an intellectual level that all is one. He connects to this one via the god Ganesha. He says you get over the idea of evil by expanding your consciousness to include everything. Though we are all unique it’s important to remember Lon’s message as we move forward as a community.

Lon Milo DuQuette. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Lon Milo DuQuette. Photo by Charles Elliott.

These conversations I’m sure will continue this weekend at PantheaCon. If you are going, seek out those I’ve mentioned. Talk to them. Listen. Ask questions. Share your ideas. Be a part of the conversation. Carry the conversation out beyond the walls of any conference. It’s important at this time when the world needs a new story, a new paradigm. Paganism/Paganisms are coming of age and have something important to offer to the world.

Happy 2014! Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“I make time between Samhain and Gregorian New Year for cleaning, organizing, and contemplating. I appreciate the time to prepare. Some consider Samhain to be the end of the old and the start of the new year – and I used to be one of those. These days, however, I am appreciative of the longer tides. Maybe it is a hallmark of middle age. Years rush by and I want to deepen and savor the gifts and the lessons. In recent years, I’ve come to understand that Samhain marks the threshold of many things, including the winding down of the old year. This enables space to open for deeper tides of magic, and helps me percolate on my new intention for the coming year. I appreciate the subtle changes that occur within my practice and my work by this shifting of attention. The tide carries me through Solstice and on. I don’t feel slammed into a new year, breathless, filled with resolutions I’ve scrambled to make.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on setting intentions for the new year.

Peter Beckley

Peter Beckley

“Well I for one enjoy taking stock of the previous year, examining my role in it, how I did with last year’s resolutions, and making new ones. I always have a lot of resolutions, even more than I publicly say, because I’m far from perfect, and want to work on many aspects of my life as well as myself. I could just as easily choose another day in the year to make these resolutions, like my birthday, Samhain, or any other, but I choose to follow the traditional one that I’ve grown up with. The funny thing is, when people make the same kinds of resolutions at other times in the year, people don’t seem to have that knee-jerk negative reaction. Weird! One of the toughest parts about these resolutions is identifying the opportunity for them. You have to willing look at yourself and your life and ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” During the year, there are plenty of chances to stop working on these resolutions, stuff happens, and that’s the next tough part, follow through.” – Peter Beckley, on resolving to have New Year’s resolutions.

Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ

“I have written many times that we must learn to love a life that ends in death. I was speaking about accepting that each one of us will surely die. I do not fear death. Overcoming this fear has opened me to a greater and more clear-sighted love for life. Can we learn to love life while accepting that the world we love may be dying? Can we continue to work to improve the conditions of life for individuals and species knowing that the world as we love it may not survive? Do we have any other choice? For me the hope that can trump despair in our time begins in gratitude for a life that has been given to us, a life that has come down to us through the generations, and through billions of years of the evolutionary process on our planet. Let us bless the Source of Life. Let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. Let us turn back from despair. Let us embrace the gift of life and share it with as many others as possible in the new year.” – Carol P. Christ, on the nature of hope that can triumph over despair at the new year’s dawning.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“No Voodoo or Hoodoo discussion about this time of year would be complete without talking about the traditional New Year’s recipe for collard greens. This dish is served just after midnight. If eaten and prepared right, it is said to bring divine blessings of money and success. The shredded greens, which you are supposed to tear with your bare hands, are thought to represent dollars coming your way.  Collard greens are really good for you too. They are rich in calcium and are said to lower cholesterol, detox your body, and give you cardiovascular and digestive support. Linda Stradley in her piece for What’s Cooking America mentions the popular folklore that a fresh leaf can be hung above the door to “ward off evil spirits.” Collards are undoubtedly a southern U.S. Tradition. Lucky for us, they are readily available this time of year, I even found them on sale as I got ready to make this recipe.  Don’t like greens, well my best advice is to eat them anyway, Amanda Galiano says in her piece about Wealth with Collard Greens and Cornbread that each bite “is worth $1,000 in the upcoming year”  How’s that for incentive to eat your veggies.” – Lilith Dorsey, on the New Year’s tradition of eating collard greens (you have to click the link to get the recipe).

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Now, notice something about the above list: in-person practice trumps everything, including theological developments. And, there are lots of things that happened, and that drew a HUGE amount of attention to this blog in various ways, that I did not mention in the above countdown. 2013 was a year of a huge number of controversies amongst modern polytheists and other pagans, and I don’t think that will subside in 2014. I’m quite certain I’ll be posting more about it in the future, but it is good to be reminded what the purpose of this blog is, where the heart of my practice and attentions lie, and what is truly the most important when it comes to the life of a modern devotional polytheist. I hope your 2013 was excellent, that 2014 will be better in all the ways that 2013 was deficient, and that what was good in 2013 is only improved by this time in 2014 for all of you! The blessings of Antinous and Hadrian and Sabina, Polydeukion and Memnon and Achilles, Herodes Attikos and Appia Annia Regilla, Lucius Marius Vitalis, and the Tetrad++ Group–Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, Pancrates, Paneris, and Panprosdexia–be upon all of you this day and every day!”  - P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, taking stock of the year just passed, and explaining why in-person practice trumps everything.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“I am ending this year with pride and culture. I have been hesitant to start the practice of Kwanzaa in my home for some time, not because I did not believe in the value of its practice, but because of…. fear. It is the continuous fear of breaking away from overculture, even though I am Pagan, and a Black woman. I will never fit into the norm of overculture, and it is not something I am trying to do anyway. It is often an unconscious fear that pushes us away from something that is new and potentially beneficial…. yet different. Kwanzaa is different, even though it should not be. I have dibbled and dabbled in studying up on it, but this year is different for me. 2013 has been one of intensive, intentional cultural reflection and learning. I have much more to learn, and yet am happy about what I am accomplishing on this journey. I have come to see that this year, my openness to embracing my ancestral culture and knowledge has made some people very uncomfortable. And yet, this same openness to embracing my ancestral culture and knowledge has led me to Kwanzaa.” – Crystal Blanton, on Kwanzaa in a Pagan home.

Lori Dake

Lori Dake

“As 2013 draws to a close, there’s a good deal to reflect upon. Many members of our Community have passed on, relationships have changed and babies have been born. Within the military, quite a few changes have occurred as well. [...] Overall, I am satisfied with the progresses that have been made, and, make no mistake, these changes are coming rapidly. I would like to see this momentum carried on through 2014 in avalanche speed for overall equality and fairness. My hope for 2014, besides the aforementioned, is to see Pagans joining the ranks of military chaplaincy, which has been discussed at length for several years. I have mentioned this many times before on Warriors & Kin, and with the efforts of so many people including Patrick McCollum and Circle Sanctuary, perhaps I can be writing this article next year congratulating those who have been accepted for enlistment.” – Lori Dake, reflecting on 2013, for Pagans and individuals in the military, and the hopes for 2014.

Literata drawing down.

Literata drawing down.

“Liminality is a vital concept because in the real world, boundaries are often fuzzy. One year is not the same as the next, but they bleed into each other continuously. We can find and observe “natural” turning points, such as the solstices, but if we weren’t paying some attention, it would be hard to nail down the precise moment when one year turns into the next. We construct more precise boundaries in time, just as we construct more precise boundaries in space. We tend to create rituals that reinforce those constructions, and the change of the calendar from December 31st to January 1st is a perfect example. Even around these kinds of secular or “mundane” (as if anything is truly devoid of magic) kinds of things, there is a common human tendency to create rituals and to observe the experience of liminality. In Wicca and magic, I find the concept of liminality so useful because in those in-between spaces, it’s easier to imagine change, to believe that change is possible, and to work to make change. It is, almost by definition, a more magical time, a situation where we have greater access to possibilities.” – Literata, on liminality in the mundane world.

Houngan Matt (aka Bozanfè Bon Oungan)

Houngan Matt (aka Bozanfè Bon Oungan)

“It’s been a hell of a trip this past year… a mix of absolutely wonderful things, horrifying things; really I suppose it’s been just like any 12 month period of time and the only thing special right now is an arbitrarily chosen end date, but hey… what better excuse is there for parties, noisemakers, and revelry? Come to think of it… there’s never really a bad time for parties, noise, and revelry. (Even if most of us use those three words to refer to the period of time known as “college”.) There’s truly something to be said for sending the old away with enough noise to terrify a small elephant and enough joy in the face of all the last year’s troubles to proclaim one’s ability to rise above it all in jubilation and triumph. In many ways for me it’s been a fantastic year, one of many MANY swift changes… I got to open a wonderful brick-and-mortar shop here in Kansas City with some fabulous friends, a fabulously bright and colorful space full of great product and working altars (both personal working altars for our shop staff as well as community altars for setting of lights and public work) and I really couldn’t be happier with how it’s all been turning out. If you find yourself in Kansas City, you’d better come check out Good Luck! A Kansas City Conjure Shop… and, if you’re not in the region, you’d better go find us on Facebook where we’ve got both a terrific page and a fabulous discussion group.” – Houngan Matt (aka Bozanfè Bon Oungan), on welcoming the New Year.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

Alley Valkyrie.

“I would like Eugene to decide what it actually wants to be. This is a town that suffers from quite the identity conflict. Are we a big city that wants to attract big money and tourism? Because if we are, we have to accept the big-city issues that come with that terrain and stop acting like reactionary provincialists when it comes to issues like the homeless. Or are we a small, little college town? Which is it? Are we a human rights city? Or do we let people die on the streets for lack of shelter as houses sit empty nearby? We can’t be both. And trying to be both has failed.” – Alley Valkyrie, quoted in the Eugene Weekly, on what her vision for the future of Eugene, Oregon would be, at the closing of 2013.

That’s all I have for now, have a great 2014!

“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.

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!

conference-logo-transparent-background1The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced that author (and Wild Hunt columnist) Crystal Blanton will be one of the keynote speakers at their 2014 conference this coming February. At her official Facebook page, Blanton asked followers which of three topics they would prefer she address with her keynote; the effect of racism within the Pagan community, the different forms of axiology within ethnic cultures and how that applies to the assessment of value within the Pagan community, or understanding cultural sensitivity and the need for collective healing for healthy racial integration within Paganism. Each of these topics would fit in well with 2014′s theme of “Relationships With The World.” Quote: “What is our relationship as contemporary pagans with the rest of the world at this point in history? What is the nature of our relationship with ourselves? With others? With the Divine? Who do we reach out to? Who do we support? What kind of communities are we building? As we ask for acceptance, who are we accepting? Who do we reject? Who do we love? Who do we make the enemy?” The deadline for paper proposals is September 15th.

booktitleProlific indie esoteric filmmaker Antero Alli has a new movie coming out called The Book of Jane that explores mythic themes and the idea of fate. Quote: “Alice, a Professor of Comparative Religion, is writing a book exalting the ancient values of pre-Hellenic goddess mythologies and Feminine deity worship. One day she meets Jane, an enigmatic older woman who roams the university campus, sleeps under a bridge, and rattles Alice with her disturbing insights. At home, Alice is the muse to her partner Colette, an artist who is painting a series of goddess portraits. When Colette hears about Jane, she encourages a reluctant Alice to invite her over for dinner. “The Book of Jane” is a story of three women bound together by fate to advance the values of an ancient culture into contempory life — at a deep cost no one expected.” Making an appearance as the goddess Morrigan is artist, teacher, and spiritual worker Morpheus Ravenna. You can watch a clip featuring her embedded below, or simply click here.

pcThe Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation have announced that they will be holding a one-day Witchcraft conference in honor of Patricia Crowther on April 6th, 2014, in Nottingham. Quote: “We are continuing our series of ‘A Day For . . ‘ events and this year we will be honouring the achievements and contribution to the Witchcraft and Pagan community of Patricia Crowther. Patricia is one of the few remaining contemporaries of Gerald Gardner and has to be considered one of the true Elders of the Craft. She was initially reluctant to allow us to hold a day in her honour but we have persuaded her that the Craft and pagan communities deserve their chance to pay her their respects and celebrate her so we are very pleased to announce that all being well she will be our guest of honour on the day. We will also present talks by Vivianne & Chris Crowley, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Philip Heselton and Patricia’s good friend and astronomy expert, John Harper.” You can purchase advance tickets now. You can also download and share a flyer if you wish. If I were in the UK, I would love to attend this, so don’t miss out!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Initial guests and bands have been announced for FaerieCon West in Seattle, including German Pagan-folk band Faun, and authors John Matthews (see our recent interview with him), Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi. The event takes place February 21-23rd (the weekend after PantheaCon), and has moved to the Seattle Doubletree Hilton. For those on the East Coast, FaerieCon East in Baltimore is coming up November 8th – 10th, and also features a lot of wonderful guests. Full disclosure: I work for the company that produces these events, but I think their quality stands up even if you account for my conflict of interest.
  • An IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has been launched for a new online magazine called Limina. Quote: “Limina is an online magazine of women writing about faith. The word Limina means ‘she who is standing on the threshold.’ We hope to explore matters of faith, culture, politics, and arts from that position. We are diverse and inclusive, representing many religions, spiritualities, and faith traditions, as well as atheists and agnostics. We take our voices seriously, we take our position seriously, and we honor the work of those who came before us and made what we do possible. But we can be irreverent at times. We’re here to engage readers, and to make them think, and occasionally, to prod them into action.” I’ve spoken with one of the organizers, and she says they are planning to include several Pagan voices. I’ve embedded their pitch-video below.

  • Funds are currently being raised to create an Avalon. Quote: “Thanks for taking the time to visit our JustGiving page.  We’re fundraising to create a sacred grove in Avalon, in a small but beautiful privately-owned field right on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor.  It’ll be formed of a circle of twenty-four trees, mostly Apple, with Rowan marking the four entrances and Oak standing as guardians around the space.  Aromatic herbs on the ground and evergreen plants  all around will give atmosphere and privacy.  It’s still a mystery what will go in the centre – perhaps a small pool, perhaps a fire dish: it’ll become clear as the project unfolds.” One of the co-organizers of this project is author Sorita d’Este.
  • Alane Brown, Witch, and composer for the musical group Crow Women, is currently in the midst of a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru. She’s been keeping a wonderful blog of insights and experiences that I think many of you might enjoy. I think her post about celebrating the Winter Solstice is particularly good.
  • Aidan Kelly has written a remembrance of Allan Lowe / Demian Moonbloode, a NROOGD Elder who played a key role in the formation of the Covenant of the Goddess. Quote: “He was very involved in the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess, designing the original masthead for the COG newsletter and serving as a local and national officer during its first years. He went on to found Silver Star [...] one of our more radical and liberal covens, and it became the ancestor of about 90 percent of the NROOGD covens that have existed since then.” What is remembered, lives.

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

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

“It comes to me that practitioners of European polytheist traditions have a duty on us to take a clear stance against racism in our religious communities. Not to do so, I think, inevitably leads us into tacitly condoning racism, because of its ubiquity in the overculture and its history as an undercurrent within European polytheism. So here’s my stance: Though the form of religious practice I choose to espouse is largely based on Celtic traditions, I reject any ideology that says those traditions belong specially to me because of race. I speak often of ancestors and ancestral tradition, but I affirm that the ancestral root of wisdom belongs to all humanity. I reject all arguments that imply race should be tied to religion in any way or that racial purity is a relevant concept or worthy goal. I challenge my fellow polytheists to also step up and take a stance against racism in our religious communities, as publicly as possible.” – Morpheus Ravenna, discussing  race, Eurocentrism, and ancestors at her blog.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“On the anniversary of this monumental moment in history, I remember my mother’s stories of segregation, my Aunt Thelma’s stories of cleaning the White woman’s house as a child, and my father’s desire to work all of his life to provide for a present that showed something different than his past…… opportunity. Our society has always had values that were fashioned for some, and not all. The social darwinism that our society has practiced for hundreds of years has become interwoven into the fabric of Americanized thought. Yet I believe we are ALL worth it. My Gods tell me that all people deserve the opportunity to live, love, prosper, worship, and enjoy this here life. And so I ask that we all take a moment, think about what this world could be for our children and our grandchildren, and push our energy towards a vision of equality that we have never had here. I will not leave my future family to fight a battle that I did not fight to stop.” – Crystal Blanton, on ringing a bell for freedom on the 50th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech, delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington.

Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ

“From the standpoint of traditional theologies shaped around the image of male power as power over and the concept of omnipotence, it might seem that the power of the process Goddess is “limited.”  This is a mistake.  The process Goddess does not voluntarily “withdraw from the world” (as in Kabbalah) or voluntarily “limit” her power (as in some forms of the free will defense) in order for the world and free individuals to exist.  According to process philosophy Goddess never did have all the power, because Goddess has always been in relationship to some other individuals.  To be an individual is to have at least a degree of freedom and at least a degree of power.  This means that individuals other than Goddess have always and will always have some of the power in this or any other universe.  Goddess cannot be omnipotent, because an omnipotent Goddess logically cannot be in relationship to other individuals who also have a degree of freedom and power.” – Carol P. Christ, on whether a relational god(dess) is powerful enough.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Honestly, there is nothing “nasty” about sex or sexuality. There are many things in the world which are dirty, filthy, and disgusting, including corporate greed, social injustice, government corruption, environmental degradation, and the like, all of which involve not only figurative “filth,” but also spiritual miasma, tsumi, and other such terms of defilement on a moral and spiritual level. Sex, sexual desire, and sex organs, however, are not “filthy” or “dirty” or “nasty” in themselves. The fact that sex often is done in squalid conditions, secretly, in an embarrassed and lurid fashion, has contributed to the pathologization of it. This stems from religious arguments that see sex as the root of “original sin,” starting as early as 1600 years ago with Augustine of Hippo’s thoughts on the matter. [...] I have found the reactions to Sunday night’s performances more telling than the performances themselves about the neuroses of the modern American overculture. I suspect there was more calculation than the performers are willing to admit in terms of attempting to deliberately push buttons of the viewing audience in order to get attention, and it has worked spectacularly. The screen of a twenty-year-old young woman who was a former child star, a mid-thirties man attempting to re-start his singing career, and a bunch of teddy bears has been used to show a gag-reel of nearly all the sexual neuroses of our wider culture in the form of strongly-worded blog posts, Twitter messages, and Facebook memes. Many of the people commenting likely do not consider themselves Christian, and yet they are just as enthralled to the old ideas of Christian sexual theology and morality as the pope.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on a theologically mature approach to sexuality.

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller

“I have learned so much from Unitarian Universalists in terms of including children in worship and/or ritual and in community, and working around parents’ needs–scheduling meetings that busy parents can attend and providing childcare during business meetings so that parents can be active members of religious communities! I learned that children LOVE ritual. Pagan traditions are really effective for positive experiences for children–from Sabbats to chants to the particular structure of circle ritual. The Unitarian Universalists I have worked with have been very supportive of my including Neo-Pagan traditions in children’s worship. Many adult services celebrate the Equinoxes and Solstices as well. In general, I have found that most UUs are either personally knowledgeable or at least very curious and interested in Paganism. Jessica Zebrine-Gray, UU-Pagan and religious educator, recently developed a brochure for the UUA on Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and of course I cannot skip mention of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans! Unitarian Universalists also have a program of liberal values-based sexuality education. The program is called Our Whole Lives because it ranges through the lifespan, regularly called “OWL” for short.” – Michelle Mueller, on what Pagan families can learn from Unitarian Universalists.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“The gods call who they call, and there are plenty of examples of deities calling people unexpectedly.  If you feel the call of a deity, answer, even if that deity comes from an unfamiliar pantheon.  Even if a particular goddess doesn’t call you to her formal service, there’s nothing to stop you from making offerings to her, praying to her, and asking her for help.  Perhaps she’ll respond and perhaps she won’t, but honoring a goddess is always a good thing to do. Although I am a priest of Cernunnos, it would be the height of arrogance for me to tell someone “He would never call you.”  On the other hand, if the way that person manifests Cernunnos’ presence is at odds with what is generally known about Him (from others as well as from me), I may question who he’s dealing with, or at the very least, his commitment to Him.  If, to give what I hope is an absurd example, he cites the lusty aspect of the Stag as an excuse to rape, I will argue (among many other things) he is not properly committed to Him. The gods call who they call and we are free to respond to the calls we feel, but we are not entitled to respond in any way we like.” – John Beckett, on race and religion in the modern Pagan world.

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

“I’m going to offer a harsh statement here. If you call yourself Earth-centered…or if you turn and face the North in ritual and invoke or honor the Earth, and you are littering like this, if you aren’t sorting your trash and recycling, if you are drinking bottled water and not making any attempt to begin to live more sustainably, you have no business standing in ritual and calling Earth, honoring the Earth. It’s hypocritical. And that probably pisses you off. And, maybe instead of being ticked off at me, the messenger, you can acknowledge where you might need to do some work to use less resources. For those who called me a hypocrite for calling for the use of less resources, particularly not using styrofoam or plastic cups in a ritual, being a hypocrite would mean I’m not working hard to reduce my use of resources. If you are honestly, sincerely trying, then you’re not a hypocrite. But, we can all do better. We aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m using resources too. But, like many others, I am working hard to reduce my use. It’s hard, and my greatest fear is that it’s not going to have enough of an impact. But I’m going to try my best, because, I am Earth-Centered. I value the Earth and my relationship to it. I consider it a contract, a sacred trust. It’s my job to live in better harmony, to reduce my use of resources, and to help others do the same.” – Shauna Aura Knight, on not being a hypocrite when it comes to honoring the Earth.

Damh the Bard

Damh the Bard

“I sat and opened to the Spirit of Place once more and asked for a blessing from the Horned One. I went deep into a senses meditation where I opened all of my senses to the world around me. I sat there in the dawn sunshine. After moments I heard a movement behind me. A rustling through the long grasses of the marsh. I turned slowly to face the most glorious Roebuck. His coat shining in the dawn sun. Again we caught each other’s eyes. I looked into the eye of the Lord of the Wild, then he slowly, and quite calmly walked away from me. No fear. I watched as he disappeared into the green. I breathed in the experience. Felt the blessings. Felt blessed. The next night the concert was fabulous. The ritual was powerful, and as I walked once more into the land through the avenue of blazing torches I knew where my pilgrimage would begin. I spent hours in contemplation within the woods of Owl and Deer. I listened to storytellers within the roundhouse. I listened to the land. My night’s journey was a deeply personal one, bless by the events of the previous evening. I feel renewed, open, alive, ready to write even more songs.” – Damh the Bard, on receiving a true blessing.

Teo Bishop

Teo Bishop

“That’s the thing about new beginnings. The are necessarily shrouded. They are not transparent. There is mystery inexorably woven into every aspect of them. We don’t know where we’ll get our food, walk our dogs, build community. We don’t know how the weather will feel, how the land will look as the seasons change, or how we will be embraced by the people of Portland. We have no clear sense of what the future will bring. But I think that those are the conditions which make possible some real magic. So maybe when we get to Portland I’ll start blogging with more regularity. Maybe I’ll write about what it feels like to live around so much lush greenery. Maybe I’ll write about what it’s like to live so close to a river, or in a place that’s not dry as a bone. Maybe I’ll stumble upon some little metaphysical shop and spark up a conversation that leads to a post, or I’ll meet a Witch or a Druid or a Unitarian that I’d only known on Facebook, and maybe that interaction will shed light on something that has, unbeknownst to me, been hidden. Maybe I’ll discover a spiritual practice again. Maybe I’ll find the room to try something new, or better yet, to try something old, something forgotten, underutilized, or neglected. Maybe there will be more new beginnings than I know what to do with, and I’ll have to write about all of them. Or maybe I’ll do something altogether different. I don’t know.” – Teo Bishop, on moving to Portland, and the nature of new beginnings.

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!

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project, an organization serving military Heathens, has announced a letter writing campaign to urge the U.S. Army and Department of Defense to expedite allowing Heathens to choose “Asatru” or “Heathen” as their religious preference (which they currently can not do). Quote: “We’ve already processed this request twice, with the support of the Asatru Alliance and the Troth. That was over two years ago now and we are being told we will have to wait even longer. The OHP would like to initiate a letter writing campaign to our legislators, in the hopes that putting congressional pressure on the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense will have some positive effect. We specifically are calling on those who live in a district run by a member of either the House Armed Services Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee. These are the folks that can really bring some political muscle to bear for us!” You can download and edit a sample letter, here. With the recent publicity over the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran grave markers and headstones, now seems like opportune time to press this issue forward.

AREN_ACTIONThe Lammas edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN), has been released. This edition has a special focus on Pagans in South Africa, and according to editor Christopher Blackwell “deals with the development in the community from coming out until today.” Interviewees include Dr. Dale Wallace, who wrote her doctoral thesis on South African Pagans, Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), Donna “Darkwolf” Vos, founder of Circle of The African Moon, and more. This is a rare, in-depth look at Paganism in South Africa, and these interviews deserve to be read widely. Here is a quote from Dr. Dale Wallace’s interview: “Far more than Paganism per se, it is the witchcraft issue that affects almost all religions in South Africa with many divisions arising over differences of opinion, experience and interpretation. Where these become really important is in finding some consensus over a definition of the terms in light of the repeal or replacement of current legislation, and also the very real possibility of this not being adequately addressed. Different outcomes will have some serious consequences for many communities.” In addition to the section on South African Paganism, this issue of ACTION also features an interview with Taliesin Govannon, director of “Dark of Moon.”

terra mysteriumThe Chicago-based performance troupe Terra Mysterium, who create “experiential works of music, theatre, and performance art that are rooted in the Earth mysteries,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign to fund their 2013 season. Quote: “This year we are looking to add even more exciting elements to two wonderful new productions – a full-length play that will feature animations and light mapping, as well as a touring production – and, as a stretch goal, two more music videos. In addition to these artistic projects we will incorporate this year as a non-profit theatre company with the intent to achieve a 501 (c)(3) status in the near future. Both these actions will help to make Terra Mysterium a sustainable troupe.” Terra Mysterium is trying to raise $6,500 in 30 days, and have raised nearly $2000 dollars so far. You can see samples of Terra Mysterium’s work at their official Youtube channel. I’ve embedded their official 2013 fundraiser pitch video below. You may also want to check out Terra Mysterium’s official Facebook page for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

“One of my values, as a Pagan leader, is to make rituals and spiritual experiences that are accessible and inclusive. At least–as much as I’m able to. I talk to a lot of Pagans who vehemently agree with this concept…and who then present rituals that–for various reasons–are not very accessible or inclusive. Their rituals may present difficulty for people with mobility challenges. Or the rituals may not really be inclusive of gay, lesbian, or transgender community members. And there’s lots of other ways rituals could be inaccessible and exclusive. Often this is done unintentionally; however, there is still an impact. I’ve said before that activism is sometimes saying the unpopular thing. Often, it’s standing up for those who do not have as much power in a dynamic, whose voices are not heard. In this case, the unpopular thing is the idea that we–Pagan leaders and ritualists–may need to change how we approach rituals in order to make our rituals more accessible and inclusive. We may even need to re-evaluate some of our dearly-held theological beliefs. If we want the dominant culture to change, to legalize gay marriage, support people with disabilities, eliminate racism…don’t we have to do that work first ourselves, within our community?” -  Shauna Aura Knight, on making Pagan ritual truly inclusive, at Pagan Activist.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“I believe that it is the loss of love that disconnects us from the human experience of those around us, allows us to pass judgment on others, and then profile the faces of those different from us to assume acceptable responses to our biased perceptions. Yet if love is the law, how can this ever be OK in our world?  I pondered those questions in that theater tonight, and again when I got home while talking at the kitchen table with my son. It was the loss of love and the amplified ego of those with badges in the movie that took Oscars life. It was a grieving family and producer that worked hard to restore love back into the picture. And the spiritual, social and political reminders we got watching that movie together connected us to all the things that I feel are important. Allowing my son to learn and cultivate why justice is important, why understanding privilege is essential, and why love for who we all can become is mandatory, is very important to a future he can find hope in. He has a responsibility, as do I, and as do you.” – Crystal Blanton, on love being the law, and the movie “Fruitvale Station.”

Teo Bishop

Teo Bishop

“I still very much feel like I am on a Druidic path. I don’t think you can ever truly disassociate yourself from traditions you have been a part of, and ADF has been very influential on me. So leaving ADF was a difficult decision to make, yes. But I decided to leave because it just felt, in all of my parts, like the right thing for me to do at this point in my own spiritual evolution. My leaving made a splash only because I am fairly public with aspects of my spirituality and my process. I’ve also been in a role of leadership within ADF, and I feel very happy about how things have been progressing in my absence, particularly with the Solitary Druid Fellowship. I think it’s important to understand that this is not some big dramatic event, but that my own process has led me to leave. I’m not on a crusade against ADF. There are many wonderful people in ADF who have genuinely been kind to me — both before and after this decision.” – Teo Bishop on leaving the ADF, and if he’s still a Druid, from an interview with PNC-Minnesota.

Amy Martin

Amy Martin

“What does it mean to be human? To be all that a human can be. It a conscious decision each individual has to make, to join the human journey and find yourself stirred to the core at being of an evolutionary pageantry spanning millions of years. To posses a brain that expanded from its limbic animal origins, to its bicameral split, eventually to include a prefrontal cortex that defines us as humans. To see ourselves connected even to the early creation of the Earth from cosmic debris, consolidating and creating a miracle planet — not too hot, not to cold, and flush with oxygen — where humans could flourish and be formed from its very substance. It is the human song, born in the swirling stardust, formed from atoms and elements forged in the stellar furnaces of exploded dying stars. To be fully human is to stand before the infinite matrix of light formed from nebulae, galaxies and stars, and know you are no less. It is to be part of something greater, however that greater is defined — whether a divine God, a pantheon of deities, a permeating life energy, or evolutionary unfolding — and the grateful humility that brings. From this deep sense of eternal interconnectedness arises empathy, the highest of human emotions. We progress beyond being enamored with animal comforts and bloom into our higher selves. From that fundamental awareness of interconnection and oneness, all virtue unfolds naturally. To paraphrase Mae West, ‘Religion had nothing to do with it.’” -  Amy Martin, Director Emeritus of Earth Rhythms and Writer/editor of Moonlady News Newsletter, responding to the question of what it means to be a religious person.

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

“Last night, the Lincoln Memorial was vandalized.  This was an insult to our fallen Patriots.  It is an insult to those of us who call Washington, D.C. home.  It is an insult to Americans.  It was also an insult to Pagans. This monument to President Lincoln is a monument to Freedom.  Not the every day freedom that we have to walk about the street.  But, the idea of Freedom that we all have to own our own lives, our own future.  These vandals insulted Freedom. The monuments on the National Mall are sacred.  These are sacred spaces in the Nation’s Capital. Pagans have many times held rituals on and near these spaces in order to draw their meaning into our work.  At the Jefferson Memorial, we have staged the yearly Samhain Drumming and the 2009 Animating the Spirit of Democracy working for the newly elected President Obama.  Next to the White House, we shared the 2011 Pagan Coming Out Day and the 2007 Pagan Religious Rights Rally.   At the Tidal Basin, under the cherry blossoms, we prayed for Japan in 2011.  This is a place where we, as Pagans, also come to connect with the country, the world, and to fight for our rights.  Today, our sacred space was vandalized.  It makes me sad.” – Iris Firemoon, a Washington DC-area Pagan, on the recent vandalizing of the Lincoln Memorial.

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

“The pathway of witchcraft has already bifurcated into two basic groups; one that is open to new possibilities and is attracted to the dark history of witchcraft and pagan practices, and another that is seeking to create a modern pagan religion for the masses. I, for one, have accepted the former and eschewed the latter. Since I believe that most modern pagans in the West lack even a basic understanding of what it is to be a pagan, at least from the standpoint of antiquity, then I have no problem being part of the smaller population who is progressing to that place where the future beckons. That future doesn’t include any of the practices, fetishes or tropes of the BTW, and in fact it is beyond the comfortable domain of Gardnerian based modern witchcraft altogether. The real future of witchcraft (if it is to have a future) is to revitalize elements of the past and merge them with practical workings of today. The real future path, in my opinion, is to master archaic forms of sorcery and a kind of chthonic shamanism, and therein, to discover anew the dark mysteries pervading the ghost enshrouded domain of the earth.” – Frater Barrabbas Tiresius, on the “future path of witchcraft” at his Talking About Ritual Magick blog.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Thus, it is perfectly possible for someone who is gay, and who worships what they consider to be a gay god, to not be doing queer theology, using queer theory, or to be in any sense (outside of a homophobe’s pejorative usage) “queer.” If said gay person is of a majority or privileged group otherwise—being, perhaps, white, middle-class, cisgendered, monogamous, non-kinky, educated, and able-bodied—then the likelihood that wider societal pressures and the general push to “normalize” and assimilate will cause their spiritual activities (even though those may not be mainstream) to be relatively mainstream as well. Such a person in a modern Pagan context might, for example, celebrate or symbolically enact a Great Rite that has two gods instead of a goddess and a god, at least when they are by themselves or in a group of other gay men. Don’t get me wrong, though: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, or that it shouldn’t go on. However, it should not be confused with what modern queer theory and theology consider “queer.” The definition of “queer,” in being reclaimed and re-negotiated, does not simply involve taking everything that has been degraded by the homophobic usage of the term and saying, “It’s all right.” “Queer” has questioned and gone beyond the original signifiers to which the homophobic usage was thought to correspond. Its definition is potentially far more wide-reaching than just atypical or minority sexualities and gender identities.” - P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on what Queer Theology isn’t, and, what it could be.

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“As a magician, I absolutely hate the concept of there being nothing I should do. Of course there is something I can do. There’s always something I can do to make a situation better. It’s called magick. The essence of magick is the ability to cause change. If what you do doesn’t cause change it may be ritual, but it’s not successful magick. So to acknowledge that I should do nothing is…difficult. And yet, there are times when we are all placed in situations where we can and should do nothing. At work, if you frequently have to “fix” the work of someone who is not doing their job properly, you are preventing him or her from realizing their problems and getting the training they need. You’re taking away their chance to fail and then grow. Always covering for someone because they can’t do the job isn’t helping the person or the company. In such a case you need to do nothing.”  - Donald Michael Kraig, on when there’s nothing you can do, at the Llewellyn Worldwide blog.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Whenever you make a choice, you say “yes” to one thing and “no” to everything else.  But you don’t just say no to the choices you rejected, you also say no to everything that would have followed those choices.  Shortly after I graduated college, I was dissatisfied with my job.  I looked into going to graduate school full time.  But I already had a car payment – quitting my job would mean losing my car.  The decision to buy a car – that seemed so simple and necessary at the time – had effectively eliminated the option of going to graduate school full time.  With the loss of that option I also lost all the experiences I would have had as a full time graduate student and I locked myself into a series of experiences (and future options) in full time employment. Make enough choices –  including choosing not to choose and including choices you don’t recognize as choices at the time – and eventually you find yourself on a path that bears a strong resemblance to fate, even though it is simply the cumulative consequences of your free will.” – John Beckett, on fate, the gods, and free will.

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

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the state of the publishing industry with respect to Barnes & Noble’s recent unimpressive fiscal announcements. How would the disappearance of the last remaining large-scale, traditional bookstore affect the metaphysical book industry? After speaking with two industry experts, the answer seems conclusive. A Barnes & Noble collapse, while not at all preferable, would not permanently damage either company. Llewellyn and the Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore both maintain flexible, diverse, customer-driven business structures that are adaptable in this evolving marketplace.

books3-1024x516

Photo Courtesy of Elysia Gallo, Llewellyn

Will Barnes & Noble go the same way as Borders? Only time will tell. The industry is still changing and evolving. To date, there are many factors that have contributed to the upheaval including increased competition, changing consumer behavior, and the diversification of the product. There are paper books, audio books and eBooks in multiple formats. There are books published by the “big six,” by independent publishers, and most recently, by the authors themselves.

Self-publishing has become one of the hottest trends in the marketplace. Several weeks ago I interviewed New York Times best-selling author John Matthews, who had just announced the launch of his new self-publishing venture Mythwood Books. After years of negotiating the traditional publishing world, Matthews has chosen to “go it alone” in order to earn a greater percentage of the revenue and to maintain creative integrity over his work. 

As I reported in that article, approximately 43% (or 148,424) of all published books in 2011 were self-published. Bowker Books in Print reports the 2012 figure to be well-over 235,000 titles.The number continues to grow.

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Cara Schultz

First-time author Cara Schultz chose to self-publish after an uncomfortable encounter with a traditional publisher. She explains:

The security, expertise, and wider distribution offered by publishers were attractive, but in the end the loss of control over my content and brand weighed too heavily… The publisher wanted to add and subtract products featured in my book based on advertising and marketing partnerships with companies.  I wanted to only feature products I own, use and recommend based on performance. 

Ginger Wood

Virginia Chandler

Virginia Chandler, author of fantasy fiction novels, and Christine Hoff Kraemer, Patheos Pagan Channel’s managing editor, also made a similar choice. Chandler’s first two books were published by Double Dragon Publishing, who she describes as “very supportive.”  However, she “craved more control” over her end product and has now turned to Amazon’s Create Space. Kraemer published her first books through a traditional academic publisher but turned to the more progressive Patheos Press for her most recent work, Seeking the Mysteries: A Introduction to Pagan Theologies. “The royalty percentage [is] much higher,” she says.

In response to the Matthews interview, author Donald Michael Kraig posed a poignant question to those who do choose to self-publish:

Self-publishing replaces everything the publisher did, including promotion, advertising, marketing, etc. Publishers have distributors and can get their books into bookstores and chains. How will you, the self-publisher, accomplish this?

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

All three of authors had the same response. Shultz said, “Publishing houses say they will help market your book, but … they really won’t.” Chandler agreed saying, “Unless you are JK Rowling, Dan Brown, or a guaranteed million dollar selling author, you are going to be doing all of the promotional legwork.” Kraemer added, “Some publishers still do limited marketing for you, although this is becoming more rare.”

So how does their choice to “go it alone” affect the traditional book industry players? EBooks nearly eliminate the need for a publisher, distributor and brick-and-mortar store. Everything is done digitally. Phoenix & Dragon had already lost 15% of its sales to Amazon even before the popularity of eBooks. Self-publishing only exacerbates the problem.

Many self-published authors, like Kraemer, have turned to print-on-demand publishing services. These companies, such as Lulu.com, bridge the gap between a traditional publisher and full self-publishing. With print-on-demand, the author can offer a tangible product which broadens the potential readership and increases the likelihood of seeing their work on a store shelf.

However, it is not quite that simple. When I asked Candace Apple about the growth in self-publishing, she simple stated, “It makes life crazy.”  Phoenix & Dragon employs a full-time book buyer who evaluates every book sold. This screening process becomes more strenuous with self-published products. In such cases, Apple can’t rely on a publisher’s reputation in order to pre-qualify a book’s content.  Her buyer must carefully screen every self-published book. That takes time.

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In addition, the cost is prohibitive.  As Apple explains, self-published authors do not offer wholesale discounts and large inventories. Apple must pay the full cover price plus shipping for every book purchased.

With that said, Apple believes in supporting community and will showcase local self-published authors. “I enjoy finding the gems,” she told me. Fortunately for the self-published Pagan author, the independently-owned metaphysical bookstores have that flexibility. The big chains, like Barnes & Noble, don’t. Going forward, Apple hopes that Amazon’s new distribution processes will alleviate some of the headaches associated with selling the self-published book.

What about Llewellyn? How is it handling the increase in self-published material? Bill Krause said:

There is no denying it has never been easier to self-publish and would-be authors may choose this path rather than submitting a manuscript to a traditional publisher for consideration. We can’t change this, so we have to figure out how to work with it. We have picked up some authors who were originally self-published and sold them to the trade quite successfully. In some cases we had them write new books, in other cases we had them rework their original. In all cases, it’s based on the content of the work.

He continued on to say:

The number of self-published books that find success is extremely small. Unless the author has some industry knowledge and also happens to be a tireless marketer/promoter while also being a strong writer, editor and designer (or willing to pay for this assistance), it’s very difficult to find success. 

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Author David Salisbury echoed this sentiment saying:

My books so far have all gone through the traditional publishing process. It made the most sense for me to go that route for all the practical reasons. I love writing but hate doing everything else that goes along with putting a book out (editing, marketing, pitching etc.). I felt better handing my work over to professionals who I trust more than myself to complete a nice polished product

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton, author and Wild Hunt Columnist, also chose the traditional route. She said:

All three of my books are published through Immanion/Megalithic Press….I was looking for a partner in the process of working on my book. I chose to publish with a small press because I wanted the support of a publisher yet the creative freedom that a smaller press like Immanion could provide.

But what about that great promise of 70% revenue on every self-published book sold versus the 10-15% from a traditional publisher?  Krause said, “70% of what? To be another face in the crowd with no marketing budget.” He reiterated the importance of the relationship that Llewellyn forms with its authors.  This relationship along with its professional services can be invaluable over the long run – making up for that 55-60% revenue difference.

By Jorghex (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) via Wikimedia Commons

By Jorghex (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

For the author there are certainly pros and cons to both forms of publishing. For both Llewellyn and metaphysical shops, like Phoenix & Dragon, the self-publishing boom has created complications – ones that now must be taken seriously.

As for the mega book seller, don’t count Barnes & Noble out just yet. According to some analysts, Barnes & Noble is now in a golden position to thrive in one specific area –book selling.  It has the brand name, the resources, the real estate and industry clout. The only question is: can it adapt to the changing climate, find a way to work with the growing population of self-published authors and compete with Amazon? If it does, it will only be good news for Llewellyn, specialty stores like Phoenix & Dragon and many others.  If it doesn’t, we can all reminisce about our glory days getting lost in a book superstore.

 

Full Unedited Comments from authors:

Cara Schultz
Virginia Chandler
Christine Hoff Kraemer
Crystal Blanton