Archives For Crystal Blanton

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

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The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has issued yet another opinion supporting the protection of an individual’s religious rights. On Monday, SCOTUS reversed the decision of the Tenth Circuit court, which ruled in favor of the retailer. It stated that the lower court, “misinterpreted Title VII’s requirements in granting summary judgment.”

In 2008, Samantha Elauf, a devout Muslim, interviewed for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch. As reported on the SCOTUSblog, when Elauf wasn’t hired, “a company employee indicated that the rejection was attributable to the headscarf.”  She turned to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who filed a lawsuit on her behalf, stating that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case reached SCOTUS, who ruled this past Monday in favor of Elauf. The opinion reads, in part, “Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices—that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment, affirmatively obligating employers not “to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s ‘religious observance and practice.’ …Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”  For a full discussion of the ruling, go to Amy Howe’s report on the SCOTUSblog

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real black history challengeWild Hunt columnist and author Crystal Blanton has recently launched her third annual “30 Days of Real Black History Challenge.” The project was born in 2013 in response to a conversation that Blanton had about “the Black experience in America.”  She said, “I challenged myself to post 3-5 facts, stories, and bits of information on my facebook for 30 days. After several days I realized how much I was learning and growing in the process, and how many people were engaging in these incredible topics about the underbelly of Black history and the Black Experience.”

Using the hashtag #30DayRBHC2015, Blanton continues with the challenge all month. On the Facebook page, there are already a number of articles, reports, and discussions on various topics related to this year’s theme of “Perserverence, Understanding and Healing.”  Blanton said that the posts will be “exploring racism, history, slavery, jim crow, systemic and institutionalized racism, transgenerational and historic trauma, cognitive dissonance, privilege, disparity and challenges that have impacted African Americans and their stories from the moment we touched the shores.” She hopes that her work will educate, inform and inspire.

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  • On June 1, Pew Forum published a report on the treatment of gay marriage around the world. The article offers a list of the twenty countries in which same-sex marriage is legal and also highlights the processes by which the legalizations came to be. Additionally, the article profiles Mexico and the United States, where gay marriage is “legal in some jurisdictions.”
  • While on the subject…Religion Clause has labeled Alabama as “‘ground zero’ for opposition to same-sex marriage. Why? As the media outlet reports, a Unitarian minister has recently pleaded guilty to “disorderly conduct” after attempting to marry a lesbian couple in a probate office. When she refused to leave, she was arrested. The local Montgomery Advertiser has the details in that case. In addition to that case, the Alabama state senate has just approved SB 377 that will end the issuance of marriage licenses altogether. As noted by Religion Clause, if the bill is approved,”this procedure eliminates the issue of whether a probate court employee who objects to same-sex marriage must issue a license to a same-sex couple.” In place of licenses, the state will grant marriage contracts, but only at the discretion of the local probate court.
  • In world news, Tanzania’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Pereira Silima, admitted that there is a link between the country’s politicians and the attacks on the its Albino population. As we have noted in the past, Tanzania’s Albinos live in fear as “Witch Doctors,” who use their body parts to perform magic. These killings have increased in recent years, and are reportedly worse during elections. As reported by Reuters , Deputy Silima said, “I want to assure my fellow politicians that there won’t be any parliamentary seat that will be won as a result of using albino body parts.” Silima urged the members of Tanzania’s parliament to steer clear of witchcraft.
  • Now, moving from reality to fiction, Hollywood has released a trailer for the latest Witch-inspired film. The Last Witch Hunter, starring Vin Diesel, is conveniently due out October 23. From the trailer it appears that the film’s narrative pits “our world” against the “next” with Vin Diesel as the “last hope” for humanity. Visually “our world” is defined by Christian imagery (e.g.,Michael Caine’s collar), wealth and an Excalibur-like sword. “The next” is defined by the natural world (e.g., a large tree, butterflies, snow), fire, and a pentacle. How the film’s story will actually play out remains to be seen. What is the “next” world exactly? Is it the land of the dead with zombies and white walkers? Or is it a mystical realm? Or could it be a post-apocalyptic film that imagines a post-Christian world? There are many questions left unanswered. The Wild Hunt will have a review after its release.

  • Also in film, the Austin Chronicle reports that two film series will be showing at the Alamo Ritz during the first beginning of June. The first is called, “Pastoral Nights & Pagan Rites” and the second is “Black Sabbats & Blood Rites.” According to the Chronicle, “[the series] reflect two very different sides of British culture.” The article then quotes Alamo Ritz booker Tommy Swenson saying, “The two series are unified, I think, by an engagement with a sort of mythic history of England. The folk horror films all deal with the return of elements from pre-Christian life and folklore – witchcraft, paganism, and especially sacrifice. They share a sense of rural menace and the anxiety of a haunted landscape. The Archers’ movies are also totally interested in people’s relationship with nature, with the mysterious and magical qualities of the Earth. There’s a similar sense of tension between old ways and new, but they’re coming at it through a very different lens.” The film series runs now with June 14.
  • Continuing our look at the occult in film, John Morehead of TheoFantastique recently discovered an article that discusses the esoteric qualities of the famous silent horror film Nosferatu. Morehead writes, “The May 2015 issue of Fortean Times caught my eye when I was in the bookstore on Friday. On the cover was Max Shrek made up as Count Orlok in the silent horror film classic Nosferatu as the illustration for a story by Brian Robb titled ‘Nosferatu: The Vampire and the Occultist.‘” He goes on to discuss Robb’s essay, which details how film studio owner and occultist Albin Grau influenced the production of the famous silent film.
  • Now for something totally different. Artist and Activist Jenny Kendler, co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project, has developed a new program for the National Resources Defense Council and its efforts to save the Monarch butterfly. According to a recent article, Kendler is the Council’s artist-in-residence. Most of her projects aim at “reconnecting urban-dwellers with the natural world.” In her new program, Kendler releases biodegradable balloons filled with milkweed seeds. During a presentation, she talks about the relationship between Milkweed and Monarchs, and gives out pins displaying images of butterfly wings.
  • Lastly, on June 1, Vanity Fair released its July 2015 cover that introduces the world to Caitlyn Jenner. In her very first tweet, Jenner said, “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.” While many acknowledge Jenner’s bravery and have supported her process, the transgender community has had some mixed reactions, reminding people that Jenner’s story is not a common one. As noted in Ms. Magazine, “There are countless unnamed transgender women who will never have their portraits taken by Annie Leibovitz and will never make their transitions from the heights of race and class privilege Jenner enjoys.” The July magazine, which contains the article detailing Jenner’s transition, will be released later this month. The conversations are only just beginning.

That is it for now. Have a great day.

There are many elements of community that help to build and sustain culture. Local community culture often ebbs and flows with the change of faces around the circle and the opportunities for engagement among the intersecting elements. The Bay Area, like most communities, has events, shops and memories that help to cultivate a local Pagan culture.

10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nThe Pagan Festival has been one of the many such events in the Bay Area that has been a staple for the community for the last 14 years. This festival has been running since 2001, when it was previously known as the Interfaith Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration. Its name was later changed to the Pagan Alliance in 2004, and the festival ran annually until 2012. Due to multiple factors, the Pagan Alliance did not host the festival for two years.

The return of this event was a surprise when the Pagan Alliance announced in January the plans for a 2015 festival. People began to talk about the importance of this returning festival, and the need for opportunities to gather throughout the year. After two years, the 2012 “Keeper of the Light” would finally be able to pass the title on to a new nominated person.

T. Thorn Coyle, as the Keeper of the Light for 2012, would pass the torch to me; I had been nominated, and I had accepted the position of Keeper for 2015. Other Keepers of the Light from previous years include Patrick McCollum, M. Macha Nightmare, Anne Hill, Yeshe Mathews, Joi Wolfwoman, and many others.

The May 9 event offered more than a plethora of vendors, conversations and stage performances in the heart of Berkeley. People showed up to celebrate the return of this event, and to re-engage in the building of community relationships. The theme for the festival this year was “Spirituality Through Service” and there were many altars and speakers that engaged in this very topic.

[Photo: Stephanie Kjer]

[Photo: Stephanie Kjer]

The Pagan Alliance has always had a strong commitment to amplifying the discussions of topics that are very important to the local community, and that are crucial to its sustainability. According to its website:

The Pagan Alliance is committed to the education of the general public with the intention of changing public views, opinions and response to the Pagan Community. Through public education, we hope to create an increased acceptance and understanding, and to dispel common misconceptions.  We are committed to justice, and eliminating prejudice and ignorance in all communities, including all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, age, size, abledness and class affiliations.We are also committed to incorporating sustainable living and “alternative” lifestyles into our events and speaker series.We sponsor activities and events that reflect how our traditions which are supportive and in tune with Nature, and play a positive role in healing human’s relationship with the Earth and with all cultures.

After two years of not having a festival, what motivated the Pagan Alliance to jumpstart it and reignite this mission in action? The Executive Director and President of the Board of Directors for the Pagan Alliance offered these collective thoughts on the matter;

11358605_10152761772441736_926869095_n

Arlynne Camire [Courtesy Photo]

The Pagan Alliance was motivated by the needs of the community that expressed itself through phone calls, emails and during the All Witches/All Pagans Meetings that have been happening in Bay Area.The Pagan Festival marks a turning of the wheel in the bay area and provides the community with a chance to come together. Pagans and non-Pagans get a chance to learn about other spiritual paths and enjoy a day together in community and Pagan Pride.
JoHanna Coash-White [Photo: Robin Dolan]

JoHanna Coash-White [Photo: R. Dolan]

All Pagan Paths have a component of service and we wanted to honor not only our Keeper of Light but also all members of our community who work tirelessly to organize events, rituals, provide chaplaincy to the community including Pagans in Captivity. We wanted to foster and teach the children/future leaders a strong sense of the importance of service and how each of them are able to make the world a better place through their actions. – Arlynne Camire, Exec. Director & JoHanna White, President

As the modern Pagan community thrives to understand what it takes to reach sustainability, it can be insightful to look at how we benefit from consistent patterns and engagement within our local Pagan environment. Local areas will have different values but consistent opportunities for connection with other Pagans appear to be a universally appreciated value.

T.Thorn Coyle, the 2012 Keeper of the Light, has been holding the position since it was passed to her by the 2011 Keeper of the Light Yeshe Mathews. As the only Keeper of the Light to hold the position for longer than a year, Coyle spoke to me about her feelings about the importance of the festival returning; how holding this position has impacted her personally; and her intentions in designing the main ritual at the festival.

T. Thorn Coyle and Crystal Blanton(courtesy Stephanie Kjer)

T. Thorn Coyle and Crystal Blanton [Photo Credit: Stephanie Kjer]

I asked, “How do you feel that the return of the festival impacts the local Pagan Community in the Bay Area?” Coyle said:

I think the community has missed the festival. As Pagans, we have personal and community rituals we come to rely upon, and often take for granted until something like financial woes or family illness takes them away from us for a time. Then we realize the impact these rituals have on our lives. The festival put on by the Pagan Alliance is one of these rituals. A few individuals put out a huge amount of work, enabling the community to gather for music, performance, and to listen to one another. Regardless of what traditions we follow, this sort of coming together impacts us all.

The gratitude I offer to the Pagan Alliance for this service is enormous. I felt grateful for the Festival’s return.

I also asked her, “How do you feel being the keeper of the light for 2012 (and the two years after) impacted you spiritually and personally?” She responded:

Being chosen as Keeper of the Light in 2012 was an honor, of course. But at the time, I thought of it as just that: a symbolic office used to honor local Pagans for their contributions to community. By the time I had held that office for three years (because the festival was on hold), I came to realize it is much more.

Keeper of the Light is a real energetic position that gets passed from person to person, imbued with power and responsibility from the community at large. By power and responsibility, I don’t mean authority. What I am talking about is a sense that we truly are holding up a light for others, keeping the larger community in our energetic awareness, paying greater attention, and being available to community members in a variety of ways. By the end of three years, I was starting to need some distance from that, and a diminishment of that power and responsibility. It is no mistake that my path has taken a sideways course into writing fiction right now. My soul needs a break after carrying that public office.

Now, both you and I do this work in a variety of ways, but in my experience, being Keeper of the Light amplified the work I was already doing. I suspect it may have a similar effect on you, Crystal.

This is why when it came time to pass the office, I designed the ritual so that the gathered community members would raise energy that would specifically support your ability to hold this power. As I wrote in the ritual description: “The magical intention of the passing of the staff and gifting of the lantern is to lend strength and support to Priestess Crystal Blanton to enable her to continue her work –not only for our Pagan community, but all of the communities she serves throughout the Bay Area– and to do this work in good health, integrity, prosperity, and love.”

During ritual, everyone gathered in that circle pumped health, integrity, prosperity, and love into that staff, which I then blessed you with. I also gave you a smaller lantern than the one I was gifted with in hopes that carrying the light this year can be done with ease!

I give thanks to you, to the Pagan Alliance, and to the Bay Area Pagan Community for their service, and for giving me the chance to serve. And I bless you, one thousand times over.

Walking around the grounds of the park, in the middle of Berkeley, I caught glimpses of people hugging, laughing, shopping, talking and spending time in the sun. Alongside the park was the busy Farmer’s Market, bringing a very publicly visible Pagan event to those in the local area. The stage show consisted of musical artists, belly dancers, chanting and speeches. The Author’s Circle hosted a list of author talks and book signings of local Bay Area writers.

I have always held positive memories of this festivals from years past. This year was the same. This one day event appeared to have a lot of impact on those who attended the festivities as well.

Heaven Walker

Heaven Walker

The pagan festival builds solidarity in the pagan community. Being pagan, especially if you are a solitary practitioner, can be a very lonely experience. People come to church seeking spiritual connection and community. Pagan circles are often closed circles or very intimate affairs. The pagan festival gives pagans who have not found community the ability to connect with other pagans and feel pride and agency in their spirituality and /or religion. This festival was particularly poignant because of  the theme of “serving our community.” For me social justice and service are the work of a High Priestess. It was good to be reminded as a community that to be in service to the Goddess is also, to be in service to one another. – Heaven Walker

Yeshe Mathews

Yeshe Mathews

I really missed the Pagan Festival in Berkeley when it was on hiatus, and I am glad it’s back.The Pagan Fest gives us “locals” a chance to mingle, support one another’s projects, and enjoy a beautiful day in the park together…right alongside the wider Berkeley community who shop at the adjacent Farmer’s Market. It’s one of the most publicly-accessible, visible Pagan events I have attended, and it’s a great opportunity to show one another and the wider community what we are about. – Yeshe Mathews, 2011 Keeper of the Light

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

I moved to the Bay Area five years ago with dreams.  There are SO MANY Pagans here, but there are also SO MANY other people here that it often takes up to 90 minutes to drive 30 miles.  And while public transit is a nice option for some, it would take me 3 hours to get from my home to a place like Berkeley.  There are some great Pagan scenes in the Bay Area, but the different communities don’t see each other very much.  Some of that is because our traditions don’t allow for a lot of crossover, but a lot of it is simply because it’s too hard to get one another.

The return of the Pagan Festival, changes all of that, at least for a few hours.  Suddenly I’m seeing my friends in the North Bay (two and a half hours away), and seeing my friends in Reclaiming, and even running into people from far away locales like Sacramento.  The Pagan Festival was a nice way to meet up with a lot of people, people I generally only see at PantheaCon.

It wasn’t perfect by any means.  I’ve heard that a lot of newcomers to the Bay Area Pagan scene were kind of lost, but it was a good re-start.  We are all very good at doing “our things” but we aren’t always very good at doing “everyone things. – Jason Mankey

Nathania Apple

Nathania Apple

We are very fortunate in the Bay Area to have practitioners from many and varied traditions and it was thrilling to see them come together for a public Pagan celebration. A festival in the center of a bustling city like Berkeley raises our profile in the broader community and draws attendance from families and other individuals for whom the commitment of time and finances for a weekend away at a hotel or out of town are prohibitive. It was also an opportunity for the community to witness the depth of the work that local Pagans are doing in social justice, and to invite them to take part.

As I walked through the crowd with my daughter and smiled at familiar faces and stopped to chat with friends and acquaintances, I felt that warm glow in the center of my chest, the one that says, “These are your people. This is a place where you belong.  – Nathania Apple

Community organizing allows for important moments of socializing, collaboration and the building of new memories. It was a fun filled day in the sun with friends both old and new, laughter, excitement and opportunity. I had a great time with fellow practitioners in the Bay.  I took the time to remember what a thriving local community looks and feels like. I was reminded of why it can be very important for people to be in same space with others in order to engage in meaningful community, and not just regulated to online spaces. The power of presence can support a lot of coalition building and supportive activism.

The return of this festival in the Bay Area will hopefully continue to inspire collaborative spaces among the factions of the area and promote healthy engagement, as well as show the importance of cultivating those things that will help to empower the local groups. I am personally honored to hold the position of Keeper of the Light for 2015, and to promote the important work of spirituality through service.

The Pagan Alliance has quickly transitioned from months of planning and preparation for this festival, to the planning and preparation for the memorial of one of the founding board members. James Bianchi passed away on May 11, two days after the return of the festival. The Pagan Alliance, the Spark Collective, the House of Danu, and his family are planning the memorial currently to honor his life and contributions within the Pagan Community.

It was recently announced that writer and teacher Rachel Pollack was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Pollack is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Tarot and has written numerous books on the subject, as well as many fiction novels. In addition, she is a respected comic book writer who, according to one report, gave DC Comics its first transgender character in the Doom Patrol series. Pollack’s next book, a novel titled The Child Eater, is due to be released in July.

In addition, Pollack is a regular and welcome presenter at the annual PantheaCon conference in San Jose. In 2012, she offered a class called “Tarot–Prophecy, Catastrophe, and Rebirth.” In 2013, her talk was titled, “Who are the Gods and Goddesses of Tarot and How Do We Honor Them.”

On May 6, Charles Hale began a GoFundMe campaign to help cover Pollack’s medical bills. He wrote, “Living with cancer can be expensive, even with health insurance. Because Rachel is too sick to work, she needs help paying medical and living expenses. Anyone that has known anyone with cancer knows how expensive even the most basic care and medication can be.” In just five short days, the campaign has raised nearly $16,000 dollars of the $25,000 requested.

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conway PPDIn March, we reported that the Conway Pagan Pride Day (CPPD) had run up against significant problems that threatened its future. The new Arkansas-based organization had just hosted its first Pride Day in October. The event was reportedly very successful. However, in the following months, the town of Conway instituted new ordinances that prohibited vendors from selling on city park property. Because the group does not have the means to rent private, more expensive facilities, CPPD organizers were fearful that they would not be able to host a 2015 event.

This past week, CPPD happily announced that the issues have been resolved, and Pagan Pride Day will be held on October 24. The organization reported that “Conway’s current mayor was an advocate for us and gave us voice in the political arena. We are so fortunate to have the support of the area and beyond the borders of Conway, Arkansas.”

In an email to The Wild Hunt, organizers explained, “Arkansas at times can be difficult to navigate in terms of beliefs and support,” pointing to the perception that the state is inhospitable to Pagans. However, they stressed that they have seen the opposite in this struggle, with interfaith groups, government, law enforcement, food banks and residents, helping them in their cause. CPPD added, “There is a new hope for the community in Arkansas. It takes one brick at a time, but as a family we will lay the foundation for generations to come.”

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10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nThis past weekend marked the return of the Pagan Festival in Berkeley, California. Hosted by the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, the event hasn’t been held since 2012. After a three year hiatus, the organization revived it for 2015.

Held in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, the festival was themed “Spirituality through Service” and featured the 2012 Keeper of the Light, T. Thorn Coyle, ritually passing the staff and lantern to the 2015 Keeper, Crystal Blanton. The Pagan Alliance explains that “The magical intention of the passing of the staff and gifting of the lantern is to lend strength and support to Priestess Crystal Blanton to enable her to continue her work –not only for our Pagan community, but all of the communities she serves throughout the Bay Area– and to do this work in good health, integrity, prosperity, and love.”

Throughout the day, current and past Keepers spoke including Blanton, Coyle, M. Macha Nightmare, and Yeshe Matthews Rabbit. In addition, there were performances, dances, talks, book signings, vendors and more. The event was reported to be a huge success. On her blog, Annika Mongan wrote about her own experiences from the day, saying, “To me the festival was a celebration of the beauty of our community, a call to action, a promise of renewal, and a testimony to our city that we are here, we care, we invoke Justice and in service to this city, the Bay Area, and beyond.

 In Other News:

  • The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment now has 3,630 signatures, hailing from all over the world. In addition, the statement has been translated, to date, into six languages, with more in the works. People of many religions have digitally signed the document, including a variety of Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists, as well as non-affiliated people and even Christians. Organizers are aiming for 10,000 signatures by mid-summer.
  • Writer and artist Gypsey Teague unexpectedly found her latest book listed as a “top summer pick” for 2015. On May 3, New York Daily News published its buying guide, “Summer cool new books and hot summer looks for a smart summer.”  In the “young adult” section, Teague’s book, titled The Witch’s Guide to Wands: A Complete Botanical, Magical, and Elemental Guide to Making, Choosing, and Using the Right Wand, made runner-up. Ironically, the book that beat it out for first place is a young adult novel titled, The Witch Hunter.
  • In another mainstream news article, Four Quarters Farm was featured for its unique community. The Washington Post wrote about the sanctuary the article, “The 250-acre church nurturing faith and free spirits in the foothills of Pennsylvania.” The Post included a large number of photos depicting daily life and worship at the sanctuary. Readers might remember Four Quarters from its March 30 announcement of the purchase of an additional 110-acres of land.
  • Ian Corrigan’s blog, Into the Mound, has moved to the Patheos Pagan Channel. After eight years of blogging independently, he joins the group of respected bloggers who make up the Patheos forum. In his first post, Corrigan wrote, “There will be a bit of a jar for me, as we move from that comfy burrow to new digs, and I hope many of my long-time readers will find this new setting pleasant. Please bear with me as I  ken the new platform’s formatting, and learn to make pretty posts.”
  • Coru Cathubodua and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus have announced that they will be teaming up to host an online course called, Poetic Ways: Cultivating the Practice of Filidecht. The four month course, starting in July, will include “basic fili poetic practices, history, and arts, including poetry, prophecy, extemporaneous song, and much more.” Information and registration is currently live and online on Coru Cathubodua’s website.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffani Thomas Parker

Tiffani Thomas Parker [Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, a Wild Hunt columnist, author, Priestess and activist, issued a challenge to the Pagan community, as a whole, after noticing “the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of recent unrest.” She said, “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community … Tonight, I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you. The question is, do you SEE us?”

 

That single Facebook post was a catalyst for an avalanche of response from individuals, small groups and organizations across the nation. Over the past six days nearly 50 public statements and articles have appeared in blogs, websites and Facebook status updates, making this, quite possibly, a historic moment of unprecedented solidarity. Moreover, the responses aren’t limited to the so-called Pagan community. Responses have come from Heathen organizations and Polytheists, as well as a large variety of Pagans from a diversity of traditions.

“The response of many organizations and leaders over the last week has shown something we haven’t really seen before in our community; a willingness to speak up and speak out about the needs of Black people and ethnic minorities,” Crystal said, expressing her surprise.

Due to the number of reactions, it is impossible to share in detail each and every statement or article. It is even more difficult to encapsulate the grief, anger, frustrations, power, hope and even confusion expressed in many of these statements. A full list is included at the bottom. Of course, it is important to also remember that this list is not comprehensive. More statements and discussions are published every day.

Before Blanton issued her call-to-action, several Pagans had already made public statements on the #blacklivesmatter national protest campaign On Nov. 25, T.Thorn Coyle, who wrote an “Open Letter to White America.” In that statement, Coyle called for empathy and compassion, saying, “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well-being.” On Nov. 29, Peter Dybing posted a photo of himself holding up sign that read, “White Privliege is real. Stay calm and listen.” Like Thorn, he was speaking to white Americans, asking them to stay silent and listen to those oppressed.

[Courtesy Photo]

Following Dybing’s lead, author Christopher Penczak also posted a photo of himself holding the same sign. He issued a heartfelt statement, saying:

I have tried to take the advice of a friend who said one of the best things we could do, particularly those of us in a place of privilege, is to listen …  I know sometimes I don’t want to, but its so important, particularly at this time. So I thank Peter Dybing for asking me and others to let people know that listening while keeping calm in uncomfortable situations is absolutely necessary at this time. Blessed be.

These statements came shortly after the Ferguson grand jury decision. However, after that announcement was made, other similar incidents made headlines, including the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City and the shooting death of Tamir Rice in Ohio. At that point, the tone of the public conversation changed from simply “stay silent” to “act and acknowledge.” Additionally, the messages, which were originally aimed predominately at white Pagans, also changed direction. This wake-up, so to speak, was expressed by Jenya T. Beachy, who wrote in a blog post, “I’ve fallen prey to the ‘nothing is right to say so say nothing’ theme.”

Crystal2014

Crystal Blanton [Courtesy Photo]

After Blanton’s facebook post, most of the first responses came from the blogging world. Similar to Beachy, the writers opened up discussions of the issues, as each of them personally grappled with the reality of the national crisis. Not all of these posts were specifically in response to Blanton’s challenge, but all deal with the situation head-on. Polytheist blogger Galina Krasskova  discusses her obligation, and that of other white citizens, to speak out. Drawing from her religious practice, she wrote that we have an “ancestral obligation to take a stand against racism.”

Other bloggers and writers who responded include Shauna Aura Knight, Jason Mankey, Anomalous Thracian, Sarah Sadie, John Beckett, Kathy Nance, Rhyd Wildermuth, Peter Dybing and Tim Titus. Patheos Pagan Channel has posted a static link list of all posts that reflect on Ferguson and Police Brutality.

Some of the topics raised within these varied articles include white privliege (e.g., Tim Titus and Anomalous Thracian), how it all relates to Paganism (e.g., Jason Mankey and Shauna Aura Knight), and the need for decisive action (e.g., Peter Dybing). Some bloggers, like Tom Swiss at The Zen Pagan, also incorporate a discussion of spirituality. Swiss wrote, “If you’re not outraged by all this, you’re not paying attention.” He goes on to say, “Buddhism realizes the place of wrath, and assigns significant deities to its proper function — the “wrathful deities.”

In addition to bloggers, there was a flood of solidarity statements from individuals and leaders (e.g., Ivo Dominguez, Patrick McCollum, Starhawk); from small groups (e.g., CAYA coven, Circle of Ancestral Magic, Bone and Briar, Vanic Conspiracy) and from national organizations (e.g., Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, Ár nDraíocht Fein, Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Cherry Hill SeminaryThe Pantheon Foundation and Heathens Against Racism).

Some of these statements were specifically meant as calls-to-action in support of the public protests around the nation. The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used powerful language saying, in part:

We are angry … We want justice … We who are the priesthood and war band dedicated to the Morrigan stand and take our place in the streets as allies to justice.”

While they used strong language in their call to action, the Priesthood also said, “We have hope.”

Similar to the Priesthood, Free Cascadia Witchcamp organizers used potent language saying, “We will not be complicit through silence.” They added, “We grieve the irretrievable loss of integrity for all those who participate in, and uphold structural opppression, and we grieve the tragedy of those impacted by it.”

Not everyone used forceful words in their calls for action. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) asked its membership and friends to “act as partners in the work to create more justice in our broader communities.” They added, “None of us can be truly safe or free when some lives have value and others don’t.” Other similar calls to action, both strongly worded or not, came from Bone & Briar in Pennsylvania, Solar Cross in California, CAYA coven, Patrick McCollum, Cherry Hill Seminary, and others.

Some goups focused their words on recognition and awareness. These statements were in direct response to Blanton’s statement “Do you see us?” In these public expressions, organizations and groups acknowledged bearing witness to injustice and are essentially saying, “We see you.”

This was well-expressed on Polytheist.com, where representatives stated, “We see the harm. We see the fear and the hatred. We see the injustice … Together, we stand for something better.” Circle of Ancestral Magic, Blanton’s own coven, wrote, “We say this most of all to the people most affected by these atrocities. We see you. We hear you, and honor your lived experiences.” Other similar treatments were made by groups such as Vanic Conspiracy and Immanion Press.

Rather than make a comment, Circle Santuary chose a different route. It opened up its regular Tuesday night Circle podcast to host a round-table discussion on racial equality. In retrospect, Rev. Selena Fox said:

Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League are committed to working for a world with freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all, and where people can live in harmony with one another and with the greater circle of nature of which we are all a part.  It is our hope that this solution-focused Pagan community conversation can enhance awareness, inspire considerate communications and encourage effective, collaborative actions to help manifest racial equality

In a statement for Ár nDraíocht Fein (ADF), Rev. Kirk Thomas ended on a spiritual note saying, “We must all look deeply inside ourselves to root out prejudices we have been raised with that linger in the dark. Only then can injustice end. Only then may we all live in peace.”

Several organizations, due to internal processes and the distance between its board members, were unable to issue their statements in time for publication, but told The Wild Hunt that they were currently working on words. These organizations included The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, The Officers of Avalon and The Troth.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

In response to all this activity Lou Florez, a spiritual counselor, rootworker, Orisha priest, told The Wild Hunt,

I wish I could say that these acts of violence, racism, aggression, and brutality on black bodies were rare, but unfortunately, they are not. These experiences are the lived reality for a vast majority of People of Color. While it is very touching to see the outpouring of support, discussion and commitments, I see this as just the beginning of a first step. As witches, Pagans, magicians, conjurers, and clergy we are mandated to transform the world as we transform ourselves. It’s time to awaken to the ramifications and reality of power, privilege and oppression in our circles, and communities.

Turning back to Blanton, we asked what she thought of this flurry of reaction to her Facebook comment, as well as the opening up of conversations and the calls to action. She said, with a hopeful tone, “I am so humbled to see such clear, fast and strong responses and it renews my hope that we might be able to actually do something together with that energy in our community.”

*   *   *

The following is a list of the public (only) statements, posts and articles that were issued since Dec. 4 and referenced above. This is not an exhaustive list and more statements will undoubtedly surface over the days to come.

Coru Cathubodu

Bone and Briar

Free Cascadia Witch Camp

Immanion Press

The Family of the Forge in the Forest

The Firefly House

Shauna Aura Knight

Hexenfest and Pandemonaeon

Vanic Conspiracy

Heathens United Against Racism

Polytheist.com

The Troth

CAYA Coven

Solar Cross

Anomalous Thracian

Starhawk

Pantheon

ADF

Circle Sanctuary

CUUPS

Peter Dybing

T. Thorn Coyle

Jason Mankey

Courtney Weber

Patrick McCollum

Officers of Avalon

Jenya T. Beachy

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

Covenant of the Goddess

Christopher Penczak

Tea & Chanting Sangha/Dharma Pagans

Lykeia

Galina Krasskova

Cherry Hill Seminary

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Tim Titus

Lydia Crabtree

John Beckett

Rhyd Wildermuth

Kathy Nance

Tom Swiss

Circle of Ancestral Magic

Sarah Sadie

Aquarian Tabernacle Church

The Pantheon Foundation

 

[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. Our 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!]

justice graphicOn Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, Wild Hunt columnist, Priestess, writer, and long-time activist, issued a challenge to the collective Pagan communities, saying “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.” Over the past four days, a growing number of individuals, groups and organizations have responded by publishing statements of solidarity, open letters and personal blog posts.

The Wild Hunt will be covering this story in detail in the coming week as others organizations and individuals are currently finalizing their own words. Some of statements already published include those by Starhawk, T. Thorn Coyle, Pantheon Foundation, CAYA covenSolar Cross, Ár nDraíocht Féin, and more. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

*   *   *

316790_10150404496717410_1044410180_n

The New Alexandrian Library announced that it has received its certificate of occupancy. The statement read, in part, “This means we are now ready to do the final walkthrough with the contractor; to begin the process of moving in shelves, furniture, books and artwork; and to think about a grand opening. We want to thank everyone who worked so hard and so long to make this dream a reality, who believed that the ASW could create such a resource for the Magickal Community.”

Additionally, the library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

*   *   *

The Druid NetworkThe Druid Network announced that it has compiled and recreated the shared liturgy of the now closed Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF). Shut down in September, SDF was an experimental project for solitary Druids and an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). As explained on the Druid Network website, “The Fellowship provided free liturgies for each of the Eight High Days of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, each based on ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.”

In the spirit of digital archiving and preserving important work, members of The Druid Network have uploaded all of these liturgies in one location for easy download. Organizers said, “It was such an excellent resource – not only for ADF druids – but for the whole community.” They also added that, if SDF should re-emerge, they will be happy to pass on the files to the new founders.

In Other News:

  • Over the past two weeks, Facebook has shut down several Pagan accounts as part of the enforcement of its “real name policy.” A number of people were targeted in this sweep, including authors Raven Grimassi and Storm Constantine. Speculation continues as to how and why this happens.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the opening of registration for spring classes. This registration is for both the masters courses toward a degree, as well as they four-week insight classes for non-seminary students.
  • Rootworker and Orisha Priest Lou Florez will be taking a pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an interview with Erick DuPree, Florez said, “…an invitation has been extended to travel to Nigeria in February with an esteemed elder and teacher, and to take the high priesthood initiation in IFA, the root of all Orisha religions. In addition to receiving this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual elevation, I will also train in traditional medicine making, and herbalism from elder priestesses and priests.” Florez has started a fundraising campaign to help fund the trip.
  • The deadline for submission to Paganicon 5 and Twin Cities Pagan Pride annual Third Offering sacred art exhibition is drawing near. As organizers explain, “Inspired to gather and create beauty as our third offering to our Gods and our community, this exhibition welcomes all types of visual media by artists who are capable of expressing a Pagan or polytheistic aesthetic.” The deadline is Jan. 1. The exhibition will be held at Paganicon, Mar.13-15.
  • Tea & Chanting Sangha is “is doing 100,000 recitations of OM MANI PADME HUM to create healing and change regarding police brutality:” The organization “integrates Pagan and Tibetan Buddhist practices.” Throughout the month, organizers will tally the number of recitations, whether recited together or individually. They encourage people to participate or join them on line. As of Dec. 7, they have done 13,075 recitations.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

Technological advances and access to technology have greatly changed the everyday experience of many communities around the world, especially here in America. Everything from access to information, training, and the ability to connect with people in different geographical areas, have made the process of connection much different than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

According to Internet World Stats, 84.9% of the population in the United States have internet access or are internet users. Avenues of communication in greater society have been largely replaced with social media platforms, email, video chats, and online learning systems; these same systems are translating to Paganism as well.

The impact of living in a booming technological age on Paganism has shown how interesting advances can enhance or hamper community connectivity. Building community looks much different when there is access to smart phones, iPads and computers, and the ability to generate connection among people can become more about branding than about personable connection that we find in consistent face to face engagement. As technological advances continue to thrive, so does the Pagan community in numbers, yet the freedom that the internet provides can add to misinformation, increased access to rumors, and national attention to otherwise local issues that happen within the Pagan community. Everyone can be an expert in the age of the internet, and all problems are at the fingertips of people around the globe. The increased access to training, research and information does not erase the potential problems that come from the use, and abuse, of technology in Modern Paganism.

The positive and negative impact of increased advances affect areas of community building, publishing, entertainment, small magical or metaphysical shops, organizational structures, information exchange, the media, and a host of other areas in our everyday world. Communities and organizations within Paganism are adjusting to the new ways of functioning efficiently within our modern times, which often highlights differences in cultural aspects of age and socioeconomics. We have seen this, for example, with how some organizations are moving towards the use of online telecommunication formats to incorporate more effective mediums for business, and national communication among members.

In exploring a few of the many areas that technology reaches within modern Paganism, I spoke with several people for perspective on the impact that these changes have had, and are having. As the circumference of the Pagan community has expanded, intersecting interactions have increased the usefulness of different methods of communication, connection and business.

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess (COG), has been doing a lot of work within Pagan and interfaith organizations on a national level. In addition to interfaith work with COG, she is the North American Interfaith Network Regional Coordinator (NAIN) and works with the United Religions Initiative. Her work expands to areas of the world that require technology to access.

How have you seen technology incorporated into Pagan organizations and how does this contribute to the organizational function?

Over the past, umm, say twenty plus years, technology has changed a great deal.  As people have become more accustomed to using the internet, attitudes too have changed.  I remember a gathering of one of my traditions back in the, possibly early nineties.  I suggested that we develop a list to share information and make communications easier among us.  Such a hue and cry you have never heard.  “Oh we can’t do that.  Everyone would be able to see what we are discussing…even the secret stuff wouldn’t be safe anymore.  No absolutely not!”  So of course I purchased a domain name, put up a simple web site and put together a list making it clear that if one wished to be on that list an individual would have to let me know.  Well pretty soon everyone was on the list.  A few years later the list went down for some reason and once again a hue and cry went out, this time because the list was down and OMG how was anyone going to communicate, accompanied by appropriate hair pulling and teeth gnashing.

Today, the term “Google” is a household word meaning “to go out and search for”; the first thing on a new organization’s to do list is put up a website, and list serves are a mandatory part of doing business.  As the technology improves, so does our ability to communicate virtually, without the need for carbon footprint.

How do you feel that the use of technology has changed the Pagan organizations you work with?

With the advent of virtual communications the face of paganism has changed drastically. Before the use of electronic connections anyone interested in becoming an “official” pagan had to ultimately connect with others doing the work.  You will hear many stories from the fifty plus set about how they became pagans because they picked up one of the old magazines and found contacts, or were inspired to search for contacts and training.  People knew one another and knew who they were.

The up side to all of this is our new ability to gather for meetings without the necessity of even leaving the house.  It allows us to come together in greater numbers and have a larger say in the structure of our organizations allowing parents, the less abled, and those who must work, to join in meetings as never before and all without leaving such an oppressive carbon footprint.

Organizational bylaws are changing to allow virtual attendees to count for quorum where such issues are important and the alarming trend for organizations such as the Covenant of the Goddess, who meets once a year somewhere in the United States, to become an organization controlled by those with the funds to travel is certainly mitigated.

Perhaps best of all, people are coming to know us, at worst as harmless, and at best as people with serious theological underpinnings. In my work as an interfaith representative I have often referred folks to various web pages that saved hours of explanation, and frankly a quick bit of research during lunch in my hotel room has saved me serious embarrassment when dealing with religions with which I had not been familiar.

 

M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), elder and Pagan author, works as an interfaith activist and works in several different capacities within the community. In her work as a member of the Cherry Hill Advisory Board member, and as a web weaver, technology plays a vital role in her work.

Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

As an elder in our community, I imagine you have seen a lot of technological changes that are now incorporated in modern Paganism. What are some of the largest changes within in the past 10-20 years that now are common uses for technology in our community?

Change has come so fast and furious that I’m dazzled by its variety and complexity.  Media have combined to give us immediate updates and gales of opinions of every little topic that sparks a flame.  I try to stay current.  I have a cellphone and laptop and am on Facebook.  I subscribe to lists and groups where discussion can be rich.  Just as readily discussion can become heated and obnoxious.  As a social person, I find I have an appetite for engaging in civil discourse.   I find I’m easily seduced by all those virtual venues where ideas are shared.  The downside of that is such engagement can be a time-suck if you don’t maintain strict limits.

Do you think these changes have had more positive or negative impact on the current state of our community?

I definitely think these changes have had a positive effect overall.  Before the advent of the Internet, we had only fragmented communities and a tendency towards mistrust.  Over the years since Internet access has become more common, especially among younger people, we have used electronic communication to build virtual communities as well as to fortify and enhance efficient communication regarding our terraspace communities.  Further, we are able to mobilize quickly if we choose to.

Today we have news sites and networking sites, music and podcasts, special interest sites, as well as scores of blogs and vlogs — anything on everything.  Of course, there is the matter of discerning what sources warrant our trust for their accuracy, reliability, and thoroughness and which tend to be more superficial and inflammatory.  But you have that with any media.

As for teaching, while some kinds of magic-spiritual teachings must be in person, many kinds of teaching and learning can be done effectively online.  Plus, online learning is greener.  We now have institutions of higher learning where all or most of the campus is virtual.  Cherry Hill Seminary, for instance, except for annual in-person intensives, is entirely online, with cool Moodle classrooms, a virtual library, online bookstore.   We Pagans are a small, widely spread demographic, making conventional terraspace learning environments (i.e., schools with classrooms) impractical.  Thus, a teaching and learning institution’s cyberspace presence has made scholarly online learning more readily available to Pagans wherever they may live.

Dr. Amy Hale

Dr. Amy Hale

Education and research continues to be a major aspect of need within the Pagan community. Access to training, information and education around the many different intersecting areas of study has always been a source of discussion, but the methods for attaining such things has drastically changed. We have also seen an increased emphasis placed on higher education, and an importance placed on the value of academic study. Professor Dr. Amy Hale has worked extensively in designing and teaching within online academic formats.

As a professional that works in higher education, do you find that the use of technology in learning modalities are more accepted today than say 10 years ago?

Absolutely!  Educational technologies are becoming ubiquitous, and are found in all sorts of environments in addition to strictly educational settings.  We are seeing the use of technology to support everything from on site and contextual training for businesses to the use of mobile phones to educate children in combat areas.  As technologies develop, we figure out how to teach and learn with them, and as ever, the first to benefit (which may surprise some) are frequently underserved populations and women. Of course, not everyone is an educational technology advocate, some prefer the low tech approach, but I believe the benefits are clear.

How do you see the changing role of technology influencing modern Paganism and what can we learn from higher education institutions in this area?

Technology is, in my view, the driving force behind modern Paganism.  Communication and information technologies give us a way to learn, share and create community.  While I have occasionally heard concerns about “internet solitaries” who some believe may not be as connected to live Pagan communities,  I see no reason to assume that Pagans connected primarily by the internet are any less genuine or living their Paganism in a way that is any less “authentic”.

But technology is changing the way we think, and we need to be aware of how. As when the printing press first came into use, many modern information technologies have the great ability to challenge our relationship with authority and promote a democratization of information. This, however, does not mean that all information is good and that all opinions are equally valid.  This is why we have a much, much greater responsibility to foster critical thinking and a need to understand how to assess the mountains of information we have access to.  We are well past the time when the professor or teacher or church is the ultimate authority, and certainly in many educational settings we are embracing this development.  We need to have the tools to think for ourselves and to know how to craft solid arguments, and we need to learn to do this with respect and civility.   I would like to see Pagans become more rigorous thinkers and better assess their sources.  So many Pagans out there on the internet seem to lack basic information literacy in that they don’t know how to tell if a source is valid or if an argument is well supported. I think this is the challenge that all educational professionals face today, and this is the direct result of the free flow of information.

Cherry Hill Seminary is one of the ways that we have seen this method of higher education exchange take on technology to facilitate learning. Cherry Hill is currently teaching in an all online format.

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogger Tim Titus wrote a recent piece about social media and the way that negative engagement can influence how people engage. Some of the unintended consequences of social media and the influx of online communication has contributed to emerging patterns in the development of community building. In Tim’s piece, Surviving Social Media’s Ocean of Negativity, he discusses some of his observations.  “But the problem I have is that most of the nastiness that circulates around social media, both within and without the pagan community, is petty and exhausting. There’s always someone complaining about life, the universe, and everything. They complain about their work day; they beat dead horses about situations that were resolved long ago; they call out friends for silly things.   We have all this amazing technology to build community around the world, and we use it as our personal bitching platform. If anger and argument were a drug, we’d need a national 12-step program.?”

In a small snapshot of how technology plays an intricate role in Modern Paganism, we see that there these forms of communication and engagement have become an intricate part of the format that we now exist within. The continued growth of our community will rely heavily on how these forms of technology are used and instituted in our functioning practice.

While there are a lot of positive connections that are made with the use of technological advances, we also have some interesting consequences that are a result of the fast paced environment that is created with immediate access to so much information, and lightning fast responses. As much as we thrive as a community with the use of additional methods of research, education, connection, and organizational options, we are also faced with the concept that this level of interaction moves a community into a fast paced momentum that can add to some steep learning curves and promote additional division in the ranks.

This is a large topic that could benefit from continuous unpacking. Exploring this topic brings us to some interesting questions we can ask ourselves in the process of community exploration. Has technology replaced some of the need for interactive personal contact within the Pagan community? How has the definition of community evolved with the use of this level of technology? Does technology give us the chance to connect more often, or does it create a barrier to genuine connection that builds healthy interpersonal relationships?

All very important questions to consider as we are enjoying the access that our various devices give to us, and that we are able to use in our experiences of Modern Paganism.

National Guard Called In As Unrest Continues In Ferguson

Courtesy of Scott Olson

The small town of Ferguson, Missouri has become a household name over the last week. Following the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by local police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, the city went into a state of turmoil as local residents responded to the shooting and police responded to the community. The protests of community members sparked a response from local police that displayed a clear picture of the militarization of law enforcement in this country by turning the streets of an average American community into what looks like a war zone.

City Data reports that Ferguson had a population of 21,135 in 2012, and approximately 65% of the residents are Black. This urban area has a documented history of disproportionate arrests and police involvement with people of color from a predominantly Caucasian police force. This pattern contributed to the tension that has fueled the community response to the killing of Michael Brown.

Courtesy of Scott Olson

Courtesy of Scott Olson

While speculation of police corruption and the media’s depiction of the victim have raised some concerns, two issues stand out in discussions about Ferguson: the unjust killing of an unarmed 18 year old Black man and the militarized response of law enforcement towards community members who peacefully protested in response. Tear gas, arrests, military weapons, and tanks on the streets pushed the situation into a full-scale state of emergency and national news material. While some looting activity took place with a small group of people, the mostly peaceful protests were disrupted by police action.

From the killing of Michael Brown to the full-scale response of the local police department, there are more questions than answers coming out of Ferguson. The local authorities’ tactics in withholding the name of the officer involved in the shooting added a lot of fuel to the situation. The local police also released information about an alleged robbery involving Michael Brown at a local store prior to his death, although the police department now admits that officer Wilson was not aware of this incident at the time of the shooting. The continuously changing information, and a recently released private autopsy stating that Brown was shot six times – two in the head – has led to a lot of speculation and national outrage. The media coverage of what is happening in Ferguson has been massive. Footage, articles, and video commentary on social media appear everywhere, adding to the angst felt by many people who are watching this tragedy unfold. CNN and MSNBC are not the only outlets talking about the images on the screen, some which are reminiscent of civil rights demonstrations of the 1960’s. Pagans are talking too.

Author T. Thorn Coyle’s latest piece, Yearning to Be Free, addresses the militarization of police across the United States and the impact that it has on the way human beings are viewed by those in power.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“And then we (some of us) wonder why a young man or woman seeking help are killed instead of given comfort, medical attention, or access to a phone.

We (some of us) wonder why, yet another young man who was just walking to his grandmother’s house ends up lying dead on the street for four hours. When people are mourning, being taunted by police, and the armored cars, snipers and SWAT teams roll in…we then (some of us) wonder why some windows are broken and some stores are set on fire.

And then we (some of us) wonder why – after our government has toppled small government after small government, instituted a war on drugs that has destabilized whole communities at home, locked up unprecedented numbers, and given greater power to those who make the drugs – the children are massing at our borders.”

T. Thorn Coyle was not the only Pagan to write about this unfolding set of issues in Ferguson. The past week has seemed to bring about more upset, confusion, and anger from people of all types, who found their way to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and a multitude of blogs to express their thoughts.

Courtney Weber, author and Wiccan priestess, posted a status on her Facebook page describing her feelings around spiritual workings for justice, and the complexity of the situation in Ferguson.

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

“ I will not be lighting candles for peace in Ferguson. Peace is what comes when a problem is resolved. Peace does not mean sitting down and being nice. I will be lighting candles to Lady Justice. I can’t go to Ferguson myself and stand with those who lost, but I can call on the Goddess who sees that order and fairness be restored. I heard this morning of a direct manifestation of unjust actions punished in accordance with how they were dealt. I look forward to seeing this unfold in Ferguson. I look forward to seeing this be the first step in rectifying the severe injustices that are seizing our country and killing off our children. I look forward to seeing that those whose businesses were damaged are appropriately compensated and hope that is soon. But I will not light candles for peace as peace is only the reward of rectifying wrong and we have a lot to do before that can be enjoyed. For those who have asked me if I “support the riots,” if that means, saying, “Go, Rioters! Go!” then no, I am not in support of rioting. But if support means not condemning, then perhaps I could be labeled a supporter. My feeling is less “Rioting is Right!” and more “What did we expect?” This riot is not a reaction to one young man’s death.”

In an attempt to explore this further with other Pagans, I asked several people what their impressions were on the current situation and why they felt this was important to Pagans, as well as to everyone else.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

“I think the situation in Ferguson has forced society to see the ugly truths in the mirror it has long worked to ignore. Michael Brown is far from the first young black man to be murdered by police officers but their response has forced his tragic demise into the public eye in a way that should have happened a long time ago. The combination of the increasingly convoluted, deceptive, and unsubstantiated police efforts to justify Officer Darren Wilson’s actions and the level of force used being comparable to occupying armies smashing an uprising showed how systemic these problems are. It isn’t just that a white police officer killed an innocent black man and tried to cover it up; the entire department moved swiftly to smash innocent people because they dared to protest the actions of those whose duty is allegedly “to protect and serve”.

As a Heathen such injustice should not be allowed to stand.  Our lore teaches us to assess based on the merits of another’s words and deeds. The actions of the police are grossly unworthy. The underlying causes spit in the face of honorable conduct, rooted in fear and self-deception.  There are some who have said this is not an issue Heathens should be speaking up on, even in an anti-racist context, as it is not happening in our community. That argument misses the point.  We are part of the world around us and what happens in society impacts us in countless ways. As it says in Havamal 127, “when you come upon misdeeds speak out against them and give your enemies no peace.”  I don’t see anything in there saying that is limited to only those who are closest to us. – Ryan Smith – HUAR Web Admin.

Okay Toya

Okay Toya

“Most definitely what is happening in Ferguson is an important issue. Mike Brown was assassinated for simply being black. The punishment for alleged ‘shoplifting’ is not death by firing squad. It is showing the underbelly of true ugliness. This is what happens when we don’t have an honest and open discussion about White Supremacy and attempt to sweep it all under a carpet in this country. All Black/Brown and Trans/CIS men and women have to deal with this fall out, for trying to survive in a society that doesn’t view us as human beings.

Most of us were not even born when the 60’s civil rights movement was happening. We didn’t have social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Vine to keep us up to date on the latest. The framing on how the MSM portrays this narrative is troubling. Focusing on the violence that ‘supposedly’ happen and not focusing on why we are out there in the first place. A young man was assassinated by Officer Darren Wilson. All the lies, the cover up to protect one of their own. With blatant disregard for this young man’s life.

It is personally important to me being a Black Female living in a country where I am demonized, dehumanize and criminalize all based on my skin color. I want the conversation to happen. I want us to be able to dismantle the “Altar” of White Supremacy once and for all. I am so tired of the Respectability Politics. I want the Old Guard Elder Black community to listen to us, just like they wanted the Old Guard Elder Black community to listen to them during the 60’s. My pagan side of me is split between burn it down, burn it all down and we need to do this constructively with well thought out plans and process. But too many rapid succession of deaths have happen that should not have happen in the past few weeks and my anger level is extremely high.

Linking arms and Chanting We Shall overcome someday hasn’t gotten us very far, if we are still trying to get the world to view us a simple human beings.” – Okay Toya, Priestess and Author

Meredith Bell

Meredith Bell

“I believe it’s very important. I grew up in Florissant, right next door to Ferguson. The schools that have been closed are the ones I went to as a child. I am not surprised to see the obstruction of justice happening at the police and government level. I am surprised at the amount of force that has been allowed on the part of the authorities. It’s very frightening. As a pagan, I believe that we are one human family, and that we all suffer when any of us suffer. But, as a white person originally from North County St. Louis, I also believe that I have suffered differently than my black neighbors. That I can’t know the same fears and rages that they know. As a priestess, I believe it is my job to bear witness to that rage and fear and try to find systemic ways to shift the causes. In addition to retweeting, reposting, spreading the word of the violence that has happened after sunset night after night, I believe we must engage in changing the tone of racist policing and politics in Missouri and throughout the country. Too many have been killed because there is no accountability for killing black men. Too many have been hurt because police have weapons far beyond what is necessary. I believe in the transformative power of spell work and prayer, but I also think real change comes after the extent of the problem is known.” – Meredith Bell, CAYA coven

Connie Jones-Steward

Connie Jones-Steward

“Yes, it’s important. It’s important to show that we still live in a country where racism is not only alive and well, but that it often has deadly consequences. It’s important because the reactions to Michael Brown’s murder and the following unrest brings to the forefront the attitudes and treatment towards young Black males’ not just by the police but by people in general. I have learned a lot about some people based on their reactions. It’s important because it shows Black people what happens when you become complacent towards politics. Maybe after this the people of Ferguson and Black communities around the country will realize the importance in voting and exercising political power when it comes to creating changes and shifts in power. As a Black woman with young Black males in my family this whole situation touches me deeply; however it has no bearing on my beliefs or faith as a Pagan.” – Connie Jones-Steward, Multi-traditional Priestess

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“Six bullets and no accountability is my impression. It’s crucial we not forget that because here we have another case of an unarmed young black man shot by a white police officer, not too dissimilar to Oscar Grant (allegedly committing a crime that witnesses don’t support actually occurred.)

The situation was destined to happen and reaction in some ways needed to happen, but it has become like a pressure cooker. This is because law enforcement has decided that instead of allowing space for the emotion, the pain, the anger, and the call for justice; they instead want to cover it up, in affect putting a lid on what needs to be addressed, which is accountability. Yet there are still six bullets and an officer uncharged. So, what could have been some civil disobedience has turned into a shit show.

What I find most disconcerting is the amount of media about everything but the six bullets that killed an unarmed black man. Specifically the amount of attention to arrested white journalists and white civilians. This issue isn’t about them. It’s about murdering an innocent black man, and that being “ok” in our society. Somewhere in this media frenzy of militarized officers and ‘victimized civilians” the focus has shifted to creating a motive for six bullets and criminalizing an innocent black man. Six bullets and not justice, that is my impression and it is precisely those six bullets that makes this not just important but paramount.” – Erick Dupree, Author

Barry Perlman

Barry Perlman

“The situation in Ferguson, MO, is but one more example illustrating the systemic injustices in how our society enforces the law. In this country, people of color are likelier to be treated poorly at all points of the law-enforcement cycle… from being profiled or stopped without fair cause, to their rougher treatment as suspects during arrest, throughout the entire trial process and into their harsher incarceration penalties, all while facing an increased chance of being harmed or killed at every step.  Ferguson is so important because it draws more widespread attention, beyond just communities predominantly of color, to the way structural racism intrudes upon our collective capacity to apply the law fairly in all cases.  The specifics of how the Ferguson situation has been handled in the aftermath of Brown’s shooting is also important because it forefronts the frightening trend of police militarization, a threat to everyone’s freedoms regardless of race. Thankfully, in this age of social media, we’re able to quickly and widely disseminate images and videos which document this trend, so it’s no longer just a battle of unsubstantiated claims.

Ferguson is important to me personally because I strive to be an ally to those who, due to the quirks of birthright in an unjust society, have not received the same benefits I’ve been afforded. As a spiritually aware person, I feel it’s my duty to speak up whenever I see the effects of racism, with the intent of doing my best to help alleviate the suffering it causes, one interaction at a time.  We all suffer from the effects of racial injustice. If I sit back and do nothing, I’m tacitly signing on as an advocate of the system which promotes it… and my conscience won’t allow that.” – Barry Perlman, Co-Owner of the Sacred Well, astrologer.

After a plethora of resources, blogs, posts and news articles about this incident, I found that the Pagan response is very similar to the response of individuals around the United States. They are all attempting to understand what they are watching on the television. Pictures depicting what looks like war are actually images of a small town in Missouri. Those pictures are shattering perceptions of existing justice and peace, and reminding the world of the complexity of equity.

Once again Pagans are asking themselves some complex questions, finding a balance in the challenges of living in the environment around us. How do we feel that peace and spirituality coincide? Is there a time that justice gets messy and what does that mean to us as a community? What are the correlations between Ferguson and our own struggle to be open to diversity, differences, and equity?

Courtesy of Scott Olson

Courtesy of Scott Olson

I have found that through all of my personal processing of the events of the past two weeks, I have also been asking myself the same questions and evaluating my sense of justice with dual citizenship in the Black community and the Pagan community. The death of Michael Brown, and the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri open old and painful wounds for many in this country. I have also witnessed what appears to be a lack of empathy and understanding for the damage of systemic problems and militarization of law enforcement that plague marginalized communities, and dialog in threads, on the news, and in articles that are dismissive of the multi-layered problems that Ferguson is reflective of. Ferguson is one snapshot of an age-old problem within historically oppressed populations, and the flooding responses to this situation sometimes forget that piece of complexity. I have watched threads dissolve into overtly racist dialog that is very harmful, not just for people of color but also for a community in mourning, and a nation in the process of trying to understand the actuality of racial equity.

I think Erick Dupree’s answer to my question of why he feels that what is happening in Ferguson is important to him personally and, as a Pagan, is the most fitting closure for this piece. The complexity of his answer mirrors the myriad of things I am seeing online, hearing in conversation, and feeling internally.

“I really am struggling with this because I want to believe that love is still the law. I want to believe that humankind is better than this savagery that is power, oppression, privilege, and racism. I want to believe that love is stronger than fear, but I can’t help but know that every mother of a brown child lives in fear that her child will be the next Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown. In times like this I ask how do we as Pagans lead and be vessels for change? How do we become the Goddess’ conduit?

What I do is work magic in private and within small community to bring swift justice and healing. But that magic is more than lighting a candle, it is bringing the circle to the situation through social justice initiatives. Where I live, it was attending a vigil and protest in NYC, standing beside my religious community and social peers and using my voice. By speaking out about those six bullets, and reminding the world that an unarmed black man teenager is dead and that there is need for accountability I hope to manifest change. That may sound flippant, but if the Pagan voice and our actions can add one drop of Love back into the bucket of humanities egregious injustices, then love is still remains the law and change happens.”

 

Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), a Pagan camping festival held in SE Minnesota, celebrated its 17th year last week. While the festival has experienced ups and downs over the years, most recently a new campground zoning restriction limiting night time drumming, it now faces the challenge of finding a new location.

The Harmony Tribe stewards announced at this year’s festival that it was the last time the event would be held at Harmony Park. They also said that they had not yet secured a place to hold the festival next year.*

The campground, which has hosted the festival for all 17 years, is a favorite with attendees. It’s small, private layout combined with a full grove of Burr oak trees gave the festival an intimate feeling and helped attendees connect with nature and one another. “I’ve loved the serenity and privacy of Harmony Park,” says festival attendee Traci Amberbride, “the way the weather seems to be held somewhat at bay, the shade of the trees, the dappled sunlight coming through. Watching the sunrise of the lake and set beyond the parking field. I love the flow of the park and the ability to determine how in the middle of things you want to be.”

The announcement was met with a range of emotions. Heather Biedermann, who has attended the festival since 2007, said she was heartbroken at hearing the festival would no longer be at Harmony Park, “The oak trees have always felt like home to me. However, I understand that with the changes that were happening at Harmony Park, it just wouldn’t be right to stay either.”

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Sacred Harvest Festival 2013 [Photo credit: Teo Bishop]

Some of the changes included the noise restrictions which took effect in 2011. This meant drumming ended at 10pm on weekdays and 1am on weeknights. This year, attendees could no longer drive vehicles into the park to load and unload their camp gear while campers and RVs had to park in the treeline just outside the park.

Harmony Tribe member Tasha Rose says Sacred Harvest Festival was treated differently by the campground owner than the camp’s larger music festivals. She says,”I honestly saw it coming. It sort of felt like a slow pushing out by [the owner] Jay. We have such a positive impact on the land there and have had one obstacle after another thrown at us for the past few years, while large events that disrupt the environment are allowed to continue doing their thing.”

Rachael, one of the Harmony Tribe Stewards responsible for helping produce SHF, says, “The decision to move was a series of factors including the limits placed on us by the sound curfew, the limited access to the park, and the camping restrictions for RVs. We have many who attend our fest who are mobility impaired or have small children, so limiting where we could go and how we get our things into our space was difficult to work within those confines.” She noted they are a community who drums into the night as part of their spiritual experience and said the drumming curfew has detracted from the festival experience.

Moving a festival location is not without risks. Author and SHF presenter Crystal Blanton says changing venues is challenging for any festival, “I anticipate that SHF might lose some of it’s regular festival goers but will gain some more in other area. I think it is a chance to shake things up and grow in the process, but it is always sad to see people leave the community after large change. It is to be expected though.”

There is an additional layer of risk in announcing a festival is changing location before securing the next venue. “Being an event planner, I know that not having a secured place to host even a year out is not ideal in the least,” says Tasha. She says her family doesn’t have plans to return to SHF with the move.

[Festival Theme Art 2014 by Judith Olson]

[Festival Theme Art 2014 by Judith Olson]

Heather says her major concern is that the festival will take a year off while they search for a new location, “What that usually means to me is that the festival won’t happen again. I sincerely hope that wherever Harmony Tribe decides to go, it will be a positive, growing change for the better.” She says she plans to attend the festival next year, although location and dates may affect that decision.

Traci is more optimistic about the venue search, but knows it won’t be an easy task. “As sad as leaving the Oaks is, I think this is a change for the better. Everything has a cycle, and there have been many changes in the last several years within Harmony Tribe. It’s time for a new birth and beginning. To reestablish what this community is and to whom it is important. I’m excited about the possibilities a new beginning brings.”

Moving a Pagan festival is more challenging than moving other types of camping festivals. In addition to a venue which allows late night drumming, there are other needs and wants particular to Pagan festivals, such as privacy and nudity. Rachael says the Harmony Tribe board is weighing all the criteria and asking for community input, “We put it out into the community to tell us what they need and got a lot of responses. The most popular responses to that question were showers, communal campfires, RV parking, shade, and privacy. The responses that were given as wants were a swimming place and a playground. The places that we’ve seen have great amenities, but where you get a little more, you have to give a little more.” She says attendees are encouraged to fill out the festival feedback form located here.

There are non-tangible criteria as well. Crystal Blanton isn’t just a presenter, she’s also an attendee. She has flown from California with her family multiple times to attend SHF because of its importance to her spiritual and emotional well-being, “The supportive, loving and family atmosphere is very important to me personally, and my desire to expose my children to other Pagan families. This particular festival has something very special it offers to my family – the ability to come and be a part of a community that embraces our diversity and supports our collective needs.”

Tasha, who has attended the festival for ten years and whose husband has attended all 17 years agrees that SHF plays a large role in her spiritual life, “The grove and the people who live in it for the week of SHF are all a part of who I am.” She says the festival is also important for her children to experience Pagan culture, “I go because my children get to have time with other children in their own culture. They don’t really have that in our day to day aside from their siblings. Without this festival in that Grove, we won’t have what we have come to need in our spiritual family life, and I am sad about that.” But she says it feels like it’s time to move on and create that culture with new people in new places.

“This Festival is very important to my spiritual health and my family’s,” says Traci. “We have grown, experienced, and learned so much from both the Tribe and the presenters. My children have made lasting bonds, as have Jackie and I. We live in a small, rural community and aren’t always able to find time to commune with our spiritual/religious community. This is a big chunk for us.”

The search continues to find a new home for the Sacred Harvest Festival. Only time will tell if this is the end or the rebirth of a much loved part of upper Midwest Pagans’ spiritual lives.

“We will do our best to continue to meet the needs of the community,” Rachael says. “There is no place like the grove, but we are going to find some place that gives us a new home with the same or better festival experience.”

* [Harmony Tribe and Harmony Park have no formal relationship and were named independently of one another]

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!

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

A new initiative to honor author and journalist Margot Adler, who passed away last week after a long battle against cancer, has been announced by NPR colleague Ken Barcus. Quote:  Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily. She bought a bench for her husband John, when he passed away, and one for her mother years earlier. Both are situated in the park, close to her condo. The cost of doing this through the Central Park Conservancy is $7,000. If we raise more than that, the excess will be put toward planting a tree in Central Park in her name. If anyone wants to donate toward this, I’ll be collecting the money and then forwarding it to the conservancy. Checks should be made out to: Margot Adler Memorial Fund and mailed to this address: Ken Barcus NPR 3109 Mayfield Rd. #207 Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118 Margot traveled in so many different circles, that I’m sure I’ve left many people off this email who would like to know about this effort. Please feel free to forward along this note to them.” You can also donate online, here.

book_shades_of_ritual_mainThe new anthology, “Shades of RItual: Minority Voices in Practice,” edited by Crystal Blanton, and a follow up to the 2012 anthology “Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism” was published at the end of June. In a short statement sent to The Wild Hunt, Blanton had this to say on the new collection: “This anthology contains over 30 pieces and a wide range of Pagan voices from people of color. I am very excited to be a part of a project that is focused on diversity in practice and how that intersects with ethnicity and culture. It is so important that we are moving in a direction in our community where all different types of people are able to share their knowledge and experiences, and open dialogs that include people of color. Our hope is that this book supports in that dialog and sharing within the Pagan community.” In a review at Patheos.com, Sara Amis calls the anthology “substantive,” and that it contributes “valuable perspectives to the wider Pagan conversation, a lively mix of sharp scholarly observation, artistic expression, ritual, and wisdom woven from lived experience by authors I hope to see more from.” A full list of contributors to “Shade of Ritual” can be found, here.

Pagan Leadership ConferencePolytheist Leadership Conference organizers Galina Krasskova and Sannion have proposed a Polytheist Community Outreach Month for August. Quote: Ancient polytheisms promoted civic virtues and involvement in one’s local community. We have a lot of tremendously talented people in polytheism today and I think we could really make a difference if we started reaching out. I know a lot of us do things already all the time and we don’t draw attention to it. Maybe we should, not to brag, but to inspire each other to go out and make a difference. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems we face as a community, as a human community and to feel that nothing we do, no effort will ever make any difference at all. That’s not true though and when we give in to those feelings of hopelessness, we’re denying ourselves a chance to make a good, solid change. […] Here are some ideas of things you can do: volunteer at a food kitchen, donate time to a favorite charity, donate time to raise awareness about a favorite cause, clean up the park for an hour, get involved in interfaith stuff, join your local cemetery committee, make blankets for babies that have none, run a food drive, run a clothing drive — winter is coming. Let’s do this now because people need help all year long, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is something that everyone can do, it’s just a matter of finding the best outlet for your enthusiasm, your passion, your social commitment.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

  •  The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC is calling out to Pagans around the world to join them in New York on Sept. 21 as part of an interfaith group in the People’s Climate March. This march, timed with the UN Summit on Climate Change, is predicted to be the largest climate march in history–a movement urging government leaders to support an ambitious global agreement to address the causes of climate change. The march will be part of a weekend-long event including teach-ins, rituals, and fellowship. Please see their website for further information, including schedule, travel and housing resources as they are made available.
  • The radio show/podcast Interfaith Voices has an interview up with Phyllis Curott and Ronald Hutton, who share their remembrances of Margot Adler, and talk about her legacy. Quote: “Margot Adler opened modern paganism to new audiences, and lent it an intellectual credibility and respect that it had not seen before. In a movement that didn’t have elders, she became one, acting as a mentor and source of inspiration for many in the world of earth-based religion. Two guests, including a longtime friend, reflect on the mark she left.”
  • Air n-Aithesc, a Celtic Reconstructionist peer-reviewed magazine, has released its second issue. Quote: “This issue includes an article on Irish Witches, a discussion of the CRP methodology, an article on patron deities, and one on the Foster mothers of heroes, just to name a few. Of course, there are also book reviews, and poetry.” You can also check them out on Facebook.
  • I’m happy to announce that the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based metaphysical shop Eye of Horus has succeeded in raising enough money via crowdfunding to relocate and stay open. Quote: “Guess what? We hit our fundraising goal! We’ll be doing our happy dance at our staff meeting, and we will upload as soon as we can after they hook up our internet. Further contributions will go towards covering unforseen move expenses or much needed restock.”
  • The Pagan-folk band OMNIA have released a new video for the song “Earth Warrior,” the title track from their latest album. OMNIA recently headlined at the Faeireworlds festival, and will next be playing in the United States at FaerieCon East in November.

  • Witches & Pagans Magazine/PaganSquare posts an open letter from an Ugric and black Heathen. Quote: “As a woman who’s Ugric as well and black, I would love to incorporate my heritage and shamanism into my practice without being torn into for not being strictly western Scandinavian. To be fair I’m one of the few people who can actually say they’re native to northern Europe. Not that blood matters, though. On a personal level I find it very disheartening that because of imperialism I can’t find a solid language resource center with Uralic language families in it.”
  • Literary Magpie interviews Erynn Rowan Laurie about her poetry. Quote: “I see the role of a poet, of myself as a poet, as something multivalent and polymorphous. Certainly I write poems that explore my thoughts and feelings, but that’s rarely the entirety of what’s going on in a given poem. For me, the creation of a poem is a sacred act.”
  • The Lammas 2014 edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of AREN, is now out. Featured interviews include Sannion, Galina Krasskova, Celeste Jackson, Mike King, and more!
  • PNC-Minnesota interviews Yeshe Rabbit and Crystal Blanton in advance of their appearance at Sacred Harvest Festival. Quote: “Doing something like this together is a step at looking at some of the many layers that keep us stuck. It is opening up conversation and connection, extending the olive branch; not necessarily through each other but through our ancestors. It is connecting in a way we don’t normally get to in our normal walk of life. We will be acknowledging the many layers of societal hurt, community hurt, and how we impact one another. I am excited about it as a way to open another level of work, and acknowledging it in a way meant to be healing. Not just ripping the scab off, but acknowledging the fact the scabs and scars exist. Loving those scars and loving our past through one another as a result of that. I am really excited about it for those reasons.”

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