Archives For Cuba

[Unleash the Hounds is a monthly feature that highlights media stories of interest originating predominantly outside of our collective communities. If you like seeing this roundup every month, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. These types of articles take time, research and money to produce. It is you that makes it all possible! Your donations go directly back to getting the important news out there. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

News Update …

bloomfield nmIn March 2014, we reported on a story in which two New Mexico Pagans challenged their local city’s placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public grounds. They won that case, but the city vowed to appeal in federal court.

That case is being heard today in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado. The city of Bloomfield will argue for keeping the monument, stating that “the display is legal because it was privately funded.” Prior to the monument’s installation, members of the Bloomfield community, as well as some elected officials, had raised private funds specifically for this purpose.

The ACLU, on behalf of Felix and Coone, maintain that the monument violates the Constitution. As noted in our original article, the ACLU argued that city officials “accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation.” We will update the story as it continues to progress.

Other Links …. 

  • On Sept 25, a special memorial service was held for Mustang 22, a 5-person unit of soldiers killed in combat exactly ten years ago. A member of that unit was Sergeant Patrick Stewart, whose name later became connected to the Veteran Pentacle Quest. Sergeant Stewart’s wife, Roberta Stewart, was at the memorial service, and spoke to the media in attendance. Here is that news report:

  • In June, we noted the passing of Eron the Wizard, a prominent figure in the UK’s magical community and a practitioner of Alexandrian Wicca. He lost his battle with cancer on May 10 and was given a large memorial service that was well-publicized. Just this past week, Eron’s daughter, Rebecca Spencer, reported that her father’s beloved car has now been stolen. It’s a yellow Subaru Legacy uniquely decorated with black stars and witches. She told reporters that it disappeared on Friday from her home near Gloucester. She said, “I have lost my dad and now this has been stolen.” She added that it was one of the few things from him that she had left.
  • Now we move east to Russia. The Moscow Times has reported that city officials are planning to “release a booklet warning Muscovites against unorthodox religious ‘cults’ operating in Russia.” The booklet will reportedly include ways to handle encounters with such cults and how to countact the authorities. The Times also quoted Moscow officials as saying, “cults do not necessarily take a traditional form, many of them are posing as lectures, personal development courses, or even yoga classes.” What does this mean, if anything, for Pagans in the area? The booklet has not yet been published, and there is no indication of whether or not any Pagan groups will be listed. When more is available, we will update the story.
  • Further southwest, in the ex-Soviet province of Tajikistan, the national government is also taking measures against, what it considers to be, dangerous practices. The Tajik Parliament is expected to introduced new changes to its criminal code, which make the practice of witchcraft, “sorcery” and fortune telling punishable with up to 7 years of prison time. The legislation was first introduced in 2007 as a simple ban. Now officials are looking to add more teeth to the measure in order to allegedly protect against charlatans and “witch doctors.”
  • Over the past two weeks, it seems that everyone is talking about the Pope. The Guardian recently featured an article on his visit to Cuba. However, the piece didn’t focus on the Pope specifically. It examined the relationship between his message and the practice of Santeria, also known as Lukumi. The article reads, “The syncretic religion of Santería has unsurprisingly not been mentioned in the pope’s schedule or sermons, but its powerful influence on the island means that many of those listening to his homilies will be interpreting references to the Catholic saints in a very different way from Vatican orthodoxy.” The Guardian goes on to discuss the relationship between the Church and the deeply-rooted syncretic religion that thrives on the island.
  • Back in the United States, changes have been made to one Montana hospital, which allows for a very specific type of healing. In Helena, Montana, a new “Smudging Room” has opened in Saint Peter’s Hospital. The room is intended to be used by Native Americans for a special sacred healing practice that removes negative energy. Montanta Public Radio reports that “Little Shell Tribal member Daniel Pocha said getting hospitals to allow smudging has always been hit and miss.” The article goes on to celebrate the new addition, saying the hospital is “acknowledging the needs of patients who follow native spiritual traditions.”
  • If you haven’t looked at the calendar lately, it’s almost October. And what does that mean? Pumpkins, corn mazes and interviews with Witches. Starting off before the bell even rings opening the month, Oregon Live has posted an article featuring Anne Newkirk Niven. A local Oregon resident, Niven is the publisher of Witches and Pagans magazine and director of In the article, Niven discusses her practices and beliefs. It ends with her saying, “I love words, I love religion, and I’m pagan … What the heck? I’m in my dream job.”
  • In that same vein, BuzzFeed has joined Octoberfest early, offering a list of “spellbooks for the witch in your life.” The thirteen books listed are a mix bag from the newly published to the classic. BuzzFeed’s criteria may be a bit of a mystery. How does this compare to your top 13?
  • Finally, the Vice Channel Broadly has published photographs from this year’s New York Pagan Pride Day event. In July, offered a vivid picture tour of New York City’s Witchfest. Now, its Broadly channel is serving up photos from the annual fall festival. Its cover shot is of Priestess Courtney Weber proudly wearing a shirt that reads, “Where my Witches at?” The article goes on to quote PPD president Beth Mastromarino, saying that their goal is to “Create a space where Pagans can gather and the public can see that we’re just everyday people who happen to have a different sense of spirituality, but share the same values—family, community, caring for the environment and our fellow humans.” The majority of Broadly’s article is simply a dazzling photo album documenting the many people at this year’s event.

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Another damaging summer storm has a hit major Pagan festival. This time it is Summerland Spirit Festival held in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The intense winds and rain arrived Sunday night around 10 p.m. on the festival’s first full day. According to reports, tents were damaged or completely lost, and parts of merchant row have been destroyed. During a race to get into the permanent shelters, several people sustained minor injuries such as scrapes and twisted ankles.

Fortunately, the intense storm was over in thirty minutes, and did not cause the local creek to rise. Those who did lose tents were able to find sleeping space within the lodge or in neighbors’ tents. While there has been property loss, the festival will continue on. As today’s sun dries out the campground, attendees and the organizing committee will spend the day cleaning up, looking for lost items and assessing damages. Beyond that, the organizers plan to continue on with Summerland programming as scheduled. While the weather reports do call for another possible summer thunderstorm today, the rest of the week looks promising.

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Equinox Publishing will be launching a new peer reviewed journal in 2016. It is titled Body and Religion and will “provide a forum for the study of all manner of ancient and contemporary practices, concerns, ideals, and connections or disconnections between body and religion.” The editors are Shawn Arthur of Wake Forest University and Nikki Bado of Iowa State University. The book reviewer will be Kevin Schilbrack of Appalachian State University.

Body and Religion will be published twice annually and is currently seeking submissions. The editors write, “We welcome English-language submissions from scholars who use diverse methodologies and approaches, ranging from traditional to innovative, to explore issues of’“body’ as a fundamental analytical category in the study of religion.” They will “consider submissions from both established scholars and research students.” Equinox is also the publisher of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

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Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

In the past, we have reported on the New Year divinatory tradition held by Cuba’s Santeria Priests. For more than 30 years, these Priests have offered recommendations and predictions for the coming year. Traditionally, these readings have been performed independently from each other. Last week, however, The Havana Times reported that this will change in 2016. The article reads, “The two main currents of Cuban Santeria that announce different “Letter of the Year” prophecies at the beginning of each January have finally decided to come together and make public a single version of the predictions by the popular oracle Ifa.”

The partnership between the two leading “currents,” led by Lazaro Cuesta and Jose Manuel Perez, is reportedly being seen as a “means of consolidating the community of Afro-Cuban religion practitioners” Rather than offering competing recommendations, the groups will offer a joint “Letter of the Year” for the first time in history.

The Havana Times article goes on to discuss the relationship between the Cuban practice and that of Miami’s Santeria Priests, who also offer their own Letter of the Year. As is written, “Perhaps the new winds of change blowing between Washington and Havana will end up bringing Ifa priests on both shores together in their dictates and recommendations for the year.”

In Other News:

  • Author Marla Hardee Milling, a native of Asheville, has published a new book called Only in Asheville: An Eclectic History. The book examines why Asheville, North Carolina is often labeled “America’s quirkiest town.” In it she explores aspects of the bohemian character of her home town, interviewing a number of local residents. One of the interviews is with local Priestess Byron Ballard, who has the distinguished title of local Village Witch.
  • Llewellyn has published a guest blog post written by Aaron Leitch, which examines whether the Bible outlaws magick. He writes, “The question of magick among these traditions arises every so often. Usually, it is asked by newcomers who feel a calling to practice the arts of magick, but have been raised with the belief that it is directly proscribed by their religion.Their fear is very real—they worry if delving into the arts will result in the loss of their immortal soul.” Leitch then goes on to examine various references to magick, Witchcraft and sorcery.
  • Circle Magazine is currently seeking submissions for its upcoming fall issue, which will be titled “Life’s End & Beyond.”  Editor Florence Edwards-Miller said that she is “hoping to cover a wide range of topics … including end-of-life planning and care, Pagan funerals, coping with loss of a human or animal companion, honoring ancestors, deities associated with the dead or dying, myths or beliefs about what comes after death, reincarnation, or other related subjects.” The issue will also cover the rituals, crafts and food associated with Samhain. Due to the PSG flooding, the submission deadline is now Aug. 7.
  • Over the past week, Patheos Pagan Channel writers have been debating the somewhat controversial subject of deity popularity. Channel manager Jason Mankey kicked off the conversation at Raise the Horns, which was then followed by several other reaction pieces.The latest post was written by John Beckett at Under the Ancient Oaks.
  • Another Pagan programming announcement has been made for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Andras Corban-Arthen put together a proposal for a panel entitled “We Are the Earth: Pagans Respond to Pope Francis on the Environment.” It was accepted by the Council. The new panel, moderated by Sylvia Linton, will include Corban-Arthen, John Halstead and myself. Other Wild Hunt writers will also be in attendance at the Parliament, and we will be reporting directly from the October event.

That is it for now. Have a nice day!

Having been raised in both Cuban culture and in Lukumí (or Santeria), it is impossible for me to underestimate the significance drumming and rhythm in both my cultural expressions and spiritual development. They represent one of the fundamental pillars that create “Cuban-ness.”  My godfather used to say “Los tambores de la tierra tienen que oírse en el cielo.” Very loosely translated, this means, “Play the drums so they are heard in Heaven.” The saying speaks to the vigor and ecstasy with which drums must be played during ceremonies because of their deep and raw power. With little exaggeration, their rhythms have changed and sustained cultures as well as brought forth new musical forms to the world.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

Cuban music has been described as the fusion of Iberian melodies and harmonies with the rhythms and percussion of West Africa. It is a creolized blend that takes advantage of the musical strengths of two traditions. That musical fusion began with the horror of slavery. As Africans were forced into imprisonment and diaspora in the New World, our Ancestors brought with them their music and faith.

Despite being forced into Catholicism, our African Ancestors were – with great hardship – able to preserve many elements of their culture and secure it for their descendants. Very soon into the era of slavery, the Spanish Colonial power allowed cabildos de nación, small “national” councils of slaves based on their region of origin. They were created for a malignant purpose: so slave owners and other Spanish authorities could maintain control over the ethnic groups. The first recorded cabildo, called Cabildo Shango, was established in Havana in 1568 CE.

Despite authoritarian social and economic control, cabildos also became a mechanism by which West African slaves could maintain their traditions while resisting 16th Century Spanish cultural hegemony. The cabildos allowed slaves to engage in religious ceremonies including consulting with the spirits and the Orisha. And they were also imbued with African cultural traditions. For example, in order to maintain the traditional value that women hold equal status as men, the cabildos would have three men and three women elected as group leaders, and then one man and one woman as co-leaders of the entire council.

At the same time, cabildos allowed for the traditional music of West Africa to be transferred across generations of Africans in Cuba. In doing so, cabildos catalyzed the fusion of musical genres while becoming the vehicle for African Traditional Religions to survive in the West. And during centuries of tragedy and privation, the drums were played to beckon Orisha, to call Egungun (deceased Ancestors) and strengthen the living.

While African drumming traditions have gained prominence in many of our Pagan festivals, Native American and First Nations drumming traditions have also been powerful and integral in building a ritual atmosphere. Those cultures too have navigated hardship, resisted cultural attack and healed with drums.

Photo Credit:  M. Tejeda-Moreno

[Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Drums have been a powerful tool for us to connect with Spirit for literally millennia. They are the oldest known musical instrument with drumming artifacts traced to before 5,000 BCE, and the current evidence suggest that the earliest drummers were priestesses. In oral histories, drums have been deeply interwoven with Shamanic traditions. In Greek religion, the Titan Rhea was venerated with drumming using a tympanon, cymbals and the clashing of metal shields with rhythmic mantras. Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish medieval historian, records hammers (representations of Mjolnir) beaten against a drum to protect the community and ward against malignant spirits. Even Psalm 150:4 says “praise Him with drums and dancing”.

In the traditional religions of West Africa, drums, such as the batáhave very specific ritual significance. They are holy objects that are ceremonially prepared for use. Drummers must be carefully and intensively trained. They must memorize complex rhythms, demonstrate their skills, and ultimately undergo special rituals that confer upon them the right and privilege to serve the community as a drummer.

Although the drummers at Pagan festivals may not undergo the ceremonial hurdles of their peers within the traditional religions of West Africa, they are no less skilled or appreciated. Drummers are praised for the magic and atmosphere they help create and are often central to the festival experience. From the ritual use of drums and their ubiquity, it makes me want to deconstruct the importance of drumming and ask if there are complementary benefits to it.

Evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that psychological traits represent adaptive advantages. It is a theoretical lens to understand why certain characteristics are retained while others are slowly lost. Drumming has not been lost. On the contrary, it was retained at great cost. Our Ancestors in the cabildos must have recognized some of the powerful effects of drumming and, therefore, centralized it as an important part of religious experience and cultural celebration.

Indeed, Winkleman (2003) noted the benefits of drumming as a culturally appropriate extension of therapy especially for individuals whose spiritual traditions have drumming as a component of healing. But drumming also represents one of the oldest means for healing.  It has been considered medicine for millennia. And, it turns out that drumming has sobering benefits that range from the obvious to the surprising.

One benefit should come as no surprise to anyone who has participated in a drum circle: drumming improves mood.  Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a small study where student volunteers participated in a 45-minute drumming session (Mungas & Silverman, 2014). Before their drumming, the volunteers completed a short questionnaire to assess drowsiness, relaxation, cheerfulness, friendliness, clarity and coordination. Another volunteer group taking guitar lessons served as the control; and they too completed the same questionnaire.

Before the drumming, there were no between-group differences on the questionnaire. In other words, the groups were statistically identical before the intervention. When the invention was completed, the groups completed the questionnaire once again and the drummers reported changes. When compared to the control (and their pre-test scores), the drummers had statistical improvements in their wakefulness (no surprise there); but they also reported statistically significant improvements in relaxation, cheerfulness, friendliness and clarity as well as their sense of coordination. Though it is a small study, the findings speak to to the idea that drumming has an important role in improving psychological states.

[Photo Credit: Kleuske / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kleuske / Flickr]

Another amazing benefit is that drumming appears to help cope with trauma. A group of researchers at Bar-Ilon University in Israel explored whether drumming could help mitigate the symptoms of combative stress in soldiers (Bensimon, Amir & Wolf, 2008). This is both difficult and tricky research and, given the small sample, we have to be very cautious understanding their findings.

What they did was offer group music therapy to six soldiers surviving with post-traumatic stress disorder. They had significant and horrifying battlefield experiences and were seeking treatment to help cope with the incidents. The researchers gathered data about which musical instruments during sessions were used including their intensity, tempo and amount of time spent on each instrument. They also gathered data on rhythmic patterns of instruments as well as comments from the participants. The group of participants were given a variety of instruments but took to the drums.

What the researchers found is that while drums were used to evoke and discuss difficult trauma, they were also used to strengthen intimacy, promote feelings of openness, fortify sharing and create connectedness. The drums helped expose survivor rage, as well as help them express it in manageable and therapeutic manner. More importantly, the drums appeared to burst through the isolation and loneliness that disconnect survivors of trauma from others in society.

That last point also brought me to the question of whether drumming produces benefits beyond the emotional, psychological or spiritual. It turns out that some researchers have been looking at that question for some time. One experimental study (Dunbar et al. 2012) examined the effects of drumming on pain threshold. They compared dancing, music-making and drumming to determine if there was any effect on self-reported pain threshold. Participants were given a pain test before and after each activity (an over-inflated blood pressure meter, for example, or holding a frozen object.) One of their findings suggests that active music-making (drumming their case) was able to suppress pain better than passive activities like listening to music. And, while they speculate that the pain suppression might be due to the release of naturally-occurring pain-reducing substances (endorphins), they did not directly measure them. Still, the work points to some amazing effects.

But the most surprising bit of research on drumming to me occurred over a decade ago. These researchers went for blood, literally. They wanted to measure the effects of different types of drumming on a variety of physical markers. The researchers assigned participants to either a control group (relaxation in a circle with reading magazines and newspapers) or a participative drumming group. They obtained blood samples from groups prior to the assigned activity and analyzed the results.

What they found is a little tricky and preliminary; but basically, group-drumming seems to improve immune-enhancing activity in the body at the hormonal and cellular levels. The chemicals that we produce naturally to mount and sustain immunity were found to increase after a session of drumming. In addition, certain cell types that regulate immunity, kill off deviant cells (like cancer) and destroy cells infected with viruses were found at higher levels after a drumming session. While I personally approach these last set of findings very cautiously, they are no less stunning and point to how our Ancestors healed on many levels..

Our Ancestors taught us that the drums could speak to our spirits and our bodies. They taught us that drums build community and strengthen bonds within us and between us. They help us break through our challenges, sustain us through change and guide us to embrace our gifts. They taught us that drumming can heal.  As we approach Midsummer and, indeed, throughout the Festival Season, there will be much drumming. And our Ancestors are whispering, “Go take your Medicine”.


Bensimon, M., Amir, D.  & Wolf, Y. (2008). “Drumming through trauma: Music therapy with post-traumatic soldiers.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, 35, 34-48.
Bittman B.B., Berk, L.S., Felten, D.L., Westengard, J., Simonton, O.C., Pappas, J., & Ninehouser, M. (2001). “Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects.” Alternative Therapies in Health And Medicine, 7, 1078-6791.
Dunbar, R.I.M., Kaskatis, K., MacDonald, I., & Barra, V. (2012). “Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect: Implications for the Evolutionary Function of Music.” Evolutionary Psychology, 10, 688-702.
Mungas, R. & Silverman, M.J. (2014). “Immediate effects of group-based wellness drumming on affective states in university students.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41, 287-292.
Winkelman, M. (2003). Complementary therapy for addiction: “Drumming out drugs.” American Journal of Public Health, 93, 647–651.

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!

hydraulic fracturingOn Dec. 17, New York state officials announced that they would not allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state. According to local news reports, Gov. Cuomo let his experts make the final call on the issue. Based on six years of study, state commissioners from both the Department of Heath and the Department of Environmental Conservation advised against proceeding at this time. DOH commissioner Dr. Zucker said, “I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered … I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

The announcement was a significant win for the newly formed Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City, whose original mission was to convince officials to ban fracking in the state. Since its inception, PEC-NYC has attended rallies, lobbied at book signings and sent petitions to the Governor. The organization’s work was highlighted in a Wild Hunt article called “Pagans Join the Fight against Fracking.”

When the news was announced, the group celebrated, saying:

It has been an extremely exciting week for PEC-NYC. Between submitting hundreds of Pagan signatures to Governor Cuomo in support of wind power and the announcement of a state-wide ban on fracking, we are ecstatic. Today, we celebrate but tomorrow, we go back to work. There are pipelines to fight, an LNG port to stop, and a wind farm to build. We would like to thank all who signed, marched, rallied, and all who donated money, goods, and time to these causes. We look forward to further solidarity.  We are far from finished.

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Presentation1In Jan. 2015, a new organization will be launching called The Koinon. Its purpose will be to serve the greater Hellenic community, regardless of practice. As noted on its website, whether “you are a reconstructionist who holds rituals in ancient Greek or an Eclectic whose rituals include the Watchtowers, you have a place at our table.”

Organizer Conor Davis told The Wild Hunt that the group would have its 501c3 status by the summer 2015. In the meantime, organizers are building the plan, structure and other specifics. Davis said that anyone interested in joining the group or helping can either watch the website for updated information. or contact the organizers directly at Although not yet published, Davis sent us the group’s mission statement:

We the Koinon exist to serve the Theoi and the Hellenic community by providing Hellenists of all walks of life, worship methods, and personal practices a network of support and a place to belong as a people.

We believe in engaging our local communities through service, interfaith outreach and education, and through charity.

We believe in serving the larger Hellenic community through ongoing education and by providing a place of belonging.

We respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person and therefore reject all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other forms of discrimination.

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pete pathfinderThe Aquariuan Tabernacle Church will be hosting a public memorial for Pete Pathfinder Davis on Dec. 27 in Seattle Washington. The group said that this will be the second of three memorial services. The first was held on the ATC property in the group’s own sacred space on Nov. 8.

The third “will be held at their annual Spring Mysteries Festival over Easter weekend” in Fort Flagler, Washington. This upcoming memorial will be held at Seattle Unity Church, located at 200 Eighth Avenue North in downtown Seattle. All are welcome to attend.

In Other News:


  • For those who have enjoyed reading Phaedra Bonewits’ blog, she has returned. After a long two-year hiatus, Bonewits has published an entry entited “On Gifts, Friendship and Love.” In this timely and particularly moving story, she recalls her days celebrating the many happy holiday seasons with Isaac and the little touches that made it special. She shares memories from their last Yule together and the friendships that made that difficult season more magical. It is personal story of joy, friendship, loss, darkness and re-emergence.
  • In another entirely different blog post, Tim Titus reacts to news of potential changes in U.S.- Cuban relations. His personal experience with the Cuban culture have given him a deep appreciation for the country, its culture and people, which he pours into this article. Near the end, he writes, “Silence is just as damaging as violence. It tears apart a family it its own quiet, seemingly innocent way. It accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive to any relationship.The U.S. and Cuba have been sitting at the Table of Silence together for far too long.” Titus’ article is an excellent glimpse into a world most Americans have not been able to see.
  • Local Asheville, North Carolina news outlet Mountain Xpress ran a story about resident village witch Byron Ballard. In the article, Ballard talks about her own practice and beliefs, calling herself a “forensic folklorist.” She “excavates folk practices from older generations.” Ballard discusses her beloved mountain culture and laments the loss or “thinning” of the region’s traditions.
  • ACTION Yule 2014 is now available complete with a new array of interviews.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes 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.

The Temple of Flux, 2010 (Rebecca Anders, Jessica Hobbs, Peter Kimelman and Crew)

The Temple of Flux, 2010 (Rebecca Anders, Jessica Hobbs, Peter Kimelman and Crew)

  • HuffPo Religion looks at 10 years of Burning Man temples, and quote scholar and friend-of-The Wild Hunt Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man.” Quote: “Burning Man is that wild, uproarious desert party that hits the Nevada desert every August. But to call it a party alone is to miss the critical spiritual dimension that grounds much of the festivities. This spiritual dimension is perhaps best characterized by the temple artists and architects build every year on the playa. The tradition began in 2000 with artists David Best and Jack Haye’s Temple of Mind. The temple took on greater significance after one of Best’s friends passed away weeks before the festival, setting the tone for what would become an annual space of memorial and contemplation on the playa, or what author and religion professor Lee Gilmore calls the ‘sacred heart of Black Rock City.’ (Black Rock City or BRC refers to the temporary town that Burning Man becomes every year.)”
  • Religion News Service analyzes the trend of the millennial generation abandoning formal religious affiliation in large numbers. Quote: “Any replacement for religious membership will have to match the moral power of religious narratives. It is always hard to keep going with civic and political work; persistence is a lot easier if you see yourself connected to a permanent community with a prophetic vision of the future. Religions also appeal to deep moral commitments. While you do not have to be religious to be moral, being a good citizen requires commitments to other people — and perhaps to nature — as intrinsically valuable. Those commitments do not come from science or reason. In fact, science suggests that people are dramatically unequal and that nature is fully exploitable. So responsible people develop ‘faith-based’ commitments. Secular equivalents must be at least as powerful.”
  • The U.S. Army has approved “Humanist” as a religious preference for members within their ranks. Quote: “Lt. Col. Sunset R. Belinsky, an Army spokeswoman, said Tuesday (April 22) that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army. In practical terms, the change means that humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains. The change comes against a backdrop of persistent claims from atheists and other nonbelievers that the military is dominated by a Christian culture that is often hostile to unbelief.” At the ACLU, Major Ray Bradley says that Army Humanists are “no longer invisible.” Pagan faiths are still engaged in this process, working to expand beyond the handful of options currently available (which includes “Wicca” and “The Troth”).
  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes about why myth matters for the Intercollegiate Review. Quote: “Against all odds, through popular culture, myth is more potent and omnipresent in modern society than anyone could have imagined. Why? Because in an increasingly global society, myth is a universal language. Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Spiderman and Batman transcend cultural divides. Mythic heroes in movies communicate universal values in their fight against evil. In a culture where the abstract theories of academics are out of touch and meaningless, stories communicate more effectively and more universally. Furthermore, in an increasingly irreligious age, mythical movies and literature carry the truths that religion had traditionally conveyed.” Despite Fr. Longenecker’s theologically conservative brand of Catholicism, I think there are some interesting points raised here that some of my readers might appreciate.
  • Center-left American think tank the Brookings Institution has published a new report on economic justice and the future of “religious progressives.” Quote: “Religious voices will remain indispensable to movements on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and middle-class Americans. The authors point to specific opportunities the progressive religious movement can act on.” Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post notes that demographic shifts might bring about a bright future for left-leaning religious organizations. Quote: “The report sees perhaps a bright future for the religious left. One reason is demographics. A far bigger share of younger Americans call themselves religious progressives (34 percent of those ages 18 to 33) than religious conservatives (16 percent of the same group). Another is the model offered by the civil rights movement, which the report says ‘interwove religious and civic themes’. . . and was so successful because it was so ecumenical. We may be at such a moment, the report argues.”
Photo: VICE / Phil Clarke Hill

Photo: VICE / Phil Clarke Hill

  • VICE says that Santeria is growing in visibility and popularity in Cuba now policies regarding religion in that country have been relaxed. Quote: “The religion owes its continued existence over the centuries to the prevalence of the oral tradition, with believers passing on, preserving, and nurturing its secrets through countless generations. Today, Santeria has emerged from the shadows of a Cuban society now at liberty to practice religion, and is witnessing not only an increase of acceptance but also of popularity.”
  • The Economist explains how European politics are different than American politics, that there isn’t a “religious right” per se, but there are a number of “identity politics” camps that must be appeased if you want to win elections. Quote: “It is hard for European politicians to build a career by claiming the traditionalist ground; they would generally lose more votes than they would gain. What does exist in Europe is the politics of identity, including religious identity. In this area Europe’s parties and politicians always think carefully about the signals they send and getting it right or wrong has consequences. That’s a helpful way to see David Cameron’s re-embrace of the Anglican church.”
  • Barbara Falconer Newhall at The Huffington Post reviews Patricia Monaghan’s posthumous work, the new edition of her “Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines.” Quote: “I wish I had known Patricia Monaghan. She died a year and a half ago after a rich life as a poet, author, goddess scholar, and pioneer and mentor in the contemporary women’s spirituality movement. She was an academic, yes, but also a hands-on kind of woman. According to her husband, she was as concerned about the temperature of her root cellar as she was with the depth of her research. That research is stunningly thorough. I have in my hands the posthumously released revised edition of her Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. The first, very popular, edition was published in 1979. This beautiful, fat — in a good way — expanded version tells the stories of more than 1,000 ancient goddesses and heroines from such far-flung corners of the earth as Mongolia, Benin, Tierra del Fuego and Wisconsin.”
  • Jackson Free Press has an article focusing on Pagan author and teacher Chris Penczak. Quote: “While the Mississippi Legislature was polishing its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which opponents say opens doors to legal discrimination for religious reasons), Christopher Penczak and other believers of a mostly misunderstood and reviled faith—Wicca—planned a workshop. Penczak, 40, is one of the founders of the Temple of Witchcraft in New Hampshire. From its humble roots as a magickal training and personal growth system, the temple has become a formal tradition of Witchcraft.”
  • The New York Times Magazine spotlights The Dark Mountain Project. Quote: “A man wearing a stag mask bounded into the clearing and shouted: ‘Come! Let’s play!’ The crowd broke up. Some headed for bed. A majority headed for the woods, to a makeshift stage that had been blocked off with hay bales and covered by an enormous nylon parachute. There they danced, sang, laughed, barked, growled, hooted, mooed, bleated and meowed, forming a kind of atavistic, improvisatory choir. Deep into the night, you could hear them from your tent, shifting every few minutes from sound to sound, animal to animal and mood to mood. […]  The Dark Mountain Project was founded in 2009. From the start, it has been difficult to pin down — even for its members. If you ask a representative of the Sierra Club to describe his organization, he will say that it promotes responsible use of the earth’s resources. When you ask Kingsnorth about Dark Mountain, he speaks of mourning, grief and despair. We are living, he says, through the ‘age of ecocide,’ and like a long-dazed widower, we are finally becoming sensible to the magnitude of our loss, which it is our duty to face.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these we may expand into longer posts as needed.

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


  • Climate Progress reports on efforts by an alliance of Native American nations, activists, and environmental groups, to stop the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Lakota land. Quote: “In the wake of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statementfor the Keystone XL pipeline which sparked nearly 300 protest vigils across the country, a group of Native American communities have added their voices to the calls to reject Keystone XL. In a joint statement — No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands — Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred announced their intention to peacefully resist the construction of the pipeline slated to cut through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.” You can read the full statement, here.
  • Amnesty International has released a statement saying “after 38 years time to release indigenous leader Leonard Peltier.” Quote: “It is time for the USA authorities to release Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who has been imprisoned for 38 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction. Leonard Peltier was arrested 38 years ago today in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to having been present during the incident, Leonard Peltier, who in 1977 was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders, has always denied killing the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.”
  • A woman charged with the sexual abuse of children allegedly tried to silence victims by saying she was a witch, and that she would utilize spells against them if they talked. Quote: “Shocking is perhaps the best word to describe the allegations against Jessica Smith. But perhaps it also best describes her self-proclaimed job title. “Ms. Smith led the children to believe that she was a witch, a practicing witch. [She]would place hexes or spells on the children if they revealed any of the facts that had happened,” Richmond said. “Of course, these children are young and they believed her. As if what [the victims] witnessed at that point wasn’t enough, now they think someone is going to cast a spell on them.” There’s no confirmation of whether she actually adhered to some form of religious witchcraft, or if it was merely a ruse.
  • “Conscience” laws are redundant, and largely politically motivated, and even lawmakers in South Dakota realize that. Quote: “As Americans United has pointed out several times, the First Amendment already protects members of clergy from being compelled to officiate at marriage ceremonies. Why can’t a same-sex couple demand a church wedding? For the same reason that a Protestant couple can’t just walk into a Roman Catholic church and demand that the priest marry them. Members of the clergy have an absolute right to determine the parameters for the sacraments they offer. If a couple doesn’t meet those criteria, the pastor is free to show them the door.”
  • Religion Clause reports that a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in State v. Armitage says Native Hawaiians are not infringed on by making them obtain a permit to enter an island reserve. Quote: “The Hawaii Supreme Court held that the rights of Native Hawaiians are not infringed by a statute limiting entry into the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve only to those who obtain authorization to do so through a written application process.  Defendants claim they were traveling to the island to proclaim the right of the “Reinstated Kingdom of Hawaii” to the island. The court rejected defendants’ arguments that their entry was protected by the Art. XII, Sec. 7 of the Hawaii Constitution which protects the right to engage in traditional and customary Native Hawaiian subsistence, cultural and religious practices.”
A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

  • Global Post has a photoset up focusing on Palo in Cuba. Quote: “The cultures of Cuba’s many African descendants run deep across the island. They blend with the country’s traditional Roman Catholic practices to create vibrant mixtures. Photographer Jan Sochor captures the ritual scenes here in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, in particular capturing Palo rituals. A religious practice often confused with Yoruba religion (Santeria), but distinguished by more underground practices and initiations.”
  • Is cultural Christianity dead? That’s what  R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserts. Quote: “There was in the center of the country — and I don’t mean that geographically, but culturally — a cultural religiosity that was, in the main, a cultural Christianity that trended in one direction for the better part of 60 to 70 years, and it had a kind of moral authority that is disappearing before our eyes.” 
  • Don’t be a jerk, don’t deface ancient rock formations. Quote: “Prosecutors have filed charges against two former Boy Scout leaders accused of toppling one of the ancient rock formations at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. State Parks officials say Glenn Taylor is charged with criminal mischief. David Hall is charged with aiding criminal mischief, another felony.”
  • Early Americans really didn’t like the Quakers much. Quote: “Known today for their pacifist and quietist ways, Quakers had an altogether different reputation in the seventeenth century: belligerent and boisterous rabble-rousers. Fueled by evangelical zeal, and asserting radical ideas for the time, the Quakers were aggressive proselytizers. As a result, they faced violent persecution in England and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands, where many migrated. News of their beliefs (e.g. equality for women, refusal to swear oaths, etc.) and their tactics (e.g. preaching loudly and publicly, disrupting worship services, etc.) reached the colonies before the Quakers did. Connecticut, in fact, banned Quakers in October 1656—prior to any Quakers having ever reached the colony.”
  • What’s it like being a Pagan at Penn? Pretty lonely, it seems. Quote: “Deidre Marsh, a College senior, founded Penn Wheel a semester ago in order to build a community for earth-based religions and paganism. But even in a school of over 10,000 undergraduates, Marsh has been unable to find anyone else who shares her religious beliefs.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Welcome, 2014! The calendar New Year may be the only holiday celebration that nearly the entire world experiences or collectively recognizes. Despite this universality, our New Year’s traditions are as diverse as our world cultures. Therefore this unique period of time offers the opportunity to witness and compare foreign practices that have a similar meaning and purpose to our own. This includes cultural traditions that are not normally in the global spotlight.

Such is the case with two New Year’s celebrations that have very clear esoteric foundations:  Brazil’s Festa de Iemanjá and Cuba’s ceremony dedicated to Eshu-Elegbara. Both are products of regional African-based religions:  Candomblé and Umbanda (Brazil) or Lukumi (Cuba).

Iemanja on a Brazilian beach. The man is performing a New Year's tribute to the Sea Goddess. (Photo courtesy of Link)

Iemanja on a Brazilian beach. The man is performing a New Year’s tribute to the Sea Goddess. (Photo courtesy of Link)

Festa de Iemanjá

Over the years, Brazil’s Festa de Iemanjá has become a major secular tradition – one that attracts tourists from around the world. On New Year’s Eve, thousands of locals dress all in white and head to Rio de Janeiro’s beaches in order to honor the Goddess Iemanjá. Images of the Sea Goddess are everywhere as participants throw roses or gifts into the water and feast on the beach. In addition, they “jump 7 waves” to wash away negativity while making wishes for the New Year.

Link, an American Pagan who has lived and worked extensively in Brazil, compares this love of Iemanjá to the American devotion to Santa Claus. He says:

You can probably find roots to Pagan Scandinavia, but [Santa] is permanently engraved in the secular celebrations of the holiday… Those two ideas are totally separate.  And thus is Iemanjá — prime deity of a very esoteric culture, as well as a part of every common person’s New Years Eve. Pour Champagne into the ocean?  For Iemanjá!



This esoteric culture is that of Candomblé and Umbanda, two syncretic religions which developed out of the West African Yoruba religion. After finding its way to the Americas by way of the slave trade, the West African spiritual system merged with Catholicism. Like other syncretic religions, Candomblé and Umbanda now thrive as distinct minority faiths.

Within these traditions, Iemanjá is called an Orixa, not Goddess, and is considered a primary deity. Despite the secular appropriation of the Festa de Iemanjá, the practitioners of Candomblé and Umbanda continue to honor her in their own religious ways. While living in Brazil, Link was fortunate enough to attend a private Candomblé Iemanjá ritual. He recalls:

I asked a few questions about the ritual when I got there, and one guy said “I don’t know.” Another guy said “I don’t know – ask him,” pointing to another man. That man told me. “Tudo aqui e segredo.” Everything here is secret. After that, I stopped asking questions and just enjoyed the evening. It was a valuable lesson … Understanding is very rational, but religious experiences are just that – experiences. Rational thinking can limit the experience sometimes.  

Despite the secular popularity of Iemanjá, both Candomblé and Umbanda practitioners are still largely marginalized. However, times are changing.  Denise de Santi, president of IBWB church of Wicca and Witchcraft in Brazil, notes that although “Brazilian Witches and African Traditions do not mix,” we often stand together in defense of religious equality.

A Feb 2nd processional devoted to Iemanja (Photo Couresty of Flickr's  Sabrina Gledhill)

A Feb 2nd processional devoted to Iemanja (Photo Couresty of Flickr’s Sabrina Gledhill)

Iemanjá may actually be helping. In regions where Candomblé and Umbanda are strongly rooted, Iemanjá festivals are most popular. In Bahia the festivities are held Feb. 2, and, in Sao Paolo, they happen in early December. However, the Rio New Year’s celebration gets the most “press.” This year, news reports are stating that participation was up by 15,000 people. Moreover, the Rio Festa de Iemanjá was reportedly broadcast in Latin America and the United States for the first time via the Fox network.

The growing popularity of all of these festivals, secular or not, does call attention to these minority religions, highlighting their very real presence in Brazil. Does the secularization of their Orixa ultimately help or hinder their spiritual work?  That is a discussion for another day.


Unlike the Festa de Iemanjá, the Cuban New Year’s ceremony has not been co-opted by secular culture. It is strictly a public religious ritual for those practicing Lukumi, more often called Santeria, another syncretic religion based on the West African Yoruba traditions and Catholicism. As reported by The Associated Press:

About 200 believers and onlookers thronged Havana’s most important market, Cuatro Caminos, for the ceremony dedicated to Eshu Elegbara… In a central courtyard at the market, people sprayed rum from their mouths at a 2 foot tall cement stone statue of Eshu Elegbara… At its base, they left offerings of coconut, watermelon, candy and flowers.

The article goes on to say that this was the first year that market administrators allowed the religious statue to be permanently erected after 18 years of practice. American Stacey Lawless, an aborisha (practitioner) of Lukumi, said:

I’m glad the Ocha community got permission to build the Eshu-Elegbara shrine at Cuatro Caminos. The shrine looks cool itself. I think it’s important to stress that it is a shrine, not just a statue. That “icon” is actually an embodied manifestation — an avatar if you like — of the Orisha Elegbara. So now he’s present in the Cuatro Caminos market in a very material way.

Stacey Lawless

Stacey Lawless

The administrators’ show of support has allowed the “Ocha community” to take a step forward in its own quest for greater global understanding and presence. As Jason reported yesterday, the Lukumi New Year’s tradition also includes a divination ritual performed by the babalawos, a specialized priesthood devoted to such practice. Their yearly predictions make international news.

With a shrinking world through the evolution and speed of mass media, we are able to witness these unique cultural practices and their New Year’s traditions. As attention is drawn to their rituals, to their Orixa, to their divinations and their people, attention is also drawn to their religions and their very real presence in our global society. In this way New Year’s celebrations, which are largely considered superficial, can also have a very profound purpose in the movement for social change.

(Important Note: Photos of the Eshu-Elegbara ceremony are under AP copyright. To see them, please click on the link to see a slide show of these engaging photos.)

The beginning of a new calendar year usually means a flurry of predictions. These prognostications can be educated guesses, fervent hopes, pessimistic fears, or, in some cases, spiritual messages via divination, omens, or other supernatural methods. One widely reported instance of a yearly divination tradition is the Ifá predictions from Cuba’s Santeria priests, who’ve been gathering for nearly 30 years to make predictions and recommendations. This year the reigning divinity is Olokun, accompanied by Yemaya, and they are predicting a year of generational conflict and ecological imbalance.

“Afro-Cuban priests warned Thursday that the new year may be marked by outbreaks of disease, environmental disruption, familial disorder and conflict between people and nations that risks spilling into war. In the annual “Letter of the Year,” a commission of “babalawos,” or Santeria priests, also predicted that 2014 could see the death of important global political or religious leaders, and elderly people in general. They did not, however, name any names.”

In an interesting twist this year, three different groups of Santeria priests, one in Miami, and two in Havana, all agree that Cuba will have an “optimistic” 2014.

For the first time in memory, New Year’s predictions issued by three groups of Cuban Santeria priests — two in Havana and one in Miami — have agreed: The communist-ruled island faces an “optimistic” year. Now the babalawos are trying to figure out exactly what the prediction, or “letter,” means. […] “There is no precedent for the three being identical,” said Ernesto Pichardo, head of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Church in Hialeah and part of the group that issued the Miami “letter.” “Now the question is what road to follow … More precision is needed.”

At Patheos, Lilith Dorsey comments on the unique nature of this alignment of readings, calling it “unprecedented.”

“In the religion of Santeria (La Regla Lucumi) the New Year begins with a divination. Many Santeria houses (spiritual centers) perform their own divination. Special note however is paid to the readings done by the larger spiritual houses. These readings give predictions, prohibition, and insight into the coming year. Devotees use these predictions as guidelines for the coming year. It is a very good idea to follow the rules dictated by your spiritual home. I have several cautionary tales about how someone didn’t follow a food prohibition and then got ill, or didn’t follow a sex tabu and then got an STD. There are a few things to remember when reading this information. First, follow the instructions of your own ile, and your godparents first and foremost. Secondly, if you are not initiated into the religion this information is provided for informational purposes only. Fortunately or unfortunately Santeria is not a home study religion, and it can not be self taught, everyone is different and needs the individual guidance and support that come from belonging to a spiritual family.”

Dorsey also shares the Yoruba Cultural Association’s letter for 2014. For a deeper picture, you can look at many different yearly Ifa readings from many different groups and councils, here.  Meanwhile, the faithful take to the streets in Cuba to ask the powers for a prosperous year to come.

“Cuban followers of the Santeria faith beat sacred drums, sacrificed animals and sang ceremonial songs in the Yoruba tongue Monday to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014. About 200 believers and onlookers thronged Havana’s most important market, Cuatro Caminos, for the ceremony dedicated to Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce, and also protector of the universe. “This year was good, it was prosperous,” said Victor Betancourt, a “babalawo,” or Santeria priest.”

Naturally, Santeria isn’t the only faith that engages in divination, though few Pagan organizations formalize yearly divination in such a manner (usually readings are personal and done for clients). There are, on the other hand, plenty of Astrologers giving 2014 forecasts. Whatever your method, Dorsey’s warning to treat these various readings as informational if you aren’t entrenched in the belief system or school in question is well heeded. As for their accuracy? Only time will tell.

“Carol Mayer, a self-described “undercover psychic” at Benicia’s Angel Heart 4 You, 501 First St., (707) 745-2024 also sees improvement on the horizon. “Twenty thirteen was a very difficult year for everybody, so I guarantee 2014 will be a better year for everybody; a really wonderful year for all of us,” said Mayer, who said this prediction comes also from observations as a local business owner.”

Have you done divination or oracular work for 2014? Just have a strong hunch about the months to come? What are your predictions and advice for the coming year? Feel free to share them in the comments, and welcome to 2014!

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



That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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

Herdswomen with beautiful floral cow. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

  • The altar of art: “The faithful who came to meditate on a fresco of Giotto’s or a painting by Caravaggio sought a personal experience of the divine, the feeling that they themselves were present, witnessing the mystery being represented, a miracle that was being enacted specially for them. At the MoMA show, the artist’s presence offered transcendence through communion and intimacy, in the privacy that Abramović was able to create in a crowded atrium. Watching the documentary, I thought: This is the moment in which we live. Alienated, unmoored, we seek our salvation, one by one, from the artist who brings us the comforting news: I see you. I weep when you weep. The mystery, and the miracle, is that you exist.”
  • This is awesome. So is this.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.