Archives For Damon Leff

Encompassing over 470,000 square miles and boasting close to 1,750 miles of coastline on two oceans, South Africa is the 25th largest nation by area, and 24th largest by population. The term “Pagan” was all but unknown there prior to 1994, at which time the same constitution that lifted the apartheid system of racial segregation also provided for freedom of religion. Since that point minority religions, such as those within Heathenry, Wicca and others associated with Paganism, have been adopted by a growing number of people, modelling — and sometimes adapting — practices more common in the northern hemisphere.

PAN eventsOne group that is active in promoting Paganism in South Africa is the Pagan Assistance Network, which has been putting on a growing number of annual events. A quick look at PAN’s calendar shows how adapting wheel-of-the-year holidays for the southern hemisphere doesn’t always result in a complete reversal. While their Midwinter Fairy Festival takes place during the northern summer solstice, the Samhain event, which has since been cancelled, was set for October 29. This scheduling suggests that cultural influences — such as trick-or-treating — exert as much of a pull on these relatively new practices as the changing of the seasons.

Ryan and Luna Young, regional organizers for PAN in Johannesburg, described the concept:

We have four days a year that we celebrate and gather Pagans and like-minded people for a day of fun and give our community the opportunity to meet other like minded people.

The first day on our calendar is Pagan Freedom Day. This is celebrated on the 27th April of each year, on our National Freedom Day [which] represents the first post-apartheid election that was held on this day in 1994. As Pagans we celebrate on this day as it is a day also given to all South Africans no matter race, gender, or any other classification. They are free to be. The event was started with unity in diversity in mind, and is the biggest day on our calendar. It is celebrated with live music, archery, medieval sword fighting, ancient games and activities. The day is ended off with a fire display and a drumming circle.

Medieval-style activities are used frequently in celebration. Ryan Young offered some details about the nature of the local traditions which have led to that overall tone. “We, my wife and I. . . and our medieval fighters are for the most part Heathens, and [sword fighting] is our way of including all the different Pagan paths. We are fortunate to be blessed with a rather large assortment of different paths here, Wiccan, Druidic, Heathen, Egyptian, eclectic, vampiric, solitaries and so many others. We do our utmost to include all paths into our events. Every year we add on a bit more than the year before. In this way the events grow, as does the attraction value.”

Drawing together people from a variety of paths for a public gathering shows how much has changed in the ten years since Pagan Freedom Day was adopted. From 1997-2007, Annika Teppo studied South African white Neopagans. She found that this group mostly avoided public rituals and often avoided even interacting with one another. In her paper, “My House is Protected by a Dragon: White South Africans, Magic and Sacred Spaces in Post-Apartheid Cape Town, she describes her interviewees as preferring to meet online, to gather in private homes, or most frequently to just go it alone:

A ‘solitary pagan’ is someone who practices alone. They do not ask others to join their rituals, nor are they willing to give detailed descriptions of their own practices. They are wary of pagan circles, as they fear that some individuals might want to benefit from them financially, or might want to involve them in power struggles —- a phenomenon globally connected with neopagan movements and known as “witch wars.”

Some of my informants divulged that they were or had previously been solitaries simply because they found ‘pagan politics’ too difficult in Cape Town. My informants’ unanimous opinion was that organized neopagan groups or covens are prone to squabbling —- which can be both fierce and malicious. I could seldom conduct an interview without the issue of ‘pagan politics’ surfacing. Those working in covens were also aware of the dangers involved and wanted to avoid them.

Teppo’s research was not only conducted over a number of years, it was also performed solely in Cape Town, which is nearly 870 miles from Johannesburg, the country’s largest metropolis and the place where PAN conducts its events.


SA kids drumming

Continuing with the description of the four PAN events, Ryan Young said:

The second day on the calendar is Midwinter Fairy Festival, and it is celebrated on the first weekend after the midwinter solstice. This event is organized by Blossoming Tansy in conjunction with PAN. The day is celebrated with everyone dressing up as the fairy folk, and concentrates on the more charitable work where we raise funds for charity organizations, be they for animals or humans. The event is ended also with a drumming circle and fire display.

Our third day on the calendar is Pagan Heritage Day and is organized by PAN in conjunction with Blossoming Tansy. With this event we concentrate on the arts and crafts of the Pagan community, giving our artists the opportunity to display their paintings and crafts. Otherwise, the day’s activities include live music, medieval sword fighting, ancient games and activities like Viking chess, toss the kaber and so forth, and as always ends with a drumming circle and fire display.

Like Pagan Freedom Day, Pagan Heritage Day is part of a wider celebration, in which “all South Africans across the spectrum are encouraged to celebrate our culture and the diversity of their beliefs and traditions, in the wider context of a nation that belongs to all its people.”  Then, finally there is “All Hallows Eve.” Although it was ultimately cancelled for this year, Young had already provided a description of the final of the four events:

Our last and newest day is Old Hallows Eve. This is a new one that we have started and will be held on the 31st October and will be slightly different from the others, in that we will be starting later in the day and will be having trick or treat, an outdoor theater showing old horror movies, and on the other side of the field a drumming circle and fire display. And what is Halloween without costumes?

Halloween, at least as it’s celebrated in the United States and other northern countries, presents endless opportunities for Pagans to confront familiar stereotypes of witches as ugly, malicious women, known for terrorizing children and duping peasants in European fairy tales. In Africa, however, the word “witch” is not so easily dismissed as myth by the overculture. Damon Leff, a former director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, explained:

In every African country, including South Africa, the word ‘witchcraft’ refers to the negative use of magic to cause harm. It has no positive usage or definition amongst Africans. South Africa is the only African country that I know of where the term’s negative usage and definition is being contested by actual Witches. We (SAPRA and the SAPC) are also legally challenging the constitutionality of the 1957 Witchcraft Suppression Act which (although it does prohibit accusations of witchcraft) also prohibits any knowledge or practice of witchcraft.

Teppo found this to be the case, as well:

The distinction between healing and witchcraft is of fundamental importance in this worldview. In the wrong hands, knowledge of invisible forces and muthi, traditional medicines, can cause death and destruction, but in the hands of a benevolent healer, or a sangoma, this knowledge can cure illness and protect people from harm. Witchcraft holds no such ambivalence: it is always evil, an antithesis of everything sacred or commendable. A witch is any person who uses muthi or his knowledge of the occult to harm others.

Moreover, Leff suggests that many Pagans are not interested in readily accepting this widespread definition of “witch” and continue in their attempts to reclaim the term. This particular issue also points to a cultural and racial divide that is, in part, specific to this country. Teppo explained:

Many Wiccans prefer to call themselves ‘witches’, which has been a root of confusion and misinterpretations, and has divided them into two different camps in the United States. In South Africa, the term is even more controversial. In most of the African cultures, a witch is a malevolent character, truly feared. Among black South Africans, witchcraft means something irrevocably evil and horrifying. This perspective also prevailed for centuries in Europe and the United States, where being a Wiccan is still rather marginal despite Wicca’s recent popularity. … In the African systems of belief, a ‘good witch’ does not exist.

Teppo follows up with an observation by one of her Wiccan informants, who explained the problems with terminology:

In Wiccan terms witches are light-workers, terms that we are proud to use (…) However, our neighbours in this same country, the traditional African pagans, use the same terms in a very, very different, horrible connotation. A witch is often the person that all sorts of misfortunes are ascribed to… It is most unlikely that we are going to change [this perspective] … it is too deeply ingrained in the language, you cannot take it back any more… The white witches of this country, who are proud of the term, are also not prepared to give up these terms. (Female, 37)

While, as Teppo notes, the controversy over the word “witch” is not as intense in the United States, it still remains a challenge the two Pagans communities share to some extent. Another is the relationship with indigenous practitioners. In both countries, there are some people who cross that cultural boundary with mixed reactions, and there are those with a desire to include indigenous traditions under the Pagan umbrella, which is not typically welcome. Teppo quotes a member of one Pagan group who wishes to bring two paths together:

The cornerstone of this temple is rooted in a futuristic idealism to marry and integrate aspects of African pagan paths’ tradition with those of the current practice of Wicca. Everyone who joins our temple knows that they should not join the temple if they do not prescribe to the idea. – Andi Fisher, Temple of Ubuntu.

Fisher’s use of “pagan” in reference to African religions does not appear to be the norm. Leff observed that “. . . people engaged in African traditional religion/s do not self-identify as Pagans, nor as pagans, through their own choice; the term ‘pagan’ was used to label African religious practices under colonial and National Party rule, and it’s a term practitioners of indigenous religions refuse to embrace. In the South African context, Paganism (neo-Paganism) and Traditional African Religions are two separate religious identities. This, despite the very obvious similarities between them in both belief and ritual and magical practice.”

Additionally, it is important to note that, because of the scope of Teppo’s work, her informants were mostly white. As a result, the reasons why black South Africans might not be drawn to modern Pagan religions could only be inferred.

Despite sincere attempts to rise above the racial divide that separated South Africa for decades — including a groundbreaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission to mend those wounds — there remains quite a bit of self-segregation in this country, and Paganism has largely fallen on the white side of the fence. It’s a fact that Leff is also unwilling to deny. However, he’s quick to point out that it’s not the whole picture.

I think there is lingering “racial tension.” Although the system of apartheid has been removed, the effects of that system remain ever present in society. We changed the political system, not people’s prejudices. That said, many South Africans of all ethnicities have and do work together to make our country better than it was.

Harmony is a constant tension between opposites.Sometimes that tension slips one or the other way, only to be re-centred on an external value, whether common interest or legal principle. Our countries share many of the same ideological “conflicts.” Our legal and constitutional systems appear to be sound, so far, and the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights are upheld (largely).

In some ways, Paganism in South Africa is surprisingly similar to what is found in other parts of the world, which includes many of the same tensions and discussions, such as religious respect and freedom; cultural appropriation and influence; racial and ethnic disparity and inclusivity – to name a few. At the same time, this growing community was birthed within both a unique socio-cultural climate and specific a geographical environment, which informs it and allows it to thrive in its own way.

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Over the past few weeks, the international media has followed Pope Francis as he journeys to the United States and other places. At times, it seemed as if his activities were all there was to talk about. Mariane, a member of France’s Ásatrú community, voiced her frustrations when she said “My man likes watching the news on television. Today he went into our room to do so… [Then] I saw him coming out of the room. He said ‘Pfff, it’s about the Pope again. Sometimes using the remote control just isn’t enough.’ ” She added, “I wish the Pope a long life. A very long life. TV news broadcasts about a lot of people watching a chimney and waiting for it to emit smoke of the right colour is just sooooo booooring…”

Pope in Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Pope in Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Mariane’s opinion is just one of the many that have been circulating through our collective communities during this time. In reaction to his public letter on climate change, the Pope was recently called “pagan” by conservatives. On Sept 18, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that, at a news conference, Gene Koprowski, marketing director of the Heartland Institute said, “What is environmentalism but nature worship?” Koprowski specifically used the term “pagan” in another statement.

Interestingly, there are some Pagans who have also called him “pagan-like,” not for his religious views, but for his positions on climate change, capitalism and world poverty. Since the release of the Papal Encyclical, a number of articles have been punished applauding the Pope for his seemingly progressive rhetoric. Jason Mankey writes “I love Pope Francis.” John Halstead, the director behind the Pagan Statement on the Environment, explained in a Huffington Post, article “what Pagans and the Pope have in common.” John Beckett writes, “The Pope Gets it.”  And, the most recent edition of The Witches Almanac includes his horoscope.

At the same time, the Church has also been accused of simply running a high-takes publicity campaign to bring its flock to the fold, or convert others. Halstead recently published another Huffington Post article titled, “Why the Pope Is Not Pagan.” And, as is reported by a number of Catholic news sources, the Pope has used the term “pagan” himself to describe non-believers and those Christians who don’t really practice. He called these people “enemies of the cross.” And, what is all this about Kim Davis?

These debates and discussions on Papal authenticity and authority, the Church’s true goal, and its global socio-political role abound. In the wake of this media frenzy, The Wild Hunt decided to reach out to Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists living around the world to collect a viewpoints on this intriguing and headline-generating Catholic leader. How much do you pay attention to his whereabouts and his rhetoric? Should we pay attention at all? Are his actions legitimately progressive or just part of some modern Church publicity stunt?

From the Pope visit to Philadelphia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Priests giving communion on the streets of Philadephia [Photo Credit: E. Dupree]

Not everybody answered our call or wanted to weigh-in. But the responses that we did receive are as varied as the lands and cultures our interviewees came from. Here is what they said … (When appropriate responses are provided in both English and the original language of origin.)

Finland: Tuula Muukka, practitioner of Suomenusko and a representative of the Finnish Pagan Network

“The Pope is rarely mentioned in the discussions of Finnish pagans, because our country is Evangelical Lutheran, and we focus on being heard alongside the state church in issues like religious education. Because of this, we don’t usually hear what the Pope does – it is not considered important enough to be covered by our news channels. When we do hear something, people are sometimes surprised and comment ‘Is there still someone who thinks like that?’ This is true especially on issues concerning sex and sexuality, because these matters are discussed very openly in Finland. For example, last year we passed a law allowing same-sex marriages.

“Since the Pope has a lot of power elsewhere in the world, we should pay more attention to what he says and does. However, this remains the task of the active few who follow news on him via the internet, and even then it seems that few people are really interested in hearing about him.”

[Translation: Paavi mainitaan harvoin suomalaisten pakanoiden keskusteluissa, koska maamme on evankelis-luterilainen ja keskitymme siihen, että tulemme kuulluiksi valtionkirkon rinnalla sellaisissa kysymyksissä kuin uskonnonopetus. Tästä syystä emme tavallisesti kuule, mitä paavi tekee – sitä ei pidetä tarpeeksi tärkeänä, jotta uutiskanavat kertoisivat aiheesta. Kun sitten kuulemme jotakin, ihmiset ovat joskus hämmästyneitä ja kommentoivat: “Onko vielä olemassa joku, joka ajattelee noin?” Näin tapahtuu etenkin sukupuoli- ja seksuaalisuuskysymyksissä, koska näistä keskustellaan Suomessa hyvin avoimesti. Esimerkiksi viime vuonna hyväksyttiin laki, joka sallii mennä naimisiin samaa sukupuolta olevan kanssa.

Koska paavilla on muualla maailmassa paljon valtaa, meidän pitäisi kiinnittää enemmän huomiota siihen, mitä hän sanoo ja tekee. Tämä jää kuitenkin niiden harvojen aktiivien tehtäväksi, jotka seuraavat hänestä kertovia uutisia internetin kautta, ja silti näyttää siltä, että harvat ihmiset ovat todella kiinnostuneita kuulemaan hänestä.]

Russia: Gwiddon Harvester, Moscow resident and the national coordinator for PFI-Russia

“I am convinced that Pagans definitely should pay attention to what the Pope says. Regardless of what he may actually think himself, he is a mouthpiece for an organization that represents over 1 billion people in the world. Although we may not agree on religious doctrine, if the Pope touches on issues that are important to us, like the environment, we should listen to what he has to say and if we agree, support him on those particular issues. While at the same time retaining the right to criticize those statements and policies, which we, as Pagans, do not support.”

[Я убежден в том, что язычникам следует прислушиваться к словам Папы Римского. Вне зависимости от его личных убеждений, Папа Римский служит рупором организации, представляющей более миллиарда жителей нашей планеты. Несмотря на то, что мы никогда не согласимся с его религиозными доктринами, если Папа Римский затрагивает важные нам темы – например, защиту окружающей среду, нам следует поддержать его по этим конкретным позициям. В то же время у нас остается право критиковать те заявления Папы Римского, с которыми мы не можем согласиться.]

France: Babette Petiot, a Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside

“As a Pagan I don’t pay much attention to the Catholic Pope. It’s not my religion, and I really don’t share his teachings about women’s reproductive rights, about marriage for everyone and equal rights to adopt children, about LGTB+ people…And those are just a few topics. But I believe keeping an eye on what leaders of other religious movements are saying is a wise thing to do because sometimes we can agree.”

[En tant que païenne je ne m’intéresse pas vraiment au pape catholique, ce n’est pas ma religion et je ne partage vraiment pas ses enseignements sur les droits reproductifs des femmes, sur le mariage pour tous et les mêmes droits pour adopter des enfants, sur les gens LGTB+…Et là, je ne cite que quelques exemples. Mais je crois que garder un oeil sur ce que les leaders des autres mouvements religieux ont à dire peut être une chose avisée à faire car parfois on est d’accord.]

Germany: Konrad Reinhold, a Historiker, Wiccan, living in Chemnitz/Deutschland

Of course, we can support Pope Francis in his demands to fight against poverty, against capitalism or for the protection of nature. We must not forget that he is an ideal for millions of people in this world. If we can share his goals – why not support him? On the other hand whe don’t need his opinion in especially Pagan questions. I don’t need the confirmation of the Catholic Church to live my religion. It’s enough for me to live peacefully and without tension within my Christian neighbour. Therefore I don’t need the Pope.

[Natürlich können wir Papst Franziskus unterstützen, wenn er für die gleichen Ziele eintritt wie wir – den Kampf gegen Armut und Kapitalismus oder gegen die fortwährende Zerstörung unserer Umwelt. Wir dürfen nicht vergessen, dass er ein Vorbild für Millionen von Menshcen auf diesem Planeten ist. Wenn wir seine Ziele teilen können – warum sollten wir ihn nict unterstützen? Andererseits bedürfen wir seiner meinung nicht, wenn es um spezifisch heidnische Angelegenheiten geht. Ich brauche nicht irgendeine Bestätigung von Seiten der katholischen Kirche, wenn es um meinen Glauben. Mir reicht es friedlich und unverkrmpft mit meinem christlichen Nachbarn zusammenzuleben. Dafür benötige ich den Papst nicht.]

South Africa: Damon Leff, former director of South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), editor of Penton Independent Alternative Media

“I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone … This Pope would impress me more if he were actually changing Church doctrine and position, rather than just offering us his own liberal personal opinions on subjects his Church has and does disagree with in action.”

Australia: Michelle Claire White, Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) Media Officer

“Modern Pagans express the whole spectrum of social and political opinions and therefore any interest in the latest Pope or that of any of his predecessors will be a highly personal matter … With the current state of our ecological crisis and a need for humans to radically shift our perspectives and relationships with the natural world … it seems to me that it is important to pay attention to the attitudes being presented by mainstream religious traditions such as Catholicism to watch for shifts in opinion that may cause widespread changes on a range of levels.

“Earlier this year members from the [PAN] including myself responded to the Pope’s release of the encyclical on the environment by participating in an international collaboration, producing a Pagan statement on the environment. We felt as a community there is need to present a response from the point of view of Earth based religious traditions to compliment mainstream monotheism … It was an opportunity for our community to stand together, to find common ground and open the way for interfaith dialogue that is an essential component of the response to the ecological crisis.”

Thailand: Atiwan Kongsorn, Bangkok resident and co-owner of Ace of Cups Witch Cafe

“Pagan should pay attention to him. Not as an old enemy, but as a leader of another spiritual path. They have their own wisdom and so do we. Isn’t it better to share them?”

[เพแกนควรที่จะให้ความใส่ใจในองค์พระสันตะปาปา ไม่ใช่ในฐานะโจทก์เก่า แต่ในฐานะผู้นำทางจิตวิญญาณหนทางหนึ่งที่ต่างจากเรา พวกเขามีปรีชาญาณของเขา และเราก็มีปรีชาญาณในแบบของเรา ถ้าหากเราสามารถแบ่งปันให้แก่กันได้ จะไม่ดีกว่าหรือ]

Israel: Illy Ra, a Kemetic Pagan living in Beer Sheva and coordinator of PAEAN

“While I appreciate the Pope’s call for action on climate change, I can’t help but to wonder if beside the speeches the Vatican takes any actions within it? For example, changing the process Papal conclave that involves massive air pollution, as black smoke continues to come out from a chimney in the Sistine Chapel until the cardinals reach a decision about the new selected pope that is then signaled with white smoke. Therefore, besides being dazzled by the speeches, it’s merely a tale of hypocrisy regarding to the risk of the climate change.”

[בזמן שיש להעריך את יוזמתו של האפיפיור לפעול בנוגע לסכנות הנובעות משינויי האקלים, נותרת התהייה באם הוותיקן נוקט בפעילויות כלשהן למזער אותן מלבד נאומיו של האפיפיור? למשל, החלטה לשנות את מהלך טקס בחירת האפיפיור שמתרחש בו זיהום אוויר חמור, טקס זה כולל עשן שחור שיוצא מארובה בקפלה הסיס טינית עד שהקרדינלים מגיעים להסכמה לגבי בחירתו של האפיפיור החדש שמסומלת על ידי עשן לבן. על כן, חשוב להפעיל חשיבה ביקורתית ולא להסתנוור מהנאומים היפים, מכיוון שסיפור זה מהווה חלק מהצביעות החברתית המתרחשת סביב הנושא של נזקי שינויי האקלים.]

Locals offering prayer petitions in Philadelphia during Pope's visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Locals offering prayer petitions in Philadelphia during Pope’s visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Costa Rica: Esteban Sevilla Quiros, goði for Kindred Irminsul

“So far, he has been the nicest of all the Popes I’ve seen, many of his comments promote tolerance and maybe as Pagans we can agree with him on several points that don’t reflect the traditional and dogmatic Catholicism. I must also admit that I don’t agree with him on everything, since many of the ideas of Christianity are things that we as Pagans and Heathens oppose. But so far, I could say he is someone I could shake hands with, respectfully.”

[Por el momento, él ha sido el mejor de los Papas que he visto, muchos de sus comentarios promueven la tolerancia y como paganos podemos estar de acuerdo con él en varios puntos que no reflejan el catolicismo dogmático y tradicional. También debo admitir que no estoy de acuerdo con él en todo, ya que muchas de las ideas del cristianismo son cosas que nos oponemos como paganos y etenistas . Pero hasta el momento, creo que es alguien a quien le podría dar la mano, respetuosamente.]

Canada: Sable Aradia, a Wiccan Priestess, author and blogger at

“There are more than a billion Catholics in the world, so there is no denying that the Pope’s opinion matters. Here in Canada 46% of our population are baptized Catholics, so perhaps it makes more of a difference here than in other places. Pope Francis is proving to be a champion of liberal values that I consider to be integral to *my* Paganism, which is likely to encourage a climate of open-mindedness; and that can never be a disadvantage to us, since we are essentially a counter-cultural movement. And since the anti-Capitalist movement is significant among some Pagans and Polytheists right now, and the Pope appears to be somewhat of an anti-Capitalist, we may find that, ironically, some of our political views align.”

United States:Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, Galina Krasskova, Erick Dupree, and Dana Eilers

Dr. Karl E. H. SeigfriedThe Norse Mythology Blog 
“Catholic clergy and organizations continue to deeply involve themselves in American politics, while members of minority faiths such as Heathenry are denied any access to the same corridors of power that have been so willingly thrown open to Pope Francis. It’s odd that the leader of one denomination of one religion spends so much time giving lectures on right behavior to the billions of us from other traditions, instead of focusing on issues within his own faith community. At the end of the confrontational and conservative papacy of Benedict, the Vatican brought in Greg Burke of Fox News for a concerted public relations campaign to portray the Church as a progressive and welcoming organization. The projected image and the lived reality are out of sync. The relentless barrage of quotable quotes by Francis have effectively distracted attention from sexual abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by leadership as well as from the Church’s stance against ordination of women, its opposition to marriage equality and its fight against reproductive rights. While I appreciate the pope’s statements on environmental concerns and societal treatment of the poor, a few inspirational speeches do not outweigh the ongoing deeds of those who control the organization he represents.”

Galina Krasskova, blogger and author
“I like Pope Francis. I think he’s a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church, at least when viewed in light of his predecessors. That doesn’t mean that I agree with him on everything. I think  he could use definite improvement on issues of women and LGBT rights within the church (in this way he’s a traditionalist or perhaps caught in the trap of traditional church structures and orthodoxy) but I admire his commitment to engaging with the poor. He’s walking his talk there and I think that is inspiring. Moreover, Paganisms and Polytheisms are still religions of converts and many of those converts come from Catholicism. Seeing a seemingly ethical person holding this position, one who shares concern about the environment, about social justice, may be one more step in healing old and sometimes grievous wounds. More importantly, our religions don’t exist in a vacuum. I think it’s very important, especially now with the state the world is in, to be religiously literate, and to keep abreast of changes and happenings in the religious world, even if it’s not our religion. That being said, I do wish he had not canonized Junipero Serra. It betrayed a serious disregard for indigenous peoples and the history of their oppression by the catholic church.”

Erick DuPree, blogger, author and Philadelphia Resident
Personally the Pope doesn’t impress me, but did I expected something? The Papal Visit was a ‘nonevent” for the residents of Philadelphia. The city sadly drove out most residents, and except for the Papal area, it was a ghost town, which personally as an introvert, I loved. Unfortunately, what we had was the feeling of a police state with check points, armed police and military, as well as a giant internment camp style fence, instead of “love, service, justice and peace.” The modified public transit, school closures, and shutdown highways, impacted working families who suffering most. It seemed that the Papal message about charity fell on deaf ears as the homeless were left without shelter access due to security systems, and the cities need to “clean up the image.” Apparently, the commerce also suffered, as the tourists did not reportedly spend any money in restaurants or shops. What could have been at least touristy, if not somewhat amazing (because after all, Pagan or not how often will you get to see a Pope in your lifetime?) I found it all rather ‘meh.’ ”

Philadelphia during Pope visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Philadelphia during Pope visit [Photo Credit: E. DuPree]

Dana Eilers, lawyer and author of Pagans and the Law
“First, should Pagans be concerned with the Pope religiously and/or spiritually? No. The Catholic Church and its doctrine are no friends of ours and never have been.  Recent niceties are just that: nice …

“Second, should Pagans be concerned with the Pope politically? This depends on one’s politics and whether one believes that the Pope can move the political needle anywhere. This might be possible in countries that are predominantly Catholic and which lean toward keeping their civil law in line with Church canon, but that is certainly not the United States…

“Third, should Pagans be concerned with this Pope from a historical viewpoint? Well, he did come and address the United States Congress. This was a first and therefore, it was pretty big news … Shortly thereafter, Speaker Boehner announced his plans to surrender the Speakership and retire from Congress completely. Coincidence? So, this Pope does seem to be having an concrete impact on modern history. Therefore, yes, we should pay attention, if only for this.

“Fourth and finally, should Pagans be concerned with this Pope from a cultural viewpoint? He commands more media attention than Hurricane Katrina and although I have no need to know whom he kisses while en route to mass, this is apparently a matter of great concern to our media. He is everywhere on television, in print, and on the internet. It would be wise to follow news of the Pope, if only marginally, because he is saying some things that sound really wonderful, even if he is not changing Church doctrine.”

Eilers comment above is only a very short summary of her words. Read it in full here. Eilers goes on to note the discrepancies between the Pope’s words, actions and Church doctrine. “He is thanking nuns, but women still are not admitted into the Priesthood and are not in line to become part of the Church power structure … This Pope does not feel that he, personally, can judge homosexuals, but homosexual marriage is still not sanctified by the Church …”

These inconsistencies are problematic for many of the people we interviewed, along with the notion that the Pope is now newly supporting concepts that have been long known or taught outside the Church for decades and even centuries. Eilers said, “According to this Pope, dogs might actually have souls and thus, enjoy the after life with us poor, miserable humans. This seems to be big news to the Pope, but we Pagans have pretty much known this since Man domesticated the wolf. And we will not even discuss cats.”

Pope Francis will undoubtedly continue to generate interest, and headlines, in many communities throughout the world. His position as the representative of a huge portion of the world’s population cannot be understated. However, as directly expressed by Leff, the key sticking point for our collective interviewees is mainly centered on action or lack thereof.

Within Pope Francis’ speeches, we may find, as non-Catholics, some of his ideas agreeable. However will these words be followed-up by action? Will the Church, as a whole, support its reportedly progressive leader and enact real world change or institutional change? Will Pope Francis use his global voice and position of power to support progress, environmental or otherwise, for the betterment of all humanity regardless of belief; rather than exclusively for those that serve and follow that one single institution and one single man?

[Editor’s Note: all opinions expressed in the article above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of associated organizations]

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VATICAN CITY — Many, if not most, Pagans consider the Earth to be sacred. This has been true for at least as long as Wicca and other modern Pagan religions have been in the public eye. For many in the mainstream media, this is considered an identifying characteristic of Paganism. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has finally released his long-awaited 180+ page encyclical on the environment, called Laudato Si. This one document has been in the news for some weeks and is the strongest message about the subject ever released by that Church.

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

The Pope’s statement that has been in the works for months, and has been called a “game changer” for the environmental movement. The Wild Hunt asked some members of the Pagan community to weigh in on the weighty document.

Given the diverse nature of Pagans — including those who are often lumped under the Pagan umbrella, whether they wish to be or not — It is not surprising that the responses ranged across a wide spectrum. Some common threads have emerged in these early reactions, but as this message and its ramifications are absorbed and digested, those threads could either strengthen or snap. The bulk of the reactions from those people, who were able to take the time to read and respond to the encyclical, is largely positive, with some important exceptions.

John Beckett

John Beckett

Druid John Beckett was quick to notice that “environment” seems to include much more than animals and trees. He said:

If you think Pope Francis’ encyclical is only about climate change, you need to read it for yourself. It’s about the inherent value of all living things, about a ‘throwaway culture’ that mistakenly seeks meaning in things, about the connections between humans and the rest of Nature, and about how the results of our environmental desecrations are borne predominantly by the poor.

‘Laudato Si’ is grounded in Christian scripture and tradition, but Pope Francis understands these are global problems requiring a global approach. Perhaps most importantly, he understands real, lasting change cannot come from technology, but through changes in culture and spirituality.

Pope Francis gets it.

John Halstead, who has been a driving force behind the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, noted that it includes a number of elements with which a Pagan might identify. Halstead said:

John Halstead

John Halstead

Repeatedly throughout the statement, the Pope observes that everything is interconnected, which is an article of faith for many Pagans (¶¶ 16, 70, 117, 138). He also recognized that we are inherently part of the earth: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” he says, “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶ 139) “[O]ur very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (¶ 2) In my mind, this echoes the Pagan environmental statement. In fact, something like these words might have been spoken at Pagan Spirit Gathering this year or at a CUUPS summer solstice ritual.

Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC member Courtney Weber was reassured that the Pope was placing environmentalism into a Christian context, but also felt that there are parts of Christian teaching which continue to fly in the face of stewardship. She said:

It is absolutely encouraging to see the Pope take such an unflinching, yet hopeful, stance on the future of our ecological revolution. He strikes down the all too destructive interpretation of Christian scripture and insists that we all have a part to play in turning this around, particularly for citizens of wealthier nations. This could not be more important or true. He misses the mark, however, when he says that controlling the population isn’t a major part of solving this crisis. To not include reproductive control as imperative to surviving the climate crisis speaks of antiquated and dangerous Catholic doctrine. Pagans, however, will probably enjoy section 241, which talks about Mother Mary as Queen of Creation.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

Cherry Hill Seminary‘s Holli S. Emore struck a similar tone, saying:

Pope Francis has created a masterpiece, in my opinion, in the recent encyclical on the environment. Rather than lurking in the safety of official doctrine, he has expounded theologically on a solid grounding of science, economics and social justice. While I wish he had been able to go further in calling for population decrease, I agree with his assertion that blaming overpopulation for our ecological woes is disingenuous. The beauty of the encyclical is that, in addition to the many millions of Catholics around the world who respect the teachings of a pope, the document is crafted in language that people of virtually any faith can embrace. On my desk is a small vase of roses from my garden. They were only buds when I cut and brought them in, but they have gradually opened into blooms of great beauty and fragrance. I choose to see the Pope’s statement as a bud with the power to transform many as it opens and blooms, if only we will nurture the vision.

The Reverend Patrick McCollum released a statement while traveling, which welcomed the Catholic Church to the table of people fighting to protect the Earth. Rev. McCollum said:

I would like to offer praise and admiration on behalf of the Earth Based Spiritual Traditions for the Pope’s brave step forward to join us and others in dialogue about the care and future of our planet. Both we and our indigenous brothers and sisters share many of the same concerns and reverence for the sacredness of our earth that the Pontiff proclaims and we have long waited for a time when all peoples might set aside some of our differences in order to work together as a family toward our common humanity and the place we call home.

There is much work to be done and many challenges to be overcome as we move forward, but as a representative of many millions who treasure the sacredness of creation, I reach out my hand to accept the Pope’s gracious invitation and to share his powerful message worldwide.

The “sacredness” which McCollum referenced has surprised many Pagan observers. Attorney Robin Martinez, whose work against the Keystone XL Pipeline has been chronicled here, zeroed on its implications. He said:

Robin Wright

Robin Martinez

As someone with a Pagan world view, little did I think I’d ever be anticipating the release of a communication from the Pope. I starting realizing the significance of this work when barely into the introduction I read these words: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is one of the more powerful documents I’ve read in quite some time, and presents a major contribution to development of an underlying moral, ethical, and spiritual framework for our relationship with the Earth. In some respects, I balk at using the word “relationship” because it implies a separation of humanity from the Earth, but Pope Francis tackles that head-on in the introduction, where he writes that “[w]e have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

It also struck Peter Dybing, who said, in part:

After reading the complete document my personal understanding of the nature of Catholic Church is profoundly affected. Here, the institution most responsible for the spread of Patriarchy, colonial power, suppression of indigenous cultures, cultural and environmental genocide, takes an about face. This new Pope steps forward and establishes himself as a leader, not just of his church, but also of those seeking environmental, economic and social justice on a planetary scale.

As I was reading I was drawing parallels with some of the most forward progressive ideas being embraced by Pagan sites like Gods&Radicals. Frankly I am stunned. This may be a watershed document of our generation, establishing an urgency that the world has so far failed to muster for environmental action.

Sean Donahue is a writer for the aforementioned Gods&Radicals, and the import was not lost on him, either. He said:

“Pagan” and “Heathen” are words that originally referred to the unchurched and unlettered people of the countryside, and these were the people Francis of Assisi ministered to — a ministry marked not by conversion but by inclusion in an animist form of Christianity, which saw plants and animals and sun and rain and wind and stars as humanity’s kin. It is telling and significant that the saint’s namesake draws quite explicitly on that original Franciscan language, theology, and spirit in an encyclical addressed not to Catholics but to the world.


Sean Donahue

Pope Francis calls the world to join him in adopting what he rightly describes as St. Francis’s radical stance — “refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” In so doing, he challenges the fundamental tenets of capitalism, and calls for new political and economic approaches which value both human and non-human life. He explicitly condemns anthropocentrism and asserts that all species have inherent worth and a right to live — a far cry from his predecessor who condemned such views as rooted in “attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism.” He also takes the position that Indigenous peoples are the best caretakers of their traditional homelands, and that they deserve to be allowed to honor an protect “a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”

All of this marks a tremendous theological shift, a reversal of centuries of church doctrine. Pope Francis believes that there is one God (though he also speaks eloquently of Mary, who “grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.”) My path is one not of belief, but of relationship, and I am connected with many gods — the Feri gods and the gods of my Celtic ancestors. But that is about all that separates my perspective on the world and the perspective the Pope articulates in this encyclical. And that is deeply healing to my once Catholic heart.

Not everything in this dense document was entirely welcome, however. Halstead pointed out that he had two main concerns. Halstead said, “The first is his lingering anthropocentrism. Although he criticizes ‘distorted’ or ‘excessive’ anthropocentrism (¶¶ 69, 116), he nevertheless insists on humanity’s ‘pre-eminence’ (¶ 90) and ‘superiority’ (¶ 220). He argues that, in the absence of this belief, human beings will not feel responsible for the planet. (¶ 118) While I agree that human beings are ‘unique’ in many ways among the world’s fauna, and that we have special responsibilities as a result, I know from personal experience that undermining the belief in humanity’s ‘superiority’ can produce a greater sense of responsibility to the earth. And I know the reverse to be true as well: belief in our ‘pre-eminence’ can weaken our sense of ecological responsibility.”

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Then, there’s the notion of the fragility of the earth. Halstead goes on to say, “In one place, the Pope says that ‘a divinization of the earth . . . would prevent us from . . . protecting it in its fragility.’ (¶ 90) . . . . The earth, nature, the biosphere is resilient. There is no sense in the Pope’s statement that human beings are facing an existential threat. And naturally, many Pagans know that the ‘divinization of the earth’ can, in fact, inspire us to protect it.”

Damon Leff, former director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) and editor-in-chief of Penton Independent Alternative Media, is also a longtime observer of the Church. He didn’t mince words with his response:

I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone. An apparently liberal and certainly more affable Pope than his Nazi predecessor does not for one instant change the Church’s actual conservative and often hostilely prejudicial position on any number of subjects Francis may or may not have bantered on since he took office; LGBTI rights and marriage equality, Pagan minorities, witch-hunts, traditional religions in Africa and Europe, Women, poverty, racism, paedophilia and illegal child abduction by nuns in Ireland and elsewhere.

The modern Catholic Church has neither proven itself better nor more moral than its historic predecessor. As for Francis’ statement on the environment, it’s too little too late. The world according to that Church is a pile of sinful dirt. For me and countless others who are not of the opinion that matter is inherently sinful, She is a divine body in need of global rescue. Nothing Francis can say can rescue her. The real battle for Her survival is being waged daily by committed environmentalists against both governments and global corporations completely committed and determined to profit from Her demise at any cost. One only has to look at current issues around and affecting global warming, Monsanto and Roundup Ready GMOs, fracking and polluting industry self-regulation to see that, at best, what any of us ‘believe’ about anything is as useless, in the face of an army of capitalists determined to destroy life as we know it for every planetary species, as spitting curses against the wind.

To Dybing, those aspects which didn’t jibe with his theology are still opportunities for learning. He said, “There are some areas where my personal understanding of divinity and women’s rights are in clear opposition to principles put forth in the document. That fact, however, has me wondering if my personal opinions of the church lead me to seek areas of difference when in fact there is so much in this document that sets the stage for world wide intersections of purpose and action for people of faith.”

No matter these early reactions, Dybing’s recommendation to read it and form one’s own opinions may be well worth heeding. In time, history will judge whether Laudato Si is truly a game-changer, or simply a flash in the pan. If time shows that this document succeeded in getting the entire Roman Catholic Church pulling for the Earth, it will be significant indeed.

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

It was announced this week that Dragon Ritual Drummer founder and elder Flint has lost is battle with cancer.  Flint was diagnosed July 2014. The doctor’s gave him only two months to live, but he fought hard, even performing with the band. Utu Witchdoctor posted on the group’s Facebook page, “Brother Flint was one of our founding members, a force to be reckoned with, a soul that touched so many, one of the best there ever was. Our man Flint was the grounding force in our troupe, kept all us youngins’ in place, he was our father, our brother, our best friend.”

After Flint’s family is finished with its private ceremony, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will be holding a special, public Viking funeral for him. Utu Witchdoctor said, “We have already begun the construction of the funeral boat, and it will be set a flame and cast out into the waters as everyone drums and celebrates his life, full open pagan ceremony and celebration.” 

Despite this loss, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will not be taking any time off and plan to honor Flint at every one of their scheduled performances. The next one will be at Florida Pagan Gathering, where the group plans to share many of their memories and release some of their grief. Utu Witchdoctor also noted that the song Bamboula, performed at the end of most shows and captured in a recent video, will be forever dedicated to Flint. He explained that this song has an “historic New Orleans voodoo rhythm [that they] were entrusted with” and that honors one’s ancestors. Flint is now considered an ancestor of “their tribe.” What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

Pagan Freedom DayIn South Africa, April 27 marks Pagan Freedom Day. The movement began twelve years ago, in 2003, when a number of local Pagans began discussing the need to openly declare their religious freedom. Damon Leff explained, “At the time, even prominent (public) Pagans were questioning whether or not Witches in South Africa were really free. It was important to show them that we were, that we could gather publicly.” The first gatherings happened in 2004 in “Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and the Wilderness” with no negative backlash.

Over the years, the annual celebration has become larger, spreading to other communities throughout South Africa. Mja Principe, convener of the Pagan Freedom Day Movement and Pagan Council, said, “Freedom Day is the annual celebration of every South African’s right to human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of association, as well as the celebration of religious freedom, irrespective of the individual’s alternative or mainstream religious background.”  Penton Independent Media has published several posters advertising local celebrations and scheduled activities. Photos of the day’s events will be uploaded to the Pagan Freedom Day Movement Facebook page.

*   *   *

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This past weekend, Rev. Patrick McCollum, together with friends, celebrated his 50 years of service to the Pagan community. In 1965, McCollum began the work that eventually led to his position today as a global ambassador of peace, a respected spiritual counselor and interfaith chaplain. Over those 50 years, he has been involved with a number of Pagan organizations, including Our Lady of the Wells, Cherry Hill Seminary Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty League, and more.

In 2010, McCollum won the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism and, through his foundation, he continues his commitment, as a Pagan voice, to global peace work. Most recently, the foundation announced that it is reaching out to communities in Nepal to assist in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. We will have more on that developing story tomorrow.

In Other News

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

On April 6 South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) held a 35th anniversary event to commemorate the death of freedom fighter Solomon Malanghu. Several national politicians spoke including President Jacob Zuma. The event turned “surreal,” as described by The Cape Times, when the National Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula labeled opposition party members “witches.”

The ANC is currently the controlling party of South Africa’s national government. However the country’s provinces are independently run. While the ANC maintains control over most of these provinces, its opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is the controlling force in the West Cape. The two parties regularly engage in heated political debates, street conflicts, marches and rallies.

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: Government ZA Flickr]

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: GCIS]

The anniversary event was held in a community center in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town which is located in the DA-controlled West Cape. Speaking to ANC supporters, Minister Mbalula took a direct shot at the opposing party when he said:

This thing of witchcraft is when a witch does nothing for the people but they still get re-elected. This is what we find ourselves in here in the Western Cape. We are being governed by witches. (As quoted by The Cape Times)

Later in the speech Mbalula adds:

These witches are oppressing us, they are trampling on us. Where are the tokoloshes and the (sangomas) so that we can chase these witches away? It is witchcraft to let people live with feces inside their own homes and have no proper toilets. This is the same province where farmworkers are not paid with money but in the dop system … It is the same place where our people are called refugees. What do you call that? Witchcraft … (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Witchcraft accusations are a serious business in sub-Sahara Africa. As described in this Daily news report, a lost grandmother can be accused of witchcraft and consequently in danger of being physically assaulted. Through his words Mbalula called up a deep-seated cultural fear surrounding occult practice.

In the weeks prior to Mbalula’s speech, the DA had publicly challenged President’s Zuma’s fiscal policies and accused him of corruption. In response the ANC demanded a legal retraction. Mbalula’s witchcraft accusations may have been a direct response to the DA’s claims.  All of this is happening only a month prior to general elections.

As explained in an opinion piece published by mainstream media site eNCA, a South African 24 hour television news station:

The ruling party seems to have deployed the Minister of Sports and Recreation to bring inflammatory and incendiary ideas and practices from the fringes into mainstream political debate… This was a role played by the party’s Youth League leaders not so long ago: making statements so provocative that the party elite could maintain a safe distance from any fallout yet benefit without necessarily disavowing or disciplining the errant figures. 

Mbalula’s speech may not have been completely a party play. He has a history of publicly lashing out. In a recent interview he called the South African media “losers” for criticizing his plans to shape South African athletics. In a tweet he likened his dreams to that of Hitler’s.


When soccer fans booed President Zuma, Mbalula called these fans “wolves and hooligans” whose “plans, infused in Satanism at best, will never succeed in the future because their plans are nothing else but filled with evil.”

Minister Mbalula appears to have a propensity for using inflammatory language. However in the case of his witchcraft accusations, the words are more than just offensive.They are illegal as defined in the Witchcraft Supression Act of 1957 & 1970. Making this point is South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) director Damon Leff,

We remind the Minister and the ANC provincial secretary that according to Act 3 of 1957, accusations of witchcraft are punishable by a fine of up to R400,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years. Accusations of witchcraft amount to incitement to violence in South Africa. ANC members therefore contravene the electoral act by inciting violence (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Leff was interviewed about this subject by Talk Radio Host Kieno Kammies:

SAPRA has called on the ANC and the national government to apologize and condemn the ongoing, dangerous witch accusations. Since this call-to-action there has been no response from either party.  

These recent political events happen to coincide with SAPRA’s yearly “30 Days of Advocacy” campaign to raise awareness for and end the notorious witch-hunts in the country. SAPRA and other similar organizations have been regularly engaged in a cultural struggle and daily conversation with media, law enforcement and government.

30daysIn early 2014 the South African Police Occult Crime Unit revealed that “occult” related crimes were rising. In reaction:

[Unit] investigators [will be] doing awareness workshops that are being presented at various schools, churches, police stations …  A network of prayer groups from different church denominations where establish to assist with the problems.

In a press release SAPRA noted that the Unit has designated the warning signs of Occult “dabblers” as:

Personality changes including rebelliousness, boredom, low self-worthiness, difficulty relating to peers, a change in friends, secretiveness, a drop in academic performance, loss of interest in extra-curricular activities, avoidance of their family, drug and alcohol use, and withdrawal from their family religious heritage and a lack of church attendance … an unusual interest in books, films and videos with an occult theme…body markings, including the Pentagram 

In February SAPRA protested by lodging “a formal charge of hate speech against the SAPS Occult Crime Unit and its members, with the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, and the South African Human Rights Commission.”

Fortunately all of SAPRA’s work isn’t defensive. Just today Leff announced that SAPRA is being consulted in the amending of the country’s Witchcraft Suppression Act. The final paper will be submitted directly to the Law Reform Commission by May 30. It is SAPRA’s hope that the Commission will make some distinctions in Witchcraft practices that will support South African Pagans and curb the destructive witch-hunts.

In the meantime charges of witchcraft continue even at the highest level of public politics. The eNCA’s opinion piece concludes:

We can ill afford to either tolerate or entrench vilifying political speechifying which deploys tropes designed to provoke communities into moral panics. In March it was Satanism; in April it was witchcraft. What will May bring? …As for the appropriateness of calling people witches at a memorial for Solomon Mahlangu, one recalls the words of Joseph Welch from the United States’ anti-communist ‘witch-hunts’ during the 1950s: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?

While SAPRA will continue to wait for an apology from Mbalula and the ANC, it is not expecting to receive one.  The organization will be focusing its energy on the Commission’s reform work. A full article and update on that effort will be published in Penton Media’s Minority Review blog near the end of April.

“May the road rise up to meet you in blessing, Grand-Father of our nation.”Damon Leff, South African Pagan, Penton Independent Pagan Media.

On Thursday, news agencies reported that former South African President, and legendary anti-Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, had passed away at the age of 95 after a prolonged illness. Immediately tributes to, and reflections on, Mandela’s life and work emerged.

In his lifetime, Mandela had already passed into a place of history, though he spent his post-Apartheid years working towards peace, reconciliation, and human rights at home, and across the world. Few were left untouched by his work and legacy, including groups and individuals within the modern Pagan movement. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, saw Mandela speak in 1999 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in South Africa, and participated in a ritual for peace at the island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Fox says she has “powerful memories of an amazing person.”

“Remembering Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ‘Madiba.’  Thankful to have been among those at his inspiring talk at the 1999 Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, South Africa which received a rousing standing ovation.  Celebrating him, his life, his work with peace and reconciliation, freedom and human rights, environmental preservation and interfaith cooperation.  May he continue to inspire humans everywhere now and in generations to come to continue these endeavors.” – Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Members of the EarthSpirit Community, who were also at that peace ritual in South Africa, describe the experience.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Pagans processing in South Africa, 1999

Pagans in South Africa, 1999

“Many religious leaders had prepared blessings for the pole, but, due to time restraints, a bishop from Johannesburg gave the official blessing for all. He blessed the pole with incense and water and asked that everyone there go forward to the pole before they left, place their hand — or even better their two hands — on the pole and fill it with their light, to bring it to life, so that it would not be a dead piece of wood, but a living beacon of light, of hope and of peace for all who come to that place. It was a beautiful blessing and, even though he was strongly based in his own tradition, he was very inclusive in his language – not only blessing in the name of Jesus, but in the name of all of the “great ones” of every tradition.

He was followed by a traditional African priest who made an offering and blessed the pole in the name of his ancestors and in the name of all of those who suffered and died on the Island. The pole was then officially given to the Island by Africa Msimang, the South African director of the Parliament. At the end, before we returned to the boats, all of the pagans there went to the pole and made our own blessing together.”

Andras Corban-Arthen of EarthSpirit, on learning of Mandela’s death, said that he was feeling “sadness, gratitude and admiration toward this truly great man, whose life will continue to be a source of strength and inspiration for a very long time.” The Covenant of the Goddess, another organization represented at the 1999 Parliament where Mandela spoke, released this short statement on the news of his passing.

Covenant of the Goddess joins the world’s tribute to honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). We are humbly thankful for Mandela’s humanitarian vision, his perseverance in the face of adversity and his personal sacrifice in the name of freedom for all.  Although his initial efforts were aimed at atrocities found in his own country, Mandela’s message knew no boundaries and inspired millions across the globe. May his spirit live forever in the memory of his life and the legacy that he has left.”

Crystal Blanton, a member of COG, left a more personal tribute at the Daughters of Eve blog.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“Today Nelson Mandela passed away and moved on to rest in the land of the ancestors, in the arms of the divine. And as I am sad today, it is hard to be sad when his life reminds me of the incredible sacrifices others have made for me to be able to be who I am today. It is on the shoulders of the ancestors that I stand, and I am so very honored to live in a world that cultivated the incredible spirits of people like Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michelle Alexander, Little Bobby Hutton, Bobby Seal, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Malcolm, Martin, and so many more that are known to us and unknown; the slaves with no name, the activists, and the revolutionaries. What a beautiful thing to look back upon the faces of the brave, and know that I have been gifted this chance at life because of those who’ve been willing to lay their lives in front of the bullet for justice. A celebration of life is the gift that Mandela left, a gift he often was not able to enjoy for himself because he was too busy changing the world.”

Another tribute came from author, teacher, and activist T. Thorn Coyle, who shared a memory of how Mandela’s imprisonment inspired her to stand up against collaboration with the apartheid South African government.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“One day, the floor was going crazy. Paper was flying. Men were shouting. Blood pressure was rising. One of my Market Makers called me over to his trading pit and shouted an order for me to buy Krugerrands – the South African currency minted from gold. I looked at him and said, “No.” He stared at me. I stared back. His face flushed red, then purple, color rising from his neck up to his forehead. His mouth pinched. He threw his trading cards down and stormed out the of pit to buy the gold himself. Word spread around the floor like wildfire. At the end of the day, after the last bell had rung, I was collecting reams of paper for recycling – this was in the days before recycling was commonplace, I and another woman gathered the paper and carted it away. The lone African American trader crossed the floor, held out his hand, and said, simply, “Thank you.” Today, I say to Nelson Mandela: you were a giant in our minds. You were an inspiration. Your life was a clarion call goading us toward freedom and justice. Mr. Mandela, today, I hold out my hand in thanks.”

Pagan activist and first responder Peter Dybing said of Mandela that he “stood as the ultimate example of the struggle for human dignity in the face of oppression, confinement and political intrigue.”

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing

“For those of us in the U.S. his struggle represented an ideal.  In our deepest thoughts and desires we aspired to emulate this great man who was able to engage his oppressors with dignity, honor and true courage. Many of us believed by his example that a new world ethic of mutual respect, peace and cultural understanding was not only possible but also achievable. If Nelson could defeat the abomination that was Apartheid with love and compassion then all things were possible. For activists world wide, his example lead to a well spring of young idealists willing to engage in the great struggle for universal human dignity. It may be decades before the world realizes how profound his influence has been on international events. […] Today we can imagine him being welcomed to tea by Gandhi, seated next to Dr. King, and engaged in conversation with Mother Teresa. It is a portrait that needs to be painted,; a legacy that will not be diminished.”

Quaker and Witch Stasa Morgan-Appel, notes that Mandela’s life was a gift, and that his death does not diminish what he gave to the world through his work.

“How many of us are sad to learn of Nelson Mandela’s death is likely not countable. We all die. Death is part of life. Mandela died at the end of a long and amazing life. He gave South Africa and the rest of the world the gift of his life and his service, and we are tremendously enriched by that. His death in the fullness of time is sad, yes — but it is not tragic. His death cannot make us poorer, cannot take away all he has done for his people and many peoples, cannot take away what he has given us. His legacy goes on. Who is remembered, lives; may his memory be a blessing. And a goad to work for justice.”

 I have no doubt that across different faiths, cultures, and nations, Mandela’s legacy is being honored. He has shown that peace can emerge from chaos, that reconciliation can emerge from hate, and that no system of oppression is inevitable or unchangeable. His memory, his legacy, will continue to watch over those who he worked to free. Our deepest respects go out to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

However, as pointed out by Damon Leff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

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

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

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

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

Never Again the Burning Times??

Courtesy of Flickr's emilydickinsonridesabmx

Courtesy of Flickr’s emilydickinsonridesabmx

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!

Witchesmustdie001jpg-2568309_p9Last week, several Pagans became aware of a Facebook page entitled “Witches Must Die By Fire,” and a group called “Those Witches And Wizards Must Die By Fire By Force.”  While hate speech complaints seemed to initially work, the page is back up, and Facebook is sending back an automated message saying it doesn’t violate hate speech guidelines. A number of Pagan responses have emerged from the controversy as growing numbers of our interconnected community discover the page and group. These responses include a petition, a group on Facebook dedicated to removing hate pages and groups, a call to involve Interpol, and an overview of the issue from South African Pagan Damon Leff, who notes that rhetoric about burning witches shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Quote: Throughout Africa women, men and children frequently become targets for witch-hunters. Incitement to burn Witches anywhere in Africa must be taken deadly seriously and response to such credible threats of violence against Witches on Facebook aught to be immediate and decisive.” As an Atlantic Magazine article published yesterday about Saudi Arabia’s ongoing and deadly hunt for witches and sorcerers illustrates, the global problem of witch-hunts and witch-killings are not merely idle talk, and rhetoric underlying these actions should not be simply dismissed. The Wild Hunt is currently in contact with several Pagan organizations about further responses and constructive paths forward.

The Warrior's CallA call has gone out to Pagans in the United Kingdom to participate in a public ritual at Glastonbury Tor designed to “protect Albion from Fracking.” Quote: “Albion is in peril. Her sacred sites threatened like never before. Chalice Well and the Goddess Sulis (Bath’s geothermal springs) are in danger of becoming toxic. The Great Mother’s flesh is to be cracked open and drained dry, uncaring for consequence to bird and beast, land and life. All those of good intent are summoned hither – regardless of age or gender, color or Creed – to gather at noon on Saturday the 28th of September atop Glastonbury Tor. There, we are to engage in group magickal working for the betterment and protection of this sacred landscape.” One of the co-sponsors of the ritual is Wiccan Marina Pepper, a politician and environmental activist, who has made the issue of fracking a key concern. Pepper’s concern seems well founded, as Heritage Daily has also sounded the alarm over potential damage to the famous wells of Aquae Sulis by hydraulic fracturing. As I mentioned last week, prominent UK Pagans like Damh the Bard and Philip Carr-Gomm have already been protesting fracking operations, and it seems like concern over this issue is only intensifying as Britain’s natural landscape is threatened by this process.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

This past week Pagan activist Peter Dybing, a logistics specialist who works in disaster management, has been in Idaho helping to fight the wildfires raging through Sun Valley, the biggest fire in 25 years. Wildfires are currently spreading throughout the Northwest region of the United States, which has been plagued by drought and dry weather. In a missive posted to his blog, Dybing noted how his Pagan faith, and his work fighting these fires intertwine. Quote: “Today I am back from a fire, in Boise, resting, planning and preparing to respond again. As I reflect on my actions it is clear that the most profound influence my beliefs have had on me are my instinctive actions in crisis. When direct decisions are necessary NOW, they are laced with compassion, internal tears for the destruction Gaia faces in this firestorm and the need to be of service. The most profound expression of my Pagan beliefs and practice shine through most brightly when I have little time for piety.” Our prayers go out to Dybing, and all the brave first responders fighting these fires. May the rains return soon.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Modern Witch Magazine is now accepting submission for its fifth volume, entitled “Veils and Visions.” Quote: “The theme is centered on working with the other side, ancestors, energy work, and psychic development.” Deadline is September 25th, you can find guidelines and more information, here.
  • Water, the quarterly newsletter of the Pagan Educational Network, has just released its Lughnasadh edition. The publication is for members only, but you can get a membership subscription on a sliding scale.
  • September 27th through the 29th in Salem, Massachusetts will see the debut of “OCCULT,”“weekend long Esoteric Salon honoring, exploring and celebrating the intertwining vines which feed both Magick and Creative Art.” Co-produced by Aepril Schaile and Sarah “Jezebel” Wood the event promises to “recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together…To raise consciousness, challenging false perceptions of separation between these so-imagined opposed sorceries. With OCCULT, we seek to challenge old beliefs through the juxtaposition of beauty and magick, of art and ritual, blending the ingredients to make an event of highest harmony, a conjunctio of non-opposites.” You can see a lineup of OCCULT workshops and events, here. Artist line-up, here. Presenter bios, here. There will also be a masque.
  • This Saturday, August 24th, Friends of the Gualala River are starting a public action campaign to convince a winery to spare 154 acres of Gualala River’s redwood forest in California. Pagan author and activist Starhawk will be on hand to do a ritual that will (hopefully) turn “wine back into water.” Quote: “I’ve been working with Friends of the Gualala River and representatives from the Kashaya Pomo to help build a campaign to save an important Kashaya heritage site from being clearcut for vineyards.  Artesa, a Spanish company and the third largest wine corporation in the world, is planning this conversion.  It’s the last redwood-to-vineyard conversion planned in California, after the defeat of the huge Preservation Ranch proposal, which thankfully was defeated.”
  • Medusa Coils reports that the Lammas issue of Seasonal Salon, the online publication of the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess International, has been released.
  • On September 22nd, the Stella Natura festival, held in Sierra Nevada’s Tahoe National Forest Desolation Wilderness will begin, and will include the Norwegian experimental runic band Wardruna in an exclusive American performance. Meanwhile, Circle Ansuz, a Heathen Anarchist collective, has begun a series of posts digging into the beliefs and past of influential Heathen Stephen McNallen, whose Asatru Folk Assembly is acting as co-sponsor for Stella Natura. I will be following this story in the coming weeks, and will update you on any responses or new information.
  • As I noted previously, the Gerald Gardner documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man,” renamed “A Very British Witchcraft,” was finally aired in the UK after being shown in a truncated version in Australia. You can see the 46-minute version of the documentary on Youtube, here (for as long as it lasts). Enjoy!

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

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

“Covered in Light is a Sisterhood of Pagan/Polytheist self-identified women who have chosen, or are called, to cover their hair as part of their religious observance. In no way are we oppressed, objectified, suppressed, or made to feel like a second class citizen. The covering of our hair is a sacred act of devotion to our chosen Deities and therefore is approached with devotion and reverence. We welcome all women from all walks of life to join our Sisterhood if they feel led to do so. Trans-women and women of other faiths who are Pagan/Polytheist friendly and who embrace the Divine Mother are also welcome amongst us with open arms.”Cora Post, from Covered In Light. They are sponsoring the First Annual International Covered in Light Day on September 21st, 2012.

Michael Lloyd

Michael Lloyd

“It is important to recognize that most large gatherings which are billed as “national” events generally pull the bulk of their attendees from the region in which the event is being held. And there is anecdotal evidence to show that, when such a gathering is moved farther afield due to a necessary change in venue, the area from which attendees are drawn likewise tends to shift to focus on the new geographic center. When Julian Hill and I created the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering in 2002, we initially foresaw it as a regional gathering for gay and bi men residing within a 500 mile radius of Columbus, Ohio. However, in the first year we had attracted someone from Texas, and inquiries from as far afield as Mexico and France. By the second year we had people attend from as far away as Washington State. After 10 years we’ve pulled people from Hawaii, as well as from Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. And yet the bulk of the attendees have remained within the 500 mile radius that we had initially targeted. This is due primarily to the economics and practicality of transporting camping gear, ritual accoutrements, and fabulous costumes cross-country. Therefore, I believe that most events–even those with large draws from farther afield–are already essentially regional in nature.” – Michael Lloyd, a co-founder and former co-facilitator (2002-2011) of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering, an annual spiritual retreat for men who love men. He’s author of the forthcoming book “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life and Times of Eddie Buczynski.” Lloyd was responding to a series on the Talking About Ritual Magick blog that asked if Pagan festivals are doomed to an inevitable decline.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

“However, there is more to the Craft than just being a newly respectable religion for middle-class intellectuals. Tell me, you initiates, did you come to the Craft in order to supposedly work magic by reading a script? In order to take a politically correct attitude toward ecology and the environment? Or were you lured in by the Goddess, by the archetype of Aradia as the rebel against corruption and oppression? Or did you find the Craft because you were sick of being lied to by the established churches? If your primary allegiance is to searching out truth, as mine is, then you are a sixth type of Witch, for which there is not yet an established term.” – Aidan Kelly, exploring “What is a Witch?”

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

“Large regional festivals and conventions probably face a limited future, and will not be likely to persist in the decades ahead, what with the impact of limited resources and the necessity to adapt to changing times. Large gatherings may be more likely to occur once a decade, if at all. Local organizations and events are much more sustainable and these will likely persist and flourish in the future. Yet the most profound kind of gathering will be the intensive retreat, called Witch Camp by some, and perhaps spawning many variations in the future, each established for different regional areas and different traditions, practices and beliefs. It is my opinion that the future of our spiritual movement will be shaped not by social gatherings or even by individual groups or covens, but by intensive retreats that will give a level of spiritual authenticity to our beliefs and practices which normal activities and engagements fail to offer.” – Frater Barrabbas, “Are Pagan Festivals Dead? – Part 3”

“The [Witchcraft Suppression] Act makes possessing knowledge, or professing to possess knowledge of ‘witchcraft’ illegal, and by its title, seeks to suppress witchcraft. It also prohibits divination, a practice shared by both traditional healers who identify as iZangoma, and Pagans who identify as witches. […]  Traditional beliefs do not assume that a witch may be innocent of such accusation because it is believed that such criminal acts are in keeping with the nature of the practice of Witchcraft. The alliance has advocated against witch hunts and accusations of witchcraft since 2007. Our annual campaign focuses on research, advocacy and education. We believe that accusations of witchcraft cannot be legislated away.” – Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliances (SAPRA), speaking to The Citizen on South Africa’s Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

“Obesity in the Pagan community is a part of the larger issue of health.  And health is not just about weight.  It is about treating our bodies as sacred.  It’s about what we put into our bodies and making sure that they are in the best condition possible for the long haul.  It’s about putting things into our bodies that were created by nature or the gods, not by putting synthetic replicas into our bodies as a substitute. It’s something that not only Pagans struggle with, but health is a consideration for all humans.  When we are at the height of our possible health (which is different for all of us because of genetics, injury, etc.), we improve the quality of our life.  We reduce disease.  We prolong life.  We feel better for longer.  I strongly believe that our bodies respond better to invasions and prevent disease when they are in optimal condition.  We are better vessls for divine work.  We are better able to serve.  We are better able to participate.”Iris Firemoon, responding to a conversation started by Peter Dybing on obesity within the modern Pagan movement.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“We have started the NPCCA [National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association] as an affiliate program, a product of our existing organization, Mill Creek Seminary, and have just begun the first in a three phase development plan. Phase one will focus on membership development and organizational growth. We are proud to announce that the NPCCA is now accepting applications for membership from Pagans who actively engage in prison ministry, provide some form of religious service within the field of corrections, or have a strong religious organizations which have a prison ministry program  or who are interested in participating, contributing or supporting Pagan chaplaincy.” – Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe), on the formation of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association.

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