Archives For David Salisbury

[The Wild Hunt is pleased to welcome Tim Titus to our monthly team. Titus’ column will appear on the first Saturday of every month, beginning in August.  He will be sharing his own perspective on life, community and religion. Check out his full bio for more on his work and interests.]

The notions of freedom and personal spiritual authority are driving factors that bring people into the practice of a Pagan religion. Many modern Pagan practitioners are fleeing the older, more dogmatic and hierarchical forms of religion offered by the mainstream in favor of seeking a spiritual practice that speaks to them and is controlled by them.

Sacred Harvest Festival Brush Oak Grove

Sacred Harvest Festival Brush Oak Grove

In Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler specifically cites “freedom” as one of the major attractions that a Pagan path holds for modern people, writing that people often become Pagan “because they could be themselves and act as they choose, without what they felt were the medieval notions of sin and guilt” as well as a refusal to honor “rigid hierarchies and institutionalization” (23). In Paganism: An introduction to Earth-centered spirituality, authors Joyce and River Higginbotham specifically list “A pronounced religious individualism” (4) as a major tenet of their Pagan religion. Pagans, it would seem, seek their own paths rather than membership in any leader’s flock.

Yet leadership is still necessary, even for such an individualistic group of people. Although Pagans may not follow a shepherd’s crook as their ultimate beacon of hope nor any one sacred text as an infallible set of rules, we still look to those who have blazed trails to help us down the path that best suits our needs. If everyone hacked their own way through the woods, all the trees would be dead and the underbrush trampled.

[Courtesy Photo]

John Beckett [Courtesy Photo]

Druid and Patheos blogger John Beckett cites a number of roles that leadership still plays for the Pagan community. First, writes Beckett, is the more mainstream idea of “leaders as decision makers.” While there is no ultimate authority, “decisions have to be made based on an understanding of what the group wants to do.” This can be done through consensus or democratic process rather than an authoritarian style, but, “knowing which method to use for decisions is a key part of leadership,” explains Beckett.

Beyond that traditional leadership role, Beckett also sees Pagan leaders as teachers, managers, and visionaries. In the role of teacher, he emphasizes the necessity of strong communication skills. And, the role of manager is necessary because, while any group has a set of goals that drive it, “someone has to make sure all this gets done.” In the visionary role, leaders are needed to “articulate a vision and inspire people to do what’s necessary to make it a reality.”

Without leaders, our vision of the future can be difficult to see and even more difficult to attain. It is vital to the health of Pagan communities to produce strong, ethical people who are willing and able to perform these leadership functions.

Photo Credit: Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight [Courtesy Photo]

Now, it can be a daunting task to step out from the comfort of your own private spiritual practice and into the more public world of community leadership. However, many Pagan leaders have found it rewarding both personally and spiritually. To take those first steps into a new role, author and blogger Shauna Aura Knight advises a “model of apprenticeship and increasing responsibility” to help new community leaders get their feet wet. Knight regularly blogs and teaches a variety of leadership skills in the Chicago area. She further explains that this apprenticeship model can apply to anything from ritual facilitation to “event planning, leading meetings, and many other aspects” by “building the emerging leader’s confidence.”

Christopher Penczak, author and co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, says that this is how he became involved in leadership. “Each time I got the call to take on a little more responsibility,” he writes, “I thought that would be as far as it would go. Yet every few years, the call to go deeper would happen.” Although he did not seek a leadership role, “each time there was a need, and I found myself asked to step into a new and uncomfortable role.”

David Salisbury, an author and co-facilitator of The Firefly House in Washington, D.C. echoes this process, saying that, “I like to think that I tripped, stumbled, and fell into leadership.”

Photo Credit: Christopher Penczak

Christopher Penczak [Courtesy Photo]

Whether they intentionally sought out leadership or “stumbled” into it, there are certain personal qualities that help new leaders succeed. Knight believes that self-reflection is vital. “If you’re not actually looking into the mirror,” says Knight, “you’re going to keep making the same mistakes and wonder why your group’s falling apart and never realize your own role in it.”

Penczak states that communication skills are indispensable. “While you can’t please everyone all the time, and really can’t even try,” he says, “you have to understand what people are saying to you and be able to convey what you can and cannot do, and why.”  Alix Wright, the Lead Pisces Minister in the Temple of Witchcraft, agrees, noting that, “You can’t expect people to do what needs to be done, if you can’t tell them in a manner that they understand.” Wright adds that, “Since everybody hears and understands in different ways, you have to be able to communicate in a style and manner that matches each person you’re working with.”

Knight also recommends “the ability to hold paradox.” She writes, “Some issues are not just the binary of black and white, good or bad,” and explains that, “many leaders get stuck in being a know-it-all obsessed with being right, and that causes a lot of conflicts.” Salisbury echoes this when he advises young leaders to “remain humble and open to listening to your community.”

David Salisbury [Courtesy Photo]

There are always issues that can hold a new leader back. “Fear,” states Penczak, “is the biggest problem with new leaders.” This includes “Fear of losing control. Fear of not getting something done. Fear of not being worthy, and an effort to hide all these fears rather than acknowledge the process.”

Wright and Salisbury agree that doing too much at once is a major obstacle for new leaders. Wright emphasizes that, “One of the lessons I needed to learn was that it’s okay to say no, and when I do say yes, then it’s okay to ask for help and delegate.” Salisbury cautions against “trying to be everything to everyone all at once” because “burnout is a major leader-killer.”

Knight fears that, when new groups or events begin to form, those in charge “never stop to talk about what their goals are,” and she warns that, “most conflicts come from assumptions.” She advises “direct communication” to unravel those conflicts.

She also warns against another pitfall of leadership: “egotism.” “Many leaders desperately want to be ‘the person with the good idea,’ or ‘the one who’s right’ or, more broadly, ‘the savior.’ ” This, she says, leads to poor boundaries and poor choices, and it brings her back to stating her top quality for leadership: self-reflection.

“Know thyself.”

Perhaps this ancient wisdom is the single best piece of advice. As John Beckett stresses, in the end “leaders are servants.”  Leaders serve those whom they lead, providing them with spiritual experiences and practical direction, sometimes at their own expense. “Good leaders do that work,” concludes Beckett, “because they want to serve the Gods, their groups, the Pagan community, and the world at large.”

TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

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And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

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The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

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Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

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In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

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“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

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* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

The land has its own magic. The whispers of the rolling hills of Northern California speak in a different tongue than that of the long flat lands of lower Alabama. The spirit of place can greatly contribute to the culture, presence and practice of magic in any one regional area.

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

There are different terms, traditions and beliefs that encompass concepts of regional magic or spirit of place. Different cultures relate to it in unique ways; yet there is continued historical significance to the practices of cultures and of people who have a reverence for the specific magic of local lands and regional areas. The spirit of place often refers to physical characteristics of a location, and can also reference attributes that have to do with myths, history, ancestors, spirits, art, stories, communities, superstitions or even collective memories. The energy and associations changes from one regional area to another.

Today, many modern magic practitioners work with regional magic as a part of their normal practice.

The pulse of the land tells many stories. People of many different Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen and earth worshiping traditions tap into the mysteries of place, looking for the soul of the space in which they work. The regional stories of particular areas can be a significant link between spirituality, home, worship, and belonging. These regional differences often contribute to rituals, observances, practices, and cultures all of which, as a result, are very personal to the specific area or a specific group of people.

I became increasingly fascinated with what I refer to as “regional magic” after my own trip down south to the birthplace of my mother. The magic I felt there was unlike anything I experienced at home in California; the magic of the land in Alabama was vastly different. when I touched and worked with the soil in my mother’s hometown, I was able to connect to such a sense of survival, history, culture and intense historical significance. The magic in the land moved me immensely, and I made a point to touch and collect a piece of it throughout the city while I was there. This brought up a lot of questions about my relationship to the land, the way that regional connections impact practice, and how the spirit of a place can connect to us in ways that we cannot always anticipate.

Photo by Crystal Blanton

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

How does the spirit of place influence magical practice? I reached out to a few others who have varied traditions and are from different places in order to see what they thought.

Many polytheists of revived religions honor spirits, gods, and other divine beings tied to particular places. I, and many other polytheists, worship Old Man Mississippi, the nymph of Cold Water Springs, and the good spirits of our particular neighborhood. – Cara Schulz

I’m blessed to live in Michigan, home of the Great Lakes. These are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, containing more than a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. The inland of Michigan contains about 11,000 lakes, 300 rivers and more than 12,000 miles if fresh water trout streams. Michigan is water, and water is a primary sacred medicine in my magical path.

Protecting water is an essential part of the magic I do. There are many threats to Michigan’s fresh water. This sacred resource is threatened by agricultural runoff, large scale factory farming, hydraulic fracturing (fracking)/injection wells and privatized water companies to name a few. I chant songs about the water, offer up prayers with a Pipe, offer my thirst and sweat in the Lodge and put my boots on the ground when it’s time to stand up and be heard. I do all this practical and esoteric magic in the name of water.

I am also blessed to live on the Chippewa River, where the sounds of water and the life it sustains are abundant. Next to the river, a large patch of sweetgrass grows each summer.  Sweetgrass is another sacred medicine to me and it is heavily dependent upon water. Harvesting it to give-away and sell at spiritual gatherings is a yearly ritual that ties me to the people, land and water. Michigan’s bountiful waters have guided my path much like the banks of the river guide the flow of sacred water to the sea. Water connects us all! – Jim Esralian

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

We celebrate the Pachamama in Argentina and we do offerings to her such as fruits, grains etc. I think this is one of the reasons why I love connecting with Mother Nature and a great part of my practice has that orientation. For me is important because it connects me with my roots and my ancestors by continuing connecting with the land. When I go back, I usually bring back soil and water to use in my magical work here in USA. The Spirit of the place is very powerful and very different from the spirit of the place I live here. My magic does not seem impacted but the support and the vibrations are different. There is more than one way to lead you to rome so the destination may be the same but the way you get there is different. – Carolina A. Amor

Outside of First Nation’s Spirituality there is not really any kind of regional based magick in my local area, although Canada is quite vast and depending on where one lives, experiences can be quite diverse. Seeing as Manitoba is located in the bible belt of Canada and Winnipeg is primarily land locked (Minneapolis is the closest major centre), magickal practices are slow moving in coming to the area, which is one of the major reasons why serious local magickal practitioners tend to travel.

In my local community you have two choices for regional based magic: First Nation’s Spirituality or the surrounding land itself becomes the source of magick and spiritual inspiration. Being acutely conscious of not wanting to contribute to colonization and mis-appropriation of First Nation’s Spirituality, the land becomes hugely important in my personal practice and in the practice of my working group. Last year, I spent the entire summer building an outdoor temple space with a cairn that acts as a permanent altar and shrine for the local land spirits. While I do have an indoor temple space, the outdoor space allows for a connection to the land and spirits while still being located in a heavily populated core area of Winnipeg. It truly becomes a world between worlds.

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Winnipeg is located where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River (called The Forks) and for centuries was a major trade centre and Aboriginal meeting place. The land has seen much; is rich with history and energetic presence, in the end, most of the magickal practices here are imports that are superimposed or assimilated into the landscape that creates a patchwork quilt of experiences for the individual practitioner.

The influences of the land  and the events that have occurred in the area have affected everything about my personal magickal practice. It has created a strong need for environmental and anti-racist activism. It has also allowed room for much healing work, which extends to myself personally, to others and to the land. The Winnipeg magickal community is still quite young and still trying to find itself. This unfortunately means that my explanation on regional magick doesn’t come in a nice neat bow. – Dominique Smith

For lack of a better explanation, I am a city priestess. I connect to the energies of land, human history, and geologic/meterological history in densely populated places and use it to weave connective tissue between city and citizens. To me magic happens in several different spheres. But to truly prosper you must do your best to become symbiotic to your environs. This can take a long time and is an imperfect process.

As the connection to a city deepens, it reveals more of its secrets and mysteries. San Francisco is bombastic – wants to show you everything all at once. Minneapolis has trust issues and offers a little bit more at every gesture of curiosity. It isn’t quite the same as land magic as we usually know it because to some degree you accept the environmental damage and try to make it into a greater good rather than trying to heal it into its original form. A little more repurpose and recycle, though reduce still has its place. It also involves seeing all politics as a system of illusions – even my own. To part the veil of the city is to see through its history, to understand its fights, and thus to see its heart. – Diana Rajchel

As an activist, my regional magic is focused on creating societal change. As a nexus point of change for this country, working magic like that allows me to tap right into the core of decision-making in this country. Most witches in DC take our role as stewards of positive change, activism, and healing very seriously because of that.

DC’s spirit of place is very complex and working with it is challenging. Historically, there is much misery connected with this place. All around me I see land that for so long was poisoned with slavery, systemic economic depression, and unfair labor conditions. But it also holds a spirit of hope, opportunity, and democracy. This requires magic-workers here to both hold space for the injustices that continue to occur here while also doing what we can to push the needle towards fairness. This land requires an acknowledgement of history if one is to work with it with any success. – David Salisbury

Photo of Alabama land by Crystal Blanton

Lands of Alabama [Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

People all over the world have different associations with the land, and the interpretations of the spirit of place is vast. The spiritual implications of a particular place, how it contributes to practice, and people’s association with regional spirituality is complex and often layered. Working within the elements and needs tied to a region can bring forth a myriad of specific magic and connection that only make sense within the context of its location. Working with the magic of the land to heal from the drought makes a lot of sense in California, where it does not make sense in Minnesota.

Whether in the politics of Washington D.C., the dry lands of California, or the waters of the Great Lakes, the land talks and has many stories to tell. Our connections to where we are planted will help to dictate our response to our communities and how we see our responsibility to local needs. It also helps us to shape who we are, and where we are in our spiritual practice and our personal sense of self.

How does your physical location impact or influence your magic or practice? Thinking about our relationship to regional magic and the spirit of place within our own regional communities can give us critical information about culture, spirits and what influences mold our personal practices.

Over the weekend, the east coast was hit with record snow falls, blizzard conditions, white-outs, thunder snow and more as a Winter Storm “Jonas” came in for a visit. According to The Weather Channel, who began naming these winter storms in 2011, Jonas is the “largest snowstorm on record for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Baltimore; and JFK Airport in New York City, with all of those locations receiving over 2 feet of snow.” As far south as Georgia through New York, the snow fell in varying degrees, and Pagans and Heathens took to social media to report the conditions at their locations. We reached out to a number of them to get a better idea of the conditions.

Tweeted from Space Station [Courtesy NASA]

Winter Storm 2016 as seen from the Space Station [Courtesy NASA] www.nasa.gov

Hardest hit was the New Jersey, Washington D.C. and New York City metro regions. Author David Salisbury reported going out to stores in preparation for the storm event and seeing goods lying on the floor and empty shelves. He said, “It looked liked a Walking Dead supply run.” Salisbury lives in the D.C. area and reported that he hadn’t seen a blizzard warning like this for six years. After making his own preparations to be stuck inside for several days, he posted the following public announcement on Facebook:

I’ll be stuck inside until at least Sunday so we might as well make the best of it! I’m offering deeply discounted rune and tarot readings until ‪#‎Blizzard2016 is over.

On Saturday, he did venture outside and took the following photo of adults and children enjoying the snow:

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

Not far away in Delaware, author Ivo Dominguez Jr. was watching the snow come down near his home. Dominguez is one of the founders of the New Alexandrian Library, located in Georgetown, Delaware.  He said that the library was safe, adding, “This was nothing. Hurricane Sandy went over it with zero damage.”  He shared this photo of his home at Seelie Court:

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

Farther north in central New Jersey, Elder Priestess Lady Pythia was watching the snow fall from the comfort of her home. She said poetically, “Noreaster sweeps. Cats eyes widen at ephemeral windy prey just out of reach, and we Witches toss herbs into the small cauldronfire, sip cinnamon creamed coffee, joke about animating shovels to tackle hip-high arctic drifts rendered in A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Pythia shared these photos as the snow piled up on her back deck:

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

Lady Pythia added, “A Witch sends out safe vibes for all in the storm’s path, with awe at the Mother’s wild Full Moon brushstrokes.”  As she and many other Pagans have pointed out, January 23 at 8:46 pm ET marked the full moon. NASA satellites captured the beauty of the moon’s light on the storm in this photo:

[Courtesy NASA]

[Courtesy NASA]

Over in Pennsylvania, Robert Schreiwer of the Urglaawe Kindred was also watching as the storm dumped more than 30″ of snow in his yard with sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts of up to 50 mph. Taking a spiritual look at winter’s process, Schreiwer said, “Many of us hail those associated strongly with snow: Skadhi and Holle. Being an Urglaawer with Holle as my patroness, I look at the snow blowing in the whirlwinds as a reflection of Her power. She has shaken her featherbed for over a day here, and the land is covered in the down. Although small, the first hail of the new year has fallen.” He shared this photo taken from his window:

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

Not missing an opportunity for some traditional religious work, Schreiwer added, “Per Deitsch tradition, I have collected some of it. One little stone I added to my drink; another I have retained for luck. The hail represents luck and opportunity for transformation and change. In the Deitsch healing and magical practice of Braucherei, the focus during this early time of the new year is on fixing that which needs repair, conserving the resources we have for last year, and planning and organizing the changes we need in order to make our lives better throughout the year. While we hail the snow, we also honor those who put their lives at risk to ensure the safety of others in this weather. Hail!”

Also in Pennsylvania, Priestess BrightFlame said that she was “snowed in” with  about 30″ of snow on the ground. But the resultant downtime caused by the weather has allowed BrightFlame to rest her sprained wrist and “reread The Fifth Sacred Thing ahead of allowing [herself] to indulge in Starhawk’s sequel, City of Refuge : the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing.”  This quiet time has also offered her the opportunity to prepare for an upcoming workshop that she is hosting in New York City with Starhawk,on February 20. BrightFlame shared this woodland photo from her home:

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

In New York City, Priestess and author Courtney Weber reported having a “perfect snowday.” She said that she also spent Saturday, “catching up on reading, writing the next book, and doing it all in pajamas because real Witches know how to multi-task. And do things better in pajamas.”  She shared this photo taken from her apartment window as the snow fell:

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

The storm’s reach stretched down the east coast forcing a number of governors to declare states of emergency and warning against travel. New York City shut all bridges and tunnels down through Sunday morning. Even as far south as Georgia, offices and schools closed early on Friday in preparation for the worst. And this wasn’t an unnecessary act. As the news has reported, at least 18 people have died in the wake of the storm with most of the deaths caused by slick roadways.

Star Bustomonte, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, has been stuck inside due to the weather. Although her area was not hit as hard as the coastal mid-Atlantic region, Bustamonte did report that she had over a foot of snow. She also said, “I’ll be several hours digging out once it starts to warm up. But I’m not even starting until it gets about 30 degrees.” She’s spent the weekend, like many, watching television and hanging out with her cats.

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

Due to this reportedly historic storm, there have been many store closures and event cancellations. For example, Asheville’s Raven and Crone was closed yesterday and has canceled today’s workshops. Brooklyn’s Catland Books was also closed yesterday with plans to open today. However, Sunday morning owners posted on Facebook, “BROOKLYN! Take another day to build snow altars and leave offerings for blizzard spirits – we’ll see you on Monday, and back again next month for Black Mirror Salon!”

We contacted EarthSpirit, the organizers of Feast of Lights to see if they were at all concerned that this mega storm would damper attendance at next week’s conference. EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen said, “No.”  The event takes place in Amherst, Massachusetts which was not in the storm’s path. However, he did say that they are watching weather, adding “Living in New England, we have to do that every year. So far, things look pretty good for next weekend, and in the 18 years we’ve been putting on Feast of Lights, we’ve never had to cancel once.”

Back in Washington D.C., Salisbury looked out of his window on Sunday morning. The storm had passed and the skies were clear. He shared this photo of his courtyard:

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

Over the next few days, as the weather warms above freezing and the snow begins to melt, the east coast will get back to its normal activity with schools back in session, businesses open and travel schedules on track. Until then, much of the east coast will be gathering by fires, digging out and finding ways to enjoy the quiet of a winter’s storm.

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

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

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

In Other News:

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

[Courtesy Sylvia Poggioli, NPR]

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

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), in a landmark decision, legalized same sex marriage in the United States of America. On Friday, June 26, SCOTUS issued its 5-4 opinion on the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Kennedy delivered the opinion, opening with, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

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

Through that opinion, SCOTUS reversed the decision of the lower Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which had upheld same sex marriage bans in four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. SCOTUS ruled these bans unconstitutional, saying:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

The Court’s opinion also made it clear that marriages performed legally in one state had to be officially recognized in other states. As SCOTUS ruled:

The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

Within the opinion, Justice Kennedy offered an historical perspective, saying that marriage has been central to the “human condition” for “millennia and across civilizations.” While he acknowledged that most of the historical references speak of opposite sex unions, he goes on to say that “The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”

Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomeyer. Dissenting opinions came from Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Roberts wrote:

This Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be … Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.

While there are those who directly oppose same sex marriage on religious or philosophical principles, there are others who, like Roberts, feel that the process should have been left to the states and the vote of the people.

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

As the news flooded the internet, we gathered some reactions from Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists around the country. Here is what they had to say:

Dianne Duggan is a Pagan Priestess who worked for the US government for decades and practiced law. Last year in her in Illinois, she was finally able to legally marry her wife. Duggan said, “Given that marriage is a legal contract, sanctioned by government, I’ve never understood the faith-based arguments against it. Even marriages that take place under religious circumstances must be sanctioned by government through licensing .. Rights are rights. That is that.” Read Duggan’s full comment

Another legal expert, Dana Eilers, author of Pagans and the Law, said that SCOTUS had “affirmed the great American Experiment, which is the separation of church and state.” She went on to say, “Critically, the majority of the Court found that the opponents of gay marriage had failed to provide any foundation for the dire outcomes which gay marriage opponents so often assert. This, to me, is crucial: there was, apparently, no proof offered to support the awful predictions made by the opponents of gender equality in marriage. Proof and evidence are not yet dead in American courts.” Read Eilers full comment.

Heading south, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren, also known as Rev. Seba O’Kiley, is a Priestess of the Gangani Tribe in Alabama, a marriage equality battle-ground state. Same sex marriage was legalized in February 2015, but state and local officials have been fighting ever since. Privett-Duren said that it “takes the efforts and courage of many to change any inequities in the world.” She added that this impulse to enact change should be a “human one born of the need to set things right.” Privett-Duren added:

I am saddened at the responses of some of my Southern friends and family to the SCOTUS ruling.  However, this is only a small faction of our South and will, inevitably, become only another archaic echo of a culture’s growing pains. ….  My tribe and I hold firm that we can be both Southern and progressive.  And while my neighbors are truly heartbroken at the SCOTUS decision, it is my hope that they will one day see that any oppression to any people oppresses us all. Read Privett-Duren’s full comment

Wizzard Rodney Hall, a transgender and pansexual Pagan from Alabama, said, “It has been a long march from … Stonewall riots to the marriage equality decision by SCOTUS … Though I told my partner after SCOTUS struck down DOMA … that this was a landmark decision and we were on a downward slope toward equal marriage rights, I had no clue that it would move this fast.” Like Privett-Duren, Hall knows that there will be some conflict within the state, saying “In Lee County AL, where I live, our courthouse was closed today until they review the SCOTUS decision. There is also Alabama Senate Bill 377 still pending, which seeks to replace marriage licenses with a contract process … Though we still face obstruction from bigots and the ill-informed religious right, I feel that we are on the upswing.”

From Georgia, two Pagans shared their thoughts. Blogger Sara Amis said, “I think it’s important to emphasize the religious equality angle. Pagans, who by and large are happy to recognize same-sex unions, should not be constrained by the beliefs of other faiths in this matter. And now we won’t be.” Amis went on to say that for bisexuals, like herself, “not being invisible matters. Social recognition matters.” Then she added, “And speaking as a Pagan, symbols matter. Rituals matter.” Read Amis’ full comment.

And, Benratu, a Witch and native Georgian, agreed, saying, “I am thrilled to see our leaders make the right decision!” He lamented that for so long he has been unable to “share the same rights and privileges as the rest of the country.” Benratu said “[It]is now possible. I felt a great sigh of relief.” Like Hall and Privett, Benratu also expressed a concern that the ruling may trigger a backlash and increased incidents of homophobic violence. However, he added, “My hope is this will bring our country together and user in more acceptance of different viewpoints.”

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

California-based author and activist T. Thorn Coyle took a more radical position, saying, “I stand for love, yet haven’t joined in very active support of what some people call ‘gay marriage’ or others call equal rights because the struggle feels much, much larger.” She explained, “..allowing two men or two women to marry one another just isn’t enough. It isn’t the sort of equality I really want. I’m more queer than that, and more of an anarchist, of course. I desire equity far more pluralistic than the simple replication of a state sanctioned nuclear family.” Read Coyle’s full comment

Also hailing from California, Rev. Patrick McCollum shared his thoughts, saying, “As one who has worked for gay rights for more than thirty years, I am elated that one of the fundamental rights that we’ve all fought for so long has finally come to be.” McCollum tied the ruling’s importance to his beliefs. He wrote, “Just as we speak of the interconnectedness of all things in a spiritual context, we must also realize that the same principles apply in our mundane lives. How we make space for everyone and how we honor the sacredness of diversity speaks directly to who we are as a people.” Read McCollum’s full comment.

Like McCollum, Rev. Selena Fox has been an longtime activist working for LBGQT equality and religious rights. When Friday’s ruling was handed down, Fox called for a celebration, saying, “I am glad that the USA has now joined the 20 other countries in the world that have legalized same sex marriage — and it is my hope that there will be marriage equality in every nation on this planet.” She said that she has been performing same sex handfastings since the 1980s with the first one in 1983, and assisting with the first legal handfasting at Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2014. Read Fox’ full comment.

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Finally, in Washington D.C., we caught up with witch and activist David Salisbury, who works for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He said:

This enormous victory really speaks for itself. For years I’ve been involved with fighting state-by-state and we’ve seen many victories and some losses. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, I can’t wait to shift my focus on the other important areas where LGBT people are still not equal. In most states, you can now get married on Sunday and fired on Monday. We now need employment and housing nondiscrimination as soon as possible. But for now, I will celebrate here in DC with the many people involved in this movement, and in spirit with many others around the nation. Love won, and that deserves a celebration.

Agreeing with Salisbury, Circle Sanctuary minister Vic Wright from Kentucky said, “It is a blessed day when the Supreme Court chooses to uphold the law … Now on to the next issues.” In her reaction statement, Fox also looked forward, saying, “We need to be vigilant and take action to counter attempts by bigoted forces that already are planning to undermine this victory under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’ ” Of course, she is referring to the RFRAs, which could potentially be used to counter this ruling. Whether that happens or not is up for debate

California-based Heathen Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir also expressed the need to keep pressing for rights by offering this call-to-action, “The fire is hot, the iron is stoked and burning bright, let’s strike at other issues that affect the lives of the rest of us who live under the “rainbow umbrella … Let’s keep the pressure on our legislators to provide the protections and dignity that we deserve in every facet of our lives; queer, trans, bi, however one chooses to identify.” Read Odinsdottir’s full comment.

The HRC, as an organization, also agrees that there is much work to be done. After issuing its celebratory statement, it turned its focus immediately to remaining problems by sending out a second statement that called for all “state officials to remove obstacles to marriage equality immediately.” These obstacles, for example, include such things as the closed Alabama courthouses noted earlier by Hall, and the public response by Louisiana’s Governor. Just after the SCOTUS ruling, Gov. Jindal issued his own opposing statement, going as far as saying, “Let’s just get rid of the court.” Louisiana is one of the few states that didn’t issue licenses on Friday.

However, not all the remaining 13 states, which prior to Friday’s ruling didn’t issue same sex licenses, were opposed. Georgia reportedly issued the very first same-sex license after the ruling was issued. In Texas, people lined up to get married. Along with the ceremonies, celebrations have happened and will continue throughout the weekend.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Kasha, a Wiccan Priestess from Florida who is currently serving as National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, called for a moment of remembrance. She said, “I … hope we pause during our celebrations to honor those involved in this struggle that did not live to see this day – those that inspired the fight, endured persecution and violence, and lived and died with secrets.” Read Kasha’s full comment.

And, Jesse Hathaway Diaz, proprietor of The Wolf and Goat, shared this advice going forward, “I’m a firm believer in the ladder principle – if you are going to ascend the ladder, you must bring someone up to your current rung, or you backslide. Nature abhors a vacuum. Let the ‘victory’ of today similarly be a tool. Bring others to the current rung – what we envision should be a reality. Do not be complacent. Share the success. Advance others….. Help others understand why it’s worth sharing. Help others be able to share it with us someday.” Read Hathaway’s full comment.

Ritual leaders [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Ritual leaders [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

On  June 6,  The Firefly House, a pan-Pagan organization in Washington D.C., organized a ritual on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States. Spokesperson David Salisbury explained that the ritual’s goal was “to channel energy from the goddess Columbia, which [they] used to cast a spell upon the nation for love and justice, in advance of a decision on marriage equality.”

Salisbury is referring to the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which was argued on April 28. As we reported, the case has the potential to “effectively, make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states without eroding each state’s right to regulate marriage laws as their citizens’ see fit.

Of this past weekend’s ritual, Salisbury said, “We focused objects of power to send the energy: Justice cards from the tarot, a rattle to shake up change, a rainbow flag for hope, a shield to protect against bigotry, a wand to manifest the desire for equality, and a quartz stone to anchor the dawning of a new equality era.” He also added that, while they were there, the had a “fun chat with capitol police who were very excited and interested.”

*   *   *

Cherry Hill Seminary

Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) has just announced the creation of a new military chaplaincy program to enhance its masters program. In a press release, CHS said, “Just as the military is a unique subculture of our greater society, military chaplains are a unique subset of the greater society of professional chaplains. While all chaplains are charged with providing care and support in an interfaith environment to all of those under their pastoral care, military chaplains face an additional set of unique challenges. To assist those students who aspire to become military chaplains, we have established a program to help prepare them for that role.

As the military opens it doors and welcomes minority chaplains, more and more trained people will be needed to specifically address those “unique challenges” and serve that community. CHS is looking to fill that gap. The new track will consist of 15 semester hours that are added to its regular MDiv. program. Some of the classes include:  “War, Ethics and Religion,” “Grief, Loss, Trauma and Recovery,” “Chaplaincy and Religions Freedom,” and “Ministry to Military Families.” The new classes are scheduled to begin in the fall of 2015.

*   *   *

tuatha deaTuatha Dea just released a new video called “The Hum and Shiver.” It is based on the first book in the Tufa series by Alex Bledsoe. When the video was released, Bledsoe said, “I had the pleasure of watching it with them when it first arrived from the video producer.”

Named one of the best fiction books of 2011 by Kirkus, Hum and Shiver begins the story of a Tufa people, who live in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The second book in the series is titled, Wisp of a Thing, and the third, which was just released, is titled A Long Black Curl.

Written into all of the Tufa novels is a cultural and magical emphasis on music. Both Tuatha Dea and Bledsoe call Tennessee home, and the new video captures that Appalachian spirit found in the books. In 2014, Tuatha Dea, so inspired by the series, released an entire album called Tufa Tales: Appalachian Fae. Recently, Bledsoe explained to the Wisconsin State Journal, “If you wanted to create a band to come out of my books, [Tuatha Dea] was it.” In fact, the band makes an appearance in the newest book Long Black Curl, for which they have already released a song and video.

Tuatha Dea is currently touring the country and will be appearing next week at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

.In Other News:

  • Folk singer Lon Milo Duquette released his latest album Sweet Baba Lon on June 6. The new CD includes “18 of Lon’s most popular recordings from earlier releases.” Plus, he introduces 3 new tracks, including: ” ‘Don’t Write Me Off,’  ‘I’m Scared,’ Lon’s wicked take on American gun culture, and ‘At Club Père Lachaise,’ a cute paean to the French celebrity cemetery.” Duquette, now 66 years old, has been performing since he was 14 years old. He is also the author of “numerous books on Western mystical traditions.” In a recent press release, he said “I’m a pool of ancient wisdom,” and he stressed that he has no intention of slowing down.
  • Morpheus Ravenna’s The Book of the Great Queen has been released and is now available for purchase. Published by Concrescent Press, The Book of the Great Queen is “an in-depth study of the Morrígan and her cults of worship, ancient and modern.” Ravenna explained that the work is the “culmination of twenty years of study and practice as a dedicant of the Morrígan.” The book’s artwork was done by the talented Valerie Herron, and production was funded by a 2014 IndieGoGo campaign. This summer and fall, Ravenna will be making book signing appearances in between her other travels and speaking engagements. Her next stop will be at The Book Vault in Endicott, New York on June 10. For a complete schedule and more information, go to Ravenna’s website: Banshee Arts.
  • Who is T. Thorn Coyle? PNC Minnesota has published an interview with the Pagan author, activist and magic worker. PNC writer Nels Linde caught up with her at The Heartland Pagan Festival in May. Linde writes, “This started out as an interview, but Thorn was so fascinating to talk to, and such a good listener it turned into a discussion.” In the article, she talks about her social justice work, inspiration and writing.
  • For those who speak French, two reporters for the online site Street Press visited a Wiccan ritual held in France’s “forêt de Vincennes.” They spoke with some of the attendees and published an article on the experience. The ritual itself was staged by Cercle Sequana, a Wiccan group that is part of the Paris-based Ligue Wiccan Eclectique. The two journalists intervewed participants of different ages about their practice. One of Cercle Sequana’s organizers, Xavier Mondon, was there, and we have reached out to him directly to get a more detailed look into the experience.
  • Author and filmmaker Jo Carson has produced a new book, Celebrate Wildness. It is the first in a series of books that will “introduce the magic, practices and lore of Feraferia.” In a press release, she explains that, “With the art and inspiration of Fred Adams, [this book celebrates] a love culture for wilderness, a liturgy of holy wildness, and a religion celebrating the Magic Maiden.” The self-published, hardbound book, containing lore, illustrations and techniques, is only available through Carson’s website: Feraferia.
  • CORRECTION: On Saturday, we published columnist Rhyd Wildermuth’s essay “A Time of Your Life” and accidentally left off the sponsorship tag line. We apologize to Hecate Demeter for this mistake. Hecate, a longtime supporter of The Wild Hunt, directly sponsors both Wildermuth’s and Alley Valkyrie’s columns. As the sponsor line states, she is an ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth, and a writer of her own blog Hecate Demeter.
  • And, finally, here is some exciting news from the editor’s desk. We are proud to announce that The Wild Hunt is now independently incorporated with non-profit status through California-based Independent Arts and Media. In addition to our fall fundraiser, we have added a donation PayPal button to our site for use all year. We are 100% reader funded, and all donations are tax-deductible. Thank you to all our readers, writers and supporters!

And, don’t forget to check out our new Instagram account, with photos and visuals coming from our articles and inspired by them! 

That is it for now. Have a great day!

The use of the internet in modern Paganism has changed the way that people access information and express themselves in modern culture. One of the most widely used mediums for information sharing has become the blogosphere. Pagan blogs range from having an academic theme to the purely personal, and everything in between. The popular transition from reading books to reading blogs has created a culture of fast information gathering and the ability for everyone to have a format. This has also contributed to the idea that everyone is a potential “expert,” making the distinctions of reliability challenging.

This type of fingertip access to information has many benefits in modern day culture, but how do those benefits affect the overall culture within modern Paganism, or does it at all? Different groups of people may have different opinions on the benefits and problems created with Pagan blogging and the instant access to this version of the Pagan world.

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

The social sciences often point out how pieces of any social system affect and rely on one another. As the overarching community approach creates a social structure that encompasses many different moving pieces, the increase in blogging as a common form of communication and information exchange has the potential for long standing cultural changes. The ecological theory explores the interdependent relationship between different elements of any community, grouping, or construct, making the idea that the rise of a blogging culture in modern Paganism has changed the landscape of our cultural connection.

What does this mean and what does that look like in community culture? Who are our leaders, experts, and resources in the community, and how does this change the landscape of how we access popularity? How are leaders and experts chosen, and how does the blogging culture influence who gets attention?

The following are some thoughts from a variety of Pagans on this concept of whether blogging culture has an impact on Pagan culture, and our community.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

I think the short answer is that sometimes it does. Recent discussions about race, gender, transphobia, and creating safe spaces at festivals and conventions have transcended their origins online. I think these are all issues we are currently confronting within our circles, covens, and groves. I think we are still far away from the lasting and permanent change many of us wish to see, but the dialogue is encouraging and moving in the right direction.

The issues of theology that often dominate the internet discourse rarely to never come up in the terrestrial groups I’m a part of.  However, I think some of those conversations represent the inevitable schisms that will one day divide the Pagan umbrella.  As a result it’s possible that we will feel their influence in the future, though I think that future is still far on the horizon.

One of the problems with the Pagan blogosphere is that it represents only a small slice of Pagandom. Those who follow most of the “trending topics” that arise within it are a fraction of a fraction. It’s an engaged fraction to be sure, but it takes awhile for ideas to work their way through a community as large and diverse as modern Paganism. In that way the influence of blogs is a bit more subtle and hard to see, but those of us who engage in it on a day to day basis can see its influence. – Jason Mankey, blogger at “Raise the Horns,” Patheos Pagan Channel

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

I think that some blogs are influential and that others identify what is influential on the community. Pagan blogs tend to follow trends of topics, even across various sites, and I find that interesting. Identifying trends (and what isn’t trending) feels like a helpful gauge for what our community thinks is important and what isn’t. Sometimes those realizations are exciting and sometimes they’re very disappointing. – David Salisbury, author Teen Spirit Wicca

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

Blogging connects people from all over the world and provides a platform to humanity’s deep need to be heard. For Pagans, I see that blogging provides the opportunity for people to come together holding widely varied belief and create community and build identity, while using technology as the ‘magic.’ There is an equal playing field in blogging, at least in the beginning, that like the core of our diverse spirit has the power to build bridges and spread Pagan values and ideals.

Personally, blogging changed my life, by allowing in me the freedom to seek wisdom and explore it interactively with people from all walks of life. My ‘covenstead’ has in many ways become the blogosphere where the dialogue is rich, meaningful, sometimes contrary, but always an invitation to more. More magic. More Wisdom. More love.Erick DuPree, blogger at “Alone in Her Presence”

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

Blogging is an act of justice that gives voice to those who are not often heard. In Peggy McIntosh’s “White People Facing Race: Uncovering the Myths That Keep Racism in Place”, a few of the myths that blogging destroys are the myth of white racelessness and the myth of monoculture. Blogging by Pagans of Color eradicates the stereotype that those who worship the Gods are, of necessity, uniform by nature and white by class, race or upbringing. Blogging makes it possible to see the corners,what is hidden from the rest of the world. Each myth destroyed, each level of resistance challenged and each open discussion about privilege in Paganism brings the overall community closer together. We are able to reveal what we know about ourselves to those who might not see beyond the once or twice a year encounters with those who embrace some level of paganism as a person of color. Blogs are a necessary counterbalance to the blandness that stereotypes the definition of “Pagan” in 2015.Clio Ajana, blogger “Daughters of Eve,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Cara Schulz

Cara Schulz

I think it does for a very small minority. If there are a million Pagans just in the USA, give or take, and even a really well read blog only has a few hundred or even thousands of readers, that is a very small percentage.

But if we’re talking about the Pagan community, that’s a bit different. The Pagan community is both a small world and a very segmented “community.” Large segments exist almost as islands, rarely if ever interacting with the wider community. Plus, most Pagans are still solitaries and while some are connected to the wider community, most aren’t.- Cara Shulz, staff writer, The Wild Hunt

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogging tends to have an influence beyond its readers. While even the most read blogs attract only a small percentage of the total pagan community, those it does attract tend to be engaged in the community. As a result, their reactions set a course for discussion. That discussion has the ability to steer the movement. The influence is indirect, but it is real.Tim Titus, blogger at “Intersections”

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

I consider blogging a method of discussion. Blogging can often respond to, create, or steer the discussions that various groups are having, or provoke ones that we need to have. Is it the only means of influence? Of course not, but as social media becomes more and more a part of the way our communities interact, I think blogs can distill topics, teach wisdom, amplify certain voices or issues, that are present in the community at large.  – Niki Whiting, blogger at “The Witch’s Ashram,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Blogging has made it possible for solo practitioners and others who feel isolated to find community with people all over the world. For those of us from marginalized backgrounds, it has helped us to find and connect with other marginalized people and to increase our understanding of our practices and incorporate new ones. One of the really exciting things that I think blogging has done to influence Modern Pagan culture is to provide opportunity for marginalized communities to speak about what it means to be marginalized both in the broader Pagan community and the world at large.

Blogging is where useful discussion of racism, homophobia, transantagonism, and cultural appropriation is able to happen in ways that allow us to see the human face of these issues. Cultural appropriation is one thing that blogging, and the internet in general, have brought to a wider discussion. To a degree, the internet has made it easier to culturally appropriate, as practitioners can google and find so many things that they wish to cobble together into a practice without thinking about the origins or privileges they may have that make it easier/safer for them to use them. On the other hand, blogging is where we are able to talk about those origins, what it feels like to watch someone make money off of something that may still be illegal or at least discouraged for us to retain of our own culture, what it means on a personal level, and what it means on a larger cultural level. Blogging creates accessible avenues for education, and for personal engagement and relationship building.Aaminah Zulu Shakur, artist and healer

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

The internet is a fascinating thing. On the one hand, it is a tool that has created space for platforms — such as blogging — which allow for international connections and communications, bringing diverse groups together in ways that they would not be able to otherwise. The internet is also a place, in the true sense of the word, wherein spaces are hosted and guested and the rules of hospitality must by necessity apply, else the worst kinds of harm are allowed to happen. Blogging, however, can be a lot like any other colonizing land-expansion: it allows equally for people with valid dreams and visions to find a respectful place for these to be seen into fruition as it does for those with nothing but greed and hunger and disillusionment with what they are ultimately turning away from in turning to a blog.

There are some who were using the internet in the “glory-days” of exclusivity, before it was fully mainstreamed, who harken back to those nostalgic times where it took a certain level of know-how to stumble into such places, trailblazing or at least “knowing the right people.” These days anyone can hop on their phone and become a digital “land-owner” and that can be both good and bad. A person can hungrily devour a corner of the blogsphere to espouse hatred at others over things like disabilities or race or religious experience and identity, just as easily as they can stake out a territory and declare it a safe-zone for progressive human-rights and religious-rights oriented work, dialog, and endeavors.

A person with a blog can be a force of change or a force of flaming trollfire, rubbing up on everything and leaving it stained, soiled, and ruined for whoever else might come along next. In terms of how this influences the Pagan community? Well, thanks to all of the above — good and bad — we now have a landscape to not only settle some of our differences, but even identify what they are in the first place, and iron out the nuances of language and identifiers — Polytheists from Archetypalists, for example — and from there we can forge the spaces and the rules to navigate those identifiers, those boundaries, and thereby defend the perimeters of the unimpeachable rights and freedoms that we all must, at the end of the day, agree as paramount to our collective doings.Anomolous Thracian, founder and editor of Polytheist.com

Aine Llewellyn

Aine Llewellyn

Yes and no. Part of me says ‘yes’ because I’m biased. I’m a blogger, I read other blogs, I live a lot of my life online. Online Paganism, the blogosphere, influenced my own religion and how I approach in-person communities.

What I see in the blogosphere are conversations about theology and boundaries and where Paganism might go. Of course those conversations are going to affect the wider community. The people writing these blogs are going to go out into their own communities and take these ideas with them!

I think the idea that blogging doesn’t matter comes from some complex ideas. There’s the idea that online interaction isn’t ‘real’. Then there’s the idea that people who blog or read blogs regularly are not ‘actually’ involved in their communities. This is true in some cases! However, some people don’t have offline community, or the one they do is toxic or unsafe in some way, or it simply doesn’t fill their needs. And these are just two ideas, both of which need a lot of unpacking to understand…

I think to understand why blogging can change our culture, we have to remind ourselves that people, real people, are writing these blogs. They are going to bring these ideas with them wherever they go. We don’t know how blogging is going to fit into our history yet. But I think the resentment and snark directed at blogging itself – the mere act of writing and engaging with other Pagan bloggers or readers – is misplaced.

But I have to also say no, because the petty drama and attention-mongering that we see? That’s not important, that’s never important. Online or offline. But that’s exactly it – the sort of ‘me me me’ that we see online can happen offline too, and it seems we’re very bad at acknowledging that.Aine Llewellyn, artist and blogger at “of the Other People.”

[photo credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

[Photo Credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

The internet is a tool. It is easy to forget how tools can be used to help shape culture and community, how the interlocking pieces influence the outcome and change the trajectory of what is to come. How does blogging culture influence the way that we communicate with one another? How do we connect to leadership or the celebrity status of people inside of the community? How do we identify reliability in our sources when the blogosphere is not monitored, fact checked or screened?

The energetic exchange between blogger and reader is just as important as the words on the screen. We cannot deny the impact of information; whether it is academic, social or personal. The reciprocal nature of communication, and the medium in which it is given in, means that the receiver is just as affected as the giver.

Does the impact of blogging on culture rely on numbers or is it more dependent on the way that people internalize information and take it out into the world? Erick DuPree mentioned to me that, “Blogging might only touch a few people’s lives in the grand percentage of the world’s populace, but one person reading about compassion, about self care, about magic, or about social justice, is one more person than had there not been a blog.” I tend to agree.

How discussions are shaped, how problems are identified and how popular trends are accessed in community largely rely on the blogging community and the conditioned behaviors that the internet fosters. The way that the blogosphere affects the other elements of our community in the long run has yet to be seen, but we do know that the culture of communication and connection has changed greatly since blogging has become a more common means of expression among modern Pagans.

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

In recent weeks, a debate has heated up around this topic. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Today we take a closer look at this difficult topic.

Technical details of sacrifice

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

. . . under optimum (e.g. correct, humane) circumstances of animal sacrifice, the animal has been raised in small farming set-ups (rather than industrial meat factories), handled by people it is familiar with interpersonally who regard them with respect and dignity from the start, and in the time leading up to the ritual, treated as living kings. A distressed animal, which is the standard state of industrial slaughter, is literally unfit for most sacrificial rites: the calmness and comfort of the animals is the primary logistical concern. — Anomalous Thracian

Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stoke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

Such exactness in the act was also stressed by Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess trained in sacrifice, who said:

Galina Krasskova

 . . . the animal is carefully chosen. It is cared for, pampered, fed well, and on the day of the sacrifice decorated, soothed, and kept calm. When the sacrifice is made, it is done with a scalpel-sharp blade and a clean, quick cut. Compassion is not what I look for in a sacrificial priest. I look for training and skill. Having the proper skill guarantees that the animal will not suffer, whereas if one approaches the act of sacrifice awash in strong emotion there’s actually a greater likelihood that a mistake will be made, the priest will hesitate, and as a result the animal will have pain.

The idea that an animal that has suffered physically or psychically is unsuitable for sacrifice may be a modern convention. Did the ancient practice of drowning horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon take into consideration the feelings of the animal? Did those people have the same 21st-century understanding of anatomy?

While a portion of the animal itself is often part of the offering, usually the bulk of the meat is consumed, a tradition which is described by Australian Hellenic polytheist Markos Gage:

In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product.

Many who support sacrifice see the disconnect from where our meat comes as being the driving force in the pushback against the practice this rite. Conor O’Bryan Warren, in a column on Polytheist.com, speaks of growing up in an agricultural family, and how his view of the killing of animals differed greatly from many of his college classmates:

Most of the people in the class are inculturated with a Western Protestant worldview which sees the exploitation and torture of animals for profit (and thus a cog in the machine of Corporate Capitalism) as being completely acceptable but which views their sacrifice for religious purposes as being terribly barbaric and backwards.

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

The Druid organization Ár nDríaocht Féin does not permit any form of blood sacrifice in public rituals. Archdruid Kirk Thomas said that it’s fraught with problems for the inexperienced practitioner and from a public relations standpoint.

The reasons are many. One is it would be bad public relations — most people are more than happy to eat meat slaughtered in abattoirs in inhumane ways as long as it’s cheap and they don’t have to witness the killings. But to kill an animal in front of them would bring the horror of violent death far too close for comfort. Also, none of us are trained in the art of killing an animal in a painless and humane way. In the end we’d probably end up with a bloody mess.

However, we don’t regulate non-public rites. We actively discourage animal sacrifice but should some member own a farm and be trained in the slaughter of his or her own herds, then who are we to stop them from praying over their animals before dispatching them? Personally, I’d rather the poor creatures be commended to the Gods before their deaths than not, with forgiveness asked and, hopefully, given.

While it was often a public event in antiquity, modern sacrifice is largely a private affair, noted Night in his explanation of the mechanics of sacrifice.

Ritual context

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. That includes sacrifice as it is understood in polytheist and African traditional religions, both of which categories have some participants who identify as Pagan. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities emerge.

Consent seems to be universal among these religions, and it must be obtained from the participants, the deities, and the animals involved. No one should participate in animal sacrifice if it makes them uncomfortable or violates taboos. This act is also not performed simply to do it; divination is generally used to confirm that a particular deity wants such an offering in the first place. Divination is also one of the ways that the consent of the animal is established. Although, an experienced priest may also observe the animal’s body language and ascertain the emotional state of the creature.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

While sacrificed animals are often offered in part (or, in some cases, entirely) to the god or gods in question, that is not the only reason these rites are performed. This is a detail touched on by Lilith Dorsey, author of the blog Voodoo Universe, when she spoke to us for this story:

I understand that this is a very difficult topic for many, and is obviously one that I could speak about for volumes. Let me start by saying I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and author in addition to being an initiated practitioner of Haitian Vodou and La Regla Lucumi (more mistakenly known as Santeria), both of which include animal sacrifice as part of their rites.

Sacrifice is performed for annual feasts and also to heal individual issues.The way I explain it to people is that if you went to a medical doctor and was told that in order to save the life of a loved one you needed to give them medicine that came from a chicken gizzard, would you do it? If you would offer up the human life refusing on moral grounds, then my hat is off to you.There are several African Traditional Religious houses you can join that do not practice sacrifice of animals. Most people would choose their daughter, their father, or their true love over a chicken, and then the issue really comes to light, which is one of faith.This is a spiritual prescription, you can choose to take it or not. People put much more faith in modern medicine than they do in “scary” (meaning unknown and stereotyped) magicks that may, in reality, be much more effective.This is just one reason we perform these sacrifices, to heal. Another reason is for feasts where the ritual animals are very often eaten, which seems to quell a lot of peoples’ fears. For practitioners, myself included, the animals for ceremony are just what the Orisha or Loa (divine forces) eat. The same way lions are fed steak, the energies call for this type of offering.This is substantiated by time, tradition, divination, and success rate. People who perform these sacrifices are also highly trained, both in the spiritual art and practical design of carrying out these sacred rites.The implementation in most cases is much more humane than your friendly neighborhood slaughterhouse.

While the ADF does not advocate for the practice, Archdruid Thomas is familiar with its place in religious observance:

If we look at the ancients, we see that the sacrifice was seen in a variety of ways, such as the shared meal and as a form of reciprocity. In the shared meal we are sharing our food with the Gods, and this brings about the sense of community. And for animal sacrifices then, it was the chance for a great barbecue. According to Walter Burkert, in ancient Greece the only animal protein available for most people was from the meat of the sacrifice. Even today we often refer to our holidays as ‘feasts’. This is where that comes from.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

But even as some find the practice of sacrifice life-affirming, it’s a clear violation of what other Pagans feel is expected of them by their gods. That’s where Jason Mankey is on the issue.

As a Wiccan I do not practice animal sacrifice, nor would I ever consider such a thing. In the Charge of the Goddess, it’s all spelled out pretty clearly: ‘Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.’ If the Lady demanded sacrifice She would have said so, instead she said it was not required. If it was good enough for Gerald and Doreen then it’s good enough for me.

In addition to my Wiccan practice, I also participate in Hellenic Ritual from time to time.The Ancient Greeks sacrificed animals, like most ancient pagans, and they did so with reverence towards the gods and with a sense of practicality. People often sacrificed to the Greek gods in order to get a good meat dinner, and it was also rare (the practice, not how they cooked the meat). People were far more likely to leave the god Pan honey cakes and wine than they were to sacrifice a goat in his honor.

Should people be free to practice animal sacrifice in 2014? Of course. Eating and hunting are both legal practices, and there is a long tradition of animal sacrifice within many different pagan traditions. As long as the animals in question are being slaughtered humanely and their meat is being eaten, I don’t personally have a problem with it. In addition, if people are sacrificing animals, I hope it’s from a real place of devotion and not simply to ‘prove a point.’ If everyone’s intentions are honorable, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ To some degree we’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves.

Legal and cultural context

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

That said, many Pagans, such as David Salisbury, object to the practice on moral grounds, or because it may lead to connecting these religions with “Satanic panic”-style hysteria associated with the abduction and unwilling sacrifice of house pets. Others maintain that all life is sacred, and that taking any life is never acceptable. In his recent blog post, Salisbury concluded:

Animal sacrifice boils down to ego. Our human egos want us to think that taking a life in our own hands will impress our gods and show them that we’re willing to do big things to appease them. But we must get over ourselves. Animal sacrifice serves only to tell our minds that we’re more important than the majority of other living beings who we share this planet with.

Sannion

Sannion

Sannion is a Hellenic polytheist who, while is does not perform these rites himself, is an outspoken champion of the practice. He questions the notion that animal sacrifice is less ethical than consuming supermarket meat, or even a vegan lifestyle:

Unless you get all of your meat from local-sourced, free-range, organic farms who practice ethical slaughter you’ve got no room to object. Animals are tortured, raised in filth and never permitted to move about, pumped full of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics, shipped ridiculously long distances so that their meat can end up at your neighborhood supermarket or fast food chain. How is that preferable to what we’re doing? And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you do realize that you’re still responsible for the taking of life, right? Life that science is increasingly coming to recognize as sentient and capable of suffering. All you’re doing is prioritizing one form of life over another — a form of life, by the way, that unlike all other forms of life derives its nutrients from sun, soil and water, and therefore causes no harm to other living creatures. If you’re strictly approaching this from an ethical position, plants are the most innocent things on this planet and so should be spared from predation.

Anomalous Thracian was willing to tackle the question of perception in the overculture:

Whether a person supports or is uncomfortable with animal sacrifice, none of us wants to see the evangelical right come with pitchforks. I guarantee that in the list of ways to strategical prevent this, coming after our own with pitchforks is not a suitable answer.

If anyone on any side of this issue is serious about wanting to see peaceful, progressive, enlightened resolution take place, the issue needs to be framed as it is: a topic of prejudice against certain lawful and protected practices, which is definable as religious intolerance and discrimination. It is never acceptable to attempt to pathologize people whose cultures or religions call for the ethical slaughter and sanctification of animals. Instead we should as a movement be examining the pathology of intolerance, prejudice, and panic.

Thracian also raises the thorny question of racism as it has manifested in dialogue around animal sacrifice, a subject which River Devora addressed in her own piece on Polytheist.com about the practice:

I have heard the argument made that reconstructionist Polytheists who engage in ritual animal sacrifice are problematic, while those who are part of African Diasporic or Derived Traditions and African Traditional Religions get a ‘pass,’ as though somehow letting us ‘off the hook’ for our practice of animal sacrifice makes the speaker ‘enlightened’ or more ‘understanding’ of traditional religions.These kinds of arguments are racist and offensive. It is as though you are saying to us,’European traditions, and the (mostly) white people who practice them, should know better –- Europeans are supposed to be more enlightened.Traditions primarily being practiced by African, African American, and Latino folks can get a pass because we already know those folks are unenlightened savages.’ This is far more offensive than if you simply condemned the practice of animal sacrifice across the board.This may not be what you mean, but this is what we hear when you say it.

While animal sacrifice is legal and, in modern America, generally more humane than industrial slaughter, it evokes strong reactions in many Pagans and Heathens. We may never agree on whether or not animal sacrifice has a place in religious practice. However, the dialogue is opening up, as individuals carefully examine their own feelings toward sacrifice within their own belief structures and within their relationships with the gods.

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!

10585339_10152348396531365_1555763864_nYesterday was the funeral for slain teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Throughout the country, vigils were held in solidarity with Brown’s family. Among them was #HandsUpDC in Washington DC. Quote: Join us for a candlelight vigil as Michael Brown’s family lays him to peaceful rest. We’d like to stand in solidarity with #Ferguson and demand the de-escalation of the police and military.” A group of local Pagans took part in the event, carrying signs that said “Justice for the beloved dead.” Pagan author and activist David Salisbury, who lives and works in Washington DC, also organized an informal ritual at the vigil which “will invoke the justice goddesses: Libertas, Justica, Columbia, and Themis.” For more on Pagan responses to Ferguson, please see Crystal Blanton’s Wild Hunt post from this past Sunday

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ice-bucket-challenge-fb-user-profile-1There’s been a huge viral outpouring of support on the Internet for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which participants in the challenge are doused with ice water to help raise money and awareness for those living with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. At this point in the campaign an immense assortment of prominent individuals (including an assortment of non-human individuals) have participated, so it stands to reason that there have been Pagan who’ve accepted the challenge as well. Notable Pagans who’ve taken part include author and Pagan Unity Festival co-founder Tish Owen, Pagan children’s book author Kyrja Withers, Llewellyn Worldwide authors Deborah Blake and Melanie Marquis, and ADF Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas. Those are just the ones I could easily produce links for, I know there are more out there, so feel free to share them in the comments. As for myself, I prefer Patrick Stewart’s utterly sensible response. I’ve embedded the video featuring Archdruid Kirk Thomas below.

Covenant of the GoddessThis past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) one of the largest Witchcraft and Wiccan organizations in the United States, held their annual business meeting, known as the Grand Council. Our own Heather Greene will have more about the Grand Council and the accompanying public event Merry Meet on Wednesday, but I can report on one piece of news today: the organization has adopted a formal policy on environmental issues. Quote: “The CoG environmental statement was originally proposed and developed by longtime member and national CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien.) She said, ‘It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future. Having this official statement on behalf of the entire membership will be immensely helpful to those of us who work in interfaith arenas. I am proud to have it to share.'” You can read the entire policy statement, which includes a section on climate change, here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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