Archives For Dodie Graham McKay

Canadians in Print

Dodie Graham McKay —  September 20, 2014 — 7 Comments

For many pagans, books are the gateway to knowledge. They are our first teachers of magic and offer a new world of esoteric lore and knowledge. If you enter the home of just about any modern pagan you will no doubt find a bookshelf (or many bookshelves!) piled high with books written by English authors such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente or the Farrars. There will no doubt be more than a few by high profile American writers, names like Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits and Scott Cunningham or maybe the more contemporary Orion Foxwood or Christopher Penczack. Both Britain and the United States both have successful and high profile publishers of pagan books, Minnesota based Llewellyn Worldwide LTD. being easily one of the most prominent. But north of the border, up in Canada, a growing number of writers are finding their way into print and injecting a Canadian influence into the pagan publishing world. But does being from Canada influence pagan writing?

Kerr Cuhulain, Grand Master and founder of a Wiccan order of Knighthood called the Order of Paladins and author of several books including “Pagan Religions, a Diversity Training Guide “and “Full Contact Magick” had this to say about being Canadian:

Kerr Cuhulain

Kerr Cuhulain 

“I think that it’s given me the opportunity to stand outside of the US and UK Pagan communities and observe what they do. I’ve always been more interested in doing what works than doing what is traditional.”

Lady Sable Aradia, author of the newly published “The Witches Eight Paths to Power: A Complete Course in Magick & Witchcraft adds:

“I’m very proudly Canadian. We are products of our culture and environment, and I think that our particular style of understatement and ability to laugh at ourselves is one of my strengths as a writer. Being Canadian also puts me outside of a lot of the politics of North American Paganism, which allows me the luxury to comment on them from the position of an observer in many ways.”

But are Canadians really different from our American neighbours? Aside from spelling some words differently (yes, we spell it neighbours.) and pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as zed, not zee, Canadians are culturally different as well.

Brendan Myers, a prolific pagan Canadian writer, with more books under his belt than many people read in a year, had this to say about cultural differences between Canada and the US:

Dr. Brendan Myers

Dr. Brendan Myers

“… Canada is really a fringe country. We may be a rich, developed, industrialized nation, with the world’s second-biggest playground, but we’re not very populous, nor especially influential in world affairs. Standing in the shadow of our larger neighbour to the south, we are easily overlooked, or assumed to be culturally the same as that larger neighbour. Our history is not that of a conquering empire-builder, except perhaps by proxy of two of our founding nations, England and France. What is more, Canada arguably has no national mythology. One can easily point to other countries with big stories like “The American Dream”, or “The French Revolution”; these stories might be objectionable, they might have dark sides, and they may even be illusions, but they are definitely glamorous. We Canadians have no equivalent. A transcontinental railroad, a national public health care service, “peace, order, and good government”, and other “Canadian dreams” we’ve had over the centuries, don’t really deliver the same glamour. Ours is a wholesome but boring national brand. (Mind you, that might be okay.)

In that respect, as a Canadian writer, I find myself pulled in two directions. In one way, I want to write something that shows I come from a truly independent and unique nation, a distinct society (know what I mean?), and that we’re not just Americans with funny woolen hats. But in the other way, I want to write something that non-Canadians might still find interesting, and I worry that painting my stuff in red Maple leaves will turn people off.”

One of the biggest challenges for Canadian writers trying to get published is the lack of a big name publisher of pagan books in our own country. So how do these books make it to bookstore shelves? Response to this was varied between these three authors and all answers revolve around our close proximity of our neighbours to the south. Carving out our own distinct Canadian paganism is a tough one when so much of our culture, both pagan and mainstream, is overshadowed by the United States. So, is it hard to get published?

Sable:

“I would have to say not in my experience, actually. At least, not as long as you’re willing to deal with American publishers. The truth is that with such a big market just south of us, it’s very difficult for an independent Canadian arts scene to develop, and I would say that the Pagan market is more difficult still since it’s so small.”

Brendan:

“There are very few Canadian publishers who will carry a book about paganism in their catalogue. All the publishers I’ve ever worked with have been based in England or the USA. Publishers outside Canada often assume that no one outside of Canada will be interested in a Canadian perspective. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that writers in countries with larger populations, richer economies, and empires in their history, don’t need to worry about that. They benefit from a macro-economic and geo-political privilege, and a glamorous national mythology, which allows them to reach an international audience with a lot less effort.”

Kerr:

“I do not find it to be a problem at all. I’ve a large audience in the US, so it is pretty easy to find publishers for my works.”

As a former police officer/dispatcher and former Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon, an organization representing Neo-Pagan professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians), Kerr’s books reflect a Warrior spirit so often perceived from the outside of United States paganism through the work of groups like Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League or Order of the Pentacle.

Brendan’s books come from his academic background. Dr. Brendan Meyers earned his Ph.D in philosophy at the National University of Ireland, and now serves as professor of philosophy at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. His philosophy background informs his pagan writing. This theme of academia is also reflected by other Canadian writer/academics such as Shelley Rabinovich Ph.D (The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (with James Lewis, and ‘An Ye Harm None': Magical Ethics and Modern Morality (with Meredith Macdonald), and Sian Reid Ph.D (Between the Worlds: Readings in Contemporary Paganism)

What resources exist to promote sales and expose writers to new readers? Canada is a huge country; 9,984,670 square kilometers (3,855,101 square miles) stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, yet the population is just over 35 million, less than the state of California. Our pagan population is thinly and widely scattered. In this dispersion is a sense of camaraderie and support that is essential for our combined success:

Brendan:

“I get excellent support from the Canadian public, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve attended pagan events to promote my work in seven out of ten provinces now. The administration of the college where I work has supported my publishing efforts: even the Director General, my most senior manager, read Loneliness and Revelation.” 

Kerr:

“Most of the members of my Order of Paladins are Canadian. I just got back from teaching at PanFest in Edmonton. The support is there, I’m happy to say.”

Sable:

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“Well, my local community has certainly been supportive! And the shop owners I’ve contacted through Western Canada have generally welcomed me with open arms. There’s a strong East/West divide so I don’t think many people have heard of me on the other side of the country yet, but I think there’s a general “us Canucks gotta stick together” sentiment, and I know that the friends I made at the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal in 2010 have been making a great effort to spread the word. So, I would have to say that I feel very supported!”

Taking advantage of this support, Sable Aradia is about to embark on a book tour of western Canada. The tour will span four provinces, no small feat as it can take six to twelve hours to get from one city to another. Packed in her van will also be musical equipment as Sable is an accomplished singer and musician. She will also be doing house concerts to help supplement her travels. Her adventures started off close to home so far and she had this to say about how it is going:

“It’s off to a good start! I started in my hometown of Vernon, BC for the book launch and I sold out. The following weekend I went to Nelson, Castlegar, Enderby and Kelowna for World Goddess Day. This weekend I was at a Kelowna bookstore and a metaphysical store in Penticton (all towns in the province of British Columbia). Then at the end of the month I’m heading eastward.”

T. Scarlet Jory

T. Scarlet Jory

For books with very distinct regional flare, T.Scarlet Jory has released “Magical Blend: Book of Secrets (BOS)” and “Magical Blend: Book of Spells & Rituals (BOS) (Volume 2)”. These books celebrate landmark Le Melange Magique/The Magical Blend, a pagan shop in Montreal Quebec. This shop, which sadly has closed its doors, served customers in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. It was known for its selection of in-house made teas, bath salts, incense and more.

Scarlet reminisces: “When the store’s physical location closed and the reference books of shadows developed by all the staff suddenly were no longer available to the public, I felt it was important to compile them and print them. That way everyone can access them again. The knowledge is a collection of gems from dozens of experienced staff members who helped the community.”

One curious book, written in 1989 by Kevin Marron, a reporter from The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, “Witches, Pagans & Magic in the New Age” was the story of the people he met while investigating allegations of Satanic ritual abuse (remember the Satanic Panic folks? It happened in Canada as well!). While not a pagan himself, Marron provides a rare and sympathetic peek at the Canadian Pagan scene in the late 1980’s.

Many other voices have contributed to recording the story of Canadian Paganism. Some of the books may be harder to find, and unlikely to show up in foreign book or occult shops, but have value and interest to Pagans everywhere. The rise of e-readers and online shopping may put a Canadian book in your own collection soon.

Two weeks ago, I reported on the production and release of the film The WinniPagans by Dodie Graham McKay.  Shortly after that article was posted, Covenant of the Goddess’ North California Local Council (NCLC) offered to host a screening at PantheaCon.  The screening will be held in presidential suite 1054 on Sunday, February 17 at 10am.  Dodie will be on hand to field questions and take comments.

Last week I was fortunate enough to receive my very own copy for review. It wasn’t long after my trip to the mailbox that I was comfortably settled into to my seat, popcorn in hand, to watch the film.  In anticipation of the U.S. premiere of The WinniPagans, here is my review:

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Film Review: The WinniPagans

The twenty-five minute documentary is a gentle examination of Pagan life through the eyes of the WinniPagans.  Dodie takes us on a journey into their personal lives, their homes, their workplaces, and their social spaces.  On camera, the WinniPagans share stories, reflect on experiences and discuss the unique regional challenges that they face in Winnipeg.  The film feels like a sampling or an appetizer, if you will, to something much greater.  It gives us a peak behind a curtain into something that seems foreign but, yet, at the same time very familiar.

Two highlights of Dodie’s film are the lyrical pipe music of Glen Hoban and the poetry of Kate Bitney.   Hoban’s original pipe music decorates the entire film and fits neatly with the central soundtrack.  Because Hoban is member of the WinniPagan community, the use of his music gives the film a fuller authenticity.  I also enjoyed seeing Hoban circling the maypole while playing the pipes. The image is suggestive of Pan and lends a festive, lightheartedness to the scene.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban, and sound editor Norm Dugas

kate_photo

Kate Bitney

Similarly, poet Kate Bitney makes an appearance reading her poem “The Forest Hag” while standing on a snow-covered hill. The composition and the progression of this sequence are quietly beautiful offering a welcomed pause in the film’s narrative.  The winter landscape imagery complements Bitney’s poetry creating a deep feeling of stillness. It is like a contemplation, which Dodie enforces by superimposing a Goddess image on the sun. Visually speaking, Bitney, herself, fits perfectly into the sequence with her white beret and her flowing hair.  Her her own natural grace glows as she shares her poetry.  It’s an entrancing moment.      

Overall, I enjoyed the film.  I only had two minor concerns.  First, there were times when I wanted classic voice-over narration. Dodie uses the progression of interviews to move the narrative along. This is a common documentary device, one that keeps the audience very present in the film.  However, there were times that I longed for more detail that could have been provided by a narrator.

Secondly, I was very eager to learn about the WinniPagans’ unique world.  Unfortunately, the first third of the film focuses more on personal spiritual journeys.  The stories themselves were indeed interesting but I wanted more Winnipeg.  When Dodie does finally get to the community, she paints a very satisfying picture.

With that said, both of my complaints are a matter of viewer perspective.  The film was not intended for me – an American Pagan.  Dodie created a story for general Manitoba audiences.  The intended viewers most likely understood many of the visual cues that I missed.  They saw things that I didn’t, simply because of their perspective. Narration wasn’t necessary for them.

Winnipeg in Winter Courtesy of Flickr's noricum

Winnipeg in Winter
Courtesy of Flickr’s noricum

In the same vein, Dodie had to contextualize the film for her non-Pagan audiences through some basic explanations of Wicca and Witchcraft.  As a Pagan, I didn’t need these explanations so I wanted to move on.  But, Dodie did what good filmmakers do.  She sculpted her story to fit her audience and she did so effectively as proven by the positive viewer responses in Winnipeg.

The WinniPagans ends with Dodie, the crew, and the volunteers celebrating a traditional Winnipeg Beltane.  Despite the overcast skies and chill in the air, the festivities go on.  The shots vary from interviews, to children, to dancing and to the erecting of the maypole.  Surprisingly, Dodie cut in some behind-the-scenes footage of her crew rigging, quite possibly, the first ever “MayPole Cam.”

The Beltane sequence is comprised of a very honest series of moments that juxtapose the structured interviews and landscape photography.  This festive ending is a real tribute to the camaraderie and good-natured fun present in this community.  Dodie continues the fun well into the credits.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's ComeIlMare

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s ComeIlMare

The Beltane ending really brought the film home for me.  As the WinniPagans danced a familiar dance and used familiar words, I joined them in celebration.  As American viewers, we expect this film to take us on a journey somewhere truly unique.  And it does, but at the same time, we find commonalities that allow us to strongly identify with the WinniPagans despite regional differences.  “Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.”

The WinniPagans is an insightful and entertaining documentary with well-spoken interviews and beautiful imagery.  I urge everyone to see this film whether at PantheaCon, next weekend, or at future screenings.  Bravo to Dodie for demonstrating how we can make professional-quality and meaningful indie films about ourselves.  Through films like this, we can introduce new visual definitions of words like “Witch” to general film language. We can also use such films in interfaith work and intrafaith education. The possibilities are endless.  I hope to see more from Dodie in the future.

For those who missed it, here’s the trailer:

 

Correction: Dodie just informed me that her crew was not fashioning the “Maypole Cam” to the pole in the Beltane sequence.  They were tying the ribbons.  However, the video equipment is visible on top so I thought that is what was going on.  Ribbons or Camera… it all worked.

 

Winnipeg is a city of 691,800 people nestled in the Southern portion of Manitoba, Canada.  It is the capital of this central providence and the 8th largest metropolis in the country. On the map, Winnipeg is about 90 miles north of the U.S. border and 650 miles NW of Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the tourism industry, Winnipeg calls itself a “little big city” and the “cultural cradle of Canada.”

Winnipeg

City of Winnipeg
Photo Credit: donnieslarue, Flickr

Within all its hustle and bustle, Winnipeg is home to a group of people who call themselves the WinniPagans. It’s a catchy term; the origins of which are unknown. However, it is used endearingly to refer to a small, tightly-knit community of approximately 600 Pagans who live in and around Winnipeg. In 2012, these WinniPagans became the subject of a short documentary that was written, produced and directed by one of their own, Dodie Graham McKay.

Dodie, a native of Winnipeg, is an indie filmmaker who found a love of filmmaking through unexpected circumstance. In 2005, after returning from living in England, Dodie needed a job – any job.  With a friend’s help, she was hired as a production coordinator in a local documentary film office. From there she learned filmmaking skills which eventually led to her co-directing the documentary-short, “West Central: A View From Here” with her husband, Jeff McKay.

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

“WinniPagans” is Dodie’s first solo “flight.”  She recalls:

My high school English teacher used to say “Write about something you love”. When I wanted to make my first film I had to think about what I love that would be the subject for my project. My pagan community was the first and foremost thing I could think of.  

The 25-minute documentary explores this thriving Pagan community that resides in Canada’s cultural cradle. Dodie remarks:

“I really felt quite strongly that this community was due for some sort of document to mark the progress we have made. Many of the folks in the film have been active since our community went public in the mid to late 1980s and I wanted to capture some of these stories before they are forgotten.”

In late 2011 Dodie took her idea to MTS, a local telecom company that finances and airs indie films about Manitoba that are produced by local filmmakers. As explained by Craig Lawrence of MTS’ communication department:

MTS TV (Manitoba Telecom Service) supports community producers through Local Expression funding as a condition of our license as a broadcast distribution undertaking (BDU) in Canada… “Stories from Home” programming is quite varied and often represents a personal connection between the filmmaker and the subject, resulting in programming that – like The WinniPagans – can offer glimpses into different ways of life. 

Because of her experience, Dodie had a golden opportunity to pitch “WinniPagans” to Cam Bennett, executive director of “Stories from Home.”  He readily accepted the project and production began on January 21, 2012.

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The film’s small budget consisted of a crew of four with other on-and-off camera volunteers from within the Pagan community.  Production lasted through April 29th with three months of post-production.  In September of 2012, Dodie delivered the final edited product to MTS.  She recalls:

I was so excited that MTS liked the show and accepted it as it was. They even gave us some cash to rent the local art house cinema for a premiere screening. The executive producer, Cam Bennett, asked me if there was a special Pagan holiday coming up. At that point Samhain was the next big date so he offered to make that the broadcast premiere.”

winnipeg cinemathequeOn Monday October 29th, the film premiered at the Cinematheque Art House. Before the actual screening, musician Glen Hoban performed and Kate Bitney read from her book of poetry entitled “Firewalk.”  Then, Cam Bennett stood up to offer some words about the film and to introduce Dodie.

“I was a bundle of nerves the night of the premiere. Just before the doors opened I went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and then the magnitude of what I had done hit me full force – who did I think I was making a film about my own community? I live here and these are my own people, the people I care about, my friends and fellow pagans. My heart was in my mouth as I went out to make my speech and introduce the film, I was so nervous! As the film was playing I sat in the back of the cinema and listened to the 80 or so viewers as they laughed at the funny parts and clapped when they saw familiar faces, it was great! Nobody chucked rotten fruit or stormed out! The response was terrific. Folks seem to be appreciating the spirit of the thing and enjoy the way we are portrayed.”

After the screening, many of the viewers thanked Cam Bennett for his support and in doing so caught him completely off-guard.  Like so many Pagan communities, the WinniPagans rarely have the opportunity to see themselves, or any Pagan, visually portrayed without sensationalized imagery or stereotypes. Even when such a documentary is made, it is rarely funded and openly supported by a mainstream corporation. Cam Bennett didn’t expect the profound level of appreciation that he and MTS would receive.

Since November 3, 2012, “WinniPagans” has been airing on the MTS’ “Stories from Home” series. The film has also been screened in Southern Ontario and in Montreal.  Dodie’s visual story documenting the lives of “her people” has now touched Pagans across Canada’s wide expanse.   She said, “It was exciting to see that you didn’t have to be from Winnipeg to really get something out of the story.”

Why has the story been warmly received?  She attributes its success to some of the intangibles inherent in film production. When a Pagan filmmaker creates a film about his or her own Pagan community, the main production elements (visuals, narrative emphasis and pacing) will be different than when a non-Pagan (or Hollywood) produces the same film. The goal is different.  The perspective is different.  The entire feeling left in the viewers lap will, as a result, be different.

Dodie made a film about what she sees everyday; not what people want to see.  The film is a slice of life documentary – a true “reality show,” if you will.  In this way, it provides a unique opportunity for Pagan viewers to hypothetically cross the threshold of the silver screen and be themselves.  And, it offers the world a chance to see real Witches – minus the glamour of a Hollywood back lot.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban,
and sound editor Norm Dugas

What’s next for Dodie?  She is currently working on her second film for MTS about a long-time local social activist.  After that, she hopes to expand the “WinniPagan” project into a longer piece about Canadian Pagans, in general.  She has already been offered support from a number of Pagan communities across the country.

Want to see the film?  At this time, “WinniPagans” is only available to MTS’ customers through the on-demand service. However, she will be holding screenings at Paganicon in Minneapolis in March and at Gaia Gathering in Gatineau Quebec in May.  Not attending either event? Dodie will be selling the film online starting in April. All profits from the sale will be donated to a scholarship fund that offsets travel expenses to Gaia Gathering. To keep up with Dodie and the film’s happenings, you can follow the “WinniPagans” FaceBook fan page.

NOTE:  I was not able to view the film in its entirety before this post. Due to an unexpected blizzard in Winnipeg, mail has been delayed. However, after I receive a copy, I will post a complete film review and update.