Archives For Dogwood Local Council

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.

green-faiths-3atrans

Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “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.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.

 

*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

For many Pagans autumn is a time for endings and beginnings. The seasonal energies influence not only our spiritual work but they also bleed into our mundane experience both consciously and unconsciously. Now is the time to say goodbye to old projects, bask in the revelry of accomplishments and look towards the possibilities in tomorrow.

Ginger Wood

Virginia Chandler

For Ginger Wood, this particular Samhain has been all of these things and more. As fantasy fiction writer Virginia Chandler, she has reached another exciting apex as she celebrates the release of her latest book, The Devil’s Treasure. From that point, Ginger can see the tops of many other mountains, some she’s climbed and others she has yet to summit. In addition, Ginger finds herself sitting at a proverbial base camp saying goodbye to an incredible two-year adventure as the National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess (CoG).

Due to her busy schedule, it has been very difficult to catch up with her. This week I finally had that opportunity and we talked about her writing, her spiritual path, Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and her future.

Heather:  Thanks for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to talk to me.  First, tell me about this new book called The Devil’s Treasure. Can you give us idea of what it’s about?  

Ginger:  I spent most of my childhood in Charleston, South Carolina where I heard many tales about Blackbeard and the East Coast pirates. Blackbeard’s lost treasure and his blockade of Charleston Harbor in 1718 is the kernels of this tale.

H: What does the title mean?

G: There’s a famous quote by Blackbeard wherein he answers the question of where is his treasure?  He allegedly responded, “Only the devil and I know the whereabouts of my treasure, and the one of us who lives the longest should take it all.”  So, I took that quote and built the tale around the “devil” being a metaphor for someone that he actually knew.

H: Your first two books focused on land-based, medieval mythology.  The Last Dragon of the North, co-written with your brother, was a fictional tale about dragon hunting.  The Green Knight’s Apprentice was based on Arthurian myths.  Why did you move away from that world?  

bookcoverG: I love a good mystery and I’m sort of a geek when it comes to focusing in on something. So when I was having a conversation with my friend John Matthews…about Blackbeard’s blockade of Charleston Harbor in 1718, my theory of what Blackbeard’s real motivation was for that event birthed the idea of a new book. So I started really digging into Blackbeard’s legend and his lost treasure with the goal of … finding out what happened to his treasure and why he blockaded Charleston Harbor for just the delivery of a medicine chest. 

I had originally really wanted to write a Pirate novel about the infamous “Money Pit” of Oak Island on Nova Scotia, but I could not formulate a decent tale with the facts that I kept getting from my research on that topic. Yet the more that I researched Blackbeard and the “Golden Age of Pirates”, the more clearly I saw a tale unfolding.

Heather:  Why Part 1 and Part 2? 

G:  This is not a quick tale and since it’s more like a puzzle….I’ve had to write it with much patience, making sure that the pieces all fit… The reader will need patience as well to follow the clues so to speak. This first volume is about 130 pages and has Parts I and II which are “The Devil’s Triangle” and “The Devil’s Box.”  Part I is an introduction to the two main characters and sets up the why of quite a few of the later plot elements that act as catalysts for the characters to do what they do later in their lives.  Part II tosses a few twists and wrenches into the tale and opens the door for the devil to begin influencing not only the Blackbeard character but others as well.

Remember the “devil” in my tale is not the Christian Satan, but a metaphor as I see it used by Blackbeard in his famous quote.

H: How much do you incorporate your Pagan spirituality into your novels?  

G: The Green Knight’s Apprentice is 100% Pagan-influenced with the tale traveling the 8 Sabbats that most Pagans celebrate throughout the year, me making prayers and offerings to the Arthurian archetypes as I wrote it and formal meditations asking my Arthurian Guides how They wanted the tale to be told.  The Last Dragon of the North is simply an adventure tale with no spiritual overtones at all; in fact, it was purposely written devoid of any magic or wizards as we … wanted to tell a gritty, “how would you really kill a dragon” story. For this Pirate series, The Devil’s Treasure, it may not be Pagan-focused, but I have certainly added a few occult, as in mystery, elements to the plot. A new personal Muse has come to me in the form of a Mermaid as I write it. She… keeps me on-track and every now and again taps me on the shoulder to put in her two pence worth.

GreenKnight Cover GraphicH: Muses? So your spirituality directly affects your writing process?

G: Indeed, I have Muses that … bring potential stories to my attention, offer advice and direction as I create, and critique, in their own manner, the words that I write. My spirituality affects everything that I do to some degree and when it comes to expressing a vision or image with words on a page, I often rely very heavily upon my Guides to lend me a helping hand.

H: Let’s talk Paganism. You are a High Priestess of GryphonSong Clan in Atlanta.  What is your specific path?  

G: Wow, okay I’m going to try and be succinct here without seeming to be intentionally aloof and mysterious. My path is very much that of a modern Gnostic or modern Mystic – I seek Knowledge and Enlightenment. My personal path is very heavily influenced by the metaphorical Grail Quest, and I most closely follow the Arthurian mythos for that Journey. When it comes to formal worship, GryphonSong Clan celebrates both Esbats and the 8 Sabbats; our Esbats are very Witchy wherein we cast a circle and do groovy Witch things while our Sabbats are Druidic and are based on the Keltrian Tradition. I’m a member of the Henge of Keltria, a Druidic Tradition, and I have studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD)

I am an Arthurian Priestess at heart, a Seeker of the Grail, and I hope to one day see the fabled city of Sarras.

H: You mentioned earlier that you are a born-and-raised Southerner. In your experience, what is the reality for Pagans in the so-called Bible Belt?  

G: The reality is that we have a gajillion Christian churches.  But based on conversations that I’ve had with witches from around the country, the prejudices that Southern witches experience are not unique.  I do think that perhaps Southern Pagans might feel a bit more persecuted, and the Southern Christians seem to be very bold and vocal with their disapproval of anything that’s not mainstream Christianity… but at least in Atlanta, the spiritual community has become very diverse…

H: Do you feel the Southern Pagan community here is different from others around the country? Are their regional difference in Pagan practice?

G: Based on my experiences, we’re not that different from other Pagan communities around the country. We come together when necessary…we love a good festival….I’ve attended rituals with Pagans from many US regions and the chants, songs and holidays are all fairly synonymous and cohesive. The biggest differences in worship and practice that I’ve encountered have been when I’ve had the opportunity to attend rituals with my Pagan kin from across the Pond (UK).  Those rituals have been very much like Mystery Plays and more Druidic in nature. The Brits don’t really go for the “Lord” and “Lady” titles and the Witchy bling such as robes, necklaces, rings.

Turner Family Support Team

2011 LLL/CoG Turner Family Support Team (from left to right): Rev. Charissa Iskiwitch, Stephanie Turner, Rev. Ginger Wood, Lisa Palmer, and Rev. Michelle Boshears

H: Many of those observations have come through your work with the national organization Covenant of the Goddess.  Were these past two years the first time you served on its National Board?

G: [Previously] I had only served as an assistant to the National First Officer in the capacity of NetCo or email list manager. This was my first officer position on the national level. I’ve served in every office on the local level for Dogwood Local Council.

H: Looking back at the two years, what are some of the highlights?  What were some of the more difficult parts of the jobs?

G: Serving such a large, diverse, and consensus-based organization has been extremely rewarding and, at times, incredibly frustrating. The high points were finding the common ground where we could all as a membership come to consensus on matters of import to CoG including formulating official statements from CoG in support of the Parliament of World Religions, Indigenous Peoples, and the Doctrine of Discovery; and partnering with Selena Fox and Circle Sanctuary on numerous issues …Keeping tabs on slippery issues such as the inmate in Massachusetts who claims to be a Wiccan and asked for a legal name change was both nerve wracking and intense. All in all my tenure was a Journey of Service to Coventina and my CoGKin that was a huge learning experience for me and, I believe, helped me to grow as a Priestess and Witch.

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

H: While it helped you grow, the demanding job can also take a personal toll.  Why bother?

G: Serving CoG, or any formal organization of Pagans …is going to be and is HARD work. But it is Service to the Goddess, hopefully given in perfect love and perfect trust, and for me, was an essential part of my Service as a 3rd Degree Priestess. Personally it was a goal of mine to do this for the Goddess, in CoG’s case, the face of Coventina. I had and still have a shrine to Coventina in my house, and I offered many prayers to Her during these two years. On a larger scale, I do think it’s important for the formal organizations to not only continue what they started 20 or 30 years ago, but to keep moving forward and address the old and new issues that Pagans face as a whole.

H: In your opinion, where should CoG, as a Pagan organization, being moving to? What do you see as CoG’s future, purpose and direction?  

G: CoG is a ship, so to speak, for its members and friends / allies to use when a ship is needed. There are times when Pagans or Goddess Worshippers need a joining of the tribes to weather, face, and sometimes even defeat issues that inhibit our right to worship. Those are hard battles, painful ones that are really tough to fight on your own. CoG and other organizations such as Circle Sanctuary have fought many of those battles for Pagans … will continue to address these types of issues. It is my hope that CoG will continue to be a grass roots driven entity that works from the bottom up; that we will continue to support the positive and very important Interfaith and Intrafaith work that we do worldwide, and that when the battles come at us, we will rally and stand shoulder-to-shoulder for our right to worship.

H: Pagan ships and Pirate ships.  I am sensing a theme. [laugh] Now that you are done as National First Officer and your current book is nearing its release, What is your next big project?

9781554048953_p0_v1_s260x420G: CoG’s 2014 annual meeting, known as Grand Council and Merry Meet, will be held in Atlanta. I am very involved in that business. That project will keep me busy until next August 2014 for sure.

I am working on Parts III and IV of The Devil’s Treasure series right now, which are called “Devil’s Island” and “The Devil and Edward Teach” to be released in March 2014. Part V, “The Devil’s Treasure”, is the finale of the series and will be released in the summer of 2014.

I am very blessed to have several projects that have me collaborating with some of my very favorite people and very favorite artists.  I’ve got a graphic novel coming out in late 2014 called Ristro that is a science fiction tale I wrote.  The artist is my longtime friend and very talented artist, Garret Izumi…. The prequel to Dragon is in the works, The Northern Band, set for late 2014, and the sequel, A Nest of Greens, will come after that.  The cover for The Northern Band is being created by another good friend and talented artist, David Harper. I’m working with John Matthews on a project that will be an Oracle based on the Anglo Saxon concept of Fate… and we hope to get that released in 2015… I’m most excited about the collaborations with Garret, David, and John, as I consider those partnerships to be gifts from the Gods that I will cherish on a very deep and personal level.

H:  Thank you for your sharing your time and thoughts with The Wild Hunt readers. More importantly  thank you for devoting your energy and expertise to CoG and greater Pagan community.  On a personal note, it was an honor to serve with you on the CoG National Board and a phenomenal learning experience. One last thing, where can readers find your books?

G: All Virginia Chandler novels are available through Amazon in paperback and digital formats. Thank You. 

While Ginger Wood’s tenure as CoG’s First Officer will end on October 31st,  Kathy Lezon will take office the following day. In the near future, I will be publishing a personal interview with Kathy, CoG’s new First Officer.  We’ll hear about her own hopes for the future of CoG as well as Pagan life in the Sunshine State and her experiences working with Lady Liberty League on Florida’s many Civil Rights cases this past year.

 

Happy Sunday! Here are few quick updates on stories that I’ve covered here previously at The Wild Hunt.

Sacred Land Sale Stopped: A week ago I reported on Lakota, Dakota and Nakota efforts to purchase the land known as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that was being sold by its owners. This was no ordinary piece of land, as one Native commentator put it:Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray.”  However, after a flurry of media scrutiny, and an urging for consultations from the United Nations, the land was withdrawn from auction with no comment or reason given.

“Iowa-based Brock Auction Co. planned to auction five tracts of land owned by Leonard and Margaret Reynolds on Saturday. But a message on the auction house’s website Thursday said it has been canceled at the land owners’ direction. The auction house and Margaret Reynolds declined to comment. Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation consider the site key to their creation story and are trying to purchase it because they fear new owners would develop the land, which they call Pe’ Sla. The property, which spans about 1,942 acres of pristine prairie grass, is the only sacred site on private land currently outside Sioux control.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction, and gives more time for tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to raise funds should the land eventually go up for auction. Let’s hope the request of James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is heard and a consultation with tribal nations, local, and federal government officials can take place to find a way forward so that this sacred site isn’t developed.

An Analysis of the Maetrum of Cybele Case: Earlier this month I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”) doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“Is this, as some claim, a case of deep discrimination? On its face, it does not appear to be so. It appears to be a stand-up analysis of facts presented at trial. Were these all the facts presented at trial? One would have to review all the exhibits accepted into evidence and read the transcript of all the testimony in order to be sure. Wil this case be appealed? That is yet to be seen. What will the fate of the Matreum be if it is appealed? Appellate courts do not like to second-guess the fact finding entity (whether it be a judge or a jury) on appeal. The appellate court will be entitled to review the entire record, however, and not just the facts which Judge Platkin found to be determinative. This fight may not be over.”

I don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.” The real question will be if the Maetreum can afford to take this fight to the next level. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted of further developments.

A Dogwood Blooms at COG’s Grand Council: About a week ago I wrote my analysis of Wiccan/Witchcraft organization Covenant of Goddess (COG), having just returned from their annual Grand Council. However, while I managed to say quite a bit in my piece, there was lot I didn’t include. Most memorable was a brief audio interview with several members of the Dogwood Local Council, which covers Georgia and Alabama. A truly vital example of how local councils work within their community, I would like to share that audio with you.

You can download the file, here. It’s only twelve minutes long, and there’s some background noise, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom, history, and good conversation packed into it. I hope you’ll check it out.

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

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

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

Yesterday, just hours after I posted an update on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school, another press release was sent out that seems to point to an agreement between Carroll County School District, the Turner family, and coalition of Pagan advocacy groups.

Here’s the full press release:

Statement from Bowdon Elementary School, Carroll County School District, and members of the Turner Family Support Task Force as represented by Lady Liberty League, North Georgia Solitaries, Covenant of the Goddess, Dogwood Local Council, and Circle Sanctuary:

The Turner Family, Task Force, and School District want Bowdon School to be a positive, supportive environment which fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students.

With education, cooperation, and open dialogue, all things are possible.

At times, a lack of life experience and/or other circumstances can make it difficult to perceive how words and actions might cause offense or upset. The parties involved acknowledge that words and deeds can be hurtful even without the intent of making them so.

In an effort to reach a positive and collaborative resolution to recent events, an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass which will set the stage for future education for school staff, students, and parents on the topic of equality and respect for all students and families in the Carroll County School System.

First, a sincere apology for recent events and misunderstandings has been given by School Administration and accepted by the family.

Second, the Bowdon Elementary School guidance Counselor will educate staff and students about honoring and accepting the differences that make us individuals.

Third, procedures have been put in place to ensure classroom activities don’t alienate students. As part of this, the administration and teachers will have yearly training about the District’s Code of Ethics and the responsibilities of each staff member to preserve the integrity of every students’ rights.

We appreciate the hard work and open dialogue of all the parties involved to create this positive resolution. The Turner children will return to school. The Carroll County School District will continue to strive to be a place that fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students regardless of religion, race, national origin, gender or disability.

So it looks like this issue has been largely settled, aside from implementation of these new agreements concerning education on “honoring and accepting” religious differences. Stephanie Turner, mother of Christopher, appeared on the Internet radio show Pagan Warrior Radio last night, and thanked the Pagan community for all the support she and her family has received during this ordeal. Here’s hoping that this incident will act as a message to schools, teachers, and administrators that the rights of religious minorities in public schools are to be taken seriously, and that the Pagan community is more than willing to come together in order to protect our constitutional rights.

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. […] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. “What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

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

In my news roundup on December 5th, I noted an Atlanta Independent Media Center story on difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

“Christopher’s teacher, Mrs. Ross, pulled him out of class and proceeded to drill him about Paganism, ending the conversation with “Paganism is not a religion.” Remember, this is an 11 year old student, with no parent present while being harassed about his religion by someone who is suppose to be an educator.”

Since that report word has quickly spread through social media networks, with many contacting school officials to complain. Now, an official joint statement has been sent out by the North Georgia Solitaries, Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, Lady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary.

Turner Family Support

Statement from NGS, CoG, DLC, LLL, Circle Sanctuary:

After concerns spread about some problems with accommodating Pagan students needs at Bowdon Elementary School (BES), there was an overwhelming show of community support for the Turner family of Carroll County in western Georgia, USA. Many local Pagans and associated organizations reached out to assist the Turners by providing emotional support and offering practical advice. The Turners have been deeply touched by this out-pouring of spirit and wish to express their sincerest gratitude.

In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.

Currently, Carroll County Schools, led by the assistant superintendent, has expressed an active interest in resolving the current tensions and is planning to meet with Ms. Turner. The family and the Task Force are requesting that those with concerns about their situation do not directly contact the school or its employees. It is important that everyone involved have the maximum space needed to focus on resolving this conflict in a positive way. However, all concerned individuals are welcome to show theirsupport for the Turners through the Turner Family Support Facebook fan page or through the simple use of prayers and energy toward a peaceful resolution and healing.

Please direct all media questions to pio@dogwoodlc.org.

Hopefully, if all goes well, this matter can be resolved outside of the courtroom, and new connections and relationships can be formed that will benefit other Pagan families in the area. Again, these organizations and the Turner family are requesting individuals stop contacting school officials as these talks and negotiations happen. All expressions of support should be posted at the official Facebook page. I wish the Turners and the coalition of local and national Pagan organizations luck in resolving this matter in a way that benefits all involved.

Yesterday I profiled a controversial new policy in Bay Minette, Alabama that would offer non-violent criminals a choice: jail time or attendance at a local (Christian) church for one year. Aside from the obvious constitutional issues this program poses is the fact that there are no options available for religious minorities.

“Some critics say the program definitely crosses the line between church and state, with some minority religious groups shut out of participation because few mosques or synagogues exist in the area. And atheists would have no option, Rowland said, but to pick another alternative sentencing program.”

Hoping to get a local/regional perspective on this, I contacted the Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG), which serves Witches and Wiccans in Georgia and Alabama. They sent this official statement:

At the height of Pagan Pride “season” during which we publically celebrate our faith, Dogwood Local Council, an affiliate of Covenant of the Goddess, has learned of a disturbing new program right in our backyard. In the town of Bay Minette, Alabama, a small city of 8,000 residents just north of Mobile, the Police Department is sponsoring a new program that offers an alternative to jail. The program, which came out of a public community-wide meeting held at the Abundant Life Church, is called Operation Restore Our Community or R.O.C. It allows non-violent, first-time offenders to choose jail or a year of attending Church services.

At this time, the DLC board is pleased to see a very public national out-cry. And, we fully support the current actions taken by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Both have directly contacted the Bay Minette Police demanding that the program be eliminated due to its unconstitutionality and violation of the First Amendment. Due to their intervention and the accompanying media pressure, the ROC program, originally slated to begin September 26, has been delayed until October 11th. At this time, the City is having the program fully reviewed by local Courts for legality issues.

The Dogwood Local Council board will be watching the outcome of the October 11th court ruling. We will seek clarification on the language used in the final ruling to ascertain whether or not Pagan criminals are afforded an equivalent alternative to jail time as local Christian offenders. If the Courts do, in fact, allow the program to begin, we will ask the Bay Minette Police, on behalf of the pagans of Bay Minette and North Baldwin County, to clarify how a Pagan offender can be included in this progressive program. In other words, can a Pagan Church (Temple, Grove, Coven) supervise the rehabilitation of such a non- violent criminal? Furthermore, this question can be applied to any non-Christian violator because currently the Program’s wording is limited to Christian language.

We support progressive programs that offer second chances and rehabilitation. We understand the need for a reduced jail costs and over-crowding. We know that small towns in our region derive much of their community from Christian-based Church life. However, most importantly, we also support the secular law of this country which, states:

“Alabama State Constitution (1901): Article Three, Religious freedom. –“…. that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship…”

Therefore, we cannot support a program in our backyard, or anywhere in our country, that does not afford everyone, no matter of religious faith, to participate in full. Just as we all deserve a second-chance at the proverbial “good life,” we all deserve the opportunity to do so on our own spiritual path or none at all.

Bay Minette, we are watching.

In addition, several Dogwood Local Council members weighed in on what was happening in their “backyard.”

“Our forefathers and foremothers fought to prevent this from being the norm in their time and braveAmericans have been fighting to sustain this freedom for over 200 years. My religious community isastounded that the newest version of this old trick has found another expression. Even if our faith hadseveral local establishments for a Pagan “offender” to attend in this program, it would still be a violationof church and state. One’s attendance at any kind of religious service should be a joyful matter ofindividual consciousness and never a requirement of government.” Lady Magdalena

“Where’s the evidence that this would .. work? Anything that tax dollars are used on should be testedand found to be at least better than what we already do. Has there been a pilot study that usingchurches as probation officers is an effective intervention? I bet not. If they did they would likely findthat like all other faith-based interventions, the evidence for effectiveness is lacking. Putting aside allemotion, and all points regarding the flagrant disregard for our constitution, I don’t want my tax dollarsspent on a program that is probably ineffective at reducing crime rates and potentially damaging to theminds and spirits of youth.”Lady Emrys

“The other part of this that jumped out at me was the double standard. We read in blogs and hear onthe news channels how certain Muslim groups are trying to implement Shiria Law in American courtsand that the police, for example, in Dearborn, MI and in NJ are enforcing laws per Shiria standards. Howis what Bay Minette, AL is attempting to do any different? They are both wrong and unconstitutionaland should not be allowed to pursue their agenda. It amazes me how the First Amendment comes andgoes out of so many American’s awareness when it becomes convenient to their cause.” – Lady Mehurt

You can read more reactions, here. I’ll be sharing additional regional Pagan reactions as they become available to me. What’s clear is that should the policy somehow survive the initial legal challenges, they’ll soon have to deal with the accommodation of Pagan religions.

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

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

On this, the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C., I feel I have little that I can personally add to what has already been said, and what will no doubt be said today. I’ve mentioned before that 9/11 acted as a catalyst in my life, that it drove me towards what is now The Wild Hunt, urging me to stop sitting on the sidelines of my faith community and become an active participant. Over the years I have collected Pagan responses to 9/11, from the political, to the magical, to the deeply personal. This year, rather than explore or opine on a personal level, I will simply share some of the thoughts, remembrances, and initiatives generated this year from within the modern Pagan community.

9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York.

  • At PNC-Minnesota Cara Schulz shares some deeply personal thoughts on 9/11, telling of how she lost a friend that day, and asks others to share their thoughts, prayers, and stories from that time. Schulz says that 9/11 “is seared into our DNA.  Most of us, after ten years, are able to look past the events of that day and live normal lives.  Others are still crippled by grief.”
  • Circle Sanctuary has created a Facebook page called “Pagans Healing Remembering 9/11.” Its purpose: “Pagans of many paths sharing 9/11 healing & memorial rites, experiences, reflections, plus tributes to Pagans who were killed, wounded, impacted by the September 11, 2001 attacks, rescue, recovery on that date & in the time since. Also a place for Pagans to share visions of hope, strength, renewal, peace, & visions of working together with those of many paths for a better world.”
  • In addition, Circle Sanctuary will be holding a “Healing From September 11th” ritual on September 20th at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve near Barneveld, Wisconsin. This ritual is free and open to the public.
  • Outgoing COG First Officer Peter Dybing, who is also works as a firefighter and EMT, shares his perspective of 9/11. Dybing says he has “spent much time contemplating their sacrifice and am greatly concerned that the memory of their honorable actions is being distorted to support an American obsession with security that leans toward paranoia.”
  • The Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess has launched a special page for “13 Magickal Days of Remembrances” for 9/11.
  • At their Facebook page, ADF Archdruid Kirk Thomas shares a prayer for 9/11“Our hearts sing out to the Sacred Dead, who dwell within Your great halls. Grant us, we pray, the wisdom to look deep within ourselves, to see the truth of our lives, that every day we spend in the Midworld may be a blessing unto ourselves, each other, and to the Earth our Mother. Let us not live in blindness, but open our eyes to Your mysteries, that we may revel in every dancing moment. And when our time comes, as it will, let us take that last journey with the knowledge that we have lived full, generous, and pious lives. So be it!”
  • New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, one of two openly Pagan/Heathen elected officials in the United States, appears in the new documentary “9/11: Reflections Then and Now.” Halloran lost his cousin, Lt. Vincent Halloran, that day, and nearly lost his brother, Patrick. At a special screening of the film, Halloran said that “one of the most important things to remember is almost every New Yorker was touched by this tragedy, a 9/11 family in New York is not a unique thing.”
  • Patheos Pagan Portal manager Star Foster shares her own thoughts and remembrances of that day, exploring theodicy within the context of modern Paganism. “Grappling with why our Gods allowed 9/11 to happen, allow any tragedy to happen, is key to our understanding of the event.”
  • Also at Patheos, T. Thorn Coyle writes about reconciliation and 9/11. “We need to reconcile with one another. To do so requires a courage sometimes barely imaginable, and yet we see examples of it every day. We see it each time a firefighter runs toward a burning building. What will we do next time we are on fire?”

My thoughts and prayers are with you all. Please feel free to share your own remembrances, or links to other Pagan expressions on this day.