Archives For Don Frew

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.

Here are some quick updates on stories previously reported on at The Wild Hunt.

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross: Alleged murderer Frazier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller), an avowed white supremacist, currently held on murder and hate crime charges after reportedly opening fire on two Jewish community centers, was tied to Odinism earlier this week by CNN’s Belief Blog (despite citing a contradictory source). Since then, that reporting has been worked into official CNN newswire reports, and repeated by tabloids like the New York Daily News. However, other outlets, like Time Magazine, have sources that call Cross a “good Christian.” While the alleged killer’s true religious orientation remains murky, what is clear is that this has shone a light on the issue of racism within Pagan and Heathen faiths. Since I first reported, Heathen Joshua Rood wrote a guest column for CNN on Heathenism’s battle with white supremacists, Alyxander Folmer at Patheos.com (also a Heathen) writes about the work of Heathens United Against Racism, including a fundraiser for victims of the Kansas City shooting that has raised over $2,500 dollars so far, Karl E.H. Seigfried at the Norse Mythology Facebook page pokes holes in the theory that the Nazis were Odin-worshippers, and Beth Lynch writes about the nature of Odin at Witches & Pagans Magazine. Quote: “Odin is a god of many, many things: wisdom, inspiration, exploration, shamanism, prophecy, kingship, rune magic, language and expression, expanding and altering consciousness, creativity, death, blood magic, self-sacrifice, and yes, even warfare, savagery and bloodshed at times.  But do you know one thing He does not stand for?  Racial hate crimes.” This issue seems to have galvanized anti-racism voices within modern Heathenry, and will perhaps lead to a new level of engagement with the mainstream media on these often misunderstood faiths.

U.S.Helen Ukpabio: I’ve written several times about the infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio, whose witch-hunting ministry has generated a lot of controversy both inside and outside of Nigeria. Now, activists inside the UK are working to get her banned from traveling to that country after a recent visit. Quote: “In the letter, the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) cite the cases of Victoria Climbié and Kristy Bamu as examples where witchcraft beliefs played a role in the  horrific torture and murder of children. ‘Whilst the Government has moved swiftly to block entry to the UK for Islamic preachers whose presence is considered as harmful to the public good, there have been no cases of Christian pastors facing such measures,’ the letter said.” While Ukpabio denies that her teachings incite abuse, Tracy McVeigh, who went to Nigeria to report on children accused of witchcraft says that “even the slightest risk of one case of the kind of abuse I witnessed in the Niger Delta happening here because someone somewhere takes the idea of demonic possession too far, is more than enough reason in my mind to deny a visa to any preacher who claims that children can be witches.” Religion News Service notes that “during the last 10 years, British police have been involved with 81 cases of African children being abused, tortured and sometimes killed after treatment by so-called spiritual mediums.” The Wild Hunt will have more on this story tomorrow (Sunday).

Town of Greece v. Galloway: The case of Town of Greece v. Galloway is currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court, and it’s a case I have written a lot about. I’ve repeatedly harped on how this SCOTUS case has a huge Wiccan angle that the mainstream media seems to have largely overlooked. Whatever the outcome, Wiccans, have played a key role in this issue’s development. The law journal Oyez has a fabulous “deep dive” on the issue, the case, and its consequences (complete with videos).

What’s clear, as we await a verdict (probably in June), is that ripples from this case already seem to be influencing public prayer policy at government meetings outside of the Town of Greece. The Pismo Beach City Council decided to settle a suit about its prayers, officially ending the practice before meetings. The article notes that the settlement will stand no mater what the SCOTUS decision will be. Meanwhile, a Maryland County Commissioner recently defied a court-issued injunction to invoke Jesus Christ, perhaps in the belief that SCOTUS will eventually rule in her favor. Keep an eye out, because if the standard for public invocations is altered, a huge number of cases currently in litigation could be affected.

Apolinario Chile Pixtun: In a final note, Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun, spokesperson for the Mayan Confederacy of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, who was active in interfaith work, and had several meaningful encounters with modern Pagans in the United States, passed away this past Saturday. Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess, on relaying the news of his death, said he and Pixtun were “spiritual brothers” and that “Tata was always supportive of CoG’s interfaith work and helped usp make connections with other indigenous representatives.”

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

You can read all of my reporting on Apolinario Chile Pixtun’s interactions with modern Pagans, here. COG Interfaith reports also has several related articles on this subject worth reading. What is remembered, lives.

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

This year at PantheaCon, the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite hosted a Sunday afternoon discussion called “Engaging ‘Wiccanate’ Privilege.” This meeting was a follow-up to an on-going debate centering mostly on “the way in which aspects of Wiccan … theology [are] assumed to be normative for Paganism as a whole.” Moderated by Jeffrey “Shade Fane” Albaugh, program manager for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, the PantheaCon meeting attracted a diverse, standing-room only crowd lasting a full two hours.

Don Frew

Don Frew

It all began three months earlier when The Interfaith Observer (TIO) published Don Frew’s article “The Rudiments of Neo Pagan Spiritual Practice.” A link to the article was posted here at The Wild Hunt after which an intense debate ensued. Non-Wiccan practitioners took serious issue with the article’s language and assumptions. The conversation then spilled over into other blog environments including Patheos’ Pointedly Pagan, Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous and Of Thespiae.

Recognizing that “a number of people were feeling left out of the conversation,” Don asked the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite to host a talk. He said,“On the Internet we argue with an argument; not a person. It is important to keep the human element involved … We needed to meet.” Don wanted as many voices at the meeting as possible. “I invited P. Sufenas Virius Lupus because I knew e comes to PantheaCon.”*

Lupus accepted the invitation saying:

I accepted Don’s invitation to the talk because, in my opinion, we had a very productive discussion in the comments section of my blog post on some of the initial objections I raised to his article… I hoped that some basic understandings would emerge from this discussion, on what makes more strict, literal, devotional (or, though I don’t like the term, “hard”) polytheists different from Wiccans, Wiccanate Pagans, and more general eclectic Pagans would emerge.

After working out logistics, moderator Jeffrey Albaugh handed the floor to Don and Lupus. Don explained that the TIO article was only a portion of a longer response piece and that he had no input in its editing or titling. Next Lupus spoke thanking Don and other interfaith representatives for their ongoing work. Then Lupus went on to say, “Everyone has privilege because we are here. It is not a bad thing to be privileged. [But] there is a hierarchy of privilege in our community.”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

After these introductory words, Albaugh started the conversation by asking Lupus to define Polytheist. Lupus said simply, “Many Gods.” Several attendees then defined the term in relation to their own practice. Many present consider themselves polytheists in some form. In response, Lupus said, “Nobody owns the word.”

After this terminology discussion, the conversation moved on to concerns over the use of prayer in mixed-faith environments. Several speakers referenced T. Thorn Coyle’s prayer during Saturday’s Pagans and Privilege Panel. According to reports, Thorn’s prayer had alienated some panel attendees. In a post-PantheaCon blog post, Thorn herself considers this very issue. Her words mirror much of what was said in the Wiccan Privilege discussion. She wrote “I almost said, ‘I would like to start us with a prayer from my tradition … and invite you all to meditate or pray to whomever you feel called.’ Almost.” She counts this as both a failure and an opportunity to “try again.”

Don stressed the importance of saying “from my tradition” in mixed-faith situations. These words clarify both expectations and the relationship between speaker and audience. As Don suggested, ecumenical prayers are nice but they teach us nothing about each other’s beliefs. Lupus then asked the group, “If I did a panel would you be offended by my prayer?” The response was a unanimous “no.”

Present at the meeting were both Margot Adler and Starhawk who offered an historical perspective. Margot noted that in the 1970s “Wicca” was all that was available to most people including herself. Many attendees agreed. Starhawk added “Wicca has come to mean something different. [Being] Wiccan has a different connotation now.” Times have changed affecting language, availability of education and visibility of practice.

Rayna Templebee

Rayna Templebee

The conversation went on to acknowledge the relational power structures within the greater Pagan and Heathen communities. Several people stressed the importance in examining the oppressions that affect us and in staying aware of the points of privilege from which we speak. Who is given automatic authority by virtue of the established, dominant power structure – by virtue of age, position, accomplishments or religious tradition? Rayna Tempebee noted that people communicate from a position informed by who they are. Mistakes are often made unintentionally. But is still important for each of us to “be as clear and precise as possible” in our communication.

Don and Lupus remained attentive and quiet for most of the talk as Jeffrey Albaugh negotiated a complex discussion in a crowded room of participants. Eventually the conversation did return to Don who brought up the idea of “inside and outside voices.” The language used to define and explain “Paganism” within greater society is very different from the language used to define ourselves to ourselves. One remains broad while the other can be and should be much more detailed and specific.

Jeff Albaugh

Jeff Albaugh

Then several people shared their own feelings of alienation due to unique religious practices. At least three attendees said they identify as both Jewish and Witch or Pagan. Taylor Ellwood noted that his pop culture magical practice often raises eyebrows. Another woman emotionally expressed her feelings of isolation caused by her spiritual affiliation to Guadalupe, the Virgin Mother. She then said, “The paradigm is shifting.” We are no longer a “melting pot. We are a salad bowl.” We must learn to “tolerate diversity.”

As the session came to a close, Don said “we are headed for a big wake-up call. Paganism(s) will look very different.” He was referring to the growing number of indigenous groups who are finding their voice in the global interfaith conversation. Wicca and “Wiccante” practices will not be the dominant Pagan faith tradition forever. Russia’s PFI coordinator Gwiddon Harvester corroborated this point when noting that Russia’s dominant Pagan/Heathen practice is Slavic Reconstructionalism; not Wicca.

At this point Minos Lugh of the Minoan Brotherhood and a Kemetic Priest called upon the community to “show up” for conversations such as this one. He also emphatically said, “Do not put down another Pagan.” This sentiment received an applause.  Earlier in the discussion, Starhawk also emphasized this point when lamenting “how little time [we have] to discuss the Earth” and those larger issues affecting all of us. She said in that bigger context “we should have each others’ backs where it really counts.”

Lord Lugh

Lord Lugh

The entire session was not without controversy and frustration. There was a give-and-take that at times became quite heated. Overall the meeting seemed to be a solid beginning where important issues were placed on a table for open examination.

In the final moments of the meeting, Lupus challenged the attendees to attend one of eir PantheaCon events. The yearly convention provides an excellent opportunity to learn about other faith traditions and practices. The very next morning Don attended Lupus’ Beard Blessing and has since made future plans to continue that education. In retrospect, Lupus says:

I have never been in a situation with so many Pagans of various stripes telling me exactly what I believe, or what my group stands for, or who is included and excluded in my group, than on that occasion.  In every case, all of them were wrong, misinformed, and have not availed themselves of the resources out there on my tradition … [However] I think it was an encouraging event, and one that demonstrates to me that some people are trying to make an effort and want to come to a better understanding of these matters.  I also think it illustrated how far we have to go, and how good intentions can’t accomplish much of this work…

Looking back Don says “I hope everyone came away with a better understanding of each other and each other’s position.” He adds that people were able to express “how they felt” but the meeting did little in the way of education on faith traditions and practices.That would have to come later.

This article only highlights the key points raised at the Wiccan Privilege meeting. It only grazes the surface. Many people spoke from many perspectives. The conversation will undoubtedly continue in live-format and over the blogosphere. Several attendees have already published posts on the subject including Lupus and John Halstead. Look for more in the days and months to come.

 

*Note on Pronouns: Lupus prefers to use Old Spivak pronouns. For more details, see here.

 

 

On a few different occasions now, I have been the face of modern Paganism in a world religions course at an evangelical Christian Bible seminary in Portland, Oregon. The class, at Multnomah University, is filled with individuals who are hoping to go into leadership and missionary roles within their respective church communities. I know that they want to convert me, and all like me, but I agreed to be there because I felt that humanizing Pagans was important, especially to those who might have heavily distorted or antagonistic ideas about what my beliefs were. It’s (relatively) easy to sit down with a liberal Episcopalian, peaceful Light-loving Quaker, or questioning Unitarian-Universalist, it’s quite another thing to engage with folks who might adhere to a spiritual warfare theology regarding non-Christian faiths.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

When I step in front of that class, one of the first things I do is point out that modern Paganism is not a monolith. That we are a religious movement made up of distinct groups, traditions, and belief systems. That “Paganism” as a classification does not mean the same thing as the label “Christianity” might mean to them. If you speak to a Christian, they might have widely diverse views on a number of subjects, but there’s a central text (The Bible) and figure (Jesus) that makes them recognizable as a group. However, if you talk to a Pagan, you might be speaking to a Wiccan, a Druid, a Heathen, or one of a growing number of polytheist reconstructionists and revivalists. Of course, statistically speaking, they might also very well end up talking to an eclectic, solitary, practitioner who mixes and matches from the many definable communities that exist underneath our umbrella.

“The problem with big tents is, well, they’re big. Try to embrace the whole tent and you can find yourself bouncing back and forth between pouring libations to Zeus, protesting fracking, organizing the Beltane picnic and meditating on The Fool.  Those are all worthwhile things to do, but they can lead to a personal religion that is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep.”John Beckett

As I move forward with my talk, I notice that I steer away from my personal beliefs as much as possible. Not to protect myself, I care little if a group of evangelical students know my views on divinity, but because I realize that I’m a filter for something incredibly vast. How do I do justice to both P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Cat Chapin-Bishop? To Don Frew and Cara Schulz? The more I personalize, the more they’ll equate my views with the entire movement, so I try to avoid making it about me. Instead I draw diagrams explaining hard and soft polytheism, explain how there can be humanist Wiccans, and even note that there are groups who increasingly want nothing to do with the term or community that has formed around the word “Paganism” for a variety of reasons. In the end, I point out that religious discourse with a Pagan can’t be about a list of preconceived ideas about what we believe, or do, it has to start simply, as an organic attempt at friendship, or else it will ultimately fail.

“While it has been building for the last few years more and more, I wonder if we have not, at last, reached a kind of definitive “breaking point,” so to speak, where polytheism and general paganism can no longer realistically say that they’re at all related.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Paganism is often explained as a collection of “nature-based” faiths, and while that sweeping classification is both limiting and alienating to some groups and individuals within our movement, it does make for a handy metaphor. Like nature, Paganism can be, and is, endlessly diverse. It can be both embracingly populist and extremely individualistic, focused on the esoteric and concerned with the dirt beneath our feet. Pin-point local or hugely universal in its scope. The mere notion of unity can be a difficult prospect, and one that is often mired in politics. There have been times, even recently, where I felt somewhat intimidated to enter into dialog with my fellow Pagans because I wasn’t sure if my own theological views would be seen as safely within our boundaries, or hopelessly heterodox. Not in the same fashion as some of my outspoken polytheist friends, but I too have questioned the utility and usefulness of the term Paganism as an umbrella. I have even entertained the thought that perhaps we’d all get along better if the term, if not the movement, went away. Because I’ve been to the big intrafaith events, and I know that despite our immense theological and cultural diversity we can share fellowship, discuss common problems, and even mobilize around things that we know to affect us all.

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World's Religions (2009).

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2009).

“I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.”Don Frew

All of the recent debate over community, terminology, and theology, is, I think, a sign of our collective success. When our religions were under constant threat, when we truly feared jail, or worse, because of our beliefs, we huddled together for safety and solidarity. We created advocacy groups to speak for us, and empowered authors and activists to be our public face(s). We worked very hard at simple acceptance, and have gained a lot of ground in the last 30 years. Even in the ten years of doing The Wild Hunt, I have seen amazing progress, stuff that would have seemed remarkable to our founders from the 50s and 60s. With these advances comes a branching out from that place of huddled safety, where thousands now work at evaluating what they want from a modern Paganism, and if it still suits them. Margot Adler, famous author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” has publicly said on more than one occasion that had she the option back in the 1970s, she would have become a Hellenic polytheist instead of a Wiccan, but Wicca was all she could find at the time. The Margot Adler’s of tomorrow don’t have to worry about those limitations. Thanks to our ascendancy, growth, and technologies, our choices are more expansive, and at least in most Western nations, relatively safe to explore.

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Going forward, our leaders and elders need to take seriously the need not only for interfaith outreach to religions like Christianity, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, and Buddhism, but a renewed intrafaith discussion among the many faiths that operate within our movement, who still stand (for now) under the Pagan umbrella. We can no longer assume that everyone is going to simply go along, or that criticisms are coming from an ignorable minority. A not-often discussed fact, is that Paganism is largely solitary and eclectic in its makeup. The “large” Pagan organizations have membership rolls that number hundreds, not thousands, and there’s no group that can truly claim to speak for our movement in any unified way. This means that constant engagement and re-engagement within is critical towards achieving the many movement goals we might have (infrastructure, legal rights, pan-movement activism), and a failure to see the importance of such engagement will ultimately lead to our shopworn umbrella truly shredding apart in the decades to come.

If we want a full and rich “Paganism” moving forward, we’ll have to work for it anew. We will have to respect our increasing diversity, and the changing mores of the individuals willing to stand with our movement. Alternately, we can redefine Paganism to mean a smaller number of faiths, and accept that a growing number of religious communities are going to exist apart from us. Whatever “we” want, we should act on it, otherwise time and inaction will make the choice for us.

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!

The New Alexandrian Library Rises

The New Alexandrian Library

The New Alexandrian Library, a project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which hopes to create an institution that will become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance,” has launched a new short crowd-funding initiative to continue the ongoing construction on the future physical space in Delaware. Quote: “The exterior of the building is almost done and interior work is proceeding. lf we can keep things going at the pace we are moving we could potentially use the early Spring months of 2014 to actually start setting up the shelves and moving in. We need a total of an additional $60,000 in the next 6 months, But right now, we are asking for immediate funds of $15,000 for the next push forwards.” I think a video from 2012, at the groundbreaking of the library, does a good job of explaining the importance of building infrastructure projects like the NAL. So if libraries run by Pagan and esoteric interests is something you value, be sure to visit their IndieGoGo page and add your support. In the words of the campaign: “The NAL will be one of the cornerstones (of many created by various groups across the globe we hope!) of a new magickal renaissance. The benefits of this growing network for future generations will be incalculable.” For all of my coverage of the New Alexandrian Library, click here.

camplalanadaPNC-Florida has coverage of the recently held Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013, which featured special guests Amber K, Azrael Arynn K, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Stephanie Woodfield, Rev. Kirk S. Thomas, Grey Ghosthawk and Gypsey Teague. Quote: Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013 was held November 6th through  November 10th at its beautiful new home at Camp La Llanada in Lake Wales, Florida. The organizers of FPG, Temple of Earth Gathering Inc., had chosen this location to host Beltaine 2014 but quickly pushed forward with the move due to the government shutdown’s effect on the former location at Ocala National Forest. Guests and staff of the event were so pleased and grateful for the hard work of the board of directors of Temple of Earth Gathering for making the transition so swift and smooth. One long time guest of The Gathering, the venerable Lady Solar Bear, remarked on how good it felt to be in a place where children came to learn about their heritage.” While I’m on the subject of PNC-Florida, check out their recent stories, which includes an update on Pagan clergy attending an interfaith child hunger summit.

372854_57526231713_1400552470_nTwo Llewellyn Worldwide titles have won awards, and two more were finalists, in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, a contest sponsored by USABookNews.com. Quote: “The 2013 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the United States. With a full publicity and marketing campaign promoting the results of the USA Best Book Awards, this year’s winners and finalists will gain additional media coverage for the upcoming holiday retail season.” The winners were Discovering the Medium Within, by Anysia Kiel (in the New Age: Non-Fiction category), and Great Sex Made Simple, by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson (in the Self-Help: Relationships category). The finalists were The Magick of Flowers, by Tess Whitehurst (in the New Age: Non-Fiction category) and Living a Life of Gratitude, by Sara Wiseman (in the Self-Help: Motivational category). Congratulations to Llewellyn and the authors!

In Other Pagan Community News:

Patrick McCollum in India

Patrick McCollum in India

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

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!

James L. Bianchi

James L. Bianchi

Earlier this year, I reported on an emergency Pagan conclave in California to discuss proposed regulations by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) relating to religious items allowed by incarcerated Pagans. This “Religious Property Matrix” would significantly change the way religious materials were handled, and Pagan prison chaplains wrote impassioned editorials both for and against the new guidelines. Now, James L. Bianchi of the House of Danu’s chaplaincy program, who called the initial conclave, has issued a press release on proposed revisions to the property matrix that address many (but not all) concerns voiced by Pagans. Quote: “Though the revisions in the proposed Matrix represent substantial progress, we need to remain vigilant to ensure that the spiritual needs of our people are accommodated as required by federal law, and that Pagans enjoy the same religious freedoms as other religious traditions as required by the 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.” You can see the proposed revisions, here. Public comments on these changes are open until July 16th at 5pm, and can be sent to Timothy M. Lockwood, Chief, Regulation and Policy Management Branch, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Chalice & Blade

Chalice & Blade

From our “better late than never” department: Pagan band Chalice & Blade, which features songwriter and podcaster Mojo of The Wigglian Way, had one of their most popular songs, “I Hear You Calling,” featured on the US television show “Being Human” earlier this year. The episode “One is Silver and The Other Pagan” aired in February of this year, and is available for rental at Amazon.com for those who’d like to see it. As one might expect, the episode features a Wiccan coven: “In order to begin reconstructing a new life for herself, Sally seeks out Bridget, her old best friend. Bridget is unusually calm about Sally’s sudden reappearance as a flesh and blood human, which prompts Sally to ask a few questions. Bridget, it seems, has taken up with a local Wiccan group.” Due to the renewed interest in their music, Mojo, along with singer Wendy, have re-formed the band as a duo and are now playing gigs again. Chalice & Blade’s last album was 2006′s “Wild Hunt,” available at CD Baby. Congratulations to Chalice & Blade!

Glenn Turner (Photo: OaklandNorth)

Glenn Turner

The 2013 TheurgiCon, is coming up this Weekend, July 13th, at the Bay Area Thelemic Temple in Oakland. TheurgiCon was founded in 2010 by Glenn Turner, who also founded PantheaCon, and features discussions on Neo-Platonism and theurgy. This year, featured speakers include Don Frew (who provides a look at the non-Greek Hermetic texts), Richard Reidy (speaking on Iamblichus and divine possession) and T. Thorn Coyle, who will be talking about theurgy in practice. Quote: “Theurgists such as Iamblichus instructed us to work from gross to fine in our operations. But what does this mean? How can we best approach this? There is a simple formulation: Thought. Energy. Emotion. Matter. The contemporary magic worker can use these levels to gauge what is missing from her magic, uncovering how best to approach the Gods and any theurgic operation. This session will include discussion and a diagnostic meditative working.” This one-day intensive costs $40, and includes meals. You can read previous Wild Hunt coverage of this event, here.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 10.19.50 AMOn June 21st, a new book entitled “Cults and Criminals: Unraveling the Myths” was published, co-authored by Dr. David Oringderff, co-founder of Sacred Well Congregation, and “occult crimes expert” Don Rimer, who passed away at the beginning of 2012. The book claims to take you “beyond the hype” of occult crime. Quote: “There is likely no term that strikes holy terror in the western mind more than “Satanic Cult!” Most cults are not “Satanic.” Most criminals who commit horrific crimes, leaving satanic symbols, often in the victim’s blood, at the crime scene are not “Satanists.” This book takes you beyond the hype, hyperbole, misinformation, disinformation and urban legends of pop culture and mass media that suggest that all cults, cultic and occultic activities are inextricably intertwined with criminal activity. That is a fatally-flawed assumption. The truth is that most criminals are criminal and most cults are cults, and sometimes their paths cross.” The book makes it sound like it debunks the majority of “occult crime,” which would be a welcome narrative within law enforcement. Don Rimer was quoted in 2011 saying that “occult crime happens all over the world and it’s growing,”  so perhaps Mr. Rimer had a change of heart in the last years of his life? Anything is possible, and I certainly respect the work of Dr. Oringderff highly, so I’ll approach the book with an open mind.

 In Other Pagan Community News:

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

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!

Patrick McCollum and members of HAF with the resolution.

Patrick McCollum and members of HAF with the resolution.

On Monday in California a resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett was unanimously adopted by the State Senate. SCR-32 designates October as Hindu American Awareness and Appreciation Month, and was backed by the Hindu American Foundation. Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum, who was honored by HAF in 2009 due to his work on behalf of minority religions, was invited to be a part of this moment, one that he called “historic.” McCollum added that “Pagans and Hindus have supported one another for equal rights and recognition and we stand together for a better world.” This is the first such resolution to honor American Hindus, and one of very few resolutions to honor a non-Christian minority faith in the United States. As State Senator Corbett says in her official statement, quote, “I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans, California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature.” You can see a picture of Rev. Patrick McCollum with Senate Majority Leader Corbett, here. Congratulations to our Hindu cousins!

COVR Award

COVR Award

The International New Age Trade Show (INATS) was held this past weekend, and the annual COVR (Coalition of Visionary Retailers) awards were handed out. Pagan and metaphysical publisher Llewellyn Worldwide took home four COVR awards, including a First Runner Up award (Wicca/Paganism category) for Rev. Mark Townsend’s “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes” (reviewed here). The big Pagan winner of the weekend was author Christopher Penczak, who took home First Place awards for “Buddha, Christ, Merlin: Three Wise Men for Our Age” and “The Gates of Witchcraft,” a Runner Up prize for “Feast of the Morrighan,” and two awards for his spell coins. Penczak said he was “humbled and grateful” for the recognition he received. You can read more about this year’s COVR nominees and winners here, here, and here. For an insiders perspective of INATS, and the future of the occult/metaphysical market, I found this blog post very interesting.  Congratulations to all the winners!

Adocentyn Research Library

Adocentyn Research Library

The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US,” have reached a new milestone. According to Adocentyn board member and co-founder Donald H. Frew, their online catalogue has surpassed 4,500 volumes, with far more volumes on-site and in the process of being catalogued. Quote: “There are over 6000 volumes currently on-site (plus hundreds of periodicals) with another 5000+ coming (plus ephemera such as correspondence, notebooks, etc.). Cataloguing takes time, but we have 19 volunteers helping us move things along. We will be opening soon.” This is exciting progress for the library, and you can keep up with the latest announcements at their official Facebook page. As I’ve reported previously, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (currently under construction) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans.

Blue plaque ceremony.

Blue plaque ceremony.

Last week’s Summer Solstice saw the dedication of a commemorative blue plaque at the Brighton, UK home of Dorren Valiente, called by many the mother of modern religious Witchcraft (you can read my previous coverage of the plaque here). Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm, who attended the ceremony, said that this was a historic moment for more than one reason. Quote: “This is a first for Wicca and Paganism but this was also a historic moment for another reason – it is apparently the first blue plaque to appear on a council block.” The Centre for Pagan Studies has posted a video of the unveiling which I’ve embedded below. You can see additional coverage of the event at The Argus, which has also posted a video from the ceremony. John Belham-Payne, who inherited the bulk of Valiente’s Pagan-oriented estate, says he plans to open a museum in Brighton. Quote: “I’ve been contacted by museum owners in Salem but Brighton is the only place for the collection.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

Yesterday I engaged in a conversation with Paul Louis Metzger, author of “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, ” which I reviewed not too long ago, Mike Stygal of Pagan Federation London, and Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Evangelical Chapter Director John W. Morehead for the New Wine, New Wineskins podcast.

9780849947247

 

Today we had an opportunity to follow up on a recent conversation with some of our friends in the Pagan community. This time, Jason Pitzl-Waters joined us too. Listen in for a constructive engagement of the Pagan/Christian divide.

Download and listen to the podcast here.

In the span of an hour we discussed the need to really deal with the issue of evangelization, secular vs. multi-faith space, Christian privilege, and how to move Pagan-Christian dialog further. I think it was, on the whole, a constructive discussion that I think could be thought-provoking for evangelicals who listen. During the event I was very mindful of my relative inexperience within the context of interfaith engagement, and how there are many Pagans I know who are doing important work on a global scale. For instance, at this moment, Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess and a Continuing Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, is at the URI’s Global Council Meeting.

When we gathered for the morning session, Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan) opened with a prayer and a candle lighting.  Diana Whitney asked us each to sum up our feelings about THIS Global Council were so far.  There were many expected statements, but one stood out… the Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Indigenous / Nigeria) said that he sees something in all of us, a “burning flame in each of our hearts”, a desire for one goal: “to make other people as happy as we are”.

You can read more about Don Frew’s experiences at the URI Global Council Meeting at the COG Interfaith Reports blog. I think it’s important not only that I remember and acknowledge the work that individuals like Don Frew, Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Gus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are doing, but that Christians just starting to enter into real dialog and discussion with modern Pagans understand the work they, and those like them, have done as well. When animus towards modern Pagans was at its height, and when books written and sold by evangelical Christians were peddling fabrications about what Witches and Pagans do, it was people like Frew and Selena Fox who were on the front lines forging interfaith communication and creating allies who would later help us as we emerged into the mainstream. Today, Pagans are involved in interfaith on many levels, and we have built bridges that perhaps some would not realize if they were not “in the loop” regarding interfaith activism.


Interfaith Action of Central Texas documentary featuring COG member Tom Davis

I’ve spent some time recently talking about the importance of intrafaith, solidarity, and ecumenicism within the Pagan community, but interfaith, reaching out to other faiths, is still vitally important. As I said before heading to an evangelical seminary to speak about Paganism:

“The heart of interfaith is recognizing the common humanity of a believer you may have profound disagreements with. To find areas of commonality, to learn how to move past entrenched hostilities and prejudices. To build a world that is less violent, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I will walk into that seminary with an open heart, and an open mind, and I hope my faith will be rewarded.”

No matter how successful modern Pagans (and our allies) become we cannot pretend the dominant monotheisms don’t exist, nor can we avoid trying to find ways to live and co-exist together. Yes, some of what evangelicals learn in the process of our conversations will be used in evangelization, but it will also humanize us, and hopefully defuse ancient distrusts over time. Pagans working in interfaith, and I suppose I should count myself in that number, are needed, and serve a vital interest to the growth and health of our movement. The simple act of outreach, of talking, can change so much, locally, and increasingly, on a global scale.

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.

Margaret Mahy (Photo: David Hallett)

Margaret Mahy (Photo: David Hallett)

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

When we talk about Pagans and interfaith, there are many different layers to consider, and different challenges inherent in each one. Because modern Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faith traditions, we have to expend almost as much energy on building relationships with each other as we do with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. For modern Paganism as a movement to effectively interface with the rest of the world’s religions, we have to be conscious of how we are progressing with Pagan ecumenical and intrafaith initiatives.

Considering the fact that many non-Pagans still have a hard time understanding that Wicca isn’t Druidry, and that neither of those are Asatru, and that all of those are distinct from the many reconstructionist faiths, every Pagan involved in the global interfaith movement must be, to some extent, a default representative for all of us. This is not an ideal situation, but one that many individual Pagans find themselves in when they attend an interfaith gathering. Gatherings often predisposed to only focus on Abrahamic concerns.

Don Frew at the Parliament of the World's Religions

In the latest edition of The Interfaith Observer, Don Frew, an official Covenant of The Goddess (COG) interfaith representative, talks about how 9/11 refocused interfaith efforts on peace, and on the dominant Abrahamic religions, making it harder for Pagans, indigenous traditions, and other minority religions to have their concerns addressed.

“The events of 9/11 had their roots in ancient conflicts among three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It was natural that the solution would be sought in dialogue among those faiths. The rest of us – some without any history of perpetrating religious violence – were shunted to the side. We watched what we had entered with optimism and enthusiasm about a fully inclusive movement, focused on issues of truly common concern, become ever more narrowly focused on one issue, rooted in in-fighting within one family of religions, the descendants of Abraham.

Where was the focus on economic justice, the environment, the concerns of women and indigenous people? Where were the representatives of the non-Abrahamic faiths? Repeatedly we were told that peace was now the highest priority for time and resources. Other program concerns have to wait. Repeatedly we were told that panels were full or that because the focus was on Abrahamic issues, other representatives were not as needed.”

Despite this attitude, which Frew says has started to subside somewhat, Pagans have made impressive strides in the global interfaith movementPagans currently serve on the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, play important roles within the United Religions Initiative (URI), and participate in several smaller regional interfaith councils. While some Pagans are skeptical of these interactions, they can make us important allies in our own struggles, and help change misconceptions. Further, we are only enriched when we pursue greater fellowship, cooperation, and alliances with religions that do share some of our values.

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about Pagans and interfaith, and at that time I pushed not only for greater engagement with the global interfaith movement, but for Pagans to use the skills learned in that context towards strengthening our own community.

Thorn Coyle, photo by Greg Harder

Thorn Coyle at a Pagan ecumenical gathering. Photo by Greg Harder.

“Interfaith can not only humanize us to the ignorant, but also create powerful bonds with those we can learn much from. In addition, I believe that those of us who are engaging in interfaith need to take those skills and bring them back to practice them within our own movement, to bring better communication between faiths and traditions that have, at times, chaffed under the crowded “Pagan” umbrella.”

This would be Pagan ecumenicism, a word normally applied to relations between Christians, but one that, at its root, is very Pagan. It doesn’t seem immediately apparent, but a large proportion of Pagan events are in fact large ecumenical gatherings in which we humanize one another, seek common ground, and build a common vocabulary. PantheaCon, Pagan Spirit Gathering, Starwood, and Pagan Pride days, are all manifestations of Pagan ecumenicism, and are vital to making the term “Pagan” mean something. Many pan-Pagan initiatives are born at these events, and they represent those rare instances when Pagan leaders and clergy are able to mingle, socialize, and learn from one another. Without these events, we not only have a hard time relating to other Pagan faiths, but it becomes impossible to sometimes answer even basic questions that may be posed to us at the interfaith level.

Diana Paxson leading Seidh ceremony at a Druid (ADF) gathering. Photo: ADF.

Diana Paxson leading Seidh ceremony at a Druid (ADF) gathering. Photo: ADF.

Another vital element to both Pagan interfaith, and Pagan ecumenicism, is Pagan intrafaith, how relations are handled within a single religious grouping under our umbrella. Covenant of the Goddess is an excellent example of an Wiccan intrafaith effort, one that creates coalitions and empowers individuals like Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, and M. Macha Nightmare in their larger interfaith activities. Their yearly MerryMeet and Grand Council a chance to not only conduct business, but to strengthen bonds that have lasted for decades. Another example of a Pagan/Heathen intrafaith organization is The Troth, which seeks to build fellowship between practitioners of the pre-Christian religion(s) of the Germanic peoples. They, like COG, also hold a yearly meeting, called Trothmoot. Steven Abell, part of the Troth’s leadership (Rede), recently wrote about Trothmoot, and how best to deal with theological tensions that arise within Heathenry/Germanic Paganism.

“Each of these viewpoints [concerning the god Loki] significantly affects how people practice their Heathenry, but The Troth is not a sect. Somehow, we have to get all of these people drinking peaceably from the same horn at Trothmoot’s Grand Sumbel. If we can’t have frith, grith will do. [...] What should our policy be? It needs to be based on the fact that The Troth is not a sect. It needs to pay attention to a wide range of strongly felt sensibilities. If you belong to this organization, don’t base your membership on any kind of belief that everyone here thinks just like you. This is religion and that’s not how it works. Furthermore, this is The Troth and that’s not how it works.”

Abell speaks to the important work of building fellowship at a basic level, between individuals who share (comparatively) large amounts in common, and how even that can be fraught with complications, challenges, and heated emotions. It may not seem like disputes between Heathens (or Wiccans, or Druids) are as important as working on the global stage, or even on finding common ground at the large Pagan ecumenical events, but the process Abell speaks to is vital in making our collective community “work”. If we are to collectively ask the world to pay attention to what we find important, vital to our survival, and our planet’s survival, we must do the sometimes frustrating work of building coalitions and understanding among ourselves.

As Pagans, we understand that we must tend to the microcosm in order to influence the macrocosm, that we must align our Will in our own lives if we ever hope to influence the wider world. In some circles this is called “As Above, So Below,” but the ethos transcends any one tradition’s teaching. Pagan interfaith is vitally important, but it rests on a foundation of Pagan ecumenicism and intrafaith work. Without that, our efforts to transmit our common values would fail, and our efforts on the global stage undermined. So let’s remember to do the real work of understanding those we already assume are with us, to build bridges among those we think we already understand, so that we can better communicate with those who don’t understand us at all.