Archives For EarthSpirit

2002 [Photo Credit:  Christopher Werby]

2002 [Photo Credit: Christopher Werby]

Priestess, ritualist and elder Deborah Ann Light passed away the morning of July 21, 2015. On Wednesday, her family announced:

Philanthropist Deborah Ann Light, a key figure in establishing Eastern Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust and pioneering Wiccan priestess, died Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida, at age 80 after a long illness.

Deborah was born in London to American parents Dr. Rudolph Alvin Light and Ann Bonner Jones, while they were both attending Oxford University. She was raised on a farm in Nashville, Tennessee, while her father taught surgery at Vanderbilt University. As she grew up, she lived in a variety of places, including Virginia, Italy, and New York. In 1961, she graduated with a B.F.A. in textile design from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. With her first husband, she gave birth to her son, Michael, in 1963.

Four years later, Deborah settled in the small hamlet of Amagansett, Long Island, where she quickly became involved in local politics and community service. As noted by her family, Deborah engaged in every activity with “dedicated professionalism” and, at the same time, indulged in many eccentricities. At one point, for example, she cared for over 36 cats.

In addition, Deborah became increasingly dedicated to women’s issues and earth stewardship. With a love of the land, she continued to acquire more property around her home, and became involved with a local land trust.

Then, in 1980, Deborah attended a Reclaiming-sponsored trip to Ireland, and had, what her family calls, “a spiritual epiphany” that led Deborah on a brand new journey. In 1982, she started attending EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring. Through that connection, she also became an active member of the newly formed North East Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess. And, during the same period, she began attending Circle Sanctuary’s new festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering. As a result, Deborah became an active member of all three organizations.

While building relationships within the growing Pagan world, Deborah began working on a masters degree in religious studies at Norwich University in Vermont. Her thesis, titled “Contemporary Goddess Worship: The Old Religion as Currently Practiced in the United States” reflected her new spiritual direction. In 1985, she received her degree, and also met her life-partner, Jeri Baldwin.

But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Deborah’s philanthropic and active dedication to her new path became very public. In 1989, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. As a result, she endowed nearly 200 acres of land, part of her Suffolk County estate, to Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust. Her goal was to keep the land from being over-developed. The Trust established Quail Hill Farm. Honoring Deborah a hero, Alec Hirschfield created a film about the farm called Out Here in the Fields: Quail Hill Farm (2008).

Then, in 1992, Deborah created the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which “encouraged individual mature women to achieve goals that would enrich the lives of other adult women.” Named after Deborah’s Grandmother Rachel Winifred Upjohn Light, the foundation supported 321 projects over its nine year history. In 1996, photographer Robert Giard was commissioned to capture the faces of the many women recipients. These photos are archived at Radcliffe College, Harvard University.

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Fortunately, Deborah beat the odds of her diagnosis and began taking on a far more active role in interfaith work. In 1993, she became one of the first Pagans to sit on the assembly at the Parliament for the World’s Religions as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit and Circle Sanctuary. At the start of the event, it was announced that there was only one open assembly slot for Wiccans. The three attending organizations chose Deborah, who happen to be a member of all three and who had proven her dedication by quickly securing the required insurance for their open full moon ritual. As their representative, Deborah signed the Global Ethics Charter as a “neo-pagan” along with Lady Olivia Robertson and Rev. Baroness Cara-Margurite Drusilla.

Deborah’s interfaith work continued over the next seven years. She traveled the country representing Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) as one of its first Interfaith Representatives. She became a member of Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) and wrote for the newsletter Pagan NUUS. In 1998, she attended the United Religions Initiative (URI) Global Summit. In 1999, she once again represented Wiccans at the Parliament.

By the turn of the millennium, Deborah cut back on her public interfaith work. CoG interfaith representative and longtime member Don Frew remembers that, after she stopped attending URI summits, attendees always asked how Deborah was doing and added, “give her my love.” Frew said:

Everyone always wanted to give Deborah their love. She called forth the love in everyone she met. We could never have asked for a better ambassador to the religions of the world. I could never have asked for a more loving and caring friend.

In 2001, Ellen Evert Hopman published a book called Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today containing a 1994 interview with Deborah. Starting on page 291, the interview discusses Deborah’s practice as a witch, performance artist and ritualist. It notes that her work “honors the earth as she presents alternative creation myths.”

After retiring from public interfaith service, Deborah continued the loyal support of friends and community. She attended memorials, weddings, and Pagan events around the country; she continued to donate money to EarthSpirit, Circle Sanctuary and other Pagan organizations. In 2010, she and Jeri formed the Crone’s Cradle Conserve Foundation with 756 acres of land in Florida’s Marion County. The land, which had been obtained over 25 years, was established as an ecological preserve and education center located in Marion County.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s health slowly started to decline. In 2007, she began having blood pressure problems and moved permanently to Florida, where she regularly practiced yoga and continued to spend time with family and friends. Her condition worsened in 2012, and she was placed in hospice. A Facebook group was created in order to share daily blessings and news with her. In 2014, the Covenant of the Goddess honored her with its brand new Award of Honor “for outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities.” Frew accepted on her behalf as she was not able to attend.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

In recent months, Deborah’s health only continued to decline, and on July 21, she passed away in the presence of her partner and family.

Andras Corban-Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit and a close friend, said:

Deirdre and I are saddened to let our community know that, early this morning … our beloved Deborah had died … Deborah’s diverse contributions have been instrumental in shaping who we are as a community today: as she now becomes one of our venerable ancestors, we will continue to keep her legacy alive.

Circle Sanctuary posted its own tribute. Rev. Selena Fox said:

Along with others in the Circle Sanctuary Community, I am thankful for [Deborah’s] friendship, wisdom, intelligence, grace, strength, and dedication to helping others. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in the lives and endeavors of many individuals and groups that she inspired and supported. 

Pagan author Byron Ballard said:

It’s a joyful moment to think of her free and dancing and creating and…she has been dear to me since she befriended me at a URI North America Summit in Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anyone and she took me under her wing, gave me projects to do and introduced me around. A good good heart.

It is clear from the trails left behind that Deborah’s life was one of service, compassion and outreach. Pushing well beyond the boundaries of the Pagan community, Deborah used her influence, her spirit, her passion and her love to empower and protect. She did this through philanthropic means as well as through setting a living example. According to Frew, not only did she bravely “come out” as Pagan at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993 in order to protect religious rights, but she also came out as a lesbian before URI’s international attendees in order to stand up for LGBTQ rights.

Deborah was brave; she was bold; and she was gracious. As Frew said, her “charm won people over.” But Deborah was more than a philanthropist, a ritualist, Pagan witch, an organization member, mother, partner and friend. Deborah was a inspiration. Not only will her spirit live on in the memories of all those who knew her; but it will also continue to live in those many paths that she forged and the projects that she built, which have allowed so many others to thrive.

What is remembered, lives.

 

Paganism, together with the many subcultures that are often associated with it, is a place where strong women are both common and respected for their power. The challenge this poses for men is finding a way to relate to, and partner with, women and others without falling back on a stereotypical bag of tricks that relies upon physical strength, aggressiveness, and an implicit threat of violence.

Opting to be subservient is not an option for many self-identified men, who desire to use their masculine gifts positively rather than deny them. The other extreme, embracing the take-no-prisoners macho approach that contributes to undercurrents of misogyny and an implicit acceptance of rape culture, is even more distasteful. The Wild Hunt spoke with several men with experience working through these issues.  Perhaps not surprisingly, those explorations are often in the context of ritual.

Wrestling members of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf (photo credit Lyle Hawthorne)

Wrestling members of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf [Photo Credit: Lyle Hawthorne]

One of the ways that the overculture falls short — for men and women alike — is in the diminished value given to rites of passage. For many American youths, obtaining a driver’s license is the only acknowledged transition into adult life, and it’s a poor one. Pagan boys and men who recognize a need for something more may be able to undergo a rite of passage with more spiritual depth.

Pagan Spirit Gathering and Rites of Spring each have such ceremonies available, but they are not alike. PSG actually has two distinct tracks, one for boys who are growing into adulthood, and another for adult men who are seeking a rite-of-passage experience that wasn’t available to them earlier in life. The children who grow up in and around the EarthSpirit Community can choose to undergo a rite of passage at RoS when they come of age.

We spoke to the organizers of the two PSG rites to learn more about how they differ from each other. Bob Paxton coordinated the Young Men’s Rite of Passage for four years, and said that “there are two components to this: 1) orienting the young men and their parents toward their impending independence, and 2) giving them some context about what their communities will start to ask of them.”

Parental involvement is required, and the process begins by interviewing the boys and their parents separately. “We ask them probing questions and record their answers, and we compare notes afterwards.This tells us a great deal about how synced up the young men & their parents are, and reveals much about any frustrations with the family dynamic.” Both the parents and the boy must be on board for this process to unfold, he added:

We push them pretty hard on this — sometimes they’re only there because the parent made them, and it’s our job as facilitators to tell them it’s not the parent’s decision to make. Sometimes the boy chooses not to go ahead then, and that’s for the best. At the end of that interview, we go through a ritual separation process, which sends the parents off to reflect on this change while plugging the young men into a community of other young men who have been through this in prior years & can act as peer mentors.

The notes from those interviews are reviewed by Sages, who prepare what Paxton called individually tailored “wisdom packages” for the young men. “In the final rite, which is held at night-time, we send the young men through a mentally and physically-challenging ritual journey where they receive challenges from the 3 Fates, a Warrior archetype, and the panel of Sages, then I deliver some final words about community expectations and send them off howling into the night with the tribe of slightly-older young men who then expand their ranks to include them. That group of young men commonly stay in touch year-round.”

The encounter with the Fates, he said, is designed to directly challenge societal gender roles. Paxton explained, “Those three manifestations of feminine divinity are sharp, strong, direct and uncompromising, and that’s a core part of the Mystery. How does that impact a young man’s journey of discovery? It directly counters the common masculine ‘power-over’ teaching, at a place in his life where he’s primed for change.”

He summarized the process:

We pick our coordinators carefully, from people we know to be good and fierce and gentle men. We get to know each person who comes to us for passage rites, and we personalize what we pass on as much as possible — and, having sent them through these extended explorations of themselves while primed with the things they need to hear, we acknowledge them publicly within the community as men who have made commitments to our shared values.

For adults who missed the opportunity for such an experience, there is also the Men’s Personal Rite of Passage Experience (MPROPE). Zero, one of the current coordinators, spoke about what drives men to participate:

The most common thing I hear from our men is how they want to do better in their family role, whatever that may be. Some men want to be a more understanding or stronger husband, while others a more patient or confident father. Some of the younger have more commonality in that they really want to be seen as a man. They want to accomplish and endure things to earn respect from those they care about, and from themselves. We try to be sure that the men share their thoughts with each other, so they know that there is no one true way to be a man. Not every man does his part by mowing the grass, fixing the car, being the tough guy, or working in the factory all day. And it would seem, for the most part, that they are able to see that.

That informs the underlying goals of the MPROPE. Zero said, “We do not believe that if you deviate from the role society says you should be in, that you are not a man. Being the homemaker is just as valuable as being the breadwinner. You can be the comforter and nurturer, and still be a man. It is when you accept yourself, better yourself, and do your part that you truly become a man.”

The adult men’s experience involves community service, sleeping in the woods alone with one’s thoughts and one’s gods, guided meditation, and both brotherhood and solitude. “We offer them a safe space to speak of their strengths and insecurities. We give them opportunities to reflect on how they see their role in their families, as well as communities, and how they can strengthen that role by strengthening themselves,” Zero said. The men are also pushed to their physical limits, but that is individualized to ensure no one is excluded. “I’d rather push them through mud in a wheelchair myself than to have them feel like they couldn’t take part,” Zero added.

Public Domain / Pixabay

Public Domain / Pixabay

Even as participants in these rites seek to define their own manhood, no external definitions of what makes one a man are imposed. However, that was only made explicit recently. “Before this year, no one had asked about transgendered men,” Zero said. “No one had stepped up for the rite itself. I didn’t know if it had just never come up, or if there was a precedent. So, I spoke with my co-facilitator, and we were in immediate agreement. A ritual that is meant to be a tool for a man to find his inner strength, to realize their potential as a man, can be perfect for someone making that transition. To deny them that chance would not only be unfair to them, but it would go against the very reason we keep this going.”

Paxton is in full agreement, and said, “In short, we don’t check equipment. Whenever I’ve done any men’s-specific programming (be it rites of passage or things like the Men’s Ritual at PSG), my approach has always been that anyone who identifies as a man and wants to hear what I’ve got to say about manhood is welcome.”

While a powerful, ritual experience to set the stage for manhood as a Pagan is important, that role can be chipped away by societal norms and expectations. Ongoing support is also important for men who don’t wish to fall into uncomplimentary stereotypes when they are not in the company of other Pagans. That piece of the puzzle is the focus of the Brotherhood of the Stag & Wolf, a group which was formed by a group of young men who had undergone rites of passage in the EarthSpirit Community.

Donovan Arthen, one of the founders, spoke about what these men do, and why:

In 2003, a group of seven of us came together because we all had this shared desire to explore what it meant to be young, strong, and present men in our community, which was and is a community that is deeply connected and rooted in powerful women. The sacred feminine is part of the Pagan world, and growing up with that was really wonderful. For me, it gave a different perspective on what it meant to be a woman, and a man.

At 15 years of age, Arthen was one of the youngest in a group that included others nearly 30 years old. Together, they asked, “What does it mean to be a man in this community? Strong, present, not an oppressor or a predator? How can we be partners and peers, stand next to amazing women in our community, and be together without being dominant? How can we help each other to be that?”

Those explorations started on the beach at Rites of Spring, guided by one of the first points they agreed upon: men’s groups often petered out, and these men felt it was because there was too much talking. The solution was to bring in exercises from martial arts. They started with a variant on a Tai Chi exercise of touching hands: two men, eyes closed, touch hands and keep them in contact as they move. “We move around with our hands, feel the energy, and try to score a touch on chest. There are so many ways to do that,” Arthen explained. “We quickly learned how we can pull, or use stiff arms to keep you away, maybe encourage you to touch, or be totally fluid so you never know where they were going to be.”

Next, they added sumo-style wresting, where one bests one’s opponent by forcing them from the ring drawn in the sand, or getting them to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of their feet. Their activities started drawing more interest, both participants and audience, and it became clear that a change of philosophy was in order. Arthen said:

Some people got hurt, it didn’t feel like success, because it reduced trust, not built it. We re-investigated and came up with cooperative competition. The root is we are creating a space for men of all ages — some who were fathers, some older we wanted to learn from — creating a place where men could come together and build trust, camaraderie, develop understanding of each other and sensitivity in themselves to better walk in the world as a man in their definition. It’s about instead of pushing someone out or down, both people pushing each other up. In every interaction I see you, I respect you. I see some of who you can be, and are. I want you to push yourself to be who you can be.

Those watching the wrestling were told that neither cheering nor jeering was acceptable, and instead they simply stood witness to the struggle of two men, while also standing ready to catch either if needed. That idea dovetailed with the rule of 80%, which Arthen describes as, “Use only 80% of your strength; save the other 20% to catch your brother.” The emotional connections flow from the physical ones. “They push through physical and emotional processes, talking and deeply sharing, and there are opportunities to ask for help in a safe space from peopl they can rely on. When someone goes flying, three people are there to catch him. It’s a group for safe space to explore and encounter different kinds of men. One man can express his own manliness in so many different ways. This group gives that opportunity.” And again, the only requirement to participate in these annual activities is adulthood by rite of passage or not, and self-identification as male.

The brotherhood itself is not men wrestling on the beach, however. The core membership gave some care to select totems which would reflect their spirituality. Arthen explained:

The stag in so many cultures is epitome of maleness, the archetype of man.” The mythological king stag emerges from the herd for the season to lead. “We see that each one has the king stag inside of us, and it emerges and the others follow. You don’t have to be the leader all the time, you must trust in the power and skill of each other in different situations. We don’t have a leader or a leadership council. We are all peers, and leaders emerge in moments. It’s about shining, taking a role in leadership, and being in the front.

On the other hand, “The wolf is only as strong as its pack, and is symbol of brotherhood, interdependence, and interreliance. A lone wolf is a dangerous wolf, starving and cast out for some reason, sick and scared. A pack is healthy, looks and watches, takes care of each other, works in concert males and females, offering a place for those who identify as men.”

Shrine of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf

Shrine of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf

Upon those foundations they have spent the intervening years learning how to meld their role as men with their beliefs as Pagans. That includes the development of seven balances, pair of conflicting values which men should strive to embrace in equal measure, such as persistence and mutability. Much of that work is done in in a shrine of megalithic stones that the brotherhood built in Massachusetts after raising money via a crowdfunding campaign. With a permanent home, only recently did the founding members start discussing how and if their work could be replicated in other Pagan communities. “We are so rooted in EarthSpirit, we’ve had to ask, if we share or lead an experience elsewhere, what would that look like?” Arthen asked. Much of the group’s values have been unspoken until recently, when they started thinking about a defined pathway for accepting new members.

Defining and living healthy roles of manhood is a continuing struggle in a society where the denigration of women is still often acceptable, and the deference given to men is unconscious. The roles, which are clear while circling a sacred fire at a Pagan festival, become much murkier in the office, the locker room, and the political arena. While there are some opportunities to explore, and support a healthy and supportive role as a man within Paganism, the communities still are small compared to the mores of the over-culture, which still blatantly denied women the right to vote less than a century ago.

It is, however, a good start.

BERKSHIRE MOUNTAINS, Massachusetts –For the 37th year, members and friends of the EarthSpirit Community gathered this past week for the Rites of Spring. Like many Pagan festivals, this is a private affair for which advance registration is required. Participants are expected to aid in building a temporary community in the woods, wherein the focal point is the very maypole that represents the season in this, and many other, Pagan traditions. Radiating outward from that beribboned symbol of fertility Pagans and friends circled, danced, learned, laughed, drank in the gifts of the Earth and returned a fair portion to the mountain which plays host year in an year out.

Long before that stout log was hoisted towards the sky, tireless volunteers began weaving an invisible web which would define and support the weeklong festival. The strands are unseen because they have been spun and woven again and again over the years, but the web created is a strong one. Upon arriving at my first Rites of Spring, that web surrounded and supported me every step of the way. Clear signage guided my faithful car, Bucephalus, and I to the registration area, and if I got turned around, there was always someone to set me back on the path towards the gate.

After my ritual entry, I was smoothly led through a registration process that practically didn’t need my participation. The registrars confirmed my arrival, attached a wrist band to identify my meal plan, verified that I was planning on using a tent rather than staying in a cabin, and directed me to my selected tent site, as well as to the permanent parking area for when I was done unloading. An unbreakable, invisible infrastructure kept me on task and oriented, ensuring that I would have housing and food taken care of no matter how gobsmacked I became.

Andras Corban Arthen (courtesy Megan Walker, Afon Art)

Andras Corban Arthen (courtesy Megan Walker, Afon Art)

The entire site had been transformed by a core group of village builders, who arrive some days ahead of the main body of attendees, and who numbered about 400 this year. Andras Corban Arthen, who coordinates the annual gathering with his wife, Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, recalled that in the first year, Rites of Spring was a learning experience. He said, “It quickly became apparent that rituals designed for a living room don’t work for a hundred people,” which is how many attended that first festival.

While as many as 700 have attended some years, the traditions of the EarthSpirit Community — and even the modern Pagan community — were just being formed at that time. “I had the only drum there, and no one was interested in having a fire,” Corban Arthen admits as part of recounting the history of the organization. When a fire was finally lit and some started to dance, “others were almost repulsed,” he said, because “that’s not in the book of shadows.”

Fire plays a core part in Rites of Spring each year, being kindled as part of the first ritual and providing space for personal and group sacred work throughout the week. The web of support is particularly vibrant in the fire shrine: food donations are actively sought for the drummers and dancers, water is copious, and safety protocols are always in place, but never noticeable unless needed. Want to dance into trance from sunset until sunrise? Rest assured trance spotters will be aware of you, even if you’re not aware of your own surroundings. Providing someone the space to walk their own path, but ensuring they remain hydrated and safe, is one of the many gifts found on this community’s web.

Dancing the maypole (courtesy EarthSpirit Community)

Dancing the maypole [Courtesy EarthSpirit Community]

The central ritual field is where the massive maypole is erected. It quickly becomes a focal point of community. One group seeks out the hefty pole (which is used annually as long as it can be) and brings it to the field, where the hole has been made ready by others in the ritual. Like everything the EarthSpirit Community does together, dancing the maypole is performed to the tune of original chants, to which everyone seems to know the words and tunes.

That’s partly because the words and tunes are easy to learn, and partly because so many people attend again and again. About 20% of the attendees this year were newcomers, which Pulgram Arthen said is similar to past years. However, it was not difficult to find oneself in conversation with someone who had attended 20 or 30 prior Rites of Spring, and even a nine-year-old who had technically been to ten of them.

The age range this year ran from three babies still in bellies up to 73 years of age, and there were spaces and places for all. Once the ribbons adored the maypole, the depth of this community was given face as people approached it and announced milestones from the prior year: births and deaths, graduations and jobs, joys and sorrows. Like so many traditions at this festival, the process of sharing allowed people space for their news, but was efficient enough that the energy did not lag.

Keeping hundreds of Pagans occupied from Wednesday until Monday, particularly when they are so diverse in their ages and interests, was another opportunity to deepen the web of community. This multi-day event is a time when affinity groups, fostered by EarthSpirit, are able to meet and explore common interests. The daily schedule reserved a slot for these groups alone. For example, this year’s scheduled included a slot for participants 50 and over; one for those who have studied Faery Seership; and another for those exploring the role of queer energy in Paganism. For others, this time was an opportunity to explore nature or spend time connecting with old friends. Overall, the daily schedule was designed to provide space for magical moments that make a festival come alive in one’s memories, be it over a game of cards or a quiet conversation shared under the stars.

Weaving the web (courtesy EarthSpirit Community)

Weaving the web [Courtesy EarthSpirit Community]

While affinity groups use Rites of Spring to strengthen bonds, this festival also has space for intensives: classes which take place each day to allow for some mastery of the subject. With most of these sessions taking place during the same morning slot, participants were less likely to face the age-old problem of missing out on several other workshops to join in. Options included spending the morning drumming, walking the labyrinth, learning the ways of northern or Indian traditions, or mastering the art of spinning poi. Most of these intensives were structured to allow those who arrive later in the festival to drop in and learn.

Other classes targeted specific demographics, such as the Vulva Dialogues and several aimed at the younger generation of festival-goers. The Wilderness Survival intensive, for 9-15-year-olds, may have generated the most adult envy; youngsters learned about tracking, fire-building, camouflage, and spent the night in shelters they built themselves.

Deirdre Pulgram Arthen (courtesy Megan Walker, Afon Art)

Deirdre Pulgram Arthen [Courtesy Megan Walker, Afon Art]

The web holding together the Rites of Spring is not just a metaphor: EarthSpirit Community comes together each year to weave one around the maypole, transforming the ritual field into an even more magical space. The anchoring strands, which all stand for such varied spirits as the wisdom of the elders, insights of the seeker, animals, plants, and elements, are held by adults, while young and old alike weave colorful strands throughout to create a web made of chaotic joy. Each person is given a chance to weave their piece into this web, creating a magic which lasts long after the last tent stake is pulled up.

Part of the tradition is for pieces to go home as talismans, or materials for creating something new. Two such items appeared in this year’s auction, and fetched handsome prices. The auction is another annual piece of the festival, with proceeds this year going towards sending a delegation to A Parliament of World’s Religions, and to helping to upgrade EarthSpirit’s web presence.

In addition to an amazing assortment of hand-crafted items, a number of community members put themselves on the block to be “serving wenches” of any gender for the sumptuous feast. This celebratory spread, open to all participants whether they paid for a meal plan or not, is served buffet style. Winning a server at auction means more time to spend building community, and less time on line filling one’s plate.

As was the case frequently during the week, the atmosphere of the feast was livened by Brizeus, the pipe-and-drum band which is contracted to make everything more awesome. At any time, one could be surprised by bagpipes rolling across the site’s lake, or find oneself joining in a sing-along of Beatles and Floyd played on guitar.

Within this web of music, ritual, workshop, and quiet space, there was somehow room more. Late nights at Rites featured a number of musicians, as well as DJ dance parties and karaoke blow-outs. Professional-class storytelling and fire spinning rounded out the entertainment options. Lovers of ritual could choose a Heathen blot, ancestor devotionals, Quaker silent worship, labyrinth walking, and several others focusing on various magical and religious paths. Workshops numbered in the dozens, not including the intensives already noted. There was even an opportunity for Pagans in recovery to join in 12-step meetings. The web was strong enough to allow everyone to be as busy as a bee, as quiet as a mouse, or to change gears at a moment’s notice.

Rooting out invasive plants.

Rooting out invasive plants. [Courtesy EarthSpirit Community]

Perhaps one of the most heartfelt parts of the festival is when Pagans are asked to act in accordance with their beliefs, and give back to the mountain. Groups of all ages gathered with tools and gloves to seek out and remove invasive species and litter. One Japanese barberry, in particular, showed how intractable a plant out of its place can be, breaking several tools over the course of an hour or more. But it did not break the spirt of the people intent to removing it; the massive root ball was later displayed as would any great kill would be by its hunters. This heaviest work went to those in prime physical condition, but there was also plenty of garlic mustard and litter to collect along the roadsides. Most invasives at the site come in on trucks, according to Isobel Arthen, but this annual practice has measurably reduced their impact on the land.

The transition back to everyday life can be a hard one, which is probably why it can take so long to say good-bye and hit the road. EarthSpirit has rituals to support this work, as well. Monday morning, a group of visitors sang a-maying songs throughout the camp, announcing the it was time to take down and pack up. When the community gathered one last time around the bewebbed maypole, the many people who helped to make the festival happen came forth to be acknowledged: not just the teachers and village builders and kitchen crew, but the newcomers and children and others who rounded out this temporary community were cheered.

Taking down the web was, of course, accompanied by the song “Carry it Home,” a perfect choice to help keep the magic of this time and place in one’s heart. And while most attendees sang their tearful partings as they processed back through the gate, their cars were being quietly moved around so that vehicles which had been packed like sardines were now all accessible for a quick load and leave. Even after the physical web had been taken down, the strands of support just made even those final mundane tasks a whole lot easier.

NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS –For Pagans who love to spend time celebrating the wonders of nature under sunny skies or dance the night away around a bonfire, New England in February can be disheartening to say the least. That’s where A Feast of Lights comes in. The midwinter festival, hosted by the EarthSpirit Community, is designed to be a “weekend of warmth at the coldest time of the year – a festival of community and hope, of tradition and creativity, of Earth spirituality and the arts, of community and hope, of tradition and creativity.” That promise was fulfilled, and then some.

feast of lights header

Warmth
While the temperatures outside hovered well below freezing, the hotel was comfortable. Some participants even took to the indoor pool, which beckoned from under a stupendous glass dome that allowed the winter sunlight to stream in and reminded swimmers of the warmer days to come.

However, the warmth of A Feast of Lights was better measured by the warmth shared between old friends and new acquaintances alike. Much of that was expressed in song, as longtime attendees raised their voices to join in familiar tunes, or teach the melodies and words to newcomers.

In that sense, “warmth” is closely associated with…

EarthSpirit bannerCommunity
EarthSpirit does community well, and that fact shone through during the entire festivals. Music, as already noted, weaves its members together, creating and strengthening bonds in a way that touches a deeper part of the self.

So too was community evident in the Stag King’s Masque, the annual ritual and ball that plays central to this festival. This first-time visitor was captivated by the flow of the ritual as it moved from storytelling to chanting to the highly-choreographed mock combat, which culminated in the crowning of the Stag King. Easy-to-learn songs and wassails removed barriers to entry for newcomers. The look in the eyes of regulars made it clear that this was not a stale ritual, but something greeted with excitement anew each year.

One possible reason for that enthusiasm was the promise of….

Hope
This is a feeling that is sorely needed in this time and place, when bitter temperatures and biting blizzards curtail activities and threaten life. Hope was expressed in the sharing of memories forged at this and other EarthSpirit events. These stories of hope were told over the breakfast tables and in the coffee nook; through story and song about the role of winter and the promise that it always comes to an end.

At A Feast of Lights, much of that hope is rooted in…

Tradition
Among the many attendees, one could find Wiccans and Hellenists, Heathens and Druids, people without a named practice and those who follow a path without a name. Despite that diversity, the underlying traditions common to EarthSpirit offered a framework in which different perspectives and experiences could be shared and compared in a safe space. An apt phrase of how tradition was shared here might be “share what you will, learn what you must.”

While it was impossible to attend every one of the many offered workshops, the overall event didn’t lose its cohesion. There never was a sense that attendees were experiencing vastly different conferences in the same space. This is perhaps due to the the venerable host community tossing its tradition of welcoming over the entire festival.

And, perhaps because Earth Spirit’s way is rife with…

Creativity
This is manifested in music and song, in dance and the telling of tales, and in many other ways. The art expo, headlined by Martin Bridge’s eye-popping Vision Keys paintings developed in collaboration with Orion Foxwood, added color and life in contrast to the dull, frozen palette seen through the hotel’s windows. The ballroom was transformed into a mystical forest seemingly without effort. One could see spinning in the hallways, newly-minted divination systems being tested in the vendor room, and winter dance steps practiced in conference rooms that are more accustomed to PowerPoint presentations.

How this creativity fits into EarthSpirit’s large cycle of festivals was explained by one of the organizers, Donovan Arthen:

Photo by Afon Art, used with permission

Donovan Arthen [Courtesy Photo]

Rites of Spring is a big festival that’s about enlarging and deepening a sense of connection to the natural world. At Twilight Covening we go inward, to look forward to the dark time, and gather the skills we will need to survive. A Feast of Lights is a time to come and warm yourself, and share the tidbits of what those new skills have wrought. There are little groups and events throughout the year, but these are the focal points.

Like any festival where Pagans and other like-minded folk gather, A Feast of Lights was packed with workshops presented by people both well-known and not. The teachers shared their gifts and often learned as much as they taught. There were too many options one reporter to attend, no matter how intrepid. Here are two highlights:

Andras Corban-Arthen [Courtesy Photo]

EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen gave a talk called In the Spirit of the Earth. He shared stories from the nearly forty years that this group has practiced and sponsored events. Gathered among the long-gone Massachusetts Pagan Federation, a group of people, who would eventually form EarthSpirit, organized a Rites of Spring festival. It was one of the first outdoor Pagan festivals in modern times and it set the tone for the many which came after.

“I had the only drum there,” Corban-Arthen recalled. “No one seemed interested in a fire, but someone had gathered twigs from nine sacred trees, which we used to start one, and I drummed. Some people joined us, but others were almost repulsed, because it wasn’t in the Book of Shadows.”

He further spoke about his interfaith work and quest to find European survivals of indigenous Paganism. He also credited EarthSpirit’s reluctance to rigidly define the word “Pagan” with some of the community’s success. Another wise insight: “Conflict is necessary in community. How you manage it is crucial. The feeling that conflict is wrong feeds it through denial and covering up. Addressing it directly is the key.”

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley [Courtesy Photo]

Wiccan author Vivianne Crowley spoke about Wicca as a Spiritual Path, weaving in tales of her own experiences with various cards from the major arcana of the Rider-Waite tarot. From Crowley’s perspective, one is much like the Fool at the beginning of such a spiritual journey, progressing through points represented by Magician and Priestess, and nearly always facing a point where nothing seems to work any longer. She symbolized that moment with the Tower and Wheel of Fortune.

Her words spoke to a deep truth when she observed, “This is a time when people might decide that a particular tradition is not for them, and go looking for something else, when in fact if they worked a little bit longer, they might get through it.”

Among the many musical offerings was Until the Dark Time Ends: Songs of Winter, presented by Will and Lynn Rowan of the musical group Windborne. Those lucky few who attended were treated to a session which was part concert and part sing-a-long. The Rowans shared wintry tunes from throughout the centuries and the world over. Traditional songs, wassails and recreated boar’s head carols were intermixed with songs of the (original) Wild Hunt, ballads of lonely colonial Vermont winters, songs from Lithuania, Newfoundland and the Pennsylvania Dutch.

The Rowans’ voices, which blend like honey and hot tea, were complemented by a wide array of world instruments, several of which Will Rowan built himself. The set list, which include many opportunities to join in on songs familiar and new, reminded those present that winter is a universal truth for those who live above (or below) a certain latitude.

Winter is indeed a universal truth, an indivisible portion of the cycle of seasons which many Pagans acknowledge or revere. It is often unpleasant, sometimes even dangerous, but so long as there are events like A Feast of Lights held in the coldest days, there will be opportunities to dream again of spring.

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. Our 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! 

WH2014_BIG

We’ll start off Pagan Community Notes with a big thank you to all those people and organizations who supported our 2014 Fall Fund Drive. You helped us meet and exceed our goal, and for that we are very grateful. Over the next month, we will be contacting those people who requested perks. Columnist Eric Scott is already hard at work on those Panda drawings.  Again thank you from all of us at The Wild Hunt.  Now on to the news….

*  *  *

margot-adlerOn Oct 31, Margot Adler’s closet friends and family gathered in a private memorial service to honor her life. The event was held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City. Andras Corban-Arthen was in attendance and has posted several photos on his public Facebook page. In her will, Margot had requested that EarthSpirit’s ritual singing group, Mother Tongue, perform at her service. Corban-Arthen said, “We were all very glad and honored to perform a few pieces in her memory.”

Starhawk has published the words she wrote for the memorial service on her blog. She ended the piece saying, “As [Margot] takes her place among the Mighty Dead of the Craft, she becomes even more fully what she has always been: an ally, a friend, a wise guide, a challenger and a refuge.”

On Oct 30, Rev. Selena Fox, another longtime friend of Margot’s, announced that Circle Sanctuary was “dedicating a memorial stone for Margot and placing it at [it’s] green cemetery, Circle Cemetery, a place that Margot visited and loved.” The stone includes the words, “Drawing Down the Moon, Inspiring Pagan Voice.”

*   *   *

time-logo-ogOn Oct 28, TIme Magazine online published an article entitled, “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in Real Life.”  The article has generated a storm of controversy that has led to a petition on Change.org and numerous other mainstream articles outlining Pagan response. Blogger Jason Mankey wrote, “I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.” We will be following up on this story later in the week.

*   *   *

Cara Schulz

Tomorrow is election day in the U.S. As we have already reported, Wild Hunt staff writer Cara Schulz is running for Burnsville City Council. In recent weeks, she ran into some conflict over her religion. Although Schulz hasn’t hidden her beliefs, a local resident only recently discovered that she was Pagan, and sent a concerned letter to the editor. After it was published, Schulz responded by saying “The letter wasn’t explicitly degrading towards Pagan religions, but it’s clear the motive was to induce fear and sensationalism about my religious beliefs and encourage people to vote for my opponents specifically because they aren’t Pagans.” She called the situation laughable, adding, “Religion is irrelevant to a person’s fitness for public office and is private.” Schulz has called on her opponents to denounce the letter’s intent. However, that has yet to happen.

In Other News:

  • The organizers of Paganicon have announced that Lupa will be the 2015 Guest of Honor. They wrote, “We at Twin Cities Pagan Pride are extremely excited and honored to have Lupa join us.” They added that she’s a “perfect fit” to help explore the conference’s theme: Primal Mysteries. Paganicon 2015 will be held March 13-15 at the Double Tree in Saint Louis Park.
  • As announced by the Polytheist Leadership Conference, the New York Regional Diviners Conference is coming up this month.  As written on the site, “For one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques.” The conference is held on Nov 29 at the Quality Inn in Fishkill.
  • Treadwell’s Bookshop owner and Wild Hunt UK Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington was interviewed for a short film called “Witches and Wicked Bodies: A ZCZ Films Halloween Special.” The 9 minute film focuses on the British Museum‘s current exhibition of “Witches and Wicked Bodies.” Toward the end of the program, the host visits Treadwell’s and talks to Christina about modern day Witchcraft and Pagan practice.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary announced the start of a new class called, “Indigenous Traditions of the Sacred.” The class is being taught by Leta Houle, who “is Plains Cree from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan.” The program’s goal is to introduce students to the “meaning of what is sacred to Indigenous peoples, including the issue of cultural appropriation.”
  • This October the Northern Illinois University Pagan Alliance decided to try something entirely new. They ran a Pagan Spirit Week from Oct 27-31. President Sara Barlow explains that the purpose was “to raise awareness of and celebrate the presence of Pagan students at Northern Illinois University. We invited others on campus to learn more about aspects of our culture through activities such as meditation, anti-stress charms, divination, runic magic, and our open Samhain ritual.”  Barlow said the response was excellent and that they even picked up a few new members. Now the group hopes to make Spirit Week a yearly tradition.

That is all for now.  Have a great day.

[Articles like the one below take time, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories like this one and more, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it all possible. Thank you very much.]

Wielding signs and drums and offering chants and dance, Pagans joined the nearly 400,000 people who jammed the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March on September 21. Scheduled to take place just ahead of the United Nations 2014 Climate Summit, the event was the largest in a worldwide series of protests that may have brought out more than half a million people calling for action.The Wild Hunt spoke with several of the participants about how they organized, what they were trying to accomplish, and what may come out of this historic event.

The march couldn’t have come at a better time for Courtney Weber, High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC). Weber said the PEC was “a baby group that just started in March” when she and others “realized there needed to be a Pagan group in the work to make New York, and New York City specifically, an environmentally viable place.” Talk of “a big rally or march” was bouncing around on various activist email lists as early as May, and it seemed like a natural fit for the new group. She said:

“It started with us agreeing that we would be going to the march, then we were talking about organizing it, then it turned into organizing an entire weekend, and bring Pagans from out of town and house some of them, and getting some big speakers and making sure there’s a Pagan presence, and it turned into something really large.”

PEC’s efforts included a crowdfunding campaign to pay the travel costs for several Pagans who wanted to join the event. Seven people had their expenses covered so they could participate in the march. “That doesn’t seem like a lot to members of other religions,” Weber said, “but to have seven Pagans march with us thanks to the support of the community is a very special thing.”

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit:  Groundswell Movement)

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit: Groundswell Movement)

On the night before the march, PEC held a ritual and fellowship-gathering in Central Park, during which participants were encouraged to share how climate change had impacted their lives. What emerged, Weber said, was, “a message of deep concern. People spoke about droughts in their area and, for the New Yorkers, Hurricane Sandy was on our minds. We had a group coming down from Canada, which has been working really hard to fight the pipeline construction up there. We showed up as a community of faith, to say that this was a spiritual calling to be part of this march, because we regard the Earth as sacred and divine, and it was important that we be there and lend our presence and witness.”

Across the Atlantic, the Pagan Frontiers of London  organized its own presence for that city’s march. Dr. Vivianne Crowley joined the group for the event.  She said, “We thought it very important that there should be a Pagan presence at the pre-march multi-faith meditation, as well as at the march itself. We wanted to show that this was an issue that united faiths and we were delighted to say together (with a small Pagan adaptation) Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s prayer.”

Back in New York City, Andras Corben-Arthen offered an invocation for approximately 5,000 people just before the march began.

 

In the Spirit of the Earth, we are coming together;
in the Spirit of the Earth, we are one…” *
We come from the north, and we come from the south;
we come from the west, and we come from the east.
We gather from all directions
to march for this living planet
who is our home, who is what we are.
But we do not march only for ourselves,
we march for all beings of the Earth.
And so we call to sun, to wind and rain;
we call to mountains and glaciers;
we call to all who walk and crawl, who fly and swim;
we call to our ancestors, both seen and unseen;
we call to oceans and streams,
to trees, and grasses and stones
to guide and bless every step we take,
that we may once again live in harmony
with our Mother the Earth.
As it was, as it is, as it ever shall be;
with the flow and the ebb, as it ever shall be.

© 2014, Andras Corban-Arthen
*© 2000, Deirdre Pulgram-Arthen

Corban-Arthen also participated in the Religions for the Earth interfaith conference, which was held in conjunction with the march. He and members of the EarthSpirit community joined the interfaith section of the march alongside PEC.

Another Pagan organization in attendance was the Pagan Cluster, whose members gathered further north on the route. Here’s their account of the interplay between the two Pagan groups:

The group [Pagan Cluster] decided to participate in the ‘We Have the Solutions’ part of the march, bringing the earth-based energy to the midst of the food justice and big NGOs section. Another contingent of pagans organized by the Peoples Environmental Coalition marched as part of the faith block. Midway through the march the pagan groups ran into each other, played with each other’s energy a bit, but ultimately brought different energies to the streets and separated out again.The Pagan Environmental Coalition had a boisterous, high-energy vibe dominated by drums.The Pagan Cluster intentionally brought an energy deeply grounded and expressed through chants, carrying the sacred woad-dyed cloth of the Living River that has been at countless actions over the past 15 years. Both energies were needed in the march and valued by those around them. At the end of the march the Pagan Cluster, having been on their feet for over eight hours and 2.5 miles of pavement, ended with a spiral dance, bringing in bystanders and raising sweet energy to feed the work needed to fight climate change.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York (credit:  Charles Beisser)

In the interfaith section, Pagans were “wedged between the Universalists and Humanist Jews,” Weber recalled, where “Jews marched to the sound of drums and Pagan groups followed close behind.” At one point, in what she called “a perfect moment of interfaith action for the planet,” their musical talents combined:

“Our chants were quickly adopted by members of other faith groups because they’re earth-centered, inclusive, and easy to learn. At one point, while we were singing the ‘Air I Am’ chant, a Jewish guy in a bicycle cab next to me started playing along on his clarinet.”

In London, Crowley experienced the same kind of solidarity, noting in her statement, “For us, one of the outstanding aspects of the march was the diversity of those who came. It wasn’t only dedicated environmentalists and Pagan Earth Warriors. It was all ages from 0 to 90, demonstrating a solidarity for the Earth that cut across divisions of faith, class, race, and politics.”

Historic as the Climate March was, what comes next is more important still.

“We’re all very, very tired, and there’s a sense that we want to take a break,” said Weber, “but I think that would be the worst thing we can do.The march had a carbon footprint of its own, so we have to make this count for something so that carbon we put in was not wasted.”

Credit:  Charles Beisser

Credit: Charles Beisser

Crowley had similar sentiments, writing, “Climate Change marches have impact if they are linked to events like the UN summit that help give them high profile – political and business leaders are sensitive to public opinion. But marches are showpieces. It’s the actions we take every day to lessen our impact on the planet that also make a huge difference, and what we spend our money on. Consumer choices can make ‘People Power’ real.”

The summit itself was full of rhetoric but short on action, which was widely predicted. Weber reacted afterwards with a statement saying, “The words were encouraging, but what was missing were the concrete plans. President Obama pushed the need to reduce carbon emissions yet his administration is railroading the construction of dozens of liquefied natural gas export stations along both US coastlines. Natural gas is worse! Its extraction belches methane into the air which is a worse greenhouse gas than even carbon. It felt synonymous with the march in many ways: encouraging and hopeful. But like the march, the summit is a failure if specific action does not follow. I personally don’t want to hear any more leaders talk about the need to reduce climate change pollution. I want to hear specifically what they plan to do about it.”

Pagans don’t appear to be ready to rest on their laurels. New groups have emerged, such as Pagans Defending the Earth, and there are events on the horizon that can be used to continue the momentum, like the Global Frackdown on October 11. While the earth-centered religions are not able to force lightening-quick change, they are at least demonstrating the relentless pressure of a tectonic plate.

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!

William Kiesel of Ouroborous Press and Catamara Rosarium of Rosarium Blends.

William Kiesel and Catamara Rosarium of the EBC.

The 2014 Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle is coming up this September, and the event has now put out its call for submissions. Quote: “Speakers are encouraged to submit talks touching on historical or contemporary esoteric subjects. As the specific focus of the EBC is on Esoteric Books, presentations that relate to esoteric book[s] in particular or coincide with a new or recent release are given preference in determining the line up of guest speakers. We are after presentations as opposed to practical workshop submissions. Talks should be 45 minutes in length including time for questions. A short abstract describing the talk and its title should accompany your contact information. The conference features an Art Show each year and artists are encouraged to submit art related to the esoteric field. In addition to the showcased artists, whose work is shown in a gallery format, the conference also features a selection of fine art prints by other esoteric artists.” Applications forms can be found here. The event will be held at the University of Washington this year. Here’s an overview of last year’s event.

TFST-Channel-Art_BI want to start by pointing to an update on “The Fifth Sacred Thing” film project, based on Starhawk’s novel of the same name (Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars through Kickstarter in 2011 to help fund a pitch-reel). Quote: “In December Starhawk and I were back in the car on the way to Los Angeles again for a host of meetings and her annual Solstice Ritual.  We had a truly crazy schedule of four plus meetings per day (yes, that is completely nuts in LA) with producers, distributors, lawyers, production companies, special effects houses, and assorted friends and allies. And now in January, we start the new year with new investors coming online, a new budget, ROI projections and comps ready to go, the revised screenplay, video teaser, and pitch all ready to make our next steps possible.  We are grateful for your ongoing support, and look forward to updating you in the next exciting developments for this project.” So, things seem to be moving along. You can read all of my updates on this project, here.

116cover300The latest issue of Circle Magazine (#116) is now shipping, and available for order at the Circle Sanctuary store. The theme for this issue is “Our Sacred Environment.” Highlights include an article on “glamping” by Cara Schulz, and article on what to do when you think your religious rights are being violated, Savanna restoration at Circle Sanctuary, and an interview with Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future.” For those of you interested in being published in Circle, the deadline for issue #117, “Healing and Wellness,” is March 18th. Quote: “Techniques for spiritual and physical healing and wellness; Meditations for health and healing; incorporating exercise, mindful eating and other wellness practices into your Pagan lifestyle.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • The Imbolc 2014 issue of Pentacle Magazine, “the UK’s premier independent Pagan magazine,” is now out. Quote: “Articles featured in this issue of Pentacle include: Anahita: Ancient Persion Goddess and Zoroastrian Yazata, By Spellbook and Candle: a Guide to Cursing, […] Green Man: Albion Fracked! – environmental news and ponderings…”
  • EarthSpirit Community’s Rites of Spring festival is coming up in May, featuring musical performances by Kulgrinda, Honey Circuit, The Bardo Brothers, and more. Quote: “The EarthSpirit Community and Tamelin Productions invite you to join us for the thirty-sixth annual Rites of Spring — a gathering open to all who celebrate the sacred nature of the Earth. At the end of May, every year since 1979, our community has re-emerged as 500 participants from all over the United States and abroad come together to live and learn, work and play in a setting apart from our everyday lives.”
  • Moon Books has published a Paganism 101 book written by 101 Pagans. Quote: “Paganism 101 is an introduction to Paganism written by 101 Pagans. Grouped into three main sections, Who we are, What we believe and What we do, twenty topics fundamental to the understanding of the main Pagan traditions are each introduced by essay and then elaborated upon by other followers and practitioners, giving the reader a greater flavor of the variety and diversity that Paganism offers. With introductory essays from leading writers such as Emma Restall Orr, Mark Townsend, Brendan Myers, Jane Meredith, Alaric Albertsson and Rachel Patterson and with supporting vignettes from those at the heart of the Pagan community, Paganism 101 offers a truly unique insight.” The ebook is currently on sale for $2.99 at Amazon.
Patrick McCollum and Ram Dass

Patrick McCollum and Ram Dass

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!

Songs-560px-385x480Fulgur Esoterica has announced the publication of “Songs for the Witch Woman,” which features the work of rocket scientist Jack Parsons and his artist lover, Marjorie Cameron. Quote: “Songs for the Witch Woman is a project born from this turbulent love story. A series of poems written by Parsons reveal his feelings toward his often absent lover. And beside these words are images from the hand of Cameron, illustrating and echoing the intimate themes. After Parsons’ tragic death in June 1952 we find the notebook in which this work was recorded continues, as a bereaved Cameron keeps a diary of her magical working in Lamb Canyon, California. In the dark desert her words become a raw lament as she attempts to gain contact with her Holy Guardian Angel. And throughout the working, the memory of Jack is never far from her mind. Now published more than sixty years after it was written, Songs for the Witch Woman stands as a testament to lasting power of love and loss.” Find out more, here.

Altar of the Holy Place of the Elves Gálgahraun lava field IcelandThe Norse Mythology Blog has an excellent in-depth examination of a recent “news of the weird” story about elves in Iceland delaying a road project. As you might expect, there’s more to the story, and the blog reprints a correspondence with a leading expert on elves in Iceland. Quote: “There you have it, gentle readers. Make up your own minds about the original story, the critiques, the letters and the photographs. I simply thought that the professional journalists on both sides of the issue could use a bit of reminding about original research, speaking to sources and following up on a story as it develops after the initial AP report. My faith in modern journalism keeps getting lower as, for example, I repeatedly catch reporters in the mainstream media who are writing articles by literally cutting and pasting from Wikipedia articles.” Do check out the entire article.

Isobel ArthenThe EarthSpirit Community shared a photo by Jenna Pope of EarthSpirit member Isobel Arthen at a student-led peaceful action in Washington DC this weekend against the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Hundreds were arrested at that action, including Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Quote: “Isobel Arthen, a member of EarthSpirit since she was born, takes a stand, putting her spirituality into action to protect our sacred Earth at the student-led XLDissent action in Washington DC on Sunday.” Photographer Jenna Pope added, quote, “people zip-tied themselves to the White House fence during a Keystone XL protest today. Thousands of students from around the country marched through DC, and hundreds of them sat down in front of the White House or zip tied themselves to the fence in an act of civil disobedience.” Jenna Pope’s official website can be found here. More photos from the action, here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • A formal fundraiser has been launched for author Donald Michael Kraig, to help with medical expenses while he battles cancer. Quote: “Many, many of you around the world have sent healing energies, magick and prayers. They are all appreciated and felt. In order to help offset the bills, we’re asking your help to raise funds for his medical bills.” More on this, here.
  • Next year, two East Coast Pagan/esoteric conferences, Between The Worlds, and Sacred Space, will become a joint shared event. Quote: “The attendees will get to have the benefit of having full access to two conferences for the cost of one. Both conferences are designed to meet the continuous growth and needs of intermediate to advanced practitioners. And for 2015 both conferences chose to cooperate with each other, taking advantage of that synergy of purpose instead of engaging in destructive competition. The two organizations will move forward with the future of both conferences intact, and will also leave a legacy of an example of cooperation amongst pagan/magickal organizations.” 
  • Musical duo Frenchy and the Punk, who have played at many Pagan events, are holding a Kickstarter to fund their next album. Quote: “We are itching to get back into the recording studio and we are scheduled to start in April so time is of the essence! We need your support so we can get in there and record a brand new CD! We will be touring in May – November all across the U.S. and in Europe and we want you to have the new CD. Pre-order the CD, combine it with other cool rewards and YOU become part of the process.”

20140225205821-72dpi_Burning_Serpent_Cover__and_Deck

  • An IndieGoGo campaign for a new oracle card set, The Burning Serpent Oracle, has already surpassed its goal, but if you like the look of the deck, now’s the time to jump on board and secure a copy for yourself. Quote: “The Burning Serpent Oracle deck, including the set of 40 cards by Robert M. Place (creator of The Alchemical Tarot) and 260 page book by Rachel Pollack (author of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom), is ready for the printer. To make this happen we need to raise $9000, and so we are launching this campaign.”
  • The full-length version of Margot Adler’s new book, “Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side,” is now out! Quote: “Vampires let us play with death and the issue of mortality. They let us ponder what it would mean to be truly long lived. Would the long view allow us to see the world differently, imagine social structures differently? Would it increase or decrease our reverence for the planet? Vampires allow us to ask questions we usually bury.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Pagans processing in South Africa, 1999

Pagans in South Africa, 1999

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

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

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

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

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

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

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing

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

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

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

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

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!

6a00d83454ed4169e201901ee8f344970b-500wiThe Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions will be taking place October 18th-20th in New York City, hosted by Hosted by Phantasmaphile, Observatory and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. Quote:  “The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice […] The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.” Participants include Robert Ansell of Fulgur Esoterica, Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile fameIthell Colquhoun expert Dr. Amy Hale, and author Gary Lachman, among others. If I had the budget for it, I’d be there in a heartbeat! If you’re in New York, you should check it out!

wp27cover1bIssue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine is scheduled to be released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.” Meanwhile, the rest of the issue is water-themed. Quote: “What would it be like to experience water viscerally? Susan Harper teaches us to become conscious of the sacral nature of this ubiquitous element in her article ‘Sensing Water.’ Loremaster P. Sufenas Virius Lupus writes about the ability of water ­ and even of drowning ­ to assist in the apotheosis of humans in his fascinating look at classical Greek and Roman paganism ‘Deification by Drowning.’ Leni Hester introduces us to the Lady of Fresh Water, Ochun, in ‘No One is an Enemy to Water.'” You can pre-order the issue, here.

The Warrior's CallLast week I reported on an upcoming Pagan-led public ritual in the UK to protect the land near Glastonbury Tor from the practice of “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing to extract oil an gas from the earth). Since then, more Pagan leaders have stepped forward to weigh in on the topic. Author and activist Starhawk said it was “almost unbelievable” that the UK government “would threaten the purity of Chalice Well in Glastonbury, a site sacred to both Pagans and Christians!” So far, over 1000 people have committed to attending the ritual, with many more promising energetic work in solidarity. In addition, Druid leader John Michael Greer writes at length about the false promise, and dangerous effect of the practice. Quote: “The increasingly frantic cheerleading being devoted to the fracking industry these days is simply one more delay in the process of coming to grips with the real crisis of our time—the need to decouple as much as possible of industrial society from its current dependence on fossil fuels.” Could fracking become a new rallying point for Pagans drawn to environmental activism? We’ll keep you posted as this issue develops.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • “Tales of Albion,” an 8-part web-based film series follow-up to the Pagan film “The Spirit of Albion,” has posted several production pictures taken over the Summer. Quote: “We are now scheduling like crazy for the next few shoots which will see us tackle a legendary outlaw and the once and future king. We will travel to an 11th Century monastery, the Bronze Age and even Neolithic caves. We will see two world wars, the 95thRifles and a priest with writer’s block! It’s going to be quite a ride…”
  • The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC has a library. Here it is in six seconds.
  • October 11-14th will be Twilight Covening, a yearly event held by the EarthSpirit Community. Quote: “Twilight Covening is a three-day institute of Earth spirituality held within a continual three-day ritual. It is a time for exploring ways to deepen Earth-centered spiritual practice and a time to develop our collective wisdom in a shared sacred space as we move into the dark time of the year.”
  • Friday, September 20th will see the launch party for Abraxas Issue Four, at Treadwells in London. Quote: “A night of partying,  40 minute session of speeches, short presentations and a few words from each of the contributors who can join us.  When you’ve finished looking at the art on the walls we will serenade you wtih three short readings. Think of it as a salon for magic and the imagination. Join us, meet the contributors, and revel in the delight of magic and the imagination.”
  • The Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival in Delaware happened yesterday. They had symphonic gothic metal band Cassandra Syndrome play, which you have to admit is pretty hard-core for a Pagan Pride Day event.

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