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MELBOURNE, Austrailia — Hermes is a god of communication and lies; commerce and thievery; craftiness and trickery. Some people equate him with Mercury whose eponymous planet challenges communication when it moves retrograde. Therefore, it may not be surprising that Hermes is now at the center of an imbroglio that pits corporate interests against an individual artist seeking to sell drawings of the gods. In an arena framed by international treaties, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and decades of copyright and trademark law, the crux of the matter is this: can the name of a god be trademarked or copyrighted, or is it not appropriate to limit the commercial applications of such names?

There are plenty of business ventures that share the names of gods. Nike is perhaps the most prominent, but as she is less well-known people don’t always associate the shoe company with the goddess of victory. Poseidon is a more familiar deity name, but likely only divers know that it’s also an undersea equipment manufacturer.

Hermes seems to hit a sweet spot, being a god with widespread modern recognition, as well as enough commercial allure to feature him in a flower-delivery logo, and his name on a line of popular scarves and purses. It’s likely that latter usage — as the name of fashion company — that ran afoul of artist Markos Gage’s desire to create and sell art featuring Hellenic gods.

Despite the fact that Gage’s work is in no way similar to the perfumes, accessories, and luxury goods produced by the French company, he strongly suspects that brand protection is the reason some online sites have banned his use of “Hermes” to describe art that depicts the messenger god with his winged helm and shoes.Two sites, Ebay and Society6, have denied him use of the name, citing the possibility that someone else owns the rights to it.

Hermès is actually named for its founder, Thierry Hermès, who was in turn named after his own father, rather than a god. Hermes and Hermès are not unusual surnames, but this particular Hermès started a harness shop that would eventually become a large fashion enterprise with lawyers hired to protect its brand. Gage, who blogs and sells his art under the moniker the Gargarean, doesn’t know for sure that the high-fashion company is behind his woes, but he recounted some clues in one recent post:

This first started with eBay. I owned a professional store on eBay with hundreds of listings paid in advance. One morning in 2007 I woke up to find my store closed and listings removed because I infringed on a trademark.

I was shocked, all my listings were original content written by me and the artwork made, by hand, by me. After two weeks of having my business closed down, effectively losing an income, back and forth exchanges between robotic eBay customer service via email and phone I had my store restored. All but the Hermes listing.

Hermes, copyright Markos Gage

Hermes, copyright Markos Gage

More recently he tried to upload some of his art to the site Society6, and the process was blocked with a message indicating that “it appears to contain distinctive words that may belong to another rights holder.” In response to his inquiry, Gage got a message, saying in part:

. . . in an effort to respect the rights of intellectual property owners, we are not able to support the inclusion of certain words, names, phrases, or combination thereof in artist submissions. In this particular case the word Hermes was used and we are not able to support the inclusion. Please replace this word to your description accordingly. All words in your listing must be accurate and refer only to the item for sale.

Frustrated, Gage blogged, “I am effectively banned from using the name Hermes in reference and correct context for devotional items designed for the Polytheist / Pagan community because the name is trademarked. I am having external corporate services recommending that I use alternative names in replacement of the deity that I have dedicated my work towards.”

He’s contacted artist advocacy groups in his native Australia, and has also reached out to the eponymous company in hopes that someone there would recognize that his work is not likely to be confused with high-priced handbags. So far he’s at a stalemate and is resigned to seeking out sites that don’t filter out the use of Hellenic deity names.

The Wild Hunt also made a few inquiries. No response was received from Ebay or Society6 seeking clarification on their policies and whether they were vetted by any attorneys or rooted in a specific legal precedent. Additional queries were sent to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Lady Liberty League (LLL), and the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Only Minerva, the LLL attorney, responded in time for this story. She immediately recognized this question as representing a legal morass. “It’s unfortunate that he’s stuck because the Hermès brand has been out there for so long,” she said, “and while it’s not his intent to do anything to besmirch trademark, it is branded and trademarked.”

She was quick to explain that she is not a copyright and trademark law specialist, “but that basics are that he can’t use that. He could change the spelling of the name, he could use ‘Mercury’ instead” — although she later recognized that the car brand might cause similar issues — “or he could say ‘in honor of’ or something like that, but the awful truth is that he can’t do it.”

Bronze Statue depicting Hermes; Stuttgart, Germany [Public Domain via Pixbay]

Bronze Statue depicting Hermes; Stuttgart, Germany [Public Domain via Pixbay]

Her understanding of United States law is that Gage’s right of religious expression is not being violated, but his right to name his business or products what he chooses is definitely being infringed. “It’s a fine distinction. It’s not infringing upon his right to practice, but if he were worshiping a god named Coke, he could certainly not call things he made honoring that god ‘Coke.’ It’s the same principle. It’s unfortunate, but that is the law.”

However, her research suggests that such a case has never been tested in American courts. In addition to the age of the Hermès company, the fact that it’s got a global presence makes it all the more difficult to work around. Short of legal action, all she could recommend is finding appropriate epithets of the god, or other ways to describe such art.

That’s not good enough for Gage, who had some of his readers suggest a similar approach. In response to those comments, he wrote:

The name ‘Hermes’ is the name we use to understand the god in the English language. Using an alternative is complying with the unfair trademark laws of the website and actually supporting their claim to the name. So no. It’s either they allow us the right to use the name or no service.

When asked if the lack of case law means that there would be no hope for such a case, Minerva replied, “No. There is always new ground. It simply means that the complainant must find other grounds upon which to take action. For example, in Roe v Wade, much of the decision hinged on right to privacy and not the right to abort.”

Gage has vowed to continue this fight and is waiting to hear back from the Arts Law Centre of Australia. He was referred there by staff at the National Association of Visual Arts, who warned him, “The main problem you may come across is that your dealings have been with American companies operating under American copyright and intellectual property law. What the companies are concerned about is being liable for trademark infringement as they can be considered to be infringing just by offering a way for you to sell your work using a trademarked word. These companies may have perhaps been advised by their own lawyer to not allow the use of trademarked words.”

No matter how complex this situation, it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Should there be more developments, The Wild Hunt will be there to report on this ongoing story.

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Etsy, a widely-used site for selling handcrafted and other items online, sent shockwaves through the Pagan online vendor community by clarifying a company policy on spell-related items. While “clarify” was the word officially used to describe the action, in effect the change banned even a whiff of the supernatural in the names and descriptions of items for sale. An email sent to shop owners advised of the policy updates, but it wasn’t until items — and entire shops — were being disallowed that people really started to notice.

An article on the policy shift at the Daily Dot explained what has changed:

 . . . under Etsy’s previous rules, spells and hexes were allowed to be sold, as long as they fit two criteria: They didn’t guarantee results, and they produced something tangible. . . . Recently, however, Etsy quietly adopted new guidelines that prohibit the sale of spells and hexes. According to its new rules, ‘any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge) is not allowed, even if it delivers a tangible item.’

As reported by The Daily Dot, Shop owners reported notifications of suspensions as early as June 9. They were given no advance notice that their shop or item descriptions would have to be changed.

Etsy spokesperson Sara Cohen spoke to The Wild Hunt using nearly identical wording to the responses given to the Daily Dot, as well as the phrasing in the policy itself. This suggests that the message is being tightly controlled. She said:

Services have always been prohibited on Etsy. Any service that does not yield a new, tangible, physical item is not allowed (for example: tailoring, restoring or repairing an item, photographic retouching or color correction).

We’ve recently updated our policies to reflect that this includes metaphysical services that promise or suggest a resulting physical change (i.e. weight loss) or other abstract outcome (i.e. fortune or luck), even if they deliver a physical object. We appreciate that it is a tricky, nuanced area, and our policy and enforcement teams weigh many factors to fairly, reasonably and consistently enforce our policies.

By tightening restrictions in the metaphysical arena and in “clarifying” the policy, Etsy has also removed the categories of ‘Religious Services and Readings’ and ‘Spells, Rituals and Readings’ entirely. It is following in the footsteps of eBay, who banned the sale of curses, spells, hexes, magic, prayers, blessings, magic potions, healing sessions and similar items and services in 2012, despite a petition signed by 2,845 people in opposition. Unlike eBay, Etsy did not give its vendors clear advance warning, which might explain why a similar petition seeking to end this ban has gathered 6,180 signatures to date.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Goddess ritual bath salts removed from her shop.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Goddess ritual bath salts removed from her shop.

The organizer of the Etsy petition drive, Astrelle, runs the Celestial Secrets shop on Etsy. What happened to her and others she spoke to didn’t suggest that the implementation of the new policy was done reasonably:

I had some listings deactivated by Etsy for not fitting within the parameters of their guidelines, though I have been luckier than most. I have noticed stores with more items that they consider ‘services’ than not have been entirely removed. I have been told this erases all of their customer info and wipes their shops. Many have said this happened without warning. I have been in contact with other shop owners, and some have said they only received warning after their shops were deactivated.

Astrelle’s experience, as well as those she reported, were very different from the approach that Etsy representative Cohen said has been taken:

Our goal is to support as much of the metaphysical community on Etsy as possible, and that is why we worked hard to reach out to individual sellers to help bring them into compliance.

To be clear, we are not shutting down all metaphysical shops as part of this policy update; we’re contacting only those shops or items that violate our policies. Sellers may continue to sell astrological charts, tarot readings, and other tangible objects, as long as they are not making a promise that object will effect a physical change or other outcome, such as weight loss, love, revenge, or a medical cure or claim.

While gauging the full scope of the reaction is difficult, there were a number of comments on various threads indicating support for the protection against fraud, while others attacked the alleged lack of consistency in enforcement. One commenter said, “What’s funny is that ebay stopped allowing spells to be sold over a year ago-and all the crazies went to Etsy; the ‘big booty’ ‘penis enlargment’ and ‘breast augmentation’ spells were all over Etsy. They allow those but not spell kits?”

As some users tried to parse the meaning of the word “suggest,” others, including petitioner Astrelle, saw a pattern in the shops and items being targeted for removal; a pattern that gave Christian-themed merchandise a pass. Thelemite blogger Scott Stenwick put it this way:

The problem, though, is that mainstream religion gets a pass on metaphysical claims in the minds of many people, and it’s starting to look like the Etsy admins are no exception.

The example of someone told to change a ‘spell kit’ to a ‘prayer kit’ is precisely what I’m talking about. A prayer that is intended to produce a tangible effect is the same thing as a spell. Also, a ‘kit’ is not a service but rather a collection of items, so why that would fall under the new policy remains a mystery to me — unless there’s an admin out there who just doesn’t like the word ‘spell.’

Spokesperson Cohen addressed that concern by saying, “We would like to be clear that this is NOT targeted at witches, Wiccans, or any religion. Etsy strongly believes in freedom of thought, expression, and religion, and we will never institute a policy that discriminates against sellers for their religious beliefs or practices.” And, when asked about items such as the St. Christopher medallion which was linked to by both Stenwick and The Daily Dot, she replied, “Due to the nature of our platform, where anyone may list anything at any time, it is possible that a service may appear for sale on the site before our enforcement teams have a chance to remove it. Members are welcome to flag these items and report them to us; we have a timely review process for all flags.”

[Courtesy Astrelle] Money Cones; one of the items removed from Etsy.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Money Cones; one of the items removed from her Etsy shop.

Nevertheless, the change has generated interest in finding alternatives to Etsy. Some shop owners are disheartened by the sanctions imposed, or are struggling to rewrite item descriptions to fit in the newly-clarified guidelines. Others don’t feel comfortable including disclaimers stating that their products are not intended to help, heal, diagnose, or do anything else in any way. They feel that such wording would run counter to the intent of the magic, and could well invalidate any spells actually cast.

“This is a part of my kind of people’s religious views! I don’t see how it’s anyone’s else business,” wrote Jenya, a Russian Pagan who was left very confused by the new rules.

Among the alternatives are lesser-known platforms like Square, Storenvy, and Folksy, which is only available in the United Kingdom. It’s also possible to simply sell through one’s own web site. None of those options can match the internet reach of Etsy, but a less establish seller needs to be engaging in some kind of marketing to drive traffic regardless. For top Etsy sellers, the revenue hit may be significant.

Fundraising Pagan Style

Terence P Ward —  November 18, 2014 — 9 Comments

Despite the strong countercultural thread that runs through many Pagan religions, there has long been a concurrent drive to develop the infrastructure and tools of the overculture, and turn them to our own ends. Arguments over owning land, creating seminaries, forming churches and other not-for-profits have been hashed out for decades, and this will likely be the cause of lively discourse for many years to come.

At the same time, those in the community who do forge ahead with these projects continue to speculate why one idea might flourish and another fail. For example, some posit that Pagans are too poor to support these works or perhaps too cheap. Others claim that Pagans want all the nice things but don’t wish to pay for them. Still others assert that Pagans are scarred by the experiences of their birth religions and, therefore, will not donate to any cause which promises to lift up religious hierarchies.

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

None of these arguments hold much water, because no meaningful research has be done that focuses on financial attitudes and security within Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or any similar communities that fall under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella. However, even without that research, it is evident that anything from feeding the homeless to building a library requires money to succeed.

Online communication makes it easier to connect with donors. As a result, the internet has made older donation platforms more accessible, and allowed new ones to emerge. In recent years, crowdfunding platforms have become the method of choice to raise funds from the dispersed Pagan communities. Sites such as IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter have not only helped individuals secure funding for everything from burial expenses to pilgrimages, but they have also become invaluable to organizations such as The Wild Hunt, which is bankrolled by its annual online fund drive. Indeed, the egalitarian nature of crowdfunding makes it a popular way to promote a cause or rally community members to support one of their own.

Crowdfunding sites provide tools for social engagement and promotion, making them the media darlings that garner a lot of visibility. One aspect of these platform’s popularity is that, for the most part, they do not discriminate about the worthiness or the motivation for a campaign. If someone can successfully promote making potato salad, it does not matter if that someone is an individual or a corporation; or whether that someone is seeking profit or not. This is particularly beneficial to the individual, because many other sources of money are closed to all but non-profits, which have the blessings of the national government. Here in the United States that means the approval under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dusty Dionne marketing director for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church said that when it comes to raising money “we as Pagans can’t hold your immortal soul up against your wallet — we have to give you something in return.” To that end, ATC’s founder Pete Pathfinder was always seeking things that could be given in return for donations, such as cookbooks and The Other People, which took the text of an Oberon Zell article and transformed it into a parody of a Chick tract. Dionne said, “My job is to find something to give you, the Pagan,” in return for a donation.

During the last two years of his life, Pathfinder “grew increasingly concerned with the financial stability of the church,” Dionne recalled, and he spent considerable time “finding ways to raise money without badgering the community and trying to make them feel that it was their responsibility only.” Aware that many organizations don’t successfully transition beyond the founder’s death, Dionne is now focused on finding as many revenue streams as possible for the ATC.

Those include passive revenue streams, such as Kroger Community Rewards and Amazon Smile. The latter is a portal set up by that allows shoppers to direct 5% of their sales to a not-for-profit. and the former is a similar program for customers of Kroger’s and Fred Myers, which are regional grocery stores. Corporations benefit from such programs by creating goodwill in the community, providing tax write-offs, and increasing brand loyalty. Often the store’s presumed support of a particular cause alters shopping habits to match.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Another church which avails itself of the Amazon Smile program is the Maetreum of Cybele, which has long been raising money for an interminable court battle over the tax-exempt status of its property in the town of Catskill, New York. Neither the Maetreum nor the ATC has seen a lot of money streaming in from this source. Dionne said that ATC’s first check was for thirteen dollars and, according to Reverend Catherine Platine, “It yields a small amount of donations but also allows us to purchase for the Maetreum items from Amazon with a cash back. We haven’t really promoted them outside occasional reminders on our FB page.”

PayPal’s Giving Fund (formerly eBay’s Mission Fish) is an independent 501c3 organization that helps for-profit businesses set-up and maintain similar giving programs. Non-profits can register with the program in order to be listed as a potential recipient of donations. Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) has been a registered recipient with this program for several years and has received small donations through eBay purchases.

Corporations do other kinds of giving as well, such as those listed in the Whole Foods community giving program, which isn’t restricted to non-profits. In-kind donations of products and services can often be obtained through a conversation with a local store manager, or by completing a simple application, but typically some amount of advance notice is required. CoG took advantage of this program for its 2014 Merry Meet event in Atlanta. Whole Foods donated $50.00 worth of groceries, which were used to help feed attendees at its day-long leadership workshop.

A pattern for much of this corporate largesse is that it doesn’t fully hit the company’s bottom line. In-kind donations cost less than the retail value that’s declared, and anything that can be written-off softens the fiscal blow, and is frequently encouraged by bean-counters in the back office. Passive programs, such as Amazon Smile, only generate donations based on customer sales, which may not have ever happened without those fundraising programs. Many of the largest companies may match donations made to certain charities, or have employee giving programs, which provide a convenient mechanism for those donations (in the form of payroll deduction) to translate into regular checks sent to a chosen charity.

SEFA logo

SEFA logo.

Perhaps the most alluring employee giving campaigns are those set up by the government itself, because there are a lot of people employed in public service. Mistakenly called “United Way campaigns,” because that charity was once the only administrator of such programs, these campaigns are generally created under the auspices of a governing body, but operate independently of it.

For example, in New York, a program called the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) is run by a council of state employees and retirees, who divide the state into a number of regions, which are then managed by local volunteer committees. Each of those regions hires a fiscal manager – a non-profit organization – to work with the local committee in order to promote the campaign and ensure that the donations end up where they’re intended.

These programs have certain advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it’s easy to receive a donation from employees of that government. But on the down side, if that government makes decisions which are unpopular with its employees,such as pay freezes and layoffs, it could impact what given. Donations can also dry up if employees feel that the charity is reflecting well upon an undeserving boss. In other words, these programs can be terribly political.

There are many local governments with campaigns, and about twenty states have them. However, the biggest one is the combined Federal campaign due to the large number of people who can potentially be reached. However, these campaigns all have different application standards and reporting requirements, which may not be worth the effort if there aren’t employees standing by ready to donate to a cause. The first step that any organization should take, with regards to government programs, is to find out how many members or supporters actually work for the body in question.

Even if all the necessary hoops are jumped through, donations are rarely received from anyone who isn’t actually asked to give one. No matter the size or structure of the organization, regardless of what tools are available for raising money, and whether or not that money is going to a non-profit or just someone trying to deepen a personal spiritual practice, there’s never going to be anything that replaces the need to ask.

Internet auction house eBay recently released their Fall 2012 Seller Update, which, starting in September, prohibits the sale of divination services (including tarot readings), spells, tutoring services, and potions. The reason for this move, according to eBay, is to “build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers.”

“Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve. To help build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers, eBay is discontinuing these categories and including the items on the list of prohibited items.”

In short, if you’re dissatisfied with the spell to give you a big butt, it’s hard to quantify if the “product” had been delivered, and what the proper expectations on booty enhancement magic is. Because of the (usually inadvertently) comical nature of many of the spells  being sold on eBay, long a source of easy snark on the Internet, sites like Mashable, The Mary SueJezebel, and even mainstream news outlets, have been having a bit of fun with the news.

“In its 2012 Fall Seller Update, the online marketplace said it was banning all sales of supernatural goods and services, exiling its witchy and wizardly clientele to the wilds of Craigslist and other Web-based Diagon Alleys.”

It should be noted before we go any further that magical items, physical objects that have an attributable value, are not banned under this change. Spokeswoman Johnna Hoff told Tiffany Hsu at the Los Angeles Times that such items would be allowed in most cases.

“It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases.”

Which means most of the products in the Wicca and Paganism section of eBay are safe, at least for now. A comfort, no doubt, to the many Pagan vendors and shop-owners who supplement their income by placing items on the site. However, the banning of spellwork, and especially tarot readings, should be explored with greater depth. Pagans in the community seems somewhat split over this move by eBay, some, like Patti Wigington,’s Paganism & Wicca Guide, see this as a smart move by the company.

“…this isn’t a case of religious discrimination at all – it’s a case of a business realizing that customers are being made victims of fraud by unscrupulous sellers – and putting practices in place to prevent the problem from continuing. It does not say “No Wiccans, No Pagans, No Druids.” It says no magic, spells or potions, or prayers — that’s an entirely separate thing. Personally, I’m a little sad Ebay has done this, because it means fewer things for me to make fun of, but it’s definitely a smart business decision.”

Others, meanwhile, see this a chilling move that could start a domino effect, marginalizing tarot readers and magicians from mainstream commerce sites. Some have pointed out that PayPal is owned by eBay, and a similar shift in their policies to be more in line with up-and-coming companies like Square, could have a disastrous impact on small Pagan business that rely on divination services as an important part of their income (it should be noted that Google Checkout used to ban “occult goods,” but don’t anymore). Patheos blogger Kris Bradley, while acknowledging the rationale for this new prohibition, is worried that companies like Etsy might soon follow eBay’s lead.

“I admit I’m a bit torn on the subject.  While I see the possible beginning of the end for sellers on sites like this, I won’t be sad to see the sham “spell casters” go, and the end of taking advantage of desperate people with promises of something that can’t possibly be delivered.  As I sell products of a magical variety, I definitely don’t want to lose my Etsy shop.”

As a private business, eBay, and other online retailers are free to limit what product and services they’ll allow. That said, it is troubling that managing complaints and fraud resulted in a total ban of selling divination and magical work. Recent courtroom decisions have leaned towards defining divination, tarot readings, and other psychic services as protected speech, which could have actually helped push eBay away from trying to simply regulate it on their site. After all, who wants to be the ultimate arbiter of what sorts of speech are acceptable, and which kinds are not? Being in the business of selling speech and expression will always be volatile, and it looks like eBay wanted out, the question now is what the ramifications of this move will be for Internet commerce.

Top Story: Are you a Pagan family in North Carolina that would like to take a day or two off for holiday observances? A new North Carolina law would let you keep your kids home from school with an excused absence.

“It requires all school systems, community colleges and public universities to allow students at least two excused absences each academic year for religious observances. The law standardizes an informal practice. But some administrators hope it won’t create exam-week havoc.”

Sounds like a net positive, right? Practitioners of minority faiths that don’t have observances that overlap with existing Christian holidays can include the kids without hassle, and college students can attend a scheduled event without worry of hurting their GPA. But a comment from Rep. Rick Glazier, who co-sponsored the bill, have some worried about how it will be applied.

“It has to be a bona fide holiday; you don’t get to just take the day off because you want to pray at home.”

So who decides what’s a “bona fide” holiday? Will the school take the parent’s word for it? The law is vague on this point, only saying that schools can request a letter of explanation if they want. Faith & Reason’s Cathy Lynn Grossman notes the law could make minority faiths have to “prove their religiosity”, but it’s more the “praying at home” bit that I’m concerned about. If your “church” is the living room, or an open field, or a forest, does it still count as bona fide? It should be interesting to see how this law is enacted by different schools, and see how it handles Pagan requests for days off.

Guilty Sentence For Cop-Dragging Pagan Priestess: A Magistrate has found Eilish De Avalon, who gained international noteriety last month for dragging a cop by the arm during a routine traffic stop, guilty of recklessly causing injury. De Avalon, who is currently out on bail pending an appeal, made tabloid headlines by announcing she was a “pagan priestess”, and that man-made laws didn’t apply to her, much to the chagrin of other local Pagans who said that incident has set back local interfaith efforts. In a press release, the Australian Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) blasted those who were using this incident to put her beliefs, and by extension the beliefs of all Australian Pagans, on trial.

“The media has done its best to put Ms De Avalon on trial in the court of public opinion for her beliefs as well as her actions. I doubt they would bother if she were a Catholic or a Hindu or practically any other religion. What is the big deal about practicing an indigenous European belief like witchcraft? When it comes to the law, people’s actions are what matter.”

It remains to be seen what will happen next. I can’t imagine she’ll win on appeal with the involuntary “autonomous state” defense she used in the first trial. As for the reputation of Pagans in Australia, perhaps the soon-to-be-airing episode of Rituals: Around the World in 80 Faiths (which I covered here previously) that features Australian Pagans will help things a bit.

A Cuban Santera on Faith, Possession, and Divination: Journalism student Kelly Knaub interviews Cuban Santera Iyalocha Lourdes about her faith for the Havana Times, and undergoes a purification ritual as well. During the interview Iyalocha Lourdes goes into some detail on the matter of possession by spirits, which I found quite interesting.

“In the beginning you lose consciousness. It’s a process of spiritual development. Right now you’re an embryon – a person that doesn’t have the potential or capability to be a medium. Right now, that’s you – you don’t have any knowledge. You come to my temple to develop yourself spiritually, which means to process and open yourself and become a spiritualist. So, in the beginning, I pull the spirits so that they possess you. You lose consciousness, you don’t remember anything.

As the years go by, and you continue perfecting and working more with your spirituality, a moment will come when you’re seated, like I am, and a spirit comes to you and you speak, sometimes also in a conscious state and you can remember it. But this comes with practice.”

They also talk about gender within Santeria, “false spiritualists” who only do it for the money, and animal sacrifice. It’s definitely worth a read, especially since most mainstream journalism about Santeria doesn’t tend to allow this much detail or insight into their practices.

The Welsh Witch Problem: It seems that rural Wales is a hotbed of occult and strange happenings being reported to the police. A recent Freedom of Information Act request reveals that residents in places like Powys, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire are having all sorts of supernatural problems, including “witches” behaving badly.

The force, which covers Mid and West Wales, has received 86 reports of witches in the last five years. The force’s police incident log reveals details of the calls. One caller reported “that one individual is a witch and had attended at the house to put salt around the bed”. A caller in January last year claimed he had been fed a “fur ball” during a witchcraft ritual. Following a call from Llanelli, police recorded: “Caller, who was drunk, who rang regarding a gang of witches who want to sacrifice him.” Another call was a report of a “malicious communication: rumours that an individual’s mother is a witch”.

OK, which tradition’s been feeding people fur balls? There were also reports of ghosts, vampires, demons, and wizards, but witches topped the list. The Dyfed Powys Police downplayed these reports, saying they are far more ordinary taken in context, though local paranormal experts insist this is just further proof that “Wales is a frighteningly haunted country”. That still doesn’t explain the fur ball. Was it from a cat? Is it a euphemism? What?

I Can Only Imagine the Internet Spam I’ll Get Now: Plenty of places on the net are getting a decent chuckle over an Ebay auction that is selling a spell by a “powerful Wiccan Witch” to increase the size of your, ahem, “booty”.

“Are you desperate to achieve the perfect butt and perhaps a fan of the occult? For just $8.95, you can achieve your dreams by buying one “Booty Enhancement Spell” from a “Powerful Wiccan Witch” on eBay. Hurry, supplies are limited!”

There’s also a spell for breast enhancement. The powerful “Amelia” (it that’s her real name) claims that she’s “used this [spell] many times with stunning results!” But just in case, buying multiple castings ensures greater chances for success (naturally). There’s always been spell-peddlers in our community, but this level of brazenness and scammy-spammy-vibes may take this to a new high/low. One wonders what old Gerald would have to say about booty-boosting spells.

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

It seems that this story is finally coming to a close. Witch School, the infamous online school founded by Ed Hubbard, has been sold to a coalition of buyers from the Correllian Nativist Tradition with Don Lewis at the head. This follows much speculation following the initial announcement that Witch School would be auctioned off on eBay.

“No one takes Witches and Pagans as a serious market force. By using eBay as a platform for selling, at least we can get fair exposure. It is not like we can list this in an ordinary newspaper and be taken seriously. Of course, everyone will probably take this as a joke. But Witch School is a serious business and opportunity for the right buyer”

Since then students tried to form a coalition to buy their own school, outside Pagans tried to purchase the school, and the auction was pulled from eBay due to claims that someone was hacking Witch School’s account. In the midst of all this, Ed Hubbard started making the news for criticizing Hoopeston, Illinois’ for its lack of acceptance.

“Hubbard sold his interest in the Witch School recently to add to his financial base for Illiana Web. He announced this fact at the Hoopeston City Council meeting on Monday, when he also told the council the Witch School would be gone May 1. Hubbard asked a simple question at the meeting of the mayor and each individual alderperson: “Do you want me to stay? Illiana Web is fully ready and Hoopeston can become a regional hub. Do you want a Regional WIFI hub here?” No one answered the question. Hubbard turned and left the meeting. Mayor Bill DeWitt said it was Hubbard’s prerogative to stay, but added after Hubbard left the meeting that, ‘If I was engaged in any business and had to take a public-opinion poll, by hell, I would move.'”

Now that the sale finished, one wonders if it being sold to a Correllian-affiliated group was the planned outcome all along? One of the few serious non-Correllian coalitions to attempt purchasing the school seemed to not get very far in their attempts to discuss a bid.

“We wished to meet with Witch School partners to discuss the matter, but that didn’t happen. We made an offer to the majority partner, but not on E-bay. We also had a lot of questions about finances, philosophy of the school, assets, etc.”

Ed Hubbard is planning to make a formal announcement regarding the sale soon (feel free to post a link to it in the comments once it surfaces). No doubt he will discuss how the final sale came about, and reveal the new status of the school under the leadership of Don Lewis. One can only hope the buyers, sellers, and Witch School students will be happy with this new/old arrangement. Some of the ethical questions raised by this entire process will most likely go unanswered, but it seems the matter of the sale is finished.

On Monday Ed Hubbard publicly announced that he is selling off Witch School (here is the official eBay auction for the site), the infamous online school for aspiring Witches.

“Imagine, if you could buy Harry Potter’s Hogwarts? Well, the world’s first and largest public school of Wiccan and Witches has become available for sale. Starting Tuesday, April 10th, will be auctioned off to the highest bidder during an eBay Auction. If you ever wanted to have your very own cyber school of magick and witchcraft, this is the auction for you. So you can own and run your very own Academy for Magick and Witchcraft. If you would love to become the next Dumbledore, this is your chance to do so.”

This announcement has come after a strange series of shake-ups and developments. First a schism between two factions of the Witchcraft tradition that the school was associated with, then the installation of a new president (from one of the factions), and then the news that a reality program was being developed around the school. But now it seems everything must go, including their “Minispells” business, the proprietary software that runs the school, and even their MySpace page.

“The Comprehensive Site for online Wiccan and Pagan Education. With over 85 courses, plus tons of features that have been developed over the last five years. With over 145,000 currently actively registered students, and hundreds of thousands have passed through. It offers a lot of interaction including testing, transcripts, etc.”

In a letter to me* (full text here, with permission for his comments to be made on the record), Witch School founder and owner Ed Hubbard explained that the school is a completely separate legal entity from the Correllian Witchcraft Tradition and that Hubbard resigned from any formal position within both of the feuding Correllian factions (though the Correllian web site still claims he is affiliated).

“I offered to give the school to the tradition and the church and Davron refused. At that time, I informed Don and Davron that I would give WS one more year, and that I would turn it into NFP … I resigned from Correllian Nativist Church International, Inc. and The Correllian Mother Temple which were two separate organizations.”

There is no word on how this will affect their bricks-and-mortar campus in Hoopeston, Illinois. Will the property go to the Correllian Mother Temple and Don Lewis (who is acting president of Witch School), or will it be sold off? It seems strange that the Witch School site is conducting a fund raiser in which it urges all its online students to donate money to fix up their building in Hoopeston.

“We are asking our students, friends, and supporters to ‘Adopt’ a brick, and have your name (or craft name) put on it. We are creating a wall that includes everyone who helps us in this fundraiser … His exact words ‘If each basic student were to give a dollar the building would be able to be fixed up pretty quickly.’ And he came up with this fundraiser. We hope that Michael is correct and the blessing of the three fold law is given full rein in this project.”

As for the online school, Hubbard seems to hope it will be scooped up by a major Pagan-oriented business like Llewellyn Worldwide or New Page publishing, but seems just as open to the idea of it being bought out by a non-Pagan corporation like Google or Disney. In an addendum to the auction, Hubbard explains that the new owner of the school will have to honor the development deal with the SciFi Channel, and that the new owner will have the power to grant religious initiations within Correllian Wicca, and will control the Copyright to Don Lewis’ (head of the Correllian Mother Temple) writing.

“The Main Thing it holds is the License to Don Lewis Correllian Wicca, and the right to use it in many different ways. It has a perpetual right to provide FIRST, SECOND and THIRD DEGREES. It has many other rights to sell product. Witch School also negotiates and handles Don Lewis Copyright licenses exclusively since the Year 2000. Currently, a major publisher has the option to publish Don Lewis books, and will be likely exercise this right.”

Of course given the rules of eBay, it is entirely possible that a stealth organization hostile to Witch School (like an evangelical church) could buy it out, or that the winner of the auction will be a non-Pagan who will start selling off initiations. Which makes the eBay selling method somewhat surprising (top bid as of this writing is $1,625.01). But aside from the pitfalls of a public auction, there are all sorts of troubling ethical implications, like what will happen to personal data once its sold, the selling of the power to “initiate” someone as a Witch, and the strange legal intermixing of the school with the Witchcraft tradition it has been affiliated with. It remains to be seen what the final fall-out of this sale will be.

A big thanks to Lupa for tipping me off to this story!

* The letter in question mostly concerns Ed Hubbard’s take on the split between the two Correllian factions, so it might be useful for those wanting more information on the split (from one point of view).